Tag Archives: salvation

Revisiting Calvin and the Gift of Choice

infinite_pathsHe 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)

DespairNo 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.

abraham1This 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?

terror-keepers-of-the-faithQuestions 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).

schrodingers-cat-in-a-boxGod 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

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.

The Truncated Gospel

bible_read_me“The shortest and easiest route home for the two missionaries would have been to continue following the imperial highway through the mountain pass of the Cilician Gates east and then branch right southward to Syria. Surely they might have felt that they had done enough and suffered enough and could now take the easy way home! But Paul was not satisfied with doing a work ‘somehow.’ Always he was constrained to do God’s work ‘triumphantly’ – to finish God’s work with joy on each occasion.

“True shepherds know that it takes time to get a new convert rooted and built up in Christ. This involves sacrifice and hardship for the leader, but there is no eternal fruit without the Cross.”

-from the Sunday School Bible Study notes for Acts 14:21-28
“What Makes a Good Missionary?”

The Sunday School class I go to after church services directly addresses the topic of the Pastor’s sermon and gives the students the opportunity to dig deeper and to comment on the message for the day. Pastor Randy has been in California for the past several weeks but will be back next Sunday when he will be teaching on the aforementioned portion of Acts. My Sunday School teacher hands the study notes out a week early so we have time to review and answer the questions on its pages.

A number of Pastor’s messages about Paul and Acts are mapped to the modern concept and activities of Christian missionaries. This has always bothered me and I never understood why until I took a look at the title of next Sunday’s notes: “What Makes a Good Missionary?” Then it just hit me. Using Paul, beyond a certain point, as a model of the modern missionary is anachronistic. It doesn’t fit. The foundation is different.

Here’s what I mean.

In Paul’s day, he and other Jewish apostles and disciples were attempting to spread the good news of the Jewish Messiah to Jews in Israel, Samaria, and in the diaspora and also to give that news to the Gentiles. Jews had been waiting and waiting for the arrival of the Messiah for centuries, and the need for him to come was especially acute during periods of exile and occupation. Israel was a land occupied by a foreign army and desperate to realize its own liberation and redemption. The news of an arrived Messiah who would be King and who would redeem national Israel would be beyond good news…it would be immense in its impact among world Jewry.

From that point of view, explaining why news of the arrived Messiah would be good news to the Jewish people is a no brainer, but we have to work a little harder (which Paul does) to explain why it is also good news to the people of the nations.

Today, we’ve gotten it somewhat backwards. Not that modern Christian missionaries are doing it wrong. Missionary work is the source of great spiritual and material blessings all over the world. But they are missing a few things.

As I mentioned in my book review of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel, and as McKnight correctly points out, the plan of salvation is only part of the gospel message. Sadly, modern Christian missionaries believe the salvation plan is the only part of the gospel message.

The more complete message is contained in my review of the First Fruits of Zion television series episode The Good News. What teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby make seem incredibly easy and obvious has actually eluded Gentile Christianity for nearly two thousand years.

What missionaries do today doesn’t map well to what Paul was doing. Paul was delivering the good news that the Messiah had come, had offered salvation from sins for both Jews and Gentiles (and this part was huge since the Jewish people had not anticipated salvation for Gentiles) and that he would return to liberate the captives among Israel, gather the scattered Jewish exiles to their Land, and he would bring peace to Israel and to the nations of the world. The nations would be blessed through Israel, particularly as Israel was made the head of the nations in God’s Kingdom.

I seriously doubt too many Christian missionaries are spreading around that kind of gospel message today. That’s why Paul is used anachronistically as a model for modern Christian missionary work. Most Gentile Christians lack Paul’s vision and emphasis. We don’t exactly preach a different gospel, but it certainly is a truncated one. It’s also kind of upside down.

Apostle-Paul-PreachesPaul always visited the synagogues first and appealed to the local Jewish authorities in whatever place he was visiting. The good news of Messiah would make the most sense to the Jewish people. It would only make sense to Gentile God-fearers because they were spending time in synagogues being immersed in Torah and thus, in the knowledge of Messiah. It wouldn’t make sense at all to pagan Gentiles who had no knowledge of Jewish history or teachings about God (see Acts 14:8-20).

