Monday, May 15, 2017

The Good You Had Expected


"One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or a setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished - if it were possible to wish - you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.’"
CS Lewis, Perelandra

Six months ago, I began to dream that I could take the skills I'd gained through my last five years as a copywriter, and use them to begin working for Biola, FPU, or another Christian university. For six months, I dreamed that I could do something I'm good at, to accomplish something meaningful, while working for a Christian university.

That dream, such as it was, is no more - at least for the time being. I've gone through four interview processes, each one seemingly more perfect for my particular skillset than the last, and each time a better fit has been found. And now, in just four short weeks, I will be resigning from TCS and learning to be a full-time stay-at-home dad for Wes and the soon-to-arrive Gabe.

And so one chapter of my life draws to a close, and the one that will be beginning is quite different from what I had hoped for. And I strive embrace one and let go of the other: To not keep the vision of what could have been in front of me, to not long for what is not to be. I strive to embrace the good that is coming instead of the good that is not, because otherwise even the good that I have will be poisoned.

It is hard. But it will get easier. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

I wonder

I think there will be a lot happening on the day of judgement. But I think there is one event in particular that concerns those who claim the name of Christian. The sheep and the goats, those who give and those who do not. And I've been wondering what it might look like...for Christians who strive to follow the life of Jesus but fail on a daily basis. What might it look like for us?

And so I wonder.

I imagine that the King calls me before him, and I see a vast multitude of people, a line stretching as far as the eye can see. And the King starts with the one in the front, a glorious man clothed in light. And Jesus says, "This is my brother Joshua. You never knew his name; You saw him begging on a street corner and pretended you didn't. You avoided his eyes and drove on. He went hungry that night."

And the King moves to the next person. "This is my sister Beth. You passed her by as you pulled out of a parking lot, and you told yourself that you were just too busy to stop. She went hungry that night."

And the next. "This is my brother Max. He came up to you as you came out of a grocery store, and you told him you had no money on you: You lied. You told yourself he would probably just buy drugs with it. He and his family went hungry that night."

I imagine that he goes on and on through the multitude one by one, and that at the end we will be disappointed together.  I imagine that he tells me that he had planned to bless these people through me, that he had prepared those works for me from the beginning. And that all too often, I had failed.

And I am ashamed.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Good and Evil (are meaningless?)

In my conversations with my FNC (Friendly Neighborhood Calvinist), we've talked a lot about God's role in the first couple sins (Satan's and Adam/Eve's)...what that role looks like, what the consequences would be, etc.

He's very reluctant to say that God "caused" the first sin...which is both completely understandable and completely indefensible within a traditional Calvinistic framework. And given the difficulty of this position, he has at times toyed with the idea that perhaps God did cause it...but that, because he's God, he can do that for certain reasons without being evil himself.

And the thing is, I actually agree with him! I agree that God could have caused the Fall every bit as deterministically as Calvinism demands, without then being guilty of evil. Of course, the reason I agree with him is a lot different than his reasons for believing that: If God caused the Fall, then the terms "Good" and "Evil" have no real meaning. 

So: Genesis 1. Creation. You all know this story. Over the course of 6 days, God creates everything that is. And after each day, "God saw that it was good." And then, at the end of the 6 days, God looks at the big picture. "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good." This is a survey of all of creation, God looking at the work of his hands and investigating the results. And he proclaims it "very good."

So let's talk about that. "Good". What does "good" mean? Well, in a Christian context, I'd think most people would probably go with something like "that which is pleasing to God." Pretty simple, right? And when it comes to "evil", most Christians would probably stick with "that which is against God's will." Showing mercy to the poor? Good. Murdering the poor? Evil. Really simple stuff so far.

Everything God made was "very good". Everything God made was in accordance with his will. Now, as an Arminian, I believe that means that God had willed for humanity to have true freedom so that they might choose to obey him...but that also means that they would have the capacity to choose NOT to obey him. This capacity is not evil, because it is a necessary consequence of humans being able to LOVE God. As an example, the things that make a good set of pruning shears are the same thing that could make it a dangerous weapon. It's still a "Good" set of shears, because the harm would come from misuse, not the intended use.

Contrast that with the Calvinist view. In the Calvinist view, God determines everything from the word "Go." From before the first atom was created, God had already determined all of human history, including human (and angelic) sin. God created Adam not just with the capacity to sin, but with the necessity of sinning. It's not just that Adam could sin...it's that Adam must sin, because of the way God created him and the context God placed him in.

And that creation - the creation with the inevitability and necessity of sin built in from the very get-go - is what God calls "good" in the Calvinist scenario. That is what God looks at and declares "very good."

