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!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Whatever

Let's begin the new year with a fresh submission to the will of God, and break the hold of that lackadaisical and purposeless attitude which has flooded our age.
 
"We live in a day of 'whatever.' The problem is that 'whatever' is fate to - 'whatever happens.' The mantra I hear from post modernity is, 'I don't know, I don't care and I don't really matter.' This strikes at the truth and value of human life. This is preached in contemporary music, seen in art and read in literature. The technical terminology for ths frame of mind is agnosticism, narcissism and apathy. 'whatever' leads to hopelessness and hopelessness leads to apathy and apathy eventually leads to depression. This lethargic minded approach of interpreting life is very dangerous to the health of your soul. The attitude shift of repentance is 'Whate'er My God Ordains is Right.'"
 
-Pastor Craig Bowen of Lakeside Community Church (from a sermon delivered on Dec. 18, 2011)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Contradiction, Paradox and Mystery

I ran across this interesting video on YouTube. These guys do a good job of discussing issues close to the heart of THEOparadox. Don't you agree?


DISCLAIMER: with a little further research, I discovered the main speaker here is Alex Locay, and the questioner is Eric Purtic. Both are instructors at the Ravi Zacharias School of Apologetics, which is associated with Calvary Chapel in Ft. Lauderdale. The two have produced lots of apologetics videos, some of which are very good. However, given the prevailing anti-Calvinist stance of Calvary Chapel (not to mention Ravi Zacharias' commitment to the free will doctrine), some of the videos should be taken with large grains of salt. Use caution. No apologist is great on every topic, but Locay and Purtic provide well informed arguments on some of the important ones.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A.A. Hodge on the Mystery of Incarnation

My mother-in-law was going to give me a $25 gift certificate to Redeemed Books, a used Christian bookstore in Springfield, MO with quite a large inventory. As I happened to be going there yesterday to shop for some gifts, she said, "Just pick up $25 worth of books for yourself and put it on our account." Nice! Pre-buying theology books for my own Christmas gift. What could be better? Here's what I got:
 
1. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
2. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner
3. Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine by A.A. Hodge
 
A.A. Hodge of Princeton
Each of them is a treasure, but I have found Hodge's book especially insightful. His writing style is direct and pointed, and every paragraph is laden with useful insights. Following are a few excerpts from his chapter on the Person of Christ:
"It is the grand distinction of Christianity that all its doctrines and all its forces centre in the Person of its Founder and Teacher. . . . the entire system, from foundation to superstructure, rests upon and derives its life from the Person of its Founder. The question of questions is what he was, rather than what he taught." (p. 184)
 
"The Person of the incarnate God is unique. His birth has had no precedents and his existence no analogy. He cannot be explained by being referred to a class, nor can he be illustrated by an example. The Scriptures, while clearly and fully revealing all the elements of his Person, yet never present in one formula an exhaustive definition of that Person, nor a connected statement of the elements which constitute it and their mutual relations. The impression is all the more vivid because it is made, as in a picture, by an exhibition of his Person in action - an exhibition in which the divinity and humanity are alike immediately demonstrated by the self-revelation of their attributes in action; and this unique personality, as it surpasses all analogy, also transcends all understanding. The proud intellect of man is constantly aspiring to remove all mysteries and to subject the whole sphere of existence to the daylight of rational explanation. Such attempts are constantly ending in the most grotesque failure. Even in the material world it is true that omnia exeunt in mysterium ["everything comes out to mystery"]. If we cannot explain the relation which the immaterial soul sustains to the organized body in the person of man, why should we be surprised to find that all attempts to explain the intimate relations which the eternal Word and the human soul and body sustain to each other in the Person of Christ have miserably failed?" (pp. 185-186)
"And undoubtedly we freely admit just here that in the constitution of the Person of the God-man lies the, to us, absolutely insoluble mystery of godliness. How is it possible that the same Person can be at the same time infinite and finite, ignorant and omniscient, omnipotent and helpless? How can two complete spirits coalesce in one Person? how can two consciousnesses, two understandings, two memories, two imaginations, two wills, constitute one Person? All this is involved in the scriptural and Church doctrine of the Person of Christ. Yet no one can explain it. The numerous attempts made to explain or to expel this mystery have only filled the Church with heresies and obscured the faith of Christians."  (p. 187)
 
"There is one obvious respect in which the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Person of Christ agree, and one in which they no less obviously differ. They agree in that both alike utterly transcend all experience, all analogy, and all adequate grasp of human reason. But they differ in that, while the mystery of the Trinity is that one Spirit should exist eternally as three distinct Persons, the mystery of the person of Christ is that two distinct spirits should for evermore constitute but one Person. If you give due attention to the difficulties involved in each of these divinely revealed doctrines, you would be able a priori to anticipate all possible heresies which have been evolved in the course of history. All truth is catholic [i.e. universal or comprehensive]; it embraces many elements, wide horizons, and therefore involves endless difficulties and apparent inconsistencies. The mind of man seeks for unity, and tends prematurely to force a unity in the sphere of his imperfect knowledge by sacrificing one element of the truth or other to the rest. This is eminently true of all rationalists. They are clear and logical at the expense of being superficial and half-orbed. Heresy . . . means an act of choice, and hence division, the picking and choosing a part, instead of comprehensively embracing the whole of the truth. Almost all heresies are partial truths - true in what they affirm, but false in what they deny." (pp. 190-191)
"I adore a Christ who is absolutely one - who is at the same time pure, unmixed, unchanged God, and pure, unmixed, unchanged man - and whose Person, it its wholeness and its fulness, is available throughout all space and throughout all time to those who trust him and love his appearing." (p. 200)
 
A.A. Hodge, Evangelical Theology: Lectures on Doctrine, Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976 (first published 1890), bolding and bracketed portions mine.
Note that he practically states the THEOparadox thesis in the fourth excerpt. We in the Reformed/Calvinistic tradition in this day need to heed Hodge's wise words forewarning us against the creeping rationalism that would deny one truth in order to affirm another. This Christmas, enjoy the blessed paradox of our wonderful Savior in His mysterious incarnation - fully God and fully man.
 
