December 27, 2010

Calvinism Myths

I was recently pointed to this post by Calvinist Michael C. Patton, who I respect a great deal. Here he lists 12 myths that he believes are levied against Calvinism. I wanted to review a couple of these and add my own thoughts on them. Some I think are legitimate myths, some I really do not.

**UPDATE** Since I made this post, I made some editions. Typos I just corrected, but anything added is in italics

1. Calvinism is not system of theology that denies God’s universal love.While there are some Calvinists who do deny God’s universal love for all man, this is certainly not a necessary or a central tenet of Calvinism. Calvinists do, however, believe that God has a particular type of love for the elect (an “electing love”), but most also believe that God loves all people (John 3:16). It is a mystery to Calvinist as to why he does not elect everyone. (More on this here.)
I have to agree with Patton that this is to some degree a myth. To some degree. Every respectable Calvinist that I have met agrees that God universally loves all, and that God not electing some is a mystery.

In the end, this statement is really an argument against Calvinism, rather than a myth. It is an ethical argument which states that God couldn't possibly love all men if He refuses to save them. I think this argument is valid. While I concede that it is a myth that non-hyper-Calvinists believe this, I think it takes either impressive mental gymnastics or intention ignorance to pull it off.

I would like to add that this is something that the Bible is a bit clear about: those that are not saved are not saved because they reject God. This is clear. One of the reasons that I don't believe in Calvinism is that they take things like responsiblity, love, and divine goodness and make them mysterious. These are things that the Bible is clear about. Meanwhile, they take things like omniscience, and omnipotence and seem to think that these ideas should be understood perfectly. It's like they have the mystery in the wrong places.

2. Calvinism is not a belief that God creates people in order to send them to hell.Again, this is not representative of normative Calvinists. While supralapsarians do believe that God creates people to send them to hell, the majority of Calvinists are not supralapsarians. (More on this here.)

Again it is true that most Calvinists don't believe this. But some do, and that is a bit scary. In fact, supralapsarianism (which is not the same thing as hyper Calvinism BTW) was the theological position that Arminius was opposing at the time of his life.

3. Calvinism is not belief that God is the author of evil.Because of Calvinism’s high view of God’s sovereignty, many mistakenly believe that Calvinists hold God responsible for sin and evil. This is not true. There are very few Calvinists who believe that God is the author of evil. Most Calvinists believe that to ascribe responsibility for evil to God is heretical.
This is the primary area where I am happy that Calvinists are inconsistent with their beliefs. I've never met a Calvinist that would say that God is the author of evil, but, at the same time, they believe that everything that happens God decreed to have happened and made it so. In other words, God may have caused it, but He isn't responsible for it. Why He is not responsible may depend on the Calvinist, and is often overly complex. But even though I know that Calvinists don't believe that, I would have to if I actually accepted predeterminism. It is just the logical consequent.

Again, this is an example of something that isn't a myth, but an argument. I don't know any Arminian who thinks that Calvinists believe that God is the author of evil. However most, if not all, Arminians that I know (including myself) believe that if Calvinism where true, than God created evil.

4. Calvinism is not a belief in fatalism.A fatalistic worldview is one in which all things are left to fate, chance, and a series of causes and effects that has no intelligent guide or ultimate cause. Calvinism believes that God (not fate) is in control, though Calvinists differ about how meticulous this control is.

I find Patton's definition of fatalism interesting, especially since that isn't really what it means. Fatalism is the belief that everything which happens is inevitable: it is your fate. Why that is your fate can vary among fatalists, and many believe that your fate is set by personal omnipotent beings (such as the three Fates in Greek mythology). So saying that Calvinists don't believe in fatalism because God is an intelligent guide, to me, is based more on a very unique definition of fatalism.

Fatalism is to some degree a contested term, but usually within such debates fatalism is about the futility of human actions in terms of what their ultimate destiny will be. In this sense, one could say that Calvinism is fatalist, in the sense that humanity really can't affect its destiny.

On the other hand, one could say that Calvinism isn't fatalist, because that isn't part of the emphasis of Calvinism, like calling someone at a recycling depot a garbageman. Within Calvinism, no one is really trapped by their destiny. Instead, they are privileged to it. For this reason, I don't tend to call Calvinists "Fatalists". Another way to say it is that Fatalism is pessimistic about determinism, Calvinism is rather optimistic about it.

Mind you, I don't think that this is much better. Calvinism is rather self-absorbed in its theology in my opinion. "God chose me to be saved for all eternity, unlike the vast majority of humanity! Isn't God wonderful?" You can kind of see why those who aren't Calvinist see this as fatalism. A reprobate may say, "Sure you aren't trapped by your fate, but the rest of us are!" Therefore, Calvinism is only sorta fatalist. It is fatalist in its worldview, but not in its attitude about it. However that is hardly a glowing recommendation.

5. Calvinism is not a denial of freedom.Calvinists to do not believe that people are robots or puppets on strings. Calvinists believe in freedom and, properly defined, free will. While Calvinists believe that God is ultimately in control of everything, most are compatibalists, believing that he works in and with human freedom (limited though it may be). Calvinists believe in human responsibility at the same time as holding to a high view of God’s providential sovereignty. (More on this here.)

By "properly defined free will" he means "free will as defined completely differently from all of history before Calvin and from every other belief system than Calvinism." I personally think that compatibablist free will is philosophical incoherent (More on this here.) It's like calling a blueberry a grape, and then only listing the similarities. So, yes, Calvinism is a denial of freedom, while compatibalism is simply being in denial.

6. Calvinism is not a belief that God forces people to become Christians against their will.Calvinists believe in what is called “irresistible grace.” This might not be the best name for it since it does not really communicate what is involved. Calvinists believe that people are dead in the sin (Eph 2:1), haters of God, with no ability to seek him in their natural state (Rom 3:11; John 6:44; 1 Cor 2:14). Since this is the case, God must first regenerate them so that they can have faith. Once regenerate, people do not need to be forced to accept God, but this is a natural reaction—a willing reaction—of one who has been born again and, for the first time, recognizes the beauty of God.

So once they are forced to be regenerate, they are not forced to become Christians?.... Right. Thank you for the clarification.

To be frank, Augustine, who Calvin based his thoughts on, was insistent that he was forced to become a Christian. The percentage of Calvinists that describe their salvation experience as being dragged kicking and screaming is also quite high. I'm sorry Michael, but if you were being honest with yourself, you would simply learn to claim this one.

7. Calvinism is not a belief that you should only evangelize the elect.No one knows who the elect are. I suppose that if there was a way to find out, both Calvinist and Arminians (the other primary option to Calvinism) would only evangelize the elect (since Arminians also believe only the elect will be saved even though they understand election differently). Since we don’t know, it is our duty to evangelize all people and nations. Some of the greatest evangelists in the history of Christianity, such as Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, have held to the doctrine of unconditional election.

Have to agree with Michael on this one being a myth. Calvinism does not teach you should only evangelize the elect, but that evangelism is the process through which the elect are revealed. Mind you, many Calvinists have rejected evangelism in history. Indeed, I think evangelism is something that Calvinists have had to "make work" with their theology, rather than something which flows naturally from it.

8. Calvinism is not a belief that God arbitrarily chooses people to be saved.Calvinists believe that God elects some people to salvation and not others and that this election is not based on anything present or foreseen, righteous or unrighteous, in the individual, but upon his sovereign choice. But this does not mean that the choice is arbitrary, as if God is flipping a coin to see who is saved and who is not. Calvinists believe that God has his reasons, but they are in his mysterious secret will.

This isn't a myth. It is not "Election by Unknown Conditions", but "Unconditional Election". In Calvinism, God has reasons for electing, as a general concept. The elect may also have a very specific demographic that God has planned. But according to true Calvinism there is no condition, or attribute that belongs to the person which causes them to be elect instead of someone else. There is another word for that: arbitrary (actually two. You could also say random).

9. Calvinism is not a system of thought that follows a man, John Calvin.While Calvinists obviously respect John Calvin, they simply believe that he correctly understood and systematized some very important Apostolic teachings concerning election, man’s condition, and God’s sovereignty. However, much of this understanding did not originate with John Calvin, but can be seen in many throughout church history such as Aquinas, Anselm, and Augustine. Ultimately, Calvinists will argue, they follow rightly interpreted Scripture.

