Monks and Other Wasted Lives

Our library is open again. Couldn’t wait to check out the New Non-Fiction section to get my latest fill of leftist politician hagiographies, weird diet cookbooks, and various other books no one in their right mind would ever possibly check out.

But tucked in the couple hundred books are at least two books that seem like they’d be worth reading.

I picked up four. I made it through ten pages of one before returning it. So I started another one I hesitated getting, I walked past it twice, but eventually picked it up because I really didn’t want to read Madeleine Albreight’s thrilling autobiography.

It’s about a guy who lived his life as a Buddhist monk in India. Buddhists are full of themselves. Buddhist monks are like, overflowing with themselves. He is massively impressed with himself.

However, from my reading, all monks are full of themselves, at least the ones who write books about their monking. He mentions what a great guy St. Francis of Assisi was. Goodness. Francis drives me nuts. He’s a spoiled rich kid who leaves home to talk to birds and make up rules for people to obey. Nice life.

Well, Mr. Buddhist Monk was also a spoiled rich kid who left his home and spent time feeding ants and not making rules because, “whatever, man.”

On Judgment Day there’s going to a lot of massively disappointed monks.

All that effort. All that discipline. All that rule keeping. “Hey, I never even told anyone to do that,” I imagine God telling them. “Yeah, but, look how impressed we were with ourselves. Surely that must count for something?”

“You have your reward.”

I also note how many famous people endorse his book on the back cover. Everyone likes Buddhists. All the cool self-helpy people in our world just love them. Their meditation, their peace and tranquility, and their pseudo-intellectual agnostic, nirvanaing. They are no threat, primarily because no one has a clue what they are talking about.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Buddhist Monk:

Every one of the sutras–the accounts of the Buddha’s teaching that have come down to us–begins with the phrase, “Thus have I heard.” That opening, hedged as one listener’s experience, implies that this is just one possible account of what happened, filtered by a human mind and the limitations of memory. As scripture goes, it’s a rather tentative beginning

So, Buddha heard some stuff and is like, “Hey man, this is cool. Do you think it’s cool? I think it’d be cool if you thought it was cool. But whatever, man.”

He says later:

They are not divine revelation, absolute and incontrovertible, but communication skillfully framed for a particular audience. It was emphasized again and again that each listener heard those words differently, according to their own capacity and their own concerns.

Well that’s enough to make a guy vomit.

If their scriptures are just things that mean whatever to whoever hears it in whatever context, then why bother with scripture?

Buddha says, “Here’s some stuff I heard.” The Bible says, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Guess which one the world prefers?

Ultimately Buddhism is about the furtherance of the individual. Thus it becomes a self-serving religion. Christians start hospitals; Buddhists sit on mountains feeling superior to sick people. Christianity wants you to get your hands dirty, helping those who are hurting, loving your enemy, sticking with truth despite opposition, and generally living life with hope. Buddhism wants you to sink into yourself and not let anyone mess with your buzz, man.

Selah.

OK, I’m done.

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

Faith and Works, Gospel and Law

I’m about half done with my copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. I agree with him that the case Erasmus makes, at least the parts he quotes, isn’t that great. But I also don’t think Luther is doing that great either.

The main issue is over free-will and whether we have it or not. But there are minor issues that come up that are off too.

In the midst of attacking Erasmus’ definition of free-will, Luther says:

As for those things that ‘lead to eternal salvation,’ I suppose they are the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will so that it may apply itself to them or turn away from them. I take the ‘words of God’ to include both the law and the Gospel; the law requires works, the gospel faith.

This one phrase stood out to me: “the law requires works, the gospel faith.”

I think this is a root misunderstanding that leads to lots of trouble.

It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good. Jesus corrects this, as does everyone else in the New Testament. In fact, most of the prophets are trying to correct that.

But since the Pharisees did that, everyone assumes that’s how people were saved under the law. Paul says in Romans 10:5, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

See, there ya go; people under the law were saved by works!

Read the law. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Show me where, like in the entire book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone was saved by the law. It never says that. The law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel to stay in their land. If they kept the law they would live and prosper there, if they did not keep the law they would be kicked out.

Never once does Moses say by keeping the law, doing all the works, you will go to heaven and be with the Lord.

When the Gospel comes along, people assume a BIG CHANGE occurred. Instead of doing works, we just have faith. Faith alone. Easy.

What this misses is that anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace through faith. There is no other way of salvation. Whether Abraham before the law, David under the law, or us today under the Gospel, everyone is saved by faith (Romans 4).

People under the law who were saved by faith did indeed desire to do the works of the law.

But get this, today people under the Gospel who are saved by faith desire to fulfill the works of the law too! It’s a little thing called “love.”

The idea that people under the law were the only ones who had to do what God said is crazy. What we do is different because the covenants are different. But faith always desires to do what God says.

“Faith without works is dead,” this is true under the law as well as under the Gospel. There is no difference in faith and it’s desire to do what God says. God says to do different things under each covenant, but faith wants to do what God says.

Luther wanted James ripped out of the Bible. Luther, when translating Romans 5, said we were justified by faith alone. Never mind that he added the word “alone” in there.

Anyone remember what the Bible says about people who add or subtract words from the Bible? Anyone? It says nothing good about them. Don’t do that.

Faith Doesn’t Mean Believing Nonsense

Luther’s Bondage of the Will continues talking about how God does everything in salvation and yet few are saved and this is entirely God’s fault.

The obvious question then is: how can God say He is love and likes to show mercy and yet He saves so few?

Here’s Luther’s answer:

Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation.

Luther doesn’t think God is merciful and righteous, he can’t because according to his theory, God makes people unrighteous (which implies that God is unrighteous) and then has wrath on them for doing the unrighteousness God made them do.

