Friday, June 28, 2002

Sovereignty of God

Jeffrey Collins raised some questions about yesterday’s post on Calvinism. They (Jeffrey’s questions) are directed at both the Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty and of man’s free will. I can’t really do justice to either topic (though that won’t stop me from trying)-- and clearly not both in a single blog. So I will address God’s sovereignty today and leave free will for a future, predestined blog.

But first, I must clean up a loose end from my post on predestination.

Am I One of the Elect?

How could I have forgotten to talk about this yesterday? In the unlikely event that you were not a Calvinist but my post persuaded to jump on board and yet left you staring at the ceiling all night wondering if you are of the elect, I apologize.

Many verses (John 3:16 not being the least among them) point to belief as the requirement for eternal life. Those verses may be a large part of what gives you assurance. Now you may wonder: yes, but what if I believe but am not one of the elect? What an awful thought.

It can’t happen. It is exactly the same group of people. All the elect will come to believe, and all who come to a saving faith are of the elect. If you hold that thought in your mind and reread the passages I referenced yesterday you will see the inherent self-consistency.

So if I meet a flaming Arminian with passionately anti-Calvinistic views but with an obvious saving faith I place him into the category of being of the elect without knowing it.

As for assurance, always remember
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:1, NASB)

If the Word does not seem like foolishness to you, that is a really good sign.


God is absolutely sovereign. He is in control of things large and small. Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose.

That is worth repeating: Nothing happens apart from His eternal purpose If He purposes Osama Bin Laden to convert to Christianity and enter a Presbyterian seminary and start radio ministry, it shall happen, and neither OBL nor all the mullahs in Arabia could thwart His will. The Apostle Paul, once the murderous Christian hater Saul, became the greatest preacher in history.

If it weren’t so, then He is not God. If He wants something to happen, and it doesn’t, then something or someone else is stronger than God.

This does not mean He is spending his time saying “Okay, now I am going to move that electron a few Angstroms to the left “ But it does mean that that particular electron has ended up just were God intended when he set the foundations of the universe.

All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, But He does according to His will in the host of heaven And among the inhabitants of earth; And no one can ward off His hand Or say to Him, 'What have You done?' (Dan. 4:31, NASB)

Three Types of Will

Formal discussions of God’s Sovereignty introduce the concept of three distinct types of God’s will. I think it is important, so here goes:

  1. God's Decretive or Sovereign or Efficacious Will. (This is just one type with three different names.) These are things that God decrees; they most certainly will happen. The verse from Daniel, above, reflects God’s decretive will. So does Romans 8:28-30, which I never get tired of quoting:
    And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30, NKJV)

  2. God's Preceptive Will. This involve things that God will not do Himself, but that He desires of man, such as to obey His commandments. Man can and does disobey. This does not thwart His will or violate His sovereignty. He has not decreed that we obey, but He does desire our obedience. And He knows what we will do.

    God’s Preceptive will is used by Calvinists to escape one of the great snares of predestination:
    The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9, NKJV)

    Read gingerly this intentional double negative: God does not decree that nobody should perish. (He could, but he doesn’t. Why? I don’t know. And I got that answer from R. C. Sproul.) He does decree that some should not perish (the elect). Apparently, according to this verse, He desires that all should repent. But alas, we don’t.

  3. God's Permissive Will. This relates to the things that God does not decree or even desire, but He permits them to happen. Since He could prevent them, He is still in absolute control. These are not things that happen in spite of God, but because God allowed them to occur. In no way can one conclude that God endorses that which happens as a result of His permissive will.
    and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind; (Jer. 19:5, NASB)

    When you pray for something and add “God willing” as in: “I will visit you in Buffalo and bring fresh kumquats, God willing” you are essentially appealing to His permissive will.

The Arminian Sovereignty Problem

In his post, Jeffrey says that he doesn’t see any problem with sovereignty for those of an Arminian persuasion. I postulated the existence of a huge problem and noted that I don’t know the Arminian response, but I allowed that it must be complicated.

If Jeffrey is representative, then there is no complicated solution because there is no perceived problem! That explains why I never came across a big Arminian tome on sovereignty. So the big problem is actually that you stubborn Arminians don’t recognize you have a big problem!

Okay, seriously then. I think I understand more than I did yesterday (no big feat there) and I believe I understand why Arminians do not think they have a problem. The answer must be related to the three types of God’s will.

Calvinists are adamant that salvation is the province of God’s decretive will. We think that if God does not decree that some shall be saved, well then nobody will be saved.

My guess is Arminians put salvation under the auspices of God’s preceptive will. Then I agree that in principle the offer could be accepted or rejected.

If so, I think the Arminian position is wrong. For in fact the offer would always be rejected.

Also so many scriptures (many I referenced yesterday) are of this form:

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. (John 6:37-39, NKJV

This sounds very decretive to me. It does not say “All that the Father gives to Me might come to Me, providing they, of their own free will, assent to the Gospel call.” It says they will come to me.

I know, I know. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

Calvinism and Science

Jeffrey also talked about science and Calvinism—and I apologize but I didn’t really understand the point he was making—I always have trouble at the physics-metaphysics boundary. All I can do is try to clarify from example. God willed into existence the matter of the universe. He willed into existence the laws of gravity to move it around. He does not maintain the universe like a chessboard, but nevertheless it is doing precisely as he willed. It is perfectly legitimate for science to explore these secondary causes, such as Newton’s God’s law of gravity.

Finally, although God does not move the planets around “manually” like game pieces, He certainly can, at times, if he wants to:

Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

"Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon."
So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,

Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day.
(Joshua 10:12-13, NKJV)

That must have been impressive.

Thursday, June 27, 2002

A Proposed Constitutional Amendment

All you who are more politically astute than I, tell me if this proposal already exists or tell me why it cannot happen.

The Congress of the United States, while endorsing no specific religion, affirms the existence of an Almighty Creator who endowed all people with certain inalienable rights. As such, Congress shall pass no law prohibiting reference to God in pledges, oaths of office, public speeches, or from appearing on the Nation’s currency. Furthermore, the right to make reference to God shall extend to all locations, including all offices and buildings of the United States government.

I actually think this could pass. It is generic enough that Christians, Jews, Muslims, Mormons—just about everybody can support it (that’s a lot of voters). Consider how amendments are passed and think about the famous red/blue map of the 2000 election. The entire state of Babylon California could be written off without putting the amendment at risk. It may not go as far as some would like, but it should stop the lunatic judges from further eroding all references to God.

Ok flame me—tell me why I am the most naïve of people.


In my secret mission to convert everyone to Calvinism, I have already introduced the acrostic TULIP

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

and have posted on the letter ‘P’. Today I want to talk about the letter ‘U’ for Unconditional Election.

This is the Calvinistic Biggie— Unconditional Election is really Predestination with a capital P.

Calvinism is so thoroughly associated with this doctrine that some think that Calvinism is only about predesitination, and that only Calvinists believe in predestination. In truth, virtually all Christian denominations, including Roman Catholicism, adhere to some form of predestination. They must—the scriptural references cannot be ignored.

If Calvinism means this particular (strong) view of predestination, then Calvin wasn’t the greatest Calvinst. Luther, in this regard, was more of a Calvinist than Calvin, at least he dealt with predestination more than Calvin.

Who was the first Calvinist? Why the Apostle Paul, of course! All right, although I truly believe that to be the case I know you Arminians will not let me get away with it. (It’s true, though!) Among theologians, Augustine is given credit (blame?) as the first to formulate the doctrine of predestination.

Okay, so What is It?

Unconditional Election, or (Calvinistic) Predestination says:

Before the foundation of time, God chose certain (future) men (and women) to be saved. Not for anything that he foresaw that these particular individuals (the “elect”) would do that was meritorious, but solely for His own pleasure in fulfillment of His perfect will. He decided to show mercy on some. The rest receive justice, i.e., the eternal damnation that all sinners deserve.

I am saved. I am one of the elect. It is something to be grateful for (what an understatement!) but it is not something to boast about. I did nothing to deserve it; I am as deserving of hell as anyone else. Amazing grace, amazing mystery, amazing amazing amazing.

