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!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Dear Calvinists...

Dear Calvinists,

Hey! How's it going? I've been thinking about you lately, and it crossed my mind that you don't really seem to get us...Arminians, I mean. I've seen so many interactions between Calvinists and Arminians, and it often takes a VERY long time for the Calvinist to actually address what bothers the Arminian, if it even happens at all!

So I thought I would take just a couple minutes to talk about where we are coming from, and talk about what generally bothers us about how you guys get down.

And honestly, the biggest thing that bothers us is that you seem really inconsistent. See, Calvinists (can I call you Cal?), you guys are all about God's glory. That's the thing you constantly proclaim, and it's even sometimes a weapon that you use against us (but that's a different talk). When it comes to salvation and even the general ordering of the universe, you guys are very clear: God runs the show. In fact, you guys get really, really upset when Arminians (or any non-Calvinists, really) imply that salvation involves any kind of free decision on our part. For God to be glorified, and for God to truly be sovereign, God must be the ultimate (and therefore only true) cause of everything.

Like I said, you guys are VERY clear when it comes to that. And believe me when I say that while I completely disagree with your conclusion, I am 100% behind your desire to give God all the glory!

But here's the thing that bothers us, Cal. It's that you will go straight from praising God for being the sole cause of our salvation, and for being absolutely sovereign in meticulously ordering the saying that each reprobate is the sole cause of their damnation, by virtue of their sin, their rejoicing in wickedness, etc.

That's where we get confused, guys. That's honestly where we lose you. It really does seem as though you're talking out of both sides of your mouth here. And there are two big parts to this:

First, we can't really see how this works. When you look at the big picture, isn't God the ultimate cause of everything about the reprobate? Isn't he the one who ordained the Fall? Isn't he the one who determined that the reprobate would have the desires that they do? Isn't he the one who determined that the reprobate would act on those sinful desires? And didn't he do all of this unconditinally. in his unwavering sovereignty? In short, isn't he the sole true cause of everything that makes the reprobate...well, reprobate? And isn't he the ultimate cause of their damnation in hell for all eternity?

That's the first thing that bothers us. And we honestly don't understand at all how you can justify ignoring this and trying to act as though the sins were committed without the unconditional decree of God. And that actually brings me to the second thing that bothers us:

If you guys are all about God's glory, why stop with glorifying God for monergistically saving people? Why not praise God for monergistically damning people as well? After all, isn't that just as glorifying to God in your system? Why do you pretend to give human beings the ability to deny God's will and do things he doesn't wish them to do? Why not extol the greatness of God's power as he raises up the reprobate, causes their sin, and then oh-so-justly damns them for it? Why retreat to the very Arminian-sounding answer of "because of their sin", when you can simply say "Praise God for creating these reprobate to sin and be damned!"? When you praise God for saving the Elect, why aren't you just as loud in praising him for damning everyone else?

Anyway, Cal, thanks for listening. I know this got a little long, but I hope it makes sense. So next time you're talking with an Arminian, maybe we can skip the whole "So God shouldn't punish sin?" bit, and maybe even the "He doesn't have to save anyone!" bit, and get straight to the point.

Is God ultimately the sole reason for the sinfulness of the reprobate? Didn't he desire their damnation and work to accomplish it from the very moment he decided to create them? It really seems that you should answer "Yes!" to both of those, and when you don't, it really seems as though you're being a little underhanded.

Just a heads up!


Monday, February 29, 2016

Alcohol and Silly Arguments

Out of every theological argument and discussion that I've ever been a part of, there's one that stands preeminent when it comes to exaggeration, non-sequiturs, and twisted Scripture: Whether alcohol is appropriate for a Christian to consume in moderation.

So...can a Christian drink alcohol?*

I will say this right at the beginning: There are legitimate cultural contexts and situations that impact when and where it is appropriate for a Christian to consume alcohol: As just one example, if one is literally incapable of drinking moderately, or around someone incapable of drinking moderately, Scripture and Christian charity demand that we abstain. One can think of other instances, where drinking alcohol would have a direct and immediate negative impact on ourselves or others, where it would be inappropriate - and indeed sinful - for a Christian to drink.

