Tag Archives: Baptist

The Fundamental Platform

Large crowd of people watching concert or sport eventWe talked denominations last Wednesday night.

Pastor Randy has a wonderful grasp of the historical development of Fundamentalism (which in its original incarnation, isn’t as scary as it seems today). Wikipedia provides this handy summary:

Christian fundamentalism, also known as fundamentalist Christianity, or simply fundamentalism, refers to a movement begun in the late 19th and early 20th century British and American Protestant denominations among evangelicals who reacted energetically against theological and cultural modernism. Fundamentalists argued that 19th century modernist theologians had misinterpreted or rejected certain doctrines, especially biblical inerrancy, which evangelicals viewed as the fundamentals of Christian faith. A few scholars regard Catholics who reject modern theology in favor of more traditional doctrines as fundamentalists. Scholars debate how much the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are synonymous.

Fundamentalism is a movement manifested in various denominations with various theologies, rather than a single denomination or systematic theology. It became active in the 1910s after the release of the Fundamentals, a ten-volume set of essays, apologetic and polemic written by conservative Protestant theologians to defend what they saw as Protestant orthodoxy. The movement became more organized in the 1920s within U.S. Protestant churches, especially Baptist and Presbyterian. Many such churches adopted a “fighting style” and combined Princeton theology with Dispensationalism. Since 1930, many fundamentalist churches in North America and around the world have been represented by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America (renamed IFCA International in 1996), which holds to biblical inerrancy, the Virgin birth of Jesus, substitutionary atonement, the literal resurrection of Christ, and the Second Coming of Christ, among other doctrines.

Really, all a fundamentalist was in its original meaning, was a person who adhered to the core fundamentals of their faith. The fundamentalist movement was born out of a desire to establish or re-establish just what was and is fundamental about being a Christian. We have all kinds of denominations and theologies and doctrines. What is the bare minimum core set of beliefs that are necessary for a person to authentically be a Christian?

The paragraph above lists all but one of them. I’ll put the complete list in bullet point form to make the information easier to read.

  • Biblical inerrancy
  • Deity of Jesus
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Substitutionary atonement
  • The literal resurrection of Christ
  • The Second Coming of Christ

Believe it or not, in the late 19th century in America and Canada (and probably Europe), These core beliefs weren’t automatically adopted and shared between Christians. I had thought the Deity of Christ had been settled by the third or fourth century, but apparently a great deal came into question in about the mid-19th century, and a series of conferences were held to settle the issue (though in the realm of human beliefs, nothing is ever finally settled).

This is all going to seem pretty dry compared to what I usually write, but I know so little about how denominations formed and what makes them different from one another, that I need to put it down in some semi-stable place as a reference. I didn’t take notes during our conversation, so I’ll have to work from memory and the charts Pastor gave me, one of which I’m including here (click to enlarge).


As Pastor was talking, I recalled my blog post What Good is There in the Hebrew Roots Movement, where I attempted to illustrate what Christianity, Messianic Judaism, and Hebrew Roots have certain things in common. I think we need to expand that idea a bit to include what we all agree upon as disciples of the Jewish Messiah. I know, for instance, that there are a few Messianic Jewish individuals and groups who claim Yeshua as Messiah but deny his Deity. They may be “Messianic,” but if we’re operating from the diagram inserted above, they can’t be included in the list of people/groups who share a fundamental set of core beliefs about Jesus.

I think such a discussion is important if, for no other reason, than to manage the “dizzyingly” confusing collection of different denominations, movements, and groups in our world. Pastor was able to place himself on the different charts he gave me, but I was just baffled where I would fit in. Where does Messianic Judaism find itself in these spectrums or is it such a diverse movement that different Messianic groups would land on different points along the scale?

I found out that Pastor has started reading Rudolph’s and Willitts’s book Introduction to Messianic Judaism. He seems to have thrown himself into the content, but where he finds himself cheering in some chapters, he disagrees strongly with others. I can’t wait to get a more detailed report from him.