Now, where did I put those t-shirts?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wayne Grudem on Spirit Baptism

Early on Thursday mornings, my pastor meets with men from our church to work through a chapter or two of Grudem's Systematic Theology. This week we went over chapter 39: "Baptism In and Filling With the Holy Spirit - Should we seek a 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' after conversion? What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?" It's a great topic and those are good questions.
  
Grudem's approach is refreshing and interesting. As a former Pentecostal who is now essentially Reformed (but still committed to the continuation of spiritual gifts), I found his thoughts enlightening.

WHAT IS IT?

Grudem begins by delineating the basic Pentecostal understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. His rendering is fair and accurate. He then examines the seven New Testament passages dealing directly with the subject. Appealing to a consistent interpretation of these passages, Grudem offers a strong argument for Spirit baptism occurring at the point of conversion rather than subsequent to it. Next, he answers the possible tensions his interpretation might create when compared with several passages in the book of Acts. The result is a cogent, Biblical understanding that properly accounts for Spirit baptism as a soteriological event linked directly to regeneration.

TWO CLASSES?

Having neatly dispensed with the idea of a "second blessing" on solid exegetical grounds, Grudem addresses a more practical problem with the Pentecostal understanding: the creation of a two-class Christianity that (perhaps inadvertently) places Spirit-baptized believers above ordinary Christians who have not experienced Spirit baptism. Pentecostals, however, are not alone in this regard. Grudem effectively illustrates how other theological systems have created similar two-class systems. Roman Catholic hierarchy is mentioned, along with several run-of-the-mill sanctification errors. Noticeably absent from this discussion is the two-class doctrinal system, commonly found among the Reformed, which views anyone outside of our doctrinal camp as a second-class or "unenlightened" believer. However, this problem is more subtle because it is not inherently and obviously linked to Reformed doctrine as it is to Pentecostal doctrine. Among the Reformed, it is more an issue of pride than a direct effect of the theology itself. In fact, it is doubly ironic because it is directly counter to our theology. But I digress . . .

SPIRIT-FILLED SANCTIFICATION

Grudem moves from Spirit baptism to a discussion of the Biblical idea of being "Spirit-filled." He notes that all believers are commanded to be filled with the Spirit, and proposes that the Pentecostal "second blessing" experience can potentially be viewed as genuine Spirit filling that has been mistakenly called "Spirit baptism." He calls for all believers to seek the filling of the Holy Spirit for increased sanctification and service. An understanding of progressive sanctification undergirds this teaching and serves as the ideal antidote to the concept of a "second blessing."

THE SPIRIT'S WORK IN CONVERSION AND SANCTIFICATION

To summarize Grudem's emphases: Spirit baptism is connected to conversion; Spirit filling is an element of sanctification and an empowerment for service. Being "filled with the Spirit" is a continuous pursuit that should be experienced repeatedly by believers who are maturing. We can expect the ongoing and revolutionizing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The difference this makes is not a matter of reaching a higher plane, but an issue of maturity and progress in sanctification. It should never be the dividing line between separate classes or types of Christian.

WHAT ABOUT TONGUES?

In his final point, Grudem argues that the gift of tongues is a possible result of being filled with the Spirit, but not a necessary result. I find this view sensible and Biblical. 


CONCLUSION

Spirit baptism is not to be sought. It is to be affirmed and rejoiced in as a part of the overall conversion experience. Spirit filling, on the other hand, is to be pursued vigorously. There is no room for a two-class Christianity that elevates the "spiritual" above the "unspiritual." At the same time, there is no place for a cold and lifeless spirituality that neglects the ongoing and dynamic work of the Holy Spirit. Abandoning those unbiblical extremes, all believers should engage instead in a relentless pursuit of the Spirit's sanctifying and empowering work.


To hear Dr. Grudem speak on this subject, click here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Common Grace and Saving Grace: Flood Light and Spotlight

Here's an important fact to remember about Common Grace and Saving Grace: one never negates the other, as if one were darkness and the other light. Both are lights. They can strengthen one another, but they can never darken or diminish one another.

Some in the Reformed tradition, having accepted the glorious doctrine of unconditional election, begin to view everything through "election glasses" which tend to limit every aspect of God's nature and action.
  
Election Glasses may be stylish and comfortable,
but they can be theologically reductionistic.

It is dangerous to start building our theology with the divine act of election and then read that back into every other divine attribute and action. Some would reason this way: "God only elects some so He must only love some" ... however, God in His Word veritably shouts the exact opposite! Why not say, "God only elects some, so He only has the power to save some?" No Christian would ever say that, yet God has never defined Himself in Scripture as "power," while He has defined Himself emphatically as "love."


A spotlight is directed toward a limited and particular area
The fact that God loves the elect in a special way does not negate His general love for all, any more than an effectual call can negate the reality of a general one. Both work together.
  
Election is a type of love, but it is not the only kind. Election magnifies God's love; it does not shrink His love. Election extends His love to include the salvation of certain worthless wretches ("election according to grace"); it does not rescind His love from the rest. Election makes His willingness to save (all) effectual (in the case of some), but it does not remove His love or His willingness to save from the rest. Election simply takes a general willingness to save and makes it a FIRM WILL to save. In other words, the spotlight of Saving Grace does not unplug the flood light of Common Grace. Both work together in perfect harmony without conflict or negation. Both shed positive light, but in different ways and to different ends. They may be two different kinds of lights, but both are lights indeed.
  
