I wrote this as a fictional story on “Powered by Robots” but one of my readers, ProclaimLiberty suggested that it might be an appropriate reblog here for those “Messianic Gentiles” who may feel spiritually or theologically “abandoned” within this movement.
“I’m sorry Norman, but as long as you continue to sin, you are not welcome in this church.”
Norman Walker had been attending First Church of the Baptism for over a year now. At first Pastor William “Billy” Hubbard was excited that someone in his twenties wanted to attend. Over half the current membership was over fifty and they needed to be able to reach out to the next generation. Most of the younger people who worshiped on Sundays were the children or grandchildren of the aging parishioners. They just weren’t bringing in very many young converts.
“I love her, Billy. We’re going to get married.”
“It’s not only a matter of getting married to Chrissie. You have to repent of your sin with her. In fact, you should probably either move out or have her live elsewhere until after the wedding.”
James, a lot of effort went into your response to Sproul’s video, and I’m kind of bummed about that because it was all based on a misunderstanding. Sproul’s perspective, as in most of Reformed theology, is that, “…the church has always been the Israel of God and the Israel of God has always been the church.” Rather than replacement theology as they are so often accused of, this is a Super Covenant perspective that accords well with Scripture.
So in your article (and in your listening to Sproul’s video) you make an assumption that Sproul never does. You ask, “So what’s all that got to do with the rest of us, that is, we non-Jewish believers?” But Sproul takes for granted that what Jesus does for the Jews, He does for all who believe, because there is one people of God, whether Jew or Gentile.
In this blog post called “R.C. Sproul, Jesus, and the Doctrine of Active Obedience,” I mentioned that my interest in this teaching was spawned by reading a Facebook post from someone I know virtually and have met once face-to-face.
After putting a link to my review of Sproul’s small sermon (actually a sermon excerpt) into that Facebook discussion, he responded (I don’t want to use his name without his permission) by writing what I quoted above.
Dr. Keith A. Mathison is professor of systematic theology at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Fla., and author of “From Age to Age.”
Apparently, there’s supposed to be something about Reformed Theology that has a leg up on Biblical exegesis compared to other Christian theologies.
The link I provided just above leads to a rather extensive write-up, and if I’m curious enough, I may go through it one day. But I needed something a tad more concise for the present and came across this resource:
Reformed theology is generally considered synonymous with Calvinism and most often, in the U.S. and the UK, is specifically associated with the theology of the historic church confessions such as the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Three Forms of Unity.
I have a pretty dim view of Calvinism and consider the Calvinism vs. Arminianism duality (the link leads to part one of a four-part series) to be a totally artificial and false dichotomy. The Calvinism/Arminianism debate for me is literally a non-starter.
Nevertheless, the “theopedia” page provides a bullet point list of what it is to be “Reformed”:
It means to affirm the great “Solas” of the Reformation. (See the Five Solas)
It means to affirm and promote a profoundly high view of the sovereignty of God.
It means to affirm the doctrines of grace. . . to see God as the author of salvation from beginning to end. (See Calvinism)
It means to be creedal. . . to affirm the great creeds of the historic, orthodox church. (See e.g. the Nicene Creed)
It means to be confessional. . . to affirm one or more of the great confessions of the historic orthodox church. (see e.g. the Westminster Confession)
It means to be covenantal. . . to affirm the great covenants of Scripture and see those covenants as the means by which God interacts with and accomplishes His purposes in His creation, with mankind. (see Covenant Theology)
It means to take seriously the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20. . . to affirm the primacy of mission and understand that mission.
It means to have a distinctly Christian worldview that permeates all of life.
Just on the surface, I don’t see that Reformed theology changed very much anymore than I think the Reformation 500 years ago changed very much about the basic anti-Israel, anti-Judaism platform of basic Christianity laid down by the “Church Fathers”.
Now let’s get to Dr. Mathison’s article:
The first to believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah are Israelites— Andrew, Peter, James, John. But in the Gospels, we also hear Jesus speak of building His church, and we see growing hostility between the leaders of Israel and Jesus. We hear Jesus speak of destroying the tenants of the vineyard and giving it to others (Luke 20:9–18). In the book of Acts, the spread of the gospel to the Samaritans and Gentiles leads to even more conflict with the religious leaders of Israel. So, is Israel cast aside and replaced by this new entity known as the “church”?
There are those who would say yes, but the answer is not that simple, for we also run across hints that God is not finished with the nation of Israel.
First of all, the word “church” is used anachronistically in this context, and the concept was completely unknown to Rav Yeshua (Jesus) or anyone else in First Century C.E. Israel. One night, nearly two years ago, in a bout of insomnia, I researched the word “church” and found, among other things, that the Greek word “ekklesia” cannot be directly translated as “church” within the context of the Bible. Anyone who does so is taking quite a few theological and linguistic liberties.
But we have a hint here that Mathison may not subscribe to “replacement theology,” at least as we commonly understand it.
Mathison goes through passages of scripture, focusing mainly on Rav Yeshua and Rav Shaul (the Apostle Paul), but then he takes a quick left-hand turn into the Twilight Zone:
During most of the Old Testament era, there were essentially three groups of people: the Gentile nations, national Israel, and true Israel (the faithful remnant). Although the nation of Israel was often involved in idolatry, apostasy, and rebellion, God always kept for Himself a faithful remnant—those who trusted in Him and who would not bow the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). This remnant, this true Israel, included men such as David, Joash, Isaiah, and Daniel, as well as women such as Sarah, Deborah, and Hannah.
Wait! What? “National” Israel vs. “True” Israel? I can see this being abused pretty easily.
The problem is that nowhere in the Tanakh (Old Testament) is this distinction made. Mathison refers to Bible verses such as Luke 2:25-38, Romans 2:28-29, and Galatians 3:16, 29 to define the difference between these two “Israels.”
In a nutshell though, in the “Old Testament,” “true Israel” were those Israelites who did not succumb to idolatry, and in the “New Testament” (Apostolic Scriptures), “true Israel” are those Jews (and arguably Jews and Gentiles) who come to faith in Jesus.
