Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, September 02, 2016

Thoughts for a Young Man

A friend once asked me to share some thoughts with his son as his son entered into manhood. These are the thoughts:

The most important gifts God will give you during your life are relationships.
Knowing Him.
Knowing those made in His image.

Relationships live and breathe with humility, but die with selfishness.
Be quick to admit when you are wrong.
Be quick to repent when you sin against God and people.
Take full responsibility for your actions.
Never blame others.
Apply the promises of the Gospel.
Depend on God’s forgiveness.
Rest in His Fatherly care.
Seek His grace to change and grow.
Think about the Cross of Christ every day.
Excel in serving others. It will bring joy!
                                    Pray for others like you pray for yourself.
                                    Serve those around you.
Give to those in need.

Trust in the Lord to give you the humility that is needed in every situation, and the strength to persevere.

Your relationships with God and His people will endure forever.
Most everything else will pass away.
Keep your focus on Christ.

Never give up!

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

UNBORN Lives Matter

Somebody tell the Democrats, since they style themselves as defenders of the weak and helpless. Vile hypocrites. Just like their opponents. Just like me.

Somebody tell that good Catholic brother, Tim Kaine. How does he justify the choice to murder? Certainly not by the TRUTH.

May God grant us repentance. Much repentance. And just a little bit of sanity and rationality, too. That would sure make a difference for ALL of the human lives that matter.

You and I were once unborn babies, too. So was Hillary. So was Tim. So were all of the Supreme Court Justices. May God have mercy on us. May all who approve of baby-murder repent and be forgiven before they die and face their Maker. May America admit the Truth and restore the rights of the most defenseless, whose Avenger is the Almighty.

Friday, September 04, 2015

America, I Weep for You: A Reflection on the Heroic Act of Kim Davis

My beloved nation, what has become of you?

Blessed nation, you now persecute Kim Davis and place her in jail. Why? Was it theft or murder? No. Was it fraud or extortion? No. Has she been jailed for attacking or slandering those who are forcing false marriage on our land (through judicial rape, it would seem), or those who turn from the natural male/female love that perpetuates our peaceful and productive existence and continually reorganizes us into biologically balanced families? No. She has caused no harm to them at all. Rather, she is jailed for refusing to deny the self-evident reality of God-created and God-defined marriage, as supported by 99.999% of all human society and all human history (regardless of race, religion, class, ethnicity or politics). She is jailed for acting according to her sincerely held beliefs when faced with new circumstances she did not expect or invite. She is unconscionably incarcerated for choosing to act according to her Christian conscience, because that conscience will not bow to a novel and immoral "law" that seeks to bind her against her will.

America, who freed the slaves, now attempts to enslave the conscience of a free people!

Kim Davis is no saint. However, imperfect as she is, Kim Davis is a modern day hero of American liberty. All freedom-loving Americans should praise her courage and imitate her steadfastness in the face of injustice. She suffers loss for the sake of freedom. Our freedom.

Like the students murdered in Tienanmen square, she has dared to defy an oppressive and overreaching government. America once praised such acts. Now it shamefully prosecutes those who are brave enough to oppose tyranny. America's founding fathers (and mothers!) would stand with Kim Davis in defiance of government coercion and oppression, were they alive today. Is their spirit alive in America today?

We hear much about "law." We hear little about genuine personal liberty.

God will judge the government of America for its defiance of His majesty. Let us pray that this nation repents and turns from its idolatry, blasphemy and stubborn refusal to accept reality as He created it.

America, I weep for you. Will you return from your insanity, or continue to pour moral acid upon yourself and your people, corroding what little remains of your decayed moral foundations?

America, I weep for you. Do you care?

Nonetheless (and all the more), I weep for you.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Faith and Regeneration: Which Comes First?


This is basically a theological version of the "chicken and egg" conundrum. Occasionally it amuses me that Calvinists and Arminians (and others) are so apt to come to blows with regard to this question (I am referring to the theological one, not the chicken/egg question). As far as chickens and eggs are concerned, the answer is quite obvious from this text:

Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
God created "birds," not eggs, on the 5th day. "Eggs" are the intended method by which they will be fruitful and multiply. I hope you can appreciate what a great mystery has just been solved here. 

