Friday, June 25, 2010

Clarifying Reformed Theology (Part 2)

(This is a continuation of my response to Jamie on the question of divine predestination. Rather than answering part 2 of his series, I will use this article to answer his response to my response to part 1 of his series. From here on out, I will be addressing this article directly to Jamie.)

Your first response to my problems with God’s supposed causation of the heinous acts throughout history is to reference Isaiah 46:10.

Let’s get this straight: I didn’t say causation. Ordination and causation are not the same thing. Remember secondary causes: If I let go of a stone, I did in effect “ordain” that stone’s falling to the ground, but it is gravity that causes the stone to fall to the ground. (Also see this article to know what the differences are. I am a category 2 on the chart provided.) Now, God does directly cause certain things to be, and scripture will inform us of when He intervenes directly and when He sees fit to make use of secondary causes.

You mean this verse to say “God has predetermined all events – past, present and future.” However this verse doesn’t say that – it’s an excerpt from a jealous rampage by a spurned Lover. Let’s look at the context of this passage: Starting in verse 1, God is distinguishing between Himself (the Living God) and the dead idols of Babylon. The rest of the chapter is spent defending His superiority to these idols that His people are cheating on Him with. He makes the points that these idols can’t protect them (v2), didn’t create their nation (v3), they’re not faithful like Him (v4) and they can’t even move or talk (v7). In verse 9, He tells them to remember all the good works He’s done for them in the past and in verse 10 He makes the point that these idols can’t make a promise about the future and faithfully bring that promise to pass like He does. This whole passage is a plea to leave the pagan idols and trust their God - the true, living God.

Yes, that is all true. However, in doing so, Yahweh distinguishes Himself from the idols by also pointing to His ability to plan out His ability to make things come to pass... something that carved idols are incapable of doing. Thus His saying, “I will accomplish all my purpose,” or as it says in more traditional translations, “I will do all my pleasure.” In other words, God’s sovereignty over the course of history is a part of the argument against the idols. This is actually repeated in one of the Psalms where the one true God is contrasted with the heathen idols:

Why should the nations say,
"Where, now, is their God?"
But our God is in the heavens;
He does whatever He pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of man's hands.
(Psalm 115:2-4)

What I would contend then is that God's declaration of His sovereignty over all things is part and parcel of His condemnation of the idols. Now, moving on...

Sorry, but verse 10 does not say that God has ordained all that has happened or will happen in the history of humanity. It’s not the intent of the passage to say that. According to the context, it is simply reminding the Israelites that there is no other God like Him. He does say in verse 10 that He will bring out His past, present and future “purpose (counsel) and intention.” However, this verse doesn’t address the scope of God’s foreknowledge – to what extent He has ordered history. In context, it’s a reminder to His cheating people that He can affect the future and these idols can’t. Verse 9 says “everything I plan will come to pass” in the NLT. Certainly God can and does order the future at least to some extent.

The problem with your argument though is that it suggests a certain kind of false dichotomy. Think that either God is talking about how there is no other God, or that He is sovereign over history. The truth is that it is not either/or, but both/and. He alone is God, AND He demonstrates this by proclaiming that all things are His, to bring about the accomplishment of His purposes and the glory of His name.

Also, why just “to some extent,” Jamie? Why can’t we say that all (not just some) of history has been ordered by God for His own ends and glory? Remember that “all things have been created through Him and for Him” (Colossians 1:16). To quote a favourite Arminian catchphrase here, “All means all.” That includes both the good and the bad things. They were created in order that Christ’s glory may be displayed (I will expand on this theme as I go further).

But you just can’t use these verses out of context to somehow prove He has pre-ordered all events. Besides, if God causes all things wouldn’t this passage mean that He’s causing His children to cheat on Him with pagan idols? Why would He cause them to spiritually cheat and then get mad at their adulterous hearts?

I’m well aware of the context, and my exegesis of the passages in question fits in perfectly well with them. How so, you ask? Well, if you look at the whole book of Isaiah... indeed... all of the Nevi’im and the whole of the Tanakh in general, you will find that one of the over-arching themes is how God works in all of history in order to create for Himself a covenant people whom He forms into His bride. This grand meta-narrative is also continued in the New Testament where Jesus died on the cross to purchase for Himself a Church who becomes His bride.

Next you ask, “Do you not trust God when He says that He will right all wrongs cause all things to work for the good of His children in the end.” Of course I do. But I don’t need God to be the author of the bad events to believe that He can redeem those bad events. He is stronger than that. God is our redeemer and savior, not the one we need redeeming and saving from. He doesn’t cause problems so He can fix them. Unethical car shops do that. We and our enemy are the ones that cause our captivity and the ensuing bad events – God is our rescue!

