Knowing Stuff

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I wanted to offer some comments on an article over at Frank Turek’s Cross Examined website,

An Open Question to Presuppositionalists

There have already been some solid responses since it has been posted. James White gave his thoughts during his October 4th, 2016 Dividing Line podcast and Steve Hays posted one of his withering beat down blog articlesI imagine there may be other rebuttals forthcoming.

The author presents a lot things I’d love to touch on, but with my purposes here, I wanted to focus in upon some specific comments he makes regarding methodology, particularly how we know what we know as presuppositionalists. I believe he provides some important thoughts to ponder.

I consider myself a presuppositionalist in my apologetic methodology, though I wouldn’t necessarily be a pure and clean Van Tillian drawn from the veins of covenant theology. I think Van Til did much to set apologetic methodology aright, especially wresting apologetics from the hands of Roman Catholics and Arminians, and anchoring it in a historical, apostolic, and biblical approach. I know for myself, presuppositionalism caused my evangelistic efforts engaging unbelief to leap light years beyond the canned soul-winning presentations I was taught in my Baptist churches growing up.

I have written quite a bit on the topic of apologetics over the years (articles are cataloged HERE for folk’s convenience). Though the bulk of those articles are critical of classic apologetics, I do have my criticisms of the current expressions of presuppositionalism as it is presented online and in social media contexts. Mainly, I am concerned that presuppositional practitioners complicate the terminology and methods to the point no one knows what it is the person is talking about. That presents a real problem. When someone like myself wishes to teach others to think presuppositionally regarding apologetics, I want to make sure folks are not confused as to what it is I am telling them.

I think because presuppositionalists can speak in cryptic terms, the author of the article interacts with what really amounts to a strawman version of presuppositionalism, and that makes it difficult to respond to his phantom. However, I believe his article is none the less useful, because those misconceptions he presents are founded upon what could possibly be an inadequate definition given to him by presuppositionalists. If he received bad information from folks, we cannot fault him when he attempts to offer a rebuttal with bad arguments.

Here is where we can seize the opportunity to sharpen our apologetics. There are two misconceptions he notes in his article I think are important to consider and correct. That in turn will help presuppositionalists to articulate clearly their theology.

The first one concerns what he falsely believes presuppositionalists teach regarding human reasoning. He writes,

… It is my understanding that according to the Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, human reasoning is so totally depraved that any effort to understand or believe the Gospel is futile. Unless and until the Holy Spirit regenerates the reprobate mind, a person will continue to suppress the truth regardless of how well it is articulated or argued for.

That is not at all what Calvinism believes about total depravity. Total depravity doesn’t mean utter depravity, in that human beings are as wicked as they could be and totter on the brink of savagery and descending into a Lord of the Flies existence (even though that is a real possibility). The idea of total depravity is that sin effects the whole person, the entirety of his being. Every aspect of who a person is, is tainted by sin.

That would certainly include man’s reasoning ability. In fact, Ephesians 4:18 states that men’s minds have a darkened understanding. In other words, their reasoning abilities are clouded, or are the opposite of illumination.

So how does that play out in their ability to reason? Presuppositionalists are not saying men have no ability to reason, nor that they can never understand the Gospel message. What they are saying is that the sinner’s so-called reasoning is at its core hostile to the faith, and will more than likely just lead him to make even more excuses why he should continue rejecting Christ. Thus, a sinners reasoning will never save him, and thus he cannot be reasoned to saving faith.

The author seems to conflate the idea of reasoning with the idea of believing or making a commitment that is efficacious for an unbeliever’s salvation. Certainly a sinner can understand the content of the Gospel. I have personally spoken with a number of hostile unbelievers about the proofs of the Resurrection, the claims of Jesus, and argued passionately for the existence of God. Those unbelievers clearly understood what I was saying, a few acknowledging I made a good case. However, they reasoned in themselves that I was an idiot and rejected my compelling presentations none the less.

While I personally am willing to entertain the unbeliever’s demand for “proof” or answers to his or her hard questions about the Bible, some in my presuppositional circles are not. They are of the conviction that doing so is putting God on trial and conceding to the unbeliever’s rebellion against God.

I, on the other hand, recognize what the Bible tells me about an unbeliever: his reasoning is darkened, and unless God regenerates his heart, he will only remain in that darkness. That doesn’t mean, however, that I never speak with him about the Gospel, answer his pointed questions, or present so-called evidence when asked for it. A lot of the time, the presentation of evidence merely shuts the mouth of the scoffer and exposes his intellectual folly.

carlSure. Whatever, Carl

Secondly is the author’s understanding regarding how it is that we know the interpretation of Scripture. In an imaginary conversation he makes up between a classical apologist and a presuppositional apologist, he states the following,

“In other words, you can REASON from the text. The words of Scripture clearly do not interpret themselves. If that were the case we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You and I disagree about what the implications of Scripture are and therefore you have to attempt to demonstrate that your view is true by engaging in reasoning. Didn’t you say that our reasoning capabilities are fallen and that we should never place human reasoning above God’s Divine Revelation?”

Here is where the author touches upon one of the cornerstone, foundational differences between classicists and presuppositionalists. That being, what is it exactly that informs our understanding of Scripture?

Now a person may ask, “How exactly is that foundational?” It has to do with with ultimate authorities that shape our ability to know. Anyone who gets into a discussion about epistemology and Scriptural authority with a classical apologist will eventually reach the place where the classicist will insist that no one can really know what the Bible is saying or interpret it correctly WITHOUT first having a philosophical grid in place through which we filter our reading of Scripture.

For instance, Richard Howe, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, says that he presents a three-fold formula that builds a cumulative case for the Christian faith. He begins with philosophy that defines our “reality,” that moves him to demonstrating general theism, and then eventually the viability of Christianity. The authority of Scripture in defining Christianity is essentially the caboose in his apologetic train. When I have interacted with graduates of SES, my most notable foil being Adam Tucker (folks can find my articles addressing our exchanges HERE), that is the exact same model they all employ.

The same basic approach is utilized when interpreting Scripture. For the classicist, the proper interpretation of Scripture cannot be determined by just reading the Bible. A system of hermeneutics must be established first before anyone can read the Bible properly. So, for the classicist, it is naive, and a bit dishonest, for the presuppositionalist to say he starts his apologetics with Scripture. The presuppositionalist has smuggled in an outside authority, that being his system of hermeneutics, which is the true ultimate starting point, not the Bible. That system is ultimately determined by philosophy that interprets reality. Again, see this article I wrote responding to this very argument made by Richard Howe against presuppositionalism.

The presuppositionalist, however, understands that God desires to communicate with mankind and has thus created man with the ability to communicate not only with Himself, but also other men. In other words, the hermeneutics needed to read and understand Scripture is hardwired in men.

Think about it: people don’t need to learn a separate, philosophical grid first before they can read cook books, or instructions for changing engine oil, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As long as they have the basics of reading, a person can instantaneously determine if what it is he is reading is history, or poetry, or a story, or even a recipe to make a pie. The same is with Bible. A Christian doesn’t need to have memorized Aristotle’s philosophy for reality to understand Scripture, especially the Gospel. It is how God made man to communicate.

Presuppositionalists need to recognize the importance of clarifying these two truths. If they are concise in explaining what is meant by the totality of human depravity and its impact upon man’s basic reasoning, along with how it is we know about God and what it means when we say Scripture is our starting point, they will be making great strides in helping Christians understand how to defend the faith in a biblical fashion.

How Idolatry Ruined Israel

goldencalf1 Corinthians 10:1-14

I want to continue looking at Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols and the extent of Christian liberty. Previous three posts can be seen here,

PART 1
PART 2
PART 3

Just to recap, the Corinthians believed they could maintain their previous, non-Christian relationship with the pagan culture of Corinth. That attitude further convinced them they were at liberty to join in the ceremonies and other festivities of the pagan temples. In fact, given the tone of Paul’s letter in regards to the matter, they were rather insistent about their participation.