To go back to the "pruning sheers" example, that's like taking a pair of sheers and adding in some fancy technology that means that at some predetermined point, they'll turn on their owner and cut his fingers off. Obviously those pruning sheers would not be "good" shears - or else, if they are to remain "good" shears, then the definition of "good" must be expanded to include "will cut owner's fingers off at a predetermined time."

So back to Calvinism and creation. The creation that God declares "good" is the creation that has the Fall built into it from the ground up. Everything about creation has been designed to facilitate the Fall and make it certain. And not just the Fall: All sins. Every robbery. Every murder. Every single moment down to the minutest detail of every single sexual assault. All of it follows necessarily and deliberately from the creation that God declares Good.

And if God declares that Good...then all of that must be included in the definition of Good. And if all of that is "Good", then good becomes meaningless, as does evil. They are both meaningless words for the things that God does and causes. Adam and Eve didn't commit evil...that would require them going against God's will, when in fact it was his will that caused them to eat the fruit! Satan didn't do something against God's will...in fact, his every action was a fulfillment of God's will! The murderer, the rapist, the child molester...every single one of them is fulfilling God's will to exactly the same degree as the godliest saint that ever walked the earth.

In the end, the Calvinist can only really talk of "good" and "evil" as two different colors that an artist uses to paint a picture. One is not really better or worse than the other. And I hope that bothers them at least a little, when they think about it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Modest Proposal

This is going to be a short one...just something that's been bouncing around in my mind for a while.

In my last post, I talked about determinism and why it REALLY bugs me the way Calvinists will talk such a big game about God's sovereignty, his meticulous control over everything that happens, the way he orders the world and everything in it for his glory...but suddenly, when it's time to talk about sin (and specifically, the first sin in all of existence), all that talk disappears, and they bail out and throw up the "mystery" smoke screen. 

They love to talk about how God orders the world according to his glorious plan...but maybe we just don't know how that first sin happened? They revel in God's all-determining hand over history, moving the wills of men to accomplish his purposes...but it somehow must not be that simple with Satan? And most annoyingly, you don't have to look hard at all to find Calvinists accusing Arminians of disbelieving in God's sovereignty or believing God is "helpless" (btw, those hyperlinks are John Piper, James White, and RC Sproul)...but when it's time to talk about Satan and his first desire for evil, man, do they sometimes start to sound Arminian! (That is, if they don't simply claim "mystery" and change the subject!)

So I have a modest proposal:

Unless a Calvinist is willing to say, clearly and explicitly, in any and all contexts, that God is the primary and ultimately only cause of sin, and that sin happens because God wills, plans, and causes it to...unless a Calvinist is willing to say that, and willing to never obfuscate, point to mystery, or smuggle in Arminian terms and theology, then they should never again say that they believe God is sovereign while Arminians do not. 

Come on, guys. Either own it or don't. Either mean what you say or don't say it. But let's stop with the big talk about sovereignty while denying the most important implication and pretending you don't know.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Bullets and Determinism

In my conversations with a Calvinist, he linked me a couple articles in an attempt to explain how God could determine all the events in all of history, plan for sin to happen and put that plan into action, and still not be responsible for the sin that he had planned and determined and made certain would happen.

One of those articles was by John Piper: "Where Did Satan's First Desire For Evil Come From?"...a promising title, to be sure, since that's a question Arminians often want to hear Calvinists answer. The article was, as a whole, incredible disappointing.

Piper punts immediately to mystery, saying that this is "among the mysteries in my theology for which I do not have an adequate answer." This is, of course, very puzzling for Arminians, because we've been told time and time again by Calvinists that everything has a cause and that nothing can happen apart from God's direct will or else God isn't sovereign.  To us Arminians, this obviously includes Satan's first desire for sin: Calvinists manage to avoid this simply by insisting "it's complicated", because the obvious answer to the complication is horrifying.

So the punt to mystery, while disappointing, isn't surprising...after all, it's the only move Calvinists can make. When you have a flat-out contradiction at the heart of your theology, you don't have a lot of places to go from there. However, at the end, Piper does at least attempt an answer, and that's where things get interesting.

Granted: He takes pains to say that this is not the explanation for certain. But he does see it as a possible pointer to an explanation, meaning that he believes it is logically valid and not mysterious in and of itself. Essentially, he uses a couple Bible verses to link sin and distance from God:

Isaiah 63:17

O Lord, why do you make us wander from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
    the tribes of your heritage.

Isaiah 64:7

There is no one who calls upon your name,
    who rouses himself to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
    and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.**

Here is Piper's explanation:

"And I am not saying this is a foolproof explanation of sin, but somehow God cloaked his glory from Lucifer and in the cloaking of his glory somehow, still inexplicable to me, there rises a preference in Lucifer’s heart for himself over God, who has cloaked his glory. I don’t know how that happens, but this is a pointer that something like that might have been going on. I am simply saying this is worth pondering that God may be able to govern the presence and absence of sin, not by direct active agency, but by concealing himself."

