Friday, March 30, 2012

Must God Cast His Pearl Before Swine?

Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces."    Matthew 7:6 (NASB)

Does God know people? I mean know them, as in what truly motivates them, what their secret desires are, what is the likelihood they would do anything in a particular situation. I think he does, and does so with astonishing acumen (he is God after all). It is obvious he knows their histories, including every overt thing they have either said or did and every secret rumination of their hearts, but he also sees there entire life at once. I think it is beyond doubt that he would know how they would respond to efforts he would make to coax them, inspire them, persuade them, command them, or otherwise engage them.

If God is so thoroughly familiar with people as I've suggested, is he under any obligation to attempt to rescue those he knows would only rebuff his efforts? If Jesus has any thing to say on the subject, I think his answer would be a resounding "NO." Folks who would pay no never mind, are not guaranteed to get the opportunity. His instructions to his disciples above seem to bear out this principle.

If extra-biblical history yields any insight into the question, it too, I think, offers a resounding amen to the proposition. Vast swaths of human population have come and gone without ever hearing the Gospel. Of those that have, vast swaths ignore it outrightly or pay it nominal fealty at best. Hopefully, we all realize it is not the hearers of the Gospel that are saved, but those who believe it and follow Christ as a result. Given what we have seen with those who do hear the Gospel, there is nothing to suggest that even some of those folks that have not heard would have responded to Christ with faith had they heard.

Pointing out these kinds of things can cause folk who believe in the inclusivity of God's love and the universality of Christ's atonement (as I do) to be aghast. In my mind, some of these posit a sentimental notion of God's love that doesn't reflect the evidence of life in general nor the scriptures in particular. Just because God would rather see someone saved than lost, it cannot be inferred that he has an obligation to try to save that which cannot be saved. As for me, I think God knows what he's doing without my counsel or condemnation, and that everyone who would have been saved will have been saved when all is said and done.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that God has bound himself to giving each person, by some means, a personal opportunity to receive or reject Christ. If the result of people known to have actually had that opportunity produces, proportionally, so little fruit, how would the outcome of some extraordinary effort by God to reach them ex-gospel be significantly different? Without the Gospel they do as they want, oblivious and uncaring about God's desire. With the Gospel they do as they want, dismissive and uncaring about God's desire. Why think that there was some untapped potential among the unhearing masses that would have responded if it would have had the chance?

Who could fault God if he decided to bypass the rigamarole and cut to the chase? Could we trust him with that judgment? Rather than posit extra-biblical, feel-good notions about partial grace/partial revelation, or post-mortem grace, or universal enablement, or whatever (none of which have anything close to definitive statements in the scriptures to support them), why not say what we can say clearly and leave judgment in the hands of God? Rather than pretend to know how God graces or judges, leave it to God and say no more than he has said. Regardless, nothing justifies suggesting there is something other than the Gospel that saves.

As for me, I see no way in which God is obligated to cast his pearl before swine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Understanding Sovereignty

God is sovereign. We hear it often as a confession of resignation popularly; as in "Oh well, God is still on the throne." Or as a theological bulwark scholastically; as in "There are no rogue molecules out there." But what does it mean that God is sovereign?

First and foremost, it deals with the substance of God's freedom--he does as he wants. There is nothing to restrain him, limit him, or withstand him. We could say, "nothing, except for himself," but that would be vacuous and a bit silly to point out. In a nutshell, his range of action and choice is unimpeded.

Secondly, it means that all things are under God's authority. Nothing has power over God, but God has power over all things. Nothing can compel God to do other than he wishes, yet he has the power to compel anything not him. His determination cannot be thwarted. God, alone, is in power.

Thirdly, it means all things are under God's direction. He decides how everything will be and do. There is nothing independent of God (though God is independent of all). Everything else has what capacities God determines and accomplishes what God plans. God directs the affairs of everything.

God's sovereignty is necessary, he would not be God without it. If there were something else that had the attributes of sovereignty, it would be God. However, it does not follow that some things that are attributed to God's sovereignty are necessary to sovereignty. For instance, God's sovereignty does not require that he exhaustively determine every instant of every particle's or every agent's action. It is sufficient that he governs such by law and principle put into place at creation and which operate by such capacity throughout time.

In fact, if his sovereignty did not work in this fashion, the concept of Sabbath rest would be impossible. Although he upholds (i.e. continues the existence) all things, it doesn't mean he has to be manipulating or creating things constantly, instantly, to be in control. Of course, he has the option to do what he wants, with anything he wants, anyway he wants; but generally, things proceed according to the control "program" he instituted at the initiation. They will continue that way until he says to the Creation, "Be no more."

So, things continue according to this kind of governance. Nothing is out of control, or doing other than he wills, for he sovereignly willed for things to act and be in a certain fashion. Act and be that way they will--particles do the dance they were programmed for, agents act with the capacities they were granted. God is sovereign over all, even if he did not design every instant.

