Archive for the 'God' Category

Dangerous church trend: Subjective spiritual knowledge

Saturday, June 4th, 2016

https://i0.wp.com/veritas.kr/files/fckeditor/image/kimhubyoung/africa_2013.jpg

(photo courtesy veritas.kr)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Pentecostal-Charismatic movement has brought many positive dimensions into the church, one of the chief being the teaching on every-member gifts to the church gathering or small groups. See my articles that deal with some of these issues:

clip_image001 Does the superiority of New Testament revelation exclude the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit? Is cessationism biblical?

clip_image001[1] Spiritual gifts sign of Christian maturity

clip_image001[2] Tongues and the Baptism with the Holy Spirit

clip_image001[3] Is the spiritual gift of tongues ‘gibberish’?

clip_image001[4] St. Augustine: The leading Church Father who dared to change his mind about divine healing

However, there is….

1. A BIG negative of Pentecostalism

One of the most devastating influences on the church from Pentecostal-charismatic theology has been the subjectivism and esoteric knowledge that has replaced sound interpretation of the biblical text and solid exposition of Scripture. I encounter it in a growth group led by a Pentecostal and in posts on the Internet. Let’s examine a few examples from Christian forums on the Internet.

I came across a group of Christians who wanted to use types and shadows from the OT to present their subjective opinions of the meaning of these types and shadows. I began this thread,

2. Old Testament types and shadows need New Testament support[1]

Trees With Late Afternoon Shadows(photo courtesy publicdomainpictures.net)

 

A person claimed that these OT words were direct references to Christ and not types or shadows? The words to which he referred were LORD (YHWH), LORD God (Yahweh Elohim), God (Elohim) and Almighty (El Shaddai).[2]

Is it true that we need to go beneath the surface of a word or statement to gain a true understanding of the meaning? Is Noah’s Ark a type of Christ? See 1 Peter 3:20-22 (NIV).

I raised some biblical examples of types from the OT that are affirmed as types in the NT:

clip_image003 John 5:45-46 (NIV), ‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me’.

clip_image003[1] Rom 5:14 (NIV), ‘Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern [tupos = type] of the one to come’.

clip_image003[2] In I Corinthians 10:11 (NIV) Paul spoke of the OT patriarchs, ‘These things happened to them as examples [tupikos = typically] and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come’.

clip_image003[3] Colossians 2:17 (NIV) ‘These [laws] are a shadow [skia] of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ’.

clip_image003[4] Heb 10:1 (NIV), ‘The law is only a shadow [skia] of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship’.

We are told in 1 Cor 10:4 (ESV) that ‘all drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, the Rock was Christ’. To which rock is Paul referring in the OT? We know that there are two Meribah incidents involving the rock (e.g. Ex 17:6-7 ESV; Num 20:10-13 ESV) that were about 40 years apart. The first one was at Horeb, Mt Sinai, which was near the start of their wandering in the wilderness. The last one happened at Kadesh which was as they were about to enter the Promised Land.

Matthew 16:16-18 (ESV) and 1 Pet 2:4-8 (ESV) confirm Jesus as the Rock and the 1 Peter 2:6-8 example cites various passages from the OT to lend support for the statements. In 1 Cor 10:1-7a (ESV), Paul tells us:

For I want you to know, brothers [and sisters] that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were….

The issue I am raising is: Do Christians have the right to create their own understanding of what is a type or shadow from the OT that is fulfilled in the NT or do we need the NT’s confirmation that it is a type or shadow? To me, the latter seems to be the biblical means of identification.

How can we confirm that YHWH, Yahweh Elohim, Elohim, and El Shaddai are references to Christ in reality and not in type or shadow? What’s the biblical evidence?

3. New Testament confirmation needed of types

What kinds of responses do you think the above statement would engender?

clip_image005’I agree there must be relevance to Jesus in the names used, but we read in 1 Cor 10:11, Now all these things (Judgments?) happened unto them for ensamples (analogies): and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
As a type or description of Jesus I read the word “Image,” and that being other than spirit we read of in Col 1:15.
Isa 43:3 For I am the LORD (Jehovah) thy God, the Holy One of Israel (Jesus?), thy Saviour (Jesus?).
Isa 43:11 I, even I, am the LORD (Jehovah); and beside me there is no savior (Jesus)?
In power Jesus is described as the almighty in Rev 1:8 during His reign.
He is the last Adam in 1 Cor 15:45.
Other OT references are in Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.[3]

My response was:[4] Apart from 1 Cor 10 (ESV), I don’t think you are giving examples of types or shadows in the OT that are fulfilled in the NT, as demonstrated by NT statements.

In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows. My question is: Is it legitimate for Christians to make up, create, decide their own opinion on what is a type or shadow of Christ or some other theology – without the NT confirming that such is a type or shadow?

I’m not discussing the fulfilment of OT prophecy as in the example you gave from Isa 9:6 (ESV), which is fulfilled according to Luke 2:11 (ESV). My discussion is about types and shadows that Christians want to push from the OT, but with no confirmation of such in the NT.

Eugene’s response was: ‘Can you give an example? I may also be guilty of that, although I don’t always attempt to prove the OT with proof from the NT’.[5]

3.1 Example of New Testament application

There are at least 4 different interpretations of 1 Cor 10:3,[6] ‘And did all eat the same spiritual meat’. This is not the place to discuss these. They are articulated by Charles Hodge in A Commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), pp. 172-174. See HERE.

We see Israel’s example in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV) and that example applied by giving a warning against idolatry (1 Cor 10:6-13 NIV).

In vv 1-5, it is a powerful type with the language of ‘our fathers’ and their form of ‘baptism’ and the ‘Eucharist’. It prefigured our baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
What was the purpose of the type given from the OT and articulated in 1 Cor 10:1-5 (NIV)? It continues with some of the events in Exodus to warn the Corinthians (vv 6, 11-12). These Corinthians enjoyed blessings like those of Israel but the Corinthians were in danger of losing those blessings because of their idolatry: ‘Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters….’ (1 Cor 10:6-7a NIV).

These things in Exodus happened to be ‘examples’ to the Corinthians ‘so, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall’ (1 Cor 10:12 NIV).

That’s my understanding of this type. But it is important to realise that it is only a type or shadow because it is specifically mentioned as such in the NT. We are not left to speculate that types and shadows are on nearly every page of the OT. That isn’t true.

Yes, there are types and shadows that are mentioned in the NT that draw attention to examples from the OT, but the NT has to mention them as examples to make them types.

3.2 You limit us too much. Be free to encounter Jesus in other ways

clip_image005[1]This one came out of left field, but it demonstrates the spiritual subjectivism of some people. I don’t know if this person has any Pentecostal leanings. She wrote:

I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?
The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of that relationship. I see Him all over the O.T., as one poster said from the other thread. Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises.
So is the prophetic scripture and the fulfillment scripture not valid unless one of the N.T. writers speaks of it as such? I am trying to understand you better. When I open up my bible, am I entering into a classroom?
Could it be that ALL must be said or it is not valid? Was EVERYTHING written down? John 21:25
1 Corinthians 10:3
All ate the same manna. Jesus is the new manna which does not rot after one day but lasts forever. We must, even today, all eat the same manna.
Manna = Spiritual food.
Jesus is the new manna.
Jesus is our spiritual food.
Now very learned persons will have 3 other meanings for this scripture.
But most of us are not learned and will be satisfied with the above.
I mean, how much do you want us to know??[7]

That one did press my theological buttons, so I came back with,[8]

3.3 Individualistic interpretations

If there is no NT confirmation, then the alleged OT types become no more than individualistic interpretations with no more weight than a person’s assertions or experiences.

Now to some points (not comprehensive) from this person’s post:

  1. ‘I don’t think we should use only those types and foreshadows that are permitted to us because they’re mentioned in the N.T. as such. Doesn’t this limit us too much? Am I not free to encounter Jesus wherever I might find Him?‘ If you invent the types and shadows, that amounts to postmodernism in action. There is no hermeneutical way of countering anyone who comes to this forum and says, ‘Jesus told me X, Y, Z’ and it is not endorsed by Scripture. There are droves of people in my region who have existential experiences of ‘mystery’ that are a country mile from biblical fidelity. I have no way of knowing whether the postmodern, existential interpretation is for real unless I have my thoughts firmly planted in the revealed Scripture. In fact, I have no Gospel to proclaim unless it is biblically based. If I am free to encounter Jesus wherever I have a new revelation of him, are you going to extend that same ‘Jesus encounter’ privilege to the Mormon in the Temple or the New Age practitioner in an occult group?
  2. ‘Can I not discern the bible spiritually also? Must it always be using intellectual knowledge? Most people don’t know as much as you do and so this question never even arises’. That kind of demeaning put down is totally unnecessary on an evangelical Christian forum. If it were not for people with knowledge of the original languages, you wouldn’t even have a Bible you can read in English.
  3. One more, ‘The entire bible was written to show God’s relationship to Man’, you say. Try telling that to the Amalekites who were slaughtered by Saul, ‘Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys’ (1 Sam 15:3 NIV).

There are many other red herrings that this person raised in her post that are unrelated to the topic of my original post.

3.4 Postmodern reader-response

clip_image005[2] An earlier poster came again with input:[9]

Stating that many Christians today create their own understanding of shadows and types I think is the product of precept upon precept, and line upon line as we grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord. Over the years I’ve changed certain views; some due to experience, and at other times maturing in the word of God.
I’ll just give one example how I’ve use (sic) the striking the Rock instead of speaking to it. At first Moses was instructed to strike the Rock, and that to me was a type of the crucifixion of our Lord in Exodus 17: 5-6.

Next I read in Num 20:8 that Moses was to speak to the Rock, but he struck the Rock twice, and God said to him in Num 20:12, And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.
Here there was evident consequence, and we read in Deut 32:50, And die in the mount whither thou goest up, and be gathered unto thy people; as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor, and was gathered unto his people:
Deut 32:51 Because ye trespassed against me among the children of Israel at the waters of Meribah-Kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin; because ye sanctified me not in the midst of the children of Israel.

Now how could or would I use this as a type pertaining to Christendom? We read of a sin that is unto death in Rom 6:16, Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? Did Moses die as the result of his unbelief? Of course, but do any think he went to hell; we see Jesus with Elias and Moses on what has become known as the mount of transfiguration in Mt 17:4. As an example of things, 1 Cor 10:11 Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition (or warnings), upon whom the ends of the world are come. Could lying [to] the Holy Spirit be justification for such judgment such as that of Ananias & Sapphira of Acts 5:1? I think so.

Image result for clipart reader-response public domain(image courtesy clker.com)

 

My reply was:[10] Have you ever heard of postmodern reader-response criticism? Do you know what it means?

For a brief mention of its meaning, see D A Carson & Douglas Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, pp 61, 62, 66 (online). How do you think your comments here fit with reader-response criticism?

His reply was interesting and revealed some lack of knowledge of the content of the link I gave:

I had no idea that my discussion to a question was a criticism rather than tossing some ideas around concerning types and shadows portrayed in scripture.
Having read the excerpt of Post Modern Reader-Response Error Theology, it seems to suggest there is no right or wrong leading me to wonder at God’s purpose in having the Bible written.[11]

How should I reply? Here goes:[12]

It seems that you are misunderstanding the theory and practice of postmodern reader-response criticism in your own writing. What you did in #10 was give us a string of verses that were interpreted as Eugene’s postmodern reader-response theology.

So, prior to my giving you the link to reader-response theory, it seems that you did not have an understanding of what you have done with these verses at #10.

Reader-response errors happen when a reader accepts that the writer of any document does not determine its meaning but that the reader’s understanding and response are what matters, i.e. the reader’s meaning is the meaning of the text. That seems to be what you have done with the verses you gave in #10.

This is such a serious error infiltrating the Christian church that Kevin Vanhoozer has addressed it in an entire book, Is There a Meaning in This Text? (Zondervan 2009)

Do you think you would read the local newspaper like you did the verses you gave in #10?

9780310324690(image courtesy Zondervan)

 

Now the discussion progresses to:

3.5 The Holy Spirit fills in the blanks

Could you imagine that spiritual individualism and Holy Spirit magic would deteriorate to this point. A fellow wrote,

clip_image005[3]‘We don’t need everything written when we have the Holy Spirit to fill in the blanks’.[13]

That’s like a red rag to me as a theologian and apologist, so I responded:

Subjectivism, whether by the Spirit or any other measure, is very difficult to discern because of the variation from person to person. ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for me’ is in competition with ‘The Spirit filled in the blanks for you’, the Mormon, the occult practitioner, and the information provided may be very different for the same topic. Subjectivism, whether spiritual or humanistic, is a poor measure of competent content of revelation.[14]

3.6 Multi-faceted wisdom

clip_image005[4]Another said, ‘That’s why it’s called “multi faceted” wisdom, because the truth that is found in wisdom, is like a diamond or precious stone and is relevant as God sees each circumstance’.[15]

The rag for the apologist’s bull is getting redder and more worn from over-use:[16]

That’s why it is called subjectivism and/or Gnosticism as it is impossible to obtain objective information from that ‘revelation’. Your subjective revelation has no more impact than another believer’s or a Gnostic’s insight of esoteric knowledge. I understand this person is using ‘multi faceted wisdom’ as esoteric knowledge, which means:

“Esoteric” refers to insight or understanding of inner (Greek: eso-) or spiritual or metaphysical realities, or a specific teaching or spiritual practice or path or “wisdom tradition” that is based on a mystical interpretation of spirituality, rather than a religious or slavish following of the outer words of scriptures, or pertains to transpersonal or transcendent states of existence. In contrast exoteric knowledge is knowledge that is well-known or public, and does not require any such transformation of consciousness (Kazlev 2016).

This definition of ‘esoteric’ comes from Kazlev who is involved in analysing the philosophy of Ken Wilber and his ‘psychology and spirituality (though many have disapproved of his endorsement of controversial gurus, such as Adi Da[17] and Andrew Cohen[18])’ (Kazlev 2016).

It seems to me that these Christians on Christian forums who are advocating ‘multi faceted’ wisdom and deeper meaning revelation, are following a parallel path with these mystical gurus or postmodern, reader-response advocates. It is a dangerous, subjective and mystical experience that is outside of Scripture and runs the risk of contradicting Scripture.

3.7 Do we need NT confirmation for a type or shadow?

That’s the question I asked for this forum thread? This was one retort:

clip_image005[5]‘Only if you want to impress it upon someone as undeniable fact. Otherwise you can only share it using your best efforts of honest debate you can muster and leave the rest to God’.[19]

How should I counter?[20] Here goes!

That makes you a supporter of subjective interpretation and reader-response ideology. It also makes you a sitting duck for any kind of hermeneutic that comes along and wants to dethrone your reader-response. It makes no fixed interpretation possible.

Try that approach with your next electricity bill, a letter from a lawyer, or reading a local newspaper. Creating your own reality in reader-response theology or esoteric revelation amounts to Gnosticism in action in the 21st century.

That approach makes Jesus a moving target of any kind of interpretation. If you don’t believe me, take a read of John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity (1998).

What is reader-response theory?

Reader response is a school of literary criticism that ignores both the author and the text’s contents, confining analysis to the reader’s experience when reading a particular work. Reader response theorists are particularly concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply that a work of literature has a particular interpretation. According to Louise Rosenblatt, one of the primary figures in reader response, all reading is a transaction between the reader and writer (as represented by an immutable text). She further posits that the “stance” of the reader, either “aesthetic” (reading by choice or for pleasure) or “efferent”(reading by assignment or because one has to), has a major influence on the textual experience (source Chegg).

In Christian scholar, Kevin Vanhoozer’s, words, ‘Reader response criticism stresses the incompleteness of the text until it is constructed (or deconstructed) by the reader…. Meaning is the product of the interaction between text and reader (e.g. the “two horizons”)’. The more radical reader-response practitioners such as Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida agree that ‘there is no such thing as “disinterested,” that is, innocent or objective reading. All reading is ideological and guided by certain interests’ (Vanhoozer 1998:27-28).

This fellow came back with this response:[21]

3.8 No fixed interpretation with plain words of the Bible

clip_image005[5]It makes no fixed interpretation possible in regard to hard and fast and plain words of the Bible. That’s all. That hardly means it can’t possibly be true.

That’s not a good argument to make [about the example of the electricity bill].

No one is suggesting that personal interpretation – meaning that interpretation isn’t spelled out in the Bible word for word – can somehow be inconsistent with what is written in the Bible. Perhaps that is the big mistake you are making about this. This isn’t about saying your electric bill is $30.00 when it plainly says it’s $150.00 on the written bill.

What is being defended in this thread fails to meet the criteria for this being a matter of ‘Reader Response’:

1. Personal interpretation does not ignore the author of the Bible and the context, nor content, of the Bible. One of the rules of personal spiritual revelation not spelled out in scripture is that it can not contradict what the Bible already says.

2. Personal interpretation is not about ‘confining analysis to the reader’s experience’ because it does not consist of analysis confined only to the reader, and is not based on an experience other than the experience of spiritual revelation itself. It’s not about having experiences, and an analysis of spiritual matters that contradict what the Bible does say about a particular subject.

3. The spiritual interpretation that is being defended here is exactly the opposite of being “concerned with the traditional teaching approaches that imply a work…has a particular interpretation”. Because it is open to a greater spiritual depth and insight and understanding of scripture it sometimes grates against the traditional interpretation of scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 3:8-15 NASB. Not a terribly good example because so much of the non-traditional interpretation of that passage is directly supported by the Bible).

This promotion of reader-response, subjectivism became more obvious in that post, so I responded:[22]

And that’s the problem. If there are no hard and fast rules for the plain words of John 3:16 (ESV), then you have postmodern reader-response Gnosticism in action. It leads to hermeneutical shipwrecks. If there were not hard, fast and plain meanings to words of the Bible (and to any other writing), what you and I write on CFnet would not be understood. I think you are whistling in the wind of subjective vagueness.

It is a good argument to make [analogy with an electricity bill] because personal, subjective interpretation, is a bummer when it comes to understanding the meaning of your electricity bill. You must read it literally to obtain its plain meaning. There is no other means of interpretation of your electricity bill and it is a fixed interpretation. Esoteric, deeper knowledge ideology will not work.

He also asked if Joseph (OT) was a shadow and type of Christ. My reply was that, as I’ve stated a few times in this thread, an OT person or incident is not a type or shadow unless it is confirmed in the NT as such. Some see the OT story of Joseph (Gen 37-45) as a type of Christ because of Joseph’s humiliation and glorification that could be compared with Jesus’ passion and resurrection. However, the NT does NOT confirm that the OT Joseph is a type of Christ. Joseph’s story is an illustration with a parallel with Jesus – but it is NOT a type or shadow because the NT does not confirm it as such.

As to personal interpretation not ignoring the author, context, etc., I wrote: That might be what you see, but in this thread I’ve seen too many personal interpretations that were subjective impositions on the biblical data. So you say that a rule of personal spiritual revelation (not revealed in the Bible) must not contradict the Bible. That’s your own personal opinion and it is open to contradiction by another personal interpretation. You are building your interpretation on the slippery sands of personal revelation.

As to his point #3, I wrote: That’s subjective Gnosticism in action and it is what the church apologists had to battle in the first few centuries of the church’s existence. Seems like it is alive and well in your posts.

He didn’t seem to like this labelling of subjective Gnosticism, so gave his deconstruction:[23]

I think what you really mean to say is the idea of esoteric knowledge upon which Gnosticism relied seems alive and well in my posts.
If being able to discern things by the Spirit of God that others can’t, or aren’t yet able to discern, is considered esoteric knowledge, then yes, that broad definition and application of esoteric knowledge is alive and well in my posts. That is the very foundation of teaching. I guess your problem is that you feel that is not allowed.
“we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood…” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB)
By pure definition, if that isn’t esoteric knowledge, then nothing is.
All I’m saying is, it is allowed as long as it does not contradict, or can not be reconciled with what we already know to be true in the Bible. In Paul’s case, his esoteric knowledge did not contradict, or not reconcile with the scriptures of his day, what we call the OT.
The use of Paul’s esoteric knowledge to teach spiritual truth shows us it’s okay to say that Joseph, for example, is a type and shadow of Christ. Does Christianity and the truth of God come crashing down in a worthless heap if, technically, God did not say it’s a type and shadow of Christ? Of course not. You’re tossing out all privilege of personal interpretation and suggestion and it’s value in spiritual education just because there certainly are those who would abuse it. Yours is a misguided, contentious argument. What you should be arguing against is not esoteric knowledge, but esoteric knowledge that has no basis or support in scripture.

Esoteric knowledge in 1 Cor 2:6-8 when it speaks of ‘God’s wisdom in a mystery’?? I replied[24] Where does the Bible provide an exposition of the need for and the meaning of ‘esoteric knowledge’?

Another definition of esotericism is: ‘Esoteric: known or knowable only to initiates; secret or mysterious knowledge; cryptic; hidden; concealed; clandestine, cover’ (source).

1 Corinthians 2:6-8 NASB is hardly an explanation to cover this meaning of esoteric knowledge in the secular world or in a biblical worldview.

3.9 The shifting sands of ‘biblical discernment’

clip_image005[6]Another person entered the discussion:

This is supported [Adam & Eve as types] by the NT (see Ephesians 5 and other passages). Ideally, we should have NT corroboration, but that may not always be found, yet the interpretation will not be in violation of Scripture. There are things which can be spiritually discerned.[25]

I do not find a word in Ephesians 5 that supports what I asked: ‘In that other thread, we had people using Adam and Eve as types and shadows’.[26]

4. The plot thickens: ‘Esoteric knowledge’ enters

I’ve already mentioned this promotion by one person of 1 Cor 2:6-8 in support of esoteric knowledge endorsed by Scripture – so he said. It is necessary to respond.

4.1 What ‘secret wisdom’ is not[27]

Image result for esoteric public domain (image courtesy esotericonline.net, public domain)

 

This person seemed to have missed the meaning of the Greek musterion (mystery) used in 1 Cor 2:7. Paul confronts his Corinthian opponents with the message of the cross (1 Cor 1:26ff) as he is dealing with ‘the mystery cults and gnosticism [that] are directly dealt with’. Wherever musterion appears in the NT it is found in association with verbs that denote revelation or proclamation. ‘It is a present-day secret, not some isolated fact from the past which merely needs to be noted, but something dynamic and compelling. This is vividly expressed in Col. By his office the apostle “fulfills” (Col. 1:26) “the mystery of Christ” (4:3), i.e. by bearing in his own body that which is still lacking in the afflictions of Christ (1:24), he gives practical expression to the “mystery” and carries it on towards its final consummation’ (Brown 1978:504).

It is not esoteric knowledge (he needs to note the difference in meaning between knowledge and wisdom). It is wisdom that was previously hidden that God has revealed – in 1 Cor what is revealed is ‘the message/word of the cross’ (1 Cor 1:18).

Leading evangelical Greek scholar, Dr Gordon D Fee, does not agree with this person in his exegesis of 1 Cor 2:6-8 (he uses the NIV). In his exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 (partially available online pp 102-106). He states this about the wisdom of God in 1 Cor 2:7-8:

Vv 7-8  In these verses Paul elaborates the two sides of v. 6. V. 7 explains the nature of God’s wisdom that made it impossible for the wise of this age to grasp it; v. 8 repeats the failure of the “rulers” in terms of their responsibility for the crucifixion.

He begins with a sharp contrast to the negative side of v. 6. “No,” he says, “we speak God’s wisdom,” which he immediately qualifies in four ways. The first three describe its nature, so as to distinguish it from the wisdom of this age. First, it is wisdom “in mystery” (NIV, “secret wisdom”).[28] One cannot be certain whether this phrase modifies “wisdom” as an adjective (hence the NIV’s “secret wisdom”) or the verb “we speak” as an adverb. The former seems preferable. God’s wisdom is not some inaccessible teaching, spoken in secret. As Paul will develop more fully in Colossians and Ephesians [see Col. 1:26-27; 2:2: 4:3; Eph. 1:9; 3:3, 4, 9: 6:19], in the singular the term “mystery” ordinarily refers to something formerly hidden in God from all human eyes but how revealed in history through Christ and made understandable to his people through the Spirit. The seeds of this idea are sown here for the first time in Paul; in particular it embraces the paradox of the crucifixion of “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Second, and to clarify the phrase “in mystery,” God’s wisdom – salvation through a crucified Messiah – “has been hidden.” The perfect tense, plus the phrase that follows (“before time began”), indicates that such wisdom has been hidden in God from eternity until such a time (“now”) as he was ready to reveal it. What follows in v. 8 suggests further that God’s “secret” remains hidden from the “rulers, ” the representatives of the “wise” of this age.

