Thursday, December 3, 2009

Will We Have Free Will in Heaven?

The agnostic blogger I mentioned a few posts ago just made an excellent argument that I would like to address here. I said: "Inherent in the power to choose is the power to choose evil. There's no way around it. To say that God could have given us free choice and also made it impossible to choose evil is like saying that he could have made 2 + 2 = 5. It is intrinsically impossible."

He replied: "I think you just proved that Heaven cannot exist!"

On the face of it, he certainly seems right, and a few months ago his response might have stumped me. If God can give us free will in Heaven while still making sin impossible, he could have done it on Earth. And if we don't have free will in Heaven, why do we have it here, with all the evil and suffering it entails?

This is actually a question that I've already given some thought to in the past few weeks, in an effort to reconcile the Calvinistic-leaning and Arminian-leaning Bible passages in my mind. I've arrived at a conclusion, although I am by no means saying that this is the full answer. I'm only saying that although the blogger made a good point, it didn't put me into checkmate. There is a theologically accurate way out of the logical dilemma.

Not only will we have free will in Heaven, but we will be perfectly free; however, we will not choose evil. How can these two things coexist, particularly given my earlier argument? Because a redeemed believer is a completely new creation that exists only by virtue of having surrendered the will and let God fill him or her. This also leads to perfect freedom, which I discuss here. When God fills us, he changes our hearts and minds, so that we want to do his will. If we desire to do his will, that means we will not sin. Why would we do something wrong if we are not tempted? However, this gift of a new heart is contingent on surrendering the will freely, because God did not create robots.

So every person in the world has a will and can choose to rebel against God. But since we are born into original sin, nobody can choose to fully obey him. Sin in our hearts makes it impossible. However, we can surrender to him when he draws us to himself--that is, we can give ourselves to him and let his Spirit fill us. And when we do, he changes us from the inside, which means sin loses its grip.

Everybody in Heaven has a completely surrendered will, which allows Christ to fill them and work through them. And because their hearts and minds have been renewed, they have no desire for sin, even though they started out with the same propensities for sin that we all have. They have lived through the curse, and sin no longer has any power over them.

So on the one hand, God works through us when we surrender the will, but on the other hand, this sets us completely free. God's sovereign grace and perfect human freedom meet at the apex of absolute surrender. And that is how we will spend eternity.

78 comments:

Rick Acker said...

Great post, Anette! I think you're absolutely right that there's no tension between having free will in Heaven and being fully submitted to God. The exercise of free will often, of course, limits our choices in the future. For example, if I were to choose to join the Army, I would be voluntarily giving up the ability to make other choices in the future--the choice to stay home if I were ordered to Afghanistan, for instance. So too, when we make the full and final commitment to be with God in Heaven and completely join the Body of Christ, I think we effectively no longer have the choice to do evil. But as you point out, we will no longer want to. We will be entirely renewed and our fallenness will be cleansed away. We will no longer want to choose evil in the same way that a branch would not want to choose to separate itself from the vine.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you for those insights, Rick! As I told you in person, I agree with you.

Don't choose to join the Army, though! :)

stranger.strange.land said...

Very thoughtful post. I probably would've said something about man's "glorified state" in heaven. Also, I think it would be proper to remind someone offering such a challenge that God is even freer than we are, yet it is impossible for Him to sin.

As far as being created with the ability to sin or not sin, then failing in our obedience to the covenant, we must see that in light of God's Eternal Decree where He did "...freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass." (See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapt.3)

Everything that happens in history (even the pain and misery) plays a part in His master plan of producing a people who are to corporately, be the bride of the Son of God. (See Eph. 5:22-32, and the final two chapters of Revelation.

Keep up the good work at "Atheist Central."

Craig Boyd

Anette Acker said...

Thank you for the kind words, Craig! I appreciate your additional thoughts as well.

Debunkey Monkey said...

Great post, but one thing confuses me.

The agnostic blogger I mentioned a few posts ago just made an excellent argument that I would like to address here. I said: "Inherent in the power to choose is the power to choose evil. There's no way around it. To say that God could have given us free choice and also made it impossible to choose evil is like saying that he could have made 2 + 2 = 5. It is intrinsically impossible."

So God made it impossible for us to jump into space, go faster than the speed of light, and be in two places at the same time (among other things) which all interfere with our free will to choose what we want to be able to do. However he allows us to freely murder our neighbor in cold blood?

Anette Acker said...

Debunkey Monkey,

Thanks for your comment! Sorry that I took so long to reply.

The power to choose good or evil is qualitatively different from the type of free will you are talking about. People differ in their ability to choose what they want to do because of money, education, talent, opportunity, etc., but that has no spiritual ramifications.

According to the Bible, the freedom to do whatever we want is far less conducive to happiness than the spiritual freedom which is a gift from God through faith.

So maybe some day technology will make it possible for people to be in two places at once, but people will still have the same struggles that they have always had. And the same solution.

Becky said...

I hope you don't mind me offering my perspective on debunky monkey's question... - they questioned why God would give people the freedom to murder, but restrict their freedom to jump into space for example.... i don't really have any answers, i guess God doesn't always give us these answers, but the way i see it is that there are laws of nature which restrict things such as jumping into space, because they are not necessary things for us to do - even though it's also not necessary to murder someone, if God restricted our ability to do that, in essence it means he is forcing us to love each other and controlling our feelings - that would make us into robots and make something like "love" almost meaningless.... is love really love if someone has no choice but to act that way?... if you're married and your wife is always nice to you, but it's not because she really wants to be nice to you, but just because she is restricted and is unable to be mean... than that would make the relationship seem kinda fake...... I also believe that God is sovereign and is therefore able to interceed and restrict people's freedom at any point if He wished to... infact, i believe that it's very likely that he daily interceeds and prevents people from murdering others - obviously i can't prove that, it's just my opinion... all we see is the cases where murder is commited... but that doesn't mean there aren't countless other cases where God has stopped it from happening. I don't know exactly why He sometimes lets it happen, except He has given us that freedom. To restrict us with laws such as gravity, is completely different, it doesn't make us into robots or change our characters, it just limits things in ways which God knows is best for us. Another example is that if you have a child, you may put it on reigns or in a buggy to prevent it from running into traffic, and so you restrict their freedom, and you may teach them to love others and behave in Godly ways, but you could never force them to love.. to do that would take away their character and overall freedom... that is completely different to the freedom you take away when you put them in a buggy. Sorry to have written so much and i hope this makes sense.

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Becky! That is a very good explanation, and I think you are absolutely right.

Dave B said...

Hi Anette! This is Dave, your agnostic blogger friend. Hi to Becky, Craig, Rick, and Debunkey too!

Anette, I like your reasoning in your original post, but I see a major flaw that I'd like you to address. You said, "every person in the world has a will and can choose to rebel against God". Um, not quite. Zygotes, babies, small children, and the mentally challenged are not capable of surrendering their will to God. What happens when they die?

It is conservatively estimated that over 20,000 children will die from starvation today. Where do they go? Since the "path is narrow", it is safe to assume that most of them would not have surrendered their will to God if they were allowed to live to be adults. This raises a plethora of moral problems. For example, since they have not voluntarily surrendered their will to God and therefore achieved your "perfect freedom", they would essentially be in Heaven against their will. Of course, if I were a starving child and died, and the next thing I knew I was bathed in the glory of God in Heaven, I would certainly surrender my will to Him. But that's a choice made under much different conditions than yours or mine. It would not be fair to those that lived to be adults on earth and made a conscious moral decision based on prayer, study, and reasoning to reject the Bible as God's word in an environment without physical proof now would it?

And that's just the start. By the way, I do not want to interrupt your very nice blog. If Debunkey had not already posted I would not have done so. If you'd rather, I'd be happy to take this over to my blog.

In any case, Anette et al, I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas and great 2010!

Anette Acker said...

Hi Dave!

I pondered your question at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco today (Buddha gave me no answer) and will reply after Christmas. Right now things are very hectic.

But I feel terrible that you thought you couldn't "interrupt" my "very nice blog" (especially since it was your question I was answering). You are always welcome to comment and challenge anything I say. I appreciate your thoughts.

I hope you and your family have a great Christmas!

Anette Acker said...

Dave,

I hope you (and the other commenters and readers) had a wonderful Christmas!

First, you are right that not every person in the world has a will and can choose to rebel against God. So I’ll change the sentence to “most people can choose to rebel against God.” There, I corrected the “major flaw” in my reasoning. Keep in mind that the sole purpose of my post was to refute your argument that I had “proven” that heaven cannot exist. I wrote, “I’ve arrived at a conclusion, although I am by no means saying that this is the full answer. I’m only saying that although the blogger [I edited out your name after I started commenting on Atheist Central because I didn’t know if you wanted to be identified] made a good point, it didn’t put me into checkmate. There is a theologically accurate way out of the logical dilemma.”

But I would be happy to consider your much more difficult follow-up question. It is more difficult because it requires me to speculate on things that God has not revealed in his word. The Bible does not answer the question of how God plans to sort everything out on Judgment Day, but Christians have always speculated on whether infants, fetuses, those who have never heard the Gospel, etc., will be saved. As you pointed out, there is no simple answer, because if they are all saved then how is that fair to those who reach adulthood and have to make a decision?

But if you really want my simplistic answer, here it is: Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and righteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them.” And Acts 7:51 says: “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit.”

So the Bible says that some people suppress the truth and resist the Holy Spirit. That is, they refuse to surrender to God. However, those who CANNOT suppress the truth and resist the Holy Spirit would not be under God’s wrath, according to the logic of Romans 1:18. So maybe God saves them by default.

But that raises a lot of theological questions that I won’t go into here, and again, it gives them an unfair break.

I know that you have said that you arrived honestly and prayerfully at your decision to reject Christianity, and I will not dispute that by claiming that you are suppressing the truth. None of us know ourselves well enough to be 100% honest, but only God knows whether you are 90% honest or 85%. (Maybe you’re 95% honest but have only reached the point of rejecting a false understanding of the Bible so far. You’re not dead yet, so how do you know that you’re at the end of your spiritual journey?) That is certainly not for me to judge, nor do I want to. Which brings me to my main point.

(Continued)

Anette Acker said...

(Continued)

There are two types of questions. First, there’s the kind that God doesn’t fully answer because we don’t have to worry about it (and we probably wouldn’t understand the answer anyway) and second, the kind that pertain to things we need to understand. Your question falls into the first category. God has not revealed enough about himself and how he will sort everything out on Judgment Day for us to connect the dots in any meaningful way. Nor is it possible for us to accurately judge other people, for better or for worse. Only God has enough information to make an accurate judgment. This doesn’t mean that we can’t speculate on God’s ways, but we should do so with humility, realizing that his ways cannot be fully contained by our human intellect. But he has fully revealed everything we need to know. 2 Timothy 3:15 refers to the Bible as “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” God’s word is wholly sufficient for that purpose.

Your recent comment on Atheist Central pertains to things we should understand about salvation and that have been fully revealed. You said, “[Matthew 7:13-23] basically says that in order to get into Heaven you must do the will of God, but then here's a whole bunch of other reasons you'll get a free pass into Heaven. Here's a partial list (with a tip o' the hat to Steve Wells).” Then you gave a long list of Bible verses, loosely summarized. Those verses may seem to be contradictory, but they actually fit together perfectly (no truth-twisting required).

God’s word is like a double-sided tapestry where we see everything that we need to know from the front side, and if we study it carefully, allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate it for us, the intricate pattern becomes very clear. We will discover new truths hidden in the pattern all the time. But with respect to things we don’t need to know (that concern only God) we often see the rough back of the tapestry, consisting of loose treads and patterns that don’t always hold together because the tapestry (although large) is too small to contain them. It is very easy for Christians and unbelievers alike to get caught up in trying to make sense of the “rough” parts and ignore the clear pattern that God intends for us to see.

So here’s an interpretation of Steve Wells’s list (I left out some verses in order to not make this too long): We are saved by faith, apart from the Law (Romans 3:28), but we do not nullify the Law by faith, we establish it (Romans 3:31). In other words, faith is not just believing something—it is the means by which we receive the divine life (eternal life), which changes our hearts so that we do (James 2:14) and say (Matthew 12:37) what God wants us to. Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the “substance [reality, substantial nature, assurance] of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (KJV) In other words, faith is a down payment of the “eternal life” that we will inherit. And love is the evidence that we have it (1 John 4:7-8).

