Contend Earnestly: July 2007

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

God's Permissible Will

We have gotten to a great discussion, in my opinion, on how God's sovereign will interacts with man's sin and responsibility. I am mainly going to be pulling things back out from the comments section from our debate posts because I believe that this discussion warrants some "front page news." I think by posting this, one can get a clearer understanding of where I fit into the discussion and in where historical Calvinism fits into this discussion. Of course, being a good Calvinist :) I believe that my view and the historical view are identical.

What I would like to accomplish in this post is simply how I believe God remains sovereign while man remains responsible for sin. I want to look at some passages to see how God ordains all things, but how this keeps God unstained by sin or allowing God to be the author of sin. I will use both biblical narratives and explanation of those narratives biblically and also take a look at some quotes from Turretin and Calvin to help us better understand how this all "meshes."

The first to establish is that God is completely sovereign and in control of all things. This cannot be overlooked, nor can this be taken lightly. The Arminian confirms this, but then fails to carry it out all the way to salvation. The libertarian free will thinkers just cannot allow this to be carried out in either their orthodoxy nor their orthopraxy. The reason is because the man can resist God and His call to the sinner, in the belief of all synergistic and libertarian free will thinkers. To the Calvinist this simply does not make sense.

Some of the verses that ascertain God's complete control of all things are (understand this is not exhaustive):

I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.
Job 42:2

The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.
Isaiah 45:7

For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, And His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 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?’
Daniel 4:34b-35

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.
Romans 8:28

Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with You; And his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.
Job 14:5

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.
Psalm 139:16

“Alas, who can live except God has ordained it?
Numbers 24:23b

Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord, How then can man understand his way?
Proverbs 20:24

We see these mentioned and our minds, at least mine does, asks, "If all is ordained and determined by God, then how can I be responsible for my sin?"

This is where we understand the permissible will of God. If there was no more understanding than these verses, it would be harder to explain. But, once you take some of the prophetical and narrative sections of Scripture and put it to the light of these passages, one can get a better handle on how God determines all things, yet still can punish those who are guilty by their own sin. Before we look at these verses, know that all good comes from God. Nothing that happens, that is good, happens apart from the direct hand of the Lord.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
James 1:17

To get a better understanding of the permissible will of God, I will first give a small commentary on 3 passages and then give you some quotes from Turretin and Calvin, thanks to my friend David Ponter.

First, to look at this, we must come to one of the greatest passages dealing with this and that is Genesis 50:20

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.

This actually is a great living example of the above mentioned verse, Romans 8:28.

Joseph's brothers did some very evil things in their hearts and actions against their brother. But, through Joseph's dreams and through the end result, and especially this verse, we find that the brothers meant evil, and Genesis 50:17 shows that the did actually sin in their actions, but Genesis 50:20 shows that this was all by God's hand. God's permissible will, allowed the brother's to carry out their hatred towards their brother to perfectly extend God's will to Joseph. This word, "meant" is the exact same word for "reckon" or "impute" and is used in the famous verse Genesis 15:6

Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

This word is not used in the sense that God was hoping all this would come to pass, but it is more forceful in its use, and is also used of Joseph's brothers as they "reckoned" evil to their brother.

The second passage is in Jeremiah 25:1-17 (I will simply link so this post isn't abnormally long)

What we find here is God showing His power over, not only His own people, but even to His people's enemies. In verses 9-17, which is where God is showing that He is going to send Babylon to punish Judah, God uses the terms: I will send, I will punish, I will destroy, etc. 11 times! God is showing that He is sovereign over these men's decisions. How do we know that God is not literally causing these people to sin? How do we know that God is not tempting, which would go against James 1? Habakkuk 1 actually shows us that the Babylonians were like this. They were an utterly sinful people who loved to destroy and mock nations (Hab 1,2). So, we can see that how God used the Babylonians was to simply remove his hand of protection from Judah and allow the Babylonians to carry out the evil plans that they already had in their heart. It is the same idea that we find in Hebrews 4:7

“Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.”
Hebrews 4:7

It is the hardness of man that causes sin and destruction and ultimately death in hell, not God. This also helps one to understand the dichotomy of how Pharaoh's heart was hardened. Was it God or Pharaoh? In reality, it was both. (Ex 4:21; 7:3; 8:15; 8:32; 1 Sam 6:6; Romans 9:17,18) Both Habakkuk 1:11 and Jeremiah 25:12 which state:

‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.
Jeremiah 25:12

“Then they will sweep through like the wind and pass on. But they will be held guilty, They whose strength is their god.”
Habakkuk 1:11

We can see the hand of the Lord directing the Babylonians to defeat and punish Judah for their sin, but we also see that the Babylonians did not escape punishment for their sin, because this sin was already in their heart to destroy. What is said of Satan, as far as the reason he sinned?

But you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north.
Isaiah 14:13

Lastly, we have the greatest providence of God ever predestined and set forth. Shown in Acts 2:22,23

Men of Israel, listen to these words: Jesus the Nazarene, a man attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs which God performed through Him in your midst, just as you yourselves know— this Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death.
Acts 2:22-23

Notice that we have here that God predetermined (there is no way around this word) the cross. We actually have the same seen in Revelation 13:8

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.
Revelation 13:8

Notice that the book of life and the Lamb who was slain (they must be together) were determined before the world was formed. So, these two passages show God's sovereignty, but notice also this does not release the men from their sin. At the end of Acts 2:23 we see that God, through Peter, says, "you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men..." This shows the permissible will of God allowing the men to do what they had determined in their heart to do, all while God is still completely sovereign.

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.
Acts 4:27-28

One of the most simple verses that molds these all together is found in Proverbs 16:9

The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

The word, in the Hebrew, for "directs" can be also translated as "determines." This verse shows us how God is completely sovereign yet man is still culpable for his sin.

Here are some great quotes from both Turretin and Calvin on the subject:


In this question, which all confess to be the most intricate and difficult among those agitated concerning providence, two extremes occur which are equally dangerous and to be avoided. First in defect, wherein an otiose permission about sins is ascribed to God. The other in excess, when the causality of sin is charged upon God. The former clashes with the providence of God, but the latter with his justice and holiness. Into the former, the Pelagians, who refer the method of God’s providence about evil to a bare and idle permission, run (as if he put forth no action in reference to it, but only indifferently beheld and permitted it). On the latter, however, the Manichaeans, Simonians and Priscillianists formerly struck who made God the cause of wickedness and of sins. This sinners readily seize to excuse their crimes: as Homer’s Agamemnon, “I am not to be blamed, but Jupiter and fate”… and Lyconides in the Aulularia of Plautus, “God was the instigator, I believe the gods wished it” (The Pot of Gold [Loeb, 1:310-11]). This impiety is indulged by the Libertine of the present time.

The orthodox hold the mean between these two extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither to idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor to efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose)m but efficaciously order and direct it…

The orthodox hold the mean between these extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose), but efficaciously to order and direct it. However, in order that this may be readily understood, we must treat of it a little more distinctly.