Luther’s answer to the conundrum is faith! It obviously makes no sense, so this is where faith comes in. Faith is only required when things don’t make sense. God’s character, according to Luther, makes no sense, so we embrace the nonsense and just believe it to be.

If God says He’s righteous, well, then He must be righteous. Luther falls for the old line, one also maintained by Calvinism, that God doesn’t actually have to be righteous. God says He’s righteous, therefore, by default, everything He does is righteous even if according to all appearances it isn’t righteous.

In other words, God isn’t righteous because He does righteousness, God is righteous because He said so.

If that’s the case, then words don’t mean anything. When John says, “Be not deceived, he who doeth righteousness is righteous” John can’t be describing God. Everything falls apart.

Luther makes the point even clearer later:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.

If God made sense, Luther wouldn’t need faith. That’s amazing. A startling misunderstanding of the concept of faith.

It is an amazing thing to me that Luther coins “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) and is viewed as the authority on what faith is for the entire Reformation and yet shows very little biblical understanding here as to what faith is.

Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God.

Luther never stops to consider whether his conception of God’s character is correct. Luther is admitting his doctrines make no sense. And some how, by developing completely incoherent doctrine. Luther thinks this proves his faith!

If your doctrines make no sense, perhaps consider whether you’re actually hearing the God of truth, wisdom, order, and uprightness.

Believing incoherence is not a sign of faith; it’s a sign you’re listening to incoherent people.

Faith is not a blind leap. Faith is not a thing that fills in the gap that reason and wisdom can’t fill. His understanding of faith is more akin to paganism and idolatry–why are we praying to an idol we carved and had to nail to a wall to keep standing? I don’t know, but that’s where faith comes in.

The more things make sense, the less Luther thinks we need faith.

I think if the Catholic Church had just ignored this guy, no one would have paid any attention to him.

How to Earn Salvation Without Earning Salvation

Back to Luther’s Bondage of the Will. He says this:

God has surely promised His grace to the humbled; that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled til he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will, and works and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another–God alone.

As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.

OK, so a couple things:

First, it should be remembered that at the root of the no free-will, God does all the saving, monergism, predestination/election, emphasis is a sincere desire to elevate the supremacy of God and the weakness of humanity. They are indeed trying to get to humility. This is at the root of what they are trying to do. It doesn’t do any good to blast the Calvinist or the Lutheran as completely deranged. Their intentions are good. Their execution of their intentions misses the mark, in my opinion.

Secondly, this quote makes absolutely no sense. Luther ends the quote by saying the only people who get God’s grace for salvation are those who despair entirely of themselves. Which is fine, I can go with that. But the entire rest of the quote says how there’s nothing anyone can do to get God’s grace for salvation! Isn’t me being entirely in despair over myself a “smallest contribution to my salvation” that he just said I couldn’t do?!

This, again, is where this entire doctrine falls into the realm of non-sensicalness. The previous pages before this quote Luther defends himself against a charge from Erasmus that his doctrine doesn’t make any sense.

Luther’s defense is that, no, it’s not me that makes no sense; it’s God who doesn’t make any sense. I’m just saying what God says, so therefore God is the one who doesn’t make sense.

Now, granted, Luther doesn’t quite say it that bluntly, but that’s what he’s saying.

Your lecture is wasted on me! If, however, you believe these paradoxes [that if God wills all things then He rewards the good that He made us do and punishes the evil that He made us do] to be words of God, then where is your conscience, where is your shame, where is the fear and reverence which you owe to the true God? For what you are saying is that there is no information more useless than God’s word! So your Creator must learn from you, His creature, what may usefully be preached and what not? God was so stupid and thoughtless, was He, that He did not know what should be taught?

This is the classic defense when you point out the contradictory nature of what no free-will leads to. “It’s what God says, your problem is with Him, not me. It’s all a giant mystery.”

I disagree. This stuff makes no sense and there really aren’t any verses that say this is the way the entirety of all human existence works.

Their desire in all this is to elevate God and diminish humanity. I get it. I applaud the efforts. But in so doing they are left with contradiction and illogical conclusions. I think it’s actually much easier to just take everything written on the subject in the Bible rather than select a few passages and philosophize some nonsense.

But they maintain that if you disagree with them, you’re an arrogant jerk who thinks he deserves salvation and knows better than God. What’s my defense against that?

It’s always handy to assume your doctrine is exactly what God says, so disagreeing with you is disagreeing with God. It’s handy, but not often true. It also seems, ironically enough, to be the exact opposite attitude of someone who characterizes themselves as “humbled; one who mourns over and despairs of themselves.”

The Stupidity of Crowds and Strait Gates

Charles Mackay, author of the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, said:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

He wrote this in the 1800’s summing up his study of human behavior. His basic point is that following people makes you stupid; getting out of the crowd allows you to come to your senses.

This is massively true. Christians, of all people, should know this already.

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Following the stream of the world does no good; getting a new brain, a new way of thinking, a mind set on truth not theories, is the remedy.

Jesus said that the broad road leads to destruction and many people are on it; the narrow road, limited by a strait gate that prevents you entering with a crowd, leads to life.

The world around us is fighting and arguing. They need to get theirs, which they think means taking from you. One group is pitted against another group. Hatred and violence are the result.

Want some peace? Want some tranquility? Want some release from this? Follow Christ. Unplug from the world’s madness.

Few are going that way, but the ones who do have way fewer earthly problems that freak them out. There is a trust and a confidence that all things are conforming me to Christ and every day brings me one step closer to my Savior.

If you do this, don’t be shocked if the world despises you. They’ll tell you your head is in the sand, that you’re pie in the sky, and no earthly good.

Little do they know, it’s all their theoretical solutions that came out of heads in the sand. Their hopes that now they’ve discovered the right way clearly shows their heads are in the sand. The enactment of their solutions are typically the things that do no earthly good.