I agree that it is a myth to say that Calvinism is just based off of John Calvin, but Calvin is still who defines Calvinism. Many Calvinists disagree with Calvin on things. So fine, this is a myth.

Oh, if you want to list people who believed in Arminian theology: Justin Martyr, Iraneus, Ignatius, Athanatius, Basil, both Gregories, Tertullian, and pretty much everyone else who predates Augustine, not to mention Francis of Assisi, the Council of Orange and probably a few more that predate Calvin.

10. Calvinism is not a system that has to ignore or reinterpret passages of Scripture concerning human responsibility.Calvinists believe that all people are responsible to do what is right, even though, as fallen children of Adam, they lack ability to do what is right (in a transcendent sense; see below) without God’s regenerating grace. Therefore, God’s call and commands apply to all people and all people are responsible for their rejection and rebellion.

It does have to reinterpret them. Sorry. This is just what it means to have Christians that disagree with you. Naturally you think that I am reinterpreting verses, and conversely I think that you are doing likewise.

11. Calvinists do not believe that no one can do any good thing at all.Calvinists believe in what is called “total depravity” (so do Arminians). However, total depravity does not mean that people cannot ever do anything good. Calvinists believe that unregenerate people can do many good things and sometimes even act better than Christians. But when it comes to people’s disposition toward God and their acknowledgment of him for their abilities, gifts, and future, they deny him and therefore taint all that they are and do. An unbeliever, for example, can love and care for their children just as a believer can. In and of itself this is a very good thing. However, in relation to God this finds no eternal or transcendent favor since they are at enmity with him, the Giver of all things. Therefore, it might be said, while all people can do good, only the regenerate can do transcendent good.

This is kind of awkward. OK, yes, Calvinists do believe that unbelievers can do good, but classic Calvinism believes this for completely different reasons than Michael states. Classic Calvinism believes in "common grace", or grace that God extends to everyone which prevents sin from completely running amuck.

12. Calvinists do not necessarily believe that God predestines (wills) everything, including the color of socks I chose this morning.There is a spectrum to belief about God’s sovereignty in Calvinism. The one thing that unites all Calvinists is their belief in God’s sovereign choice to elect some people to salvation and not others. However, Calvinists differ concerning God’s involvement in other areas (for more on this, see here). Some Calvinists believe in what might be called “meticulous sovereignty”, where God has not only predestined people to salvation, but also he has predestined everything that occurs. As the old saying goes: “There is not a maverick molecule in the universe.” However, most Calvinists believe in what might be called “providential sovereignty.” Here, Calvinists would distinguish between God’s permissive will and his sovereign will. In his permissive will, many things happen that he permits, but is not necessarily bringing about as the first cause. In his sovereign will, many things happen because of his direct intervention (for more on this, see here).

I have no problem with the notion of "providential sovereignty." Indeed, as an Arminian, I believe in providential sovereignty. Patton is the only Calvinist I have ever met though to believe in it as well. If he wants to call that "not necessarily believing", than fine. But his personal beliefs does not qualify something as being a myth. Standard Calvinist theology states that God meticulously controls everything, and always has.

October 22, 2010

A Great Article on Corporate Election

Dr. Brian Abasciano has written an absolutely fantastic article in response to Dan Wallace on the issue of Corporate Election. For those of you who are interested, here's a link:
Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds To Dr. Dan Wallace On The Issue Of Corporate Election

October 2, 2010


Hey everyone, I just wanted to do a bit of a personal update, since things have been fairly blank here for a while.

First of all, my wife is currently 3 months pregnant for our first child :D. So that's really exciting. I'm a guy, so I don't know how to talk about this... so I'll just move on.

Second, I don't know if I've mentioned this on my blog, but I got a new job a few months ago working with people with developmental disabilities. It is a really good job, and the agency has a spiritual care department which I hope to be able to transfer into within the next couple of years. If, at some point, I don't really think that is going to happen, I intend to start looking for a chaplaincy position, but I'll wait at least three years before really pursuing that. I would rather move within this organization since I really like it.

Third, and this is completely unrelated, I've often talked about having "a list" of movies that I really need or want to see. I've never really composed such a list... until now! Some are on the list because, as a lover of film, that are landmark movies that are important for reference. Others are on there because I just flat out want to see them. Then there are a couple that I'm just a tad curious about. So I thought I would print it here and see if anyone has any other films I should probably add (I know there are some, but I only compiled this list in 15 minutes):

* seen it before (or part of it) but don't remember it well
  • *All About Eve
  • Blade Runner
  • * Breakfast at Tiffany's
  • Book of Eli
  • The Bridge Over the River Kwai
  • Bringing Up Baby (Cary Grant and K Hepburn)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  • * Casablanca
  • Die Hard 2 & 4 (Because I've seen 1 & 3)
  • Dr. Strangelove
  • * Enter the Dragon
  • Godfather
  • Gone With the Wind
  • The Good, the Bad, And the Ugly
  • The Greatest Story Ever Told
  • Iron Man II
  • The Lady Eve
  • Laurence of Arabia
  • Mad Max
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Modern Times (Chaplin)
  • One Flew Over the Cookoo's Nest
  • Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
  • * Pink Panther
  • Point Break
  • Raging Bull
  • * Roman Holiday
  • The Searchers
  • Seven Samurai
  • Sunset Blvd
  • Thank You For Smoking
  • The Third Man
  • Toy Story 3
  • Tron
Important or interesting film, but not really sure if I should and/or want to see it
  • 12 Monkeys
  • 2001 A Space Oddessy
  • *Animal House
  • Annie Hall
  • Butterfly Effect (People tell me that its bad, but I'm curious about time paradox stories)
  • The Graduate
  • Green Hornet
  • House of the Flying Daggers
  • Inception
  • Inherit the Wind (I want to see it for masochistic reasons)
  • Kick "butt" (From what I understand, there is a lot of cursing and violence.)
  • Saving Private Ryan (Again, a lot of violence)
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
  • Watchmen

September 20, 2010

A Few Points About the Bible That May Make People Hate Me


  1. The Bible is not a book. It is a collection of books. There is a difference between a book (a single piece of literature) and a codex (a means of publishing literary works where edges of paper are bound by cord or glue to a single binding). You can have a book that takes up more than one codex (usually each codex being called a volume) or you can have several books contained in a single codex. The Bible is 66 books in one codex, and as such each book needs to be treated differently, and as a whole

  2. The Biblical Books Are Independent. Though it is true that any good theologian is going to be taking the Bible as a whole when forming his/her theology, it is also true that each book is a self-contained unit. They need to be treated as distinct

  3. The Bible has multiple genres. You cannot treat the whole bible as if it is a collection of aphorisms (sentences that can stand alone). One needs to be sensitive in regards to what genre you are dealing with.

  4. The Bible has multiple authors. As cute as it is to say that God is the author of the Bible, in truth God inspired many different authors to write the Bible, and each author used his own perspective and manner of phrasing into the text. This doesn't undermind that there is a divine origin as to what is being written, but it does mean that when it comes to "interpreting Scripture with Scripture" we cannot pretend the Paul and James must mean the same thing with a certain term or phrase.

  5. The Bible is translated. This means that the infallibility of the Bible is tied to the original text, not to the translation. You cannot fully grasp what the Bible means from English, no matter how many times you read it,though you can understand everything that really matters. But when it comes to contraversial topics, you should be familiar with the original text.

August 22, 2010

Rhetorical Translation: Acrostics

I've had the idea for a while now that we should translate some of the rhetorical structures of the original languages. This doesn't necessarily mean that we copy them (though in some instances it will), but that we use rhetorical devices in English which serve a similar purpose.
This concept becomes the most poignant in the poems. I have always had trouble reading the Psalms because they don't feel like poetry to me. I see that as a failure of the translation: poems should feel like poems. Simply changing the indentation isn't enough for me.
  • Some things are simple: throw in some rhyme to group sections together that are clearly grouped in the Hebrew
  • If there is alliteration, use alliteration (even if it is not precisely in the same place, or if it isn't the "best english word" to mean what the Hebrew meant)
  • If there is a pun, establish at least some kind of word connection (puns are untranslatable, but there are other ways to connect two words)
Now I do not consider myself and expert on either language (Greek and Hebrew), so I know there are complexities that I am not taking into account here. Additionally, I know not everything is translatable, but I do think we can do better to represent not only what the authors said, but how they said it.

