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!

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Three Points of Common Grace (Plus One More)

Psalm 145:8-9 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
Psalm 145:15-17 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing. The LORD is  righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.

The doctrine of Common Grace is an essential, yet often overlooked, facet of Calvinistic theology. Sure, you know the 5 Points of Calvinism, but can you recite (and defend) the three points of Common Grace?

Many Arminians - even informed, studious ones - do not realize that orthodox Reformed thinking includes and incorporates some of their most cherished Biblical convictions. Conversely, some Calvinists mistakenly believe the concept of Common Grace is contradictory to the TULIP and should therefore be opposed. I will now endeavor to demonstrate the falsity of that idea, and then go one step further - showing how Common Grace and the TULIP form essential balancing paradoxes without creating contradictions. Common Grace is the fertile soil in which the TULIP was meant to grow.

Traditionally, the doctrine of Common Grace as been summarized in these 3 points:

1. God loves all people

This means God providentially cares for, patiently forbears, and benevolently extends grace toward each and every living person. He does not merely express His justice by hating the non-elect for their rebellion, but also shows His love for them as His special creation in generously giving them an abundance of undeserved kindnesses.

However, their continued rejection of Him will eventually lead to their separation from His love and a total abandonment to His justice.

Just Condemnation of Sinners   <++++++++++>        Pervasive Love for Sinners

This is the Counterbalance to Total Depravity

2. God desires the salvation of all people

This means God would take pleasure in the salvation of each and every living person, and does not directly oppose it. He does not actively reprobate the non-elect, but allows them to follow their heart's desire to their own destruction.

In His wise counsels He has chosen not to save every person, but to allow the non-elect to follow the path of their own choosing.


Election of Some Sinners    <++++++++++>  Desire to Save All Sinners

This is the Counterbalance to Unconditional Election

3. God freely offers the Gospel to all people

This means God extends mercy to each and every living person by way of the preaching of the Gospel. He does not exclude any sinner from the call to faith.

Yet He allows the non-elect to resist His grace and reject His offer of salvation.


Universal Call of the Gospel   <++++++++++>    Effectual Call of the Gospel

This is the Counterbalance to Irresistible Grace

I would add this fourth point . . .

4. Christ's blood is a sufficient atonement for all the sins of all people

This means the potency of the atonement is infinite, and powerful enough to save each and every living person. God does not limit the sin-bearing nature of Christ's work to the elect alone, but provides limitless expiatory power through an incomprehensibly precious sacrifice.

Still, He applies the redeeming, propitiatory, and reconciling effects of Christ's sacrifice to the elect only.


Sufficient for All             <++++++++++>    Efficient for the Elect

Point Four is the Counterbalance to Particular Redemption (which says the application of the saving effect of the atonement is limited to the elect).

NOTE: Nothing in the 3 Points of Common Grace (or my proposed 4th Point) actually contradicts the 5 Points of Calvinism. Nothing here militates against monergistic regeneration. No mitigation of divine sovereignty is entailed in these tenets. These Four Points are neither antithetical to historic Calvinism, nor are they opposed to Biblical teaching. Rather, they accommodate our minds to the wide range of Biblical teaching. The balancing points are paradoxical because they appear at first to contradict, but they are not inexplicable if we will put ourselves to the task of reasoning with Scripture.

Some Calvinists maintain that the Fourth Point undermines the integrity of the TULIP. They call advocates of the Fourth Point "inconsistent" Calvinists (a more proper term would be "Moderate" Calvinist). But can you see how the 5 Points of Calvinism plus the 3 Points of Common Grace logically lead to the Fourth Point? Far from dismantling the TULIP, the universal sufficiency of the atonement provides a solid basis on which the traditional Three Points of  Common Grace can be integrated with it.

I plan to write more on Particular Redemption and the extent of the atonement in the near future, God willing.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reformed Missionaries in Japan

It is estimated that only 2% of Japan's population identifies itself as embracing some form of Christianity. Japan is perhaps one of the most Gospel resistant nations in the world, in spite of having been exposed to the faith for centuries. I am grateful that God has sent my friends, the Muhlings, to share the Gospel with the Japanese people. Kent and Yuko Muhling both went to Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, and they have already experienced a fruitful term of service in Japan. I was blessed to spend a little time with them while they were on furlough in Jacksonville, and was impressed by their godliness, sincerity, family emphasis and theological sensibility.
Kent recently participated in a speech contest for foreign speakers of Japanese, and used the opportunity to share his Christian faith with more than 200 people - in their own language. And he won the speech contest! Here is a link to the video, which includes subtitles since it is all in Japanese. You'll enjoy it.

