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Friday, October 30, 2009

Can man be free if God is sovereign? Part 2

As we continue to try to understand what the Bible teaches regarding human free will as it relates to God’s sovereignty, I’d like to pick up right where we left off.  Remember that last time we were introduced to the more popular conception of human freedom, referred to by theologians and philosophers as “libertarian freedom”.  Libertarian freedom states that I am only free if when I choose “A”, I am equally able to choose “not A”.  (For this reason, libertarian freedom is also referred to as “freedom of contrary choice.”)  We began to look at biblical reasons to reject that definition and I’d like to continue that discussion today.  But before we do, let me give the definition of “compatibilist freedom,” which I believe to be the more biblical concept of human freedom.
Compatibilist freedom states that I am free when I do what I most want to do.  Simple.  The difference between compatibilism and libertarianism is that compatibilism does not insist on a theoretically possible contrary choice in order for an act to have been freely chosen.  Compatibilism considers any act free that came as a result of one’s strongest inclination.
That being said, let’s turn our attention back to libertarian freedom. There is a serious logical problem with insisting that a contrary choice must have been equally possible in order for an act to be freely chosen.  According the definition of libertarian freedom, in order for me to have a genuine choice, the factors that led me to choose option-A must be the same as the factors that might have led me to choose option-B.  If these factors were not identical, then the factors for choosing one caused me to favor that option over the other.  That would mean that I was not equally able to choose either option, but was influenced to choose one over the other.  Therefore, in order for the choice to be completely free, all the factors leading to option-A, must be identical to the factors leading to option-B. 
Let me give you an example.  I had McDonalds for lunch.  (Don’t judge me.)  According to libertarian freedom, in order for my choice to have McDonalds to be a free choice, I must have had the equal opportunity to choose something else, like Subway, Burger King, etc.  But for those other choices to have been equal options, every reason I had for going to McDonalds would have to be the identical reasons for going to Subway, Burger King, etc.  Otherwise, I would have been influenced to choose McDonalds over those other places, which according to libertarian freedom, would mean that my choice wasn’t completely free.  The choices must be equal in order for there to be freedom.
You may have already started to see the problem with this.  Other than the fact that common sense and life experience tell us that the factors for choosing one option are rarely if ever equal to the factors for choosing differently, libertarian freedom fails to provide any explanation at all for why a person chooses a certain option.  If the factors for choosing option-A are identical to the factors for choosing option-B, there is no explanation for choosing one over the other.  That is why some conservative theologians refer to libertarian freedom as the “freedom of indifference.”  Further, if you dig deeper, even with someone who believes in libertarian freedom, and ask him why he chose option-A over option-B, he will say, “I wanted to,” which is actually the definition of compatibilist freedom.
The factors influencing me to choose McDonalds today simply were not identical to the factors influencing me to choose some other place.  First, McDonalds was in a location that allowed me easy access to Cox Road, where I work.  All the restaurants on the south side of Tylersville were excluded, since it is difficult even to turn right onto Tylersville out of their parking lots during the busy lunch hour.  Second, it was almost noon, which is the busiest time to try to get food anywhere – of those restaurants on the north side of Tylersville, McDonalds had the shortest line at the drive thru.  Third, it sounded better than anything else.  All of those factors influenced me to go to McDonalds.  All of the possible options were not equal to me.  The factors for choosing McDonalds were more persuasive than the factors for choosing something else.  In the end, the reason I went to McDonalds is because at that moment with the given circumstances, it was my strongest inclination. Was I forced to go to McDonalds?  No, I wanted to.

