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Thursday, January 24, 2008

Where do we draw the lines?

At the moment, I am attending a Bible college where I am majoring in Biblical Languages, and I have been doing some deep thought and study into the various theological positions that have had an impact on the church over the years. Aside from the ever controversial subjects of predestination, election, the sovereignty of God, the responsibility of man, and the atonement of Christ, I have begun to put much thought into things like eschatology. This was a subject which I was basically forced into by my boss while working at the school over the summer. I casually commented on the fact that I saw a couple of problems with the Dispensational distinction between Israel and the Church based on one lonely passage in Galatians 3. The passage I'm referring to is located in verses 5-7 & 16 which speak of all those who are of faith are children of Abraham and the promises made to Abraham were made to Christ--which to me seemed to indicate the idea that all those who were in Christ were not only children of Abraham but heirs to the promises. This has since led to many other questions reaching into various other areas.

The question that these former topics of study and discussion have led me to ponder is: "By what do we measure what is important in determining the level of fellowship we have with others who claim the name of Christ?" I have had discussions with fellow students of the Bible who have taken a stand on music issues and declared that certain people cannot glorify God with the gifts and talents that He has given them. I don't think that it's necessary to point out how dogmatic Dispensationalists are when it comes to certain areas of Bible interpretation. I have had debates over the power and extent of the atonement with others which have ended in certain people jokingly calling me a heretic, and I even tried to point out the fact that one particular verse did not support the idea of a universal atonement based on the context in which the verse was nestled and I was called a heretic with no joking intended (although he did apologize later and gave me a hug). All these events have culminated in my ultimate questioning of whether or not one who professes to know God could possibly know Him when they deny His person, power, and purpose.

As I consider the Dispensationalist conclusions I realize that in order to come to the same conclusion that they have I need to start with certain presuppositions (Israel and the church are distinct) and rules of interpretation. Then, I must abandon one or the other of those rules in particular instances involving something that goes against my initial presuppositions (when reading Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, etc...).

I'd like my question to be more pointed, though, so I believe that I'll narrow it down a bit. I happened to be listening to a recent edition of the Iron Sharpens Iron broadcast (which can be accessed in my "Edification" section to the left of my blog), and the host of the show, Chris Arnzen, had a pastor's round table discussion focusing on the thoughts of these particular pastors' opinions of whether or not someone's salvation was dependent on their position regarding the Doctrines of Grace. This is one particular question that I've been wrestling with.

I realize that salvation is not based on some theological system. It is by the grace of God through faith (complete trust) in His Son Jesus Christ. This is something that most evangelicals would agree to, and as I've had interaction with many Roman Catholic priests I've come to find that they will acknowledge this as well. This being said, I hope that your ears have perked up in wondering, "How can this be?" Well, it all goes back to your definition. A Catholic's definition of grace is much different than the traditional, reformed, Biblical one. They believe (actually they hope) that they will receive the "graces" necessary to perform whatever works necessary to be saved at the end of their life, and they hope to die in that "state of grace" in order that they may go to purgatory to pay for the rest of their sins. Now, if salvation is not based on a theological system, I think that some would be able to stand with me in agreement that this particular theological system will keep them from true salvation.

Based on what we understand about the Catholic teaching, I have to reflect upon my own upbringing in an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. I was taught that I am saved by grace through faith--not works. I was also taught that all someone needed to do was to believe in Christ, and I believed that this was something that anyone could do. I won't give you my testimony in this article, but I eventually came to realize that God wasn't who I had imagined Him to be--He was much more glorious, to be sure. In fact, God was so much in control of all of the events of history and the present that nothing happened apart from His sovereign direction. I began to realize this when I started studying the Bible. I would read and read and ask questions about particular passages that spoke of God's elect and the sufficiency of Christ's work on the cross and as High Priest. Then I was introduced to the Doctrines of Grace. Everything just sort of...fell into place. God's word was a coherent whole. I was taught for so long to overlook some passages of Scripture and give definitions that didn't always fit, but when I realized that there were answers to these conundrums that demonstrated God's glory in all of time and creation (yes, I know that time is a creation) I couldn't deny the validity of it--by the grace of God, I now realize.