Unfortunately the video could not be embedded, but I encourage you to click the link above and watch it on YouTube.

Here is another short video about their work, produced by the missions organization with which they are affiliated.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

A Song Calvinists and Arminians Can Sing Together

This song was written by Samuel Rodigast in 1675, and is often sung at my church. The song has obvious Calvinistic overtones, and is also very encouraging as an example of surrendering to the sovereign will of God. After a careful reading I think even my Arminian friends should be able to heartily agree with every line and phrase of this song. Do you think so?

Here are the lyrics:

Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right

Whate’er my God ordains is right, Holy His will abideth.
I will be still whate’er He does, And follow where He guideth.
He is my God, Though dark my road.
He holds me that I shall not fall Wherefore to Him I leave it all

Whate’er my God ordains is right, He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path, I know He will not leave me
I take, content, What He hath sent
His hand can turn my griefs away And patiently I wait His day

Whate’er my God ordains is right, Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart, I take it all unshrinking
My God is true, Each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart And pain and sorrow shall depart

Whate’er my God ordains is right, Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine, Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall And so to Him I leave it all
©1998 David Braud Music.


See Indelible Grace Music for more great old hymns with updated tunes.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Lakeside Retreat 2011 - What I Brought Home

My wife and kids, of course! And my guitar and mandolin. But besides all that, I brought home a powerful reminder of the importance of faithfulness.

Someone mentioned the way David had saved his father's sheep from lions and bears. He noted, "David could easily have said, 'oh well, it's just one little sheep. No one will miss it.' But instead he risked his life to save that sheep." When I heard these words, I immediately recognized that there have been times when I have not guarded my Father's "sheep," have not stood up bravely to oppose the aggressor, have not risked my life, have not been faithful in the "little things," have not "shed blood" in the fight against sin. I suddenly realized (anew) that seemingly small compromises are serious violations in God's eyes. God values His little sheep very highly, and He values our faithfulness very highly. All things are HIS, and I have no right to relinquish any of His property to the enemy. Whatever He has given me, I must guard carefully.

My mind is His. My mouth is His. My body is His. My life belongs to Him, and I must show that I belong to Him in all of the small ways as well as the big ways. I need to be fierce and courageous in guarding the little sheep in my life. Every stray word, thought and deed must be repented quickly, and every detail must be kept in faithfulness. I have to guard the trust.

My wife and children are His. I must place myself between them and the destroyer. I must stand my ground without flinching, and oppose every threat that comes against them. I must defend them with my life. Love always protects.

That's what I brought home from the retreat. I am grateful that God loves me so much that He will not let me go astray in these things without conviction, rebuke and discipline. Because I am also His sheep, and His son. He calls me, like David, to be a man "after His own heart" - a man who will defend himself and his family against evil.

I Samuel 17:34-37 But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God." And David said, "The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you!"

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Lakeside Retreat 2011 - Pictures

A few photos I took this morning . . .

Steve Demme speaking some very encouraging words on "Being a Disciple and Making Disciples" 
(and that's my mandolin in the background)
A beautiful sunrise on Honey Creek (the beauty of it is unmistakable, even though I was holding the camera crooked)
My lovely wife :)  (the one on the right!)
Honey Creek just after sunrise
My son, acting like . . . himself

More of Honey Creek

Lakeside Retreat 2011 - Strengthening Families

This weekend we are at the Honey Creek Retreat Center in Waverly, GA for our annual church retreat. Our featured speaker is Steve Demme, who created the well known "Math-U-See" curriculum (used widely by home schoolers). What are we doing at this retreat? We are celebrating grace! We are celebrating the Gospel! We are celebrating the Lord Jesus Christ! We are spurring one another on in leading our families in the Truth!

