Thinking Out Loud

March 13, 2014

The Spiritual Decision Making Process

A long time ago, in a galaxy rather close by, a new generation of Christians were as excited about the latest books as today’s host of internet bloggers. While we might think the universe didn’t exist until we were born, there was the same mix of academic writers as well as popular writers.  One of the latter was Emory Griffin who wrote a paperback about evangelism called The Mind Changers, and in that book, he frequently quoted James F. Engel, who wrote the textbook Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice. I am privileged to own (somewhere in our house) a copy of both.

Engel dissected the conversion process as only a late 20th Century academic could, breaking it down piece-by-piece. But I’ve always kept a copy of this particular little chart handy, because it reminds me that making disciples (or what a previous generation called soul-winning) doesn’t happen overnight (though it can) but often involves the careful processing through of ideas and thoughts. Yes, some people encounter Jesus and the transformation can be instantaneous, but often it has to be reasoned through (or even emoted through; I don’t know if there’s a word for that) and it usually involves some other person whose gift is apologetics or just being there with love or perhaps some combination of the two.

Today, people still discuss whether or not salvation happens as a crisis experience (in a moment, in an instant) or whether it is a process experience (as C. S. Lewis defined so well in the train analogy in Mere Christianity) but if it’s a process, it might look something like Engel describes here:

Complete Spiritual Decision Process - James Engel

March 10, 2014

God > Us

This was a different type of article for C201, and I thought I would share it here as well…

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (NIV)

That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
and no mind has imagined
what God has prepared
for those who love him.”[Is. 64:4] (NLT)

Isaiah 55:9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts. (NASB)

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (NRSV)

 

holy_spirit_-_pentacost_jwis

A long time ago in an environment far away from where I am today, I was a philosophy major at a secular university required to read The Idea of the Holy by Rudoph Otto. The subtitle of the book is An Inquiry into the Non Rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational. (Today, the book’s marketing department would be looking for something more catchy.)

In the book, Otto introduced the idea of “numinous.” Sometimes when writers introduce terminology that is outside our normal frame of reference, we tend to be dismissive of its application to our particular brand of theology. But read this definition carefully and slowly:

Otto was one of the most influential thinkers about religion in the first half of the twentieth century. He is best known for his analysis of the experience that, in his view, underlies all religion. He calls this experience “numinous,” and says it has three components. These are often designated with a Latin phrase: mysterium tremendum et fascinans. As mysterium, the numinous is “wholly other”– entirely different from anything we experience in ordinary life. It evokes a reaction of silence. But the numinous is also a mysterium tremendum. It provokes terror because it presents itself as overwhelming power. Finally, the numinous presents itself as fascinans, as merciful and gracious.

Outline of Otto’s concept of the numinous (based on The Idea of the Holy. Trans. John W. Harvey. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1923; 2nd ed., 1950 [Das Heilige, 1917]):

Mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (fearful and fascinating mystery):

  • Mysterium“: Wholly Other, experienced with blank wonder, stupor
  • tremendum“:
    • awefulness, terror, demonic dread, awe, absolute unapproachability, “wrath” of God
    • overpoweringness, majesty, might, sense of one’s own nothingness in contrast to its power
    • creature-feeling, sense of objective presence, dependence
    • energy, urgency, will, vitality
  • fascinans“: potent charm, attractiveness in spite of fear, terror, etc.

~online notes by Joseph A. Adler, Professor of Religion at Ohio’s Kenyon College.

You’ll also see (above) that Otto used the term “wholly other.” I’ve often thought the book could also have been titled, The Idea of the Wholly! Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry explains this:

The term “wholly other” is used in Christian theology to describe the difference between God and everything else. God, the Christian God, is completely different than all other things that exist. God can be described by essential properties such as holiness, immutability, etc. But we have to ask how we, as finite creatures, can relate to the infinite God. It is difficult when he is “wholly other” than we are. It means that we must relate to him by his self-revelation in the person of Christ Jesus, and through the Bible.

But the holy/wholly pun I suggest above is one you should not forget, especially if you’re more accustomed to using words like ‘holiness’ in terms of personal purity. The website, TheNewCreation.com explains:

The word holy is commonly understood to mean moral perfection. And when it is applied to God’s relationship to “sinners” it suggests that God has such a high standard of holiness (moral perfection) that he will not tolerate or forgive sinners until they are sanctified and made holy (morally clean).

