Friday, December 28, 2007

Gordan Takes Another Shot at John 5:40

Some of you may remember a short debate I had with Gordan from over at Reformed Mafia concerning the implications of John 5:40 with regards to the Calvinist understanding of the ordo salutis [Gordan Gives Me Props And Rebukes At Reformed Mafia]. Well, it seems that since the first “hit” was unsuccessful; Gordan has reloaded his Tommy-Gun for another go at me. He fires off plenty of rounds but still manages to miss his intended target (probably because he is too busy repeatedly shooting himself in the foot). Below is his latest unsuccessful attempt to wack me out.

His comments are in quotations:

"Recently, I was in a discussion with a friend (who claims to hate me, in a good natured- way, of course) who proposed that John 5:40 is the death knell of Calvinistic soteriology. I mentioned this claim in an earlier post."

I did not say that John 5:40 was the death knell of Calvinism. I do believe that it is one of many passages which destroy the Reformed view of the ordo salutis. The question being addressed is whether the Calvinist claim that regeneration precedes faith is Biblical or not.

"[For the record, I do not hate Ben (Kangeroodort) although I do have a big, big problem with his anti-biblical soteriology, and I in fact pity him for his choice of NFL teams.]"

For the record, I do not hate Gordan either. In fact, I think I have told him that I love him on more than one occasion (as a brother in Christ of course). Likewise, I obviously have a problem with his approach to soteriology and find it to be based more on the necessary implications of a theological system than on sound exegesis. As for the football comment, all I need to say is that both the Steelers and Cowboys have 5 championships to their credit (though it took the Steelers less trips to the Superbowl to gain theirs); the Steelers are 2-1 against the Cowboys in the Superbowl, beat the Cowboys the last time they played each other (with a rookie Ben Roethlisberger at the helm), and have a more recent championship to their credit….‘nough said.

Here is the verse in the NKJV: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (This is Jesus speaking to the Jews who sought to kill Him.)

"Ben says this proves Calvinism is wrong. He is fairly certain that the “life” mentioned there must necessarily include Regeneration. He thinks that if I would simply read the text, I’d see that as an inescapable conclusion.

Spiritually dead people have to come to Jesus (i.e. believe in Him) in order to be regenerated. Ben sees that as straightforward, if only we Calvinists would read what the Bible says there.

But after pondering this for some time, both during and since our discussion at his blog, I am left where my objection began. That is, what is the textual evidence for the notion that the “life” of John 5:40 includes Regeneration? (And right here is where we may need a whole ‘nother discussion on what constitutes evidence…)

There are other options for what “life” might mean. It may be synonymous with “salvation,” which I think is not uncommon in John’s writings. Or, it may have to do specifically with “eternal life,” the glorified life post-resurrection.

In fact, I’d propose that this latter idea is suggested strongly by the context of the rest of John 5. (See especially verses 24-26, and 29.) In fact, in the verse right before the one in question (v. 39), it is “eternal life” that is expressly mentioned as that which the Jews have missed in their rejection of the Scriptures teachings about Jesus.

This does no harm to Calvinism. Every Calvinist would say that a person has to believe in Jesus in order to have eternal life."

There is a lot to deal with here. Gordan has been fair enough in representing my view that the “life” spoken of in John 5:40 must at least [if not primarily] include regeneration. Let’s take a look at the passages that Gordan cites in defense of his claims. It should be noted that I was the first one to refer to these passages in our discussion because I believed they further supported my interpretation. Gordan now brings them up as an attempt to bolster his own view.

Before looking at these passages (5:24-26 and 29), something must be said concerning his comment that, “[life] may be synonymous with ‘salvation,’ which is not uncommon in John’s writings”. I agree completely. This is probably the biggest difference in our views. Arminians do not see regeneration as a means to an end (the ability to put faith in Christ), but as the ends itself. Regeneration is the beginning of the new life (which is the eternal life that is found in Christ alone). It is, therefore, the beginning of “salvation”, which Gordan admits is synonymous with “eternal life”. For Calvinists, the purpose of regeneration is to enable (more properly, “cause”) faith in the individual which leads to salvation (i.e. eternal life). The Calvinist, then, sees things like this: life--> faith--> life [eternal life, salvation]. The Arminian sees things like this: faith--> life [eternal life, salvation, which begins at regeneration].

