Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Nine

Bishop N.T. Wright is one of the world's leading Biblical scholars and has also contributed to the so-called "New Perspective on Paul." Part of Wright's controversial argument is that when Paul uses the term "Righteousness of God", he was not referencing a right status imputed to followers of Jesus by God but to God's own faithfulness to His covenants, namely His binding promise to restore Israel and to bless the world through the descendants of Abraham. Wright's argument has its problems but in Chapter 15 he also finds strong support for his assertion. Verses 8-9 read:
"For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
"Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles;
I will sing the praises of your name." (TNIV).
Scholarship must still hammer all of this out and it is worth noting that both Wright and James Dunn (one of the other leading proponents of the New Perspective) have moved back a bit towards the Classical Reformed position thanks to challenges by D.A. Carson, John Piper, Doug Moo and others. Still, in all fairness, Romans 15:8-9 is an interesting bit to chomp at when wrestling with these issues. One may ask, given the brilliant complexities of inspired Scripture, if the classical Reformed position can be harmonized to a degree with the New Perspective? Is it possible that Paul's pregnant phraseology could encompass both the covenant faithfulness of God and the right status imputed to believers? Most Greek profs would say no but time will tell.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Eight

Here is my translation of Chapter 15: "We who are mature must be patient with those who are sensitive about these things. We must not just do what we want but should look to the betterment of others and help them mature for our King. For even our King did not live to please himself. As the Bible states:
"The insults of those who insult God have fallen upon me." This and other such verses were written as Scripture a long time ago to teach us today and the Bible gives us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God's promises to be fulfilled.
May God who grants such patience and encouragement help you live in peace with one another as is fitting for soliders of King Jesus then all of you can join together as one, worshiping and honoring God, the father of King Jesus, our teacher, rescurer and high priest.
Therefore accept each other just as the King has accepted you so that God will be honored. Remember that our King came as a servant to the Jews to show that God is true to the promises He made to their ancestors and so that the other nations might also might worship God for the mercies offered to them. That is what the Psalmist meant when he wrote:
"For this I will honor your name among the nations; I will sing songs of worship to you."
and in other place it was written:
"Be happy next to His people, you among the nations!"
and yet again,
"Praise the King, all you among the nations.
Praise Him, ALL you people of the earth."
And in another place, Isaiah said:
"The heir to David's throne will come and he will rule over the nations.
They will pin their hopes on him."
I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with happiness and peace because you trust in Him then you will be filled with confident hope through the power of His Spirit.
I am fully convinced, my family, that you are full of God-ness. You know these things so well you can teach each other all about it. Even so, I have been bold enough to write about some of these issues, knowing that all you really need is a gentle reminder. For, thanks to God's divine favor, I am a comissioned messenger for King Jesus to you among the nations. I bring you this good news so that I might present you as an acceptable offering to God set apart by His Spirit. So, I have reason to be enthusiastic about all King Jesus has done through me in my service to God. Yet I dare not brag about anything except what our King has done through me, bringing the nations to God by my message and by the way I worked among them. They were convinced by the power of miraculous signs and wonders and by the power of God’s Spirit. In this way, I have fully presented the Good News of the King from Jerusalem all the way to Illyricum.
My ambition has always been to announce the Good News where the name of the King has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. I have been following the plan spoken of in the Bible, where it says,
“Those who have never been told about him will see and those who have never heard of him will understand.”
In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places.
But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome and after I have enjoyed your company for a little while, you can provide for my journey.
But before I come, I must go to Jerusalem to take a gift to the followers of the King there. For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them since the nations received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially. As soon as I have delivered this money and completed this good deed of theirs, I will come to see you on my way to Spain and I am sure that when I come, our King will richly bless our time together.
Dear family, I urge you in the name of King Jesus to join in my struggle by praying to God for me. Do this because of your love for me given to you by the Holy Spirit. Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem then, by the will of God, I will be able to come to you in a good mood and we can help each other.
And now may God, who gives us His peace, be with you all. Amen.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Seven