Ok, your counter-argument is that times have changed. Gentiles are largely “in charge” of the worship of the Jewish Messiah and disseminating the information about his birth, death, resurrection, ascendance, and ultimate return (as strange as it sounds for Gentiles to be “in charge” of the iconic Jewish message and King). But does it make sense to strip out what’s going to happen upon the Messiah’s return and why that’s good news for Jewish people and Israel?

Much of the history of the church has been based on the idea that Gentile Christianity has replaced Jewish Israel in all of the covenant promises of God. This is patiently untrue and I’ve discussed it in more blog posts and magazine articles than I can count. But it does make sense for the supersessionistic church to remove the good news of Jewish ascendency and Israel’s national supremacy since it reverses the roles upon which the Gentile church has historically been based. As I’m sure you realize at this point, I think that historical foundation is dead wrong.

…these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:7

Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from nations of every language shall take hold of a Jew, grasping his garment and saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Zechariah 8:23

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Psalm 122:1-2

I realize that Psalm 122 isn’t a Messianic prophesy and is addressing the tribes of Israel, but I believe it also speaks to the spirit of the Messianic age, when we will all be glad to hear the call to go up to Jerusalem and to the House of God, the Holy Temple.

jerusalem_templeEverything in the Jewish message of the gospel points to Messiah, to the Temple, to Jerusalem, to Israel, and to the Jewish people. The mystery of that message isn’t how the Jews will be saved but how everybody else will be saved. From a Jewish point of view, as much today as when Paul was on his “missionary journeys,” the good news of Messiah was a Jewish message aimed straight at the Jewish people and at Israel. It was a given. The big shocker and the mystery of the gospel was how the Gentiles could be saved and redeemed by God as well.

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God (emph. mine).

Acts 10:44-46

Given how the Gentile God-fearers and even the pagans (who were probably told what to expect by their God-fearing neighbors and relatives) reacted to Paul’s gospel message in the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (see Acts 13:48) we can see that they too were amazed at the graciousness of the God of Israel.

We’ve lost how amazing it is that Gentiles can be saved by the God of the Jews. We’ve lost how the message of the gospel is not just about a plan of salvation but about the return of the King and how his Kingdom will be established, restoring Israel to her rightful place, and elevating the people who were chosen by God at Sinai.

It’s time for us to remember and to teach all of the gospel message, as Paul once did. It shouldn’t be hard. Paul’s sermons, some of then anyway, are preserved in our Bibles. It’s all right there in front of us. We just need to take off our blinders and learn how to see and read the message again. Then we can spread the word, not of a truncated gospel, but of overflowing good news to all, good news first and foremost to Israel and yes, then to the rest of the nations.

Book Review: The King Jesus Gospel

kjgospelContemporary evangelicals have built a ‘salvation culture’ but not a ‘gospel culture.’ Evangelicals have reduced the gospel to the message of personal salvation. This book makes a plea for us to recover the old gospel as that which is still new and still fresh. The book stands on four arguments: that the gospel is defined by the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15 as the completion of the Story of Israel in the saving Story of Jesus; that the gospel is found in the Four Gospels; that the gospel was preached by Jesus; and that the sermons in the Book of Acts are the best example of gospeling in the New Testament. The King Jesus Gospel ends with practical suggestions about evangelism and about building a gospel culture.

from the description of Scot McKnight’s book
The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited
at Amazon.com

Several months ago, D. Thomas Lancaster suggested this book to me and I was able to insert it into my reading list. I can see why Lancaster made the recommendation and while I generally agree with the core message McKnight is presenting, it seems like he could have made a few improvements (in my humble opinion).

But first things first.

The part I liked about McKnight’s book is that he was recasting the gospel message from one that only contains the message of personal salvation to one that is expanded to include the story of Israel.

In his Foreward to the book, N.T. Wright says:

…according to Scot, and I am convinced he’s right: “the gospel” is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.