Third, God’s secret wisdom, long hidden – and still hidden to some – was “destined” by God himself “for our glory before time began.” This is the clause that begins to clarify both the content of “wisdom” and the identity of the “mature” in v. 6. The verb “destined” is an intensified form of the ordinary verb for “determining.” The emphasis lies on “deciding upon beforehand” (BAGD);[29] therefore, to “predestine.” As in [1 Cor] 1:1, God’s call is the expression of his prior will, which in this case is further intensified by the phrase “before time began” (lit. “before the ages”). What God determined “before the ages” has been worked out in the present age, which is being brought to its conclusion as the final glorious age has dawned and is awaiting its consummation – “for our glory.” What has been predestined technically is God’s wisdom; the larger context indicates that Paul has in view God’s gracious activity in Christ, whereby through the crucifixion he determined eternal salvation for his people – including especially the Corinthian believers. Just as God chose the foolish and weak for salvation and thereby “shamed” the wise and powerful, who are being brought to nothing (1:26-28), so now Paul repeats that God “destined” his people for glory (not shame), and has done so in contrast to the rulers of this age who are “coming to nothing.” “For our glory” is eschatological language, referring to the final goal of salvation, namely that God’s people should share in his own glory. Hence the crucified one is in this context also called “the Lord of glory” (v. 8).

Fourth (v. 8a), God’s wisdom is something that “none of the rulers of this age understood.” With this clause Paul elaborates the negative side of v. 6, but now in light of the preceding description of God’s wisdom. The reason for their failure is that it was “hidden in God” and could only be grasped by revelation of the Spirit (v. 10). The reason for repeating the idea seems twofold: first, to reestablish the contrast between “us” and “them” that is crucial to his argument; and second, to confirm their part in the historical event itself, which both demonstrated their “ignorance” of God’s ways and implicated them in the carrying out of his plan. What they did not understand was the nature of true wisdom – God’s wisdom, as spelled out in 1:18-2:5 – which stands in contradiction to human understanding; and because they were thus “ignorant” they did what human “wisdom” demanded – they crucified the one who for them was one more messianic pretender. Thus the divine irony: The very ones who were trying to do away with Jesus by crucifying him were in fact carrying out God’s prior will – “destined for our glory before time began.” Instead of crucifying a messianic pretender, they killed “the Lord of glory” himself, the one who, as Lord of all the ages, is therefore Lord of the final glory that is both his and his people’s ultimate destiny. The Pauline irony, of course, is that the Corinthians in pursuing sophia [i.e. wisdom] are pursuing what belongs to this age, which is passing away and whose rulers were implicated in the divine irony (Fee 1987:104-107, italics emphasis in original; bold emphasis added).

4.2 How to interpret Scripture

To assist with the interpretation of Scripture and any other piece of literature, see my articles:

clip_image007 What is literal interpretation?

clip_image007[1] What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

clip_image007[2] Isn’t it obvious what a literal interpretation of Scripture means?

clip_image007[3] Does God have a physical body?

5. Conclusion

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, in its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, has rightly pursued the biblical mandate to ‘follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy’ (1 Cor 14:1 NIV). However this movement has introduced a down side.

That negativity is related to the subjective, Gnostic type of knowledge that entered Christian circles through existential experiences of the Holy Spirit. This article has attempted to show through posts on a Christian forum how Holy Spirit encounters, even to the point of thinking this is receipt of esoteric knowledge, has derailed the Holy Spirit’s ministry. The result can lead to Gnostic error.

Image result for Gnosticism image public domain(image courtesy gnosticteachings.org)

 

I suggest that the New Gnosticism is alive and well on this Christian forum. Part of Michael Horton’s assessment is:

Both liberals and evangelicals disdain doctrine for personal experience, and objective truth for personal transformation, and in this sense, each is, in its own way, Gnostic. The anti-intellectualism is understandable, according to Lee. “If God is immanent, present within our psyche, if we already have the truth within, then why go through all the hassle of studying theology?” [Lee 1987:111]. Isn’t this precisely the point of the division many of us grew up with between head knowledge and heart knowledge? The former is intellectual, the latter spiritual – that is, gnosis….

Pentecostalism represents an even greater dependence on Gnostic tendencies…. The outer edges of Pentecostalism are especially blatant in Gnostic emphases, as a number of works have shown, including The Agony of Deceit.[30] Salvation is knowledge – “Revelation Knowledge” (Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, Paul Crouch and other “faith teachers” use the upper case to distinguish this from mere written revelation). The Word that truly saves is not the written text of Scripture, proclaiming Christ the Redeemer, but is rather the “Rhema” Word that is spoken directly to the spirit by God’s Spirit (Horton 2016).

If spiritual insight is used as an interpretive measure and esoteric knowledge is permitted as a means of gaining a biblical understanding of the text, then expect pooled ignorance to infiltrate the church. My series of interactions on this topic have demonstrated that ‘no fixed meaning’, ‘esoteric knowledge’, and ‘my understanding’ can derail biblical interpretation.

The New Gnosticism is with us and the landscape does not look pretty. There is a heightened need for apologists and theologians to be involved in addressing this heresy that is invading the church.

6.  Works consulted

Brown, C (gen ed) 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crossan, J D 1998. The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately after the Execution of Jesus. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Fee, G D 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians (The New International Commentary on the New Testament, F F Bruce gen ed). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Horton, M S 2016. The New Gnosticism: Is it the age of the Spirit or the spirit of the age? Modern Reformation (online). Available at: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=695#footnote13 (Accessed 17 May 2016). The article originally appeared in Modern Reformation, “Gnosticism”, July/August 1995 Vol. 4 No. 4 Page number(s): 4-12.

Kazlev, A 2016. Integral esotericism: A new integral paradigm in theory and practice. Integral World (online), June 04.[31] Available at: http://www.integralworld.net/kazlev5.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

Lee, P J 1987. Against The Protestant Gnostics. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press. Also available at: https://arcaneknowledgeofthedeep.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/againstprotestantgnostics.pdf (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is There a Meaning in This Text? Leicester, England: Apollos (an imprint of Inter-Varsity Press).

7.  Notes


[1] Christian Forums.net, 13 May 2016, ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Apologetics & Theology, OzSpen#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/types-shadows-needing-nt-support.64532/ (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[2] They were raised by Malachi#33 at Christian Forums.net, ‘Underlying types & shadows’, The Lounge. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/understanding-types-shadows.64517/page-2 (Accessed 17 May 2016).

[3] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, Eugene#2.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#3.

[5] Ibid., Eugene#5.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#6.

[7] Ibid., Wondering#8.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#9.

[9] Ibid., Eugene#10.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#11.

[11] Ibid., Eugene#12.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[13] Ibid., Sinthesis#15.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#16.

[15] Ibid., JLB#17.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#19.

[17] Adi Da was the Hindu god-man cultist who was head of an abusive personality cult. See: Timothy Conway (2007). Available at: http://www.enlightened-spirituality.org/Da_and_his_cult.html (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[18] On his homepage, Andrew Cohen describes himself as, a ‘modern mystic, cultural critic, and award-winning spiritual journalist’. Available at: http://www.andrewcohen.org/ (Accessed 4 June 2016).

[19] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#18.

[20] Ibid., OzSpen#20.

[21] ‘Types & shadows needing NT support’, op cit., Jethro Bodine#22.

[22] Ibid., OzSpen#24.

[23] Ibid., Jethro Bodine#27.

[24] Ibid., OzSpen#28, #29.

[25] Ibid., Malachi#34.

[26] Ibid., OzSpen#40/

[27] This is my response, ibid., OzSpen#44.

[28] Fee’s footnote is, ‘This is another phrase that has caused some to see Paul as reflecting the mystery cults or Gnosticism. But again that not only misses Paul’s own Jewish background, but the whole point of the argument as well’ (Fee 1987:104, n. 27).

[29] BAGD = Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich & Danker Greek lexicon (dictionary).

[30] See The Agony of Deceit, ed. Michael Horton (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991).

[31] It seems that this date is a roving date that will change daily.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2016.

Who can be reconciled to God?

Saturday, April 30th, 2016

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(image courtesy cliparts.co)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

This has been a perennial question throughout church history, but it has become especially debated in the Arminian-Calvinistic controversy: Is it possible for all people to be reconciled to God? Or, is that only for a select, elect group? Is it only a charade for Jesus to say, ‘For God so loved the world’ (John 3:16) and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross is the propitiation ‘for the whole world’?

This relates to a person’s doctrines of predestination/election and atonement. With predestination, has God predestined only the Christian elect to salvation or is his mercy so wide that the Gospel is offered to all and their election is determined by their response? As for the atonement, is it limited to the elect for whom Christ died (limited atonement) or did Christ die for all people (unlimited atonement)?

Let’s check out some evidence.

1. Some examples from church history

We will now examine some leading Christian theologians or leaders from early church history to the present, to check their views.

1.1 Athanasius (ca. 295-373)[1]

This distinguished early church father was a promoter of the orthodox, Trinitarian Christian view at the Council of Nicea in AD 325.

At the council this young man, slightly over thirty, insisted that Christ had existed from all eternity with the Father and was of the same essence (homoousios) as the Father, although He was a distinct personality. He insisted on these things because he believed that if Christ were less than he had stated Him to be, He could not be the Savior of men…. He held that Christ was coequal, coeternal, and consubstantial with the Father; and for these views he suffered exile five times (Cairns 1981:134).

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(copy of icon of Athanasius, courtesy Wikipedia)

In his writing ‘On the Incarnation of the Word(§9), Athanasius spoke of the Son, the Word, ‘To this end He takes to Himself a body capable of death, that it, by partaking of the Word Who is above all, might be worthy to die in the stead of all’ (emphasis added). In this same paragraph, Athanasius wrote, ‘For being over all, the Word of God naturally by offering His own temple and corporeal instrument for the life of all satisfied the debt by His death’ (emphasis added).

1.2 Augustine (354-430)

clip_image004(image of Augustine, courtesy Wikipedia)

St Augustine is a mixed bag. There are examples in his writings of his support for limited atonement, but on other occasions he was unambiguous in support of unlimited atonement.

Here is his support for unlimited atonement in his exposition of 1 John 2:2:

For he that has said, We have Jesus Christ the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins: having an eye to those who would divide themselves, and would say, Lo, here is Christ, lo, there; [Matthew 24:23] and would show Him in a part who bought the whole and possesses the whole, he immediately goes on to say, Not our sins only, but also the sins of the whole world. What is this, brethren? Certainly we have found it in the fields of the woods, we have found the Church in all nations. Behold, Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not ours only, but also the sins of the whole world. Behold, you have the Church throughout the whole world; do not follow false justifiers who in truth are cutters off. Be in that mountain which has filled the whole earth: because Christ is the propitiation for our sins; not only ours, but also the sins of the whole world, which He has bought with His blood. (Homily 1 on the First Epistle of John, 1:1-2:11, emphasis added).

It is not inconsequential in this paragraph on 1 John 1 & 2, Augustine affirms three times that Christ propitiated for the ‘sins of the whole world’. This is not indicating a limited atonement but an unlimited atonement. Another example is:

For men were held captive under the devil, and served devils; but they were redeemed from captivity. They could sell, but they could not redeem themselves. The Redeemer came, and gave a price; He poured forth His Blood, and bought the whole world. You ask what He bought? You see what He has given; find out then what He bought. The Blood of Christ was the price. What is equal to this? What, but the whole world? What, but all nations? (Expositions on the Psalms, Chapter 96.5, emphasis added).

In Tractate 92 on John’s Gospel, Augustine wrote, ‘The blood of Christ was shed for the remission of all sins’ (Tractate 92.1, emphasis added).

In later writings, Augustine clarified or redefined his understanding of the ‘whole world’ with his explanation of 1 Tim 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved’:

It is said, Who will have all men to be saved; not that there is no man whose salvation He does not will (for how, then, explain the fact that He was unwilling to work miracles in the presence of some who, He said, would have repented if He had worked them?), but that we are to understand by all men, the human race in all its varieties of rank and circumstances—kings, subjects; noble, plebeian, high, low, learned, and unlearned; the sound in body, the feeble, the clever, the dull, the foolish, the rich, the poor, and those of middling circumstances; males, females, infants, boys, youths; young, middle-aged, and old men; of every tongue, of every fashion, of all arts, of all professions, with all the innumerable differences of will and conscience, and whatever else there is that makes a distinction among men. For which of all these classes is there out of which God does not will that men should be saved in all nations through His only-begotten Son, our Lord, and therefore does save them; for the Omnipotent cannot will in vain, whatsoever He may will? (Augustine, The Enchiridrion,[2] ch 103, emphasis added).

So here ‘all men’ for Augustine means from all groups of people and not for everyone in the world in its totality. This theology has been adopted by John Calvin himself in his interpretation of Titus 2:11, where he stated of this phrase:

Bringing salvation to all men,[3] That it is common to all is expressly testified by him on account of the slaves of whom he had spoken. Yet he does not mean individual men, but rather describes individual classes, or various ranks of life. And this is not a little emphatic, that the grace of God hath let itself down even to the race of slaves; for, since God does not despise men of the lowest and most degraded condition, it would be highly unreasonable that we should be negligent and slothful to embrace his goodness.[4]

John 3:17 states, ‘For God sent not His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world through Him may be saved’. Augustine’s comment, in rather obtuse[5] reasoning, is:

So far, then, as it lies in the physician, He has come to heal the sick. He that will not observe the orders of the physician destroys himself. He has come a Saviour to the world: why is he called the Saviour of the world, but that He has come to save the world, not to judge the world? You will not be saved by Him; you shall be judged of yourself. And why do I say, shall be judged? See what He says: He that believes in Him is not judged, but he that believes not. What do you expect He is going to say, but is judged? Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place. For the Lord knows them that are His: He knows who are persevering for the crown, and who for the flame; knows the wheat on His threshing-floor, and knows the chaff; knows the good grain, and knows the tares. He that believes not is already judged. Why judged? Because he has not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God (Augustine, Tractate 12 (John 3:6-21), §12).

I find this exposition to be difficult to understand because Augustine does not come out and clearly state it like this: ‘Jesus is the Saviour of the world but unbelievers are judged already, thus making salvation only for the elect believers’. That seems to be his intent but it is stated in a round-about fashion with language such as, ‘Already, says He, has been judged. The judgment has not yet appeared, but already it has taken place’. If the judgment of all has already taken place, then God has judged the damned to be in that condemned state already. ‘There is some agreement that tractates 1-16 were preached by Augustine in the winter of 406-407’ (Augnet, On the Gospel of John, 2010). Eminent church historian, Philip Schaff, was not of that view, concluding that Augustine ‘delivered them to his flock at Hippo about A.D. 416 or later’ (CCEL, Homilies on the Gospel of John, Preface).

1.3 John Calvin (1509-1564)

clip_image006(painting, John Calvin by Hans Holbein, blog.oup.com, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

What did Calvin say of John 3:16 in regard to those for whom Christ died? He wrote:

That whosoever believeth on him may not perish. It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (John Calvin, Commentary on John 3:13-18, vol 1, emphasis added).

Calvin could not be clearer that ‘whoever’ believes makes the offer of salvation available ‘indiscriminately’ to all ‘unbelievers’ and the term ‘world’ in John 3:16 refers to ‘the whole world … all men without exception’. ‘Men’ here is generic for all people.

1.4 The Remonstrance

The five Arminian articles of the Remonstrance (to remonstrant meant to oppose) were composed by the followers of Arminius in 1610 after his death in 1609. These five points stated their main opposition to Dutch Reformed theology and were presented to the State in the Netherlands as Remonstrance.

The Arminian Remonstrance believed, according to Article 2, that ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer’ (The Remonstrance, The Five Arminian Articles, A.D. 1610, Philip Schaff, emphasis added).The verses they gave in support were John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

So who have the possibility of being reconciled to God? Jesus, the Saviour, died for all people according to the Remonstrance, meaning every human being, but those who believe receive this forgiveness.

1.5 The Synod of Dort[6]

There were five main points (headings) regarding a dispute in the Netherlands, known as the Canons of Dort, that were a response to the Remonstrance, promoted by Arminius (University of Leiden) and his followers. Dort considered Arminianism was a departure from the Reformed faith in a number of important matters. It met in Dordrecht, the Netherlands, 1618-1619, with 2 Dutch delegates and 27 foreign delegates representing 8 countries (The Canons of Dort, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary).

In its explanation of the death of Christ and the redemption of human beings, the Synod of Dort, concluded:

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever (Head 2, Art 8, emphasis added).

Thus, redemption only extends to the elect who receive the gift of justifying faith while the remainder of humanity who ‘perish in unbelief’ are in that situation because it is wholly imputed to them by God (Head 2, Art 6). This is a confirmation of double predestination to salvation for the believer and to damnation for the unbeliever.

1.6 John Wesley (1703-1791)[7]

clip_image008(John Wesley image courtesy commons.wikimedia.org)

John Wesley (1703-1791) was a Church of England (Anglican) minister,[8] so his view of the atonement would have been shaped by the Anglican Articles of Religion, commonly known as the Thirty-nine Articles. The first portion of Article 17 states,

Predestination to life is the eternal purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he has consistently decreed by his counsel which is hidden from us to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he has chosen in Christ out of mankind and to bring them through Christ to eternal salvation as vessels made for honour. Hence those granted such an excellent benefit by God are called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working at the appropriate time. By grace they obey the calling; they are freely justified, and made sons of God by adoption, are made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, they walk faithfully in good works and at the last by God’s mercy attain eternal happiness (Thirty-nine Articles, Article 17, emphasis added).

What was Wesley’s view? Darren Wood maintained that ‘even though John Wesley claimed that the atonement was crucial to his theology, he never articulated a systematic theory of the atonement’ (Wood 2007:2.55). Harald Lindstrom concluded in a similar way, ‘Wesley never took up the Atonement for special consideration in any of his treatises or tracts. Nor is it the main theme in any of his sermons’ (Lindstrom n d).

Wesley in writing to his opponent, the Anglican Rev William Law, stated that Jesus Christ ‘is our propitiation through faith in His blood’ (Wesley, letter from London, May 20, 1738, The Letters of John Wesley 1738). As to causation of our salvation, the Wesleys were clear: ‘The sole cause of our acceptance with God (or, that for the sake of which, on the account of which, we are accepted) is the righteousness and the death of Christ, who fulfilled God’s law, and died in our stead’ (Poetical Works of John and Charles Wesley, Preface).

In this edition of ‘The Works of the Reverend John Wesley, A.M., Vol VI’, it stated: ‘It is true, repentance and faith are privileges and free gifts. But this does not hinder their being conditions too. And neither Mr. Calvin himself, nor any of our Reformers, made any scruple of calling them so’ (p. 98).

Wesley maintained that Jesus’ atonement ‘is the propitiation – The atoning sacrifice by which the wrath of God is appeased. For our sins – Who believe. And not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world – Just as wide as sin extends, the propitiation extends also’ (John Wesley, Notes on the First Epistle of John, 1 John 2:2, emphasis added).

Thus, John Wesley believed in universal atonement, propitiation that extends as far as sin goes – to all human beings.

1.7 C H Spurgeon (1834-1892)[9]

clip_image010(C H Spurgeon painting courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Spurgeon is adamant about his view of the atonement:

We hold—we are not afraid to say that we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving “a multitude which no man can number;” and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father’s throne. We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men’s account, died to save them (emphasis added).[10]

In another sermon on the death of Christ, he preached, ‘Understand, then, the sense in which Christ was made a sacrifice for sin. But here lies the glory of this matter. It was as a substitute for sin that he did actually and literally suffer punishment for the sin of all his elect’ (emphasis added).[11]

So, the eminent British Baptist preacher and revivalist of the nineteenth century, C H Spurgeon, was an inflexible promoter of limited atonement. Jesus did not die for the sins of the whole world. There is no effectual atonement, i.e. atonement through Christ’s shed blood that is effective for those damned forever. I’m using effectual atonement as meaning effective atonement.[12]

 

1.8 Roger E. Olson (b. 1952)[13]

clip_image011(photo Roger E Olson, courtesy InterVarsity Press)[14]

Professor Roger E Olson teaches at a Southern Baptist Seminary,[15] is a promoter of classical Arminianism, and his view of the atonement is that salvation is only for those

who are predestined by God to eternal salvation. They are elect. Who is included in the elect? All who God foresees will accept his offer of salvation through Christ by not resisting the grace that extends to them through the cross and the gospel. Thus, predestination is conditional rather than unconditional: God’s electing foreknowledge is caused by the faith of the elect (Olson 2006:35, emphasis added).

Olson (2006:63) cites Arminian theologian H Orton Wiley in support of unlimited atonement. Wiley wrote that ‘the atonement is universal’, which does not mean that all human beings will be unconditionally saved ‘but that the sacrificial offering of Christ so far satisfied the claims of the divine law as to make salvation a possibility for all’. Thus, redemption is ‘universal or general’ in a potential sense in its application to the individual person, i.e. it must be applied by the person to be received (Wiley 1952:295).

1.9 R C Sproul (b. 1939)[16]

clip_image013(photo R C Sproul, courtesy Wikipedia)

An ardent Calvinistic advocate, Sproul addressed this topic of who can be reconciled to God in terms of his understanding of predestination and election, writing that ‘the Reformed doctrine of predestination teaches that all the elect are indeed brought to faith. God insures that the conditions necessary for salvation are met’. Election is unconditional because God’s original decree to choose some for salvation ‘is not dependent upon some future condition in us that God foresees. There is nothing in us that God could foresee that would induce him to choose us…. God chooses us simply according to the good pleasure of his will’ (Sproul 1986:155-156).

Does Sproul support double-predestination, i.e. to salvation and damnation? He wrote, ‘If there is such a thing as predestination at all, and if that predestination does not include all people, then we must not shrink from the necessary inference that there are two sides to predestination’ (Sproul 1986:141). Yes, he does believe in double-predestination but he goes further with God’s sovereignty in stating that ‘God is sovereign because we know that God is God’ and that ‘God foreordained sin’. This means that ‘God’s decision to allow sin to enter the world was a good decision. This is not to say that our sin is really a good thing, but merely that God’s allowing us to do sin, which is evil, is a good thing. God’s allowing evil is good, but the evil he allows is still evil’ (Sproul 1986:31-32).

Elsewhere Sproul did articulate his theology of limited atonement:

I prefer the term definite atonement to the term limited atonement (though it turns tulip into tudip). The doctrine of definite atonement focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross….

Anyone who is not a universalist is willing to agree that the effect of Christ’s work on the cross is limited to those who believe. That is, Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers. Not everyone is saved through His death. Everyone also agrees that the merit of Christ’s death is sufficient to pay for the sins of all human beings. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some.

This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement. Those who deny definite atonement insist that Christ’s work of atonement was designed by God to atone for the sins of everyone in the world. It made possible the salvation of everyone, but made certain the salvation of no one. Its design is therefore both unlimited and indefinite.

The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect. The Atonement was an actual, not merely potential, work of redemption. In this view there is no possibility that God’s design and intent for the Atonement could be frustrated. God’s purpose in salvation is sure (Sproul 1992:175-176, emphasis added).

In simple language, Sproul believes that in allowing evil to enter the world, that was God’s good decision. I ask: How can it be other than that since God’s actions are always perfect, right and just? ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen 18:25 ESV) As for the atonement, it was only designed for the elect, so Jesus died only for these people, in the view of Sproul.

2. What did the early church fathers teach?

clip_image015Church Fathers, 11th century Kievan minature (image courtesy Wikipedia)

 

Let’s check out the primary sources online to see if some of the early church fathers (the ones mentioned by Ron Rhodes, n d) supported unlimited atonement!

clip_image016Clement of Alexandria (ca 150-211/215):[17] ‘He bestows salvation on all humanity abundantly’ (Paedagogus 1.11). ‘For instruction leads to faith, and faith with baptism is trained by the Holy Spirit. For that faith is the one universal salvation of humanity’ (Paedagogus 1.6). Elsewhere it has been stated by Ron Rhodes that Clement of Alexandria taught, ‘Christ freely brings… salvation to the whole human race’.[18] However, I’ve been unable to find these exact quotes in the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

clip_image016[1]Eusebius of Caesarea (260-341):[19] ‘the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, and of His human body…. This Sacrifice was the Christ of God, from far distant times foretold as coming to men, to be sacrificed like a sheep for the whole human race (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 1, Introduction, ch. 10). ‘His Strong One forsook Him then, because He wished Him to go unto death, even “the death of the cross,” and to be set forth as the ransom and sacrifice for the whole world…. to ransom the whole human race, buying them with His precious Blood from their former slavery to their invisible tyrants, the unclean daemons, and the rulers and spirits of evil’ (Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 10, ch 8).

clip_image016[2]Athanasius (ca 296-373),[20] in The Incarnation of the Word, wrote: None could renew but He Who had created. He alone could (1) recreate all, (2) suffer for all, (3) represent all to the Father’ (7, heading). ‘all creation was confessing that He that was made manifest and suffered in the body was not man merely, but the Son of God and Saviour of all’ (19.3); ‘or who among those recorded in Scripture was pierced in the hands and feet, or hung at all upon a tree, and was sacrificed on a cross for the salvation of all?’ (37.1)

It has been quoted frequently across the Internet that Athanasius stated, ‘Christ the Son of God, having assumed a body like ours, because we were all exposed to death [which takes in more than the elect], gave Himself up to death for us all as a sacrifice to His Father’.[21] However, I have been unable to find this exact quote in Athanasius’s works online.