My favorite t-shirt is "Jesus, Please Save Me From Your Followers." Whether its the arrogant Emergents who claim humility while lecturing everyone else about how wrong, imperialistic and judgmental they are or the crazy eyed fundamentalists with bomb shelters stocked with dry goods, Tim LaHaye books and head coverings for the women folk, it is often tempting to walk away from the contemporary church with middle fingers raised in salute.
I preached this past weekend on viewing our time on earth in the twin shadows of the crucifixion and return of our King. Part of my sermon was to deny the rapture (which you won't find mention of anywhere in church history before the Darby-ites and the Scofield Bible took the evangelical church by storm in the 19th and 20th century) and I was prepared to defend my position after church against the many John Hagee-ites out there but there was nary a word about it.
Instead, I took flack for wearing an old shirt that is actually the "uniform" for the Slipknot army (all black military shirt with army like insignia and a slip knot on the back). I was told that I was promoting "satanism." Now, I could have responded that most modern country stars who sing about cheating on the wives while hopped up on Ole' Granddad are far more satanic then a bunch of middle aged guys in masks who primarily scream about how angry they are with their parents but I let it go. I didn't drop it because I am just holier than thou but because I had just taught Romans 14.
Paul is dealing with a pretty jacked up bunch of former pagans as well as fairly self-righteous (albeit confused) 1st century Jews. Some come from cultic backgrounds or all kinds of different weird religions kind of like the Texas polygamists and Hollyweird Scientologists of today. Some refuse to eat meat (for all kinds of reasons) and some are still hardcore observers of the Sabbath. Paul tells the churches at Rome to just put up with it. In verse 19, Paul admonishes his churches to bend over backwards to keep the peace while helping the weaker family member (i.e., the vegetarian Sabbath keeper who resembles a town councilmen from Footloose). SO, I will bid my Slipknot shirt a sad farewell. It will never grace the stage of CCC again. Even though I grit my teeth and think "Jesus, please save me from your followers", I'll take the Apostle Paul's advice and just let it go...

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Six

Here is my translation of Romans 14--
Accept other follower of our King who are weak in their trust in him, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For example, one person believes it's all right to eat anything but another believer with a tender conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don't and those who don't eat certain foods must not look down on those who do, for God has accepted them. I mean, who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with our King's help, they will stand and receive his approval. In the same way, some think one day is more special to God than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship our King on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor our King, since they give thanks to God before eating and those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please our King and give thanks to God, for we don't live for ourselves or die for ourselves; if we live, it's to honor the King and if we die, it's to for our King as well. So whether we live or die, we belong to him. The King died and rose again for this very purpose—to rule both of the living and of the dead. So why do you condemn another follower of Jesus? Why do you look down on another one of his servants?
Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Bible states:
"'As surely as I live,' says the King
,'every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'"
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let's stop barking each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall. I know and am convinced on the authority of King Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat but if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong and if another follower is bothered by what you eat then you are not acting in love if you eat it.
Don't let your eating ruin someone for whom our King died then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of ethics and peace and happiness in the Holy Spirit. If you serve the King with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let's try to get along with one another in the church and try to build each other up. Don't rip apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person uncomfortable. It is better not to eat meat or drink beer or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble.
You may believe there's nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don't feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are rebelling against God Himself if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Five

Romans 13 has long been abused. One side uses it to justify injustice propagated by the government while activists generally ignore it. Richard Horsley and others have made a strong, albeit not watertight, argument that Paul is carefully straddling a line during a critical time for the early church. It is important to remember that Paul is indeed executed as an enemy of the state but it is also important to remember that he willingly submitted to the execution even though the charged were bogus (all this depends on whether church tradition is right that Paul was executed by Nero as a part of his scapegoating of Christians for the burning of Rome). It would appear that a follower of Christ but humbly and prayerfully seek a balance between Romans 13 and Acts 5:29).
What is more interesting to me on the eve of my next sermon is that chapters 12-13 are punctuated by the reminder that the hour is late and that our King could soon call any or all of us to account. Paul did not shy away from reminding his churches to walk in the shadow of judgment. Paul was not a televangelist with a pants cranked up to his armpits and a wife with big hair and so much make-up that she looks like she lost a paint ball battle but "the end" (whether personal or corporate) is an issue that Jesus' chosen instrument believed was an important way to keep our depravity in check.

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Four

Here is my translation of Romans 13--

Everyone must submit to the government for those in such positions have been placed there by God for all authority comes from God. So anyone who rebels against that authority is rebelling against what God has instituted and they will be punished. For the authorities do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. Would you like to live without fear of the authorities? Do what is right, and they will reward you.
The authorities are God’s servants, sent for your good. But if you are doing wrong, of course you should be afraid, for they have the power to punish you. They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong. So you must submit to them, not only to avoid punishment, but also to keep a clear conscience.

For these same reasons you should pay your taxes for government workers need to be paid. They are serving God in what they do. Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and fees to those who collect them, encourage and give respect to those who are in authority.

Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you take care of your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s commands for they state, “You must not cheat on your spouse. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not lust after material things.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Take care of your neighbor as you do yourself.” Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

This is all the more important, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up! For our rescue is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of rescue will soon be here. So put away your dark actions like dirty clothes, and put on the white armor of upright living. Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or lusting and other immoral living, or in arguing and jealousy. Instead, surround yourself with the presence of our King Jesus, our teacher, savior and high priest and don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Three

N.T. Wright eloquently summarized what Paul powerfully states in Romans 12 when he wrote that repentance is not just "trying to stop sinning" but reshaping one's very life goals in the shadow of the cross.
At Resurgence a few years ago, Matt Chandler said that he ministers to a bunch of perverts in the Bible belt who think they are going to heaven because they don't cuss or drink beer.
Paul reminded the Romans (and now us) that to be a Christian is worship 24/7 and "renew" or minds or, in other words, to truly follow Christ and follow hard after Christ. The Mother Theresas, Brother Mannings, Desmond Tutus, etc. are supposed to be the exception within the Christian community but the rule.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty Two

Here is my translation of Romans 12:

And so my family, I beg of you to give everything you have and are to God because of all He has done for you. Let everything you are be a living and holy sacrifice to God--the kind He will find acceptable. This is really the way we Worship Him!

Don't act like those around you but let God change you into something new by changing the very way you think then you will come to know what God wants you to do and His plan is good and satisfying and perfect.

Because of the divine favor God has granted to me, I pass on to each of you this warning--Don't think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your assessment of yourselves, measuring who you are by the faith God has given us. You know that just as our own bodies each have many parts and each one has a specific function, so it is with Christ's body. We are all different but all one within our King and we belong to one another.

Thanks to the unmerited gifts God has given us, we all have different talents for doing different things as well. So, if God has given you the ability to speak on behalf of God then do so with as much trust in Him as He has given you. If your gift is helping others, help them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others than do so. If it is giving then give generously. If God has given you leadership abilities then take that gift seriously and if you have a gift for showing kindness to others then do it happily.

Don't just pretend to love others, really love them! Hate what is wrong and cling to what is right. Love each other with the love a good family would give to one another and be quick to brag on another. Never be lazy but work hard and serve your King zealously. Draw your happiness and peace from the hope we trust in. Be patient when faced with difficulty and pray hard. When God's people are in need then be ready to help them. Always be eager to welcome others into your home.

Pray for those who wrong you. Don't wish them ill. Pray that God will be good to them. Party with those who are happy and cry with those who down. Live in peace with each other. Don't be a snob or condescending.

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see that you are worthy of admiration. Do all that you can to get along with everyone.

My friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the justified anger of God. For those Bible says:

"I will take revenge;

I will pay them back, says God.:


"If your enemies are hungry, feed them.

If they are thirsty then give them something to drink.

In doing this you will shame them for what they have done."

In other words, don't let evil beat you but defeat evil by doing good.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

A Brief Break From Romans

A few sidenotes before jumping back into Romans--
1) Prayers are appreciated for my family. My mother is in the hospital after blacking out while shopping. Seems to be okay but they are still running tests.
2) Finishing N.T. Wright's brilliant book on eschatology "Surprised by Hope." Highly recommend it. Will give Tim Keller's book "Reason for God" a run for its money for best book of the year.
3) Planning to see "Expelled" this week. Reviews have been pretty positive.
4) Check out the book review for "Rapture Ready" over at The book is an examination of the often bizarre world of Christian subculture.
5) Am preaching next weekend. It will be loud and tick off a lot of people for no other reason than trashing belief in the rapture.
God bless!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty One

In Chapter 11, Paul emphatically notes that God has not rejected the Jews in total as is evidenced by the remnant that remains faithful to the true King of creation. Yet, Paul then takes things in a totally puzzling direction by stating in verse 26 that "all my fellow countrymen shall be rescued." What is he talking about? Dispensationalists argue that after the rapture, tribulation and all the other stuff that has given Tim LaHaye "up yours money" that all of Israel will follow Jesus as King but for reasons that are too involved for this post (which I type in a bed & breakfast in friggin' New Jersey) I ain't no dispensationalist.

Pre-mill Calvinists like Doug Moo argue that 11:25-32 refers to a large number of Jews who will be saved over time (i.e., generations of remnants eventually numbering the whole number of Israelites at the time) culminating in a mass revival of Jews at the time of the return of Jesus. This is certainly a better reading than the dualistic dispensationalist reading that was a product of the twisted mind of a torked English lawyer named Darby.

However, I think N.T. Wright is correct to argue that 11:26 is a reflection of 10:13 (and one must also keep 9:5 in mind) that Paul has redefined "Israel" as the people of God whether they be Jew or Gentile.

Wright's argument is bolstered by Galatians 6: ("May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! 16 As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.") (NRSV).