Well, that’s true as far as it goes, but this statement illustrates what I see as one of the unfortunate limits of McKnight’s book. While he is correct in stating that the actual gospel message includes the return of Jesus as King of Israel and redeemer of the world (rather than just saving individuals one person at a time), he seems to end the story of Israel after the resurrection of Christ. The end. Israel’s story shifts to the story of a homogenized Kingdom of God in the Messianic Age.

I hope I’m wrong. I hope that McKnight’s vision of a future Israel just got lost between the lines, so to speak. Part of his main point, which he emphasized over and over again (the book was kind of repetitive) was:

Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles, however, were obsessed with making disciples.

I couldn’t agree more. But again, the story of the good news of Messiah goes much further than making disciples. It’s the story of Jesus as the Messiah, the King, the one who will establish his rule of peace on the Earth. This is part of McKnight’s message as well and again, I totally agree.

McKnight also addressed the question of whether or not Jesus and Paul preached the same gospel and (to me), amazingly, whether or not Jesus preached the gospel at all. I was astonished (I don’t know a great deal about the specific theological mechanics of organized Christianity in its various denominations) to discover some Pastors think it was impossible for Jesus to have preached his own good news about himself.

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

The above transaction gave me a cold chill. It’s terrifying to imagine that hundreds of thousands (or more) of Christians are attending church services, attending Sunday school, attending mid-week Bible classes, and being taught that Jesus could not possibly have understood the good news about himself. Doesn’t anyone read the Bible anymore?

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:16-21 (NASB)

scot-mcknight1That’s pretty much Jesus preaching the good news of the Messiah in a nutshell. It was apparently missed by the above-mentioned Pastor because the gospel message to him is only “justification by faith.” It has nothing to do with Israel, King Messiah, or the national redemption of Israel at all.

I want to make clear at this point that I do believe Jesus does provide the Gentile and the Jewish person salvation from sins on a personal level, but like McKnight, I believe it goes so much further. The gospel message isn’t just about the plan of salvation. It’s the good news that Israel is to be liberated, the exiled Jewish people will be restored to their Land, and national Israel will be elevated to the head of the nations in the physical Kingdom of God.

But you don’t get this in most churches.

…the gospel has lost its edge and its meaning. Nothing proves this more than the near total ignorance of many Christians today of the Old Testament Story.

This is true. It’s impossible to comprehend the full meaning of the Apostolic Writings without a very good grasp of the Torah, Prophets and Writings (Old Testament).

McKnight spends a lot of time saying that to understand the gospel message, you have to start in 1 Corinthians 15. Frankly, that would never have occurred to me as a natural starting point, but then again, I’m not a Bible scholar or a theologian. In fact, to get a good summary of the meaning of the gospel, all you have to do is watch television for about thirty minutes.

Oh not just any show.

I wrote a review of the First Fruits of Zion TV series episode The Good News not too long ago. Here’s a description of the episode from the FFOZ TV web site:

Most Christians believe that the gospel message of Jesus is that he died for our sins and if we have faith in him we will be given the gift of eternal life. While certainly this is a major component of the gospel, it is not the whole story. In episode one viewers will learn that the concept of the gospel wasn’t invented by Jesus or the disciples, but rather was prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. The “Good News” was the promise of the coming messiah and that he would bring redemption to the children of Israel.

This sounds very similar to some of McKnight’s writing and I suppose it’s possible this book could have been available (it was published in 2011) to the writers of this television episode, but the content between the two isn’t identical.

Two of the problems I had with McKnight’s definition of the gospel message was that the story of Israel seemed to end with the coming of Messiah (which is a common theme in Christianity) and that he seemed to miss the ascendancy of the Nation of Israel as the core of the Kingdom Messiah is to establish on Earth upon his return. He didn’t say why the Messiah’s gospel message was good news to Jewish people. I summarized this good news for Jewish people in my review:

Toby Janicki, Aaron Eby, and the rest of the FFOZ ministry have “solved” the mystery of the gospel and clued us in on the rest of the message: Jesus came to die for our sins and to deliver the promise of everlasting life for all who believe. But, and this is extremely important, as Messiah King, he came to deliver the promise of good news to all of Israel that when he returns, he will release the captives in exile, restore sight to the temporarily blinded, free the oppressed Jewish people, and proclaim freedom for Israel, the year of favor from the Lord.

