"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

A Few Objections to Reformed Theology

Posted in Good Quotes, Stuff I'm Reading, Theological by matt on Tuesday, May 25, 2010

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about all this support-raising business. Asking people for money isn’t much fun, but there are loads of positives that make it much more enjoyable than I’d previously expected.

The truth is that (many) people really are eager to give, and most of them have interesting stories of their own. We’ve met so many amazing people so far that I’m usually more interested in hearing their story than in telling ours.

segue*

Last week Cayla and I met with a man to share about our work with PLC. He was enthusiastic about networking for us and about hearing our story, but about midway through our sit-down he let us know that it would be much easier for him to garner support for us if we were reformed.

I told him I wasn’t.

He encouraged me to carefully work through a few of the standard passages reformed people throw out (Romans 9, Ephesians 2, etc.).

I told him – in a nutshell – that I had.

He encouraged me to take some time to go through them again – just to be sure – and then we moved on to other things.

All-in-all, I walked away from the meeting feeling encouraged. Who wouldn’t be? A guy I don’t even know wants to advocate and network on our behalf.

He was by far the most gracious, least annoying hardline Calvinist I’d ever met, and I was excited about putting the sovereignty vs. free will issue back on the mind-table for the first time in years.

So, after a couple weeks of intermittent mulling sessions, I’ve pretty much arrived right back where I was last time, only this time I’m turning these objections into a blog post for all to criticize. Here’s to online transparency.

1. God ≠ the author of evil

A syllogism makes understanding this easier:

Major premise: God, in His sovereignty, preordained everything that would come to pass.

Minor premise: Evil has “come to pass.”

Conclusion: God is responsible for the evil in the world.

R.C. Sproul called this a “monstrous assault on the integrity of God” and “a radical form of supralapsarianism” in his article, Double Predestination.

But how is this different from what Calvin claimed? In his book, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, Calvin writes:

First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined. (p.121, emphasis mine)

So, later recognizing the obvious logical tension, Calvin then writes:

First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil. (p.169, emphasis mine)

He continues:

“Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God. This may seem paradoxical at first sight to some . . .” (p.169)

“Further what I said before is to be remembered, that since God manifests His power through means and inferior causes, it is not to be separated from them.” (p. 170, emphasis mine)

Translation: God wills everything to happen, but His creation takes the fall for the bad stuff. Thus, He’s off the hook. This is Calvin’s doctrine of “secondary causes” and, by it’s logic, me having John Calvin killed by a hit man is OK since it was the hit man who committed the act, not me. =P

**Do you see how tangled this gets when there’s no element of human responsibility? Because, if we aren’t responsible for our sinful choices, the who is?**

2. Paul’s abused, red-headed stepchapter (a.k.a., Romans 9)

As a result of Reformed theology, people are inclined to think this chapter is talking about God’s election for a very select few, and that those not chosen should shut up because God is sovereign and He can do what He wants to. And, if you read the chapter at the expense of the book’s context, that might make sense.

But Paul is actually addressing the question of Jewish identity under the new covenant and the inclusion of the Gentiles. In chapter 2 Paul argues that being Jewish isn’t much help if you can’t live up to the law. In verse 29 he makes this claim:

Better to keep God’s law uncircumcised than to break it circumcised. Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics.

Whoa.

Do you get what Paul just said about what it means to be Jewish?

One writer summed it up this way: “Gentile ‘dogs’ who have faith in Christ may actually be more Jewish than ethnic Jews and go into the Kingdom while God’s chosen people are shut out! Unthinkable! Scandalous!”

Paul continues this line of thinking in 9:6 by saying, “From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise.”

So the problem here is simple: how could the chosen people miss out on God’s salvation while the ‘nasty’ Gentiles were receiving it?

Answer: it’s not about bloodline.

And this would have seemed unfair to some of Paul’s readers, which is why he writes, “Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question?” (9:20)

So the purpose of Romans 9 isn’t to narrow things down to just the few people God chooses (the Reformed view), the purpose is to include even more people – namely, the Gentiles.

The literal bloodline of Abraham isn’t what counts. It’s about faith!

So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Gal. 3:7

3. Double predestination? Really?

I won’t say much here since I’ve already written so much, but this is the belief that God chooses (elects) who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and that the decision is unalterable.

I can honestly see the logic in this. To put it crudely, if God decides who gets “in” why wouldn’t he decide who’s left “out”?

However, because I believe humans will be held accountable for their response to God’s sovereign grace, I also believe they play a part in determining their own eternity. If they don’t have any choice, well, see rant #1 above.

4. I stink at math, but…

Bottom line: there are things about our faith that are logically inconsistent and still affirmed by the Bible. Consider the math:

| God = 3 | God = 1 |

| Jesus = 100% human | Jesus = 100% divine |

Rationally, we know that 3 can’t equal 1 and that you can’t be 100% divine and human and yet we believe it. So what’s to keep us from believing that God sovereignly elects and humans have the free choice to respond to grace?

My answer: nothing. Our God is logical, but there are issues that He calls us to simply believe in spite of the logical challenges presented. I believe this is one of those issues.

About Time

Posted in Philosophical, Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Friday, February 29, 2008

After a few weeks of ‘required reading’ I’m finally back to enjoying Augustine’s Confessions. Right now I’m in book eleven and he’s considering the first few words of the Bible, “In the beginning…” The guy definitely majors on the minutia. What I usually skip over, Augustine muses on endlessly in a stream of rhetorical questions and densely-written paragraphs. He definitely knew how to use his free-time. In chapter XIV he focuses on the subject of time.

Now, in order for this to even make a little sense I need to recap another issue he focused on previously, namely, the origin of evil. Put simply, Augustine asked the question, “Where does evil come from?” He obsesses over this question because he believes that if God created evil then He cannot possibly be the good God of the Bible. Our philosopher finally concludes that evil is not created. In fact, he goes so far as to say that evil has no real being, but is actually non-being or non-existence – an absence of God (makes you wanna get all cheesy and sing ‘there’s a God-shaped hole in all of us’ doesn’t it?). So sinning actually removed us from the true form of existence; a perversion of God’s initially good creation.

So, that being said, back to time. Augustine writes, “You are the Maker of all time, and before all time You are, nor was there ever a time when there was no time!” Yeah…talk about a contradictory statement. The difficulty I have with this (apart from the apparent contradictions) is the idea that God created time. Now I don’t have much (uh…any) prior knowledge of the philosophical/theological ideas about time so I’m sure this has all been hammered out by someone already, but I would still like to externalize it.

What if God didn’t create time? What if time, like the origin of evil, can be understood as something uncreated. What if it’s a result of the fall? Death entered after the fall, but before eating the fruit Adam and Eve knew nothing of death. Here may be a logical leap, but I think the word death can also be understood as ‘an end’ or ‘finality’ – we lost the potential for an infinite, timeless existence with God. And, if this is true, then time’s control over creation began when sin entered the world. To put it bluntly, before Adam and Eve there was no need for watches or calenders because they were experiencing unending bliss. No thought of tomorrow or worries about the future; A complete trust in an infinite God within an atemporal creation.

I need to think more about this. The theological implications for this could be pretty ridiculous and I could quickly end up in heresy-land. Like, what does this mean for eschatology and apocalyptic Christianity? If the beginning of time really began this way then what does that say for the “middle” and the “end”?

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