Man’s Depravity is Not Total

It doesn’t take genius to know that people are creepy. Sin is natural to us. We are “by nature” the children of wrath.

At the same time, Paul says Gentiles “do by nature” things contained in the law. Which means our nature is not all bad and it aint all good. This would seem to have to be the case if we are made in the image of God and yet fallen. There still has to be some God image in us.

If you express this thought in theological circles, you will get hammered. We’ve been told countless times that we are totally depraved. Calvinism has taken this and stretched it so out of place, they don’t even think you can believe the Gospel.

Not only is this massively contradicted by Scripture, it makes life pretty much pointless. We’re just automatons doing what we’re programmed to do with no choice. Yet God remains ticked off at us for doing what he programmed us to do.

The simple solution to avoid making God into a complete monster, is to admit we’re not totally depraved.

Yup, that’s right, we should drop the traditions of men for the biblical doctrines of God. I know, bizarre, but I’d suggest it.

I’ve held this view for years, yet don’t see many other people going public with the view, because if you do, Calvinists will beat you into the ground. So I’m always encouraged when I see someone else publicly express it.

I came across one today in Ellicott’s Commentary on Matthew 7:11. God is saying that even earthly fathers know how to do nice things for their kids, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Ellicott says this:

The words at once recognise the fact of man’s depravity, and assert that it is not total. In the midst of all our evil there is still that element of natural and pure affection which makes the fatherhood of men a fit parable of the Fatherhood of God. We mount from our love to His, abstracting from our thoughts the evil of which we cannot but be conscious.

Beautiful. Thank you, Mr. Ellicott! You the man.

Keep the Gospel Simple

I came across the following quote in Ellicott’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20. His basic point is: keep it simple. Watch out for theories and elaborate theological structures. Don’t miss the main point, which is that God loves you and sent His Son to provide all you need to be reconciled to God. Don’t confuse the simple beauty of that.

It will be seen, in this conclusion of the language of St. Paul as to the atonement, how entirely, on the one hand, he recognises the representative and vicarious character of the redeeming work of Christ; how entirely, on the other, he stands aloof from the speculative theories on that work which have sometimes been built upon his teaching. He does not present, as the system-builders of theology have too often done, the picture of the wrath of the Father averted by the compassion of the Son, or satisfied by the infliction upon Him of a penalty which is a quantitative equivalent for that due to the sins of mankind.

The whole work, from his point of view, originates in the love of the Father, sending His Son to manifest that love in its highest and noblest form. He does not need to be reconciled to man. He sends His Son, and His Son sends His ministers to entreat them to be reconciled to Him, to accept the pardon which is freely offered.

Getting God’s Approval

I picked up a short, fluffy Christian book after finishing Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

Unfortunately, I think the level of stupid I’m going to encounter will be similar.

The book is about Romans 5-8, which are great chapters in the Bible, but rarely ever handled in a way that does them justice.

This book is living up to that assumption.

I knew right off I was going to have trouble when it defined justification as “a legal declaration of not guilty.” Makes my skin crawl.

The book is more than likely going to get in to some kind of weird let go and let God, what I do doesn’t matter stuff, and I know that just from the definition of justification they gave.

Sure enough, here’s a quote from page four:

Bask in God’s grace. There is nothing you can do or need to do to earn God’s approval.

One verse that popped into my head immediately was 2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The word “study” means diligent effort. We are to use diligent effort in getting God’s approval. If there’s nothing I can do to get God’s approval, why is God constantly telling us to change our behavior so we don’t get judgment?

Grace, to many people, means nothing I do matters. We get a free ride because Jesus did some stuff.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians he’s not seeking the approval of men, but of God. God is the one person in the universe we’re supposed to be doing things to get approval from.

The “nothing you can do” idea is an attempt to elevate the concept of grace. But if grace means everything I do is fine, then why bother doing anything?

“We do it because we’re approved, not to get approval” is typically the answer.

OK, so if we do approved things because we’re approved, what does that mean for people who don’t do approved things? Would it mean they aren’t approved then?

