Living for God’s Glory

February 29, 2012

Living for God’s Glory – An Introduction to Calvinism by Joel R. Beeke (along with 8 other contributors) is, well,…where to start?

I guess I might say at the outset that I enjoyed the book and am quite glad that I read it.  At 390+ pages, and 28 chapters in length, it’s not a “finish it in one or two sittings” sized book.  It took me a fair amount of time to get through it, although I had a number of major distractions in and around my life during the time I was reading it, so my perception may be a bit skewed.  And I generally only took on a chapter at time.  But that said, the content was helpfully categorized, and was presented in coherent and very manageable bites.  Questions at the end of each chapter (which I did not really use) were a nice touch to help with reviewing the content and I suppose could be useful for guiding or at least starting the discussion of the book in a study group.  

The book was incredibly informative and I thought well written, with a very accessible style, with sufficient substance to stretch me intellectually, but equally, very understandable.  I would say this book would be suitable for anyone who has a basic understanding of Christian theology.  But further to that point, the subtitle “introduction” while not inaccurate, but could be misunderstood with respect to who will find this book really helpful.  I would hesitate to suggest it to someone completely unfamiliar with Christianity or who is at the very beginning of their walk of faith, as parts of the content gets a bit deep in the weeds with respect to jargon. Or at least it seemed that way to me.  Perhaps it is a bit better suited to the “maturing” Christian who is really trying to sort out their theology, especially as it relates to their understanding of the Biblical doctrine of soteriology.  

I admit that the book dealt with a subject for which I have a favorable bias.  I am not sure how well it would be received by someone not favorably disposed to reformed theology.  However, even that person could learn a great deal from the book’s very objective handling of reformed theology from a historic perspective.  What the reader will find is that the earliest Christian theology in the “new world” was reformed, brought to what is now North America by the Puritans.  So, in many ways, this book is a portrayal of the “type” of Christianity that was found in the earliest history of what eventually became the United States of America. 

This book is a serious work.  For anyone who would like to go considerably deeper than a simple white paper description of the so-called 5-Points of Calvinism, this book will be very helpful to understanding the history of Reformed Theology, how it influenced western hemisphere civilization and it implications for regaining the ground that has been lost over the course of the last 300 years.


Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (aka: PC(USA) “light”)

January 23, 2012

Last week, a new Presbyterian denomination was born.  It will be called, at least initially, Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.  Quite a mouthful I would say.  The name also feels about as clumsy as what they seem to be trying to accomplish in their formation.

While I will concede at the outset that the baby is still young, and how it grows over the years to come remains to be seen.  I am hoping that as it matures, it will distance itself from its “mother” to a greater degree than it has at its birth.

The idea behind the ECOoP is to form a new denomination, largely in reaction to the decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ordain unrepentant, practicing homosexuals as teaching and ruling elders and deacons.  That was a move that was unacceptable to many members of the PC(USA), even as they have generally allowed their church to take socially and theologically liberal positions on other topics.

What speaks the loudest to me about this need for an altogether new Presbyterian denomination is that for the last few years, the PC(USA)’s more conservative congregations have been finding the exits and joining other pre-existing Presbyterian denominations. And I am not talking about members here, I am talking about whole churches, sometimes walking away from their property, sometimes taking it with them at great cost.  Many of these did so even before the PC(USA)’s decision to ordain homosexuals.  The particular denomination that has received most of these congregations is the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). 

The possibility of joining the EPC was still available to many, perhaps most of those PC(USA) congregations who are now interested in escaping the liberalism of their current denomination.  So, why do they not pursue that avenue, as so many others have?

The answer, I believe, lies in the fact that the PC(USA) congregations who are forming the new ECOoP are caught between their current church, that is too liberal for their liking, and another Presbyterian denomination that is not liberal enough.  Consequently, they find themselves needing to give birth to a new church that is nearly as biblically confused as the one they are trying to escape.  And the specific aspect of their need for a new hybrid church is the fact that while they may reject the ordination of unrepentant homosexuals on the basis of its incompatibility with scripture, they have yet to embrace the perspicuity of scripture with respect to its teaching that opposes the ordination of women to the office of teaching elder.  The result is a couple of denominations, one old and one new, with philosophical and theological positions that are only distinguished by one church’s willingness to ordain women and the other’s willingness to ordain women, and unrepentant homosexuals.  While the difference between the two may seem significant in a contemporary cultural context, there really is very little difference with respect to the compatibility of either ordination standard, with scripture.

