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!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

John Piper: In Search of the Perfect TULIP

John Piper recently posted a near perfect summation of the famous "5 points of Calvinism." Every informed Calvinist knows these points are a little too limited and incomplete (perhaps this is why Piper has referred to himself as a "7 point Calvinist."), but they are nonetheless a helpful way to articulate some important facets of orthodox, Biblical theology. It's essential to view these concepts through an understanding of God's complete sovereignty and divine attributes, and I would also recommend a healthy appreciation for philosophical paradox, theological tension, and deep mystery. The thoughtful acceptance of divine mysteries, without the slightest hint of uncertainty concerning things that are clearly revealed, is part of the beauty of Calvin's theology - and Augustine's - and, ultimately, that of the Biblical writers (reflecting God's own declaration that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours).

Paradox is inherent in Piper's TULIP. It is especially evident in his synopses of limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance. Piper's explanation of TULIP is well balanced because he has been refining it for many years as he has pursued good theology and devoted himself to a careful study of Scripture. I've heard other attempts at explaining TULIP that were so unbalanced you wanted to rent a tower crane and try to set them back up again.

Here is Piper's TULIP . . . no cranes needed:

We believe that these 5 truths are biblical and therefore true. We believe that they magnify God’s precious grace and give unspeakable joy to sinners who have despaired of saving themselves.

Total Depravity

Our sinful corruption is so deep and so strong as to make us slaves of sin and morally unable to overcome our own rebellion and blindness. This inability to save ourselves from ourselves is total. We are utterly dependent on God’s grace to overcome our rebellion, give us eyes to see, and effectively draw us to the Savior.

We were dead in our trespasses. (Ephesians 2:5)

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:7-8)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)

Unconditional Election

God’s election is an unconditional act of free grace that was given through his Son Jesus before the world began. By this act, God chose, before the foundation of the world, those who would be delivered from bondage to sin and brought to repentance and saving faith in Jesus.

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

As many as were appointed to eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)

"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. (Romans 9:15-16)

God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. (1 Corinthians 1:27)

Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. (Romans 11:7; cf. 9:11-12; John 6:37)

My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me. (Isaiah 43:10)

Irresistible Grace

This means that the resistance that all human beings exert against God every day (Romans 3:10-12; Acts 7:51) is wonderfully overcome at the proper time by God’s saving grace for undeserving rebels whom he chooses freely to save.

Even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:5)

No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father. (John 6:65)

God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25)

Limited Atonement

The atonement of Christ is sufficient for all humans and effective for those who trust him. The full, saving effectiveness of the atonement that Jesus accomplished is limited to those for whom that saving effect was prepared. The availability of the total sufficiency of the atonement is for all people. Whosoever will—whoever believes—will be covered by the blood of Christ. And there is a divine design in the death of Christ to accomplish the promises of the new covenant for the chosen bride of Christ. Thus Christ died for all, but not for all in the same way.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. Revelation 22:17).

This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)

I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:15)

I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. . . . And for their sake I consecrate myself [that is, prepare to die], that they also may be sanctified in truth. (John 17:9, 19)

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32)

Perseverance of the Saints

We believe that all who are justified will win the fight of faith. They will persevere in faith and never surrender to the enemy of their souls. This perseverance is the promise of the new covenant, obtained by the blood of Christ, and worked in us by God himself, yet not so as to diminish, but only to empower and encourage, our vigilance; so that we may say in the end, I have fought the good fight, but it was not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (Philippians 3:12)

Resting in Christ and reaching for the goal,

Pastor John

© Desiring God

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Historicity of Adam: Genesis DEconstructed and REconstructed

Perhaps you've caught the recent buzz about Tremper Longman III's remarks casting doubt on the UNDENIABLE BIBLICAL FACT that there was a real person named "Adam" who was the first man created by God, in His Own image, not from evolution but by God's own special act, formed from the dust of the ground on the 6th day. Longman is a super-scholar with a long list of credentials and books to his credit, but then again, so is Bart Ehrman. Ehrman's modus operandi is to heap as much doubt as possible on the Word of God, from the perspective of a former Evangelical. Unfortunately, Longman's remarks offer a subtle but equally potent attack on the inerrancy of Scripture - and this from a supposedly conservative Evangelical perspective. Perhaps he's just "reconstructing" the doctrine of inspiration?

