April 30, 2012

How Coporate Election Works

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As I discussed last week, the idea of Corporate Election is that God chooses a group of people, as opposed to God directly choosing persons individually. However, an individual person who is part of God's chosen people can still be considered chosen. I'll get to that in a bit. First, I want to talk about how God forms His people.

Baresh*

Let's start at the beginning. God's people first formed around the person of Abraham. God said to him, "And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2 ESV) It is important to note that God chose the group before there was a group. Indeed, the group isn't formed based off of the merit of the individuals within the group, but based off of their relationship to Abraham.

Abraham is what we call a corporate head. The corporate head is chosen to be the person through whom the group is defined. Therefore, the chosen people of God are the true descendants of Abraham.

This idea of "true descendants" is treated in more detail in the prophets and is a major theme of the NT, especially John, Romans, and Ephesians. But we see it very clearly even in the very beginning, for the Abrahamites are immediately winnowed down into the Isaacites, and then the Israelites. Indeed it is this winnowing process which is being referred to in Romans 9:6b-13.

The Headship of Christ

It is this same process which is at work in Christ. Jesus fulfills the OT by being the ultimate child of Abraham, so that those who are true children of Abraham turn to Christ. Thus Christ has become the true head of the chosen people of God. Just as God had chosen those who were born by the seed of Abraham, God has chosen those who have been reborn by the seed of Christ. Just like the Jews were chosen for being in Israel, now we are chosen for being in Christ.

It is important to note that our election is not grounded in us. It is not our power, ability, or even will which saves us. It is Christ. Christ is the chosen one, and we are only chosen because of our attachment to Him. This is why it is by faith that we are saved, for it is by faith that we are united to Christ.

True faith is not intellectual acceptance. It is relational commitment and trust, i.e. fidelity. I believe in gravity; I have faith in my wife. And just as faith unites my wife and me, so does faith unite us to Christ. And like Noah's family was saved by God election of Noah, we will be saved because God chose Him.

Our Place In Christ

So, if God chose a group, does that mean I am not chosen? Of course I am chosen, for I am one of the chosen. Any quality of the group extends to the individual, and the individual adds to the whole.

The corporate election concept is a national concept. We are part of the kingdom of God, and God's kingdom is a nation. By being a Christian, we belong to the nation of Christ, which is a monarchy ruled by Christ. Individually we are citizens of this nation. We are not afraid to use such corporate language when we talk about us being Americans, but for some reason we are wary of using this language when we talk about us being Christians.

The nation of Christ is our true home. The Bible describes us as being ambassadors, which means that we are not truly Americans. We are, in the sense that we have a dual citizenship, but our real home is in Christ, and our true destiny is bound up in Christ's kingdom. It is up to us to live it out.
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* The first word in the Bible is "Bareshit" which is the construct form of "Baresh" which can mean "In the beginning" or "At the head". I mean it here as a double entendre.

April 24, 2012

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Update: Apparently a post which I hadn't finished writing on the subject of faith got published. It will be officially published in a couple of weeks.

A Primer Which Doesn't Prime

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I was going to write a second post on Corporate election, but I am postponing it to look at something which Alpha and Omega Ministries has recently put out. He calls it a primer though it is more like propaganda. A primer for a debate should lay out both positions simply in the way in which the respective parties would approve. SEA has attempted to do just that with our own primer. However, Kurschner has absolutely failed in this regard. Indeed, I would suspect that this is simply supposed to poison the well for anyone new to the debate. So I am going to examine this primer to see how it really holds up to scrutiny:
The "Calvinist vs. Arminian" debate is substantially a debate between what is called "synergism" and "monergism." There is no third option (unless one is willing to affirm Pelagianism). For those who are new to the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the following is a primer on the two perennial branches of theological systems in Christianity. Or to put it another way, there are two very different ways for believers to view how their salvation was brought about.
Right away it is already apparent that Kurschner and I are starting in different places. First of all, I consider Pelagianism to be a form of monergism. It is merely the opposite extreme as the Calvinist position. I define the terms historically, looking back at the original Pelagius/Augustine debate where their positions both were monergistic, and the two beliefs that followed, Semipelagianism and Semiaugustinianism, were synergistic. I view the synergist theologies to be middle ground positions, while the monergist positions were the extreme positions (or the more pure positions, depending on how you want to spin it).

This is problematic given Kurschner's uses of the terms. Ignoring the differences in our definitions of "monergism", considering his is more commonly used than mine, his framing the debate as monergism vs. synergistic erroneously conflates Semipelagianism and Semiaugustinianism.