But this is not what the Hebrew prophets had in mind when they cried, “Holy! holy! holy is YHWH Sabaoth.” The Hebrew kaddosh, has nothing to do with morality but means “otherness,”– Wholly Other. “YHWH is other! other! other!”

YHWH does not conform to, or fit into our concepts of deity. He can not be defined by our abstract theistic characterizations (omnipotent, omniscient, impassible…). YHWH is radically, transcendentally different (other) then the gods made in our own image: the autocratic and domineering gods that are the projections of our primate animal nature.

God is radical, uncompromising, unconditional, self-emptying love for the other–us and all of creation. It is this love that defines His holiness. A love so completely open to the pain and need of the other; so inexhaustible in its selflessness; so broad and deep in its scope; that is could never be defined by any abstract philosophical/theological propositions. It could only be expressed and made real in a living person. Only in one who is the fulness of the humane and compassionate Abba. Only in the Crucified One: Jesus Christ.

The other term we often use in this case is transcendence, the idea that God transcends anything we can fathom, as stated in the scripture examples at the outset of today’s reading. The Religion Library at Patheos.com has a reference to Martin Luther that is appropriate to consider:

…Luther’s God is an all-powerful God.He stressed this idea in ways that may surprise people today.For Luther, God is wholly other than we are, and so we cannot rely on analogies from our own experience to understand God.We know about God only what God chooses to reveal to us.The picture of God in scripture is not uniformly comforting.God’s power and goodness are not constrained by human conceptions of power and goodness…

I want to leave you with another set of homonyms to sum up today’s thoughts. We talked about holy and wholly. Our reaction to all this should be aah and awe. Aah because it takes our breath away. Awe because we realize how great God is…and yet He loves us!

Note: Today’s blog post delves into concepts considered part of the philosophy of religion. Inclusion of website links in this discussion does not imply endorsement of the sources or websites as a whole.

February 17, 2014

A New Standard Theology Textbook?

While I keep a number of Biblical and theological reference books on my shelves, I recognize that the average reader here does not. Still, there are people who want to go deeper in their understanding of Christian theology as well as people who have taken, are taking, or plan to take some formal courses from a Bible College or seminary. For them, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology has always been the standard text. You can read more about it at this page.

But this morning, a little hyperbole on Twitter got my attention. Filling out past the 140-character limit, someone wrote:

The world would be a better place if Grudem’s work was composted and replaced with Evangelical Theology by Michael F. Bird.

Composted? That’s a bit harsh. I decided to investigate the title. You can read more about it at this page, or continue below:

Evangelical TheologyEvangelical Theology is a systematic theology written from the perspective of a biblical scholar. Michael F. Bird contends that the center, unity, and boundary of the evangelical faith is the evangel (= gospel), as opposed to things like justification by faith or inerrancy. The evangel is the unifying thread in evangelical theology and the theological hermeneutic through which the various loci of theology need to be understood.

Using the gospel as a theological leitmotif — an approach to Christian doctrine that begins with the gospel and sees each loci through the lens of the gospel — this text presents an authentically evangelical theology, as opposed to an ordinary systematic theology written by an evangelical theologian. According to the author, theology is the drama of gospelizing — performing and living out the gospel in the theatre of Christian life. The text features tables, sidebars, and questions for discussion. The end of every part includes a “What to Take Home” section that gives students a run-down on what they need to know. And since reading theology can often be dry and cerebral, the author applies his unique sense of humor in occasional “Comic Belief” sections so that students may enjoy their learning experience through some theological humor added for good measure.

Ironically, both are published by Zondervan, and both at $49.99 US. The Michael Bird work was published in November of last year and runs 912 pages. (Grudem’s released in 1995 and is 1,296.)

Traditionally, the first purchase anyone was encouraged to make when building a Bible reference library was a concordance, but Bible software has rendered them somewhat obsolete. A Bible handbook (overview) is still helpful to have as is a single-volume Bible commentary. Bible dictionaries have lost some market share to their online counterparts, but some people still like to have a Bible atlas, which is probably still the toughest content for your computer to present fully, hence the need for print. 