Sorry for the prolonged prologue--now for my question: If someone is presented with these truths of God's sovereignty and grace--yet they reject this God as a repugnant philosophical or logical conclusion of the Calvinists--even though the exegesis of the texts are presented, then are they truly saved? As I've been pondering this question, I've been confronted with commandment #2. Are these people worshiping the One, True, God, or are they worshiping a god that they have created in their minds based on traditional teachings and expectations?

I realize that some people might be offended that I would ask a question like this, but please realize that I haven't come to any conclusions for myself. I am simply pondering this question that has been hounding me in many ways and wondering if anyone can give me some insight as to where I should go from here. Please try to answer in a non-emotional way in order that the exchange may be edifying.


Scott said...

In terms of one's own theology, we must recognize profound unity between who God is and what God does. However, in terms of how we view others, we must recognize some distinction between who God is and what God does.

What I mean is this: there can be no legitimate disagreement about who God is. There CAN be legitimate disagreement about what God does.

If someone says, "I do not believe that God is gracious," we can safely assume that that person is unregenerate. We can assume the same about someone who says, "I do not believe that God is sovereign." However, we are not free to assume the same just because someone says, "I believe that God is gracious, but I do not believe that God has unconditionally elected some."

Directly attacking some aspect of the nature or character of God is different than disagreeing about things He does or does not do.

Is the Bible very clear about God's sovereign selection in salvation? I think so. But I choose to practice a "generous orthodoxy" (I use that term much more narrowly than Emergents).

If we have to lean one way over the other, lean toward generosity in these things. "Believe all things." Assume the best about people. Try to come up with any possible way that a sincere believer could believe what he does. Differentiate between sinful mistakes and non-sinful mistakes.

Of course, there will be issues about which there can be no disagreement, either because the doctrine is too clear ("do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers"), or too significant despite clarity (the doctrine of the Trinity).

IMHO, the Arminian error is often a non-sinful mistake.

Michael.Gabriel said...

I have no quibble with you over the idea that genuinely saved people may have misunderstandings about what God does, but I still want to reserve the right to clarify these things with people in my discussions with them. If someone does not submit to the clear teaching of the Scriptures then are they still obeying God?

The person who I may have more of an issue with is the one who claims, "God is sovereign, but..." And the but is not based on Him doing something outside of His character. No God cannot make a square circle or lie. God can, on the other hand, orchestrate certain events which bring glory to His name and much benefit for many people through the sinful acts of men (Gen. 45:4-8; 50:20; Acts 4:26-28). Is God in sovereign control or not? Is He able to act ccording to His own plan, or is He forced to passively react to the mishaps and catastrophes wrought by the freewill of sinful men?

SBC said...

Is this a discussion about our view of God's sovereignty, or is this discussion about our view of people who view God's sovereignty differently?

I agree with your understanding of God's sovereignty. You don't have to convince me that God ordained everything that happens, in one sense or another.

What I DO doubt is that we ought to view the common, non-reformed, evangelical understanding as heresy. There are too many good, godly, faithful, God-centered, God-loving men who disagree about this.

Can I put myself in their shoes, and see how they could sincerely but mistakenly believe what they do? Yes, on this issue I can (obviously, I'm not talking about Open Theism here!).

You asked, "If someone does not submit to the clear teaching of the Scriptures then are they still obeying God?"
The answer is no. There are some things that are SO clear, and SO indisputable, that anyone who disagrees is disobedient.
But the reformed view of God's sovereignty (as opposed to the view espoused by good, non-reformed evangelicals) does not fall into that category. What I mean is, even though the reformed view of God's sovereignty is pretty clear, it isn't so TOTALLY indisputable that those who disagree MUST be sinning.

Michael.Gabriel said...

"SBC," I'm not asserting that these people are sinning who are disagreeing with a reformed view of the soteriology, theology, or whatever. I'm asking whether or not these people are worshiping the God of the Bible or some version of God that they've created in their minds due to the fact that they can't deal with a God who IS sovereign.

Even when approached logically, we are confronted with certain things about who God is that lead us to undeniable conclusions. Please read this excerpt from "Classical Apologetics" by R.C. Sproul and others:

The question is, Did Being unintentionally make things which revealed Himself? Being omniscient, He would have at least forseen it. If He did not want it to happen, He could have prevented it. Therefore, He must have wanted it to happen. That is, He intended or purposed it. Since He has willed everything to come to pass that comes to pass (or it would never have come to pass), He must have purposively ordained everything to come to pass (pg. 124).