The text in question says, “But you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.” Gordan believes that there must be another “life” hidden in between the “unwilling” and “come”. The “unwilling” necessitates a need for “life” so that one can “come” to have “life”. For him we should understand Jesus to really mean: “Because you do not have life, you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life”. I am arguing that Jesus has given us enough information without needing to insert a separate sort of “life” in between the “unwilling” and “come”. I think that Jesus is quite plainly telling the Jews that they must come to Him in order to have “life” (which begins at regeneration).

An important question, then, resolves around whether or not the “life” spoken of in 5:40 has any reference to regeneration (the new birth where life begins). I believe that it must, and found evidence for this in the same passages Gordan now refers us to (John 5:24-26, and 29):

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (verse 24)

Look at that last phrase, “but has passed out of death into life”. Doesn’t that sound like the language of regeneration to you? A transition from death to life is a perfect way to describe regeneration, and many Calvinist have described regeneration with that exact same language. Another favorite metaphor for regeneration is “spiritual resurrection” which is just another way of saying that one has passed from [spiritual] death to [spiritual] life. This is the imagery that Jesus now turns to in describing the life spoken of in this context:

“Truly, truly, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”

Here Christ speaks of a spiritual resurrection for those who hear the voice of the Son of God. The previous verse [24] reminds us that hearing unto life includes believing, “…and believes Him who sent Me”. So what have these passages taught us? They have taught us that Jesus is describing the need for these spiritually dead Jews to experience a transition from death to life: a spiritual resurrection! Well what about verses 28-29? Don’t they have reference to the final resurrection? Yes they do, but we must let the context determine Christ’s purpose in looking forward to the resurrection event.

Jesus anticipates that the Jews will object that He has the power to grant new life. Jesus tells them plainly that He does have this power (verse 21, 24, 26) and that not only can He bring about a spiritual resurrection in those who believe in Him, but He will one day call the dead from their graves as well. However, Jesus is speaking not of a specific resurrection to life of believers in verses 28-29, but the general resurrection of the dead. The point Christ is making is that they should not be surprised at His claims to be able to grant life to those who believe since He will one day raise all of creation from the dead in order to judge them (verses 28-29). If He has been given the authority to do that, then surely He has been given the authority to give spiritual life to those who come to Him in faith.

Therefore, I think it is self evident that the context Gordan mentions actually argues against his position while lending further weight to my initial interpretation of the passage in question. Gordan has much more to say on this issue, however, so let’s hear him out:

"But Ben’s contention is that regeneration must be included in that concept because it is the starting point of eternal life. Can’t have the everlasting life in heaven without first being regenerated, after all. So, then, you have to come to Jesus to be regenerated, since it is the beginning point of eternal life."

[A few quick points here before moving on. Gordan has now correlated “eternal life” with “the glorified life post-resurrection” and “everlasting life in heaven”. While these are not improper ways to understand “eternal life”, the gospel of John does not view eternal life primarily in an eschatological sense. John primarily sees and describes “eternal life” as the present possession of those who are “believing”. This is true of John’s epistles as well (see especially 1 John 5:11-13 which is tremendously helpful in understanding how John uses “life” and “eternal life” interchangeably as a present possession). Perhaps he is uncomfortable with how this passage could favor my interpretation if eternal life is viewed as a present possession for those who believe, and therefore opts to define “eternal life” in a way rarely used by John.]

"A couple of problems with that:

1. It still doesn’t answer the question, Who will come to Jesus to be regenerated? How does a spiritually dead person decide to get resurrected? Ben believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity. I think he’d say, no spiritually dead person would choose to believe. But as an Arminian, Ben believes in Prevenient Grace. According to this doctrine, before any sinner may savingly believe in Christ, God must first grant a gift of grace that allows that sinner to overcome his totally depraved nature and make that decision from something like neutral ground.