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

The Calvinistic view is that many will receive the Gospel call, but only the elect will respond positively. (That is, only the elect receive an efficacious call). This call cannot be rejected (that’s the ‘I’ in TULIP). Everything is by grace.

The Arminian view is that God will make an offer, through presentation of the Gospel, but the receiver of the offer must, at least at some minimal level, accept the offer of his own volition-- which means the offer can be rejected as well.

Calvinism says that if God knocks you will open the door. The Arminian view is you must choose to open the door.

Calvinism says that you are dead to sins, without a pulse, and can do nothing to please God, and are in such a depraved state you do not have the ability to accept him (apart from grace). The Arminian view is that the sinner is gravely ill but has enough reserve strength to choose whether to consume or spit out the medicine that God places in his mouth.

Calvinists say that, without election, no one would be saved because no one would make the choice to follow Christ.

Calvinists still witness because Christ commands them to and because it is a privilege to be an agent of the efficacious call to another believer. Arminians witness because Christ commands them to and because they feel a responsibility to give as many as possible the chance to accept, and to lead them to make the proper choice (while giving the credit and Glory to God). Calvinists do not feel as much personal responsibility as Arminians when someone doesn’t respond positively. Arminians, to their great credit, are generally more zealous in their witnessing.

Calvinists who say “why bother to witness” are guilty of ignoring the Great Commission and in fact are not really Calvinists, they are practicing one form of Hyper-Calvinism. This is a serious problem that I will take up another time.

It is important to note that election does not mean that you have necessarily received salvation, only that it is inevitable that you will at some point, and that process is almost always carried out through evangelism.
For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory. (2 Tim. 2:10, NASB)

That’s not Fair

There are almost always one of two responses from someone the first time they hear about Calvinistic predestination. One response is something like “cool, I can do whatever I want since I am either one of the elect or not. Might as well eat, drink, and be merry.” To which I reply: “You bet, that’s why we have so much fun at our church! You should come!” No, I don’t really say that. Actually there is a serious heresy with that line of thinking called Antinomianism. Paul handles that in no uncertain terms in several places, for example in Romans:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom. 6:15-16, NASB)

The second, and more common criticism is that it’s not fair that some are chosen and others are not.

You have to remember that everyone deserves hell, and God would be perfectly just and fair to send us all there. Those who are saved receive mercy, and mercy is a free gift, and gifts can be given to anyone at the giver’s pleasure.

Even if we look at “fairness” in the sense that people want to apply it, well then Calvinism is unfairly singled out as being unfair. Both Calvinism and Arminianism are “unfair”. In Calvinism, only some are of the elect, the rest are damned; it would have been better if they had not been born.

In Arminianism, some hear the Gospel and have a chance to respond, but millions die without hearing it and are damned. It would have better if they had not been born.

Calvinism says that God has guaranteed the salvation of some and the rest don’t have a chance. Arminianism says that God has guaranteed the salvation of nobody, but anyone hearing the Gospel has a chance.

In Calvinism, it is not possible that Christ died in vain. In Arminianism, in principle everyone could reject the offer leaving Christ with no people to call His own. His death would have been for naught.

Calvinism can be viewed as a covenant among the three members of the Godhead, each of which then plays a critical role in salvation. The Father chose some to be saved and given to the Son. The Son did what was necessary to redeem the chosen. The Spirit works within the elect to bring about sanctification.

Problems, Everyone has Problems

As you might guess, the doctrine of predestination is very closely tied to the bigger issue of God’s sovereignty. In Calvinism, God is totally sovereign. As R. C. Sproul likes to say, there is not even one maverick molecule running outside of God’s control. This means that randomness and chance are illusions arising from our ignorance. Nothing happens that He hasn’t ordained or at least permitted to happen, including 9/11 (Got that NRO?) This also means that Calvinism has a “problem” with free will. There are three things I will say about free will:

  1. Free will isn’t what you think it is.
  2. Calvinism has an answer to the free will conundrum.
  3. I’m not going to talk about it now because it’s too complicated. Another post.

[UPDATE: Dr. Byron posts on Calvinism and free will as an adjunct professor to the newly chartered (as yet without accreditation) University of Blogistan Theology Department. I respectfully do not agree with his view-- but have to limit my comments until I get my own free will to convince me to write a post of my own.]

Arminianism has no trouble with free will, but has a big problem with God’s sovereignty: if whether or not you respond positively to the Gospel is up to you, then it’s not up to God. God is not totally sovereign.

I actually do not know the Arminian solution to their sovereignty conundrum, but it must rival in complexity the Calvinist solution for free will.

Scriptural Support

If there is no scriptural support for this, then I should be stoned. Fortunately that is not the case. You may say that I misinterpret some scripture, but if you are honest then I think the worst that can be said is that “I don’t agree but I can see how someone might believe that.”

I have listed them in the order that they appear. Some are "supportive", some are blockbusters. In the latter category I would certainly include Rom 8:28-30, and Eph. 1:4, so you may want to read those first.

And the Lord said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord , in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (Ex. 33:19, NASB) )

How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. (Ps. 65:4, NASB)

"For many are called, but few are chosen." (Mat. 22:14, NASB)

"Unless those days had been cut short, no life would have been saved; but for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Mat. 24:22, NASB)

"For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Mat. 24:24, NASB)

"And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. (Mat. 24:31, NASB)

now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? (Luke 18:7, NASB)

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. ( John 6:44, NASB)

You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you. (John 15:16, NASB)

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom. 8:28-30, NASB)

Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; (Rom. 8:33, NASB)

for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." (Rom 9:11-13, NASB)

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy (Rom 9:16, NASB)


just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love (Eph. 1:4, NASB)

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, (1 Th. 5:9, NASB)

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Th. 2:13-14 1:1, NASB)

Paul, a bond-servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the faith of those chosen of God and the knowledge of the truth which is according to godliness,
(Titus 1:1, NASB)

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who reside as aliens, … who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be (sprinkled with His blood: …. (1 Pet. 1:1-2, NASB)

All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain. (Rev. 13:8, NASB)

… And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come. (Rev. 17:8, NASB)

See also: Deu. 10:14-15, Ps. 33:12, Ps. 106:5, Hag. 2:23, Mat. 11:27, Mark 13:20, Rom. 11:28, 1 Cor. 1:27-29, Eph. 1:12, 2:10, Col. 3:12, 2 Tim. 1:9, 1 Pet. 2:8, Rev. 17:14 (not an exhaustive list).

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

Christian Fellowship

It is really good to see the Joyful Christian Jeffrey Collins back, and I thoroughly enjoyed his post on differences among us, and ultimately if they should have an effect on Christian fellowship.

I think I agree with him completely, although I say that with fear and trembling, because once in the past when I thought we agreed, (about the Sabbath) he thought we didn’t—so we could not agree on whether we agreed. Whew!

Jeffrey rightly points out, and I hope I paraphrase correctly, that there is a threshold somewhere, and if a group goes beyond that threshold, then fellowship is not possible.

Setting that threshold is the tricky part. Liberalism sets the circle so big that everyone fits within. Cults draw it so far in that only those who adhere completely with their teachings are inside.

In yesterday’s post, I talked about things that should not preclude fellowship. I included among these ones views of predestination and eschatology and the age-of-the-earth. I essentially defined the circle as I see it. Many have a tighter circle than I do and exclude me because of my belief in an old earth.

I think Jeffrey is exactly right when he says the defining issue should be what one teaches about salvation. The plan of salvation is, after all, the Gospel, and Paul gave us explicit warning and instruction to curse anyone (or anything) who teaches another gospel (Gal. 1:8).

Furthermore, all the Christian essentials: Christ’s divinity, the Trinity, etc. can all be placed under the umbrella of the Gospel, since they all either point to or are a critical part of God’s plan of salvation.

So I want to talk about that a bit, and it will probably get me in some trouble, but first I want to expand on the term fellowship.

What is (Christian) fellowship?