I have a problem sub-dividing Israel into national and true, because when Israel was blessed by God, all of national Israel was blessed, and when Israel was cursed by God (such as being sent into exile), all of national Israel was cursed and sent into exile.
Consider the prophet Daniel and his companions. As he stated in a quote above, Mathison considers them to be part of “true Israel,” and yet, they were sent into exile along with all of the other Israelites.
Also, consider the destruction of Jerusalem and the razing of the Holy Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E. When the Jewish people were exiled from their Land, the “true Israelites” were not allowed to stay while the non-Jesus believing “national Israelites” were exiled to the diaspora.
Now let’s go to something that Mathison neglected to mention, the New Covenant:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
–Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)
Notice, Hashem, through the prophet Jeremiah, doesn’t say that only “true Israel” will be participants in the New Covenant, but rather the house of Judah and the house of Israel. God calls them “My people” and says He will put “My Law within them” and that “they will all know Me” and that “I will forgive their iniquity.”
While God has interacted with specific individuals among His people Israel, He generally acts toward Israel corporately, as a unit, not cherry-picking this Jew and that one as “true Israel”.
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances. You will live in the land that I gave to your forefathers; so you will be My people, and I will be your God.”
If you read the above-quoted passage carefully, you will see that God mentions two general populations: Israel and the nations. He doesn’t subdivide Israel into “true” and “national”. Again, He addresses Israel corporately and nationally. He will cleanse Israel of her “filthiness,” give Israel a new heart, and put His Spirit within Israel, so that they will walk in His statutes and observe His ordinances. That is, with God’s Spirit within Israel, they will observe the Torah mitzvot as second nature. Their sins will be forgiven. Israel will be perpetually obedient in New Covenant times (which haven’t fully arrived yet, by the way).
OK, Reformists believe that when God said “Israel” he also meant “the Church,” and that everything He promised Israel was also promised to the Church, once it (the Church) was created in New Testament times.
Mathison’s article is rather lengthy (but hey, who am I to talk?) so I’ll cut to the chase. When Paul writes in Romans 11:25 that “all Israel will be saved,” who is “all Israel?”
Charles Cranfield lists the four main views that have been suggested: (1) all the elect, both Jews and Gentiles; (2) all the elect of the nation Israel; (3) the whole nation Israel, including every individual member; and (4) the nation Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member. Since Paul repeatedly denies the salvation of every single Israelite, we can set aside option (3).
And of these options, which one does Mathison believe represents “all Israel?”
The interpretation of “all Israel” that best fits the immediate context is that which understands “all Israel” as the nation of Israel as a whole, but not necessarily including every individual member of ethnic Israel.
That’s good as far as it goes, but it also, in my opinion, somewhat misses the point. What makes Mathison think that this entity we refer to as “the Church” will exist as such upon the coming of King Messiah?
By stating that Israel and the Church are the same thing, Mathison denies the fact that the Sinai Covenant was made exclusively with the Children of Israel, that is, the biological descendents of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, and that non-Israelites could only be admitted to that covenant by assimilating into Israel, typically by intermarrying into the tribes (in modern times, we’d say that they would have to convert to Judaism).
If Mathison believes that Israel = Church and that Church = Israel, then all of the covenants God made with Israel must, by definition apply to Jews and Christians equally.
That means he is either validating the “One Law” proposition, and all we believing non-Jews are obligated to the identical set of commandments of Torah as are the Jews, or that after Jesus “fulfilled” the Torah commandments, they became null and void, since putting your faith in Jesus made it as if you had already fulfilled the Torah and thus, Christ’s righteousness is transferred to you.
That basically destroys the Jewish people as a people group and nation unique to God and effectively, any believing Jew at that point converts to Christianity.
Except that’s not what the New Covenant language in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 says. Re-read the text from those parts of the Bible I quoted above. They are worded such that Israel would literally observe the Torah commandments in the New Covenant era, an era which arguably was inaugurated with the life, death, and resurrection of Rav Yeshua, but one that will not be completely realized until our Rav returns as King Messiah.
In other words, this is all future tense. Israel will observe the Torah in the future when Moshiach rules Israel and the world from his throne in Jerusalem. If we are to live as if the King were already on his throne, even though he is still absent, a King in exile so to speak, then one might say Israel, national Israel, that is, the Jewish people, the objects of the Sinai and New Covenants, should observe the Torah commandments now.
This is especially true of Jews in Messiah since they have the “down-payment” of the Spirit, and thus there is greater emphasis to observe the mitzvot based on both Sinai and the New Covenant.
If Church = Israel, then it means Gentile believers in Yeshua should also observe the mitzvot in a manner identical to the Jews.
I don’t believe that’s true, of course, and I’ve written many times on why, including in this summary article about how it’s possible for we non-Jewish people of the nations who have joined ourselves to Israel through Rav Yeshua can benefit from some of the New Covenant blessings.
The conclusion of Mathison’s article reads like this:
The relationship between Israel and the church in the New Testament is not always easy to discern, but it can be understood if we remember the differences between national Israel and true Israel in both the Old Testament and the New, and if we keep in mind what Paul teaches in Romans 11. Israel’s present hardening has a purpose in God’s plan, but this hardening is not permanent. The future restoration of the nation of Israel will involve their re-grafting into the olive tree, the one people of God. The restoration of Israel will mean their becoming part of the “true Israel” by faith in Jesus Christ the Messiah.
In general, Mathison believes that national Israel (though not necessarily each and every individual Jewish person) will be “saved”, that is, merit a place in the world to come, along with the “Church”.
“In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David,
And wall up its breaches;
I will also raise up its ruins
And rebuild it as in the days of old;
That they may possess the remnant of Edom
And all the nations who are called by My name,”
Declares the Lord who does this.
We will be the people of the nations who are called by His Name. OK, “Christian” is easier to say, but that term comes with a lot of baggage; a lot of anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish people, anti-Judaism, and anti-Israel baggage.
That’s why people who think, believe, and behave like me tend to refer to themselves/ourselves by some other “label” than “Christian,” such as “Messianic Gentile” or “Talmid Yeshua”.