This is why I think that Luke 4:16-21 is a better summary of the gospel message of Messiah and proof that Messiah knew what the gospel message was and indeed preached it to Israel. Because the good news of Messiah is first and foremost aimed at Israel nationally and at the Jewish people. After all, Jesus said he came for “the lost sheep of Israel” not the “lost sheep of planet Earth.” Also, Paul always went “first to the Jews and also to the Gentiles.” Why? Because the gospel message is most focused on the Jewish people and made the most sense to the Jewish people.

If McKnight had gone that far, I’d have enjoyed his book a lot better. As it was, I think he made a very important point, but he stopped too soon. He also spent too much time going over and over his central point. I get that he wanted to be thorough and I get that often, an important message needs to be repeated so the reader “gets it,” but I “get it.” I just wanted to get more.

But maybe this is why I didn’t get more.

It is sometimes forgotten that “Christ” is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah. The word Messiah means “anointed King…”

ffoz-teaching-teamI wasn’t surprised when I saw something so elemental in McKnight’s book. I’d gotten past my surprise after writing my review of the FFOZ TV episode Messiah. Exactly the same point was made during this 30-minute episode: the fact that “Christ” is a word that contains a lot more information and meaning than just the “last name” of Jesus.

Like the FFOZ TV show, McKnight is likely writing to the widest possible Christian audience, attempting to tell the largest number of believers that they have been taught a common misconception about the gospel message. After all, if at least some Pastors have adopted a limited vision of the gospel, how can the people who sit in the pews every Sunday be held accountable for not knowing the wider meaning?

Again, I disagree that Jesus has completed Israel’s story at this juncture. Israel still has a story and it will continue to be central to the good news throughout the Messianic Age and beyond. Israel will be the head of the nations and the people of many nations will stream to the Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, Micah 4:1) in the days of Messiah.

McKnight’s book is readable and educational as far as it goes and I’d recommend it if you want to get out of the traditional rut of gospel equals plan of salvation, period, end of story. But I still wish he’d have taken the story further into the future and presented the Messiah as Israel’s King and his rule on the Throne of David in Jerusalem, his gathering of the exiled Jewish people to himself, and the total redemption of national Israel as well as the people of the nations who are called by his name.

Oh, and this is my 900th blog post on “morning meditations.”

God Within Us

pillaroffireThey shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

There are two types of possible relationships. A person may relate to an object, which is a one-way relationship, since the object cannot reciprocate, or a person may react to God and to people, which should be a two-way relationship. Another difference between relating to objects and to beings is that things should be used, whereas God and people should be loved. Unfortunately, the reverse may occur, wherein people fall in love with things but they use God and people. People who behave this way perceive God and people as if they were objects. Inasmuch as the love of oneself is an inevitable fact, love of God and people can occur only when they are permitted to become part of oneself, because then one loves them as one does one’s own eyes and ears.

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

Today I shall…

…try to make my relationship with God more than an object relationship, by incorporating the Torah to be my will.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tammuz 26”

The midrash suggests something about Judaism that most Christians don’t see…the idea that there is something of God’s essence or spirit inside each Jewish person and within Israel, the Jewish nation. We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as being given only at Acts 2 to the apostles and subsequently to each Jewish and non-Jewish person who comes to faith in Christ. In Jewish midrash, this event, or something like it, would have occurred at the end of the book of Exodus.

OK, midrash isn’t scripture, so I can’t say that indeed, a portion of the Divine Presence really did inhabit each and every Israelite who lived during the time of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and beyond. But at least in post-Biblical times, if not before, Judaism had the concept of a personal “indwelling” of God as well as God’s general presence among corporate Israel.

No, I’m not forgetting this:

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.