When I say that I cannot have fellowship with someone, I mean I cannot have Christian fellowship. I can (and should) have normal, friendly fellowship with anyone including non-Christians. I must not stop being a Christian when I am with them, but we are not supposed to count among our friends only Christians.

Christian fellowship is something different. It means that while I may not completely agree with someone I can worship with him. He is within my circle, and I am within his. We agree on the Gospel. If someone follows a different gospel I cannot worship with him. I cannot have Christian fellowship with a Mormon, for example.

We should not deny fellowship lightly. As Jeffrey points out, in his high prayer of John 17 Jesus is praying for unity. Woe to the person that would stand in opposition to His prayer.

Who teaches a different gospel?

Even if we agree that it is one’s view of God’s plan for salvation that can separate us, there will still be disagreements over what is an “orthodox” view of salvation.

Some boundaries are easy to draw. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Unitarians are so far out there that not many of those who call themselves Christians would deny that fellowship is impossible with adherents of these groups.

Jews in some sense are a special case because of our heritage and other reasons. But clearly it does not make any sense to the Christian or the Jew to talk about any sort of ecclesiastic fellowship.

The real issue comes within those who call themselves Christians, both Protestants and Catholics. Let me grossly oversimplify and put everyone into one of four groups.

  1. Liberals (both Protestants and Catholics)
  2. Conservative, Calvinistic Protestants
  3. Conservative Arminian Protestants (What some mean by “Evangelicals”)
  4. Conservative Roman Catholics

Liberals, by definition, deny some of the Christian “essentials”, typically by first denying the inerrancy of the Bible, which then gives them freedom to excise passages they find offensive. I cannot have Christian fellowship with a religious liberal of any stripe.

How about between the two broad types of conservative Protestants? There is disagreement here. I think it is a huge mistake for one group to exclude the other, but this sometimes happens. It is true that the two groups differ in their view of salvation, and that the difference is not trivial, yet I do not view it as substantive enough to preclude fellowship. We are bonded by the rallying cry of the Reformation: Justification by Faith Alone.

The dicey part comes when we talk about conservative Protestants and conservative Catholics.

As I pointed out in this post The Roman Catholic Church is clear in its position: Those (i.e., all conservative Protestants) that affirm Justification by Faith Alone are accursed, in her view. Likewise, I personally view the official Catholic Church as apostate. The Catholic view of salvation, which includes works and treats Christ’s work as unfinished (hence purgatory) is so alien from my own as to constitute an irreconcilable difference.

Interchangeable Protestants

In some sense, I agree with Mark Byron that (conservative) Protestants are interchangeable. Listen to this story from D. James Kennedy:

Just a few weeks ago, I was out on visitation, and I ended up in a home where there were seventeen people present. There was a family that were in our new member class. There was a visiting family that were a part of our sponsors that happened to be there. There were a bunch of kids, and there was a mother of one of the adults there, an elderly woman from Brooklyn and she was a Roman Catholic. Now there were some other relatives there—they came from five or six, maybe different churches and backgrounds. I went around and asked them these questions: I asked each of them, one by one, "In what were they trusting for their hope of eternal life. Why should God admit them into heaven?" This woman, before, had said, with a little bit of hostility, that she thought it was terrible that there was all these different religions. Everybody had their own religion, there own views, they are all different, and she didn't like this idea that everybody had a different religion—they all ought to be one. It was fascinating to see that one, after another, after another—the person said the reason God should let me into heaven is:

"Christ died for my sins."

"Jesus paid for my sins."

"I have no hope but Christ."

"By the grace of God, through faith in Christ alone"

"It was through Christ who died for me."

"I put my trust in Jesus Christ."

"Christ paid for my sins."

"I am trusting in Jesus Christ."

"Christ is my Savior."

"I have no hope but Jesus."

And on and on it went, and this woman said, "Because I'm good!" But she was stunned by the fact that what she thought were all of these different churches, in disunity, were all in perfect unity when it came to the essence of the gospel. I think as John [MacArthur] has said, there is a unity of Christians, of true believers. You can go anywhere in the world, as many of you have, and you will find a person is a true Christian and you have discovered a brother or a sister in Christ, regardless of what denomination he's in—if he really trusts in Christ. You have been joined together in one, and you are one in Him.

The Visible and Invisible Church

Does this mean that I think that that no Catholics are really Christians and all conservative Protestants are? Of course not! I know Catholics that I am convinced are saved (I don't know if they think the same about me) and hardcore Calvinists about whom I have serious doubts. Augustine talked about the visible church, those people who profess belief and attend church, and the invisible church (invisible to us, not to God) of true believers. These can be pictured as two circles that intersect, but the invisible church is not necessarily a smaller circle within the larger circle of the visible church. (Think of your old friend, the Venn diagram).

We do not know where members of the invisible church are stationed, nor can we even identify them with certainty, but I believe that among their numbers are to be found members of the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday, June 25, 2002

Does Faith mean Belief?

Gary Petersen has posted another Genesis related blog. In reference to the scientific view of creation, Gary writes:
Science is wrong.

And that's tough for me to believe because to do so, I have to admit that the claims and assumptions upon which science is based are incorrect. And that's tough, in part because I don't understand all of the science involved.

But I do understand that God requires me to believe - to have faith in Him and His Word. Even when I don't understand everything there is to understand, I need to have faith and believe.

This is not going to be another science/creation related post. However, I am interested in Gary’s last sentence, where he says I need to have faith and believe.

I am not really going to comment on Gary’s post per se, just that one sentence, variants of which I have heard many times: I need to have faith and believe.

Before I tell you what I am thinking I confess that I probably should have set this topic aside so that I could take time to formulate a more cogent post. This will be more stream-of-consciousness that I am comfortable with. But when I saw Gary’s post I said that’s what I’ll write about tomorrow. (Isn’t it always a relief when you find tomorrow’s topic?)

Here is my problem. I don’t how to do what I think that sentence says to do. I don’t know how to will myself to believe that which I don’t believe. I can pray for faith, but I cannot, by sheer determination, believe something that I don’t believe.

That is why I love the doctrines of grace so much. I must believe to be saved. On my own I am dead to sin (Eph. 2:1). I cannot do anything that pleases God (Rom 3:1, Isaiah 64:6), so I cannot believe even if I wanted to. The belief, or faith, must itself the form of a gift (Eph. 2:8-9).

I don’t believe that we are called upon, by our own efforts, to believe that which we do not believe. Personally I don’t think it is even possible.

It is not hard for me to believe the essentials of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is God, He became flesh, was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross, bore my sins, paid the price in full, was bodily resurrected from the dead and ascended, and He will return to judge the quick and the dead. It is not hard, because it is not of my own effort.

I am not convinced that I even really ever have doubts. To be sure, I occasionally experience something that “smells” like doubt, and I even call it doubt—but upon close examination I think those periods might be described better as despair masquerading as doubt.

What does it mean to live by faith?

In my opinion, faith is not always used in scripture as a synonym for belief. I think many (not all) of the scriptures that have to do with faith are actually talking about living faithfully, or living by faith, not about believing. They are saying “now that you believe, it’s time to walk the walk”. In this case belief is a precursor; we won’t live faithfully unless we believe, and as I noted earlier, that belief is a gift from God.

Once we do believe, then we must live in a demonstrative manner and put away our childish things (1 Cor. 13:11). When it comes to creation I want to believe in the literal interpretation, but I can’t make myself do it. I can (and do) pray for discernment in all things. I can read what others have to say. But on my own I cannot pick up my belief and transfer it from one side to the other.

Furthermore, and perhaps most radically, I don’t think you are required to believe in anything other than what God has written for you on your heart. You are not required to be a Calvinist or an Arminian. You are not required to be amillennial, post-millennial, or pre-millennial. You are not required to be Reformed or dispensational. You are not required to believe in an old or young earth.

If you were required to believe the correct side of all these questions-- well then the path is even narrower than I thought. One thing I believe with absolute certainty is that when I reach paradise I will find out that I was wrong in many of my beliefs, if that makes any sense!

You are required to live by faith. To accept the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. To accept Christ as both your Savior and your Lord. To be a disciple. To do your utmost to imitate Christ.

