Wrong Doctrine, Mystery, and Faith

The Introduction of Bondage of the Will is summarizing Luther’s words on two main issues of salvation:

1. Can man save Himself outside of God’s willing it and making Him saved? Luther’s answer is no.

2. How can God send people to hell for doing what God made them do? Luther doesn’t know.

On both points, the conclusion is that God does stuff that doesn’t make any sense to us. In fact, God often does stuff that contradicts Scripture.

I kid you not, that’s what the Introduction says: God does things that contradict Scripture. Of course he tones it down a bit to say “it seems” like it contradicts Scripture, but let’s be real here. Luther says stuff that contradicts Scripture is clearly what is being said.

Here’s a quote from Luther:

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. But as it is, the impossibility of understanding makes room for the exercise of faith.

The author of the Introduction then says in the sentence after this quote:

And it is here, when faced with appearances that seem to contradict God’s own word, that faith is tried; for here, reason rises up in arms against it.

I already had trouble with what Luther has said about free will. I already thought Luther contradicts Scripture on any number of points. But to hear him come right out and admit that he does, AND FURTHER, to say that he has to contradict Scripture in order to have faith is unreal.

Let me throw one verse at you to contrast with the two quotes above, one of my favorite verses because it clarifies so much, Romans 10:17:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

According to the Bible, God’s Word, faith means listening to God’s Word, believing exactly what God says.

According to Bondage of the Will, Luther’s word, faith means what you have when what you think disagrees with God’s word or when you don’t understand it.

It’s always amazing to me to watch people believe things and then struggle with how what they believe does not agree with the Bible. This is where “mystery” comes in.

Back to the Introduction:

Everything that God reveals about Himself transcends man’s comprehension; every doctrine, therefore, must of necessity terminate in mystery, and man must humbly acquiesce to having it so.

This is completely false. If everything God reveals is revealed to make no sense, then why did He reveal it? What’s the point of God revealing things if even after revealing it we don’t understand it?

God reveals things to be understood; that’s kind of the point of revfelation. The secret things belong to God; the things that are revealed belong to us.

Are there aspects of what God says that leave us with wonder and further questions? Certainly, but to assert that every doctrine God reveals leaves us sitting here not comprehending things is just nuts.

It’s mind boggling when theologians come to see that the Bible doesn’t say what they believe, that they don’t use that opportunity to change what they believe. Oh no! On the contrary, they get busy saying how the Bible is wrong or unclear.

They then use their non-sensical doctrine that the Bible disagrees with to be a sign of mature faith! You have faith when you have no clue what you’re talking about!

The Bible says faith is hearing God’s word. Faith is not what you have when you don’t understand God’s Word. God said stuff to be understood. Understanding God’s Word is actually what Faith is.

“By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, sat around wondering at the mystery of what God told them to do.” Not what it says.

By faith, all the people in Hebrews 11, did exactly to the letter what God said because that’s what faith is: understanding and acting on exactly what God says. Faith does not show up in mysterious unclearness and uncomprehendingness.

If faith means trusting God when you’re clueless, then Romans 10 is out. I sincerely would mistrust anyone who told me faith is what you have in confusion. “I don’t understand anything, but oh well, guess I’ll push through and just believe.” That’s not faith.

Faith is unshakable confidence that God speaks truth and regardless of what I believe, think, or prefer, what God says is true, right, and understandable and then acts on it.

I fail to see how Luther’s understanding of faith would foster spiritual growth. Luther’s end of faith is complete confusion, not certainty–all doctrine terminates in mystery. That has to mean that the more you grow, the less you know. That’s just crazy.

Grace and Free Will

The other day I wrote a post about the long standing Christian tradition of opposing grace with human effort.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace. If you do stuff, you can’t have any relation with God’s grace.

Therefore, the people who emphasize grace the most are the ones who say they don’t do anything.

This explains why Calvinist doctrine, summed up with TULIP, are referred to by them as “the doctrines of grace.”

Calvinists go whole hog on this issue. They don’t think we do one thing on our own. Every single molecule of creation is always doing exactly what God tells it to do. Therefore, you don’t do anything. In their mind, this is why their doctrines are “THE doctrines of grace.”

The Introduction to Luther’s Bondage of the Will (yes, I’m still reading the Introduction), says:

The denial of ‘free-will’ was to Luther the foundation of the Biblical doctrine of grace, and a hearty endorsement of that denial was the first step for anyone who would understand the gospel and come to faith in God.