Numbers 11:24-25 (NASB)

Not literally every Israelite had this Spirit, only Moses and the seventy elders. But this event is remarkably similar to the event of the giving of the Spirit in Acts 2 and the Spirit in both scriptures is given for the same reason: empowerment. The seventy elders required the Spirit of Hashem in order to judge with fairness and wisdom that matched God’s standards, and the apostles needed wisdom and empowerment to exceed their own human limits and to boldly go forth as emissaries of Moshiach to Jerusalem, Samaria, and beyond.

But Christianity tends to sell the average Israelite in the Tanakh (Old Testament) short. Some Christians hold themselves up as superior spiritually and personally to the Israelites because of the belief that the Holy Spirit automatically inhabited them when they confessed Christ during an altar call or other similar circumstance.

AbrahamI’m having a tough time believing that I have a closer relationship with God than men like Abraham (who we have no record of a Spirit coming upon) or Moses, both of whom spoke with God personally. What was the experience of an Israelite farmer or shepherd who brought a sacrifice to the Mishkah, who brought a Todah (thanksgiving) offering, who approached a God who actually, physically inhabited the Tabernacle as the Divine Presence? What was it like to actually see the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night?

Can we say that the hearts and souls of the Children of Israel were empty of God as He dwelt among them in an incredibly tangible form?

In Torah-study the person is devoted to the subject that he wishes to understand and comes to understand. In davening the devotion is directed to what surpasses understanding.

In learning Torah the Jew feels like a pupil with his master; in davening – like a child with his father.

-“Today’s Day”
Thursday, Tammuz 26, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Sometimes Christians believe they are more “spiritual” than religious Jews, but one of the reasons I tend to read and quote from sources such as Chabad.org and Aish.com is that they show me a spirituality in Judaism that I don’t always find in Christianity. This isn’t to say that there isn’t great spirituality in the church, far from it. It’s just that I don’t believe we have to make an “either/or” selection. I think that God dwelt among and within His people Israel in the desert of Sinai. I think He did so in a very physical and human way during the days when Jesus walked the earth.

And I believe that God is among His people Israel, the Jewish people even today. This does not undo the fact that God is also among and within the Gentiles who are called by His Name in the church as well.

No man can claim to have reached the ultimate truth as long as there is another who has not.

No one is redeemed until we are all redeemed.

Ultimate truth is an unlimited light—and if it is unlimited, how could it shine in one person’s realm and not in another’s?

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All or No One”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

messiah-prayerI’m not saying that coming to faith in the Messiah doesn’t mean anything, quite the opposite. I’m also not saying there are two paths to salvation, one for the Gentile and one for the Jew (although very soon, I plan on expanding the definition of the “good news” of Messiah considerably in one of my blog posts). I am saying that God didn’t leave His people Israel to save the Gentiles, since we Gentiles only have access to God through the Abrahamic covenant, which comes to us only through Israel; the Jewish people.

I’m also saying this:

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9 (NASB)

This fits with what I just quoted from Rabbi Freeman (though I doubt the Rabbi would have applied it as such). In Christianity, we evangelize to take the good news of Messiah to all people. Judaism doesn’t evangelize but believes that all will be drawn to God through the Messiah, both Jews and Gentiles. From both points of view, God must be present and active in the lives of everybody everywhere, not just “special people.”

A friend of mine sent me a link to a commentary on last week’s Torah reading and pointed me to the last paragraph in the article:

The Midrash of Rav Yitzchak concludes that even today Elijah and Moshiach are still recording accounts of all our deeds to be included in future holy books. These works are sealed and affirmed by God Himself. From this we learn that our actions are not something between us and God alone, but must be done in such a way as to bring the respect and admiration of the surrounding society so as to promote the observance of Torah.

Again, this is midrash and not scripture, but it suggests something that “either/or” literalists may never consider. That the names of the “elect” in the book of the Lamb were written and sealed from before creation, and that names and acts are continually written inside the sealed book. If time were linear for God, words like “before,” “during,” and “after would mean something, but God exists quite outside of linear time. So when something was written before creation, since it is written outside of the linear stream of time and outside the bounds of a created universe, does our concept of “before” that exists within the universe even apply?

Who knows?