Athanasius wrote that Christ ‘offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to show Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all (Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, section 20)

clip_image016[3]Cyril of Jerusalem (ca 315-386):[22] ‘And wonder not that the whole world was ransomed; for it was no mere man, but the only-begotten Son of God, who died on its behalf’ (Catacheses – or Catehetical Lectures 13.2).

clip_image016[4]Cyril of Alexandria (ca 375-444)[23] taught that we confess that he is the Son, begotten of God the Father, and Only-begotten God; and although according to his own nature he was not subject to suffering, yet he suffered for us in the flesh according to the Scriptures, and although impassible, yet in his Crucified Body he made his own the sufferings of his own flesh; and by the grace of God he tasted death for all…. he tasted death for every man, and after three days rose again, having despoiled hell.’ (Third epistle to Nestorius). ‘Giving His own Blood a ransom for the life of all’ (That Christ is one).

On the Internet, I have seen many examples of this quote, “The death of one flesh is sufficient for the ransom of the whole human race, for it belonged to the Logos, begotten of God the Father.” (Oratorio de Recta Fide, no. 2, sec. 7). I have not yet been able to locate it in Internet primary sources for Cyril of Alexandria’s works.

clip_image016[5]Gregory of Nazianzen (ca 330-389):[24] ‘He is sold, and very cheap, for it is only for thirty pieces of silver; but He redeems the world, and that at a great price, for the Price was His own blood.  As a sheep He is led to the slaughter, but He is the Shepherd of Israel, and now of the whole world also’ (Oration XXIX, The third theological oration on the Son, XX).

I was unable to locate the quote, ‘the sacrifice of Christ is an imperishable expiation of the whole world’, allegedly from Oratoria 2 in Pasch., i.e., Passover.

clip_image016[6]Basil of Caesarea, Basil the Great (329-379):[25] “But one thing was found that was equivalent to all men….the holy and precious blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He poured out for us all” (On Ps. 49:7, 8, sec. 4 or Psalm 48, n.4). I have been unable to track down this quote on the Internet.[26]

clip_image016[7]Ambrose of Milan (339-397):[27] ‘Christ suffered for all, rose again for all.

clip_image018 But if anyone does not believe in Christ, he deprives himself of that general benefit.” He also wrote, “Christ came for the salvation of all, and undertook the redemption of all, inasmuch as He brought a remedy by which all might escape, although there are many who…are unwilling to be healed’ (Ps. 118, Sermon 8, in Douty 1978:137).[28] I have not yet located the primary source online.

(Mosaic of Ambrose, courtesy Wikipedia)

clip_image016[8]St Augustine of Hippo (354-430).[29] See his evidence above in this article.

clip_image016[9]Prosper of Aquitaine (a friend and disciple of Augustine, ca. AD 390-463):[30] “As far as relates to the magnitude and virtue of the price, and to the one cause of the human race, the blood of Christ is the redemption of the whole world: but those who pass through this life without the faith of Christ, and the sacrament of regeneration, do not partake of the redemption” (Responses on Behalf of Augustine to the Articles of Objections Raised by the Vincentianists, 1, part of this quote is available at, Classical Christianity). Unfortunately, I have not been able to source this online from a site for Prosper of Aquitaine.

He also wrote: ‘Wherefore, the whole of mankind, whether circumcised or not, was under the sway of sin, in fetters because of the very same guilt. No one of the ungodly, who differed only in their degree of unbelief, could be saved without Christ’s Redemption. This Redemption spread throughout the world to become the good news for all men without any distinction’ (Prosper of Aquitaine, The Call of All Nations, p. 119).

The following are citations from secondary sources for Prosper of Aquitaine, but I have been unable to locate primary sources on the www: He also said, “The Savior is most rightly said to have been crucified for the redemption of the whole world.” He then said, “Although the blood of Christ be the ransom of the whole world, yet they are excluded from its benefit, who, being delighted with their captivity, are unwilling to be redeemed by it.”

For an assessment of the biblical material, see my article, ‘Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement?

3. What’s the biblical evidence?

I have addressed the biblical material in support of limited atonement in my articles,

clip_image020Is this verse forced into limited atonement theology?

clip_image020[1]Unlimited atonement by Jesus

clip_image020[2]Limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness

clip_image020[3]Did John Calvin believe in limited atonement?

clip_image020[4]Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

clip_image020[5]If Jesus’ atonement is for all, should all be saved?

clip_image020[6]Can world not mean world?

Ron Rhodes (n d), a supporter of unlimited atonement, in his article, ‘The Extent of the Atonement: Limited Atonement Versus Unlimited Atonement’ (Rhodes n d) provides further evidence from the early church fathers until today of leading Christians who supported or now support unlimited atonement.

Theologian Walter Elwell,[31] has concluded concerning unlimited atonement (or, general redemption) that it has been

the historic view of the church, being held by the vast majority of theologians, reformers, evangelists, and fathers from the beginning of the church until the present day, including virtually all the writers before the Reformation, with the possible exception of Augustine. Among the Reformers the doctrine is found in Luther, Melanchthon, Bullinger, Latimer, Cranmer, Coverdale, and even Calvin in some of his commentaries. For example Calvin says regarding Col. 1:14, “This redemption was procured through the blood of Christ, for by the sacrifice of his death, all the sins of the world have been expiated…. Is it likely that the overwhelming majority of Christians could have so misread the leading of the Holy Spirit on such an important point? (Elwell 1984:99)

4. Salvation offered to all

A person on a Christian forum listed these Scriptures to support the view that salvation is offered to everyone:[32]

Jhn 3:16 (NKJV) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

1Pe 3:18 (RSV) For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous,

Rom 6:10 (NKJV) For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all;

2Co 5:14-15 (NKJV) For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

1Ti 2:5-6a (NKJV) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all,

Heb 7:26-27 (NKJV) For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people’s, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.

Heb 9:11-12 (NKJV) But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.

2 Peter 3:9 (NKJV) The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

A response from the Calvinistic poster was that ‘not one of those scriptures says that God offers salvation to all mankind’.[33] I could not let him get away with this one, so I replied:[34]

Titus 2:11 (NIV) does: ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’. The ESV translates as, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).
So the grace of God has appeared (in Christ) to offer salvation or bring salvation to ALL people. It does not say ‘all of the elect’.
There’s no room to run and hide now.

How do you think he would react?

Thats (sic) a poor translation. The word offer is not in the text. The word is bringeth salvation, not offer! The emphasis is on the grace of God bringing a application of salvation.
Besides that, you still have Rom 5:10 to deal with which states clearly that believers were reconciled to God by the death of Christ while they were enemies. Thats not the case with all men without exception since many as enemies are under Gods Wrath and Condemnation Jn 3:18, 36![35]

My comeback was:[36]

That’s an excellent translation. The Greek of Titus 2:11 (SBLGreek NT), reads:

??????? ???  ?   ?????   ??? ????  ???????? ????? ?????????
epephane gar he charis tou theou soterios   pasin anthropois (transliteration), with this literal translation:
‘appeared for the grace of the God salvation for all men’.

Now take that literal, word-for-word translation and make sense for the English reader.

  • The NIV has done that with an excellent dynamic equivalence translation (meaning for meaning), ‘For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 NIV);
  • The ESV in formal equivalence translation (approx. word for word), ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 ESV), which is a superb translation, although interpretive because of the lack of ‘has appeared’ in the text;
  • The NASB formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men’ (Tit 2:11 NASB) – an excellent translation, but with the added word, ‘bringing’.
  • The KJV formal equivalence translation: ‘For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men’ (Tit 2:11 KJV). Excellent translation but with old fashioned language and the added word, ‘bringeth’.
  • The ISV (International Standard Version) dynamic equivalence is: ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people’ (Tit 2:11 ISV) – again, an excellent translation, with ‘has appeared’ added to make sense of the sentence.
  • The HCSB, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared with salvation for all people’ (Tit 2:11 HCSB) – a great translation with ‘has appeared’ added for interpretive sense.
  • The NRSV, a formal equivalence translation, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’ (Tit 2:11 NRSV) is another excellent translation, again adding ‘has appeared’ for clarification of the meaning.

Anyone who has had to translate large chunks of the Greek NT into English – as I have done through many years of formal study and theological teaching – knows that a literal word-for-word translation is impossible in many examples. This is one case in point.

So that I can become better informed, I asked this fellow to please provide a more accurate translation of the Greek text of Titus 2:11 (Greek) than those from the Bible translation examples I provided.

What would the response be? He wrote:

Yes it’s a poor translation. There’s no scripture that says God offers salvation. Titus 2:11 says that the Grace of God brings Salvation to all men, not offers. You misquote scripture.[37]

This is typical of what poster’s do when they don’t have an answer to the challenge. He did not provide a better translation and he also inserted a word, ‘brings’, that is not in the Greek text, so I answered: [38]

I asked for a more accurate translation to be provided, but I see that it is missing. How come?

Please note that ‘brings’ also is not in the Greek text. So ‘brings salvation’ is a poor translation as it inserts a word. Why would you be adding ‘brings’? I’m waiting for a better translation and the reasons for it being a superior translation.

No translation has been forthcoming from this fellow to challenge the translations of the major Bible versions quoted above.

5. Who are under God’s wrath?

It was stated on this Christian forum: ‘Unbelievers and enemies are both the same. Those unbelievers in Jn 3:18, 36 are under Gods (sic) Wrath and condemnation. Do you deny that?’[39]

My response was[40] that of course I believe that unbelievers are under God’s wrath, but what I know is that Jesus’ death appeased the wrath of God for all, as 1 John 2:2 (ESV) affirms, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’.

Also, regarding what is necessary to receive salvation:

But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Rom 10:8-10 NIV).

Rebel sinners who are under God’s wrath and have that wrath appeased by Jesus are free to receive Jesus by faith, to believe in their hearts that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. They are then justified by faith in professing their faith to be saved.
That’s Bible!

The come back was:

Those under Gods (sic) Wrath and Condemnation, Jesus death did not appease Gods (sic) Wrath for them. If it did they could not be under Gods (sic) Wrath. So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture.[41]

This is far from what the Bible says so I answered:[42]

That is not what 1 John 2:1-2 (ESV) teaches:

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

So Jesus is the propitiation (appeasing the wrath of God) for ‘our’ sins. Who are the people referred to as ‘our’? Verse 1 tells us they are ‘little children’ for whom there is ‘an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous’. So, John is referring to believers for whom Jesus propitiated the wrath of God.

But John goes further than propitiation for believers. He adds, ‘but also for the sins of the whole world’. Ah, everybody in the world is included. Yes, ‘the whole world’. This is not referring to the world of elect believers. He has already mentioned these. They are the ones covered by the language of ‘our sins’. But he goes further to include everyone in the big, wide, wonderful world – sinners all.

The problem seems to be the inability to grasp how Jesus could be the propitiation for all people and that all people are not saved (universalism). That’s because of a failure to grasp what Jesus taught according to John 5:40 (ESV), ‘yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life’.

People are freed to come or refuse to come to Jesus for eternal life. That’s consistent with biblical teaching and does not match the accuser’s taunt, ‘So you have made a false statement and inconsistent with scripture’. Who has made the false statement? The accuser of me and my theology!

6. Logical fallacy in action

The fellow online who began this thread continues with his push:

None of you can explain the proposition. The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God while they are enemies and unbelievers Rom 5:10, but all enemies and unbelievers are not reconciled to God by Christ death but are under Gods condemnation and wrath John 3:18, 36. So it is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception.[43]

However, what is his slogan that appears as the byword in the footer of every one of his posts, ‘SAVED BY SOVEREIGN GRACE’.[44]

Therefore, it was pointed and appropriate for me to respond: ‘The begging the question fallacy, i.e. circular reasoning, continues’.[45] With a begging the question fallacy, this person commences with the premise, ‘Saved by sovereign grace’. How does he conclude? ‘The fact remains that those Christ died for are reconciled to God…. It is obvious that Christ (sic) death was not for all without exception’. So he begins with Calvinistic sovereign grace of limited atonement and concludes with the same doctrine.

That’s circular reasoning and gets us nowhere in discussion because it doesn’t deal with the issues at stake, but it sounds to be on track with issues that relate. In fact it is a deliberate strategy to avoid dealing with opposition to the theology.

7. Conclusion

From the early church fathers up to Augustine of Hippo there was a consensus of support for unlimited atonement. However, since the time of Augustine there has been evidence from theologians and other church writers who promote both limited and unlimited atonement. There has been no agreement since the time of Calvin and Arminius.

My own understanding of Scripture is that it supports unlimited atonement, as I have articulated in my article, Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ? I don’t expect there will be agreement on this topic until it is fully revealed at Jesus’ second coming.

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(image courtesy cliparts.co)

8. Works consulted

Douty, N F 1978. Did Christ Die Only for the Elect? A Treatise on the Extent of Christ’s Atonement. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Elwell, W A 1984. Atonement, Extent of, in W A Elwell (ed), Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Lindstrom, H n d. Wesley and sanctification. On Craig L Adams website. Available at: http://www.craigladams.com/Books/page289/page293/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Miethe, T L 1989. The universal power of the atonement, in C Pinnock (gen ed). The Grace of God, The Will of Man: A Case for Arminianism, 71-96. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books (Zondervan Publishing House).

Olson, R E 2006, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Rhodes, R n d. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement. Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries (online). Available at: http://home.earthlink.net/~ronrhodes/Atonement.html (Accessed 30 April 2016).

Sproul, R C 1986. Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/other-theologians/henry-orton-wiley/h-orton-wiley-christian-theology-chapter-24/ (Accessed 29 April 2016).

Wood, D C 2007. John Wesley’s use of the atonement. The Asbury Journal 62(2), 55-70. Available at: http://place.asburyseminary.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1053&context=asburyjournal (Accessed 28 April 2016).

Notes

[1] Lifespan dates are from Cairns (1981:134).

[2] Enchiridrion means handbook and its full title was The Enchiridrion on Faith, Hope and Love, New Advent. Available at: http://newadvent.org/fathers/1302.htm (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[3] Calvin’s footnote at this point was:

‘“We now see why Paul speaks of all men, and thus we may judge of the folly of some who pretend to expound the Holy Scriptures, and do not understand their style, when they say, ‘And God wishes that every person should be saved; the grace of God hath appeared for the salvation of every person; it follows, then, that there is free-will, that there is no election, that none have been predestinated to salvation.’ If those men spoke it ought to be with a little more caution. Paul did not mean in this passage, or in 1Ti 2:6 anything else than that the great are called by God, though they are unworthy of it; that men of low condition, though they are despised, are nevertheless adopted by God, who stretches out his hand to receive them. At that time, because kings and magistrates were mortal enemies of the gospel, it might be thought that God had rejected them, and that they cannot obtain salvation. But Paul says that the door must not be shut against them, and that, eventually, God may choose some of this company, though their case appear to be desperate. Thus, in this passage, after speaking of the poor slaves who were not reckoned to belong to the rank of men, he says that God did not fail, on that account, to show himself compassionate towards them, and that he wishes that the gospel should be preached to those to whom men do not deign to utter a word. Here is a poor man, who shall be rejected by us, we shall hardly say, God bless him! and God addresses him in an especial manner, and declares that he is his Father, and does not merely say a passing word, but stops him to say, ‘Thou art of my flock, let my word be thy pasture, let it be the spiritual food of thy soul.’ Thus we see that this word is highly significant, when it is said that the grace of God hath appeared fully to all men.” — Fr. Ser.

[4] From Calvin’s commentary, Titus chapter 2. Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/chr/calvin/cc43/cc43021.htm (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[5] I used ‘obtuse’ as meaning ‘difficult to understand’ (Oxford dictionaries online 2016. s v obtuse).

[6] Dort is the English spelling of Dordt, which is an abbreviation of Dordrecht.

[7] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:382).

[8] See CCEL, John Wesley, available at: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/wesley (Accessed 28 April 2016).

[9] Lifespan details are from Cairns (1981:400).

[10] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, ‘Particular Redemption’. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[11] Rev C H Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, The Spurgeon Archive, The Death of Christ, Sermon No 173. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0173.php (Accessed 29 April 2016).

[12] This is based on a synonym for ‘effectual’ as ‘effective’ in Oxford Dictionaries online (2016. s v effectual).

[13] Birth date from Curriculum Vitae, Baylor University. Available at: http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/26382.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[14] InterVarsity Press is the publisher of Olson (2006).

[15] He is professor of theology at George W Truett Theological Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas (back flap, Olson 2006).

[16] Birth date from ‘Introducing Dr. R. C. Sproul’, Ligonier Ministries 2016. Available at: http://www.ligonier.org/about/rc-sproul/ (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[17] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Clement of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Clement-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[18] Ron Rhodes 1996. The extent of the atonement: Limited atonement versus unlimited atonement (Part 2), available at: http://chafer.nextmeta.com/files/v2n3_rhodes.pdf (Accessed 28 August 2012). Rhodes gives the reference as Paedagogus, ch. 11. However, there is no such reference as there are three books (online) each with a ch. 11, but the quote is not to be found in any of these chapters.

[19] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v Eusebius of Caesarea). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05617b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[20] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St.. Athanasius). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02035a.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[21] See Ron Rhodes (n d).

[22] Lifespan dates, The Catholic Encyclopedia (2012. s v St. Cyril of Jerusalem). Available at: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04595b.htm (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[23] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Cyril of Alexandria). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Cyril-of-Alexandria (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[24] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Gregory of Nazianzen). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Gregory-of-Nazianzus (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[25] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Basil the Great). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Basil-the-Great (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[26] It is cited in Rhodes (n d) but without any primary source.

[27] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Ambrose). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Ambrose (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[28] However, this is Psalm 119 in the English Bible.

[29] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Augustine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Augustine (Accessed 30 April 2016).

[30] Lifespan dates, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2016. s v Saint Prosper of Aquitaine). Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Prosper-of-Aquitaine (Accessed 20 April 2016).

[31] Terry Miethe stated that Elwell was a Presbyterian (Miethe 1989:79).

[32] Christian Forums.net, Apologetics & Theology, ‘No conditions to be reconciled’, Jim Parker#78. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/no-conditions-to-be-reconciled.64255/page-4 (Accessed 22 April 2016).

[33] Ibid., beloved57#80.

[34] Ibid., OzSpen#102.

[35] Ibid., beloved57#103.

[36] Ibid., OzSpen#107.

[37] Ibid., beloved57#115.

[38] Ibid., OzSpen#117.

[39] Ibid., beloved57#105.

[40] Ibid., OzSpen#109.

[41] Ibid., beloved57#114.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#118.

[43] Ibid., beloved57#113.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#119.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 May 2016.

God is timeless but acts in time

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

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(image courtesy clipartlogo.com)

By Spencer D Gear

When there are discussions about Arminians and Calvinists and their disparate views of predestination and election, some interesting theories sometimes emerge on Internet Christian forums regarding the nature of God’s attributes.

Attributes are ‘the qualities of God which constitute what he is. They are the very characteristics of his nature’ and they relate to the qualities of the entire Godhead. They ‘are permanent qualities. They cannot be gained or lost. They are intrinsic…. God’s attributes are essential and inherent dimensions of his very nature’ (Erickson 1985:265).

I met one person online who wrote:

As to God loving Jacob and hating Esau, it is certainly not illustrative of some being predestined for Heaven and others for Hell. God — in His Divine foreknowledge — saw that Esau would never be a true believer (Heb 12:16,17), and the nation that sprang from Esau (Edom) would be the bitterest enemy of Israel (and of God) throughout their history. Hence God hated Esau (Edom) and loved Jacob (Israel). As Scripture says of Christ "Thou hast loved righteousness, AND HATED INIQUITY" (Heb 1:9).[1]

Another responded: ‘Don’t forget that when God spoke those words it was centuries after the fact and how the two Brothers and their offspring had acted. Based on that it is quite natural for God to say what he said based on their actions’.[2]

That comment seemed to indicate that God knew after the fact rather than before the fact.

No time in God’s being

My response was:[3] I’m not convinced that this is an adequate understanding of God’s eternity/infinity. We know that:

  1. There is no time in God’s being. He is timeless. See Psalm 90:2, ‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God’ (ESV). Also refer to Rev 1:8.
  2. God sees all of time simultaneously or vividly. See Psalm 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night’ (ESV).
  3. Yet, God takes action in time. Jesus came ‘when the time had fully come’, born of a woman, under the law, to redeem those under the law (Gal 4:4-5) [with help from Grudem 1999:76-78].

Therefore, I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be affirmed by Scripture: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).
So, the information about God loving Jacob and hating Esau does not have a ‘centuries after the fact’ dynamic when we understand God’s attribute of eternity or infinity because God is timeless in his being. This kind of understanding is seen in verses such as Eph 1:4 where God states of Christians that he chose us in Christ ‘BEFORE the foundation of the world’.

Systematic theologian, Henry Thiessen, wrote that

by the eternity of God we mean His infinity in relation to time; we mean that He is without beginning or end; that He is free from all succession of time; and that He is the cause of time.… That God is eternal is abundantly taught in Scripture…. Eternity for God is one Now’ (Thiessen 1949:122, emphasis in original).

Thiessen refers to Gen 21:33 (‘the Everlasting God’); Ps 90:2 (‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God’); Ps 102:27 (‘You are the same, and your years have no end’); Isa 57:15 where God is ‘high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity’, and 1 Tim 6:16 where the Sovereign, King of kings and Lord of Lords is the one ‘who alone has immortality’ (all citations are from the ESV).

Then came this opposition:

Hundreds of verses oppose such a view

This fellow, who often tries to make others and me seem inferior with his alleged superior knowledge, responded:

None of these verses support your belief. Moreover, there are hundreds upon hundreds of verses in the Bible which explicitly describe man actively, both mentally and physically, opposing the will of God. When God created man, He created him with the ability to successfully oppose His sovereignty – and he has been doing so from the very beginning of his creation![4]

God’s sovereignty does not mean that people cannot and do not commit evil. However, that is all in the sovereign plan of God. How do we know? It is God who has stated the boundaries of his sovereignty. John the Baptist stated, ‘And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham’ (Matt 3:9 ESV). The psalmist was adamant: ‘Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases’ (Ps 115:3). In saying that God does as God pleases, we know that God cannot do that which violates his own character such as lying (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18; James 1:13). In 2 Tim 2:13, it states that ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself’.

My three points are untrue

This fellow’s rejection of my three-point claim regarding God’s eternity was what we could call the fourth point: The three points I made above were false. He wrote: ‘Point #3 proves that points #2 and #3 are not true. I find Wayne Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity to be based upon his overactive imagination rather than affirmed by Scripture’.[5]

Notice what he did? He provided not one piece of evidence to demonstrate the falsehood of what I wrote. Thus, his response was a red herring logical fallacy. Red herring fallacies involve the use of a tactic to avoid dealing with the issues raised and pursuit of the person’s own agenda with information that looks as though it is related but is not. It’s a tactic that some debaters often use to get people off specific topics. They need to be exposed for what they do by naming the fallacies they commit.

My reply was[6] that I disagree. Points 1-3 are all valid (which I’ll demonstrate again below). He provided no evidence to counter the view Grudem espoused, based on the scriptural evidence he provided.

Therefore, Grudem’s definition of God’s eternity/infinity is consistent with the biblical revelation he articulated: ‘God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time’ (Grudem 1999:76).

Brilliant, basic Christian theology

A fellow chimed in with a beautiful response to PrincetonGuy and me with his analogy:

Image result for photo clock public domainI can show that point number four (yours) [PrincetonGuy] is not true. Let’s take a look at this by way of analogy. Specifically, let’s go with Acts 3:15 and pretend that God is in some way like an author. I know you don’t like that idea, because it sounds a little too Calvinistic, but lets (sic) go with it, anyway:

1. The author is not subject to the time line of his own narrative. He may have his own time, but it is not the time line of his novel. This is similar to him not being physically contained within the confines of the universe that he created in the novel. Don’t be shocked by this. God is not fully encapsulated within the universe that he created, neither by space nor by time. Otherwise, he could not have existed before the universe in order to create it.

2. The author can hold the entire novel in his hand at once. Without even reading it, he knows what happens at every point in the story. He can either consider the story line as a whole, or he can read through it one page at a time, reliving the events. This is similar to God (2 Peter 3:8), and it is by definition a component of his omniscience.