If libertarian freedom was true, there would be no reason for my choosing McDonalds over anything else and I would most likely still be sitting in my car trying to make up my mind.  Libertarian freedom makes no sense logically.
Now lets see if it makes sense Scripturally.  Those who believe in libertarian freedom do so, not only because they view it as the only basis of true free choice, but also because without it, in their view, there is no basis for holding a person accountable for his actions.  In other words, it is unjust to punish a person who committed a sin when he did not have the realistic option of doing otherwise. 
One of the first noted libertarians was a 4th century monk named Pelagius.  Pelagius looked at the Bible and saw all the commandments of God and the accompanying punishments for disobeying those commandments.  Since Pelagius believed in libertarian freedom, he surmised that it would be unjust for God to punish people for disobeying commands that they were unable to obey.  Therefore, he deduced that man must be equally capable of obeying or disobeying God’s commands.
As the early church rightly responded, this is impossible in light of the teaching of Scripture.  We know that the law was not intended to demonstrate man’s ability to keep it.  The opposite is true:
(Rom 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Further, as Paul writes in Gal 3:21-24, if man was capable of keeping the law, there would be no need for faith.  But the law was not intended to justify man.  Its purpose was to show us our sin and therefore our need for a Savior:
Gal 3:21 For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.  22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.  23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.  24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Our inability to obey was the point of the law.  Prior to salvation, we were slaves of sin (John 8:34, Rom 6:17).  We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1-3).  So it cannot be said that a person has libertarian freedom, since in his natural state he cannot but sin, and yet Scripture clearly teaches that those who sin are the objects of God’s wrath (John 3:18, 3:36; Rom 5:9-10; Eph 2:3).
How then is God just in condemning us?  Because we have compatibilist freedom – each and every time we sin, we do so because it is what we most want to do.
Hang in there. I know these are difficult concepts to understand.  But whether we all understand it or not, my goal is simply to establish that there is no contradiction between God’s meticulous sovereignty on the one hand and human freedom on the other – provided we have a biblically accurate definition of freedom.
Next, we’ll continue with our biblical argument, but in the meantime, consider whether or not God Himself has libertarian freedom.  What does the Bible have to say about that?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Depravity and the Sword

I was astonished this morning when I read in the news about the high school girl in California who was sexually assaulted by multiple attackers for approximately 2 ½ hours…outside the school gym at a homecoming dance.  Police believe that as many as 15 people watched the attack without a single soul helping her or calling the police.  She was found unconscious under a bench some time around midnight, and flown to a hospital in critical condition.

It could be said that our several decades of devaluing human life and celebrating sexual sin are catching up with us.  But we must be careful not to mistake the fruit for the root.  At the heart of the problem that is now manifesting itself in the increasing degradation of our culture is not the moral issues of life and purity, but rather the overt crescendo of the nation’s rejection of God Himself.  Rejection of God is the root.  Immorality is the fruit.

So how long will this go on?  How long will it worsen?  There’s no way to know for sure, but I believe this looks more like the end than the beginning.  As I read this news story I immediately thought of two passages of Scripture, Judges 19 and Romans 1.  The atrocity that took place at the California high school mirrors elements of these passages, both of which depict human depravity at its worst. 

Judges 19 comes toward the end of the book.  The first sixteen chapters tell the story of Israel’s cycle of sin: Israel rejects God and whores after idols, God raises up a foreign people to oppress Israel, Israel cries out to God for help, God has compassion on Israel and raises up a deliver to save the people, the deliver eventually dies, Israel again rejects God and whores after idols, etc.  With each cycle, the judges used by God to save Israel become less and less virtuous.  After chapter 16, no more judges are sent.  Israel simply stews in its own sinful degradation.  An editorial comment is repeated several times that sums up the condition of the nation, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6).

Chapter 19 shows Israel at its worst.  A sojourning Levite and his concubine are shown hospitality in the home of an old man in the city of Gibeah.  Benjaminites of the city come and pound on the door demanding that the old man send out the Levite so that they might gang rape him.  In lieu of this, the old man sends out the concubine whom the men then rape and abuse all night until the morning.  Neither the Levite nor the old man do anything to help her.  In the morning she is dead. 

From there the story becomes even more gruesome.  The shocking nature of the crime and the far reaching consequences of it underscore how far Israel had fallen.  In a book intended to show how badly the people needed a King, this account is the climax. 

Romans 1:18ff similarly shows what happens when men reject God.  Their rejection of God always entails the worship of false gods, which leads to self-worship, which leads to sexual immorality, which leads to the wholesale embrace of the base sexual perversion of homosexuality.  In the end, God gives them over to a depraved mind.  Their lives are characterized by “all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.”  Their celebration of sin is described in this way: “Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

What is the purpose of this passage of Scripture?  To demonstrate man’s universal need for a Savior.  So we see that Judges 19 and Romans 1 serve the same purpose.  They show that man needs a King, that man needs a Savior. 

Accordingly, what should we recognize about our culture when we see news stories like the one I read this morning?  First, our culture is as base as any people depicted in Scripture.  All the sexual perversions mentioned in Lev 20?  We’ve got it and then some.  Child sacrifice to the false god Molech, also mentioned in Lev 20?  We have legalized child sacrifice to the false god of convenience.  So even though we may think our culture is more enlightened than the pagan cultures found in the Bible, we are no better.  If anything, we are worse.