A flood light provides a general ambiance of light

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Great Musician I Just Discovered

I stumbled across Kees Kraayenoord while searching for some music on YouTube. Apparently he's Dutch, and he's produced some spectacular music!
 
MIGHTY IS THE POWER OF THE CROSS - Kees Kraayenoord
 
HOLD ON TO YOU FOREVER - Kees Kraayenoord
 
FOR THE CROSS - Kees Kraayenoord


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanks be to God ...

... For His inexpressible gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

The context of this phrase:
The Corinthians have embraced the Gospel.
The Gospel's work in them has made them generous.
There is a continuous flow of giving and receiving from genuinely generous hearts.
The result is more thanksgiving and praise and glory to God - and more giving and receiving among believers.
Needs are abundantly met and there is great joy!
Paul adds this phrase at the end to remind them who gave first and who gave most.

The gift was is inexpressible, so the praise will be eternal!

Here are a few photos taken around the City Center in Port Orange, Florida.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nouthetic Counseling and Discipleship Training

Brad Bigney shares a Biblical
Perspective on Worry and Fear
This weekend my pastor and I attended the third installment of NANC Counseling and Discipleship Training at Christian Family Chapel in Jacksonville, FL. Over three weekends, we received an introduction to the basics and fundamentals, and we hope to pursue more education in this area in the future. My former pastor, Brad Bigney, was one of the featured speakers. It has been wonderful to sit again before this man whom God used at a critical time in my life. Soon after I first met Brad back in 2000, my marriage fell apart and my wife and I were separated for two and a half years. We are walking miracles, now committed to our family and working hard to raise up our children in the ways of the Lord! We have received such mercy at the hands of our God, who not only forgave and accepted us, but also lives in us and transforms us by His Word. As I sat next to my current pastor, Craig Bowen, it struck me how perfectly God has provided for the care of my family under faithful servants of Christ.

The 30 hour NANC training course was amazing. Some of the other featured speakers were:

Randy Patten - Executive Director of NANC. He is a solid, hard-hitting preacher and teacher with vast counseling experience and lots of insightful lessons to share.
Stuart Scott - Associate Professor of Biblical Counseling at SBTS and Department Coordinator of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College. Dr. Scott served 10 years under John MacArthur at Grace Community Church. He is a pioneer in the art of Biblical Counseling and a man of great discernment.
Jim Newheiser - Pastor of Grace Bible Church of North San Diego County, CA and head of the Institute for Biblical Counseling and Discipleship. He is a wise, balanced thinker.
Nicolas Ellen - Pastor of Community of Faith Bible Church in Houston, TX. He is a great speaker with energy and passion for the Truth!
Dan Gannon, MD and Pam Gannon, RN - This husband/wife team includes an orthopedic surgeon and a registered nurse who share valuable insights regarding medical issues in counseling. They are thorough and extremely helpful in their analysis of challenging topics.
Andrew Rogers - Pastor of Sunrise Community Church in Atlantic Beach, FL. He is a solid preacher and teacher with a gift for exposition and application.

A key concept shared by several of the speakers is the fact that humanity's problems revolve around two primary issues: sin and suffering. All suffering is a result of the fall, but not all suffering is the direct result of one's own sin. Often a counselor must confront sin, but sometimes he is simply called to offer comfort to an afflicted soul. The counselor is a fellow sinner and a fellow sufferer who desires to share God's grace. The goal is always to help the counselee to grow to become more like Christ, pleasing and glorifying God through the situation. NANC's overall perspective included a great deal of humility and nuance, while holding resolutely to the sufficiency of Scripture. Integrationist methods that attempt to reconcile secular psychology with Biblical theology were briefly critiqued, but the main focus was on the power and efficacy of the Word of God itself.

I have met a few people who have gotten a poor impression of nouthetic counseling. My suggestion would be to attend a NANC training course before believing any negative reports about what is taught. The things you actually hear might surprise you!

In conclusion, I highly recommend this training for any Christian who is interested in helping others and making disciples.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Grateful

Each day I live, I find I am more grateful for God's grace in my life.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sitting at the Leper's Table - by Horatius Bonar

Some edifying thoughts here from the Scottish revivalist, preacher, and hymn writer - Horatius Bonar. His text is Matthew 26:6 - "Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper . . ."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Can Biblical Paradoxes Be Reconciled?

Of course they can. By definition, a paradox is not an actual contradiction but an apparent one.
 
When we say that paradoxes are apparent contradictions, and not actual contradictions, we affirm that they can be logically reconciled. The important question is not whether they can be reconciled, but by whom. We must always affirm that any collection of true statements are logically reconciled in the mind of our wise and omniscient God.
 
But this prompts another question: can all Biblical paradoxes be logically reconciled by human beings?
 
The answer is "Yes" and "No." It is "Yes" because one remains hopeful that they can all be explained in some way by human beings. We are ingenious creatures capable of highly complex thought. Some who are intellectually gifted can come up with creative ways to explain just about anything. If there is a paradox that hasn't been theoretically "solved" by some philosopher or theologian, we can be sure it's only a matter of time before someone presents what they believe to be a logical solution.
 
This, however, brings up a third question: how much stock can we place in these solutions?
 
This is the critical point: the question of epistemological authority. In layman's terms, the question is: who or what is an authoritative source of knowledge? How can we know that a given logical explanation for a paradox is THE TRUE explanation - the one that reflects God's own knowledge of the matter?
 
We must say, "No, Biblical paradoxes cannot be reconciled by human beings," because apart from divine revelation we can't put complete faith in our explanations.