The awakening of that divine or eternal life in us is called being “born again” (John 3:3) or “born of the Spirit” (John 3:5). We are to become like “little children” (Matthew 18:3), by trusting fully in God to do his will through us (this is what I call “surrender”—the opposite of self-sufficiency). We grow in faith by looking to Jesus (John 6:40), calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 2:21), and symbolically eating the “living bread that came down out of heaven”—Jesus (John 6:51). (To eat and drink of Christ is to digest his word so it becomes part of us. This is also referred to as drinking the “water of life.”) And we have to persevere in faith to the end to be saved. (Matthew 10:22)

A HUGE tip o’ the hat to Steve Wells for his hard work! ☺

Penn Tomassetti said...

Anette,
I love reading your posts and comments, because you seem to be so Biblically-minded most of the time. Although there are a few things I may disagree with in your post about freewill.

While this goes into some speculation, I think we can learn from the Bible more than we already think about the issue of freewill. We can learn what kind of abilities God gave to Adam and Eve in choosing good or evil (Gen. 3), we can learn what kind of abilities people have now in choosing good or evil after the fall (Gen. 6:5), and we can learn what Jesus taught concerning the freedom of the human will in John chapters 6 and 8, and what the apostles said about it (Romans 6 & 9). This gives us a better picture of what the Bible teaches on this subject.

I don't have time to go into much detail, but I will say that I believe the human will is always controlled by something, so it is not really free. We naturally choose what we desire. If our desires are captured by evil, we will naturally choose evil, but if our desires are enslaved to righteousness, then we will choose what is right (see Romans 6:6-7,12-14). A person's will may either be enslaved to sin or enslaved to righteousness, but never free.

We can speak of being free in certain limited contexts, but ultimately we are designed to be governed by some kind of overruling principles. I don't think this makes us robots at all, but that it shows who and what we belong to. We are creations of God, and therefore rightly belong to Him. We are not free to do as we please, but must live under His ruling principles. We know His rules are good (Psalm 119), so our best life, so to speak, would be to live under them. It is when we live under the wrong governing principles that we are ensnared and destroyed.

When we talk about freedom, we have to ask, free from what? Free from pain and sorrow and death and judgment? Then being ruled by God's perfect order is true freedom from that. Free from God's authority and standards? Then sin rightly is considered freedom by the unrighteous. So I think Biblically there is still a lot more to be considered, and I haven't scratched the surface yet. :P

This makes heaven the place of perfect freedom, but freedom to do what is right and not to do evil. In one sense nobody in heaven is free to do evil, and that is a good thing. Naturally this would lead us to more philosophical questions, and that's good when we dig into the Bible to see what kind of answers it provides. (There are also reasons why love is not contingent on the ability to choose evil, but that takes more discussion. John Piper has written about that in a lot of his sermons and books. I find them really insightful.)

This is why being saved from sin is so important. Sin enslaves us to unrighteousness and death. But Christ defeated death at the cross and empty tomb, purchased our redemption and frees us from its guilt, power and consequence. He purchases us for God, so we aren't free from God, but that's okay, since we are free from the separation that sin has caused. And in this way, I find God our Savior in Jesus His Son, to be my greatest good and hope and treasure!

Hope this helps a little. God bless!

Anette Acker said...

Thanks, Penn! I really appreciate your additional thoughts on this subject.

You are right that the subject of "free will" is a complex one, and we have just barely scratched the surface. I agree with you that there is no such thing as a truly free will, and yet much depends on our choices.

It's a very difficult question because the Bible seems to go in several different directions, which is why Calvinists and Arminians will probably always disagree. :)

However, as I pointed out in my comment to Dave B., everything we need to understand has been fully revealed. I do not consider myself a Calvinist, but one of my favorite books is Future Grace by John Piper. Except for the chapter on the "golden chain," I agree with almost everything, because it pertains to saving faith from a pragmatic standpoint (as opposed to the questions of whether or not grace is irresistible and atonement is limited, for example).

Again, thanks for your thoughts. This is an interesting subject that I enjoy exploring.

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette,

I have been reading the comments here as new one has been posted. The thoughts expressed seem to have gone in more than one direction, addressing different categories of free will. We began with the question of free will in Heaven (I assume that moral choices is what was implied). Making a moral choice to violate the 7th commandment is not in the same category as "choosing" to jump into space, go faster than the speed of light, and be in two places at the same time.(Debunkey Monkey's comment)

Penn brought us back to Heaven (:-)with some lucid thoughts about how believers were slaves of sin and unrighteousness, but have been purchased out of that slavery by Christ on the cross.

Anette, you made some good points in your reply to Penn. You also brought up Calvinism vs Arminianism as an example. It is axiomatic that Calvinists and Arminians will always disagree; that is, unless someone decides to switch sides.

I think the ultimate issue in that debate is What does the Bible teach regarding the extent and character of our depravity, and the extent of God's sovereignty.

I will leave it at that for now, as it introduces a new topic which would probably be better dealt with in a separate post.

Let me know if you would like to delve into that one :)

Craig Boyd

Anette Acker said...

I would love to discuss that further, Craig! Do you want me to write a new blog post titled, "Why I am not a Calvinist" as a starting point? :)

stranger.strange.land said...

Well, if you have thought the issue through, having evaluated the opposing points in the light of scripture, and have formed some solid reasons, I guess that title would work.

It really depends on what you think would be a good conversation starter. Maybe you could look at my son's post on my blog, "Reformed Theology As Explained by Jesus" and the other two posts I've linked below it, and find something you can use as a springboard.

(Btw, I haven't read Piper's Future Grace, so I don't know what he said in the "Golden Chain" chapter.)

Craig Boyd

Becky said...

I'm finding this discussion very interesting... After debating the viewpoints of Arminians and Calvinists for a number of years, about 5 years ago, quite abruptly, i seemed to become more of a Calvanist.. for a number of reasons... but saying that, i still think it's such a complex topic and there are few straight-forward answers!.. Also, i generally agree with things that you say Anette, even though i know you don't claim to be a calvinist yourself. Anyway, i just wanted to say have a happy new year! Becky x

stranger.strange.land said...

Hi Becky.

It was a bit longer than 5 years ago for me; more like 14. I had been trying to figure it out for a while, but when I read Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton, every objection I had to "Calvinism" evaporated. In fact, I discovered that most of my objections weren't against Calvinism at all, but rather against popular distortions of the doctrines of Reformed theology.

@Anette

Your post is up to 19 comments now. Not bad: )

Craig

Anette Acker said...

Happy new year to you, too, Becky (and everyone else)!

Why don't I just explain, in a nutshell, why I'm not a Calvinist. First, most of the Christians I respect are Calvinist, so I don't have a strong leaning against it. Interestingly, there are probably few people I agree with more than John Piper when he is just teaching exegetically (as opposed to defending Calvinism).

I went on your blog, Craig, and read your son's post. Although I was already familiar with the Bible verses that support Calvinism, it was helpful to be reminded, so thank you for that. The problem is not the verses themselves (of course), it's the fact that there are other Bible verses that appear to directly contradict them. For example, John 12:32 says: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."

This forces Calvinists to redefine the word "all" to mean "the elect"--something I have a huge problem with. Twisting the word of God to make it say what we think it should say is very dangerous.

Your son quotes Charles Spurgeon for the proposition that Calvinism IS Christianity. However, Spurgeon also said the following:

"What then? Shall we try to put another meaning into the text than that which it fairly bears? I trow not. You must, most of you, be acquainted with the general method in which our older Calvinistic friends deal with this text. 'All men,' say they that is, 'some men': as if the Holy Ghost could not have said 'some men' If he had meant some men. 'All men,' say they; 'that is, some of all sorts of men': as if the Lord could not have said 'All sorts of men' if he had meant that. The Holy Ghost by the apostle has written 'all men,' and unquestionably he means all men. I was reading just now the exposition of a very able doctor who explains the text so as to explain it away; he applies grammatical gunpowder to it, and explodes it by way of expounding it. ... My love of consistency with my own doctrinal views is not great enough to allow me knowingly to alter a single text of Scripture. I have great respect for orthodoxy, but my reverence for inspiration is far greater. I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God. (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 26: 49-52)"

What I understand Spurgeon to be saying here is that TULIP doesn't explain everything. There are biblical paradoxes pertaining to salvation that don't fit into it, and we shouldn't force them in. But James White and John Piper do exactly that in their apologetics for Calvinism. They claim that "all" really means "the elect." In fact, when I read James White, I get the sense that he's treating TULIP as the Constitution and God's word as statutes that must comply.

The problem is that you can't be a Calvinist without accepting the five points of Calvinism (TULIP). And you have to accept them all. Logically, they stand or fall together. That's why there is no such thing as a four-point Calvinist. (A lot of people don't like "limited atonement" and think they can just drop it, but if you do, then according to five-pointers, you're an Arminian by default.)

I see the logical cohesiveness of TULIP (a perfect circle), but as Ben Witherington said, Calvin's system makes the circle too small, and it doesn't contain all that the Scriptures say about God and salvation.

A further problem is the overly restrictive language of the five points. Is grace really "irresistible"? Aside from the fact that the Bible never uses the word "irresistible" in connection with grace, why then does Acts 7:51 say: "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit"?

(Continued)

Anette Acker said...

(Continued)

For that matter, why is the book Future Grace all about not resisting God's grace? If I'm one of the elect, I can't resist irresistible grace, can I? And if I'm not, then I have no choice but to resist. There's the elect (who can't resist) and the non-elect (who cannot not resist)--as far as I can tell, that's everyone. So who is Piper's target audience?

I see the internal logic in TULIP, but if I try to apply it, I have to twist my mind in ways it won't go. Not to mention the fact that I can't viscerally accept the idea that God predestines people to hell. Even thinking about it rises my blood pressure. And TULIP requires that conclusion. In fact, Calvin said it in so many words, and Piper concurs.

Any thoughts? (There's probably no point in starting another post, since those of us who are interested are already discussing this.)

Becky said...

I haven't thought this through a lot lately, so forgive me if i say anything stupid, but i just thought i'd add a few of my initial thoughts on what you've said. Firstly, i must admit that i can't even remember right now what the 5 points of Calvinism are, i haven't studied this topic for a while.. so i may not be completely accurate in saying i am one, although i think i am...... However i do know that i reached a place of realising even the faith i had to believe must have been a gift from God... and i couldn't claim credit for anything, or boast in anything.... i reached a pretty 'desperate' place a number of years back, where i really couldn't comprehend the idea of hell and argued with God a LOT about it... literally it grieved me so much there was no way that i could accept pre-destination, cos i couldn't and didn't want to believe that God would choose to send people there... i honestly used to walk out of lectures and go home and cry cos i hated the thought that my friends might go to hell..... however, one day God did something in my mind, whereby i realised that i was arguing with him on the basis of what i liked and didn't like the sound of, and that wasn't Biblical... somehow He broke into my mind enough to enable me to fully surrender my understanding, and trust that if He says He is fully sovereign and also good and loving, then He is.... I think i realised that in a way, i was valuing humans above God.. i thought it was unloving and wrong of Him to let them go to hell... what i forgot was that HE IS GOD.. and understands all that i don't understand.. and created each and every person.. and has the right to do with them as He pleases... "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?" Romans 9.21.... I was arguing with God on the basis that no-one really deserves hell... i forgot that really EVERYONE deserves hell...if He graciously chooses to save some, then that is an amazing gift to them... but it doesn't make Him mean for not saving everyone... no-body deserves to be saved, if they are it is a gift. Don't get me wrong, i still think the concept of hell is heart-breaking and i imagine it grieves God to send people there.

Anyway, i guess what i'm getting at is, that God did something in me, that i can only describe as miraculous.. there was nothing in me that could have brought about that change... and it made me realise that God really can completely break into someone's life and change them, in a Sovereign way... irrelevant of their initial thoughts and heart.

I don't have time right now to form a proper Biblical argument for why i think i am a Clavinist, sorry.. i know i have just given you a personal experience here, rather than Scripture...

Becky said...