Second, such depravity exposes this culture’s desperate need for a King and Savior.  New laws won’t save us.  New social programs won’t save us.  Better education won’t save us.  New leadership from either side of the aisle won’t save us.  There is only one way of salvation.  It is the same way setup up by the writer of Judges and the writer of Romans – Jesus Christ alone can transform a man who epitomizes human depravity into a new creation, holy and blameless before God.

Let’s not allow the evidence of our culture’s degradation drive us to despair, inactivity, or silence.  Now is not the time to be quiet and reserved and resigned.  Apathetic resignation to our nation’s spiritual decline is conduct unbecoming of God’s warriors in the church.  As God’s Word revealed to us on Sunday, we have been given a sword – the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.  And right now, today, exactly where we are, we have been tasked with swinging it.  The evil that we see today is the same potential for evil that existed in our hearts before Christ saved us.  Praise God we succumbed to the Sword then.  It is just as living and active and sharp today.  The decline of culture should move us to bring it to bear right where we are.

When He returns, let Him not find us reading the news and shaking our heads.  Instead, let Him find us tirelessly swinging the blessed Sword.

Southern Seminary Chapel Streaming Live

Southern Seminary is now broadcasting their chapel services live on the internet.  Chapel services are Tuesday and Thursday at 10am.  If you don't catch the services live, you can also watch them later or download the mp3.  This is a great resource - excellent preachers all over the country twice a week!  It'll keep your blood pumping during the week.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Can man be free if God is sovereign?

Having looked at several Arminian prooftexts, and having spent a number of weeks in Sunday School looking at the issue of God’s sovereignty, it may behoove us to look at the issue of freewill.  Those who reject the notion of God’s meticulous sovereignty in general, and unconditional election in particular, usually do so for two reasons.  First, the doctrine conflicts with their view of God.  Second, the doctrine conflicts with their understanding of human freewill.  It is this second reason on which I would like to focus for a short while.

Because the doctrine of God’s meticulous sovereignty teaches that God ultimately controls all things, including human decisions for both good and evil, the Arminian mind rejects it.  It is assumed that if God is in absolute meticulous control, humans cannot make meaningful decisions.  They are puppets, robots, chess pieces, etc.  They have no freewill.

However, Arminians believe (and rightfully so) that God did not create us to be puppets.  He gave us the ability to make choices.  Furthermore, God holds us responsible for the choices we make, whether for good or for evil.  Therefore, it cannot be that our choices are caused by something outside of ourselves.  So the doctrine of God’s sovereignty creates a tremendous tension with the concepts of human choice and responsibility.  The tension is unbearable for them, so they reject the notion of God’s sovereignty altogether or modify it so as to make room for what they view is genuine human freewill.

This may sound inflammatory – I certainly don’t mean for it to be so – but when it comes to understanding how God’s sovereignty relates to man’s freedom, the Arminian starts with his understanding of his own freewill and then trims God to make Him fit within that framework.  The Arminian takes what looks like two contradictory doctrines and he rejects the one that threatens his freewill. 

I believe that we need to allow the Bible to tell us who God is.  Once we’ve done that, then we should trim our understanding of human freewill to fit within that framework.  If you’ve been in Sunday School over the past several weeks you know that the idea that God is not meticulously sovereign over all things cannot be taken seriously.  Scripture is repeatedly crystal clear on the issue: God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11).

Does that mean that we must reject the idea of freewill in order to relieve the tension?  Absolutely not!  In fact, I contend that the tension need not be there at all.  There is a way to understand God’s sovereignty and human responsibility so that one does not need to deny one in order to hold the other.  We do not need to reject freewill…we just need to define it biblically.

But before we do that, I’d like to take some time to introduce and take apart the erroneous definition that so many people hold.  It is this definition that causes some to reject God’s sovereignty.  Most theologians call it “libertarian freedom.”  Some call it the “power of contrary choice.”  Libertarian freedom states that at the moment of choice, I am free in making that choice if when I choose one option, I could have chosen otherwise.  For example, I am free in choosing french fries only if when I choose french fries I could choose not to have french fries or to have something else.  If that is not the case, according to the definition of libertarian freedom, I am not free.

This is the definition of freedom that is held by those who hold to Arminian theology, as well as its offshoots, open theology and process theology.  To them, this is a nonnegotiable truth – if we do not have libertarian freedom, we do not have freewill at all.