Finally, Wright is also correct to argue that the normal English translation "So all Israel shall be saved" should be rendered "in this manner all Israel shall be saved" to prevent temporal confusion.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Forty

Here is my translation of Chapter 11:
"Well, then Paul, has God rejected His own people, the nation of Israel?" NO! (see earlier notes) I myself am an Israelite, a physical descendant of Abraham and a member of the tribe of Benjamin. No, God has not rejected His own people, those He chose before creation. Do you remember what the Bible says about this? Elijah the prophet complained to God about the people of Israel and said, "My King, they have killed your commissioned spokesmen and torn down your places of worship. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!"
But do you remember God's reply? He said, "NO! I have 7000 others who have refused to worship demons!"
It is the same today, for a few of my fellow countrymen have remained faithful because of God's unmerited gifts--His undeserved mercy in choosing them and since it is through God's kindness, then it is not by their good deeds, for, in that case, God's favor would not be what it really is--free and wholly undeserved.
So this is the score: Most of my fellow countrymen have not found the favor of God they are searching for anxiously, but a few have, the ones chosen by God, but the hearts of the rest were hardened. As the Bible says,
"God has put them in a deep sleep.
To this day he has shut their eyes so they do not see,
and closed their ears so they do not hear."
Likewise, David said,
"Let their smorgasbord become a trap,
an ambush that makes them think all is well.
Let God's gifts cause them to fall
and let them get what they deserve.
Let them be stricken blind so they cannot see,
and let their backs be bent (like a blind man groping) forever."
Did God's people stumble and fall without hope of getting back up? NO! They were rebellious, so God stretched out His hand to the Gentiles but He wanted His own people to become jealous and grasp His hand themselves. Now if the Gentiles have been blessed because my fellow countrymen turned down God's offer of rescue, think how much greater a blessing the world will share when they finally accept it.
I am saying all of this especially for those of you who are not Jews. God has commissioned me to be His ambassador to the Gentiles, I want you to understand this, for I want, somehow, to make my fellow countrymen jealous of what you non-Jews have, so I might rescue some of them. For since their rejection meant that God offered to rescue the rest of the world, their acceptance will be even more awesome! It will be life for those who are dead! and since Abraham and his children were set apart for God's great plan, their children will also--just as a batch of dough is set apart for God because a piece of it is used in worship for if the roots of a tree are set apart for
God's purposes then the branches will be too!
But some of these branches, from Abraham's tree, that is, some of my fellow countrymen, have been pruned off and you non-Jews, who were branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted in, so now you also receive the divine favor God promised Abraham and his physical descendants, sharing in the rich life giving substance from the root of God's special olive tree. BUT, do not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch not the root.
"Well, Paul," you may say, "those branches were broken off to make room for ME!" Yes, but remember those branches were sliced off because they refused to follow our King, and you are there because you do follow. So, don't be too proud of yourself, but fear what could happen for if God did not spare the original branches then he won't spare you either!
Note how God is both kind and harsh. He is harsh toward those who rebel but kind to you if you continue to trust in His mercy BUT if you stop trusting then He will slice you off and if my fellow countrymen repent then they will be grafted in again for God has the power to graft them back into His tree.
So, if God was willing to do something contrary to nature by grafting you into the tree He planted and cared for, He will be far more eager to graft the original branches back into the tree where they belong.
My family, please understand this mystery so that you will not become arrogant. Some of my fellow countrymen have hard hearts, but this will last only until the full number of non-Jews come to follow our King. All Israel will be saved as the Bible states:
"The one who rescues will come from Jerusalem,
and He will turn Israel away from ungodliness.
and this is my covenant with them,
that I will take away their sins."
Many of my fellow countrymen are now enemies of the Good News and this benefits you non-Jews, yet they are still the people He loves because He chose their ancestors--Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for God's gifts and call can never be withdrawn. Once you non-Jews were rebels against God, but when the people of Israel rebelled against Him, God was merciful to you instead. Well, now they are the rebels and God's mercy has come to you so that they too will share in God's mercy. For God has jailed everyone in rebellion so that He could have mercy on everyone.
MAN! How great are God's riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand His decisions and His ways!
"For who can know the Lord's thoughts?
Who knows enough to counsel Him?
and who has given Him so much
that He needs to pay it back?"
For everything comes from Him and exists solely by His great power and is intended for His glory. All worship to Him forever! Amen!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Nine

In chapter 10, Paul truly laments over his fellow countrymen. Paul unpacks his earlier statement that even the children of Abraham, according to the flesh, are without excuse because they have heard and understood the Gospel but have simply refused to accept it, primarily because of the inclusion of the Gentiles. Paul points out that Moses and Isaiah made it clear that Gentiles were always meant to be a part of God's covenant family. N.T. Wright is certainly correct to point out that the covenant with Abraham was God's answer to the the problem of sin but that Abraham's children became part of the problem as well as the carrier of the solution, so Jesus took the necessary action himself. However, Israel continued to selfishly insist on bogarting the presence of God or, as Wright puts it, taking the great light of God and attempting to place mirrors around it instead of windows to guide the rest of the world home. Once again, Paul makes it clear that God has been faithful to His promises but we have been the obstinate ones.