Next, I'll paraphrase what I recently heard from someone who I would have no reason, necessarily, to call an unbeliever:

God has given man a freewill in order for him to make whatever choices that he might make, and God will allow whatever this man does to take place--as long as it doesn't interfere with His ultimate plan. Beyond this, God will USE the sinful actions of man in His overall purpose in time, and He will make it all work out in the end for His final, perfect plan.

If God were merely doing what He could with the free actions of mankind, how would He be able to guarantee anything? Who is in control of this situation between God and man? From this perspective, God cannot GUARANTEE anything. Joseph's brothers could've had compassion and made up with their brother, Cyrus could've denied the Jews the freedom to return to Jerusalem, and Pilate could've listened to his sister and taken Jesus to a safe house in Rome. Is God just some passive referee making sure that this project of His doesn't get out of hand, or did He and does He have a plan that He is accomplishing in all of this? If He does, then He wouldn't allow any loose ends, would you?

I think that this latter view is dangerously close to the Open Theistic view, and if someone doesn't want to abandon this view then church members and others could be in serious danger as well.

djviz said...
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djviz said...

Mike, you're a heretic. ;-) Sorry, I just couldn't resist, cause I've been called the same at times. Probably not quite in the same context, but close. I appreciate your candor in bringing this up.

Let's try this line of reasoning (not rhetorical): will the common rules of what we consider logic consistently line up with Scripture? Or to phrase it another way, after severe exegesis is done, are there still paradoxes/seeming contradictions to be found in Scripture?

And no, I'm not about to sell you the whole man's free will vs. God's sovereignty pitch. :-D I too am a firm believer in God's sovereign, pre-temporal, individual election.

(html fixes from above)

SBC said...

Will there be APPARENT contradictions? Yes. Will logic always line up with Scripture? Yes. Those two questions are not the same. Scripture would be illogical only if its contradictions were actual, not apparent.

We ALL use the "analogy of faith." Covenantalists, Dispensationalists, Calvinists, Arminians, whatever... we ALL interpret at least some verses to mean something other than they initially appear to mean. That's the only way to deal with apparent contradictions.
There are two kinds of people: people who admit that, and people who don't (Dispensationalists don't).

Anywhoo, we digress...

djviz said...

Hey Scott, appreciate the critique. My intent, however, wasn't to highlight absolute logic, but rather what we see as logic. If God is the source of all truth and logic, and the Scriptures come inerrant from God, then they must be true and logical. There's no dispute there.

What Mike said was: I'm not asserting that these people are sinning who are disagreeing with a reformed view of the soteriology, theology, or whatever. I'm asking whether or not these people are worshiping the God of the Bible or some version of God that they've created in their minds due to the fact that they can't deal with a God who IS sovereign.

You say you're not asserting that they're sinning by disagreeing with a reformed view, but then you show your criteria for determining sin is a reformed view of His sovereignty. You turn around and essentially say they are sinning by breaking the second commandment. I'm wanting to address that with my earlier question.

If they can look at the Bible and say "God is not sovereign whatsoever" than they're not even orthodox in any sense of the Word. If however, after reading and inferring logically from Scripture that there (for instance) is a genuine call that God wants everyone to be saved (which is the initial interp for more than one passage, not just 2 Peter 3:9), are they creating a god in their own minds (obvious sin), or are they just mistaken?

It may be that we're not even talking on that level anymore. I think as you've developed the thought you've moved from talking about someone who would affirm God's sovereignty (outside of our reformed interp) ... to someone who wouldn't even affirm His sovereignty in any sense. Based on your last post it seems like you are describing Open Theism, not just its incipient forms. Am I incorrect?

SBC said...

Viz said,

If however, after reading and inferring logically from Scripture that there (for instance) is a genuine call that God wants everyone to be saved (which is the initial interp for more than one passage, not just 2 Peter 3:9), are they creating a god in their own minds (obvious sin), or are they just mistaken?

This is what I'm talking about: Compassionate Calvinism.

Let's face it, if the election/sovereignty passages were not in the Bible, everybody would look at 2 Peter 3:9, and a host of other passages, and be Arminian. And if those other passages were not in the Bible, but the election passages were, everybody would be Calvinistic.

I'm not embarrassed to admit that some of the passages Arminians point to, do initially look like they mean what Arminians think they mean.