This is not a post about those situations, though...largely because it's very rare for a Christian NOT to be aware of those situations (and those that are not aware, or deliberately ignore them, are beyond help anyway). This is a post about Biblical arguments against all alcohol usage, used by certain teetotalers to say that consumption of alcohol is an inherent evil, apart from any cultural considerations. There are a few that pop up very frequently that are incredibly weak, and I'm going to go through the weakest and silliest here:

"The word for 'wine' used in the Bible can mean everything from unfermented grape juice, to the fermented stuff we generally refer to as wine. The wine that Jesus consumed was "new wine", or unfermented grape juice."

This argument pops up everywhere alcohol is mentioned on the internet. I'm not going to go into the word studies that disprove this theory - that has already been done by people better qualified than me. No, I'm going to take more of a "common sense" approach, just a few arguments that have occurred to me over the past year or so.

1: Jesus references fermentation as a common cultural practice, and explicitly contrasts old and new wine, with old wine elevated and preferred over new.

This is funny, because the passage in question is actually often used by teetotalers to demonstrate the difference between new (unfermented) wine and old wine. It appears in all 3 synoptics, but you'll only ever see teetotalers use the passage from Matthew or Mark (we'll see why in a moment). Jesus is discussing why his disciples don't fast like John's disciples do, and he tells them that nobody fasts when the bridegroom (Jesus himself) is with them, but that they'll fast when he is taken away. Then he says two things: "No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch tears away from the garment, and a worse tear is made. Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”

Teetotalers will point to this passage as proof that "new wine" is non-alcoholic: It is put into new wineskins, so that it can expand as it ferments. This is missing the point on two levels:

First, the "new wine" is put into new wineskins so that it will continue to ferment safely without being lost. This is not somehow meant to prevent fermentation or keep it as grape juice: This process (which Jesus refers to as a commonplace thing) is meant to ensure that more fermented wine is available to drink, instead of it being lost! In other words, this fermentation is a good, desirable thing, rather than it being lost due to the bursting of the wineskin.

And second, Jesus (and everyone else) prefers the old stuff!

Luke 5:37-39: "And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one after drinking old wine desires new, for he says, ‘The old is good.’”"

So: After going to all that trouble to convince themselves that Jesus was a lover only of grape juice, you can imagine the consternation that would greet this verse. Here, Jesus explicitly sets the two side-by-side: New wine, which may very well be unfermented or just beginning to ferment, and old wine, which literally has to be fermented given the climate Jesus is in. Grape juice cannot get "old" and remain grape juice without modern pasteurization techniques. Jesus sets the two side by side, and essentially says, "New wine? Grape juice? No thanks...I'll stick with the old wine." Jesus explicitly says that no one prefers new wine after tasting old wine (which sinks another silly teetotaler argument, that wine is just super gross and that when the master of the feast declared Jesus wine "the best", he must be referring to good ol' grape juice.) Old wine - real, fermented wine - is much to be preferred over new wine, from the mouth of Jesus himself!

I think that this argument, by itself, is enough to convince any intellectually honest person of the silliness of this. But there's at least one more BIG one:

2: The Lord's Supper was understood from the very beginning of the NT church to involve alcoholic wine.

We don't even need to look to the gospels for these...instead, we just look to Paul's early letters, the first NT documents to be written! We just need to look to 1 Corinthians 11:17-22:

"But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not."

He is speaking to one of the very first NT churches as they attempt to celebrate the Lord's Supper. They aren't doing it very well, because when they come together, they do not share and eat communally, but each eats what he has: The rich get full and drunk, while the poor go hungry. They get drunk, meaning that they're bringing real, alcoholic wine to the Lord's Supper: Indeed, wine strong enough to get someone drunk during the course of a meal.

Paul rebukes them, not for drinking wine, but for getting drunk. He doesn't have anything negative to say about the wine itself, merely the fact that they are getting drunk while their poorer brethren go hungry. And where did they learn about the wine? From Paul himself, who says, "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you..." They are getting their information on the Lord's Supper from Paul; They are drinking wine at the Lord's Supper, which Paul does not rebuke; Paul mentions "the cup" several times, including warnings not to "eat and drink without discerning." It would be ludicrously irresponsible of Paul to not speak against the wine if that was even the slightest problem. When you put all of these together, it becomes inescapable that from the time of Paul himself, ever since there was a visible church, alcoholic wine was used to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

This is another knock-out punch. To avoid this hurdle, a teetotaler would have to say that Paul himself got it wrong, and that from the very beginning, churches were celebrating the Lord's Supper wrongfully, using wine when they should have used grape juice. In fact, they would have to say that nearly all Christians, in nearly all places and at nearly all times, have gotten it wrong, because...