Last night Pastor Demme shared a message that showed how David's kingly successes were an extension of the lessons he learned as he honored his parents in his earlier life. He also mentioned that only one kind of family is mentioned in the Bible: the messed up, "dysfunctional" kind. And what great hope that gives all of us imperfect parents and children in the Gospel!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Evangelical Apostasy: Two Oddities Recently Observed

Do you remember the visions of World War 3 that terrified us back in the 80's? We were afraid that one of the two superpowers would foolishly or accidentally press a button that would trigger the end of the world. Movies depicted small bands of renegades surviving out in the countryside, while masses of people in the cities languished under the damaging effects of radiation, and all of the cockroaches were somehow left unscathed. Creepy stuff.

America's present religious landscape is approximately equivalent to those predicted post-nuclear fallout scenarios. We are living in a day when thermonuclear warheads of false doctrine have hit their targets and exploded, obliterating entire denominations and sending showers of toxic theological debris in all directions. Masses of unbelievers have swept into buildings that are falsely labeled as Christian churches, not realizing they are only sliding deeper into the abyss of destruction by doing so. They won't hear the Gospel in there. But they really haven't come in to be converted, anyway. They have come to enjoy the plush theater seating, to watch entertaining talk-show style "messages" designed to build their self-esteem, to hear rock, rap and hip-hop "worship" concerts that are completely secular and devoid of Gospel content, to learn how a big person named "God" can give them a better life, to re-imagine and re-invent Christian faith, and to be comforted and coddled in their unconverted state. They have come for a weekly "worship experience" that does not center on the person and work of Jesus Christ or the Biblical Gospel of a blood-stained cross and empty tomb calling sinners to repentance and faith. The fleshly desires and cravings of the unregenerate now determine the agenda for many institutions that call themselves churches. It is a day of rampant, pervasive, dizzying apostasy.

Following are two true examples of this phenomenon from online services I saw this week (although these might seem similar to the fictitious satire I sometimes serve up, I assure you I did not make these up).
Become a Better Goat?
A leader from "Potential Church" in Cooper City, Florida recently shared a message at the weekend "experience" in which he encouraged everyone in his audience to set their goals high and try to become the, er, "GOAT." That stands for  "Greatest of All Time." Yes, you read that correctly. You have the potential to become the GOAT (yes, you!). The irony of a potential church calling its members to become better goats is just too much. Apparently it IS all about YOU (I mean, "ME"). Here's a prescription for Potential Church: hang fluorescent pink banners all over your building with the opening line of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life emblazoned on them. Then, buy cases of the book, tear the first page out of every copy, and hand out just that page to everyone who attends your weekend "experience." This would be shocking, but potentially useful. The remaining portions of the books could be put into a capsule and shot into outer space.
Common Sense Salvation?
The pastor of Calvary Christian Center in Ormond Beach, Florida (it's one of the largest churches in the Assembly of God denomination, and is located almost directly across the street from Roy Hargrave's Riverbend Church) recently shared a message called, "The God Who Changes His Mind," in which he attempted to use a Biblical anthropopathism to wrench the scepter of sovereignty right out of God's hand. While trying to define and refute the "Reformists," (who believe in the "5 pillars of Calvinism" !?), he actually said, "I happen to believe that God chose everybody . . . He's chosen the whole world, but you know what, there are some of us in here today who had the sense enough to turn around and choose him back!" Yes, that is a direct quote, and you read it correctly. We had the SENSE ENOUGH to turn around and choose Him back! We are so amazingly smart and sufficient! Now you, too, can enjoy salvation via your own sensibility and remain completely free from the humbling side effects of needing to be saved by grace.

These were just two haphazard sparks of absurdity which were observed as they shot out of the flaming ball of heresy that is currently rolling across North America.

Getting angry about the alarming spread of apostasy won't do much good. Becoming a heresy hunter won't really help. Yes, we should thank God for folks like Chris Rosebrough (curator of the Museum of Idolatry) and support their efforts. Exposing lies is somewhat useful, but ultimately it will be tireless proclamation of the Truth that God uses to change hearts (I know Chris would agree). God only saves sinners one way: by the preaching of the Gospel. God only regenerates where the Gospel is proclaimed. So in this era of spiritual radiation and doctrinal fallout, let us faithfully proclaim the Gospel without ceasing, and without wavering - and let us put our hope in the God who regenerates and sanctifies all who by grace believe!

