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

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.19-21

In wrapping up this series on Dr. Breshears interpretation of Romans, I need to deal with his last two points, which focus first on the objection raised by Paul's anticipated antogonist, and the example of the potter and the clay.

Point Four

Point 4 in Dr. Breshears' paper is:
Verse 19: Who resists God's will? Idiots like Pharaoh! Learn from him that No one is so powerful that they can get away with resisting God's will.
Romans 9:19 reads:
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”

I have two problems with this point, either of which would make Dr. Breshears' point four incorrect. First, why would the hypothetical questioner raise this objection if, as Dr. Breshears is claiming, Paul's point is that "God is persistent to bless His sinful people." In the audio Dr. Breshears seems to say that Paul's supposed antogonist is misinterpreting the Apostle in the same way Calvinists have misinterpreted him since the Reformation.

But look at the other hypothetical objections in Romans. In any of them, has the questioner been so wrong about what Paul had been saying? No, in these other hypothetical objections, the questioner has understood Paul's argument, but then misapplied what Paul had been saying (for example, grace is greater than sin is correct; that we should then sin more is a misapplication). This would not be the case in Romand 9 if Dr. Breshears is correct. Instead, the questioner would have a basic misunderstanding of what Paul is saying.

The second problem is best seen by moving on to point five, because the problem lies in the fact that Paul's answer does not resemble Dr. Breshears, but is a answer defending God's right as creator.

Point Five:

Point 5 in Dr. Breshears' paper is:
Verses 20-21: One lesson from the potter (Isa 45:9-11; Dan. 4:35, etc.) No one can charge God with injustice when He punishes the evildoer. The other lesson of the potter (Jer. 18:1-10): God persists in making ruined things beautiful again. Human response has significant impact on God's cursing/blessing. He responds to resistance and repentance.
Romans 9:20-21 reads:
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 honorable use and another for dishonorable use?

In order to say that Paul is not defending God's right to sovereignty over all aspects of His creation, Dr. Breshears says we can learn two things from the example of the potter. First, that God cannot be blamed for punishing evildoers (a great point) and that God makes ruined things beautiful again (another great point). But neither of these are the point of the potter story and even if they were, how do they serve to refute the hypothetical question of v.19 if, as Dr. Breshears claims, Paul's answer is that "idiots like Pharaoh resists God's will"? The potter example is much more relevant to the question of "If God sovereignly has mercy on some and hardens others, how then can He justly judge anyone?"

For example, Dr. Breshears lists Isaiah 45:9-11 as part of the Biblical picture of God as a potter. This passage is a prophecy of the Persian ruler Cyrus, who will be God's instrument in returning the Jews to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. Notice what Isaiah says about God's use of Cyrus:
"I have stirred him up in righteousness,and I will make all his ways level;he shall build my cityand set my exiles free,not for price or reward,”says the Lord of hosts.

This is not God reaching out to a rebellious leader, but God choosing Cyrus for a purpose long before Cyrus is even born. In other words, this is the potter making whatever he wants from the clay. Paul using the potter as an example of God's activity is not saying that "Idiots like Pharoah" resist God's will, but that God has control over the hearts of even men like Pharoah and Cyrus.


Again, I think Dr. Breshears is correct that we need to come to the Scriptures admitting our biases. I like how he uses other Scriptures to interpret the passage he is studying. But I think he reaches an erroneous conclusion about Romans 9.

If one thing is missing from his approach, it is a comparison the what the church has believed about what a passage means. Rejecting all major interpretations, which Dr. Breshears seems to acknowledge he has done in the audio, requires a huge amount of evidence. Not only do I not see an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of Dr. Breshears' interpretation, it seems to be reaching.

So what is the answer to the question of why we can trust Paul's statements in Romans 8 given the rejection of Israel? Because God's promises never were for all ethnic Israel, but only for a remnant called and preserved by God's gracious choice, the true Israel. This division can be seen in Isaac being chosen over Ishmael, in Jacob over Esau, and even in Pharaoh, who was chosen as an instrument to reveal God's glory not through repentance and faith, but through rebellion and hardness. God's choice stands, and those He has chosen in Christ are therfore secure.