The author goes on to say that Erasmus (the guy Luther argues with in Bondage of the Will) thought people had an ability to do a small thing to be saved, we had something to do with it, not meriting our salvation, but there was something we did to initiate it.

Luther says “No.” There’s nothing we contribute. Salvation is of grace. If we did something then God owes us salvation, and God does not have to pay anyone for services rendered.

This is funny. Read the quote above again.

Did you see it?! Luther says heartily denying free will is the “first step” in coming to faith in God! Isn’t that something I have to do to get saved then Marty?!

This is where this whole “there’s no free will” argument just gets ridiculous.

Luther goes on to say that people who think they are saved by work and effort at least put a high price on salvation. Erasmus, who thinks it’s only a little thing we do to get salvation, treat salvation as though it’s cheap.

OK, but if people who do a lot for salvation hold salvation highly, and people who do a little to get saved value salvation cheaply, then please tell me how people who don’t think you do anything to get saved value salvation!

I’m still in the Introduction and I’m about to lose my mind.

Jonathan Edwards and Being Saved by Works

Jonathan Edwards is considered by some to be America’s greatest theologian. I don’t know about that.

What I do know is that Jonathan Edwards is a Calvinist of the first order. John Piper credits much of his Calvinistic preaching to Jonathan Edwards.

If you want Calvinist doctrine; read Jonathan Edwards.

Calvinism teaches that man does not have free will. That God ordained before your birth whether you would go to heaven or hell. You have nothing to do with it. The only people who believe the Gospel are people God previously regenerated.

I don’t know if Edwards went for all that, but many modern Calvinists who worship at the feet of Edwards certainly do.

That being the case, I was shocked to read the following quote from Jonathan Edwards the Preacher by Robert Turnbull. Quote is on page 98.

“The only hope of escape [from eternal punishment] is by the free gift of salvation from God. This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace–although, of course, He is not bound to do so. Therefore be violent for the Kingdom.”

Did you catch that? Let me quote one part for emphasis:

This cannot be won by man’s efforts, but if one is violent in seeking salvation and diligent in fulfilling all the duties God has prescribed, there is the probability that God will give him saving grace

This is as unbelievable sentence. Not only does it make no theological sense, I’m not even sure it makes common sense. Words cease to mean things when used like this.

It’s just like the Westminster Confession–God has ordained everything that comes to pass, but He’s not the author of sin. He ordains everything but He doesn’t ordain sin? So does He ordain everything or not? Calvinists are famous for making bold statements that are completely undermined in the next sentence. If you question this, they’ll just tell you you’re dumb and it’s all a “mystery.”

Edwards is going all out Pelagian with this one. I wish people would actually read the theologians they so admire. I guarantee you’ll admire them less after a while! Which is perfectly fine because you’re supposed to be following Christ and adhering to His word anyway.

Later on the same page, the author says about the above quote, “Such discourses Edwards claimed were the ones most remarkably blessed.”

The appeals that worked were the ones that were completely contrary to his Calvinist doctrines. In other words, Edwards was a Calvinist until he wanted results. He pragmatically chucks Calvinism to get the numbers!

The author of this book is a huge fan of Edwards. It was close to a hagiography. So I was doubly stunned when I read this page.

I have never met a Calvinist who was a consistent Calvinist. Calvinism makes no sense and everyone knows it. Even Jonathan Edwards knew it. He was man enough to admit it, and sleazy enough to drop it in order to manipulate people.

God bless us, every one.

Augustine and the Crusades

I am not a fan of Augustine. I think he did more damage to the church than any other human being. The odds that he’s a saint are minuscule, in my occasionally humble opinion.

Focusing in on just one area of his heretical ideas, here’s a quote from a new book entitled Crusaders by Dan Jones. The quote is from page 46-47.

“[Augustine} understood that once Christianity had swapped the status of renegade cult for that of imperial creed, the tenets of faith would have to be made compatible with the demands of an empire built for war. In City of God Augustine put up a robust defense of Christianity’s place within the Roman state, arguing that “the wise man will wage just wars . . . it is the injustice of the opposing side that lays on the wise man the necessity of waging just wars.” Elsewhere he suggested four clearly identifiable conditions under which a war could be considered just: It was fought for a good cause; it’s purpose was either to defend or regain property; it was approved by a legitimate authority; and the people doing the fighting were motivated by the right reasons.”

This rationale, according to Dan Jones, was the foundation for the Roman Catholic Church to do the Crusades.