Unfortunately, the ordering of faith and regeneration does not have such an easy solution. Let's examine all of the texts related to the topic of "regeneration" to see whether they answer this question.


1. The Greek noun παλιγγενεσία (PALIGGENESIA) appears twice in the New Testament:
Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."
This text is clearly not referring to individual, salvific regeneration, so it has no bearing on the discussion.
Titus 3:4-8 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.
This text, which clearly refers to individual, salvific regeneration, and even mentions faith in close proximity, does not give any hint of which came first.

2. The Greek verb ἀποκυέω (APOKYEO) is used once in the context of spiritual birth:
James 1:16-18 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
There is no mention of the ordering of faith and regeneration here. What is undeniable is that God alone regenerates, and that it is "of His own will" that He has regenerated His people.

3. The Greek verb ἀναγεννάω (ANAGENNAO)  appears twice in the New Testament, both times in I Peter:
I Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
This text, while not explicitly addressing our question, only speaks of the role of faith as a protection for believers after regeneration has occurred. Rather than mentioning our faith as the cause of regeneration, Peter speaks only of God's mercy as the cause.
I Peter 1:22-25 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” 
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
This text, while mentioning regeneration and the preached Word of the Gospel, offers us no indication of the ordering of faith in the equation. If anything, we might refer back to verses 20 and 21, which tell us plainly that "through Him [we] are believers in God." This gives all of the credit for the origination of our faith to Christ, and not to our own act of will in exercising faith. The true sight and knowledge of Him (as proclaimed in the Gospel) produces faith, as surely as the sight of a raging hurricane produces awe and dread.

4. The Greek verb γεννάω (GENNAO) is sometimes used in the context of spiritual birth, or regeneration:
John 1:9-13 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
On the surface, this passage might seem to place faith ahead of regeneration. However, the text does not specify at which point regeneration occurred. Rather, it shows that the "right" of sonship was given to those who believed. Thus, the right of sonship follows upon faith. This right is given to those who are born of God and have believed.
John 3:1-8 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
This text says much about the new birth, but gives us no indication of the ordering of faith and regeneration. It simply tells us that regeneration is necessary to salvation. Although faith figures prominently in the remainder of the chapter and the book of John, there is no conclusive evidence of ordering here. 

There are several passages in I John that mention spiritual birth:
I John 2:29 If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
There is no evidence of the ordering of faith and regeneration here, unless we take "practicing righteousness" to include initial belief in Christ.
I John 3:9 No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.
No evidence of the ordering of faith and regeneration here.
I John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
No evidence of the ordering of faith and regeneration here.
I John 5:1 Everyone who believes (Present Active Participle) that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, (Perfect Passive Indicative), and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him (Perfect Passive Participle).
On the surface, this verse might seem to teach that regeneration occurs before faith. However, it could be interpreted the other way. Thus, there is ultimately no conclusive proof of the ordering of faith and regeneration here. If anything, the verb tenses might point toward regeneration preceding faith.
I John 5:4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Although faith and regeneration are both mentioned, there is no evidence of the ordering here.
I John 5:18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
No evidence of the ordering of faith and regeneration here.


So, if all of the New Testament passages dealing with regeneration are ultimately silent (or at least inconclusive) on this issue, what was the point of this exercise? We arrive at three conclusions:
  1. The subject is not definitively settled by the Biblical text itself (perhaps God has not deemed this to be an area in which we need to have a settled certainty).
  2. Any position that insists on a particular ordering must be driven by something other than the text (such as soteriology, systematic theology or philosophical considerations).
  3. Upon thorough consideration of these texts, three possibilities remain: 
    • Faith precedes regeneration
    • Regeneration precedes faith
    • Both occur simultaneously
I would favor the third option and recommend it for consideration by all. As a Calvinist, the second option would seem to be the next best. Based on the Biblical text, there can be no doubt that regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, reconciliation, sanctification and all other good gifts are given to us by God, and are not from ourselves. That is GREAT NEWS, regardless of your stance with regard to the order.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Discussion of the Ordo Salutis

In case anyone is interested, I am having an interesting conversation with some Arminian brothers here:

Pretty interesting stuff.

Here is my attempt to describe a Biblical Ordo Salutis:

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Response to Leighton Flowers: What is the "Dead" State of Fallen Man?