One’s views about the historicity of early Genesis are a reflection of one’s view of Scripture. If one primarily views Scripture as similar to other ancient writings of the time period (Babylonian mythology, etc.), one will tend to view the Biblical writings through that lens and come up with ideas that seem sensible but actually disintegrate the unity of the Bible (and ultimately present the idea that it means something other than what it says). If one primarily views the Bible as God’s Eternal Word of Truth, as inerrant as God Himself is (though arriving by His Providence through the minds and experiences of imperfect and errant people), guarded by the Holy Spirit from any contamination or mistake, entirely pure and wholly true, one will tend to say that Scripture means exactly what it says – and that God was careful and exacting in His revelation.

What I have learned here is that Tremper Longman III, although he is 100 times more scholarly and studied than I am, is not a reliable witness about the unity and integration of Scripture. Let God be true, and EVERY MAN a liar. That includes me and you and Tremper. But this is exactly the point – Scripture calls us to trust it more than we trust our own thoughts.

Perhaps scholars like Longman end up spending so much time looking at the ancient cultures, archeological data, and other human/earthly factors related to Scripture that they lose perspective on the heavenly/inspired character of the Word.

My 5-year-old apparently has more faith in God’s Word than most super-scholars, and I take this as a warning against the subtle unbelief that sometimes accompanies “learning.” Ever learning, but never able to come to a knowledge of the Truth – this is the danger for all of us knowledge-hungry seekers of insight from the Bible. May God help us to believe Him.

Here's the video where Longman expresses his doubts . . .

Editor's Note: Although I'm no fan of yellow shirts, I'm glad the colors in this video fit the color scheme of THEOparadox. That is the ONLY point of agreement I am able to identify between myself and this video.

If "Adam" in Genesis 1-3 is not a specific individual, but "mankind" in general, I suppose we have to rewrite Genesis 2:8-25 . . .

8The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the [committee of men] whom He had [caused to evolve].

9Out of the ground the LORD God caused to [evolve] every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

(I'm skipping verses 10-14 because they're not related to the discussion)

15Then the LORD God took the [committee of men] and put [them] into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

16The LORD God commanded the [committee of men], saying, "From any tree of the garden you [guys] may eat freely;

17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you [guys] shall not eat, for in the day that you [guys] eat from it you [guys] will surely die."

18Then the LORD God said, "It is not good for the [committee of men] to be alone; I will [cause to evolve for them] a [bunch of women] suitable for [them]."

(I'm not sure how evolution works when you only have males, but I'll leave that as a question for Longman to answer)

19Out of the ground the LORD God [caused to evolve] every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the [committee of men] to see what [they] would call them (I guess they voted); and whatever the [committee of men] called a living creature, that was its name.

20The [committee of men] gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for [the committee of men] there was not found a [bunch of helpers] suitable for [them].

21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the [committee of men], and [they] slept; then He took one [or some] of [their?] ribs and closed up the flesh at that place (via some evolutionary process, no doubt).

(After all, evolution is the one thing a Bible scholar dare not cast doubt upon)

22The LORD God [caused to evolve] into a [bunch of women] the rib [or ribs] which He had taken from the [committee of men], and brought [them] to the [committee of men].

23The [committee of men] said, (Perhaps they had appointed a spokesman?)
"This is now bone of
[our] bones,
And flesh of
[our] flesh;

[they] shall be called [women],

Because [they were] taken out of [the committee of men]."

(at this point the logic is really breaking down!)

24For this reason (what reason? Tremper has taken all "reason" out of this passage) a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.

25And the [committee of men] and [their wives] were [all]naked and were not ashamed.

Um . . . yeah. No further comment needed.

[WARNING: The next paragraph is entirely tongue-in-cheek]

Perhaps other individuals in Scripture were actually committees, too. Abraham might have been a group of people who "had lots of kids," and Joshua may have been an army that was "saved by YHWH," and Moses could have been 100 people who were "drawn out" by God. This would help us understand how a lowly sheep herder convinced the mighty Pharaoh to let the people go. Perhaps they all rushed at him with their staffs swinging. Ridiculous, you say? If we don't trust Scripture, how can anyone disqualify these theories? Next week I'll present an engraving by ancient Midianites that shows 100 shepherds attacking somebody. You can't argue with rocks, right?

Here's a scholarly (and, unlike the video you just watched, Biblically faithful) post from James Anderson in response . . .

Finally, I'd like to challenge those who support Longman's view to re-write Genesis 2 in a way that actually makes sense. Alternatively, I'd like to suggest you simply take it exactly the way it is revealed by an omniscient God.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Announcing the Newest Little DeVidal

THEOparadox Advisor Chris "not-a-real-doctor" DeVidal has added a third little one to his collection . . .