That insistent attitude, however, was ruining their testimony with unbelievers, as well as leading other Christians astray into idolatry. Rather than telling them they have that liberty, yet to be mindful of the so-called “weaker brother,” the standard interpretation of these passages, Paul confronts them with a sharp rebuke telling them to get out of those places altogether. Their liberty does not give them that right; in truth it was really a false, self-serving liberty.

Over the course of 1 Corinthians 8-10, Paul, I believe, presents his case for the Corinthians rejecting their false liberty  around four broad areas, 1) It was a danger to believers, 2) It disqualified one’s overall ministry, 3) It ruined Israel, and 4) It disrupts the fellowship of the brethren.

With this post, I come to the third area Paul presents as to why the Corinthians must get out of the temple and stop eating idol food. That is, idolatry ruined Israel.

Paul breaks down his argument along three points,

The Record of Idolatry – He begins by directing his readers back to the OT history of Israel. That he would bring up the OT is interesting. He is primarily interacting with gentiles when he writes the Corinthians, offering correction to individuals who wouldn’t necessarily be familiar with the OT at all. Paul, none the less, instructed them in the history of Israel, because the OT is so vital to understanding the promises of Christ and how they relate to the Christian Church. There is application to be made from God’s dealings with Israel who were His people, to the Christian Corinthians who are also His people.

The Corinthian church came from somewhere. Their existence is anchored in history, so Paul is essentially instructing them in that history. Additionally, Christ was there as well with Israel. That of course is because Christ is God, and like he was with Israel, so to is He with the Corinthians.

There are similarities between the Israelites and the Corinthians. Just as the Israelites were called out from bondage to Egypt, Christ called out the Corinthians from bondage to sin. Just like God protected and provided for Israel in the wilderness, so also Christ protects and provides for the Corinthians.

However, in spite of having God and Christ with them – seeing the cloud of glory, seeing the miracles, and having God provide directly for them – Israel involved themselves with sinful, idolatrous activity. They are what Paul describes as examples from whom the Corinthians can learn by observing God’s dealings with them.

The Warning of Idolatry – As Paul notes in 10:7, Israel engaged in building a golden calf as recorded in Exodus 32. He goes on to remind the Corinthians how they also committed sexual immorality in Numbers 25, complained against God in Numbers 21, and also complained against God’s chosen man, Moses, in Numbers 16. Each one of those instances involved elements of pagan worship. They worshiped false gods, engaged in sexual immorality, and ultimately reject God and Christ.

Those OT events stand as examples, or illustrations, the Corinthian church needs to ponder. They should learn from their tragic example. Just like Israel had first hand experience with the true and living God when He brought them out of Egypt, the Corinthians did as well, especially in experiencing salvation. With that in mind, Paul is warning that they need to consider their slouching toward disobedience with their abuse of liberty. As he writes in 10:12, the Christians needed to take heed, lest they fall into idolatry and incur the judgment of God. Their continued persistence in participating in pagan temple could at any moment destroy them as a church.

The Call to Put Away Idols – Paul then finishes up his warning by reminding the Corinthian’s in 10:13 of God’s promise to take care of His people. He does so by writing that none of them will be overtaken in a temptation, and will never be tempted beyond what they are able to bear.

This verse is misunderstood. The typical view of what Paul is stating here is taken as him telling the Corinthians that when hard trials come their way, particularly in their individual, personal lives, God won’t give them more than they can handle. In reality, however, that isn’t always true: sometimes a person does get a lot and they can’t handle it on a personal level at all.

That is not at all what Paul means with this verse. In the context of our discussion about them abusing their liberty in the pagan temples, the Corinthians would be tempted to involve themselves in the temple ceremonies because it is cultural. As I noted in a previous article, they would see the temple, not merely as a place of idol worship, but as a cultural center where those who want to get ahead in society would gather to be seen and heard and to gain influence among peers. If they were to cut themselves off from those opportunities, there could be severe, financial and cultural repercussions. At least that is the worry on the part of many in the church.

However, the greater good they could do is flee from the blatant idolatry in those temples. The Corinthians need to cut their participation in those places out of their lives, and if they experience uncomfortable persecution and financial hardship, God is faithful, writes Paul, to help them. He provides the way of escape, as it were.

The much greater harm is the idolatry itself. For just like it destroyed the nation of Israel over the course of their history, it too will certainly destroy the Corinthians. That is why Paul commands them to flee from idolatry. It is not a matter of the extent of their Christian liberty, but obedience to the Lord.

Disqualifying Your Ministry

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1 Corinthians 9

I have been exploring the extent of Christian liberty as it relates to Paul’s teaching on the topic of eating meat sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Previous posts can be read here, PART 1 and PART 2

In review, Paul opens his argument in I Corinthians 8 by explaining how eating meat sacrificed to idols can be a danger for believers. He confronts and rebukes the Corinthian Christians for their egregious abuse of liberty that was damaging the testimony of their church and bringing reproach upon Christ. They believed that because they understood that idol worship really did nothing spiritually to a Christian, they had the right to participate as believers in the pagan temple rituals of Corinth. Paul spends three chapters in his letter explaining how they were wrong about their participation in pagan temples, and exhorted them to get out of those places and have nothing to do with them.

Beginning in chapter 9, Paul moves to correcting their abuse of liberty by drawing their attention to his personal ministry and missionary endeavors. His ministry as an apostle gave him the right, or freedom, to ask and receive financial assistance from those to whom he ministered. Paul instead relinquished his financial rights so as not to be an unnecessary stumbling block that would hinder the spreading of the Gospel. Likewise, he exhorts the Corinthian believers to not disqualify their ministry in Corinth.

Keep in mind that the pagan temple services were societal and cultural gatherings for those in Corinth. If a person wanted influence, social status, connections, and personal power within the Corinthian social ranks, that person received invitations to any pagan festivals, rituals, or feasts. If he were to forsake those invitations, he not only gave up social prestige and getting ahead in Corinthian society, there was also the possible forfeiture of financial gain.

Considering the argument that the Corinthians would personally lose there social benefit if they were to give up their so-called liberty engaging in temple ceremonies, Paul points to his own life and ministry. In chapter 9:1-14, Paul lays out his reasons why he not only had the freedom, but the very right, to ask for financial gain from the Corinthians, but yielding up those rights brought so much more spiritual benefit for the Gospel’s sake.

He starts out speaking to his apostleship, 9:1-6. Just as the other apostles exercised their right to financial support, and even the support of their wives, so too did Paul and Barnabas have such a right. Next, he points out how soldiers are taken care of by the army, farmers eat the produce of their own fields, and shepherds can partake from their own flock, 9:7. He then points out the scriptural principle that one who plows has the freedom to eat of what it is he plants, 9:9-10.

In like manner, Paul explains how the Corinthians were the product of his ministry and he had a right to ask them for financial support, 9:11-12. And then he states that those who perform sacred duties, which could include both pagan and believing ministers, regularly share from the altar, 9:13-14. In other words, they are supported financially by those who attend the temple or seek out their spiritual services.

Now the question may be asked, “What does financial support have to do with disqualifying someone’s ministry?”

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A couple of thoughts,

First off, Greek and Roman culture valued oratory. In other words, an erudite speaker with the ability to articulate ideas and persuade with his words so that he compelled listeners with the philosophy he presented, would have the potential for a lucrative talent. In fact, he could be paid quite well.

Additionally, the educated leisure class, or those who commonly frequented the pagan temple festivities, believed that anyone who did not charge for his speaking abilities obviously did not have anything substantive to say. The message he presented was essentially worthless. A really good lecturing philosopher would charge for his philosophy talks. Paul countered that thinking frequently during his ministry. For instance, he responded to the Corinthians for this very attitude in 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5.

Yet Paul chose not to charge for his preaching, nor did he care about his speaking talent at all. Instead, he refused his right to receive money from the Corinthians and supported his own way through tent-making and other means. He then points to his custom as an example as to why the Corinthians should put aside any liberty they believed they had with participating in pagan temple rituals and get themselves out of those places.

Paul, then, lays out three broad reasons how the Corinthians can disqualify their own ministry if they would not give up their misguided liberty.