This principle particularly plays out with demons and mankind. It was God's sovereign will to create these beings with a sub-sovereignty of their own. They exercise freewill, authority and direction as they do because it is God's will that they do. Agents (and even particles for that matter) do not exercise what they exercise according to the minutiae of God's determination, but by the principles of law that govern their exercise. They do as they are programmed to do, as does everything. Mankind and demon just happen to be programmed to do as they want.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oops, I Agree With Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson is often in the middle of a self-generated firestorm. The man has had his feet in his mouth so often, his tongue is scuffed like a welcome mat (badum, ssch: that is the customary drum and cymbal strike for the comically impaired). Recently, he's been setting off smoke detectors, again. This time over the issue of legalizing marijuana.

I do not believe it is right to use marijuana "recreationally" to achieve an altered mental state, anymore than I believe that is acceptable to do with alcohol, cocaine, or any other substance. Drunkenness and sorcery is sin, period. However, I do not believe, as a Christian American, that it makes any sense for such substances and such behavior to be illegal in the sense that incarceration is possible.

All that illegalizing drugs has done for our society is to prosper gangsters and thugs, who use their power and money to violently destabilize culture, even entire societies (like Mexico, Burma, Columbia, etc.); and to burden society with the cost of building, maintaining, managing, and supplying prisons, largely, for drug offenders. When those offenders are released, they are, generally, more violent and less capable of succeeding in "normal" society than they were when they went in.

Our approach to drug enforcement looks to me like the proverbial shooting of oneself in the foot. Surely, there has to be a better regulatory model than what we're doing now! Prohibition was a disaster, and so too has been the "War on Drugs." We should move from criminalization to regulation yesterday.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Insufficiency of the Word

I have a friend, a Calvinist cessationist, who, in the name of the Sufficiency of Scripture, promotes a practice of Christianity that doesn't really resemble what is described in those pages at all. The Word to him is like a book of charts, which he, by careful use of a trained intellect and skill, can use to navigate the course of his life into the will of God. Never does he have a conviction, an inspiration, never a check, a nudge, and certainly never a revelation--he has his mind and a map.

In light of his deterministic outlook, I suppose it doesn't make sense to worry about this, but I cannot see how the concept of regeneration he holds Calvinistically can be consistent with such a view. Regeneration, according to his view, is necessary, foundational and a work of the Holy Spirit. One would think that something established on the basis of the Holy Spirit communicating something into the human soul would be open to other things being communicated as well, building, as it were, upon the foundation of experience the Holy Spirit laid.

But no, apparently something started by the Spirit can be carried on by human effort, at least that is what it appears like to me. Let God stay in the heavens, we have the Scriptures (and they are sufficient)! But those same scriptures describe the Holy Spirit interactively making what is described in them possible for us to experience. It seems to me that is their point; look, for instance, at the following passages: Matthew 13:9-171 Corinthians 2John 15:26-16:15, Galatians 5:13-251 Corinthians 12:13-31.

The Word truly is our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice. But, whereas the Word is sufficient to describe the kind of things Christians can and should do and believe, the Word can never substitute for the experience of the things it describes. It's not enough to talk about spiritual matters, we need to experience the life of the Spirit. In saying that, I am not suggesting that the Word is not important, I merely am saying that we need to understand its importance rightly.

It is not the hearers of the Word that are blessed, but its doers! That is those who experience what it talks about. The Word is there to tell us what we will and can experience in Christ if we believe. With the scriptures encouragement, may we, with freedom and boldness, endeavor to do so in the Spirit.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What's Wrong With This Picture?

A troubling article by Reuters has me wondering whether the American church is experiencing the negative aspect of a Jeremiah 29:7 reality, or if the 'strike it rich" entrepreneurial approach to church as a business is actually bankrupt. Maybe it's a bit of both; regardless, it doesn't seem right and it certainly is a black-eye on the body of Christ. What do you think?


Monday, March 5, 2012

Minding Our T's and Clues

The description of the natural man in the Bible is that man is dead because of Adam's transgression. It's not that we are all being held responsible for Adam's sin (i.e. punished), but that his sin happened before we came along and so it's effects (death) were handed down to us. Just as I am American because my distant progenitors decided to leave Ireland and Germany and settle in America and raise a family, so I am a sinner because Adam and Eve sinned and then had children.

The dead beget the dead. It's not like each of us would not have done as Adam did given the chance (he was the prototypical human). We were in his loins, we are as he was. That point is moot, however, because Adam did sin and did so before he had progeny. As a result, all that he could pass on was what he had--death, separation from God, and curse.