And, paradoxically, doctrinal differences are important. You are required to read the Word to try to discern the correct side of these arguments. I just don’t think that many of the topics we love to debate (and we should debate them) are eternal-life threatening issues.

Maybe these issues are nebulous in order to encourage us to get into the Word regularly.

Backsliding can be Shocking

Sunday was a poignant day in church. There is a mother and daughter who always come together. The daughter just graduated high school. She is a delightful young woman. She is always so vivacious and joyful-- always has a praise or prayer request. This Sunday she (the daughter) wasn’t there. The mother, who was barely holding it together, said she had moved out of the house, and that her Christianity had taken a back seat. The church was stunned; virtually everyone was in tears. Of course we prayed for the daughter (and the mother).

It is stunning when someone who appears so strong in his or her faith just drops out in this bolt-out-of-blue fashion. Usually you get some indication such as sporadic attendance or a lethargic attitude.

I truly believe, as much as you can be sure about someone without really being able to see his or her heart, that this young woman is saved. I am confident we will see her restored to fellowship with Christ. Still, I do dread when perseverance of the saints gets tested. How painful it is for those that love her. I pray that when she returns this experience will strengthen her witness.

Monday, June 24, 2002

The Dreaded Age-of-the-Earth Debate

Gary Petersen at Country Keepers has responded to my Francis Schaeffer post. He supports the literal six 24-hour day view of creation whereas I believe the scientific evidence overwhelmingly affirms an old earth.

I must say that I have never been disagreed with on this topic more graciously! Often those arguing against me will question my salvation if not outright accusing me to be a minion of the antichrist. I appreciate Gary’s restrained approach.

I have decided to reply, although with great reluctance. I know how these discussions typically progress. Been there done that. As an example of the futility you can read the debates between Kent Hovind and Hugh Ross on John Ankerberg’s site (go here and scroll down to the relevant articles).

Gary’s argument is, and I hope I am paraphrasing, correctly, that if we don’t accept the literal interpretation of the creation account, where then does it lead? It is the argument of the slippery slope.

The High Ground

I appreciate that those arguing from a plain reading of Genesis have the high ground. Anytime your position is supporting a plain reading of scripture, then the onus is on the other side to prove otherwise.

Here I will insert one reactionary opinion: no theologian has yet come up with a self consistent theology that accepts all scripture in its plain reading interpretation. If you tell me what eschatology you hold to, I can find verses about which you will have to say things like “Oh, what this really means is not a literal 1000 years but..” or “Oh, it doesn’t really mean this generation as in 40-50 years, but…”

It’s not just eschatology. If you tell me you are Arminian then I can find verses that require “additional explanation”. Likewise if you are Calvinist.

In fact a Roman Catholic can point out verses, say in the Book of James, to which Protestants in general have to say “You just can’t take this passage in isolation, but by viewing it in light of these other passages it is clear that…”

So accepting the plain reading is the preferred position, but it is not always possible.


Gary says:

My greatest concern about the opinion you shared is where does it stop? If we read the Bible and, in effect, say that the creation story in Genesis is just a paraphrase or an allegory of what really happened, then what else in the Bible can we read and wiggle out of by saying the same thing?

It would not be possible for me to be in more agreement with Gary. He is absolutely correct. If the Genesis account is allegorical then everything comes tumbling down, because the rest of the Bible (including both the words of Christ and his genealogy) has numerous references to Adam as the first man and Eve being created from him.

I do not think the account is allegorical. Neither did Francis Schaeffer—it was one of his absolutes I discussed in the previous post.

An allegory is a purposely false story, i.e., a fiction, used to convey a secondary message. In scripture? May it never be. I disagree with the interpretation of six 24 hour days, but I believe the creation account is factual.

Slippery Slope

The “slippery” nature of believing in an old earth is often presented as manifest. I disagree, unless, again, you are talking about a view of the creation account as being allegorical. I think arguments that start with the assumption of an old earth and “prove” that the atonement was not necessary, or that Christ died in vain, or one of many other “conclusions” I have seen “derived” (an thus negating the old earth assumption in a supposed proof by contradiction) are not logically consistent.

There are fellow believers with whom I agree about (essentially) everything theological, except for the age of the earth. My position did not cause me to “slide” away from other orthodox beliefs.

Arggh. Some Science

So here is my position. Science (in my opinion) says the universe is billions of years old. A plain reading of the Bible would suggest the universe was created in six days and is less than 10,000 years old. So to really reduce the possibilities down to the bare essentials I think there are three possibilities:

  1. The earth is young but created to look old; science is right but has been tricked.
  2. The earth is young and science is wrong.
  3. The earth is old, science is right, and those who interpret the Bible to say it had to be six 24 hour days occuring less than 10,000 years ago are wrong in their interpretation.

I don’t believe option 1, although I cannot disprove it. Indeed it is unfalsifiable.

If the Bible said explicitly that the days of creation were 24 hours long, then I would believe option 2. I would prefer to believe option 2.

Since I believe there is “wiggle room” to interpret the creation account differently, then I am most comfortable believing option 3.

Let’s look at this a little more closely. I will tell you that I reject outright postmodern deconstructionist mumbo jumbo along the lines of science cannot really answer anything. (Gary was not using such an argument, but some do, and in my mind it is not worthy of polite conversation.)

Could science be wrong? Possibly, but it would take an amazing conspiracy of errors.

Gary mentions Carbon dating. Carbon dating is used for organic materials – things that were once alive and absorbing carbon. Without going into details Carbon dating has a range of perhaps 50,000 years, (Carbon dating is not used to measure the age of things like rocks or old fossils like the dinosaurs). With carbon dating, some fossils or artifacts have been assigned ages of at most ten times the presumed age of a young earth.

Carbon dating assumes that the ratio of carbon isotopes is the same now as it was, say, 50,000 years ago. The key isotope is carbon-14, which comes from cosmic rays interacting in the upper atmosphere Some have pointed out that if the ratio was different when the earth was created six thousand years ago, either because the atmosphere was very different (perhaps because of a canopy of water) or the incidence of cosmic rays was different, then carbon dating results could be skewed. Fair enough, although most scientists will say there is no a priori reason why the ratio should change. So the young earth proponent (who doesn’t simply want to discard science) must say (1) The ratio of carbon isotopes is not what it is today and (2) what is actually was, was whatever it has to be to reconcile everything with a six thousand year old earth.

This is the first of many arguments that follow the same pattern: Something from science is wrong, perhaps in some assumptions, and the correct assumption must actually be whatever it must be to reconcile everything with a young earth.

If carbon dating were the only issue—well, things wouldn’t be that bad at all. Scientists would be saying the earth is probably 10 times older (one order of magnitude) than what the young earthers say. That’s a fairly awful discrepancy, but not even in the same league as what science really says.

So maybe Carbon dating is based on a wrong assumption. However, technology has marched along and we now have an independent dating method using uranium and thorium. It has nothing to do with the atmosphere or cosmic rays. It also dates “young” fossils and artifacts. And it agrees within carbon dating to within 10-20%.

Now let me pause here. Those who say the fact that they disagree by 10-20% means the results are untrustworthy show their ignorance of data analysis and statistics. Because (most) science is an intellectually honest endeavor, results are given with error bars. Let me make up some numbers as an example. In dating some artifact, the results might be:

  1. Young earth proponents: less than six thousand years (by definition)
  2. Carbon dating 30,000 years with an error of 6000 years
  3. Uranium/Thorium 25,000 years with an error of 5000 years

Again, I made up these numbers, but these are typical. The point is that statistically the two dating methods are consistent with each other and inconsistent with a young earth.

So now something has to be wrong with an independent dating method. Maybe the flood had something to do with it. And note there is now another level of “conspiracy” here: not only must the correct assumption be whatever it has to be to restore a young earth, but what ever skewed the assumption for uranium/thorium dating insidiously left it in agreement with Carbon dating.

Or maybe the exponential model of radioactive decay, accurate today to untold numbers of decimal places, wasn’t in effect at creation.