Devalues God’s Calling – 15-18. God had called Paul to salvation; to be HIS apostle who carried the Gospel.  However, if he preached the Gospel, as “under compulsion” (vs.16), accountable to others apart from the Lord, he would be beholden to a big donor or perhaps a group of donors. In other words, the Gospel he preached may not be the true Gospel, but the one his benefactors wished him to preach because they gave Paul money.

Paul on the other hand makes it clear that he is beholden to no living person. He is only accountable to God because he choose to give up his rights when it came to making a living at ministry. While he was entitled to financial support, he saw how it could possibly cause others to doubt the credibility of his overall ministry, thus discrediting God’s calling on his life.

Diminishes His Service – 19-21. Paul turns to explaining how surrendering his rights to be supported for ministry freed him for more service (vs.19). Freed from any obligation to a set of supporters provided him liberty to minister to a wide variety of people.

On the one hand, he made himself like the Jews, or what he describes as “those under law.” He wasn’t unnecessarily offensive to the Jewish people, but accommodated their practices for the purpose of having inroads to their synagogues.

An excellent example of Paul’s ministry in this fashion is seen in Acts 16:1-4 where he has his young disciple, Timothy, circumcised so as not to be an offense to the Jews. Paul certainly recognized that honoring certain Jewish tradition did not add anything to his salvation (vs.20), but it did provide him the ability to attend Jewish gatherings for the purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel.

Yet on the other hand, when necessary, he adjusted his ministry to reach gentiles, or those “without the law,” with the Gospel. He avoided the snobbery that Jews often displayed against the gentiles, like for example Peter’s separation from the gentiles when other Jews from Jerusalem visited with him at Antioch (Galatians 2:11-13).

And just so that Paul was clear to the Corinthians, when he states he is “without the law,” he is not saying he lives a lawless life with no holiness. He is submitted to the “law of Christ,” (vs.21). That doesn’t mean he lives under an entirely different expression of the law of God, but that his ministry is directed by Christ-likeness. Similar to what Paul will later write in this letter in 11:1 to be “imitators of me as I am of Christ,” or how the law of Christ constrains him to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:2.

Damages Others – 22-27. Lastly, Paul explains how continuing with the participation in temple festivities can disqualify one’s ministry by losing the opportunity to present the Gospel to the weak.

Now the question among commentators at this point is who does Paul have in mind when he mentions “the weak?” Is it the idea previously discussed in chapter 8, a person with a weak conscience? A Christian who has a thin faith and lacks the knowledge of God like the strong, and who could easily fall back into patterns of sin from which he was saved? Or does he have something else entirely in mind?

The understanding  that the weak is a person struggling with his conscience on matters like whether or not Christians have the liberty to eat idol food would make sense if Paul’s main argument in 8-10 is for the strong to show love for the weak in faith by giving up their liberty for their sake. But as was established in the previous articles in this study, Paul’s argument is for the Corinthians to totally remove themselves from pagan temples and idol feasts. He isn’t trying to settle a dispute between those with the freedom of knowledge to eat idol food and those still trapped by their weak consciences.

Considering the context here, it is better to understand the weak as not Christians with weak consciences, but as unbelievers who were the social underclass in Corinth and could never prosper from the participation in temple culture from their rituals. The primary reason for drawing that conclusion has to do with Paul’s overall discussion from 19-27.

The illustrations in chapter 9 are used by Paul for explaining how giving up his right to financial support helps him further the Gospel. His reasoning from 19-22 for giving up that right is so that he could reach the lost in all levels of society, Jews, Gentiles, and now the weak. If the weak were already Christians, categorizing them with unbelieving Jews and gentiles is strange.

The point he is making is meant to confront the Corinthians who used their liberty at the pagan temples as a means for their personal financial gain. Their right to be free in regards to temple rituals and feasts not only isolated them from those Christians who could be led astray back into idol worship, but also from the unbelievers who were of a lower social class with no economic ability to participate in those temple practices. For Paul, he relinquishes his financial rights for the weak so he can bring them the saving Gospel, (22-23).

As Paul concludes his thought, he notes the discipline of athletes, (24-27). A runner who wishes to win the gold medal will discipline himself so that he can obtain it. He denies himself leisure time, and instead runs to build endurance. He limits his diet, eating those foods that will strengthen his body. He takes care of his feet, perhaps spending extra money on well-made running shoes.

In the same way, Christians need to discipline themselves, and that would be centered squarely on limiting what perceived liberty they believe they have. In doing so, it will keep them from a disqualified ministry that limits the effectiveness of the Gospel.

The Myth of the Stronger Brother

realmen1 Corinthians 8

I recently introduced the topic of Paul’s discussion on eating food sacrificed to idols from 1 Corinthians 8-10. Folks can pop over to my first post to catch up on the background info.

However, to provide a little recap:

It is my contention that Paul was doing much more than settling a dispute between factions of believers at the Corinthian church who were divided over whether or not a Christian had liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols. I think Paul was insisting that ALL the Corinthian believers were to leave the idol temples and have nothing to do with them. He did not see eating idol food as neutral that ultimately did no spiritual harm to a Christian. He sees eating idol food as seriously dishonoring to the LORD and a disaster to the Christian Church.

Over the course of three chapters, Paul lays out his case as to why the Corinthians must leave the pagan temples and abandon eating idol food all together. I broke down his argument into four larger points: Eating idol food, 1. is danger to believers, 2. disqualifies one’s ministry, 3. destroyed Israel, and 4. disrupted the fellowship.

With this post, I want to consider the first point: Eating idol food is a danger to believers.

An overview of some critical concepts introduced in chapter 8 will help us understand Paul’s argument.

First, what exactly did Paul mean by the idea of “things sacrificed to idols” in 8:1?

As I noted in my introductory article, the classic interpretation of 1 Corinthians 8-10 believes when Paul speaks of those things sacrificed to idols, he is talking about meat from a pagan sacrifice that is used in a religious ceremony, but then is taken to the local street market where it is sold to the general public for a price. The temple authorities not only use the meat in their ritual but also turn a profit in the local market by selling off what was left.

The Corinthian Christians were shopping the local markets for food to buy, find a fabulous piece of meat for a cheap price, and purchase it for the family to eat. Other Christians, who were once heavily immersed in the Corinthian pagan culture, are troubled by those fellow Christians who so easily, without a second thought, purchase food that was once used in a religious sacrifice. In their minds, that piece of meat has the stench of the pagan ritual wafting off of it. Those Christians are defiling themselves and cursing God by eating it.

Turning to 1 Corinthians 10:25, that seems to be the scenario that Paul is addressing as I will explore when I come to that chapter. However, eating things sacrificed to idols is much more than preparing a prime rib dinner for a fellowship time with meat purchased at the local market that just so happens to have been sacrificed to idols.

What Paul has in mind when he addresses the topic is the religious ritual and the meal eaten by the participants partaking in that meal. No Corinthian could avoid the rampant paganism that pervaded their city. Paganism was everywhere. Participation in the temple rituals are what connected them to their society and their culture.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols entailed an elaborate religious meal eaten by all the participants sharing in that meal. The animal for sacrifice was brought to the temple. The appropriate rites were performed that involved a priest making the sacrifice on behalf of the person or persons. The priest would examine the entrails of the animal determining whether there was a “revelation” from some deity. The rest of the food would be prepared for a banquet and eaten by the friends and invited guests. Individuals with unique privileges or social status could use special sanctuaries in the temple for their ceremony.

Participation in those various ceremonies was an integral part of living life in Corinth. Everyone attended and utilized the temple. It was the place where a person would make social connections, advance in business dealings, and demonstrate he or she was an upstanding member of Corinth. In other words, the pagan temple, and all the feasts that took place there, reflected a particular worldview.

That is the reason eating idol food in the temple should have been such a big deal among the Corinthian Christians. Eating at the temple was tied directly to a specific religious worldview opposed to God. What Paul is intending to address throughout chapters 8-10 is that the Corinthian Christians did not see their participation in those ceremonies as a problem and they should have. Rather than leaving the temple culture of Corinth behind them, they whole-heartily participated in it and attempted to synchronize their Christian faith with that participation.