For the Arminian, libertarian freedom is what makes our choices meaningful and what justifies God in holding us responsible for our sin. “If we are not free to do otherwise, then how can we be held accountable for what we choose and do, they argue.”[1]

This is ground zero for Arminian theology.  It all starts here.  This is bedrock, undeniable, absolute, sacred truth.  Any truth claim that contradicts or denies libertarian freewill must be rejected.  So, the notion that God meticulously controls all things must be rejected because if He controls all things, His sovereignty denies man his libertarian freedom.

Let’s apply this Arminian thinking process to my own salvation: “Is God sovereign over salvation? No.  If God decided before the foundation of the world that Greg Birdwell would be saved from his sins, Greg Birdwell could not have libertarian freedom.  If God is sovereign, then when Greg chose to be saved, Greg could not have chosen not to be saved since God already decided that he would be.  But since the fact that Greg Birdwell has libertarian freedom is undeniably true, God cannot have chosen that Greg would be saved.  Greg must be free, therefore God must not be sovereign over salvation.”
The bottom line is this: libertarian freedom is incompatible with the meticulous sovereignty of God.  I happen to agree with the Arminian on this point.  But whereas I would reject libertarian freedom, the Arminian rejects the meticulous sovereignty of God, since to the Arminian libertarian freedom is nonnegotiable.

This definition of freedom puts the Arminian in the difficult position of having to reject the plain reading of scores of texts in both the Old and New Testaments.  If you’ve been in Sunday School recently, you may already be nodding your head.  Think about our theme verse for the study on God’s sovereignty, Ephesians 1:11 – “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”  To the Arminian, this doesn’t mean what it says, because if God is working all things, then man can’t be working anything.  That’s a denial of libertarian freedom, therefore this verse must mean something other than what it says.

What other verses don’t mean what they say (in light of the supposed overriding truth of libertarian freedom)?
Genesis 45:8  8 "Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  (Read chs 37-45 to get the full affect.)

Exodus 4:21  And the LORD said to Moses, "When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

Joshua 11:20   For it was the LORD's doing to harden their hearts that they should come against Israel in battle, in order that they should be devoted to destruction and should receive no mercy but be destroyed, just as the LORD commanded Moses.

1Samuel 2:25b But they would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the LORD to put them to death. (Start in v22 for context.)

1Kings 12:15   So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.

2 Thessalonians 2:11-12   11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

Psalm 33:10-11  10 The LORD nullifies the counsel of the nations; He frustrates the plans of the peoples11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.

Psalm 105:25   He turned their heart to hate His people, To deal craftily with His servants.
Proverbs 21:1  The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.

Job 12:23-25  23 "He makes the nations great, then destroys them; He enlarges the nations, then leads them away.  24 "He deprives of intelligence the chiefs of the earth's people And makes them wander in a pathless waste25 "They grope in darkness with no light, And He makes them stagger like a drunken man.

Acts 4:27-28   27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,  28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.”

This is but a small sampling of the verses, among other longer passages, that cannot mean what they say if libertarian freedom is undeniable truth.  I strongly encourage you to take a look at each of these references in their contexts.  The contexts do not allow for a different understanding than the plain reading of the verse above.

Next time, we’ll look at some biblical and logical/philosophical arguments against libertarian freedom.  Before then, I challenge you – find a single verse in all of Scripture that teaches this definition of freedom. 

            [1]Bruce A. Ware, God’s Greater Glory: The Exalted God of Scripture and the Christian Faith (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 64.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

John 7:37-38

"...If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" John 7:37-38

"The fulfillment of . . . the promise could be testified by thousands of living Christians in the present day. They would say, if their evidence could be collected, that when they came to Christ by faith they found in him more than they expected. They have tasted peace and hope and comfort since they first believed, which, with all their doubts and fears, they would not exchange for anything in this world. They have found grace according to their need and strength according to their days. In themselves and their own hearts they have often been disappointed, but they have never been disappointed in Christ."

