"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Friday, June 30, 2006

Good for the Soul

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9 ESV)

As fallen beings, we have a tendency toward extremes that lead us away from God. One extreme is that of downplaying the seriousness of sin. In my own life, I see this tendency far more often than I want anyone to really know. The unkind thought when someone pulls out ahead of me on the open road then chooses not to accelerate at what I think is an appropriate speed. Or water cooler talk that is negative about upper management. Or other examples that are too numerous to mention. The other extreme, which I find much less common in our society today, is excessive guilt and a feeling of worthlessness. In its extreme it is a questioning of God's forgiveness, but I think more often just a question of "cleansing" so that one is fit for service.

1 John 1:9 addresses the latter, but it also carries in it a reminder for the former, particularly in context. John, in 1:8, says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (ESV) I know enough Scripture that I would never claim to have no sin, but I still think I deceive myself by not taking that sin seriously enough. And I don't mean understanding that sin is an infinite offense against a Holy God. Sure I know that, but do I "know" in the sense that it impacts my life and my behavior. Why? I think it is most often because I have not felt (understood in a real and meaningful way) the depth of my sin in large part because I do not stop and consider my sin in relation to the holiness of God.

Confession, in other words, cannot be taken lightly. Confession involves a real acknowledgement that what we did was wrong, evil, sinful and deserving of punishment. Confession incorporates repentance, a pledge to God to turn from our sin. It is in this act of true confession that we find God's forgiveness and cleansing. Not the forgiveness that gives us eternal life, which every believer already has, but the forgiveness and cleansing that makes us effective servants. That the former is true is seen in 1 John 2:1, where John reminds us that when we sin, "we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous." Thus our forgiveness is not based upon us, but upon Christ.

As for the latter, that unconfessed sin hinders our being effective, look at Psalm 51 to see David's concern about the impact of his sin. He prays that he will not be set aside as Saul was; not primarily a concern about losing his kingship, but about being removed from God's presence. David expresses this in the request that God not remove the Holy Spirit from David's life.

As believers under the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit is ever with us. Yet Paul warns us not to grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30). This exhortation comes in the midst of a series of exhortations to live out our salvation. If we are to be effective ambassadors for Jesus in our modern society, there has to be a clear direction change in our lives as we turn from our previous lives of sin to lives of living in Christ. This begins with confession of sin, and requires continual repentance and confession throughout our journey.

I am not arguing that we should be morbid about sin. I believe part of being in Christ is that we have the freedom of forgiveness that should produce joy in our lives. But that joy should come as a result of having lived out the "if" of 1 John 1:9. Confession is good for the soul, but not, as I think many mean by this, because we have psychologically unburdened ourselves. Confession is good because when we confess God cleanses us from the sin so that we may serve Him. The great Biblical picture of this is Isaiah, who upon seeing God's holiness confesses his and Israel's sinfulness. After this confession, he is cleansed via the burning coal, and then commissioned for God's service.

"I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips . . . Here am I, send me."

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Election and the Love of God

Back in the post on the attributes of God, I stated that I would deal with God's love and it's relationship to the doctrine of election separately. Having completed the general study of election it is now proper that we discuss the how the love of God fits into this doctrinal framework.

Of course, the verse that comes to most people's mind first when the love of God is mentioned is John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV) This verse is also frequently cited in debates of the Reformed doctrine of particular redemption, but that is a discussion for another time, perhaps. What all Christians should be able to agree on is that the cross is the greatest expression of the love of God. The greatness of God's love is seen in a willingness to sacrifice His Son on behalf of a rebellious people ("but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" - Romans 5:8 ESV). So what can we say about God's love?

1. It is expansive - John 3:16: However we interpret world, it is clearly meant to show that God's love is without national or ethnic boundaries. It is to our shame as American Christians that we have at times excluded certain peoples, most notably those of African descent, from being full participants within our fellowships. While that has changes to some degree, the church continues to be very segregated in the United States. Given the general decline in a Bible-based Christianity amidst a rising tide of generic spiritualism in the U.S., if we continue to be segregated, then there is little hope for a vibrant Christianity in the U.S. After all, Jesus Himself said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand" (Matthew 12:25).