Another important concept Paul outlines in chapter 8 is the idea of “the weak.”

Again, the classic view understands the weak as Christians troubled with eating meat sacrificed to idols. However, the “strong” Christians had matured sufficiently so as to understand that eating meat sacrificed to idols did nothing to really do any spiritual harm. The weak were merely enslaving themselves to a silly superstition regarding meat sacrificed to idols and needed to think biblically. Because their consciences were misinformed on the matter, they were infringing upon every one’s liberty.

buddhistDown the street from my church in LA is one of the largest Thai Buddhist temples outside of Thailand. Nearly every week there is some festival or ceremony happening at that place. The folks attending there bring their food to be offered to the monks and in the various ceremonies. To raise money for the temple, the Buddhists sell food at their temple as well as at a nearby Thai restaurant. Many folks from my church frequent the place. (They have some excellent fried bananas, by the way). However, some of my Christian friends believe the restaurant is a living example of what Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians 8 and will refrain from eating there for fear of violating someone’s conscience from our church.

The problem with that perspective, and the strong/weak dichotomy in general, is that it doesn’t really exist in Paul’s discussion within these chapters. In fact, the use of the word “strong” to describe the mature believers is nowhere mentioned from 8-10. It is merely assumed that because Paul discusses the “weak” that the opposite, the “strong,” is implied with his argument.

That conclusion is drawn from Paul’s discussion of those with “knowledge” or “who know” found in 8:1-4, 7, 10-11. Thus, those with knowledge, or described as “who know,” are understood to be the mature, strong believers. They recognize that the idol is nothing, that the false religion is just that, a false religion, and eating any food associated with one of the false sacrifices does nothing spiritually or physically to the person. Similar to what Paul writes in 8:4-6. As the strong, they have liberty to buy and eat idol food and to enjoy it. The weak, however, do not. Their consciences trouble them when they eat idol food, so much so that they are said to become defiled from eating it.

The idea of knowledge in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, however, is his way of calling someone a Christian. Knowledge is equated with the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit to understand and receive spiritual truth. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 1:5, Paul writes of being, “…enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge” This use of knowledge is also found throughout many of Paul’s epistles like, 2 Corinthians 2:14, 4:6, 10:5; Ephesians 1:7; Philippians 1:9; Colossians 1:9-10; and Titus 1:1 to list a few.

The knowledge the Corinthians had revealed to them the true nature of false gods and false religion, 8:4-6. But rather than their knowledge being a good thing, it was in fact terribly misused. Backing up to 8:1, Paul expresses how knowledge can make one arrogant. When Paul writes in 8:9, “But take care that this liberty of  yours does not somehow become a stumbling block…”, that liberty is not a good thing; he is actually chiding their false liberty they had developed. What they considered liberty had made them arrogant toward one another within the church as well as those outside the church.

It needs to be kept in mind that the Corinthians’ so-called liberty was not merely limited to only purchasing meat that just so happened to have been sacrificed in a pagan temple. Instead, they were Christian believers actively involved in pagan ceremonies. The Corinthians were not asking Paul, “Is it alright if we eat food sacrificed to idols bought in the market?” but were insisting, “What’s the big deal about participating in temple services?”

Pulling our discussion together, the weak that Paul describes are those Christians who were still infused with old habits as idolaters.

Those weak Christians heard the Gospel. They believed upon Jesus as the Savior Who delivers sinners out of the bondage to their sin. Christianity is the religion of the true and living God. The worship of God and the fellowship with His people takes place in an entirely different and radically new way. God hates idolatry, according to His own word, and will suffer no other gods before Him.

Yet, fellow believers from their own church still frequent the temple and participate in the services that were offered, fellowshipping with pagans and attending their feasts that were often profane. All the while, those believers claim that because they are now in Christ, they have true knowledge about God and thus the liberty to eat and drink in the temple.

But that attitude poses two significant dangers that threaten the church.

First, it sins against the believers. Paul argues in 8:10-11, “for if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, it he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died.”  Paul’s words could not be clearer: The Christian who has developed a false sense of liberty in his mind and thinks it is okay to participate in the pagan festivities at the temple could very well bring a fellow believer to ruin. The idea of ruin means destruction, not just offended sensibilities.

Second, it sins against Christ. Paul continues in 8:12, ” And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” Beyond just bringing spiritual disaster against a fellow brother, the Christian is sinning against the Lord Jesus. That is because He is the one who secured that one’s salvation and now it has been place in danger by the foolish behavior of a fellow Christian.

What is Paul’s solution? Does he tell the Corinthians to be on the alert for immature believers and avoid them so as to not to offend their sensitive to the notion of eating in temples? Does he suggest discipling the weaker brother to grow in maturity so he can eventually join everyone else down at the temple? Not at all. He writes, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” In other words, completely eliminate your participation in such activity.

As we will go on to learn, dining in the idol temples is not just a stumbling block for the so-called weaker brother, it is a horrendous idea for all Christians.

Idol Meat and Christian Liberty

idolAn Overview of 1 Corinthians 8-10

I have been meaning for a while now to post some of my studies on 1 Corinthians that I presented to my volunteers at Grace to You over the last year. I was particularly anxious to toss up my studies on chapters 8-10, because I believe they are so wildly misunderstood by the larger Christian community.

But alas… I got distracted and put it off. However, a little dust up with some NCT folks on Facebook ignited my passion, so here we are.

Like I noted, I think chapters 8-10 of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is totally misunderstood and misapplied by Christians, especially among the Red State evangelical and neo-Reformed types I bump into on social media. The chapters address specifically the idea of eating meat sacrificed to idols and the concept of Christian liberty, and the wrongheaded thinking among Christians about the subject has created a misapplication of what it is exactly Paul was addressing.

The idea of Christian liberty, in my opinion, has fallen upon hard times nowadays. It is usually defined along the lines as having the freedom to sit in pubs, drink beer, smoke cigars or pipes, and watch popular television programs, while at the same time conversing about theology. Many of those new libertines once circled around in the orbits of strict, fundamentalist congregations that were ran like a concentration camp by straight-laced, kill joy finger-waggers who condemned those activities they now celebrate.

Yet, at the same time, any Christian who even suggests that drinking and smoking and consuming entertainment is not necessarily the wisest testimony to present before the world, are shamed as being legalists. They will be labeled the “weaker” brothers, and some go so far as suggesting that they are “in sin” because they wish to place a yoke of burden upon the “stronger” believers who have been freed by the work of Christ to enjoy their new found merrymaking. The entire scenario is a concept taken from the chapters in Corinthians that are before us here.

drinkingwhat.That liberty/strong and weak conscience dichotomy represents the classic understanding of 1 Corinthians 8-10. It is taught that Paul was responding to an internal squabble taking place in the church of Corinth over whether or not Christians were at liberty to eat food that had been offered in sacrifice to idols. Two factions had emerged. On the one hand there were the so-called strong believers who felt that all Christians have the ethical freedom because of Christ to eat any food that may have been offered to idols. Yet on the other, there were Christians in the church, who came out of the rank paganism of the Corinthian culture, who are weak in conscience regarding the eating of food sacrificed to idols.

The strong believers wrote Paul asking him to arbitrate the dispute. They wanted his instructions regarding the matter, especially they wanted Paul to inform the weak to stop worrying about offending God with partaking of delicious food that just so happened to be sacrificed to idols. When Paul wrote back to them in our letter that is 1 Corinthians, he sided theologically with the strong, but rebuked them for not considering the weaker brothers among them. Instead of giving them total freedom to eat a succulent prime rib that just so happened to have been used in a sacrifice to idols and telling the weak to shut up and enjoy their freedom, he informed the strong to lay aside their liberty for the sake of the weaker brothers serving them until they had sufficiently matured in conscience so as to enjoy the prime rib with them.

That interpretation is the standard one taught from the pulpits and believed by most Christians today; but it misses the point of the passage.