Links to the previous posts: Introduction; The Big Picture; Points 1 and 2; Point 3

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Cyberspace and Blogs

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Neil Postman's "Amusing Ourselves to Death" is one of the better (the best?) cultural critiques I've read (don't take my word for it - check out the review on Discerning Reader). This video is worth listening to the whole thing (it's an interview, the video portion isn't really needed), even if you don't agree with everything he says. I like the concluding question he says we need to ask, "Am I using this technology or is it using me?"

If 10 minutes is longer than you want to spend, then let the video load and watch from about 6:00 minutes remaining to 3:40 minutes remaining (however, by doing this you'll miss some thought provoking ideas).

I also like a related comment made by Os Guinness in a recent interview conducted on the White Horse Inn.
But it comes down in the rain or it comes from your mother's milk in this country. . . You take something as irrational currently as the blogs. Now the blogs are partly a useful counter check on the public media. But if you ever want an explosion, an orgy of irrationality and emotionality, look at the blogs. This is our world. A world of television, image, makeovers, blogs, impression management, and so on. We are living in a world that undermines truth at almost - every time you turn around.

If you do not know who Os Guinness is, or have never read any of his books, I highly recommend The Call. Others are equally good, like Prophetic Untimeliness or A Time for Truth.

Both of these come back to my love/hate relationship with technology. It provided the opportunity to hear the interviews with these two men, but it also demands so much time and attention. In Neil Postman's words, it is a Faustian bargain.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.17-18

The first three posts in this series were an introduction, a look at Dr. Breshears big picture, and then a look at his first two points which covered Romans 9:13-16. As a reminder, Dr. Breshears big picture statement is that Paul's point in Romans 9 is that "God is persistent to bless His sinful people" in answer to the hypothetical objection that could be raised by Paul's readers in response to Romans 8. The hypothetical objection is about how Paul could claim we cannot be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus when Israel, God's chosen people, have been rejected.

I agree that it is this objection with which Paul is dealing in Romans 9-11. I also agree that the Bible is clear that God is persistent to bless his sinful people. I do not, however, believe this is the substance of Paul's argument in Romans 9. Instead, I'm defending the historic understanding of the passage which states that Paul's argument is that God's choice is not based on any human distinction, including ancestry, but only on His will.

Point Three:

Point 3 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verses 17-18: God hardened Pharaoh's heart, not by a secret working but by facing him with grace, the call to repentance reinforced by miracles so strong that the magicians repented. Even Pharaoh repented temporarily, proving he could do it (Ex. 8:8-15)!
Romans 9:17-18 reads:
17For 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.” 18So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

I could here get into a long discussion about the fact that the vast majority of "Calvinists" understand God's sovereignty as not denying but affirming God's use of secondary causes. But let me get at what is the main issue for me in this point. Pharaoh repented? I don't see this in Exodus. Pharaoh, in an attempt to stop the plague of the frogs, tells Moses he will let the people go worship. But is that repentance?

Let's assume John Doe is having an affair with Suzie Smith. They are in a restaurant's and John thinks he sees his wife Jane walk by outside. John is shocked and excuses himself from the table. In the bathroom, he tells God that if Jane has not see him with Suzie, he will break off the affair. He calls Jane on his cell phone and she is home. After calming down, John realizes in a quick glance he had mistaken someone else for Jane. He returns to the table and Suzie. Did he repent? I don't think so. Not in the Biblical sense, anyway.

True repentance looks like this in the Bible (Daniel 4:34-37):
34At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,

for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
35all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”

36At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

Notice that Nebuchadnezzar, even after the judgment had been lifted, continues to praise God. That is Biblical repentance. Pharaoh makes no attempt to humble himself, apart from asking Moses to intercede, and ascribes nothing to God in the manner of Nebuchadnezzar. Then, as soon as the frogs are gone, he's back to his old stance.

Also compare Pharaoh to the king of Nineveh and look at the difference between the "repentance" of the two (and I'm not sure the king of Nineveh's repentance goes as far as saving faith). I don't think Moses or Paul viewed Pharaoh's momentary frustration as true repentance.

Instead, Paul uses Pharaoh as the opposite of Jacob. Paul had said God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. Now Paul is telling us that God will harden whom He will harden. God's word has not failed in respect to Israel because like Pharaoh it was always God's plan that a large number of them would be hardened. It is only the remnant that are saved. That is difficult for us to reconcile with the modern evangelical picture of God, but look at what God tells Isaiah his mission is (Isaiah 6:9-10):
9And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“ ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

This passage is quoted by Jesus in response to the question of why He spoke in parables. Jesus says that the Israelites of His time are the fulfillment of this passage.