Several years ago, Albert Mohler, who is president of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY wrote:

The feminization of the ministry is one of the most significant trends of this generation. Acceptance of women in the pastoral role reverses centuries of Christian conviction and practice. It also leads to a redefinition of the church and its ministry. Once women begin to fill and represent roles of pastoral leadership men withdraw. This is true, not only in the pulpit, but in the pews. The evacuation of male worshippers from liberal churches is a noticeable phenomenon.

Furthermore, the issues of women’s ordination and the normalization of homosexuality are closely linked. It is no accident that those churches that most eagerly embraced the ordination of women now either embrace the ordination of homosexuals or are seriously considering such a move.

The reason for this is quite simple. The interpretive games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s proscription of women in congregational preaching and teaching roles are precisely the games one must play in order to get around the Bible’s clear condemnation of homosexuality. (emphasis, mine)

I hope that I am misreading the putt here.  But the very fact that the ECOoP claims as one of its distinctives that it is an  “Egalitarian Ministry (in which the spiritual gift of both genders and all racial and ethnic groups are “unleashed”)“, and the fact that it has taken the confessions of the PC(USA) as its own basis for its theology rather than the more orthodox Presbyterian, Westminster Standards, would suggest to me that the ECOoP is merely a “light” version of the PC(USA).


Interesting Year-End Thoughts on “Politics”

December 30, 2011

No, not thoughts from me, but from one of my favorite columnists and commentators, Charles Krauthammer.  While there are certain aspects of his philosophical constitution that I do not agree with entirely, vast amounts of it I do.  And either way, he has a wonderful way of expressing his views that make reading them a pleasure.

And such is the case in his article for today, that can be found by clicking HERE


Well said. VERY well said.

November 30, 2011

If only others who have his ear would speak out (or write) as clearly and directly as this Obama supporter has.


Reformation

October 31, 2011

Today is Reformation Day.  The 494th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses, or arguments against the catholic church, to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany.  October 31, 1517 was a day that was pivotal in the history of Christianity. 

I have written on the subject of Reformation Day in prior years, and if you are interested in those articles, you can find them by searching for the words “reformation day” in the search utility at the right side of this page.

C. Michael Patton from Credo House Ministries has written an excellent article underscoring the importance of the Reformation, by drawing some comparisons between Protestant and Catholic theology.  Click HERE to read about the Reformation in a Nutshell.


Introduction to Homosexuality

October 30, 2011

An hour in length, fairly academic in both its content and presentation, with a message that is nevertheless very helpful in looking at the issue of homosexuality from several different perspectives at least insofar as its causes/origins are concerned, all under the assumption of a Biblical view of human sexuality, the sinfulness of ALL mankind, and the hope of the Gospel.

Dr. Sam Williams, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

HT: JT


I guess you have to admire their stubborn determination

October 28, 2011

About 15 months ago, I noticed an article in the United Methodist Reporter that was trying to diagnose the reason why young people are leaving the United Methodist Church, in favor of (according to the article) churches that adhere to a Reformed theology.  The solution, according to the author of that article was for the UMC to “include more Wesleyanism” in their youth education curriculum.  The irony, which should be obvious, is that young people are rejecting Wesleyanism in favor of the Doctrines of Grace, so the solution hardly seems to be teaching more of that which has already been rejected?  (As if young people respond well to that kind of tactic.)  Still, I conceded at that time that you can hardly expect the UMC to have any other option available other than to “teach more Wesleyanism.”  Still, I suggested that there are some non-soteriological doctrinal and discipline matters that the UMC could undertake to at least try to stem the tide of youth abandonment of their church.  You can read my thoughts as well as that original UMR article by clicking HERE.