The next step, to show you’re really committed, would be to purchase a theology textbook of the type described here; one that deals with the individual doctrines, and shows how they all, like puzzle pieces, fit together to form a functional and logically consistent theology.

I looked up “leitmotif” for you and added to the publisher blurb, but you’re on your own with “gospelizing.” 

With files from Ingram Book Company

February 3, 2014

Kids and Communion: Sacrament or Snack-Time?

This is a topic that was covered here twice before, in February of 2011 and December, 2011. I’m presenting both complete today, but including the links because the December one attracted a number of comments. You can join that old comment thread or start a new one here that might get seen by more people.  The first article is more practical, the second more doctrinal. The first article also appeared on the day after a piece about children and (immersion) baptism, which is why it begins…

Continuing where we left off yesterday…

I like the story of the little boy who wanted to take part in the communion service that followed the Sunday morning offering. When told by his mother that he was too young to take communion, the eager participant whispered loud enough to be heard five rows back, “Why not? I just paid for it, didn’t I?”

~Stan Toler in Preacher’s Magazine

Last week was Communion Sunday at our home church. We attended the 9:00 AM service so that we could actually get to a second service at 10:30 at our other home church. The 9:00 AM service is attended by families with young children who wake up early, and I was horrified to glance and see a young boy of about six or seven helping himself as the bread and wine were passed. Maybe this story describes the kind of thing I’m referencing:

At my church, we had a special Easter night service, and we took communion. My brother was in there, and he’s only 6, so he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. When he saw the “crackers” and “grape juice” being passed around, he said “mommy! Its snack time! I want a snack too!” Obviously, he’s too young to take communion. But for those of us who do take it, do we see it as “snack time”? Communion is great. I love to hear Pastors words describing the night when Jesus and his 12 apostles took upon the 1st Holy Communion. I think since we do take communion regularly in church, we overlook the importance there is in it.

~Summer, a 15-year old in Illinois

But not everyone agrees with this approach:

I have allowed my children to take communion ever since they have told me that they love Jesus. I think 3 was the age they were first able to verbalize that.

We explain it to them each time as the bread and wine come around, and while they dont get it all, they know they are considered ok to partake.

This would not have happened in the world I grew up in.

~Andrew Hamilton at Backyard Missionary (no longer available)

The latter view is the one currently gaining popularity among Evangelical parents. And there are often compelling reasons for it. A children’s ministry specialist in New Zealand only ever posted four things on his or her blog, but one of them was this piece which argued for including all children because:

  • The historical reason: Children would be included in Passover celebration;
  • The Passover parallel: It is a means of teaching children about Christ’s deliverance for us;
  • Salvation qualifies them: If they have prayed to receive Christ, which is not exclusive to adults, they should participate;
  • The alternative is complicated: The age at which a child would be considered “ready” would actually vary for each child, and setting a specific age adds more complication;
  • Communion is an act of worship, something children should be equally participating in.

Having read that, it might be easy to conclude that this is the side to which I personally lean.

That would be a mistake.

Despite the arguments above, I really think that Summer’s comment adequately describes the situation I saw firsthand last Sunday. As with yesterday’s piece here — Baptism: How Young is Too Young? — I think we are rushing our children to have ‘done’ certain things that perhaps we think will ‘seal’ them with God.

I thought it interesting that one of the pieces I studied in preparation for yesterday’s post suggested that the parents of children who would be strongly opposed doctrinally to infant baptism have no issues with their non-infant children being baptized very young. Another article described a boy so young they had to ‘float’ him over to the pastor, since he couldn’t touch the bottom.

I’ve often told the story of the young woman who told me that when she was confirmed in her church at age 14 — confirmation being the last ‘rite’ of spiritual passage for those churches that don’t practice believer’s baptism by immersion — she stopped attending because she ‘done’ everything there was to ‘do.’ She described it perfectly: “The day I officially joined the church was the day I left the church.”

Are we in too much of a hurry here to see our children complete these things so we can check them off a list? Are parents who would be horrified to see their daughters wearing skimpy outfits because that constitutes “growing up too fast” actually wanting their sons and daughters to “grow up spiritually too fast?”