In short, Arminian Ben sees the same dilemma the Calvinist does, in that no carnal man will or can receive the things of the Spirit (specifically, the Gospel of Christ.) Where the Calvinist solves this dilemma with the doctrine of Regeneration, the Arminian solves it with resistible Prevenient Grace. The two doctrines accomplish the same thing: they allow the sinner to obey the demands of the Gospel.

Now, here’s the catch for Ben. If John 5:40’s “life” must include Calvinistic regeneration (since that is the starting point of life in Christ) then why does Prevenient Grace get a pass? Doesn’t the Arminian process of receiving eternal life in Christ begin with Prevenient Grace? If so, then it is just as rightly included in the “life” of John 5:40 as the Calvinist’s doctrine of Regeneration. That is, they both stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ.

So, if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient Grace."

Gordan is really reaching here. His argument simply does not follow and seems to be based on a gross misunderstanding of how Arminians view prevenient grace. I do not believe that prevenient grace must be included in “life” as he contends. The new life cannot be given until one exercises the God ordained condition of faith. This is the order presented to us by Jesus in John 5:40. The “come” of 5:40 is synonymous with faith, just as the “come” of John 6:44 is synonymous with faith. Jesus is therefore saying that one gains life through faith. Prevenient grace comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith. Prevenient grace is described in John 6:44 as a drawing. The Arminian then sees the ordo salutis as: draw [prevenient grace] --> come [in faith] --> life [regeneration, i.e. the beginning of eternal life and salvation]. This order is supported by comparing John 5:40 with John 6:44 [which is what initially provoked this debate]. The fact that one must first come before one can attain life in John 5:40 makes it impossible for us to understand the drawing of John 6:44 as regeneration. It must, therefore, have reference to prevenient grace as Arminians have always contended. Gordan has done nothing to prove otherwise. He has only succeeded in strengthening the Arminian interpretation by drawing (no pun intended) our attention to John 5:21-24, and 26.

Prevenient grace does indeed “stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ”, but that grace is not the same as regeneration. Prevenient grace enables the sinner to believe unto life. John 5:40 tells us that coming must precede life, and John 6:44 tells us that drawing must precede coming. That is exactly what Arminians believe concerning the ordo salutis and Gordan’s statement that, “…if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient grace” is a painfully obvious case of non-sequintur.

"2. Another problem with saying that Regeneration has to be included in any thought of eternal life, is this: why stop there? I mean, why not go back farther? You have to be alive in the flesh before you can be alive in the Spirit, right? So why not include fleshly life in the “life” of John 5:40? You can’t enter into eternal life by faith while you’re physically dead any more than you can believe without being regenerated. So, surely physical life stands just as vitally at the starting point of life in Christ as Regeneration does. Why include one and not the other, aside from the fact that it seems to help your argument?"

And I thought Gordan was reaching with his last comments. This argument barely deserves an answer. All we need to do is look at the context to understand what kind of life Jesus is referring to in John 5:40. We have done that above, and I am confident that any unbiased reading of the text would reveal that Jesus is speaking of a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life: a spiritual resurrection [i.e. regeneration]. Trying to bring physical life into the text is a desperate attempt to salvage an indefensible interpretation.

"Or why not go all the way back to God’s foreordination before the foundation of the world?"

And now Gordan has really given up the ghost.

"Calvinists would say Regeneration only happens because Predestination has already happened long ago, so why not extend the line back to the real, genuine beginning of life in Christ? So then, Jesus would be saying, “You refuse to come to Me, that you may be predestined.”"

Is Gordan really contending that “real” and “genuine” regeneration in Christ begins at some eternal decree? Wouldn’t that make the elect eternally regenerated? Is this really where Gordan is willing to take us in order to preserve his doctrine? Look at this statement again and let the absurd implications sink in:

“Calvinists would say that Regeneration only happens because Predestination has already happened long ago, so why not extend the line back to the real, genuine beginning of life in Christ?”