2. It is unconditional - Romans 5:8: Jerry Bridges' statement in Transforming Grace is as true about God's love as it is of God's grace. "Christ's death was the result of God's [love]; [love] is not the result of Christ's death. But it is also true that our experience of God's [love] is made possible only by the death of Christ" (Transforming Grace, p. 23). We are told that it is not because of any merit in ourselves that God sent Jesus to die on the cross. We were still enemies of God, shaking our fists at the heavens and proclaiming that our wills and wants should be sovereign, and Jesus died for us. Praise God for His love.

3. It is particular - John 10:14-15: This is the intersection of God's love and election. God the Father chose certain individuals out of all the peoples of the earth for His own possession ("But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" - 1 Peter 2:9). This chosen race comes from every race, from every tongue, from every tribe. This is not to say (though some will) that God does not in some sense love every individual. He is the creator, and loves all of His creation with the Creator's love. But there is a particular love that a groom has for his bride, and that is the love that Jesus has for His church (Ephesians 5:25). For those who claim that Jesus made no distinction in His sacrifice, a long discussion is not possible here, but I would point to John 17:9, from what is most frequently referred to as the "High Priestly Prayer" of Jesus, interceding for His people just before the crucifixion. Jesus says, "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours." On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus makes a distinction as He prays between "the world" and "those whom you have given me" praying only for the latter.
So much more could be said about God's love, both in general and with respect to election. For those wanting to pursue the subject further, I would recommend D. A. Carson's "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" or John MacArthur's "The God Who Loves" as good resources for further study.

Friday, June 23, 2006


We now turn to our primary subject. Many verses and quotes already mentioned shed a great deal of light of the subject of election, but let us review them and put them into an orderly fashion regarding this topic. That the Bible discusses election is an accepted fact, even though there is great disagreement as to what the Biblical authors mean by this term. Election is some form of God’s “choosing” of a people, a nation, or an individual.

The Biblical record tells us that election has been a fact from the beginning. Adam was chosen to be the representative, the federal head, of all mankind in the Garden of Eden. Also, Noah, Abraham, Moses, et. al. were chosen by God. Paul writes regarding Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:11-12), "though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad--in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call-- she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'"

But election in terms of the decree is more than election to service or representation. This election is election to eternal life and salvation, as indicated in Romans 8:29-30, cited earlier, where predestination leads to glory. Peter speaks of this in his epistle when he refers to his readers (1 Peter 1:1-2) as those "who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." Paul likewise refers to believers as chosen in Colossians 3:12 "Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience." That this choosing is eternal is expressed in 2 Thessalonians 2:13: "But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth."

Beyond this, we are chosen to be "in Christ," Himself the Elect One, and as such to have fellowship with one another. At the mount of transfiguration, Peter, James and John are exhorted by the Father (Luke 9:35), "And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, 'This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!'" Even the crowds at Jesus crucifixion recognized that the Christ was chosen of God, even if they did not understand Jesus was that chosen one. Luke 23:35 "And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, 'He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!'" That we are in Christ is revealed repeated by Paul, especially in Ephesians, but the clearest statement comes from Colossians 1:27 "To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Because we are in Christ, we are not elected merely as individuals, but we are elected into the community of faith. 1 Peter 5:13 "She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son." 2 John 13 "The children of your elect sister greet you." And at the end of the age, we will be with Christ and all of the elect (Revelation 17:14): "They will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful."

The Bible also clearly indicates that much of the decrees of God are for the elect. Again, Romans 9:23-24 "in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory-- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles." Also, Jesus, in discourse on the Mount of Olives, states (Matthew 24:22) "'And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.'" Whenever these events have, or will, transpire, it is apparent that limitations are placed based on the presence of the elect. Abraham debates with the Angel of the Lord in an attempt to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorra based upon the presence of just ten “righteous men” (Genesis 18:22-33).