Really Long Times

Then we move from the 50,000 year range to ages in the billions of years. I am running out of steam, but the same things apply here. Multiple, independent methods of estimating the age of rocks and the universe itself all give the answer in billions of years. Same problem: these methods would have to be wrong in some amazing way that resulted in their giving erroneous but consistent results.

As I said, if the only issue were young fossils science would be saying the earth was about one order of magnitude older. With geological and cosmological dating science is saying the age of the universe is about six orders of magnitude older. This is an enormous error. Suppose science over estimated the distance to the moon by the same amount. Instead of it being two hundred thousand miles away, it would be just 0.2 miles away.

A final point: much of the physics that must be terribly wrong if the universe is really just thousands of years old is the very same physics that we rely on daily to design computers, medical equipment, space craft, etc. How can it be so wrong and so right at the same time?


It is truly not my intention to argue with anybody about science. However, I firmly believe that one can accept the scientific evidence of an old earth while still affirming Biblical inerrancy. I do not think it leads one down a path to apostasy. And I think that in glory we will know the true account of creation—and if turns out that it was in six 24 hour days six thousand years ago think of how many “I told you so’s” you can fit into eternity!

Friday, June 21, 2002

Merit, Grace, and the Reformation

The question of merit and grace is an important one. Catholics and Protestants have very different views of the roles of merit and grace, and these differences, still as relevant today as in the 16th century, are the primary reasons for the Reformation.

That, in and of itself, is important. It is often overlooked that the Reformation occurred because of profound theological differences. To be sure, there was the question of corruption in the church, but many Catholics acknowledged that as well. Corruption can be dealt with internally; irreconcilable theological differences lead to schism.

The Reformation did not occur because of indulgences, and it did not occur (as sometimes taught in Catholic schools) because Luther was making a land grab.

As for grace and merit, they are essentially opposites. The definition of grace is unmerited favor. God gives us grace not because we earned it (then it wouldn’t be grace) but because Christ died for our sins. In some mysterious way Christ’s death was necessary in order for God to show favor, in the form of salvation, upon whomever He chooses. It is as if Christ’s merit for living a sinless life and dying sacrificially (with the burden of our sins) is credited in the form of grace to unworthy sinners.

Grace can be thought of by the acrostic GRACE: God’s Reward At Christ’s Expense.

Merit, on the other hand, is something you earn.

Merit-less Salvation

Evangelicals agree with the reformers that we do nothing to merit salvation. The only thing we contribute is our sin. Salvation is a gift of grace.

Protestants may differ on whether the gift can be rejected, and whether or not the recipient plays any active role in accepting the gift, but all will agree that the offer was made without regard to merit.

Catholicism and Merit

In what I am writing here I am trying to be honest about Catholicism. (I was once a Catholic). I welcome correction.

Catholics speak of three types of merit, each of which plays a role in salvation:

  1. Condign Merit. This is merit attributed to our works for which God is obligated to give reward. This is like paying a laborer his due wages.

  2. Congruous Merit. This is merit that is “reasonable”, but not obligated. In secular terms, it is something like a waitress’ tip. It is attained through works and penance.

  3. Supererogatory Merit. This is the stuff of saints. It is their “excess” merit and it is deposited in a treasury of supererogatory merits. It can then be drawn upon to free people from purgatory. Attaining supererogatory merit is also possible for a priest living a life of celibacy in devotion to Christ. A layman can accrue supererogatory merit through regular church attendance and constant attention to the sacraments. Mary is thought to have contributed enormous excess merit into the treasury.

Protestants reject the efficacy of all three types of human merit. For a Protestant, everything is by grace, which is to say by Christ's merit. The offer of salvation is by grace. The faith with which we believe is by grace. Good works are set aside for us by grace. It is all grace.

Let’s look at some scripture.
"So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.'" (Luke 17:10, NASB)
We do not earn merit for doing our duty, which is to be obedient to the things God has commanded. (Lesson for parents: don’t pay your children to do their chores.)

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Eph. 2:8-9, NASB)
I have no meaningful words to add to the plain reading of these two beautiful and critical verses.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? (Rom. 8:29:31), NASB)
For Protestants, this passage in Romans may be the pièce de résistance (or, more appropriately, the coup de grâce). This is the complete path from the foundations of time until glorification and it is all about what God did: He foreknew. He predestined. He called. He justified. He glorified. There is nothing in here about the contribution of man.

How serious is this?

It is serious enough the Rome believed that Protestants, with their view of salvation, are preaching a different gospel. This is a very serious accusation, as the Apostle Paul wrote:
But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (Gal. 1:8, NASB)

To its credit, Rome then did what the church should do in that situation; it placed its anathema on the reformers (at the Council of Trent 1545-1563). The curse on those who follow the Gospel as taught by the reformers has never been lifted by Rome.

As I said, the Reformation was about serious theological differences, not about politics.

Mail Call

I thought I would share two interesting emails with you.

On Ayn Rand

Hi David,

I'm sorry your post on Ayn Rand fell flat. I'm partly to blame, especially since Ayn Rand played a significant role in my conversion. I'm the guy who wrote you a while back about Unitarian Universalism, and how I was one until a couple of years ago (the quitting was kind of ambiguous, I was on the Board of Trustees of a UU church a while longer than I actually was active in it).

I figure it took me about three years to work my mind out of a UU-mindset, where the search for truth is never-ending (i.e. you're welcome here as long as you're seeking, but as soon as you claim you've found the truth, it's time for you to leave) to the point of getting down on my knees in prayer, repenting, and asking Jesus to forgive me and be my Lord.

Ayn Rand served a role in that process. I think the very first step I took toward being dissatisfied with UUism was when I checked out a book from the library out of curiosity, Ayn Rand's "We The Living", a scathing description of life in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. While the book is fiction, it is considered to be semi-autobiographical. Ayn Rand lived in the USSR in this time period. I became very leery of socialism as a result of reading this book, and started to read everything I could find that Ayn Rand wrote. Her
respect for the individual and hatred of collectivism contradicted generally accepted UU principles. I think if I had not read and appreciated Ayn Rand's work, I would not have worked up the mental acumen necessary to leave my UU congregation.

Over time, I found some weaknesses in Objectivism, Ayn Rand's philosophy. I think its emphasis on materialism excludes a lot of ways that life can be enjoyed and lived to the fullest. I think it is pretty weak in its response to the question of evil. When a beloved pet died, I found it to be very weak for providing comfort for that loss. I started pondering the possibility of eternal life. A few months later I confronted the Resurrection, and dismissed my former doubts. They were not sufficient to stand up to the evidence that Jesus actually rose from the dead one very real Sunday morning. One year ago, on June 23, I became a Christian again*, after having turned my back on it about twenty years earlier.

In Christ,
My Response


Thanks for the letter. You may be the only person in history whose testimony includes credit to Ayn Rand, the quintessential atheist! God indeed works in mysterious ways.

Ayn Rand was in many ways a remarkable woman, and her escape from Soviet tyranny was heroic. Her books, read as justification for capitalism and refutation of communism, are important. In spite of her atheism, I would prefer that her books were read in high schools as opposed, say, to Maya Angelou.

It's a shame that she gave all the credit of her success to herself, and refused to acknowledge that God assisted her along the way. The very notion that God intercedes in human events repulsed her.

Ayn Rand was used to lead someone to Christ. We have an awesome God indeed.

On NRO and the Evangelicals


As a Reformed Christian, I find the statement 'Evangelicals support Israel because of eschatological reasons rather than geopolitical reasons' to be generally enough true so as to be pretty much unobjectionable. I take it this is not your view, but I wonder if this is not partially an issue of terminology.

The question is, what do you mean by 'Evangelical'? I think there is a traditional definition and a common definition. The traditional definition is a Christian who believes that God saves men by acting immediately upon their souls. This is in opposition to Rome's sacerdotalism. As such, the word Evangelical is more or less a substitute for the word Protestant.