The Crusades are one of the ugliest chapters in Church History. Any book on the Crusades will leave you shaking your head in disbelief at the stuff done in the name of Christ.

Clearly the church of the day was not listening to Christ, the Bible, or anyone who had the Holy Spirit. They were listening to Augustine, however.

Before Christianity was the official religion of Rome, it was a tiny little cult that was constantly beaten on. With official status came entanglement in politics.

Every time the church gets tied in with politics the church loses. Massively. Before long the church is doing evil things in the name of Christ.

Please read church history. Please keep the church out of politics and politics out of the church. Christianity operates better as an oppressed faction than a ruling party.

Please read Augustine and find out how much insanity in Christianity came from his deranged head.

Please read the Bible. Read and understand and you’ll never listen to Augustine, go crusading, mix politics and religion, or have any level of earthly success, which is always the foundation of eternal, heavenly success.

Let the reader understand.

Unger’s Dictionary on The Lord’s Prayer

Unger’s Bible Dictionary is pretty sketchy when it comes to anything Jesus Christ said. They’re just fine in telling you where Ur is located, but anything deeper than that and they get weird quick.

Unger’s entry under Sermon on the Mount says the church can apply general principles, but certainly don’t need to do what Jesus says. It’s not consistent with the age of grace for some unstated reason.

If Unger doesn’t like the Sermon on the Mount, you can bet all your money he will do all he can to outright dismiss the Lord’s Prayer.

Here is what Unger has to say about the Lord’s Prayer:

“This prayer is in reality a prayer for the Kingdom and in the Kingdom. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ can only be realized in its contextual meaning in the coming Millennial Kingdom.”

Thus saith Unger.

Clearly God’s will is going to be done during the Millennial Kingdom, but the idea that a person cannot pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven right now is just plain silly.

“Your will be done” is like the quintessential prayer of all time. You actually can do God’s will on this earth right now, you don’t have to wait for the Kingdom to come.

But Unger says you shouldn’t pray it now.

I just don’t even understand. This age, before the Kingdom fully comes in, is actually the only time this prayer does make sense! It makes no sense to pray this in the Kingdom at all because everything you’re asking for is already present.

I suspect the real reason people like Unger don’t like the Lord’s Prayer is for the “forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us” line. Many construe this as being opposed to grace, putting a condition on forgiveness that sounds like a law type yoke of bondage.

Any time these sorts of dispensationalists get anywhere close to the Bible saying you have to do something to get something, they will immediately theorize their way out of the obligation.

This is a misunderstanding of grace, the Bible, and common sense (if you can’t forgive other people, in what sense do you understand the greatness of God’s forgiveness to you?).

Unger has no verses listed as to how he gets from Point A to Point B. He just states it. He relies upon a theory that theologian-types invented over the plain words of Scripture.

Rather than dealing with the tough teachings of Scripture, people get busy finding loopholes to defend their disobedience. I’d be curious to watch these people as they stand before the Lord to give an account.

Telling God you didn’t listen to Him because you determined you didn’t have to, doesn’t seem like a winning argument.

It does, however, seem very consistent with human nature. Church history is filled with human attempts to explain why they don’t have to listen to God. In fact, the Bible is filled with the same thing.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
–Matthew 15:8-9

Jesus spoke this regarding the Jews of His day. It was originally said by Isaiah regarding the people of his day. It can just as well be said about people today.

Guess what? God doesn’t care about your theories. Listen to Him.

Unger’s Dictionary on the Sermon on the Mount

Last year, for some reason, I read the entire Unger’s Bible Dictionary from cover to cover. It was not thrilling reading. I probably mostly read it to say I read it. Kind of like Mount Everest: instead of climbing it, you read a book about it because the book was there.

I learned very little, mostly because it was about obscure biblical names of people and towns, none of which are distinguishable after reading 1392 pages of them.

What I did learn is that Unger is pretty good until he attempts to explain anything theological. Then he gets, shall we say, peculiar.

One of the entries that stood out to me was “Sermon on the Mount, The.”

Quoting from The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary from 1988, under the heading “Its Application,” we are told this about Sermon on the Mount, The:

“Careful exegesis of the Sermon on the Mount must not confuse it with the era of grace initiated by the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ.”

His point is that Sermon on the Mount, The is not for the church primarily. He maintains that “the application to be literally the establishment of the future Davidic Kingdom.” Otherwise known as the Millennial Kingdom.

