Something is Still Missing- The Painful Realization of Pluralism

April 7, 2009

A few days ago I finished up reading David Brooks highly touted book Bobos in Paradise.  I had been meaning to get into it for awhile now, and when I finally did read it I was as excited by the content as the hype had me expecting to be.  For those of you who aren’t quite as trendy as I am (just kidding, this book has been out for 9 years already) Bobos is basically an anthropology of the new upper class elites in America, with the term ‘Bobo’ being a portmanteau of the words ‘bourgeois’ and ‘bohemian’.  The author’s main thesis is that today’s upper class elites are an educated meritocracy, not an inherited aristocracy, and they have adapted the bohemian lifestyle of arts and pleasure and such with the refinement and money of traditional bourgeois society.  My interest in reading this was from a missiological perspective, since aside from being utterly secular, this is basically a textbook for missiology within upper class urban/suburban settings.

One chapter from the book that I found particularly of note was Brooks analysis on spirituality in Bobo life.  He spends a decent amount of time discussing how the Bobos like to wax poetic about the Montana nature-scape, but he also takes a look at the Bobo opinion of traditional orthodox beliefs.  As in the rest of the book, he surveys the movements from the 1950′s through the 1990′s and then unveils where the Bobo culture falls in.  So it is with spirituality, where he starts with the early 1950′s limited life of religion, followed by the late 50′s liberated life, then into pluralism and the 70′s and early 80′s spiritual freedom (i.e. New Age), and then finally into the late 80′s and 90′s return to community spirituality.  In the end, while talking about the position of the Bobos among the smorgasboard of religious options, Brooks concludes that,

The generation that gave itself “unlimited choices” recoiled and found that it was still “searching for something.” In so many ways we seem to want to return to some lost age of (supposed) spiritual coherence and structure. We seem to sense the cost of our new-found freedom is a loss of connection to other people and true communities. We want to recreate those meaningful ligatures. And yet, more often than not, we’re not willing to actually go back to the age of limits, which would mean cutting off our options. (p.240)

I was really struck by this quote.  David Brooks offers such a self-aware analysis of the emptiness of most modern spirituality and religiousity.  The culture has convinced itself to be tolerant and accepting of whatever people may want to believe, and yet they are also well aware that this is not fulfilling to them in the way that the “primitive” beliefs of past generations seemed to be in those days.  This is such a telling confession of what is taught in Romans 1.18ff, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  Yet, them being aware of this, what will it as yet take to bring the gospel home to these people who, Brooks admits, still aren’t willing to return to the past beliefs, no matter how empty their current position is?

Confronted by Glory- What Isaiah 6 Teaches Us About the Process of Salvation

March 8, 2009

People are always curious what we Christians mean by salvation.  And by this I don’t mean the gospel– though surely they are curious about that as well– but genuinely what do we mean by salvation?  What does it look like?  How does it proceed?  How does it begin (ah, the Calvinism question)?  

When faced with this question, my gut reaction is always to turn them to Romans 8.30– “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”  This seems about as straightforward as possible, but in reality it leaves many more questions to be answered.  Specifically we are left with what all these terms like “predestined,” “called,” “justified,” and “glorified” mean themselves, and so, unless the person is well read already, this isn’t actually the most illuminating of verses.  

However, another place I am learning to turn to is in Isaiah 6, verses 1 through 7:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Though Isaiah 6 leaves much shrouded in mystery (at least at the time of its writing) about who made the atonement, I do not believe we have a more vivid depiction of the process of salvation anywhere else in Scripture.  

So, how does it begin?  Well, we aren’t really told.  We are introduced to this vision rather bluntly: “Someone died and I saw Lord on his throne.”  Not much information there.  Is this a waking vision or hallucination? a sleeping vision (dream)?  was Isaiah physically there or spiritually?  Not much is really offered.  But, in the end, I don’t think it matters.  

What we should focus on instead is what he sees, namely the glory of God.  There is the Lord (pre-incarnate Christ?  Again, not really important for what we are looking at), and he is seated on his throne, “high and lifted up.”  He is wearing a robe and “the train of his robe filled the temple.”  And he is surrounded by six-winged angels, all singing his praises to one another.  There is smoke and there are earthquakes caused by a calling.  This is the glory of God.  The angels sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts.”  The Lord is holy, and the visible manifestation of his holiness is his glory; this is what Isaiah is confronted with in this great scene.