The common definition, I think, has to do more with some specific practices and doctrines, such as biblical inerrancy, a generally conservative moral outlook, attendance at mostly non-denominational Protestant churches, perhaps a touch of Arminianism and credobaptism, and (here it comes) dispensationalism. Admittedly, this is a bit general and it may not be correct in all the particulars. But based on this common definition (not the traditional one), I make a distinction between Evangelical Christians and Reformed Christians. I say: I used to be an Evangelical Christian, but after studying John Calvin, B. B. Warfield, and Charles Hodge, I became a Reformed Christian.

Note that, based on the traditional definition, Tim LaHaye and Hermann Bavinck are both Evangelicals, even though their theology and their presuppositions are miles apart.

It was only after becoming Reformed did I really understand just how pervasive dispensationalism was in that milieu, and how it formed the warp and woof of Evangelical thinking. Most of the Evangelicals I knew thought in terms of dispensational categories, even though most of them did not know enough about systematic theology to be able to identify dispensationalism by name. And I can't count the number of times I heard the idea put forth that America was morally obligated to support Israel because Jews are and always will be God's chosen people, and whoever messes with them will incur God's wrath. They may have expressed geopolitical reasons (I don't remember that they did), but if they did, those reasons were secondary to the theological ones.

So my point is, I believe that there is a legitimate basis for Dreher and Galupo to make the generalizations that they do. And they're not saying anything new, by the way. I've read the similar observations from other writers. Yes, there are exceptions, just as there are a few evangelicals who self-consciously hold to historic premillennialism instead of dispensationalism. But for the most part, I think the generalization holds.

When you read Dreher's piece, I'm guessing you probably thought something like, "Wait a minute. That can't be right. Evangelicals aren't all cut out from the same bolt of cloth." But when I read Dreher's piece, I thought "He's not talking about me. He's talking about Evangelicals, not Reformed Christians. He is talking about Christians who believe that the theology underlying the 'Left Behind' series of fictional novels is precisely what the Bible teaches. I'm not one of those guys."

For what it's worth, I used to be somewhat ambiguous about Israel and the whole mideast thing. But after I read about Palestinians dancing in the streets to celebrate what happened on 9/11, I became such a rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth supporter of Israel, I am probably an embarrassment even to all my dispie friends. And let it be known, my reasons for this change of heart are pure realpolitik. Israel is a beleaguered outpost in the war against Islamic terror, and it deserves our unreserved support.

My Response:


Thanks for the reasoned reply-- and you make a very good point. I do use evangelical more-or-less as a synonym for conservative protestant. Though not a dispensationalist, I consider myself to be an evangelical. In the case of Dreher, who is very smart and careful, I agree that he may have meticulously used the evangelical = dispensationalist definition. Galupo, on the other hand, wrote a much less researched and inferior article-- it is not at all clear that he knew what he was talking about.

I will point out that I have heard from dispensationalists who are also upset that they are characterized as supporting Israel solely for eschatological reasons.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

Christian Blogging

In the blogosphere neighborhood that I live in, Spudlets was the most recent to ask the introspective question “why blog?” I decided to take a stab at it myself.

Personally I had hoped that I would reach new believers. As it turns out, that has not happened very often. With hindsight it is easy to understand why. They are either not looking for Christian blogs or, if they come across one, they are overwhelmed by theology or rants against the secular world. If you are looking for the basic Gospel, someone screaming about NRO dissing evangelicals will not likely be of interest.

It is not our fault. Blogs are dynamic and responsive. A blog with static content relevant for new believers would not get many hits and no links, and consequently would not be found. Traditional websites are better equipped to route new believers to appropriate content.

In the comments section of his post, Marc (spudlets) suggests that we may have to venture into other “neighborhoods”, perhaps of the seedy variety, to reach non-believers. That seems like a reasonable suggestion. It won’t be easy though. In the past I have tried going head-to-head in forums and chat rooms. Typically it degenerates into name-calling. This cyber equivalent of proselytizing does not require the moxie of the real life version, but it is not for the feint hearted either. If you venture there, pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

Presently, I get almost no hate mail. This is a clear indication that the blogosphere is highly segregated (and that my neighborhood is a low-traffic gated community).

One amusing anecdote: After I installed the site meter, way back on day one, I was excited the first time someone trundled into my blog. I was even more delighted that he came in from a link in someone else’s blog – not just the update list. When I looked at the referring URL, I found that the author had a post that read: “check out this nutter” (must be a Brit) and the word nutter was a link to my site! That was a bit deflating! Occasionally I still get a hit from his site so it may yet prove to be of some value.

The Christian blogs are roughly split between those that are predominantly theological with a bit of politics (like mine) and those that are the other way around. It may be that the blogs that are more political are better at reaching new believers.

Christian bloggers do edify one another, and that is a very good thing.

Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11, NKJV)

Sometimes I am discouraged that, for the most part, we feed off each other. Jeffrey Collins at Joyful Christian once thanked me that many of his hits cam from my site. I suspect, however, he would be more delighted (for a given number of hits) if each entry came from a unique source.

I have learned quite a bit from the blogs I link to. And when we disagree? While I think that we all are fairly entrenched in our views, we do benefit from counter arguments, whether it be to humble ourselves or to cause us to launch into the Word to solidify our position.

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Gal. 5:25-26, NKJV)

Are we selfish?

I can’t speak for others, but I certainly am. I want people to read what I write and I am delighted when someone comes into the site by a novel route. When I link to someone that doesn’t link back, I am a tad disappointed. Sometimes I post a blog that I am sure will generate a lot of feedback and instead it’s a big dud. (The most recent: my Ayn Rand blog.) C. S. Lewis said that he never had a selfless thought in his entire life. I am not sure it’s that bad, but at best it’s almost that bad. I think we can moderate the selfish part of it by praying for God’s glory and asking, when we write something, whether it will be edifying to anybody.

God’s Glory

The Joyful Christian has a well reasoned post on (among other things) how, even if you are convicted that you seek His glory and not your own, you must still act responsibly (especially in a fiscal sense).

My Hometown

I give you this story about my new hometown in order to evoke hormonal level envy in those of you living in crowded urban areas. I do this as a brother: you must learn to deal with those feelings! Need a picture of the town center where our Strawberry festival will take place? Look here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2002

A Personal Tale

This post has been bouncing around inside my head for some time. It is intensely personal, which is why, every time I thought about actually sitting down and writing it, I would keep switching subjects at the last minute.

In fact this post is so personal that, although I will try to be rational, it is impossible to be objective.You are forewarned to judge everything accordingly.

The central character in this report, although mostly in the background, is our first son Luke, now 14. Luke is autistic. He is in many ways high functional. He can communicate, although if you talked to him his conversation would be “weird”. He would ask you a lot of unrelated questions. Mostly he is quiet. In school, he is mainstreamed but with the services of a (mostly fulltime) assistant.

The kids and teachers at school absolutely love him. He is a gifted musician, which gives him “face”. He is very quiet, compliant, and vulnerable which makes the teachers and (especially) the girls love him to death (from a sort of mothering perspective).

That is Luke of today—an absolute delight of a child. Bounce back ten years and it’s a different story. When Luke was between 3 and about 7 he was very difficult to handle. He liked only one thing: driving in a car. If he was not driving, he was prone to start screaming at any moment.

Luke was absolutely a gift from God. Regular readers know that I have strong Calvinistic leanings, so I should say that Luke was God’s instrument to reach us (especially me). However, it feels more as if he personally rescued us from our two-income fueled path of materialistic destruction.

In my testimony I always say any parent in that situation is forced to make a choice: to look at a child like Luke as a blessing or a curse. For us he was (and is) a blessing, as he made perfectly clear both our need for God and also the amazingly good things that God has done through him and the people we have met because of his condition (autism) and his gift (music). At age 7, Luke changed almost overnight from an incredibly labor intensive child that kept us effectively homebound to a sweet "low maintenance" joy.

Government Schools

Anyway, that is just background. What really finally motivated me to write this was the regular poll over at christdot (great site, by the way) which, as of last night (the site is currently down) had to do with how kids should be schooled—public, Christian, home, etc.