Now, aren't you glad that we have learned so much that we in the pews no longer selfishly keep the light of God to ourselves as to only feed our own selfish desires but instead selflessly share it with all? Oh, wait...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Eight

Here is my translation of Chapter 10:
My family, my innermost desire, reflected in my prayers to God, is that the Israelites may be rescued. For I would swear in a court of law that they are passionate for God but their passion is not based on a true understanding of God, since they did not know the way God makes people right with Him. Refusing to accept God's way, they cling to their own way of "getting right with God" by trying to keep the Mosaic Law even though our King has already accomplished the purpose for which the law was given. As a result, all who believe in our King are declared to be in right relationship with God.
For Moses wrote that the law's way of making people right with God requires to obedience to all of its commands but faith's way of getting right with God says, "Don't say in your heart 'who will go up to heaven (to bring our King down to earth) and don't say 'who will go dead to the place of the dead (to bring our King back to life again).'" In fact, it says:
"the message is very close at hand'
it is on your lips and in your heart."
That is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is King and believe in your innermost being that God raised him from the dead, you will be rescued. For it is by believing with everything you have that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are rescued. As the Bible states, "anyone who trusts in him will not be disappointed." Jew and non-Jew are the same in this respect--they have the same King who gives generously to all who appeal to him. For "everyone who appeals to the King will be rescued."
"But, Paul, how can they appeal to to him to save them unless they already believe in- or trust in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? and how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? Isn't this why the Bible states, "the messengers who bring good news is always welcome!"
But remember, not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the Prophet said, "My King, who has believed our message?" So you say, "belief and trust comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about our King, but I ask you, haven't the people of Israel heard the message? Yes, they have:
"The message has gone throughout the earth,
and the the words to all the world."
And then I ask you, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said,
"I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation.
I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles."
and later, Isaiah spoke boldly for God saying,
"I was found by people who were not looking for me.
I showed myself to people who were not asking for me."
But regarding Israel, God said,
"All day long I opened my arms to them,
but they were rebellious and stubborn."
Comments tomorrow. God bless,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Seven

At a certain point the Arminian-Calvinist debate can lapse into what William Abraham at SMU calls "Biblical ping-pong" where we just cite verses back and forth at one another.

I confess that my own journey toward Reformed theology has been a long and difficult one. I became a Christian in 1997 and read through the Bible for the first time that year using old Chuck Smith tapes to help me study. Smith is an Arminian from Calvary Chapel. I then attended an Arminian Bible college (Kentucky Christian), an Arminian seminary (ACU) and worked as a pastor in two different churches (churches of Christ and Methodist) that are both free will in orientation. What happened?

I began to read Calvin, Edwards, Wayne Grudem, etc. and listening to John Piper, Tim Keller and Mark Driscoll more out of curiosity then anything else. I quickly learned that not every Calvinist is a cocky fatalist as I had stereotyped them to be. Most Calvinists actually possess a lot more humility than their Arminian counterparts because they openly embrace paradox (e.g., we are only saved by being among the elect but our held accountable for our actions) and the lack of a god-like perspective (e.g., we urge others to "strive" for salvation because we stand behind a veil of ignorance where only God knows who the elect truly are). Moreover, as much as I am still a knee-jerk Arminian, I never bought the Free Will readings of Romans 9, Ephesians 1-2, etc. Romans 9 is certainly more than a "lament," Paul does not delineate mission and salvation as cleanly as many Arminians wish to dissect them and a meta, corporate reading of election simply is not the most natural one. So, I am a very reluctant Calvinist.

I do find it ironic, however, that 2000 years after the fact, we are still raising the same objections that Paul anticipates in Romans 9!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Six

What about the five points of Arminianism (i.e., D.A.I.S.Y.)?

Diminished depravity-- Luke records Jesus urging his hearers to "strive to enter through the narrow door; for many I tell you will try to enter and will not be able." (Luke 13:24). An Arminian would argue that this begs the question why Jesus would urge them to "strive" if saving faith is wholly a gift from God. See also John (often seen as the hard determinist among the Gospel writers) 7:18-18; 10:9; 12:32 (one of many verses where Jesus seems to be speaking about calling "all" people not just the elect); Acts 16:31; 17:26-28; Romans 10:9, 14-15; Eph. 1:13; etc.

Abrogated election (i.e., election to salvation involves both the sinner choosing God and God choosing the sinner). See Acts 15:7-9.

Impersonal atonement which means Jesus died for ALL people (John 3:16), paying the price of redemption for them all BUT still requiring a move by the sinner to grasp offered forgiveness (see also John 1:29; Rom. 5:6-8, 17-18; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; etc.).

Sedentary grace i.e., the Holy Spirit can be resisted by the sinner. See Luke 7:30; John 3:34; Acts 7:51; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 10:29, etc.