J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John 1:1 through John 10:9, page 472.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What kind of revelation can save? Part 5

                  (If you have not read the previous parts of this series, you can start here:  Part 1  Part 2  Part 3  Part 4)
The second of the two strongest objections to the exclusivist view is the seeming contradiction between God’s universal salvific will, as cited in 1 Tim 2:4, and the idea of limited access to salvation.  How can God truly desire the salvation of all people and yet only give a select few the opportunity to obtain salvation?  Says John Hick:
The implication is that the large majority of the human race thus far have, through no fault of their own, been consigned to eternal perdition . . . This would not be the work of a God of limitless and universal love, who values all human beings equally, but of an arbitrary cosmic tyrant, more fit to be reviled as the devil than to be worshiped as God.[1]

The biggest flaw in this objection lies in the phrase “through no fault of their own.”  It must be remembered that man’s condemnation is precisely his own fault.  This idea presupposes both an entitlement to grace and the injustice of an eternal hell.  As was argued earlier, Romans 1:16-32 makes it clear that man is condemned because of his own sin.  It is just that man should pay for his sins.  It is just that all men should pay for their sins.  God would not be any less loving or any less righteous if He condemned all and saved none.  Man deserves hell.  God does not owe grace to anyone.  God does not owe salvation to anyone.  God does not owe the gospel to anyone.  If He did, it would cease to be grace.[2]  Salvation would be merited, not given.
Another flaw in this objection is the assumption that God’s desire that all people be saved in 1 Tim 2:4 is God’s sovereign will.  God’s desire that all people should be saved is more properly understood to be His moral will.[3]  (For a more detailed treatment of 1 Tim 2:4 start here.)  If it was God’s sovereign will that all people be saved, they would invariably be so since God’s sovereign plan cannot be thwarted.[4]  This of course would lead to universal salvation, an impossibility, biblically speaking. 
It should be noted that this line of thinking is what has led some to actually embrace the concept of universal salvation.[5]  It is argued that if God is both loving and sovereign, He will save all people.  But it is a dangerous thing for us to conjecture what God would or would not do based on our own understanding of Him.  The Bible teaches that God is both loving and sovereign, and yet it also affirms that hell is real and there are people who will go there.
God’s own high view of the gospel and the centrality of His Son in that gospel precludes the notion that anyone could be saved outside of a specific knowledge of Christ.  God has given us the gospel and has told us that this is how He saves people (John 1:12-13, 3:18, 36, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom 1:16, 10:9, 17).
What effect should this have on us?  It should drive us to share the gospel!  If the gospel is the only way that men can be saved, it becomes all the more imperative that we share it boldly.  Conversely, if the inclusivists are right and God grades on a curve, accepting any religious effort as a potentially saving action, then the opposite is true: be quiet and bring all the missionaries home!  Do not speak the name of Jesus.  Stop sharing the gospel because if they reject it, they’ll go to hell, whereas if they never hear the gospel, God may make a special exception for them and let them in anyway.  Of course, such an idea is craziness if we allow the Bible to shape our theology.
You and I hold in our possession the only power of God for salvation.  The Great Commission is clear: possession of the gospel comes with the responsibility to share and make disciples of all nations – including this one (Matt 28:19-20).  Let’s pray for boldness and opportunity, knowing that God has chosen the gospel message to save men.

[1]John Hick et al., Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Ed. Stanley N. Gundry, Dennis L. Okholm, and Timothy R. Phillips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 250.

[2]Rom 11:6

[3]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 332.           

[4]Job 42:2

[5]John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 89.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

...but what about Romans 8:29? Part 2

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. Rom 8:29 ESV

In the most recent post in this series, we looked at several reasons to reject an Arminian reading of Romans 8:29.  Now we will look at the range of meaning of the word “foreknew.”
The Greek word used in Rom 8:29 is proginoskein.  I have the six most widely used Greek lexicons.  They all show that this word has two possible definitions.  The first definition is “to know beforehand.”  The second is “to choose beforehand.”  There are two uses of the word in the New Testament where the first definition is clearly correct, Acts 26:5 and 2 Pet 3:17.  In both of these texts, the subject of the verb is a group of people.  In other words, these verses do not speak of divine foreknowledge.  This is an important distinction.  The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament notes that when the word is used to refer to divine foreknowledge “the idea of election is always present.”  Other lexicons make similar statements, pointing out that when the verb is used with God as the subject, the second definition above is to be understood.

This is consistent with the concept of God’s knowledge in the Old Testament.  The Hebrew word for “to know” is yada, and refers to God’s loving choice.  For example, in Gen 18:19 the Lord says, speaking of Abraham, For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him."  There the ESV translates the word as “chosen.”  (So does the NAS, NIV, and NET to name a few.)  The idea is not simply that God knew Abraham or was cognitively aware of Abraham.  God chose him.

