July 27, 2009

What is Classical Arminianism?

I'm frustrated with a conversation that I've been having about someone who claims to hold a position between Arminianism and Calvinism. Though I've already said that I don't think it's possible, I don't particularly care if someone does hold such a position, or if they think they do. That's fine. My issue is that all this person has been doing is giving me links to sites that inaccurately describe Arminianism to make his point.

Let me explain a few things real quick about what Arminianism is:
  1. Arminianism is not the opposite of Calvinism: Do not just list the five points of Calvinism and then describe Arminianism as the opposite of each one of these. Arminianism holds Total Depravity, is tolerant of Preservation of the Saints (though most reject it) and believes in the necessity of God's grace.
  2. The central tenant of Arminianism is prevenient grace: not free will! We don't even believe in free will as most define it. We don't hold that each person is born with a free will, and has the power to effect their destiny. We hold that each person is incapable of coming to God on their own and it is only through the prevenient grace of God that our will are freed to turn to God.
  3. Arminianism is a grace-based theology: Salvation is from the beginning to the end a work of grace by God alone. The only part that we have to play is only possible because of God's grace, and that part is a passive action, rather an effectual one. Faith is all that we do, and faith is trusting in the work of Christ to save us rather than doing it on our own.
  4. Arminianism is not a system: So often Calvinism and Arminianism are projected as two opposing systems, but neither Arminius nor Wesley ever wrote a systematic theology. Arminianism is a pastoral theological bent: it is a collection of various positions that hold certain perspectives about grace. However, every aspect of Arminian theology has radically different viewpoints on it represented under the label.
  5. Arminianism is a historically Reformed movement: The Reformation was not based around TULIP, but was based on the centrality of Scripture and the high view of God's role in salvation. Despite recent historical revisionists, Jacob Arminius worked and wrote within the Reformed tradition, and Calvinism was never the central view within Protestantism. It merely had a lot of scholastic power due to Geneva.
  6. Arminianism is most properly defined historically: Anyone can claim what a position is. I can claim that Calvinism believe that the Calvin and Hobbes comic books represent a fifth gospel, and if its said often enough, people will believe it. The only objective way to define what Arminianism is, is to evaluate the historical standards: Jacob Arminius, the Remonstrants, and the Wesley brothers. If you are not basing your definition on them, then you don't know what you are talking about.
I'm sorry that I don't have any links. This was more of a rant to get this off my chest. But please, do not reject Arminianism because it is an "ism" or because of what opponents claim it to be. To do so is unfair, and immoral.

July 25, 2009

Ephesians 7-10; A Devotional

Because verses 7-10 are all one sentence in the Greek, I wanted to go back and treat it the way it deserves: as one thought. Therefore, consider this a bit of a review from the past two weeks.
[It is in the Beloved that] we have redemption through His blood: the excusing of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.
What is the central theme of this whole passage? What concept or idea represents the crux, the center, of the thoughts? I would say it was this: God's mind. There are several key words in this sentence that point directly to how God thinks: 'wisdom', 'understanding', 'secret of His will', 'good judgment', and 'preplanned'. All of these words point to one central truth: the redemption that we have through Christ's blood was not an accident; it was a plan set forth by God to accomplish what He truly wants.

What is it that He truly wants? That secret that He has kept hidden for so long: the unification of the whole world under Christ. That both Jew and Gentile, indeed all the descendants of Adam, shall be one people, one nation, ruled by God and by His Son, Jesus the Messiah! This is God's goal, according to His wisdom, understanding, and good judgment.

And if we think about it, this makes sense. When God created Adam, He didn't create Him to bring about the people of Israel. He created Adam because He wanted humanity, and this has not changed. It is a return to the created order of things that is the center of God's heart and it is our sin that stands in the way of that.

This brings us to the cross: the ultimate means of salvation by which God accomplishes His perfect will. In order to accomplish this unification, He has teemed us was grace, all of us, not a select few, to bring about redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.

This is also important, because it is not God's preplanning, nor His election that accomplishes redemption. It is the blood of Christ. Redemption is by and through Christ. He is the plan, not merely a means to it.

Therefore, let us turn our hearts to Him: the author and worker of our salvation, and give this day to Him completely, that we may be fully committed to His deep love and commitment to us!

July 19, 2009

Part IV: Antihomosexual

Too Political

Homosexuality is an issue that I've given a lot of thought to, since I have had a lot of interesting experiences with gays and especially lesbians. These experiences are complex, as are my views, and I hope that I'll give an accurate account of what I believe a biblical response to this issue should be.