Inner lightI was talking earlier to some people at work about genius and “thinking outside the box.” Smart and clever people can be creative and even occasionally brilliant within their own “box” or how they conceptualize the world around them. Only a true genius or arguably a mystic can see themselves, how they think, and what they think about, from outside their own box, observing themselves, observing what they are considering, and realizing that there is an entirely different set of situations and circumstances outside of the box we continually are trying to put God in.

God’s Divine Presence was “contained” in the Tabernacle because God chose to allow it, but God also said that “Heaven is My throne, and the earth is My footstool” (Isaiah 66:1, Acts 7:49).

There are great mysteries about the nature of salvation, who is saved, and the role of Messiah in the salvation of Israel and the nations. While it is important for us to examine the meaning of all this, it is arrogant for us to assume that we can come to an understanding equal to God’s.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

-Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 5

How is God with the Jewish people today? When God approaches us, are we able to respond to Him? Can we change our mind about God? How does God indwell human beings? I’m not convinced we should be absolutely sure how to answer any of those questions. All I know is that we should all sincerely seek God, and we should all sincerely seek peace, mercy, and justice by performing them day by day.

As it is said, when we study, we are a student and God is our Teacher. When we pray, we are a child and God is our Father. As it has also been said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master” (Matthew 10:24). Whether we see ourselves as students, as disciples, as children, or as slaves, we can only humbly turn to God, walk before Him, and wait His good pleasure to reveal what He will.

And only He will judge.

Addendum: See Rabbi Carl Kinbar’s comments below for some corrections to what I’ve written and quoted from in this blog post.

Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussing Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 3

jewish-repentanceI’m continuing to read Dr. Manfred E. Kober’s article “Divine Election or Human Effort?”. I’ve just finished “Chapter 3: The Doctrine of Election.” I’m no more convinced of Calvinism now than I was when I read the previous two chapters (see Taking the Fork in the Road: Discussion Arminianism and Calvinism, Part 1 and Part 2 for context before proceeding here).

The simplest way for me to write this is in a linear fashion, which is how I took my notes as I was reading through the chapter. It’s the longest chapter in Kober’s paper, and it inspires a rather lengthy response from me in my blog.

Chapter 3, on pages 18 and 19, presented a list of “elections” and where they can be found in the Bible. One very important election is the election of Israel, point two on the list:

For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me.

Isaiah 45:4 (NRSV)

Notice the wording in this verse. God chose Israel and has named Israel before Israel ever knew God. That leaves the selection of Israel totally up to God. Israel has nothing to do with it. That’s a key point in Calvinism and one in this blog post as you’ll see in a bit.

Foreknowledge: An active word to indicate a loving relationship, based on the deliberate judgment of God in the eternal plan, which God sustains with certain individuals which results in His choice of them for salvation. Foreknowledge is only used of persons, not events.

-Kober, pg 20

Well, not exactly individual persons.

The Hebrew verb “know” (yadah), has likewise a much deeper meaning than the English word. In Amos 3:2, God speaks to Israel, saying: “You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” The Lord certainly knew about all the families of the earth, but He knew Israel in a special way. His knowledge is one of a special loving relationship. This is disclosed explicitly to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah. Yahweh speaks: “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving-kindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).

ibid, pg 21

This “foreknowledge” is applied to all of Israel as far as I can tell from this reading, not just from one individual Israelite person to the next. From a Calvinist point of view, it certainly lends legs to the following:

And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written:

“Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”

Romans 11:26-27

All of Israel will be saved because all of Israel was chosen by God from before the establishment of the foundations of the earth. That seems pretty much a given relative to “foreknowledge” in Calvinism.

The Death of the MasterAccording to Kober, “foreknowledge” isn’t just God knowing ahead of time, it’s causative. God Knows Israel and out of that knowledge comes their salvation. According to Kober’s quote of Kenneth S. Wuest, The Practical Use of the Greek New Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1946) pp. 22-24, Acts 2:23 refers to God’s knowledge of the specific purpose for which Jesus would be handed over to be executed. Basically, Jesus was “chosen” before Creation for the purpose of saving at least some of the human race through this execution and resurrection.