It is equally erroneous to attempt to say that the A&C debate encompasses the two perennial branches of Christian theology. What about Catholics? Or the EOC? What about Pentecostalism vs. Cessetionism which divides Christian along a different line? There are others as well. What about the Piest tradition? The Baptist tradition? It is true that the Augustinian and Semiaugustinianism positions represent the two trains of trains of thought on soteriology within Christian orthodoxy, but while it is likely that this is what he meant, it is suspicious for someone of Kurschner's credentials to make such a reduction within a work which is supposed to be introductory.
In general, the first type (the Arminian-Synergist) affirms what is called "synergism." Synergists believe that two forces in the universe are necessary to bring about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, the two forces at work (cooperation) that are necessary to bring about regeneration, or spiritual life, is the will of man and the Holy Spirit (grace).
First of all, this definition of synergism is quite flawed. While I fully admit that, given my historically based definition of the word, Arminians are synergist, we are not given this definition. First of all, Arminians at least do not believe that humanity's role in salvation is "necessary" (note how he even takes the time to italicize this word). Indeed, one of our main points is that God's plan for salvation is not necessary. It shocks me that Kurschner would be either this ignorant or malevolent to suggest this (as those are really the only options). Heck, historically Arminians have often referred to Calvinists as necessitarians precisely because we reject the notion that things are necessary. It is Calvinists who view things as necessary, not us.

Second, he is clearly intentionally implying that we view the human will as a force which rivals God, which is also clearly wrong. The power of the human will only exists and only continues to exist by the will of God.
To put it another way, the work of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the creature’s will, hence, “synergism” (working together). Synergists will sincerely say, “I believe in grace alone.” But in reality, they believe that grace is not alone (sufficient), but that man’s will is necessary for regeneration to be effective.
Again, gross misunderstanding. The human will is autonomous, but in order to do good it is dependant on the Holy Spirit. This is simply putting the cart before the horse. Imagine a wounded solider who can barely stand. A lieutenant comes over and lifts him up, puts the soldier's right arm across his shoulders, and supports him as they walk across the field. Apparently Kurschner would view the lieutenant as the dependant one in this scene.

Additionally, man's will is not necessary for regeneration to be effective, but that God chooses to only regenerate the faithful. Man cannot even be faithful without grace! It is by grace through faith that we are saved, and apparently Kurschner forgets that Sola Fide is just as important as Sola Gratia.
It could be said that synergists are “functional” Arminians because even though some will deny the label, their theology functions synergistically (thus, how they identify themselves is inconsistent with what they teach and believe).
As I said before, I am comfortable with the label, though I reject Kurschner's definition. The reason why many Arminians reject the label is because of Calvinist straw men like this one that Calvinists use the label for.
The second group of believers (the Calvinist-Monergist) affirm what is called “monergism.” Monergists believe that there is only one force in the universe (grace alone) that brings about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, because of the deadness of man’s spiritual state, his moral inability, the Holy Spirit performs the miracle of spiritual resurrection (regeneration) in that person, hence, “monergism” (one work). Grace is sufficient to be effective, and does not depend on some action of man.
I don't have any issues with how monergism is defined here, other than comparative implications, but I've already talked about where he states those implications explicitly, so I won't belabor the point.
In other words, the Holy Spirit does not merely whisper in the hardened sinner’s ear, hoping that the rebel sinner will “cooperate”; rather, while the sinner is in a state of hardness and rebellion, the Holy Spirit penetrates in the will of man and performs the miracle of spiritual life (regeneration). That is grace alone. Faith does not precede regeneration, regeneration precedes faith.
OK, let me explain a few things. First, Arminians don't claim that the Holy Spirit "merely whispers in the hardened sinner's ear", but instead we claim that the Holy Spirit irresistibly quickens the will of the hardened sinner enabling them to have faith. However, He does not irresistibly cause them to have faith itself. This is standard Arminianism.

Second, the Protestant concept of Grace Alone is that salvation cannot be earned by good works, pursued through sacraments, or bought by way of venerated objects, and that humans cannot take the initiative. Arminians affirm this. The Calvinist idea that grace alone must require no human reaction to grace is extreme and unnecessary.

Third, Faith precedes regeneration.

He quotes three verses and for the purposes of this analysis I will only discuss them very briefly. Ephesians 2:4-5 is discussed in the link above, and also I have briefly treated the verses myself here.

John 1:12-13 is odd to me since it explicitly says that regeneration comes to those who believed in His name. Thus to me, it seems to support faith preceding regeneration. When one focuses on the highlighted section, we see that Kurschner is taking the concept of "not by human decision" to mean "not faith". However, faith doesn't cause regeneration, so I don't think his interpretation even applies. However, I don't think his interpretation is accurate either since it is clear to me that John is using synonymous parallelism (a common Hebraic figure of speech) to compare spiritual birth with physical birth. This is a main theme in the book of John.

Another main theme of the book of John is that only the those Jews who were truly loyal to God could recognize Jesus as the Messiah. John 8:47 addresses this theme. Those not understanding Jesus failed to understand him because of a prior lack of commitment to God, not because of a lack of sufficient grace. This is similar to what is going on in John 6.
Arminians cannot affirm monergism (grace alone); they must always have the creature’s will as the final determiner of their destiny, not God. Inconsistently, Arminians pray (without knowingly) Calvinisticly, “God, change my unbelieving relative’s heart.” I have never heard them pray, “God, only whisper in my relative’s ear, but don’t change their heart unless you’ve been given permission.” In contrast, the Calvinist prays and affirms biblical truth consistently.