Perhaps, dear reader, you are aware of the criticisms of Calvinism recently put forth by Leighton Flowers, a Southern Baptist preacher, professor and Youth Evangelism Director for the Texas Baptists. Flowers is a prolific podcaster and blogger who presents a distinctively Baptist approach to non-Calvinism. I have listened to nearly every podcast he has released, and have briefly interacted with him on the "About" page of his blog site, In what would seem to be an amazingly courageous move, Flowers has also debated the formidable High Calvinist heavyweight, James White. Unfortunately, this was an epic exercise in missing the point, and I found both of their debate presentations and post-debate follow up responses equally disappointing.

This photo was Leighton's humorous take on
his recent debate with James White
See the debate here:

There are a lot of good things to say about Leighton Flowers, so let's start there:
  • He is respectful in his manner of dialogue with opponents
  • He conducts himself with humility
  • He generally speaks positively of Calvinists and accepts them as brothers
  • He articulates a clear theology of salvation from a "traditionalist" (i.e., non-Calvinistic) Baptist perspective
  • He serves as a ministry leader, and is not just a "talking head" with opinions
  • He has a sense of humor (a characteristic that is woefully lacking in so many Calvinist/Arminian dialogues on the internet)
There are some notes of concern as well, and at least one of them is genuinely alarming:
  • He doesn't always have his facts straight (as an example, in one of his podcasts he mentions D.A. Carson as an example of a non-Calvinist scholar - Huh???)
  • He frequently overstates the persuading power of his views, which have not actually proven persuasive to thoughtful, Biblically grounded Calvinists
  • He often presses illustrations to logical extremes that amount to "straw man" arguments
  • He sometimes ignores critical distinctions that are consistently drawn by mainstream Calvinists
  • In contradiction to his typically respectful comments about Calvinists, he has actually said more than once that he believes this passage might refer to them:
    • And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
We can only assume that Flowers has not thought through the implications of that last point, which are quite inflammatory. Viewed charitably, the statement is a bit out of character, though nonetheless troubling. All in all, Leighton is far friendlier toward Calvinists than many others who engage in this type of debate.


Let's take a brief look at an issue Leighton Flowers has often mentioned in his polemic against Calvinism. According to Flowers, Calvinists routinely compare man's "dead" state to that of Lazarus in the tomb, while he prefers to relate it to the state of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The prodigal son was only figuratively dead, right? He still had the natural ability to return to his father, right? So, perhaps fallen man is just "mostly dead":

Leighton's view ignores both the context and the content of Ephesians 2:1-3, which states:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Agreeing with Leighton, the clear implication of this text is not that fallen man is incapable of doing anything. However, it is actually much worse than that. According to this text, fallen man is incapable of doing anything that is not sinful. Humanity's "dead" acts are trespasses against God's law and are worldly, demonic, disobedient, fleshly and lust-driven. Believing in Christ for salvation does not seem to fit with this set of "dead" capabilities that remain in fallen human beings.

Much more telling, and far more detrimental to Leighton's position, is the obvious context of Ephesians 2. See Ephesians 1:19-20, which comes just a few verses prior:
... and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places ...
Without question, the flow of the text shows us that Paul is linking the believers' dead state prior to salvation with Jesus' dead state prior to his resurrection. Was Jesus "mostly dead" in the tomb, or was He "all the way dead"? Does Jesus' death and burial more closely resemble that of Lazarus, or that of the prodigal son?

This context-based exegesis stands like a sumo wrestler in opposition to a weak speculation that draws all of its force from the misapplication of an unrelated passage.

Reminding us of the three most important rules for proper Biblical interpretation: context, context, and context.

The whole Bible, taken in context, will always lead us inexorably to something along the lines of Calvinism. An army of critics will never change this, though they may push back with all their might.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Lessons from Blues Legend B.B. King

Today I read an interesting article about B.B. King's church background and Gospel music roots, which he later abondoned to pursue his Blues career. It seems that there are at least two key observations to be made about the sad turn of events which led to his departure from Christianity:

1. B.B. left the church because his religious interests were more about the music and entertainment factors than Jesus Christ Himself. It is not too surprising that one who was never a disciple would seek to liberate himself from the seemingly constricting requirements of real devotion to the Lord. Hip sounding music easily won out when placed next to the way of the cross.

