Thinking Out Loud

October 25, 2015

It’s Not What You Do, It’s Who You Know

Moses and the Bronze Snake← ← Why Isn’t This Story in Every Bible Story Collection?

That’s the question we’re looking at this weekend. Perhaps the story just has credibility issues with adults. A snake on a pole? You only have to look at it; not touch it, or do something else with it?  Perhaps the story simply gets bumped in Bible storybooks by stories involving a giant, or a whale, or a den of lions. But seriously, the way the Numbers 21 story prefigures the crucifixion, while we may not include it in our gospel presentations, we should at least be conversationally familiar with it. If you’ve missed what we’ve said so far, read the articles posted Friday and Saturday.

The Evangelism Explosion Question

Evangelism Explosion was a door-to-door evangelism campaign launched at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida when James Kennedy was pastor, and then made available for churches to train volunteers and use the program in their city or town.

Wikipedia records this about the program:

Evangelism Explosion is best known for its two “diagnostic questions” that users can ask non-Christians as a means of determining a “person’s spiritual health”, and of stimulating an evangelistic conversation:

  1. Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you can say you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?
  2. Suppose that you were to die today and stand before God and he were to say to you, “Why should I let you into my heaven?” what would you say?

After the diagnostic questions, the evangelist is encouraged to explain the gospel in terms of grace, man, God, Christ, and faith.

What the article doesn’t say is that most people would reply to the second question in terms like,

  • I’ve been a good person
  • I lived a good life
  • I prayed to God regularly
  • I kept the Ten Commandments
  • I went to church
  • I always gave money when people needed it
  • I didn’t smoke/drink/take drugs/sleep around

…and so on.

But none of these is the right answer. It is only through the blood of Jesus Christ that any of us obtains the righteousness that is needed before a just God; something I assume the EE people would then go on to explain. (In what’s sometimes called a “law and gospel” approach, the point is additionally made that none of those actions or omissions could be considered good enough when standing before a God who is all-holy.) 

DO versus DONE

So how does one do that? How do we move from people whose religion is all D-O (do this, do that, do the other thing) to one who simply accepts what’s all been D-O-N-E (freely given, and able to be taken irrespective of one’s spiritual balance sheet)?

Growing up in what was then Canada’s only megachurch, The Peoples Church in Toronto, Dr. Paul B. Smith (who also baptized me) would give an invitation almost every Sunday night and ask people to raise their hands if the wanted him “to include them in the closing prayer.”

While being prayed for to receive salvation or praying a prayer are both models that are subject to intense scrutiny and criticism these days, I think his approach is good at least insofar as one must want to placed under the covering that the cross provides.

I often compare this to the cards we get from the postal service telling us that they are holding a parcel for pickup. We can show all our friends the parcel card and even wave it around, but until we actually go to the post office and exchange the card for the benefit it represents, then all we have is piece of thin cardboard. And think about, the analogy really fits because the parcel is yours; it has your name on it.

How else do we describe this invisible transaction? Most people want to do something in order to gain right standing with God. That’s why religion is so popular. People at least can quantify their acts of piety, devotion or righteousness.

But Christianity, in this sense at least, is not religion. You don’t do anything.

And that’s where the transaction model really breaks down for some people. See, when I do a transaction at the ATM, I get a receipt. At least I can hold that in my hand (or affix it to the inside cover of my Bible). But as much as people so desperately want the equivalent to a proof of purchase, such is not the case when it’s something that happens invisibly. You simply, in a way so similar to the story of Moses and the Bronze Snake need to look to the cross.

Truly this is faith.  


As stated, there is no magic prayer to pray, but in your own words, you can simply tell God that you recognize that in his higher plans and purposes, the death of Jesus fulfills the requirements of a system that was set in place long before the world was created; and that you realize that as someone who misses the mark of his standard of holiness and righteousness, what you really need is grace. Tell him you want to be included in all that Christ’s death and God’s infinite grace and love have to offer; and in return, you want to begin living a new life in a new way.


April 13, 2015

Book Review: Did God Kill Jesus?

Did God Kill JesusThere was something almost eerie about reading this book over the Easter season. I took a rather slow, almost plodding pace in order to absorb the material and then have a day to digest it before moving on, some of the events described paralleling narratives being brought to mind at Holy Week.