Now what I have given some more thought to is the Hebrew acrostic poem. The alphabetical acrostic is an incredibly common poetic form in Hebrew. However, translating that structure into English is quite difficult. Here are some of my thoughts:
  • A different structure that serves a similar purpose
    1. Though I know some rhythmic and rhyming structures that can stretch across a poem, I don't know any that can bring the kind of stylized unity as an acrostic
  • Using the English Alphabet
    1. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letter. English as 26. I don't think it's right to just add or split lines to make the acrostic work (especially if you try to do Psalm 119 that way)
    2. Not all English letters are easy to use in acrostics, like 'j', 'z', or 'x' (though 'x' you could solve by use the 'ex' prefix, but there are still other leters)
    3. Though it would seem the first and second problem could solve itself (take out 4 problem letters), in order to make an quasi-alphabetical acrostic like that work, you would need to have the most important letter groups, especially the two most important: abc and xyz. Out of all the letters to remove, 'z' is the most important since there are less usable words starting with 'z' than any other letter.
  • Using the Transliterated Hebrew Alphabet
    1. You still have 'z' to contend with (The Hebrew letter zayin)
    2. There are some Hebrew letters that don't have English equivalents. This isn't that bad though since the letters alef and ayin can use two vowels to represent them (I would recommend 'a' and 'e'), the letter chet is usually represented as a 'ch' anyway, and that really only leaves the letter tsade (it makes a "ts" sound).
    3. You have recurring sounds in letters. Again this isn't too bad. You can use 'sh' instead of sin, 'th' instead of tav, and kaph and qoph have 'k' and 'q' (or 'k' and 'c' if you want to be nice to yourself).
    4. The Hebrew Alphabet isn't known to the English public, so it won't really serve the same funtion. If this is the case, we would essentially have to rely on people learning "Hebrews used acrostics" or simply noticing that so many poems use this same letter order (Psalm 119 will help in that observation).
It is really that last point that I am thinking about the most. A strict English alphabet is out of the question, and a modified one is just cumbersome. Thus if we are essentially relying on consistancy anyway, using Hebrew order makes some sense. But if we still have to get around 'z' , and we have to replace tsade, are we still really using the Hebrew alphabet, and if so, isn't it better to go with the quasi-english one to at least make some kind of connection.

Now you may say that this is pointless, but I think it is important to at least try and see whether or not it works.

Any thoughts.

August 18, 2010

So, are you into labels?

Surely you have heard the phrases, "I'm not into labels" or "I don't want to be labeled". It is a very common thing to say nowadays, and represents an overall apathy to philosophical matters (or whatever subject the phrase comes up in). I first want to say that I completely respect these people, since most of them are really just trying to avoid a fight about something that they don't care about it. But I wanted to discuss the concept of labels within society, and maybe tease out why some people use them, what they are for, and whether they should be used at all.

A Rose By Any Other Label...

First of all, let's get down to the basic question: what is a label? Essentially 'label' is nothing more than another word for 'name'. The only real difference is the term 'label' forms a word picture of some kind of visual "name-tag" being placed upon the thing named. It is clear that no one is really against naming things, but yet they are against labeling. This is almost contradictory.

Almost. What people are really against is having a name forced upon them that they don't want, and that is the key. Naming/labelling is incredibly important, and innate to the nature of man, but it also a very powerful thing.

Consider Adam. Adam's first role within the garden was to name everything that was around him. Why? I mean, didn't God have name for these things? It is important to recognize that within the Hebrew thought, the concept of naming something was exerting your power over it. By naming it, you brought it under your dominion: you define it. Thus by having Adam name everything, God was giving Adam dominion over the Earth.

Though this concept isn't quite as conscience within the minds of our culture, it is still true, and we know it on an intuitive level. When someone else applies a label to us, they are, to some degree, exerting some kind of control over us. They are defining us. That's not always comfortable (especially if we don't like or don't identify with the label being applied). Additionally, the person themselves are also somewhat aware of it, for those that insist on a label for you are usually people who are attempting to categorize you to assess how they are supposed to interact with you (often in terms of "friend or foe"). Let's face it, labels of the basic building blocks of organization, and many people want or need to organize the people they know.

This brings up a second word picture that the term 'label' offers. There is the one picture, mentioned above, of the name-tag that defines me, but the far more disturbing image is the box label. I'm much more comfortable with the name-tag that is there to help distinguish me from others, but not so much with being put in a box with a bunch of people I don't like so I can be filed away, perhaps even discarded.

With all of this, it is quite easy to see why people don't like to be labeled.

So, Labels Are Bad?

Not at all! Labels are a necessary part of human interaction! Like I said above, labeling serves very important functions.

First it defines a thing. It is not wrong for things to be defined. Can you imagine what conversation would be like if we didn't have names for things? Imagine if every time I wanted to refer to John, I would have to describe him because he didn't have a name. Indeed, if we had no names at all, imagining trying to describe him without such words as 'hair', 'shirt', 'male', 'head', 'eyes', and even 'age'. Likewise imagine political conversations if we had no names for positions, and a person would have to describe their entire political platform at the beginning of every conversation. I mean we could do it, but who would want to! If you think that I am wrong, just look at the words that are usually used to replace labels (given that the person is trying to abandon "labeling").

Second it organizes things. As much as no one wants to be organized, it is important for one to organize their social life. I want to know who my friends are. I want to know who my family is. I want to be able to quickly identify who is going to support me in a discussion on politics or theology. This is incredibly helpful, and makes life, well, livable.

Third it works as a short-hand. This is sort of already implied with what I said above, but it is important to note separately. It is often helpful within a conversation though to define a concept and then label it for further reference. For those who frequent this site, I often reference the Machine Gun Hermeneutic. This is a term that I invented, but whenever I refer to it, I link to the first article I wrote on it. The truth is I wrote that article for the purpose of defining a label that I was intending to use. That is the value of labeling.

Label Libel

The real problem is in the mismanagement of labels. Many labels in our society are misused, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of malevolence.

Here's an example from a movie. Have you ever seen Hot Fuzz? Hysterical movie, though I would not recommend it to those who are sensitive (though I do recommend it to everyone else). There is one scene where the main character is being asked whether he believes in God. He says no. So the questioner (a priest unfortunately) says, "So you're an atheist?" He says that it more that he isn't certain about the concept of God, to which which the questioner responds, "Ah, you're an agnostic then." It is true that any belief that is unsure about the existence of God can be called an agnostic belief, but technically (as I understand), one is "an agnostic" if they assert that the existence of God cannot be known. However, the term is often used to label those who are simply unsure, as if they actually fell on the spectrum or something.

Another example is a label I take on myself: Arminian. The concept of Arminianism is that God extends his grace to all, and enables all to come to Him, but that only a few respond to this grace (this is a gross oversimplification, but I discuss it in more detail elsewhere). However, many attempt to define Arminianism as "salvation by works" or "man-centered" or "anything that believes in free-will" even though these are fallacious definitions. Indeed, many attach other labels which are completely foreign to the stance.

But it is incredibly important that we don't try to abandon labels or avoid them. Instead we need to own and defend them.

You see, the real problem is not that you are being labeled, but that other people are the ones doing it. When you label or name something, you are exerting power over it. Therefore the problem is other people trying to have power over you. The solution is not to not be labeled (since they label you anyway), but that instead you control which labels are attached to you.

For instance, I don't see myself as a conservative (politically speaking). That is not a label that I attach to myself. However, I do use the labels federalist and capitalist, and if someone calls me conservative, I can correct by using the terms that I define myself as. Yes, I am on the right side of politics, but not for the same reasons as many, and thus I don't really belong in the same category. On the other hand, I don't mind the label "right-winged" for that implies a spectrum rather than a political philosophy, and that is the side of the spectrum I'm on.

Therefore, to answer the question that I labeled this post with: Yes, I am into labels, and I hope that you will be to. Let us just take the time to understand and appropriately choose the labels we use.

August 9, 2010

The Transcendental Argument and Thoughts

The Transcendental Argument

I've written on this topic before. The Transcendental Argument is an argument for the existence of God, though I would say that it is really more an argument against materialism. Materialism is a basic tenant of atheism, and if you dispose of materialism, atheism cannot stand. Thus its opposite, theism, must be true.