Ultimately, Mathison and those Christians associated with Reformed Theology aren’t replacement theorists, and they do believe that in the end all (or most) of Israel will be saved, but I don’t agree that there’s a “true” Israel vs. a “national” Israel. That totally invalidates the vast majority of the Jewish people over the past nearly two-thousand years who have lived and died having true faith in the God of their forefathers and who have declared in the Shema that “Hashem is One.”
It also invalidates the covenants, since every single Jewish person who has ever lived was born into a covenant relationship with God. Every single Jew, not just Jesus-believing Jews.
Mathison doesn’t say it as such, but the feeling I got reading his article was that the Church was at the top of the heap and Israel, because nationally they’ll only come to faith in Jesus in the end, is somewhat “lesser”. I think causality was reversed.
Even Rav Yeshua said “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22), so it is the attachment of the non-Jew to Israel through Rav Yeshua that leads to salvation. Without Israel and her King and without the grace of God, the nations of the world are destined for destruction because we have no covenant status before Hashem (unless you consider Genesis 9 as a binding covenant).
Mathison flirts with some pretty good ideas, he just doesn’t take them far enough. He doesn’t flip the paradigm so that non-Jewish disciples are dependent on our relationship with Israel and her King rather than the Jews being dependent on Jesus and the Church.
I don’t think any body calling themselves “Christian” or “the Church” will ever truly admit that reality this side of the Messianic Era. I think many of those Christians who “get it” finally have to leave their churches, go someplace else, and do something else, while they/we are waiting for the return of the King (though there are those who do hang in there and are able to maintain their balance).
No, I’m not “church-bashing”. During my two-year sojourn in a local, little Fundamentalist Baptist church, I met quite a few men and women who really did have the heart of Jesus, who were doing good, who loved God, who went out of their way to take care of the needy, the hungry, the lonely, and the lost.
I admire these people greatly and aspire to be more like them, because they are more like Rav Yeshua (although they wouldn’t think of him as such).
I just think Christianity needs to go further back into the Bible and completely rethink and reinterpret scriptures while setting aside anything that “the Church” has taught them. This is why I read and understand the Bible from a fundamentally Jewish point of view (as best as I am able, that is). It’s the only way that the overarching message of the Bible makes any sort of sense.
The other day I read an article written by Rabbi Noah Weinberg of blessed memory called “Free Will – Our Greatest Power” originally published over 15 years ago at Aish.com. I only casually mentioned it on this blog post, and thought Rabbi Weinberg’s understanding of free will was worth sharing more in detail.
“How precious is man, created in the image of God.”
Talmud – Avot 3:18
What does it mean to be created in the image of God?
Unlike other creations, the human being has free will. Within this divine spark lies our potential to shape and change the world.
Proper use of free will beautifies and perfects. Misuse of free will plunders and destroys.
It is a uniquely human endeavor to learn how to use free will properly.
I know that R. Weinberg was writing for a Jewish publication, envisioning a primarily Jewish readership, and probably not considering non-Jewish readers at all, but it does say man (humanity) was created in God’s image, not just the Jewish people and not just Israel, so this should apply to the rest of us too, right?
Actually, according to the article, God did us two favors, not just one. He gave us free will and He told us what He did. That is, we are aware we have free will and can exercise it.
This is somewhat different from what you’ll hear in certain Christian circles, especially those that favor Calvinism (for the record, I don’t subscribe to either Calvinism or Arminianism, because I think this false dichotomy was constructed by people who didn’t interpret the Bible very well). Supposedly we have no free will or only a very limited form of it, because we cannot have consciously chosen God. Only God can choose us. If we had free will, say the Calvinists, it would undermine God’s total sovereignty over the entire universe.
So let’s cut to the chase. What is free will? R. Weinberg tells us:
It is a sweltering summer day. You trudge past the ice cream parlor. Wow – 10 new flavors! Special of the day! Frozen yogurt, too! You go inside and proclaim: “I’ll have double-fudge chocolate, please.”
Is picking chocolate over the vast array of other flavors a “free will choice?” No. It is simply the exercise of a preference, just as a cow chooses to eat hay instead of grass.
“Free will” refers to the type of decision which is uniquely human: a moral choice.
But don’t mistakenly think that morality is the choice between “good and evil.” Everyone chooses to be “good” – even the most evil, immoral people. Hitler rationalized that the Jews were the enemies of the world, so in his mind he justified that as doing “good.”
Rather, free will is the choice between life and death. As the Torah says: “I have put before you, life and death… Choose life so that you may live.” (Deut. 30:19)
Now before we go crazy making all kinds of assumptions, let’s take a look at Deuteronomy 30:19 in context.
“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong your days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
–Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (NASB)
So who’s speaking? Moses. Who’s he addressing? The Children of Israel. Is anyone else there? Arguably, there’s a mixed multitude of non-Israelites, Egyptians and people from other nations who left Egypt with Moses and the Children of Israel.
So, to whom do these verses apply? In their original context, they apply only to the people present and their descendants, but let’s drill down into that a little bit.
Some would argue that because of the (supposed) presence of a “mixed multitude” who had attached themselves to Israel, that the words of Moses, along with the Torah of Moses, is as appropriately accessed by the non-Jew as the Jew, particularly the non-Jew who is a disciple of Rav Yeshua (Jesus), that very specific population I sometimes call Talmidei Yeshua.
But is this so?
Probably not. Here’s why.
Whatever happened to the mixed multitude? If you clicked the link I posted above and read the blog post, you have your answer. It was always understood that the non-Israelites would fully assimilate into Israel by the third generation. The words of Moses applied to these non-Israelites because they had made a multi-generational commitment to attach to Israel and for their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to intermarry and become part of the tribes.
In other words, there were no Gentiles who intended for their descendants to remain Gentiles, though attached to Israel in some matter, resident aliens perhaps, who bore the same covenant obligations to Hashem as did the Children of Israel.
However, when Rav Weinberg cites Deut. 30:19 as the definition of free will, the choice between life and death, does that apply, not only to Jews, and not only to Christians, but to all human beings across time?
Everyone who has ever been born, lived, and died will one day stand before God to be judged. Both Christians and Jews believe this. So it would seem that all of us, each and every one, must have free will because we were all created in the image of God and because, based on the fact that we will one day be judged, we all have the ability to consciously choose between life and death.