Another way of explaining this is by presenting the Christian's hierarchy of epistemological certainty. The top level represents the highest level of certainty we can possess, with our certainty decreasing as we move down.
 
___________________________________________
SPECIAL REVELATION (Scripture)
___________________________________________
GENERAL REVELATION (Creation, Conscience)
___________________________________________
EMPIRICAL KNOWLEDGE (Hard Science)
___________________________________________
REASON & OBSERVATIONS (Soft Science)
___________________________________________
INTUITION (Feelings & Senses)
___________________________________________
(This chart is adapted from notes taken during a lecture by Dr. Stuart Scott)
  
Attempted reconciliations of Biblical paradoxes are in the realm of metaphysics. That is, they belong to the category of soft sciences, being unsupported by direct revelation or empirical proof. We can swim around in mysteries, theorize and explore implications. But we can't KNOW anything outside of Scripture with an equal level of certainty. We lack the epistemological warrant to claim we have authoritatively reconciled any Biblical paradox. That is, unless Scripture itself provides the solution.

Thus, we are led back to the exegesis and exposition of Scripture - not mere philosophical speculation - as the best ways to grow in certainty regarding the Truth of God.

Isaiah 8:20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.

Thus, let us hold fast to the Word and leave the rest to God. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Calvinists Aflame for God

Some say Calvinism tends toward a cold, cerebral piety that is devoid of compassion. They claim Reformed theological convictions produce ineffective or just downright annoying Christians. In some cases this has undeniably been true. You can probably think of examples. 

Great. Point conceded.
 
On the other hand, many of the most zealous servants of Christ have been Calvinists. Some of the most pioneering, devoted, self-sacrificing missionaries in the history of the Church have been Calvinists. Many of the martyrs who have testified passionately and died for Christ's cause have been Calvinists. Many of the greatest devotional works - the ones that point to the glories of Christ and call us to love-inspired labors - were written by Calvinists. Newton, Bunyan, Spurgeon, Baxter, Whitefield and Watson come to mind.
 
How is it that some Calvinists have demonstrated such intense devotion, while others have gone flat? It's a good question, and an important one. Below are a few thoughts about how we Calvinists can stay aflame for God, speaking Truth in love and maintaining the simplicity of devotion to Christ, even as we wrestle Calvin-style with the hard doctrines of Scripture and refuse to back away from any of their philosophical implications.

  • Never think about the doctrine of Total Depravity without considering your own sins. Especially your recent sins. Let the desperate plight of fallen humanity inspire a fresh compassion for the lost people around you.
  • Never think about the doctrine of Unconditional Election without reminding yourself that nothing in you influenced God's choice. That's what unconditional means. Know that it was purely of His mercy that He took pity on you and saved you.
  • Never think about Christ's atoning work without thanking Him for what He has done for you at the cross, and in the resurrection, and the way He applies that work to your life now. Be affected by how much you need the cross on a daily and moment-by-moment basis.
  • Never think about the doctrine of the Effectual Call without marveling that God miraculously changed your stony heart. 
  • Never think about the doctrines of the Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints without recognizing that all your godly fruit is an effect of Christ's unmerited mercy toward you. Remember that a lack of godly fruit is a sign of trouble that must move you to re-examine your heart. Don't use the doctrine of election to exempt yourself from this.
  • Never think about the sovereignty of God without surrendering yourself afresh to His glorious rule.
  • Never let logical deductions about the secret will of God lessen your adherence to His revealed will in the Scriptures. Don't get carried away by speculations.
  • Read plenty of Reformed books and blogs if you like, but devote yourself to the study and application of Scripture. Read the whole Bible and spend more effort applying it than thinking philosophically about it.
  • Share the Gospel regularly and stay involved in missions. Prove that you believe in the free offer of the Gospel.
  • Worship God alone. Don't let theology become your idol.
  • When you speak, boast in the goodness of God rather than just spouting theological facts you have learned.
  • Repent thoroughly, earnestly and often. Confess your sins to God daily, and rejoice in His outpoured grace daily. Repent to other people when you sin against them (it's wonderfully humbling).
  • Stay close to your Lord, and tremble if you gain a head full of knowledge without corresponding affections for Him.

Monday, November 07, 2011

I'm a 10-Point Calvinist

Reflecting on some previous posts concerning the Three Points of Common Grace and the Purpose and Potency of the Atoning work of Christ, I have concluded that I am a 10-Point Calvinist. I believe it is important to be a 10-point Calvinist (a.k.a. a 5-paradox Calvinist) because this maintains the balance of Biblical teaching concerning God's disposition toward the elect and the reprobate. I believe all 10 points are essential for any soteriology that is based on the Bible.
 
Most Calvinists agree that the ubiquitous "TULIP" is an insufficient summary of our core theology. This is not to say that it is completely inaccurate. It is a brilliant strand of truth (and a handy acronym) . . . but perhaps too narrow a strand.
 
5 Paradoxes of Calvinism: A Deep Vision of Sovereign Grace
 
PARADOX #1 - MAN
Humanity's Condition: Lost - yet Loved
1a. God's Pervasive Love for All of His Creatures (Psalm 145:9)
1b. Humanity's Pervasive Total Depravity and Spiritual Inability (John 6:44)
 
PARADOX #2 - GOD
God's Disposition: Willing to Save All - yet Sovereignly Selecting
2a. God's Saving Desire toward All Mankind (Ezekiel 18:31-32)
2b. God's Unconditional Election of Particular Sinners from Eternity (Ephesians 1:4-5)
 
PARADOX #3 - CROSS
Christ's Saving Work: Sufficient for all - yet Particular to the Elect
3a. Christ's Infinitely Sufficient Atonement for all Sinners (I John 2:2)
3b. God's Particular Redemption of the Elect through the atoning work of Christ (Matthew 1:21)
 