Shiloh Evangeline DeVidal . . .

Born 9/18/2009 at 9:32pm
6 pounds, 14 ounces
20.5" long
Red hair
Mother's nose and mouth, thank God no long french nose like dad's family!
Likes to be held
Calm nature

Congratulations, Chris and Charice!

Click here for a slideshow:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hogwash, Bad Hermeneutics and Psychology (with a bit of poison in the Kool Aid as an added bonus)

Here's a pop quiz for the Bible scholars in our audience:
Identify where this verse talks about your emotional needs . . .

Ephesians 5:33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

What's wrong? Couldn't do it? You may just need to be less theologically strict in your interpretive methods.

The pastor of a Southern Baptist church in my area can help you. Attendance at his church is around 5,500. In a recent sermon titled "What a Man Needs", this pastor stated the following:

"God has wired a man in such a way that his greatest emotional need is respect."

The preacher builds his thesis on the following logic:

P1 God's primary command to a wife is to respect her husband.
P2 God's primary command to a husband is to love his wife.
C Therefore, a wife's primary emotional need is love. and a husband's primary emotional need is respect.

The implied reasoning: we can define a person's emotional needs by the commands God gives to others.

This sounds sensible enough in our cozy, americanized, pop-psychology-influenced church culture. But there might be a few problems to consider before we drink too much of the Kool Aid . . .

This type of thinking is drawn directly from the "Hierarchy of Human Needs" developed by atheist/humanist Abraham Maslow. This hierarchy is a primary resource that is used extensively by psychologists - including many who call themselves Christians and market their books to the Church.

I'm curious, what exactly is an "emotional need?" Aren't emotions a response of the body-and-mind to internal and external circumstances? Do I need to feel a particular way? What do my emotions have to do with a command from God to my wife?

I'm not saying emotions aren't powerful and important (they certainly are), but I question the very idea that "needs" can be attached to them. Our feelings can't be directly controlled by us, but they can be influenced and eventually changed by our thinking, and by our circumstances (whether relational or incidental). God's commands are meant to teach us how to think and what to do. They're not meant to ascribe needs to our fluctuating emotions.

So what is meant by the idea that I have an "emotional need" for respect that can only be met if my wife behaves a certain way? Does it mean I lack something essential simply because my circumstances aren't ideal? What happened to the teaching that Christ is the One who meets my needs? Why is the burden of my emotional stability placed on my wife's shoulders? Why is she manipulated into obedience by my ever-changing feelings? And where does God say marriage is about meeting each others' emotional needs? I thought it was a picture of Christ and the Church? What need does He have for my respect? Isn't it my role to glorify Him by my obedience and service, without regard to my feelings at any given moment?

Ephesians 5 contains many straightforward commands, but no list or description of anyone's needs. These needs exist only in the mind of the preacher. It's the same kind of self-focused, reverse-logic hermeneutic that drives a preacher who should know better to say, "the command to love your neighbor as yourself means you can't love others until you love yourself." In this way Christ's clear command, "love your neighbor," is turned on its head and made into a murky admonition to "love yourself." May God have mercy on us, and forgive us for sending people on a futile quest for more self-love. It's like looking for water in an ocean. God is calling out to us, saying, "Come up on shore, come out of that briny, turbulent sea of self-love, and draw freely from my refreshing artesian wells. Then share my water with others. Sure, you're going to smell like salt for awhile, and you may even find yourself body surfing in that unsatisfying sea water. But once you've tasted fresh water you'll know the difference and you'll long for what satisfies your thirst. You'll become more like Me and learn to delight in serving others rather than yourself." Meanwhile, culturally blinded pastors are pushing their flocks further out to sea, with promises of fulfillment for those who dive deeper into the illustrious love of self.

There's nothing inherently wrong with emotions. There's nothing inherently wrong with desiring respect or love from others. There's nothing at all wrong with the the kind of self-love that causes one to turn away from evil. But there is something very wrong with twisting the commandments of God into psycho-babble and failing to declare the truth as it is found in the text. There is something desperately wrong when church leaders validate the idolization of desires, the deification of feelings, the shifty blame game of invented emotional "needs" and the manipulation of a spouse through this world's hollow and deceptive philosophy. The Word of God should not be turned into humanistic drivel.