I was eleven when my parents deemed me ready to take communion. While I question my decision to be baptized at 13, I think that this was a good age to enter into the Eucharist. I know that Catholic children receive First Communion at age seven, therefore I am fully prepared to stick to this view even if I end up part of a clear minority.

(more…)

January 16, 2014

Never Got the Chance to Study Theology?

Bruxy Cavey, the teaching pastor of The Meeting House in Oakville (Toronto), Ontario is currently teaching for three weeks at Messiah College, a school in the Brethren in Christ (BiC) denomination. Bruxy is a workaholic, and he’s taken on the task of recording a weeknight podcast on the various subjects covered in the course. At this writing, the three that have been posted run over an hour each, and he’s not doing the subjects in the same order you’d find in a systematic theology text.

Bruxy Cavey 3If you always wished you could have done Bible college or seminary but never got the chance, this could be your opportunity. Bruxy is teaching from an Anabaptist, Arminian perspective, but he spent many years immersed in Calvinist doctrine and has more than just a casual acquaintance with Reformed theology.

I think his desire to produce these podcasts is as much to benefit the students he is teaching as it is to keep in touch with the folks back home. This is a pastor who really loves his congregation and knows how to use the power of social media to produce engagement.

Clear out at least 75 minutes from your schedule, grab a notebook, be prepared to rewind to hear some sections twice, and head on over to Bruxy’s blog to experience Theology After Party.

Messiah College Christian Theology

Upper Photo: If you’re new here, before you jump to conclusions, bear in mind that The Meeting House is Canada’s fastest growing Church movement with 16 satellite campuses and that all barber shops in the country were shut down by our socialist government.

October 24, 2013

A Prominent Pentecostal Responds to John MacArthur

Filed under: books, theology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:07 am

J. Lee Grady (pictured below) epitomizes, for me at least, the phrase “balanced Charismatic.”  Here’s the opening to his article, To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur: Grace to You Too

J. Lee Grady 2Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur is a gifted preacher, author and lover of Scripture. His Grace to You radio program points countless people to the Bible, and his Master’s Seminary trains hundreds of ministry leaders. He’s a staunch Calvinist, but that doesn’t make him any less my brother in Christ.

Unfortunately, MacArthur can’t say the same about me—and that’s sad. In his new book Strange Fire, he declares in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.

My brother in Christ has written me off.

In John MacArthur’s rigid world, anybody who has sought prayer for healing, claimed a miracle, received a prayer language, prophesied, sensed God speaking to them, felt God’s presence in an emotional way or fallen down on the floor after receiving prayer has already stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy.

MacArthur says charismatics think they worship God but that actually we are worshipping a golden calf. “Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the  Holy Spirit,” MacArthur says early in the book. “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.”

He doesn’t just write off fringe elements of our movement; he skewers the original founders of Pentecostalism and even goes after Baptist author Henry Blackaby for teaching that God can speak to people today.

MacArthur, who is 74, urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement, which he describes as a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” and a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity…

Continue reading here

Perhaps we can paraphrase MacArthur’s statement and say that, “No other individual has caused more potential for dividing the Body of Christ in 2013 than John MacArthur.”

August 30, 2013

Humble Theology

This summer I’ve been completely ignoring what the book publicity people say I’m supposed to be reading and instead, I’m reading the books I want to read.  Last week I picked up a 2012 title — ancient history by the standards of book publicity people — by Dan Kimball, Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion.  (Zondervan)  I always look for a takeaway; not merely something I can blog or Tweet, but something that has real life application to where I’m at; and I found it in a little section called “Humble Theology.”

Adventures in ChurchlandI like using the term,”Humble Theology” when I speak of doctrines and my organized beliefs. Holding a humble theology means that we approach the Scriptures with an understanding of our inadequacy as human beings to grasp with certainty every single thing that is taught in the Bible.  But living with a humble theology doesn’t mean that we should live without beliefs and convictions. There are many doctrines that the Bible teaches, doctrines that have been held throughout the two thousand year history of the church, and whose truth and clarity we can have confidence in. Doctrines are actually good things although the word is often associated with negativity. This word doctrine simply refers to teaching or instruction, beliefs that can be taught and learned. The Bible itself tells us to, “Watch you life and doctrine closely.”