Second, this permission must not be conceived negatively, as if it was a mere keeping back (anergia) or cessation of his will and providence in evil works (by which God, sitting as it were on a watchtower, should behold only the event of the permitted action and who, therefore, would be left uncertain and doubtful-as the old Pelagians thought and as their followers of the present day hold obtruding upon us the comment of an otiose and inert permission; cf. Bellarmine, “God does not hold himself towards sins positively to will or nill, but negatively not to will” (”De amissione gratiae et statu peccati,” 2.16 in Opera 4:107). But it must be conceived positively and affirmatively; not simply that God does not will to hinder sin (which is an otiose negation), but that he wills not to hinder (which is an efficacious affirmation). Thus the permission involves a positive act of the secret will by which God designedly and willingly determined not to hinder sin, although he may be said to nill it as to the revealed will of approbation. In this sense, our divines do not refuse to employ the word “permission” with the Scriptures. And if at any time they reject it (as Calvin, Beza and others), they understand it in the Pelagian sense of otiose”permission” which takes away from God his own right and sets up the idol of free will in its place. Hence Beza: “if by the word permission is meant this distinction (to wit, since God does not act in evil, but gives them up to Satan and their own lusts) that I repudiate not in the least. But if permission is opposed to will, this I reject as false and absurd; its falsity appearing from this, that if God unwillingly permits anything, he is not certainly God, i.e., Almighty; but if he is said to permit anything as not caring, how much do we differ from Epicureanism? It remains, there, fore, that he willingly permits what he permits. Will then is not opposed to permission” (A Little Book of Christian Questions and Responses, Q. 179 [trans. K.M. Summers, 1986], pp. 72-73).

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1992), 1:515, 516-517.


It is indeed true, that the proximate cause of reprobation is the curse we all inherit from Adam; yet, that we may learn to acquiesce in the bare and simple good pleasure of God... Calvin, Commentary Romans 9:11.


Here again I entreat the honesty of my readers, to compare my language, and the whole strain of my teaching, with your garbled articles. Thus, when your calumny is detected, all the odium which you labor to excite, will vanish of its own accord. Meanwhile, I do not deny, that I have taught along with Moses and Paul, that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Here you expostulate with me to the contempt of Moses, and treating his word as of no account, ask “When the same Moses declares, that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, why have recourse to that violent interpretation—God hardened Pharaoh’s heart?” Now I need go no further for an explanation, than the ninth article, which while you quote, you either distort or misunderstand. For if the will of God is the highest, or remote cause of hardening, then when man hardens his own heart, he himself is the proximate cause, I everywhere distinguish between primary and remote causes, and those which are mediate and proximate; for while the sinner finds himself the root of depraved feeling, there is no reason why he should transfer his fault to God. Calvin, The Secret Providence of God. Article 8, Calvin's Reply.

Because God’s wisdom appears manifold (or “multiform” as the old translator renders it), ought we therefore, on account of the sluggishness of our understanding, to dream that there is any variation in God himself, as if he either may change his plan or disagree with himself? Rather, when we do not grasp how God wills to take place what he forbids to be done, let us recall our mental incapacity, and at the same time consider that the light in which God dwells is not without reason called unapproachable [1 Timothy 6:16], because it is overspread with darkness. Therefore all godly and modest folk readily agree with this saying of Augustine: “Sometimes with a good will a man wills something which God does not will … For example, a good son wills that his father live, whom God wills to die. Again, it can happen that the same man wills with a bad will what God wills with a good will. For example, a bad son wills that his father die; God also wills this. That is, the former wills what God does not will; but the latter wills what God also wills. And yet the filial piety of the former, even though he wills something other than God wills, is more consonant with God’s good will than the impiety of the latter, who wills the same thing as God does. There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God, and to what end the will of each is directed, so that it be either approved or disapproved. For through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what he righteously wills.” A little before he had said that by their defection the apostate angels and all the wicked, from their point of view, had done what God did not will, but from the point of view of God’s omnipotence they could in no way have done this, because while they act against God’s will, his will is done upon them. Whence he exclaims: “Great are God’s works, sought out in all his wills” Psalm 111:2; cf. Psalm 110:2, Vg.]; so that in a wonderful and ineffable manner nothing is done without God’s will, not even that which is against his will. For it would not be done if he did not permit it; yet he does not unwillingly permit it, but willingly; nor would he, being good, allow evil to be done, unless being also almighty he could make good even out of evil.” Institutes, 1.18.3.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Bumper Sticker Theology

As we are debating a subject like Calvinism and soteriology in general, it always urks me, and this could just be a personal thing, on seeing bumper stickers or t-shirts from the "Christian" community that really just shows our, either ignorance, or just mass casualness when it comes to Christ and theology.

I see either t-shirts or bumper stickers that really just bother me, being that they bring something as important as Christ dying for our sins to the buddy or genie that can be called on when we are "drunk in the gutter" and need a ride home. When this takes place I believe that theologies like the health and wealth, name it and claim it Gospel can start to take root.

The one thing that I have learned over the past 4 years at my church is the importance of the word of God. I have also learned, which interestingly enough, I didn't really think was true before this church, that the calling of the elders and deacons is also an overall call to the church. So, when the Bible tells us that elders should be able to teach, to exhort and to refute those who contradict, should we not take this seriously instead of putting a bumper sticker on our car that says, "My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter." Besides the complete lack of theological insight this doesn't give, it is almost saying that we don't take our religion seriously either.

If everyone in the church believed that when they teach, which is what everyone should be able to do at some level, then when you share the same responsibility as the preacher and that is clearly stated in 1 Peter 4:11:

Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God;

I just wonder if people took this verse seriously if they would still wear the above mentioned shirt or put the above mentioned bumper sticker on their car. What is it accomplishing besides making someone, once again, laugh at the dumb Christians who follow after a bumper sticker god.

I just get frustrated to know that my Saviour died on the cross for my sins, and we have some who feel it is necessary to "show" their faith in a way that I find as an insult to what He hath done.

I am not opposed to ALL bumber stickers, and when I say "all", I mean the Arminian "all" and not the Calvinist "all" (sorry had to throw that in). I don't mind a verse or something of that nature, I wouldn't do it, but that doesn't make me want to throw up like the one to the left.

I hope that we will all take a second look on how we are representing our Creator and Saviour and ask ourselves if this is the best way to be ambassadors for Christ.

For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God.

2 Corinthians 2:17

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

How to Argue

I found this over at Theological Meditations, thought it was appropriate as we have our debate here. Glad this is not how it has gone so far between Nate and I.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Total Depravity - Affirmed

When we look at total depravity, I am going to really try to defend the position and what we mean, as Calvinists, when we speak of total depravity. Most have commented on Nate's post and there is some great positions being posited on people's positions, so I encourage you to read Nate's post and the comments as well. What I will try and do is answer as much as possible on the affirmation on the Calvinistic confirmation of this most important understanding of anthropology and hamartiology, and focus little attention on Nate's post, although naturally, refutation will take place in the flow of this post.

I do believe that one's approach and definition of this subject, will guide the understanding of their view on soteriology, so as Nate spoke, and also others throughout the years, total depravity is really where the debate needs to start. When a Calvinist states that man is totally depraved, they mean that the man's nature is completely corrupt, perverse and sinful throughout. This "total" is NOT a means to say that every man is as evil as they could possibly be. I have heard R.C. Sproul say that even Hitler didn't murder his mother. So, we are speaking here of man's total inability of spiritual good. The word "total" is speaking of the total corruption because of sin and it extends to every part of a man, his body and his soul and has affected his mind, will, etc.