Therefore, Jacob and Pharaoh are not to be seen as isolated, special cases. They are normative to our understanding of how God works in the lives of people. All of us deserve eternal punishment. On some He has compassion, and on some He hardens us in our sin. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?"

This post is long enough. If the Lord should will, we shall address that question in a post in the near future.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - v.13-16

The first two posts in this series were a general introduction and then a discussion of Dr. Breshear's "Big Picture" by looking at Romans 9:1-12. In his paper "Why Do So Many People Want to Be Calminian?" (see link at the end of this post) Dr. Breshears has five points under his big picture statement. As a reminder, this statement is: "God is persistent to bless His sinful people". Since I think I've failed to do so to this point, let me emphatically state that I agree that God is persistent to bless His sinful people. I just don't think this is the message of Paul in Romans 9.

Point One:

Point 1 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verse 13 is quoted from Malachi 1:2-3, not Genesis 24. God will continue to lovingly protect his chosen people (Jacob) no matter who their enemies (Esau/Edom) are.

Romans 9:13 reads:
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

The point Dr. Breshears is making seems to be that in Romans 9:13 the focus is not the individuals, but the nations. The way Dr. Breshears puts this in the audio is:
"God loves Israel . . . hardened, blatant sinners off into exile and death, and protects them from their enemies, even when they, the enemies, are brothers. When you look at this from Malachi, that's talking about God protecting His people from enemies."

Therefore, in answering the question of why we can trust God to be faithful to his promises given that He has seemingly rejected Israel, Paul is saying that God continued to defend Israel (Jacob) even though they had been so bad that He had to exile them and even though their adversaries were their own relatives. The rejection then, I assume Dr. Breshears would say, came only after a long period of Israel turning away from God. This would seem to fit well with what Paul will say later in warning the Gentiles that they too could be cast off for lack of faith.

First, is what Dr. Breshears says a valid representation of Malachi? Close, but realize that the people have already returned from exile and are back in the land. God's love is shown to them not in protection, but in the fact that they are being allowed to rebuild, while Edom (the descendants of Esau) will not be allowed to rebuild. I will grant that this does not significantly change Dr. Breshears point.

Second, what we see here is that God's choice of Jacob over Esau has lasting consequences. But that choice was not based anything in either of them (Dr. Breshears agrees with this in the audio). So the point in Malachi, it seems to me, is that God's calling of Jacob stands. Yes, God does pursue His people even when they are rebellious, but He is not pursuing Esau because they are not His chosen people.

Point Two:

Point 2 in Dr. Breshears paper is:
Verses 14-16: No one can (or needs to) earn God's mercy. It's His character to give it. (Ex. 33:19; 34:6-7)
Romans 9:14-16 reads:
14What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
Dr. Breshears sees this as an extended statement on God's unrelenting mercy. While that is present in these verses, it does not seem to be the point of these verses. The hinge is verse 14 and the theoretical accusation that Paul is answering about whether or not God is unjust. To understand this passage in manner that Dr. Breshears lays it out, I would have to assume that the accusation is something like: "But Paul, how can God be merciful to rebellious people. Justice demands that He punish them."

While that is a potential objection to Paul, I see two reasons that it is not the objection being raised. First, Paul has already dealt with this objection in Romans 3:21-26 where he tells us God can be both just and justifier because of the work of Jesus. Second, I do not see this as being the objection Paul answers in v.15-16. The objection that Paul answers is: "But Paul, how can it be just that God would chose Jacob (and his descendants) over Esau (and his descendants) with no reference to what they had done?"

Paul's answer is that it is not unjust because God has the right to make those choices. This point becomes clear with the verses that follow that will be discussed in the next post. But note here that Paul's reference is back to Moses asking God to show him His glory. As you are probably aware, God does allow Moses to see His back, but not His face. But the immediate response in words is that God is gracious, but it is His prerogative on whom that graciousness is bestowed. So God's grace is never bestowed on the basis of human works, and God is not unjust in choosing Jacob over Esau before either had done good works.