I was also wondering about the verse that you quoted from John 12:32.... i don't understand quite how you are interpreting it... do you mean that because it says "all" then God will really draw ALL men to HImself, and therefore none will be lost or go to hell? surely that would contradict most other scripture?... i had wondered about the use of the word "all" before, but i had noted that the word "all" is used in many places in Scripture where i doubt that it can mean literally "all"... don't get me wrong, i don't want to twist words at all, but for example Matthew 3.5 says "Then Jerusalem and ALL Judea and ALL the region about the Jordan were going out to him...."..... i doubt that it means literally EVERY single person that lived there went out to Him.. i guess it could do? but it seems quite unlikely... After Jesus heals the demon-possessed man, it says that "all the city came out to meet Jesus.." Matt 8.34 - i guess the entire city 'could' have come, but i dunno, i get the impression that it's being used to express a large number, rather that literally every man, women, baby etc etc... I don't know, i don't really have any answers about the use of the word "all"... i just think there a lot of places where the use of it is interesting...

Anyway, sorry to have rambled, and sorry if this doesn't make sense, or is wrong! Love becky

Becky said...

oh, i think i understand what you mean about John 12:32.. you didn't mean that all would be saved.. but that He draws all and only some accept... and therefore only some are saved.. which is why you are using it to argue against Calvinism, right? sorry, i completely mis-interpreted what you were saying the first time i read your comment!... x

Anette Acker said...

Becky said: "What i forgot was that HE IS GOD.. and understands all that i don't understand.. and created each and every person.. and has the right to do with them as He pleases..."

I see your point, Becky, and I believe that is one of the messages in the Book of Job. God has ultimate power and he is the ultimate Judge.

However, this is the problem: If God is perfect love, AND the Calvinists are right that he "...freely and unchangeably ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to pass," (See Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapt.3--Craig's quote) that means that God could have saved every single person, because nobody has any choice in the matter. Why did he only save some? And what possible basis can he have for blaming anyone? As a judge, he has to be just. (He can be merciful in addition to just, but he can't be maliciously capricious.) And it is not just to send people to hell for doing what they had absolutely no choice but to do.

John Piper wrote an article called "The Two Wills of God," where he tries to explain 1 Timothy 2:4: [God] desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth." Piper said essentially that God can "desire" for all people to be saved while decreeing only that the elect be saved.

If God pulls all the strings (which is what the Westminster Confession says), why does he need two wills? Why doesn't what he "desires" happen?

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Becky and Anette,

First, may you and your families have a blessed New Year.

Becky, re: Romans 9:21, the metaphor of the potter forming the pot to whatever he wishes is a frequent O.T. metaphor. There it is used for God’s judgment of a nation after he observes that people’s choices, NOT the divine decreeing of their choices. Specifically, the pot/potter metaphor is found in Isaiah 29, 45, and expressed in narrative detail in Jeremiah 18. This judgmental context is also the context of Romans 9, i.e., that God’s judgments cannot be resisted. In fact, the very language used in the man’s retort to God in Romans 9 is uncannily parallel to the words spoken by the rebellious pot to the potter in Isaiah 45. Therefore it is divine judgments which are irresistible and to which Paul alludes, NOT to any so-called divine decreeing of human choice.

In listening to a 45-minute presentation by James White on Romans 9 (on youtube), he never once mentions the proper relevance of these O.T. passages. In fact, if memory serves right, he doesn’t even reference them. Why? Because Calvinists read their theology into words and phrases at the expense of what biblical words and phrases actually mean. But White is not the only one to ignore the context of these three O.T. passages. In fact, I have personally never seen a Calvinist mention it in any of their writings about Romans 9. It seems to me you are following teachers who are not really being honest with God’s word, despite your desire to know the truth. To sum up, what is irresistible is divine judgment upon human choice, not God’s decree of human choice. And that is a huge difference.

Anette, I think I’ll make my post about Piper’s concept of God’s two wills a separate comment.

Daniel Gracely said...

Anette,

In John’s Piper’s rhetorically titled article (my entire rebuttal is elsewhere), Are There Two Wills of God?, Piper argues that Deuteronomy 28 and 1 Samuel 2 teach that God does desire the death of the wicked, but that Ezekiel 18 teaches that God does not desire the death of the wicked. He makes no attempt to reconcile this dilemma. In fact, he argues that these two wills of God are “different, not contradictory.” Therefore (for Piper) what is contradictory to human logic is not contradictory to God. And so, Christians ought to concede that the Bible teaches that God has two such wills. So then, according to Piper, God has two wills which appear contradictory to us (as humans), but are not, in fact, contradictory.

So here’s my question. Doesn’t Piper’s methodology lead to an open canon of Scripture? Doesn’t it suggest that other Holy writings, such as the Koran, Joseph Smith’s revelations, Papal declarations of Mary’s unique mediatorial status, etc., be regarded as God’s word? For could not such writings be merely “different, not contradictory,” according to Piper’s criteria? For since a span of 900 years separates Moses’ Deuteronomy from Ezekiel’s writings (and 400 years Samuel from Ezekiel), and since the principle of irrationality does not bother Piper, any statement in the New Testament book of Revelation that could be taken to mean that the canon of Scripture is closed, and that therefore one ought not to add to the words of this book (understood in its near context as referring to the book of Revelation and in its far context as the entire Bible), can also, if one follows the methodological principle of Piper, argue that, e.g., the Koran is part of the ongoing revelation of God. For why should any who follow Piper be bothered with the idea of an ongoing divine revelation that logically refutes itself hundreds of years later, since to Piper such refutation might only appear to be refutation because of the limits of fallen, human reasoning?

Christ may thus be taken to be the exclusive Savior of the world and only begotten Son of God, yet also just a man who was not God at all (i.e., merely a human prophet of some importance). For why could we not say that the Koran is a different, yet not contradictory, divinely given text? Again, no more essential span of time separates John and his book of Revelation from Mohammed and the Koran than does separate Moses and the writer of 1 Samuel from Ezekiel, and thus no charge of heresy about the dual nature of Jesus (Savior and NON-Savior) can be sustained, if one applies Piper’s methodology to this question.

Pshaw, that we though ecumenicalism a bad thing!

Anette Acker said...

I wish everyone a blessed 2010!

Excellent points, Dan.

Dan used to be a Calvinist and is now an Arminian. Do you consider yourself an Arminian, Dan?

I know that label means so many things to different people (the prevailing understanding has little to do with what Jacobus Arminius actually taught--moderate Calvinism), so it's essentially useless. I've come to the point where I've found that it's more helpful to think in terms of Calvinists and non-Calvinists. At least we know that Calvinists define themselves by the five points of Calvinism.

stranger.strange.land said...

Hi Anette.
First, I pray that God blesses you, Rick and your children in 2010 far beyond all expectations. The same to all who are reading and commenting here.

As a man who embraces the Reformed Faith, I'll make an attempt to provide some clarity here about the doctrine I confess, especially in light of some of the things that have been said so far.

Do I, as a Calvinist identify myself by the 5 points (T.U.L.I.P.)? Well,in a nutshell, Yes. But, as someone once quipped, "If something can be stated 'in a nutshell,' it probably belongs in a nutshell." What I mean is, TULIP, even when followed by definitions for each letter, is far too limited. It doesn't say enough to offer a good understanding of the meaning of Calvinism.

I will pause here for station identification. I shouldn't assume that everyone reading this knows what TULIP is. (Becky indicated that she needed to be reminded). So here it is:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

The Arminians taught:

1. Conditional election on the ground of forseen faith.
2. Universal atonement.
3. Partial depravity.
4. Resistible grace.
5. Possibility of a lapse from grace.

The doctrines of grace (TULIP) are derived from the Canons of the Synod of Dort, a.k.a. the "Five Articles Against the Remonstrants."

This document was formulated as a response to the Five Points of Arminianism, which the Reformed churches recognized as a fatal departure from the Biblical Gospel that was recovered in the Reformation. (In fact, the Arminians were using some of the same arguments that Rome had used against the Protestants)

The specific Reformed doctrines that the Remonstrants had attacked are the teachings about salvation in the Belgic Confession & Heidelberg Catechism.

In summary, the Canons of Dort (32 pages in my copy) are an exposition of what we believe the Bible teaches about how God redeems us, i.e. the Gospel. The divisions are:

Redemption Planned
Redemption Accomplished
Redemption Applied
Redemption Preserved

For the purposes of this discussion, please understand that I understand a "Calvinist" to be one who believes and confesses that the teachings in this document conform to the Scriptures.

I hope that my attempt to provide clarity hasn't had the effect of actually muddying the waters, but I make sense to me : )

Craig

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Craig! That was very clear and helpful. I appreciate your evenhanded way laying out the differences.

As I mentioned before, I find the language of TULIP to be too restrictive to accurately represent what the Bible teaches on those subjects. It sounds like you agree, since you said that it's "far too limited." Is that correct?

I have other questions about Calvinism (that we can get to later), because I often have a hard time reconciling TULIP with Reformed teaching. I very often agree with Reformed teaching, but conceptually disagree with TULIP.

You seem like a good resource for answering those questions. :)

Daniel Gracely said...

Anette,

Thanks for your patience while I explain the chief difference between Arminianism and my own view. But first, I should admit I feel a general kinship with Arminianism because of its stance against exhaustive determinism. However, unlike Arminians, I no longer (as of about 4 years ago) agree with the doctrine of Original Sin. However, I do believe we inherit something in the Fall. But this, I believe is a form, not content, of a kind of knowledge. Specifically, it is a higher, inner, or exalted form of knowledge (as the Hebrew word for “knowledge” here suggests, which is somewhat different than the more common Hebrew word for “knowledge”). This knowledge God did not think prudent for us to have, which is why He created us with a lesser form of knowledge than that which Adam chose for himself and for his race. For example, man (in his lesser knowledge) did not know he was naked before the Fall. I do not wish to bore you with this subject, but perhaps I ought to at least explain the difference between form and content, since it ultimately bears on why I am not an Arminian.

We know that when God created the universe, he did not take, e.g., His ‘shoulder’ and make creation from it. If He had, then the substance of God and the substance of creation would bear no final distinction in substance, and pantheism would be the result. The influential 17th century philosopher, Baruch Spinoza, went down this line of thinking. He argued that there was an Infinite One (he called “God”) from which there were finite manifestations (trees, flowers, persons, etc.). Of course, he was never able to explain how the One could become the Many, nor the Infinite the Finite. I believe Spinoza came to this conclusion because he did not separate the concepts of form and content (I will explain these concepts in a little better detail in a moment). Christians, on the other hand, believe God created the world ex nihilio (out of nothing), by speaking it into existence. Hence, creation is not part of God Himself. We grant that how God did this is a mystery to us, yet we know it must be the case, since we know that God is not the creation, but the Creator of it.

(continued in part 2)

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2 of 2)

Even so, I believe that while God (technically, the Godhead) created the material form of man and the ensoulment form of man (man’s forms), He did not and cannot create man’s ideas and choices (man’s content). If He did (the latter), then “God’s choices” and “man’s choices” would be of the same substance with no final distinction. That is, in such a case there would be no man, no separate personhood from God. [Note: what God does provide is the ability, or empowerment, to man to create his own ideas and choices. Note further that this ability (empowerment) is an ensoulment form, not a content.] And so I believe the definition of creaturely personhood is man (or angel or demon) bringing out his ideas and choices ex nihilio—that is, out of nothing (by which I mean, without prior cause outside himself). What makes Anette Anette, and Rick Rick, is that they create their ideas and choices ex nihilio. Indeed, if this is not the case, then what constitutes their separate personhood? And so when Paul, for example, told the Athenians that in God all men live and move and have their being, he was referring to man’s form(s), not his content. I believe any time the Christian conflates form and content he (unwittingly) endorses Spinoza’s philosophy. And so, I believe Calvinism is nothing but Spinozan philosophy dressed up in Christianese.

In my view Arminians are more or less half-way house Calvinists. They believe man has freedom to choose, but only after God enables him, because of Original Sin. To me, then, Arminians hold a Calvinistic view of man up to the point of enablement (at least regarding salvation), and then a biblical view of man after that. My forsaking the doctrine of Original Sin came after a study of Romans 5:12ff, especially from noting the correlative conjunction in 5:12, which seems almost universally ignored by theologians, but which, in fact, indicates we sin like Adam, not in Adam. All this is explained in my chapter The Freedom of the Will from my book (in case you really wish to study this subject more). In it, I also point out that if Adam’s sin (or guilt of sin) can descend from him to us, then there is no separation of content, and therefore no separation of personhood.