2. B.B. left a church environment that was (at least in his perception) legalistic and hypocritical. Did he even hear the Gospel in the Southern-cultured, Americanized "evangelical" Baptist and Pentecostal churches he attended? One wonders. Churchy folk certainly did not hide their condemnation of the "blues" musical style, nor of the beer drinking and dancing that often accompanied it. However, King said many church members secretly loved the music!

In short, we are reminded that there is nothing more detrimental to the reputation and health of the local church than unconverted, legalistic, religious hypocrites on the one hand, and the failure to aim for genuine conversion and disciple-making through faithful Gospel witness on the other.

And we might imagine that Reformed believers would have embraced the beer and the music (and perhaps even the dancing--all in tasteful moderation, of course), recognizing these as God's good gifts to be enjoyed, while at the same time holding forth the potent light of the Gospel and calling sinners to repentance and true discipleship.

May our great and gracious God help us not to repeat the errors of a church culture gone wrong in the Deep South of long ago. And today. 

We can thank God for Mr. King's amazing talents, and hope in earnest that he did not die unconverted.

Kyrie Eleison.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Things Children Say . . .

So I've been sitting here watching a series of YouTube videos showing a panel discussion by some leading open theists, in which they respond to their critics and attempt to explain their theology. I have to say I found their reasoning rather unimpressive. After about fifteen minutes of loopy arguments and obvious fallacies, my 10-year old son looked over at me and said, "Instead of watching 'Dude Dumb,' let's watch some 'Dude Perfect!'"

So, here is my alternative to open theism:

Feel free to read into this whatever connections and analogies you might want to make.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

True Calvinist Confessions: "I am a Casual Determinist."

As a committed Calvinist, I unashamedly advocate Casual Determinism. I would venture to say that every sincere Calvinist who holds to Biblical truth should be (and probably is) a Casual Determinist.

Please note that I am not talking about "Causal Determinism," nor am I advocating that philosophical viewpoint. I am discussing and arguing for a Biblical position of Casual Determinism.

What is Casual Determinism?

First of all, what do we mean by determinism? This can be defined as the belief that all events are pre-determined to occur. There are various kinds of "determinisms," which are variously advocated by philosophers and theologians of different stripes. The opposing position, Libertarianism (also known as a belief in "Libertarian Free Will"), holds that it is wholly impossible that events for which human beings may be held responsible are pre-determined. Even a casual reading of the Bible, much less a sound program of exegetical study, would seem to decisively demolish the "Libertarian" viewpoint.

In general, Calvinists (along with conservative Lutherans and others who hold to a high view of Scripture) are considered to be Determinists because they believe that God pre-determines everything. However, while we hold this conviction with tenacity and deeply conscientious devotion, we reserve the right to be rather casual about the details. Thus, we are Casual Determinists. We seek to affirm what is clear from Scripture, and not to go beyond what is written.

In other words . . .
1. We acknowledge that there is a great deal of mystery regarding God's pre-determination of everything.
2. We recognize a clear distinction between the pre-determination of good and the pre-determination of evil. God delights in good. He hates evil. He pre-determines both, but in different ways. While He may pre-determine evil, He never commits it nor approves of it. As for good, He alone is its source and author. Get it?
3. Along with Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, et al, we affirm God's absolute sovereignty without denying the voluntary choice and moral responsibility of human beings.

What are the Benefits of Casual Determinism?

1. Philosophical and theological arguments against causal determinism are rendered powerless because Casual Determinism may or may not entail Causal Determinism.
2. We do not have to deny human freedom in order to affirm divine determinism. We are quite casual in recognizing the fact that some type of genuine human freedom exists alongside determinism. And we do not need to solve all of the mysteries of the universe in order to affirm what the Bible clearly teaches.
3. We can interpret all events through the lens of God's absolute sovereignty.
4. We can speak of circumstances and human choices in the same ways the Biblical authors spoke of them, without feeling that we are somehow attributing evil to God or somehow denying His sovereignty.

We can be rather casual in our determinism because GOD is GOD, His Word is TRUE, and it is not our job to know everything.