As a result of this, man is completely unable to do anything spiritually good. Man is so spiritually bankrupt that he can do nothing pertaining to his salvation, unless first regenerated by the Spirit of God. What this does NOT mean is that man can do no good on a human level of interaction. We have all seen Mother Teresa, Bill Gates and Gandhi and asked ourselves, "How can someone say that they are doing nothing good?" When the Calvinist speaks of man doing nothing good, we are speaking of the spiritual deadness not the standard that man imparts to one another. There are two things to consider when speaking of good; there is the outward good and the inward good. The outward good, is keeping the commands of God. When one does not lie, cheat, steal, murder or slander these are outwardly good, and, we as man, can see this good. But, the most important, according to Christ himself, is the inward good of intentions of the act. This inward good is pit against the perfection of the Father who is holy and undefiled by sin. Even Christ says: you shall not murder (outward good), but I say that even if you are angry with your brother you have already murdered in your heart. (spiritual depravity compared to God's holiness)

So, that is the overview of this view, now I want to show the Scriptural proof of this thought of us being completely depraved and dead in our sin.

Even though Nate has tried to escape the subject of death in the garden (even telling us to throw out Romans 5), it is very clear that Scripture warrants that in the garden, not only physical death was to come to pass, but on that DAY spiritual death happened.

Genesis 1:31a tells us that when God was done creating He said:

God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.

So, we see first that God describes His creation as being "very good." We then have the command of God about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God says this:

but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:17

Notice that God tells Adam that IN THAT DAY you shall surely die. If God is speaking only of a physical death here, you would think God to be a liar, for in that day Adam did not die, for he continued to live. On the contrary, you would think that if God was speaking of a spiritual death that we would have some proof in the Bible. Here is where Nate said to throw out Romans 5 because it NEVER speaks of a spiritual death, but I would have to completely disagree. Look at Romans 5:12,18

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Romans 5:12,18

Notice that through the one sin, CONDEMNATION happened and through on act of righteousness there resulted justification of LIFE to all men. Does any think that justification means simply a physical life? Or is Paul telling us that through sin we have all died, spiritually, but through Christ we have all been brought justification of SPIRITUAL life. The Greek word here for "condemnation" (katakrima) means a "damnatory sentence."

I believe just through this one verse (there are others) we can see that Adam literally died on THAT DAY, spiritually.

You would also think that if this truly happened that there would be some "fallout" because of this death of sin. Which, of course, we have. God goes from calling His creation, "very good" to now the first murder happening in Genesis 4:8 and then we have the Nephilim in Genesis 6 and then finally God simply states:

Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

Genesis 6:5

And just so that you don’t get the idea that this was only pre-flood and things were differently afterwards Genesis 8:21 states again:

the LORD said to Himself, “I will never again curse the ground on account of man, for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth;

The Greek word used here for “intent” means “framework or purpose.” So the framework and purpose of man’s heart is to do evil, not good.

But what happened? How did God go from saying that man was created good to saying that he was framed, inclined and purposed for evil?

Sin. What was the punishment for that sin? Genesis 2:17 states that if they ate from the tree that would “surely die” and every since then people have responded and taught like the devil taught when he said in Genesis 3:4, “You surely will not die!” To say that we have not died, to be honest, is how SATAN HIMSELF RESPONDED!

To continue in thought on the deadness of man you would then expect the rest of the Bible to teach it, and it very explicitly does. You really have to do some dancing to try and reinvent what the word, "dead" means.

I will quote my good friend Josh here:

We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.
1 Jn 3:14.

-Passed from death to life is pretty clear here.

But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel- 2 Tim 1:10

-Christ did not abolish physical death, and the spiritual death that is abolished is not your definition of the second death in Revelation, it is the human condition of spiritual death from birth. Notice the antithesis is bringing life though the light of the gospel.

I would have to agree with Josh here, it is very clear why Christ came: to abolish our spiritual death. Look at on of the most popular verses in evangelism:

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.
Romans 6:23

This part is going to get lengthy, but I hope that the vastness of it will help one understand that this doctrine is not just found in one part of the Bible, but the Bible is filled with this doctrine. I will link the Scripture references instead of writing them all out.

As we have already stated, Adam's sin caused death to the whole human race (Romans 5:12) and so we also see in Ephesians 2:1-3 and Colossians 2:13 both telling us of this deadness in our sin.

David confessed that he, and other men, were born into sin: Psalm 51:5; 58:3

As a result of this sin in the garden man has been darkened to the truths of God and our hearts and minds are corrupt and evil: Gen 6:5; 8:21; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Jeremiah 17:9; Mark 7:21-23; John 3:19; Romans 8:8; 1 Corinthians 2:14; Eph 4:17-19; 5:8; Titus 1:15.

Not only this but we are actually slaves to sin, under Satan's control and told that we are children of Satan: John 8:44; Eph 2:1,2; 2 Timothy 2:25,26; 1 John 3:10; 1 John 5:19; John 8:34; Romans 6:20; Titus 3:3

I will repost a little from what I did in my opening here. Unlike Nate, I believe that Romans 3 is a perfect example of us before we are with Christ, before we are regenerated, and that is that "no one is good, no one seeks for God, that we have become useless" and that Romans 8:8 tells us that "no one in the flesh can please God." These apply to us. Nate tried to go back to Psalm 14 to say that this is talking about the fool, but before we are in Christ, are we not all fools? We are called children of the devil (John 8:44), children of wrath (Eph 2:3); haters of God, slaves to sin (John 8:34); and Ephesians 4:17-19 describes those without Christ as futile of the mind, darkened, excluded, and hardness of heart. Does not 1 Corinthians 2:26,27 tell us that we were fools? The point is that before you are in Christ you are a fool! After Christ, you are only a fool to the world, but in reality you are the wisest because God has given you the wisdom from above. (James 3)

This is all because we are totally depraved of any spiritual good. God explicitly tells us that

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Isaiah 64:6

Everything that we would see as "righteous" God sees as literally a bloody "menstrual rag." Even Job tells us:

Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one!
Job 14:4

Do you see this? Job actually starts this chapter off by saying that man from woman is "...full of turmoil (or trouble)"

Jeremiah continues in this understanding of the complete depravity of man:

Can the Ethiopian change his skin
Or the leopard his spots?
Then you also can do good
Who are accustomed to doing evil.

Jeremiah 13:23

It is almost embarrassing how many verses speak about the complete evilness of man's nature. Nate and I said at the beginning of this discussion that we must both come to the fullness of Scripture to see how our theologies "play out" and I would have to say that the Calvinist doctrine takes the full of Scripture to describe our condition, while it is not easy to hear, it is definitely truth.

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?
Romans 6:16

Notice that if you are a slave to sin that is whom you obey, you are one or the other, not both. If you are evil's slave then you must obey your master. How do we ever come out of our depraved mind to follow Christ? How can we obey our Master who calls out to us: Repent! It can only happen by God's grace, through regeneration and the effectual call, but that is for later in our debate.