We're all loaded with emotional desires - this is what drives most of my struggles with sin, I think. I want something to happen, I want to be treated a certain
way, I want to have a feeling of significance and pride, I want to be appreciated and esteemed by others - and I'm willing to go against God's directives to get these things. To call these desires "needs" is both dangerous and unbiblical. Normal human desires very quickly turn into idolized demands, and this doesn't qualify them as needs. It makes them SINFUL God-replacements.

Recently, I've had numerous discussions with various people about nouthetic counseling and psychology. Nouthetic counseling isn't perfect. But in my experience, pastors who are influenced by the nouthetic approach don't fall for all of this psychologized Scripture twisting. They teach the commands and promises of God, not the self-focused idolatry of made-up "needs."

I'd suggest the following alternative to eisegetically reading emotional needs into the text.

P1 God's primary command to a wife is to respect her husband.
P2 God's primary command to a husband is to love his wife.
C Therefore, the best way to glorify God in the role of a husband is to love your wife; and the best way to glorify God in the role of a wife is to respect your husband.

After all, this is why we're here, isn't it?

A nice byproduct of glorifying God in this way is . . . your spouse will probably be more emotionally healthy and satisfied in the relationship. Both of you will enjoy marriage more. But let's not ever make this the focal point. Let's keep the focus right where God has it: ON HIS GLORY.

I must love my wife as Christ loved the church - without regard to her respect for me or my feelings about her behavior - because this glorifies God. I must do this out of love for God, and love for her, and in response to His love, and not for my own selfish ends. Isn't this the kind of love that moved Christ to the cross?

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Morning Meditation

Experientially and practically, today I have sinned sufficiently to seal my condemnation. On any given day, at any given moment, I sin enough to prove that I deserve an eternity without God. I have entertained selfish thoughts. I have been lazy. I have not loved my Creator with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. I have not rightly loved those around me, helped the needy, considered the poor, or blessed my enemies. I have sought my own glory and pursued my own desires. Whatever good I may have done is tainted, stained, and interwoven with self-centeredness. And pride. And short-sighted worldliness. And unbelief. And fear. Whatever sanctification I have attained is the sanctification of a sinner, by grace. This is what I'm like on my good days, my very best days. Day by day, moment by moment, the reality is - I fall short of the glory of GOD . . .

The glory of God, think of it! The One Who does justice, thinks justly, and IS just. The One Who does mercy, thinks mercifully, and IS merciful. The One Who acts with joy, thinks joyously, and IS eternally filled with joy. The One Who does what is good, thinks what is good, and IS good! Who alone is good. Who is the spring and fountain and source of all goodness. Who uses what is evil to reveal more of His goodness. Who unites Himself to humanity, takes in all the evil and sin of humanity, and thereby cleanses humanity! Who suffers because of love, Who dies in order to rise again, Who helps the helpless.

At any moment, on any given day, at any point in history, His blood is sufficient to cleanse the vilest of sinners. He redeems the most wretched of men. His sacrifice is enough to warm the coldest heart, to quell the strongest floods of rebellion. His propitiation turns away deeply deserved wrath, His purchase seals necessary redemption, His death and resurrection effectively secure the faith of His chosen ones and the welfare of His wayward children. His life is their life. His faith is their hope. His joy is their strength. But He only saves sinners who agree to all the charges levied against them by God's pure law of truth. The rest are far too righteous to be saved.

As believers, we are always in a world of blessed and cursed conflict. Blessed because the conflict is evidence of grace. Cursed because our bodies are not yet redeemed. On our best days, our sanctification is the sanctification of a sinner. This humbles us. And on our worst days, our sins are the sins of a saint. This gives us hope. Therefore let us always flee from self to Christ, and loathe everything in ourselves that is not God-given, God-breathed, God-conceived, God-inclined and God-honoring. Let us always repent, always trust, and always look to Christ - Who ALONE is our righteousness and all our holiness!

O Eternal Fount and Source of all good, be glorified in me!

But where sin did abound, grace did much more abound . . .

Mark 2:17 Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Galatians 2:17 But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be!

Solus Christus
In Christ Alone

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Isaiah 53:1 - Faith and Election

Who has believed our message?

With these words we enter the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, which really should have begun at verse 13 of the 52nd chapter, as Calvin wryly notes:

"This division, or rather dismemberment, of the chapter, ought to be disregarded; for it ought to have begun with the thirteenth verse of the former chapter, and these words ought to be connected with what goes before." (from Calvin's Commentary)

And we will treat it thus.

Here our thoughts are directed to the pertinent question: who has faith? Who has believed the Word of God through His prophets? Who trusts in Him? Who takes His words to heart?