Before I close, let me state again that while I disagree with his conclusions, I appreciate Dr. Breshears approach to understanding the Scriptures. He reads the context and looks back at the context of the Old Testament quotations. We need to be more disciplined about our approach to studying the Bible. May God motivate us to be so.

Additional Note:

The link to Dr. Breshears paper is (cut and paste this into your browsers address bar):


Hyperlinking does not seem to work for this address because blogger recognizes the %20 as a space and substitutes them, which messes up the link. If anyone knows a solution, I'd love to know.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - The Big Picture

As I noted in the previous post, Dr. Breshears premise is that we have been misreading Paul's argument in Romans 9. Instead of a traditional Reformed understanding that Romans 9 focuses on God's sovereignty, he states that Romans 9 is about God being "persistent to bless His sinful people." Does this fit in the flow of Paul's teaching in Romans.

Romans chapter 8 contains some of the most comforting and security building words in all of Scripture especially in the grand conclusion of v.31-39. It is generally assumed that when Paul begins Romans 9 with a discussion of Israel, he is anticipating an objection to what he has been saying. The objection would go something like this: "Paul, you claim that we cannot be separated from the love of Christ, but what about Israel? They were God's covenant people, but have they not been cast off in favor of the Gentiles? How then can you affirm that God's love does not fail?"

I believe that Paul is dealing with the spirit of this objection not only in Romans 9, but all the way through to Romans 11. In other words, Romans 8 closed out Paul's primary discussion about how the gospel is the power of God for salvation. But before he can turn to how we live now that we have and are experiencing the gospel's power, he needs to deal with the subject of how the rejection of Israel and the grafting in of the Gentiles does not violate his affirmation of God's unfailing love.

Dr. Breshears says that the way Paul answers the objection is to say that God's love has not failed, and the he repeated and continually reaches out to sinful people who continue to reject Him. Therefore, God is not at fault and cannot be blamed. We are at fault for rejecting God and are to be blamed. But does this fit with what Paul says in Romans 9?

In the first five verses, Paul expresses his deep sorrow over Israel's continued rejection of Jesus, and then (v.4-5) explains all the benefits they were given. So far, this would seem to accord well with what Dr. Breshears has proposed as Paul's argument. Let's look more closely at Paul's words in Romans 9:6-13:
6But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return and Sarah shall have a son.” 10And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11though 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— 12she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Again, Paul is defending his premise that those who belong to Christ cannot be separated from His love. So in v.6 he tells us that God's word has not failed in respect to Israel. Why can he say this? Because "not all who are descened from Israel belong to Israel." In other words, just because a person was a member of the ethnic people of Israel did not make them a child of God. Paul will begin to bring the argument to a close (Romans 11:4) by referring to God telling Elijah that “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” In other words, it has never been all of Israel to which the promise had come, but the remnant.

Paul reinforces this point in Romans 9 by noting it was only to Isaac, the son of promise, that true sonship is conferred. Ishmael and his descendants were not chosen. But Paul is clear that this is not about one line of physical descendants versus another line of physical descendants. It is about what the two lines represent. One child is to represent all those who are born of the flesh. The other child (Isaac) represents the children of the promise (Paul develops this analogy more fully in Galatians 4:21-31), that is those who are born by the work of God not by the effort of man. What v.6-9 are saying is that word of God has not failed because it was only intended for the children of the promise, not the children of the flesh.

In v.10-13 Paul shows that this continues to be true in the next generation. A distinction is made between Esau and Jacob. Why? Not because of anything in them. As Dr. Breshears notes, neither is the kind of boy you would want your daughter to bring home. Esau's god is his appetite and Jacob is a schemer. Does this then say that Paul is using the two of them to show that God continues to stretch out His hand to sinful people who reject Him?

That's not what Paul says the reason is. Paul says this was done "in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call." Well, you might think, this just means that God did this so that his purpose of electing and calling Abraham might continue. Perhaps, but the point is that Jacob is chosen, not on the basis of works, to be the one through whom the promise would continue.

Dr. Breshears would likely argue that Jacob's calling was effectual, but that such events are unique (see point C1 in the linked paper in the previous post). Whether this choice of Jacob should be seen as normative or exceptional we shall discuss in a later post. My point here is in respect to Dr. Breshears big picture. Paul does not say that God reached out to two sinful men and ultimately chose one to preserve His purpose of calling Abraham. Paul is saying that as with Isaac and Ishmael, God made a clear distinction about to whom the promises applied and through whom His purposes will be fulfilled.