That aside, the writers at the United Methodist Reporter are at it again.  This time one of their columnists is suggesting that Arminianism is essential for Methodist recovery.   Once again, I “get” that they really cannot advocate another theology without gutting their entire church history.  So I am neither surprised nor unsettled by that appeal.  And on a certain level, I do sympathize with what the author is trying to get at.  For example, he makes that appeal, in the context of the degree to which  theology in general has taken a back seat to other concerns of the UMC, such as “social justice” which in itself is a loaded term.  In that sense, I agree that the essentials of theology have been left behind while in pursuit of what some think are highly noble causes, but which in most cases have very little to do with justification and sanctification.  And equally these tend to label the UMC as a liberal mainline denomination.  A charge that is not without other substantial evidence to support it. 

Where the author gets way out of line is when he seems to make the argument that a clear contrast needs to be made between the UMC and the theology of John Calvin from the late 1500’s.  While most modern-day Reformed churches do in fact practice a theology that is based on many of the teachings of John Calvin, to use his writings and project them in a near absolute sense to the 21 century Reformed church is silly on its face.  In other places in the article, he quite simply mistates the doctrines of Reformed theology, to his own advantage.  This approach lacks the necessary intellectual honesty to be taken seriously.  My hope is that the author knows better, but I fear he may not.  

My fear is in part supported by the fact that he attempts to make three “simple” contrasts between what Methodists should believe (according to him) and what he asserts “Calvinists” (aka the contemporary Reformed church) do believe.  Two of these three are inaccurate, with the opposing view so misrepresented as to be laughable.  The very least that one can do in trying to argue against another person’s point of view is to make a fair and honest representation of those opposing beliefs. Perhaps in the interest of brevity, he was not able to do so.  That is about the kindest option I can think of as ignorance, or maliciousness are alternatives that come to mind, but which would be ungracious on my part to allege.

Out of the three contrasts the author makes, he did get one right.  And it serves, in part, to define the differences between Arminianism and Reformed theology.  And that difference boils down to a person’s view of the sovereignty of God and His absolute decretal power over all that is, and the degree to which creation and more specifically mankind has been corrupted by sin.  To the Arminian, God is something less than completely sovereign in the classic understanding of that expression, given that sinful man is capable of resisting God’s redemptive advances. In other words, God is “all-powerful” with the exception of his power over man with respect to his (man’s) salvation.  The all-powerful God, who otherwise is totally self-sufficient, transcendent, lacking in nothing, is dependent on man to choose to pursue and follow God.  That is quite a thing to consider.  A “needy” God would be one who comes up a bit short of complete perfection, would it not?

Reformed theology, on the other hand, teaches that man is in no way able to resist the regenerating power of an omnipotently sovereign, loving, God.  And furthermore man is not able to make a choice contrary to his thoroughly sinful nature to pursue a path of holiness, without God’s gracious assistance in regeneration.

I tremble at the thought of someone standing before the creator of the universe and insisting that he, the person, was more powerful than God in the sense that for a time, or perhaps forever, was able to resist God’s overtures to him. Or that he, the person, made some sort of ultimately determinative decision about salvation, contrary to his sinful nature, and independent of God’s regenerating and enabling power.  That sin of pride alone would be sufficient to condemn them to Hell.

In the article, the matter of “election” comes up several times.  With respect to this doctrine which is undeniably present in the pages of scripture, I think the dividing line between Arminians and those who are persuaded by Reformed theology is that Arminians are perhaps imposing their own view of “fairness” on God, wondering why He would save some and not others, whereas, the “Calvinist” wonders why God would save any.  And, there seems to be a glaring oversight on the part of the Arminian with respect to the evidence that God has provided of His character in “electing” certain people in favor of others, even to the point of utter destruction of those not chosen, starting with the book of Genesis, and flowing though to the book of Revelation.  My question to the Arminian would be, was God not being fair when he chose Noah, his wife and his three sons and their wives but destroyed everything else in the flood.  Was God not being fair when he imposed the plagues and finally struck down the first-born of Egypt in the process of liberating His CHOSEN people, Israel?  Well, was he?  The pages of scripture are filled with examples of God’s seeming unfairness if the measuring rod is man’s sensibility. And the ultimate unfairness was for Jesus to die for my sins when he committed none of them, and by all rights, what is “fair” would be for me to be punished.  Once again, I tremble at the thought of someone standing before God and shaking a fist, or wagging a finger and saying “it isn’t fair that you saved some and not others!” when this has been God’s testimony of Himself since time began. 

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  Eph 2: 8,9