I believe that Matthew 23:27,28 allow us to understand fully what we see while we are here on this earth. Nate said that Jesus never speaks of total depravity, yet Jesus does and I will give you one example and leave you with this. While we see others as doing good, like I said outwardly, God's standard, which is perfect, is to judge us inwardly.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

Matthew 23:27,28

May we never underestimate our sin, but may we hate it and try to rid ourselves of it. When one underestimates sin, they will only be more liable to fall into it.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Total Depravity - Opposed

By Nate Asper

Alright, now it all starts for real. The actual debate. Let me restate for those who have not kept up with everything that I am opposing Calvinism but am absolutely NOT and Arminian. There are more views than just those two.
Realize also that the Calvinist doctrine rises and falls on Total Depravity.

I believe a mountain of evidence exists to show why we are not totally depraved. Again, we are keeping this debate as short as possible while trying to cover a lot of ground feel free to comment though Seth and I may move along before all comments get answered. Thanks to all for your interest and participation. There are certainly less productive things one could do with their time than search the scriptures. This post may be lengthy, though I see Total Depravity as the key to this whole debate so trust me, shorter posts will follow!

Basically a quick definition of Total Depravity as I understand it. Man, after the fall, is no longer capable of believing the gospel. He cant repent as he is "dead." He cannot choose God, save for God's irresistable grace. I think this is the basic idea. Now, there is so much wrong with this that it may take me a while to sift through it, so bear with me. Let's start in Genesis. Adam and Eve sin and God gives his curses. Earlier, he states that "in the day ye eat thereof, thou shalt surely die." After the sin, God further explains his judgments. He touches only on the aspects of physical death, a "return to the dust." He also guarded the tree of life so they could not live forever. Now, if they had been rendered spiritually dead, wouldnt this appear somewhere in the curses. If this Calvinist doctrine is true, then God does not even come close to telling man the whole truth. Throw out Romas 5 as well, since their is absolutely no mention of spiritual death here. "Death passed upon all men." True, though based on what God said we have to say this a physical death. I know you all want to claim the spiritual death here, but to say so is only possible when one reads ideas into the text.

Now, let me clarify a few things. I do believe spiritual death has its roots in the garden of Eden. I believe that spiritual death is important, but we need to look closely and take things within their context. I have heard scores of Calvinist use the "corpse" logic when explaining total depravity. Dead people cannot respond to life saving medicine and so on.
Likewise, the spirtually dead cannot respond to the gospel without a miracle. A quick side note...please stop using this analogy!! It is so bad. Remember, a corpse also cannot respond to poison. Or a gun shot. A spiritual corpse would not then be completely immoral, but rather, completely ammoral. The truth is, we are not spiritually dead but we have a sin nature. The innocence of man was lost when he ate of the fruit. We are born sinners. The Bible says we are sinners from the womb. Paul states several times (many in Rom. 6) that we are "slaves to sin." Now we cant be slaves and be dead. We are born slaves to sin because of our sin nature.
Remember, take the Bible in its full context. Dont jump on the Eph. 2:1 bandwagon too quickly because you ingnore too many other scriptures that use metaphors that would contradict your conclusions. These must work together, and I will show you how during this argument.

Let's take a look at spiritual death. What is it? Well, spiritual death does indeed exist though it is referred to as "the second death" in Revelation 20:14. Spirtual death and physical death work together. When we physically die, we will face judgment for our earthly actions. Those who have not accepted Christ will be cast into the lake of fire...the second death...spiritual death. Spiritual death is an eternal death. The concept taught is two deaths for the unsaved, one for the saved. Otherwise we would certainly read "third death" in Revelation. The original spiritual death, the physical death and the final spiritual death of being cast into hell.
Spiritual death occurs after death though it is a sentence from birth. This is very very important to understand. We are born sinners which carries a payment. This is where Romans 6:23 comes in. Earlier in Rom. 6 we were "slaves to sin" then freed, and finally we read "the wages of sin is death."
Spiritual or physical? Well, both. The bigger issue though is certainly spiritual death, though neither can be escaped. We will all die physically, and all have since being denied the tree of life. That is a given. But not all will die spiritually, which is why this verse is so vitally important.
The wages of sin is death...eternal separation from God in hell. Wages of course, speaks of a payment or penalty. What we earn, so to speak. When we are born in our sin nature, we are automatically sentenced to death (I'm talking spiritual death). That is the meaning of Eph. 2:1 when we were "dead" in trespasses and sins. We certainly were, in that we were sentenced to eternal death because of our sins. We are as prisoners on death row. We often refer to these sentenced to death as "dead men" or "as good as dead."
You must understand the metaphor and how it relates to the other scriptures.
Biblical understanding of spiritual death clearly teaches that it occurs after physical death as the end result of sin. It is the wages. The payment. It is a simple concept really. We all sin and those who have accepted Christ have His righteousness and he sacrificed his perfect blood to atone and satisfy the debt. We are "pardoned." Those who have not accepted are unable to offer any sufficient atonement for their sins. Their sentence has never been pardoned and the end result..."execution."
Spiritual death and eternal separation from God. I love the way James puts it in 1:14-15 when he says that "lust when it is conceived brings forth sin.
Sin, WHEN IT IS FINISHED, bringeth forth death." It is so clear biblically that death is bot a CONDITION of sin but a RESULT of sin. I must move on.

Total Depravity also makes it impossible to follow scriptural commands. God "commands all men everywhere to repent." How can a perfectly just God lay forth such an unreasonable demand? Many Calvinists have told me that a command does not necessarily imply the ability to keep it. Flawed thinking.
If God gives a command and then threatens to punish those who do not comply that absolutely implies the ability to obey. Remember, perfectly just. The Calvinist should find this a rather vexing situation. Man is so corrupt and unable to repent, yet God then somehow justly punishes man for doing what he is from birth unable to do. This certainly is out of line with God's character.

Even more condemning to total depravity is that Jesus appears to not believe it. In Mark 4:11-12 Jesus speaks in parables as a judgement against the obstinate Jews. They kept his message from being understood by them lest "they might turn and be forgiven." Had they heard the gospel preached
clearly, they might have repented. Jesus also "marvelled" at the unbelief
of his listeners in Mark 6:6. Had he believed in Total Depravity, this would be no marvel to the Son of God at all.

The Bible also teaches about the conscience being seared and the heart being hardened. Paul referes to it when he states that when people who repeatedly sin "sear" their conscience. In I Tim. he is referring to unsaved false teachers. Total depravity would seem to teach hardness of heart from birth but the Bible says it is a consequence of repeated sin. Eph. 4:19 says that they are "past feeling" and have given themselves to greediness and uncleanness.

I will start to conclude by looking at few scriptures. I always hear John
6:44 from Calvinist and that men are only saved when God draws them. They make a point of the Greek word meaning "dragging." This is quite contrary to Calvinist doctrine though if through the irresistable grace the sinner immediately comes willingly. Context context context. Read vs. 45. Every man that hears the teaching and learns of it, comes to God. He is "drawn"
by the Holy Spirit's power which accompanies the Word of God. It seems clear that an "inner miracle" is not what is being talked about here, but rather men come to God when they listen and respond to the gospel's ministry. I Pet. 1:23 and James 1:18 also show that these two men believe that salvation comes through the Word of God, not an "effectual call" or "inward miracle." That is what Paul is saying when he says "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God. "

I suppose I should wrap it up here. I dont want to go on and on forever, as I want this to be educational and profitable rather than repetitive and tedious. Let me finish by saying this. Take your eyes off the five points of Calvinism for a minute and just look at the gospel. Dont look at with the intention of molding into a philosophical view but rather take it at face value. Total Depravity seems to only function if man is spiritually dead from birth. That is obviously not the case. To believe so is to willingly be fooled in my opinion. The teaching on this is very clear. I often here Calvinists say that we need to take the Bible in its full context and let the bible interpret the Bible. I totally agree. Just make sure you practice this. To believe total depravity and spirutal death from birth is a clear disregard for the context of the Bible.