Losing A Foolish War

Many "outsiders" see Christianity as declaring war on homosexuality, and to be fair, much of it has. Though it is important for us to remember that the Bible is not obscure about what it thinks about same-gender sexual intercourse, I do believe it has been foolish for American conservative Christians to have approached the issue the way that it has. Here are some stats that the book states that I found very sad1:
  • 91% of Mosaic (born between 1984 and 2002) and Buster (born between 1965 and 1983) outsiders considers "antihomosexual" as the primary descriptor of present day Christianity
  • 2/3 of total outsiders voiced very strong criticisms of Christianity on this issue
  • While 39% of born-again Christians reject divorce, the vast majority reject homosexuality
  • Only 14% of born-again Christians feel motivated to help overseas children AIDS victims.
  • 2/5 born-again Christians feel more sympathy toward cancer victims than AIDS victims, most having the reason that AIDS victims "sorta deserve it".
Apart from that, Kinnaman also points out:
  • Many Christians see 9/11 and Katrina as punishment for homosexuality
  • Public comments from Christians on the topic have seemed crass and berating
  • Many Christians oppose homosexuals taking offices in government and schools
  • Many Christians believe that Romans 1 teaches that homosexuals are incapable of good (which is not what it teaches at all BTW).2
  • Many see homosexuality as an organized movement designed to subvert Christianity
  • Many think that the issue is simple
  • Many believe it proper to avoid homosexuals completely.
I found all of this really disheartening and unchristian. Christianity is a faith of redemption, and as such, we need to be acting in love for the redemption of all, regardless of their sin.

It is also not helping. On page 99, Kinnaman starts addressing how many of the outsiders are viewing homosexuality outside of Christendom. He points out that for young people today, they define their worldview and morality based mostly on their experiences, especially in terms of social interactions. This is part of what makes many of them so morally relative, since their friends are sort of moral by default, and many of them will have radically different standards that they are living by, especially different from Christianity. It is difficult to say that homosexuals are evil, and then have your best friend come out of the closest.

I admit to have had this same issue. Having had many lesbian friends in the past (I don't know why, it just happened), I have never been able to conclude that they are more evil than other sinners (a view that I see as completely foolish). Instead, I have witnessed a unique struggle that they have, which much of Christian rhetoric seems to oversimplify. Indeed, I find that most of Christianity's response to this issue to be inadequate, and it is little wonder that the culture doesn't trust what we have to say on the matter.

Kinnaman's Solutions

Actually, I don't think that solution is so much the right word. Rather, he attempts to state the way that Christians should respond to the issue. He lists several concepts which I think are worth mentioning:
  • Acknowledge the Complexity: All too often we believe that we just need to stand on our basic understanding, and that should be enough for everyone. But each person is different, and we cannot reach people through simple answers and cliches.
  • Converse: It is more important to establish a meaningful relationship with someone to foster healing instead of trying to make the other person's problem go away with a single speech.
  • Don't live in fear of judgment: It is not the job of a Christian to maintain our respectability by showing we believe the right things to other Christians. We need to give our brothers and sisters in Christ the respect they deserve by being open and honest about what we think and feel about certain issues.
  • Don't back down: Just because there are many Christians that approach the topic irresponsibly, and just because the public view of the Christian stance has a negative image, it doesn't mean we should back down from our goals. Instead we should strive to better communicate exactly what our stance is, and act and move in a way that helps to achieve those goals, rather than just be demonstrative that we have them.
  • Having Compassion: They will know we are Christians by our love, not our judgment or holiness. We need to show compassion, and real compassion: compassion that is truly interested in the other person's pain.
My Thoughts
Distinguishing the Act from the Person

One of the biggest problems in dealing with this issue is that the nature of sex itself is in debate in our culture. This debate is unspoken, but it is definitely there.

Mosaics and Busters primarily see most of their activities as expressing their inner-selves. This leads to a very hedonistic type of morality where self-expression is a legitimate moral standard. With many, it seems the highest. This leads to hedonism mostly because our "inner-self" is rarely seen as larger than our impulses (since we are linking activity to the inner-self, this is natural).

Very naturally, this affects sex since sex is an activity. Therefore, sex is often done out of a sense of expressing one's self. Many begin to define themselves by their sexual impulses and are therefore compelled to act on them. To abstain is to deny their true selves, in their minds.

Christians, clearly, do not agree. Our standard is God, believing not only that He is the most moral being in the universe, but that He has built in His standards of truth and justice into the very fabric of reality. Furthermore, we recognize that we are fallen from our original design and that many of our impulses actually run counter to our true selves, which is truly defined by God's design.

