Gal. 1:15; Election To Salvation and Mission

So the great Calvinist-Arminian debate...

First, I'm going to annoy some people and suggest that the debate has been shaped a bit unfairly. For one, the debate has been shaped by "Reform" writers who seem to ignore that Jacob Arminius was, in fact, a Reform theologian. For two, the debate (again, from the side of "Reform" writers) describes "Calvinism" (rather than what Calvin explicitly taught) and "Arminianism" (which casts Finney-ism as the straw man, rather than the Weslyan tradition). So the whole thing is a bit of a set-up.

Second, The Debate goes (very simplistically) like this: either God pre-ordaines and decrees people to be saved before any consideration as to how those people might choose, which smacks of fatalism; or God is a bit dense (or powerless) and has to look forward to save those people who actually will respond to the gospel.

Dr. Breshears, in an attempt to square the circle on this matter, suggests that when faced with an intractible apparent contradiction we should look for an untested assumption. He suggests that such an assumption exists in the election issue. The assumption is that God always acts exactly the same way with all people. Is that assumption warrented?

Maybe God acts differently with different people. Maybe some people are persuaded and others are decreed. That popped into my head as I read Galatians 1:15: "But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, ..."

What's interesting about Galatians 1:15 is that Paul only speaks for himself. He says that he was called apart even before he was born. Why didn't he say the same thing about all the other believers in Galatia?

Now the traditional view of this text is that Paul is talking about his calling to preach the gospel to Gentiles - to a specific ministry. But the grammar here is a bit uncertain. There seems to be room to read that as, "God (the same who called me to salvation) was pleased to reveal Jesus to me in a way that would allow me to do this special ministry to the Gentiles." That is, Paul was affirming two callings: (parenthetically) one to salvation, the other (the main point) to a special ministry. "set me apart..." and "called me through his grace" seem to be subordinate clauses to the main thought: "But when God ... was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might (do this special mission)."

So that gets me wondering about the nature of election. Do we assume - presumptively  - that God must act with everyone in exactly the same manner?


Acts 17 - Paul's Seeker Sensitivity: Rebuttal

So one of my friends gave me some good-natured push-back about my line of reasoning that Paul was "seeker sensitive" and "culturally relevant" (see the post on 20080708). My friend poked specifically at the Mars Hill discourse at Athens. The line of reasoning goes like this: Paul's attempt to be culturally relevant was ineffective: not many converts, no recorded church in Athens, and The Bible tells us so - look at the text! Therefore, we should jettison all this "culturally relevant" garbage and Preach The Word!

OK - certainly we should preach the Word. I'm not in any disagreement with that. But let's take another look at the text.

First, the evidence actually in the text doesn't support the proposition that Paul's cultural engagement was ineffective. Some people in Athens were converted, there were requests to hear more from Paul, and it's not surprizing that no church was recorded planted as Paul's mission wasn't to plant in Athens - he was on his way and Athens was a lay-over while he waited for Silas and Timothy. Finally, the scripture doesn't signal or otherwise indicate that Paul's work on Mars Hill was bad, ineffective, or inappropriate.

The real, larger, question that my friend is raising (of course) is one of 'cultural engagement.' Is Christ against culture, above culture, accomodated to culture, or in culture? Several of you will recognize those phrases as the premise of the book, "Christ In Culture" by R. Niebuhr - a very important work. His answer is that the best - and especially the most Biblical - answer is Christ in culture: the church engaged in society.

So, my friend's arguement - seems to me - is not as compelling as advertised and the larger issue (as well as the best Biblical answer) is that Paul was right to do what he did. By the way, my friend doesn't really hold his argument, he'd heard it from a mis-guided fundamentalist.

Those are my thoughts.


Colosians 3:11 - A Final Word

I am taking my last course in seminary for this degree as a combination of lecture-on-DVD and online interaction by a Wiki-forum tool. Several of my last blogs have come from my contributions to this forum. The folks in the course seem to have begun a “Final Posting” tradition. I like the idea and like the thought that each person posts on one last final Big Thought. So this is a revision of my "Final Post" on a little phrase from Colossians 3:11: “… Christ is all…”.

David Bryant, in his book Christ Is All makes the point that modern Evangelicals have drifted into what I’ll call a “Generic Protestant Judaism.” We hear from the podium and sing from the screen lots of stuff about “God.” But, oddly, we shy away from actually talking about “Jesus” or even “Christ.” Younger Evangelicals are recapturing this, thankfully.