Yes, the situation we see in Deut. 30 is a specific case and it attached highly specific covenant responsibilities onto Israel (or rather it re-states those commitments as they were originally given at Sinai), but in a much broader sense, Israel and the nations choose between life and death all the time.
Does anyone really choose death over life?!
We all want to be great. But achieving our goals takes a lot of effort. So we get distracted and take the easy route instead. The escape route.
I agree. No one would deliberately, meaningfully choose death instead of life. Rav Weinberg says that even Hitler believed in his own twisted mind that he was doing good and choosing life. He just (grossly) misunderstood what good and life happen to be.
So how do we choose death? Hint: we do it all the time, most of us, anyway.
It’s Sunday afternoon. You’re bored. You grab the remote and slump down into the couch. You could be using your time to learn and grow. But instead you choose the easier option of painlessly passing the afternoon… escaping into the world of TV.
Each day we are confronted with many escape routes. Daydreaming, drugs, checking our email for the seventh time this hour…
Killing time is suicide on the installment plan. And suicide is the most drastic and final form of escape.
Basically, any decision that takes us away from God and puts our personal desires ahead of Him is a form of choosing death, and as R. Weinberg put it, every time we choose death, we’re committing suicide an inch at a time.
Whenever we consider our pain or our desires or our cravings first and then act upon them, we are choosing death.
So just how does one live a life that is flawlessly pious? I mean, it sounds really difficult, and probably pretty boring, right?
R. Weinberg believed he had the answers in five stages.
Stage One: Self-Awareness
You aren’t going to be able to correctly choose life over death unless you start becoming aware of the decisions you’re making and why you’re making them. Choosing to watch a football game over studying the Bible isn’t an accident. It’s a decision. Start monitoring each decision you make. Start watching yourself exercise free will.
Stage Two: Be Your Own Person
What does that mean? I’m “me,” right? Well, maybe. R. Weinberg wrote:
Don’t accept society’s beliefs as your own unless you’ve thought them through and agree with them. Live for yourself, not for society.
I suddenly remembered something my Harvard-educated son recently told me: “Many American Jews will blindly follow any agenda created by the Liberal establishment because it makes them feel virtuous and like part of the in-crowd.”
I know I’m hammering away pretty hard on political and social liberals, and especially very young ones, but I must admit that putting your own wants first isn’t just a liberal trait. It’s a human trait, and one we are all very capable of exercising, every single one of us.
I don’t object to someone being liberal, or conservative, or Christian, or an atheist, or any other alignment or orientation. I object to people selecting an orientation or alignment without thinking it through and making a conscious and informed decision.
So many people simply follow the herd because it’s the path of least resistance (and because they think it makes them virtuous, part of the in-crowd, and “cool”). I think that’s what R. Weinberg is talking about.
Check your assumptions and make sure that they are really yours and not someone else’s. Don’t be a puppet of society.
Stage Three: Distinguish Between Body and Soul
Weinberg calls this a “raging battle”:
BODY: Gravitates toward transitory comforts and sensual pleasures. Desires to quit, to dream, to drown in passions, to procrastinate. Says: “Give me some food, warmth, a pillow – and let me take life easy.” Looks for the escape of sleep… slipping away into death
Soul: “Let’s set some goals.”
Body: “Leave me alone, I’d rather sleep.”
Soul: “Come on, let’s be great!”
Body: “Relax, what’s the big deal if we wait til tomorrow?”
Do you ever feel like this? I do all the time. One example is when I realize I have to get up by 4 a.m. to make it to the gym when it opens at five so I can work out. This is the only time during the weekday I can do this, and I think particularly because it’s winter and cold and dark, I don’t want to do it.
I make myself but it’s never easy. Once I get to the gym and get moving, I’m OK, but that five or ten minutes when I first wake up, I’m arguing with myself about getting up vs. staying in bed and taking a “rest day”.
That plays into the next level.
Stage Four: Identify With Your Soul
This is sort of like saying I’m a soul that has a body rather than a body that has a soul. Instead of saying, “I’m hungry,” realize the soul means “My body needs food.” I know. It’s not that easy. That’s why using your free will to choose life takes discipline and practice, like learning to play a musical instrument (although this also takes innate talent) or working out at a gym.
In his article, R. Weinberg outlines specific strategies for how to train yourself to favor the viewpoint of the soul over the body and thus to more consistently choose life over death.
However, the final battle isn’t between your body and your soul.
Level Five: Make Your Will God’s Will
Weinberg wraps up his missive by stating:
The highest stage of free will is not when you ask yourself, “What does my soul want?” It’s when you ask yourself, “What does God want?” When that is your prime interest, you will have achieved the highest form of living. You are using your free will to merge with the most meaningful and powerful force in the universe: the transcendental.
Free will is the choice between life and death. Attach yourself to God and you will be attached to eternity – the ultimate form of life itself.
Make your will His will. If you do, you’ll be a little less than God Himself. Partners in changing the world.
The final battle is won (or continually being won) when you choose God’s will over your own day after day. As Weinberg said, it’s the highest form of exercising free will and choosing life. You are consciously, deliberately choosing God and life in abundance.
Once you embrace and fully integrate God’s will into your own, any concerns about life being difficult and boring seem rather silly.
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, according to my earnest expectation and hope, that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness, Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
Every Jewish person is born into a covenant relationship with God whether they want to be or not. Yet they all still have to make a conscious decision to choose life or death. No one else has ever been born into such a relationship with God, and yet we are still given the option to choose life over death by choosing to make God’s will our will.
It is said that no one comes to the Father except through the Son (which takes a bit of explaining which is why I’m linking to another blog post), and if we believe that, particularly as non-Jews, then choosing to become disciples of Rav Yeshua, whether you call that being a Christian or a Talmid Yeshua, is making that choice.
Every morning when we wake up, that choice is before us. “So choose life in order that you may live.”
When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness.
John MacArthur opened the conference with broad statements about the purpose of the conference and what he perceives as the main challenges of the charismatic movement. Joni Eareckson Tada offered her unique testimony and this was followed by R.C. Sproul’s theological perspective. And now added to the mix is Steve Lawson and his perspective from church history.