3. Now, here’s the part that you think contradicts the first two: the author can write himself into his own novel as a character. He can interact with the characters as one of the characters, and he can do it on terms with their own time line. Hence, Jesus was God in the flesh, living among us as one of us, though God be eternal, immortal and self-existent. He lived according to our timeline, though God exists outside of time.

Space and time are both considered similarly. If we believe that God exists outside of the physical universe, which he must if he had to create it, then we believe that he exists outside of the universe’s time as well as the universe’s space. Nowhere, ever, has there been any demonstration of a divorce between space and time. Where one goes, so goes the other.

If God stands outside of the universe’s time, then he is not subject to it. For example, I stand outside of the timeline containing the events of World War II (thankfully). Therefore, I am not forced to move through that time at a set pace. I am able to consider individual events, in sequence or as a strategic whole, from that time period, so long as I am properly informed, because I am not contained by it.

Jesus was present within our space, and he was, therefore, contained within our time. He is also Emmanuel, which is to say that he is God with us. Therefore, God with us was present within our space and time. Therefore, God can be both outside of and independent of time, and he can be inside of and working with our time. The reverse is not also true: he can reach down to us, but we can not reach up to him.

This is not fanciful thinking. It’s just basic Christian theology. You can’t deny point number one without denying God’s self-existence, which then means he cannot be the creator of the universe. You can’t deny point two without denying point one, because the second point definitively follows from the first point. If you deny the third point, then you deny the deity of Christ. The first two make you a monotheist. The third makes you a Christian.[7]

This is a dynamic example, so I responded: ‘What a splendid summary statement! You have explained it so well by analogy. In addition, it harmonises (if I understand you correctly) with the 3 points I made’ with their biblical backing.[8]

Wrong philosophical thinking!

My opponent was not at all pleased by the above analogy. He wrote:

No, it is philosophical thinking that is dependent upon unprovable assumptions. Moreover, it conflicts with the historic understanding of God in the Scriptures as described in the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten of the Father the only-begotten; that is, of the essence of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made; Who for us men, and for our salvation, came down and was incarnate and was made man.[9]

Philosophical thinking is far removed from the analogy. It was used to explain biblical thinking, so I responded to this person: ‘It is biblical thinking as I demonstrated with the Scriptures given in points #1-3 above. Quoting the Nicene Creed does not deal with the specifics of God’s attribute of eternity/infinity and how he acts in time’.[10]

It doesn’t belong in a Baptist forum

What kind of response would you expect from him?

Where is the scriptural evidence that Grudem cited to support his absurd notion that is refuted by the hundreds of passages in the Bible that teach a sequence of events and the cause and effect of each of those events? Does Grudem not know enough about biblical hermeneutics to realize that the book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion?…

The Nicene Creed, which Grudem seems to ignore, affirms that the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is “of the essence of the Father,” and is “of one substance with the Father.” God, in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Alpha and the Omega (and therefore not “timeless”), most certainly did not see “all of time simultaneously.” Theology that expressly and explicitly contradicts the Nicene Creed (as well as the Bible!) is NOT orthodox theology and does NOT belong in the Baptist forum.[11]

Note the emphasis: ‘The book of Psalms is NOT a reliable source upon which to base a theological opinion’. Predictably my response was:

All Scripture is from God – including the Psalms

bible5I wrote[12] that that is his view of the lack of authority and reliability of the Psalms. In fact, it’s affirming your low view of Scripture – the Psalms.

This is the biblical view that I, a Baptist, take with regard to Scripture – all of Scripture – (and so does Wayne Grudem, professor of theology & biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary): ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work’ (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).

The Scriptures do not affirm the authority of creeds. The Nicene Creed is a useful summary of theology, but it is not authoritative as are the Scriptures.

The Scriptures affirm that God’s attribute of eternity/infinity is not shared by us. According to Job 36:26, Elihu said of God, ‘Behold, God is great, and we know him not; the number of his years is unsearchable’ (ESV).

God’s eternity is suggested by NT passages such as Rev 1:8, ‘I am the Alpha and Omega, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’ (ESV). So, God’s eternity is affirmed in both OT and NT, the reliable Scriptures that are ‘breathed out by God’ and have a guess what? They are ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness’ to equip us for God’s good work in our lives. That applies to you and me and all Christians on this forum.
Thus, God is timeless in his being. God was never created so he did not begin to exist. See Gen 1:1; 1 Cor 8:6; Col 1:16; and Heb 1:2.

Second Peter 3:8 confirms that God sees all of time equally: ‘But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day’ (ESV). Isaiah 46:9-10 affirms similar teaching:

remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose (ESV).

This attribute of God’s eternity/infinity is demonstrated in time, where all human beings exist: Acts 17:30-31 provides but one example:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (ESV).

You can denigrate the Psalms, but that view is not supported by the doctrine of Scripture I’ve cited above, but the Scriptures affirm God’s eternity where:

  • God is timeless in his being;
  • He sees all time equally; and
  • God acts in time – the time we experience.

That’s Bible, and denigrating the Psalms is an avoidance mechanism in dealing with the authority and teaching of Scripture on God’s eternity/infinity.
If you don’t believe the Psalms are a reliable source for theology, why don’t you start a new thread with a title such as, ‘The Psalms are unreliable teaching on biblical Christianity’. I look forward to the response when and if you bring Psalm 23 into that view.

William Craig doubts Grudem’s view of God’s eternity

William Lane Craig.jpg(William Lane Craig photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Influential evangelical apologist and philosopher, Dr William Lane Craig, does not agree with Grudem’s exposition of God’s eternity. Although Craig uses some challenging philosophical concepts for me, he does raise some issues with Grudem’s view that are substantial. Take a read of Craig’s issues in: ‘A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity‘ (Craig 1996).

His assessment is:

It is shown how the attempt of one theologian to explicate the doctrine of divine eternity is logically inconsistent and his attempts to defend an atemporal understanding of eternity mistaken (Craig 1996).

Craig explains one of his issues with Grudem’s formulation of God’s eternity:

Grudem is oblivious to the fact that his claim "God always existed before there was any time" is patently self-contradictory, indeed, doubly so. First, to speak of God’s existing "before" time is contradictory because "before" is a temporal relation. So if God existed before time, He existed at some time prior to time, which is obviously a contradiction. Secondly, to say God always existed timelessly is self-contradictory, since "always" is a temporal adverb meaning "at all times." But to say God prior to creation existed both timelessly and at all times is clearly contradictory. Grudem protests that such objections are "just quibbling" and perhaps this complaint would be justified were such contradictions due merely to a popular style of writing used to explain a doctrine which can be more rigorously formulated with consistency. But Grudem asserts that "I simply do not think it is possible to express any more clearly in English the ideas (1) that time began at Genesis 1:1 and (2) that ‘prior to’ Genesis 1:1 time did not exist (and therefore there was no succession of moments or events in this ‘prior to’ or ‘before’), but (3) that in that timeless reality God still existed, and he existed not just for a brief second or any kind of finite amount of (non!)-time but that he ‘always’ existed timelessly" ("Comments").[13] Now this strikes me as an extremely serious and troublesome assertion on Grudem’s part. If it is really impossible to express such ideas in a logically coherent way, without speaking of such as (non-) time or God’s always existing prior to time, then how is that any different than saying that the Christian doctrine of God is simply logically incoherent? Since logical consistency is a necessary condition for truth, the sentences formulating the Christian doctrine of divine eternity are necessarily false. To believe that the Christian doctrine of God, despite its logical incoherence, is nonetheless true thus involves a sacrificum intellectum on the part of every believer (Craig 1996).

William Lane Craig, therefore, concluded:

Grudem’s treatment of divine eternity is multiply flawed both in its formulation and defense. This does not imply that the doctrine of divine timelessness is either incoherent or indefensible. The same sort of weaknesses in formulation and defense could have been shown to characterize, for example, Clark Pinnock’s defense of divine temporality. I hope only to have shown that Grudem’s own attempt to formulate and defend his view of God’s eternity is in need of major revision (Craig 1996).

Conclusion

Therefore, I conclude that my formulation of the theology of God’s eternity depended too much on Wayne Grudem’s understanding and my exposition of God’s eternity needs to consider the elements of William Craig’s critique. Some of these include:

Grudem defines divine eternity as follows: "God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time" (p. 168). This definition makes it evident that Grudem construes divine eternity to be a state of timelessness, not infinite temporal duration.

Now it is immediately evident that this affirmation outstrips the biblical passages quoted by Grudem as attestation. From passages like Ps. 90.2, Grudem has no difficulty showing that God has no beginning or end: "Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (cf. Ps. 90.4; 2 Pet. 3.8). But do such passages support Grudem’s affirmation that "God is timeless in his own being" rather than God’s beginningless and endless duration? Surely not. Grudem cites Gen. 1.1; Jn. 1.3 which indicate that God created all things "in the beginning," a phrase which Grudem takes to mean "in the beginning of all events, or in the beginning of time" ("Comments"). This line is more promising; but Grudem fails to give any argument why such passages should be taken to refer to the beginning of time rather than to the beginning of the world. Grudem is on less sure ground when he appeals to Ex. 3.14; Jn. 8.58 to prove God or Jesus’s eternal presentness (Craig 1996).

Thus it is evident that my own understanding of God’s eternity needs to get rid of statements such as, ‘God always existed before or after’ where ‘before’ and ‘after’ are language for issues in time.

Craig, as a Christian philosopher, has given some profound insight into Grudem’s shortcomings in his view of God’s eternity. Craig’s preferred language is, ‘God’s beginningless and endless duration’.

 

Works consulted

Craig, W L 1996. A Critique of Grudem’s Formulation and Defense of the Doctrine of Divine Eternity. Philosophia Christi, 19, 33-38. Available at Reasonable Faith, http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-critique-of-grudems-formulation-and-defense-of-the-doctrine[14] (Accessed 11 July 2015).

Erickson, M J 1985. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with

Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Job8#28, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Baptists?’, June 27, 2015, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/baptists.7893826/page-2 (Accessed 11 July 2015).

[2] Ibid., classicalhero#47.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#52.

[4] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#53.

[5] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#64.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#55.

[7] Ibid., nonaeroterraqueous#56.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen#57.

[9] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#58.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#59.

[11] Ibid., PrincetonGuy#60.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#65.

[13] In Craig (1996, n. 1), Craig stated: ‘I am indebted to Dr. Grudem for his critical comments on a first draft of this paper (Wayne Grudem to William Craig, October 1, 1996). Citations of these comments will appear as "Comments”’.

[14] There is no pagination in this online edition.

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

Prevenient grace – kinda clumsy!

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

(image courtesy Dave Barnhart)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

I have not heard the term, ‘prevenient grace’, preached from many pulpits today in my part of Australia. In fact, in my many years as an evangelical believer, I can’t recall ever hearing it expounded, even though I have attended Wesleyan churches. The problem is probably associated with the fact that not much evangelical theology is expounded from the pulpit.

However, I dared to use it as a passing example in a post I made on a Christian Forum online. I was responding to a person who wrote about….

A. Grace

She said, ‘We hear the word a lot, but are we quite sure we know what it really means?’ Then she gave a down-home example with an emphasis on freedom.[1]

1. Does grace mean freedom?

thumbnailMy response was:[2] In the story you have given, you have indicated the grace of one person to another. What does that ‘grace’ mean in a Christian context? Are you saying that this grace means freedom?

Or, are you considering this grace to be like that of God towards the undeserving? In fact, the sinful undeserving attitude and behaviour towards God deserved something worse. An example could be that of Australia’s mass media mogul, the late Kerry Packer, who had this said about him at the beginning of his obituary in The Age newspaper, ‘The last time Kerry Packer died, 15 years ago, he quickly took the opportunity to denounce the existence of an afterlife. “I’ve been on the other side and let me tell you son, there’s f—ing nothing there,” he was fond of saying’.[3] Dorothy Rowe reported of Packer:

When the Australian media mogul Kerry Packer had recovered from a massive heart attack during which he virtually died, he told his friend Phillip Adams, “I’ve been to the other side, and let me tell you, son, there’s f—ing nothing there. There’s no one waiting for you. There’s no one to judge you, so you can do what you bloody well like (in Rowe 2009:205).

What seems to be missing in that Packer example is that the near-death experience 15 years before his actual death, where he stopped breathing for 8 minutes (other reports say 6 minutes),[4] was just that – a near-death experience. When he was air-lifted from the Warwick Farm racecourse, Sydney, where he was playing polo after a massive heart attack, it was not permanent death but a near-death experience.[5] If it were permanent death, Packer would not have been alive to make that kind of blasphemous statement about what happens at death.[6] A much more reliable indicator is that provided by almighty God who stated that ‘each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment’ (Heb 9:27 NLT). Kerry Packer knows about it now. ‘Kerry Packer died of kidney failure on Boxing Day [26 December], 2005, aged 68’ (Phillips 2013).

However, God, in knowing that all human beings are sinful and guilty before Him, extended his goodness to them, those who did not deserve it. This is His grace in action. Thanks to God’s revelation in Scripture, we know that the grace of God manifested to sinful human beings, is what God does:[7]

(1) He is patient (forbearance) and delays punishment for sin (Ex 34:6; Rom 2:4-5; 3:25; 9:22; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 3:9, 15);

(2) In regard to salvation, God provides the proclamation of the Word of God, conviction of the Holy Spirit and prevenient grace (1 Jn 2:2; Hos 8:12; Jn 16:8-11; Matt 5:13-14; Tit 2:11). This is most often called the ‘common grace of God’.

But God’s special grace is seen in election and predestination (Eph 1:4-6); redemption (Eph 1:7-8); salvation (Acts 18:27); sanctification (Rom 5:21); continuing in the faith (2 Cor 12:9); receiving an unshakable kingdom (Heb 12:28); and continuing until the final revelation of Jesus Christ at his second coming (1 Pet 1:13).

2. Clumsy and not elegant

How would a person respond to the above?

She came back with, ‘The term “prevenient grace” always seemed kinda clumsy to me. The idea seems to be that God was ready with His grace before I ever thought about sinning. I’m grateful to Him for that, of course…but there should be a more elegant way to express it.  Ahh, well.  Who am I to try to rewrite the language?’[8]

While the word ‘prevenient grace’ does not appear in Scripture, to my knowledge, the teaching does. Let’s investigate the evidence.

B. Biblical evidence for prevenient grace[9]

Prevenient grace (or common grace) is not that difficult to explain. Titus 2:11 (ESV) does it very well, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’. The issue relates to the fact that human beings can’t initiate salvation. If we are to be saved to inherit eternal life, God must take the initiative. Titus 2:11 makes it clear that when God takes this initiative, through his grace (common or prevenient), it frees the human will in relation to salvation. To further explain the meaning of ‘appeared’ in this verse, see my article:

clip_image004 How to interpret ‘appeared’ in Titus 2:11

That God has freed the will is inferred from the number of exhortations in Scripture to turn to God (see Prov 1:23; Isa 31:6; Ezek 14:6; 18:32; Joel 2:13-14; Matt 18:3; Acts 3:19). We also see it in the exhortations to repent (1 Kings 8:47; Matt 3:2; Mk 1:15; Lk 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; 17:30. Then there are verses that exhort people to believe (2 Chron 20:20; Isa 43:10; Jn 6:29; 14:1; Acts 16:31; Phil 1:29; 1 Jn 3:23). It would be impossible to turn to God, repent or believe if God had not in some way made it possible for such to happen for rebel sinners. He does this by sending grace before. Prevenient is based on the Latin verb, praevenio, i.e. prae = before; venio = come.
This does not mean that this prevenient/common grace enables a person to change the permanent bent of his/her will towards God (that would be Pelagianism). It does mean that a person can make that initial response to God so that God can then give repentance and faith. It is like what the author wrote in Lamentations 5:21 (NIV), ‘Restore us to yourself, Lord, that we may return’. The KJV translated it as, ‘Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned’. We can see this message also affirmed in Jer 31:18-19; Ps 80:3; 85:4).

Since Scripture tells us this much, then God’s prevenient grace has given human beings a measure of freedom to be restored to him. We can see some of this expressed in a verse such as Rom 1:20 (ESV), ‘For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse‘ (emphasis added).

A simple definition of prevenient or common grace is: It is the grace of God that restores to the sinner the opportunity to make a favourable response to God. My view is that it is God’s grace that makes it possible for all people to be saved. God must take the initiative if human beings are to be saved. Titus 2:11 summarises prevenient grace.

Be warned! This discussion has caused theological heartache between Calvinists and Arminians, the latter supporting prevenient grace and the former opposing it. I’m a Reformed Arminian supporter of prevenient grace.

See these other articles,

clip_image006 Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

clip_image006[1] Does God only draw certain people to salvation?

1. Prevenient cookies for the kids

Image result for clipart cookies public domainHow do you think the person would reply to the above evidence? Here goes: ‘There really ought to be a more elegant term for it.  But I can’t think of one, either. On the other hand, I can’t think of any other use for the term “prevenient”. She had gone to the store to provide prevenient cookies for the kids?  Nope…doesn’t work’.[10]

How do I respond to the concept of ‘prevenient cookies’?[11] I did give another term for prevenient grace, i.e. common grace. Or could we say that prevenient grace is synonymous with grace that God extends to all people that enables them to come to Christ. That’s enabling grace.

A little while back I wrote an article that attempts to address some of these issues: Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?

Perhaps it would be better to call it enabling, amazing grace before salvation (Titus 2:11 ESV).

In the Statement of Faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, part of it reads (in relation to prevenient grace):

We believe that humanity was created in the image of God but fell from its original sinless state through willful disobedience and Satan’s deception, resulting in eternal condemnation and separation from God. In and of themselves and apart from the grace of God human beings can neither think, will, nor do anything good, including believe. But the prevenient grace of God prepares and enables sinners to receive the free gift of salvation offered in Christ and his gospel. Only through the grace of God can sinners believe and so be regenerated by the Holy Spirit unto salvation and spiritual life. It is also the grace of God that enables believers to continue in faith as well as good in thought, will, and deed, so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God.

‘Prevenient cookies for the kids’ could be ‘getting cookies so that the kids can gorge’ at the appropriate time – New Year’s Eve. Imagine having a theology of ‘grace in preparation for the gorge’. I’m not being sacrilegious. I’m using that analogy – with an extension. ‘Assisting grace’ that comes before salvation is the idea. It is contrary to irresistible grace.

See my article, How a Calvinist can distort the meaning of 2 Peter 3:9.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary online gives the meaning of ‘prevenient’ as antecedent, anticipatory (source). Dictionary.com provides the meaning as, ‘coming before, antecedent, anticipatory’.

How about antecedent grace or grace that comes before salvation?

C. The counter of irresistible grace

The most common resistance to the biblical view of prevenient grace comes from the Calvinistic exponents of irresistible grace.

This is the kind of argument from a Calvinist in support of irresistible grace and against prevenient grace:

The Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace should be rejected on biblical grounds. First and foremost, it turns Paul’s words “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:6) on their head. The Greek term used here means to “accomplish” or “perfect,” similar to how the writer of Hebrews says Jesus is the “author and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). The doctrine of prevenient grace affirms that a work is done in the sinner but it denies that the efficacy of the grace is guaranteed. This makes no sense if we are assured that God will perfect what He starts in a person. Second, there is no reason to believe that the two “him’s” in John 6:44 are different groups of people. Two Greek words separate the first “him” who is drawn by the Father from the second “him” who is raised up on the last day. Grammatically and contextually, there is nothing that would begin to support the idea that the verse means not all who are drawn will be raised up on the last day. We find a similar idea in Romans 8:30, where we read that all whom God calls, referring to the inward calling, will be justified and later glorified (‘What is prevenient grace?’ Got Questions Ministries).

The counter to this is from James Arminius himself:

Concerning grace and free will, this is what I teach according to the Scriptures and orthodox consent: Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to the word “grace,” I mean by it that which is the grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration. I affirm, therefore, that this grace is simply and absolutely necessary for the illumination of the mind, the due ordering of the affections, and the inclination of the will to that which is good. It is this grace which operates on the mind, the affections, and the will; which infuses good thoughts into the mind, inspires good desires into the actions, and bends the will to carry into execution good thoughts and good desires. This grace goes before, accompanies, and follows; it excites, assists, operates that we will, and co-operates lest we will in vain. It averts temptations, assists and grants succour in the midst of temptations, sustains man against the flesh, the world and Satan, and in this great contest grants to man the enjoyment of the victory. It raises up again those who are conquered and have fallen, establishes and supplies them with new strength, and renders them more cautious. This grace commences salvation, promotes it, and perfects and consummates it.

I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. And I add to this — that teacher obtains my highest approbation who ascribes as much as possible to divine grace, provided he so pleads the cause of grace, as not to inflict an injury on the justice of God, and not to take away the free will to that which is evil (Works of James Arminius, vol 2. ‘Grace and Free will’)

The teaching of Arminius was that the will was so bound with sin that it is ‘dead in sins’ and that it needed God’s grace through Christ for regeneration. That grace is needed to illuminate the mind towards God. ‘This grace goes before, accompanies and follows’ regeneration.

1. What is irresistible grace?

clip_image008

(image courtesy ChristArt)

R. C. Sproul, a Calvinist, describes irresistible grace as ‘effectual calling’. For Sproul,

the effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result…. irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it (Sproul 1992:169-170).

We need to understand that the language of ‘effectual calling’ is a way to soften the language of ‘irresistible grace’, with the latter coming with overtones of God forcing a person to receive salvation. Lemke (2010:112) considers that ‘some contemporary Calvinists seem to be a little embarrassed by the term “irresistible grace” and have sought to soften it or to replace it with a term like “effectual calling”‘.

While Sproul (1992), Spurgeon (1856) and J. I. Packer (1993:152-153) use the language of ‘effectual calling’, other Calvinists are more up front in emphasising that grace that brings about salvation cannot be refused – people are unable to resist. Packer’s language is that ‘in effectual calling God quickens the dead’, people understand the gospel through the Holy Spirit enlightening and renewing the hearts of elect sinners. They embrace this ‘truth from God, and God in Christ becomes to them an object of desire and affection’ as they are now regenerate and have been enabled ‘by the use of their freed will to choose God and the good’ and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Packer 1993:153). Spurgeon (1856) said, ‘If he shall but say, “To-day I must abide at thy house,” there will be no resistance in you…. If God says “I must,” there is no standing against it. Let him say “must,” and it must be’.

Steele, Thomas and Quinn (2004:52-54), as Calvinists, are more to the point, using the language that ‘the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made’. It is issued ‘only to the elect’ and the Spirit does not depend on ‘their help or cooperation’. In fact, ‘for the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ’. That sounds awfully like God forcing the elect to come to Christ and by implication, leaving the non-elect to damnation, or God’s choice to irresistibly damn the non-elect.

John Piper and the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, do not use the softly, softly language. They state that irresistible grace

does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible…. The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when he wills.[12]

However, there is a paradoxical statement in the Bethlehem Baptist statement in that only a few paragraphs after making the above declaration, it stated:

Irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests.[13]

It sure is a contradiction in terms and the Bethlehem Baptist Church has given that contradiction by affirming that ‘the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance’, yet God never ‘forces us to believe against our will’.[14] They state that irresistible grace has been described this way:

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy“; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.[15]

A Calvinist continued his opposition to prevenient grace: ‘Why don’t you consider prevenient grace a violation of free will?’[16]

This was my response:[17] It is not a violation of free will. It is common grace. It is no more a violation of free will than a person receiving a soul/spirit is a violation of free will.

God takes the initiative in all salvation. We know that prevenient grace is not a violation of free will because God has stated it clearly. This is what He has done: ‘For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people’ (Titus 2:11 ESV).

This means that the human will is freed in relation to salvation. It is not a violation of free will. We know that the will has been freed in relation to salvation because it is implied in the exhortations given above:

  • to turn to God.
  • to repent, and
  • to believe.

Prevenient or common grace is no more a violation of a person’s will than their receiving a beating heart before birth and breath after birth. See, ‘How your baby begins to breathe’ (Dr Amy).

2. Why irresistible grace is unbiblical

Love and justice

(image courtesy ChristArt)

See the William Birch article, on the Society of Evangelical Arminians’ website, ‘Arminius vs Calvin on Irresistible Grace’.[18] Some of the chief theological issues, as I understand them, with irresistible grace, are:

clip_image010 It violates the fundamental principle that God gave to our first parents (Adam & Eve) in the Garden at the beginning of the human race, ‘ And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”’ (Gen 2:16-17 ESV). The man, Adam was given the freedom to choose to eat or not to eat from the tree. What did Adam do? He and his wife exercised their God-given free wills and they ate, thus bringing sin to the entire human race (Gen 3:1-7).

When it comes to salvation, this principle of free will choice is violated by Calvinistic irresistible grace. The Calvinistic view is God forcing the salvation of grace on human beings. The obvious response is that that is for the eternal benefit of the saved. My response is that this is for the eternal damnation of the lost as well. Double predestination (i.e. both the lost and saved are predestined eternally by God) makes God into a monster, in my view, who demands that a large section of humanity will be eternally perishing – according to His irresistible grace. It is demanded by God that it should be that way. What kind of God would do that when he has declared he is a God of love for the whole world (John 3:16)?