I mention this because I think his mixed reaction indeed describes the larger experience within the overall Messianic Jewish movement. The movement is still in a formation stage and is trying to define itself. Contrary to what many people may believe, Messianic Judaism isn’t a single, unified entity. In many ways, it is going through the evolutionary process that mainstream Christianity has experienced and continues to go through. That’s why discovering a fundamental set of core beliefs that can be shared by all disciples of Messiah/Christ is really important. Whatever differences exist that may separate us, at least we’ll know what we all have in common.

How will that work in terms of bilateral ecclesiology as defined in Mark Kinzer’s book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism? I don’t know. As I recall from reading the book several years ago, Rabbi Dr. Kinzer draws a pretty hard and firm line in the sand between Messianic Jewish practice and identity and any non-Jewish worship and following of the Jewish Messiah. Separate but equal silos.

But as I’ve said, Messianic Judaism itself exists on a spectrum and the portion of the movement that expresses bilateral ecclesiology in its purest form (if it exists in actual practice) represents one line along the graph.

Well over two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote a blog post called Gears, Wires, and Batteries where I proposed to take all of the assumptions I’d made during my time in the Hebrew Roots movement and strip them down to nothing, then rebuild my theology from scratch.

I didn’t get it all down quite to zero, but the result is a movement away from Hebrew Roots and more toward Christianity with a “Messianic” twist. Pastor described the life of a gentleman whose name I can’t remember, a person who was instrumental in defining and then fulfilling the evangelical needs of a post-World War II Europe. This amazing person, at one point, experienced a severe crisis of faith and had to stop all external activities in order to re-discover exactly what he believed.

interfaithI suppose I’ve been “leaking” similar thoughts on my blog lately. I’m trying to discover and re-discover where I fit in. My position continues to waver a bit, especially since I’ve been attending church and Sunday school for the better part of a year.

Pastor said he wasn’t trying to convince me to become a Baptist and that although he agrees with much or all of the doctrines of the Standard Baptist Church, he’s not married to the name. I don’t know if I’ll ever become a Baptist. I suspect not, since I feel more like the wildcard in the deck. On the other hand, when God sent Pastor to live in Israel for fifteen years and then brought him back and made him a Pastor, I think God added a bit of a wildcard to Pastor’s deck, too. Although he’s more “standard” than I am as a Christian, we each have our “peculiarities”.

There’s a reason our conversations are just between the two of us. Most believers can’t tolerate the dynamic tension involved in being suspended between categories, labels, and pigeon-holes.

I don’t know where this is all going to lead for me personally, but I suspect it’s another step along the path that God has set before me. As far as all of the groups, movements, organizations, and individuals who, on some level, acknowledge that Jesus or Yeshua is the Christ or Messiah, there must be some ground-level, foundational set of beliefs that we all have in common. I know that especially in Messianic Judaism, it’s important to draw identity distinctions in order to avoid the pitfalls of assimilation into Christian culture and identity, but below that layer should exist a platform where we can all stand together and say, “this is what we believe, no matter how different we are otherwise.”

Where do all Christians, all Messianic Jewish people and affiliated Gentiles, and all Hebrew Roots Gentiles and affiliated Jews stand and make that statement? Have we ever tried to do that?

On Being a Good Christian

churchesAfter they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples…

Acts 14:21a (NASB)

Last Sunday, Pastor Randy preached on Acts 14:21-28 in a sermon he called, “What Makes a Good Missionary (Part 3)?” In many ways, the title could be expressed as “What Makes a Good Christian” since it is Pastor’s opinion that all believers are responsible for preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, whether we’re formally called missionaries or not. Pastor spent most of his adult life as a missionary and his parents were missionaries, so it’s completely understandable why his perspective would be as it is.

When he was teaching about what a disciple is, he used several different phrases to describe them/us. I want to focus on one of those phrases:

A good Christian is a person who places himself/herself under a local church authority as a member.


Yeah, I even wrote “whoa” in my notes during the sermon. A member?

Pastor listed a number or reasons for this including giving the person a sense of accountability, opportunities for service, both to the other members of the church and to the larger world, and displaying commitment to the body of believers.

I know what you’re thinking? Aren’t we all as believers, part of the body of Christ anyway, what Pastor called “the universal church?”