Further exegesis often shows that the universals should be taken more narrowly, of course.
And, IMHO, there are times when context does not limit universals, and that's ok: I'm not scared to say, with Piper and others, that God has some desire that all without exception should be saved, but that that desire is outweighed by a stronger desire (for reasons sufficient unto Himself) to elect some and damn others.

Again, I digress.

What I'm really getting at is this: we prioritize the election passages, and view the "universalistic" passages alternately. Arminians favor the universalistic passages, and view the election passages alternately. We all do it. What's important is that we admit it.

We all do it because we all presuppose that there are no actual contradictions in Scripture; therefore, when one is apparent, we assume that we misunderstand one of the passages in seeming tension, and interpret it alternately.

Now, I could not be more convinced that the Calvinistic answer to the tension is the correct one. This is not the place to explain why, but there are many, many good reasons to prioritize the sovereignty passages.

Still, I can put myself in the Arminians' shoes, and see how they could favor the other side of the tension. They are non-sinfully mistaken.

The only people I know who don't admit to this approach are Dispensationalists. They insist that they never, ever depart from a plain-sense hermeneutic... Where's their plain-sense hermeneutic when they read Eph. 2 (and other passages)?

Don't get me wrong, we must never depart from a plain-sense hermeneutic except when a seeming tension demands it, and in that case, we must extremely careful.

Michael.Gabriel said...


You asked: "are they creating a god in their own minds (obvious sin), or are they just mistaken?"

My question is not whether or not they are mistaken. My question is: (If they are mistaken and confronted) What does the fact that they reject the clear demonstration of the sovereignty of God from indisputable passages of Scripture (yes, disputed by them, but not logically disputed by a consistant application of their own hermeneutic) mean? Are they rejecting who God is? If they accept the salvation given freely through faith in Christ yet reject the Father, what does this mean for them? I mean, you're not just talking about what God does-- you're talking about WHO God is!

You also said:

"'ve moved from talking about someone who would affirm God's sovereignty (outside of our reformed interp) ... to someone who wouldn't even affirm His sovereignty in any sense. Based on your last post it seems like you are describing Open Theism, not just its incipient forms. Am I incorrect?"

I could reject any type of reformed theology, pick up a Bible and read it, and still look at the plain meaning of the text according to a historical-grammatical hermeneutic, and come to only one conclusion--and it's not the one I'm arguing against.

And yes, it does seem as though I'm speaking of Open Theism. That's why I'm so bothered by this. Those who insist on granting man the power of self determination and leaving God in the background as a simple responder are treading on ground that is dangerously close to Open Theism. So close, in fact, that I can't see how they can avoid the title of Open Theist.

And SBC, I don't think that the people in question start with insincere intentions. I DO, however, think that they are not being honest when looking at the passages in question and attempting to formulate some interpretation that's not there in order to keep their trditional view of God intact. When reaching this point, who or what are they defending? If they believe that they are defending God because they believe that He couldn't possibly use men in a way that would compromise their "free will" are they defending God, or an erroneous CONCEPT of God which isn't actually God in the first place. Finally, if it comes to this point is God pleased with His creatures defending their (mythical) god against the One, True, Most Holy and Sovereign God of all creation and everything in it? Or is He angry when men defend false gods?

I'm attempting to go straight to the core of the issue--please demonstrate the error if there is one.

SBC said...
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SBC said...

A few considerations, which, IMO, should soften your view of Arminians:

1. Arminians do not deny that God is sovereign. They deny that God's sovereignty means what we say it means.

2. Arminians do not deny that God's sovereignty could mean what we say it means, they just deny that it does mean what we say it means.
In other words, Arminians do not believe that God is unable to determine our choices; they just deny that He does.

3. Arminians do not deny that God knows what we will choose; Open Theists do.

djviz said...

Mike, as per above, the distinction you're making isn't only in the area of salvation; you're taking what an Arminian says about soteriology and applying it to everything (as per your example above of God's mere reaction to mankinds actions). That isn't Arminianism; it's Open Theism, and there is a logical disconnect between the two.

This seems to describe the distinction well:

djviz said...
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djviz said...

Fixed link from above:

Michael.Gabriel said...

This page has been transferred to the "Flapjacks and Theology page here:

Dramatized Exegesis