Until next time...God Bless


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Monday, July 23, 2007

Why Do Calvinists Evangelize?

The question has been posed to a lot of us by our friends and brothers, Nate and Adam, so I figured I would take a short post to explain, "Why Calvinists Evangelize." Nate and Adam are not saying that Calvinists DON'T evangelize, but they are simply asking, "Why do we evangelize?" I will have to say that Dominic Bnonn Tennant had a great, succinct reason for the Calvinist evangelistic reasons. Here is his comment fully:

Calvinism does not contradict itself here; you have simply misunderstood the process of causation. God will save his elect; and evangelism is the means by which he will do this. To therefore say that evangelism is unnecessary to election in a Calvinistic framework is a contradiction in terms. The two are causally related by God's decree. No doubt God could save people apart from evangelism, but he does not. Your objection makes no more sense to the Calvinist than if you had proposed that we need not eat, since God will sustain our bodies. Of course, God does indeed sustain our bodies; but he uses food as the means to do this.

We learn that in Romans 10:17 the means by which people are saved:

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ

Just as Mr. Tennant has stated, God's elect will come to Christ and all of them will be saved. Not more, not less. We see this in many places but there is a great look at this in Revelation 13:8

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.

Revelation 13:8

Notice when the book of life was written: before the foundation of the world. So how will these, who are written in the book of life, come to salvation? Again, John 6:44 tells us what happens that we don't see, and that is that God draws every one of His elect to His side, and Romans 10:17 tells us in what fashion this happens: through the preaching of the Gospel. There is no where in the rest of the Bible that is mentioned where someone comes to Christ by any other fashion, but by the drawing of God by the preaching of the Gospel.

We see this happening many times in the word of God. Whether it is with the apostles, especially Peter and his sermons, or Philip and the eunuch. But, the main way that we see both of these, the drawing and the Gospel preached, shown is in Lydia's conversion in Acts 16:14

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

This is very specific on how this took place. Paul preached, God drew or opened, and Lydia responded.

So, the point is that we find that just because we are told that God has determined His elect, that He does the drawing, does not mean that this excludes us from preaching the gospel.

But why does the Calvinist preach the Gospel? Is it just "empty lip service" that we do because we are supposed to? The answer is that we preach the same reason that an Arminian preaches or anyone who claims to be a follower preaches the Gospel: Because we love Jesus Christ who died for us.

We preach because, like the blind man that was made to see and went and proclaimed what Christ had done, we, yes even as Calvinists, cannot help but go and proclaim what God has done for us through Jesus, His Son. The blind man said exactly what should be said today:

He then answered, “Whether He is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
John 9:25

I do not know exactly how all this "goes down" but the one thing that I do know is that I was once dead but I am now alive. Praise God. I love my God and I want all to know about His forgiveness because I want to see them saved, that is WHY I preach. God has ordained the gospel to save and He uses us useless humans to do this. He uses my imperfect words to proclaim His perfect salvation, how could I keep my mouth shut about this?

I do feel as though the Calvinist has a huge advantage over the Arminian, or libertarian free will thinker. The Calvinist knows that there is no one in heaven and no one in hell because of what I have done. Now, will I have to pay for my disobedience? Yes, I do believe this. Will I be rewarded for my obedience? Yes. But, I also do not believe that if I run into an atheist apologist and I can't answer his questions appropriately that I am going to be the one sending him to hell. God is not in heaven thinking, "well, if you would have just said this, that atheist would have come to Me." Even more powerful? Look at Matthew 11:20-24

Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. "Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. "And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day."Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you."
Matthew 11:20-24

Simply notice that God DOES know what would have saved some of the people from going to hell, yet He withheld these miracles from them for His will. Just notice again: For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. So, God says that they would have repented had He shown them the same miracles, but chose not to. Interesting insight from Christ.

I know that if I preach the gospel exactly as it has been handed down then I do not have to worry about changing it to make it more appealing, nor do I have to worry that I did not give a full explanation that WOULD have turned that person to Christ. This is the reason why Calvinists have always been such great evangelists, because of their belief that the Gospel is the ONLY way that one will be saved, so there is no twisting it, there is no dressing it up, there is just the old fashioned preaching of it to the lost so that they will be saved, or so God's will is accomplished.

The Calvinist can also have full confidence that if he truly preaches the gospel and goes through his whole life with very little fruit of seeing people saved, his life is still a "success" because he lived out the calling that God called him to. So, no matter if he is a Peter or a Jeremiah, the Calvinist can rest that he has taken the word which was handed down once and for all, and contended for the faith. It is not about numbers, but it is about obedience to the calling. And the obedience flows from a love of our God, because He has saved us with His own blood.

Again, why do we preach the Gospel?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 5:8

Soli Deo Gloria.

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Calvinism Affirmed - Part I

First, I would like to thank Nate, once again, for wanting to discuss what I believe is a very important topic. We are going to discuss many things through the posts and also through the comments, which have already started, and where I believe most of the learning will happen. I have tried to read each comment thoroughly so that I can have those comments in mind as I give my brief overview of salvation. Again, this is brief, as Nate did, and I will exegete and explain more as we get into the actual five points.

As for Adam's comment that it is the Calvinist who likes to debate and not focus on other things, remember this was Nate's idea and I think we all need to think on these things for we are told to. Evangelizing is what we should all do, but it is not the only thing we are called to do.

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,
Ephesians 4:14-15

The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:2

holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.
Titus 1:9

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

Second, I am a Calvinist, there I said it...almost like an alcoholic. I also adhere to the Five Solas of the Reformation (click here for my posts on this subject) meaning that I totally deny the Roman Catholic faith and their understanding of justification and sanctification. Of course that is not all I deny based on the Five Solas but that is the start. I grew up in a Southern Baptist household (most of my mom's side of the family are SBC pastors, and so was my father) so for most of my life I was a hybrid of Arminian and Calvinist doctrine, more on the Arminian side, but nevertheless I was not totally in either camp.

For me, the turning point came in reading Jonathan Edwards' "Freedom of the Will" where I started to question my upbringing in the knowledge of Scripture. I started down the road of continually asking myself, "prove it." And when I said that, I meant to "prove it" only by Scripture and trying to throw out everything I had learned both emotionally and exegetically. This will probably happen for the rest of my life, but I thank God that He has answered my prayers in bringing me closer to Him through the study and walking in the Word of God.