So then, how does Isaiah respond to this glory which now stands before him?  ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (v.5).  Isaiah is so overcome by what he sees that he pronounces condemnation on himself.  ”Woe is me.”  This vision of God’s glory makes Isaiah supremely aware of the fact that he himself is not glorious, that he is filthy, that he is “a man of unclean lips” from “a people of unclean lips,” and thus only deserving of death.  Yet this is his confession.  He is not worthy to be here.  He has great sin in his life which should force God, who he recognizes as Lord, to separate from him.

But what does happen?  It tells us that one of the seraphim carried a coal from the altar to Isaiah and pressed it to the prophets lips to remove his guilt and atone for his sin.  Check that.  Isaiah repents of his sin, confesses that the Lord (Christ) is Lord, and the atonement earned by a sacrifice which was already made is now applied to his sin, cleansing him from it, making him acceptable to God. This IS salvation!

Now, let’s take it from the top once more: Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God, with the utter holiness of the Lord of hosts.  This in turn leads him to repent of his own sins– which are surely to damn him in light of the revelation of God’s holiness– and to confess the Lordship of the Lord of hosts.  Instead of being damned however, Isaiah is reconciled with God through the application of the atonement already made for his sins.  At the most basic level, without any idea of penal substitution or imputed righteousness or what not, this is what salvation looks like.

Then practically we are left with the following questions, which we will pick up on tomorrow.  First, notice how Isaiah is confronted with the glory of God and from there seems to be compelled to repent and believe.  Is this always the case?  Or is it possible that someone could be confronted by the glory of God and not be led to repentance and belief in him?  Second, is it possible that someone may exercise true repentance and belief without first having been confronted with the glory of God?  I believe these are both crucial questions to answer and play a large role in how we carry out the practice of sharing the gospel with nonbelievers.

America at Unrest- A Word on the Passing of John Updike

January 27, 2009

When I am not reading books concerning Christian theology or practice (currently reading Worldliness edited by CJ Mahaney, waiting on my copy of Lost and Found by Ed Stetzer to arrive), there is one other literary area of which I am quite fond: 20th century American fiction.  And, to be specific, not just all 20th century American fiction (since things like Steinbeck, King, and Grisham aren’t really on my list), but 20th century American fiction that focuses on the secret parts of society, the dirty areas that we all too easily gloss over when we look back in awe of how much better it was back then.  I’m talking about guys like Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, William S. Burroughs, Hubert Selby Jr., and, the man who passed away this Tuesday, John Updike.  What I find so compelling about these men, though their novels are mostly filled with profane images and filthy words, is the picture of human depravity which they paint for us.  It is our desire to look back and talk about “the good ol’ days,” about how there was a time when God had a place in American life and following Christ was a way of life and not just a slogan.  But this was never the case.

I want to particularly focus on Updike, in observation of his recent passing.  My experiences with him come largely through his works in the Rabbit novels (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich; and Rabbit at Rest).  In this series we follow the meandering life of a former Pennsylvania high school basketball star who finds himself constantly struggling between living the comfortable life in front of him or the exciting life just around the corner.  Through numerous adulteries and drug-filled, wild-eyed experimentations, Rabbit always seems to find his way back home to his wife and son and some version of God that he can never quite shake.

I was enthralled by this story because I saw in it so clearly my own propensity to run from comfort, to detest stability, and to always be seeking the new adventure.  I saw how in my own attempts at tossing things up I was just as guilty of minimizing God and placing him in a cabinet somewhere while I chased whatever sinful desire had tickled my nose.  And I saw in it how no matter what I do, at the end of my escapes there is always the cold fact of reality and the inescapable presence of a God who can not just be locked away.

Updike, speaking on his own personal struggles said,

“I remember the times when I was wrestling with these issues that I would feel crushed. I was crushed by the purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe. I am very prone to accept all that the scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and woman spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can’t quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say, `This is it. Carpe diem (seize the day), and tough luck.’”