It should be noted that after the Fall, Adam's will was still intact and functioning. He was making choices, plotting direction, demonstrating creativity. If anything, those aspects of his personhood may actually have been accentuated. He even had conversations with God. Apparently, the Fall did not turn him into a zombie automaton serving only Satan and sin. I don't see any of the individuals highlighted in the OT demonstrating such a characteristic. Sinners, yes: satanic automatons incapable of hearing and responding to God when he spoke, NO!

Despite that, the Calvinistic concept of depravity (the condition of natural man) is vigorous and all too thorough. According to that reckoning, mankind has been so affected by Adam's sin as to be entirely corrupt and absolutely incapable of any good in regard to God. Man is incapable of searching for God, finding God, responding to God, trusting God, or walking according to his precepts. Man is dead in sin with no residual ability or capacity for anything spiritual.

Under such a reckoning, a divine imposition of grace is necessary for man to even so much as respond to God with faith. Regeneration, for all intents and purposes, must precede faith, and once initiated is irresistible and infallible. It seems to me that this approach has one being saved to believe rather than being saved because one believes.

In Arminianism, the concept of depravity is vigorous and thorough as well. By its reckoning, mankind has been so affected by Adam's sin as to be thoroughly corrupt and absolutely incapable of any untainted good. Man is incapable of searching for God, finding God, or walking according to his precepts. Man is dead in sin, separated from God, corrupt, and therefore incapable of truly having faith in God.

But under such a reckoning, a divine interjection of grace is all that is necessary for mankind is to respond to God with faith. Arminians, generally, see the word of God as containing such an affect. Upon hearing the word of God, the natural man is enabled to respond to God. A response is not infallibly certain, but it is absolutely impossible apart from the grace that enables it.

The chief difference in those two views of man's utter depravity comes into focus when considering the solution either envisions for the problem. Calvinism posits an imposed grace and regeneration (rebirth) as the solution: the sinner is made a saint by divine fiat. Arminianism posits an enabling grace which allows the sinner to respond to God with faith, which in turn is followed by God making the former sinner a new creature (rebirth). In either case, the solution for man's incapacity is divine.

A Summary of Theological Positions Regarding the Spiritual State of Natural Man
Calvinism: God imposes saving faith upon the depraved he chooses to save
Arminianism: God enables the depraved who hear the Gospel to respond with saving faith
Semipelagianism: God savingly helps those who use their ability turn to him in faith
Pelagianism: Man can turn to Christ on his own and appropriate salvation

The Pelagian (semi included) approaches to man's status and ability fly in the face of Jesus words: "no one can come to me unless the Fathers draws them." In maintaining mankind's freewill, they deny the innate inability of natural mankind to initiate a relationship with God through faith (depravity). This, despite the Word clearly teaching that faith comes by hearing the word of God. One does not have to posit intact spiritual abilities in natural man (i.e. little or no affect from the Fall) against what the Word says in order to sustain natural man's freewill.

Where the Calvinistic conception of depravity fails is that the record of scripture shows, readily and repeatedly, that natural man can respond to God when he or his word comes upon them. Sinners are not so "dead" as to be beyond hearing God if he actively approaches near enough, and they are not so quickened in doing so as to be above rejecting him.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Biblical Christianity is Inherently Mystical

Christianity is often analyzed as if it were an issue of philosophy, history or sociology. Some aspects of its doctrine, ecclesiology, or development are subject to such treatment, but it should be realized that such treatment can never actually touch the heart of what it truly is. That is because Christianity, at its core, is not about what a person assents to, what those assenting do together, or what impact they have on society and history. Christianity, at its core, is about what a person experiences in his or her soul.

Biblical Christianity, as practiced by the individual, is inherently mystical. And just so we're on the same page, let me define "mystical" as I am using it in this context. Mystical means that something is experienced, rather than merely known, but which does not have a seen or necessarily understandable genesis or impetus. By that definition, common aspects of Christianity are readily seen as mystical: conviction, faith, call, inspiration, grace all fit the bill.

Take a look at some passages of the Bible:
John 16:7-15                                    
John 6:44-47                                   
John 3:3-8                                    
Romans 12:3
Romans 14:17
Romans 8:3-17
1 Corinthians 2:10-15
1 Corinthians 12:1-13
Galatians 3:2-5
Galatians 5:4-6; 16-25
Ephesians 3:1-19

Anyone who truly believes that Jesus is the Son of God is by definition a mystic. Anyone who believes that they are born again is a mystic. Anyone who believes that God's Spirit enables them to do anything is a mystic. Anyone who believes that they experience the presence of God and have companionship with him is a mystic. Anyone practicing in real life what the Bible describes as life in Christ is a mystic.

Embrace the mystical foundation of Christianity. Christianity cannot be reduced to writing on paper, or even stone. It's written on the heart by God--it is inherently mystical. Do yourself a favor and let your inner mystic out.