He also states that Romans 8:29 refers to God’s foreknowing who would be conformed to the image of His Son. God’s foreknowledge isn’t seeing events happening in the future, but His “will” in loving relationship with certain individuals and (apparently) all of Israel for salvation.

On page 36 of his paper, Kober says:

Even the Apostle Paul expected opposition to such a doctrine from men who were deceived by the impulses of their depraved minds.

No kidding. If I heard Paul say that all Israel was to be saved but only some of the Gentiles from the nations, I might have a few objections as well.

Oh wait!

As it is written, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.”

Romans 9:13

I can imagine how many of Paul’s Gentile disciples, if they interpreted his words the way a Calvinist does, would object quite a bit to all Jews being saved, but only some of the Gentiles who were part of Paul’s listening and letter-reading audience. It’s good news for Israel, but only so-so news for the nations. I’m feeling pretty “Esau” right now.

Kober quotes Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, saying:

Thus knowledge [in the Old Testament] has an element of acknowledgment…Finally, the element of will [yadah] emerges with particular emphasis when it is used of God, whose knowing established the significance of what is known. In this connection, [yadah] can only mean “to elect,” i.e., to make an object of concern and acknowledgement. Gen:18:19; Ex. 33:12; Amos 3:2; Hosea 13:5; Jer. 1:5.

Quoting Charles H. Spurgeon, Election (Philadelphia: Great Commission Publications, 1964), pg 13, Kober writes:

In like manner, to say that God elected men because He foresaw they would have faith, which is salvation in the germ, would be too absurd for us to listen to for a moment. Faith is a gift of God. Every virtue comes from Him. Therefore it cannot have caused Him to elect men, because it is His gift.

jesus_was_a_calvinistIt occurred to me as I got to this point in the chapter that Calvinists must feel pretty secure because, to hold such a belief, you would certainly have to believe you’re among the elect of God. No one who had doubts about their election could possibly be a Calvinist because you’d never feel comfortable in your own skin. You’d have to worry about whether or not you’re saved. If God elected you, that’s great. If not, well…too bad.

Also, if you had even the slightest compassion for the rest of humanity, what would it be like to be a Calvinist? Sure, you could comfort yourself saying it’s God’s decision and not yours, but if you have even a minimal moral conscience, you’d still have to stop and wonder about so many people condemned to eternal suffering just because they (we) were born.

In the section of the chapter called “The Defense of Modified Calvinism,” (pg 27) Kober quoted John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London: Camelot Press Ltd., 1961), pg 11:

The point at issue between Calvin and his opponents is thus simple, but it is of course fundamental. Substantially what they do is to wrest the ground of salvation out of God’s own hand where alone, Calvin holds, it rightly belongs, and to deposit it within the contingent realm of human volition and freewill.

Actually, based on my thoughts in the previous two parts of this commentary, both Calvinists and Arminians attempt to wrest the secret of God’s salvation from Him, bringing it down into the realm of men so each theoretical camp can put their stamp of ownership on it.

But if Calvinism is right, then I probably only think I’m saved and I have no real assurance that I am short of dying and finding out what happens next. Yeah, God has the right to put me (and the rest of humanity) in such a precarious position, but is He really that capricious?

And what’s the point of Abraham debating God about the fate of Sodom if its fate was already sealed?

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the Lord went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place.

Genesis 18:22-33

And what was the point of this conversation?

Then someone came to him and said, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother; also, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “I have kept all these; what do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this word, he went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

Matthew 19:16-22

abrahams visitorsIn either case, the transactions were pointless if Calvinism is right. The fate of Sodom and of the rich young man were both sealed before any living creature drew its first breath on earth. Why didn’t Jesus just answer the fellow that either he had eternal life or he didn’t? Certainly Jesus knew if he was among the elect. God already made the decision. The rich young guy had nothing to do with it. However, since he was most likely Jewish, it doesn’t seem to matter if we can take Calvinism’s word for the election of Israel. By definition, all Israel is elected.

But individual Gentiles only have faith and thus are saved because it is God’s gift to those people that they have faith. They don’t really have faith in anything that resembles their own volition. God gave them the gift of faith so they have it. God didn’t give others faith and so they don’t have it thus they aren’t saved.