Again, to be completely fair: He repeatedly states that this is not his definitive explanation for how sin can arise without God causing it. But he does believe it's a "pointer", that it is "worth pondering" as a potential explanation: That God can "govern the presence and absence of sin" (Calvinists hate to be pinned down with pesky words like "cause" or "ordain" or "decree" when we get tot this subject) by "concealing himself", which he explicitly contrasts with "direct active agency." (And note the passive language, both in this quote and throughout the piece: "there rises", how the first sin "came about", something "comes to pass"...this passive language is all misdirection, as explained below).

Here's the problem: With all his caveats, he still clearly believes that this explanation is valid, that it is potentially accurate and has no gaping holes in it. But is it valid? Is it hole-free? Is it really the case that God can "govern" sin without "direct active agency", and that Piper's proposed theory actualizes it?

Let's break down Piper's theory. Remember that in the Calvinist worldview, everything that happens is part of God's immutable, irresistible, unchangeable plan from all eternity. From the get-go, everything that happens is planned by God. Everything God does - or doesn't do - has a specific goal and end.

So with that in mind, let's break down the "steps" leading up to Satan's first desire for sin.

Step 1: God has a plan for creation that requires Satan to fall. God plans for Satan to fall.

Step 2: God creates Satan (and the rest of the angels). As God creates Satan, he builds into him the following: "Nearness to God = No Desire for Sin. Distance from God = Desire for Sin." That is how God creates Satan, and he does so purposefully and deliberately, in order that his plan (for Satan to sin) might be fulfilled. (This is important, as Calvinists LOVE to speak as though God is using preexisting conditions that he somehow did not bring about, even though that's impossible in the Calvinist system).

Step 3: God hides himself from Satan/withdraws his presence from Satan/"cloaks his glory" from Satan. Again, he does this so that his plan for Satan to sin will be fulfilled. 

Step 4: Due to his new distance from God (or his new lack of perception of God's glory), Satan sins and fulfills God's plan.


This is all really simply stuff. Each premise is something no Calvinist should argue with. I think it should be immediately apparent to anyone familiar with Calvinism, let alone one of Calvinism's main proponents and scholars! So given that...can anyone look at this chain and say that God is not responsible for Satan's sin? That he is able to have sin come about without "direct active agency"? How in the world can a Calvinist say that God withdrawing his presence in order to irresistibly achieve a specific purpose isn't direct active agency, especially when it was God who set the rules for what that action would accomplish?


It's mindboggling to me. It boggles my mind. But I know there are Calvinists out there who will still say that Piper is correct. And every Calvinist I've ever talked to has fallen back on "secondary causes" as the reason that God isn't responsible for sin...that there are so many steps in between God kicking off the universe and each individual sin, that God's hands are clea. So let me give an analogy.

Let's say I build a gun. But this is no normal gun: Instead of pulling the trigger to fire the bullet, I construct it so that I am constantly holding the trigger, and it is the eventual release of the trigger that fires the bullet.

So I have this gun. And I point it at someone I wish to kill, and then I release the trigger. As I release the trigger, the hammer swings forward and hits the bullet. This causes a spark which ignites the propellant in the bullet. The ignited propellant propels the bullet through the barrel, which imparts a stabilizing spin on the bullet. The bullet flies through the air, penetrating first the skin, then an essential organ. The organ shuts down, which leads (through complex biological functions) to the other essential organs shutting down. And finally, at the end of this very long and complex process (which could be made even more complex), the man dies.

Now: Did I, with "direct active agency", kill this man, even though all I did was remove my finger from the trigger? Of course I did. And that's because it's not the action that matters, it's not the mechanics by which something happens, it's the intention. Even though all I did was release some finger pressure - even if all I did was think something - I knew what that would accomplish, and I acted with that intention. And this is identical with Piper's hypothetical - and any other mechanism Calvinists will contrive to try to wriggle out.

Sin doesn't just "come about" as if it had it's own agency, as if it's something that just "happens" without a cause: Such would go against everything that Calvinism stands for. Everything has a cause...and in Calvinism, that cause is God, no matter how he chooses to accomplish it. Like a finger releasing a bullet and so causing a death, God conceals his presence and so causes sinHowever God accomplishes his plan, it is still God doing the accomplishing. However the first sin "comes about", it comes about because of something God did, and it comes about because God desires for it to come about. Whatever the mechanism, no matter how convoluted, no matter how "indirect", it is still God with his finger on the trigger. 


**It is not my purpose here to give a complete Arminian interpretation of these passages. One possible interpretation that comes immediately to mind is that such hardening is a response to free sin: it is a just punishment because the sin that is being punished was freely chosen, as opposed to being determined and caused by God. In response to sin, God can justly leave people in their sin by withdrawing his presence.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Was Job Wrong?