In Did God Kill Jesus? Searching for Love in History’s Most Famous Execution, author Tony Jones looks at the central element of the Christian faith — the death and resurrection of Jesus — though his focus is clearly on the crucifixion and all of its ramifications for doctrine and theology. Over the years, writers and teachers have processed a handful of dominant models of what all is taking place — what we call atonement — as Christ yields his life to the religious and political powers of Jewish authorities and Roman soldiers; and Jones considers these as well as a few of the lesser-known theories.

At the very core of his analysis is Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?” He veers strongly toward the view that at that moment Jesus sees the Father as absent and dares to suggest that right then, right there, Jesus experiences something akin to atheism; life in a world without God. This is presented alongside the notion that while positionally God’s omniscience is a given, there are things that could only be known incarnationally.

This is a book for people willing to risk actually doing some thinking. Many of us have grown up in environments where we were taught that “Jesus died on the cross for our sins;” but would be lacking clarity in explaining exactly how the violent, death of this One accomplished this. He notes that if a sacrifice were all that was required, a child sacrifice at the Bethlehem manger would have sufficed. He also forces the reader to consider why a violent death was necessary.

I had been aware of Tony Jones through his blogging activity at Theoblogy, and knew that because of his co-authorship of The Emergent Manifesto, some readers here might question his orthodoxy. My thoughts ran somewhat the other way; reading through I asked myself if the book could not have appeared under HarperCollins’ more Evangelical imprints such as Zondervan, instead of HarperOne. (There were a couple of language issues early on, which are, in balance, unfortunate.) Jones is simply a nice guy, charitable to people whose views on Calvary are different because they are Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic, Progressive or even Pentecostal. By this I mean, the book accounts for all tastes.

Perhaps it is my own perspective, but my takeaway — and I mean this as high praise — is that I found myself thinking about Jesus and what would be going through his mind throughout all aspects of his final words to his disciples, his betrayal, his beating, his trial before Pilate and the agony of the crucifixion itself. Could there be any higher benefit to the reader of a Christian book?

Click here to read sample pages of Did God Kill Jesus?.

March 7, 2015

Haters Gonna Hate, Hate, Hate

While this is not a direct continuation of yesterday’s post, anyone who has interacted to any degree with the Christian blogosphere is aware that much strong opinion out there on a variety of topics. You can’t help but sense that many people are simply consumed by their obsession with people who don’t look like them or talk like them or belong to their tribe. Some of the best Christian authors and pastors are lined up in their sights and anything they write, say or even think is completely pre-judged. (I just deleted a blog from my computer’s bookmarks, because every time I clicked it, I found my blood pressure rising perceptibly from the first paragraph I would read.)

If you track with Thinking Out Loud’s sister blog, Christianity 201, you know that I’ve been very slowly working my way through a four-book series by Michael Card, the Biblical Imagination series, and I’m currently in the one on the third gospel, Luke: The Gospel of Amazement, which surfaces every few weeks. When I looked back to find the source of what follows, I couldn’t nail down a specific section to quote, but I don’t want to take full credit for this, Card’s writings have helped me put myself more into the picture of Jesus’ give and take with the crowd and the religious leaders.

Basically, today’s online haters are best described by the phrase, Modern Pharisees. As such they find themselves in opposition to people on two different levels.

Modern Pharisees Hate Sin

There’s no crime in that. Heck, God hates sin, right? But sometimes hating sin translates into hating the sinners themselves. To Jesus, a person’s performance record with reference to the standards of a Holy God was never in and of itself reason for condemnation. Rather, the term scripture uses translates as missing the mark. Our failure to meet those standards is part of larger nature that needs to be seen for what it is, and then, for those of us who are repentant of this, in our earnestness to please God and in our confession of that failure, we come to understand that we can’t ever make amends with God on our own. We need his help to lead a more God-pleasing life, but we also need is covering or atoning for our mark-missing which by implication means we need a savior. We find that in Jesus, we look to the cross, and then grant him Lordship over each and every detail of our life.

But this applies to everyone equally. Each one of us has that built-in, human tendency to stick our hand on the wall next to the “Wet Paint” sign. Or as Paul said it to the Romans, ‘All have missed the mark (or sinned) and come up short of God’s standards (or holiness.)’ So if you want to wave a placard that says ‘God Hates Fags,’ (which is not true), you need to also have one that says, ‘God Hates Adulterers,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Cheat on their Income Tax,’ and ‘God Hates People Who Steal Paperclips from Work,’ (all equally untrue) because basically, ‘There is none righteous, no not one.’

Except that God doesn’t hate anyone. He hates mark-missing because his standards are high. Very high. The highest. However, on the other hand, sending Jesus as an atonement was His idea. He lets us see our inability to achieve the standard and then, to as many as received that offer, to as many as believed on Jesus, he lets us off the hook, so to speak.