The world needs light and truth. It doesn’t need more darkness. Leave the kingdom of darkness. have no fellowship with the darkness. Be light. Act on the truth. Go the narrow way. You won’t regret it.

Alexander the Great, Ezekiel, and Tyre

Reading a biography of Alexander the Great. Got to the portion where Alexander desires to wipe out the city of Tyre.

This is an interesting piece of history because the Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre. The prophecy says:

And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

The original city was on the mainland. It was wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar. He left a bunch of ruins on the mainland while the people moved to the island. The presence of the ruins contradicted the prophecy of being scraped bear and thrown into the sea. Except Alexander the Great came along, threw all the ruins into the sea for the causeway and now the prophecy is complete.

The author of the biography says, “What Ezekiel foretold had now come to pass in all its terrible finality.” Always fun to see such things about the Bible in “secular” history books!

But Ezekiel also says, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

This has been taken to mean that Tyre will never be a city again. It will never be rebuilt. There is a city of Tyre today. The author of the biography says about this, “Tyre was repopulated, and whatever Hebrew prophets may say, thrives again today.”

So the parting shot is that the Hebrew prophet got lucky, but probably should have stopped before that last bit!

There are many theories about this. The new city of Tyre is not in the same place. The prophecy says people will be there spreading their nets, so obviously Ezekiel knew there would be people there. Someone has to spread nets!

You can also take it to mean it won’t be built as a massive place like it was before, its grandeur won’t be rebuilt. Also, Ezekiel was talking about judgment upon the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was never rebuilt. The Phoenician empire was done away with right at the time Tyre was done in.

Another historian writes, “Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.” Tyre was removed from consideration as a place of any importance, which is the main thrust of the entire prophecy (Ezekiel 26-27).

The main point of the prophecy was a judgment against the Phoenicians. Tyre today is not a Phoenician stronghold. It’s a nice city with a harbor. The prophecy concerned the enemies of Israel, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was also on the mainland and not where Tyre is today. There are archeological excavations on the original site, even if a city called Tyre exists nearby.

All in all, the prophecy of Ezekiel about Tyre is one of the more literally fulfilled prophecies in the Bible that should give strong evidence of the Bible’s uniqueness. It should also aid you in knowing that when God says stuff; He means it literally.

God’s Immutable Will and Promises

Luther proposes the idea that if God is not fully in control (meaning humans have no free will because God does everything) then we can have no assurance that God will do His promises.

[If it’s not true that] God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust, and rely on His promises? When He makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise you will be accounting him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God!

At the root of the “there’s no free will” teaching is a desire to elevate God’s glory and supremacy. I’m all for that, but I think it goes to unnecessary lengths to do so. For in so doing, they actually limit His glory and supremacy.

According to Luther, the only way God can do anything is if He does everything. If God is not in control of every part of creation then He would not be able to do anything. If people are allowed to act freely, do whatever they want, God wouldn’t be able to do what God wanted to do.

That’s just sheer silliness. In no way does our free will eliminate any power from God. God is sovereign over creation, including over the laws that govern what creation does. We have freedom within the bounds He has set.

At any point God can override the laws (ax heads floating on water denied all manner of natural law). It is not hard at all for God to do what He wants. The idea that if Jeff has free will, God would be powerless to stop Jeff, is just crazy!

Yet you’ll hear this argument a lot. Don’t fall for it.

What God would have more power:

A God that can control only what He does, or a God who can control everything at any time no matter what anyone else is doing?

This view of God comes from a human standpoint. If I were to have ultimate power, yes it would mean I would dictate what everyone does. If you could resist me, then yeah, I would not be in control.

But God is way bigger than us. He’s in control of His creation, to the extent He’s not at all afraid to let us run around within the bounds He’s set.

Interestingly enough, Luther, about two pages before the above quote, says denying free will should be easy for Christians to do, because even heathen poets deny it! He goes on to quote Vergil a bunch. “See, even heathen philosophers know we don’t have free will.”

Yeah, I know Martin, that’s one of the reasons why I question whether it’s right!

Denying our free will is a humanistic idea that comes directly from people like Vergil. It doesn’t come from the Bible or from God.

Watch out for the human attempt to ascribe glory and power to God in ways that ultimately completely eliminate His glory and power, but rather elevate human notions of glory and power. To me this is what denying free will does. It’s one more reason I know it’s wrong.

Disagreeing With People and the Holy Spirit

I’m into the actual words of Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will now.

He begins by saying what a good communicator Erasmus is, but also unbelievably stupid. He says Erasmus’ writings are like piles of dung being delivered on a plate of gold! Genius.

Some people don’t like that language in their theologians; I actually find it absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, Luther explains that the reason he delayed so long in replying to Erasmus is not because Erasmus has any kind of good argument, it’s because Luther doesn’t think replying to him will do anything. Luther claims he’s already said enough on this issue, anything else would just be wasted.

For people of that sort, you could never speak or write enough about anything.

Pearls before swine, basically is what he’s saying. but alas, he continues:

To those who have drunk in the teaching of the Spirit in my books, we have given enough and to spare already, and such find no difficulty in dismissing your arguments. But it is not surprising if those who read without the Spirit are tossed hither and thither, as a reed is tossed by every wind that blows.

This is a classic theologian line: If you had the Spirit you would totally agree with me. The only reason you think I’m wrong is because you don’t have the Holy Spirit.

Luther is just one of many people I’ve heard say this.

In one sense, I get it. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people. Jesus said to His disciples “whoever receives who I send, receives me.”

So, like, yeah, maybe, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that this might be true.

However, the sheer arrogance required to say to someone, “I’m right; if you had the Spirit you’d agree with me” I find a little sketchy.

I’ve heard people on both sides of an issue claim this. Someone’s got to be lying.

I’d refrain from saying it myself. I’ve disagreed with myself enough to know not to say this. I’ve changed my doctrine enough to know not to say this.