PARADOX #4 - CONVERSION
The Gospel Call: Offered to All - yet Effectual in the Elect
4a. The Free Offer of the Gospel to All Sinners (Matthew 11:28-30)
4b. The Effectual Call of the Elect by Irresistible Grace (Matthew 11:27)
 
PARADOX #5 - SANCTIFICATION
The Christian Life: Sinners by Nature - yet Saints by Grace
5a. The Struggle of the Saved Sinner in Sanctification (Romans 7:18-25)
5b. The Preservation and Perseverance of the Saints (John 10:27-29)

Arminians press the "a" statements to the point of denying God's sovereignty in salvation.
Hyper-Calvinists press the "b" statements to the point of denying God's goodness as expressed in His general love and willingness to save all. Mainstream Calvinists hold the balance. This is beautiful, Biblical Calvinism! 10 points worth of it.
 
A 10-Point Calvinist Faces Off with an Arminian
Putting it another way . . .

1. God loves all people. 
2. Sin has rendered all people pervasively depraved and unable to repent on their own.
3. God desires the salvation of all people.
4. From eternity, God unconditionally elects some sinners to salvation.
5. Christ's shed blood was and is a sufficient atonement for all people.
6. God's special intention in the atonement was to redeem a particular people.
7. In the Gospel, God freely offers His atoning mercy to all people.
8. God effectually calls and irresistibly draws the elect by sovereign, saving grace.
9. The saints are saved sinners.
10. Those who are truly converted will persevere in faith to the end.
 
John Piper considers becoming a 10-pointer
 
Just don't preach a 10-point sermon!




Saturday, November 05, 2011

Saved by Works

I recently came to the realization that I am saved by works. This realization did not result from a change in my theology, nor did it result in a theological change. It actually reinforced the Biblically-grounded "Sola Fide" and "Sola Gratia" convictions I have long held. Believe me, this is a core Reformed conviction.
 
I'll say it again another way: all who have been saved have been saved by works. No one can be saved apart from works. I know, it sounds like heresy, but take a moment to read the rest of this article before passing judgment on the idea.
 
Can we be saved by works and still hold to Sola Fide and Sola Gratia? Yes, absolutely!
 
The question is not whether we are saved by works, but whose work saves. We can only be saved by the work of Christ. We cannot be saved by our own works. This is just another way of saying we must be saved by faith alone. All we bring to the equation is faith. God brings the rest, and He does the work. Saving faith, of course, can never be produced from within ourselves. It is granted us from God, and Christ is the Author of it. Saving sinners is His work. Granting repentance and faith is His work. Bearing sin is His work. Dying for unworthy wretches is His work. Raising the dead is His work. Forgiving the guilty is His work. Justifying the ungodly is His work. Sanctifying and keeping and glorifying believers is His work.
 
So if you are saved, it is by works! God's works. 
 
And when we recognize that we are the sinners, the ungodly, the weak fools who have proudly turned from God's mercy, we cannot imagine that there would ever be any work we could do that could possibly save us. Not in a million years. Not in an eternity.

John 4:34 Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work."

John 6:29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent."

Philippians 1:6 For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.


 
To be saved by grace through faith is to be saved by good works - but not by our own works. We are saved by the works of Christ Jesus our Lord alone.
 
Thus we say . . .

Sola Fide!
Sola Gratia!
Solus Christus!
Soli Deo Gloria!
 
And all of that is a consequence of this:
 
Sola Scriptura!

Editor's Note: I wrote this article a while back, and had decided not to post it. However, when I saw this post from Eddie Eddings, I changed my mind. I guess we were on the same page.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Looking for a New Job

For the last 5 years, I have worked as a marketing manager for a great company. Due to circumstances beyond my control, today will be my last day at this job. As this turn of events was somewhat unexpected, please pray that God will open my eyes to the direction He is leading.
 
I'm looking forward to a new opportunity. God is good.
 
Soli Deo Gloria!



Friday, October 28, 2011

Solving the Baptism Debate

Recently I've seen some heated debates over baptism. Should we sprinkle infants or immerse believers

Why not just immerse infants like the Eastern Orthodox Church does? 
(I'm only kidding, but they are totally serious about this solution)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

FYI

I'm married to the most awesome woman on the planet!

Just thought I'd mention that.

Marriage is not a sprint. It's a marathon (with high hurdles). We all get weary along the way. We grow tired of putting the interests of others ahead of our own, dying to self, preferring one another in love, considering others more important than ourselves, speaking the truth in love, and bearing one another's burdens. That's not easy stuff, no matter how beautiful, talented or fun your spouse may be.

But here's what I've noticed in 15 years of marriage: when I do love my wife in any measure with our Lord's kind of self-sacrificing, practical love, there comes to my heart an inexpressible joy. Although It's hard to die to self, it's a JOY to live as Christ would live. Marriage is the perfect opportunity for sacrifice, for servanthood, for discipleship, for cross-bearing, for pain, for heartbreak, for perseverance, for suffering . . . and for glorious JOY!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ungracious Cows

From Charles Spurgeon:
 
"I will judge between cattle and cattle." (Ezekiel 34:22) 
 
Some are fat and flourishing, and therefore they are unkind to the feeble. This is a grievous sin and causes much sorrow. Those thrustings with side and with shoulder, those pushings of the diseased with the horn, are a sad means of offense in the assemblies of professing believers. The Lord takes note of these proud and unkind deeds, and He is greatly angered by them, for He loves the weak. 
 