Rather than Paul deciding between two groups arguing at Corinth over whether or not the food they were eating was tainted with pagan hands, Paul was disagreeing with all the arrogant, enlightened Corinthians who insisted they could be a practicing believer AND still participate in idol temple ceremonies that were a staple of their culture there in Corinth. Chapters 8-10 isn’t about eating food that just so happened to have been used in a pagan sacrifice. Paul was telling them to get out of the temples and stop eating idol food all together, because the food was being eaten during a pagan service. These chapters have nothing to do with the freedom of strong believers eating food sacrificed to idols and deferring to the weak in conscience.

Now, before I unpack all of that, a little background is in order.

We in the 21st century, western society really cannot comprehend the power of religion, particularly a pagan, non-Christian one, forming our political-social lives. Here in the good ole U.S of A., we consider ourselves a “Christianized” nation, but if we are honest about it, we for the most part experience a secularized version of the Judeo-Christian ethic. As much as atheists will complain bitterly that atheism is shut out of the political arena and a person has to be a Christian to run for office because the entire US is “Christianized,” given the trajectory of our country’s moral decline, that is absolutely untrue.

Probably the closest we can come to the situation in Corinth during the time of Paul would be Islamic states and those countries where Roman Catholicism has a heavy influence among the people like Croatia and Mexico. India, with its commitment to Hinduism would be another, as well as a number of Asian nations committed to Buddhism. In those countries the politics and culture are interwoven to such a degree with the main religion that it dominates everything.

When the Apostles began to take the Gospel into the uttermost parts of the world beyond the boundaries of Israel, they went into a world that was pagan with a myriad of different religions, idols galore, and temples everywhere. We see in the book of Acts how the Gospel bumped up against idolatry. For instance, in Acts 14:11-13 the pagans tried to sacrifice to Paul thinking he was a god, Acts 17 records Paul’s famous encounter on Mar’s Hill in Athens, and in Acts 19, a riot breaks out in Ephesus when Paul preached the Gospel and challenged the cult of Diana.

A huge part of the pagan religious world was the feasts served in idol temples. Those feasts were what connected the pagan gentile to his culture and his gods. Just think about the religious milieu that was part of the everyday living for the OT Jews. In the same way, the temple practices were at the center of every facet of their lives, and the feasts and food offerings God required were considered to be so important that He brought judgment upon Eli’s sons, Hophni and Phineas, for their sacrilege with mishandling those offerings on behalf of Israel.

Thus, when we come to Paul’s letters in the NT, idolatry and idol worship were a major theme he often addressed. For example, in his two letters to the Corinthians, Paul explained how idols were a part of their former lives (1 Corinthians 6:9), how idols lead people astray (1 Corinthians 12:2), and asked the Corinthians what business does God’s people (that would be them) have with idols (2 Corinthians 6:16).

In other NT passages Paul commends the Thessalonians for turning away from idols to the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9). In Acts 15:20,29 it is interesting that the letter from the Jerusalem counsel told gentiles to abstain from fornication, things strangled, consuming blood, and idols. Acts 21:25 reiterates those same commands.

With those passages in mind, it is important to recognize that Paul is not okaying the so-called stronger believer eating a pot roast he bought at a market that was only offered in a sacrifice. The fact that the Jerusalem counsel condemned all of the areas gentiles participates in when worshiping in a false, idolatrous religion, and the fact that Paul spoke against idolatry throughout his epistles, makes it clear he was not talking about a pot roast someone bought at a market that was offered to an idol. What he was telling the Corinthians in 8-10 was to get away from the idols and temples and the pagan feast.

But we need to keep in mind that it was a major struggle for the gentiles to abandon their idolatry. That is because the new gentile Christians came from a pagan saturated society. Eating a meal in a temple to a deity would be a big, social-economic opportunity. It would be difficult to just give that up. Participating in those ceremonies and showing interest in the goings on in the local temple is what made them Roman or Corinthian. It demonstrated they were fit for leadership, that they were diverse and multicultural. In our day, it would be similar to attending a gay wedding of a business colleague. 

What the Corinthians were proposing to Paul was not the question of “do you think it is okay for us to eat food sacrificed to idols,” but rather they were brashly stating, “What’s the problem with attending pagan festivals and eating food sacrificed to idols?”

First Corinthians 8-10 lays out four reasons why it was a problem for the Corinthian Christians to eat meat sacrificed to idols.

1. It was a danger to believers

2. It disqualified one’s ministry

3. It destroyed Israel

4. It disrupted the fellowship among believers

I’ll consider each one of these points in turn as I work my way through these chapters over the course of the next few posts.

Ezekiel 18 and the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

adam eating fruitI had occasion recently to engage some individuals who deny the imputation of Adam’s sin. This of course was on Facebook; a place that can be dank at times, filled with many dark corners occupied with the cages of every theologically foul bird imaginable.

One of the key arguments my antagonists used to make their case was an appeal to Ezekiel 18 as proof against the doctrine of imputation. The prophet Ezekiel, they claim, demonstrates that each individual person is responsible for his own sin before the Lord. Hence a son can never be held accountable for the sins of a father nor can a wicked father pass the guilt of sin upon his son. Ezekiel’s words demonstrates that the idea of Adam’s sin imputed upon all of humanity is a false doctrine.

I was challenged to provide a response, so I thought I would write up a rebuttal to this sloppy heresy.

Let’s outline the particulars first.

The earliest doctrinal statement, apart from Scripture, affirming the imputation of Adam’s sin is of course the Council of Orange in 529 AD. That is where the heresy of Pelagius was condemned and the doctrine of Adam’s sin defended and defined more concisely.

Canon 2 provides the relevant definition to my discussion here,

CANON 2.  If anyone asserts that Adam's sin affected him
alone and not his descendants also, or at least if he
declares that it is only the death of the body which is the
punishment for sin, and not also that sin, which is the death
of the soul, passed through one man to the whole human race,
he does injustice to God and contradicts the Apostle, who
says, "Therefore as sin came into the world through one man
and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because
all men sinned" (Rom. 5:12).

In other words, the Bible clearly teaches that when Adam sinned, he imputed his sin of disobedience to the whole of humanity. Meaning, every person, both man and woman, born after his fall into sin, were born sinners, incapable of saving themselves apart from God’s grace. Furthermore, all humanity bears the full guilt of Adam’s sin in that they are born under the curse of God, separated from God, and judicially under His judgment. The exegesis of all the necessary Scriptures that speak to Adam’s sin only confirms that truth.

So how exactly does Ezekiel 18 fit into the debate?

Ezekiel was an Exilic prophet. He was more than likely taken captive with 8,000 other Israelite in 598 BC by the Babylonians. He was called to a specific prophetic ministry to those captives before Babylon utterly leveled Jerusalem in 586 BC.

During his ministry to those captives, Ezekiel confronted the erroneous idea believed by his fellow countrymen that the reason why they were in their circumstances languishing in captivity had to do with the sins of the previous generation. In their minds, the people believed they did nothing wrong to feel guilty about and so denied any responsibility for the judgment they were experiencing. As far as they were concerned, they were innocent. Chapter 18 rebukes that false belief.

With that bit of background in mind, let me briefly sketch out what Ezekiel 18 is and is not saying.

First, it needs to be known that the use of chapter 18 against the doctrine of imputation is something of a novel idea. That “interpretation” has only been seriously considered within the last 200 years or so with the emergence of higher critical views of the Bible, as well as among unorthodox groups who hate the doctrine of imputation. That has not been the view of the historic, Christian church.

Secondly, Ezekiel is not rebuking once and for all the notion of transgenerational punishment as some modern commentators suggest. Moses was clear in Deuteronomy 24:16 that fathers were not to be put to death for the sins of their sons, nor the sons for the sins of their fathers.

Thirdly, Ezekiel is not teaching that individual salvation can be lost, another false notion about the content of chapter 18.

Fourth, Ezekiel is repudiating the doctrine of retribution. That is the idea that if a person does enough good, God will honor his good deeds, but if he has unconfessed sins, God will bring disaster and misfortune upon his life. That is what Job’s head-wagging friends suggested was the reason for his personal calamity and trials. They were wrong.