So hating sin is a God-paralleling thing to do. Hating sinners on the other hand is, well, sinful.

Modern Pharisees Hate Grace

And this is where it all gets weird. You would think that those who accept the offer are cause for celebration. Doesn’t the Bible saith that there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth? Yeth, it doth! So if the angels are having a party, can we do any less?

The problem is that the thinking of many is bound by bounded set theory. This is the idea that there is a line and some people are in, and some people are out. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. While there is some truth in the idea that a time is coming when the sheep are separated from the non-sheep — I don’t wanna be a goat, nope — it’s wrong to think that it’s up to us to decide, or that it’s even up to us to worry about who’s who.

So…at the least suggestion that someone from the fringes might actually be in, there is much consternation and concern. Clearly, we can’t have that sort of thing going on, and the best way to deal with people who don’t look like us, act like us, dress like us, read the type of books we read, sing the kind of songs we like, etc., is to condemn them as heretical.

Because if they are in, well, that just cheapens grace. And that would make us all look bad, right? Given the chance to rewrite scripture, Modern Pharisees wouldn’t celebrate the return of the prodigal son, and the thief on the cross wouldn’t stand a chance.

But that’s grace. That’s what grace is. And grace was God’s idea. If you don’t like it, talk to Him.


Wonderful the matchless grace of Jesus
Deeper than the mighty rolling sea 
Higher than the mountain 
Sparkling like a fountain 
All sufficient grace for even me 
Broader than the scope of my transgressions 
Greater far than all my sin and shame 
O magnify the precious name of Jesus
Praise His name!


February 9, 2015

“We Walked Away”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:55 am

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he didn’t die for you

Back in the 1970s, the gospel singer simply known as Evie popularized the song “Say ‘I Do'” which contains the lyrics quoted above. Later on, because of concerns with limited atonement, an alternative version sprang up:

And then if you can walk away
Knowing all he died to do
That’s when I’ll just have to say
I guess he died in vain for you

Earlier on the weekend we ran into someone who we knew from a church we attended many, many years ago. She and her husband were very, very involved. After some very brief catching up, I asked her where things were at with her and her husband and God. I think in the back of my mind I knew the answer, having heard something a long time ago from someone else, but still, there’s nothing quite like hearing someone look you in the eye and say, “I would describe myself as a humanist, but I have a personal spirituality.  [Her husband] would describe himself as an atheist.  Our marriage was crumbling, and we were both afraid that our doubts would ruin our marriage, and then we talked about it and discovered we had the same doubts…” Later she added the words, “We walked away…”

Usually in my line of work, I run into people who are far from God, but possibly moving toward the cross. I also run into secularists who never had a faith to begin with, but might be open to a discussion. But not so much people who were there — so there — and left.

I don’t want to break out into a theological discussion today on the eternal security of the believer, or the perseverance of the saints, or whether or not someone was actually on the inside to begin with, but these verses in Hebrews 6 crossed my mind,

For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened–those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come–and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame.   (4-6, NLT)

My thoughts also turned to a section at the opening of Lee Strobel’s book The Case for Faith where he flies to Toronto to interview Charles Templeton. The Christian Courier does a better job of telling this:

In doing research for his latest book, The Case For Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), Strobel sought out and was granted an interview with Templeton in his penthouse apartment on the 25th floor of a high rise in Toronto, Canada.

During the course of their conversation, Charles Templeton had again vigorously defended his disavowal of God and his rejection of the Bible. There was no apparent chink in the armor of his callused soul. Then, Strobel directed the old gentleman’s attention to Christ. How would he now assess Jesus at this stage of his life?

Strobel says that, amazingly, Templeton’s “body language softened.” His voice took on a “melancholy and reflective tone.” And then, incredibly, he said:

“He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique. He was the intrinsically wisest person that I’ve ever encountered in my life or in my reading. His commitment was total and led to his own death, much to the detriment of the world.”

Mind you, he’s talking about the same Teacher who claimed to have existed eternally before Abraham was born (Jn. 8:58), who asserted his oneness of nature with God, the Father (Jn. 10:30), and who allowed men to honor him as “Lord and God” (Jn. 20:28). Which — if these things were not true — makes Jesus of Nazareth the most preposterous and outrageous “con-man” who ever walked the earth. Thousands happily went to their deaths, in the most horrible ways imaginable, confessing his deity.

But the interview continued.