Putting those things together, Unger is saying that Sermon on the Mount, The is not for the church but for the Kingdom period when Christ literally reigns on the earth and Israel is regathered to their land.

He does concede that Sermon on the Mount, The does have “all-time moral application, and hence its principles are applicable to the Christian.” Nice of him to grant that. He thinks it’s nice for you to be merciful and pure in heart, just don’t expect any blessings from it.

According to Unger, “This discourse gives the divine constitution for the righteous government of the earth [during the Millennial Kingdom].”

The thing I do not understand is that if this is only applicable in the Kingdom where righteousness reigns, why would people need to be told to do these righteous things? Righteousness is already reigning. At what point would a person in the righteous kingdom be blessed for being evil spoken of or reviled? That’s not going to happen there.

At what point would a person be blessed to mourn in the Kingdom if righteousness is reigning, there would be nothing to mourn about?

Unger is not the originator of this interpretation of Sermon on the Mount, The. As far as I know, Lewis Sperry Chafer popularized the idea, which really wasn’t held by anyone until he got famous.

The position has never made sense to me. The idea that Jesus wasn’t speaking to us in actual application seems crazy. Unger lists no verses to prove his point; it’s all theory and speculation.

Quoting some actual verses from the Apostle Paul, who knows more than Merrill F. Unger,

If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

The Apostle Paul says people who don’t listen to Jesus Christ’s words and doctrines of godliness are proud, know nothing, like to argue about words, and think that godliness is proved by making respectable amounts of money. Paul says to stay away from these people.

Sermon on the Mount, The says we should give things away, be taken advantage of, and should be content with mourning, persecution, and being merciful.

There’s a reason people try to eliminate the Sermon on the Mount: it’s hard and does not look like fun to your flesh. Anyone who pushes away from the teachings of Christ is listening to their flesh, not the Spirit of God.

Watch out for people who tell you it’s not necessary to listen to Jesus Christ. This is a dangerous error which will have devastating effects as time goes on. The fruit of this teaching will not be pretty. And, one who reads Sermon on the Mount, The and applies it, will clearly understand this point, for here is how it ends:

Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
–Matthew 7:16-20

Book Reviews

I read a lot. Reading should be a big part of the pastoral life. I’ve heard this from many sources and I agree. It forces me to consider other theological views and put stuff in front of me I would otherwise not be paying attention to.

Frequently people ask me what I think of certain authors or books and it is helpful to know what they are talking about to give an informed and helpful answer.

So far this year I have read 59 books, 30 of which are theological in nature. I give a rating to every book I read from 1-10. I give out very few 10’s and very few 1’s. In fact, 9’s and 2′ are few and far between. 3 or below is a book I couldn’t even manage to finish. My average rating for theological books is a 6.

The worst theological book this year is a book that didn’t even make my list apparently! I guess I read so little of it I didn’t even bother to record it has having been read. It would have gotten a 1. It was a book about a “theologian” named de Chardin. He was awful and the book was awful. It went into the garbage can.

Besides that one, my next lowest rating was a 4, which went to:

Rob Bell’s Love Wins, because even though Love does win, it doesn’t look anything like Rob Bell’s version of love winning.

A book on Rudolph Bultmann (in the same series as the de Chardin trash). “Theologian” is a term that makes the common man think of a great biblical mind, when in reality “theologian” means, “academic guy who says a lot of stuff coming from the root of his screwy mind that has little if anything in common with the Bible.”

Gabriel and Michael by Gaebelien. I imagine this book would have been better if it were actually about Gabriel and Michael and not as much about ridiculing everyone who disagrees with him on a various assortment of theological issues that had nothing to do with Gabriel and Michael.

The best theological books I’ve read this year, which get a rating of 8, are:

If Ye Shall Ask by Oswald Chambers. I never paid much attention to Chambers over the years. His devotional writings were shoved off by me as not worth my time. But actually, when you read the guy, he has great things to say and a great way of saying them. You should read more of him.

Conformed to His Image, also by Chambers, is more proof that this man has good things to say.

Spirituality According to Paul by Rodney Reeves. This is a brand new book and very well done. My wife has begun to read it and commented “He sounds like you.” With that appraisal, how can you not want to read this book?

These are the highlights and low-lights of my year’s reading to this point. I read 11 books in August and one so far in September, as August kind of wore me out with all the reading. The one book I’ve read this month had to do with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves. Not too theological but highly enjoyable!