The stunning revelation of Christ's Person and work was, to human thinking, unbelievable. Apart from divine help, man cannot believe the truth of the Gospel. He cannot because he will not. And this stubborn unwillingness is incurable apart from the intervention of God.

Background Study

The 17th Century English theologian, Matthew Poole, rightly describes the meaning of this phrase:

"Who, not only of the Gentiles, but even of the Jews, will believe the truth of what I have said and must say? Few or none. The generality of them will never receive nor believe in such a Messias as this. Thus this place is expounded by Christ himself, John 12:38, and by Paul, Romans 10:16. And this premonition was highly necessary, both to caution the Jews that they should not stumble at this stone, and to instruct the Gentiles that they should not be surprised, nor scandalized, nor seduced with their example." (from Matthew Poole's Commentary)

NOTE: Although Poole's sentiments are correct, he misses the fact that it is John who is speaking in 12:38, not Christ (the verse is quoted below). But ALL the Word of God is Christ's teaching. And from Whom did John learn these things in the first place?

John applies this verse in a remarkable way, not simply as asking who will believe, but as predicting the unbelief of Israel . . .

John 12:36b-40 These things Jesus spoke, and He went away and hid Himself from them. But though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, “HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.”
These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.

John is reminding us that the tragic unbelief of the Jewish nation was not a surprise to God. In this he agrees perfectly with Paul's description of Jewish unbelief as the very means by which God opened the door to the Gentiles (more on this below). But first . . .


What is meant by all of this blinding and hardening? (You may want to refer to my series called "Hardened Hearts and Human Choices" for a discussion of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart). On the surface, I see two major (and inter-related) theological problems in this text. On an initial reading, this passage appears to contain an affirmation of a certain type of imbalanced Calvinism, but also a defeater for all Calvinsim. The seeming contradiction is enough to leave one entirely baffled. But we are going to look at this in light of the whole Biblical balance and a study of the related texts, and thereby discover the TRUTH of the matter, which is hidden just under the surface.

The thrust of the passage is that God was sovereignly at work in the hardening of the reprobate within Israel. This shows the sovereignty of God in man's salvation, and that's the essence of Calvinism, plain and simple. No problems with this generality, but what about the particulars?

The Theological Trouble Begins Here

What indeed shall we do with this: God is said to harden and blind people who, according to the doctrines of grace, are already hardened and already blind! If everyone is totally depraved, there is no need for God to actively harden the reprobate. All He has to do is leave sinners in their natural condition, for their eyes are indeed blind and their hearts are already hardened. So, all at once we have an apparent and implied denial of total depravity (a sure defeater to all Calvinism) and an apparent affirmation of active reprobation (a necessary tenet in the more hyper brands of Calvinism). Worst of all, God appears malevolent, as though people are trying to believe, ready to have their eyes opened, but He isn't letting them simply because He wants to bring them to destruction. It seems we may have to completely re-work our understanding of soteriology (the Biblical doctrine of how God saves people) to make sense out of this passage. Perhaps we will be forced into some sort of hybrid that includes elements of both Pelagianism and Hyper-Calvinism! But at the same time we would find ourselves fighting other Scriptural truths - such as total depravity (which is clearly taught), and the ultra-foundational issue of the sheer goodness/kindness/benevolence of God. What to do? What to do!?

Before we abandon reason and Biblical faith to go off on a wild theological goose chase that might lead us to a "newer" and "better" theology, let's spend a little more time (and effort) examining the Scriptures. Too many have used just such cases as this to justify their departure from orthodoxy. Sadly, this only reveals the very type of unbelief John is warning us against.

NOTE: Arminianism offers us no help here. Total depravity is the ONE tenet of Calvinism that is affirmed in classical Arminianism. And if one seeks refuge in "open theism," that is also defeated by God's blinding and hardening of the reprobate. All man-centered theology falls flat if God has ANY REAL sovereignty at all in the matter of salvation. The question here is, how can we maintain the Biblical doctrine of divine sovereignty without painting God as unloving, unkind, capricious or unjust? I will argue that a Biblically balanced Calvinism best explains all of the Biblical data.

Who Hardened Whose Heart?

After quoting Isaiah 53:1, John mentions the following passage from Isaiah 6 . . .

Isaiah 6:8-13 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go, and tell this people: ‘keep on listening, but do not perceive; keep on looking, but do not understand.’ Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” Then I said, “Lord, how long?” And He answered, “Until cities are devastated and without inhabitant, houses are without people and the land is utterly desolate, the LORD has removed men far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. Yet there will be a tenth portion in it, and it will again be subject to burning, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.”