Before one can understand how the argument works, one first needs to understand what materialism is. Simply put, it is the belief that material (matter and energy) is all there as, and anything else doesn't really exist, but is merely an illusion in our minds. This has significant ramifications, for not only does it reject the belief in God, or in souls and spirits, but it also rejects the reality of morality, thoughts and even life. Life, after all, is merely a physical phenomenon, and thoughts are just electrical impulses in your brain. This is the philosophy of materialism.

According to the Transcendental Argument, there are things which we can prove exist which transcend material (hence the name). Most of the time, when this argument is used, the transcendental that is used is morality. However, proving the existence of objective morality is difficult (though I would say possible) and therefore this isn't always the best way to present the argument (sometimes it is though, because you can really engage the emotions of people).

Another one used is logic. Atheists love logic. Indeed, one may say that they worship logic and reason (Oh my science!). Because of this, using logic is a very good method of dismantling atheism in particular, since Atheism is so dependant upon claiming to be "the most logical stance".

However, I think a truly powerful transcendental to use, if all you intend to do is to deconstruct materialism, is thinking.

The Absolute Existence of Human Thoughts

As I stated before, materialism claims that material is all there is (hence the name). A necessary corollary to this is that our thoughts and consciousness are merely illusions: they are only electrical impulses in the brain. However, I would argue that an honest examination of human history and society demonstrates that this philosophy cannot hold water.

Question: have you ever heard of someone being run over by a unicorn? Of course not, because unicorns don't exist. This is the basic premise of my argument: Things which don't exist cannot affect things which do exist. Now I am in agreement with materialism that material exists. However, if materialism is to be true, then all events in human history can be explained purely from a physical level, without referencing people's ideas, philosophies, and beliefs.

However, this cannot be done. We can come up with some very simple examples like the notion of the atomic bomb started with an idea. It does not stand that the physical components of the human body and some electrical impulses are sufficient to explain the ability to break apart subatomic forces.

We can come up with something, though, which is a little more provable. I think the best example is racial segregation. Why is it that this group of humans (thought of in terms of physical bodies according to materialism) are in different physical conditions that this other group of humans? The true answer to this is racial prejudice. But racial prejudice is an idea. However, this idea must exist because it has physical consequence.

Indeed, any concept of a choice based off of a belief falls into this same category. Though my decision to have one piece of pie over another can be attributed to chemical impulses, my decision to place one DVD into a DVD player over another cannot.

OK, So Here's the Argument

OK, so here's the arguemnt:

P1: Material is real

P2: If materialism is true, then thoughts are not real

P3: Things which are not real cannot affect things that are real

P4: Thoughts affect material things.

C1: Thoughts are real (P1, P3, P4)

C2: Materialism is false (P2, C1)


August 4, 2010

A word apologists should know

I am a lover of words: a logophile if you will. And there is no greater joy that I have than coming across a new useful word. Now, not every new word is useful. For instance, I recently learned the world 'ululation' which means 'howl'. Well, we have another word for that: 'howl'. However, then there are words like 'obfuscation': to confuse people using unusual words or lofty sentence structure. That is a useful word (and ironic) since you would often have to use several words to describe that same concept.

This is also why I love English. We have a word for everything: 'everything'. OK, kidding aside, the real power of English is in its vocabulary. We do have an incredibly diverse and robust vocabulary with English, if only the population would use it.


OK, so I recently read an essay at William Laine Craig's site, and in it, it used the term parsimonious. It also defined it, kindly enough. Essentially, it means "being favored by way of Occam's Razor". Indeed, Craig's uses the term "principle of parsimony" as another name for Occam's Razor. For those of you that aren't apologists, Occam's Razor states that when considering two possible theories, and all other things being equal, one should prefer the simpler theory.

For those of you who are apologists, theologians, philosophers, or scientists, I am sure that you have run into the same situation as I, where you wished to discuss the attribution of Occam's Razor within a particular argument, and were forced to do great violence to your sentence in order to fit in the full phrase "in accordance to Occam's Razor". Now you don't have to!

Indeed, with the gift of the word "parsimonious" you now have a way to refer to Occam's Razor in any grammatical situation: noun (parsimony), adjective (parsimonious), adverb (parsimoniously), antinym (unparsimonious), or, if you are really crazy and enjoy making new words through derivation, verb (parsimonize).

So to all you apologists out there: enjoy the gift.

July 26, 2010

An Exercise in Evangelistic Tact

I received this as a comment on my "Road Rage" post a while back. I didn't publish it because I thought it was cheesy, and I have a policy about comments needing to apply to the post they are connected to and a policy about not lecturing. Considering that this on from a post about Road Rage, it clearly was not on topic, and it is clearly lecturing.

But I did decide to keep it because I wanted to do a post critiquing it. it is a wonderful example of poor tract evangelism, and I wanted to share it with you guys. I didn't include the name since I'm going to give a negative critique.

If you died today, are you 100% sure you would go to Heaven ?

The Bible says in I John 5:13, that we can KNOW we are saved eternally and
going to Heaven.

"These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son
of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on
the name of the Son of God." I John 5:13

1. First, you must realize that you are a sinner.

The Bible says in Romans 3:23, that everyone is a sinner.

"For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" Romans

2. You must realize what yours sins earn you.

The Bible tells us the penalty for our sin in the first part of Romans

"For the wages of sin is death;" Romans 6:23a

Because we sin, we earn wages just like when we earn wages for working. Our
wages for our sins is death. Because we sin, we deserve to die.

But that's not all, because we sin, we deserve to die a second death as
well ...

"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second
death." Revelation 20:14

Because of our sins, we also deserve to die the second death: to be cast
into the Lake of Fire ( Hell ).

3. Jesus paid the price.

God wants us to go to Heaven, so He sent His only begotten Son to die for
us on the cross, so we can go to Heaven !

"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us." Romans 5:8

4. What must I do to be saved ?

God only asks one thing of us to be saved.

"And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,
and thy house." Acts 16:31

"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt
believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be
saved." Romans 10:9

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."Romans

If we believe that we Jesus died for us and rose again so that we can be
saved, and we simply ask Jesus to save us, He will :)

I just wanted to make sure you knew 100% sure :D

God bless you and yours !

Problem #1: Hit and Run

The very way that this comment is made makes it very clear that this poster is simply posting this without intending to follow-up. If the person did attempt to follow-up, then they did a lousy job in opening conversation.

Which is the basic point. I understand the need for a tract to give all of the information that a person may ask since the giver of the tract won't be there for the reading of the tract. But if you are going to comment on a blog then your objective in evangelism should be opening up dialogue. Giving a page long description of the process of salvation complete with proof-texts and then claiming that you are just "making sure" is pompous, and dissuades one from having a conversation.

I mean, what did she (because it was a she) expect me to say in response? "No I'm not sure" or "Actually, I really don't care" or the more accurate in my case "Actually I completely understand and accept all that you said and you just completely wasted my time considering you could have figured this out by briefly skimming my site"? None of these are really natural responses, or represent serious dialogue.

Problem #2: The Machine Gun Hermeneutic

I have a policy on this too. Look at the way Scripture is used here. She lists particular verses, and then does nothing to interact with them. This brings up the question: who is her target here?

Let's say I am already a Christian. Then there is no purpose for her even giving me this message, and I am probably already familiar with these verses.

OK, let's say I am not a Christian. Then why would I care what the Scripture says? What is the point of quoting it? I mean, I quote Scripture when I talk to non-Christians as a source for what I believe, but not as an authority as to why they should believe the same as I do. The Bible belongs to the Church, and is an authority for the Church. It isn't to those outside of it, and we shouldn't be surprised by that.

OK, let's say that I am a false Christian (to be honest, that is what I am assuming she is "making sure of"). Again, I probably would be familiar with these verses, and there is little here that would point out where I fall short in the faith.

In other words, regardless of where I am coming from, her presentation would not convince me.

Problem #3: Disingenuous

I've alluded to this several times already, but the cheeky "I just wanted to make sure you were 100% sure" is really insulting. This is so insincere. If she wanted to make sure, then she would have asked me questions, not given me a lecture. Or she at least would have read more of my posts, and found out what I claim to believe, and have written in response to that (I even have a section listing all of my beliefs and a link to it at the top of my blog). Even if she did give me this out of a desire to "make sure", it is quite evident that she doesn't really care about me.