One of the downfalls of good doctrine is to assume you’ve already got good doctrine. No further adjustments needed. In order to say “If you have the Spirit you’d agree with me” you’d have to be 100% sure you had completely right doctrine.

Luther, I don’t think, has any trouble admitting he’s 100% right.

I can’t go there.

I plan on growing and learning until the day I’m made like Christ when I see Him as He is. Until then, I assume I can say some stuff wrong and believe things that are not 100% perfectly rightly understood. Even Paul said, “I have not yet apprehended.” He still presses toward the mark, wanting to know more about Christ.

Luther is not saying anything out of the ordinary for theologian types, but I’d caution anyone to go there and, just guessing, Luther knows better now.

Don’t Confuse Your Favorite Theologian with Jesus

I’ve finished reading the 61-page Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, a cause for celebration.

Incidentally, I am reading a translation done by O. R. Johnston and J. I. Packer, so if you know those names, I assume they are the ones who wrote the Introduction.

The conclusion emphasized the centrality of denying free will and promoting the concept of monergism in salvation (the idea that God acts alone in saving people; we have nothing to do with it).

Faith is only something God gives you after He regenerates you, they say. Then they say this:

to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.

Eesh. That makes me cringe all over the place. But they go a step further. Disagreeing with Luther is un-Christian and also, get this, don’t know if you knew this or not, but disagreeing with Luther means you disagree with Jesus Himself.

I’m serious. Here’s the quote:

If the almighty God of the Bible is to be our God, if the New Testament Gospel is to be our message, if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–is any other position than Luther’s possible?

Double eesh.

Let me answer that question with a very definite “yes.”

Disagreeing with Luther is not disagreeing with Jesus. Statements like this should alert you that you’re dealing with fanboys.

He went through a list of Reformers who held Luther’s views on this issue, including John Calvin, of course. They maintain that all the Reformers, at least the ones they like, all agreed on our inability to have faith and be saved unless God does it all.

One thing all these Reformers, at least the ones they mention, have in common is that they all loved Augustine.

Disagreeing with Luther does not make you disagree with Jesus Christ; it makes you disagree with Augustine. Which is totally fine by the way.

1 John 2:27 says “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” If you have the Holy Spirit you don’t need a man to teach you.

If your doctrine is entirely based on a person, you’re not using the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to adhere to Luther or Calvin or Augustine or me in order to know Jesus, you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind.

People can help teach you, but to think you need a person to know Christ is insane. Never, ever elevate a person’s teaching to a level where you think disagreeing with them is disagreeing with Jesus.

Agree with Jesus; to the extent we agree with Jesus is the extent to which we will agree with each other.

This Introduction has entirely creeped me out.

Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Unger’s Dictionary on Moses Being Meekest Man on Earth

Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

This is often laughed at because Moses wrote the Book of Numbers, therefore, Moses is saying he is the meekest man on the earth! How does the meekest man on earth say such a thing about himself?!

Unger’s says this under the entry on Moses: Character

The word meek is hardly an adequate reading of the Hebrew anaw, which should rather be much enduring. It represents what we should now designate by the word disinterested. All that is told of him indicates a withdrawal of himself, a preference of the cause of his nation to his own interests, which makes him the most complete example of Jewish patriotism.

Unger says he gets this from Smith’s Bible Dictionary.

I cannot find any other dictionary that takes this approach to the Hebrew word anaw. Therefore I am left wondering if this is legit or just one guy’s idea.

Most dictionaries give the definition as depressed, bowed down, lowly. The word is used 18 times and is either translated meek or poor.

Much enduring and disinterested seems foreign to the essential idea and appears to be a reading into the word.

It’s important to remember that many Bible dictionaries are biased toward interpretation and doctrinal camps. You should use a multitude of these resources and stick with how the definitions overlap rather than some guys idea that makes him feel better about a verse.

That’s my idea anyway.

T. W. Hunt on Jesus and Eating Food

In The Mind of Christ, author T. W. Hunt says this about Jesus and food:

Jesus was the most wholesome man who ever lived. He loved his friends and cultivated their companionship. He even loved to eat. Every Pharisaic charge held some grain of truth. They called him a glutton, so obviously they had noticed that he enjoyed eating. Some of them invited him for meals. Jesus was no more a glutton than he was a drunkard, but he evidently ate with relish. He also knew when the next bite would be sin.

Now, I could easily make a joke about Jesus eating with relish, but I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to be mature and comment on the point.

My comment would be this: I don’t know about that.

I like the idea, I’m not opposed to it. One of my favorite points from the Bible is that one of the few things Ecclesiastes says isn’t vain is eating and drinking well. I think Jesus being a good eater fits nicely.

At the same time, I also know Pharisaic judgments are grossly overstated opinions based on very little factual evidence. Therefore, I’m not sure the conclusion would be that Jesus ate in the manner of a glutton.

He didn’t have a home. He ate out a lot. He ate in public. Pharisees saw him eating in public. Only gluttons were seen eating that much, but he didn’t have a home to eat it.

That’s how I always interpreted their criticism.

The criticism might mean he ate with relish, but I guess I’d have to come up short from being sure about it. I don’t even know that he liked pickles.

I like the idea. It made me think. I had to pause and read it again and think about it. I’m not totally opposed, just not sure I can digest the whole thing with relish.

Andrew Murray on Unanswered Prayers

Prayer is a misunderstood and totally beaten to death subject.

The Bible is pretty clear about prayer, how it works, and what it does.

The problem Christians have is that our experience does not measure up to what it says. And when push comes to shove, we cling to our experience more than the Bible.

One verse that puts things clearly is John 15:7:

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

Every Christian is going to claim that they abide in Christ; yet every Christian must admit they don’t get what they pray for. Jesus seems to say that getting what you pray for is the proof you’re abiding in Christ. We don’t get what we pray for, therefore, Jesus must be wrong.