Strobel quietly commented: “You sound like you really care about him.”

“Well, yes,” Templeton acknowledged, “he’s the most important thing in my life.” He stammered: “I . . . I . . . I adore him . . . Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus.”

Strobel was stunned. He listened in shock. He says that Templeton’s voice began to crack. He then said, “I . . . miss . . . him!” With that the old man burst into tears; with shaking frame, he wept bitterly.

Finally, Templeton gained control of his emotions and wiped away the tears. “Enough of that,” he said, as he waved his hand, as if to suggest that there would be no more questions along that line.

I miss him.

I wonder if my friend and her husband miss him. I just don’t usually get to see this so up close and personal. So final.

But I hope not final.

God, please cause them to reconsider…

January 25, 2015

Sweet Dreams are Made of This


Anyone who keeps up with developments in world missions has heard stories of Muslims coming to faith in Jesus Christ after a revelation in a dream. I can’t take the time here to document this, but there have been many articles and at least one DVD documentary, More Than Dreams.

These stories are rather personal to me, because as a 7-year old, my initial stirrings of faith began after waking from a dream that clearly spoke to me that in terms of the lessons presented in Sunday School, a Christian retreat center we visited each year, and other contacts with scripture, I was not prepared.

So yes, the dream confirmed and was in line with scripture, but it was clearly after the dream that I reached out to God, not in the classroom settings.

Which is why I get frustrated with people who would say God does not speak today through extra-Biblical revelation. It’s why I cry a little each time I read a blog article where someone says salvation can only occur directly through the Bible. It’s entirely untrue in my case or in the case of the people I referenced in the Middle East.

Who are we to say how God works, and what he works through? Who are we to discount someone else’s experience? There are people today — and you will encounter them online if you haven’t already — who thrive on putting God in a box. They want to broker God to you, but it’s always their version of God.

I would be very afraid to put limits on God, or how God operates, or what God is doing in the world. I would be very scared to think that my North American picture of God as taught in my little suburban church is the sum and substance of all God is. I would be very frightened to think that only the teaching found in certain books is valid and that each and every other published volume is heretical.

If it doesn’t fit your doctrinal or theological framework, is it possible that you are the one who is wrong? Because God isn’t. He knows exactly what he is doing. It’s a wild frontier out there and he’s got some cowboys who need to be reined in at times, but he’s using a lot of people to accomplish his purposes and bring him glory.

October 15, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Sunset - Mark BattersonThis is another photograph in a continuing series by people known to readers here; this sunset was taken Monday night by author and pastor Mark Batterson.


On Monday I raked leaves and collected links; you could call it my own little feast of ingathering.

Paul Wilkinson’s wisdom and Christian multi-level business opportunities — “just drop by our house tomorrow night, we have something wonderful we’d like to share with you” — can be gleaned the rest of the week at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201 and in the Twitterverse

From the archives:
The problem with out-of-office email notifications:

Lost in translation: The English is clear enough to lorry drivers – but the Welsh reads “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” …Read the whole 2008 BBC News story here.

January 5, 2014

How Do You Know You Became a Christian?

Filed under: evangelism, Faith — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:21 pm

When I’m in a general market bookstore like Barnes and Noble (or Chapters in Canada) I make a point of hanging out in the Bible aisle and getting into conversations with people. Many people are purchasing a Bible in a relative vacuum and store staff can’t offer the same advice you’d get at a Christian bookstore.

So on Saturday, when the opportunity appeared to present itself, I told the guy that I kinda work in Christian publishing and if he needed any advice on his purchase…

 “I have a doctorate in divinity;” he replied, “and I preach and teach around the world.”

By the tenor of his conversation, I knew that the tables had been turned on me that time. (I also got that humility wasn’t his thing; but that’s topic for another day.) This was clearly a man that doesn’t suffer fools, and that could have shut down the whole conversation right there; but I persisted by explaining what I do and why I asked.

He then asked me, “When did you become a Christian?”  This was quickly followed by, “How did you become a Christian?”  Finally, the most interesting question of the lot, “How does someone become a Christian?”

I liked his forthright manner.

The answer to the first for me would be as a seventeen year old. True, I “accepted Jesus” when I was seven, but I lived a very dualistic lifestyle all through high school. It was at seventeen I took ownership of the faith I had been raised in, the belief system I had been baptized into.

To answer the second question, I told him an analogy I often share with others; that of “taking delivery” of the salvation that God was “holding” for me.  I explained that often one receives a parcel-delivery card in the mail; the card says that someone has sent something, it’s got my name on it, but I need to drive to pick it up. I don’t possess it until I reach out and take it.