So, why does God's present rejection of Israel not negate what Paul says in Romans 8? Because, the promise was never to all of the physical descendants of Abraham, but only to the children of promise. These are the remnant. The ones chosen, called, and kept by God (see Romans 8:29-30). Therefore God's word has not failed.

Next: Points one and two in Dr. Breshears paper covering Romans 9:13-16.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Breshears and Romans 9 - Intro

If you subscribe to the Resurgence podcast, then you may have listened to a message by Gerry Breshears from the 2004 Reformission Conference on Romans Chapter 9. If you have not, it may be worth listening to before you read this, though hopefully not absolutely required. The blurb for the message on the Resurgence site says this:
The following audio is from a breakout session with Dr. Gerry Breshears, professor at Western Seminary, at the Reformission Conference in Seattle, WA 2004. Dr. Breshears demonstrates that Romans 9 shows the persistence of God to bless his people (Israel) despite their hardness of heart. What we see is that no one is messed up too much where God can not redeem them and God can do what he wants. What is uncovered in Romans 9 is that everyone resists God's will and the Lord is the persistent one that extends mercy to his people. In this mp3 Dr. Breshears really uses this seminar to encourage folks to read their Bibles more as they get to difficult passage instead of just resorting to commentaries. Helpful advice from a seasoned theologian and practitioner.
I have to admit it is an interesting listen. I have to admit that I do see in Scripture that God is persistent in blessing people and people are resisting God's call. Dr. Breshears is also correct in a concluding warning that if we come to Scripture with a preconceived framework that we have not acknowledged, we will work to fit the passage into that framework. Instead we should acknowledge our preconceptions and allow the passage to modify the framework if the passage does not fit the framework.

In his analysis of Romans 9, Dr. Breshears argues, per the blurb above, that the historic Reformed understanding of Romans 9 is incorrect. Instead, he proposed an alternative understanding. A more recent statement of that understanding is available in a paper on the Western Seminary website (if this hyperlink does not work, see link at the end of this post). In it, he puts the difference this way:
The Big Picture of Romans 9: "God is persistent to bless His sinful people," rather than "God sovereignly shapes anyone He wants any way He wants any time He wants."
While I appreciate much of what Dr. Breshears has to say about our need to read Scripture so as to let Scripture inform our theology instead of imposing our theology on Scripture, I think his interpretation of this passage is incorrect. To demonstrate this I will spend a few posts looking at the "big picture" statement and the five statements about Romans 9 from the paper above. These are summary statements, and to get a better understanding of them you might want to listen to the audio from the Resurgence.

Let me emphasize that I think Dr. Breshears is a Christian brother. I am not calling him unfaithful, a heretic, or anything else along those lines. I think he is mistaken in his interpretation of Romans 9, and I think it will be good for me to work through the details. But I have no doubt about who (and its not me) is making a bigger impact for the kingdom of God.

So if you care to join me, put on some waders because the water (and hopefully only the water) might get deep.

Addendum: apparently the hyperlink to Dr. Breshears paper is not working because blogger recognizes the %20 as a space and substitutes them for spaces, which messes up the link. If anyone knows a solution, I'd love to know. In the meantime, the actual link is:


(cut and paste this into your browsers address bar)

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

. . . And Now for Something Completely Different

(HT: Tim Challies)

There is a site that let's you make your own version of those fancy motivational posters you see in office superstores (and, I assume therefore, in some offices). So I took it for a spin:

Yes, that's a comic book character (and a rather obscure one at that).

The font I picked for this one is almost unreadable at small size. It says "Brighten the World with Your Glowing Personality." For those who know me, that is not a self-portrait.

. . .

It's my grandfather.

Every serious Star Trek fan is now laughing. Everyone else (and most of the serious Star Trek fans) are now thinking I'm an uber-geek. Star Trek and comic books in one post - Yikes! But, I'm sure Mr. Spock would say this whole post has been "Fascinating" (or maybe not). If you want to try your own hand, click on the title to this post.