It is at this point where creativity joins Christianity. How can we justify our ineffective prayers and still feel good about ourselves? Surely there must be another verse we can throw in to loophole our way out of this jam.

Here’s what Andrew Murray has to say about John 15:7

In all God’s relations with us, the promise and its conditions are inseparable. If we fulfill the conditions; He fulfills the promise.

Now, already I can hear certain Christian heads exploding. “That’s Law! That’s a yoke of bondage! Grace just gives promises; we don’t have to do anything. Christ did it all for us!”

I’m inclined to agree with Murray on this one because that is indeed how the Bible presents things, even in the New Testament. All God’s promises will be realized only if we do things the way He says. God is not mocked; you reap what you sow.

Fully abiding in Him, we have the right to ask whatever we want and the promise that we will get an answer. There is a terrible discrepancy between this promise and the experience of most believers. How many prayers bring no answer? The cause must be either that we do not fulfill the conditions, or God does not fulfill the promise. Believers are not willing to admit either and therefore have devised a way of escape from the dilemma.

They put a qualifying clause into the promise that our Savior did not put there–if it be God’s will. This maintains both God’s integrity and their own. If they could only accept it and hold fast to it as it stands, trusting Christ to make it true! And if only they would confess their failure in fulfilling the condition as the one explanation for unanswered prayer. God’s Spirit would then lead them to see how appropriate such a promise is to those who really believe that Christ means it.

The problem with going with Murray’s idea is that the burden is on us. No one likes burdens on them. We like fuzzy notions of grace and happy thoughts.

But we also know we’d really like our prayers to be answered and for our prayer life to be richer. But as long as we hang on to fuzzy happy thoughts don’t count on your prayer life going anywhere.

The issue is not about getting stuff; the issue is about abiding in Christ. As we abide in Christ we will pray better, more informed, God-honoring prayers.

God does not answer our prayers to feed our flesh. He answers prayers so that we grow in Christ. Answered prayer is not a slot machine payout; it’s a proof that we are abiding in Christ.

The Father intends the answer to be a token of His favor and of the reality of our fellowship with Him.

Your experience with prayer falls short of how the Bible speaks of prayer. Instead of chalking it up to fate and some murky idea of “God’s will,” maybe consider the substance of your prayer, the state of your heart in asking, and your growth in Christ overall.

If these things are going well, I’d fully expect more answered prayer and I fully expect people to be ticked about me claiming that.

Health and Wealth is American Christianity

A recent LifeWay study found that 75% of Evangelicals believe that God wants them to materially prosper.

The Health and Wealth Gospel used to be a peripheral message in the church; it is now one of our new fundamentals of the faith.

The Bible is massively against materialism and material success. It, in fact, says that the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke out faith.

If you trace back the Health and Wealth Gospel you will find it originated around a guy named DL Moody.

Moody, in order to fund his revivals and his schools, hit up businessmen constantly for money. In order to get money from rich guys, you have to preach a message that doesn’t make rich guys feel guilty.

Mr. John Wanamaker was a successful businessman. He invited Moody to speak at a lecture for businessman that would be “tailored more than any that preceded it to the needs of business and professional people who wanted to be freed from the guilt of doing what they were doing.”

In other words, don’t make them feel guilty for making money.

Moody dipped into Health and Wealth teaching when he wrote, “It’s a wonderful fact that men and women saved by the blood of Jesus rarely remain subjects of charity, but rise at once to comfort and respectability.”

He later said, “I don’t see how a man can follow Christ and not be successful.”

Clearly, DL Moody was not as extreme as some of our modern televangelists. But he got awful close. There is a dark side to American revivalists, one that seems to follow the tents. DL Moody, Billy Sunday, right on up to the modern televangelists.

There’s something about coming up with a message that appeals to a large audience that seems to feed on materialism. Perhaps because people want wealth and desperately want to get rich quick. If we can make the Gospel sound like the trick, people will “get saved.”

I’m not trying to besmirch anyone’s character, I merely point out Church History facts. The Health and Wealth Gospel didn’t drop out of the sky! There’s a logical and recorded development that got us where we are today.

If you think Christianity is going to make you rich, successful, and respectable, I suggest not reading the Bible, for that will end your dream.

American Postmillennialism

Postmillennialism is the belief that humans, by revamping society by means of taking over the world with Christianity, will usher in the Kingdom of God.

After this Golden Age ushered in by God’s people, Christ will return (hence “Post” millennium–Christ returns after the Golden Age we establish).

This used to be a standard view of many people, and was particularly popular in America in the 18th and 19th Centuries.

Jonathan Edwards, one of America’s most famous theologians, was a postmillennialist. When he looked upon the results of the Great Awakening, he said:

‘Tis not unlikely that this work of God’s Spirit, that is so extraordinary and wonderful, is the dawning, or at least a prelude, of that glorious work of God, so often foretold in Scripture…. And there are many things that make it probable that this work will begin in America.

The Great Awakenings felt like the start of something big. It also fed into the notion that America was the shining city on a hill, leading the world to the coming of the Lord.

The Millennium, for postmillennialists, is not necessarily 1,000 years. When Revelation 20 mentions 1,000 years 7 times, 1,000 years merely represents an age.

In order to believe Postmillennialism you have to interpret the Scriptures symbolically, or spiritually, or at least not literally. This is true whether you are dealing with the 1,000 years of Revelation 20 or the prophecies about judgment in Revelation before then, or prophecies concerning the regathering of Israel, etc.

You also have to believe in the power of humanity to reform the world and that the church will win in the end. A little too ambitiously optimistic for this guy!

It was a heady time in America when Postmillennialism was popular. The Enlightenment filled humans with grandiose ideas of their potential. America was optimistic and two Great Awakenings swept the land. Christianity was large and in charge. The Battle Hymn of the Republic is pretty much a Postmillennial rally song.