For the last question, I said that the act of accepting Christ’s offer of salvation is an invisible transaction that one makes on faith, trusting His promise that if I tell Him through prayer that I want to be under the covering He offers, He will do His part. (You could break this down into the ABC process: Acknowledging, believing, confessing.)

…So, you’re in a bookstore like me, or a grocery store, or getting your car fixed, or your hair styled, and you’re asked, How does someone become a Christian? Do you have a ready answer? Is your answer different when explaining it to someone with a doctorate in divinity than it is explaining it to your mechanic, or mail carrier? Should the answer be different depending on the hearer?

A divinity student named Tweedle
When Refused to accept his degree.
He said, “It’s bad enough being Tweedle,
Without being Tweedle, DD”.

August 2, 2013

Presbyterians Reject “In Christ Alone”

Denny Burk:

Timothy George explains why the Presbyterian Church USA has recently rejected the hymn “In Christ Alone” from its new hymnal:

Recently, the wrath of God became a point of controversy in the decision of the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song to exclude from its new hymnal the much-loved song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend. The Committee wanted to include this song because it is being sung in many churches, Presbyterian and otherwise, but they could not abide this line from the third stanza: “Till on that cross as Jesus died/the wrath of God was satisfied.” For this they wanted to substitute: “…as Jesus died/the love of God was magnified.” The authors of the hymn insisted on the original wording, and the Committee voted nine to six that “In Christ Alone” would not be among the eight hundred or so items in their new hymnal.

There is no surprise in this news. Although not all PCUSA churches are theologically liberal, the denomination by and large is. Liberalism and wrath go together like oil and water; they don’t mix. And historically speaking, one of them eventually has to go. When wrath goes, so does the central meaning of the atonement of Christ—penal substitution. At the end of the day, the cross itself is the stumbling block, and that is why the PCUSA cannot abide this hymn.

You can read the rest of George’s article here. …

Shane Vander Hart:

…On the Committee’s Facebook page earlier this month they wrote, “After last night’s Hymn Festival, PCOCS think that ‘In Christ Alone’ will become a favorite. What are your other favorites on the list?”

Apparently they used a version that excluded the wrath of God.  How far the Presbyterian Church (USA) has drifted from their historical roots.  I’m trying to picture John Knox, the leader of the Reformation in Scotland and founder of the Presbyterian Church,  having an issue with idea of God’s wrath being satisfied by Christ’s death on the Cross.

Knox once said, “By the brightness of God’s scriptures we are brought to the feeling of God’s wrath and anger, which by our manifold offenses we have justly provoked against ourselves; which revelation and conviction God sends not of a purpose to confound us, but of very love, by which He had concluded our salvation to stand in Jesus Christ.”

The Scottish Confession of Faith (one of Presbyterianism’s first creeds) says:

[We confess] That our Lord Jesus Christ offered himself a voluntary sacrifice unto his Father for us;[1] that he suffered contradiction of sinners; that he was wounded and plagued for our transgressions;[2] that he, being the clean and innocent Lamb of God,[3] was damned in the presence of an earthly judge,[4] that we should be absolved before the tribunal seat of our God;[5] that he suffered not only the cruel death of the cross (which was accursed by the sentence of God),[6] but also that he suffered for a season the wrath of his Father,[7] which sinners had deserved. But yet we avow, that he remained the only and well-beloved and blessed Son of his Father, even in the midst of his anguish and torment, which he suffered in body and soul, to make the full satisfaction for the sins of the people.[8] After the which, we confess and avow, that there remains no other sacrifice for sin:[9] which if any affirm, we nothing doubt to avow that they are blasphemers against Christ’s death, and the everlasting purgation and satisfaction purchased to us by the same.

1. Heb. 10:1-12.
2. Isa. 53:5; Heb. 12:3.
3. John 1:29.
4. Matt.27:11,26; Mark 15; Luke 23.
5. Gal. 3:13.
6. Deut. 21:23.
7. Matt. 26:38-39.
8. 2 Cor. 5:21.
9. Heb. 9:12; 10:14.

They are embracing a cultural hatred of God’s wrath.  I mentioned over four years ago something Brennan Manning wrote (Manning’s writings were very influential among the Emergent Church):

The god whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger… the god who exacts the last drop of blood from His Son so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased, is not the God revealed by and in Jesus Christ.  And if he is not the God of Jesus, he does not exist.