Is this a libertine view of free will? Not at all! See my article,

blue-coil-sm What is the nature of human free will?

This leads to some further, but related, problems with irresistible grace:

clip_image010[1] It reveals God as an unfair supernatural being. See my articles,

blue-coil-sm The injustice of the God of Calvinism;

blue-coil-sm Sent to hell by God: Calvinism in action?

clip_image011 It contravenes a fundamental of New Testament Christianity of God

loving the world and Jesus’ dying for the whole world of sinners. This is explained in my articles,

blue-coil-sm Does God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

blue-coil-sm Calvinists squirming over the world;

blue-coil-sm Does God love the world or only the elect?

blue-coil-sm Did Jesus die for the sins of the whole world?

clip_image011[1] It makes God into a Being of partiality who plays the favourites. This especially violates the biblical teaching, ‘for God does not show favoritism’ (Rom 2:11 NIV). In Romans 2, the context is no favouritism between Jews and Greeks (Gentiles). Then in Acts 10:34-35 (NIV), Peter preached the good news to the Gentiles, ‘Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right’.

Caleb Colley explained:

Exactly what does it mean that God is impartial? God offers salvation to every man, no matter what external circumstances, such as socioeconomic status or nationality, might apply to him. God does not offer salvation only to the Jew, just because he is a Jew, or only to the Gentile because he is a Gentile. The Greek word translated “respecter of persons” in the King James Version of Acts 10:34 (“God is no respecter of persons”) is prosopolemptes, a word that refers to a judge who looks at a man’s face instead of at the facts of the case, and makes a decision based on whether or not he likes the man (Lenski, 1961, p. 418). Under Roman law, for example, a defendant’s societal status was weighed heavily along with evidence. Any human judge might show undue favor to a plaintiff or a defendant because of private friendship, bribery, rank, power, or political affiliation, but God, the perfect Judge, cannot be tempted by any of the things that might tempt a human judge to show unfair partiality.[19]

D. Conclusion

This is not an article where I provide a refutation of every verse the Calvinists use to try to counter prevenient grace. It is an overview of some of the issues. I write as a Reformed, classical Arminian who is convinced from Scripture of the doctrine of prevenient grace as taught in Titus 2:11 (ESV).

For a refutation of one of the primary Calvinistic verses against prevenient grace, see Craig L. Adams, “Calvinism and John 6:44?. John 6:44 (ESV) reads, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’.

I am convinced that the biblical evidence points to prevenient grace that is an antecedent to salvation, but it is grace that is available to all but can be resisted.

Works consulted

Lemke, S W 2010. A biblical and theological critique of irresistible grace. David L. Allen & Steve W. Lemke (eds). Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, 109-162. Nashville, Tennessee: B&H Academic.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Phillips, N 2013. Packer’s last words to his son. The Sydney Morning Herald (online), February 11. Available at: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/tv-and-radio/packers-last-words-to-his-son-20130210-2e6jw.html (Accessed 2 February 2016).

Rowe, D 2009. What Should I Believe? Why Our Beliefs about the Nature of Death and the Purpose of Life Dominate Our Lives. London and New York: Routledge.

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Spurgeon, C H 1856. Effectual calling, sermon 73, 30 March. Available at: http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0073.htm (Accessed 5 October 2011).

Steele, D N, Thomas C C, & Quinn S L 2004. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.


Notes

[1] Christianity Board, Grace, The Barrd#1. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/22258-grace/#entry268559 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[2] Ibid., OzSpen#4.

[3] The Age, Kerry Francis Bullmore Packer 1937-2005: Obituary (online), 28 December 2005. Available at: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2005/12/27/1135445572500.html?page=fullpage (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[4] This report stated that Packer was ‘without a pulse for six minutes’, Emma Alberici, Kerry Packer dies, The 7.30 Report (online), 27 December 2005. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2005/s1538560.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[5] See the photograph of Kerry Packer on his hospital bed, who had been ‘admitted to Saint Vincent’s Hospital after suffering a heart attack while playing polo at Warwick Farm, 7 October 1990’. Available from gettyimages at: http://www.gettyimages.com.au/detail/news-photo/kerry-packer-is-admitted-to-saint-vincents-hospital-after-news-photo/539703913 (Accessed 1 January 2016). See other details of this Packer experience in ‘Kerry Packer and a plea for privacy’ (Oxford University Press 2015), available at: http://www.oup.com.au/orc/extra_pages/higher_education/hirst__and__patching/kerry_packer (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[6] For an example of research into near-death experiences, see the interview with Dr Peter Fenwick, one of Britain’s leading neuropsychiatrists, on a year-old research project in the cardiac unit, Southampton General Hospital on Australia’s Lateline, 30 October 2000. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s206217.htm (Accessed 1 January 2016).

[7] With help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[8] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#5.

[9] With considerable help from Thiessen (1949:155-156).

[10] Christianity Board, loc cit., The Barrd#7.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#8.

[12] Desiring God, ‘What we believe about the five points of Calvinism’ (rev. March 1998). Available at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/what-we-believe-about-the-five-points-of-calvinism#Grace (Accessed 5 October 2011). I was alerted to this reference from Piper in Lemke (2010)..

[13] Ibid.

[14] This contradiction was pointed out in Lemke (2010:112).

[15] The Calvinist Corner, available at: http://calvinistcorner.com/tulip (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[16] Christian Forums.com, The ‘Free Will’ Dilemma, Hammster #517, June 23, 2013. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/the-free-will-dilemma.7746203/page-26 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

[17] Ibid., OzSpen#519.

[18] This was posted, July 5, 2010.

[19] Apologetics Press 2004. God is no respecter of persons (online). Available at: http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=12&article=1440 (Accessed 31 December 2015).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 4 June 2016.

Does God love the world or only the elect?

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2016

God is Love

(courtesy ChristArt)

 

By Spencer D Gear

This is a reasonable question:

When christians tell non-believers God loves them, before sharing the gospel. There are many verses I can refer to with regards to the Love shown by God to both believer and unbeliever. But when we say “God loves you”, is there scripture to show this?[1]

After a reply, he wrote this response:

The problem I run into is the context.

1. John 3:16 is the top verse I hear. Does it mean the WHOLE WORLD.
I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. (John 17:9 KJV)
*why not the world?
2. When verses are referring to believers (Israel/ church) and not unbelievers.
3. I know God sends the rain to both the wicked and the righteous.
A better question I should ask is…..
Would YOU tell Esau “God loves you”?[2]

My response was:[3]

John 17:9 states, ‘I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours’ (ESV).

With regard to John 17:9 and who it is that Jesus is praying for, we get the answer by reading the context. Please read the whole of John 17 to know who Jesus is praying for. Evangelical commentator, Leon Morris, wrote of John 17:9:

Very simply Jesus prays for them. He makes a distinction between the little band of disciples and the world. His prayer is not for “the world”. This does not mean that “the world” is beyond God’s love. Elsewhere we are specifically told that He loves it (3:16). And throughout this chapter it is plain that Jesus came with a mission to the world, and that the disciples were now to carry it on. A little later Jesus prays that the disciples may do certain things “that the world may believe…” (v. 21), and “that the world may know” (v. 23). The world is to be reached through the disciples and it is for His agents that Jesus prays. But He could scarcely pray for “the world” as such. As “the world” it was ranged in opposition to God. Its salvation lay precisely in its ceasing to be “the world”. Prayer for the world could only be that it be converted and no longer by the world. But that would be a different prayer. We see it for example in His prayer for those who crucified Him (Luke 23:34). Now He prays rather for the little group of His friends. Notice that they are again described in terms of their relationship to the Father. They have been “given” to Christ. They belong to the Father (Morris1971:725).

Another wrote:

There are passages in John that can reasonably be interpreted that way [God loved the world, John 3:16] , e.g. John 14:23. Personally I tend towards a more universal concept. Luke 6:35 suggests that our love for enemies is based on God’s own love for his enemies, but I think a reasonable case can be made that God only loves his people, and in John, only the elect.[4]

My response was:

If God only loved the elect, that makes “for God so loved the world” an oxymoron.

It makes God commit self-contradiction, which he does not do. Could it be that your doctrine of God only loving the elect is the one in error? “God so loved the world” cannot be dissected and deconstructed to mean “God so loved the elect”, unless one wants to get into eisegesis.

Luke 6:35 has no relation to God’s love for the world or the elect. It relates to what he told his disciples to do, ‘But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great…” It is talking about rewards for believers, not whether or not God loves the world or only the elect. In context, I think you are wanting Luke 6:35 to say something it does not say. Clutching at straws?[5]

Norman Geisler (1999:77) agreed: ‘Few teachings are more evident in the New Testament than that God loves all people, that Christ died for the sins of all human beings (cf. 1 Tim 2:4-6; 1 John 2:2), and that God desires all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9)’.

 

References

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Morris, Leon 1971. The Gospel according to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

 

Notes:

[1] Christian Forums, Christian Apologetics, ‘The Love of God’, toolmanjantzi#1, Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7721033/ (Accessed 3 February 2013).

[2] Ibid, toolmanjantzi#3.

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[4] Ibid., Hendrick#12.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#14.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 2 February 2016.

Righteousness and justice for the Christian

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

(courtesy clipartbest.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

The Christian can be trapped into thinking that when ‘righteousness’ is used in Scripture it has an English flavour in its meaning. Oxford dictionaries give the meaning as ‘the quality of being morally right or justifiable’. It is the opposite of wickedness or sinfulness (2015. S v righteousness). Or, it has the meaning of being ‘morally good: following religious or moral laws’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015. S v righteousness).

Is that the meaning of the word in Bible verses such as Rom 3:21-26 (ESV)?

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Meaning of righteousness in Scripture

Richard Strauss has summarised the biblical material well, in my understanding of Scripture,[1]

While the most common Old Testament word for just means ‘straight,’ and the New Testament word means ‘equal,’ in a moral sense they both mean ‘right.’ When we say that God is just, we are saying that He always does what is right, what should be done, and that He does it consistently, without partiality or prejudice. The word just and the word righteous are identical in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Sometimes the translators render the original word ‘just’ and other times ‘righteous’ with no apparent reason (cf. Nehemiah 9:8 and 9:33 where the same word is used). But whichever word they use, it means essentially the same thing. It has to do with God’s actions. They are always right and fair.

God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature (Strauss 1984:140).?

I was alerted to that quote in Bob Deffinbaugh’s article, ‘The Righteousness of God‘.

1. Justice and righteousness[2]

Image result for clipart justice public domainIn English, righteousness and justice are 2 different words but in the Hebrew OT and Greek NT that is not so as there is only one word root behind both ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’.

The word for righteousness, dikaiosune,[3] means ‘uprightness, justice as of a judge’. Examples include ‘enforce justice’ (Heb 11:33), ‘judge justly’ (Acts 17:31; Rev 19:11); ‘righteousness, uprightness as the compelling motive for the conduct of one’s whole life: hunger and thirst for uprightness’ (Matt 5:6) [Arndt & Gingrich 1957:195, emphasis in original].

So the meaning of this word is that God always does what is correct/right and God determines the standard of what is right.
These verses teach us this meaning of righteous/justice (emphasis added):

  • Gen 18:25 (ESV), ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’
  • Deut 32:4 (ESV), ‘all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he’.
  • Isa 45:19 (ESV), ‘I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right‘.
  • Paul tells us that God’s sending Christ as a sacrifice for the punishment for sins in Rom 3:25-26 (ESV), it ‘was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’.

This is reason for us to praise God that in everything he does; all his ways are righteous. They are just; there is no injustice in Him. Question: How does God’s justice harmonise with the killing of all the inhabitants of Ai (Joshua 8:24 ESV)?

When we examine a text such as Genesis 15:16, [4] we see what God warned Abraham what would happen: ‘And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete’ (ESV). The promise was that the time of the iniquity of the Amorites ‘was not yet complete’ after the Israelites left the nation of Egypt. The implication of that Scripture is that when the wickedness of the Canaanites had reached God’s limit of guilt or restraint, God would remove them from the land.

That is what he did to Jericho and Ai (Joshua 8:18-26). He did it with Makkedah (Josh 10:28), Lachish (Josh 10:32); Eglon (Josh 10:34-35); Debir (Josh 10:38-39), and the cities of the Negev and the Shepheliah (Josh 10:40). You can read about God’s punishment of Hazor, Madon, Shimron and Achspaph (Josh 11:10-14). It happened previously to Sodom & Gomorrah. You can read about what God did with his punishment of other cities according to Judges 19 and Judges 20.

When we engage in the plain reading of Scripture, we cannot get past the fact that when degenerate idolatry and brazen moral depravity developed in nations, God had to remove them so that the theocratic kingdom of Israel could settle in those regions.

I do not like the deplorable loss of life and atrocities that happened in these nations, but it would be much worse if these depraved activities were allowed to continue among God’s people.

How does God’s justice harmonise with this carnage? God warns about the consequences of sin. If people and nations continue to act against God’s instructions, he will so what is right and bring punishment. He warns before he does it. ‘Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’ (Gen 18:25). The lesson is this: Anyone can live this life as he/she wishes, but there are consequences – God’s consequences – when we give God the shaft and follow Frank Sinatra’s dictum, ‘I did it my way‘.

See John MacArthur, ‘The lover of righteousness’ (in MacArthur 1993: December 15).

How does righteousness fit with ‘holiness’?

2. Holiness

Psalm 99:9 (ESV) states, ‘The Lord our God is holy‘. God is called the ‘Holy One of Israel’ (Ps Pss 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa 1:4; 5:19, 24; etc). When God says he is holy, it means he is separate from sin.

However, using his own holiness as an example, God commands, ‘Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’ (Lev 19:2 ESV). We find a similar message in 1 Peter 1:16 (ESV), ‘since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy”’. Also, in the New Covenant, ‘Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord’ (Heb 12:14 NIV). Hebrews 12:10 (ESV) reminds us that God ‘disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness’.

Free photo of a red rose bud

What is the meaning of holiness to be experienced by the Christian believer? Heb 12:14 is a parallel verse to 1 Thess 4:7 (NIV), ‘For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life’. Hagiasmos (holiness) in Heb 12:14 (NIV) presupposes that a person is reconciled with Christ through justification. ‘The word denotes a process by which we become separated unto God in our entire life and conduct. We, who are already hagioi [holy] by faith, are ever to continue in pursuit of hagiasmos, a life that is more and more sanctified to God’ (Lenski 1966:443). The author of Hebrews was writing to people in a pagan culture who had recently become Christians. They knew what it was to be embroiled in a culture that was very unlike that of God’s requirements. Unless this changed life of growing to be more like the holy God was evident, these people would not see God. Why? It was because they were not Christians and were incapable of separating from worldly things.

So, God disciplines us so that we may share his separateness from sin. As we grow to be more like Jesus, we will more and more be separate from sin – not performing acts of sin. This is related to sanctification. That is how Lenski translates Heb 12:14, ‘Peace continue to pursue with all, and the sanctification without which no one shall see the Lord’ (Lenski 1966:442).

It does raise the question: How can any believer be separate from sin in a world that is contaminated by sin?

How does this sanctifying holiness relate to purity?

3. Purity

Do you remember the problems that Paul had with moral impurity in churches? See the church of Galatia (Gal 1:6-9; 3:1-5) and the church of Corinth (1 Cor 3:1-4; 4:18-21; 5:1-2, 6; 6:1-8; 11:17-22; 14:20-23; 15:2; 2 Cor 1:23-2:11; 11:3-5, 12-15; 12:19-21).

Second Cor 12:21 (ESV) states, ‘I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practised’.

Pure EvidenceLet’s look at the opposite word first. The word translated ‘impurity’ relates to ‘those who sinned’. It is the Greek, akatharsia, that is translated as ‘impurity’ (ESV, NIV, NLT, NASB, HCSB, ISV, NET, NRSV, NAB, NJB), ‘uncleanness’ (KJV, Douay-Rheims, NKJV). Arndt & Gingrich’s Greek lexicon (1957:28) gives the meaning as referring literally to ‘refuse’ (Matt 23:27) and in a moral sense of people who commit ‘immorality, viciousness, especially of sexual sins’ (2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Col 3:5; Eph 5:3) and is the opposite of hagiasmos (or hagismos) in 1 Thess 4:7 and Rom 6:19.

Thayer’s lexicon gives the meaning of hagiasmos as consecration and the effect of consecration (which is sanctification of heart and life) as in 1 Cor 1:30; 1 Thess 4:7; Rom 6:19, 22; 1 Tim 2:15; Heb 12:14. It is produced by the Holy Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), so it is opposed to lust (as in 1 Thess 4:7) (Thayer 1885/1962:6).

Impurity will separate the sinner from worship of God and involvement with God’s people. Paul could be referring to the libertines of Corinth who could state, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food’ (1 Cor 6:13 NIV). A follow on to this philosophy could be that other physical satisfactions were also permitted – including impurity.

So, purity, being the opposite of impurity, can have this meaning: Wayne Grudem provides this definition, ‘The purity of the church is its degree of freedom from wrong doctrine and conduct, and its degree of conformity to God’s revealed will for the church‘ (Grudem 1999:371, emphasis in original).

Purity in Christian conduct thus deals with acceptance and practice of God’s standard of doctrine and behaviour. It is caused by the Holy Spirit’s ministry to us and clean-up of our lives.

How does this relate to God’s call for the Christian to be perfect? Or, is ‘perfect’ the wrong word in English translations.

4. Perfection

A person asked: I see a Christian is imperfect or incomplete and is without purity. She thinks perfection ‘describes only God’.[5] This cannot be correct because Matt 5:48 (ESV) states, ‘You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’. So believers need to be perfect in some way that is parallel to that of the heavenly Father’s perfection.[6]

I need to dig deeper. Does ‘perfect’ here have the meaning in English, ‘Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be’ or ‘free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless’? Does it mean ideal, flawless or exemplary? (Oxford dictionaries 2015. S v perfect).

So, what then is the meaning of ‘perfect’ in Matt 5:48 (ESV) if ‘you therefore must be perfect’?[7] How can you and I be or become perfect in the English sense of faultless?

Image result for clipart goal public domainThe word used in the Greek of Matt 5:48, teleioi, is from telos, which means end, goal or limit. So, the standard to which we are called – the goal – is the Heavenly Father’s standard. The word is also used for a relative perfection of adults when compared with children.

The parallel verse is with Deut 18:13 (ESV), ‘You shall be blameless [upright, sincere] before the Lord your God’. So God is perfect in the sense of being true and upright in how he deals with us. That is the model we have to follow. In the Hebrew of Deut 18:13 (ESV), the word sham is used for ‘blameless’ and has the sense of being complete like a whole number, the full time, an animal without blemish or deformity.

In Matt 5:48 (ESV), it is the English understanding of ‘perfect’ as sinless that causes us to miss the meaning. We know that sinlessness is not the meaning of ‘prefect’ because in Matt 5:6 (ESV), the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples (and us) that ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied’.

It is unfortunate that the English does not seem to have a single word that conveys the idea of the Greek of aiming for the goal. Yes, that goal should include loving our enemies and friends but this love will have blemishes in it as we reach for the goal.

So to become perfect is not referring to perfection – in the English sense of the word. That will never be possible in this life. It is referring to reaching for the goal of becoming like our Father. He is infinite in his attributes. We are finite. Becoming more like Jesus in our thinking and actions should be our aim. This is called progressive sanctification; becoming progressively more like Jesus is our goal.

This will include renewing of the mind. See my article: Are unthinking Christians normal for Christianity?

Conclusion

Four aspects of the Christian’s new life in Christ were investigated: righteousness, holiness, purity and being perfect.

It was found that righteousness and justice are synonymous terms, from God’s perspective. God’s expectation of believers is that they do what is right (practise justice) with God’s law as the standard.

Holiness is the call to be separate from the actions of sin in a sinful world. This involves progressive sanctification, a process by which we become separated to God in our entire life and conduct.

This is parallel with purity, which means acceptance and practice of God’s standard of doctrine and behaviour, through the enabling of the Holy Spirit’s ministry.

To be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect does not involve what the word for ‘perfect’ means in English. It refers to the call of all believers to reach for the goal of becoming more like the Father.

All of these words cover various areas of growth in sanctification for the believer. My observation is that this is not an area of emphasis in many evangelical churches in my part of the world.

(courtesy pinterest.com)

Works consulted

Arndt, W F & Gingrich, F W 1957. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature.[8] Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition licensed to Zondervan Publishing House).

Grudem, W 1999. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith. J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press (by special arrangement with Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House).

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers (limited edition licensed by special permission of Augsburg Fortress).

MacArthur, Jr., J F 1993. Drawing Near. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.

Strauss, R L 1984. The Joy of Knowing God. Neptune, New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers.

Thayer, J. H. 1885, 1962, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti). Tr, rev & enl by J H Thayer. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.  (Note: The first Zondervan printing of this edition was in 1962, but Thayer’s preface in the lexicon was first written in 1885.) A Cornell University edition is available online at: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=coo.31924021607704;view=1up;seq=13;size=125 (Accessed 18 December 2015).

Notes


[1] I posted this material in Christian Forums.net, ‘Righteousness, Holiness, Purity, etc’, OzSpen#2. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/righteousness-holiness-purity-etc.62455/ (Accessed 18 December 2015).

[2] I posted the following material in ibid., OzSpen#7.

[3] The last Greek letter in dikaiosune is eta, seventh letter of the Greek alphabet, which is transliterated into English as ‘e’ with an ellipse. However, the html of this website converts letters with an ellipse into question marks. Therefore, I have used ‘e’ as the transliteration, but that is also the transliteration of the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet, epsilon. That is confusing but I am left with no alternative. Since ‘o’ with an ellipse is the transliteration of omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet, I have chosen to use a transliteration of ‘w’, which was used by some earlier Greek NT scholars. Wikibooks states, ‘Sometimes unofficially it is rendered as w (inspired by the shape of the small letter)’ (2014. S v Modern Greek / Lession 4x).

[4] This response is based on Christian Forums.com [as opposed to Christian Forums.net], Christian Apologetics, ‘Contradictions in the Bible’, December 10, 2015, OzSpen#165. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/threads/contradictions-in-the-bible.7918 (Accessed 18 December 2015).

[5] Christian Forums.net, ibid., Classik#10.

[6] Ibid., OzSpen#12.

[7] Most of this information was shared in ibid., OzSpen#14.

[8] This is ‘a translation and adaptation of Walter Bauer’s Griechisch-Deutsches Wörtbuch zu den Schriften des Neuen Testaments und der übrigen urchristlichen Literatur’ (4th rev & augmented edn 1952) (Arndt & Gingrich 1957:iii).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 19 December 2015.

Is the Trinity taught in the Bible?

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

 

(image courtesy Christianity 201)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

It’s interesting to note how tricky people can be in avoiding declaring that they do not believe in the fundamental Christian doctrine of the Trinity of God. This is how one fellow was elusive on a Christian forum. He wrote that there is no Scripture which refers to the Triune God:

An anti-trinitarian in action

1 Corinthians 8:6, ‘But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him’.

Ephesians 4:5-6King James Version (KJV), ‘5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’.

There is no scripture saying Triune God…the scripture says continue in the Father and the Son

1 John 2:22-24 King James Version (KJV), ‘22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. 24 Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father’.[1]

So, according to this person, Scripture does not say Triune God. He[2] continued:

  • ‘by your own admission ….if the HS [Holy Spirit] is God’s Spirit… then the HS is God and therefore not a third person…which means there is no trinity.’[3]
  • ‘The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God… Do you not believe the scripture??? Ephesians 4:5-6 (KJV) ‘5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all’.[4]
  • ‘‘The Spirit of God is God… and NOT something other than God…and thereore (sic) NOT another person or entity. John 4:24God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”. John 14:23, ‘Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’[5]
  •  The scripture does not teach…..the Holy Ghost is  a person of a Trinity….scripture teaches the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God… Paul said   “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Eph 4:30 KJV)’[6]
  • ‘You have not been reading scripture …have you?…scripture sats (sic) nothing about a triune nature….it says God is ONE……what are the three natures you are talking about??? show scripture saying there are three natures… Jesus said I and my Father are one….Jesus and  the Father makes their abode with us….One  Spirit’. [7]
  • ‘OK here is the person…..: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.”  who was HE that the disciples Knew???….who was he that dwelleth with the disciples???…and who was the HE that shall be in us????’[8]
  • ‘where does scripture say one God in three persons….???? you have no scripture to back up that claim.’[9]
  • ‘none of those say or imply in any way…”one God in three persons.”….. you are reading that into the scripture friend’.[10]

The challenge

After seeing this kind of back and forth from a non-Trinitarian person, I asked him directly, ‘Don’t you believe in the Trinity?’[11] His response was predictably, ‘Where does the scripture command anyone to believe in the trinitarian God???’[12] I replied, ‘You are not answering my question. I asked: Do you believe in the Trinitarian God or not?’[13]

He eventually confessed: ‘I do not believe in the trinitarian god… it is a false doctrine… can you now answer my question??… where does the scripture command anyone to believe in the trinitarian god???[14]

It was at this point I provided him with….