I love that the Bible says that it’s not enough just to pay attention to what we believe — our doctrine.  It also reminds us that we must also watch our lives: That we should live our beliefs. Doctrine is meant to change our lives, not just be head knowledge. Our organized beliefs should melt our hearts so that we become more like Jesus.

August 25, 2013

Entering Another Place

Filed under: Faith, theology, Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

I’m standing on the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She’s an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and the sky come down to mingle with each other.

And then I hear someone at my side saying, “There, she’s gone.” Gone where? Gone from my sight, that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side. And just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone;” there are other eyes watching her coming, and there are other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!” And that is dying.

No, it’s not C. S. Lewis. Attributed to Henry Scott Holland or Henry Van Dyke, depending on who you ask.

August 6, 2013

The Holy Catholic Church

“…I believe…in the holy catholic church…”

…Wait a minute, the what?

Those words in the Apostles Creed have been a tripping point for both young and old Evangelicals. We even made a last minute modification in our worship slides on Sunday to avoid the terminology. At the blog Internet Monk, in a classic Michael Spencer re-post from 2006, we’re reminded that many Baptists solve the problem by simply dropping the creed altogether.

The article is lengthy, and I know some of you won’t wade through it. But if you desire, especially if you’ve always wondered about that phrase, the link is here. For the record, “catholic” in this sense means “universal.”

Here’s how the article wraps up:

…We need a generous catholicity.” Not a competition where the winner plays the role of the brat, but a humble and sincere attempt to see Christ in his church, and not just in ours. It will not hurt us to say that Christ’s church is larger than our own, or to act like it.

  • We differ on Baptism. Can we agree that Baptism belongs to Christ, and is not dispensed by the church?
  • We differ on matters such as “eternal security” and speaking in tongues. Can we agree that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in his church according to his good pleasure, and not only within the bounds of our preferences (or nice theological conclusions?)
  • We differ on church government. Can we agree that Christ is the head of the church?
  • We differ on how we profess our faith. Can we agree that we receive a brother in Jesus name’ and not our own?
  • We differ on the Lord’s Table. Can we agree that all of us read the same texts with the same passion to be connected to Christ through that table, and that even if we cannot share it together, we can agree that it is our table, and the table where our elder brother seats us all in places of honor?

We differ on much and always will. Can we agree that we are all…all of us…the church catholic? The one, holy, apostolic, blood-bought, inheritance of Jesus? That we are all the fruit of his incarnation and suffering, and that our divisions do not divide Christ (I Corinthians 1:13), but only ourselves from our family?

Looking for an alternative? You could do a lot worse than this one, which I found at this site.

We believe in Jesus Christ the Lord,

* Who was promised to the people of Israel,
* Who came in flesh to dwell among us,
* Who announced the coming of the rule of God,
* Who gathered disciples and taught them,
* Who died on the cross to free us from sin,
* Who rose from the dead to give us life and hope,
* Who reigns in heaven at the right hand of God,
* Who comes to Judge and bring justice to victory.

We believe in God His Father,

* Who raised Him from the dead,
* Who created and sustains the universe,
* Who acts to deliver His people in times of need,
* Who desires all men everywhere to be saved,
* Who rules over the destinies of men and nations,
* Who continues to love men even when they reject Him.

We believe in the Holy Spirit,

* Who is the form of God present in the church,
* Who moves men to faith and obedience,
* Who is the guarantee of our deliverance,
* Who leads us to find God’s will in the Word,
* Who assists those whom He renews in prayer,
* Who guides us in discernment,
* Who impels us to act together.

We believe God has made us His people,

* To invite others to follow Christ,
* To encourage one another to deeper commitment,
* To proclaim forgiveness of sins and hope,
* To reconcile men to God through word and deed,
* To bear witness to the power of love over hate,
* To proclaim Jesus the Lord over all,
* To meet the daily tasks of life with purpose,
* To suffer joyfully for the cause of right,
* To the ends of the earth,
* To the end of the age,
* To the praise of His glory.

Amen.