Our role is to study His Word, worship His majesty, trust His wisdom, follow Christ, and proclaim His Truth. Regarding these things, we are anything but casual!

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Christ's Conquest of the Self-Life: A Thematic Study of Philippians

Here is a link to a PowerPoint presentation from a message I shared at church some time ago. There are 23 slides, including a few illustrations. It is based on three of the key themes in the book of Philippians. I hope it is a blessing to you!

Christ's conquest of the believer's self-life is . . .
  1. Conditioned upon God's work in us
  2. Concentrated in God-ordained relationships
  3. Completed in union with Christ 

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Both Determined and Free? A Conversation with Dr. Roger Olson

Recently I have been enjoying some conversation with Roger Olson, the "irenic Arminian" theologian and scholar, at his blog. I always find conversation with Dr. Olson to be interesting and informative. He is one of my favorite non-Calvinist discussion partners, although we disagree rather thoroughly in many areas. 

We have recently engaged profitably in discussion in the comment box at this post on Dr. Olson's blog:

Today, Dr. Olson has responded to me directly with this blog post:

I have posted my reply, as follows:
Dr. Olson, 
Thank you for giving attention to this important issue, which seems to be a key point of disagreement between Calvinistic and Arminian/non-Calvinistic thought.
Like most other Calvinists, I would point to multiple "fine distinctions" in order to sustain the appeal to compatibilism.
I would begin by defining compatibilism a little differently, as the basic belief that free will and determinism are not mutually exclusive. The theory that "freedom" is being free to do as one chooses despite having no ability to do otherwise is just one form of compatibilism among many interesting options. Personally, I do not prefer that approach, and only oppose "Libertarian Free Will" or "power of contrary choice" to the extent that they, by definition, rule out compatibilism (in the broad sense). I agree with your contention that "free will" is mysterious, that it is "situated" within a context of limitations, that it is fully realized only by Christian conversion, and I believe that it is much more "genuine" than most of today's Calvinists will admit. Augustine was not afraid to use the term, and even Calvin hinted at a broader freedom of choice. There was a stream of historic Reformed thought along this line (Jeongmo Yoo has an interesting book on this topic).
Next, I would appeal to a distinction between "natural ability" and "moral ability" in saying that we are naturally capable of choosing other than we do, even if not morally capable (thus, in some sense we have the power of contrary choice). I have the natural ability to give away my possessions or to steal, but I might only have the moral ability to do one of them in a given set of circumstances. I don't have the natural or moral ability to choose to jump to the moon (although I do have the ability to attempt to jump to the moon). Moral ability is limited, not necessarily by God's decree, but by our own will (or moral character). In essence, ironically, the very will to choose is what limits the range of choices!
Finally, I would appeal to a distinction within God's secret decree between the foreordination of good and the foreordination of evil. Good arises always with God's direct action and involvement, by grace, and not from the creature alone. Evil arises only with God's inaction, from the creature's own moral nature, as God permits the creature to act on its own independent will. In other words, He ordains to allow evil to occur apart from His own direct action, by permission only (yet with complete foreknowledge and a design to permit--and then remedy--all of the evil that occurs). Thus, nothing happens because it is merely pre-determined. Good happens by God's predestination, providence and promise, while evil happens by His permitted purpose (with both good and evil being thus pre-determined in some sense, and worked into His overarching plan). As you know, the origin of the first evil remains mysterious on these grounds; however, we would categorically deny any possibility or implication that evil arose from God Himself (perish the thought).
This is, of course, a very abbreviated form of a more complex argument (actually an entire philosophical construct) that is employed by Augustinian thinkers to explain how God could foreordain (or decree, pre-determine/pre-program, etc.) all things without ever touching, committing, positively willing or becoming culpable for moral evil. There are plenty of Calvinists, Lutherans, and other Augustinians, who can expound these topics much better than I.
As a concluding note, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting to refute what you have written or formally debate the issue (doubtless you would outmaneuver me!). We are laying out two very different and incompatible philosophical approaches that are employed to make our theologies tenable in our own minds. As a part of my ongoing education and understanding of the Arminian viewpoint, I very much appreciate your time and care in stating your position clearly, and in treating the other position charitably. Great stuff!
Blessings in Christ,

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Isaiah 55:9 - What does it Mean?