The point is even more forcefully made by Bryant when he asks us to listen to the conversations among Christians in the church lobby during Sunday morning. How many times do we ask each other, “Hey, so what’s Jesus been showing you this week?” That suggestion strikes many of us as, well, a little weird.

And that’s the point. Why? Why should that be weird? That kind of conversation should be completely normal for us as Christ followers. If we can’t talk about Jesus normally to each other, then how can we expect to talk to Jesus with unbelievers?

In the last few years I have had to come to grips with my deteriorating theology about Jesus. Do I really worship him? Do I really believe that he is the God-man who is not merely The Famous One, or my hero, but worthy of veneration and worship? Is Christ all for me? Too many times the answer was no.

I’m working for that to change. I’d be happy to have your company with me as I make that journey.


Phil. 4:8 - What Kind Of Person?

I was reading Philippians 4:8 where Paul tells us that we should be spending our thinking resources on the things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good reputation, excellent, and worthy of praise.

And then I thought, what if I turned this around? What would be the result to a person if they dwelt (continued to think, obsessed, concentrated) on things that were:
• False
• Shameful
• Wrong
• Corrupt
• Ugly
• Bad reputation
• Mediocre
• Unremarkable

What would such a person have in their life? How would they spend their time? What would they shop for? Who would they vote for? Who would be their friends? What movies or CD’s would they like? What would be their fashion identity? What bumper stickers would adorn their mode of transport?

Maybe that’s a description of what our “mission field” looks like?


1Cor. 10:23ff - Paul Is Seeker Sensitive

Again, my Bible course gave me a new insight (which I suppose is the point) on this little section about Christian liberty (1 Cor. 10:23ff).

Here, Paul states that 'all things are lawful, but not profitable or edifying.' The presenting issue is eating food knowingly sacrificed to idols. Such meat was less expensive (like day-old bread) and many Christians (rightly) felt it was fine to buy that as there was no real spiritual power to that meat. But there were some folks (both new believers and "seekers," if you will) who were still pretty superstitious and creeped out about that meat. As the course (wonderfully taught by Dr. J. Carl Laney) pointed out; this specific issue was clearly decided during the Jerusalem 'Council' several years before. The council's decision was - by now - well known and published abroad.

So why didn't Paul just appeal to the authority of the Council? He was there, he fully participated, certainly he was in agreement with the conclusion and decision - why didn't he just tell the goofy Corinthians: "Look, this was decided years back. You know the decision - just obey."

What I find so refreshing is that Paul goes a completely different track. He doesn't respond authoritatively, he responds evangelistically. Paul says that (v.24) it's not about what's good for you, but what's good for your neighbor. I think he's implying that the "neighbor" is a non-believer or else he'd have used the word "brother." Later (v.27), he specifically refers to unbelievers. And in verse 28, Paul asks the rhetorical question (paraphrased), 'Why should I, knowing better, be prevented from enjoying inexpensive BBQ?' Paul's answer is clear: because you have a greater calling and that's to proclaim the gospel. If eating meat offered to idols is going to be a barrier to a gospel presentation, then you have got to give up your 'theologically pure' practice of inexpensive BBQ.

I think Paul is offering up an arguement for what has been the big point about being "seeker sensitive." Here's the big point about being seeker sensitive: if pews are a barrier to people meeting Jesus, rip them out; if special terminology ("justification," "propitiation," "redemption," etc.) prevents people from understanding the good news, find other words to make the same ideas understandable; and if people who don't know Jesus are actually willing to show up on a Sunday morning (but no other time of the week) to hear the gospel, then we need to move our more serious teaching experience to another time of the week and make our Sunday morning worship service comprehensible - at the least - to those who are interested learning about Jesus.

I think the take away from this passage (and Paul's point) is to put aside our preferences so that whatever we do, we glorify God towards those who do not know Him yet.


Gal. 3:3 - Monergism or Synergism?

OK, I admit I picked my subject line to be deliberately controversial. The controversy is this: how much does any person contribute to the work of salvation done in their everyday lives?

The 'hard' Reform guys say - it was God, beginning to end, and any person saved has no input or influence on God's sovereignty. There was only "one worker" (mono+erg = monergism).

The other Reform guys (remember that Arminius and Weslyans are also part of the Reformation) say - yep, God did all of the heavy lifting and that much is clear. But at some point we (as a response to God's working and 'wooing') had to grope a bit and come to some conclusion and then decide. That is, God and the person "together worked" (syn+erg = synergism, "synergy" is a similar idea). Now the reason hard Reform guys don't like 'synergism' is they get very allergic (and for very good reason!) to anything that smells like Pelagianism. It's not the heresy of Pelagius, but it can sound like that.