Yes, but he used Paul’s model of “planting churches” (I can’t imagine Paul actually used that term) to emphasize how we can’t really function effectively in the body unless we join with a local church and display a commitment to that body as one of the operational parts. The sense of community would also contribute to the individual growing in “Christ-likeness” and, as I said before, providing a platform to allow the individual to minister to God’s people.

I’ve been campaigning to completely redesign the church’s website, which currently looks like a throwback to the ancient web of the 1990s. I’ve gotten some traction, but there’s a bottleneck in the process and until that bottleneck is cleared (which I’m told will be soon), I can’t actively begin my redesign project. Most of the information on the current site is obsolete, however, I did manage to pull this from the “Beliefs” page:

Because the Bible is the complete, true and sufficient Word of God, holding absolute authority for the church and the individual, we believe and teach the following:

  • Jesus Christ as the one and only begotten Son of God, is fully Jehovah God (the second person of the trinity) (John 1:1-14). In Mary’s womb, He joined to His divine nature, a human nature and was virgin born, thus becoming ‘God-man’ (Philippians 2:5-7 / Hebrews 10:5-10).
  • Jesus was tempted by Satan but remained sinless because He was and is God, and it is impossible for God to sin (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). Still, the temptations were both valid and real to the God-man. Oh, how he can sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:15-16).
  • Christ was literally crucified on the cross, His blood becoming the sufficient cleansing for our sins. He died and was buried. Then on the third day, He physically arose in victory over sin and death (1st Corinthians 1-5). He who truly believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God is rescued from eternity in hell and given eternal life (Salvation – John 20:31).
  • The next prophetic event will be the taking up into heaven of all believers, ‘The Rapture,’ (1st Thessalonians 4:15-17). Then following the tribulation, Christ will return to the earth with us, His glorified saints, to establish His literal rule over all the earth for 1,000 years (The Millennial Kingdom), and we will rule with Him (Jude 14-15). This is our destiny as Sons of God (Romans 8).
  • Saving faith is by grace alone and not by works of merit that we can do (Ephesians 2:8-9).

churchmembershipI object to the use of “Jehovah” as if that were the actual pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton, and I’m not crazy about the “rapture” doctrine. Becoming an actual church member means taking some classes and then signing on the dotted line that you buy all of their doctrine, dogma, and theology hook, line, and sinker.

I’ve had enough conversations with my Pastor to realize our points of disagreement and, if being a member of my church or some other local church is a requirement for being a “good Christian,” then I have a problem.

Sunday afternoon, I had coffee with my good friend Tom. Tom’s been a Christian for over forty years and he and I have both been through the Hebrew Roots “wringer” as well. We have a good many attitudes in common, but he agrees with my Pastor that I will never be truly effective in my community until I formally become a member. Tom’s been a member of his church for about three years now. I asked him what he does about the bits and pieces of church doctrine with which he disagrees. He’s discussed it with his Pastor and his Pastor’s response is, “We’ll work on that.”

I’d interpret that statement to mean that Tom’s Pastor will try to convince Tom of the correctness of whatever Tom currently has issues with. I guess that situation is a work in progress.

But what about me? Frankly, I don’t think any church has their understanding 100% correct. How am I supposed to pretend that the church I attend does? I’m already anticipating a major disagreement next week in Sunday school class over the “symbolic” meaning of the moadim.

By the way, I took a closer look at the study notes for next week’s class and my blood ran cold. I’m actually kind of nervous about this. The notes mainly describe how the primary purpose of all of the Festivals just point to the reality of Jesus Christ. In other words, they had no value of their own to draw the Israelites closer to God (never mind that the word “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “korban” which gives the meaning of “drawing closer to” God). Dispensationalism isn’t supposed to be inherently supersessionistic but this part of it is getting close.

But anyway…

Since Pastor is anachronistically applying the “missionary journeys” of Paul to modern Christian missionary work anyway, let’s apply that process to “church membership.” When Paul “planted churches,” and appointed leaders, how did Gentiles join the community? Besides professing faith in Messiah, was there some additional process of agreeing to the specific conditions and rules of that community in order to join? Maybe, but remember, there weren’t “church denominations” in those days. Yes, there were different streams of Judaism, and “the Way” was the Jewish stream that contained the Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah. However, within the Way, were there different and competing variations? Did you have to choose one and forsake all others or could you just be a “generic” Jewish or Gentile disciple of the Jewish Messiah?