Oh, and Uncle Fester and I are not really related, we are just twin sons of different mothers.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Paradoxical Teachers

Why, if as I proposed in the last post, if all real spiritual knowledge only comes from being taught by God, did I even bother posting the last post? In fact, doesn't the Bible tell us that there are those gifted by the Holy Spirit to be teachers, which would mean my previous post falls flat on its face?

I don't think so. I have to acknowledge that if pushed to an extreme, my last post would essentially lead one into a hyper-Calvinistic stance. Contrary to some popular opinion, a hyper-Calvinist is not simply someone who believes in predestination (that's ordinary Calvinism, and does not require that one deny the necessity of evangelism). A hyper-Calvinist believes so strongly that only God can "teach" us in a way that brings us to salvation, that man should not preach the gospel in a manner that calls the lost to be saved.

I want to affirm here the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which states (3.1):
God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 11:33, Heb. 6:17, Rom. 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, Matt. 17:12, Acts 4:27–28, John 19:11, Prov. 16:33)
God's sovereignty over all things is exercised in such a way that the necessity of the actions of others is required. [Let me restate that with connections to the WCF: God's sovereignty over all things (whatsoever comes to pass) is exercised in such a way that the necessity (contingency) of the actions of others (second causes) is required (established).]

In relationship to the topic at hand of teachers, they are frequently the agents of God's act of revealing Himself to us. The primary tool that God uses to reveal Himself is the Scriptures, and we can learn from God by studying the Scriptures on our own. But God has gifted some to be teachers of the Scriptures so that through them we might learn more about Him.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

God Draws

In a recent posts over at Craver's blog (see link on the right) he has been discussing T.U.L.I.P. and election. [TULIP is an acrostic for Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Otherwise commonly known as the five points of Calvinism.] In comments over there I made mention of John 6:44-45. I want to take a little time here to have a deeper look at John 6 and how it relates to a Reformed understanding of salvation.

As background, when I talk about salvation, while I think we are saved from many things by Jesus, I am primarily referring to being saved from the wrath of God. Some don't like to see salvation in terms of the wrath of God, but Paul says it is God's wrath that is coming on the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 5:6) and it is God's wrath from which he says Jesus delivers us (1 Thessalonians 1:10 - see also 2:16). I believe, therefore, that the Bible is clear that we all deserve the wrath of God. We do not deserve and we cannot earn salvation. God is obligated to save no one and would be perfectly just to condemn everyone to Hell. That He does save anyone is completely undeserved mercy. So if God chooses to save none, one, ten, a hundred, a great multitude, or all, He could do so and still be righteous.


John 6 begins with John's account of the feeding of the 5000. The result of this is that the crowd wants to force Jesus to become king, so He slips away. The disciples enter a boat and begin to cross the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus walks across the water to meet them. The crowd therefor has to search to find Him the next day, and when they do Jesus rebukes them for seeking Him only for the food he provided (there's a message in this for many evangelical Christians, including me).

As part of this rebuke, Jesus tells the crowd that He is the bread from Heaven (the true manna). Then in v. 37 He makes the following pronouncement:
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Briefly, three of the five points in T.U.L.I.P. can be seen in this verse, if not completely established - (1) the Father gives is an expression of election; (2) that these will come is an expression of effectual calling (irresistible grace); and (3) that Jesus will never cast out is an expression of eternal security (perseverance of the saints). The last point receives additional support from the verses that follow.

Central Passage

The crowd is stirred up by what Jesus has said about being the bread of life. In response to the crowd's unrest, Jesus utters the following (John 6:43-45):
43Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. 45It 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—
After commanding the crowd not to grumble at what He had said, Jesus then adds four things:

(1) No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.
(2) And I will raise him up on the last day.
(3) It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’
(4) Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me

Let's consider each statement.

(1) Jesus tells the crowd that not only is it true that those that the Father gives come to Him (v. 37), but that no one comes apart from the drawing of the Father. This is the other boundary to v.37. All that the Father gives come, and none come that the Father does not give.

Some would disagree with that and interpret drawing here as the Father "wooing" us. They would claim that this is reference to a general call that goes out to everyone. In other words, the Father draws everyone, but not everyone comes. But the word draw here that John uses is the picture of water being drawn from a well. If you have never had the pleasure of drinking water drawn fresh from a well, fresh, cold water from a deep well is a great pleasure; but the water has no participation in being drawn and cannot refuse to be drawn. It is the work of the drawer which makes the water come.

