Thursday, February 15, 2007

"Spirit" -> Was I Predestined To Write This?

Does God really control everything? How about if we were to throw dice? Would God control that?

The Bible is pretty clear. Indeed, in the random events that hit us from day to day, even the throw of the dice, there is divine providence. See what the Bible teaches us.

Proverbs 16:33 (New Living Translation)

We may throw the dice,
but the Lord determines how they fall.

But, now take the next step. If God is controlling the dice that I throw, is he also controlling the thrower? Perhaps, everything that I do is controlled by God. Perhaps, the same as the dice, I have no free will to choose. This really hits the road when you are asked "does a person have the free will to choose to be saved?"

Probably more than any area inside of Christianity, application of free will is debated.

Now, you may have heard that the debate is "over predestination." Predestination is believing that God, before you are born, picks you to be saved or not be saved. You cannot read the Bible, and not believe in predestination. Orthodox Christians always believe this. The question is how this is decided.

In short order, two schools of thought have surfaced over the years:

1. Some are elected to be in God's Kingdom. Man has no choice in the matter. This branch of Christianity is Calvinist. The term that is used is that God unconditionally elects you. There is nothing that you can do about it. You are not free to chose. This is called unconditional election because there are no conditions around it. (Many Calvinist will say that in every other way, other than this choice, man has free will. It is only in salvation that only God can choose man, and man cannot choose God.)

2 Since God knows everything, before time began, he knew those that--if given the choice--would accept Christ. Thus, he predestines those that will love him to get the chance to be saved. However, you have the right to reject him. This ability to man to have some input into the process makes God's election as conditional election. This branch of Christianity is Arminianism.

Now, if you are witnessing, and you are talking to a non-Christian as a Calvinist, and you were asked, "Does God simply send people to hell?" You would need to answer as the following:

Yes, actually God does. He does this by his own desire, and he does it without any input from you. See, we are all sinful people, and none of us deserved to be saved, but God saves some of us nonetheless. But, here is the good news, you don't know if you are damn and going to hell. To make sure that you are chosen by God, all you need to do is accept Christ, and this confirms that you are saved.

[Now, some will argue that God doesn't actually "damn people" to hell. We do that ourselves. Therefore, while God saves certain people, he doesn't actually send anybody to hell. If you are going to make that argument here, get off my blog. Your brain is cottage cheese, and your breath smells like elderberry wine. This is playing with semantics. At least if you are going to be a Calvinist, have the fortitude to step up to the plate and take it like a (reformed) man or woman.)

Now, if you are witnessing, and you are talking to a non-Christian as a Arminianist, and you were asked, "Does God simply send people to hell?" You would need to answer as the following:

No, you pick if you want to go to hell or not. Now, God has known since the beginning of time the decision that you will make, but it is your decision to make right here and right now, and he has given you an undeserved second chance. Accept Christ and live or reject him and die.

I don't know of a single person that doesn't believe that the second answer is easier for the non-Christian to deal with. It seems much more fair. It place the burden on the person to accept or reject Christ. Jesus wants you to accept him. All you need to do is return home.

So, with unconditional election seemingly making no common sense, how did this doctrine ever come about?

By reading the Bible and coming up with a theology that supports this idea.

Calvinist believe that the Bible says that there is no free will in the salvation process. While Arminianist will say that it is God that causes salvation and without God's grace there is no ability to even choose, they do say that after God has extended an unmerited second chance and softens the heart of the sinner to the extent that they can make a choice. The crux of salvation is when the sinner actually makes the decision to follow Jesus of his or her own free will or free agency.

This to the Calvinist says "man, in a small way, get to contribute to his salvation? This removes God from the salvation process and makes man the master of his salvation."

It is this small freedom that man can make a choice that causes the two schools of Christianity to split. It is a split over free will.

Now, the consequence of defending something that is so counterintuitive results in Calvinists who are great Bible scholars. They almost always see heresy better than the conditional election people. I think that the Reformed movement (the name given to Calvinists) are forced to think through everything carefully, and in some sense this gives them a leg up. Sometimes, it is easier for Arminianists to lose sight of the theology.

As an example of Arminianism's problems, the Methodist church was founded by Charles and John Wesley, who believed in conditional election. This Church movement went out and fed the poor. They brought the good news to those that were perishing. They lived the life. As time went on, they turned from the Gospels to a social Gospel framework. While they did good deeds, they left their first love.

This to me is sheer sadness and regret.

The problem with the unconditional election people is that they never get off their backside as a general whole. While there are brilliance from time to time, those in the unconditional election camp simply never invested as much in actually feeding the poor. They don't have the same heart for missions. They are the ones that uphold the law. They are the ones that have kept the best vision of a regard for scripture as the inerrant word of God. Because of this, these churches are normally intellectually stimulating and yet many times spiritually and emotionally dead. You normally see a Calvinist (Reformed Church) only on fire when they are arguing against Arminianism. They lean toward being dead.