We don’t say that God is the author of evil, as much as those who want to misrepresent us want to claim. Rather, God has permitted evil to come into being through secondary causes and He manipulates (NOTE: Do not think of the negative connotations that our society places upon the word “manipulate”) these events to bring about the end that He has purposed. And He has promised that the end will be good and outweigh all the bad things that had to come along the way (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18) I’m sure that we can all agree on that point, whether we are Arminian, Calvinist, Molinist or whatever else we claim ourselves to be. I can encapsulate it all in a quote from this early church writing:

Accept whatever happens to you as good, in the realization that nothing occurs apart from God.

Now, moving on...

The crucifixion of Christ is a poor example of God’s treatment of His people. I see the point you’re making - that God employed what we would consider to be bad in order to bring about good. But Jesus’ death, while clearly administered by the Father (Isaiah 53:10), was specific in purpose for the redemption of makind and does not set the precedent for how God treats those of us who aren’t currently dying for the sins of the world.

In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t use the Crucifixion alone. I used Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers (obviously a sin). There are countless other examples as well, such as God using David’s marriage to Bathsheba (which originated in adultery, also a sin) to perpetuate the royal lineage. Also, since Christ was the perfect man, I don’t see how His crucifixion can be a poor example at all.

And regarding those who are born with Down syndrome or other disabilities – you said “I would again like to ask the reader if God simply allowed evil to come into existence without so much as a reason or a purpose for it all.” There is a purpose for these things but I don’t believe the reason is for the individual’s sake but to point to a general truth. For instance, saying “Marsha, God gave you a child with a cleft palate so you’d draw nearer to Him” seems to be pretty self-serving theology and honestly, pretty cruel.

According to the bible, though, that is exactly what God has done. That is what He did with Joseph and Genesis, and that is also what He did with the blind man in the gospel of John:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
(John 9:1-7, NIV)

Who are we or anybody else to say what God can or cannot do? Clearly, the potter can shape the vessels “as it seemed good to the potter to do” (Jeremiah 18:4).

I mean, why Marsha instead of anyone else? I believe God allows evil because it’s a consequence of a) Adam’s free will choice to live independent from God, thus creating a fallen world b) it is the logical effect of free will decisions we make independent of God’s will and c) it’s the work of the enemy (1 John 5:19).

I’m not denying that Adam had genuine free will to choose between good and evil: Sin had not corrupted human nature yet at that time! I don’t disagree with the rest of this either, except that I would contend that post-lapsarian man is no longer quite free, but is slave to sin, for “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34).

So Marsha’s child with a cleft palate wasn’t a personal thing aimed at Marsha or the child by God, but part of an overall general allowance of sin, sickness, and death due to the reasons mentions above. In the end, God allows these things as proof to humanity that our fallen world needs a savior. I don’t believe He causes them for specific purposes, but He is a redeemer and can certainly “work them for good.”

If you go back to John 9, you can quite clearly see there that bad things do happen specifically so that God could make His goodness and glory shine forth through those things. And again, if we take into account secondary causes (which is why I agree with you that Adam’s sin, our own sins and the influence of Satan are the causes of these things), we can absolve God of the charge of authoring sin. :-)

Where you and I disagree is really on causation of events. I certainly believe God allows and even uses heartache and pain. I just don’t believe He authors it.

Neither do I. As we have established by now, that is a strawman argument.

When confronted with the illogical nature of a God that is both the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems...

We already dealt with this charged. Also, You still haven’t quite proven that God’s sovereignty over history is in any way illogical (unless you’re prepared to say that the passages I’ve quoted are illogical, but then again, there’s always 1 Corinthians 1:18).

...most Calvinists usually head to Isaiah 55 and quote “My ways are higher than your ways” with which they mean to say “I know this doesn’t make sense but you’ll have to make peace with it because God says it.”

This is a rather bad way of caricaturing your opponent’s position. Nevertheless, I will clarify this one a little further down the line...

The ironic thing is that this chapter taken in context is an excellent case for free will.

Let’s see about that, shall we?

V 1 -" is anyone thirsty? come and drink" (come to the Father of your own will)

You’re eisegeting at this point. God is saying that all who will to do so may come. Even Calvin himself affirmed this when he wrote,

Therefore, forasmuch as no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men; neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief. I speak of all unto whom God doth make himself manifest by the gospel. But like as those which call upon the name of the Lord are sure of salvation, so we must think that, without the same, we are thrice miserable and undone. And when as our salvation is placed in calling upon God, there is nothing in the mean season taken from faith, forasmuch as this invocation is grounded on faith alone.
(Calvin, John. Commentary on Acts 2:14-21)

However, not all will to do so because of sin nature. Hint: Read John 1:12-13.

V 3 - "listen and you will find life" (we have a role to play – listen)

God is giving a command, but that doesn’t automatically entail that all will or even can respond to His command (more on this one later).