A beginning answer[15]

Please note that I do not deal here with the unity of God, that there is one God.

Where does the Scripture command us to believe in the Trinitarian God?

Let’s answer the first question. Where does Scripture command us to believe in God? There are many Scriptures we could choose. Let’s deal with just a couple:

a. ‘And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.’ (Heb 11:6 ESV). ‘And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off for ever’ (1 Chron 28:9 ESV). We could go to other verses as well to affirm the need to believe in God.

b. The second question is: What is the nature of this God? Is he Trinitarian or non-trinitarian? Let’s investigate further.

In a response, this is what happens when a person only gives the biblical verses that support the anti-trinitarian view of god, which is a heretical view of God as was declared at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015). See the Nicene Creed below. Why? Because he has chosen to exclude the verses that demonstrate that God consists of three persons who are deity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The definition of the Trinity which has biblical support is: ‘God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God’ (Grudem 1999:104).

What’s the evidence that God, the Father, is fully God? It is progressively revealed throughout Scripture. As early as Genesis 1:26 (ESV), God is revealed as a plurality: ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness’. Here we have the plural pronouns ‘us’ and ‘our’ used. Are they plurals of majesty or do they indicate that there is plurality in the Godhead? ‘In Old Testament Hebrew there are no other examples of a monarch using plural verbs or plural pronouns of himself in such a “plural of majesty,” so this suggestion has no evidence to support it’ (Grudem 1999:104). The God who is plurality made a human being (man) in their (plural) image.

The persons and deity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The more complete revelation is in the New Testament where we find that

bronze-arrow God, the Father, is regarded as God. ‘For on him God the Father has set his seal’ (Jn 6:27 ESV); ‘God our Father’ (Rm 1:7 ESV); ‘God the Father’ and ‘God the Father’ (Gal 1:1, 3). Isn’t that clear enough? The Father is God.

bronze-arrow God, the Son, is regarded as God. He has the attributes of deity: (1) Eternity (Jn 1:15; 8:58; 17:5, 24); (2) Omniscience (Jn 2:24-25; 16:30; 21:17); (3) Omnipresence (Mt 18:20; 28:20; Jn 3:13); (4) Omnipotence. ‘I am the Almighty’ (Rev 1:8; Heb 1:3; Mt 28:18); (5) Immutable (Heb 1:12; 13:8); (6) He does the actions of deity: creator (Jn 1:3; Heb 1:10; Col 1:16); holds things together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3); forgives sin (Mt 9:2, 6); raises the dead (Jn 6:39-40, 54; 11:25; 20:25, 28); he will be the Judge (Jn 5:22) of believers (2 Cor 5:10), of Antichrist and his followers (Rev 19:15), the nations (Ac 17:31), Satan (Gen 3:15) and the living and the dead (Ac 10:42).

bronze-arrowGod, the Holy Spirit, is regarded as God. The Holy Spirit is a person. Take John 16:13 as an example. the neuter substantive pneuma [Spirit] is referred to by the masculine pronoun ekeinos [he], thus recognising the Holy Spirit not as a neuter ‘it’ but as a person, ‘he’. He is the Comforter/Helper (Jn 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). No ‘it’ can do this. The Holy Spirit has the attributes of Deity. He is eternal (Heb 9:14), omniscient (1 Cor 2:10-11; Jn 14:26; 16:12-13), omnipotent (Lk 1:35), omnipresent (Ps 139:7-10). And have a guess what? He does the works of deity in creation (Ps 104:30), regeneration (Jn 3:5), giving us Scripture (2 Pt 1:21; and raising the dead (Rm 8:11).

In preparing these Scriptures I have been assisted by Henry Thiessen (1949:134-146). Thiessen notes that ‘the doctrine of the tripersonality of God is not in conflict with the doctrine of the unity of God. There are three persons in the one essence…. These distinctions are eternal. This is evident from the passages which imply Christ’s existence with the Father from eternity (John 1:1, 2; Phil. 2:6; John 17:5, 24) and from those which assert or imply the eternity of the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Heb. 9:14)’ (Thiessen 1949:145).

Although the words Trinity, Triunity or tripersonality do not appear in Scripture, the teachings do, as I’ve attempted to show. Exact wording should not put us off. Try finding these words in the Bible: Rapture, inerrancy, infallibility, the word Bible, literal interpretation, Sunday, Christmas, Easter; the exact words, ‘Jesus is God’; etc. However, all these teachings can be demonstrated from the Bible.

This person is a Unitarian

I need to label this heresy taught on a Christian forum for what it is. It is Unitarianism that is supported by, yes, Unitarians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christadelphians.

The United Pentecostal Church and ‘Jesus Only’ Pentecostals (Oneness Pentecostals) are modalists, which is a heresy from the early church. For a refutation of Oneness Pentecostalism, see Jason Barker of Watchman Fellowship’s Profile article, ‘Oneness Pentecostalism’. See also Christian Defense’s article, ‘Modalism and Church History’. These articles expose the dangerous heresy of modalism whose early form was Sabellianism and whose modern manifestation is Oneness Pentecostalism or Jesus Only Pentecostalism.

See these other articles

clip_image001Sue Bohlin, ‘Jesus claims to be God’;

clip_image001[1]Norman Geisler, ‘The uniqueness of Jesus Christ’;

clip_image001[2]Spencer Gear: Is Jesus a God and not the God?

clip_image001[3]Spencer Gear, ‘Was Jesus omniscient while on earth?

clip_image001[4]Spencer Gear, Is the Holy Spirit God?

clip_image001[5]Spencer Gear, Is the God of Islam the same God as Elohim of the Christian Scriptures?

 Appendix

Nicene Creed

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father [and the Son]; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Works consulted

Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015. Council of Nicaea. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/413817/Council-of-Nicaea (Accessed 31 May 2015).

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. J Purswell (ed). Leister, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Notes


[1] Christianity Board, ‘Prove practise of worship of the Holy Spirit is biblical’, newbirth#27. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/21183-prove-practise-of-worship-of-the-holy-spirit-is-biblical/ (Accessed 31 May 2015).

[2] I will use ‘he’ but this person will not reveal his/her sex.

[3] Ibid., newbirth#28.

[4] Ibid., newbirth#30.

[5] Ibid., newbirth#32.

[6] Ibid., newbirth#33.

[7] Ibid., newbirth#35.

[8] Ibid., newbirth#38.

[9] Ibid., newbirth#45.

[10] Ibid., newbirth#47.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#52.

[12] Ibid., newbirth#62.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#64.

[14] Ibid., newbirth#66.

[15] Ibid., OzSpen#69.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 11 August 2016.

Is Islam a religion of peace at its core?

Tuesday, December 1st, 2015

clip_image001

(image courtesy Firas, Flickr.com, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Christianity includes a theology of surrender to God. Jesus’ call to surrender according to Mark 8:34 was: ‘And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me”’. According to Luke 6:22-23, this surrender may include rejection, accompanied by blessing:

Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

Leading South African evangelical Christian writer of the 19th century, Andrew Murray, wrote a book titled, Absolute Surrender.

Fighting the Flying Circus

(image courtesy LibriVox)

Therefore, it should not be surprising to find ‘surrender’ as an essential teaching of Islam.

In Arabic, the word “Islam” means submission or surrender – however, it was derived from the root word “salam”. From this root word, you can also obtain the words peace and safety. Many people consider that Islam implies some sort of enslavement to Allah, but others find it more helpful to define the word “Islam” as surrender (Pennington 2008, emphasis in original).

How does salam = peace fit with the Islamic religious verses of violence towards non-believers? The Online Etymology Dictionary states that Islam is a ‘religious system revealed by Muhammad’ from Arabic islam, literally ‘submission’ (to the will of God). It is from root of aslama, which means ‘he resigned, he surrendered, he submitted’, a causative conjunction of salima ‘he was safe’ and is related to salam ‘peace’ (Harper 2001-2015).

However, since salam means peace and Islam means submission to Allah, how does that related to what is said in Quran 48:29[1]? The Ahmed translation reads: ‘Muhammad is the Prophet of God; and those who are with him are severe with infidels but compassionate among themselves’.

This is how this topic began on a Christian forum:[2]

clip_image003

What does the verse in this letter, Quran 5:32 (Yusuf Ali translation), state?

On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if any one slew a person – unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our apostles with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land.

Another responded to the above letter: ‘Thank you for posting, I think it is needed. I took a world religions class and learned that indeed Islam is a religion of peace’.[3]

clip_image005(image courtesy openclipart)

 

My answer to the notion that Islam is a religion of peace was that that was because the ‘violent’ information – regarding unbelievers/infidels – from the Quran – is ignored or filtered out.[4] Let’s examine some facts about Islam, particulars which the Australian mass media don’t want to trumpet loud and clear.

A. At its core Islam promotes violence to unbelievers

This is the violent nature of Islam according to the Quran:
blue-arrow Quran 4:76 [Yusuf Ali translation], ‘Those who believe fight in the cause of Allah, and those who reject Faith Fight in the cause of Evil: So fight ye against the friends of Satan: feeble indeed is the cunning of Satan’.
blue-arrow Quran 5:33 [Yusuf Ali], ‘The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter’.
blue-arrow Quran 8:12 [Yusuf Ali], ‘Remember thy Lord inspired the angels (with the message): “I am with you: give firmness to the Believers: I will instil terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them’.
blue-arrowQuran 8:39 [Yusuf Ali], ‘And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do’.

blue-arrow Quran 47:35 [Yusuf Ali], ‘Be not weary and faint-hearted, crying for peace, when ye should be uppermost: for Allah is with you, and will never put you in loss for your (good) deeds’.
Now try convincing me that at its core, Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. Anyone who promotes the view of the peaceful nature of Islam must ignore these verses from the Quran.

What happened on September 11 2001 in the USA and on 13 November 2015 in Paris is at the core of Muhammad’s requirements for Muslims who are true to their faith.

Patrick Sookhedo, former leader of the Barnabas Fund, wrote an article in 2005 for The Spectator with the title, ‘The myth of moderate Islam’ in which he stated,

By far the majority of Muslims today live their lives without recourse to violence, for the Koran is like a pick-and-mix selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find verses which permit only defensive jihad, or you can find verses to justify offensive jihad.

You can even find texts which specifically command terrorism, the classic one being Quran 8:59-60, which urges Muslims to prepare themselves to fight non-Muslims, ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies’ (A. Yusuf Ali’s translation) (Sookhdeo 2005).

B. ‘Moderate’ Muslims are like cultural Christians

I suggest there could be a parallel between ‘moderate’ Muslims and cultural Christians.

1. Who are the ‘moderate’ Muslims?

In everyday language in Australia, they are the Muslims who don’t identify with the IS extremism and violence – for the time being. They seem to be reasonable human beings who are trying to assimilate into our culture while maintaining their faith. Their voices tend to oppose extremism. There was an article in The Huffington Post Australia, ‘Muslim Scholars Release Open Letter To Islamic State Meticulously Blasting Its Ideology’ (Markoe 2014) in which it was claimed:

More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24 2014) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

A translated 24-point summary of the letter includes the following: “It is forbidden in Islam to torture”; “It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God”; and “It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief”.

It seems like a contradiction in methodology to blast the ideology of IS (by Muslim scholars) but they do it in language that is in Arabic, using heavy classical religious terms that are designed to reach the young who are being recruited by IS. Since it uses language that mainstream Muslims would find difficult to understand, it defeats the purpose of communicating to the mainstream – the alleged ‘moderates’ – with this obscure and unintelligible document.

Could this Muslim woman who wrote a guest column for the Toronto Sun, Canada on September 15, 2015, be an example of a ‘moderate’? See, ‘Ban niqab, burka in all public places’, by Raheel Raza. She states:

As a Muslim mother who never saw a niqab when I was growing up in Karachi, Pakistan, I am astonished to see Canada’s judiciary caving in to Islamists who have nothing but contempt for Canada’s values of gender equality.

I write this as a Muslim Canadian who does not have any specific political leanings.

But in the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent that is passed off to naïve and guilt-ridden white, mainstream Canadians as an essential Islamic practice.

The niqab and burka have nothing to do with Islam.

They’re the political flags of the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, the Taliban, al-Qaida and Saudi Arabia.

Now I learn I have not only to fight the medieval, theocratic adherents of my faith for a safe space for myself, I have to battle the Federal Court of Canada as well, which has come out on the side of these facemasks.

File:Woman wearing Niqab.JPG(woman wearing niqab, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The article was repeated in The Huffington Post, 24 September 2015, ‘As a Muslim, I think Canada should ban the niqab and birka in public’.

2. Are there moderate Muslims?

It would seem that there are moderates because not all Muslims are involved in terrorism like that in Paris, 13 November 2015, New York City on 11 September 2001, Daesh (IS) attacks in Syria and other countries of the Middle East. ‘In September [2014], the French government began calling the group Daesh which is the Arabic name for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS or the Islamic Sate group’ (SBS News, 4 December 2014). However, Sookhdeo (2005), an Islamic specialist, stated that it is a myth to speak of moderate Islam.

How many Muslims are in my home country of Australia?

In research released by the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding, University of South Australia (Hassan 2015:22), its conclusions in 2015 were that more Muslims migrated to Australia following the change of national policy from the Restriction Act of 1901 [commonly known as the White Australia policy] to a more open approach in the late 1960s. In 1966 there were 200,885 Muslims in Australia, but that increased to 476,290 by the 2011 Census, which is a 137% increase (natural increase and by immigration) since 1966. The statistics reveal that 40% of Australian Muslims were Australian born, while the remainder came from 183 countries.

By 2011, Islam was Australia’s third largest religion, representing 2.2% of the population. They are mostly city dwellers, with large urban clusters, particularly in Sydney and Melbourne.

A majority of Muslims are Australian citizens, proficient in English and are productive members of society, with large numbers of school-age children. Most of these Muslims are young and have a similar educational profile to similar age Australians. However, they lag behind with employment and income, thus having higher unemployment rates.

Hassan (2015:22) recommended urgent action be taken to implement remedial policies to promote social and economic inclusion. By 2050, it is expected that there will be 1.5 million Australian Muslims, representing 5% of the population, and these will provide a vital bridge to what should then be the largest world religion – Islam (Hassan 2015:22).

I ask: What will be happening in Australia by 2050 with an estimated Islamic population of 5% of the nation? Can we be confident that the majority of Muslims here will be moderates who would not become activists, even terrorists, in the future? I am not convinced this will be the situation since there are verses in the Quran that definitely promote violence towards infidels. All non-Muslims are infidels, including non-Muslim Australians. That will not be in my lifetime but it will be in that of my children and grandchildren. I have a concern for peace and wellbeing here and I cannot see it happening if the events of September 11 2001, 13 November 2015 in Paris, and ‘Mali terrorist attack: Scores dead after Islamist gunmen storm Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako’ 13 November 2015 are multiplied across the world, including Australia.

a. A view from a moderate Muslim nation

File:President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.jpg (Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President, Turkey, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s check on a supposed ‘moderate’ Muslim country such as Turkey. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, former Prime Minister and from 2014 the President of Turkey for the AKP Party,[5] when he was mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s, stated, ‘Thank God, I am for Sharia’ and ‘one cannot be a secularist and a Muslim at the same time’. He added, ‘For us, democracy is a means to an end’ (cited in Yavuz 2009). BBC News reported of Erdogan in 2002:

His pro-Islamist sympathies earned him a conviction in 1998 for inciting religious hatred.

He had publicly read an Islamic poem including the lines: “The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers…”

He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, but was freed after four (BBC News 2002).

For Erdogan, democracy was like a streetcar which you ride ‘until you arrive at your destination, then you step off’ (Yavuz 2009:100, n. 40). Concerning ‘moderate’ Islam, Erdogan, a Muslim, does not believe there is such a thing. His view was that ‘these descriptions are very ugly. It is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it’ (cited in Carol 2015).[6] Or, is Erdogan a voice for the extremist Muslim, even the terrorists?

See the ‘Answering-Islam’ Christian website and the article, ‘Moderate Muslims & Moderate Islam’ by Jacob Thomas.

Michael Mukasey, in reviews of two books on the war on terror, in The Wall Street Journal in 2011, concluded, ‘There are many moderate Muslims, but there is simply no body of doctrine within Islam that provides a principled basis for condemning the 9/11 attacks’ (Mukasey 2011).

Ron Edwards’ evaluation is that there are no such people as ‘moderate’ Muslims. Instead,

most people known as moderate Muslims are those simply waiting until the overall Muslim population is at least around eight percent of the overall population of the country, or city they migrate to. After that they start getting involved politically via the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations and use the judicial system of their chosen nation or city to further the political clout of Muslims at the expense of the native citizens where they immigrated to. Soon after, violent acts begin to occur. Numerous cities in Great Britain, France and even Televiv (sic)[7] Israel are peppered with Muslim stabbings of non-Muslims and boisterous calls for the collapse of the nation, or city they have invaded (Edwards 2015).

Rev Fred Nile, New South Wales Upper House MLC in Australia, whose Christian Democratic Party of two members has the balance of power, is of a similar view concerning what happens when the percentage of Muslims grows to a certain point in a country. He told Leigh Sales of ABC’s 7.30:

There are some dangers that Australians should appreciate and that’s why I felt if we keep the Muslim population at a certain percentage, which at the moment was 1.5, it’s probably two per cent. But once it gets to five per cent or 10 per cent, it’s not that the Australians change, the Muslims change and become more militant and more demanding (Sales 2015).

That analysis by Edwards is provocative and food for thought. Those who are truly Muslim will act on the Quran’s requirements when the need arises and they are committed to the Islamic cause of Jihad, Sharia Law,[8] Fatwa and globalization of Jihad. We know the nature of Islamic governments when we examine countries with a majority of Muslims, such as Saudi Arabia (‘Saudi court sentences poet to death for renouncing Islam’), Iran (‘Sunni Muslims living in fear in Iran as state-sponsored persecution ramps up’) and Indonesia (‘More rigid Islam in Indonesia’).

What is the future when supposed tolerant and ‘moderate’ Muslims do not come out in wholesale denunciation of Islamic suicide bombers and Islamic violence? Could this be a wait and grow strategy until the Muslim population is large enough to have clout in a culture? Ron Edwards considers that that will happen when the percentage of Muslims in a culture grows large enough. He suggests that figure is about 8%.

3. How to deal with the threat

I recommend the article by Shmuel Bar (2004:36), ‘The religious sources of Islamic terrorism’. These are but a couple grabs from a challenging assessment:

The regimes of the Middle East have proven their mettle in coercing religious establishments and even radical sheikhs to rule in a way commensurate with their interests. However, most of them show no inclination to join a global (i.e., “infidel”) war against radical Islamic ideology. Hence, the prospect of enlisting Middle Eastern allies in the struggle against Islamic radicalism is bleak. Under these conditions, it will be difficult to curb the conversion of young Muslims in the West to the ideas of radicalism emanating from the safe houses of the Middle East. Even those who are not in direct contact with Middle Eastern sources of inspiration may absorb the ideology secondhand through interaction of Muslims from various origins in schools and on the internet.

What is a way forward? His heading is ‘Fighting hellfire with hellfire’. Based on what Bar argued in his article, he asked:

Is it possible – within the bounds of Western democratic values – to implement a comprehensive strategy to combat Islamic terrorism at its ideological roots? First, such a strategy must be based on an acceptance of the fact that for the first time since the Crusades, Western civilization finds itself involved in a religious war; the conflict has been defined by the attacking side as such with the eschatological goal of the destruction of Western civilization. The goal of the West cannot be defense alone or military offense or democratization of the Middle East as a panacea. It must include a religious-ideological dimension: active pressure for religious reform in the Muslim world and pressure on the orthodox Islamic establishment in the West and the Middle East not only to disengage itself clearly from any justification of violence, but also to pit itself against the radical camp in a clear demarcation of boundaries. Such disengagement cannot be accomplished by Western-style declarations of condemnation. It must include clear and binding legal rulings by religious authorities which contradict the axioms of the radical worldview and virtually “excommunicate” the radicals. In essence, the radical narrative, which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism, must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hell-fire for the same acts (Bar 2004:36-37).

So Bar is calling on Western democratic governments to become involved at the religious level in dealing with this threat of terrorism. I can’t see secular governments like my own in Australia wanting to go down that path. However, it’s a fascinating challenge by a scholar to offer this way forward for governments.

For a more socialised view of Islam in Indonesia (perhaps ‘moderate’ Islam), see, Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Practice in Indonesia (Fealy & White 2008).[9]

4.         Islam spread by violence

If we simply and honestly consider the history of Islam and of its founder, it is impossible to conclude that it is a religion of peace. It was spread by conquest and by force of arms. The Oxford Islamic Studies online (2015) describes the spread of Islam as involving,

  • After the death of Muhammad, under four ‘rightly guided caliphs’, the conquest of territories outside of Arabia began.
  • They ‘started as sporadic tribal raids’, with a proper army organised about AD 634.
  • The ‘newly organized Muslim navy destroyed the Christian fleet at the Battle of the Masts (655). Constantinople was sporadically besieged during this period, though never captured. On the oriental front, the Sasanian army suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of al Qadisiyah (637), and Ctesiphon was taken soon afterwards; this caused the disintegration of the Sasanian empire’.
  • In the expansion, naval expeditions were launched against certain countries and the dynasty of the Muslims ‘emerged as a major seapower’.
  • The conquests came with surprising speed as resistance from other countries was often fragile.

World History’s, ‘History of the Arabs’, further explains the expansion of the early Islamic religion by army conquest and war in the Middle East and northern Africa. This explanation of Islamic history stated, ‘The great Christian cities of Syria and Palestine fall to the Arabs in rapid succession from 635. Damascus, in that year, is the first to be captured. Antioch follows in 636. And 638 brings the greatest prize of all, in Muslim terms, when Jerusalem is taken after a year’s siege’.

Since combat, siege and subjugation have been the Muslim strategy since the beginning of its existence, a change in tactic is not expected in its expansion in Western civilisation when the Muslim population reaches a certain percentage.

I’m of the view that ‘moderate Muslims’ is a politically correct phrase invented so as not to offend our oil producing ‘friends’ as the West needs their oil. If there is a new caliphate, we can expect the ‘moderate Muslims’ to support it (so they don’t get beheaded).

C. Who are the cultural Christians?

Neither ‘moderate’ Muslims nor cultural Christians take their sacred books seriously. The ‘radicals’ are the ones who are acting on what the Quran tells them to do to unbelieving infidels, i.e. all non-Muslims. The radicals among Christians are the evangelicals who take the Gospel seriously and proclaim the gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone as the only way to salvation (See John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:11-12).

1. Separating the biblical from the cultural

See the comparison here of ‘biblical versus cultural Christianity’. The biblical Christian is the person who has faith in the redemptive blood of Christ for salvation. Cultural Christians are those whose desires fit with the cultural motivations and values of this world. It’s a works-based distortion of biblical Christianity, but many of these nominal Christians attend modernist or postmodernist churches that don’t preach the Gospel or believe the authenticity and reliability of Scripture (Kjos Ministries).

If you want to understand the negative impact of cultural Christianity, see the decline in numbers attending mainstream, liberal Christianity in Australia. ‘Two Australian denominations have been given reports that reveal decay and a need for change’. These are the Anglicans and the Uniting Church. For the Anglicans,

only four dioceses reported growth…. In the Anglican Church, the presence of the evangelical diocese of Sydney makes things clear. Unlike other dioceses, it is the only one with better than expected attendance, according to the report’s criteria based on Census data.

In Sydney, 68,000 Anglicans are in church each Sunday. In Melbourne 21,000 Anglicans are in church on Sunday. It was pointed out at General Synod, Eternity understands, that the growing churches were evangelical (Sandeman 2014).

As for the Uniting Church,

MaryboroughUnitingChurch.JPG(Maryborough Qld Uniting Church, photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 A 40 per cent decline in the numbers at church since 1991, and a weekly Sunday attendance of less than 100,000 are key findings for the Uniting Church census released earlier this year [of 2014]….The median worship service attendance per congregation is 35 people. This means that half the congregations have fewer than 35 attending and half have larger numbers. Of the 35 people at the median, 3 would be children.

The number of Uniting Church congregations (local churches) has declined by 31 per cent since 1990. Only 20 per cent of congregations run youth groups, but encouragingly 40 per cent run Sunday schools…. 90 per cent of Uniting Church people under 50 years of age are evangelicals according to Rod James, Adelaide leader of the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC) in the Uniting Church (Sandeman 2014).