“The purely materialistic, atheistic account of the universe.”  How astute is that?  Reading these words just lights up everything that is troubling about our society.   We have tried to depersonalize all of what’s around us.  We have depersonalized sex, so that it is just an encounter where two animals satisfy their natural urges.  We have depersonalized the family, where it is no longer Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister, but it is whomever and whatever wants to play house for awhile.  We have depersonalized religion so that there is no right way to believe and there is no punishment for not putting faith in anything, and in the end it’s singing “Oh Happy Day” and a bucket of lollipops for everyone who simply tries to “do good.”  Yet, no matter how much we try to depersonalize it, God is still there.  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (Romans 1.18-19).  No amount of depersonalization can get rid of our guilty knowledge of God.

This to me is the larger theme of Updike, particularly in the Rabbit novels.  There are many paths to try and find happiness, but after a life in which Rabbit has tried to exhaust them all, there is still no satisfaction to be found.  The only satisfaction, the only hope, is to be found in God; and God is never too far away.  This is not only the message from Updike, it is the message of the Bible, and I think seeing this ancient truth applied in such an engaging, artistic, and ultimately depressing way, makes it ever more clear how far we all wander from God and how dependent we are on him to keep us from realizing the extent of our own depravity, calling us “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2.9).

Though he was not theologian, and his writings are probably more than most theologians could stomach, I am thankful for the common grace God gave him to be able to write such eye-opening works.  From accounts, John Updike attended church regularly throughout his life.  I pray that he had himself experienced God’s transforming work on his heart and that today, though he is now absent from the body, he will be present with the Lord.

Thanks A Lot!- What Easy Believism Has to Offer Those Who Doubt Their Salvation

December 18, 2008

Yesterday I posted on what amounts to be Lordship Salvation in opposition to Free Grace theology. I did not talk about it at the time, though I mentioned it in the comments, but to me one of the most important aspects of Lordship Salvation, or, in the terms of the post, obedient faith, is that it gives you a ground for assurance of your salvation.

Assurance of faith is so crucial to the believer. We all sin, even after our “conversion experience,” and so it is inevitable that a day will come when you are beat down and ask yourself, Was I really saved to begin with?

That is where I want to go. I have pulled a recent transcript of a conversation between a prominent Arminian Free Grace pastor and a man who is doing just what we’ve described, questioning his personal salvation. See if this makes you feel better:

CALLER: Yes. I’m a divorced, white male, 46-years-old. I’ve been on disability for severe depression and anxiety. And many years ago, I accepted Christ as my savior. But I’ve always struggled with my feeling saved, basically, and I guess my basic question to you is, how can you prove that God and heaven exists, that there is an afterlife and, also, can you measure your salvation by your feelings?

PASTOR: Well, I don’t know that I can prove anything. I think you have to accept it by faith because it’s not going to make sense to your mind but I don’t think you can live out your salvation or your belief in God by your feelings.

I think you have to, you know, in his case he needs to know, you know, who God made him to be and to feel that purpose. There are many, many people like him. That’s who we deal with a lot. That’s why we talk a lot about self-esteem and knowing again who Christ made you to be and just believing that you’re, you know, I call it a child of the most high God and you have to get your fire back and your enthusiasm back. There are so many people that are just down in the dumps, discouraged. They kind of got a victim mentality. But you know what? My encouragement is God’s going to open up some new doors but you have to get up first.

I’m convinced, how about you? The real kicker for me is this: the caller says that he’s “struggl[ing] with [his] feeling saved,” and the pastor tells him to “[know] again who Christ made [him] to be and just [believe] that [he's] . . . a child of the most high God.” But that’s exactly what this guy is questioning, if he actually is “a child of of the most high God”! So, in essence, the caller is asking how he can know he’s saved and the pastor tells him he is. That’s not assurance. That’s dang near universalism!

Now, I agree, if you are “a child of the most high God” then you are saved, but the question is how do you know this? I don’t think Scripture could be any clearer:

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs-heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8.15-17)

It is the Holy Spirit, the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, that confirms to you that you are indeed a son of God. This is the simplest and most blessed assurance there can be. The assurance offered by Free Grace, the “Because I said so” mentality, provides nothing; there is no evidence in this at all. However, if we have the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit then we have rock solid proof of our salvation, a comfort that no money or spiritual hand-waving can buy.

But how do we receive this inner testimony, you ask? That’s where Lordship Salvation, obedient faith, comes into play. The Spirit’s witness to  salvation is present in the lives of true believer’s because there is, as John Piper said in the quote from yesterday, “fruit of faith” in their lives. The Spirit bears witness to our sonship by effecting the changed life which leads towards a conforming to the image of Christ, and it is the visible occurrence of this new creation which works to comfort or souls.  We can be assured because we have seen the changes that the Spirit has wrought in us.