Leon Morris in his commentary on John writes of the word "draw":
“There is not one example in the New Testament of the use of this verb where the resistance is successful. Always the drawing power is triumphant, as here.”
Those uses include John 18:10; 21:6-11; and Acts 16:19.

(2) Also, Jesus is clear that one who is drawn is saved. The evidence is in the assurance that they will be resurrected. So being drawn is not a momentary attraction to Jesus; it does not refer to those who may follow Him for a time and then leave - as many in this crowd and throughout the centuries have done (1 John 2:19) - but to those who are truly saved. None can come according to (1) apart from the Father's drawing, but those who do come are raised. Jesus is restating v. 37 to say that not only is it certain that all those given will come, but it is only the ones given who come.

(3) Jesus now turns to the Scriptures and quotes Isaiah. In the context of Isaiah this is a promise to the the Suffering Servant (Jesus) that every one of His children will be taught by God. Jesus is saying that Isaiah's prophecy is being fulfilled in Him, and therefore the Father teaches those who are truly disciples.

(4) And as all the children are taught by the Father according to (3), so, Jesus says, everyone who hears and learns comes to Him. James Boice says this about this verse in his commentary on John:
Why is it that you and I can present the gospel to some people and never seem to get anywhere, even when the circumstances seem entirely favorable? And why is it that others with maximum problems and limited understanding believe? The only answer is that God has taught the one person and has not taught the other. Moreover, all whom God has taught do come to Jesus.
Think about it this way. There are two boys who grow up together and have largely the same experiences. Both of them hear the gospel proclaimed and one responds and becomes a Christian while the other one rejects the gospel. Why? Why does one receive the good news when the other one rejects the good news?

You have two basic options. Either Jesus is saying here that only one is taught by God and therefore only one comes to faith, or He is saying that both are taught by God and only one hears and learns though God attempted to teach both. But if the latter is true, then there is something in the one that receives the gospel that allows him to be able to hear and makes him a better learner. So either salvation is all of God, or the one boy received the gospel because of something in himself - he contributed to his salvation.

Pulling It Together

Notice that in v. 37 and 44 the singular activity of people is coming to Jesus. All other activities are done (or not done) by Jesus or the Father. The Father gives, the Son does not cast out. The Father draws and the Son raises. The emphasis is on what God does. God is the primary actor in salvation.

But are there not some that are drawn but do not come? Does not the Bible say that many are called, but few chosen? Sure, some hear the gospel call and do not respond. But Jesus is not talking about the call that is given in evangelism. That call is an activity of man. Jesus is speaking about the work of the Father.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
Not some that the Father gives, but all that the Father gives come. And none can come apart from the Father drawing them to Jesus. How is this drawing done? The parallel in v.45 says that those who come are those who learn from the Father. What do we learn? Much, but especially that we are sinners under His wrath who only find safety by hiding in Jesus and His righteousness.

A Word of Application for Young (and Some Old) Calvinists

It is frequently charged that Reformed Christians are arrogant and prideful. Too often this has been true. I have seen it in myself and others. Once my eyes were open to see election in the Scriptures, I could not understand why others did not see it. I was sure with the enough time and preparation, I could teach them.

But if we grasp what Jesus says here (that salvation is all of God and election is marked by learning from God), then I have no grounds for any boasting. Let us assume for a moment that regardless of how well I have defended the doctrine of election, that it is the truth. Then what I know I know not because I'm smarter, more spiritual, or better in any way than any one else. I know whatever I truly know about Jesus and my salvation because the Father has chosen to teach me about Jesus and my salvation. In spiritual matters, we are all terrible students. But God is a great teacher, and can overcome even my learning disability.

This does not mean we are not to study and think (I have other posts around here that deal with that, I think). But it means our study should be saturated in prayer and it means our knowledge should be wrapped in humility. For apart from God revealing Himself to us, we could know nothing.

Praise be to Him who has shown the light of the gospel into our darkened hearts.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Filler Videos

I'm working on a post that isn't cooperating (which is perhaps the only way blogs are nicer than preaching and teaching - if it hasn't come together it can cook a while longer). In the meantime, take a look at these:

This is from the same message as the previous Piper video I shared.