Before I start, I do want to address some things that Adam has asked about to clear the air, so to speak. For one, I love preaching the Gospel to the lost. I don't want to "toot my horn" here but I just get tired of this characterization of Calvinists. So, if you would like hit the label "Evangelism" and take a look where we have been. I am not a "beacon" for the Calvinist faith in this area, but to say that Calvinist doctrine drives the person to not evangelize is a misnomer that usually comes from the opposition that has very little knowledge of the history or theology of Calvinism. I can say this because I have seen it from those who know little about Calvinism, but I have also seen that those who know much of Calvinist doctrine, yet oppose it, will NOT deny that true Calvinist are also great evangelists. Look to Roger Olson's book, "Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities." Dr. Olson is an Arminian, and of course denies Calvinism, but doesn't deny the impact that Calvinist have had in saving souls. If one would like to read more on this subject just read biographies of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Bunyan, George Whitefield, Asahel Nettleton, Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Gresham Machen, A.W. Pink, John MacArthur and many, many more. They were all men who were/are Calvinist with a focus on world missions and evangelism, not because they were "supposed to" but because they loved the Lord their God with all their heart and desired to see people saved.

Okay, enough of the "rant." Here is my overall view of salvation.

I believe that all one must do is repent and believe and they will be saved. I believe that true repentance is the first fruit of salvation and then much more fruit will follow. (John 15) I believe as James teaches us that faith without works is a dead faith, so the true faith, given by God (Phil 1:27) is a working faith. Again, Piper said it best:

I do not believe in salvation by faith plus works, but salvation by faith THAT works.

I do agree with the Word of God that "whosoever will" call upon the Lord will be saved, all that thirst may come, all who seek the Lord will find Him, but this leaves out an important facet of the equation which Jesus Christ Himself shows us in John 6:44 and that is, "How does one seek, thirst, or will to come to God?" Jesus answers this question, which we will get more in detail when we come to irresistable grace, but Jesus says:

No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

Unlike Nate, I believe that Romans 3 is a perfect example of us before we are with Christ, before we are regenerated, and that is that "no one is good, no one seeks for God, that we have become useless" and that Romans 8:8 tells us that "no one in the flesh can please God." These apply to us. Nate tried to go back to Psalm 14 to say that this is talking about the fool, but before we are in Christ, are we not all fools? We are called children of the devil (John 8:44), children of wrath (Eph 2:3); haters of God, slaves to sin (John 8:34); and Ephesians 4:17-19 describes those without Christ as futile of the mind, darkened, excluded, and hardness of heart. Does not 1 Corinthians 2:26,27 tell us that we were fools? The point is that before you are in Christ you are a fool! After Christ, you are only a fool to the world, but in reality you are the wisest because God has given you the wisdom from above. (James 3)

I would also like to address quickly the usage of Nate's analogy with the term "gift." I will make this a simple decree: be careful in using analogies and applications that are not in the Bible. If you start doing this than can't we also say that since God is a Father, that all the traits of a father then apply to God? No, because God is eternal, He is not a man, He does not lie, He cannot change. Even though all these WOULD apply to earthly fathers. Just as these don't apply to God, then neither can we make an analogy of how WE see gifts given out, and how God gives the gift of salvation, unless stated specifically in the word of God.

So, salvation is attained through the election of God, predestination, gospel call, inward call, regeneration, conversion (faith and repentance), justification, sanctification and glorification. Of course, as we see it in our eyes, we repent and believe and that belief results in works. But, how it actually works, "behind the scenes" is a completely more complex amount of events.

Couple more things and I will end with this "overview." I believe that we are completely dead in our sins before Christ and that this happened in the garden with Adam's sin. If one does not believe that this was a spiritual death then one has to interpret Genesis 2:16,17 in a very interesting way, for it states:

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17

Notice that the text specifically states, "in the day that you will surely die." Adam did not die physically the DAY he ate, but he did die spiritually the DAY he ate. Also, this is reiterated in Romans 5, which the entire chapter speaks of only a spiritual death and spiritual restoration.

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—
18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men.

Romans 5:12,18

If Adam's sin did not pass on the spiritual death, this passage makes no sense, because this passage specifically speaks of "condemnation" in verse 18 and throughout the text. So because of our death in sin (Eph 2:1, Colossians 2:13) we must be regenerated to be brought from life to death. We must be called by Christ, just as He did Lazarus, to "come forth" before we can come from our grave to the knowledge of our Christ. This is how we cross over from fool to heir, death to life, natural man to spiritual man, flesh to spiritual, all so that we can now please God through His Spirit.

Again, I really appreciate Nate and his coming to have this discussion. I hope that this is a good discussion between men who love God and desire to uphold the word of God and preach the Gospel to a dying world.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Calvinism Opposed - Part I

This is an overview of Nate's view of Salvation. Again, he will be taking the side opposed to Calvinism, while Seth from Contend Earnestly is taking the affirmative. - Seth
By Nate A.

Let me preface my comments by saying that I am not a Calvinist nor an Arminian. I would consider myself a zero point Calvinist and I find many flaws in the Arminians doctrine as well. That said, here is how I see salvation laid out in the Bible:

Sin first entered the world through Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden. After that, death passed upon all men. Man was incapable of attaining eternal life in heaven because sin separated them from God. God sent Jesus to the earth to be the pefect blood sacrifice that would atone for the sins of the entire world. I believe this atonement was made complete when Jesus cried on the cross: "It is finished."

Jesus has done his part but man also bears some responsibility if they wish to attain salvation and eternal life in heaven. Repeatedly, scripture states that "whosoever believeth in him" or "whosover shall call upon the name of the Lord" shall receive this free gift of salvation. These comments point out a couple of things. First, salvation is not by works but of faith and faith alone. Eph. 2:8-9 tells us that we are saved by grace through faith. When the Philipian jailier asked Paul "What must I do to be saved?"

Paul responded "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
Nothing else was added. The second thing I notice is that salvation is available to all. This is one place where I feel Calvinisim fails. We will get into this much more specifically later on, but there are numerous places in scriptures where we see that anyone who wishes to be saved can be saved.
God even assures us that we will find him, when WE seek with all of our heart. I certainly do not believe that man can save himself or that man plays any part in the saving process. Jesus did it all and it was finished on the cross. Atonement was made for all.

Romans and Ephesians both speak of salvation as a "gift." This gift was made available to everyone because of Jesus' sacrifce and paying the penalty for our sins. He took our punishment upon him and in turn offered us his righteousness. Many people have refused to accept this free gift that God offers. Many people have also accepted. The difference between them, from what scripture appears to say, is not elect vs. non elect but rather a repentant attitude and accepting of the gift versus a willful rejection of Jesus' sacrfice. Let me give an illustration of how I believe this works.
Lets say that I have a gift for you. All you have to do is come over and get it. Its a really nice gift and I'm sure you would like it. And its very easy to attain, just come over any time and get it. This is what God has offered us. However, many people choose to never come over and get their gift. Its theirs. Its paid for. It even has their name on it. But until they come over and get it, it is not accepted. Salvation is the same way. God does not go out and hand the gift to some and not to others.
Remember, we are saved by his grace through faith, not the other way around.
Providing the gift is gracious, but going out and handing it to someone requires no faith. God has made salvation so simple that even a young child can understand the gospel. But it does require faith, a child like faith we are told. People sometimes will say that if God offers me this gift and it requires some effort on my part to go and get it, doesnt that mean I am doing something to achieve salvation? No. By us going to God to recieve our free gift, that in no way means that we then somehow paid for that gift or did anything to deserve it. Faith is how we respond to God. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.