Surely Gordan misspoke and didn’t think very carefully about what he was saying since I am quite confident that he doesn’t believe the elect have been regenerated from eternity. I think that it is only fair that we give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

While Gordan’s statement is plainly and painfully ridiculous, he is actually on to something very important when he says, “life in Christ”. It is undisputable that spiritual life resides only in the person of Jesus Christ (John. 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John. 1:2; 5:11; Col. 3:3, 4). It is just as certain that we come to be in union with Christ through faith (Eph. 1:13; 3:17). The born again believer is truly a “new creature”, but only “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). Gordan’s belief that regeneration precedes faith puts him into the absurd theological position of explaining how someone can be given new life outside of union with the only source of life- Jesus Christ. He must also affirm that a holy God can give life to sinners before the blood of Christ has been applied, since he believes that regeneration precedes justification. His theology forces him to accept the unbiblical view that one can be born again before being forgiven (which is part of what it means to be justified). For more on this please see my post: Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

"So this is what I see as the conclusion of the matter, though I am certain others will disagree with me."

…including, I think, most Calvinists.

"As a Calvinist, nothing that John 5:40 says conflicts at all with what I believe is Biblical soteriology."

…which only further demonstrates that his theology controls his exegesis and not the other way around.

"I believe you must come to Jesus to have life. And, ta-da! I remain a five pointer."

…albeit a theologically confused and inconsistent five-pointer.

"The only way this text is a challenge to Calvinism is if you force two things into the text: First, you must force it to include Regeneration when it speaks of eternal life."

No need to force it, just allow the text to speak for itself as has been demonstrated above.

The problem is that there is no good reason to force it that way, and no reason to stop there and not include earlier necessities like Predestination. It can be read in a perfectly harmonious, straightforward manner without that. Second, I think you must conflate Regeneration and Justification. If the two are separate things, this supposed hurdle for Calvinism proves to only be about ankle-high.

The only one who is forcing things into the text is Gordan. The fact that Gordan has to resort to statements about including physical life in the context of John 5 and the absurd idea of eternal regeneration is sufficient proof of that. There is, furthermore, no hint of conflating regeneration and justification in anything I have said. It is true, however, theologically speaking, that justification must precede regeneration. If that were not the case we would have sinners enjoying the new life prior to being forgiven. This may not be the “death knell” of Calvinism, but it should certainly be the “death knell” of the Calvinist doctrine that regeneration precedes faith.

I appreciate the fact that Gordan and I may never see eye to eye on this subject, but I hope that he will at least admit that his initial charge that my understanding of John 5:40 was not based on sound exegesis was without foundation.

Recommended for further reading:

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Does John 6:44 teach Irresistible Grace?

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith In John 3:3, 6?

Fletcher on Being Dead in Sin: Part 1 and Part 2

The Order of Faith And Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep [off site]

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I will be away from the computer for the Christmas break so there won't be any new posts at least until I return (sorry Nick). After the holidays I hope to finish up the series on perseverance with a look at Heb. 6 and 10. I also want to take a closer look at the provisional nature of the atonement.

I wanted to say "Merry Christmas" to all my readers and a general thank you to all of you who have taken the time to read this blog and interact on it. I wish I had more time to devote to it because it has been a source of learning as well as [hopefully] an opportunity for some sound Biblical teaching from an Arminian perspective.

God Bless,

Monday, December 17, 2007

Theological Question To Chew On

Studying the atonement can be mind numbing. We all generally believe that Christ died for our sins. That is the common ground. The difficulties reside in the details. How does Christ's death translate into forgiveness of sinners? Why did the Father accept the Son's sacrifice in our stead? What exactly was accomplished at the cross? Did Christ literally "pay the price" for our sins in a quantitative way? Was Christ truly "punished" for our sins, or did He just "suffer" for them? Was anyone actually saved at the cross, or did the cross provide for salvation?