Ever so briefly, election is necessary because after the fall, man lost the Arbitrium, that faculty which enables him to choose God, the ultimate good, and to serve God. We still have Voluntas, the ability to choose in smaller matters, but the ultimate choice has been removed. John 3:3, 5 show this, as does John 3:19-20: "And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed." Someone might say, though, that they are not evil. On the contrary, Paul states (Romans 3:12): "All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." But no statement is clearer than Jesus, in John 6:44-45 "'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, "And they will all be taught by God." Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.'" [Note that irresistible grace is taught here as well as regeneration.] Also, in John 8, we read:

42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God."

Election, then, means we have no reason for boasting. Our salvation is God’s work from beginning to end. Instead of questioning His intentions, let us humbly bow in His presence, worship Him for His goodness and love, and submit ourselves to His sovereignty.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Election: Predestination and Reprobation

Aside from some general changes to make it look better on the web, the following is largely untouched from it's original content ten years ago. That's probably because it was something I had thought about and studied a lot prior to writing the paper, therefore my views were pretty well settled on this subject when the paper was written.

The discussion on the decrees (in the previous post) touched on the Biblical evidence for predestination, but briefly that evidence will be reviewed, especially with a view of what it means to say that predestination is "double" - that some are predestined to Hell. One key verse is Romans 8:29, which states "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren." This verse is key for two reasons. First, that predestination is established by this verse, and secondly, that the emphasis is on election to life, not the predestination of some to Hell. The latter will be dealt with here first.

To be sure, reprobation is taught in Scripture. The verse from Matthew 26:24, where judgment is pronounced on Judas as the foreordained betrayer of Christ, is the primary New Testament reference. Paul uses Pharaoh as the Old Testament example, when in Romans 9:17 he quotes Exodus 9:16, writing, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'" [Briefly, note that Paul refers to Scripture where we would expect to see God, indicating again the Bible’s authority as the Word of God.] This verse leads to Paul’s grand statement of God’s sovereignty in the eternal destiny of men (Romans 9:18): "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."

This statement leads Paul where we have to go, because the objection, in today’s terms, is “that's not fair.” In Paul’s day, the wording was, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" (Romans 9:19) Paul responds to this objection two ways. First, he points us back to God’s character, especially that He is our creator and judge.

Romans 9:20-21

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

This response to the questioning of God’s character has a parallel in the Old Testament, where for several chapters, Job and his “friends” have been discussing why God has allowed/caused the catastrophes which have occurred in Job’s life. At the end of the book, God responds to Job’s cries:

Job 38:1-5 "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

2 'Who is this that darkens counsel

By words without knowledge?

3 'Now gird up your loins like a man,

And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!

4 'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding,

5 'Who set its measurements, since you know?

Or who stretched the line on it?'"

God goes on in Job 38-41 to express His wisdom and power. Those troubled by God’s sovereignty would do well to study and reflect on theses chapters. Especially noteworthy for us are the two replies of Job, which must be our replies when we come to question God:

Job 40:3-5 "Then Job answered the Lord and said,

4 'Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee?

I lay my hand on my mouth.

5 'Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;

Even twice, and I will add no more.'"

Job 42:1-6 "Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

2 'I know that Thou canst do all things,

And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.

3 '"Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,

Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4 '"Hear, now, and I will speak;

I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me."

5 'I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear;

But now my eye sees Thee;

6 'Therefore I retract,

And I repent in dust and ashes.'"

When all is said, we will have exhausted our wisdom and not begun to scratch the surface of reconciling God’s sovereignty and His eternal decrees, including reprobation, with the responsibility and free choice of man. Dr. Curt Daniel quotes J. I. Packer (The History and Theology of Calvinism, Lesson 31 “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, 10c), "Our wisdom is to maintain with equal emphasis both the apparently conflicting truths in each case, to hold them together in the relation in which the Bible itself sets them, and to recognize that here is a mystery which we cannot expect to solve in this world." Therefore, we are left to repent with Job when we attribute wrong doing to God, and to praise Him for His majesty and goodness toward those He has chosen for fellowship with Himself. If reprobation does not make us cling to God more, and make us more thankful for our own election, we have not rightly understood it.