OK, now that's the issue with our justification. That is, justification is the work of conversion that occured when we were saved, converted, regenerated, etc. For the Christian alive today, justification is in the beliver's past.

So the open issue that this text seems to present is what about our sanctification? That is, the work that God does in our every-day present lives to transform us to be more like Jesus. For the Christian alive today, sanctification is how God continues to daily 'save' us from our past life, habits, etc. Is this spiritual work done only by God (monergism) or something we partner up with God about (synergism).

This text seems to speak against 'synergism' - that we shouldn't be 'perfected' (sanctified) by any work of our 'flesh.'

But I don't think that's the issue. I think that the issue in that text is that the Galatians were getting confused about was whether they needed some extra physical (flesh) rite to "seal the deal" (perfect) their justification. In a rough analogy to what the Roman Catholics believe, that there is a two-stage justification (gotta do good works to seal the deal), so the Galatians believed they needed to do Jewish rites to seal the deal. That, BTW, goes *way* beyond 'synergism!' Theologically, as to what the Galatians were proposing; well that just takes you right off the reservation of Christianity (Protestant, Roman, or Orthodox) - which is precisely Paul's point. Believing you need to do Jewish rites (be circumcized) to "seal the deal" of your justification is heresy.

Nope, this test isn't about sanctification, it's about justification. Paul is trying to get them back to the gospel: you have been completely saved, actually sealed by the Spirit, and as that work was completely done in the believer's past there's nothing else that the believer can do to improve upon their justification.

Now, as to your sanctification, Paul has stuff to say about that. For example, serve each other (5:13), walk with the Spirit (5:16, and keep in step with the Spirit (5:25).

So the point of Galatians 3:3 is not about monergism or synergism in our sanctification, but about a heresy of justification.


Warning Signs

For the two of you who actually read my blog, here are a couple of links discovered by my BFF Doug who is preparing a sermon on "warning signs..."

Could this, in fact, be the greatest warning sign ever? http://www.smoothharold.com/uploaded_images/helpdesk_warning_sign.jpg

This is more subtle: http://www.electricstuff.co.uk/scarylaser.gif

Thanks, again, to Doug Humphreys for these catches.

That caused me to go looking and I came up with these:

Here's one from my BackInTheDayDawg, Eric Miller: try not to die



Rom. 3:21 - God Is "Tricky"

Romans 3 is really interesting! In a startling "reveal," Paul says that it turns out that God can - and does - save people apart from the Law.

Paul points out that the Law was never intended to save people. The sacrificial system could not accomplish that (Heb. 10:4). Abraham was saved before he became Jewish because (Rom 3:21), 'God has shown a becoming-saved-process that is not at all linked to The Law.' The Law doesn't save - it brings death and even greater realization that we are doomed. But God - all along - had this undercurrent of salvation by grace through faith. God's salvation was always apart from The Law. The Jewish mindset was that they needed to obey the rules to get God to like them more.

The author of Hebrews says a similar thing as Paul when he does a "reveal" that there's another order of priesthood that you-all forgot about. Everybody was fixated for the longest time on the Aaronic Priesthood. But there was this other priest - no relation to Aaron at all - that was a priest of God whom even Abraham showed submission to. This guy with the crazy name, Melchizedek, was a believer in Yahweh and acted as his priest hundreds of years before Aaron came along.

I have to chuckle at this. It's a bit like the illusionist who distracts your attention away from what's really going on and it when the effects are shown, it looks like "magic." All this time God had a righteousness and a priesthood working in the background ready to be used when The Law and Aaronic priesthood had fully taught us what we didn't want to believe. Because what we wanted to believe was that we could try really hard and get God to like us.

That could be confusing so let me restate the lesson: it is absolute folly to think you can do anything to make yourself acceptable to God.

Go 'head, try it! Here's a list of 613 commands - just 613 of them. Go ahead, keep them all.

OK, OK, that's too many and too hard. Here - let's start you out on just ten rules. Live your life so as to not violate just those ten. Hmmmm. Can't do that either.

Well, by the time people are figuring this all out, Jesus comes along and says there really are just two: love God and love neighbor. We still can't do it.

Have we learned the lesson? We can't do anything to gain acceptance by God. OK, now let's get to the real point: it's about grace and it always has been.

This must have been an earth-shattering realization for both Jews and Gentiles. An earned righteousness that is apart from rule-keeping. Mind boggling!