So the denominations that emphasise liberal Christianity, promoting the cultural ‘gospel’ of peace and good works – but without the Christian Gospel – can be designated as church groups promoting cultural Christianity. Changed lives through proclamation of the Gospel are not on their agendas.

Here is but one example of cultural Christianity. I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine (online), 28 September 2007. Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Noel Preston. Preston’s letter stated:[10]

Spong again

I write to commend you for the October Journey.

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?

Noel Preston
Auchenflower

That is an example of the promotion of cultural Christianity by Rev Dr Noel Preston – a retired Uniting Church minister – in support of Dr John Shelby Spong, former Episcopal (Anglican) bishop of Newark, New Jersey, USA. While Spong was bishop of that diocese, about 40% of the people left the churches of the diocese. I have attempted to expose Spong’s heretical brand of Christianity in, Spong’s deadly Christianity. Robert Stowe explained the statistical free fall in 2000:

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese [Newark, NJ] fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate [of] 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves (Stowe 2000).

That’s an example of cultural Christianity in action – massive decline in numbers. This is the cultural Christianity of Spong which Preston wants to call ‘the positive impact the Bishop has’.

See my compiled article on ‘The Content of the Gospel’ for an explanation of the Gospel and discipleship. Those who proclaim Christ alone as the way to salvation will share/preach Gospel content and will be regarded as ‘radicals’ by liberal, cultural Christianity.

I don’t expect the situation around the world to get any better. In my view, Islam cannot be reformed because of the nature of the above instructions from the Quran.

D. Islam vs Christianity

In an article like this, I want to raise a few issues that demonstrate the differences between Islam and Christianity which contribute to the distinction between the two religions, even though these two monotheistic religions use some similar language. I particularly refer to their views of Christ and God. Are their doctrines on these two persons the same? To better understand how peace is demonstrated in these two religions, it will be helpful to examine their views of God and Jesus.

1. Almighty God: Christianity

clip_image006 Who is God in Christianity?

In the Old Testament, the biblical names for God include:

  •  El (including Elim, Elohim, and Eloah). This word is like the Greek, theos, Latin Deus, and the English God. It is a generic name for God and may have a root meaning of power or might, but its basic meaning has been lost (Thiessen 1949:52).
  •  Jehovah (or Yahweh) is ‘the personal name.

God, the Father, is regarded as God. ‘For on him God the Father has set his seal’ (Jn 6:27); the biblical language used is ‘God our Father’ (Rm 1:7); and ‘God the Father’ (Gal 1:1, 3). The Father is God. What is his nature and how are his attributes described in Scripture?

A W Tozer, in his classic on the attributes of God – Knowledge of the Holy – presents an exposition of these attributes. You can read a summary of them at, ‘Attributes of God’ (from AllAbout God, 2002-2015). These include: wisdom, infinitude, sovereignty, holiness, Trinity, omniscience, faithfulness, love, omnipotence, self-existence, self-sufficiency, justice, immutability (i.e. God never changes), mercy, eternal, goodness, gracious, and omnipresence.

2. Jesus Christ: Christianity

Fundamentally, the Jesus of Christianity is the third person of the Trinity. He is God. This is the biblical material to support such a theology:

clip_image006[1]God, the Son, is regarded as God. He has the attributes of deity:[11]

Christian Cross Clipart(image courtesy PublicDomianPictures.net)

 

(1) Eternity (Jn 1:15; 8:58; 17:5, 24);

(2) Omniscience (Jn 4:24; 16:30; 21:17);

(3) Omnipresence (Mt 18:20; 28:20; Jn 3:13);

(4) Omnipotence. ‘I am the Almighty’ (Rev 1:8); Heb 1:3; Mt 28:18;

(5) Immutable – he does not change (Heb 1:12; 13:8);

(6) He performs the actions of deity: creator (Jn 1:3; Heb 1:10; Col 1:16);

holds things together (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3); forgives sin (Mt 9:2, 6); raises the dead (Jn 6:39-40, 54; 11:25; 20:25, 28); he will be the Judge (Jn 5:22) of believers (2 Cor 5:10), of Antichrist and his followers (Rev 19:15), of the nations (Ac 17:31), of Satan (Gen 3:15) and of the living and the dead (Ac 10:42).

For an explanation of the biblical basis of the Trinity, see my article: Is the Trinity taught in the Bible? The Trinity can be diagrammed:

(image courtesy neverendingtruth.net)

Jesus is not only God, but he also became human as the following Scriptures demonstrate. Jesus has two natures – God and man. Here’s the evidence for his humanity:

clip_image006[2]God, the Son, became flesh.

We have seen the divine nature of Christ. However, Scripture reveals that the incarnate Christ had two natures – the divine and the human. The eternal God (the divine), the Son, became flesh (the human). As expected,

(a) He had a human birth that involved being,

  •  conceived in the virgin Mary (Matt 1:18-20, 24-25; Luke 1:34-35). and
  •  born to a woman as a baby on the first Christmas Day.[12] See Gal 4:4; Matt 1:18-2:12; Lk 1:30—38; 2:1-20. This leads to his being called ‘the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matt 1:1) and ‘descended from David according to the flesh’ (Rom 1:3). Luke records his descent from Adam (Lk 3:23-38). If you read the NT, you will note that on a few occasions Jesus was referred to as Joseph’s son (Luke 4:22; John 1:45; 6:42; see Matt 13:55), but in context you will see that these comments were by people who were not Jesus’ friends but were by those who did not fully understand who he was (Thiessen 1949:299).

The virgin birth confirmed how in Jesus he could be fully divine and fully human in one person. This is the means God used to make salvation available to all human beings (see John 3:16; Gal 4:4). The virgin birth ensured that Jesus could be truly human but without inherited sin. How so? There is no biblical evidence to support the Roman Catholic view that Mary was without sin. ‘A better solution is to say that the work of the Holy Spirit in Mary must have prevented not only the transmission of sin from Joseph (for Jesus had no human father) but also, in a miraculous way, the transmission of sin from Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you…. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy’ (Grudem 1999:230, emphasis in original).

It is critical to understand the Christian view of Jesus as fully God and fully human. Thus he is sometime called the God-man. At Christmas it is critical to comprehend that we do not commemorate the birth of God, the Son. The fact is that we celebrate the birth of the humanity of Jesus.

See my articles:

clip_image006[3] Jesus, the Prince of Peace

It is stated in the prophetic statement about Jesus in Isaiah 9:6 (emphasis added), ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. According to Isaiah 48:22, ‘“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked”’.

In Isa 9:6 there are four famous names mentioned in a parallelism Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Note the singular, ‘name’, which in Hebrew means that ‘this is the type of character that will be his…. It is implied that he is called by these [four] names because he actually is the kind of person that the names say he is’ (Leupold 1971:1.185)

What does ‘Prince of Peace’ mean? How will that be demonstrated when the Messiah fulfils Isa 9:6? The Messiah who fulfils Isaiah’s prophecy will rule over the redeemed people as ‘Prince’. What methods will he use?

The methods by which he achieved his success were peaceful. The people whom he rules are men of peace. The principles according to which he still carries on his work are all peace. In fact, through him the word peace has taken on a much richer spiritual as well as physical connotation (Leupold I.1971:186).

Leupold explains that the prophetic reference linked to the one who is Immanuel (Isa 7:14) as ‘Prince of Peace’ indicates that ‘the very antithesis to what he does would be to attempt to build a successful empire by the methods of brutal war’ (Leupold I.1971:186). In this Isaiah passage, the time frame for when the Prince of Peace would bring in this peace is not stated by the prophet.

I was alerted to this emphasis by Mark Roberts (2010). In the Old Testament, peace was closely associated with righteousness and justice. This verse from Isaiah highlights this view:

Then the wilderness will become a fertile field, and the fertile field will become a lush and fertile forest. Justice will rule in the wilderness and righteousness in the fertile field. And this righteousness will bring peace. Quietness and confidence will fill the land forever (Isa 32:15-17, NLT).

The righteous person practises justice in what he does and this assists in bringing peace.

One of the most read evangelical books on God’s peace is that by Billy Graham, Peace with God (1984, Word Publishing).

Since Jesus, the Son, is the third person of the Trinity, what does the triune God say about peace? Isaiah wrote, ‘”There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked” (Isa 57:21) and the New Testament revealed that ‘God is not a God of confusion but of peace’ (I Cor 14:33). The deduction is that for peace to reign, there must be no more wicked (sinful) people in existence. That will happen only in God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice at Christ’s Second Coming. Second Timothy 3:10-14 puts this in perspective:

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace (emphasis added).

That’s when there will be no more sin and sinners to contaminate God’s kingdom. Christians look forward to eternal righteousness and peace. However, 2 Tim 3:14 encourages believers to be ‘at peace’ with one another – NOW.

a. Jesus brings peace

Jesus Himself was careful to confirm what he brings: ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid’ (John 14:27, emphasis added). It was after his resurrection that this was recorded of Jesus: ‘On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you”’ (John 20:19, emphasis added).

What does this mean for the Christian? The apostle Paul left no doubt: ‘And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful’ (Col 3:15, emphasis added). God’s peace has this effect on Christians: ‘Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all’ (2 Thess 3:16, emphasis added).

b. Jesus, peace, and division

Related image(image courtesy theeconomiccollapseblog.com)

 

 

There’s a tricky series of verses in Luke 12:49-53:

49 “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! 51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52 For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (ESV, emphasis added).

How is it possible that the Prince of Peace who came to bring peace, could say that he would bring division? Surely this is contradictory or a paradox? This is the Jesus who pronounced, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matt 5:9, emphasis added). Can the Bible’s view of peace be trusted in light of Luke 12:49-53 and these verses? Ps 72:7; Lk 1:79; 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; Jn 14:27; 16:33; 20:19-21; Rom 5:1; 14:17; Eph 2:14; Col 1:20; Heb 6:20-7:2. Surely this string of verses confirms that Jesus is the one who brings peace? Acts 14:22 gives another dimension with this language: ‘strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’. The context is that Jews stoned Paul, dragged him out of the city as dead. When the disciples gathered around Paul, he rose up, preached the Gospel in Derbe with Barnabas and told the disciples that discipleship involves ‘many tribulations’ before entering God’s kingdom.

How can it be the Gospel of peace that brings division in families, among religious groups and in nations? It is not difficult to reconcile as the Jesus of the Gospel divides people, even people in a household, where there will be those who serve Jesus and those who reject him – even hate him. The parallel passage to Luke 12:49-53 in Matthew’s Gospel is Matt 10:34-36. Verse 34 states, ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’.

The Gospel brings a rift between those who love Jesus and those who reject him. Christ does bring peace in the individual’s relationship with God and with other believers, but it is not as the culture understands it. Christ’s peace is not that of compromise or tolerance towards evil. The world calls failure to compromise to the culture’s standards – intolerance or bigotry. On April 4, 2015, Salon published an article declaring such, ‘Right-wing Christianity teaches bigotry: The ugly roots of Indiana’s new anti-gay law’.

Rather, Christ’s Gospel triumphs over evil, wrong and Satan because of the victory achieved by Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is expected that this will bring opposition from families, communities and nations. ‘It is no namby-pamby sentimentalism that Christ preaches, no peace at any price. The Cross is Christ’s answer to the devil’s offer of compromise in world dominion. For Christ the kingdom of God is virile righteousness, not mere emotionalism’ (Robertson 1930:84).

In John 16:33, we have the recorded words of Jesus: ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world’ (emphasis added). The Christian experiences the peace of God in the midst of tribulation while living in a difficult or hostile culture – the world of unbelief in Jesus.

This biblical evidence makes it clear that:

  • The promised Immanuel – Messiah – was to be the Prince of Peace.
  • Jesus did bring peace and especially peace in the relationship between redeemed sinners and God.
  • However, this peace with Christ brings divisions in families and nations because of love for Christ versus rejection of Christ.

Now let’s check out Islam’s view of God and Jesus.

3. God: Islam

File:Star and Crescent.svg(image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

For Islam, God is called Allah. What are his nature and attributes?

clip_image006[4] The Oneness of Allah

On this Islamic website, monotheism is affirmed about the ‘Nature of Allah’:

Islam is based on monotheism. Tawhid, the oneness of Allah, is an essential belief for all Muslims. Islam teaches that Allah, the one god, has 99 attributes. Although we can understand some of His attributes, His essence cannot be comprehended by a human’s limited mental capacity. Allah has created mankind primarily so that they may know their creator through his creations.

Realisation of the supremacy of Allah, although necessary for success in the hereafter, has not been enforced on man – it is a test that is based on the fact that man has been given free will. However, man’s free will is limited, although he has the freedom to choose between right and wrong, he cannot change parts of his destiny that Allah has pre-determined. Understanding the nature of Allah is essential as it has a substantial effect on a Muslim’s duties to Allah.

The oneness of Allah is the one most important theological principal (sic) in Islam. The first of the five pillars, the declaration of faith, which is the first act that one does to embark on Islam, reiterates the necessity of the belief in the oneness of Allah. It begins with the negation of any god other than Allah:

“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His messenger.”

Beginning with negation rather than affirmation, in this case, serves to emphasise strongly the importance of the oneness of Allah.

The Quran, the words of Allah mediated to Prophet Muhammad by the angel Jibril (Gabriel), is full of references to the essential belief in one god:

Say ‘He is Allah the One’ 112:1

Surely Allah alone is the creator of all things and he is the One, the Most Supreme 13:17

Say ‘I am only a Warner, and there is no god but Allah, the One, the Most Supreme. 23:66

Holy is He! He is Allah the One, the Most Supreme 39:5 (emphasis in original).

Note what the Quran states to deny the Trinity and punish those who believe in it: Quran 5:73 states, ‘They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah. If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall the blasphemers among them’.

The five pillars of Islam are the framework for the Muslim life:

1. The testimony of faith,

2. Prayer,

3. Giving zakat (support of the needy),

4. Fasting during the month of Ramadan, and

5. The pilgrimage to Makkah [Mecca] once in a lifetime for those who are able (www.islam-guide.com).

clip_image006[5] Some of the attributes and actions of Allah: Is he the Lord God Almighty revealed in the Bible?

Image result for allah clipart public domain

(image courtesy clker.com)

For an extensive comparison of Allah vs Jehovah, see the article, ‘Is Allah the God of the Bible?’ (Shamoun n d). Here is documented from the Quran:

  • Allah is the author of evil.
  • Allah is the author of abrogation.[13]
  • Allah is the author of historical errors.
  • Allah is the author of carnal pleasures (e.g. ‘for those who fear Allah is a blissful abode, enclosed gardens and vineyards, and damsels with swelling breasts (Arabic – Kawa’eb), their peers in age, and a full cup’, Surah 78:31-34’).
  • Allah is the author of foreign words.
  • Arabic scholars point to Allah being the author of grammatical errors.
  • Allah and oaths: Jehovah swears by himself (Heb 6:13); Allah swears by less than himself, including the Quran, the sky and constellations, by the pen, city and creation.
  • Allah is not Triune.

Quran 112:1-4 (Yusuf Ali translation) succinctly gives the Muslim understanding of Allah’s nature:

1.Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;

2.Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;

3.He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;

4.And there is none like unto Him.

a. Allah is remote and not involved

Allah is distant and does not have immanence. Immanence means that God is involved in the creation. He is not uninterested or uninvolved with people and his creation. Job explained the God of the Bible this way, ‘In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind’ (Job 12:10 ESV), while the New Testament revealed, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all’ (Eph 4:6 ESV). In Christianity, the Lord God is present in all creation, including in the life of the believer. Of course, Jehovah exists outside of space and time (called transcendence) but he acts in time through his immanence.

How does this compare with Allah? In ‘The Haddith of Allah’s “Descent”’, it is stated:

What we must believe is that Allah existed and nothing existed with Him; that He created all creation, including the Throne, without becoming subject to disclosure through them, nor did a direction arise for Him because of them, nor did He acquire a location in them; that He does not become immanent, that He does not cease to be transcendent, that he does not change, and that He does not move from one state to another (Haddad n d, emphasis added).

Thus, the God of Islam is very different to the God of Christianity. They are not one and the same God. What is of concern is how readily Christians living in the Islamic world use the word Allah to refer to the Almighty God of Christianity. Sam Shamoun has outlined the issue:

We are well aware that the name Allah is used by Arab speaking Christians for the God of the Bible. In fact, the root from which the name is derived, ilah, stems from the ancient Semitic languages, corresponding to the Mesopotamian IL, as well as the Hebrew-Aramaic EL, as in Ishma-el, Immanu-el, Isra-el. These terms were often used to refer to any deity worshiped as a high god, especially the chief deity amongst a pantheon of lesser gods. As such, the Holy Bible uses the term as just one of the many titles for Yahweh, the only true God.

Yet the problem arises from the fact that Muslims insist that Allah is not a title, but the personal name of the God of Islam. This becomes problematic since according to the Holy Bible the name of the God of Abraham is Yahweh/Jehovah, not Allah:

God spoke further to Moses and said to him, “I am Yahweh (YHVH) and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty; BUT BY MY NAME, YAHWEH, I did not make myself known to them.” Exodus 6:2-3

Therefore, Christians can use Allah as a title or a generic noun for the true God, but not as the personal name for the God of the Holy Bible (Shamoun n d).

clip_image006[6]Who is the Islamic Jesus (Isa)?

File:Turkish-islam isa.jpg(Turkish Islam Isa, image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

 

It is not unusual to hear a statement like this: Both Christianity and Islam confirm who Jesus is; they both believe in Jesus. However, I ask, who is the Jesus of Islam in comparison with the Jesus of the Bible? In Islam, Jesus is known as Isa.

According to Quran 2:111 (Yusuf Ali translation), ‘And they [Jews or Christians] say: “None shall enter Paradise unless he be a Jew or a Christian.” Those are their (vain) desires. Say: “Produce your proof if ye are truthful”’. This is not true for a genuine Christian. The only people who will enter Paradise are those who are forgiven sinners who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 John 1:9; John 3:16; John 6:47 and Acts 16:31). There are three references to Paradise in the New Testament:

  • Perhaps the most well-known example is in what Jesus said to the thief dying beside him on another cross: ‘And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise”’ (Lk 23:43).
  • What was the apostle Paul’s experience? In 2 Cor 12:3-4 he wrote, ‘And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter’.
  • ‘Jesus told the church at Ephesus “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”’ (Rev 2:7).

So apparently paradise is where God is because it is called the “Paradise of God” and Jesus told the thief that he would be with him in Paradise that very day. Jack Wellman has written an excellent article to deal with the question, ‘What are the Differences Between Paradise and Heaven in the Bible?’ (Patheos, September 11, 2014) in which he concluded:

clip_image010

a. Curse on those who call Christ, the son of Allah[14]

Quran 9:30 states: ‘The Jews call ‘Uzair a son of Allah, and the Christians call Christ the son of Allah. That is a saying from their mouth; (in this) they but imitate what the unbelievers of old used to say. Allah’s curse be on them: how they are deluded away from the Truth!’

b. Jesus, son of Mary, only a messenger

Quran 4:171 affirms:

O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is Allah as a Disposer of affairs.

Quran 5:75:

Christ the son of Mary was no more than a messenger [or, an apostle]; many were the messengers [or, the apostles] that passed away before him. His mother was a woman of truth. They had both to eat their (daily) food. See how Allah doth make His signs clear to them; yet see in what ways they are deluded away from the truth!

So Jesus, being the son of Mary, was no more than a messenger, which is contrary to Matt 11:27, where Jesus states that ‘all things have been handed over to me by my Father’.

c. Jesus and Mary as gods

Quran 5:116:

And behold! Allah will say: “O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst thou say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah’?” He will say: “Glory to Thee! never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, Thou I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.

Jesus and his mother are deities and the Holy Spirit is not stated as divine.

d. Allah cannot have a son

Quran 6:101:

To Him [Allah] is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth: How can He have a son when He hath no consort? He created all things, and He hath full knowledge of all things.

Quran 72:3, ‘And Exalted is the Majesty of our Lord: He has taken neither a wife nor a son’.

e. So, there can be no son who died for the sins of the world

The Islamic deduction is that Allah cannot have a consort, i.e. a husband, wife, spouse, companion, associate or partner (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015. s v consort). Thus, Allah cannot have a son who died on the cross to provide salvation for people’s sins.

f. Islam confirms this of Jesus (Asa):

(1) Christ Jesus was the Messiah, son of Mary, and was a created being (Quran 3:45-47);

(2) Jesus was created, like Adam as a man, from the dust when God said, ‘Be’, and he was brought into existence (Quran 3:59);

(3) Jesus performed miracles (Quran 3:49);

(4) Jesus was not crucified but another man like him was killed in his place (Quran 4:157).

For further reading: I recommend these three articles about the Isa (Jesus) of Islam when compared with the Jesus of the Christian Scriptures:

E. Differences between Islam and Christianity

The above evidence should demonstrate clearly that the nature and attributes of Allah are quite different to those of Jehovah, the Almighty God. Allah and Jehovah do not refer to the same God.

The Jesus revealed in Scripture is not the Jesus (Isa) of Islam. This especially relates to Jesus’ origin and his crucifixion. The Christian understanding is that Jesus has always existed as John 1:1 confirms, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’. Historically, Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were the turning point in history and in making salvation available for all people. See Luke 23:26-56 and Luke 24:1-49 for confirmation of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection in history. Evidence of Jesus’ atoning death for the sins of the world is found in Scriptures such as John 3:16-18 and 1 John 2:2.

F. What can we expect before Jesus’ return?

Mark 13:18-27 (New Living Translation) tells us what we can anticipate before Christ’s second coming:

And pray that your flight will not be in winter. For there will be greater anguish in those days than at any time since God created the world. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless the Lord shortens that time of calamity, not a single person will survive. But for the sake of his chosen ones he has shortened those days.

“Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. Watch out! I have warned you about this ahead of time!

“At that time, after the anguish of those days,

the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.[15]

Then everyone will see the Son of Man[16] coming on the clouds with great power and glory[17]. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world[18]—from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.

Therefore, before Jesus’ Second Coming, we can expect ‘greater anguish’ than at any time since the creation of the world. That sure sounds like catastrophic events. Unless God calls an end to this horrific distress, not a single person would survive in the world. But God will shorten the terror because of his elect believers. If it were not for Christians in the world at that time, God would destroy the whole of humanity. During this time there will be the actions of false messiahs and false prophets performing false miracles.

However, Jesus, the Son of Man, will come in the clouds and with great power and glory and he will put an end to the catastrophe.

G. Conclusion

On the human level, I see the future as very bleak for the West and for Christians. What we have seen on September 11, 2001, in Paris on 13 November 2015, and in Mali on 20 November 2015, should tell us that the Jihadist Muslims of IS are deadly serious about attacks on the West. The verses cited above from the Quran indicate that violence is one of the core values of Islam.

Genuine Muslims committed to Allah and the Quran are devoted to violence towards nonbelievers.

But there is hope – the blessed hope – for every Christian who has put his or her faith in Christ alone for salvation. This is stated clearly in Titus 2:11-13 (ESV):

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (emphasis added).

See also my other articles:

This glorious return of Jesus Christ to end all of the trauma on earth is beautifully anticipated in this Gospel song:

What A Day That Will Be [19]

Words and Music by Jim Hill

Mark 14:62
“And Jesus said, I AM:
and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power,
and coming in the clouds of heaven.”

v.1

There is coming a day when no heartaches shall come
No more clouds in the sky, no more tears to dim the eye.
All is peace forevermore on that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Chorus
What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

v. 2

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain, no more parting over there;
And forever I will be with the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Chorus

Here are a couple versions of this very appropriate song for the theme of this article, when there will be ultimate peace.

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(Jim Hill, courtesy Youtube.com)

3d-red-star-small Bill & Gloria Gaither (1) – here the composer of the song, Jim Hill, sings the song.

3d-red-star-small Jim Hill, Donnie Sumner & Jimmy Blackwood.

Works consulted

Bar, S 2004. The religious sources of Islamic terrorism. Policy Review 125 (online), June & July, 27-37. Research Library, American Civil Liberties Union. Available at: https://action.aclu.org/files/fbimappingfoia/20111019/ACLURM001331.pdf (Accessed 23 November 2015).

BBC News 2002. Turkey’s charismatic pro-Islamic leader. World edition (online), 4 November. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2270642.stm (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Carol, S 2015. Understanding the Volatile and Dangerous Middle East: A Comprehensive Analysis. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Coffman, E 2008. Why December 25? Christian History (online), 8 August. Available at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/news/2000/dec08.html (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Edwards, R 2015. Do you really believe there are moderate Muslims? Newswithviews.com (online), 20 November. Available at: http://www.newswithviews.com/RonEdwards/ron152.htm (Accessed 23 November 2015).

Fealy, G & White, S (eds) 2008. Expressing Islam: Religious life and politics in Indonesia. Pasir, Panjang: Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith. J Purswell (ed). Leister, England: Inter-Varsity Press (published by arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan).