Thank you so much for your patience, Anette. I realize perhaps some of the above makes hard reading. BTW, I finally got my mostly humorous, if sometimes poignant, family memoir printed up (Family Dirt: The Nitty Gritty of ‘Trash’ and Dubious Yard Sales), and I continue to work on my (much more serious) novel. How is your own novel coming? Any progress?

Best,

Dan

p.s. Hi to Rick.

Anette Acker said...

Dan,

Thank your for clarifying that. I think you touched on it in an earlier comment, but I wasn't exactly sure what you were saying. Now I understand your position better.

You are right that Arminians are half-way (moderate) Calvinists. I would say that my views probably go even closer to Calvinism, because they coincide closely with Andrew Murray's (who was Dutch Reformed). But I don't agree with Calvinism as systematized in TULIP, and as defended by White and Piper.

So it looks like we have a variety of different view points then. That's great!

But it's important to keep in mind that we all agree on what really matters, and the differences are largely theoretical. Let's consider this an opportunity to learn from each other so we can each move closer to Truth.

Congratulations on finishing your family memoir, Dan! I have to admit that I haven't been working on my novel recently. Nonfiction is so much easier for me, so it's a temptation to focus on that. But thanks for the (unintentional) guilt trip! :) I needed that.

stranger.strange.land said...

Thank you Anette.

I do think that TULIP can be a useful symbol, but unless it is carefully explained, it will give someone a profound misunderstanding of what the "doctrines of grace" actually teach. Calvinism is tough enough "sell" as it is. Adding more confusion by reducing it to TULIP doesn't help.

If we are to reduce it to a single statement, I think it should be, "God saves sinners," or "Salvation is of the Lord."

Here are a couple of articles that I was surprised to see the first time I read from the actual document:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.(a)

and:

As many as are called by the gospel are sincerely called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.(b)

I sure wasn't expecting that, knowing only TULIP.

(a) Canons of Dort, 2nd head of doctrine, article 5.

(b) Canons of Dort, 3rd & 4th heads of doctrine, article 8.

Craig B.

p.s. (I have something to say about the 2 Spurgeon quotes you posted earlier, but it will have to be later, as I have to go to work, now.)

Daniel Gracely said...

Anette:
You are right that Arminians are half-way (moderate) Calvinists. I would say that my views probably go even closer to Calvinism, because they coincide closely with Andrew Murray's (who was Dutch Reformed). But I don't agree with Calvinism as systematized in TULIP, and as defended by White and Piper.

So it looks like we have a variety of different view points then. That's great!

But it's important to keep in mind that we all agree on what really matters, and the differences are largely theoretical. Let's consider this an opportunity to learn from each other so we can each move closer to Truth.


Dan:
Anette, I feel I need to be frank in this comment, because part of your last response disturbed me (though I’m sure you didn’t intend it that way). When you use the word “we” in the statement: “So it looks like we have a variety of different points then. That’s great,” who are you referring to? Is it 1) you, me, Piper, and White, or 2) just you and me, or 3) you (as one approximating a Murray styled Dutch Reformed view), me, and Arminians, or 4) you and White and Piper, or etc. I mean, I don’t understand why you think a variety of different viewpoints is great, when it cannot be the case that on any specific divergent point of theology the truth can be held by more than one of these parties. What is great about that? And how could that give “an opportunity to learn from each other so we can each move closer to Truth?” That sounds like pluralism. I mean, do you really see no essential distinction between a Calvinist like Loraine Boettner who quotes B.B. Warfield as saying that God creates the very thoughts and intents of the heart, and myself who claims that such a theology treats the word symbols “God” and “man” as synonymous terms? Such views cannot be more different.
(continued)

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2 of 2)
It may be that you are relatively unfamiliar with my chief arguments of why Calvinism constitutes another gospel. But if so, I would hope you would familiarize yourself with them before including my viewpoint as one “largely theoretical.” It took about two years of an average of about 40 hours a week (conservatively estimated) of research, writing, and editing, etc., for me to get my book to its revised finished state, and many, many of its arguments are based upon what hermeneutic truly reveals the proper meaning of biblical words, and why, and what evidence from the Bible led me to such a conclusion. And so I cannot tell you how distressing it is to have someone suppose that the differences among all the parties in this debate, mine included, are largely unproven theorems. Such a comment leads me to assume the person making it has not really taken sufficient time to study my view. Well, no, prolonged, analytical study is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. I understand that. And yet the Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:13 that for a man to answer a matter before he has heard it, it is a shame and folly unto him. So then, can we represent another person’s viewpoint and his basic reasons for it, and even represent it to a fair degree in a round table discussion were he absent from it? That, I think, is the litmus test of whether we have “heard a matter.”

I realize you are a conciliatory person. That much is plain from all your comments. And, in fact, it may be that your spiritual gift is one of especial mercy, and so naturally you have a heightened awareness of the importance of preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. All that is good. In fact, the rest of us in the Body learn mercy from witnessing the one especially gifted in mercy exhibit mercy. But remember that Christ never encouraged unity at the expense of truth. It does no one good to suppose that such severe differences in theology are not severe differences, or to suppose such differences all constitute at heart the same gospel. They do not. And I believe it a tragedy if you think they do. Refresh me, sister! Please tell me you do not really find such contrasting views “great.”

In Christ,

God bless, and best,

Daniel

Anette Acker said...

Daniel,

By "we," I meant you, Craig, Becky, and me. And I thought it would be interesting for us to have a discussion where we each bring a different perspective to the table. While I certainly do not believe in pluralism (I hold my own beliefs very firmly), neither do I believe that I have a monopoly on Truth. The truth is objective, but given as how I'm always refining my understanding of it, I know that I don't have it all figured out.

Thank you for saying that I am a conciliatory person, but I think you might have misread me. As a Christian, I do try to be a loving person, and that means "showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2-3) I also try to remind myself that there will not be a theology exam on Judgment Day. (Matthew 25:31-46)

In the interest of full disclosure, you are very unlikely to persuade me to your view. In fact, I would put it close to 100% certain. The reason for this is because I have already thought long and hard about this subject.

Would I find it interesting to learn more about your philosophy and how you arrived at it? Sure, and I would give you (as well as Craig and Becky) a fair hearing. I give everyone a fair hearing, including atheists and agnostics. Everybody can help me refine my understanding of the truth somehow (even if they just identify my own hypocrisy), but nobody is likely to fundamentally change it.

And when I said that the differences were largely "theoretical" I meant that what we are discussing has little to do with practical Christianity. Becky is one of the best Christians I know (it is truly humbling to read her blog), and she's a Calvinist.

So I guess the bottom line is this: If it would disappoint you to be just one voice among several, you might find this discussion frustrating.

In Christ,

Anette

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Anette,

Thank you for your candidness. As the Bible says, to receive a frank reply is an honor. Just to be clear, I was not expecting to change your mind with my views (changing someone's view on such issues is rare) but, rather, was asking for significant familiarity with them, supposing that would lead to what I consider worthwhile dialog. If in some way what I asked for from you was inappropriate, I apologize (no sarcasm is meant here).

God bless,

Dan

Anette Acker said...

No worries, Dan. :)

And yes, I can promise that I will do my best to understand your views and honestly consider them.

carolinahusker said...

Anette,

Please forgive the off-topic post. I tried sending an e-mail but it got kicked back. This is what I sent:
-----------------------------------
I just wanted to drop you a note concerning your recent posts on Atheist Central. Nice job!You represented yourself well as an ambassador for Christ. Continue to be patient and don't take any mean comments personally.

For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:3, NASB)

In Christ,

Jake Austin

Anette Acker said...

Thank you, Jake! I really like talking with them.

I've also enjoyed becoming acquainted with some of the Christians on the site, so thanks for commenting!

Dave B said...

Hi Anette!

First, I want to second Jake Austin on your representation of Christianity on Atheist Central. You are probably the best representative there. Certainly better than Ray Comfort. By the way, that makes me wonder, so I will ask you a question totally unrelated to why I am posting now. Are you a YEC? Ray Comfort, by the way, refuses to answer that question.

Anyway, I wanted to get back to my question about what happens to children (or other people not able to commit to Christ) when they die. If babies go to Heaven, as you have agreed it is not fair to those that live and for whatever reason do not end up on the narrow path to salvation that of course you are on. If babies go to Hell, it is not fair to them. If they simply die, it contradicts the very basic premises of Christianity.

If I understood you correctly, Anette, your answer was that we don't have to worry about it, it is beyond human intellect so we wouldn't understand the answer anyway, and God has decided we don't need to know. Therefore it should be of no concern to us.

Did I miss anything there? If not, I've got lights flashing, red flags popping up, and big "Cognitive Dissonance", "Cult Tactics", and "Brainwashing" banners dropping down all over the place. I think there may be fireworks and confetti too.

I assume God (whatever God may be; I do not pretend to know) gave us our moral compass, and if your religion conflicts with this compass on a very basic level, it is tremendous evidence that your religion is not divine.
It's easy to claim that Hell is immoral, which I do, but I also claim that Heaven is immoral. If your case is what I have summarized it to be above, you have no logical or moral argument whatsoever to the contrary.

A good question then is why rely on your moral compass at all? If your moral compass conflicts with such basic concepts as Heaven and Hell (let alone God killing babies) and you buy into the concepts based on "faith" anyway, I think you are on a very dangerous road.

As a side, I didn't make it through all the posts here, but I must admit I got a chuckle out of all the polite discussion amongst yourselves regarding Calvinism et al. You find it worth your time to discuss in detail such things as whether God has two wills, if TULIP is too restrictive, or other minutia regarding the plethora of ways to interpret the Bible, yet you don't care to understand or rationalize whether the 20,000 children that died of starvation today went to Heaven or Hell.

Perhaps, just perhaps, they simply died, as will we all. That is neither immoral or illogical.

Dave

"There are as many religions as there are people." - Gandhi

Anette Acker said...

Dave,

Thank you for your kind words about my representation of Christianity on Atheist Central. And I'm glad you enjoyed our discussion here about Calvinism. You're funny. :)

As for your main question, my sister-in-law has an article where three theologians discuss that subject in a rather heated way. If I thought you were losing sleep worrying about the eternal destiny of those 20,000 children, I would ask her for it. But since I know you're just setting a trap, I won't bother her. You're trying to get me to open a can of worms like Amy2 did on Atheist Central by answering that question, so I'll have to run around endlessly picking them up. No, thank you.

"If I understood you correctly, Anette, your answer was that we don't have to worry about it, it is beyond human intellect so we wouldn't understand the answer anyway, and God has decided we don't need to know. Therefore it should be of no concern to us."

You are absolutely correct, Dave. That was my answer.

But that doesn't mean I don't care about those 20,000 children. We donate money to a Christian organization that helps them. Does that count? And I have a Christian friend who does more. She and her husband felt very strongly that God called them to adopt a child from Ethiopia and that he would provide the funding. God did provide every penny of the money they needed, and now my friend is encouraging others to do the same, and many have. Her story has caused a ripple effect where more and more orphans are adopted into Christian homes where they will hear the gospel and receive good care.

All of this happened because God loves those orphans and communicated his love to a couple who acted in faith. If they were "brainwashed" into doing it, maybe brainwashing isn't such a bad thing.

As for whether I care about the other group you mentioned in your earlier comment--those who reach adulthood and reject Christianity--I communicate with them every day and answer their questions.

One day, shortly after I had started commenting on Atheist Central, some of the Christians had a discussion with Ray about whether it was even worth it to talk with the non-believers any more because they only seemed interested in mocking. At that time, I had what could only have been a spiritual experience. I felt God's deep love for the non-believers on the site, and my attention was drawn to the illustration of how Jesus is like the woman who has a hundred coins and loses one. She searched the whole house to look for that one. I felt very strongly that God wants me to "search the whole house" too--to find out why some of them "deconverted," why some are angry, and what their questions are.

Keep in mind that neither my friend nor I would be doing what we are doing if God had not revealed to us his will and his love. So when it comes right down to it, I trust him even when I don't understand everything.

I told you before that the doctrine of hell is very troubling to me, and the only reason I believe it is because the Bible is so unequivocal about it. How then can do I know that God is loving in spite of the existence of hell? Because in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed: "Father, if it is possible, remove this cup from me." The Father had answered every single one of his prayers before that, but he didn't answer that one because redemption wasn't possible any other way. As I said before, some things are intrinsically impossible, and therefore impossible even to God. I don't know exactly what that means, but I do trust him. And there is no cognitive dissonance in trusting someone who has always been faithful and good.