Actually, it looks like there were some divisions:

Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.

1 Corinthians 1:10-17 (NASB)

broken-crossOn the other hand, it looks like Paul took a dim view of these divisions and urged unity in Messiah, not in the name of some “leader” or “teacher” (or “denomination”).

I know, I know. I can’t anachronistically apply conditions as they existed in Paul’s day to the modern “church” because after all, the “church” isn’t a unified entity, at least at the level of human organizational meaning. Times have changed significantly in the past twenty centuries or so, and being a “good Christian” now means different things to different streams of Christianity.

I currently attend a small, Baptist church in Southwestern Idaho. They have definite standards and a formal process of baptism and education leading to entry into membership. I suppose I could attend and worship there forever as unaffiliated, but then, I wouldn’t meet the qualifications of a “good Christian.”

It’s not that I object to being committed to a community, having affiliation, accountability, and opportunity for service, but it’s the albatross being hung around my neck of all the specific doctrine and dogma to which I object (and if taking Calvinism on board is a requirement, then it’s an absolute “showstopper”). I can’t lie about believing stuff when I don’t believe it, so how can I ever join any church anywhere? How can I, as Pastor puts it, be a “good Christian?”

Oh, and apparently Pastor isn’t alone in his opinion about joining a church. Another collision between the principals outlined in Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David and the reality of “going to church.”

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 2

tulipThis is the second part of a rather lengthy two-part blog post on the first two chapters of Dr. Manfred E. Kober’s article “Divine Election or Human Effort,” a paper based on a workshop given by Kober on October 25, 1971 in a faculty meeting at Faith Baptist Bible College, and provided to answer student questions about Arminianism and Calvinism. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 of this post before proceeding here.

I want to talk a little bit about Calvinism and TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints) and to do so, I looked up TULIP on the Calvinist Corner website:

The doctrine of Total Depravity is derived from scriptures that reveal human character: Man’s heart is evil (Mark 7:21-23) and sick Jer. 17:9). Man is a slave of sin (Rom. 6:20). He does not seek for God (Rom. 3:10-12). He cannot understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). He is at enmity with God (Eph. 2:15). And, is by nature a child of wrath (Eph. 2:3). The Calvinist asks the question, “In light of the scriptures that declare man’s true nature as being utterly lost and incapable, how is it possible for anyone to choose or desire God?” The answer is, “He cannot. Therefore God must predestine.”

When talking about part of this with Pastor Randy, he’s the one who brought up man being created in the Image of God. That means, in some sense, that even though human beings are fallen, there is still something of us that carries a spark of the Divine. Jewish mysticism makes a great deal about these “sparks,” but I won’t open up that topic right now. I do want to say that I don’t believe the “T” in TULIP takes “the Image of God” in man into account. It’s what separates human beings from the rest of creation. Plants and animals behave the way they do because they are responding to their design. While we humans also respond to our design, part of that design is to seek God. Most of the time we fail but the drive to do it is inborn. It’s woven into the fabric of our being. It’s the image of God in man.

God does not base His election on anything He sees in the individual. He chooses the elect according to the kind intention of His will (Eph. 1:4-8; Rom. 9:11) without any consideration of merit within the individual. Nor does God look into the future to see who would pick Him. Also, as some are elected into salvation, others are not (Rom. 9:15, 21).

The “U” in TULIP seems to assume that we live in a “flat” universe where God and man operate on the same level or plane of existence (of course, God being infinitely powerful). It also assumes that God is subject to linear time (note the “look into the future” language above) as Kober states:

These acts are the result, not the cause of God’s choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man.

-Kober, “Chapter 2: The Decrees of God,” pg 7

Kober’s statements are just saturated with references to linear time and causality when I believe it is totally inappropriate to attribute those qualities to God or to believe God is subject to them.

Kober writes that the main point of Calvinism is that God saves sinners. I don’t deny that, but from Kober’s viewpoint, the statement would be better rendered God saved sinners since he did so from before the creation of the earth. There’s no active process, it’s just a “done deal” and was a done deal before we were ever born.