Doing approved things and being approved are related. The Bible says there are things we can do to get God’s approval. God gives grace to the humble.

To deny this is to undermine the words of Scripture and the character of God.

I’m only on page four. Sure wish I had a library of Christian books that didn’t continually tick me off.

Luther and Foreknowledge

The Bondage of the Will slogs along to Erasmus’ argument about foreknowledge. Paul said, “Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate.” If words mean anything, God’s predestination is based upon His foreknowledge.

But, as we know, words don’t always mean what they appear to mean. A Calvinistic trick is to define the word “foreknowledge” as essentially meaning “predestine.” Luther does the same thing.

If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else.

Luther, who recently said God’s revealed will is different from his non-revealed will and that God does not use words like man does, adds,

There are no obscure or ambiguous words here, even though all the most learned men of all ages should be so blind as to think and affirm the contrary.

Just wondering how Luther knows when words mean what they mean and when they don’t.

Luther goes on about foreknowledge meaning God making things happen and redefining words when he says,

We know that man’s foreknowledge is fallible. We know that an eclipse does not occur because it is forecast, but is forecast because it is going to occur. But what relevance has that foreknowledge for us? We are discussing the foreknowledge of God! And if you do not allow that the thing which God foreknows is necessarily brought to pass, you take away faith and the fear of God, you undermine all the divine promises and threatenings, and so you deny deity itself.

So, here’s Luther’s idea about God words and Man words meaning different things in action. So when God foreknows it’s akin to God doing, but when man foreknows it’s just man knowing beforehand. Words don’t mean things then.

The essential idea of the Calvinistic and Lutheran view of God is that God’s sovereignty means no one else can know or do anything. God can only control what He does. He’s not strong enough to control if man had free-will to do things.

Their attempt to elevate the character of God ultimately undermines it. God is a dictator who can’t allow anyone any freedom apart from His control.

But God foreknowing what is going to happen in no way necessarily implies He does everything or that God can only know what He does.

God is made smaller with this view, not bigger. They are viewing power, ironically enough, entirely from a weak human perspective. This is the God of Islam, not the God of the Bible.

Inconsistencies in Theological Arguments

The last two posts address what I view as a flippancy towards God’s word. The Bible says stuff that seems to contradict Luther’s points about The Bondage of the Will. So Luther finds other meanings for those words–he says God uses words differently from how man uses words, and then said God’s revealed will differs from His unrevealed will.

There is no way to take these ideas in any other way than to conclude Luther doesn’t think the Bible says what God means.

Luther, however, moves on to Erasmus’ challenges against passages that disprove free-will.

His first example is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Erasmus says that when it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart it means that God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened because God didn’t stop Pharaoh in his sin.

Luther now questions Erasmus’ ability to interpret what God really meant! Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Luther says we should take the literal meanings of words!

Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech God has created among men; for if anyone may devise ‘implications’ and ‘figures’ in Scripture at his own pleasure what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind and a sort of chameleon? There would then be no article of faith about which anything could be settled and proved for certain, without your being able to raise objections by means of some ‘figure.’

This is too rich!

Two days ago I put up a quote where Luther said God doesn’t use words the way man does. Today, when it suits his purpose, all of a sudden God uses words according to man’s natural use of grammar!

Listening to people argue theology can be frustrating. Clearly these two guys (Luther and Erasmus) are talking past each other. They each bend the Scripture when they need to in making a point. I don’t think either of them is truly hearing the actual words being spoken and, when convenient, are not taking the simplest meaning of words.

Be careful that your theological doctrine does not become more important than hearing God’s Word. Just hear God’s Words and go with what it says. Both guys would say they are doing that. Sometimes you are the last one to know how inconsistently you are using Scripture.

That’s why, I think, it’s important to share your views with other believers. They may be able to point out your inconsistencies. Unfortunately, when that happens, we immediately get defensive, attack them, and miss an opportunity to learn.

Aint none of us right all the time. It’s important to remember this when “correcting” others as well. I’m not suggesting you listen to trolls, but to people who actually are trying to be edifying and constructively criticizing.