But the other thing that is clear from Scripture is that God’s emphasis is on election to life, not reprobation. Bavinck states (Doctrine of God, pp.397), "it is entirely true on the one hand that reprobation should be subsumed under predestination, nevertheless, the former is not in the same manner and in the same sense included in the divine decree as is election." The key difference is that faith is not what causes election, but is a result of it (as will be shown), but sin is that which merits reprobation. Again, Bavinck writes (Ibid., pp.398), "Sin cannot have been the 'efficient and moving cause' of the decree of reprobation - for it followed the eternal decree in time, and, if it had been the cause, all men would needs have been reprobated - but it was indeed 'its sufficient cause' and definitely 'the meriting cause' of eternal punishment."

What must not be assumed is that God rejoices in reprobation. Rejoicing occurs in heaven when a lost sheep is found, but nowhere are we told that God rejoices in condemning sinners to Hell. What Romans 9:22 ("What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?") tells us is that God is willing to reveal Himself, even in wrath. This willingness does not imply rejoicing. (Bavinck, pp. 401):

"But God takes delight in the work he accomplishes by means of election. In that work he sees his own virtues reflected as in a mirror. But that which God effects according to the decree of reprobation is not in and by itself an object of his rejoicing. Sin is not a good in itself. But it becomes a good when by the omnipotent God it is rendered subservient to his glory, however much sin in itself endeavors to thwart God’s glory."

Another way of looking at this that has been helpful to me is that God did not separate two innocent groups of humanity, one for election and the other for reprobation. Instead, He actively chose to save a portion (the elect) from the sinful mass of humanity, all of whom were deserving of the Lord's righteous wrath. The remainder were left in their sin, under judgment. For those who are interested in even deeper theological discussions, yes, that makes me an infralapsarian.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Election: The Decrees of God

In laying the groundwork for the doctrine of election, we have looked at the inerrancy of Scripture and the attributes of God. We are now much closer to looking at election itself. In this post I'll be discussing the Decrees of God, of which predestination, and, therefore, election are but a part.

Election is a problem in some measure because of that of which it is a part. That whole of which it is a part is the doctrine of the decrees of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism has defined the decrees of God as follows: “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” This is a good, solid definition of the decrees of God. As Scripture reference to support this statement, the catechism references Ephesians 1:11, cited in the previous post, and Romans 9:22-23:

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— (Romans 9:22-23 ESV)

In Ephesians, the emphasis is on the purpose of God, which is fulfilled in accordance with the will of God. The emphasis in Romans is on God revealing His glory in the elect. In either passage, what is implied is that God has a purpose, and that purpose works to His glory, especially by revealing His character. This character of God, discussed earlier, includes wrath, power, glory, will, sovereignty, etc.

A more complete description of the decrees of God is given in the Westminster Confession of Faith (3:1), which says:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Ephesians 1:11, Romans 11:33, Hebrews 6:17, Romans 9:15,18) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James 1:13,17, 1 John 1:5) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23, Matthew 17:12, Acts 4:27–28, John 19:11, Proverbs 16:33)

There are several elements here need to be discussed in some detail.

First, the confession affirms that the decrees are “from all eternity.” God is an eternal God, and the plans which he has made are not being changed, but the world is following the plan that He has had since before the creation of the world. Here is the beginning of difficulty; that these plans were made in eternity. Does this then negate the responsibility and freedom of the creature, as God has already “unchangeably ordain[ed] whatsoever comes to pass.” Or, do we say that God has ordained based upon His foreseeing that certain events would occur? There is no doubt that the Bible speaks of God’s foreknowledge – “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29 ESV) – but this does not speak of “foreseen” faith. Ephesians 1:11 denies this when it states the purpose of God is “in accordance with His will.” Nowhere does Paul, or any other Biblical author, indicate that the will of God is subject to foreseen activities on the part of the creature. Dr. Curt Daniel, in his series on The History and Theology of Calvinism, states (Lesson 27, “Foreknowledge”, 4c):

Omniscience of the future is definite, not contingent. It is unconditional, not conditional, for God is sovereign. As we said, absolute foreknowledge requires that a thing shall certainly occur. But what gives it that absolute certainty of existence? Itself? If that were the case, then it would be uncaused by God. But God is the ultimate cause of all things. Therefore, it must be caused by God to be absolutely foreseen. If God foreordained on the basis of foresight of that which He did not foreordain, then God foreordains on the basis of the counsel of another. But Scripture says He foreordains on the basis of His own counsel, not another’s.