We could add many other questions. I personally believe that the penal satisfaction view of the atonement has the most explanatory power. That does mean that it perfectly represents the Biblical revelation of Christ's atoning work. It would appear to be quite arrogant to believe that a certain view of the atonement perfectly captures all that the Bible has to say on the subject.

Some Calvinists believe that Arminians cannot consistently hold to a penal satisfaction view of the atonement. I believe that such an assertion is due to a misunderstanding of Arminian theology and I will deal more with that subject in a future post.

The purpose of this post is to get a little discussion over a teaching that has often attached itself to the penal satisfaction view. Did God the Father turn His back on the Son at the cross? Was Jesus literally separated from the Father when the sins of the world were laid on Him? When Jesus cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" was he truly forsaken at that point?

I have heard many claim that Christ was truly separated from the Father at this time and that this separation was a necessary part of the atonement process. F. Leroy Forlines makes the interesting claim that the temporary separation of an infinite being [like Christ] from the Father was compensatory to the eternal suffering of finite beings. In other words, humans owe an eternal debt because we have offended an eternal God. Since we are finite, the only way to pay an eternal debt is to pay for it forever [hence the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell]. Christ perfectly suffered in our stead on the account of His eternal nature. For the eternal Son to suffer separation from the Father [if even for a moment] serves as a substitute for the eternal suffering of finite beings who owe the debt of sin to an eternal God. This is a very interesting way to look at it.

Forlines, however, never stops to ask or answer the very important question: "Can there ever be real separation within the triune God?". This is the question which I think cannot allow for this type of understanding of penal satisfaction. I cannot at this time accept any interpretation of the atonement that would cause a rift in the trinity. I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Truth and Consequences

In our recent discussion with Triablogue, we debated the issue of the possibility of a true saint falling away and several warning passages in scripture addressed specifically to the saints that warn against the same (from Matthew 5, Hebrews 4, Revelation 22, and to a smaller extent Romans 11). Paul Manata's articles got exceedingly lengthy, and took on a rather odd and insulting tone, but didn't prove very difficult to deal with. Steve Hays attempted to intervene and made at least an intelligible case for the warnings in scripture being only hypothetical, but hits other problems with the questions this concept raises. Listed are the challenge and our latest posts, some of which I quote below.

Original Challenge

Even more cheap insults by Paul Manata

Address on the admonitions in scripture by Hays

My reply to Manata and Hays

Let's look at the practical implications of Hays' argument first. While perhaps explaining a warning being given, the explanation can't fully account for the consequences listed in the warning passages of scripture. Hays writes,

Suppose, though, the libertarian will object that while, as a matter of fact, no driver disregarded the sign, that unless a driver was free to disregard the sign, then the sign would be pointless.

But how does that follow in the least? Suppose the drivers have been brainwashed. Their psychological conditioning is so overpowering that every time they see a warning sign, they take the warning to heart. They are unable to resist their conditioning.

Even if, for the sake of argument, we assume that the warning sign has this coercively deterrent effect on the drivers, how would that render the stimulus pointless?

Translation: The warnings are divine shock value, their consequences mere coercion. I'd already factored in this defense into the challenge, concerning which I point out an obvious problem,

All inherent problems aside, even if this were the case and God were simply 'putting us on,' so to speak, for the sake of our living righteously, then is it not better to take the Lord at His word? If God's purpose in giving such warnings was to make us live holy unto Him by indicating that if we walk away from Him, He will cast us away, yet you teach a doctrine that states He would never under any circumstance actually do such a thing, then have you not undone the holy fear which God's word was meant to instill in the hearts of His people and again made it of no effect?

In my latest reply, I add,

The view that the members of Triablogue espouse puts them in a rather awkward position, as when God states 'heed or I shall revoke your part in my kingdom,' their reply is, 'Therefore having our part in God's kingdom revoked is not actually possible under any circumstance by virtue of the fact that God has threatened to do that very thing.' Perhaps as Hays' parallel of stimulus suggests, God preserves the saints by fear of falling away. But if such fear or coercion is His intended purpose in these warnings, then why do Calvinists teach a doctrine that goes directly against any such fear or coercion, which tries to reduce it to no effect in stating that it is not possible for the saints to fall away? I agree that God does indeed spur we who are His on to glory with warnings, but not with hollow threats of Him committing things He would never actually do based on things He won't let happen.