With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.
-Pastor Tim Challies
“Strange Fire Conference: Steve Lawson,” October 16, 2013 Challies.com
This is a continuation of my Challies Chronicles series, an analysis of Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference as “live blogged” by Pastor Challies. I guess I should just resign myself to the fact that I’m not going to know anything about the presenters at this conference, including Steve Lawson. I guess I’m just out of the loop as far as who is a popular Fundamentalist Pastor in modern Christianity.
Anyway, church history is a weak area of mine, so I can’t say this presentation was a complete waste. I learned a few things and even agreed with some of what Lawson said.
With the recent resurgence of Calvinism there has been a strange merging of historic, biblical Calvinism with charismatic experiences and worship styles. It has pulled in an entire generation of young, restless, reformed people who believe in miracles, healings, words of knowledge, prophecies, tongues, and so on. They see no reason in the New Testament for why these gifts of the Spirit have ended since the first century.
This merging has gone virtually unaddressed within the reformed community. I believe there is no one better to address these charismatic Calvinists than Calvin himself.
Calvin faced a charismatic crisis of his own in his own day. I want to look at how he addressed them. As the leading reformer in that day, whatever faced the church faced John Calvin. He had the dominant voice and people looked to him to address issues.
I have real issues with Calvin (Calvinism is resurging? Oy!) and suspect there is a significant “dark side” to the Reformation, even though there were also obvious benefits (something I’ll have to explore in more detail at a later time). I didn’t even know you could be a “charismatic Calvinist” (or that you’d want to be), but as I said, church history isn’t something I know much (or anything) about.
Then there were the Libertines who were one of the subgroups under the Anabaptists. They were antinomians. They abused Christian liberty and proved themselves to be, most likely, unconverted. Calvin called them a sect one hundred times more dangerous than the Roman Catholic church itself. They were lead by fleshly impulses and believed the Holy Spirit was adding new revelation to the Bible. They set aside the Scripture and wanted to follow the inner impulses that they thought were the Spirit. They lived in open licentiousness. They wanted an easy moral path without having to fight sin or temptation.
These were the things Calvin faced in his day. So the charismatic chaos we see now, in our day, is nothing new. It was prevalent in Calvin’s day, as it has been in other eras as well. So Calvin was not silent about it.
Here’s the part I agree with (odd, that I should agree with Calvin on anything). I don’t think you can choose to set aside the Bible and pretend that all your emotional experiences are the Holy Spirit. I certainly don’t think your emotions should tell you how to live and what is Holy, especially in contradiction to what we read in scripture. I don’t think it’s just the Libertines of Calvin’s day who live like this, and I don’t think it has to involve “dramatic” behaviors we see in Charismatic churches today. Plenty of liberal denominations are following the emotional leading of what we call “progressive” or “politically correct” in telling themselves what is right and wrong. If your church looks, acts, and believes exactly the way we’re being told to look, act, and believe by CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times, then you have no doubt set the Bible aside and are listening to another “spirit,” the “spirit” of the popular, mainstream news media.
But I digress.
In Calvin’s commentary on Matthew 10:1, he states that the office of apostleship was a temporary office. The apostles were the foundation of the church, and you only lay a foundation only once. They were given miracles to authenticate their authority as messengers of the revelation of God in Christ.
I’ll agree that, as far as I know, miracles from God are pretty rare in our day and age relative to what we see in the New Testament, but I’m not willing to draw a hard and fast line and say they’re impossible, either. Nor do miracles only have to exist to validate the original apostles. After all, there are miracles all through the Tanakh (Old Testament) and ultimately, when you take their “purpose” down to its core, all manifestations of the power of God in our world are for the glory of God. You don’t have to write a bunch of rules around them and try to put God in a box. In this case, Calvin (and probably Lawson) is drawing a conclusion he can’t possibly prove.
Institutes 1.9.3 – Word and Spirit belong inseparably together. If you take anything away from Calvin, take this. “For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we may in turn embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word.”
Institutes 2.15.2 – “This, however, remains certain: the perfect doctrine he has brought has made an end to all prophecies. All those, then, who, not content with the gospel, patch it with something extraneous to it, detract from Christ’s authority.”
I don’t think we should fall into the trap of believing the Calvin was always right just because he was Calvin or because we (or some people) hold the Reformation in such high esteem. I think Calvin, at least from what I’m reading here, didn’t have a particularly “Judaic” view of the Bible and thus probably missed a lot of meaning and depth in the Gospel message because he didn’t try to tune in to the intent of the original writers of the New Testament or their first century Jewish and Greek audiences. I can agree that Word and Spirit must be in agreement, but I believe that the Tanakh and Apostolic Scriptures must also be in agreement without a lot of theological gymnastics being necessary. I’m not sure Calvin would agree with me on that.
A charismatic Calvinist is, to Calvin, an oxymoron. It can’t exist.
I almost don’t care about this statement (almost, but not quite), because I think that all manifestations of the church in our era or any other (apart from the first century Jewish stream of “the Way”) have “missed the mark” in some manner or fashion. We have the Bible, the record of God’s interaction with human beings, primarily Jewish human beings. Then we have all of the systems we’ve built around that document, and we use those systems to tell us what the Bible means. Those systems aren’t perfect and objective because people aren’t perfect and objective. The numerous variations of Christianity aren’t perfect. Only God is perfect. I don’t think we always understand God.
We are all aiming at achieving high fidelity to the original and probably aren’t doing a very good job at it. I agree with some of the things Lawson had to say, mirroring some of the things Calvin had to say. You can’t pretend your emotions are really the Holy Spirit and then do anything you want, especially in contradiction to the Bible. But let’s be clear, no one of us and no one religious group has the inside track on exactly what the Bible is saying all of the time.
So far, I get the feeling that “Strange Fire” is trying to say that Pentecostalism is wrong and Fundamentalism is right. However, even if MacArthur and Company can reasonably convince me that Pentecostalism is essentially flawed and non-Biblical, that does not automatically grant Fundamentalism a rating of being perfect and always correct. On a math test, two students can get two different answers for the same problem but just because one student is wrong, doesn’t mean the other student is right. They could both be wrong, but in different ways.