Becky said...

I haven't read all the other comments on here, but i think it's a little harsh of Dave to suggest that Anette or anyone else on here doesn't care about whether the 20,000 children who died of starvation today went to heaven or hell - Clearly Anette cares deeply about whether people go to heaven or hell, which is why she is prepared to dedicate time and energy to people in order to tell them out of love what she believes is true. However, when it comes to children, i think her point, and my point, is simply that whilst you can care deeply about whether they go to hell or not, we can't actually do anything to change their destiny and so knowing where they end up solves nothing really. We should give our lives to loving and serving children, to do what we can to lift them out of poverty so they don't die of starvation, to teach them about Jesus, so that as they are old enough to understand they are able to accept him themselves and spend eternity with him... but when it comes down to where they actually spend that eternity, however much we "care" we can't actually change that ourselves... all we can do is trust them to a God, who the Bible tells us in loving, and compassionate and just and good, and our experience confirms. When Anette says that it should be of no concern to us, because it is beyond human understanding, i don't think she means we shouldn't actively care for and love such people... i think she simply means she is content to trust their destiny to a God that she knows is ultimately good. Maybe your point is that knowing where these children end up would help us to understand God better, and that's why it should concern us?... but i disagree with that... our minds are so much more limited than God's and so if we were to judge God simply by our understanding of what he does we would come up with a completelty warped perspective of him. If a mother suddenly shouts at or grabs a child because it is about to crawl into a fire and injure itself, the child, with it's limited understanding, may just think that it's mother is being mean, when infact the mother is saving it's life. I know that's a poor example, my point is simply that we have limited minds, so shouldn't try to come up with answers for things that we don't need to know.

Anette Acker said...

That is exactly what I meant, Becky, and you articulated it very well. I think being a Christian means having the humility to know what is in our control and what is not. When I comment on Atheist Central, I don't do it with the intention of converting anyone, because that is completely outside of my control. It is between God and the individual person.

But I didn't interpret Dave's comment as harsh at all, and I see what his point is. I don't think he said that I don't care whether the children who die of starvation go to heaven or hell. I think he meant that it's a bigger theological problem than whether TULIP is too restrictive.

And I recognize that the Calvinism/Arminianism debate is largely theoretical too, although it has more practical ramifications than the issue of what happens to all those children when they die. The answer to the problem of those dying children is the same whether or not there is a heaven and a hell: We should do what we can to help them, because dying young of starvation is bad enough.

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette.

You were right to include the discussion on "Calvinism" in the "Will we have free will in heaven" post. There is a connection.

I also understand how someone would have a chuckle about a theological discussion over something that he considers relatively irrelevant.(Yes, I just had to re-spell that one:-)

Dave B, am I correct in assuming that you are one in the same as "Silent Dave" who used to post on Raytractors in '08? "Silent Dave" posed similar questions to Christians with the express intent of convincing us to "de-convert." "Silent Dave" always prefaced his posts by saying that Christians who were not open to the possibility of de-converting would be wasting their time by responding.

Is this the same Dave?

Dave B said...

Sorry Craig, different Dave. I have posted on the weresmrt site (that's the Raytractors successor, right?), but I use the same name as here, as I do everywhere.

I'll have to go check it out.

Dave B said...

You understood me correctly Anette. Thank you. Never have I intended to question your philanthropic nature. Just as your statement, "If I thought you were losing sleep worrying about the eternal destiny of those 20,000 children...", is not questioning mine. Of course we should all be doing everything we can to lessen any human suffering.

So, in summary, based on our prior conversations, you are willing to worship a god that kills children, as long as that god, which we are incapable of understanding, determines it to be just. And now, based on this conversation, you are willing to also accept the possibility that children that die may go to Hell, as long as God determines, again, beyond our understanding, it to be just.

I asked if you were a Young Earth Creationist and you didn't answer. I suspect you interpret it as a loaded question, and I guess it probably was in a way. To me, the belief that the cosmos is only 6000 or so years old falls into the same category as a belief in Hell. The difference is that a YEC believer is illogical from a scientific evidence point of view, whereas a believer in Hell is illogical from a moral point of view. But both beliefs are the result of a literal interpretation of the Bible. I would guess that virtually 100% of YECs also believe in Hell. Not sure about the other way around though, hence my question to you. Perhaps, like Ray, you do not have an opinion on the age of the earth, as God has indicated it's not of importance.

Sorry, I am rambling. It seems that my spiritual path has turned anthropological lately, as I find it utterly fascinating how a thinking, cognitive human being can come to believe and defend such things. Thanks for your willingness to be a part of my journey!

PS Added for Craig: Unlike "silent dave" I have learned the hard way and now fully understand that I will likely never "de-convert" anyone from Christianity. De-conversion is a serendipity type of thing and even though it happened to me, I am not quite sure how or why. To be honest I often wish that it never did. It's a trade-off between the inner peace I feel now versus the relationship struggles I have with friends and family. Perhaps it was divine intervention.

Anette Acker said...

Dave,

Your question about whether I am a YEC was not a loaded question if you're referring to the logical fallacy. And the answer is No.

But your statement, "So, in summary, based on our prior conversations, you are willing to worship a god that kills children, as long as that god, which we are incapable of understanding, determines it to be just," would be a loaded question, if it was a question. It presupposes that I believe God kills children. I do not. Children die because we live in a fallen world, and he wants us to do whatever we can to prevent that. During his earthly ministry, Jesus "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him." (Acts 10:38)

Hell is a place of eternal separation from God, often called "the Outer Darkness." God does not wish "for any to perish but for all to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

Dave B said...

2 Samuel 12:14: "Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die. And Nathan departed unto his house. And the LORD struck the child that Uriah's wife bare unto David, and it was very sick... And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died."

Even if it was David's fault, God killed the child. Same as the bears, the flood, etc. That's all my statement means.

Anette Acker said...

Dave,

First, you have to recognize that the reason why we are told not to kill is because only God has the right to take a life. It is evil for us, because it is not our place to do so. However, it is not wrong to kill while fighting a war. So the prohibition against killing is not absolute for us and it doesn't apply to God.

However, God does not take lives gratuitously. And when someone suffers and dies, it may or may not be his will. Jesus tells us to pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." That means by implication that his will is not always done on earth. Prayer is our means of laying hold of God's will. (That is a theologically dense subject that I won't go into here unless somebody wants to discuss it.)

But it was clearly God's will to kill David's baby. And that was one of the ways he brought David to repentance. The eternal stakes were worth it. God will allow suffering in the lives of his people for our good and so that we may be used for the good of others.

As far as Elisha calling down a curse on the boys/young men so that a bear attacked them, all we know is that Elisha had great power to bless or curse and he chose to curse. We do not know whether it was God's will.

Yes, a lot of people died in the flood. But again, the eternal stakes trumped the sanctity of human life. While I firmly believe that the flood happened (there's historical, scientific and literary evidence of it, although it may not have covered the entire Earth), it was also symbolic of the end of this world. The stories in the OT are primarily to be read for their deep symbolic significance. In 1 Corinthians 10:6, after Paul talks about the exodus of the Israelites and how many of them died on the way because God was not pleased with them, he says: "Now these things happened as an example for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved." In other words, many things in the OT happened so that we might gain insight and be saved, in order to spend eternity with God and not apart from him. That is infinitely more important than this life, as precious as it is.

It was during the hardest times of my life when God shaped and taught me the most, and I can emphatically say that if it means he can use me to make an eternal difference for someone, it was worth it. I know you think that means I'm brainwashed, but my "brainwashing" has only made me less selfish than I used to be, so it can't be all bad from a sociological perspective either.

stranger.strange.land said...

Dave B
Thanks for clearing that up for me. I noticed some similarities in your posts, and thought you might be the same Dave. I never commented on any of S.D.'s "Questions for Christians," mainly because of what he said in his preface, but also there was a sharp disagreement for a while among the members about whether or not they wanted Christians to participate. Not wanting to intrude, I ended up just posting my comments on the personal blogs of the ones who were in favor.

Anette
My loved one's medical condition is past the "crisis" stage, (thank you for your prayers) but still requires much of my time. (It has been a while since I updated my own blog; those who follow it may dub me "Silent Stranger.";-), I will pop in with some thoughts on "Calvinism as TULIP" as time permits.

Craig Boyd

Anette Acker said...

I'm so glad to hear that, Craig! Thanks for the update. I'll continue to pray for your family.

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette.

I'd like to respond to some of the reasons you gave in your comment about why you are not a Calvinist, but first I need to expand on why I said: TULIP, even when followed by definitions for each letter, is far too limited. It doesn't say enough to offer a good understanding of the meaning of Calvinism.

The acrostic, "Tulip," (the flower that Holland is famous for), was conceived as a memory device to help recall the five points of doctrine explained in the Canons of Dort. Unfortunately, the terms that the letters stand for can be misleading, giving the wrong idea of what the doctrine teaches. R.C. Sproul is acutely aware of this problem when he teaches and writes on the basics of Reformed Theology. In his book, Grace Unknown, for sake of accuracy, he replaces Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints with this:

Humanity's Radical Corruption
God's Sovereign Choice
Christ's Purposeful Atonement
The Spirit's Effective Call
God's Preservation of the Saints

Michael Horton felt compelled to do something similar when he wrote Putting Amazing Back into Grace You can't form a clever acrostic from the words, but they do more clearly express the Doctrines of Grace.
________________________________

I once attended a seminar given by Dr. Robert Godfrey, president of Westminster Seminary-California. His subject was titled: "If Calvinism is so great, why do so many people have a problem with it?" In his lecture he mentioned two reasons. First: fallen men naturally dislike the idea of a God who is totally sovereign in all aspects of salvation. Second: we Calvinists have not always done a very good job of explaining the Reformed Faith.

You won't find a "TULIP" in the text of the Canons of the Synod of Dort

stranger.strange.land said...

There is another important thing that is necessary to point out when discussing the "Doctrines of Grace."

The document from which TULIP is derived, the Canons of Dort, was written specifically as a response to a challenge to SOME (5) of the teachings found in the confessions (statements of faith) of the Reformed churches, namely, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. Therefore, only those five doctrines were dealt with by the Synod of Dordrecht. Reformed Theology is broader than those five points. Anette, you said, "...TULIP doesn't explain everything. There are biblical paradoxes pertaining to salvation that don't fit into it, and we shouldn't force them in." Well, the overall doctrine of salvation does consist of many facets besides the five heads of doctrine in the Canons. Systematic theology attempts to discover how they all relate to each other, and each one to the whole, with the glory of God in view.

We must remember that the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism were written to define what the Protestants believe the Bible teaches, over against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. What we were fighting against was a "gospel" that attributed to sinful man some merit that contributed to his own justification before God, rather than justification solely given as a gift by God, received by Faith alone in Christ alone, God alone getting all the glory. The Protestants believed that by Jesus' life of perfect obedience and suffering the eternal wrath of God in the sinner's stead, He merited forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who repent of their sins and trust Him only for their salvation.

Craig

stranger.strange.land said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
stranger.strange.land said...

[This is a corrected version of the third of my last 3 comments. I usually leave my typos and grammatical errors for all the world to see, unless they significantly change the meaning of what I am saying. Such was the case here. I have marked the changes with *]

Anette.

Have some of the thoughts expressed in my last two comments shed any new light for you on the reasons why you are not a Calvinist? Here is one more thought.

Changing the definition of the word, "all"?

Here is the text:

John 12:31-32
"Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself."
(NKJV)

This is a wonderful evangelism statement that our Lord proclaimed. Encouraged by these verses, the preacher of the Good News can confidently call everyone, everywhere, who will acknowledge their sin and guilt to come to Jesus Christ, and assure them that in doing that,( trusting in Christ crucified)*, they will receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

The verses do not militate* against the Canons of Dort, Second Head of Doctrine, Article 3, which states:

"The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world."

Nor Articles 5, 6 & 7, which state:

"Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction by the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God (Eph. 2:8) given them in Christ from everlasting, (2 Timothy 1:9) and not to any merit of their own.(Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5)

_______________________________

Do you see what I am doing here, Anette? I am using the language of the actual document from which the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP) are derived. Not some apologist's explanation.

The Reformed doctrines of grace have nothing to fear from John 12:31-32 just as those verses stand. (They do not provide a rebuttal to the Reformed confessions' teachings on Christ's atonement.)*

Craig
January 10, 2010 10:57 PM

Anette Acker said...