Recently, a visitor to this blog asked about the theme verse displayed in the blog header:

Isaiah 55:9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

The questioner specifically asked what I think this verse means.

Disclaimer and Clarification

Before answering this question, I should note that it matters very little what I think this verse means. God's Word is, at the most basic level, a communication of what He thinks. The verse does, after all, address the subject of His "thoughts." The meaning given by the Holy Spirit to Isaiah 55:9 is much more significant, and vastly more important, than anything I think. And, as He, the Spirit of Revelation, has given us the mind of Christ, we can know with a great degree of certainty what the verse actually, and objectively, signifies.

Too often, theological reflection has been downgraded to the level of opinion and conjecture. The speculations of favored theologians and scholars are discussed, and then someone's feelings about their mesmerizing extra-Biblical theories are recorded with grand intellectual flourishes. This futile endeavor leaves us wise in our own eyes and pathetically self-satisfied. However, when we approach the sacred text of the Bible, we are not dealing with human philosophy. We are not working with a man-made construction. We are considering the word of the prophets "more fully confirmed," to which we will do well to "pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place . . . knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (II Peter 1:19-21, ESV). This is the WORD OF GOD, and it renders our worldly and man-centered thinking totally bankrupt. It reveals our depravity, shatters our self-conceit, demolishes our pride. It is God's MESSAGE, hidden from the wise and lofty, and powerfully manifested to the simple-hearted -- for those with ears to hear.

So, I'd like to begin by redirecting the question. Rather than discussing what I think this verse means, I will instead attempt to answer, at least in part (yet accurately), the following questions:

  • What meaning has the Holy Spirit poured into Isaiah 55:9? 
  • What meaning will He help us to draw out by careful study?
May God guide us in the study of His Truth.

Contexts and Outline

Now that we have begun to think of the verse in its wide context as a part of the inerrant and infallible, God-breathed text of Scripture, we may begin to narrow in further and view it in a variety of additional contexts:
  • Bible Context: Old Testament - the verse appears several hundred years prior to the birth of the incarnate Christ, the establishment of the New Covenant and the inception of the Church.
  • Genre Context: Prophecy - the verse is the utterance of a prophet, speaking for God in the "first person" voice. It fulfills a dual prophetic role of calling God's covenant people to repentance and foretelling the glories of God's future Kingdom.
  • Book/Historical Context: Isaiah - the verse appears within the prophecies of Isaiah, the son of Amoz, who prophesied over a period exceeding 50 years, during which Israel was characterized by corruption, apostasy and political turmoil. In Isaiah's lifetime, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed, and he saw multiple threats rise against the Southern kingdom of Judah while dwelling in its capital city of Jerusalem. 
  • Book Section Context: Isaiah 40-66 - the verse appears in a section characterized by prophecies of hope and restoration.
  • Chapter Context: Isaiah 55 - the verse appears in the center of a chapter which may be outlined as follows:
  1. Call to Draw Near to God (55:1-3)
    • Invitation to the Thirsty
    • Invitation to the Impoverished
    • Contrast of False and True Satisfaction
    • A New Covenant Promised
      • Made by God
      • Faithfulness and Mercy
      • Everlasting
  2. Declaration of Israel's Role (55:4-5)
    • As Witness
    • As Leader and Commander
    • As Caller 
    • As God's Glorified People
    • Target Audience: The Gentiles! (The "People" and "a Nation" not known)
  3. Instructions for Those Seeking God (55:6-7)
    • Seek the LORD
    • Call on Him
    • Forsake your own Ways and Thoughts
    • Return to the LORD
    • Results: Compassion and Abundant Pardon
  4. Description of God's Thoughts and Ways (55:8-9)
    • Not Your Thoughts
    • Not Your Ways
    • Higher than Your Thoughts and Ways
      • As the Heavens are Above the Earth
  5. Illustration of God's Thoughts and Ways (55:10-11)
    • God's Word is Given as Rain and Snow from Heaven
    • God's Word Infallibly Produces its Intended Effect on the Earth
      • Water
      • Sprout
      • Seed
      • Bread
  6. Promise of Israel's Future Hope (55:12-13)
    • Joy
    • Peace
    • Nature Celebrating
    • A Name for the Lord
    • An Everlasting Sign

Summary of the Passage

We may conclude, from the above discussion of contexts and the outline of the passage, that the broad theme of the chapter is Israel's restoration and the call of the Gentiles. The passage makes clear that Israel is to be used as God's witness so that the Gentiles may partake in the blessings of David, the New Covenant of God's mercy and truth, the compassion and the forgiveness of God.