Yieldable justification--those who believe and trust can still lose their salvation by turning their back on Jesus. See Matt 5:13; 24:13; John 8:31; 15:1-7; Romans 11:22; Gal. 5:4; etc.

So, who has the better over all argument? Check back tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Five

Okay, where do Calvinists get off spouting TULIP (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints)?
Total Depravity? The prophet Jeremiah stated, "the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked" (17:9). See also, Romans 7:18-24 ("I know that nothing good dwells within me..."), Psalm 51:5; John 5:42,; etc. Moreover, just open a newspaper!
Unconditional Election? In Romans 8-9 Paul writes eloquently about election or predestination as he does in Eph. 1:3-6 and 2 Thess. 2:13 but its not just Paul, see John 6:44, 65; 15:16; 17:2; etc. Also ask yourself if the election of Israel and of Paul should hint at such action on a larger scale?
Limited Atonement? Take a look at John 17:4-24 and work it out but also think logically about the implications of the atonement if unconditional election is true...I mean, if God only chose some then who did Jesus die for?
Irresistible Grace? Paul writes in 1 Cor. 12:3 that no one can call Christ their King except by the Holy Spirit. Paul goes so far as to state that saving faith itself is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8) and John records in his Gospel that Jesus stated "All that the father gives me shall come to me." (6:37).
Perseverance of the "Saints"? Paul writes in Romans that the gifts and call of God are irrevocable (11:29) and Peter writes in his first letter "To God's elect...who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.
Praise to God for a Living Hope. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time."
So, Calvinists are not pulling their doctrine out of thin air. They do have scriptural support. What about the Free Willers? Check back tomorrow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Four

Okay, what about Calvinists?

Total Inability or Total Depravity

Because of the fall, man is unable of himself to "savingly" believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free, it is in bondage to his evil nature, therefore, he will not - indeed he cannot - choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more than the Spirit's assistance to bring a sinner to Christ - it takes regeneration by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation but is itself a part of God's gift of salvation - it is God's gift to the sinner, not the sinner's gift to God.

Unconditional Election

God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response of obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc. On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause of God's choice. Election therefore was not determined by or conditioned upon any virtuous quality or act foreseen in man. Those whom God sovereignty elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing acceptance of Christ. Thus God's choice of the sinner, not the sinner's choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement

Christ's redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ's redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, therefore guaranteeing their salvation.

The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace

In addition to the outward general call to salvation which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call the Spirit irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man's will, nor is He dependent upon man's cooperation for success. The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God's grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

Perseverance of the Saints

All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.

In sum, Calvinists believe that salvation is accomplished by the almighty power of the Triune God. The Father chose a people, the Son died for them, the Holy Spirit makes Christ's death effective by bringing the elect to faith and repentance, thereby causing them to willingly obey the gospel. The entire process (election, redemption, regeneration) is the work of God and is by grace alone. Thus God, not man, determines who will be the recipients of the gift of salvation.

Who has the better Biblical argument? More tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Three

The debate over how to understand Romans 9 largely stems from the debate over free will and predestination. So we are all on the same page here is a helpful summary of Arminianism that I found online. Calvinism will come tomorrow.

Free-Will or Human Ability

Although human nature was seriously affected by the fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does not interfere with man's freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it. Man's freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power to either cooperate with God's Spirit and be regenerated or resist God's grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit's assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man's act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner's gift to God; it is man's contribution to salvation.
Conditional Election

God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by or conditioned upon what man would do. The faith which God foresaw and upon which He based His choice was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit) but resulted solely from man's will. It was left entirely up to man as to who would believe and therefore as to who would be elected unto salvation. God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner's choice of Christ, not God's choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.
Universal Redemption or General Atonement

Christ's redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for every man, only those who believe on Him are saved. His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone's sins. Christ's redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.
The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted

The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that He can to bring every sinner to salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit's call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man's contribution) proceeds and makes possible the new birth. Thus, man's free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ's saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God's grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.
Falling from Grace

Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc. All Arminians have not been agreed on this point; some have held that believers are eternally secure in Christ - that once a sinner is regenerated, he can never be lost.
In sum, "Free Willers" or Arminians believe that salvation is accomplished through the combined efforts of God (who takes the initiative) and man (who must respond) - man's response being the determining factor. God has provided salvation for everyone, but His provision becomes effective only for those who, of their own free will, "choose" to cooperate with Him and accept His offer of grace. At the crucial point, man's will plays a decisive role; thus man, not God, determines who will be recipients of the gift of salvation.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty Two