As responsible Christians then, we need to see homosexuality in the same vein as any other kind of sin: the expression of man's fallen nature. Also, as such, we need to separate this view of the activity with the person themselves. A person is more than the total sum of their actions. God loves each person, and many homosexuals are in a significant amount of pain. We need to reach out to them, and demonstrate to them that we love them.

It is also important that we don't single them out in any way. We shouldn't be less accommodating to them, but we shouldn't be more either. We should deal with each as a legitimate person, and if that person happens to be committing homosexuality, then we treat it as that person. Going out of your way to be kinder to someone is merely another form of prejudice.

Identity Crises

Probably the biggest issue that we have is that we fail to consider the unique aspects of homosexuality in our culture today. I think there is an aspect that is misandrist (which is ironic because in Paul's time in Greece it was misogynist), but this is not true in all cases. For instance, many lesbians fall into lesbianism out of abuse received from males, and thus only find security in the arms of another woman. Many males fall into homosexuality out of a self-loathing in terms of viewing themselves as unmasculine. However, it is my experience (and this is experience here, not fact) that the more general movement is indeed misandrist and this needs to be kept in mind when dealing with those in the movement.

I believe that many homosexual men are simply men who were different and thus undervalued by the other men around them, especially their fathers. I first started developing these thoughts from a lecture from Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, and since then, my thoughts have been going down those lines. If I am right, then in many cases when we attempt to explain that we are differentiating them from their behavior, we are being nonsensical since their behavior is seen as their self-expression.

My theory is that out of a loss of purpose, value, and masculinity, the people around them begin calling them gay (I have definitely seen this happen from both Christians and nonChristians). This usually happens with any boy who is more in touch with their feelings, more sensitive, nonathletic, and often artistic (which is why there is an improportionate number in the media). At first they reject the label, but then begin to interact with the homosexual community. Here they find acceptance and value, and come to believe that being homosexual is what they are.

What is important about this is that when we are telling them that homosexuality is wrong, then we are saying that what they are is wrong, and that their entire world is evil. We are completely unaware that this is what we are communicating, but this is what they are receiving, especially since many of them didn't want to be "homosexual" to begin with, and accepted it as their final means of self-acceptance.

If we are to reach out to these people, we need to do more than "love the sinner and hate the sin". We need to give them a different answer to their inner-questions of identity. We need to communicate that God has made them into something special, and has designed them for a purpose.

Furthermore, we need to check our motivations. If our desire is to simply "ungayify" them, then they'll catch on to that, and won't believe us. Instead, we need to recognize ourselves that God hasn't designed anyone to be homosexual, and that the homosexual lifestyle is damaging. We need to approach with the desire to help, not correct. They may still reject that from us, but it is the only attitude we can have that can truly be called Christian.

1Pages 92-95
2Page 97-98

July 18, 2009

Ephesians 1:9-10; A Devotional

As I said last time, 7-10 is one sentence, so it is important to have 7-8 in mind as we read 9-10. I intend to recapitulate this section next week, but for now, we'll just look at 9-10:
... having revealed to us the secret of His will, according to His good judgment, which, through Christ, was preplanned for managing1 the fulfillment of times in order to coalesce2 all things in Christ throughout the heavens and the earth.
God has a secret. He has a plan that He set forth by the sending of His Son which has now been accomplished. He has hid this plan from the powers of the Earth and humanity. Calvinists often talk about the secret will of God, and I am sure they have this text in mind, but if they do then they have missed something vital about this passage. That is, that God has revealed His secret to us!

This is important in recognizing the soteriological concept of adoption (v. 6). In Christ, we have been made sons of the Father and as such are privy to His will (similar to what Christ says in John 15:15) and thus the biblical concept of mystery is directly tied the biblical concept of revelation. Mysteries in the New Testament do not represent things that are beyond us, but rather things that used to be beyond us that we now understand due to God revealing it to us. This is no different.

In this case, God has revealed to us something about the nature of Christ's rule over the earth. The first century Jewish understanding of the Christ was that He would come in glory, rise to leadership in Judea, and defeat Rome leading to the earthly reign of Judea. However, this was not the case.

The truth is that God's plan in regards to the Messiah was to unite the whole earth together. The Jew and the Gentile are now joined under one head: Christ. This plan was a mystery, a secret, which God has revealed to us.

Try to think of the importance in understanding revelation. It is no little thing that the God of the cosmos has shown us what His plans are. There are no more secrets. There are no more mysteries. We have been brought into the council of God by His good judgment! We can be that close to God!

So many of us reject this privilege, preferring to try and figure God out ourselves. But truly knowing the will of God or the nature of God can only come about if God Himself reveals it to us. We cannot figure out what God is thinking any more than you can right now figure out what I am thinking. It can only happen by revelation.