Now it would be wrong of me to say what she was thinking. My imagination would assume the worse because I am insulted, but probably her motivations are far more innocent than I would imagine. But there is nothing more annoying than claiming that they are concerned about you, while their actions make it seem like you are just another stamp on the side of their plane.


Take the time to think about what you are doing when you are evangelizing. Think in terms of who you are trying to reach, and what medium you are using.

When handing out tracts, you have to be this general: it is a natural aspect of the medium, and that is OK. But even then you have to think about target audience, and how that group of people will respond to your words.

If you are street evangelizing, you need to be focused on emotion rather than logic. You need to get people to want to listen to you, rather than simply being correct in what you have to say.

But more to the point, blogs give you an ability to be precise in your evangelism that you not only can take advantage of, but will be expected to. If someone has a blog, they are a person that wants to have their thoughts heard. Thus, if you want to reach someone on a blog, you first need to impress them with how familiar you are with their writing. If you are unwilling to do the work to do this, then you shouldn't say anything at all.

And, in the words of Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.

July 20, 2010

Pelagianism: A Monergist Model of Redemption

"Pelagianism? Monergist? Martin, I think you need to recheck your definitions."

No it's true! For those that read most internet Calvinist literature, the word 'monergism' is understood to be synonymous with determinism. However, the term specificly means that only one party's actions (energy) matters within the processes of redemption and sanctification. The process involves two parties: God and the human. Therefore, monergism is any belief system that views either party as the only effective actor within the process, whether it be God (Calvinism/Augustinianism) or the human (Pelagianism).

Therefore, it strikes me as odd that many Calvinists seem to celebrate monergism as if the concept alone justifies the superiority of Calvinism. The truth of the matter is, it seems to me that most Calvinists simply think monergisticly. Many believe that it must be God or humanity, and if we are not saying God, that that amounts to saying that it is humanity. That just isn't true.

Here is the truth of the matter:
  • Pelagianism: Monergistic Believes that the human initiates and completes the process of redemption and sanctification by living the kind of life modeled by Christ.
  • Semipelagianism: Synergistic Believes that the human initiates the process of redemption, but it is completed through the assistance of God and Christ's redemptive sacrifice
  • Semiaugustianism (Arminianism): Synergistic Believes that God initiates the process of redemption, and completes it within those humans that respond to His initiatial promptings.
  • Augustinianism (Calvinism): Monergistic Beleives that God initiates and completes the process of redemption and sanctification of a few select persons.

Those that celebrate 'Monergism' and condemn 'Synergism' do so without fully understanding the terms. Both Pelagianism (a monergist theology) and Semipelagianism (a synergist theology) are just as heretical, and both Augustianism (a monergist theology) and Semiaugustinianism (a synergist theology) fall comfortably within the boundries of orthodoxy.

See the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church to collaborate definitions of terms

July 11, 2010


Ok, there are tons of 'ologies' out there, including theological terms. In Christianity we study:

  • Angelology- study of Angels
  • Anthropology- study of humanity's nature
  • Christology- Study of Christ's nature
  • Cosmology- Study of the the origin of the cosmos/ Creation
  • Demonology- Study of Satan and his forces
  • Ecclesiology- study of the church
  • Epistemology- Study of knowledge and understanding
  • Eschatology- study of the life after death and the end of the world
  • Ontology- study of existence
  • Pneumatology- study of the Spirit
  • Sacramentology- study of the sacraments/ordinances
  • Soteriology- study of salvation
  • Theology- study of God

There are also many branches of Christian study that do not end with '-ology', such as:

  • Ethics- study of right living (moral or practical)
  • Hermeneutics- study of interpreting a text/Scripture
  • History- study of past events (Also Archeology)
  • Liturgy- Study of public worship (Also liturgiology)
  • Metaphystics- study of supernatural forces
  • Pastoral theology- study of the role of the pastor
  • Philosophy- Systematic study of reality
  • Science-Systematic study of tangible reality
  • Theodicy- Study of the existence of evil given a just God

Though this list is not exhaustive, I would consider these to be the major branches of Christian study.

However, there is one branch of Christian study which I believe is a major aspect of Christian understanding that, as far as I am aware, has no name. Therefore, I gave it a name: ecotheology.

What is Ecotheology

The prefix 'eco-' is used to reference environment, usually in terms of Nature, but not necessarily. 'Theology' is of course the study of God. Therefore, what I mean by 'Ecotheology' is the study of the interactions between a faith community or religious perspective with its cultural environment.

Interestingly enough, this area of theology has already had a lot of development within Christianity. The most notable ecotheological movement would be Emergent Church movement which is defined by it "discussion" ecotheological issues. However, Fundamentalism and the Amish would also be groups which are defined by an ecotheological stance (In that they both view that interactions between the faith community and the cultural environment should be limited, or non-existent). Again Liberalism is also a position based off of an ecotheological stance (That the faith community should adapt and accommodate to the ambient culture's academy). Thus I am not proposing that we create a new area of theology inquiry, but that we should identify as a legitimate category of Christian study that already exists.

Christian Ecotheology

Within Christianity, we conveniently have a base question from which we can base our study: "how can we be in the world and not of the world?" Any attempt to answer or consider this question is Christian ecotheology.

Therefore, Christian ecotheology starts with two basic assumptions: A) That we (the Church) are something distinct and other within our culture and B) that we do belong where we are. Thus we can see that Christian ecotheology is intimately related to ecclesiology (The study of the Church). This shouldn't be surprising since in the definition I gave ["the study of the interactions between a faith community or religious perspective with its cultural environment"], the faith community mentioned there would be the church within Christianity.

However, I would argue that ecotheology is indeed something entirely distinct from ecclesiology since it is a study of interactions rather than a study of nature. It would be similar to the distinction between Christology (the study of who Christ is) and soteriology (the study of what Christ accomplished).

Indeed, ecotheology is intimately concerned with ethics: How are we to maintain our otherness, and yet still fulfill our purpose in being within this culture? This is merely a rephrasing of the first question, and yet shows that this has as much to do with personal ethics as it does with the nature of the Church. It is balancing holiness with mission, placing evangelism itself firmly within ecotheology's purview. However, it is also concerned with how to interact with educational institutions, mass media, and political structures.

However, it is not limited to ethics, for there is the ultimate question of how the church as a whole interacts with the world as a whole. How are we portrayed? How much of that portrayal is our fault? What can we do to improve that image? Should we do something to improve it? How well do we understand the needs of our culture? Are we reaching out to it the right way? These are major questions, and are worthy of direct and systematic study.

Anyway, what do you guys think?

July 10, 2010

Ephesians 2:14; A Devotional

For He is our peace, having made both into one and having broken down1 that wall2 which divides us3, that hostility by His flesh.

Is there a greater verse to demonstrate the notion of how corporate election works? God has created for Himself a people out of the seed of Abraham. It is this people that He has choosen, and it is through this people that He works.
But through the power of the blood of Jesus Christ His Son, that distinction between the seed of Abraham and the rest of the seed of Adam is broken down. Now all who are in Christ are one and are part of the same people: the people of Christ. When we say we are Christians, we are saying that we are part of the soveriegn government of the King of Kings: the Lord Christ who reigns over all the other lords. That is now our nationality; that is our alligance.
Therefore, any other distinction that we may recognize is now moot. Let us not ostrocize another for petty things, like race or nation or tribe or denomination. We are now one people under Christ. These are dividing walls which the passage equates with hostility.
So let us work with one another in harmony and strength. It is only when we all submit to the King and work together as a people that we will see the kingdom of God on this earth.

Translation notes

1 The verb here is 'luo' which means 'to loose' or 'to free' or 'break apart'.

2 'Mesotoixhon' is a combination of two words: 'mesos' meaning 'middle' and 'toichas' meaning wall. Thus, it is a wall in the middle of a room., probably for the purpose of separating the two sections of a room. We have simular walls today, often called partitions. I chose to just call it a wall since calling it a partition would feel redundant withthe rest of the sentence. Also translating it as 'middle wall' isn't really consistant with the language. I don't believe in making up a term in English to represent a standard term in the mother language. That's not good translation IMO.