That is where I will leave it for now. I will get into things more specifically once we tackle the five points of Calvininsm. This is just an overview of salvation and how I see it in the Bible. The goal of this whole discussion on Calvinism is not to offend or see who knows more about the Bible, it is to see what the Bible says on these issues. I dont want to twist the scriptures to get them to say what I want nor do I believe thats what Seth wants either. But we do have some differences of opinion and it is always good to have our beliefs challenged.

God Bless



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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Calvinism "Debate"

I have been emailed by someone who has asked me to engage in an email discussion on Calvinism and the doctrines of grace. I thought that I would go ahead and publish our discussions on the blog so that we could get some interaction and also to keep us both held accountable to our discussions so that no misrepresentations, or little of them, will take place.

Nate will be starting us off to show his views on salvation and the like, basically as an overview and then I will give my overview of the same subject.

After we engage in this, we will then discuss our thoughts on the five points of Calvinism. I hope this will be engaging and informative.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Josh Hamilton: I'm Proof that Hope is Never Lost

A buddy of mine sent me this story and I thought I would share it...enjoy.

'I'm proof that hope is never lost'
By Josh Hamilton (as told to Tim Keown)
ESPN The Magazine

To let you know how far I've come, let me tell you where I've been.
Not that long ago, there were nights I went to sleep in strange places praying I wouldn't wake up. After another night of bad decisions, I'd lie down with my heart speeding inside my chest like it was about to burst through the skin. My thinking was clouded, and my talent was one day closer to being totally wasted.
I prayed to be spared another day of guilt and depression and addiction. I couldn't continue living the life of a crack addict, and I couldn't stop, either. It was a horrible downward spiral that I had to pull out of, or die. I lay there -- in a hot and dirty trailer in the North Carolina countryside, in a stranger's house, in the cab of my pickup -- and prayed the Lord would take me away from the nightmare my life had become.
When I think of those terrible times, there's one memory that stands out. I was walking down the double-yellow of a two-lane country highway outside Raleigh when I woke up out of a trance.