Yet, from a lived human experience here on the ground, people are unsaved, are in the process of approaching a decision for salvation, are saved by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. If Calvin was right, why bother preaching and teaching the word of God. Saved is saved and unsaved is unsaved. It’s already happened. The “decision” of the people involved isn’t even a formality since there’s nothing for them to decide.

It occurred to me that Calvinism also seems to contradict prophesy.

But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NRSV)

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit.

Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Joel 2:28-29, 32

Pouring waterOne day everyone will “know God” and the Spirit of the Lord will be poured out upon “all flesh.” Depending on your point of view, either that means all human beings everywhere or all human beings who have turned to God. Either way, these events have yet to occur and are signposts of the Messianic Age. But according to Calvinism, the “elect” already “know God” and those who were not chosen never will.

For that matter, referring back to Jeremiah, why would the prophet write something like “know the Lord” as if it really mattered; as if we really had a choice to know God or not know Him if Calvinism is true? “Knowing the Lord” is totally irrelevant to those who were specifically chosen by God not to know Him. And yet they are horribly and eternally punished for this “non-decision.”

In summarizing Arminianism (page 11), Kober states that the Arminianist position is that “Divine sovereignty is incompatible with free will and therefore God’s sovereignty is limited.” There’s another “either-or” statement. I disagree that God’s sovereignty and humanity’s free will are mutually exclusive states. They are from a human standpoint since we are limited in how we can conceptualize this “mystery,” but I don’t doubt that from God’s point of view, there is no dissonance and that He is both sovereign and people also experience choice.

On pages 12 through 14, Kober writes about “The Sequence of the Decrees.” I remember Pastor Randy mentioning that last Wednesday, and I remember objecting to imposing “sequencing” on God because it (again) makes God subject to linear time. It’s funny how all of the linear time and either-or arguments are a human effort at limiting God’s sovereignty over His own existence and experience while we discuss God’s sovereignty over man and salvation.

But as part of this section of his chapter, Kober cites Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1949), pp. 343-344 in describing different variations on Calvinism including Supralapsarian view, Intralapsarian view, Sublapsarian view, and Modified Sublapsarian view. I won’t list all of the points of each perspective, but they illustrate that even within Calvinism, there is a variability about how the “mechanism” of Calvinistic salvation operates. Not all Calvinists everywhere agree on all the details. Does that mean it isn’t all that evident from scripture exactly how God saves?

Calvinists are wrestling with each other over how salvation works but perhaps they’d be better off wrestling with God and living with a particular amount of uncertainty, rather than trying to pin God down, so to speak, so that we can believe we have the last word on the Word of God. MacArthur said the Bible was sufficient, not that it contained literally all the information we desire. I believe God left some stuff out of the Bible. It may not be able to tell us certain things, at least down to the finest details.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

2 Peter 2:1 (NRSV)

Kober quotes this verse on page 16 as he’s describing Biblical support for Modified Calvinism. This is a school of thought that supports all five of the TULIP points except for Limited Atonement, what is considered the weakest link in TULIP’s chain. Apparently, according to this perspective, Christ’s redemption is universal, and Kober says that some people “insist that even Calvin accepted the unlimited theory of the atonement later in life.”

Again, there’s a certain amount of “wiggle room” within the Calvinistic blanket.

I keep thinking about a couple of things.

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

Deuteronomy 30:19-20 (NRSV)

If the choice were made for the Israelites, then why would God exhort them to “choose life” and to love and obey God and His commandments?

One day, while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting near by (they had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem); and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your bed and go to your home.” Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God.

Luke 5:17-25 (NRSV)

welcome-to-faithJesus saw the faith of the men who brought the paralyzed man to him through the roof. He forgave the man of his sins and then healed him. Was the paralyzed man all part of “the plan,” already saved from before the creation of eternity, paralyzed for the glory of God so he could be forgiven and healed by the Son of Man?

What about this?

Jesus asked the father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. It has often cast him into the fire and into the water, to destroy him; but if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

Mark 9:21-24 (NRSV)

Did the boy’s father believe or not? Did he have faith or not? Did he progress from a state of unbelief to a state of belief and did Jesus help with that process?