So what is from all eternity is the plan of God. This plan, according to the Bible, clearly includes the atonement. “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21 ESV) Also, in the verses surrounding Romans 8:29 we see the plan of God for salvation stretching from before creation through the end of time: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 ESV) This verse, taken along with Romans 8:29, shows that the chain of salvation begins with foreknowledge, which issues into predestination, which sees fruit through calling and justification, then culminates in the sure glorification of all the elect of God.

Secondly, according to the Westminster Confession, it is all things, not merely election, which have been determined by God. Again, this is reflected in Ephesians 1:11, where we are told God works “all things” according to His purpose and will. But we must understand that by doing so, God does not become the author of sin. “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13 ESV) Though sin is part of God’s plan, and will be used for His purpose – “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” (Proverbs 16:4 ESV) – He does so without becoming the responsible party for sin. How does this occur? Here is one area in which we have to yield our curiosity and acknowledge that we are finite creatures with finite understandings, for the Bible does not attempt to reconcile this. We know, as the Westminster Confession states, that God works these things so that no “violence [is] offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” But how this can be we cannot presently see.

While we cannot see the "how" we can see that this is the way God has designed His universe. That God's sovereignty over everything and human responsibility coexist is seen in two Scriptures relating to Christ’s crucifixion. The first, Acts 2:23 ("this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men"), shows the cross to have been part of God’s plan, but still places guilt on the Jews for handing Jesus over to be crucified and places guilt on the Romans who then crucified Him. Likewise, Jesus Himself states, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matthew 26:24 ESV) Here, we are told that Jesus betrayal had been “written” (by the prophets, indicating again Jesus’ faith in the infallibility of Scripture), but judgment is pronounced on Judas’ actions. A final reference from the Old Testament is Joseph’s testimony to God working His good intention through the evil act of Joseph’s brothers: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20 ESV) Clearly, in a way outside of our understanding, God has so worked as to be the primary cause of all events but to do so in such a way that “the liberty or contingency of second causes [is not] taken away, but rather established.

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33 ESV)

Friday, June 16, 2006

Election: The Attributes of God

"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Nothing is more worthy of discussion than who God is. Yet, for the purposes of this post, a brief study is all that is allowed. Therefore, if you have not done so, I recommend you read J. I. Packer’s Knowing God. If you've read Packer and desire a deeper discussion, try either Hermann Bavinck's The Doctrine of God or Stephen Charnock’s classic The Existence and Attributes of God.

The question we have to ask first is “Can we know God?” The Biblical answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Yet not because of our own ability, but through what Calvin calls the “accommodation of God.” That is, that God in humility speaks to us in a language we can understand. (This is possible in part because we are created as persons, and relationship and communication is natural between persons. This communication between persons on earth is but a shadow of the greatest communication of all as it occurs between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity.)

Briefly, Scripture shows this accommodation. God reveals Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14) as YHWH, or “I AM THAT I AM.” This indicates God’s eternal nature, and is the covenant name for Israel. By this revelation we gain true knowledge of God. But no knowledge of God is as complete as that knowledge found in Jesus Christ. As Dr. Douglas Kelly has stated, “Christ’s incarnation is the supreme demonstration of God’s knowability.”

If we are to rightly understand election, God’s independence, His infinity in regards to time (eternality), His simplicity, His omniscience and wisdom, His holiness and righteousness, and His will need to be discussed. First, consider that God is independent. As such, He requires nothing from His creatures. God is happy and complete in the Godhead. Therefore, He did not have to create anything, nor did He have to save anyone. Both of these are gifts of His grace and love.

Also, God has been from eternity. He is not self-created, but uncreated. Eternality implies more than infinite time. It implies that God transcends time. Hermann Bavinck notes that because of this it is in the strictest sense improper to attribute foreknowledge to God, since foreknowledge implies knowing in advance, and there is no “advance” for God, there is only now. We will speak of foreknowledge, however, in the way the Bible uses it, viewing God’s work in time, while acknowledging that time does not constrain God.