Fifth, Ezekiel also repudiates the false belief that a person can be held responsible for the past sins of loved ones, or generational curses. The prophet’s words are a direct refutation to the charismatic teaching of generational curses that are passed down from family member to family member.

What Ezekiel 18 does tell us is, according to verse 3, that the people of Israel are the focus of God’s rebukes. Meaning, the primary audience is the nation of Israel in judgment and captivity.

Rather than this chapter teaching us about extreme individualism as those who are opposed to the doctrine of imputation want to believe, Ezekiel rebukes that false belief and reminds the people they are in their circumstances because ALL of them as the collective nation share in the responsibility of committing those sins listed throughout the chapter. Adam, for example, blamed Eve for his disobedient act, who in turn, blamed the serpent. Yet all of them shared in the sin for which they were judged. The same is with the nation of Israel.

God reminds them through the words of the prophet that even though they all share in the guilt of Israel’s sin, God is not unjust and will judge everyone according to their obedience to the law. A law-breaking father is responsible for his law-breaking alone and his children will not be held accountable for it. Just as a faithful, law-keeping father is not held judicially responsible for his law-breaking son.

Additionally, God makes it clear in verses 21 and 22 that a wicked man who is a law-breaker who turns from his wicked way and now obeys God’s law, will not have his past sin of law-breaking held against him. God forgives and does not remember his past disobedience. In like manner, God states that a righteous man who turns from his righteous ways to live out the rest of his life as a law-breaking, defier of God’s ways will be judged for his sin and not his past righteousness. His apostasy is described as treachery in verse 24 and for it he will die.

The prophet concludes his words by proclaiming God’s heart who wishes none to perish, but that all of them would do right and live. That would entail them recognizing their collective sin against God’s covenant, their repentance to no longer be law breakers, and their return to obeying God’s commands.

So, rather than this chapter being a treatise that rejects and refutes the biblical doctrine of imputation, it is a specific word to the people of captive Israel to turn away from the law-breaking that brought them to their circumstances, return to God, and live.

 

 

Resources on the Neo “Antinomianism”

TullianLast week, one sub-section of the Christian evangelical internet world was ignited when Tullian Tchividjian (hereafer, “TT”) got the left boot of disfellowship from the The Gospel Coalition. The primary reason, according to D.A. Carson and Tim Keller who wrote up a public statement of the aforesaid booting, had to do with his views of sanctification that border on antinomianism, or for those who may not be familiar with big, 20-dollar theological terms, anti-law.

At any rate, as TT was being shown the web portal, he took it upon himself to blast TGC for the way the members had ignored the SGM scandal and the preacher who-cannot-be-named. Of course, many wonder why, if that was such a big deal to him, why make a stink only after you get the left boot of disfellowship? I am not sure when TT became a contributing blogger to TGC, but I recall the Elephant Room 2 kerfuffle from a few years back and as far as theological kerfuffles go, that one was of more significance than the SGM scandal and the preacher-who-cannot-be-named.  Where was TT?

Back to the antinomian charge.

Now TT has his cheerleaders, like Chris Rosebrough of Fighting for the Faith (peace be upon him) who say that TT is NOT teaching any form of antinomianism. Not even a smidgen. All I can say is that TT has not been clear as to his views of sanctification and the role that God’s law plays in sanctifying believers. In a word, he is sloppy at best. That is also true of his Liberate conference friends, Paul Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick, who have also made vague, antinomiany like statements in their conference talks.

Interestingly, my pal Dan Phillips makes an extremely astute and important observation about TT’s neo-antinomian like statements and his connection to Key Life radio host, Steve Brown and his views of grace.  Brown has some really bad and sub-biblical views of grace that are not only antinomian, but are libertine in their pronouncements. (Read Dan’s article to see what I mean).  Brown teaches (or taught) at Reformed Theological Seminary at Orlando, where, as it just so happens, TT went to school. Hmmmmm…

So, with that background in mind, I wanted to direct any readers who are like scratching their heads and wondering what all this kerfuffle is about by directing them to some resources for your consideration. I’ll try to limit them to those readily accessible on the internet:

Curt Daniel’s lecture on historic antinomianism [this links immediately to an mp3 audio recording, so be alert]. In fact, I would exhort any serious student to listen to his entire lecture series on the history and theology of Calvinism. It will be well worth your investment of time.

Peter Toon’s The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Comformity 1689-1765. His third chapter goes into detail regarding antinomianism.

Jerry Wragg’s Shepherd’s Conference 2014 message, The New Antinomianism. Goes into more detail regarding TT and pastoral concerns as this teaching impacts the church.

Wayne De Villier’s two-part lecture series at my Sunday school class, The Misleading Refrains of the Hyper-grace Movement Part I and Part II.  Wayne goes into extensive detail of what this movement teaches by citing from the books and lectures of the key figures, including TT.

I think that if a person seriously weighs the concerns raised in Jerry and Wayne’s lectures specifically, he will see that this issue is more than a silly disagreement on semantics, but there exists some serious concerns as to how this view of grace/law impacts the sanctifying life of the believer.

 

Exploring KJVO Exegesis

doraI wanted to offer some thoughts in response to this post from the fever swamps of IFB KJV only/anti-Calvinism,

The Decrees of God

It is for the most part a collection of verses in which the English word “decree” is found in the King James Bible. It’s compiled by a King James Only apologist who wants to take some swipes at Calvinism.

After he parades his list of verses before his readers, he draws this breath-taking conclusion,

There are 7 decrees from God. Job 28:26 (about rain); Job 38:10 and Proverbs 8:29 (about the sea); Psalm 2:7 (about Jesus Christ); Psalm 148:6 (about the heavens); Isaiah 10:22 (about consumption surround a remnant of Israel) Jeremiahs 5:22 (about the sand) and Daniel 4:24 (about Nebuchadnezzar.

None of these decrees mention anything about election or predestination, none of them show that God has ONE decree, and none of them are made in eternity, but made IN TIME. Furthermore, in Psalm 148:6, God makes a decree that is TEMPORARY because in 2 Peter 3:12 these things will be burned up.

Of such decrees when the Calvinist is forced to explain that which is not explicit in their view of “decrees”, Laurence Vance writes, “Unconditional Election is pawned off as the secret counsel of God that can’t be understood. Yet untold volumes have been written by Calvinists on the subject. So if the decree of predestination is a secret doctrine, how do the Calvinists know so much about it?…In the Bible however, the misappropriation of the decrees of God by the Calvinists is no laughing matter: “Woe unto them the decree unrighteous decrees, and that write grievousness which they have prescribed”. The Other Side of Calvinism, page 256.

Let that sink in.

Here we have an incubator for heresy in which a theological obsession that is handicapped by a slavish devotion to a 17th century English translation produces a spiritually lethal atmosphere for one’s soul.

Of course, anyone who is a serious student of God’s Word knows that the doctrine of God’s eternal decrees, especially as they pertain to the salvation of His elect people, does not hang upon the English word “decree” or “decrees” as translated in the KJV. I personally would expect more from someone who puts “Dr.” in front of his name, but we are dealing with an individual who takes Larry Vance seriously as a researcher.

Rolland McCune, in his first volume on systematic theology (pp., 308-309), looks at the Hebrew text and identifies 6 key words that pertain to God’s decrees: yatsar, ya’ats, ‘etsah, chashab, machshebeth, nathan. Depending upon the context they can be translated as decide, purpose, plan, device, ordain or other similar words describing God’s actions that He decided to do in eternity. They are used in such passages as Psalm 139:16, Isaiah 19:12, Jeremiah 32:19, Genesis 50:20, Jeremiah 1:5.

Coming to the NT, McCune notes 10 key words that pertain to God’s decrees and purposes: horidzo, prooridzo, protithemai, proetoimadzo, tasso, proginosko, prognois, procheiridzomai, procheriotoneo.  Likewise, depending upon the context, those words can mean to determine, appoint, fix, foreordain, elect, set beforehand. They are found in such passages as Acts 2:23, Romans 8:29, Ephesians 1:9 and 2:10, Acts 17:26, and 1 Peter 1:1:2.