Craig,

Sorry for taking so long to reply. My mind has been focused on Atheist Central (and other things), and I wanted to do justice to your comments.

I appreciate the fact that you do not read something into John 12:31-32 that is not in the text. In the last few months, I have heard three Calvinists (including John Piper) interpret it in light of John 6:44: "Nobody can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day," insisting that ALL who are drawn by the Father come. And of course if you read 6:44 that way, you also have to redefine 12:31-32 to make it consistent.

I see absolutely no textual reason to conclude that all who the Father draws actually come. The fact that God has to draw in order for us to come doesn't necessarily mean that everyone he draws comes. And if we look at it in the context of the whole Bible, we can resist. Acts 7:51 says: "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit." The only way they could resist the Holy Spirit is if he draws them.

But I know that the Canons of Dort were in response to five points by the Remonstrants, and I'm not sure I agree fully with them either. I think there is some truth to both the Calvinist and Arminian positions.

For example, I do not necessarily believe that God draws everyone equally. Prayer and Spirit-led preaching has a lot to do with it. A lot of people were saved during the Whitefield and Wesley led revival. We know that a lot of people prayed fervently during that time and the leaders themselves were uniquely surrendered to let God do his work through them. I believe that there is a connection. But that's different from saying that God has handpicked certain people to be saved and others to be condemned.

However, I do believe that he chooses us for a particular preordained purpose. Paul was his "chosen instrument" to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, but the purpose was to reach the Gentiles. It wasn't to show special favor to Paul. In fact, Paul was told right after his conversion that he had to suffer for God.

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette,

You said: "I see absolutely no textual reason to conclude that all who the Father draws actually come. The fact that God has to draw in order for us to come doesn't necessarily mean that everyone he draws comes."

Jesus' words from the dialog in John 6:

"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out."

"This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day."

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day."

The ones whom the Father draws, the ones who the Father gives to the Son, and the ones who come to the Son, are the same "ones."

You said..."I think there is some truth to both the Calvinist and Arminian positions."

So do we Calvinists. We agree with them on the issue of man's responsibility. We disagree on the extent of God's sovereignty in His grace.

You said... "... I do believe that he chooses us for a particular preordained purpose. Paul was his "chosen instrument" to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, but the purpose was to reach the Gentiles. It wasn't to show special favor to Paul. In fact, Paul was told right after his conversion that he had to suffer for God."

But you can say of Jesus, as did Paul, that "...[he] loved me, and gave himself for me" can't you, Anette?

Can Anette, without any reservations, also answer, as in the catechism, that your "only comfort in life and in death" is...

"That I belong, not to myself but to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ; who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil;

that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."
?

Isn't this your confession too, Anette?

Craig

Anette Acker said...

Craig,

I apologize for taking so long to reply! I need to take a break from Atheist Central, because there are so many of them and so few of us that every time I say something the conversation goes on for a while.

"But you can say of Jesus, as did Paul, that "...[he] loved me, and gave himself for me" can't you, Anette?"

Of course! But I can also say that because I belong to Christ my life is not my own, and he will use me to reach others. We are all called for that purpose, not to live for ourselves.

The quote you gave from the catechism is a little misleading from a Calvinistic perspective, isn't it, since I don't know for sure if I'm one of the elect? If I fall away, then it turns out that I wasn't ever born of the Spirit. Isn't that what Calvinism teaches?

So in order to look at this objectively, let's not focus on me (who could be a False Convert :), but on the Apostle Paul, who had the most dramatic conversion experience in the history of the church. And God himself said to Ananias, "Go, for [Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15).

But in 1 Corinthians 9:26, he writes: "Therefore I run in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." In other words, he considers apostasy a possibility for himself.

However, he also says in 2 Timothy 4:18: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

So what this tells me is that although it is possible for me to fall away, I can trust God that it won't happen. And everyone who finishes the race does so only by the grace of God.

However, this doesn't mean that I can be complacent. Matthew 24:12 says: "Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved."

The bottom line is that I don't pay that much attention to catechisms and systems of theology, because they often fail to catch the nuances in the Scriptures. And I might get it wrong myself, but at least I'm looking at the primary authority, and not secondary interpretations.

How is your son doing?

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette,

It is good to take a rest from AC once in a while.

We had been discussing how the church has drawn its doctrines of salvation from examining and comparing scriptures.

I tried to show that in John 6 the ones who come to Jesus, all the ones who the Father draws to His Son, the ones who the Father has given to the Son are the very same ones of whom Jesus says, "...I will certainly not cast out," and, "...I will lose nothing," and "...I will raise up on the last day." I will leave it to you to decide whether I succeeded in showing that :)

I then introduced Paul's words, "...the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me," and a personalised paraphrase of Q/A #1. of the Heidelberg, as a way of illustrating that these doctrines are not merely a creed to confess, or subjects for controversy and debate, but a wonderful comfort to believers, or in the words of the catechism "My only comfort in life and in death..." Doctrine (objective) needs to be applied to the hearts and lives of the Lord's people (subjective).

You said: ...in 1 Corinthians 9:26, [Paul] writes: "Therefore I run in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified." In other words, he considers apostasy a possibility for himself.

However, he also says in 2 Timothy 4:18: "The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

So what this tells me is that although it is possible for me to fall away, I can trust God that it won't happen. And everyone who finishes the race does so only by the grace of God.

However, this doesn't mean that I can be complacent...


Anette, that isn't far from what "Calvinism" says. (I believe that we agreed that, for the purpose of this conversation, we are identifying Calvinism with TULIP, which stands for the Doctrines of Grace, which find their fuller expression in the Canons of Dort [with its plethora of scripture passages as incorporated in the document's text as well as in many citations])

Calvinism does say that God uses means in the preservation of the saints (e.g. preaching, exhortation, warning, correction through His ministers.) 1 Corinthians 9:26 and Calvinism are in complete accord.

But Calvinism does reject the errors of those who teach: That true believers and regenerate not only can fall from justifying faith and likewise from grace and salvation wholly and to the end, but indeed often do fall from this and are lost forever.

For this conception makes powerless the grace of justification and regeneration, and the continued preservation by Christ, contrary to the expressed words of the apostle Paul:"While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath by Him" (Rom 5:8-9). And contrary to the apostle John: "Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 Jn 3:9). And also contrary to the words of Jesus Christ: "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone 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 My Father's hand" (Jn 10:28-29.

[Canons of Dort, 5th head, p.3]

(continued)

stranger.strange.land said...

(Part 2)

You said: The bottom line is that I don't pay that much attention to catechisms and systems of theology, because they often fail to catch the nuances in the scriptures. And I might get it wrong myself, but at least I'm looking at the primary authority, and not secondary interpretations.

Calvinism teaches that only the Scriptures can bind the conscience, and are the final and ultimate authority for faith and practice. We believe that the church's confession of faith is a summary of what the Bible teaches, and is authoritative where it agrees with the Word of God.

Yes, believers have the right and duty to read the Bible for themselves, and are to judge all teachings by the Scripture. But remember that the Scriptures also contain the precedent for church councils (see the book of Acts) to make decisions on matters of doctrine and practice. God has also gifted the church with ministers of the Word to teach and explain the Scriptures, and to expose and correct error.

Granted, if someone is convinced by Scripture that documents like the Westminster and Belgic confessions are wrong, they should throw them out. However, it is not wise to simply ignore the church's heritage of centuries of wisdom from those who have gone before us.

Craig

My son is doing well. He went to church this evening. Thanks again for praying.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hello Craig,

Anette has been busy with Atheist Central, and while I certainly do not speak for her, I hope she won’t mind my jumping in, since I agree with her about looking to primary sources, not secondary interpretations. Also, your interpretation of John 6 is something I want to address. If I have stated before on Anette’s blog that I would not write again to such length, I apologize, for the following can hardly be expressed in less words than it is.

But first, let me say I’m glad you recognize Scripture as the Christian’s final authority. And I agree to some extent that church councils may be important. However, the precedence of church councils in the New Testament (which you mention) does not imply that subsequent church councils, including Reformed ones, have naturally been immune from fallibility (if that’s what you were implying. Was it?). Also, while there are (as you note) teachers capable of explaining biblical truth, 1 Corinthians 12—14 shows that in the formal worship service there are other gifts besides the teaching gift necessary for the full expression of doctrinal truth. Namely, they are the gifts of the utterance (Gr. logia) of knowledge and the prophetic (proclamatory) gift. While some argument might be made for certain gifts (apostleship, miracles?) not being operative today, it appears even the utterance of knowledge is attendant until “we know even as we are known,” a time obviously yet future. These gifts I consider of the uncomely gifts of which Paul speaks, because most Christians are uncomfortable when they are expressed. Indeed, many prefer only to hear that particular person within the Church which tradition, not the Bible, has institutionalized and salaried, namely, the pastor (as they call him), but what I would generally call a teacher, and one to which others have willingly (if not wisely) capitulated their own gifts. Indeed, Paul says that if one unlearned or unbelieving comes into our midst during our corporate worship, he may be convicted by the proclamation of all (according to believers’ various gifts), i.e., not just by a few or one. And so, while Church councils may indeed address issues of Body concern, the basis of Body maturation is really centered in the interdependent (not independent) expression of the spiritual gifts through one-anothering during the local assembly’s worship service, which is the context of 1 Corinthians 12—14. I don’t think I have ever actually witnessed this New Testament paradigm in effect in any established church, but I would certainly like to see it. It is unfortunate, yes?, since one learns faith best from the one (by definition, especially) gifted in faith, mercy from the one gifted in mercy, wisdom from the one gifted in wisdom, and, last here but not least, knowledge from the one gifted in knowledge, i.e., the knower (i.e., not the teacher).

Now because Christians are primarily drawn to the comely gifts of teaching and pastoring, and because any idea or hermeneutic can be expressed in a way consistent with itself, many come to believe ideas purported to be Scriptural which are not Scriptural at all. And here I think of what teachers like e.g., James White and R.C. Sproul have taught about John 6:44. I would guess that the example you gave in an earlier post about the successive uses of “all” in John 6 was learned from James White, since he stresses that point, though perhaps you came to it independently. You summarize by saying:

The ones whom the Father draws, the ones who the Father gives to the Son, and the ones who come to the Son, are the same "ones."
(part 1 of 3 continued)

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 2 of 3)
Calvinist apologist James White, like R.C. Sproul, insists on the standard lexicon definition of the Greek word dunamai, stated as to be able (sheer ability). [And here I note that all lexicons are based on exegesis and interpretation, all of which derive from assumption, as indeed is all knowledge, but also knowledge falsely-called.] Hence White, regarding Gr. dunamai in the John 6:44 phrase, “No man can come to the Son except the Father draw him…” states:

“The construction is precise - no one is able - ou dunatai -- a phrase of ability.”

R.C. Sproul in his book Chosen by God is perhaps even more explicit about the meaning of “can” (Gr. dunama) in John 6:44, when he says:

“What teacher has not corrected the student on the difference between “can” and “may”?

Thus Sproul (like White) implicitly argue that “can” in John 6:44 MUST mean sheer ability (“is able”), and he (like White) does not mention that there are other lexical meanings for dunamai in the N.T. In other words, according to Sproul, Gr. dunamai must be understood according to how “can” operates in FORMAL, not INFORMAL English, such as when a 1st grader INFORMALLY asks “Can I go the bathroom?” to which the teacher insists only on can’s FORMAL meaning in her asperitive response: “I don’t know; can you go to the bathroom?” Yet, clearly Gr. dunamai means “may,” not “can,” in Acts 17:6, when the Athenians ask Paul if they may know of his teaching. Or do we suppose that the Athenians were asking Paul whether or not they “could,” i.e., had the mental capacity to understand an argument! Numerous other N.T. verses featuring the Greek word dunamai may be understood INFORMALLY as well, such as when we are told that the Son “can do nothing except what the Father showeth Him” (cp. also Jn. 5:30). Again, do we really suppose the Bible is teaching that Christ had no free will about following the Father’s will? But that hardly seems to be the case, since Christ rhetorically asked Peter whether or not He could call down 12 legions of angles for rescue from the cross, an act not of his Father nor in accord with Scripture. And so it is best to understand John 5:19 as saying “The Son wills to do nothing except what the Father showeth Him.” Another example in the KJV is when we are told in 2 Tim. 2:13 that God “cannot deny himself,” which means God has no free will, that is, unless we understand the phrase to instead mean that God “wills not to deny himself.” And again, 2 Tim 3:7 in the KJV speaks of those who are “ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth,” whereas if we take Gr. kai to mean the qualifier “yet” instead of “and”, which is how kai sometimes behaves, we have the Bible speaking of those who are “ever learning, yet never willing to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

But in fact, Calvinism holds (insofar as it can be said to hold to any concept definitively) that there is no choice for either God or man, despite its betimes insistence otherwise. For in the great majority of Calvinist commentary 1) God is immutable to a point where He cannot do evil, (hence the popular notion of God as gold, which cannot be tried for contingency but only tested) and 2) man is non-predicative (or, as Piper prefers it, “not ultimately predicative,” as though, I note, a person’s predication, i.e., his “can” so to speak, were not a separate thing from the will of The One).[continued]

Daniel Gracely said...