That’s why we always study. That’s why we’re still trying to learn. That’s why we struggle. That’s why we try to understand but in the end, we keep “understanding” differently from one another.
One question remains from Lawson’s presentation. Is he making a direct comparison between the Libertines of Calvin’s day and the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic movement? If he is, then he’s saying Pentecostals are letting their emotions not only re-write the Bible, but that they’re disregarding the Bible in favor of their emotive states.
He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will…
–Ephesians 1:5 (NASB)
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
–2 Peter 3:14-18 (NASB)
I thought I was through addressing the Arminianism vs. Calvinism debate, having explored it extensively in my multi-part blog series and topping it off with the rather metaphysical Schrödinger’s Free Will and God’s Sovereignty. Then we had a guest speaker give the sermon at church last Sunday. He covered the first eighteen verses of Ephesians 1 and spent considerable time supporting his belief in the Calvinistic argument. He had to make God subject to linear time to do it, and otherwise said pretty much what I’ve heard before.
Then, in Sunday school class, we studied part of 2 Peter 3 including the above-quoted verses and I started to wonder. If the names of those chosen by God for salvation are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and we have no choice in the matter, then why did Peter write what he wrote? He’s encouraging believers (supposedly people already chosen and “sealed”) to be “diligent…spotless and blameless.” He also cautions his readers to “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness.”
What? How is that possible. I thought once chosen, no one could “fall” from “steadfastness.”
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
–John 10:27-29 (NASB)
Can you have it both ways? Can you be “unsnatchable,” so to speak, and still be able to fall from steadfastness?
Actually, during the sermon, I thought about the whole idea of being chosen. Israel was chosen as a nation. God chose corporate, national Israel, not each individual Israelites.
Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
–Exodus 19:3-6 (NASB)
But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the Lord who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen.
–Isaiah 44:1-2 (NASB)
I don’t think anyone can argue that the act of God choosing Israel and Israel’s acceptance of God’s choosing involved corporate Israel, not each individual Israelite. That means all of the Israelites present at Sinai and all of their descendents were and are chosen by God and members of the covenant beyond any “unchoosing.”
Well, of course, there is this:
For whoever eats the fat of the animal from which an offering by fire is offered to the Lord, even the person who eats shall be cut off from his people. You are not to eat any blood, either of bird or animal, in any of your dwellings. Any person who eats any blood, even that person shall be cut off from his people.
–Leviticus 7:25-27 (NASB)
No one is exactly sure what it meant for an Israelite to be “cut off from his people,” but I found an interesting discussion on the topic at Biblical Hermeneutics. It may not mean that the guilty individual would be removed from the covenant. According to Jewish Virtual Library, it could mean a premature death “at the hand if heaven” (Rashi, Ket. 30b, et al.), however there are other opinions. The upshot, as I understand it though, is that even the Israelite who has committed a sin so severe as to be “cut off” is still, on some level, accountable for the conditions of the covenant, including the curses, just because that person is an Israelite.
Ancient Israelites and modern Jewish people are born into the covenant and are responsible to God whether they want to be or not. They have been chosen because they belong to a group. That seems to be a permanent condition, as I read the Bible:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
–Matthew 5:17-18 (NASB)
And as you may have noticed, heaven and earth are still here, so the Torah is still in force for the Jewish people…all of them.
But what about us? What about the Gentiles who are called by His Name? If Israel was chosen corporately, why, according to Calvinism, are we chosen individually?
One reason might be the vast number of nations on the earth. Could God choose some nations (besides Israel) and not others? I suppose, but by what criteria would He choose? Of course, we can ask the same question about why He would choose one individual and not another. It’s certainly not by merit or anything we have done or could do. That’s the same for Israel, as I understand it. Midrash aside, God did not choose Israel because of her merit, either:
The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the Lord loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the Lord brought you out by a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
–Deuteronomy 7:7-8 (NASB)
God didn’t choose Israel because of her merit but in order to keep His promises. What promises?
Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.” And He took him outside and said, “Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.
–Genesis 15:4-6 (NASB)
God made His promise to Abram (Abraham) in a vision after the encounter with the Priest-King of Salem, Melchizedek (see Genesis 14:17-20, though in actuality, God first directly interacted with Abram and promised to make him a great nation at the beginning of Genesis 12). The text seems to indicate that it was Abram’s faith that was the key factor in God making a covenant with him, but if we accept that as fact, then we have to admit that Abram had a part in his being chosen by God. If that’s so, following the inevitable logic, then God renewed His promises to Isaac, and then to Jacob, and then to the Children of Israel through Moses, all of which culminated at Sinai.
This choosing echoes down through history and will ripple even further and into the Messianic Age (all this is summarized in The Jesus Covenant: Building My Model). I can’t seem to find a way to pry the Jewish people or even one single, individual Jewish person out of the covenant promises that started with Abraham, continued into Sinai, and that were renewed for the future in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36.
Non-Jewish believers are attached as one of the conditions of the Abrahamic Covenant (but only one, not the whole thing), which, if we were to apply the same “logic” to us as we do to how the Israelites were “chosen” by God, seems to indicate that faith is also the “glue” connects us to God.
But how does God choosing Abraham filter down to God choosing Gentiles?
… and after he brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
–Acts 16:30-34 (NASB)
That seems pretty simple. But if the jailer and his household were “pre-chosen,” so to speak, why would he even ask that question? He’s been pre-selected. He has just come to the point where he has realized it. What if he wasn’t one of the chosen and he asked that question? Would Paul have said, “Sorry, pal. You aren’t one of the elect. You are out of luck”?
Probably not, but then I don’t think we have an example in the Bible of a person asking how to be saved who wasn’t going to be saved. Oh wait!
And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” Then he *said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not commit murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man *said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property.
–Matthew 19:16-22 (NASB)
But then again, the rich young ruler was Jewish and was already chosen by God because of Sinai. I’m not even sure how that’s supposed to work relative to the Jewish Messiah except that anyone who would come to the Father has to go through the Son. Did the young fellow lose salvation because his wealth meant more to him than obedience?