3 The Greek is 'fragmos' or 'fence'. Thus the greek would have literally read "The partition of the fence". That sounded clunkier than a late 90s Ford. I toyed with the idea of "Wall of division", but that still isn't really English. So I ended up going with a dynamic equivalance on this one.

July 3, 2010


Ok, I haven't made any posts in a while, and I finally have a opportunity to explain way. As of right now, whenever I go to edit a post on here, my entire browser just goes blank. Just white. Yeah, it's that annoying.

So I have had no capacity to actually make posts from home. Furthermore, my job had no computer for me to use, and my best friend's computer, and his room-mate's computer, both crashed, and I just haven't had the time to go to the library.

A quick update though is that I now have a new job! I've been job searching for about 3 years now, only working at Burger King. I've been mostly looking for a pastoral position, but I was unable to really find anything that would work. However, I just got a job as a resident counselor for Christian Heritage Services. This means that I am working assisting those with developmental disabilities. In my case, I am working with those who also have aging disorders (dimentia, etc...).

So far it's been fun, and I have access to a computer :). I hope to eventually figure out what's wrong with my home computer, but I only have a problem with blogger, so we'll see.

April 26, 2010

Road Rage

car-crash.jpg image by chicogarcia_bucket
I've been thinking about the cause of road rage recently. Everyone knows that it happens, but why? Why do we get more upset on the road than we do other places? I think I know the answer: poor communication.

When I was a child, I had a severe stutter, as well as some other speech problems. You wouldn't notice them now unless I pointed them out to you, but back then I had difficulty even getting a sentence out. On top of that, I was an extrovert with a lot to say. However, I was constantly ignored or talked over. According to my mother (since this was before I could remember) the level of frustration from not being able to communicate caused me to get violent.

I think the same thing is happening in cars. Think about our tools of communication: a horn, turning signals, hazard lights, high-beams, and reckless driving. That's really it. Turning signals are overly specific to be useful and horns are too ambiguous to really communicate anything other than frustration.

Here's an example from my life. There is a road here that is 40 mph until a certain point, and then it increases to 55 mph for a significant distance, and has one lane. I would say about 1 out of 10 cars fail to notice that the speed changes, and there is only one marker, so if they miss it, they never correct it. Now I could flash my lights but that tells them really nothing. I can beep my horn or tailgate, but that only says that I want to go faster. That doesn't tell them that they are going 15 mph under the speed limit. I'm at a loss for communication. What do I do? What can I do?

Nothing, and that's angering.

One thing that really used to frustrate me was tail-gaters, because there was nothing I could do about it. What I started to do was simply slow down until they passed me (not the most Christian thing to do). One time I did this, and the person ended up being a cop in a civilian car (oops). He came over and asked me why I slowed down. I told him the truth. He claimed he wasn't (oook) and suggested that next time I put my four-ways on. I've been doing that ever since and interestingly it works. Most people seem to figure out pretty quickly that my issue is that they are tail-gating. And guess what, it doesn't bug me anymore.

There is something frustrating about be trapped in a box moving at dangerous speeds surrounded by people who you cannot communicate with, especially if they do something dangerous which threatens your life. Go figure. And the more often you are unable to communicate, the more it builds up to the point where it begins to carry over to the next day, and the next, and the next.

I wonder if there was something more we could do to communicate on the road. Something more dynamic. I'm positive that it would decrease road rage. It may also decrease cell phone drivers, though I doubt by much. Anyway, just some thoughts.

April 5, 2010

Thoughts on John 6

Well, I'm still working on that "Why I am an Arminian" series that I started like 2 years ago. It's taking awhile because I'm currently going through relevant passages within the debate, and carefully exegeting each one, as I have time. The last Calvinist one that I am doing also happens to be the one that I have looked at the least, which is John 6. I've recently had a break through with this text, and I wanted to share it.

Previous Readings

Up until this point, whenever I have come to John 6 I've focused on the "bread of life" aspects of the text and have merely passed over the more Calvinist sounding verses. There are two reasons for this. First of all, the bread of life passages mean more to me. The second is that bread of life passages are what the section is really about, and Calvinist texts are really passing statements that Jesus made, so I never really noticed them.

Whenever Calvinists have pointed to these texts, it has always been in isolation, so I could see their point. However, in isolation, I could easily read prevenient grace into the passages as well, so I have never found them convincing.

In summary, up until this point I have found these texts to be vague semblances of Calvinist ideas that are distracting from the grander context of John 6 when focused upon.

Personal Exegesis

Initial Problems

Due to the way that I do exegesis, my first questions of the text was "What is the overall point of this passage? Why is Jesus having this conversation? However does this story fit into the overall narrative of John?" (Actually the overall narrative means even more in John than it does in the other gospels since John flows more than the other gospels.) What I realized was interesting.

The basic point of the passage is to compare the faithlessness of the Jews in the crowd to the faithfulness of the disciples. Basically the difference is that the disciples receive the "Bread of Life" from the Father, while the others do not.

To be honest, this left me in a pickle as far my previous understanding of verse 44. I had always understood this to simply be prevenient grace, but it is clear, from context, that this verse is dealing with one of the very many distinctions between the disciples and the other Jews. Thus, this could not be prevenient grace, since prevenient grace is extended to all.

But I also didn't find Calvinism here either. There was nothing in the text that implied regeneration before faith, nor was there anything that identified the drawing as irresistible. Furthermore, there were no text that laid the basis of how this drawing works, or indeed what this drawing actually is. It is merely a passing statement during Jesus' greater point, which is criticizing the people for not listening. Indeed, I find it rather odd for Jesus to be rebuking them for not listening when they are not being drawn to listen to begin with. That's like rebuking a deaf person for not listening.

Thus I had a new question: What did this drawing mean?

I also had a second. This whole idea of those being given to Christ from verse 37 also made me wonder. Again, I didn't think Calvinism. No where does John say that these which are given to Jesus were selected unconditionally. Indeed, nothing is said about the selection process at all! All it says is that there are some given to Jesus.

Clearly my former thoughts did not hold up to the context, yet I found that though Calvinism would answer these questions neatly, the text did not imply Calvinism itself, thus defeating it as being a proof-text). After all, if this is a proof-text of Calvinism, then one should be able to extract Calvinism from this. But you can't, so it's not. Indeed, the best one could say about it is that it is an obscure text that is hard to understand, and Calvinism is an adequate theory to explain it.

But what did this mean? Does it means that no one is saved unless the Father hands them over to Jesus? And by what manner does the Father decide which ones to give Jesus? And what is the drawing that the text is speaking of?

An Answer from Prayer

While thinking all of this over a couple of days, I suddenly remembered that the language of those being given to Christ was used in His high priestly prayer in John 17. So I turned there to see if I can figure some of this out.

Reading the whole prayer straight through it became very clear to me was that Jesus was contrasting those who has been given to Him from those that were to be saved later on (Vs 20). In other words, you and I are not those 'given to Him'. Those given to Him were the disciples. Therefore, being given to Jesus is not the normative operation of salvation, but something specific that was happening during Jesus' earthly ministry.

It is also important from verse 12 that Judas is one of the ones that was given to Jesus. Therefore, although being given to Jesus has clear soteriological implications because of John 6, it cannot be the same thing as unconditional election leading to absolute perseverance, as Calvinists claim it means.

Finding the Brown and White Picture

And no, I do not mean sepia. I was listening to the first debate between Dr. James White and Dr. Michael Brown on Dr. White's podcast. Dr. White referenced John 6 as one of the best Calvinist prooftexts, though his exegesis had some serious problems (mostly that they contradict what I have stated earlier in this post).

The central problem that I had with what Dr. White said though was that he claimed that going to other passages in John (not other passages in the Bible, but other passages in the same book!!!) was bad exegesis. What?! I'm sorry, but that's is really really foolish, and I don't say that to be cruel or insulting, because I do respect him, but that is really foolish. I understand that it is poor exegesis to break down Exodus with Romans in mind because Moses did not have Romans in mind when Exodus was being written. But the book of John is a cohesive book! John absolutley had John 12 and 17 in mind when he wrote John 6 (as did Holy Spirit) and it is not only reasonable, but also proper to assume that language he used in one part of his book would mean the same thing if used somewhere else in his book. Has Dr. White never heard of foreshadowing? Has he never watched a movie or read a book where something was introduced and then explained later? It just baffles me how inane that comment is, especially since it is central to interpreting John 6 properly since 6 gives very little to no context to understand what the term "given to" actually means.