[part 3 of 3]
This presupposition about the absence of Choice is why James White in his John 6:43-44 commentary draws an analogy between what he believes are men being drawn (Gr. helko) by God irresistibly, to fish being dragged in a net. But should White’s readers really be expected to suppose, regarding the fish dragged by the net, that these fishes’ wills were dragged to a different state (i.e., compliance) even as their bodies to a different place? Does their thrashing about in the net really suggest that? Anymore than the wills of Paul and Silas, as their bodies were pulled into the Philippian marketplace by the angry masters of the woman with a spirit of divination? In fact, Gr. helko is used in the Septuagint in Song of Sol. 1:4 when the Shulamite maid says “Helko me, and we will run after thee.” Does it not mean “to woo,” not “to drag,” here? But if Gr. helko is a broad word for “to pull”, not a word which restrictively means “to drag,” why doesn’t White mention it? The reason is this: he believes whenever God is the subject and man is the object, helko MUST have the irresistible sense of “to drag.” But is that an interpretation really demanded by the historical spectrum of the meaning for that word, or merely by his assumption of God alone as “ultimately predicative”? Thus White conflates the immaterial (will) to the material (body) to a point where no appreciable distinction can be maintained, because Choice is denied. And if we are to question why God would draw some depraved men but not others, we may expect to hear the follow up Calvinistic appeal to mysticism, i.e., that God chooses, yet only can choose good, which is merely a sophisticated way of denying there is any choice at all. Furthermore, if Choice is denied both for the Creator and His creatures, upon what other basis is Being, compared to that Being of inanimate flowers and trees and, yes, gold?

Similarly, I would maintain that choice is always operative with the Son when it says God “gives” to the Son ones He draws, for we should not think that what was given to the Son was somehow given irresistibly.

Am I saying, then, that White and Sproul are inconsistent in their argument. No! Far from it! They consistently read into the text their need for divine irresistibility whenever their system demands it. My contention? That they do so by changing verb meanings depending on the subject. But, sadly, such an approach overthrows the historical meaning of words and how they behaved, as understood by 1st century persons living in the Mediterranean Basin. And so Calvinists have exchanged the historical-grammatical approach for a (to be frank) Silly-Putty kind of hermeneutic that conforms to their needs, to keep their system consistent with itself. But if history itself will not check the Calvinist, what will? Apparently, nothing at all, which explains why other theological systems likewise spurning the historical meaning of word symbols have captured the imagination of their respective followers. What else can explain e.g., the disciples of Joseph Smith, who, even today, believe in The Book of Abraham long after Smith’s ‘translation’ of Egyptian hieroglyphics was proven completely fraudulent with the discovery of the Rosetta Stone?

For many years, Craig, I allowed the intellectualism of Calvinism to affect my thinking. And why wouldn’t I have, since error, just as easily as the truth, can be expressed consistently? I urge you not to make the same mistake I once did.

What then, is the summary of this matter? In a word, a little knowledge with White and Sproul and, yes, even church councils can be dangerous, for, in fact, people believe what they will.

Anette Acker said...

THANK YOU, Dan! I don't mind at all. I was hoping that you would jump in, and Craig told me in an email that he read your book and would like to discuss this with you as well.

Yes, Atheist Central has taken up more of my time that I can really afford to spend online (and even so there are many more questions I would like to answer), so I'm so glad you decided to join in. I really look forward to reading what you both have to say, and will jump in myself when I have something to contribute.

stranger.strange.land said...

Hello Anette & Daniel

Daniel,

Well, I did tell Anette that "I had a good look at Daniel's book." Specifically, that was three hours of perusal, then returning a few times for a closer look at some points, and some Ctrl+F searches for key words and phrases. Habitually, when I read, I am a plodder and a note-taker. Time allowed for neither when I read your (on-line) book.

Daniel, in some of her posts, Anette speaks of the "bickering" between Calvinists and Arminians [or non-Calvinists], as if the whole controversy were a "tempest in a tea-pot." Although you and I are at opposite poles, I am glad that at least we both see the issue as having much more import. We agree that there are "two different gospels" being taught here.

Anette, you have pointed out how that God is sovereign is explicitly declared in Scripture, but that man is a responsible creature is also affirmed in Scripture. Some take the easy way and say that it is impossible for a finite mind to reconcile these apparent contradictions. Others (including some of my fellow Calvinists) say that it is not wise to even attempt to try to discover how these truths fit together. I am glad that you have chosen to try to reconcile these passages and verses which seem to be at variance. It is the harder task, but I believe that is more honoring to God to seek a solution in God's word. True, our finite minds are limited in what they are able to grasp, and "what is impossible with man is possible with God," but God did give us the Bible so that we may know Him and His way he deals with mankind.
_________________________________

I want to address some of the earlier comments on this thread, but will have to pick it up later. Now I have to attend to the business of keeping food on the table and a roof over our heads. (iow, I have to go to work :-)

Craig

stranger.strange.land said...

Daniel,

My bringing up church councils was to establish that the "Doctrines of Grace" (or, that which we are calling here "Calvinism" or "TULIP") were arrived at as a result of deliberations within a Biblically sanctioned function of the church. I said nothing about councils being infallible, nor did I imply it.

You said, I would guess that the example you gave in an earlier post about the successive uses of “all” in John 6 was learned from James White, since he stresses that point, though perhaps you came to it independently. You summarize by saying:

The ones whom the Father draws, the ones who the Father gives to the Son, and the ones who come to the Son, are the same "ones."


You guess wrong. Anette had said, "I see absolutely no textual reason to conclude that all who the Father draws actually come. The fact that God has to draw in order for us to come doesn't necessarily mean that everyone he draws comes."

I went straight to the text and carefully re-examined it to see if I had missed something. The very words of Jesus do, in fact, lead to the conclusion that "all who the Father draws actually come."

Here it is again.

John 6:35-40
35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.

36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.

37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

39 And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.

40 And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6:44-47
No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

45 It is written in the prophets, And they shall be all taught of God. Every man therefore that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.

46 Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.

47 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life.

John 6:64-65
But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him.

65 And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.
__________________________________

Anette "sees absolutely no textual reason to conclude that all who the Father draws actually come." I believe that this text allows for no other conclusion than that all that the Father draws do actually come.

Craig

Anette Acker said...

Craig,

You said: "Daniel, in some of her posts, Anette speaks of the "bickering" between Calvinists and Arminians [or non-Calvinists], as if the whole controversy were a "tempest in a tea-pot." Although you and I are at opposite poles, I am glad that at least we both see the issue as having much more import. We agree that there are "two different gospels" being taught here."

Let me explain my point. There are certain things that are clearly revealed in the Bible and they pertain to Christian doctrine. Titus 2:7 says that our doctrine is supposed to be "pure." I think that a good analogy is light. When we break it up through a prism, we see all the colors. In the same way that pure sunlight can be broken up into all the colors of the rainbow, pure doctrine contains everything the Bible teaches about salvation from a practical standpoint.

Although I am an Arminian, I found Future Grace by John Piper to be one of the most doctrinally sound books I have ever read. This confused me for a long time, until I reached the conclusion I state in the previous sentence.

However, when Piper says things like "everything happens according to God's will" or "God predestines some people to hell," I strongly disagree with him. I simply do not think that is what the Bible teaches. But somehow when Calvinists like Andrew Murray or John Piper teach in a pastoral way, their doctrine is very sound. So I'm willing to conclude that some questions are answered in a paradoxical way in the Bible, and that the issues that have practical significance are more important.

But I have my own thoughts on how to reconcile the two views, and I will discuss that later.

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Craig,

First, let me say that I’m impressed that you would spend 3 hours examining a viewpoint that is your polar opposite. C.S. Lewis once remarked how difficult it is for any of us to read a viewpoint naturally antithetical to his own. So I think this shows you’re trying to be fair to the discussion, and I admire that.

Also, I just finished reading Anette’s response to what you (and perhaps I) see as her “tempest in a tea pot” approach. I’m not sure how many issues she feels are “paradoxical,” and so I look forward to hearing more from her on that. I do think every system, including my own, runs into logical contradiction at some point. In the end one must choose a hermeneutic and take his or her own stand. My own feeling is that one’s hermeneutic ought to be based on the normal meaning of the Hebrew and Greek koine languages whenever possible. And for me this segues into your interesting statement about “the very words of Jesus”:

“I went straight to the text [John 6:35-47, 64-65] and carefully re-examined it to see if I had missed something. The very words of Jesus do, in fact, lead to the conclusion that "all who the Father draws actually come."

Craig, I don’t know which specific words of Jesus you might be referring to, but e.g., James White (and I think other Calvinists) point to the double occurrence of “him” in John 6:44, and also to the word “can,” understood by them as “is able to” (hence, “No man is able to come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” ) And so I think here is the Calvinist argument: If the Father will raise “him” whom He also draws to the Son and who in fact comes to the Son, then surely only some are drawn, since not all come to the Son.

However, I think this conclusion by the Calvinist relies chiefly on his presumption that the Father’s means of drawing is irresistibility, not provisionary atonement. That is, the Calvinist sees the Father’s means of drawing as the irresistibility of human will, not the provision of Christ as the Manna from heaven for the consideration of human will. In other words, I am contending it is by the provision of the Manna of heaven that God positions all men so they may come, and that it is in this sense that He “draws” them. Note that it is the provision of Christ being lifted up on the cross in John 12 which draws men: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” James White has objected to this verse from chapter 12 being introduced into the John 6:44 discussion, claiming eisegetical foul. But in fact I merely mention it to show that besides John 6 there is yet another instance in which the divine drawing of men is via the means of a provided atonement. For, indeed, nothing requires us to go outside John 6 to establish that the drawing is through the means of the provided atonement. Why do I say this? Because the primary issue in John 6 is whether man shall live by bread alone and not by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We see this in the narrative. For after Jesus fed the multitude of 5,000 we are told that “When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone.” (v. 15). And the reason Jesus refused to allow them to come according to their protocol was because, as He told them later (vss. 26b-27a):
[continued]

Daniel Gracely said...

[part 2 of 2]
“Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled. Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life,”

The multitude wanted Jesus to do what Moses had done—give them a daily feeding. That’s why they attempted to come to Him to make Him king. But Jesus replies that they must seek the spiritual, not physical, manna from heaven, since all who ate the physical manna in the wilderness died (vs. 58). The entire theme relating to all of chapter 6 is this question about physical versus spiritual manna, and about whether man shall live by bread alone. And so I believe the point Jesus is making about Himself in John 6:44 is that “no man MAY come toward me unless the Father pulls him.” (emphasis mine) [Incidentally, “to” in the phrase “to me” is not “into,” but the Greek word pros, which means “toward”.] So I understand John 6:44 in context to be saying that man MAY not come by human protocol (which seeks to live by the manna which perishes), but MAY come by the Father’s protocol (which is to receive the Manna from heaven which never perishes).

Furthermore, by understanding Gr. dunamai as “may,” in John 6:44, the double occurrence of “him” poses no problem because of an assumed (minor) ellipsis. In other words, if you were an owner of a company and said to me: “No man may work for my company unless he recognizes my son as his Boss; and I will give him a salary bonus at the end of the year,” it would be obvious to me that the year-end bonus would be contingent on my accepting your son as my boss. Even so, the “him” whom Christ raises is contingent on whether the “him” comes in accordance with the Father’s drawing.