V 6 - "seek the Lord" (an instruction denoting its our choice, not pre-ordained, whether to seek or not)

Once again, God is giving a command, but it is eisegesis to say that we are somehow inherently capable of following that command, or that God is not the one who makes us to seek Him in the first place via His effectual grace (cf. John 6).

V 7 - "let the wicked change their ways...let him turn to the Lord that he may have mercy..." (Looks like the wicked can change and God's mercy and forgiveness has to be turned towards.)

Who is the one who changes the hearts of wicked men and turns them back towards God? I’ll give you a hint: I strongly urge you to read Ezekiel 36:22-37:14. Pay especially close attention to the vision of the valley of dry bones, and how God applies that to the salvation of Israel. Then ask yourself: Does this sound like a passage which teaches that man determines his own salvation?

Verse 8 is not God's way of saying "don’t try to figure me out - I'll do whatever I want." It is actually marveling at the beauty of Gods mercy and compassion. Our ways are to punish the unrighteous...

Which is God’s way as well (cf. Romans 6:23). Fortunately, He has by His own free, sovereign grace chosen to declare those who put their trust in Him to be righteous.

Also, if you want to talk context, how about applying the general context of the entire Tanakh to this passage? God certainly talks about how He acts in mysterious ways throughout scripture. It’s all over the place. For example, in Deuteronomy, we read:

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
(Deuteronomy 29:29)

So there are definitely those things which God has chosen to keep hidden from the minds of men (such as why He orders many events in history the way He does). What He does reveal, however, is His perceptive will in the written word. And He has done so in order that we may use scripture as the basis by which we live out our lives.

...But His ways are better - if we are willing to turn from our evil and follow Him, He will save us even though He has every right not to. What a beautiful scripture! Praise God for His mercy! And thank God we don't have to worry about whether our salvation has been predestined or if some magical election provided for our salvation. If we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us!...

This last bit doesn’t actually add to the argument, but at least it’s nice that you have a heart of praise and worship. :-)

You may well ask at this point, “But how can God ask people to do something they are incapable of doing by their own willpower?” Don’t ask me brother, but God did certainly do exactly that in both the Old and New Testaments. An excellent example is the passage from Ezekiel that I urged you to read earlier on.

Another good example is the resurrection of Lazarus:

Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. "Take away the stone," he said.

"But, Lord," said Martha, the sister of the dead man, "by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days."

Then Jesus said, "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?"

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, "Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me."

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, "Take off the grave clothes and let him go."
(John 11:38-44, NIV)

As we see here, Jesus commands Lazarus to live. Obviously, dead men are incapable of bringing themselves to life (unless you want to argue that Lazarus came to life of his own free will!), so we must conclude that it is the Spirit of God that made Lazarus come back to life physically.

This, combined with the Ezekiel passage and Ephesians 2:1-10, all help to give an illustration of what God does when we get saved: He takes dead men who are naturally incapable of drawing close to God, and He breathes life into them so that they may come to Christ (cf. John 6 again).

Next, you say “God is a personal God and relates intimately to each one of His children. He doesn’t just see us as a group but as individuals.” I couldn’t agree more! Yet he did choose a group (Israel) as His special people to begin with. So now, in light of the cross of Christ and to add to those whom He is saving, He logically must “elect” the other group - the non-Jews - to be chosen as well. See, these passages are written to non-Jews. They were never meant to be applied as the mechanism by which God saves individuals.

I guess you missed the part where I pointed out how God uses individuals as examples of how His electing grace operates. Please re-read everything I wrote, and do listen to the audio I linked to. Thank you. :-)

God chose each one of us through the cross of Christ – in one fell swoop – when He sent Jesus to pay for our sin. Then you say “How on earth does God elect people corporately without also individually taking each person and saying, ‘You are Mine’ to them?“ I’ll resist the urge to quote Isaiah 55:10 here...

Not sure what that individual verse has to do with it. But if you mean the whole Isaiah 55 passage, I have a simple response: We base our view on election on what is revealed in God’s Word. I’m still not quite convinced by your case that election is purely corporate.

God chooses us as a whole but issues invitations to us individually (behold I stand at the door and knock; draw near to me and I’ll draw near to you). Romans 10:14-17 describes it this way: How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" 16But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" 17So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

I don’t disagree with any of this. The question is not whether we should evangelize (only the most grossly misguided hyper-Calvinists deny that we should). Rather, the question is, this: If one person responds to the gospel and another doesn’t, is it because they were smarter? More spiritual? A better decision-maker? To put it in biblical terms,

For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
(1 Corinthians 4:7, NKJV)

Of course, Paul’s question already carries its own answer, so I don’t need to fill in any blanks. :-)

That’s as much as I can write in one go. I'm tired, so sorry if my writing is a bit sloppy this time around. It’s getting really late, and I have to get ready for some Christian-Muslim dialogue tomorrow afternoon. Thus, I leave you with this for now, and continue writing again once time permits.

Grace and Peace.


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