Moving beyond that, what Dr. Brown said brought a lot of what I was aready thinking into a cohesive thought. If we are to understand that there exists those in Israel who already belonged to God, than it is logical to understand this passage as saying that the Father gave those who belonged to Him to Jesus at this time in His ministry. Furthermore, the entire context of the passage also begins to make sense. Like I said early on Jesus is clearly differentiating between those that follow Him and those that don't. But when we recognize that there exists those that already belong to God before the coming of Christ, then we recognize that the differentiation is that the disciples were part of the true remnant of Israel, while these were not.

This brings a lot of other passages to light too. For instance, those that belong to me recognize my voice, being the good shepherd. When we understand this as pointing to the Jewish community, we can see that what is going on is that Jesus is saying "you are not following me because you do not follow my Father." This has nothing to do with the unconditionally of election, but with unity of the Father and the Son, and how the Son is in perfect harmony with the Father's purpose and people. Those who are truly a part of the Father's people will recognize the Father in Christ.

Indeed, this also makes Peter's statement all the stronger. After Jesus gives this speech in John six, He turns to the disciples and says "Will you leave also." Peter replies, "where else shall we go? You have the answers to eternal life." You see? Peter saw the Father in Jesus and that is why Peter followed Him. And he saw the Father in Jesus because he knew the Father. The crowd did not see the Father in Jesus, because they did not know the Father, and so rejected Jesus simply because He confused them. The disciples went to Him to seek deeper understanding.

Drawing Conclusions

As for conclusions on what 'drawing' means, I'm having a bit more difficulty with that. There are two other instances where John uses it in this book. One is John 12:32, where Jesus says that He will draw all to Himself (Not all men. Not all kinds of men. Just all) . The other is in John 21 where the disciples draw the fish up from the water. Ironically it was this second one that brought me some insight.

But first, let us compare draw in John 6 with John 12. First, the scope of the drawing in John 6 is particular: it only applies to those who were given to Christ by the Father. Second the scope of John 12 is universal: it uses the word all. Now, does all refer to every person? Maybe, maybe not. There is little context to answer that absolutely. Third, the context of John 6 is referring to Christ being in possession of those of whom He is drawing, yet the context of John 12 is the cross. Thus we must conclude that these two passages are not referring to the same thing.

Therefore, any interpretation that labels both of these things as prevenient grace does not take into account the particularity of John 6, and any interpretation that labels both of these as regenerative grace does not take heed of the scope of John 12. However, we must assume that John is using the term 'draw' in a similar fashion. So even though these two texts do not refer to the same action, they do refer to a similar kind of action.

If we consider the idea of drawing referring the same kind of activity as the disciples drawing up fish with a net, then we can see how this can work. In the case of John 12, it is by the means of the cross that Christ draws all to Himself for judgment. If you note the context of John 12, Christ is talking about taking His rightful place as ruler of the world, by disposing Satan, and bringing the world to judgment. If we think of the meaning of this in terms of what this means for humankind, it would mean that Christ is subjecting all under His authority. Thus, by drawing all, He is capturing all within His rulership.

We bring this to John 6, Jesus is talking about being given the remnant of the people of Israel. Thus, in the last day, those who have been given to Him, He will take up with Him to glory. Thus, we have a picture of drawing: bringing them up.

What I do not see here is the idea of regeneration, which is ultimately what Calvinists argue. In John 6 I see drawing referring to a rapture. In John 6, I see drawing referring to the Father drawing them into His possession before giving them to Christ. The resistibly of this isn't mentioned at all.

This said, though I am rather confident that I am right regarding John 6 on this issue, I still have some doubts as to whether I am understanding John 12 appropriately.

March 29, 2010

Corporate Election and Baseball

I finally got an opportunity to listen to Dr. White and Dr. Brown's most recent debate. Very good and both of their parts. Naturally I think that Dr. Brown did much better, but I also agreed with his exegesis (as well as his style of exegesis) and I'm sure that played a big part of that. What frustrated me was the caricatures that White kept putting forth.

One of the interesting ones was the "impersonal nebulous group". He claims that if one chooses a group it is impersonal, and that group lacks real world definition.

Now I really like baseball. The crack of the bat, the sound of the parks, the smell of the grass, the feel of the ball in your hand, the drama of the pitcher and batter; it's great. Additionally, I am a Yankee fan. My father grew up in Staten Island, and I fell in love with baseball watching with my father. So I love the Yankees.

Now here's a question: is this not a corporate election? My selection of the Yankees is a corporate one, not an individual one. It is also not impersonal, because I care a great deal about Petite, Jeter, Posada, etc... Indeed, I still loved Petite when he went down to Texas, but my affection for him as a ball player is greater when he is wearing those pinstripes. And it is not like the Yankees is a nebulous group. Sure, some members come, some members go, but the group is a tangible existing thing in of itself. Finally, White criticized Dr. Brown's corporate view in Ephesians because of the use of personal pronouns. Yet most fans I know refer to their team using such terms. "We swept Chicago." "We're going to the World Series." "Well, we'll do better next year." I'm sorry, but Dr. White has simply not thought out this criticism at all.

It is like I have always said about Dr. White: he is an excellent apologist because he has a thorough understanding of his position, but he is a terrible polemicist because he never seems to comprehend what he is arguing against.

March 19, 2010

Change to comment moderation

I've always tried to keep commenting as free on here as possible because I want to encourage conversation. For that reason, I haven't moderated the first 10 days after a post, and I only moderate after that so that I can see if a person leaves a comment on my dashboard.

However, lately I've been getting viral comments with links to inappropriate sites (I don't believe I need to say more). It has happened three times now, and that is simply intolerable. For that reason, I've changed the comment moderation to always being on to protect the site from such things. I do apologize since you guys have always been quite civil in your comments here.

Thank you for understanding.

March 13, 2010

Ephesians 2:13; A Devotional

But now, in Christ Jesus, you, being once distant1, have become2 close3 by Christ's blood.
It is important to remember that Paul's primary concern in the book of Ephesians is dealing with the Gentile believers in relation to the Jews. Often we become so concerned with this verse or that verse that we forget Paul's greater discussion.

The big question when considering this verse is "what were we far away from"? The answer is in the last verse: we were far away from God and His covenant people. The language is verse 12 is not merely talking about separation from God, but also separation from Israel. To Paul, these are two sides of the same coin. To be separate from God's people is to be separate from God's promises, and thus from God Himself.

But the turning point is Christ. Through Christ, we, the Gentiles, have been made citizens of God's people. To am not talking about replacement theology here, where the Church has replaced Israel. I mean that we have become part of Israel through the blood of Jesus Christ. The redemption that was wrought through Christ's atonement has given us access to the promises of Abraham.

Remember that we do not have a right to salvation. We have not merited it, nor do we have some claim to it by birthright. Indeed, as Gentiles, we don't even have the same claims that the ancient Jews had. Do not take it for granted.

It is a gift! A great gift: undeserved and unasked for, yet here! We need to be focused in life on the gratitude we have to Jesus for what He has done for us. Think that out this week, and relish the joy of being close to God.

Translation notes
(To be completed later)




March 9, 2010

An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

One of the most frustrating aspects of the Arminian and Calvinist debate is the amount of misunderstanding that goes on about the two positions. We have found that caricatures of both sides seem to be more common than honest descriptions. SEA (The Society of Evangelical Arminians) has been devoted to bring clarity as to what defines the Arminian position and promoting the position while remaining respectful to those that disagree.

We have just set up a new primary link that gives a detailed comparison between the Arminian and Calvinist sides. You will find it under An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism and the TULIP of Calvinism

This outline is intended to be both an introduction to the debate for those who are new to it, a correction to those who have a misunderstanding of one side or the other, and as a resource for those trying to explain it to others (there are lots of internal links for this purpose). We present the two sides using two acronym: TULIP for Calvinism, and FACTS for Arminianism (after all, we prefer facts to flowers ;-D) . Though individual opinions may differ from the outline at times, we believe that it fairly describes the general stances of either side.