Assurance in such a beautiful thing, such a comforting and blessed gift, and to give people a false assurance of salvation based on a corrupt theology is, to me, among the most damnable of offenses any pastor could commit.

Returning to the Wall Metaphor- John Owen and the Cause of Backsliding

November 28, 2008

Just to let you know, there is nothing that intrigues me more in this world than humanity’s struggle with depravity, both among believers and non-believers. That said, this week I am reading Indwelling Sin by John Owen, a treatise concerning the continuing presence of the law of sin in the flesh of believers, centered around the text of Romans 7.21 (“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand“). As with the other books in the collection Overcoming Sin & Temptation (which are On the Mortification of Sin in Believers and Of Temptation), Indwelling Sin really hits home when I begin to think of what is being said and how I see that in my own daily actions.

Now, as you may recall, earlier this week I discussed Proverbs 25.28 and how this illustrates for us a view of self-control which we can think of using the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Well, as I was reading through Indwelling Sin I found a quote which I think is most appropriate to go along with this. John Owen says:

I am persuaded there are few that apostatize from a profession of any continuance, such as our days abound with, but their door of entrance into the folly of backsliding was either some great and notorious sin that bloodied their consciences, tainted their affections, and intercepted all delight of having anything more to do with God; or else it was a course of neglect in private duties, arising from a weariness of contending against that powerful aversation [i.e. aversion of sin to righteousness] which they found in themselves unto them.

Okay, so this quote may not seem so clearly what I mean for it to be at first glance, but taking a moment to dissect it we can see what Owen is saying.  Basically, what is he is getting at is that believers who have backslid didn’t just up and choose to do so one day, but instead they got that way either by committing some horrendous sin which weighs down their conscience with guilt or they grew tired of living the Christian life and gradually slipped back into their old self.

Now, if you look closely, you can see the wall metaphor appear again.  The ones who committed the terrific sin are the ones who hastily built up their wall without defensing it, and one day the armies of sin and deceit came in and tore everything down; while the ones who wearied are the ones who tried to fight and fight against the enemy without ever building for their self a place of refuge and rest, eventually wearing down and being overcome.

However you choose to look at it, I do not believe that Owen’s point is one we can afford to miss: Everything may appear to be going well in your Christian walk, but unless you exercise diligence in fighting off the enemy and persistence in growing to be like Christ you are always at risk of finding yourself one day wholly lost and outside the fellowship of our Lord.

Building the Walls of Self-Control- A Prayer on Proverbs 25.28

November 24, 2008

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” -Proverbs 25.28

Without self-control I am left at the whim of the advances of the enemy.  The lion which roams, seeking to devour (1 Peter 5.8), will have free access to the streets and homes of my mind and body.

To gain self-control one must be like Nehemiah coming to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  It begins with a strong commitment to God, not allowing compromise (Nehemiah 1.4-11).  It requires both a hand at work in the building and a hand devoted to wielding the sword (Nehemiah 4.15-23).  If all we have is the sword then we may tarry the invaders for a while, but eventually we will tire and they’ll overwhelm us.  If all we have is the trowel to build then we will try to work too quickly, constructing a hastily-made wall which will not hold up to the attacks it’s sure to encounter (Matthew 7.24-26).

God, without self-control I am no better than the lost man I once was.  My heart is enlightened to you, and for moments I may shine in obedience, but in due time I find my way back to living like the world around me (1 Peter 4.3).

Lord, give me victory over the flesh, rein-in my worldly desires (James 1.14-15), that I don’t bring shame to your glorious grace by persisting in evils which I know you have saved me out of (Romans 5.8).

Father, restrain me like a child.  Keep me from making the decisions which cause you pain (Romans 8.14-15).

By no means should I continue in sin so that grace may abound (Romans 6.1-2).  Let my walls always be in repair (Nehemiah 2.17).  Let me work on them unceasingly, with sword and with trowel, with diligence and with eyes set on you (Colossians 3.2).


God Decides 2008!- Answers to Common Objections of this View (part 2)

October 22, 2008

Continuing on with common objections, let’s look at two more. First,

Objection: If one believes that election is effectual for salvation then they will no longer take part in evangelism.