Jesus was often critical of his disciples and others around him having “little faith” as if they had some sort of control of their faith. According to Calvinism, we have no control of our faith. It’s either present or not, like a light switch flipped to either on or off. Yes these passages seem to introduce a set of inconsistencies that question many Calvinistic assumptions.

Kober mentions that the beginning roots of Arminianism and Calvinism stretch all the way back to the fifth, fourth, and even the third centuries C.E. but both Arminius and Calvin lived during the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. James, Peter, Paul and the other apostles were dead for 1600 years by the time these doctrines had been constructed and both theories have experienced modifications and adjustments for the last 400 or so years.

I wonder what Paul would think if he could read the first sixteen pages of Dr. Kober’s article or for that matter, what would he think of the history of the Baptist church and the other denominations of modern Christianity? The theories of Arminius and Calvin are largely based on the Gospels and on Paul’s letters, so I imagine the ancient sage and emissary to the Gentiles might have an opinion or two on this matter.

I’ll continue to read Dr. Kober’s article. I’m sorry if it seems that I’ve been a little rough on him. It’s not my intent and I really don’t feel “hot under the collar” about all this. I just think that all of the arguments pitting Arminianism and Calvinism against each other are making a tragic mistake by assuming that God has to construct spiritual realities the way we write scholarly papers on theology and church doctrine.

The Bible is supposed to be a source of illumination, not a straight-jacket.

Whereas the Greek philosophical way includes defining things and relationships with precision, the Israelite way was to define things with story.

Derek Leman

113 days.

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 1

arminianism-calvinism-debateThe following paper is based on a faculty workshop given by the writer on October 25, 1971, in a faculty meeting at Faith Baptist Bible College. Frequent questions by students in the area of the sovereignty of God have prompted the writer to put his notes into a more permanent form. Although recognizing the differences that exist among evangelicals, the author believes that the position stated herein approximates most closely the Biblical and historical Baptistic view. This paper must not be construed a the official position of the school. However, it is sent forth with the prayer that it might generate more light than heat and be found profitable by the ever inquiring students…

-Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.
“Divine Election or Human Effort?”

Pastor Randy gave me a copy of this paper during our Wednesday night talk last week and I’m just now getting into it. I’ve read the first two chapters (17 pages) and can’t restrain my response any longer. I’ll write more as I progress through the 50+ pages of Dr. Kober’s paper and hopefully I too will generate “more light than heat.”

Before proceeding, a few things. First of all, I told Pastor Randy that I tend to think of myself as a “generic Christian with a Jewish twist” rather than align with a particular denomination, Baptist or otherwise. I also believe it’s quite possible to be a perfectly well-functioning Christian without declaring to be an Arminianist or a Calvinist. After all, these are systems constructed by theologians and honed by other theologians over the course of many centuries. Sure, they’re both based on scripture, but they are derived from scripture; interpreted from scripture. That doesn’t mean that either system is presupposed by scripture, let alone God. I could wad up both Arminianism and Calvinism in all their variations like so much waste paper and toss them into the trash can, then move on to other matters. My existence as a disciple of the Jewish Messiah does not hinge on making such a decision. Theologians, teachers, and preachers in a formal Christian sense must come up on one side or another but as a plain old “vanilla” Christian, I don’t.

Now on with the show.

The primary task for a theologian is to interpret God’s Word for man. But interpretation is both an art and a science. This means that any exposition of the Bible is guided by specific rules and checks which guard against personal whims and prejudices of the interpreter. The application of these rules demands the greatest care in judgment that the godly and dedicated interpreter can bring to bear upon the text. In that sense interpretation is an art.

“Chapter 1: The Duty of the Theologian,” pg 1

I can grasp the science of Biblical translation and interpretation but we must admit that it is the “art” that makes things elusive and ambiguous on occasion. If theology was an “exact science,” we wouldn’t have so many different ideas about what the Bible means. Or would we? After all, even a hard science such as astronomy contains many varying points of view on phenomena we can observe through the electromagnetic spectrum, and sometimes what we see can surprise us and challenge our long-held positions.