Another good example is Jer 1:5, where the prophet Jeremiah is the object of God’s “knowledge”:  "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations."  This is written in poetic verse with the three clauses being parallel.  Parallelism is a device used in Hebrew poetry to convey essentially the same idea in two or more ways.  So the author is communicating the same idea three times in this verse, with the verbs “knew,” “consecrated,” and “appointed” being parallel.  Obviously, the verse is not intended to express that God merely foresaw that Jeremiah would serve as a prophet.  The point is that before Jeremiah was born, God chose him.

Let me also mention Amos 3:2a: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”  Does God mean that Israel is the only nation on earth of which He is cognitively aware?  Of course not.  Israel is the only nation that God lovingly chose.

So it is not at all foreign to Scripture for God’s knowledge of those upon whom He has set His affection to be a reference to His choosing them.  This understanding of God’s knowledge is clearly intended elsewhere in the book of Romans, a fact which is devastating to the Arminian argument.
The Greek word, proginoskein, that is used in Rom 8:29 is also used in Rom 11:2, where speaking of Israel, Paul writes, God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.  If we impose the Arminian understanding on this text (and it is a dreadful imposition because the words simply are not there), we come up with this: God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew would believeThat is a problem because this comes in a lengthy discussion in which Paul is explaining why the Jews do not believe.

In v7a, he goes on to write, Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking.  Now if the Arminian is right, that God chooses those who He foresees will choose Him, this seeking for salvation – described in 10:2 as their “zeal for God” – should have triggered God’s predestining them for the benefits of salvation.  But that is not what we find as we continue in the passage.

The following verses invalidate the Arminian position: (v7b) The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, 8 as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” 9 And David says, “Let their table become a snare and trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; 10 let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.”

Who obtained salvation?  The elect.  What about the rest?  They were hardened.  Who hardened them?  God.  Why? So that they would not see or hear the truth.

God’s choice of Israel was not based on His foreknowledge of their faith in Him.  The OT represents thousands of years of Israel largely rejecting God.  So why did He choose them?  Deut 7:6-8 tells us:  6 "For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  7 It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  8 but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

“It was not because you were more in number than any other people…”  In other words, it was not because of anything about you, that the Lord chose you.  He chose you because of something about Him – He loves you. And no reason is offered for why He loves them in a way that He doesn't not love those nations He did not choose.  But if we use Scripture to interpret Scripture, Ephesians 1:11 is certainly helpful.  God works all things according to the counsel of His will.  Said another way, God does everything because He want to. 

Now, if God’s choice of Israel was not based on anything they did or were, but was based on His own good pleasure, His special love for them, why would we believe that His choice of the members of the body of Christ would be any different?  We can't believe that because the same word ("foreknew") is used to refer to both Israel and the church.

The bottom line is that the Arminian understanding of “foreknowledge” cannot be correct for several reasons.  First, the words on the page simply do not say “those whom He foreknew would choose Him…”  Arriving at the Arminian position forces us to read material into the Word.  Second, the understanding of foreknowledge as a reference to election is universally accepted as a legitimate meaning of the word among the major scholarly Greek lexicons.  Third, the term is used of Israel in the near context of Romans, which denies the possibility that this foreknowledge could be foreknowledge of faith.

I will continue with this series dealing with Arminian prooftexts, but I received a great suggestion a couple of weeks ago.  It may be helpful to do a short exploration of the concept of freewill.  I believe that the cherished idea of freewill is really the main reason that people reject the doctrine of election.  It is assumed that if God chooses, man can’t choose.  That simply is not the case. God chooses and man chooses.  How can that be?  Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What kind of revelation can save? Part 4