This objection is almost a continuation of the John 3.16 objection, and usually accompanies it, but also has its’ own individual flavor.  Basically, the reasoning behind this question is, if God has chosen his elect, and if all and only his elect will be saved, then why should we participate in evangelism?

The first, and most to the point and terse answer to this, is the one RC Sproul so bluntly makes, that being that we do so because evangelism has been commanded of us by Christ: Matthew 28.19, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Mark 16.15, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’

This certainly is good enough of a reason, but for the sake of thoroughness, I would like to look a little deeper.  To do this I want to call upon some passages in Acts which I think illuminate to us what the apostles knew of election and how they proceeded.  Acts 18.9-11 recalls for us a vision of Paul’s in which the Lord speaks to him:

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

In the vision, the Lord instructs Paul to “not be silent . . . for [the Lord has] many in [that] city who are [his] people.”  In other words, Paul is instructed to continue evangelism because of God’s election.  God had elected many in the city of Corinth to salvation, and it was by the means of Paul’s preaching which he had determined to awaken their souls (cf. Romans 10.14-17).  Then what was Paul’s response?  “And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them” (v.11).

Elsewhere in Acts, we see Luke give account of a gospel work in the city of Antioch in Pisidia in which he expresses similar sentiments about God’s electing and its effectualness for salvation for all and only the elect: Acts 13.48, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”  This is almost unmissable, that God had preordained a section of the Gentiles to be saved, and that that preordination found effect in the preaching of the Word by Paul and Barnabas.  Once more a testament to the necessity of sharing and receiving the Gospel message as a vehicle for carrying out God’s electing graces, and an indictment on anyone who would say that believing in this view of unconditional election causes one to neglect the call to evangelism.

Objection: If God elects people to salvation, then necessarily those who he does not elect to salvation he is just electing to hell.

This is a tough one.  Yet, though it may be the hardest to answer, it is also probably the most esoterically useless.  The point is, a lot of people will try and argue that the specific view of unconditional election which has been voiced here necessarily leads to determinism, and that that philosophical position is incapable of standing with the nature of an Almighty loving God.  I have spoken towards this charge previously and so will not be answering it in too much depth, but I feel that one short illustration will do.

The problem for those who detail the objection in the way that if God is unconditionally electing some to salvation then this implies he is also unconditionally “electing” the rest to damnation, is that this seems unfair.  That is because, in this view, one is picturing God before the foundation of the earth with a bag of neutral souls in his lap, picking out each individual soul, and placing it unconditionally either in heaven or in hell.  In this case, God places all of us where he wants us and that is where we stay, which, I agree, sounds appalling.

However, for the consistent 5-point Calvinist who adheres to the stated view of unconditional election, what they actually see is God before the foundation of the earth with a bag of neutral souls, picking out some of the souls and placing them in heaven and just leaving the remaining souls in the bag.  Then, God creates the earth, man falls, and through the sin of Adam all of the souls move to place themselves in hell.  The ones that were just sitting in the bag actually make it there and are thus condemned (John 3.18), whereas the ones which God had originally placed in heaven are guarded by his power and kept from making the jump (1 Peter 1.3-5).  Thus, human responsibility is culpable for leading the condemned to condemnation, whereas God’s sovereign grace is the cause of the salvation of the elect, and nowhere does full determinism come into play.

*     *     *

Well, this has been a fun series of posts, but I think with that we will draw it to a close.  I do not expect this to be the last word on election in this blog, as it is one of my favorite doctrines to look at, but for now I think I have said all I feel led to say.  Please continue to post with questions/objections and I will do my best to respond to them.  Thanks for your readership.

God Decides 2008!- What Happens to the Non-Elect?

October 7, 2008

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” -John 6.44

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1.11-12

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.” -Romans 11.7

Now we get to the hard part. In our previous discussions we have argued that (1) election exists, (2) that all who are elect are saved, and (3) that their election preceded their salvation, thus being unconditional towards anything they have done or will do. It is at this point, though, that we must look at the flip-side, and by that I mean, if there is such a group as the elect, then this also means that there is such a group as the non-elect, or those who were not set apart by God for a special purpose, and if so, what about those people?

(Note: I will not be handling the idea of double predestination here because I have previously addressed it in this post.)