Be humble enough to be corrected. I shall endeavor to do the same.

God’s Will(s)

Luther’s Bondage of the Will takes up Erasmus’ question: how can God say He doesn’t like death and sin if, according to Luther, He makes people die and sin?

It’s a good question, one that hits at the central problem I have with the denial of free-will: it impugns the character of God.

The answer you’ll get is massively troubling.

First, they will tell you that you’re an idiot for asking.

Second, they will tell you that God is a mystery.

Third, they will start defining for you the various kinds of wills that God has.

Luther does all three of these things in the four paragraphs that answers Erasmus. Here are a few sentences about God’s different wills.

[Erasmus is not making any] distinction between God preached and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He does not show us in His Word, and He wills many things that He does not in His Word show us that He wills. Thus, He does not will the death of a sinner–that is, in His Word, but He wills it by His inscrutable will.

I agree that God has not revealed everything, that’s just common sense. But Luther says God is not revealing things that are opposite of what He revealed.

In other words, you can’t trust God’s Word because God might not actually will what He said He willed!

Again, as with yesterday’s post, and how, pray tell, does Luther know God wills the opposite of what He said? Where does God tell us that He doesn’t mean what He says? How is Luther figuring this out? And, once again, why is it that God always agrees with Luther while disagreeing with His own revealed will in His Word?!

This is the kind of stuff that makes me write blog posts on days where I didn’t even want to pick up his book because I didn’t want to write another blog post about it.

If Luther is right, you might as well stop reading the Bible, God didn’t mean it anyway. He’s just lying to you. Goodness, what cost must be paid to maintain your doctrines? He’s thrown out the reliability of God’s Word and made God a liar in order to maintain his doctrine. Unreal.

Words Mean Things

I’m in a part of Luther’s Bondage of the Will where he is addressing the verses that Erasmus uses to “prove” man has free-will. So far Erasmus has not used the verses I would use, but we’ll see if he gets there.

So far he is dealing with verses that say “if we obey,” ‘if we are willing,” “if you shall obey.” Erasmus uses these to say that obviously we have a will and ability otherwise God wouldn’t say this.

Here’s Luther’s basic defense. You ready? I know I am!

If I ask how it is proved that the existence of ‘free-will’ in man is indicated and implied wherever the phrase ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt hear,’ ‘if thou shalt do’ are used, she will say, ‘Because the nature of words and use of language among men seem to require it.’ Therefore, she bases her judgment of things and words that are of God upon the customs and concerns of men; and what is more perverse than that, when the former are heavenly and the latter earthly? Thus in her stupidity she betrays herself as thinking of God only as of man.

Luther’s point is this: I know that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means.

He maintains that God uses words differently than people do. It appears as though God is saying that, but God uses words differently so we know He doesn’t mean that.

Couple things:

–If God uses words not like men, how does Luther, a man, know how God is using words? And, more curiously, how is it that God is always using words to back up Luther? Rather coincidental, no?!

–If God uses words not the way man does, wouldn’t God explain that to man at some point? Is God aware that He’s talking to man? Seems like God, who is pretty smart, would communicate to man in such a way that man could understand Him, rather than obliquely saying things.

–If this is true, then all bets are off. You can make the Bible say whatever you want as long as you maintain this is what God really meant.

This is highly frustrating to me. The only thing I can use to make my doctrinal points is the Bible. So when a person tells me the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, then I have nothing left. It’s a winning tactic, but will also keep you from ever hearing and understanding what God actually said.

But that’s the tendency that many Christian Leaders have used and still do. “You idiots can’t understand this book, but thank God you have me! Now listen up because I, for some unexplained reason, really know what God meant.”

I’m not buying it. God said what He meant. He’s not playing games or obfuscating. Words mean things. Take the common sense, literal meaning of His words and you’re gonna be just fine.

All false doctrine at some point makes you have to ignore the common sense, literal meaning of words. Your alarm bells should go off when you hear people say words don’t mean what they say. Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has argued about the meanings of words. Luther does the same thing.

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
–2 Timothy 2:14-15