3: Teetotalism is an extremely niche viewpoint, occupying a very small chronological, denominational, and geographical portion of the Church. 

I hesitate to include this last one, simply because in my experience, many outspoken teetotalers will have no hesitation in declaring every other Christian throughout history to be sinfully wrong on this one (or simply non-Christian in the case of Catholics). When you look at the worldwide Church, teetotalism has only ever been a thing for the past 200 years or so, only in the US and (briefly) England, and only in certain Protestant/Evangelical denominations. At no other time in history has alcohol consumption been regarded as a universal sin.

This is not the knock-out punch that the other two are: It's possible for people to be wrong on something, and it's possible for a great deal of people to be wrong for a very long time. But...if your viewpoint simply did not exist for the first 1700-1800 years of church history, and remains incredibly denominationally and geographically restricted have to ask yourself if maybe, just maybe, your belief is more cultural than biblical. If nobody else, including the native Greek speakers who brought the Church together, had the thought that alcohol was evil and that Christians should only drink grape juice, then is it really a plausible explanation?

Anyway, it's good to get this all written down. I doubt it'll be seen by many people, and to my knowledge I don't know any people who believe that no Christian should consume alcohol - and if they do, it's for cultural and not Biblical reasons. But here is my point:

The Church is not served by falsehood, or legalism, or poor exegesis, and alcohol brings out all three. Given our fallen world, there are times where it is sinful to consume alcohol: indeed, there are some people who lack the self control to ever drink without sin. But given proper use and moderation, alcohol is a good thing, a gift from God that gladdens the hearts of men.

*Many teetotalers will shift the conversation from "can a Christian drink alcohol" to "should a Christian drink alcohol," and ask what good it is...whether it will edify the believer, bring them closer to Christ, etc. The meaninglessness of such a question is revealed when applied to literally any other common part of everyday life in the US. Surely eating food at a restaurant will not "bring you closer to Christ." For that matter, neither will adding seasoning to food instead of simply eating it plain. In fact, if that is the thing that drives your dining choices, you'd be better off just eating plain bread and drinking water, for surely eating more than that is not "edifying" in the sense this question demands. Alcohol (a light-weight rum and dr pepper, in my case) is simply one aspect of God's creation that believers are encouraged to enjoy in moderation, and in that enjoyment, we glorify and give thanks to God.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Death and Life and Nana

At 7:15 this morning, my grandmother Nana died. We knew it was coming: She had been deteriorating for some time, and after breaking her hip a week or so ago, we knew it couldn't be far off. And in the day or two leading up to it, as friends and family offered their support, prayers, and encouragement on Facebook, one comment in particular stood out to me:

"We will all miss her until we see her again."

I don't think I can say it any better than that. Of course I will miss her. I miss her now, and I am sure I will miss her more the next time we head into Shafter and realize that she is not there for us to visit. I will miss her breakfasts, and her amazing waffles and crisp bacon. I will miss her roast chicken dinners, and the days when the Mulligans would gather for family dinner with her and Papa (and I will miss the extra chicken legs and toast that she prepared for me without fail). Nana was the sweetest, kindest grandmother a boy could ask for: The world has not seen her equal, and we will miss her.


Until we see her again. Until we see her, shining like the sun, young and strong and full of life and laughter, in body as well as spirit. And so we are comforted even in our grief.

For we know she serves a Lord who came to destroy the one who held the power of death; We know she serves a Lord who was dead and is alive; We know she serves a Lord who holds the key to Death and Hades and sets the captives free. And we know that all those who believe in that Lord are saved.

And so we know that she is with Him today in Paradise. She does not live on "in our hearts"...such a great soul could hardly reside in such a cramped and fickle place. Nor does she live on merely in our memories: No, her dwelling is far grander than anything we could imagine. She really lives, and she really is there in Paradise.

We will all miss her until we see her again. But we will see her again, and every tear will be wiped away.

And I cannot think of anything more to say.

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Crisis in Calvinism

ADDED: I've gotten a handful of hits recently from "Contemporary Calvinist," who calls my post a "straw man." Welcome! To Calvinist readers, I just have one request: Please comment and let me know in what way I have straw-manned Calvinist doctrine. I understand that no Calvinist will actually speak like this, but please inform me what aspect of doctrine I have mis-represented. I would LOVE to know how my Calvinist brothers and sisters are able to avoid what I see as the logical and inescapable conclusions of Calvinism. Please enlighten me!