Is the reader one of the despised? Is he a mourner in Zion and a marked man because of his tender conscience? Do his brethren judge him harshly? Let him not resent their conduct; above all let him not push and thrust in return. Let him leave the matter in the Lord's hands. He is the Judge. Why should we wish to intrude upon His office? He will decide much more righteously than we can. His time for judgment is the best, and we need not be in a hurry to hasten it on. Let the hard-hearted oppressor tremble. Even though he may ride roughshod over others with impunity for the present, all his proud speeches are noted, and for every one of them account must be given before the bar of the great Judge. 
 
Patience, my soul! Patience! The Lord knoweth thy grief. Thy Jesus hath pity upon thee!
  
(Charles Spurgeon, Faith's Checkbook - "He of Tender Conscience")
 
Here's an audio version for your listening pleasure: 
 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Slander and Defamation

Mike Abendroth's "No Compromise Radio" podcast is a place where one can often hear sharp critiques of false teaching. If you've listened to the show, you know he is not namby pamby or conflict-avoidant; he's a real pastor with a discerning Biblical mind and no hesitation about demolishing heresy. However, Abendroth knows the difference between valiantly standing for Biblical Truth and merely blasting an opponent by unfair and ungodly means. Last year he did a great show on Slander and Defamation. Be warned, it is convicting.

Click HERE to listen

Abendroth exposits James 4:11 and surveys other Scripture verses relevant to the topic, then gives several useful applications and illustrations.

He offers this helpful distinction between proper discernment ministry and ungodly attack: 
"I will gladly and often critique what people teach; but I don't think you've heard me say things about them personally to attack their character and attack their person."  
That is a helpful distinction to keep in mind.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

GOD'S FREE AND SINCERE OFFER: Calvin on Isaiah 65:1-6

2. I have stretched out my hands. He accuses the Jews, and complains of their ingratitude and rebellion; and in this manner he proves that there is no reason why they should say that the Lord does them wrong if he bestow his grace on others. The Jews conducted themselves proudly and insolently toward God, as if they had been elected through their own merit. On account of their ingratitude and insolence the Lord rejects them as unworthy, and complains that to no purpose did he "stretch out his hands" to draw and bring them back to him.
 
By "the stretching out of the hands" he means the daily invitation. There are various ways in which the Lord "stretches out his hands to us;" for he draws us to him, either effectually or by the word. In this passage it must relate chiefly to the word. The Lord never speaks to us without at the same time "stretching out his hand" to join us to himself, or without causing us to feel, on the other hand, that he is near to us. He even embraces us, and shews the anxiety of a father, so that, if we do not comply with his invitation, it must be owing entirely to our own fault. The heinousness of the guilt is greatly aggravated by long continuance, that, during a long succession of ages, God did not cease to send one Prophet after another, and even, as he says elsewhere, to rise early in the morning and continue the same care till the evening. (Jer 7:13, 11:7, 35:14).
 
To a rebellious people. First, he calls them "rebellious" or disobedient, but immediately afterwards he declares what is the nature of that rebellion, namely, that the people walk after their own thoughts. Nothing is more displeasing to God than for men to be αὐθάδης "self-willed," (2 Pe 2:10); that is, devoted to their own inclinations; for he commands us to surrender our own judgment, that we may be capable of receiving the true doctrine. The Lord therefore testifies that it was not owing to him that he did not retain and continue to exercise towards them his wonted favor, but that they alienated themselves through their own madness, because they chose to abide by their own natural inclinations rather than to follow God as their leader.
 
Having pointed out the cause of this rejection, we must come to the calling of the Gentiles, who succeeded in the room of the Jews; for that is undoubtedly the subject treated in the first verse. The Lord had long ago foretold it by Moses, so that they ought not to have thought that there was anything new in this prediction.
"They have provoked me by that which is not God; they have moved me to anger by their vanities; and I also will provoke them by that which is not a people, by a foolish nation I will enrage them." (De 32:21).
Finally, the Prophet now threatens the same thing which was afterwards foretold by Christ when that blinding was at hand.
"The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and shall be given to a nation which shall bring forth fruit." (Mt 21:43).
1. To them that asked not. {1} When he says that God manifested himself "to them that asked not," he shews that the Gentiles were anticipated by the grace of God, and that they brought no merit or excellence as an inducement to God to give it to them. This obviously agrees with that passage which we quoted, in which Moses calls them "a foolish nation." (De 32:21). Thus, under a universal type, he describes what is the nature of men before the Lord anticipates them by his mercy; for they neither call on the Lord, nor seek him, nor think about him. And this passage ought to be carefully observed, in order to establish the certainty of our calling, which may be said to be the key that opens to us the kingdom of heaven; for by means of it peace and repose are given to our consciences, which would always be in doubt and uncertainty if they did not rest on such testimonies. We see, therefore, that it did not happen accidentally or suddenly that we were called by God and reckoned to be his people; for it had been predicted long before in many passages. From this passage Paul earnestly contends for the calling of the Gentiles, and says that Isaiah boldly exclaims and affirms that the Gentiles have been called by God, because he spoke more clearly and loudly than the circumstances of his own time required. Here we see, therefore, that we were called by an eternal purpose of God long before the event happened.
 
Behold I, behold I. By repeating these words twice, he confirms still more the declaration that God hath manifested himself in so friendly a manner to foreign and heathen nations, that they do not doubt that he dwells in the midst of them. And, indeed, that sudden change needed to be confirmed, because it was difficult to be believed; although by that very novelty the Prophet intended to magnify the unexpected grace of God. The meaning may be thus summed up: "When the Lord shall have offered himself to the Gentiles, and they shall have been joined to the holy family of Abraham, there will be some Church in the world, after the Jews have been driven out." Now we see that all that is here predicted by the Prophet was fulfilled by the Gospel, by which the Lord actually offered and manifested himself to foreign nations. Whenever, therefore, this voice of the Gospel is sounded in our ears, or when we record the word of the Lord, let us know that the Lord is present, and offers himself, that we may know him familiarly, and may call on him boldly and with assured confidence.
 