Questions remain. First of all, the idea of being chosen is rather “mushy.” Why was Israel chosen corporately but the rest of us must be chosen individually? Can any Israelite lose their chosenness? Evidence seems to say not, but my exploration of that area was hardly exhaustive. If a non-Jew is chosen can he or she lose that chosen status? Depending on which verses you read in the New Testament, the answer varies. What was the mechanism or process by which God chose Abraham and does that process apply to Gentiles since it is through Abraham that we are attached to the Messiah and thus to God?
Faith seems to play a part in both the choosing of Abraham and of the rest of us.
…and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. Therefore it was also credited to him as righteousness. Now not for his sake only was it written that it was credited to him, but for our sake also, to whom it will be credited, as those who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.
–Romans 4:21-25 (NASB)
Ephesians 2:8 says that even faith is a gift from God, so we can’t say that our faith is what we bring to the table, so to speak. God gives us the faith we need in order to be chosen by Him. But then, I found a counter-argument to this point at faithalone.org:
From a cursory reading of this verse, it appears that the relative pronoun that (v 8b) has faith (v 8a) as its grammatical antecedent. However, in its Greek construction that is a demonstrative pronoun with adverbial force used in an explanatory phrase. This particular construction uses a fixed neuter singular pronoun (that) which refers neither to faith, which is feminine in Greek, nor to any immediate word which follows. (See Blass, Debrunner, Funk, 132, 2.) What all this means is that the little phrase and that (kai touto in Greek) explains that salvation is of God’s grace and not of human effort. Understood accordingly, Ephesians 2:8 could well be translated: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, that is to say, not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Moreover, there is a parallelism between not of yourselves in v 8b and not of works in v 9. This parallelism serves as a commentary to v 8a (“For by grace you have been saved through faith”) which speaks of salvation in its entirety. It is difficult to see how faith, if it is the gift of God, harmonizes with not of works of v 9. We must conclude, then, that in Ephesians 2:8 salvation is the gift of God.
You can click the link I provided above to read the entire explanation, but if this analysis holds water, then I can say that faith is what we bring to the table. Salvation is the gift which we cannot earn through works so we cannot boast.
I know that nothing I’ve said here will convince a hard-core Calvinist that the whole “election” thing is wrong, but I think, once again, I’ve thrown enough monkey wrenches into the machine to keep Calvin and his supporters from thinking they’ve made a “slam dunk” with their arguments. Yes, the guest speaker at my church last Sunday provided a number of Bible verses that seem to support the “divine election” position, but there are just as many other parts of the Bible that support the idea that God, in His sovereignty, mercy, and love, has allowed human beings to participate in their own salvation by faith (or lack thereof, sadly).
God chose Abraham for a wonderful destiny, both as an individual and as the Father of the Hebrews. That promise passed down to Isaac, to Jacob, to Jacob’s twelve sons, to the twelve tribes, and ultimately to the Jewish people corporately. Non-Jews are grafted into a single condition, the promise of the Messiah, in the Abrahamic covenant, through faith, just as Abraham had faith, and that is our link to being chosen.
We’re chosen because of faith. Salvation is the resulting gift. I believe God loves human beings in a unique way, and out of that love, He chooses to allow us room in the universe to make independent decisions, much like a father will allow a child to make choices, even when the father knows some of those choices won’t be for the good.
There are times when love can kill. There are times when you love someone so much, you cannot allow him to breathe. He must do things the way you understand is best for him—because you cannot bear that one you love so much should be in any way distant from the truth as you know it.
“After all,” you imagine, “I must do for him what I would have done for myself!”
But true love makes room for the one you love.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Love in Not Doing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson Chabad.org
As for how God can write names in a book “before” Creation if both the book and God exist outside Creation and thus outside of time, you’ll have to see a certain cat in a box for the paradoxical answer.
Anyone who ventures more than ankle deep into the weirdness of quantum mechanics quickly realizes that reality is not what we once thought it was. From the time it was introduced, its most respected scientists have groped for new understandings of the nature of reality, often turning to mysticism and religion for answers.
Max Planck, who planted the first seed of the quantum model, was convinced by his studies that “There is no matter as such…the mind is the matrix of all matter.” Erwin Schrodinger, who established the basis of the wave mechanics behind QM, theorized that individual consciousness is only a manifestation of a unitary consciousness pervading the universe. Wolfang Pauli, another of QM’s most significant pioneers, turned to Carl Jung for clues of the mysteries with which he was dealing, writing essays about “the mystic experience of one-ness.”
In case you were hoping for a consensus, Nick Herbert (“Quantum Reality,” Random House, 1985, Chapter One) counts no less than eight diverse versions of reality generated by quantum physicists, several of them quite mystical, all of them—including the most pragmatic and most realist—exceptionally weird.
The real problem is that all of them seem to work.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Quantum Reality and Ancient Wisdom”
Originally written for a symposium on the works of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, held at Brandeis University in the summer of 2000. Chabad.org
I know that Quantum Mechanics (QM) and mysticism tend to turn people off, especially when you try to put them together, but for the way my mind works, this actually makes a lot of sense. I recently read John A. Sanford’s book Mystical Christianity: A Psychological Commentary on the Gospel of John, which applied Jungian psychology heavily to the symbolism in John’s gospel. While I thought Sanford’s attempt to do so was anachronistic, reading how QM pioneer Wolfang Pauli consulted Carl Jung in attempting to understand the “weirdness” of what Pauli was addressing makes me realize something else was going on.
I’m not going to attempt the creation of some grand literary treatment of mysticism and QM, but I do want to revisit an old mystery and attempt to use aspects of QM, not necessarily as a solution, but as a proposal.
I’ve written a number of blog posts on the Calvinism vs Arminianism debate, thanks to my discussions with my Pastor. This includes The Bible as a Quantum Cookbook, which tries to put QM, Calvin, Schrödinger’s cat, and Talmud in the same hypothetical room together.
But I’ve wanted to write this sequel for a few weeks now and the opportunity presented itself.