Back to the mid 90’s. Our church is having a series of Sunday school classes on Christian Liberty. One of the topics was Christian education. Most of the parents sent their kids to Christian schools or they home schooled. The question on the table: do Christians even have the liberty to send their kids to public schools? I am working from memory here so I can’t give a precise estimate, but this much is certain: A significant (20% maybe) of those expressing an opinion held that sending kids to public schools was outside the bounds of Christian liberty.

The is an important data point: A sizable fraction of the members of the church (no doubt a self selected group that (a) attended Sunday school and (b) felt passionately enough to speak up) thought that parents sending their kids to public schools were in sin.

A digression on terminology

Of course, virtually everyone, except for a microscopic contingent of public school proponents (one family, as I recall) referred to public schools as government schools. Here is what I think about that term: It was very cute the first few times I heard it, because it is just as accurate and yet conveys something different and important. However, after hearing it a hundred times I felt like screaming: “Okay I grasp the concept.” At some point I became desensitized and preferred the normal usage. I have the same feeling today for the term “homicide bomber” as a replacement for “suicide bomber”.

End of digression and back to the story. About a year or so after the liberty discussion, a group of members (including elders) put together a bold plan to launch a Christian school. The school was to follow a “classics” model. Within the framework of orthodox Reformed theology, and in addition to a “standard” curriculum, the kids would study Latin, Rhetoric, Logic, Philosophy, etc. I remember hearing a criticism that statistics showed that a lower percentage of graduates from the other Christian schools in the area went to top rated colleges, compared with the graduates of the secular private schools. “We have enough pastors” I vividly recall hearing—alluding to kids “defaulting” into that occupation by attending middle-of-the-road Christian colleges.

We had a big meeting to discuss the plans for the school. Elders and potential administrators and school board members spoke. There was much bashing of government schools. Everyone was very excited.

After the meeting I went to one of the drivers of the new school, who had talked at length of the evils of government schools. I asked him about Luke—would this school be able to take a kid like Luke.

“No”, he said, “we will not have the resources for kids with special needs. He is better served in the public schools.” He then, I’ll never forget this, actually walked away!

To be sure, I was kind of a "nobody" in this particular church and easy to ignore. But the fact that he (cowardly, in my opinion) reverted to the term public schools left me sick to my stomach.

I talked to two other men who were pushing hard for the school. I got the same party line: “No resources for that. Better off in the (switch terms) public schools."

Recall that many people at this church would not even allow that I had the liberty to send my kids to public schools.

As it turns out, parents of kids who were normal but not academically strong were also warned that their kids might be better off being home schooled or in a traditional (i.e., lower standards) Christian school. Not enough resources, you see, to give this classical education to some kids while at the same time doing remedial work with kids falling behind.

It might be just my bitterness; you have to judge for yourself. But I think if you are trying to do something that is good, which by definition means it is to glorify God, not kids or parents, insufficient resources should not be used as an excuse. If what you intend to do is really for God’s glory, then you should trust Him to provide the resources.

George Muller these men were not.

I loved the pastor of this church (and the associate pastor). I have good friends who are members of this church. But I never again felt like a member of the body, and eventually we drifted away.


Here is what I think I think, although as I warned everything I say must be considered highly biased.

A Christian school, designed to get as many kids as possible ready for elite universities, to the point where some kids in the low (but normal) end of the intellectual spectrum cannot cut it (and have to leave), has a non-negligible component of its existence tied not to serving God’s Glory but to serving the vanity of the parents.

How much of my sentiment is sour grapes, I don’t really know.

By the way, both of our sons attend public school.

Tuesday, June 18, 2002

NRO Update

Mark Byron and Jason Steffens also comment about an article in yesterdays NRO. My own post NRO and the Evangelicals is here. If the link is still broken, as it was when I posted this update, just scroll down past the Little White Lie post, just below.

Little White Lie

First an Admission

I ventured into politics yesterday and, as usual when I do that, I got my head chewed off. I try to avoid politics because I really don’t have anything to add. However it appears that every two weeks or so the urge returns like a bad itch, and I just can resist jumping into the fray.

Back to my preferred subject, the Holy Scriptures. Today I want to talk about lying. Is it:

  1. always a sin and never acceptable
  2. always a sin, but sometimes acceptable
  3. sometimes not a sin, and therefore sometimes acceptable

Hmm. Option 2 seems out of the question, to me-- how can a sin be acceptable? That leaves option 1 or option 3. I choose 3. I think that in some circumstances it is acceptable to lie. Here is my reasoning.

In THE Book of Joshua, as opposed the The Book of Joshua (both excellent reads, but I must admit the former is postively inspired) we read of Rahab the harlot. Rahab lied to protect Joshua’s spies. It was unabashedly bold-faced. She hid the two men, then sent the representatives of the King of Jericho on a wild goose chase:

But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them, and she said, "Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. "It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them." (Joshua 2:4-5, NASB )

How was Rahab dealt with for her lie? Well, later she (and her father’s household) were spared by Joshua:

"The city shall be under the ban, it and all that is in it belongs to the LORD; only Rahab the harlot and all who are with her in the house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent. (Joshua 6:17, NASB)

We also read in the New Testament:

By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (Hebrews 11:31, NASB)

In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:25, NASB)

(Note: It is not easy for me to let James' verse with the phrase “justified by works” slip by without further comment. But I’ll defer that for another day.)

It would seem that Rahab is held in high esteem, and that her lie was not regarded as sinful. I could not argue that point conclusively, but that is how I read it.

Here is another way to look at it. Let us call what Rahab did an "untruth". I am not looking for a PC euphemism-- I want a different word so that I can make this analogy: Rahab's untruth is to lying as killing is to murder. We know that justified taking of a life (killing) is not the same as murder. In the same way, a justified untruth is not the same as a self-serving lie.

More Messianic Prophesy

Here another Messianic prophesy to ponder. This one is about the inconceivable insult of spitting in our Lord’s face.

I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6, NASB)

Which is fulfilled as described in the book of Matthew (See also Mark 14:65).

Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists; and others slapped Him, (Matthew 26:67, NASB)

(If you missed my previous post on this subject, it is here.)

Follow up on Perseverance of the Saints

In discussing what puts the ’P’ in TULIP I really should of included this verse:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Rom. 8:28, NASB)

God causes all things to work together for the good of those who are saved. Clearly anything that would ultimately cause you to lose your salvation could not be acting for your good. Recall also that the Spirit is interceding on our behalf. Backing up a couple of verses:

In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.(Rom. 8:26-27, NASB)

[UPDATE: The Joyful Christian hoped my post would be more comprehensive -- his request is granted by Oliver Tseng.]

Monday, June 17, 2002

NRO and the Evangelicals

I really must admit I don't understand why so many evangelical blogs have a link to the National Review Online site. Personally, I don't view them as a friend of evangelicals. I've posted about this before (if interested, scroll halfway down to the Non-evangelical Conservatives post).

Today they have an article by Scott Galupo about the Jerry Vines comments at the SBC annual meeting in St. Louis. While ostensibly (I think) on our side, Mr. Galupo cannot help but to make oblique comments about evangelicals. Regarding Vines' comment: "Mohammed, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives and his last one was a nine-year-old girl." Galupo makes the following observation:
As for the demon factor, it's a go-to phenomenon for Baptists and other Evangelicals to explain everything from Mohammad's mountaintop revelation to UFO sightings”

Did you forget to mention that we blame MTV, PBS, government schools, the income tax, new math, the Yankees’ dynasty, and bottled water on demons, too?

He then says evangelicals have a "credibility problem" in attacking Mohammed given that: (1) King Solomon, is believed to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines (2) the possibility that that Mary was as young as 12 when she gave birth to Jesus. And (3) (a gratuitous non-sequitur) that the God of the Old Testament did instruct Jews to take the lives of thousands of people.

The article marches forward with a rehash Rod Dreher's incomplete explanation of evangelical support for Israel, once again painting all evangelicals with the same dispensational brush. (I have also posted about this before, see here and scroll to the "Christians and Jews" post.) According to this theory, we support Israel only because she fits into eschatological prophesy. The possibility that we support Israel because she is the only democracy in a region of totalitarian monarchs and thugs is not considered.