Chapter 9 is easily one of the most controversial passages of scripture. Some believe that the lack of connecting words between chapters 8 and 9 indicate a pause in Paul's argument as he lapses into a lament over the rebellious state of Israel. I'm not so sure.
Remember that in Chapter 8 Paul has just finished a long discourse on the celebration of God's love including the assurance of salvation even in the midst of persecution. It is likely no accident, therefore, that Paul moves to discuss election. However, in line with the diatribe style, he must anticipate certain objections, the strongest of which is, "If we are to trust God's current promises, what are to make of His past promises?" The question begged invokes painful emotions within the great apostle to the Gentiles because he still so closely identifies with his fellow countrymen. Paul clearly believed that most of his fellow Jews stood condemned (Ch. 2 and 9-10:1).
While Paul re-affirms the great honor and privilege accorded to the nation of Israel culminating in the King of the universe himself claiming Jewish heritage according to his human nature he then goes on to demonstrate from the Bible that being a member of God's true chosen people has never rested on birth or works but purely on God's sovereign election or call--i.e., Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau and the remnant who had not followed the baals. In other words, there has always been an "Israel within Israel" who are privileged to be a part of God's plan and granted the free gift of salvation.
This assertion obviously raises certain objections, namely, if God grants saving faith then how can He condemn many for not having it what only He can give? Paul gives no real explanation to the paradox of how it is that we are responsible our actions yet only saved by election before we are even created. Paul simply asserts, using more Biblical illustrations, that this is the way it is and as creatures rather than creators we have no right to shake our fist at a Holy God and cry "unfair."
Paul's assertion still raises a number of objections and I will deal with those later. I will note, however, that as a Christian raised in an Arminian church, a minister educated at a Free Will seminary and a pastor licensed by the Methodist church, it pains me to say this--Paul was a Calvinist!!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty One

Here is my translation of Romans 9--
Now I am being brutally honest, our King is my witness and both my conscience and the Holy Spirit confirm it that my whole being is shaken with grief and I suffer unending heartbreak for my people, my Jewish family. I would be willing to be forever separated from my King, to be cast into hell if that would save them.
They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God's adopted children. God revealed His true self to them. He entered into a very special relationship with them including the giving of His law. He gave them the privilege of worshiping Him and receiving His great promises. They trace their genealogy to the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob) and our King himself was an Israelite, at least as far as his human nature is concerned, and for goodness sakes, he is God, the one who rules over everything and is worthy of praise forever! Amen!
"Well then Paul, has God failed to fulfill his promise to Israel?" HECK NO! (see earlier post), just because a person is born into the nation of Israel does not mean that they are truly a member of God's chosen people! Tracing your genealogy back to Abraham does not make you a "child of Abraham." The Bible says that "God will regard your true children as having been born through Isaac" even though Abraham had another son.
Remember the story, God promised Abraham that He would return the next year and that Sara would have a son and he was Isaac who married Rebekah who gave birth to twins BUT before they were even born, before they had done anything good or evil, she received a message from God, a message demonstrating that God chooses people according to His own purposes; He selects persons, but not according to whether or not they have done something good or bad). She was told "Your older son will serve your younger son" or, as the Bible puts it, "Jacob I loved but Esau I hated."
"Paul, how do I respond to that? Can we conclude that God is unfair?" HECK NO! Remember, God said to Moses:
"I will show mercy to whomever I choose and I will show compassion to whomever I choose."
and the Bible states that God told Pharaoh "I have selected you for the very purpose of displaying my power and to teach the whole world who I am."
Understand, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
"Paul, people might respond, 'Why then does God blame anyone for who can resist His will?'"
I answer, "who are you to question God? Does the creation get to quiz the creator asking 'Why have you made me like this?" When a manufacturer makes something doesn't he have the right to use what he wants and toss what he wants? Remember that although God has every right to display His justified anger and power He is very patient even with those whom His justified anger will fall upon, those made for destruction. He does this to make the greatness of who He truly is known so clearly to those whom He shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for eternal life and we are among those whom He selected, both from among the Jews and the Gentiles.
Remember that God said about non-Jews through His prophet Hosea:
"Those who were not my people I will now call my people. I will love those whom I did not love before" and
"Then, at the very place they were told, 'you are not my people', they will be called 'Children of the living God"
and the prophet Isaiah announced this regarding Israel.
"Though the people of Israel are as many as their are pebbles of sand on a beach only a select few will be rescued for the King will carry out His sentence upon the earth quickly and with finality."
and, at another time, Isaiah said the same thing,
"If the leader of heaven's armies had not spared a few of our children we would have been wiped out like Sodom, destroyed like Gomorrah."
Okay, what does this all mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to live up to God's standards, they were made right with God and it was by their belief and trust that this took place BUT the people of Israel who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping law never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of trusting in Him! They stumbled over the great rock in their path. God warned them of this in the Bible when He said,
"I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in Him will not be disappointed."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Thirty

In Chapter 8, Paul alludes to his earlier statement that we are all under condemnation thanks to Adam's sin (ch. 5) but reminds us that thanks to our union with Christ we are saved. We are united with Christ not only in his death and resurrection but also with his perfect obedience so that the law has been fulfilled on our behalf (v.4). We have now been set free in this new existence to follow the lead of the Spirit.