Read this through a couple of times, and let the meaning sink in. This is God's response to "seeker sensitive ministry." God notes that people aren't looking for Him, rather they are rejecting Him. Unrepentant sinners can pretend to be looking and listening, and "searching," but apart from real repentance, real spiritual sight, a real hearing and taking to heart of the Word of God, all of the preaching and teaching is only making them more resistant to divine overtures.

Notice that the passage is not phrased the way John puts it. John says God hardened the hearts of the people, but in the original passage God told Isaiah to harden their hearts. Rather than seeing this as a contradiction, we should recognize John's intent: to magnify the sovereignty of God. Though people chose freely and voluntarily to harden their hearts, God's sovereignty was nonetheless entirely in control of the situation. What He did through Isaiah, HE did. The prophet was His instrument, but the ends achieved were God's Own ends.

How did God achieve these ends? Here we come to the heart of the matter. The means by which Isaiah was to harden the hearts of Israel was the preaching of God's Word. The same message that effectually draws out the elect for salvation also hardens the reprobate into a more settled state of unbelief. Like Pharaoh, the people of Israel had already hardened their hearts and closed their eyes. Because they lacked faith, God's commands to them through the prophet only served to deepen the conditions that already existed in them. So Isaiah is making hard hearts even more stubborn simply by proclaiming the truth. Here we see the terrible reality of total depravity: apart from electing grace, sinful man can get worse, but not better. Apart from faith, the Word is always unprofitable to us. This is not due to a lack of grace in God, but man's ongoing choice to reject the grace that is offered. It is not that man is seeking God and sincerely looking for Him, but is being prevented by a hateful Deity. No, no, no! Man has utterly rebelled against the Sovereign One, though God has given him - and continues to give him - every reason to repent. The passage is not presenting a defeater to total depravity, but instead is radically affirming it! Thus we conclude that sinful man is all at once totally depraved and fully responsible and choosing freely and unable to do otherwise without help from God. These are sensible paradoxes, but to the fallen mind they are loathesome.

NOTE: here's some gasoline to throw on the fire: II Corinthians 4:4 says the "god of this world" (i.e., satan) has "blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." The paradoxes only deepen when we realize satan has his own evil role in the process of reprobation, yet God is still fully sovereign and man is still responsibly choosing.

Looking Through the Eyes of our Hearts

On to the NEXT BIG QUESTION: why would God NOT elect many of the individuals within His chosen nation? Why would some in Israel be left hardened and blinded? For the answer, we must turn to Paul's lengthy discussion in Romans 9 through 11. We must be careful not to approach this question with our native human logic at the forefront. We can only understand these matters by grace, through faith, and without our humanistic, limited, earth-bound "reasoning" fogging up the glass. Our false, natural ideas are constantly breathing over the surface of our hearts, which function as a spiritual lens, as it were. Because of this fog, we're not going to see eternal things as clearly as God does. But we can see them to some extent, and in fact we must grasp the basics if we are to get any rest for our troubled minds when it comes to this matter of divine election and the fate of the non-elect.

Extending the heart-lens analogy a little further, we might say that Arminians and Hyper-Calvinists tend to demand hard human logic, which is the equivalent of purposely breathing all over the glass and then using one's fingers to draw out 2-dimensional mathematical equations. Voila, they say, it's sooooo simple! Sure, it's simple if you refuse to examine the balance of Scripture, and if you never gaze into the dimensions of eternity where human reasoning starts to disintegrate and God's transcendent TRUTH comes into focus - knowable, but beyond the grasp of human minds. Yes, TRUTH is bigger than the mind of man. Let's clear off the glass and look beyond the human logic (and above it) to discover the thoughts of God. Our approach is to STOP BREATHING, hold our breath for a moment, and gaze through with eyes of faith, folding our hands together, calming our hearts before God, and keeping our grubby fingers out of the way. Anyhow, this is the aim. And in this posture, what do we see?

Paul's Answer: God is Sovereign Over All

Paul says: "So then, it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Romans 9:16) . . . So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires (Romans 9:18) . . . Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles (Romans 9:21-24) . . . Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, 'though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved.' (Romans 9:27) . . . However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed our report?' So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:16-17) . . . But as for Israel He says, 'All the day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and obstinate people.' (Romans 10:21) . . . I say then, God has not rejected His people, has he? May it never be! (Romans 11:1) . . . God has not rejected His people, whom He foreknew (Romans 11:2) . . . there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God's gracious choice (Romans 11:5) . . . What then? What Israel was seeking it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written, 'God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes to see not and ears to hear not, down to this very day.' And David says, 'Let their table become a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block and a retribution to them. Let their eyes be darkened to see not, and bend their backs forever.' I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles . . . (Romans 11:7-13)

Notice that God's intention in hardening and blinding the reprobate is not so much to destroy the reprobate as it is to "make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy." Notice that this hardening is actually an expression of His patience, not a manifestation of His wrath!