While none of those words are necessarily translated as “decree” and “decrees” in the KJV, the doctrine of God’s eternal decrees is clearly confirmed by any honest evaluation of the relevant passages. But that shouldn’t concern a KJV onlyist who believes God’s Word is frozen in only one translation that is 400 years old.

With that in mind, let me zero in on these specific comments,

None of these decrees mention anything about election or predestination, none of them show that God has ONE decree, and none of them are made in eternity, but made IN TIME.

It’s those sort of unhinged proclamations that make rabid, anti-Calvinistic, KJVO apologetics a blight upon the Christian church.

Let’s break it down.

I’ll go out on a limb and assume that our KJVO apologist at least affirms the eternality of God. To my knowledge, I don’t think I am dealing with an open theist Socinian heretic.

An eternal God knows all things, because He is, say it with me, ETERNAL. There is no knowledge He has to gather to Himself. Add to that the fact that He is the creator. An eternal creator creates all that there is, and because He is the creator, He not only knows all that will transpire in history future, He has planned it so, all the good, bad, and ugly. The fact of detailed biblical prophecy affirms that point.

That means God has planned for man’s salvation, and specifically from Scripture, a particular people, or what is revealed to us as His redeemed elect.  It is not some nebulous concept of “The Elect” to which God has left people to choose if whether or not they will join the club. It is people, individuals, that God chooses.

But let’s leave the theological ramifications aside for now. Our KJVO advocate insists God’s decrees do not pertain to election or predestination  He also brashly claims God’s decrees are only made in TIME and not eternity. He wants to keep God out of the electing to salvation business and let man choose his own destiny with his freewill. But does the Bible confirm his thesis?

Without this becoming an exercise in the obvious, let’s first consider Ephesian 3:11 (taken from the KJV text so as to be consistent),

 9 And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
10 To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
11 According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
12 In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him.

Note my emphasis. “Eternal purpose.” God had a purpose that is described as eternal. There are actually two words here translated as “purpose” and “purposed.” Both words, prothesis and poieo have the meaning “to set forth” and “to do,” respectively. Paul is saying that in eternity, because again, they are “eternal” purposes, God set forth to do something. In the case of Ephesians 3, it is to reveal God’s wisdom in regards to the salvation of the gentiles. That is eternal salvation that was “decreed,” because well, if you purpose to do something, that means you decreed it to happen, right?

Let’s look at one more taken from 2 Timothy 1:8,9,

8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God;
9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began...

Once more, note my emphasis. Paul speaks of being saved and called by a holy calling. Paul did not get called because of his works, but according God’s own purpose and grace. The word “purpose” is again translated from prothesis, which means “to set forth.” What did God set forth to do according to Paul’s words? To save and call him and his friend Timothy to whom he is writing. When did God set forth to save and call Paul and Timothy? BEFORE THE WORLD BEGAN. When exactly is that? Oh, I’ll venture a guess here and say ETERNITY PAST!  In fact, the phrase “world began” was translated from pro chronos, which means “Before Time!.”

The very translation this guy claims to be the only sure and reliable Word of God flatly contradicts him. Now he sits upon the horns of a significant dilemma. Will he side with the authority of his beloved translation or his feverish devotion to hating Calvinism? Or perhaps he’ll choose a third option of spinning the Bible in such a way so as to re-interpret it to favor him? What’s a rapid, anti-Calvinist KJV onlyist to do?

Premillennialism, Calvinism, and Romans 9-11

I was alerted to this post yesterday via James White’s twitter feed,

James White, Amillennialism, Ecumenism, and Curious Habits

It’s a bizarro screed written by a “Dr.” Elisha Weismann.  After a web search, I couldn’t find a “Dr.” Elisha Weismann existing anywhere outside the website where this article was posted. More than likely “Dr.” Weismann (if that is a real name) is a fake “Dr.” or one of those phony titles granted by a backslapping, IFB degree mill like Peter Ruckman’s Bible institute in Florida, and the guy (or gal?) is no more a real “Dr.” as Joel Taylor is a real “pastor/teacher.”

My attention was drawn to his opening comment,

Although some Calvinists like John MacArthur maintain a premillennial view, any premillennial view destroys the Calvinist interpretation of Romans chapter 9. If premillennialism is true, then Romans 9 must be viewed as a description of God’s plan for a future restoration of Israel instead of an individual scheme for salvation as most Calvinists maintain.  Just because some Calvinists do not accept this but rather opine that Romans 9-11 DOES cover this subject EXCEPT FOR those proof texts in Romans 9 does not discount the above fact. Romans 9-11 is clear from the very beginning of chapter 9 that Paul is making the distinction between those claiming some type of rite or right as a result of physical birth in Abraham as opposed to those who actually were the target of the blessings-those born of Isaac instead of Hagar.  It is almost imperative that a Calvinist MUST reject dispensationalism in order to maintain their view of Romans 9 as addressing individual salvation instead of what it actually teaches-the corporate restoration of Israel. But, since most Calvinists reject dispensationalism and are either post millennial or amillennial, it is much easier for them to avoid a discussion of prophecy because they find it much harder to defend their views of prophecy than the attempts to defend Calvinism.

I’ll say off the top here that I agree with the thrust of the guy’s overall argument. Romans 9-11 isn’t so much a treatise on individual salvation as it is a theodicy explaining why God has temporarily set aside the nation of Israel and the certainty that God will fulfill ALL the promises He has made to Israel which includes a national restoration.

That stated, however, contrary to what the “Dr.” says, a premilliennialist does not have to abandon Calvinism in order to believe that is what Romans 9-11 teaches. Additionally, a Calvinist doesn’t have to abandon Dispensationalism in order to affirm both Calvinism and premillennialism as implied in those chapters.

While it is true that Calvinists of an amillennial/postmillennial stripe tend to over-emphasize the individual salvation aspect of Romans 9-11, particularly 9:6-24, any honest reading of the text still confirms the Calvinist view of God’s sovereign election in the affairs of His redeemed people. I even hesitate calling such a reading “Calvinism” seeing that the theology is just so clearly taught in the whole of Scripture in spite of this guy’s blanket denial of its existence.

And though it is true Paul has a corporate dimension in mind as he moves along in his argument, he is plainly saying in Romans 9:6-24 that God unconditionally elects to do what He purposes among His individual people. Corporate groups and nations are comprised of individuals, or does the “Dr.” just brush that off? God chose (you know, unconditionally elected) to bless Abraham (and individual) and his seed (more individuals) over all the other people’s in the world (9:6-7).  God also unconditionally elected Isaac over Ishmael (two individuals) and Jacob over Esau (two more individuals) (9:8-12).  Later, God unconditionally chose to harden Pharaoh (yet another individual) for the purpose of destroying him and bring glory to Himself by delivering His elect people (a whole bunch of individuals) from bondage.

There is no way an honest reader of the Bible cannot see God’s sovereign, unconditional election being taught in Romans 9-11.

I would certainly agree that Romans 9 particularly is an important passage affirming the doctrine of unconditional election, however it is not the only place in Scripture where that doctrine is taught. Hence, I don’t derive my “Calvinism” from just one isolated passage in the book of Romans. Again, any honest reader of the Bible will see unconditional election affirmed throughout all the pages of Scripture.

Moreover, does this “Dr.” even read outside the rarefied bubble of IFB tin-foil hat theology? Back in 2007, John MacArthur, who the “Dr.” names in his article, preached a blistering Shepherd Conference message defending Calvinism and premillennialism against an amillennial perspective. It so agitated non-premillennialists that entire Reformed blogs imploded upon themselves and books were written.

But John isn’t the only Calvinist who teaches premillennialism. S. Lewis Johnson, who was ejected from Dallas Theological Seminary for affirming particular redemption, has also taught on the subject of premillennialism and Romans 9-11. See HERE  andHERE. Moreover, Barry Horner, who is both a Calvinist and a premillennialist, has written extensively on the subject of premillennialism and Israel. His writings can be accessed HERE.