Haddad, G F n d. The Hadith[20] of Allah’s Descent,[21] pt 2 (online). Available at: http://www.sunnah.org/aqida/haddad/Allah’s%20Descent2.htm (Accessed 28 November 2015).

Harper, D 2001-2015. Islam. In Online Etymology Dictionary. Available at: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=Islam&searchmode=none (Accessed 28 November 2015).

Hassan, R 2015. Australian Muslims: A demographic, social and economic profile of Muslims in Australia 2015. International Centre for Muslim and Non-Muslim Understanding (online), 1-45. Adelaide, South Australia: University of South Australia. Available at: http://www.unisa.edu.au/Global/EASS/MnM/Publications/Australian_Muslims_Report_2015.pdf (Accessed 28 November 2015).

Ibrahim, F n d. Is Isa merely a Messenger or God incarnate? Answering-Islam. Available at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Authors/Farooq_Ibrahim/incarnate.htm (Accessed 30 November 2015).

Leupold, H C 1971. Exposition of Isaiah (2 vols in 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.[22]

Markoe, L 2014. Muslim Scholars Release Open Letter To Islamic State Meticulously Blasting Its Ideology. Religion News Service, The Huffington Post Australia (online), 26 September. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/24/muslim-scholars-islamic-state_n_5878038.html?ir=Australia (Accessed 23 November 2015).

Martindale, C C 1908. Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Available at New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Mukasey, M B 2011. America’s most wanted, The Wall Street Journal (online), January 22. Available at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703583404576079930494332352 (Accessed 26 November 2011).

Oxford Islamic Studies Online 2015. Spread of Islam, The. Oxford University Press. Available at: http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t253/e17 (Accessed 8 December 2015).

Pennington, R 2008. What is the meaning of the word ‘Islam’? Muslim Voices, October 1. Available at: http://muslimvoices.org/word-islam-meaning/ (Accessed 1 December 2015).

Roberts, M 2010. Seeking the peace of Christ: Christianity and peacemaking. Patheos (online). Available at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/seeking-the-peace-of-christ-christianity-and-peacemaking/ (Accessed 30 November 2015).

Robertson, A T 1930. Word Pictures in the New Testament: The Gospel According to Matthew, The Gospel According to Mark, vol 1. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Sales, L 2015. Reporter: H Cooper, ‘This is the man with the balance of power in NSW – Fred Nile’. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), 7.30 (online), 16 April. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2015/s4218034.htm (Accessed 24 November 2015).

Sandeman, J 2014. Two Australian denominations face big challenges. Bible Society Live light (online), 11 July. Available at: http://www.biblesociety.org.au/news/two-australian-denominations-face-big-challenges (Accessed 1 December 2015).

SBS News 2014. Explainer: What is Daesh? What’s in a name? (online). Available at: http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2014/12/04/explainer-what-daesh-whats-name (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Shamoun, S n d. Is Allah the God of the Bible? Answering Islam (online). Available at: http://www.answering-islam.org/Shamoun/god.htm (Accessed 28 November 2015).

Sookhdeo, P 2005. The myth of moderate Islam. The Spectator (online), 30 July. Available at: http://new.spectator.co.uk/2005/07/the-myth-of-moderate-islam/ (Accessed 28 November 2015).

Stowe, R 2000. Newark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure. David Virtue (online), August 16. Available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/2000-August/001571.html (Accessed 1 December 2015).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Yavuz, M H 2009. Secularism and Muslim Democracy in Turkey. Cambridge Middle East Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (introduction available online at: http://assets.cambridge.org/97805218/88783/excerpt/9780521888783_excerpt.pdf (Accessed 26 November 2015).

Notes


[1] Most often the documentation from the Quran is given as Surah, which means chapter. However, throughout this article I will use Quran instead of Surah, for the benefit of non-Muslims.

[2] Christian Forums.net 2015. Christianity & Other Religions, ‘Islam – a religion of peace’, Classik#1. Available at: http://christianforums.net/Fellowship/index.php?threads/islam-a-religion-of-peace.62184/ (Accessed 1 December 2015). You’ll find a variation of this letter at: https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=620333818078936&id=283008705144784; https://plus.google.com/103745661768802901128/posts/U7x62k3pHkK; an exact replica of this hand-written letter is on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/afsh_9/status/619263580484059136 and https://twitter.com/ehsankhaniyc/status/626771542160965632 (Accessed 1 December 2015).

[3] Christian Forums, ibid., gerbilgirl#6.

[4] Ibid., OzSpen#13.

[5] See Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015. s v Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Available at: http://www.britannica.com/biography/Recep-Tayyip-Erdogan (Accessed 26 November 2015).

[6] No pagination was given in the partial online edition from which this quote was obtained.

[7] The correct spelling is Tel Aviv.

[8] ABC News (Australia), 17 May 2011, reported, ‘Muslim group wants sharia law in Australia’ (online). Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-05-17/muslim-group-wants-sharia-law-in-australia/2717096 (Accessed 23 November 2015).

[9] There is an article by Bilveer Singh on ‘The challenge of militant Islam and terrorism in Indonesia’ (2010), but I do not have access to it.

[10] “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod.

[11] This information is gleaned with assistance from Thiessen (1949:138-140).

[12] ‘The word for Christmas in late Old English is Cristes Maesse, the Mass of Christ, first found in 1038…. Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church. Irenaeus and Tertullian omit it from their lists of feasts…. The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. about A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians “over curiously” assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ’s birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus…. Concerning the date of Christ’s birth the Gospels give no help’ (Martindale 1908). However, where did the birthday celebration of December 25 originate? ‘Western Christians first celebrated Christmas on December 25 in 336, after Emperor Constantine had declared Christianity the empire’s favored religion. Eastern churches, however, held on to January 6 as the date for Christ’s birth and his baptism. Most easterners eventually adopted December 25’ (Coffman 2008).

[13] Abrogation means, ‘to end or cancel (something) in a formal and official way: to fail to do what is required by (something, such as a responsibility)’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2015. S v abrogation), available at: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/abrogation (Accessed 28 November 2015). This means that in the Quran, Muhammad’s revelation said to do one thing but in a few verses later or in other verses that teaching was called off; it was reversed. He changed his mind.

[14] Much of the material in this section is taken from Ibrahim (n d) who is a former Muslim who became a Christian convert by comparing the Islamic view of God and Jesus to that revealed in the Christian Scriptures.

[15] The footnote stated: ‘See Isa 13:10; 34:4; Joel 2:10’.

[16] The footnote stated, ‘“Son of Man” is a title Jesus used for himself’.

[17] The footnote stated, ‘See Dan 7:13’.

[18] The footnote stated, ‘Greek from the four winds’.

[19] Available at: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/sounds/Hymns/what_a_day_that_will_be.htm (Accessed 23 November 2015).

[20] Hadith, from the Arabic meaning ‘News’ or ‘Story, also spelled Hadit, was ‘a record of the traditions or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, revered and received as a major source of religious law and moral guidance, second only to the authority of the Quran’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica 2015. S v Hadith), available at: http://www.britannica.com/topic/Hadith (Accessed 28 November 2015).

[21] Islamic scholars differ concerning the meaning of Allah’s descent (see Haddad n d, pt 1).

[22] This was formerly published in 1968 in two volumes: (a) Exposition of Isaiah, Volume I (chs 1-39) and (b) Exposition of Isaiah, Volume II (chs 40-66).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 April 2016.

Does God create all of the evil in the world?

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

(courtesy BibleGatewayBlog, 14 November 2015)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Let’s put it another way: Did God know human beings would create evil or did He decree that evil would take place according to God’s will?

With the slaughter of about 129 people in Paris on 13 November 2015, this causes Christians to ask further questions about evil and the manifestation of evil in our world. It was on the evening of 13 November that there was a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks across Paris with mass shootings, suicide bomb and hostages taken. For details of where the Paris killings took place, see The Telegraph [UK] article, ‘Paris terror attack: Everything we know on Wednesday evening’ (18 November 2015). This report states that there were seven co-ordinated attacks in Paris.

Andy Rau asked this series of solemn questions:

One of the oldest and toughest challenges for Christians is finding a way to understand the existence of terrible evil in a world that is ruled by a loving, all-powerful God. It’s not an easy question to answer—if it were, we wouldn’t be struggling with it thousands of years after Christ—but the Bible does offer hope in the face of violence and evil.

We’ve talked about terror and the question of evil here in relation to terror attacks in past years. Most of those reflections are still relevant today in the wake of the Paris attacks; if these latest terror attacks have you wondering why a loving God could let this happen, take a few minutes to read through these reflections:

The terrorist group, Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for the slaughter in Paris.

(Islamic states (dark green), states where Islam is the official religion (light green), secular states (blue) and other (orange), among countries with a Muslim majority, courtesy Wikipedia)

Australia’s ABC News reported:

’Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks in Paris that killed at least 129 people, saying its fighters carried out the operation in various locations which were carefully studied.

In a statement posted online, IS said the attacks were a response to France’s campaign against its fighters and insults against Islam’s prophet.

It said “eight brothers wearing explosive belts and carrying assault rifles” conducted a “blessed attack on … Crusader France”’ (‘Paris attacks: Islamic State claims responsibility, French president Francois Hollande calls it “act of war”‘, ABC News, Brisbane Qld, 15 November 2015).

I ask, “Doesn’t God’s sovereignty include human beings’ genuine, free choices? If not, they are forced to act and they do not have genuinely free choices’.[1]

One response I received was: ‘“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1 NASB). How free is the king’s will?’[2]

This Paris attack raises a number of issues regarding the allowance or cause of evil in our world.

 

(In front of restaurants Le Carillon and Le Petit Cambodge on 16 November 2015 after terrorist attack, Paris, courtesy Wikipedia)

A. How free are governments under God’s decrees?[3]

Let’s check out some examples from our recent history and in the contemporary world.

If the government leader’s (king’s heart) is turned wherever God wishes, how does that account for the following?

I asked: Are you saying that Adolph Hitler, the leader of Germany, according to your theology, was turned by God himself to slaughter 6 million Jews during the Holocaust? Is that your practical application of Prov. 21:1 in your theology? Did God know or did God cause this to happen by his decretive will?
‘Seventy years too late: Russia finally admits slaughter of 20,000 Polish officers at Katyn was on Stalin’s orders’ (Daily Mail, 26 November 2010). So was Stalin’s slaughter according to God’s decree?

To whom do we attribute this evil, God or sinful, free will human beings? ‘Was the London killing of a British soldier “terrorism”’ (The Guardian, 24 May 2013)? This article begins:

Two men yesterday engaged in a horrific act of violence on the streets of London by using what appeared to be a meat cleaver to hack to death a British soldier. In the wake of claims that the assailants shouted “Allahu Akbar” during the killing, and a video showing one of the assailants citing Islam as well as a desire to avenge and stop continuous UK violence against Muslims, media outlets (including the Guardian) and British politicians instantly characterized the attack as “terrorism”.

That this was a barbaric and horrendous act goes without saying, but given the legal, military, cultural and political significance of the term “terrorism”, it is vital to ask: is that term really applicable to this act of violence?

See also,

If God decreed (foreordained) all evil, what are the implications? Are Calvinistic Christians going to state that this is according to God’s ‘decretive will’? That was the language used on Christian Forums for God’s relationship to evil as applied to Proverbs 21:1: ‘Free to do God’s decretive will’.[4]

What about the many perpetrators of sexual abuse including the rape of children? Were their criminal and sinful acts decreed by God?
How free were Hitler’s and Stalin’s free wills? That is determined by the living God and he has given us teaching on this that is not in accordance with the Calvinistic imposition on the text (see below).

I affirm the view that God’s decrees are not inconsistent with freedom of choice, which could be called free agency. They do not eliminate human responsibility and do not make God the author of sin. God’s decrees involve His eternal purposes that are based on His holy, wise and righteous (just) nature. So God, to promote His own glory, decreed or foreordained everything that happens in our world. He does this effectively either by absolute decree (as in creation) or by permission (as in the moral evils I have raised).[5]

Biblically, we see these examples (not comprehensive) in Gen 1-2; Isa 14:24; Rom 8:28; Eph 1:9, 11; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 1:20; Rev 13:8.

We have it revealed in Scripture that God permitted sin in the world and did not necessitate it when we have the revelation of the threats of punishment for sin (Gen. 2:17; Ex 34:7; Eccl 11:9; Ezek 18:20; 2 Thess 1:7-8).

  • What do we read in Psalm 78:29? ‘And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved‘ (ESV).[6]
  • Again from the Psalms: ‘He gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them’ (Ps 106:15 ESV).[7]
  • In Acts 14:16, Paul taught, ‘In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways‘ (ESV).[8]
  • Acts 17:29, ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent’ (ESV).[9]

B. Free will and God’s decrees

This is my understanding of free will (volition) in ‘Did God know?’ Yes, God did know (his foreknowledge), and it is authentic free will because God,

  • ‘gave them what they craved’;
  • ‘gave them what they asked’;
  • ‘allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways’;

All these dimensions are included in God’s wonderful gift of free will. He decreed the free will that all human beings received and this means that some will do horrific evil in the choices they make, including:

(Hungarian Jews are selected by Nazis to be sent to the gas chamber at Auschwitz concentration camp, May/June 1944, courtesy Wikipedia).

  • Kill 6 million Jews;
  • Slaughter people;
  • Rape children,
  • Kill 129 people in 7 co-ordinated attacks in Paris, 13 November 2015, etc.

Let’s get it very clear! God did not cause all of these sinful choices. He permitted them because he gave all human beings genuine free will that allows them to make authentic volitional decisions about a whole range of issues, including Adam and Eve’s choice to sin and inflict sinful natures on the whole human race, and for people to serve the Lord or not:

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:14-15 ESV).

Romans 8:28-30 confirms this:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good[10] 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 (ESV).

C. Conclusion

I praise God for giving all people the risky gift of free will. This does not make God into an evil tyrant who decrees horrific moral evil such as the Holocaust and the rape of children by paedophiles. The almighty, living God, revealed in holy Scripture, does not decree this evil to take place through dictatorial imposition. He permitted it as demonstrated by the scriptural statements that some people ‘crave’ certain things and how God permitted some nations to live ‘in their own ways’.

For a refutation of how some Calvinists see God being responsible for decreeing all evil in the world, see my article, ‘Is God responsible for all the evil in the world?

(Skulls of Khmer Rouge victims, Cambodia, courtesy Wikipedia)

Notes


[1] I asked this question on Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, ‘Did God know…’, OzSpen #73. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7743521-8/ (Accessed 25 May 2013).

[2] Ibid., Hammster #79.

[3] The following is from my response at ibid., #93.

[4] Ibid Skala #80. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7743521-8/ (Accessed 25 May 2013).

[5] Some of this information is from H C Thiessen 1949. Introductory lectures in systematic theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 153-154.

[6] Emphasis added.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The footnote at this point in the ESV stated, ‘Some manuscripts God works all things together for good, or God works in all things for the good’.

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 1o April 2017.

Can world not mean world?

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

(courtesy freeclipartnow.com)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

Do you think that it is possible for people to argue over the meaning of ‘the world’? Yep! I was engaged in such a discussion on an Internet forum where world was made to mean other than world.

What’s the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16?

This is probably the best known verse in the whole of the Bible for evangelical Christians. Many regard it as a summary of the Gospel message. It states: ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life’ (ESV).

Calvinists often make ‘world’ in John 3:16 not mean the total world of all people. Here’s a sample from Calvinists on a leading Christian forum on the subject, ‘John 3:16 – is it important what the average Joe understands by ‘world’?’[1]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘What matters is what the Apostle John intended not what the reader understands. It is the duty of any reader to pay attention to context and try to understand what John meant. It is intellectually dishonest and lazy to take his words (or any words) at face value and assume a surface-level meaning’.[2]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘Of the 10+ uses of "world" that John uses in his writings, why did you pick that one?’[3]

blue-corrosion-arrow-small ‘I guess you misunderstood the question. Of the 10+ uses of "world" that John uses in his writings, you chose the one that means every person who’s every lived. Why is that?’[4]

I asked this Calvinist:

1) Would you please document where those 10+ meanings of ‘world’ are found in John’s Gospel?
2) Would you please document from a Greek lexicon there are 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in the Gospel of John?[5]

How to avoid answering the question

This person’s immediate response was: ‘No. But if you’d like to, go ahead’.[6] Do you see what he was doing? He was the one who made the claim of 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel, but he doesn’t want to provide the evidence. He wants me to do the hard work for him. I won’t fall for that trick. It’s his responsibility to provide the evidence for the claim he is making.

How should I reply to him? ‘Why are you prepared to assert that there are 10+ meanings of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel and not be prepared to demonstrate where they are in John’s Gospel and how those 10 different meanings are defined by a leading Greek lexicon? If you are not prepared to document them, it becomes your assertion with no proof.’[7] His retort was, ‘I’m sorry that you think John only uses one definition for "world" in his writings. How did you determine which one John uses?’[8] My reply to this lie about my position was: ‘Not once have I ever said that. It is your false accusation against me. Please withdraw that statement against me immediately’.[9]

He continued his avoidance of providing the 10+ definitions of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel: ‘So if [you] don’t believe that, then why do you need a list of definitions?’[10] I continued: ‘I asked you to remove your false statement against me. Why have you not removed your false statement and given me a red herring fallacy here? When will you remove this false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel?’[11]

There was more and more avoidance from this Calvinist: ‘On what basis did I know that it was a false statement? It sure seemed true when I said it. You are free to refute it. When you do, however, please explain why you needed me to provide definitions’.[12] My response was to repeat what I’d raised previously:

It was a false statement by you against me because I have never ever stated that there is only one meaning of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel. Thus your statement about my one meaning of ‘world’ was an invention.
You need to provide definitions because so far you have only made assertions that ‘world’ has 10+ meanings in John’s Gospel. You have not demonstrated this to be true. Please provide the evidence that I have asked.[13]

He came back with further goading of me: ‘If you honestly believe that John only uses one definition for "world" in his writings, I’ll provide you a link to the various examples’.[14] At this point I reported him to the moderators for his going against the rules of the Forum with his goading of me. To goad means, ‘to prick or drive with, or as if with, a goad; prod; incite’ (dictionary.com).

Further tactics for not answering questions

Image result for clipart question mark public domainThis fellow (and he has done this a number of times to other people and me on various topics) uses a standard tactic when he doesn’t want to answer my question. He changes topics. This is called a red herring logical fallacy.

This is how he did it:

Oz (me): ‘When will you quit your goading me with your repetition of a false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel?’[15]

Hamm (my Calvinistic opponent): ‘Do you believe that John uses more than one definition for "world" in his writings? If so, how many definitions does he use?’[16]

Notice what he did. He did not answer my question about when he was going to quit goading me by a false statement about my view of ‘world’ in John’s Gospel. He got back to what he wanted to talk about: Do you believe that John uses only one definition of ‘world’? I have denied it post after post, but this is what he did when he didn’t want to answer my questions of him re goading me.

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Watch for this tactic by people in debate and conversation. What is a red herring logical fallacy? The Nizkor Project describes it as:

Also Known as: Smoke Screen, Wild Goose Chase.

Description of Red Herring

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:

1. Topic A is under discussion.

2. Topic B is introduced under the guise of being relevant to topic A (when topic B is actually not relevant to topic A).

3. Topic A is abandoned.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because merely changing the topic of discussion hardly counts as an argument against a claim.

The discussion on the forum was closed by a moderator who considered the discussion ‘is getting more and more toxic’.[17]

Let’s check out a couple of commentators

What would a leading Calvinistic commentator say that the meaning of ‘world’ is in John 3:16?

Don Carson

CarsonD.A.01

(D A Carson, courtesy Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

 

D A Carson is a Calvinist[18] and his commentary on John’s Gospel describes the meaning of ‘world’:

‘It is atypical for John to speak of God’s love for the world, but this truth is therefore made to stand out as all the more wonderful. Jews were familiar with the truth that God loved the children of Israel; here God’s love is not restricted by race. Even so, God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad; that is the customary connotation of kosmos (‘world’; cf. notes on 1:9). The world is so wicked that John elsewhere forbids Christians to love it or anything in it (1 Jn. 2:15-17). There is no contradiction between the prohibition and the fact that God does love it. Christians are not to love the world with the selfish love of participation; God loves the world with the self-less costly love of redemption’ (Carson 1991:205, emphasis in original).

So God’s love is not restricted to one particular group of people, according to Carson, but God’s love is admired because the world is so wicked but God loves it with the costly love of redemption. So Carson is interpreting ‘world’ to mean the whole world of wickedness.

Carson’s comments on John 1:9 are:

‘If the phrase "coming into the world" is understood to be masculine and attached to "every man", then we must translate this verse as in NIV fn. [footnote]: "This was the true light that gives light to every man who comes into the world" (similarly AV). If this is the correct rendering, then there is nothing here or in v. 10 that requires us to go beyond the illumination granted to the entire race in the Word’s creative activity (cf. vv. 4-5). This view is reinforced by a common rabbinic expression, "all who come into the world", used to describe "every man". But that expression is always plural; the construction here is singular. It is best to take "coming into the world" as a neuter form attached to "light", adopting the translation of NIV: The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. The most convincing support for this rendering is the fact that "coming into the world" or being sent into the world is in this Gospel repeatedly predicated of him who is the Word. Moreover the peculiar Greek syntax this translation presupposes is a common feature of John’s style (cf. 1;28; 2:6; 3:23; 10:40; 11;1; 13:23; 18:18, 25). What this means is that in this verse it is the Word, the light, that is coming into the world, in some act distinct from creation. If incarnation is not spelled out as forcefully as in v. 14, it is the same special visitation that is in view. Few could read the Fourth Gospel for the second time without recognizing that the coming of the Word into the world, described in the Prologue, is northing other than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book’ (Carson 1991:121-122).

In his explanation of the meaning of ‘world’ in John 3:16, Carson referred back to commentary on John 1:9 where Carson emphasises that ‘world’ means that Jesus’ coming into the world to be a light was to be a light ‘to every man’ (i.e. to every human being), ‘the entire race’, and ‘than the sending of the Son into the world, described in the rest of the book’.

So D A Carson, a Calvinist, regards ‘world’ in John 3:16 as ‘God’s love is to be admired not because the world is so big and includes so many people, but because the world is so bad; that is the customary connotation of kosmos’. So how much of the world is so bad that God’s love needs to send a Saviour? The whole wicked world – every person in the world.

Leon Morris

 

(Leon Morris, courtesy Wikipedia)

Leading Greek exegete and commentator, the late Leon Morris, in his commentary on John 3:16 wrote:

‘God loved "the world"…. The Jew was ready enough to think of God as loving Israel, but no passage appears to be cited in which any Jewish writer maintains that God loved the world. It is a distinctively Christian idea that God’s love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite. It is a love which proceeds from the fact that He is love (I John 4:8, 16). It is His nature to love. He loves men because He is the kind of God He is. John tells us that His love is shown in the gift of His Son’ (Morris 1971:229).

That is as clear as crystal for Leon Morris: ‘God’s love is wide enough to embrace all mankind. His love is not confined to any national group or any spiritual elite’. All human beings are included in God’s love articulated in John 3:16.

 

Conclusion

Some Calvinists on this Christian forum want to distort the meaning of ‘world’ to comply with their narrow version of God’s atonement – limited atonement. When God ‘gave his only begotten son’ (John 3:16) to die as an atonement, it was based on God’s love for the whole world – every person in the world. This does not teach universalism (all will be saved) but God’s love extending to every human being so that when he sent his Son to die on the cross, it made provision of salvation for the whole world.

We know this as it is confirmed in:

  • I John 2:2, ‘He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world’ (ESV),
  • Titus 2:11, ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people’, and
  • 2 Peter 3:9, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’.

Works consulted

Carson, D A 1991. The gospel according to John. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press / Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Morris, L 1971. The gospel according to John. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

Notes


[1] Christian Forums, General Theology, Soteriology, janxharris#1, 3 January 2014, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376/ (Accessed 6 January 2014).

[2] Ibid., Skala#4.

[3] Ibid., Hammster#7.

[4] Ibid., Hammster#17, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-2/.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#84, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-9/.

[6] Ibid., Hammster#85.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#89.

[8] Ibid., Hammster#90.

[9] Ibid., OzSpen#96, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-10/.

[10] Ibid., Hammster#97.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen#98.

[12] Ibid., Hammster#100.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#102, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-11/.

[14] Ibid., Hammster#

[15] Ibid., OzSpen#105, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-11/.

[16] Ibid., Hammster#106.

[17] Ibid., Edial#111, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7796376-12/,

[18] In this article, ‘Characteristics of New Calvinism’, D A Carson is associated with New Calvinism. Available at: http://www.newcalvinist.com/ (Accessed 6 January 2014).

 

Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 18 November 2015.