This item first appeared here in August 2010

July 30, 2013

Guest Post: An Engineer Looks at Doctrinal Systems

My guest writer today is my son Chris, who I should describe more accurately as an engineer in training. He brings a scientific mind to a study which divides people, the issue of the Calvinist doctrinal system versus the Arminian doctrinal system. He is trying to show here how each of the core beliefs of Calvinism is rooted in the belief which precedes it. To that end it is a systematic theology. Since Arminianism is historically a response to Calvinism, he contrasts each doctrinal element with the corresponding Arminian perspective. For someone not trained in such matters, I personally think he does an amazing job here, even inventing a few new words in the process.

In yet another of history’s attempts to diffuse the unending debate between Calvinists and Arminianists, I would like to summarize my experiences with the dispute.  This caused me a great deal of grief in my first years of university, and I will be quite happy if I can immunize anyone to the arguing by informing them about it before it becomes a “stumbling block” to them.

First, I have identified the most fundamental difference between the two systems of belief to be that Arminians believe that sinful humans possess “free will” or “freedom of choice,” while Calvinists believe that sinfulness precludes choice.  All further differences can be extrapolated from this one point and a few obvious observations about the world.  Therefore, the most core difference between the two theological systems is a disagreement about man, not about God.  (Total Depravity.)

The different views of choice lead to different views of the lead-up to salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer him a chance to change his ways, and the sinner willfully ceases his rebellion, consents to being changes from within, and agrees to begin working for the Kingdom;  while the Calvinist sees God selecting a sinner and going to work in him without any questions or profferings.  (Irresistible Grace)

The different views of choice also lead to different views of the lead-up to non-salvation:  The Arminian sees God approach a sinner and offer salvation, but the sinner declines to accept it, much to God’s dismay;  while the Calvinist sees no dialogue take place, as God has already rejected that sinner for reasons he has not disclosed.  (Unconditional Election.)

The different views on the distribution of salvation are mirrored by different theories about the available supply of salvation:  Arminians believe that Jesus took up the sins of everyone so that the door might be open to everyone;  while Calvinists believe Jesus only took up the sins of those who would, in fact, ultimately be saved, because it would be pointless for Jesus to suffer for sins whose committors will carry them in Hell anyway.  (Limited Atonement.)

(The remaining Point of Calvinism is Perseverance of the Saints.  Whether or not someone can lose their salvation depends purely on how the word “saved” is applied, which is not really part of the overall disagreement.  It’s purely a difference in terminology.)

The different views of non-salvation, a topic people naturally feel strongly about, lead to different descriptions of God’s character:  The Arminian describes God as unconditionally loving and with arms always open, constantly wooing people to come home;  while the Calvinist may perhaps describe God as a mighty ruler building his kingdom, purposefully and with discernment, to glorify himself.

The Arminian’s favorite word is “love,” while the Calvinists’s is “sovereign.”  Due to differences in rhetoric, each side believes their favorite to be absent from the other’s theology, creating caricatures of each:  Calvinists think Arminians don’t take God’s rule seriously, while Arminians think Calvinists believe God holds humans to be worthless unless useful.  Any contestation that develops between the two sides serves to further polarize the rhetoric.

Both of these caricatures are sometimes correct:  There are people in the church who believe in works-based salvation (whether consciously or not), and there are others therein who think God hates them.

Calvinism versus ArminianismThe caricatures cause “straw men” in any argument that takes place between Calvinists and Arminianists:  The Arminianist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s love, while the Calvinist thinks he’s arguing about the scope of God’s rule, when in fact the two are in agreement about both.  The argument typically doesn’t resolve, but is terminated by an exclamation of, “Well, at least we can agree that we’re both saved by grace through the blood of the Lamb!” or something to that effect.

Both descriptions of God’s character can be taken too far:  God’s love, taken too far, leads to universalism, while God’s sovereignty, taken too far, leads to fatalism.

The different views of choice stem from different individual conversion experiences:  One Christian, who came slowly to understand and accept God’s work in their past, will find that Calvinism describes the process better;  while another, who had salvation explained to them by an existing Christian and then wanted to get in on it, may find that Arminianism describes the process better.  Likewise, I imagine there are nonbelievers who have understood and rejected Jesus, and others who die without ever knowing.

You will encounter people on both sides who acknowledge the correctness of both — either believing that each correctly describes the same God with different terminology, or believing that they serve as a sort of Yin and Yang that describe God well complementarily but poorly individually — and you will encounter those who adhere fiercely to one and war against the other.

~Chris Wilkinson


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