This divine purpose, though mentioned elsewhere in the Old Testament, would have been foreign to the thinking of most ancient Hebrews. In fact, it was even shocking to the early New Testament church, as demonstrated by Peter's initial hesitation and later surprise when preaching to the household of Cornelius, in seeing the Spirit poured out on the Gentiles. Paul's unique, unexpected, and God-initiated mission to preach the Gospel of grace to the nations also illustrates this chapter's message with some clarity.

The consistent theme in the passage is this: God calls sinners to Himself and will receive them with overflowing mercy, whether they are ethnically Jewish or Gentile.

The Lord forthrightly explains the reason that underlies this astonishing mercy: His thoughts and His ways, which are categorically opposite to ours, and radically exalted above ours, tend toward displays of extravagant mercy.

Exegetical Considerations

When God speaks of His "thoughts" in this passage, He uses the Hebrew term machashabah, which refers to counsel, plan or purpose (sometimes carrying the connotation of "invention"). When He speaks of His "ways," He uses the Hebrew word derek, which is a path or a road (figuratively, a course of life or one's moral character -- what we might call a "lifestyle" or a "walk of life" in today's vernacular). God is therefore describing something much deeper and more significant than a mere passing thought or intellectual pursuit. He is describing His very WILL, and His PERSONAL HABITS. And when He speaks of these things, thus revealing HIMSELF, He declares vehemently that His ways are not ours! In doing so, He uses the absolute negation (Heb. lo). Additionally, in verses 8 and 9, the repetition of the words "thoughts" (4 times) and "ways" (4 times) emphatically magnifies the message: "I am not like you! I am different! I am infinitely higher!" And yet, by forsaking his own ways and thoughts, and seeking after the Lord, even the unrighteous person (in point of fact, only the unrighteous person) can discover and enjoy these higher ways and thoughts.

The Meaning of Isaiah 55:9

The ancient Hebrew mind could perhaps think of no greater distance and no greater difference than that existing between heaven and earth. In this verse, the prophet shows us that God in His wise and holy counsels is far above us. His eternal plans do not originate within our familiar sphere, but enter it from without and from above. They are beyond our reach. They transcend us! His actions, characteristics, counsels and purposes are thus apt to surprise us when they break through. Yet they are ultimately intended to nourish us, to initiate growth, to produce fruitfulness in us, and to feed others. That is what mercy does. When the revelation of His ways is received within, it satisfies our need and give us life. It furnishes peace and instills joy. It gives us something to give.

Isaiah 55:9 teaches us that God's thinking is incomparable and incomprehensible, yet penetrating and available. It shows us the fine balance of a mysterious, and yet perspicuous, Word from our gracious Creator -- a Word sent to restore His fallen creation by the strange working of an unearthly power. And that power is called mercy.

May you, dear reader, be flooded with His grace today!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My First Visit to a Primitive Baptist Church

On vacation in the Smoky Mountains this week, we visited the old Primitive Baptist church in Cades Cove. After I delivered an impromptu call to worship, my daughter and I took the opportunity to sing a few hymns. A couple actually came into the church and started filming us!

Years ago, the Primitive Baptist church in Cades Cove split when some members became involved in missions, and we're thus disfellowshipped. Sad but true, folks.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Until You've Been There, There's Not Much Point in Going Anywhere Else

"Now, I've written books on the cross, you know that. And people say, 'well, that's just a favorite theme, the cross.' Well, I pray it will be, because Paul said, 'God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross.' So I'm in pretty good company, you see. But it's not that I have a thing about the cross. It is that I know that until you've been there, there's not much point in going anywhere else. Though when you go there and you know the transformation, you know what he's done . . . If you major on that cross, if the Holy Spirit gives you an understanding there, all the rest of the truth comes to you." 
(Geoffrey C. Bingham, from a sermon entitled The meaning of Pentecost)

Monday, April 14, 2014