So then, regarding the “very words of Jesus,” I cannot agree with thinkers like R.C. Sproul and James White, who assume for Gr. dunamai the kind of distinction between “can” and “may” that we see in formal English. Moreover, they do so without noting that Gr. dunamai may mean “may” or “wills to,” depending on the context. In my opinion such a Calvinist conclusion is driven by an assumption of divine irresistibility, not the chapter’s context. Furthermore, it implies that no one really predicates but God, and such a God (we note) who is viewed by Calvinism as so immutable that He cannot predicate other than He does.

I find it ironic that Calvinists like Sproul and White, while supposing their doctrines keep God safely ensconced in His Sovereign Glory, have in fact eliminated the only means to which God or man’s motive can be judged and thus lead to God's glory--namely, Choice. I think, Craig, if you agree with nothing else I say here, you ought to concede that Sproul and White ought to recognize the broader spectrum of meanings possible for Greek dunamai, even if they don’t think it is appropriate for John 6:44. It is sad if theologians such as these are so caught up in assuming that only irresistibility could be in view when God is the subject, that they don’t even inform their readers of the broader lexical use of such a key word.

God bless,

stranger.strange.land said...

Anette

Looking at your most recent post, I see that I shouild clarify something. You pasted my comment to Daniel where I said:

""Daniel, in some of her posts, Anette speaks of the "bickering" between Calvinists and Arminians [or non-Calvinists], as if the whole controversy were a "tempest in a tea-pot." Although you and I are at opposite poles, I am glad that at least we both see the issue as having much more import. We agree that there are "two different gospels" being taught here."
(Bold emphasis added.)

Re. "...Arminians [or non-Calvinists]..."
I inserted the term non-Calvinists because that was the term that Daniel said he preferred, in an earlier post. I was not saying that Calvinists are the ONLY ones who have, or who preach the Gospel.

Re. "...two different gospels..."
Again, I was repeating the phrase that Daniel had used in his book. The doctrine of salvation, as explained in the "5 Points of Arminianism," and described in part in the book Calvinism: A Closer Look, is essentially different than the Reformed doctrine of salvation.

I think you and Daniel already realize what I meant, but, looking at my comment again, I see where someone reading it may get the wrong idea.

I'm sure that when Wesley and Whitefield preached about law and judgment, and salvation through faith in Christ crucified, each man said just about the same thing.

Anette Acker said...

"I'm sure that when Wesley and Whitefield preached about law and judgment, and salvation through faith in Christ crucified, each man said just about the same thing."

Exactly. And when I read Whitefield, I agree with everything he said when he preached. So the differences can't be that profound.

It is Calvinistic apologists that I disagree with.

stranger.strange.land said...

When we began this topic, I stated my position as a proponent the teachings of "Calvinism," to be precise, Calvinism as TULIP.

"TULIP," as was defined earlier, as only a symbol of the "Doctrines of Grace" as explained in the Canons of the Synod of Dort. The purpose of the Synod of Dort was to respond to the "Five Points of the Remonstrants" (Arminians) which challenged five of the teachings in the statements of faith of the Reformed churches.

Those statments of faith, The Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, were written to define the Reformed, Protestant churches' doctrines of salvation, and show that they professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Scriptures, in contrast to Roman Catholicism. The Reformed believe that these documents are faithful summaries of what the Bible teaches .

In taking the side of "Calvinism" in this discussion, that is what I am defending, not the statements of popular authors whose views are in harmony (some more, some less) with Reformed theology.

I am a member of a church body (United Reformed Churches in North America) that believes and holds to the "Three Forms of Unity." This confession of faith includes the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. We believe that these documents are faithful summaries of what the Bible teaches.

While teachers like R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Michael Horton (who is one of our U.R.C. ministers) have been instrumental in my conviction that the teachings of Reformed theology are Biblical, it is not the statements in their writings or lectures that I defend here in this discussion. I defend what I believe to be the true doctrine of salvation as taught in our churches, and have their basis in the Scriptures.

Anette, I don't know much about John Piper, and have not read any of his books. Sorry, I can't respond to your disagreement about his view on God's having two wills. Could you fill me in a little on what he said?

Daniel,
I mentioned that church councils, (although they are not infallible) are authorized in the New Testament. They have the responsibility to deliberate and make decisions on doctrinal issues that are in dispute. This is what the Synod of Dort was called to do.

If someone wants to refute Calvinism ("TULIP", or the "Doctrines of Grace"), what they really need to do is make their case against the articles in the Canons of Dort, and for that matter, the coresponding doctrines found in in the Belgic and Heidelberg. The Synod had explained the five heads of doctrine that were challenged by the Arminians, and refuted their objections.

In the concluding statement the synod entreated "as many as reverently call upon the name of our Savior Jesus Christ to judge the faith of the Reformed Churches...from the public confessions of the Churches themselves, and from this declaration of the orthodox doctrines, confirmed by the unaimous of all and each of the members of the whole synod."

This should be the aim of those who publicly disagree with the teachings of Calvinism, not popular authors who have written on the subject.

I could find only one passing mention of the Canons of Dort in Calvinism: A Closer Look. The Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism weren't mentioned at all. (Please let me know if I have overlooked any places where you dealt with them.)

Your friend,

Craig

Daniel Gracely said...

Hi Craig,

Frankly, I’m surprised that you would imply (or state) that I have not addressed the Belgic Confession, etc., by answering instead certain prominent Calvinists of today (who, I note, support it). Must I really quote from the Belgic before you allow that I have addressed its chief ideas, esp. as regards the Calvinist doctrine of Irresistibility? I’m amazed that you would think so. However, just now, perhaps I should not have implied that today’s prominent Calvinists agree with the whole of the Belgic, since e.g., few if any would support Article 9 and its ridiculous citation of the post-14th century insertion of 1 John 5:7 as authentic Scripture. Should I, maybe, suppose that other Belgic sections have been attended by similar ‘scholarship’?

Nevertheless, for your sake I read through the Belgic and part of the Canons of Dort [and a little of the Heidelberg]. However, since Wikipedia notes that the Belgic’s “text, not the contents, was revised again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19,” and since the Belgic’s 5-points are the same as a contemporary Calvinist would understand them, I found it impractical to read on. I also stopped because no subheadings preceded the Canons’s Articles to help guide the reader. It seemed the Canons were so intent to render a tapestry of Calvinistic doctrine throughout so many of their Articles for reiterative purposes, that sharply defined subheadings by them would have been useless. No help, then, to the reader.

But as to my very first point above [regarding whether I have addressed the Belgic, etc.] I note that John 6:44 is a key verse of support in Art. 14 of the Belgic regarding the Fall of Man. And is John 6:44 not the very verse I have stressed more than any others in two lengthy comments to you, though it has elicited no substantive response? Does not my refutation of an interpretation of a verse quoted for support by the Belgic count! But moving on, perhaps you do not realize Creeds in general are equivalent to simple position papers footnoted with Scriptural proof-texting. Indeed, there is no serious discussion of exegesis or hermaneutics in Creeds like the Belgic, Canons, or Heidelberg, which is why I bother to quote contemporary Calvinist thinkers like James White, who at least realize that something more than a simple diktat in a Church Council is necessary for the Berean-minded Bible student. Again, why? It is for the very reason that the Belgic itself points out, when it says:

“As for the false Church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ.” (emphasis mine)

In other words, because any group of men can form a church synod and claim to represent Christ and the Scriptures, beware! But how do we do that? [Just by choosing according to our liking? No! ] How does the Christian safeguard himself, then, since Christian Church Councils contradicting themselves all convene in the name of Christ? And let us be assured on that point, i.e., that Councils have contradicted themselves. For example, in A History of the Christian Church, Prof. Kromminga of Calvin Theological Seminary, states:

“Gottschalk, a monk at Fulda against his will, found comfort in developing thoughts of Augustine, and he emphasized the twofoldness of predestination, of some to life, and of others to death. Rabanus Maurus and Hincmar attacked him, though he found many defenders. Yet he was declared to be a heretic by a synod in Mainz in 848.”
(continued)

Daniel Gracely said...

[part 2 of 3]
Elsewhere Kromminga tells of how Augustine asked Jerome in Jerusalem to take up the fight against Pelagius. And though Pelagius would eventually be condemned by various Augustinian-incited synods, Jerome himself failed. Says Kromminga:

“Jerome now accused Pelagius before John of Jerusalem, but that bishop took the side of Pelagius, and soon a synod in Palestine declared Pelagius orthodox.”

So again, Craig, here’s the question: How is a person to know which Council or Councils represent the truth? I hope we are not so naïve to think the greater number of councils deciding this way or that should decide such issues. Indeed, if we grant that it is numbers we must look at, why not endorse the Council of Trent (convened in the name of Christ) and its anathema directed at those who deny free will, since the Roman Catholic church and its leadership were greater in number than those churches of the Reformation, and were unified enough not to require repeated synods? (BTW, let all realize that the Reformed position on free will is, in fact, an antinomy with no historical or grammatical hermeneutic-supporting basis, and therefore is a denial.)

But surely the matter of discernment is generally more simple than waiting on Councils. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Study is what Paul commanded Timothy to do, and we should do the same. This is why I took over 100 pages to discuss human will and Original Sin and these concepts in relation to Romans 5:12-21 and Psalm 51:5 , whereas the Belgic Article on Original Sin is Englished at 166 words. In fact, Article 15 is given without Scriptural citation! (See ccel.org, a Reformed site, where Scriptural citations in the Belgic occur in italics, none of which appear under Article 15.)

Other chief ideas from these Councils are addressed in my book at considerable length, e.g., Article 14 of the Canons of Dort which completely obliterates the being of man, since it ascribes all predication of faith as God’s doing. This leaves “man” an empty term. Anyway, simply because I do not quote the argument as it is presented in the Canons does not mean I have not addressed its very idea and made a refutation. Briefly stated, I believe you have made a false dichotomy between the 5 points as presented by today’s 5-point Calvinists and the 5 points as presented by the Reformed Councils. For in their essentials they are understood the same by these respective entities, and so a refutation of the one is a refutation of the other.
(continued)

Daniel Gracely said...

(part 3 of 3)
Another reason I prefer to refute the 5-points as presented through contemporary Calvinists is because that’s what ‘trucks’ with the average believer interested in the debate. Furthermore, synonymous terms for Calvinistic concepts change over time, and even certain terms cease. Let me offer a proof of the latter: How would you respond if I said, “Craig, what is the general theme of the Paralipomenon?” Perhaps you would know the answer to that, but not one in a hundred other Christians would. Yet according to the Belgic Confession, “Paralipomenon” is what 1 and 2 Chronicles are “commonly called.” But how conversant are today’s Christians with this nomenclature? Indeed, have you yourself not elsewhere suggested a different kind of acrostic for TULIP hardly presented as such by the Councils (who themselves did not suggest TULIP)? But if you yourself do not feel bound to stay within the presentation of the Councils, why do you insist that I do? (Along these lines, your Jan. 10th comment about R.C. Sproul’s attempt to correct any misguiding of TULIP with another acrostic, RSPEP, changes nothing in the five points, but merely expresses them more winsomely.) And so I find it best to be conversant with today’s presentations. People are more familiar with John Piper than with a Confession or Canons they probably have not read.

In short, Craig, I realize you desire to be a steward of the work of those Church Councils you believe were “called.” But I would hope your reasons for embracing the Reformed faith, if that is really what you want to do (I hope it is not), would entail more than simply taking a particular Council or Councils (or your own denomination) at their word. That is, you must be careful that they are not simply appearing to be Scriptural. And no wonder that they may so appear, since even the followers of Satan can appear as ministers of light. In short, the belt of truth in the armor of God involves a proper hermeneutic. For without it we bear only an appearance of armor against false teaching. And a mere appearance of armor is no match for the Devil.

Now, Craig, I have spoken boldly to you here, but remember that the Bible says it is an honor to receive a frank reply. Still, I normally give but three responses in such an exchange, remembering what my realtor once said about the bargaining process—“After three rounds the process tends to disintegrate.” So perhaps I won’t reply again, though maybe I will; but in any event I wish you well in the pursuit of truth.

stranger.strange.land said...

Your hope has already been realized. My reason for having embraced the Reformed Faith (it has been some 15 years, now) is the only good reason for anyone to hold to it. It faithfully represents the teaching of the Word of God.

Thank you Daniel for a spirited and enjoyable dialog. Thank you, Anette.

Amen. Blessing and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, unto our God for ever and ever. Amen.