[Underlining and bolding added]
______________________________________________________________
 
NOTES:
  
Calvin incorporates Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, and the Effectual Call throughout these comments. He places affirmations of those doctrines alongside affirmations of the Gospel Offer, God's love for the reprobate, and His desire to save them. He does not view these truths as contradictory, but places them side by side. Why are so many of today's Calvinists unwilling to do the same?
 
Note how explicitly and emphatically Calvin speaks of God's sincere, desirous offer and invitation. Even when God's call is general and not effectual, Calvin says God's desire is "to join us to himself." Context shows the "us" here is fallen humanity, not just the elect. He even goes so far as to say God "embraces" the ones who reject Him. Calvin clearly believed that God calls the reprobate, loves the reprobate, and desires to save the reprobate (while at the same time not choosing to save them).
 
Calvin reasons that nothing on God's part prevents the reprobate from returning to Him. All the fault lies with the one who rejects God's call. The fact that God did not "decree" or foreordain their repentance in the secret counsel of His will is a separate issue. Calvin has no problem saying "they chose" to abandon God, while at the same time exhorting his readers not to follow their example.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

D.A. Carson on God's Love and Hate

"If the love of God refers exclusively to his love for the elect, it is easy to drift toward a simple and absolute  bifurcation: God loves the elect and hates the reprobate. Rightly positioned, there is truth in this assertion . . . Stripped of complementary Biblical truths, that same assertion has engendered hyper-Calvinism. I use the term advisedly, as it is used in Church History, referring to groups within the Reformed tradition that have forbidden the free offer of the Gospel. Spurgeon fought them in his day. Their number is not great in America today, but their echoes are found in young Reformed ministers who know it is right to offer the Gospel freely but who have no idea how to do it without contravening some element in their conception of Reformed theology."


http://mediafiles.dts.edu/chapel/mp3/19980105.mp3, emphasis added

Monday, October 17, 2011

Monday Morning Humor

Kevin DeYoung is in the habit of posting something funny on Mondays. So I decided to give it a try this week just for fun. But this one is a double header. 
 
First, we have an amazing song extolling the wonders of "free will" (actually, this is probably more sad than funny, but something about the song makes you want to laugh involuntarily). Please choose to watch this video.
 

 
I'm glad you chose to watch it.
 
Next, we have this great video entitled, "John Piper Preaches Against Calvinism." It really is a great video. The only thing funny about it is the title. It's funny that someone thinks this is preaching against Calvinism. I was really expecting something more or less un-Calvinistic, but instead there was just this . . .
 

 
There you have it! A clear contradiction of everything he's ever preached in the past!
 
Choose to have a great Monday, friends.

Friday, October 07, 2011

God's PRO-MANDS

Command + Promise = PRO-MAND

Here's an example: "Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you." (James 4:8a)

Do you see how the command and the promise go together as a set? For a believing child of God, the promise provides motivation to obey the command.

Here's another way to find a PRO-MAND: someone has said that under the New Covenant the 10 Commandments become 10 Promises. "You shall have no other gods before me . . ." What wonderful news this is when taken as a promise. It's a marvelous PRO-MAND!

Please take a moment to share more encouraging "PRO-MANDS" in the comments.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

We're at Disney World!

Thanks be to our God for the common grace of amusement parks.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.4

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Night of Weeping - Horatius Bonar

The writings and hymns of Horatius Bonar are never short on encouragements for the weary saint. This brief word of exhortation to sufferers is no exception. May it strengthen your heart.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Calvin on the Sufficiency of Scripture

"But let us know, as faith can be grounded nowhere else than in the Word of the Lord, so we must only stand to the testimony thereof in all controversies."

-from Calvin's Commentary on Acts 17:2


Friday, September 30, 2011

Try a Blog (But Don't Try Triablogue)

NOTE: There is an important update to this post at http://theoparadox.blogspot.com/2013/05/trying-tiablogue.html

I share the following with a great deal of disappointment, both in myself and in the others involved.

For some time, I have looked up to Steve Hays at Triablogue, and I've also made no secret of my admiration for Paul Manata. Unfortunately, I must now disavow any recommendation of these men and their work.
    
Why? I wish I didn't have to say any of this. But I do.
     
For several weeks, Hays and Manata have been posting vociferously against some arguments David Ponter has presented regarding certain distinctives of Moderate Calvinism. This week I got into a related discussion with both Hays and Manata in the Triablogue comment box. The discussion went downhill and quickly turned into a mud slinging contest, with uncharitable personal attacks being launched from both sides. Hays then wrote a blog post about me, citing out-of-context phrases taken from comments I posted, interspersed with his cutting remarks. Hays harshly attacked my character, calling me a "yes-man" and a "cheerleader" for Ponter. Mind you, Hays has never met me, and has rarely interacted with me online. So I'm not sure how he justifies making those pronouncements.
    
After considering the whole situation, I concluded that one of Hays' criticisms was correct. I had engaged in ad hominem attacks, particularly with regard to certain remarks I had made about him. I also realized I had not conducted myself with appropriate respect or humility in our previous exchanges. I had become sarcastic and was starting to take things too personally. The ad hominem attacks from both sides were escalating, and we were violating clear Biblical standards. Proverbs 15:1 came to mind with great force and began to batter my conscience. Also, Colossians 4:6. What could I do? 
   
   
I decided it best to take responsibility for my actions and try to restore good relations with these Christian brothers. I wrote a detailed confession, asked their forgiveness, and requested further input from them if they felt there were other offenses that needed to be addressed. I also asked Hays to back up what he had asserted about me (my full responses are quoted at the end of this post).
 