So...I've thought a LOT about Job. Like, a lot. And while I think I've thought a lot of right things about it, I've also thought a lot of wrong things.

The most recent example: It's obvious that Job's friends are wrong about God. At the very end, God says to the friends, "“My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has." He has them present a sacrifice, and Job must pray for them to be forgiven. They say a LOT of wrong things about God, and in the process they accuse Job - "a blameless and upright man" - of being wicked and sinful, utterly deserving of the tragedies that befall him.

But here's where I'm pretty sure I've gone wrong: I don't think Job has a lot of right knowledge about God either.

I think that the above verse, where God says that the friends "have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has", doesn't mean that Job has been 100% correct in everything that he says about God. And in fact, this is borne out in the fact that this vindication of Job comes on the heels of  four full chapters of God telling Job that Job doesn't really know what he's talking about.

In many important ways, Job's knowledge of God is exactly as wrong as that of his friends. In fact, that's precisely what causes him such distress: His theological system has no room for suffering that is not punishment. Again and again, he proclaims his innocence and protests the injustice of punishment without cause. Implicit in every complaint is his belief that bad things come directly from God as punishment for specific, personal sins: The same false belief that his friends present throughout the book.

Indeed, when Job utters his famous line at the very beginning - "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" - while he does not sin, I don't think he's 100% correct, either...at least, not in what he means. The same goes for what he says in the next chapter: "Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” He does not sin, but I don't think that what he believes to be happening is what is actually happening. I don't think that the Lord has taken away, and I don't think that the Lord is sending evil - the text is quite clear that while God is allowing these things to happen, he is not their instigator.

So why is Job not sinning here? What sets him apart from his friends? How does he say anything that's right about God, to cause him to be praised in the last chapter?

It's not about knowledge. It's not about theology. It's about the relationship Job has with his God.

Job's false theology causes him incredible distress, as he searches in vain for a reason for divine punishment. His incorrect ideas about God causes him to bitterly lament that God punishes him without cause. In fact, his false theology almost drives him to despair of his very life.

And in all that suffering, it's his relationship with God that brings him back from the brink. It's the relationship that assures him that God is his redeemer, that God is his friend and ally, and that God will save him in the end. And I think that is what God praises in the end.

I don't know that I have a point here. It was just an interesting thought I had a few days ago. But I think there are a couple takeaways:

-Theology can bring life or death. Incorrect knowledge about God can bring terrible distress and confusion, while correct knowledge will greatly aid in bringing peace and understanding.

-However...relationship can either salve the wounds of poor theology, or nullify and deaden the benefits of good theology. A living relationship with the living God can bring peace, even without understanding, and hope even in the face of despair...but a lack of relationship will render meaningless the greatest theology in the world.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

On Mother's Day

I've written about my dad before, and anyone who knows my family knows that I got my creative bent from him. But I don't think I've written as much about my mom yet, and given Mother's Day, I think now might be a good time to do so.

If my dad taught me how to make and create and work, my mom taught me how to think, how to stretch myself and grow intellectually. She taught me how to explore new ideas, see things from new perspectives, and a whole lot more.

She fed my love of reading from a very early age, and I cannot recall a time I wanted a particular book and did not receive it. And this was not merely a matter of monetary expenditure: Every new book also guaranteed me coming into her office, giggling and insisting that she listen to me read a portion of my new book to her. This would happen multiple times per book, and looking back, I marvel at her patience in listening to out-of-context passages from random books and sharing in my enjoyment of them.

She encouraged me to pursue my interests, but she also insisted that I do my best in things that did NOT interest me. If she knew that I was capable of performing better in a class or subject, she made sure that I did perform better. She held me up to the standard of what she knew I was capable of, and showed me how to push myself even when the rewards are not apparent. At the same time, though, she did not encourage "busy-work", which I appreciate still.

And of course, one of the things that has most impacted me was her insistence that of all the colleges in all the world, Biola was the place for me. And when we randomly heard about Torrey at a college fair, holy CRAP was she excited. She was more excited than I was by far...and that was because she understood far better than I did how perfect it was for me. She saw a program seemingly tailor-made for someone like me, and she hounded me and made me see what she saw. And when I was rejected the first time, she refused to let me give up, and forced me to pursue all avenues, calling the office every day until they accepted me (out of sheer annoyance, I'm sure).

I owe a lot to my mom. When I look at the stained glass panels on my bookshelves, I know that I owe them to my dad. But when I look at the books on those bookshelves, and the ideas and thoughts they represent, the discussions and papers and blogs...I know that I owe them to my mom. She is the reason I attended Biola and Torrey, and she is responsible (for good or ill) for who I am because of Torrey.

So...thanks, mom. And happy Mother's Day!