So if God's purpose in issuing warnings with the worst possible consequences is to be compared to bogus, yet highly effective road signs, then how is saying 'Don't worry, those signs are feigned, they're just made to scare you, it's not actually possible for you to fall in' not going against that purpose? Thus even if fear and coercion unto holiness were the sole intent of the consequences in God's warnings to the saints, the teaching of a doctrine that absolutely no saint can fall away directly contradicts such an intent.

Hays tries to defend his view logically,

Even in this case, the sign is still meaningful. Indeed, what the sign says is true. If you were in a position to disregard the sign, and you did so, you would suffer the stated consequences. Conditional statements can be true statements, even if they’re counterfactual statements.

The fact that a hypothetical may never be realized hardly renders it either unintelligible or pointless. Indeed, counterfactuals are a basic feature of moral deliberation. It’s because a hypothetical course of action has certain consequences that we avoid it.

While the logic concerning conditionals is sound, his defense cannot deal with the ends being used to justify such means, since the possibility of lapse from grace is in the estimation of most Calvinists, a serious doctrinal error which they would equate with unfaithfulness on God's part in preserving us. As I'd also stated in the original challenge,

If even the suggestion that a believer could fall from God's grace is a 'false doctrine' or 'Pelagian error', then why does God's holy word testify to that very possibility?

and added in the response to Triablogue,

The very fact that being cut off from Christ is listed as a consequence for not abiding in Him (which is not an obvious impossibility) suggests its possibility; so if scripture makes it so plain that our perseverance is not dependent upon us in the least, and God cannot fail to uphold His end, then why would scripture even bring up the contingency of His failure or unfaithfulness? Why tack on a consequence that plainly constitutes 'heresy?' That is quite beyond incredulity. Are we to seriously believe that God's holy word is touting false and misleading doctrine for the sake of our good practice?

God isn't mumbling crazy impossibilities, heresy, or idle threats into the air to keep us secure. His warnings are true and their consequences are real, for His word is truth (John 17:17). One need only look at the admonitions in scripture to see what the apostles taught concerning security in Christ; to those engrafted Paul writes,

"For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either." (Romans 11:21)

But by Triablogue's logic (Triablogic?), folks like us now some kind of false teachers for plainly stating that very thing: "Yes, if you as a saint don't abide, God can and will cut you off!", instead of trying to explain it away with, "Well, while that conditional statement is true, He technically won't ever really cut you off, God's just saying that to deter you...." Apparently, warning actual saints against the possibility of falling away is gospel truth when the apostles proclaim it, but now our affirming the viability of that same truth constitutes deep doctrinal error.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Enjoying The Good News Of Christ's Birth From An Arminian Perspective

Calvinists often argue that God’s love has failed if Christ’s atonement was made for all and yet not all are saved. I find it strange that Calvinists, who are so quick to criticize Arminians for holding to a man centered religion, argue that unless man responds to God’s love in saving faith, then His love for them has somehow failed. How is it that they feel comfortable equating the success or failure of God’s love with man’s response to that love? Is the nature or validity of God’s love dependant on man’s response? Doesn’t that seem a little man centered?

I personally believe that God loves and gives according to the goodness of His nature and that His love for mankind would in no way be diminished if every single person on the planet rejected that love. The cross is so much more beautiful to me when I consider that Christ willingly laid down His life even for those who would forever reject Him. I cannot think of a more powerful demonstration of perfect love. That most of mankind rejects that love and provision cannot diminish its significance in the slightest.

In the same way the incarnation demonstrates the love and humility of an amazing God.