Because this is so controversial and because I have absolute disdain for wishy-washy answers I will tell you straight up: I believe that the non-elect will not be saved. Now that I have said that I want to develop the argument by which I come to this conclusion.

The first place we need to go is the verse which I referenced last time in discussing the call (or, should I be more clear, the inward call, as opposed to the outward call of the Gospel preaching), that being John 6.44:

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

As I mentioned previously, without pushing it too far, this verse tells us, along with John 6.65, that before anyone can receive salvation the Father must allow them to receive it, either by a wooing as some would argue, or by an effectual calling. Regardless of how you dissect it, there must be some sort of inward call which precedes the salvific event in a person’s life. So, we already said that the elect receive that call (Romans 8.30), but what about the non-elect?

Well, the first place to turn in attempt to answer this would be Romans 8.28-30:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

We have argued much about election from this passage and so it seems fitting to see if it tells us anything about the non-elect. Unfortunately, I do not think it is as successful in this venture. From the way I read it there are only two things we may ascertain. First, this passage only says “if elect then called,” which does not give us the converse “if not elect then not called,” and so we can not advance here. Second, it may be that we can read “if called then justified” without the precondition of election, which would mean that all who are called will be saved, which is interesting in light of the fact that the denial of universalism would say that not everyone is called, and then if only some non-elect are called, and all of those thus saved, then how are they different from the elect; but alas, I do not know if we can press that reading this far, and so the passage seems to be a wash.

The next place I would want to go is Romans 11.7:

What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.

This, as we have mentioned before, is Paul addressing the Jews and talking about the chosen remnant which was preserved by God, to whom he calls the elect, and says that they indeed obtained salvation, though the others did not. So, what we get in this case is a situation where the non-elect, of ethnic Israel at least, were not saved. Thus, we may conclude that if the call did go out to the non-elect here then it certainly did not do anything for their salvation, which, if you hold a “man’s choice” view of salvation seems to be an awfully weird occurrence. Of course, if you hold a “sovereignty of God” view of salvation then this would make you ask what type of call could have gone out to the non-elect that would be ineffectual and you would conclude that it must be different from the call which goes out to the elect, and therefore not the call we are searching for. Either way, given this declaration by Paul, it seems awfully unlikely that the non-elect of ethnic Israel ever received an inward call to salvation.

The final place I want to look at, and this I believe is sufficient to end the discussion, is Ephesians 1.3-12. This passage, as a whole, is written as a praise to God for the salvation of the author and of the peoples he is writing to, namely Paul and the church at Ephesus. In wrapping it up, Paul says,

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (vv.11-12)

This is interesting because, though Paul has already mentioned that the people of his address were elect, he here says that they have been saved and then adopted as sons, as a result of being numbered among the elect. Now, I know that Paul was under inspiration of the Holy Spirit at this time, but do we really want to assume that Paul had special insight into who was elect and who wasn’t? And if it is the case that he does know, does it not seem odd that the whole of the saved congregation he is writing to is elect? Again I think we are approached with the problem from Romans 11.7: if the non-elect can be saved, why do we see groups of saved people all referred to as being elect? We cannot think it because election simply means saved, since we have already argued to the contrary. Thus, I think it would be rash to continue holding out an argument which says that the non-elect may be saved.

All this said, it now comes to the point which I had intended all along, that being our response. I hope that, whether you agree with all of my conclusions or not, you will at least remain engaged in the series so as to see what I have to say about the response of one who holds to this view of election and how they should answer certain common objections to it

For the Benefit of the Son- A Fresh Perspective on the Doctrine of Adoption

October 4, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1.3-6, 11-12

For whatever reason I am convinced that the first sermon I get to preach should be on the doctrine of Adoption. Adoption is such a wonderful blessing from God, described succinctly as “an act of God’s free grace, whereby we are received into the number, and have a right to all the privileges, of the sons of God” (Westminster Shorter Catechism). It is expounded upon biblically in places such as Romans 8, Galatians 4, Ephesians 1, and 1 John 3. In regards to this doctrine, I have recently been reading Joel R Beeke’s book Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption (which I highly recommend) and something I read in it really struck me for the first time.