This is part of our inheritance. Treasure it.

Translation notes

1 'oikonomian' refers to managing a household. Most literally, it would translate as 'house-ruling'. In this case, what is being managed is the timing by which God's plan is fulfilled.

2 'anakephealaiosasthai' means to summarize, or to bring together under one head. In this case, it refers to God bringing everything together so that Christ may rule it as one nation, as opposed to the fractured world that we have now.

July 11, 2009

Ephesians 1:7-8; A Devotional

Both last week and this week I made the mistake of trying to handle Paul's whole sentence from 7 to 10. However, the content is just too full, and there are too many things to consider. So consider this kind of like a two parter.

[It is in the Beloved]1 that we have redemption2 through His blood: the excusing2 of sins according to the abundance of His grace which He teemed into us in all wisdom and understanding3...

The most important element of the atonement is that it was completely accomplished by Christ's sacrifice. We do not add to it, nor can we subtract from it. It is from that graceful act of death that our sins are cast away from us. We do not have redemption through our works, nor through our heritage (which is probably more Paul's point in this letter). Redemption is strictly a divine activity.

Sometimes, in Christianity, we forget how fantastic this is. Paul says here that they have been filled by God's grace to the point of overflowing. It is not the everyday blessings that Paul is talking about, but the specific act of redemption which is so undeserved and yet so important that the provision of it alone is a tremendous act of grace beyond what we should expect. Indeed, I think this is how we forget about it: we learn to expect it.

Have you ever stopped to consider the ingratitude that children display when it comes to food? The parents work to afford the food, then work to prepare the food, and then gather the children together to eat. Yet often, children will complain about it. This is normal, but think about it for the moment. The child's full responsibility here is simply to eat the food that the parent provided, and often a child will fail even at that because the child sees the provision of food as the parents responsibility. It's just common place. They don't consider how much their life is depending on it.

Often we are like this with the graces of God. Our full responsibility is simply to partake of the graces that He has provided for us. Yet we take God's grace for granted, knowing that He is abounding in kindness and mercy. Often we'll hear Christians say, "Just believe", but we forget what an act of grace that is!

I mean, we are talking about redemption here! The pardoning of sins, the renewing of life, the deliverance from death! This is not just the provision of a ham dinner, or the buying of some new clothes or school supplies. This is redemption, and God has granted it to us simply through faith! Do we really stop and realize what this means? How grand this is? How graceful this is?

Surely we are teeming with the grace of God if we have redemption through His blood. If you have never been overwhelmed by the thought of God's grace, then you have never truly experienced the fullness of it. Or you have never appreciated how little you deserve it.

This week, let us ponder the graces of God. Let us consider the word to its fullest, so that we can devote ourselves to God in gratitude (and gratitude alone).

Translation notes

1The actual Greek reads "In whom". I added the rest of the text simply for the sake of context. This is why I added the brackets.

Apolutrosin (redemption) and aphesin (excusing) are synonyms in Greek basicly meaning 'release'. However, there are slight differences. Apolutrosin specifically refers to payment, or release by payment. Hence redemption being the best word. Aphesin refers to pardoning, forgiving, excusing, or simply releasing from imprisonment. One focuses on means; the other on results.

3 The KJV and the NKJV render pronesis as 'prudence'. Prudence refers to the proper care of resources and responsibilities. However, this is not really what pronesis means. It refers instead to one's mentality/worldview/way of thinking. 'Insight' or 'understanding' are far better renderings.

July 4, 2009

Happy Independance Day

Due to today, I have not had the oppurtunity to write the devotional that I usually do on Saturdays. I wasn't really home all day long, so I couldn't get at my computer. But I had a pleasant surprise when I did get home.

My wife and I live in an apartment complex that is on the shore of a relatively large pond (almost 2 miles long and a kilometer wide) which is formed by a breach in a near by lake (Actually, one of the great lakes). Normally this isn't very important, other than the beauty of the water. Esther and I occasionally take strolls there, but not as often as we would like.

Well, what we found today was that after night fall, all around the pond there were about 6 to 7 different fireworks shows. None of them were as formal as what one would usually see, but there was something wonderful about that. It gave a greater sense of community to me, as if the people in the area were doing the fireworks together, rather than merely hiring someone to do it. This with the beautiful water made it the best fireworks show I've ever seen.

I think there is great wonder and beauty in informality. Don't get me wrong, formality and structure have their place, and chaos is never really to be desired. But sometimes it is the informal that makes the greater impression since it feels more personal.

Any, happy Independence Day!