For those interested, there will be a full right up for the FACTS acronym coming in the summer.

February 27, 2010

Ephesians 2:11-12; A Devotional

Therefore, remember that at one point,1 you -- the Gentiles in terms of flesh, the ones called "foreskin"2 by those called "the circumcised", a handmade thing of flesh -- that at that time,1 you were separate from Christ, ostracized3 from the people of Israel, and aliens in terms of the covenants of promise: having no hope and being without God4 in the world.
Sometimes we forget that we were the Gentiles. We were those cut off from the promises of God; aliens from the covenants made with Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. It is only in the blood of Jesus Christ that we are brought near to God.

This is part of God's whole project: To redeem all of humanity through Israel. But the first stage of that was redeeming Israel, and the rest of us were set aside until Israel was ready for the Messiah to come.

We must always remember that we do not have a right to salvation and we most certainly do not deserve it. Salvation is a gift granted to us who were outside and separate from the things of God. That God had made a holy people, and then He drew us in by the powerful life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Let us sing praises to our God and Saviour, Christ Jesus!

Translation notes

1 The parenthesis here is marked out by the use of these two synonyms: 'pote' and 'keiros'. 'Pote' derives from 'pou' (meaning 'where') and 'te' (meaning essentially 'and', but usually acts as a kind of modifier), meaning "at one time" or "once upon a time", referring to a past state or a past event. It does not seem to refer to the past in general though. 'Keiros' means 'time', though it is distinct from the word 'chronos'. 'Chronos' refers to time in general but 'keiros' refers to a specific moment in time, which would make it simular to 'moment' or 'period' or 'instant'.

In this case, 'keiros' refers back to 'pote', bringing the reader back to the beginning of the sentence, giving the passage the feel that the parenthesis interrupted Paul thought to the point that he had to start his thought again. I emphasize this synonymia by repeating the subject 'you'.

2 I found it interesting that the term used here 'akrobustia' doesn't mean 'uncircumcised', as it is commonly translated, but 'foreskin'. Quite frankly, I think this makes the term more insulting, and probably represents a mocking name that the Jews used for the Gentiles. I think translating it as 'uncircumcised' makes the whole passage seem clunkier, and is unnecessarily creates a rhetorical parallel between the two terms.

3 'Apellotriomenoi' literally means "to make another/differnent" or simply 'to alienate'. I felt that ostracize as an appropriate term.

4 'Atheoi' is actually one word, meaning "without God".

February 25, 2010

A Divine Moment

What kind of faith is Christianity? Is it experiential? Many of thought so. Is it intellectual? Again, many have considered it so. The answer is of course neither and both. Christianity is primarily relational. We understand God in how we relate to Him, and the church is functional only in terms of is communal unity.

Relationships have their experiential nature. I'm writing this today because this evening I had one of those truly defining experiential moments. I've had others, but I thought this one was worth sharing, especially considering how theological it was.

I've been reading a book called Truth Is Stranger Than It Used To Be (which I highly recommend) and in it, it was discussing the necessary aspect of complaint in Christian worship. This is something that I've felt strongly about for some time, but this sparked me to think about it with some depth. I pondered (remember, this is meant to be as close to my train of thought as possible with words):
God is God. Because of this, He is the Lord and Master of all of the cosmos and over all of creation. As such, we have no right to come before Him and complain to Him about how He is doing things.
However, because we are now in covenantal relationship with Him, which was cut through Christ, we now have an invitation to go before the throne and complain. Indeed, God requests that He does, and it is important that we do so honestly. David was honest before God; Job was honest before God; We should be honest before God, and should not hold back in case we offend His majesty.
Marriage is a covenant. When I am upset with my wife, I tell her my feelings. I am open before her, and tell her precisely what bothers me about what she did and how it affects me. I do so because I trust her not to throw it back in my face, and because ultimately my desire is reconciliation with her. This can only happen is I openly and honestly express my perspective and reaction to what she has done. With that comes correction and restitution.
With God, to not be honest and to hold back is not to trust His response, and to prefer obedience to proper relationship. Being open doesn't mean that you believe that what you are saying is correct, but that you recognize that this is the perspective that you have, and it needs to be dealt with, and that the only way to deal with it is to go to the source, submit it, and trust that He will value your honesty and reconcile with you. It is a supreme trust.
And how good of a God He is that He is faithful to that trust! That if we come to him complaining, He'll listen and come and reconcile. He may speak from a whirlwind, or He may speak in a still small voice, but He'll come.
God loves me. He really loves me. That love is not simply an emotion, but it motivates action. He pursues me. Yes He reigns, but He really cares about me.
God, You're love is real, and true...
At this point, my thoughts really stopped being words. It was more a group of concepts sort of ramming into each, and interacting with each other: blending and merging, sort of like a conceptual kaleidoscope. I had a similar experience once contemplating the Trinity. It is like the ideas almost become pure, leaving their verbal symbols. It sounds chaotic, but when this happens my thinking is actually clearer.

The first time this conceptual kaleidoscope happened the concept of the Trinity was simply made plain to me. In this case, God's love was just before me. I could see it; feel it. All of it's parts and depths were there. It began to feel like God was holding me in His arms: not in a literal way, but definitely in a tangible way. I don't think I can describe it better than that. It was just me and Dad: and it was good. VERY GOOD. I would've been content to just stay there if Esther didn't tell me that it was dinnertime (she actually could tell something was happening with me).

I don't know if I can say much more than this. It was what it was, and I will hold it in my heart. I pray that you all may have a similar experience.

February 20, 2010

Ephesians 2:10; A Devotional

For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared for us to do.
The beautiful thing about this verse is how close one feels with God when thinking that He has shaped us with His own hands. Many times we wonder why God would love us so much. Well, for much of the same reason why I still have some art projects I made in 6th grade. It isn't the quality of the piece, it is its relationship with me. Likewise, it is our relationship with God that causes God to love us so.

But it is also important to remember the context. Overall Paul is comparing faith to works, where faith is the means of salvation instead of what humans would expect: works. So why does Paul take the time to celebrate good works in this verse? After all, that is precisely what he is doing.

The reason is simple. He is describing works as the goal instead of the means. Faith is the means of salvation; works are the goal. We are saved and reborn so we can do the good works of God. This recalls Genesis 1:27-28, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth." When we were created, we were, in part, delegated authority here on earth to subdue it and take care of it. We were to be God's vassals; His representatives here on the Earth to keep it beautiful.

It is therefore not surprising that even now, when He restores us to righteousness and cleanliness, He also restores us to purpose. We are called to live out His decrees, and put things in order here. So we are created for good works, and recreated for good works. But we are not recreated by good works, and that is his point.

February 14, 2010

Ephesians 2:8-9; A Devotion

For you see it is from grace that you have been saved through faith; not from yourself. This1 is a gift of God, not from works so that none may boast.
Ah yes, we are all familiar with this verse. I think it is important to understand what Paul's theology is here really. It is important to note that the basic clause of the first sentence is "you have been saved through faith". Everything else in that first sentence, and even the entire above passage, relies on us understanding that this is the basic view that Paul has about the salvation process. Indeed, the fact of salvation by faith isn't even Paul's point; it is Paul's assumption.

Paul's point is that the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works is something worth celebrating. It is the fact that salvation is through faith instead of works that is a gift from God, and the cause of any boasting being void. When we remember that God has the sovereign right to decide upon what terms He is going to base salvation, and then realize that humans would expect it to be based upon works (hence every man-made religion doing so), we can then recognize how gracious it is for God to base it upon something as simplistic as faith!

And faith here doesn't simply believe mentally believing something. It is talking about utter reliance and trust on Christ. This is why it is impossible to boast about faith, because the very nature of faith is relenting our own power and abilities. It is saying, "I give up. Christ, You do it." Who can boast in that?

So therefore, this week, let us be conscious to look to God to be our strength (as we always should). Let us rely on Jesus to be our Saviour and Lord. Let us trust in the Spirit to provide our strength and support. Let us depend completely on Yahweh, and remember Him in all our ways.


Translation notes

1 The word 'touto', which means 'this', is neuter in the Greek. It is important to note that if it referred to the word 'faith', it would match that word in gender (which would be feminine). Because it is neuter, it would refer to the entire last clause. Therefore, it is salvation through faith that is a gift.