Paul assures the Romans (and us) that this union with our King even includes a full share of Jesus' inheritance! We are even able to call upon the powerful, creator of the universe as a son would upon a father, again, thanks to our union with our King (vv.12-16) BUT Paul reminds us that our union with our King does not come without a price--grace is free but it ain't cheap!

Contrary to the rattlings of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, etc. we are also called to suffer with our King. Paul quickly reminds us that this suffering is nothing compared to the future glory that awaits us (vv. 18), but it is still a harsh reality that we must live within a fallen world that cries under the affliction of sin like a woman giving birth (and remember that when Paul wrote Romans, women were not given pain killers!).

Paul realizes all too well that it is easy to lose hope while suffering but he assures us that nothing can separate us from the love of our King (v.39) because, as we will outline in detail, those of us who have God's Spirit within us were in fact chosen by God to be His son's loyal subjects even before the creation of the world (vv. 29-30). More on all of that later!

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A Brief Break from Romans

Christianity Today posted a story on-line this week about a recent flap at Cedarville University. The story begins:
"Cedarville University has become entangled in a dispute over theology and academic freedom after it terminated two tenured professors in July 2007. Cedarville's board of trustees upheld Bible professor David Hoffeditz's termination Friday, despite a report from a faculty grievance panel of five professors that determined that the college had made "administrative missteps" in the termination process. In classrooms, the professors openly challenged other faculty members whom they felt encouraged postmodern or Emergent theology.

"[The board] examined all of the evidence and the testimonies and so on and were convinced without a shadow of a doubt that he had violated his contract. It was not over doctrinal, theological issues at all," President William Brown told Christianity Today. Brown declined to discuss the details why Hoffeditz was terminated but said that they have to deal with the university's standards. "[Standards] involved how you treat each other, how you talk about each other, what's acceptable, and what's not. [Those standards] among others were violated."
The story goes on to state:
"The theological aspects of the dispute center on the degree of certainty Christians can have regarding their beliefs about God and other central doctrinal matters. A Cedarville Q&A Webpage dedicated to the controversy indicates that some among the university community are concerned that the institution may be moving in a "postmodern" or "Emergent" direction.
All faculty are required to sign the "Truth and Certainty" statement, a document created in 2006 that states that objective truth exists, that the Bible is inspired, infallible, and inerrant, and that Christians can be assured of their salvation."
So, let me get this straight...Cedarville, like most Christian schools, have a few emergent profs who other, more orthodox profs feel are leading the students astray and when the latter challenged the former, they were canned for it. Now, I'm sure the fired profs were not as grace-filled as they should have been but, it also sounds like the profs falling in the former camp have violated the covenant they made with the university. Sad.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Notes on Romans--Part Twenty Nine

As for Chapter 8, Doug Moo says it well in his brief commentary on Romans contained in the New Bible Commentary--
"The Christian’s deliverance from condemnation—the penalty of death because of sin under which all people live—takes place by virtue of our union with Christ (5:12–21). Vs 2–4 (of chapter 8) explain further that this deliverance has been accomplished by the triune God: the Father sending the Son as a sin offering for us (3), on the basis of which the Spirit liberates us from the power of sin and death (2) and secures complete fulfilment of the law on our behalf (4)."
Moo goes on to state:
"Through Christ Jesus the Spirit of God sets us free from the situation of bondage to sin and death alluded to in 5:12–21 and 6:1–23 and described in 7:7–25. The Spirit must so act because the great power of the ‘old regime’, the Mosaic law, was quite incapable, because of human weakness, of breaking sin’s bondage (3a; cf. 7:14–25). What the law could not do, God did: he broke sin’s power—condemned sin—by sending his Son to identify with us and to give himself as a sin offering...[t]his sending of the Son enables the true fulfilment of the law by those who live according to the Spirit. Paul does not mean that Christians are enabled to obey the law (however true this might be) but that Christians are considered by God to have fully met the law’s demand because of Christ’s obedience on our behalf."
Moo goes on to perfectly outline the doctrine of adoption found in verses 14-17. Paul illustrates that being "in Christ" not only frees us from a death sentence but also brings us into such a close relationship with God that we are virtually His adopted children BUT as His children we are also heirs with certain family responsibilities including joining the suffering that will eventually make God's good creation perfect again. Paul finishes the chapter assuring us that although those of us in Christ will indeed face great suffering, we need not doubt our ultimate salvation because we have been chosen by God even before the beginning of the world. This sets the stage for the controversial but powerful argument of election outlined in Chapter 9. Check back!