The only response was from Hays: "Thanks, Derek."
 
No admission of wrong from his side. No affirmation of forgiveness and no request for forgiveness. No attempt at reconciliation. Worst of all, perhaps: no acknowledgement of the falsehoods that were brought to his attention.
   
The falsehoods were the reason I engaged in dialogue with Hays in the first place. He has labeled his posts about Moderate Calvinism with the misleading tag, "Anti-Calvinism." Take a moment to think about the significance of that. In Hays' estimation, moderate Calvinism equals ANTI-CALVINISM. The label is pure slander. Hays continues to do this despite the fact that he has repeatedly been shown conclusive proof that moderate Calvinism is a historically valid stream of Reformed Theology and is not in any sense "Anti-Calvinism." Norman Geisler and Randal Rauser are Anti-Calvinism. Classic/Historic/Moderate Calvinists like David Ponter are not. I find Hays' ignorance about these matters disturbing, and his stubbornness when corrected alarming. In my mind, his ongoing refusal to accept the facts and correct his own thinking disqualifies Hays from acting as a Christian apologist or a representative of mainstream Reformed thought. He has shown a persistent unwillingness to tell the truth about his opponents. He has smeared them with false charges and misrepresented their arguments. And he has not been willing to justify or recant slanderous remarks made about a brother.
    
In contrast, Ponter's response to Hays and Manata has been copiously fair and balanced. He has addressed the arguments presented rather than the individuals who presented them. His posts have lacked the insulting tone and deceptive selectivity of Hays' posts. Whether or not you agree with Ponter, his godly conduct in this debate has been unmistakable. This is a good example for me to learn from. This is admirable.

It is notable that Hays picked a fight with James White on the same day he attacked me. White perfectly described Hays' basic M.O. when he said:

"The ability to not only disregard the obvious meaning of my words, but to stretch to this incredible length, speaks so loudly to the length to which Mr. Hays is willing to go in the prosecution of his case against those he personally dislikes that I truly need to make no further comment. I simply ask the reader to compare what I wrote to his response, see how the substance of my reply was ignored, and that what he does say in response ignores my clear intent and purpose, and make your decision on the basis of the facts."
I have seen Hays consistently use these tactics with moderate Calvinists like David Ponter and Tony Byrne, and I have seen him use them against many others. Systematically and unrepentantly. This makes for a sad parody of Reformed Apologetics that can only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. I stand with White in his conclusion:
"I pray the Lord's blessings on Steve, and on the whole Triablogue team. I simply pray he will recover his balance and seek fairness in his future efforts."
Until that happens, I recommend trying another blog. In the past I would have suggested Paul Manata's. But Manata has disgracefully stood with Hays on these matters and is now taking shots at other moderate Calvinists as well. So, for a more objective approach to Reformed Philosophy and Apologetics, I recommend these great sites:
    
James N. Anderson - Analogical Thoughts
    
I don't agree with these men on every point, and I don't imagine they agree with me on every point, but I have found I can count on them to be fair and respectful to their opponents. That adorns their arguments with grace and makes me much more willing to consider the merits.
   
Dear reader, those you admire will fail. Your friends will fail. I will fail and you will fail. But Christ will never fail. Keep your trust firmly set on Him, and you will not be shaken. Keep repenting, and you will not get far in your own selfish folly when it arises. Keep walking humbly with Him, and you will find rest for your soul. These are lessons I am learning . . . sometimes the hard way.
________________________________________________________________
 
My notes to Steve Hays and Paul Manata at Triablogue:
 

Steve and Paul,

This cut-and-paste job on my comments is a stacked deck. I could do the same using comments from you, but I'm not going to bother with it. I would simply invite readers to go back to the original comment threads and read my words in context along with the rest of the conversation. No defense, just a call for objectivity.

For my part, I admit I got too deep in this and resorted to some ad homs, and definitely employed some unnecessary sarcasm. In particular, my two "conclusions" about you, Steve, were offensive and uncalled for. I can see that my sinful pride fueled some of my words as our disagreement heated up. Please forgive me.

FWIW, the logic of my "formal argument" was intentionally ridiculous in order to make the point that one need not be a professional philosopher to realize calling moderate Calvinism "anti-Calvinism" is simply incorrect. Amazingly, you (Steve) continue to use and even defend this misleading label. I never considered that you would take my "argument" as a serious attempt at formal logic. So I guess I set myself up for your comeback.

That doesn't excuse the improper labeling of moderate Calvinism. On this point I will stand firm. It's a matter of Truth, and it is to your benefit to accept what I'm saying. Obviously, the choice is yours.

Now the three of us have had our little brouhaha and I hope we can all shake hands (metaphorically speaking) and take responsibility for what went wrong with the discussion.

BTW - I have always held that you are much better philosophers than I am. You'll get no arguments from me on that point. I hope you enjoy your abilities and use them for the glory of God, and speak Truth in love.

Blessings,
Derek (a.k.a. THEOparadox)

PS - nothing written above should be taken as sarcasm. These words are sincere and serious reflections on our recent experience of significant disagreement. If I have committed offenses that need to be addressed further, please give feedback and let's be sure we are fully reconciled as Christian brothers.
 
----

One other question: Other than agreeing with Ponter, was there something I did that led you to the conclusion that I am a "yes man"? I work very hard at thinking independently and speaking honestly to everyone in every circle I travel. I have lost jobs and strained friendships over this. No doubt I fall short sometimes, too. But this question is very, very important to me, so I would deeply appreciate any further thoughts on this point especially. Thanks.

PS - again I want to assure you there is no sarcasm here, and I am grateful for your willingness to bring to my attention the areas in which I have fallen short during our conversation.