Very important as we discuss the decrees is to understand that God is “simple” or unified. His attributes are not in opposition. He does not stop being just so He can be loving. Likewise, He does not stop being loving so He can be just. We speak of different attributes, but they are merely the same character of God seen in different ways. This unity plays out in the decrees of God, which is really only one decree, working itself out in all of creation. We perceive different aspects, but it is all part of the plan.

Not only does God have a plan, but since He is all-knowing (omniscient) and wise, we know every detail and option have been considered, and that only the best options were chosen. John Piper has noted that believing God is sovereign, all-powerful (omnipotent) and wise means that this is the best of all possible worlds. If we truly grasp this, it will help us to address questions in the vein of why are all not saved, or why do some never hear the gospel?

But we must be sure when we look at those questions to remember that God is holy and righteous. God is not the author of evil, nor does anyone get “railroaded” in the heavenly court. If we think God owes us something, in particularly a chance at redemption, we are mistaken. We owe Him our undying, unfailing love, yet in our fallen state we choose not to give it to Him. He would be perfectly just if He saved no one.

Finally, we have to acknowledge that God has a will. He is a person and will is an aspect of personhood. Only God’s will is sovereign in the universe. Paul writes in Ephesians 1:11 “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.

All of this serves to prepare us for a look at the Biblical doctrine of election, as a work under God’s predestination mentioned in Ephesians 1:11. Before we finish here though, one other aspect of God needs to be mentioned, His incomprehensibility. Earlier I stated that because of God’s revealing Himself to man we can truthfully know God. What was not said was that while we know God truly, we do not know Him comprehensively or exhaustively. To study God, and His works, we must come humbly, submitting ourselves to the limitation of Deuteronomy 29:29, knowing we will have questions to which God had not revealed the answers. With this in mind, we will next look at the decrees of God, first predestination and then more specifically election.

Footnote: Where, you might ask, is the love of God in this discussion? After all, John tells us that God is love. The answer is that understanding election is so tied to understanding God's love, that God's love will be discussed with the specific subject of election.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Election: The Inerrancy of Scripture

"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Let me start this post by saying that while the men mentioned in the previous post were formative in my thinking, they should not be held accountable for any errors you find herein.

Reading the Bible through played in my being able to accept the doctrine of election. Natural men, and to a large degree even regenerate men, resist the doctrine of election because it strikes too close to our prideful heart. Without the witness to election in the Scriptures, men would not accept the doctrine of election. An essential element, then, in supporting the doctrine of election is the establishment of the reliability of Scripture. The only way this can be accomplished is by showing the Bible to be inerrant, for if we find error in a part of the Bible, say Genesis 1-11, then how can we trust any of the Bible? As Greg Bahnsen has written (Inerrancy, pp. 153), “if God sets forth false assertions in minor areas where our research can check His accuracy (such as historical or geographical details), how do we know that He does not also err in major concerns like theology?”

Is Genesis reliable? Some today would claim that Genesis, at least in its account of creation, is poetical; some even hold it to be mythical, and borrowed from pagan religions. One reason for this is the widespread acceptance of evolution. Sufficient for our discussion is to note that any detailed analysis of evolution will reveal that evolution is based on certain “faith” assumptions, among them the doctrine of uniformity, that all events in the past transpire according to what we can observe today, and the corollary that nothing external to the natural realm influences the natural realm. In light of this faith based ground for evolution, choosing between evolution and Genesis is taken out of the realm of science. The question then must be asked, do you believe the Bible, when there is no reason not to believe it, or do you follow the teachings of men who are intent on denying God a place in His universe.