As Paul so beautifully wrote:

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!” [Philippians 2:5-8]

What an amazing story that God would leave His throne and become a man out of love for a fallen race. Paul tells us that our attitude should reflect Christ’s humility and love. Does that mean that if someone does not return our love that we have somehow failed to emulate our Redeemer? Of course not! And neither is Christ’s love rendered void when a sinner rejects His gracious and loving provision.

An angel of the Lord appeared to some lowly shepherds on that greatest of days and said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

Did you hear that? Good news of great joy for all people! What does that mean to you? How could such a message be true in light of Calvinism? How could Christ’s coming possibly be good news of great joy to one who has been denied any part in Christ’s atoning work by way of an irrevocable decree? Does it really make sense to suggest that the angel only meant, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for relatively few unconditionally elect people from among all the people of the world”?

I am so glad that I don’t have to understand the angel’s proclamation in such a strange way. How good it is to remember at this holiday season that Christ’s coming was intended to bring joy to all of mankind because all of mankind was loved by God in Christ. The Lord came not for a few but for all just as His love extends to all. That so many reject that love is a tragedy, but they forfeit the joy that could be theirs of their own accord. That so many reject that good news takes nothing from the joy and goodness of the message. If, however, that message of good news and great joy was not intended for them, then the joyous message of the Lord’s angel rings hollow at best.

How good it is this Christmas season to rejoice in Christ’s birth from an Arminian perspective. May God use us to share the good news with someone this Christmas season. I hope you will feel the freedom to say to any sinner, without constraint, that Christ’s coming is truly good news for them.

God Bless and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Does Self-abasement Please God?

Check out this excellent post at Theology and Snack. While some may equate self-abasement with humility [partcularly in Calvinist theology], Oswald Chambers puts things in proper perspective.

Sacrifice And The Nature Of Human Freedom

The word of God commands people to submit and surrender their wills to the will of God. This is inherent in the nature of sacrifice. Paul tells us to offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. What does this mean?

My Pastor used to put it this way: “When our will comes in conflict with God’s will, our will dies.”
We can see a vivid illustration of this in the garden of Gethsemane where Christ says, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” Here Christ surrendered His will to the will of the Father. This directly correlates to the cross and the impending sacrifice He would make there.

It seems to me that if we have no will of our own [i.e. no real control of our will], then it could not be considered sacrificial to surrender it to God. We would not even be capable of surrendering our will, because the nature of surrender implies that we have control over that thing which we surrender. If God ultimately controls our will, then it is nonsensical to speak of surrendering our wills to God. In other words, sacrifice implies the ability to surrender our will to God, and the ability to surrender our will implies that we have control over our wills. I think that self-determinism is also implied in the commands to deny self. We can only deny ourselves by surrendering our will to the will of God.

I think that the Arminian account of human will makes better sense of God’s commands to live sacrificially. I have a hard time understanding how we could truly surrender our wills to God if we understand human will within the Calvinistic context of determinism or compatibilism.

What do think?

Sunday, December 2, 2007

I See Your Triablogue Colors Shining Through

A little background: After a post I made here on Arminian Perspectives about Prevenient Grace and Libertarian Free Will, there was a rebuttal to it posted on a reformed blog called Triablogue. I responded back and forth with Bernabe Belvedere for a few posts on my site, during which I said that if he or any of the other Triabloggers would like to have a debate, then I had just the thing for them: my Challenge to their perseverance of the saints doctrine. Paul Manata took up answering the challenge, but by the second round his writing became very abrasive.

He finally went way over the top with a post that went beyond ridiculous, stating that my doctrines 'aren't associated with the teachings of jesus,' because I had written, 'I prefer not to associate my doctrinal beliefs with the name of a mortal man' (my reason for calling myself a 'Synergist' rather than 'Arminian'). He cites, 'Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures' as evidence, but apparently didn't recognize that though Christ was dead, He affirms His present and future immortality in saying, "I am He that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death." (Revelation 1:18)

Despite his rather obvious blunder, he continues to press his point, only bushwhacking himself again in the process. Here's the list of links in our debates so far.