This to me is sheer sadness and regret.

The best example of these two movements can be found by comparing the differences better the two men that best represented each movement.

John Wesley, for conditional election, and John Calvin, for unconditional election. If you read Calvin's institutes, you will find a systematic theology that is overwhelming in scope. You will find a brilliant mind that seemingly graphs all the technical merits of the Bible. You will also find a mind that doesn't care about having his spirit broken by those that are in poverty.

John Wesley scoured the Bible. He was smart but not as smart as Calvin. However, the man's heart was beautiful. He made some mistakes, his marriage was horrible (mainly because his brother kept him from marrying the right girl), but the outcome of his life changed the well being of the world.

I personally think that the Lord grieves when he sees us arguing over what to believe in. If you read the scriptures, you are going to see that the Bible clearly represents both conditional and unconditional election. It is simply both, or unclear. Either way, there is more than one answer.

From my viewpoint, we are told in the Bible that "by their fruits you shall know them." I would suggest that you don't hold to either camp. Call yourself a free thinker that treasures the writing of Calvin, but leans toward the understanding of Wesley.

For myself, I find that the more that I do careful exegesis on a small subset of verses, the more I lean toward Calvin. However, every time that I read the Bible cover to cover (which I am doing for my tenth time this year) the more that I am convinced that Arminianism is correct.

I personally think that you need to decide for yourself. However, I think that you could do no worse than follow John Wesley who said that he was "hair's breadth" from Calvinism.

Let us respect each other, and thus fulfill the Law Of Christ Jesus.


tmm said...

Uncle Ted, this was an extremely useful, corrective, and edifying to read. Thank you for writing. I have often witnessed, as well as taken part in, exegesis that strains for gnats and swallows camels.

Something that I hope has changed, or, is changing me (it is difficult to judge oneself accurately) has been experiencing the grace and love of Christ through people with whome I have extreme differences. You can't argue with love. Right now, in Japan I probably have some significant doctrinal differences with the people I am submitting to, worshiping along side. (The core... who Yeshua is and love for Christ is the same, however). But, I can't argue with kindness and love. In a strange way, kindness and love can be an extremely strong form of discipline.

Lastly - being that you are much wider read than me, I am 99.9% sure that you have read the Great Divorce. One of the main premises of the book is that Heaven is when we say to God, "Thy will be done" and Hell is when God says to us "thy will be done." In the book, hell is actually in heaven. In this respect, C.S. Lewis' concept of hell seems to correspond closely with the concept ascribed to people with cottage cheese for a brain.

Jesus was the biggest hellfire preacher in the New Testament. There is a hell, God does send people there. But I can't believe that C.S. Lewis had cottage cheese for a brain. He was brilliant, and he loved God. His concept of hell was probably tied to the fact that his hero George MacDonald believed that everyone, eventually and last of all Lilith, would be saved. But, regardless of why he believed the things he did, he made some great theological contributions (though I would argue that his greatest theological contributions were in the form of stories).

Theologic said...

On cottage cheese...

If you look closely, you will see that the cottage cheese section of my post is a reference to the great theologian Monty Python. This is hyperbole to force people into the light and not rationalize the unpleasant aspects of their beliefs. To save that "not saving a drowning swimmer" is different from "allowing a man to drown" is to hide in semantics to make oneself feel less guilty in the grand fashion of rationalization. Any non-Christian would not understand our attempts to make ourselves feel better by playing word games.

"Be a sinner and sin boldly," if you are going to sin as Luther said. If you are going to be a Calvinist, then Calvin boldy. :>)

Lewis believed in conditional election, and the idea of the Great Divorce is one of conditional election with a little paradox thrown in.

In you are comfortable with the idea of the Great Divorce, then I would suggest that you are actually more of an Arminianist. I would suggest reading, since you may be an Arminianist and not know it. (Jeff Foxworthy allusion.)

The closest Lewis came to Calvinism is the following Lewis quote from a letter, which you must read closely to understand it.

"I take it as a first principle that we must not interpret any one part of Scripture so that it contradicts other parts . . . . The real inter-relation between God's omnipotence and Man's freedom is something we can't find out. Looking at the Sheep & the Goats every man can be quite sure that every kind act he does will be accepted by Christ. Yet, equally, we all do feel sure that all the good in us comes from Grace. We have to leave it at that. I find the best plan is to take the Calvinist view of my own virtues and other people's vices; and the other view of my own vices and other peoples virtues. But tho' there is much to be puzzled about, there is nothing to be worried about. It is plain from Scripture that, in whatever sense the Pauline doctrine is true, it is not true in any sense which excludes its (apparent) opposite. You know what Luther said: 'Do you doubt if you are chosen? Then say your prayers and you may conclude that you are.'" (pp.354-355).