Kober has already somewhat contradicted himself (I’m sure he doesn’t see it quite that way and I am stretching my interpretation of “contradicted” a bit) by saying in the introduction that he’s presenting his material from the “historical Baptistic view” and in Chapter 1, he says that the science of Biblical interpretation follows rules and checks “which guard against personal whims and prejudices.” Maybe those rules and checks guard against the interpreter’s personal bias, but what about the bias built into the “historical Baptist view?”

Which aspect of salvation does God the Holy Spirit accent? Is it God’s sovereignty in salvation or the effort of man?

-Kober, pg 2

I’m crying “foul” here. Kober makes it sound like the question at hand is “Does God save or do people save themselves?” Not being a Calvinist, I can still agree that God and only God saves, but the question is, do human beings have any ownership of the process at all. It is God’s “effort” that saves, all a human being has to do is to effectively surrender to God. Is surrender an “effort?” Why do we have to be so “either-or?”

This is something of a side note, but I couldn’t resist finding the following statement somewhat ironic.

Frequently, one encounters a strangely resigned attitude on the part of believers toward certain areas of God’s truth, especially that of election, such as “Oh, well, we will know it all by and by!” This is true of course. But the point is that God has revealed more about His majestic plan of redemption than Christians sometimes realize.

-Kober, pp 2-3

beth-immanuelGiven the multitude of blog posts I’ve just written giving my own interpretation of how Messianic Judaism understands God’s revelation of His “majestic plan of redemption,” I wonder what Dr. Kober would say to the suggestion that he, like the Christians he references, may be unconscious of certain viewpoints on the redemption and salvation of Israel as well as the people of the nations called by God’s Name as presented from outside his own framework?

But back to the main focus on this “meditation.”

There are two basic ways of approaching the doctrine of salvation. One way is to stress the importance of man and his free will to choose for or against christ; this school of interpretation is called Arminianism, named after James Arminus. The other way of approaching salvation is to stress the importance of God and His sovereign will in bringing men to Himself through Christ; this school of Interpretation is called Calvinism, named for John Calvin. It is unfortunate that one must call himself an Arminian or Calvinist but for theological purposes every Christian is either one or the other.

“Chapter 2: The Decrees of God,” pg 4

Is it better to be feared or respected? — I say, is it too much to ask for both?

-Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr)
Iron Man (2008)

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.

Yogi Berra

That’s kind of my resolution to the problem in a nutshell, and it’s way too early to tip my hand, but I’m doing it anyway. I know people reading this blog post will probably classify me as an Arminian because I’m not a huge fan of God running roughshod over humanity, approving this one for salvation and tossing that one into the fires of the damned for all eternity without so much as a by your leave.

On page 4 of the paper, Kober quotes J.I. Packer saying:

The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis but one of content. Once proclaims a God who saves; the other speaks of a God who enables man to save himself.

Again, I cry foul because Packer, like Kober, is looking at the picture as an “either-or” equation. Either God is supremely sovereign and saves who He wills and condemns who He wills, all outside the awareness let alone the consent of the people involved (you are saved or “unsaved” before you are ever conceived and born and draw your first breath of life according to a Calvinist) or God has handed some sort of authority over to the human who then does the job of saving himself. It’s not that concrete a choice.

I suppose I’ll be busted because I can’t point to a part of the Bible that says “it can be both” but is that entirely true? I’m going to try to find out and then show you some examples but let me introduce something first.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

Genesis 32:24-30 (NRSV)

The name “Israel” can be interpreted a number of ways, but one common meaning is one who struggles with God and prevails (wins). If Jacob struggled with a personified God or an angel of God, logic tells us that a flesh and blood mortal cannot hold his own let alone defeat a supernatural being, particularly if that being is literally the Creator of the Universe or some incarnation of Him.