A funny thing happened on the way to the humanly ushered in Millennium: the world wide scope of evil on display in the 20th Century. Pretty hard to come out of two world wars, depression, sexual revolutions, and whatnot and conclude we were making progress toward a Golden Age of Christian Victory.

Very few people are postmillennialists today. But I imagine it will come back if we have a sustained period of peace.

In fact, the modern Social Gospel movement borrows much postmillennial thought.

It is my contention, that when the Church concentrates of societal reform, they will lose their identity and purpose. The Church does not exist for the world. The Church exists for the edification of believers so they can be edified and built up to love their neighbor.

It’s easy to blur that line, or put the cart before the horse on that one, or replace “neighbor,” which is a person, with “society,” which is an unidentifiable mass of people. Regardless of how well the Church does in their mission, I guarantee you human endeavor will not bring Christ back.

Postmillennialism is basically Humanism with a Christian veneer. I suggest not falling for it, or its modern manifestation: the Social Gospel.

R C Sproul’s Calvinism is Mind-boggling

Here are two quotes from RC Sproul. These are not obscure quotes. These are oft repeated quotes from him.

If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.

This quote says that every single piece of creation is doing exactly what God tells it to do. “Sovereignty,” for Sproul, means God is in meticulous control of everything. Being in charge means dictating absolutely everything that everything does. If God is not dictating every element of creation, then God is not sovereign.

So now, the exact same man says this quote:

Every sin is an act of cosmic treason, a futile attempt to dethrone God in His sovereign authority.

Every sin is going against God’s sovereign authority. Sin is cosmic treason.

I don’t get it.

I know this is where the Calvinist chalks things up to “mystery.” But no, this isn’t a mystery, one of the two has to be false.

If every molecule is doing what God tells it to do, then how can molecules join together to commit cosmic treason?

The best solution to the contradiction is not chalking it up to mystery, and it certainly isn’t deciding that nothing is really sin, but admitting his understanding of sovereignty is wrong.

God is sovereign. Sovereign does not mean making every part of creation do what He wants it to do.

God establishes boundaries. Creation is free inside those boundaries. God is in control to restrict any violation of the boundaries. Nothing is out of His reach to intervene.

I do believe sin is cosmic treason. I’ll take that quote over his molecule quote, that one is just nuts.

Don’t get carried away in your theological ideas. Pretty soon you don’t make sense. Incoherence isn’t proof of mystery; it’s proof your theology has derailed.

John Wesley on Being a New Creation

Here’s a quote from Wesley’s Notes on 2 Corinthians 5:17, which says if you are in Christ you are a new creature:

He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world. God, men, the whole creation, heaven, earth, and all therein, appear in a new light, and stand related to him in a new manner, since he was created anew in Christ Jesus.

The Gospel isn’t something you believe so when you die you go to heaven. You believe the Gospel so that right now, in this present world, you have new spiritual life that will extend throughout eternity.

The Gospel is life-changing, not just after-death-changing.

What is Christ’s Active Obedience?

I came across the following quote:

“If not for Christ’s active obedience and righteousness, received through faith alone, no one would receive eternal life”

A professor at Reformed Theological Seminary said it. So, let’s analyze the theology by looking at some words.

Reformed:
Since the professor teaches at Reformed Theological Seminary, we can safely conclude we are hearing Reformed Theology from him. “Reformed” basically means “Calvinist.” I’m sure there are more ins and outs to it, but basically, that’s what it means. This will give us a foundation upon which to analyze what we’re hearing.

Tip #1 in analyzing theology: Figure out who said it. Who are they? What do they believe? Where did they say this?

Active Obedience:
This is a theological term; it is not a biblical term. Therefore, in order to define what it means, we must go to that theological camp to figure out what the term means.

Tip #2 in analyzing theology: Define your terms using people who use that term. Don’t use opposing theological camp definitions. This is a Reformed Theology term, so use Reformed Theologians to define it.

Here is a quote from Wayne Grudem in an article on Monergism.com, a place to find all things Reformed.

If Christ had only earned forgiveness of sins for us, then we would not merit heaven. Our guilt would have been removed, but we would simply be in the position of Adam and Eve before they had done anything good or bad . . .
For this reason, Christ had to live a life of perfect obedience to God in order to earn righteousness for us. He had to obey the law for his whole life on our behalf so that the positive merits of his perfect obedience would be counted for us. Sometimes this is called Christ’s “active obedience.”

The primary verse used to defend Active Obedience is Romans 5:19, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Tip #3 in analyzing theology: Look up key verses listed in support of the doctrine. Does the Bible say what they say the Bible says?

OK, now we analyze the parts.

Tip #4 in analyzing theology: Think critically about what you are being told.

The initial quote from the professor says Christ’s active obedience and righteousness is what grants us eternal life through faith.

Active obedience refers to Christ’s sinless life on this earth. Christ’s actual righteous deeds are counted to us, so we pass as righteous.

Therefore, being justified (being made righteous) seems to rest solely on Christ’s active righteous deeds done during His life.

Here’s the strange thing about this: the resurrection is completely unnecessary. Click on the link above to the Monergism.com article written by Grudem. He wrote this article to define active obedience. He does mention “passive obedience” and says that refers to Christ’s “suffering and dying for our sins,” so at least the first half of the Gospel gets mentioned! But there is no mention of Christ’s resurrection in this article about being made righteous.

Here’s why this is problematic for me, and others. Romans 5:19 is the key verse for active obedience, it’s the verse that gets the closest to sounding like it.

The disobedience is talking about Adam’s sin in eating from The Tree. It’s not referring to his entire life of active disobedience, but rather a one-time act. The same is true for Christ’s obedience. The verse is not referring to every single obedient thing Christ did in His earthly life, but is rather referring to a one-time act: more than likely His death–“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Romans 5:9).