First, as previously demonstrated "grace alone" does not equate monergism. Second, Arminians don't pray Calvinisticly because we affirm the fact that God does affect the hearts of humans, verses Calvinists whose prayers don't make any sense at all (since what's going to happen is going to happen regardless of whether they pray or not).

Finally, I always found this "final determiner" rhetoric to be odd. It admits that God is part of the process of determining one's fate. Otherwise the human will would be the "only determiner" not the "final determiner" (some Calvinists also say "only determiner", but that's clearly fallacious). However, if God is a determining factor, and the human is a determining factor, how does one identify the final determining factor? I would assume it would be the last factor which acts. But that would be God. After all, regeneration comes after faith. Therefore, clearly, God is the final determiner. The only way to claim otherwise is to view God's actions as automatic, as if He couldn't do otherwise once a person has faith. But Arminians don't view it this way. We trust that God will save us if we have faith because He has promised it, not because He will be compelled to in some manner. However, since Calvinists often see God as compelled by His own nature, I guess I can understand why they would assume this. But if this is the reason then they are importing Calvinist presuppositions onto Arminian thoughts and, unsurprisingly, it merely causes them to misunderstand.

The one thing that this "primer" really shows is Dr. Kurschner's complete inability to properly assess anyone's perspective other than his own. While he is one of the best at explaining his own position, he seems to be incapable of thinking outside of it. The biggest shame is people who will read his material and actually believe his descriptions of Arminianism.

April 16, 2012

The Foundation of Corporate Election

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In many places in the Bible we are described as God's elect, or God's chosen. What does this mean? How does God choose us? There are a couple of different answers to this, but the one which I have become convinced of is called "corporate election".

The first principle of understanding election that I use is that it needs to be grounded in the OT. The NT doesn't develop the idea of election very much. Romans deals with the topic with the most depth, and even then it is couched in OT references and theology. Besides, I my basic hermeneutic is to understand the NT from a worldview contructed from the OT. So we must start where the Bible starts: the OT.

This isn't very difficult for the OT deals with the topic of election extensively, however, most translations don't use the word 'elect' or its derivitives. Instead they ususally use the word family of 'choosen', but the two words mean the same thing. Indeed, the Hebrew word group of 'bachar', which is usually translated as 'choosen', was always translated at 'eklektos' in the ancient Greek Jewish Bible, the Septuagint*, and 'eklektos' is the word translated as 'elect' in the NT.

A good place to start is with Deuteronomy 14:2:
For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen youto be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are onthe face of the earth.
It is quite clear that the Old Testament view of election is corporate: God chose a group of people, a particular nation comprised of the descendants of Abraham, to be His representatives to the world. It is important to understand that belonging to God for the ancient Israelites was a soteriological reality. However, being elect is not the same as being saved. Being one of God's elect also meant that you had a responsibility to the covenant of God, and that you represented Him to the world. The motto which best defined the reality of an Israelite was "To whom much is given, much is expected."

When we come to the New Testament, we find very little material on what election means. The term "eklektos" is used 23 times, but very rarely is the concept really described. Instead, it is assumed to be understood by the readers, which also suggests that the NT writers were operating within the known paradigm of the OT (shocker, I know). So if the language is similar then we understand that being elect doesn't mean that one was chosen to be saved, but that one is part of God's chosen people: a holy nation to represent God to the world.

We see this, for instance in the book of Ephesians which emphasizes the unification of the Jews with the Gentiles forming a new people. This is also prevelant in the book of John, where Jesus is often talking about the handing over of God's people to Him (for example, this is what John 6 is all about).

This isn't to say that election isn't soteriological in nature. We were created to be God's representatives on earth, and the goal of salvation is to return us to our original intended purpose. Thus we are saved for that purpose as well.

Additionally we are saved by our election as well, for we are elected by the same thing by which we are saved: Christ. How the process of salvation is connected to election is what we'll be going over next week.
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*The Septuagint, or LXX, is important to note here, since it was the version of the OT that the NT writers used. So if the NT writers are using the term 'eklektos', you can be sure that they have the LXX usuage at least in mind.

April 8, 2012

Easter Quote

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"Make no mistake; if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours...
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door...
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convienience, our own sense of beauty,
lest,awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.


-John Updike, "Seven Stanzas at Easter"

April 6, 2012

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

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When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

-When I Survey the Wondrous, Isaac Watts, 1674-1748

Have a blessed Good Friday.

April 2, 2012

What's new with this blog

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I don't know whether or not anyone has noticed, but I have been running this blog differently for the past few months. For the last couple of years I've been a bit frustrated that my readership hasn't really been growing. So I've been doing a few things to help bolster the numbers a bit:
  • I've been publishing consistantly. By that I am putting up a post every week, usually on Monday. In fact I am publishing this post now because my next post isn't ready.
  • I've been trying to be loose in my style. What is sad is that my recent writing to me constitutes as loose...
  • I've been more polemical. It's sad, but negative compaigning works.
  • I've been paying attention to what gets the most hits, which is posts about Calvinism, songs, and my old Devotional series (which I hope to be starting back up in the future).

So that's where I am, and I hope the blog continues to develop and grow. God bless.