Brothers (and wives of brothers who are hearing this through your husbands), there is a crisis in Christianity. This crisis threatens all true believers - both five-point Calvinists and those who, in their devotion, hold to 6 or even 7 points! It is a crisis greater than "Christian" contemporary music, greater than "Christian" rap, greater even then "Christians" consuming a moderate amount of alcohol and enjoying it.

Yes, it is a crisis greater even than those, for there are many within our ranks who are defying the will of God himself!* You gasp, but it is true, brothers. Just the other day, in a good, God-honoring church, I heard the pastor speak of the unsaved souls perishing in poverty-stricken, unreached parts of the world. He drew attention to the people dying in inner-city slums, without ever hearing the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And would you believe what he said? He lamented that fact! He dared to express sadness at the fate of these unsaved rebels, these totally depraved sinners, these reprobate!

This is absurd, my brethren! For we all know that as these sinners go down to the fiery hell which awaits them, God is glorified by their damnation! Indeed, we know that God planned their damnation - each and every one of them! - from before the foundations of the world! We know that through God's perfect plan, he brought them into existence for the sole purpose of having them starve, fight amongst one another, murder and be murdered in turn, before all die and are damned for eternity - all for his own glory!

God finds glory and pleasure in doing this, my brothers, so should we not find pleasure in witnessing it? Shall we not give glory to God as we witness these starving reprobate children, these ignorant reprobate adults, dying without hope? Shall we not rejoice with the death of each one, as their screams of everlasting agony brings a smile to our Savior's face, as our Lord's perfect will is accomplished?

And yet this man-idolizing, God-denying sadness has infected the true Church! I have even heard none other than John Piper and John MacArthur, as God-fearing Johns as I've ever known, imply that sometimes things happen which were not the perfect, inexorable, inescapable, unconditional will of God! These are undeniably true men of God (unless of course they leave the faith, in which case they were never saved to begin with), and yet they, too, are watering down the glorious truth of God's glorious plan! They talk of people dying "without the Gospel," fulfilling God's perfect plan for their lives, and then lead their followers astray by again lamenting that fact!

This is indeed a crisis, brothers. God does not desire all to be saved, and neither should we! I ask you:

Who are YOU, oh man, to desire the reprobate to be saved?

Who are YOU, oh man, to be saddened by their just and glorious fate in the fires of hell?

Who are YOU, oh man, to steal God's glory by loving those that the Lord hated since before the beginning of the world?

We are not to be like some in the world, my brethren, showing love and compassion to our enemies. Far from it! We are to be like God: Glorying in the demise of those we hate. And is not THAT the heart of the Gospel?

*Of course, not really defying, mind you, and technically they had no chance to do otherwise, but...look, it's too complicated to explain right, and who are you, oh man, to talk back to me - I mean, to God. Shut up and stop asking questions. What are you, an Arminian?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Apostasy and Perseverance

Perseverance of the Saints: The P in TULIP, and something that Calvinists love to use as a bludgeon against Arminians and other non-calvinists. "My salvation is secure because it's rooted in God, not my fickle 'free will,'" they'll say. In fact, John Piper asks the question "How do you know you will still be a believer when you wake up in the morning?" And he answers, "God will see to it."

Of course, Piper is only able to arrive at such a simplistic answer by ignoring the vast number of people for whom God apparently did not "see to it." He is ignoring the vast number of people who, to themselves and those around them, certainly seem to be Christians...who nevertheless fall away from the faith. 

And that leads to two HUGE questions that I think Calvinism has absolutely terrible answers for:

"Whence the apostate?"


"How do I know I'm not one?"

Let's tackle the first one: Whence the apostate? Where do apostates come from? How do they come to be? How do they first gather the wherewithall to approach the faith in the first place, and why do they leave it? How do they seem to display true love, true joy, true peace, etc, only to fall away?

This is a question asked and answered by none other than John Calvin himself, and here he is brutally honest. He asks why faith sometimes seems to be attributed to non-elect, and recognizes that even in daily life, "experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect, so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the elect." Calvin states that the reprobate are sometimes "affected" (affected by whom or what? Answers to come) in such a way that even in their own judgement, there is no difference between them and the elect. In other words, they are so affected that they believe themselves to be elect. Their experience is, to them and others, so similar to the experience of the truly elect that they cannot tell the difference.

This is important. More on this later. For now...affected by who? Who is doing the affecting? Why, the only Person who can ultimately affect anything!