I've been thinking about Scripture since the PCRT conference this year. The following from Alistair Begg speaks to this issue.

This is RC Sproul discussing the significance of the Bible to the Reformation. This is something of an ad for the Reformation Study Bible (ESV), but there is enough content here to make it worth viewing.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


I was going to post some more extended thoughts on election spurred by Craver's post (see link in previous post), but I want to pause for a moment and reflect on the significance of this day. Two major conservative denominations (yes, I know the SBC does not consider itself a denomination - phhhhht) had major days today. The Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention are both in the middle of annual meetings.

The SBC today rejected to even consider Tom Ascol's motion on Integrity in Church Membership. If you are interested in the details you can check Tom's post, but I think it sad that the SBC is not even willing to discuss the issue. The reports that are coming out of the annual convention this year are not encouraging that the divisions from last year's convention are healing.

The big news out of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly today was the adoption of the report on the New Perspective on Paul and Federal Vision (NPP/FV). Justin Taylor provides some links to information on the report. What this will mean for the PCA remains to be seen, but it is unlikely the end of the controversy over these issues.

We should pray for both denominations. Doctrinal error must be confronted, but as "evangelicals" we already have a bad reputation in our culture. How we handle these internal disputes can easily reinforce current perceptions. We would do well to heed the admonition of Tom Wells on how to deal with controversy. In the linked article, he quotes J. C. Ryle:
Controversy in religion is a hateful thing.
It is hard enough to fight the devil,
the world, and the flesh,
without private differences in our own camp—
But there is one thing
which is even worse than controversy,
and that is false doctrine tolerated,
allowed, and permitted without
protest or molestation ...
Three things there are which men
never ought to trifle with:
a little poison,
a little false doctrine,
and a little sin.
May God bring peace and unity to His people around the truth of His word.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


That's what I got right now. Nuthin'

I would commend to you Gerry Breshears on the Emerging Church. Yes, it is long, but I found it very helpful.

If you're looking for a primer on Reformed Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), check this out from Craver. Even though I like Particular Redemption over Limited Atonement. And Effectual Calling over Irresistible Grace. And I'm split over Perseverance versus Preservation of the Saints. But T.U.L.I.P. is so much easier to remember.

And if you spend most of your time in a pew as opposed to behind a pulpit, Even So has a good reminder for you (and me, too).

Friday, June 08, 2007

Down Time

Okay, after the class I mentioned in the last text post, I have had some down time this past week. I took vacation days last Thursday and Friday, and have not done much since turning in my final assignment a week ago Thursday night. Down time included playing Gears of War with my nephew one night (later probably than a geezer like me should be up). If you don't know what Gears of War is, this might give you an idea (this is the area of the game we are at) WARNING: The following video is violent, gory, and contains bad language; it's also a bit long:

We played through on casual difficulty shortly after the game came out, and are now (slowly) making our way through on insane difficulty. I don't know if we'll be able to beat Raam (the final "boss") or not as I'm a significant liability for my nephew.

During the down time I did, however, finish this book (which was borrowed from the aforementioned nephew):

An interesting read. As the editor (Robert Webber) notes in the conclusion, only Driscoll writes in language that is easily decipherable as theology to most reformed or evangelical Christians. I'm not sure that I would encourage everyone to pick this up. It is a little different than a lot of the 4 or 5 views books I've read. There really doesn't seem to be as much interaction in the responses. It's somewhat encouraging that the discussion seems to be civil, but it is almost too civil. Just about everyone (with the exception of Driscoll) does not engage enough to know where they stand.

Which brings me to a message from the Resurgence Podcast titled The Studious Saint from the Reformission 2004 conference that I listened to this week. The speaker is Chris Seay, about whom I have heard mixed things. But I was encouraged by this message. There is a call to stand on our convictions. Worth a listen, I think, even if you don't agree with everything that is said.

We need to learn to discuss our differences without people getting upset. I did a poor job of that this week. One "discussion" turned into an argument and my only goal was to win. The answer is not what I think most of the contributors to Listening would say, which is that we should all just get along. Instead I think we must learn to discuss our differences, particularly who hold to the essentials of the faith, fairly narrowly defined, without going "Gears" on one another.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hard Words, True Words

Sometimes it is better simply to be silent and let another speak. Like now.