Additionally, is the “Dr.” even aware of such Calvinists as Horatius Bonar, J.C. Ryle, Robert Haldane, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Hodge, Cotton and Increase Mather, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, John Gill, Thomas Goodwin, Matthew Henry, and even John Calvin?  Though a number were not premillennialists, they were “Calvinists” and yet affirmed the restoration of the Jews as a nation as Romans 9-11 teaches.

But of course, I am assuming that someone who genuinely has the title “Dr.” before his name would be aware of such things, but maybe my expectations are too much. I mean, even Gail Riplinger is called “Dr.”

Words for Young, SBC Calvinist Firebrands

calvinDear young, SBC Calvinist firebrand,

Even though I don’t consider myself a Southern Baptist at this point in my life, God was pleased to save me in a SBC church.  I then joined as a member of that SBC church, and became a regular participant in my campus BSU.  I even seriously thought about enrolling in a SBC seminary in Memphis. So I can gel with where you all are coming from.

I’ve been reading the last couple of weeks about your all’s trials. Having run in your all’s circles when I was a college punk, it is regrettable that various leaders, pastors, and Bible college administrator types are so vehemently opposed to your Calvinistic convictions. It truly is sad, really.

I can say with gratitude that when my Calvinist fervor began to ignite in my heart, I didn’t experience opposition from the leadership at my church. In fact, rather than extinguishing my newly kindled theological passion, my college pastor, a former linebacker for the Chicago Bears (before Refrigerator Perry and the 85 Super Bowl),  was the person who loaned me his copies of Lorraine Boettner’s “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” and Thomas and Steele’s little primer defending Calvinism. Where I felt any noticeable push back was from my fellow pew-sitting laymen who thought I had gone off the rails as one who was “way too serious about “doctrine.”

Still; that’s nothing like having a Bible college president causing a St. Bartholomew’s Day-like expulsion to rid the school of Huguenots.

Even so, I was once a young, SBC Calvinist firebrand like yourselves, though that was 20 years ago now.  I know how you all like blog posts that “lists” things, like “13 ways to become an effective church planter” or whatever, so I wanted to offers up a “list” of exhortations for your consideration.

1) Keep some perspective. You need to face a couple of hard facts:

A) People are misinformed about your new found beliefs. As a result they have cultivated ignorant, bigoted opinions about what it is you believe. Those opinions may run the spectrum of thinking you are just “going through a phase” to perceiving you as a viable threat to their church.  You already have a difficult road to travel with them. Telling them they are ignorant and bigoted doesn’t help.

B) The spiritual condition and overall health of the SBC does not rest on your shoulders. Remember that it is Christ who builds HIS church.  Be happy you don’t have to carry that burden and relax. Maybe even smile.

2) Don’t throw books at your detractors. If a person is challenging your Calvinism, the last thing he needs to hear is “well, if you’d just read thus and such book, you’d be convinced of my position.” While it may be true there are a handful of recommended sources on that subject that could be helpful, it’s better to recommend them to more serious inquirers who genuinely want to learn.  Throwing out unsolicited book recommendations after a heated conversation at the men’s breakfast only serves to make the head of the deacon committee think you believe he’s an illiterate rube.

3) Do talk with the folks about the Bible. That is the core of your beliefs anyways. Make any disagreement be with the text of Scripture, not your personality or even “Calvinism.” I always like to ask people, “what does Ephesians 1:1-4 still tell us about election if Calvin had never existed?”

4) Don’t run leadership down. If the leadership at your church or college is your primary antagonists, in spite of their resistance, you need to honor them. That means you aren’t running them down among your friends and other congregants. Also, you aren’t leading an underground “secret Reformed Bible study” behind their backs. And whatever you do, don’t start a blog detailing how unbiblical, man-centered Arminians have overrun your church.  Such attitudes are factious and plays into their erroneous misconceptions that Calvinists split churches.

5) Do support your leadership. By praying for them, respecting their decisions, and avoid being a troublemaker. Serve them in whatever capacity you can find. Be the first one to show up and the last one to leave.

6) Support any evangelistic efforts. Springing from the previous point, one of the ways you as a young, firebrand Calvinist can support your leadership is by being involved with any community outreach opportunities. By exhorting you in this regard, and knowing SBC churches these days, I completely understand “outreach” may be trite, seeker-sensitive oriented endeavors. Regardless of that, put your back into helping out as best you can as long as you are not compromising Scriptural principles.

Look at it this way: Calvinist have the reputation of being anti-evangelistic. All you Calvinists care about is your ivory tower and theology. What better way to dispel that myth than by supporting the biannual “revival” service, youth pizza bashes, or harvest festivals at Halloween. Besides, you’ve probably read a hundred books about the “Gospel”® written by all the TGC authors or John Piper®. It’s high time you put the theoretical knowledge into practice.

7) Don’t turn every college/home Bible study into a lecture on Calvinism.  I’ve been there; I’ve done that as a young Calvinist firebrand.  You’re so excited about your newly discovered theology that you want to tell everyone without exception. It’s like being born-again, again.

This may come as a shock to you, but everyone else isn’t where you are (See #1). In fact, SBCtNpthey probably think you are an obnoxious obsessive compulsive because every conversation – I. mean. “every. conversation.” – with you is turned into a dissertation about total depravity or limited atonement. The last thing you want happening is people avoiding you at church and fellowship because they see you coming and they don’t want to hear about Calvinism for the umpteenth time.

8) Realize that Church History didn’t start in 1517.  I realize there is a famine among the rank&file SBC church goer regarding the subject of church history. That is a crying shame to be sure, and it needs to be remedied. However, at the same time, please understand that church history didn’t start and end with the Reformation.  There was 1500 years before that and there has been 500 years after.  And, when you do a talk on the Reformation do so accurately and with balance, warts and all. Don’t white-wash our Calvinist/Puritan heroes. They were fallen men like us and at times it showed.

9) Covenant Theology is not necessary to be a Calvinist. A lot of the books and websites you are probably reading from these days on Calvinism are written by guys who adhere to covenant theology. The authors probably write in such a way so as to suggest that if you are a serious “Calvinist” and want to be “theological consistent” and whatnot, you’ll abandoned any premillennialism and Dispensational leanings you were taught at your SBC church and become a full on amillennial/postmillennial supersessionist (and even baby-dipping) covenant theologian. The folks at your church who are the most resistant to Calvinism are reacting toward those virulent ideas of covenant theology.  They think you want them to become wet Presbyterians, and they’re not into that.

Remember that Calvinism is derived from the exegesis of the relevant texts of Scripture, not a system of theology. You do not need to embrace Covenant Theology and a strict adherence to the LBC1689 in order to be a consistent Calvinist. Put those ideas out of your head now.

10) Don’t ever play the “That’s just your tradition” card. When you young Calvinist firebrands get into a verbal tussle with a group of stodgy, life-long SBCers about the doctrines of Grace, there is a temptation to repeat what James White (I know a lot of you are listening to James White!) wrote in an open letter to Dave Hunt and accuse your detractors of being blinded by their “SBC traditions.”

Listen: I know what you mean, and there is a hint of truth to that accusation. However, Calvinists have traditions, too. You need to recognize them and be prepared to defend them; but in the meantime, it is just better to stay away from playing that card.

11) Leave graciously and without animosity. After exhausting all your efforts to maintain a good relationship with your SBC church, or even college, there may come a time when you may need to bow out and leave. That is understandable. However, such a move should be done ONLY as a last resort after all avenues of reconciliation have been weighed and considered, but have ended.

When that happens, you need to leave with graciousness, without leaving a stink. Even though you no longer share the same perspective of ministry, more than likely, you are leaving the church where you were either saved or that got you headed in the right direction as a new believer. They are your extended “family.” Burning the bridge behind you is not only foolish, but unloving. There is no need for it.

And most importantly, before you pull that trigger and leave, you want to make sure you are leaving TO a good church that reflects the convictions you insist are so foundational you’d be willing to go nuclear on your current church. If not, then you seriously need to re-evaluate why you are leaving.