I do not think a person can legitimately take the Greek to mean that Romans 5:19 refers to Christ’s active obedience. It’s referring to one thing.

Furthermore, according to the same context, Paul speak of our justification (justification means being made righteous). He never says our righteousness was achieved by Christ keeping the law for us, but notice what he does chalk our righteousness up to:

who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
–Romans 4:25

Justification was accomplished not by Christ’s life, nor even His death alone, but also by His resurrection.

One of my main problems with the teaching of Active Obedience is that it

1) Makes justification based on works. Paul is adamant on the point that works of the law don’t justify. If that’s the case, why do we think Christ’s works of the law justify us? If righteous come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain!

2) Makes the resurrection pointless. The entire Monergism definition of Active Obedience  never once mentions the resurrection. It gets skipped. The reason why is because they don’t really need resurrection, yet Paul says Christ’s resurrection is what justifies us!

The quote above by the professor does not even mention any aspect of the Gospel and yet is about how to receive eternal life! If we’re saved by Christ’s active obedience, then the Gospel is not needed.

I know Reformed Theology is not trying to undermine the Gospel, but frequently, in order to support their ideas, it does.

Be sober and watch and pray.

Theologians: Making the Bible Complicated for Thousands of Years

I am reading a biography of Meister Eckhart, an Augustinian monk from the 14th century. He was attempting to bring some reform to the corrupt, materialistic Catholic Church.

In so doing, he became one of the foremost mystics in Christian theology and is a little weird. He felt it was important for people to actually know Christ through mystical experience, rather than ritual motions, although he still kept ritual motions.

In a section talking about Eckhart’s education in the monastery, I read this paragraph:

Lectures on Lombard’s Sentences provided Eckhart with his first experience in the sophisticated practice of scriptural interpretation, or exegesis. Most crucially for his own religious thinking, he learned how to move from the sensus historicus, or literal sense, of Bible passages to various spiritual senses that reveal certain ‘deeper truths’ on the reading in question. The allegorical, or metaphorical, interpretation of a scriptural passage, for instance, viewed people and actions described in a symbolic manner, together conveying an essential spiritual truth.

Along with the literal and allegorical sense, there was also the moral or tropological sense, and the anagogical sense.

Each of the four interpretations, according to his teachers, pointed in a different direction . . .  each sense was true, Eckhart learned, but not readily apparent to the casual reader, hence the need for a trained preacher.

The reason we need a trained clergy is because regular people are too stupid to see these “deeper truths.” I like that the author says these senses are “not readily apparent to the casual reader.” Yeah, no kidding!

Seeing these deeper, hidden truths, and needing to be educated by people who are initiated in special ways of reading the Scripture, is the realm of theologians.

The main job of a theologian is to make the simple Scriptural meanings massively more complicated so they can feel smart and sell you things.

Yes, I’m a tad cynical of theologians. People who use big words like tropological and anagogical are not people who are going to help you understand the Bible! Use real words, people!

People who use big words are not trying to help. They are trying to make sure you realize they are smarter than you and you should bow before their awesomeness.

I don’t trust them and neither should you.

Read the Bible. Take the common sense interpretation and put it into practice. You will grow that way.

Theologians can help, but if you find that all they do is confuse you and make it harder, than don’t mess with them.

Pretty much the only reason I listen to theologians is because everyone else is basing what they believe off of what these guys said.

If you want to know where different Christians are coming from; read theology. If you want to know God and follow Christ; read the Bible.

You do not need to read big-worded theologians to know Christ. For many, theologians actually keep people from knowing Christ.

Keep it simple. Don’t let smart people discourage you. Know Christ.

How To Define Doctrine

I’ve been riffing about this quote the last few days:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

This quote makes it sound as if penal substitutionary atonement is the Gospel. Salvation would then be pinned upon believing penal substitutionary atonement.

I believe penal substitutionary atonement is a man-made doctrine, a result of Calvinistic philosophy, and is not inherently Biblical.

“Penal substitutionary atonement” is mentioned zero times in the New Testament, written after there was a revealed and understood Gospel.

Now, I know, “Trinity isn’t in the Bible either, yet you believe in that.” True. The concept is there and the doctrine of the trinity is the best explanation I’ve heard of how the Bible speaks of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Penal substitutionary atonement is not, in my opinion, the best explanation of the Gospel.

Furthermore, having an unorthodox doctrine of the trinity (one that does not measure up to the man-made definition of what the trinity is), does not disqualify you from salvation.

However, I have heard proponents of the trinity say that if you reject their notion of the trinity you can’t be saved. I’m not sure about that.

I do think wrong views of who God is will impact your doctrine on many levels and it is a vital doctrine, but can anyone fully explain it?

The Trinity is never explicitly explained in Scripture, whereas the Gospel is repeatedly explained. The Trinity is a pretty good attempt to draw together hints in the Scripture about God. Penal Substitutionary Atonement is not a very good summation of all the Bible clearly and repeatedly says about the Gospel.

The fact that we have definitions that we like and agree upon does not mean we actually understand it correctly. In other words, just because you think you’re right doesn’t necessarily mean you are right!

Making people believe your idea, no matter how orthodox (accepted) it may be, is still not a basis of salvation.

Back to penal substitutionary atonement. If penal substitutionary atonement is equal to the Gospel, and must be believed to be saved, shouldn’t these concepts be explicitly stated?

Yet the word “penal,” “penalty,” “penalize,” or any other word with “penal” in it is never once used in relationship to the Gospel in the New Testament.

The word “substitute,” “substitution,” “substitutionary,” or any other word with “substitute” in it is never used in the New Testament in relationship to the Gospel.

Allow me to really shock you and say that the word “atone,” “atoned,” “atonement,” or any other word including the root “atone” is never used in the New Testament in relation to the Gospel (“Atonement” is used one time in the KJV when they mistranslated a Greek word).