For a few weeks we’ve been looking at the issue of revelation and salvation.  The specific question we’re seeking to answer is, “what kind of revelation can save?”  There are two main positions on this question, the inclusivist view, which holds that salvation is possible based on general revelation, and the exclusivist view, which holds that special revelation is necessary for salvation.  By clicking on the links above, you can read a short explanation on these two views. 
Last time I began to make a case for the exclusivist view by looking at what the Bible has to say about general revelation.  Now, we’ll look at the biblical evidence for the exclusivity of Christ in our salvation.  We’ll also address the first of the two most popular objections to the exclusivist view. 
Not only is there no indication in Scripture that general revelation provides salvific truth, but the Bible teaches that salvation comes only through the knowledge of Christ, who cannot be known outside of special biblical revelation. Romans 1:16 tells us explicitly where the power of salvation originates, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  The gospel is the power of God for salvation.  This gospel is undeniably centered on Jesus Christ. The New Testament testifies to this by referring to the gospel as “the gospel of Jesus”, “the gospel of His Son”, “the gospel of Christ”, “the gospel of the glory of Christ”, and “the gospel of our Lord Jesus”.[1]  Further, there is only one gospel (Gal 1:6-9). If it is the gospel of the Bible that saves, and that gospel is the gospel of Christ, and there is only one gospel, it follows that the only gospel that saves is the gospel of Christ.
Jesus Himself clearly stated that He is the only way to salvation.  One must look no further than John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”  The definite article in each phrase speaks directly to the issue at hand.  Jesus does not claim to be a way for those who are fortunate enough to hear the gospel.  He does not present Himself as one option among many.  He does not leave room for semantics, or interpretation, or any other hope for salvation outside of the saving knowledge of Himself.  He is the only way.  No one comes to the Father but through Christ.  In John 10:9a, Jesus claims the same exclusivity, saying, “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved . . .”
Scripture gives no indication that man can be saved through general revelation alone.  It does give abundant, clear teaching that salvation comes only through Christ.[2]  The strongest position on this issue is that general revelation does not provide, by itself, salvific truth.
The first of the two strongest objections to the exclusivist position is that Christ is the salvation of the world, but that it is not necessary to have specific knowledge of Him in order to obtain that salvation.[3]  All God is looking for is a proper faith response to Himself, without reference to Christ.[4]  In other words, every person who is saved is saved by Christ, but it is not necessary for every person to know that.
John 3:18 deals a serious blow to this objection: Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.  John 1:11-12 gives us more of the same: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.  One must believe in Jesus by name in order to become children of God.
Romans 10 holds says it even more explicitly.  In this chapter, Paul explains Israel’s relationship to the gospel.  Though they had a zeal for God (which some might argue to be a “proper faith response” among the unevangelized), it was not in accordance with knowledge (10:2).  The context shows that the knowledge of which Paul is speaking is knowledge of God’s righteousness in Christ.  So, although Israel was seeking salvation, as can be seen in 11:7, they did not obtain it because they were not looking to Christ.
Additionally, in verse 10:9, Paul explains the faith of the gospel saying, "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."  Paul says explicitly in vv12-13 that this is the plan of salvation for both Jews and Greeks (that is, Jews and all non-Jews, meaning everyone everywhere), “for whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”  Going on, he says in v14, “How then will they call upon Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?”  The antecedent for the personal pronoun “Him” is Jesus.  The question the text is asking is, “how will they be saved unless the gospel of Jesus Christ explicitly is preached to them?”  The implied answer is, “they will not.”  Paul then, in v18, anticipates the reader’s next assumption, that since Israel has not obtained salvation, they must not have heard the gospel of Christ.  The implication here is that specific knowledge of the gospel of Christ is necessary for salvation.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (v17).
God has placed Christ at the center of salvation history.  He is the point.  He is not a peripheral tool of which some saved people are aware and some are not.  Read the whole of the New Testament and see if you can honestly arrive at the conclusion that the knowledge of the saving work of Christ is a touching, but unnecessary component of the gospel, and not the very essence of it.
Next time, one final objection and some practical application.

[1]Mark 1:1; Rom 1:9, 15:19; 1 Cor 9:12; 2 Cor 2:12, 4:4, 9:13, 10:14; Gal 1:7; Phil 1:7; 1 Thess 3:2;  2 Thess 1:8

[2]To name a few: Isa 45:21,22; 59:16; Acts 4:12.
[3]John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 225.

[4]Terrence L. Teissen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 144.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Our Faith...Jesus

"Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person. If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, 'What do you believe in?' they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, 'We believe him.' 'But what are your doctrines?' 'There they stand incarnate.' 'But what is your practice?' 'There stands our practice. He is our example.' 'What then do you believe?' Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, 'We preach Christ crucified.' Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus."