Original post on Arminian Perspectives

Critique by Bernabe Belvedere

My response to Belvedere

Belvedere's reply

Final post on initial critique

My challenge

Paul Manata's answer to the challenge

Response to Paul Manata

Manata's reply

Cheap-shot at Triablogue

Second response to Paul Manata

Manata trying to justify his error

In the latest display of the reasoning he employs, Manata replies,

Now let's recall why he made the initial claim. He was responding to someone asking if he was an Arminian. He said that he doesn't want to associate his beliefs with those of mortal men. I then pointed out that Jesus died, receiving mortal wounds. His comeback is to point out that the resurrected Jesus is "alive for evermore." Well, assuming that Thibodaux doesn't believe Arminianism is damnable heresy, then he probably believes that Jacob Arminius is in heaven right now. he will "live for evermore." He has everlasting life and will never die. If that's the case, then what's the problem with "associating" your beliefs with Arminius?

Unfortunately, he's actually serious -- he even has Steve Hays showing his support by tossing atta' boys in the combox. If they really need to have it spelled out, Arminius isn't the firstfruits from the dead: he's still in his grave due to his acute mortality and has not as of yet been changed or glorified, just like Paul, Peter, Irenaeus, Clement, Augustine, Spurgeon, Wesley, and everyone else that's died so far. Any teachings that were of their own began and ended in mortality; not so with Christ. Even concerning the words He did speak while in the flesh, He stated,

"Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works." (John 14:10)

But Mr. Manata can't give up on trying to show me up,

Thibodaux used the "mortal man" comment as a reason he won't do so. But that was negated with Jesus' death. To escape my response by saying that Jesus is "alive for evermore" just lets Arminius right back into the equation and shows Thibodaux didn't think through the moves far enough in advance.

Actually, I had already calculated that such an objection could be raised by one determined to smear someone else regardless of the accusation's truthfulness, and left it as a booby-trap to see if he would continue in his superficial derision, thus driving another nail into his proverbial coffin. I didn't expect him to actually take the bait.... Other possible objections for those who lack ability to discern context could include: "Well what about when Arminius IS raised up??", or possibly, "Hey, there's Elijah and Enoch too!", but any reasonable and objective thinker should be able to grasp the point by now.

It is in posts like this that certain members of Triablogue show forth their inability to handle fair and intelligent discussion. Their petty insults and misrepresentations that would make any self-respecting fifth grader roll his eyes serve only to demonstrate that they have no desire to engage in meaningful dialogue. Their tactics are doubtless popular with the crowd that believes that a thorough refutation involves insulting the opposing party's mother, but here in the adult world, it's well-recognized that people who resort to third-rate slander are simply trying to hide and compensate for the fact that they can't keep pace in a real discussion. Triablogue couldn't have trumpeted its defeat more loudly if they'd gone to the rooftops with a megaphone.

By resorting to such pretentious and cheap attacks, they've put themselves in a bind: either they're being dishonest in their assessment of the scriptural evidence they cited, or in blind haste to discredit someone who disagrees with them have committed a blunder that even a novice student of the Bible shouldn't have missed. Regardless of which is true, they've effectively lowered themselves from the arena of intelligent and honest debate, and into the cages with the howler monkeys.

As an outsider to Triablogue, the impression that I get is that it is degenerating somewhat into a group less concerned with teaching on doctrinal issues, and more so with using the promotion of their beliefs as an excuse to be obnoxious and insulting to other Christians. Such behavior is shameful and unfitting for those who name the name of Christ. I'd be embarrassed at an Arminian or Synergist who acted towards Calvinists in the manner that Triablogue has behaved in our discussion. What if I returned insult for insult with some dumb headline like: "Triablogue affirms that Jesus is still only mortal!!"? That would be stupid. I know what they believe and am not going to be dishonest about representing it to tarnish their names with some juvenile personal attack. By engaging in such impetuous underhandedness as these impugnments, they've now disgraced themselves and thoroughly shot any semblence of credibility they might have had. A rather unfortunate show of their true colors.