I was so out of it I had lost consciousness, but my body had kept going, down the middle of the road, cars whizzing by on either side. I had run out of gas on my way to a drug dealer's house, and from there I left the truck and started walking. I had taken Klonopin, a prescription antianxiety drug, along with whatever else I was using at the time, and the combination had put me over the edge. It's the perfect example of what I was: a dead man walking.
And now, as I stand on the green grass of a major league outfield or walk to the batter's box with people cheering for me, I repeatedly ask myself one simple question: How did I get here from there?
I've been in the big leagues as a member of the Cincinnati Reds for half a season, but I still find myself taking off my cap between pitches and taking a good look around. The uniform, the ballparks, the fans -- it doesn't seem real. How am I here? It makes no sense to anybody, and I feel almost guilty when I have to tell people, over and over, that I can't answer that one simple question.
I go to sleep every night with a clear mind and a clear conscience. Every day, I walk into an immaculate clubhouse with 10 TVs and all the food I can eat, a far cry from the rat-infested hellholes of my user past. I walk to my locker and change into a perfectly clean and pressed uniform that someone else hung up for me. I grab a bat and a glove and walk onto a beautifully manicured field to play a game for a living.
How am I here? I can only shrug and say, "It's a God thing." It's the only possible explanation.
There's a reason my prayers weren't answered during those dark, messed-up nights I spent scared out of my mind. There's a reason I have this blessed and unexpected opportunity to play baseball and tell people my story.
My wife, Katie, told me this day would come. At my lowest point, about three years ago, when I was wasting away to skin and bones and listening to nobody, she told me I'd be back playing baseball someday. She had no reason to believe in me. During that time, I did nothing to build my body and everything to destroy it. I'd go five or six months without picking up a ball or swinging a bat. By then, I'd been in rehab five or six times -- on my way to eight -- and failed to get clean. I was a bad husband and a bad father, and I had no relationship with God. Baseball wasn't even on my mind.
And still Katie told me, "You're going to be back playing baseball, because there's a bigger plan for you." I couldn't even look her in the eye. I said something like, "Yeah, yeah, quit talking to me."
She looks pretty smart, doesn't she? I have a mission now. My mission is to be the ray of hope, the guy who stands out there on that beautiful field and owns up to his mistakes and lets people know it's never completely hopeless, no matter how bad it seems at the time. I have a platform and a message, and now I go to bed at night, sober and happy, praying I can be a good messenger.
Addiction is a humbling experience. Getting it under control is even more humbling. I got better for one reason: I surrendered. Instead of asking to be bailed out, instead of making deals with God by saying, "If you get me out of this mess, I'll stop doing what I'm doing," I asked for help. I wouldn't do that before. I'd been the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the 1999 draft, supposedly a five-tool prospect. I was a big, strong man, and I was supposed to be able to handle my problems myself. That didn't work out so well.
Every day I'm reminded that my story is bigger than me. It never fails. Every time I go to the ballpark, I talk to people who are either battling addictions themselves or trying to help someone else who is. Who talks to me? Just about everybody. I walked to the plate to lead off an inning in early May, minding my own business, when the catcher jogged out to the mound to talk to his pitcher. As I was digging in, the home plate umpire (I'm intentionally not naming him) took off his mask and walked around the plate to brush it off. He looked up at me and said, "Josh, I'm really pulling for you. I've fought some battles myself, and I just want you to know I'm rooting for you."
A father will tell me about his son while I'm signing autographs. A mother will wait outside the players' parking lot to tell me about her daughter. They know where I've been. They look to me because I'm proof that hope is never lost.
They remind me that this isn't really about baseball. It's amazing that God allowed me to keep my baseball talents after I sat out three years and played only 15 games last season in A-ball. On May 6, I hit two homers against the Rockies at home, and I felt like I did in high school. I felt like I could do anything on the field.
I've been called the biggest surprise in baseball this year, and I can't argue with that. If you think about it, how many people have gone from being a crack addict to succeeding at anything, especially something as demanding as major league baseball? If I hadn't been picked up by the Reds after the Rule 5 draft, which opened up a major league roster spot for me, I'd probably still be in A-ball. Instead, I'm hanging around .270 with 13 homers through 60 games with Cincinnati; not bad for a 26-year-old major league rookie. But the way I look at it, I couldn't fail. I've been given this platform to talk about the hell I've been through, so it's almost like I need to do well, like I don't have a choice.
This may sound crazy, but I wouldn't change a thing about my path to the big leagues. I wouldn't even change the 26 tattoos that cover so much of my body, even though they're the most obvious signs of my life temporarily leaving the tracks. You're probably thinking, Bad decisions and addiction almost cost him his life, and he wouldn't change anything? But if I hadn't gone through all the hard times, this whole story would be just about baseball. If I'd made the big leagues at 21 and made my first All-Star team at 23 and done all the things expected of me, I would be a big-time baseball player, and that's it.
Baseball is third in my life right now, behind my relationship with God and my family. Without the first two, baseball isn't even in the picture. Believe me, I know.
***** I'LL NEVER forget Opening Day in Cincinnati. When they called my name during introductions and a sellout crowd stood and cheered, I looked into the stands and saw Katie and our two kids -- Sierra, who's nearly 2, and my 6-year-old stepdaughter, Julia -- and my parents and Katie's parents. I had to swallow hard to keep from breaking down right there. They were all crying, but I had to at least try to keep it together.
I pinch-hit in the eighth inning of that game against the Cubs, and Lou Piniella decided to make a pitching change before I got to the plate. The crowd stood and cheered me for what seemed like forever. It was the best sound I've ever heard. When I got into the box, Cubs catcher Michael Barrett looked up at me from his crouch and said, "You deserve it, Josh. Take it all in, brother. I'm happy for you." I lined out to left, but the following week I got my first start and my first hit -- a home run.
Whether I hit two bombs or strike out three times, like I did in a game against the Pirates, I never forget that I'm living with addiction. It's just part of my life. Johnny Narron, my former manager's brother, is a big part of my recovery. He's the Reds' video coordinator, and he once coached me in fall baseball when I was 15. He looks after me on the road. When they pass out meal money before a trip -- always in cash -- they give mine to Johnny, and he parcels it out to me when I need it.
I see no shame in that; it's just one of the realities of my situation. I don't need to be walking around with $400 in my pocket.
I know I'm different, and my teammates have been very accepting. Being a rookie in the big leagues, there are certain rituals involved, and one of them is carrying beer onto the plane. My teammates gave me that job on one of the first road trips, and I didn't do it. I didn't think it would be a good idea for me to be seen carrying beer onto a plane. They respected my decision.
I get a lot of abuse in visiting cities, but it only bothers me when people are vulgar around kids. The rest I can handle. Some of it is even funny. In St. Louis, I was standing in rightfield when a fan yelled, "My name is Josh Hamilton, and I'm a drug addict!" I turned around and looked at him with my palms raised to the sky. "Tell me something I don't know, dude," I said. The whole section started laughing and cheering, and the heckler turned to them and said, "Did you hear that? He's my new favorite player." They cheered me from that point on.
I live by a simple philosophy: Nobody can insult me as much as I've insulted myself. I've learned that I have to keep doing the right things and not worry about what people think. Fortunately, I have a strong support group with Katie, my family and Johnny. If I ever get in a bad situation, I know I would have to get out of it and give Johnny a call. The key is not getting myself into those situations, but we've talked about having a plan for removing myself just in case. It's all part of understanding the reality of the addiction.
In spring training, when I hit over .400 and made the team, there was a lot of interest in my story.
I decided to be open about what happened to me; early on, I was doing long interviews before my first game in every city. It's been amazing how people have responded, and I think being honest helped. I can't avoid my past, so I don't try. It's not always easy, though. I got sick in late May and ended up on the disabled list after going to the hospital with a stomach problem, and I knew I'd have to answer questions about whether I was using again. I can't control what people think, but the years of drug abuse tore up my immune system pretty good. I get tested three times a week, and if it comes back positive, I know I'm done with baseball for life.
Aside from our struggles as a team, this season has been a dream for me. And that's fitting, because in a way I had to learn how to dream all over again. When I was using, I never dreamed. I'd sleep the dead, dreamless sleep of a stalled brain. When I stopped using, I found my dreams returned. They weren't always good dreams; most of the ones I remember were haunting and dark. They stayed with me long after I woke up.
Within my first week of sobriety in October 2005 -- after I showed up at my grandmother's house in Raleigh in the middle of the night, coming off a crack binge -- I had the most haunting dream. I was fighting the devil, an awful-looking thing. I had a stick or a bat or something, and every time I hit the devil, he'd fall and get back up. Over and over I hit him, until I was exhausted and he was still standing.
I woke up in a sweat, as if I'd been truly fighting, and the terror that gripped me makes that dream feel real to this day. I'd been alone for so long, alone with the fears and emotions I worked so hard to kill. I'm not embarrassed to admit that after I woke up that night, I walked down the hall to my grandmother's room and crawled under the covers with her. The devil stayed out of my dreams for seven months after that. I stayed clean and worked hard and tried to put my marriage and my life back together. I got word in June 2006 that I'd been reinstated by Major League Baseball, and a few weeks afterward, the devil reappeared.
It was the same dream, with an important difference. I would hit him and he would bounce back up, the ugliest and most hideous creature you could imagine. This devil seemed unbeatable; I couldn't knock him out. But just when I felt like giving up, I felt a presence by my side. I turned my head and saw Jesus, battling alongside me. We kept fighting, and I was filled with strength. The devil didn't stand a chance.
You can doubt me, but I swear to you I dreamed it. When I woke up, I felt at peace. I wasn't scared. To me, the lesson was obvious: Alone, I couldn't win this battle. With Jesus, I couldn't lose.
***** I GET cravings sometimes, and I see it as the devil trying to catch me in a weak moment. The best thing I can do is get the thought out of my mind as soon as I can, so it doesn't turn into an obsession. When it happens, I talk to him. I talk to the devil and say, "These are just thoughts, and I'm not going to act on them." When I talk like that, when I tell him he's not going to get the best of me, I find the thought goes away sooner.
Believe it or not, talking to the devil is no harder to explain than many other experiences I've had since that day last December when my life changed. I was working for my brother's tree service in Raleigh, sending limbs through a chipper, when I found out I'd been selected by the Cubs and traded to the Reds in the Rule 5 draft.
But there is one story that sticks with me, so much so that I think of it every day. I was driving out of the players' parking lot at Great American Ball Park after a game in May, with Katie and our two girls. There's always a group of fans standing at the curb, hoping to get autographs, and I stop to sign as many as I can.
And on this particular night, a little boy of about 9 or 10, wearing a Reds cap, handed me a pen and something to sign. Nothing unusual there, but as I was writing the boy said, "Josh, you're my savior."
This stopped me. I looked at him and said, "Well, thank you. Do you know who my savior is?"
He thought for a minute. I could see the gears turning. Finally, he smiled and blurted out, "Jesus Christ." He said it like he'd just come up with the answer to a test. "That's exactly right," I said.
You see, I may not know how I got here from there, but every day I get a better understanding of why.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Serving, Because we were bought

I had the opportunity to preach once again a couple of weeks ago, and being that my pastor takes very little vacation, it will be a while before I get to preach again. Which is a bummer for me, but that is okay, may the Lord's truth be carried forth.

If you would like to hear the sermon, click here.

But, my main point was that we must serve because we were bought by Christ's blood. It is not optional, it is not volunteering, for slaves do not get to "volunteer" for service but they are required to do so, as are we.

We are having Vacation Bible School this week and I almost broke down in tears to see one particular person serving this week. She is a congregant that has just found out that her options for treatment on her cancer are now almost completely vanished. She just lost her mother to cancer and her son in law also has cancer. Earthly speaking she should be "living out her last days" and doing whatever she would like, because unless God intervenes, she will not be with us for much longer. But, as I came to church last night, there she was, serving with a smile on her face looking at these kids with anticipation that one just might be saved through the word of God.

She, last night, pushed me to my limit of understanding and seeing the grace of God lived out. She truly knows what it means to serve because she has been bought. If I lined up 10 people, or 1000 people, she would be one of the last you would pick to have cancer. Her demeanor and attitude is glorious, and glorious because of her Christ that died for her sins, and she wants to spread this knowledge to those around her and it made me better understand, anytime I tell God that I don't want to serve, I must ask myself, "Do I really have a choice?"

People, know that you have been bought and you are required to serve your God in obedience to your Master who died for your soul.

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