Kober quotes Spurgeon at length on page 32 to try to explain election and choice in a way we can understand.

But let me give you a better illustration. You see a mother with a babe in arms. You put a knife into her hand, and tell her to stab that babe in the heart. She replies, and very truthfully, “I can not.” Now, as far as her bodily power is concerned, she can, if she pleases; there is the knife, and there is the child. The child can not resist, and she has quite sufficient strength in her hand immediately to stab it into its heart. But she is quite correct when she says she can not do it. As a mere act of the mind, it is quite possible she might think of such a thing as killing the child, and yet she says she can not think of such a thing; and she does not say falsely, for her nature as a mother forbids her doing a thing from which her soul revolts. Simply because she is that child’s parent she feels she can not kill it.

It is even so with a sinner. Coming to Christ is so obnoxious to human nature that, although, so far as physical and mental forces are concerned (and there have but a very narrow sphere in salvation) men could come if the would: it is strictly correct to say that they can not and will not unless the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them.

-Spurgeon, Spurgeon’s Sermons on Sovereignty (Ashland, Ky.: Baptist Examiner Book Shop, 1959), pp 123, 124

So what Spurgeon is saying is that if we believe we are saved then we are because no one would even consider accepting the “free gift” of salvation unless they were among the elect. Otherwise, it would seem a totally obnoxious idea to the person.

Nah. Not buying it.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Matthew 7:21-23

If Spurgeon is correct, then the people described by the Master couldn’t exist. If they were “evil doers,” they’d never have accepted the gift of faith and salvation because as sinners, it would be too odious a thought to even consider.

Mahatma-GandhiOn page 33, Kober tries to distinguish free will vs. free agency to explain why even though people have zero control over whether or not they are elected, those who aren’t are still totally responsible for their lack of salvation. It’s their sins that condemn them, not lack of being elected.

So let me get this straight. If we’re saved, it’s totally up to God. We have nothing to do with. But if we’re not saved, it’s totally our fault and God has nothing to do with it.

Uh huh.

I can see why Gandhi rejected Christianity:

“Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”

Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

-Jones, E. Stanley, (1925). The Christ of the Indian Road. Abingdon Press, 72-73.

From a Calvinist’s point of view, we are only saved by the will of God. God doesn’t use any particular characteristic of the humans he elects as a method of making His selections. He chooses who He chooses for His own purposes and glory. If that’s all true, what about this?

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.

2 Peter 3:9

If God doesn’t want any to perish but all to be saved and if it’s entirely up to God who gets saved and who doesn’t, then why doesn’t God save everybody?

We don’t know.

However, near the end of the chapter, Kober does tip his hand about the timing of the Messiah’s return. Haven’t you ever wondered why he hasn’t come yet? According to Kober’s paper on Calvinism, there are a specific number of names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. When all of the people who have their names in that book are born and “saved,” then Jesus will return. The simple fact is that there are names in that book who haven’t been born yet.

I’m glad Calvinists don’t run the universe and that John Calvin isn’t God. It may not be “Biblical,” but I have to believe that God can’t be put in a box and neither can the mystery of “election” and salvation. One thing I am glad about is that, if Calvin is right, then God really is taking care of His people Israel and since they are elected, they are saved.

But if I am somehow forced to accept Calvin as “the truth” about God, then what hope do I have? Even if by some miracle, God did elect me (I can’t see why, I’m hardly a perfect person…I’m no saint or tzaddik), then what about my wife? What about my children? How am I supposed to feel if I’m saved but they’re not (but since they’re Jewish, who knows)?

But it’s not just Calvin I object to but the whole Calvinism/Arminianism debate. Each side thinks that they can distill the Bible down into some formula of verses that equate an “answer” to salvation. Both groups and the people they contain, think they can reduce God into a system that they can then control.

I am compelled to maintain a steadfast faith in God and not the Calvin/Arminius dynamic surrounding salvation, because if I had to see the Bible only through Calvin/Arminius-colored glasses, like Gandhi, I’d love Jesus and hate Christianity, and I’d drop the church like a hot rock.

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.