In the Biblical picture we see GOD, saving, BY GRACE, a people of HIS OWN CHOOSING, for HIS OWN GLORY, and bringing about a beautiful work by redeeming believing sinners. We see the fruit of Christ's work on the cross! We see God's infinite goodness in action! We catch sight of His eternal glory! And this glory is magnified by two things:

1. God's JUSTICE in bringing wrath on the unbelieving.
2. God's MERCY in saving His elect.

He is stretching out his hands toward the elect and the non-elect ALL THE DAY LONG, drawing all men to Himself - even though most continue steadfastly in their refusal of His mercy.

It's Just Plain Bible-ism

This isn't just Calvinism, it's Paul-ism, and it's John-ism, and it's Isaiah-ism, and it's Jesus-Christ-ism, and it's Bible-ism. Who has believed their message? Do you believe it?

I do not ask if you can explain it (I am fairly sure you can't), but only if you believe . . .

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Take Time to Laugh (at yourself)

There was a reason I decided to post this video, but I can't remember what it was. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A God-Centered Defense of the Biblical Doctrine of Hell

Editor's Note: In a recent post, I pointed out that a Biblical understanding of sin takes the mystery out of the doctrine of hell and places it back in the doctrines of grace, where it belongs. The author of a book called, "Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell" took exception to my overt affirmation of the reality of hell. I was headed out of town for the weekend and could not respond to his comments, so I asked my friend Chris DeVidal to respond. And I'm glad I did. Here's the thoughtful and God-exalting response written by Chris . . .

The basis of your argument is:

* We didn't ask to be born, and yet we are damned
* Infinite punishment could not possibly be merited by a finite crime
* Jesus seemingly preached against hell in Luke 9:51-56

Editor's Note: The first assertion is the height of ingratitude. The second is inaccurate due to a low view of sin (which springs from a low view of God, as Mr. DeVidal is about to demonstrate). The third is a gross misinterpretation of Scripture that any first year Bible student could dismantle with ease. But let's allow Chris to answer, he does a better job . . .

Please allow me to answer these three points with one question:

What motivates God to do all that He does?

Why the creation? Why the cross?

You might say, "love."
And that's a good answer, but it needs more refinement.
I think you might mean, "love for humans."

Tell me, what did God (the Father) love before He created us?
I think there can only be one answer, the Son.

Who is the Son?
Deity. God.

If you don't agree with me on this point we have a different discussion. So let's assume you agree.

So what motivates God?
Love. For Himself.

Don't take my word for it. Ask yourself what motivated Him to save when you read Isaiah 48:9-11.

Or John 17:1 Glorify Your Son, that Your Son may glorify You.
Or John 14:13 ... so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.
Or John 16:14 He will bring glory to Me ...
Or Acts 12:23 ... because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down ...
Or Psalm 25:11 For the sake of Your name ... forgive my iniquity ...
Or Romans 9:17 I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed ...
Or Exodus 14:4 ... I will gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all his army ...
Or Isaiah 43:25 I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake ...
Or Habakkuk 2:14 For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord ...
Or Ezekiel 20:14 But for the sake of My name I did what would keep it from being profaned ...
Or Psalm 106:7-8 Yet He saved them for His name’s sake,to make His mighty power known.
Or Isaiah 43:6-7 ... everyone who is called by My name,whom I created for My glory ...
Or Jeremiah 13:11 ... to be my people for My renown and praise and honor.
Or 1 Samuel 12:20-22 ... For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject his people ...
Or 1 Corinthians 10:31 ... do it all for the glory of God.
Or Ezekiel 36:22-23, 32 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. ... I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Or 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of His power on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

(Reminder, God wrote those verses about Himself.)

Want more proof?
How about the biggest book in the Bible: The Psalms.

What are the Psalms' basic content?
Praise God!
Praise God!

Praise God!

The Psalms were written by God. So what He's really saying is,
Praise Me!
Praise Me!
Praise Me!

What motivates God most is love for Himself.

By beginning with the assumption that God revolves around man, you are led down a terrible road - even to the point of inventing a different god than what is found in the Bible.