Galupo writes:
”It's clear, then, that Evangelicals, as a whole, are devoted not to the people of Israel but to the concept of Israel, in the cosmic context of the Book of Revelations (sic). ”

Note to National Review Online: The percentage of evangelicals supporting Israel is far greater than the percentage of evangelicals who identify themselves as dispensationalists.

Even when he tries to give us some credit it always comes back to the same thing: we are loony zealots consumed with end-times prophesy:
To be sure, they are engaged by the theological connection — the sense that biblical prophecy is playing out before their eyes, vindicating their literal-truth reading of Revelations (sic).”

Mr. Galupo also writes:
”They'd [pro-Israli evangelicals] be surprised to learn that Israel, in its modern incarnation, was founded in large part by atheists and socialists.”

Gee Mr. Galupo, some of us Baptists went to school and our teachers learned us letters, ciphering and lots of stuff!

The article contains this final comment about evangelicals:
”But they're [evangelicals] more than merely passive "fanatics." They're are practical, if sometimes misguided, defenders of a faith they believe is exclusively true. “

I am as pleased as Tevye (whom I only like because he just might be one of the 144,000!) was when the constable in Fiddler on the Roof told him something along the lines of “You are a good man, for a Jew.” Rarely have I received such a compliment.

Mohammed, Pedophile

To my good friend Dr. Byron, who agreed (as do I) with Jerry Vines' assessment about Mohammed but questioned the preciseness of the word pedophile as it applies to Mohammed (see here). My understanding is that pedophile means a perversion in which an adult is sexually attracted to children. Thankfully it is usually a crime, but even if it isn't, the practitioner is still a pedophile. I think it applies perfectly to Mohammed.

(Also Dr Byron: I take umbrage at your use of CMU to stand for Central Michigan University! CMU is for Carnegie Mellon University!)

An Eclectic Blend of Demons, Missionaries, and Ayn Rand


I have no idea what made me think about demons this weekend.

Probably the most interesting thing about demons is that when Christ confronts them, they recognize his deity, authority, and office.

When He came to the other side into the country of the Gadarenes, two men who were demon-possessed met Him as they were coming out of the tombs. They were so extremely violent that no one could pass by that way. And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matthew 8:27-29, NASB)

Which is also intriguing for the “before the time” phrase.

Demons know about Christ and they believe in him, in a sense. In the book of James we read:

You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. (James 2:19, NASB)

This verse is often used to combat easy believism—by arguing that “simply believing” is not enough, you need a saving faith that leads to good works because, after all, even the demons believe.

I agree with the conclusion, but I am not sure the argument holds together logically. That is, that the demons believe but that is not enough to get them into Heaven-- and so if you “just” believe, it is also not sufficient for you. I don’t think the demons have a chance in hell to get to Heaven, saving faith or not. It is not the fact that the demons “only” believe that keeps them hell bound, it is because God has not provided a plan for the salvation of fallen angels, just fallen man.

One question that always comes up is whether Christians can be possessed. The Bible doesn’t say anything explicit about this. However in this case it is because the answer is so obvious. The Holy Spirit indwells Christians—there is no possibility of cohabitation with a demon. Christians cannot be possessed.

Many believe that demonic activity has subsided in the modern age. This can be tied to one’s millennial view. Specifically if you happen to think, as some do, that at this moment Satan is (at least in some sense) bound as described in Revelation

And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; (Rev 20:2, NASB)

then that would explain the present day lull in demonic possession.

I happen to think demonic activity still exists, but that Satan uses it where it is most effective, which is in non-western cultures. I talked with one of the evangelical missionaries used by God to bring the Gospel to my wife when she was a younger woman in Taiwan. He told me how he had performed exorcisms in Taiwan. I myself have been to Taiwan and have encountered spiritists and fortune-tellers and I can tell you that I believe something super natural and evil was present. Taiwan has a culture that is fertile for such things, so I think that Satan takes advantage of it.

It is often said that in the west, we would send a demon-possessed person to a psychiatrist, perhaps mitigating the religious aspects and denying the demon the desired effect. This too is offered as a partial explanation as to why we seemingly see so little of this kind of activity. That may indeed be true, but I also think that Satan uses the things of the west to deceive the people of the west. Pornography, sensuality, abortion, materialism, relativism—Satan has many ways to attack westerners.

The Depravity of Children

We were listening to a tape of a sermon the other night. At some point the man speaking (a missionary, but not the one I spoke of earlier) talked about depravity. He said he often meets people who object to being characterized as depraved. His strategy in responding was one I have heard many times: He would ask that person what would it be like to have a movie made of all their thoughts, throughout their life, and to have that movie displayed publicly.

I have found this little thought experiment to be more effective with believers than in convincing someone, who didn’t want to be convinced, that they were sinners. I know that unless I really work on my own thoughts I wouldn’t even want some of the things I think about during Sunday’s sermon to be exposed.

This man went on to give an example (of our innate depravity) I hadn’t heard before. He made reference to all the toddlers in the church, especially the little girls--so beautiful with ribbons in their hair, sitting nicely with mom and dad. Surely there is no depravity there. He told a story (probably apocryphal) of a father, sitting at church, with his beautiful, innocent 18-month old daughter on his lap. She was fascinated by his watch and began to grab at it and twisting the flex band. He told her to stop, gently moving her little hand away. She persisted, and he became more forceful. Still she persisted and now there is a great deal of squirming and utter determination on the part of the child. Finally the father actually smacked her hand. What the father saw in the daughter’s eyes, in the instant before she started crying, made him realize this: If this beautiful little girl, my beloved daughter, suddenly had the strength of a grown man, she would beat me to the ground and rip this watch off my wrist and leave me for dead without an ounce of remorse.

I present that to you without further comment.

No Free Bibles

I heard this same missionary describe how he distributes Bibles in the field. He doesn’t give them away. Anyone who wants a Bible has to pay something for it—usually it is in the form of bartering. It might be something like a chicken, or maybe even just a single egg, depending on the resources of the individual—but it must be of nontrivial value for that person. Whatever he gets in payment for the Bible is used elsewhere to help other needy people. He said he used to give away free Bibles but found that whatever supply he had would be quickly exhausted. Basically, in many parts of the world if you give anything away for free people will line up to get it. Many of the free Bibles ended up as “conversation pieces” in the homes of people who had no intention of reading it. Requiring it to be purchased is an effective filtering technique.


All this talk of economics going on here and here and here reminds me that in my late teens and early twenties, before I was saved, I was effectively a member of a economics/philosophy cult: the Ayn Rand-sians. I viewed her as a guru with all the simple answers to all questions economic. And she had great admiration for physicists.

I read virtually all of her (exceedingly pedantic) writings. To this day I have probably read more words written by Ayn Rand than any other writer.

By the way, in case you don’t know, Ayn rhymes with pine. It is not pronounced like Ann. We past and present acolytes know these things.

These are some of the things I have since learned about Ayn Rand:

  • She was an adulteress who openly cuckolded her doting husband.

  • She was not just an atheist, she hated religion—a religio-phobe.

  • For one who worshiped individualism, it is puzzling she actively encouraged the incongruity of an Ayn Rand cult (alive and well today ). To be consistent, she should have told her followers to get a life.

What has been said of others applies to Ayn Rand: She was a self-made woman in love with her creator.

Friday, June 14, 2002

The USS Clueless, Is

There is a post here that describes Russell’s paradox in set theory. The writer then generalizes that this proves that statements like “Can God create a stone that he cannot lift?” can be put on a firm mathematical foundation and not dismissed as imprecise language.

He is more-or-less correct, but I have several comments:

  1. He describes this mathematics as “esoteric”, which it is not. It is rather sophomore level simple set theory.

  2. His discussion of the paradox is rather hideous, I am glad I never had him as a teacher.

  3. His proof has nothing whatsoever to do with God, or God’s omnipotence, or anything theological.

To ask the question “Can God create a stone that he cannot lift?” is to ask whether God can violate the Law of Contradiction. He cannot. One can safely say, without being sacrilegious, that this is a limitation on God. Not even God can be both A and not A at the same time and in the same relationship. It is a question of logic, not of set theory.