Other “problems” have been found which supposedly refute the claims that the Bible is inerrant. Two points are sufficient here. One point is that the claim for inerrancy rests with the autographa, the original writings. Scribal errors may have crept in over the centuries, particularly in areas where numbers differ between the account in Samuel/Kings and the corresponding account in Chronicles. Does this mean we cannot trust our Bibles, since we no longer have the original manuscripts. Again, Bahnsen answers this question well (Ibid., pp. 185): “How can we know that our extant copies are substantially correct transcriptions of the autographa? The answer here is twofold: we know it from the providence of God and from the results of textual science.” In fact, he goes on to add (Ibid., pp. 187), “Textual criticism of the copies of the Scripture we possess has brought immensely comforting results to the church of Christ.”

The second point is the Bible's own internal witness to itself. Our Lord quotes the Old Testament as the authority for deciding all matters. His words in Matthew 19:4-6 (“And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh”? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’”) indicates His commitment to the Old Testament, even the account of the creation of man and woman. John W. Wenham sums up Jesus’ view of Scripture (Inerrancy, pp. 30):

To Christ the Old Testament was true, authoritative, inspired.

To Him the God of the Old Testament was the one living God, and the teaching of the Old Testament was the teaching of this living God.

To Him what Scripture said, God said.”

Further testimony is found in the Apostles. Paul writes in II Timothy 3:16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This verse tells us that the Bible is like the breathe of God, which gives life. But so far we have only supported the Old Testament, what of the New Testament? Peter writes:

II Peter 3:15 “and regard the patience of our Lord to be salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”

Here, Peter equates Paul’s epistles with Scripture. Further evidence and testimony could be given, but hopefully the point has been established. In concluding this section, the Westminster Confession states (1:10): “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.”

A follow up note on things that have changed in the last ten years. First, the topic of evolution has become increasingly more debated with the advent of Intelligent Design (ID) theory. While ID doesn't have a specific Biblical/Christian basis, it does show that the long held theory of evolution is problematic even from a scientific standpoint.

Second, the Bible is under attack again, most notably in a recent book by Bart Ehrman. I would recommend that anyone who has been troubled by Ehrman's claims read the response at Bible.org by Dr. Daniel Wallace. It is a fairly technical read but does a good job of defending inerrancy against Ehrman's accusations.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Election: Introduction

This is a bit of a cheat, I must admit. The following is a modification of a paper I wrote 10 years ago. I came across it again while looking for a paper I had done on the Council of Niceae (a subject for another time, perhaps). Given the recent discussion at the 2006 SBC Pastor's Conference, it seemed like time to think about the subject of election in a more systematic way again. I'll try to get a section out every couple of days. Also, it should be noted that I will use Calvinism and Reformed Theology as synonymous terms and may arbitarily switch back and forth.

My first real introduction to the doctrine of election occurred in my high school world history class. Covering the reformation, the teacher talked about Calvin, his viewpoints, and influence. Whether his presentation of Calvin was fair I cannot recall, but it likely was, as in my unregenerate state I immediately rejected the teaching. My reaction was vehement, and I was sure that there was no way I could ever believe that doctrine.

God, however, had other things decreed for me. In 1985, after having spent several months reading the Bible, I was converted to Christ. Continued study of the Scriptures lead me to a conviction of God’s sovereignty, and though I had begun to consider myself a Calvinist, I really was not clear on what that meant. In the spring of 1989, however, through God’s providence, I was led to a church where I would sit under the teaching of two men, both of whom taught unashamedly the doctrines of grace.

Dr. S. Lewis Johnson had taught at Dallas Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School for several years, and continued to be the preacher for the Sunday Morning services at Believer’s Chapel. He would tell us that if we got nothing else out of his ministry, he was going to convince us of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Shortly before I became a member of Believer’s Chapel, Dr. Curt Daniel had started a class on Wednesday nights on “The History and Theology of Calvinism.” This class was very detailed, running for seventy-five weeks, and Dr. Daniel’s notes will be referred to in this paper.

But the transition was not as easy as the above makes it sound. In between there were my own growing pains, both before, and especially after, Dr. Daniel showed me the implications of what I was coming to believe. And there was the reaction of people in the church I attended prior to 1989. During one in home Bible study, a Bible college student stood up and pointed his Bible at several of us and said, “I think we have Calvinism here.” We really did not at that time, we just had a high view of sovereignty, but the study deteriorated into a shouting match and the unity in the Sunday School class was never regained. The church used a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding reformed doctrines, and chose to ignore the incident rather than call any of us to repentance, and we all needed to repent after that meeting.