This is called idolatry.
(I don't know if you're an idolator, but the warning must be clear: assume that man comes first and you will become one.)

I'm not sure you were aware of this assumption. I know of very, very, very few people who have asked and Biblically answered the question, "What motivates God?" Not even me. But you must ask this question to rightly understand the Bible. When you see that God is motivated by love for Himself, the Bible falls into place. Your life will radically change for the better. Trust me.

So if God loves Himself above all things, how does that presuppose the doctrine of Hell?

Let me explain . . .

God is infinitely worthy.

Worthy of exaltation.
Worthy of majesty.
Worthy of respect.

Worthy of praise.
Worthy of honor.
Worthy of glory.

Worthy of song.

Worthy of all!
He is WORTHY of obeying, simply because He is worthy.

Now, what is sin?

What is sin but a rebellion against His command? What a TERRIFIC insult to His honor!!! He said "don't do it," we say, "you're not worthy of obeying." On the basis of His worth alone, He should be respected, listened to, agreed with, obeyed. He is supreme over all!

If He says jump, our only answer ought to be, "How high?" Simply because He is worthy of obedience.

David the Psalmist agreed. He sinned against Uriah and Bathsheba and his son and dragged all of Israel down into scandal, thus sinning against literally millions of people. Yet he wrote these words:

Against You, You only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in Your sight

(Psalm 51:4a ESV)


so that You may be justified in Your words
and blameless in Your judgment.

(Psalm 51:4b ESV)

Another way to consider sin is it is deeds that would be done only if He isn't really there.

If a dignitary, some royalty or ambassador, visits your house and you go about your life as if he were not there, you would greatly insult him. How would your and my life change if Jesus knocked on our door and said, "I'll be following you around from now on, listening to your thoughts, words, watching your actions and judging your fears." Would you act or think differently?

To the degree that you would change, there is unbelief that He really is watching, that He really does exist. This belittles Him. God will not tolerate belittling of His name for very long.

He is most motivated by love for His own self-worth.

Tell me, what would it communicate about His opinion of Himself if there was no punishment for those who belittled the worth of His great name, the name that He loves?

What if He did nothing to uphold the worth of His great name?


If God were not to uphold the glory of God, God would deny God the glory that God deserves. God would be heaping scorn upon God. That would be blasphemous!

Let us consider even the smallest little grumbling about the weather, alone in your car on the way home from work. I was guilty of this a few weeks ago.

What are we really saying?

First, we say that God doesn't know what He is doing. Don't you see that He is watering the plants to feed you? He doesn't have to. He could let you try to make plants grow all on your own, without any water at all anywhere on the earth.

Second, we say that God doesn't love His creatures to send this providence. There are literally MILLIONS of people on earth shaking their fist in His face, and He gives them a sandwich. What a tremendously loving, patient God this must be!

Third, we say that God doesn't exist. When we complain to the air about circumstances, we are effectually complaining that He sent the circumstances. We would never, never, never, never, never question His providence if He were sitting in the car next to us. This belittles His great name. God will not tolerate belittling His name for long.

Grumbling under our breath to ourselves about the rain must be an infinite affront to the majesty and authority and worth of HIS GREAT NAME.

What an amazing God, then, who visits the furious wrath deserved upon those who grumble about His rain. He visits the full fury of hell, upon His Son, who gladly volunteered for the job "for the joy that was set before him." (Hebrews 12:2 ESV)

I CANNOT believe I get to worship this God!

What a God!
What a God!
What a God!

In summary, hell is a doctrine that is demanded by an understanding of the nature of the God of the Bible. Period.

If you don't agree, you have to deny the core, fundamental essense of who God is.

Ultimately, in order to escape these Biblical truths, you must create another god.

This is called idolatry.


* God loves Himself above all things, and does all that He does to bring glory to Himself.

* God is worthy of all, and worth giving glory to.

* Even the slightest grumble under your breath, alone by yourself where no one hears, is worth an infinite amount of punishment. (Indeed, I did not say this earlier but an infinite amount of punishment in hell really isn't enough to pay for just one of our crimes, let alone our multiplied crime upon crime. If hell didn't exist the trees and the rocks would SCREAM for justice!!)

* God would not be just to Himself if He did not mete out the just punishment on those who grumble under their breath.

* This God is amazing who visits the fury of infinite wrath upon Himself in order to show kindness to us, so that we will in turn bring Him the glory He deserves.


"...bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made." (Isaiah 43:6b-7 ESV)