"Therefore it is not at all absurd that the apostle should attribute to them a taste of the heavenly gifts – and Christ, faith for a time

So Calvin says that the Apostle (Paul) ascribes a "taste" of heavenly gifts to these non-elect apostates, and that Christ Himself ascribes to them "faith for a time." But what does this mean, and why does Christ do this? Calvin explains. 

"not because they firmly grasp the force of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith, but because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of adoption."

These non-elect individuals do not actually grasp the force of spiritual grace, nor do they possess the sure light of faith. How could they? It has been kept from them! However, in order to damn them further, Jesus "steals into their minds" to trick them into thinking they're elect.

This is horrifying. This goes well beyond the typical Calvinist portrayal of the long-suffering God who merely punishes the sin He happens to find. Here, God deliberately tricks the non-elect into believing that they are Elect. He gives them a "taste" of spiritual gifts, gives them a tiny bit of temporary faith. Indeed, He steals into their minds to make them think that they're really elect. And why does he do this? 

"To render them more convicted and inexcusable."

And there is NO hint that Calvin realizes the horrifying cognitive dissonance he is displaying here. "To render them more convicted and inexcusable"? What, God deliberately and intentionally stops short of giving them what they need, then punishes them for failing? He lies to them, and punishes them for believing him? He tricks them, and punishes them for falling for it?

This is Calvinism at it's darkest, and it reveals the deep dark truth that God enjoys tricking people into believing that they're his children, just to make their damnation and eternal, fiery punishment that much more satisfying.

Whence the apostate? God. God is the one who drew the apostate to Himself with the intention of damning them by causing them to fall away.

And here's the thing, the really important thing: Honest, consistent Calvinism cannot appeal to a different answer. They can't simply say, "Well, Calvin was just wrong here." Because if Calvinism is true, and there really aren't any "maverick molecules", and everything is going exactly according to God's decretive will...then there isn't any other explanation for the apostate. The apostate could not have come so near to God without God leading him on, and he could not have fallen without God letting him go. Again: If meticulous providence is true, then God is the one who drew the apostate to Himself with the intention of damning them anew by causing them to fall away

So. That's one shudder-inducing question-and-answer out of the way. Now, on to the follow-up that Calvin anticipates and yet utterly fails to provide a satisfactory answer to.

How do I know I'm not an apostate?

"Suppose someone objects that then nothing more remains to believers to assure themselves of their adoption. "

Yes. Yes, I do object that. That is my objection exactly. What do you have to say for yourself?

"I reply: although there is a great likeness and affinity between God's elect and those who are given a transitory faith, yet only in the elect does that confidence flourish which Paul extols, that they loudly proclaim Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates only the elect with incorruptible seed forever so that the seed of life sown in their hearts may never perish, thus he firmly seals the gift of his adoption in them that it may be steady and sure." 

Really? But...I mean, come on, dude. You just said that there are reprobate individuals who so closely resemble the elect, so closely feel what the elect feel, that "EVEN IN THEIR OWN JUDGEMENT" they cannot tell the difference! Indeed, you said it was because GOD HIMSELF desired for them to believe that they were elect! You said it was because Jesus wanted to render them more inexcusable! If God wants to trick me, then I will be tricked. If God wants to make me believe that I'm elect, then I'm pretty sure I'm going to believe it.

And your only response to this is basically "You'll know your faith is real because you'll know"? The "confidence" will "flourish"? The gift of adoption is "steady and sure"? I suppose the unspoken-but-necessary qualifier is "until it no longer flourishes, and is no longer steady and sure."

So how do I know I'm not an apostate, in the Calvinist scheme?

I don't. Because I could have all the confidence in the world that I'm a true believer. I could know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is my Abba and Father. I could feel the gift of adoption in me as steady and sure. And then one day - or one morning, as John Piper posits - I could wake up to find it was nothing but an illusion. One day I could wake up to find that Jesus had merely stolen into my mind to make me think I was an elect, and that the whole thing - my whole "Christian" life - was nothing but a farce to render me even more damnable.

So the question begs to be asked: Does Calvinism really offer assurance of perseverance?

Of course not. One can never be truly sure they're elect, because God Himself apparently makes it his business to trick people into believing they're elect. And again, there is no other explanation for the Calvinist who affirms meticulous providence. Here, Calvin states what is simply and brutally true if Calvinism is to be at all coherent.*

So...if meticulous providence and Calvinism can't offer any real assurance, can Arminianism?

Of course it can.