C. H. Spurgeon, "De Propaganda Fide," in Lectures Delivered before the Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall 1858-1859, pages 159-160.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

What kind of revelation can save? Part 3

For a couple of posts now, we’ve been looking at the issue of revelation and salvation. The specific question we’re seeking to answer is, “what kind of revelation can save?” There are two main positions on this question, the inclusivist view, which holds that salvation is possible based on general revelation, and the exclusivist view, which holds that special revelation is necessary for salvation. By clicking on the links above, you can read a short explanation of these two views.
In the next couple of posts, I’ll be making a case for the exclusivist view. I believe it is the most biblical view in light of the scriptural texts related to general revelation (the subject of this post) and the centrality of Christ in salvation (to be dealt with in the next post).
The classic text on general revelation is Romans 1:18-32. While this passage is normally used to build a strong case against the possibility of salvific truth in general revelation, some inclusivists have used it to argue the opposite. It has been claimed that the negative response that man gives to general revelation in Romans 1:21, namely, the failure to honor God or give thanks, implies that the opposite response would be a proper faith response to God.[1] It is further asserted that this obedience, which would be based on the law written on a man’s heart (2:15), would be pleasing to God and would serve as evidence that God is working in that person’s life.[2]
I see three difficulties with this line of thinking. First, general revelation in Romans 1 is not mentioned in relation to faith at all. In fact, it is only tied to the wrath of God. God’s wrath is revealed from heaven as a result of man’s rejection of God as revealed in general revelation. Second, the purpose of this portion of Romans 1 is not to give Gentiles hope that they might be saved apart from the knowledge of Christ. The purpose is to show that all Gentiles are under sin, just as the purpose of Romans 2 is to show that all Jews are under sin. After giving a list of the characteristics of the depraved mind, Paul writes in 1:32, “and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worth of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” Again, they are without excuse.
The thrust of Paul’s argument in the first two-and-a-half chapters is that all men are under sin (3:9) and in need of a Savior (3:21-26). This sets the stage for Paul to raise up Christ as the object of faith by which man must be saved. The mention of general revelation in chapter 1 serves no other purpose than to show that the Gentile is without excuse. General revelation does not save him, but his rebellious response to that revelation condemns him.
One inclusivist has charged that according to Romans 2:6-16, “the Gentiles are capable of fulfilling the law by faith even though they do not have the written law, and thus they will receive ‘glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.’”[3] However, there are three reasons why this will not work. First, the concept of faith is nowhere to be found in Romans 2. Second, the context shows that Paul’s purpose is to remove from the Jews any notion of spiritual advantage due to their having the Law, since the Gentiles have the law written on their hearts as evidenced by their occasional obedience to it.[4] So, the focus in these verses, as well as in the rest of chapter 2, is the Jews. Third, the point is rendered moot by 3:20, which states that no flesh will be justified through the works of the law.
While some concede that there are no biblical examples of anyone being saved through general revelation alone,[5] Millard Erickson has conjectured that there are five elements that if gleaned from general revelation could constitute a gospel message:
(1) The belief in one good powerful God. (2) The belief that he (man) owes this God perfect obedience to his law. (3) The consciousness that he does not meet this standard, and therefore is guilty and condemned. (4) The realization that nothing he can offer God can compensate him (or atone) for this sin and guilt. (5) The belief that God is merciful, and will forgive and accept those who cast themselves upon his mercy.[6]
Of course, no biblical text indicates that any components of the gospel are available through general revelation. Further, it seems unlikely that these clearly defined truths could be gathered from the created order. “How the holiness and justice of God can ever be reconciled with his willingness to forgive sins is a mystery that has never been solved . . . apart from the Bible.”[7]
                   I mentioned recently a good standard for determining the validity of any interpretation of Scripture: you must be able to put your finger on the Words of Scripture and say, “this is why I interpret the passage this way.” Using this standard we can fully support the idea that general revelation is sufficient to condemn a person – we simply point to Romans 1:20…or Romans 1:24…or Romans 1:26…or Romans 1:28…or Romans 1:32. Or we could save time by just circling the whole passage since the very point being made is that man is condemned because of his rejection of general revelation about God.
                   On the other hand, the inclusivist has no place to rest his finger. There is no text that teaches us that general revelation is sufficient to save. Next time, we’ll show the utter incompatibility between inclusivism and the biblical teaching on the centrality of Christ in salvation.

[1]Terrence L. Teissen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 144.

[2]Ibid., 145.
[3]John Sanders, No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 28.

[4]Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, in vol. 6 of Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. ed. Moises Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 121.

[5]Terrence L. Teissen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 149.

[6]Millard J. Erickson, “Hope for Those Who Haven’t Heard? Yes, But . . .” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 11 April 1975, 125.
[7]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 123.