In some areas of Judaism, it is thought that Jacob’s struggle with God is a picture of how the Jewish people struggle with the difficulties of understanding God’s perfection in an imperfect world. I’ve sat in a local synagogue and listened to the Rabbi disagree with another person’s understanding of God’s sovereignty and say something like “I’m willing to struggle with God on this one.” (not an exact quote)

What if the difficulties we have with the doctrine of salvation are built into the text of the Bible and built into our lives as believers so we can “struggle with God” over them and our relationship with Him? I’m not saying it has to be that way, but it seems like Christians always want definite “either-or” answers to all of the difficult sayings in the Bible, while many religious Jews are willing to live in a state of uncertainty on certain matters, “wrestling with God” over them.

Six million Jews were slaughtered in Hitler’s Holocaust. Many of the Jewish survivors lost their faith and turned their backs on God, and from a human point of view, this is understandable. But many other Jewish survivors found a stronger faith in God as they moved forward with their lives, ultimately raising children and grandchildren with that same abiding faith. How were they able to “wrestle with God” over a seemingly enormous injustice committed or at least allowed by God against His treasured, splendorous people?

Because Arminius was not the systematic theologian that John Calvin was, he did not clearly define his thinking on salvation. As a result, the followers of Arminius distorted his system with views Arminius simply did not hold.

-Kober, pg 5

While this can be taken as a statement of fact regarding the relative backgrounds of Arminius and Calvin, it also reveals (again) the writer’s bias. He is predisposed to select Calvinism over Arminianism, so you could say the paper I’m reading is hardly a balanced and objective examination of the two viewpoints. Nevertheless, I choose to believe that Kober is an honest person who is just trying to “clear the air” about this debate. It doesn’t mean I have to accept the either-or premise of his argument, though.

As I’ve already mentioned, I have a problem with “either-or” and believe that, on some level, the answer can be “both.” While most people may not think of it this way, by “forcing” a decision about God’s thoughts and actions, even based on scripture, we assume that we can know God’s process and intentions to an absolute or at least reasonably knowable and concrete degree, then drag it down from Heaven, so to speak, and into the realm of human understanding at ground level.

It’s almost arrogant to say that the “mechanism” of salvation cannot be mysterious on any level and that we can wholly know all of the little nuts and bolts about how God “does it.” Actually, even the author must admit that we are rather “slippery” on just how many screws God used to put salvation together, and what type of battery he powers the thing with (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course). I’ll get to that tomorrow.

On page six, in describing the “five points of Arminianism,” Kober says, “The faith which God foresaw and…” This wouldn’t be the last time Kober would say or intimate that from the point of creation or before (if “before,” “during,” and “after” have any meaning to God), God looked into the future and saw what was going to happen, like some cheap fortune-teller wielding a crystal ball and some Tarot cards.

New WorldI wrote a response to this idea in relation to Calvinism about a month ago and suggested that God exists outside of time and thus is not subject to its passing as we are. Unlike human beings, God isn’t “trapped” in a little pocket of linear time being carried forward one day at a time whether He wants to be or not. I can’t prove this, but it makes sense (to me anyway) for God to “experience” all of “timespace” as a single instantaneous event, as if everything from the creation of the earth, to Moses parting the Reed sea, to the giving of the Torah at Sinai, to David seeing Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop, to the first birth cries of Mary (Miriam) as Jesus is about to leave her womb, to Jesus breathing his last on the cross, to the first crusade, to the first inquisition, to the first ship to sail to the new world, to the first footstep of man on the moon, as if all those events, and everything else, were happening simultaneously.

God doesn’t “foresee” anything. He just knows because all of Creation from alpha to omega is before Him always. It’s only from our point of view that, when God chooses to touch a specific moment within Creation, we human beings experience God within the context of linear timespace.

Which may be part of the “solution” to the “either-or” problem of God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s free will. Remember, as Kober writes his paper, he’s the observer. His readers are the observers. We are all the observers of God and it’s our point of view we depend upon. We experience choice and free will because that’s what it looks like from down here. We’re powerless to glean even a hint of God’s perspective and who knows what all this looks like as He sits enthroned in the Heavenly Court?

I have no problem with God being ultimately sovereign and at the same time with humanity experiencing a sense of “partnership” with God in the affairs of the world and in the workings of our lives.

This blog post took on a life of its own and I had to split it into two parts. I continue my discussion of Chapter 2 of Dr. Kober’s article in tomorrow’s morning meditation.

114 days.