God has promised throughout the Bible that he desires all men to come to him, and that whoever comes to him he will not cast out.

And he has called and enabled us to come

Therefore, all that remains is faith. All that remains is, every morning, to put faith in the one who has called us. God will never take our faith from us, as Calvin envisions. We have faith, and so long as we continue in that faith, our perseverance is absolutely assured. So long as we remain in Christ, he will remain in us.**

For those who aren't quite convinced, there is a simple thought experiment that demonstrates this whole thing pretty handily: 

Scenario A: My love for my wife is irresistibly caused by a 3rd party, who at any time could flip the switch to the "off" position and immediately irresistibly cause me to stop loving my wife.

Scenario B: My love for my wife is the result of my recognition of my wife's loveliness, and a commitment and dedication to love her, made and renewed every single day. 

In which scenario is the continuation of that love "assured"? In which scenario can I confidently assert that I will wake up tomorrow in love with my wife?

Calvinism offers no assurance: Indeed, it offers a God who actively deceives people into believing they are saved when they are not. Arminianism alone offers a way in which believers can "make their calling and election sure."

*It is at this point (or before) that a Calvinist may well object to my distaste of God's actions. "Who are you, o man," etc etc. The objection goes that if God desires to deceive people and make them believe that they are elect, that is his prerogative. This may well be the case (in the Calvinist scheme, at least). But in any case, it does nothing to address my concern here: You cannot simultaneously say "It is apparently God's good pleasure to cause people to falsely believe they are elect" and "But I know that my own election is secure." If any person falsely believes they are elect - and I believe any Calvinist will admit that - then it was God's decree for them to be deceived, and therefore no Calvinist can be secure.

**Any good Calvinist will object that our salvation is then works-centered, if we must "do" anything, like "have faith" or "remain in Christ." The objection is easily answered, of course, since this language is strictly biblical. Christ says that He will abide in those who abide in Him, and Paul repeatedly commands Christians to remain in Christ, and frequently recognizes that some Christians will not remain in Christ. Our faith in Christ is not a work which saves: In fact, it is an explicit recognition and statement that our works cannot save us. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Man of Blood

"That quietness of his is just a little deadly, like the quiet of a gutted building. It's the result of having laid his mind open to something that broadens the environment just a bit too much. Like polygamy. It wasn't wrong for Abraham, but one can't help feeling that even he lost something by it."
-CS Lewis, That Hideous Strength

I've been thinking a lot about weapons and self-defense, particularly in light of the bravado-filled, antagonistic speech given by Jerry Falwell Jr to the students of Liberty University, urging them to carry concealed guns. And I've arrived at a couple thoughts.

Killing, in and of itself, is not a sin. It can't be, because God actually commands killing in the Old Testament, and God cannot command a sin. The commandment is against murder in particular, and as Chesterton says, "Murder is a spiritual incident. Bloodshed is a physical incident. A surgeon commits bloodshed." All murder is killing, but all killing is not murder: There are instances, such as warfare and self-defense, where killing is just...indeed, there are instances where killing seems to be required of the people of God, at least in the Old Testament.

And yet...there is something about killing - not murder, but killing - that changes a person. Something that makes them...less. And we see this most clearly in the person of David, a man after God's own heart. David desired to build God a temple, a great House...but God told him no. David relates the event: "I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood."

Note that God does not tie David's unworthiness to his adultery with Bathsheba. God does not say that David is unworthy because of his murder of Uriah. God specifically says that David is unworthy because he is a man of war and has shed blood. David won many great victories for Israel, fulfilling God's commandments in battle...but it did not come without a cost. David destroyed the image of God, again and again, shedding blood which is the Lord's, and as a result, he was unfit to build God a temple.

I have a few friends on Facebook who are VERY pro-gun. I know how gun-makers market their creating a scenario where you get to be the hero, where you can gun down the bad guys invading your home or shooting up a mall. Indeed, I've seen many people who seem to wish for such an event to occur, so that they would have the excuse to pull their weapon and stop it! Sadly, I've even seen this attitude from professing Christians.

Is warfare wrong? No. Should Christians participate in the military? The Bible certainly does not prohibit it. But it seems inescapable that we are not meant to be people of war. We are not meant to shed the blood of the image of God. And when we do, it fundamentally changes who we are for the worse. The hands soaked in blood cannot build God's temple, cannot serve him in the way that clean hands can. Killing is sometimes a necessity: it is never something to be desired, or fantasized about, or sought after with aggressive posturing and vain bravado.