While discussing the relationships which are transformed by our adoption, Beeke (in summarizing the teachings of Puritan John Cotton in 1 John 3) makes the point that one such transformed relationship is that of our relationship to the church as the family of God. Of course, we are aware that the church is frequently referred to as “the body of Christ” (Romans 12.3-8, 1 Corinthians 12.12-31, Colossians 3.15), but it is also shown that the church is the family of God, brothers and sisters with Christ (Romans 8.17, Hebrews 2.10-18), sons and daughters of the One True God (John 1.12, Romans 8.14, 16, Galatians 4.4-6).

It is in this family relationship which Beeke (or Cotton) said something which hit me differently than I had ever thought of it. He said,

God’s purpose in adopting children is to create a family in which Christ will be glorified as the firstborn among many brethren.

This thought, which I gather is a joining of Romans 8.29 and Ephesians 1.3-6, 11-12, blew me away. To think of our adoption not as a blessing to us that we may be satisfied, but as a gifting to Christ that he may be glorified in the presence of his brothers and sisters, took root in my heart. It feels so frequently that we focus on what we get from being saved, and yet spend so little time directed to the task of what Christ gets from our salvation, not that he lacks anything, but that he is worthy of our praise. Ephesians 1 paints for us the picture of God selecting us as a reward to Christ for his sacrifice in humbling himself and dying upon the cross (compare this with Philippians 2.5-11).

I share this with you guys just to ask you to meditate on it yourselves. Our adoption into the family of God is a magnificent blessing, one which we have never and will never deserve. And yet it is also for the benefit of God and Christ, that our place at the dinner table, as fellow heirs of Christ, further serves to glorify the Son as the sacrifice for sins, the one risen Lord, and the Father as the gracious bestower and securer of all mercies (1 Peter 1.3-5)!

God Decides 2008!- What Happens to the Elect?

October 2, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” -Ephesians 1.3-5

Building upon the conclusion that we made last time, that there is some group of people set apart by God as “the elect,” it is now time that we delve into the question of what happens to the elect?, i.e. if they are elect then elect to what? Is this just a name or does it imply something more?

There are many places I think we can look for this, and so the first place I would like to take on is the opening passage of 1 Peter. Here is what it says:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion . . . . Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1.1a, 3-5)

This passage begins with Peter making the salutations and naming the people to whom he wishes to address with this letter, namely “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” So, this group which Peter is talking to is a group of the elect. And what does he say to them? He immediately goes into an exposition of the mercies of God who “caused us to be born again” and who is “guard[ing] [us] through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Then, it would appear that, whoever these elect are, one thing Peter associates with them is a shared redemption and salvation through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Without pushing it too far, I think that we may make the assumption that Peter believes at least these members of the elect to be saved. However, I feel that if we look further we can see that Scripture gives argument to the fact that all of the elect are saved.

Before that, however, I want to point out another portion of the elect who we are told have received salvation, and they most assuredly separate from the group Peter is addressing. This passage is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans and occurs in a section where he is addressing the question of whether all of the Jews have been lost with the coming of Christ. Paul speaks saying, “at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (v.5) and then continues to answer the question: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (v.7). Here again we find an apostle referring to a gathering of the elect, all of whom have “obtained” salvation.

This leads us to an earlier portion of Paul’s Roman letter, chapter 8 to be exact, where I believe the solid evidence is that proves once for all that this elect, a group of people we have already shown is set apart specifically by God, is a gathering of people who are all saved (or to be saved, but that argument comes later):

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (vv.28-30)

This predestined, which is another naming for the elect, are such that they have been called, justified, and glorified. Now, without getting into too much theology of what all of this means, we can at least say for sure that justification is the act by which we are counted righteous, innocent, before God, and thus are cleared to stand in his presence, which is essentially the essence of salvation (see Revelation 21 for our final relation to God). Thus, all those predestined, those elect, are also all justified, saved.

Of course, if this is not convincing enough for one, look a few verses farther to verse 33 which says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” This verse, again speaking to the issue of justification which is central to salvation, says (or implies in the context) that no one is capable of accusing the elect for they are justified by God and there is none more powerful than him who could sway his decision elsewise. Once more, the salvation of all the elect is upheld.

Therefore, to conclude this question, we find first that there is a group of people who are set apart by God known as the elect, and second, that these elect are sure to be saved. In the next question we must take up the inquiry of whether the elect, all of whom are saved, are thus the elect because knowledge of their impending salvation was held by God, or if their salvation was effected because they were first chosen as the elect; or, as I will phrase it, which came first, salvation or election?