It seems weird to me that believing penal substitutionary atonement is required in order to believe the Gospel when none of these words is ever used in relation to the Gospel.

There are, no doubt, verses that people can list that hint at these words (Isaiah 53 being the closest to the idea), there may be concepts that are similar, but alas, none of these words is ever used.

I do not have to believe your doctrine in order to believe the Gospel. I do not have to use your non-biblical words. In fact, I prefer not using the word “trinity” simply because it’s not a biblical word. I prefer “godhead” much better, because there is at least biblical precedent for using such a word.

When we explain to people what we believe, what our doctrine is, it is always best to quote Scripture. It is better to say it the way the Bible says it than to quote what people said.

I, in no way, think doctrine is unimportant. On the contrary, I think doctrine is so important that we should be very careful in what we say it is and how we define it. Instead of using our words, ideas, and concepts, it seems better to quote Scripture.

If a person were to ask me, “Hey, Jeff, what is the Gospel?”

I would not answer by quoting the definition of penal substitutionary atonement. I would instead quote 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

I can rest on that. I’d rather rest on the foundation of Scripture than on the teetering, fallible doctrines of men. If someone has a problem with my defining biblical quote, then I end up defending the Bible, which is way better than defending what some guys said.

If your doctrine uses non-biblical words, I am immediately skeptical. I assume human philosophy has entered your doctrine. I also wonder how well you know the Scripture. Is this unfair judgment on my part? Maybe, then again, the Bible tells me to test the spirits and I don’t mess around with that.

Doctrine is important. The Gospel is important. So important that we should be very careful in how we define it, explain it, and defend it. You can’t go wrong quoting the Bible. Do so.

Two Problems With Substitutionary Atonement

Yesterday I did a post on the following quote:

A rejection of penal substitutionary atonement is a rejection of the gospel. Either you’re saved through the work of Christ on the Cross, or you’re not saved at all.

The gist of the quote is that if you don’t believe in Substitutionary Atonement (to be called SA from now on cuz it’s hard to type!) then you aren’t saved.

This is a rather silly position to take. SA is Calvinism. What the author of the quote is saying is that if you’re not Calvinist you don’t believe the Gospel and thus are not saved.

In his quote, only Calvinists are saved. These are the same people who fought against the Catholic Church for saying only Catholics are saved!

I believe it is entirely possible to not believe in SA and still believe the Gospel, because SA is not the Gospel. SA is an attempt to summarize and explain the Gospel.

It gets some things right and presses other things out of measure.

I know it is possible to not accept SA and yet still believe the Gospel, because I do.

Here are my two main reasons for rejecting SA:

1. SA says that Christ died as your substitute. He died in your place. You were supposed to die, but instead Christ did. Although this sounds good and there are a couple verses you can misinterpret to make it sound like that’s what the Bible says, this isn’t right.

If Christ specifically died in the exact place of every believer, then He did not die in the exact place of every non-believer. This leads to Limited Atonement, the L of the Calvinist TULIP. This is, by far, their weakest point. It is refuted by many Scriptures. Limited Atonement is wrong. Anyone can come to Christ for salvation. He died for the sins of the whole world.

Limited Atonement rejects that idea because Limited Atonement is not based on Scripture; it’s based on the Calvinist philosophy of SA.

2. SA says that Christ died instead of you. He was your exact substitute, doing something you don’t have to do now because He did it for you.

This obviously isn’t true because everyone dies! This is also not true from a Gospel standpoint because, according to Romans 6 and many other passages, Christ didn’t just die for you, He wasn’t just some man who did some thing a long time ago for you. By faith you were crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised up with Him to newness of life. I am crucified with Christ. The old man is crucified with its affections and lusts.

SA is all about Christ dying, not me. The New Testament clearly shows that we die with Christ and are raised up with Christ to newness of life. By faith, anyone can identify themselves with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s not instead of or in the place of; it’s with.

SA is wrong. It ignores lots of Scripture. SA is Calvinism. Heaven contains non-Calvinists. You do not have to believe in SA to be saved. Rejecting SA is not rejecting the Gospel.

Rejecting SA is rejecting a human attempt to explain the Gospel, an attempt that fails in several ways.

Hold fast to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word; hold loosely the ideas and philosophies of people. We’re saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by faith in John Calvin, Augustine, or anyone else. Please don’t forget that.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Here’s another quote I saw that rankled me:

I don’t wanna hear ‘well done good and faithful servant.’

I just wanna hear, “yup, you’re in.”

This one bothers me on several levels.

First, who in their right mind would say they don’t want to hear God say to them, “well done, good and faithful servant?” I mean, why would you not want to hear that?

Second, the context of this biblical phrase is instructive here (imagine that).

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.
–Matthew 25:21,23

What do you notice about both passages?

Here’s what I noticed:

Every one he said “well done good and faithful servant” to, he then told them to “enter in!”

In other words, the only ones God says are “in,” are ones who were good and faithful servants!

I mean, I don’t know. There are days I wonder.

But this is typical Christianity today. People don’t think what they do matters. That salvation and subsequent living have nothing to do with each other.

There’s a sanctimony here as well. I’m too good for doing good. As long as I’m in is all that matters; I don’t need praise, and certainly not reward.

That is asinine.

I’ve heard many people talk about the selfishness and materialism of serving God for reward. That’s just dumb. The Bible says many times God wants to and will reward service. It’s not wrong to want God’s praise and reward.

Again, this is another effort to make what I do a minor issue, and yet the Bible is so consistent and repetitive on this: what we do matters.

The only ones who get in are the ones who do what God has created them to do. This isn’t rocket science. Not is it legalism, nor works righteousness, nor telling people to work themselves into salvation.

It’s the power of the Gospel to transform sinners into saints!

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
–1 Corinthians 6:9-11