All of this serves to illustrate what seems to be a pattern. In the individualistic culture which exists in America, a growing conviction that God is sovereign, especially if it includes His determining the eternal destiny of man, is the “road less traveled” (though I must say that I think Reformed Theology is more common than when I originally wrote this). For that reason, in future posts I will attempt first of all defend, all too briefly, the sufficiency and reliability of God’s record to us in the Scriptures. Then, again in a cursory manner, the character and attributes of God shall be discussed. This is very important groundwork for discussing the doctrine of election. Having done this, predestination will be discussed as part of the decrees of God, with a brief discussion of election’s “evil twin” reprobation. In this discussion, reprobation will be shown to be more of a “wicked step sister” than a twin to election. Then, we shall discuss election in two aspects. The first is as part of the decrees of God. The second is in relationship to the state of man after the fall.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

This Far and No Farther

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

I've been thinking recently about the extent to which we should pursue truth. One of the verses that I fear describes our day is Hosea 4:6. But I'm also cautious about pushing into areas that we may not be intended to understand, given Deuteronomy's "the secret things belong to the Lord." So I've stayed away from some topics. One of these, until more recently, has been the finer points of eschatology. I held to my historic, post-tribulational pre-millennialism because, well, it was historic. But a couple of years back when I was teaching during our Sunday night service I was convinced (the word "con" is in there) into a series on eschatology. I found the study very helpful for me, though I'm not sure the congregation would say that it benefited them greatly. It even encouraged me to do a study through 1st and 2nd Thessalonians in Sunday School. (None of this has moved me from my historic premillennial position, but it has given me a much better understanding of some of my a-millennial and post-millennial friends. )

It also reminded me of the great benefit, particularly in our age, of through a book expositional teaching. This forces you to deal with topics you otherwise would choose to avoid. That's one reason I chose to go through Thessalonians. I had avoided it because of the way it is typically used to support a pre-trib pre-millennial position. Some of those in my Sunday school class might not appreciate hearing these verses from another perspective. But teaching through the two epistles I found the eschatology isn't as prominent as one might expect (it's definitely there, but not the majority of the epistles), and that the other topics in the epistles had much to say to us. "All scripture is profitable." So, while it is true that "the secret things belong to the Lord," Deuteronomy goes on to say that "the things revealed belong to us and our children."

Therefore, the Bible defines our "this far and no farther." We may disagree on where the Bible draws that line on some issues, but if it is the Bible we teach, our lines shouldn't differ greatly. I frequently get in discussions over whether or not the doctrines of grace (the five points of Calvinism, election, etc.) should be taught. Some will say that it can be taught, but you need mature believers. After all, babes need milk and election is too tough for babes to chew. Others reject the idea of teaching it entirely. Not to anyone. Ever. All the while admitting that it is what the Bible teaches. The problem is that it shows up so often in Scripture. Regardless of the intended audience. John wrote his gospel with the expressed intent of bringing people to faith (for lost people), but some of the clearest passages on election are in John's gospel. When we faithful teach through books of the Bible, we have to teach what the Bible teaches.

There are many examples in the last few decades of men who have done this and who have had a great impact on their congregations and conservative Christianity as a whole. I think of the late James Montgomery Boice, the late Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, John Piper, and John MacArthur as four outstanding examples of expository preachers whose messages are reaching far and wide. I also appreciate that these are (were) men who stood against attacks on Biblical authority from several different fronts, and yet maintain joy and a peaceful spirit. Why? Because they were saturated with the Bible that they taught. Because the things revealed enable us through the power of the Spirit to live godly lives.

So, how deep do we wade in the waters? As deep as the Word takes us. If we stay shallow, then there is much of the wonder and splendor of God we will never know. We also will be hindered in our pursuit of a godly life. On the other hand, if we go too deep, out past the Biblical markers, we might lose our way. May our Lord, in His mercy, grant to us a deeper knowledge of Himself, that we might not be destroyed.