Also, let us never forget that God has preserved His own regenerate people, even within denominations and institutions that are falling over the edge doctrinally. We must be careful not to broad brush and sweep away the righteous with the reprobate. God will judge everything at the proper time, and judgment will begin with the household of God.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Paradox of Fearing God

Justin Taylor recently posted a reflection on the differences and similarities in the responses of Mary and Zechariah when the angel appeared to each of them. He points out that both responded with fear and were immediately told to "fear not," and then he points out that in Mary's song the "fear of the Lord" is extolled, while in Zechariah's prophecy it is said that Israel was delivered in order that they might serve God "without fear." An interesting paradox.

Taylor explains the apparent contradiction with a quote from John Newton. See the post here.

A further thought on this: God's holiness is so powerful that He is able to sanctify attitudes and characteristics which we would normally account as undesirable or negative. Jealousy. Hatred. Anger. There is a good, godly version of each of them, and it is God's own version. The Bible is surprisingly candid about God's use of these characteristics; they are shockingly commonplace within its pages. He can use jealousy as an arm of benevolence, hatred as a vehicle for His grace, and anger as a catalyst of forgiveness. Similarly, our fear response can be man-centered and sinful or God-centered and holy. But unlike jealousy, hatred and anger, fear is a purely human characteristic. God does not have a sanctified version of fear. What could He ever fear, since there is none greater than Himself?

We, on the other hand, cannot live without fear. So God claims our fear for Himself.

Perhaps God tells us about His holy jealousy, hatred and anger to remind us that we are not His judges, and that it is not our prerogative to decide what is good and right for God. We will either glorify Him for all that He is, or we will condemn ourselves by trying to cross-examine Him under our warped, humanistic and sin-tainted ideas of justice and goodness.

God's Holy Jealousy
  • Exodus 34:14 for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God
  • Deuteronomy 4:24 For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
  • I Corinthians 10:22 Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?

Man-centered Jealousy Prohibited
  • Isaiah 11:13 The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart, and those who harass Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.
  • Romans 13:13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy
  • Galatians 5:19-20 Now the works of the flesh are evident: . . . jealousy . . .

God-centered Jealousy Enjoined
  • Numbers 25:11 Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.
  • II Corinthians 11:2 For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ.

God's Holy Hatred
  • Psalm 5:4-5 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
  • Romans 9:13 As it is written, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated."

Man-centered Hatred Prohibited
  • Leviticus 19:17 You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 
  • Matthew 5:43-44 You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . .

God-centered Hatred Enjoined
  • Psalm 119:113 I hate the double-minded, but I love your law.
  • Psalm 139:21-22 Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.
  • Luke 14:26 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

God's Holy Anger
  • Numbers 32:13 And the LORD's anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the LORD was gone.
  • Revelation 14:9-10 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Man-centered Anger Prohibitied
  • II Chronicles 26:19 Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. 
  • II Corinthians 12:20 For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish--that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.
  • Colossians 3:8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth.

God-centered Anger Enjoined
  • Psalm 4:4 Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
  • Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.

Man-centered Fear Prohibited
  • Proverbs 29:25 The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.
  • Isaiah 35:4 Say to those who have an anxious heart, "Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you."
  • I John 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
  • Romans 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"
  • Heberews 13:6 So we can confidently say, "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?"

God-centered Fear Enjoined
  • Joshua 24:14 Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
  • Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.
  • Matthew 10:28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
  • Romans 11:20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear.
  • I Corinthians 2:3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling . . .
  • Philippians 2:12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling . . .
  • I Peter 1:17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile
  • I Peter 2:17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Putting the pieces together, we might say that the reason Zechariah can say Israel serves God "without fear" is because the God-centered "fear of the Lord" swallows up every lesser fear. Thus, we are freed from the fears that could otherwise keep us from serving Him. We can never maintain this freedom apart from that one fear-slaying FEAR we must have in order to serve God worthily: the fear of Him. So, we must fear God in order that we may serve Him without fear! While lesser fears tend to multiply and paralyze us, the fear of the Lord sets us free.

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever . . .
Psalm 19:9

Take a moment to think about the universal characteristics fear. It always directs and focuses our attention toward something or someone greater than ourselves (beyond our control), and it always influences and determines our actions in significant ways. These things are true whether we are facing a snarling dog, wrestling with a difficult school exam, dealing with a financial crisis, trying to hide something embarrassing, running from the law, or worshiping the living God. Above all else, fear is powerful motivation. The object of our fear will win the battle for our attention, appreciation, and action. In a very real sense, the thing we fear most is our God.