In a quantum universe i don’t see why one can’t be 100% Calvinist and 100% Arminian. Even closer to home, I don’t see why one can’t be both a post- and a pre-millenarian. OK, I’ll confess I don’t know anything about physics or even whether Schrodinger’s cat is alive or dead. But I do know that human language is not adequate to frame propositional statements about eternal realities. This isn’t relativism…things which occured in time (and in the scripural account of time) like the resurection are subject to the law of non-contradition. It either happened or it didn’t. But we can’t be led into bad metaphysics by the soterological speculations of the 16th and 17th centuries…Calvin and Arminius respectively.
So what have I got?
Probably nothing new, except that I have the need to write this if, for no other reason, than to get a few things out of my head and into the blogosphere.
You can find out pretty much anything you want to know about Schrödinger’s cat at Wikipedia, but in short, Schrödinger’s cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. That means no actual cat was killed or allowed to live simultaneously or in separate states as a result.
Schrödinger’s cat: a cat, a flask of poison, and a radioactive source are placed in a sealed box. If an internal monitor detects radioactivity (i.e. a single atom decaying), the flask is shattered, releasing the poison that kills the cat. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies that after a while, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Yet, when one looks in the box, one sees the cat either alive or dead, not both alive and dead. This poses the question of when exactly quantum superposition ends and reality collapses into one possibility or the other.
What does that have to do with the Calvinism and Arminianism debate? As you probably already know, the debate centers around whether man has free will to choose salvation or if God’s sovereignty forces us to have no choice. Can man participate with God in his salvation or must God unilaterally choose for man?
When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
If I apply Schrödinger’s thought experiment to the conflict, I come up with a resounding “I don’t know.” It’s the difference between Classical and Quantum physics.
For the Jew with traditional leanings, this could be welcome news. The old determinist view of reality accepted by Newtonian mechanics was certainly at odds with the classic Jewish worldview. Could QM allow once again for a world of divine providence, miracles and free choice, a world in which the creatures interact with their creator? Could it perhaps even provide us a better understanding of that legacy perspective?
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, And their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
–Psalm 19:1-6 (NASB)
According to David, there is no inconsistency with our observation of the universe around us and our understanding of God. God made the universe and everything in it to point to the knowledge of Him. In other words, God doesn’t play “hide the ball” with the universe. What you see is what you get. Paul said the same thing in Romans 1:20, which is why no one has any excuse for a lack of knowledge of a Creative God.
But if Classical Mechanics doesn’t map to the Jewish view of the universe, is Judaism wrong or were the classical physicists? Again, that’s too big a question for me to answer, but I’m liking QM more and more all the time.
OK, no one really thinks that if you actually tried Schrödinger’s thought experiment with a real cat (which would be cruel) that you’d end up with a cat that is dead and alive at the same time. At the macro level, the cat would either be dead or alive. But Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics works pretty well, at least in theory, at the subatomic level. What does it do when you enter into the realm of the supernatural and the mystical?
Chassidic thought doesn’t have a problem with incorporating mysticism into its internal map of how man journeys with God, but that’s not going to satisfy the either/or literalist. The problem is, the either/or literalist is probably going to have trouble with the uncertainty of existence proposed by QM and thus the latest models for how we think things work in the universe around us.
And if you think QM is strange and even bizarre, imagine how things would look to you if you could actually experience God the way Ezekiel did, the way Paul did, or the way John did in each of their mystic experiences as recorded in the Bible. Those events make the puzzle of Schrödinger’s cat seem as simple as riding a bicycle.
Need one remind our orthodox Jewish scientists, who still feel embarrassed about some old-fashioned Torah truths, in the face of scientific hypotheses, that Heisenberg’s principle of indeterminacy has finally done away with the traditional scientific notion that cause and effect are mechanically linked, so that it is quite unscientific to hold that one event is an inevitable consequence of another, but only most probable? Most scientists have accepted this principle of uncertainty (enunciated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927) as being intrinsic to the whole universe. The 19th century dogmatic, mechanistic, and deterministic attitude of science is gone. The modern scientist no longer expects to find Truth in science. The current and universally accepted view of science itself is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities; not with certainties or absolutes.
-Rabbi Freeman quoting the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
I’m sure this or any other part of Rabbi Freeman’s article won’t convince anyone who thinks in either/or terms to entertain the idea that, from a human being’s point of view, man has total free will and God is totally sovereign at the same time, and yet that’s the only reasonable answer that I can see. Until we actually look in the box, the cat is both dead and alive. Until we can acquire God’s point of view of the free will/sovereignty process, we have total free will and God is totally sovereign at the same time.
The thing is, Schrödinger can look inside the box anytime he likes and that sets the status of the cat on one side or the other: it’s either dead or alive once the box is opened. People can’t access God’s point of view directly. When we “lift the lid of the box,” we are opening the Bible. But the Bible is God’s viewpoint turned into human language. In the moment of “translation” from God’s thoughts to text on paper, we lose a great deal of meaning. We shift from perfection to sufficiency. We open the Bible and the cat is either dead or alive. But the state of the cat depends on which part of the Bible we’re reading.
Human free will or a totally sovereign God? Somehow the answer is both. But if QM experts are weirded out by their own work, how much more should we be weirded out by the universe that God created us to live in?
If you absolutely have to come down on one side or the other of this debate, go right ahead. That means you are picking and choosing those parts of the Bible that either support man’s free will or that support God’s absolute sovereignty. That means you are dragging God and the Bible down into the mud with you. OK, Deuteronomy 30:11-14 says that the Torah is in the mud with us, so to speak, but I believe God, through Moses, was telling the Children of Israel that observing the mitzvot wasn’t an impossible task, not limiting the nature and character of the Word of God itself.
I think the Bible acts as sort of a “translation” of the Divine thought of God as filtered through the personalities and lives of the human writers. By definition, God and human beings had to enter into a partnership to create the Bible. Sure, God could have written it all by Himself without any human involvement, but he chose to let us participate. Does that make God any less sovereign and His Word any less perfect because people were also involved in the Bible’s creation?
The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics implies (if I may take some liberties) that Calvinism and Arminianism are simultaneously correct and incorrect. Yet, when one “looks in the box,” so to speak, it seems to be one or the other. Only God knows what’s going on in the box without lifting the lid.
The Christian faith is kaleidoscopic, and most of us are color-blind.