The trend to throw penal substitutionary atonement under the bus has taken root in the Presbyterian Church (USA).   What a shame!  Though Christ’s death on the cross God’s wrath was satisfied.  He gave up His son to bear it Himself because God knew we could not.  “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” (1 John 4:10, ESV).  It is finished.  God’s wrath is satisfied.  Nothing else is needed, Christ’s work on the cross is sufficient for our salvation…

David French:

It [the song] avoids shallow promises of earthly comfort in favor of the ultimate comfort — no matter our earthly destiny — found in Christ. And it’s a beautiful song, covered by countless Christian artists.

The core of the dispute is the mainline break with orthodoxy on the very nature of God and mission of Jesus. In orthodox Christianity, sin demands sacrifice. God’s wrath against sin — our sin — was atoned through Christ’s sacrifice. Or, as the Prophet Isaiah prophesied: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”

This is the essence of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, and mainline protestantism is increasingly rejecting it in favor of a doctrine that places Jesus not as Savior in the orthodox sense but more as an example of love and nonviolent resistance, Gandhi on divine steroids.

The importance of rejecting substitutionary atonement is tough to overstate, with ramifications across the full spectrum of spiritual, social, and cultural engagement. In fact, it’s likely one of the key reasons for  the steep decline in mainline churches. After all, when the purpose of Christ’s presence on earth is ripped from its eternal context and placed firmly within (and relegated to) the world of “social justice” and earthly systems of oppression, there’s little that church offers that, say, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Occupy Wall Street, or a subscription to Mother Jones can’t also supply.

If, on the other hand, Christ represents the sole source of our eternal hope, then church offers something that no political movement can replicate or replace. No amount of “social justice” or political liberation can save your soul.

A comment posted on John Meunier’s blog:

This song was also sung at the recent worship service when the new archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby took office — at HIS request. As I followed the tweets for the service, a number of people noted that about half the congregation refused to sing the words about God’s wrath.

Frankly, I am clear that John Wesley would like the author’s words. He emphasized the need for sinners (including Methodists) to “flee from the wrath to come”. I know you have written about this in the past. I am pretty well convinced that our reluctance to consider the wrath of God is one of the reasons the church has lost it’s emphasis on winning souls.

You know, after reading that last one, I’m determined to return to the top of this article, replay the video and sing loud and strong.

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

April 12, 2013

Why Jesus Came

Filed under: Jesus — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:22 am

One of the most innovative and fastest growing church movements in Canada in the last decade has been The Meeting House, based just west of Toronto in Oakville, Ontario.  The teaching pastor is the somewhat unconventional Bruxy Cavey author of The End of Religion (NavPress).  This appeared on a new section of their website under the title Jesus at the Center

For us at The Meeting House, It all comes down to the life and teachings of the historical Jesus. His mission was simple: to show us his love, save us from sin, set up his kingdom, and shut down religion.

Show us his love: We believe that no one has taught and modeled love more clearly than Jesus. He brought people together from all backgrounds and social castes, teaching them to love their neighbors and even their enemies. In this, Jesus not only shows us how to live, but reveals who God really is — unconditional, life-giving love.

Save us from sin: We all know that no one is perfect. However, we learn from the teaching of Jesus that God is ready to forgive all those who trust him. No ritual or penance is needed. Forgiveness is free to those who ask regardless of how bad the failure or sin is. Forgiveness tears down the walls we’ve erected between us and God, ending the self-destructive cycles we sometimes find ourselves in.

Set up his kingdom: Jesus had a vision of a different kind of kingdom. Rather than a political empire with borders to defend, he cast a vision for a people that would follow his love ethic and live as servants and peacemakers wherever they found themselves in the world. The idea of the “kingdom of God” on earth was central to Jesus’ teaching. His message was most commonly summarized as “the Good News of the kingdom”. At The Meeting House we return to this theme regularly from a desire to live into it fully.

Shut down religion: Both in his day and our day, many think that God won’t accept people unless they clean up their lives and become religious. They think they have to climb a kind of stairway to heaven by following all kinds of religious rules, regulations, rituals and routines. In contrast, Jesus came to say that trying to be changed from the outside-in through religion simply doesn’t work. In fact, he taught that religion itself needs to be shut down so that he can change us from the inside-out through his presence and love.

During Jesus day, the religious authorities saw this subversive message as a threat, but it was enthusiastically embraced by common people and those on the margins. God offers us freedom, forgiveness, and love through a person – Jesus – and he’s the one we are trying to follow. When you get to know us, you’ll find that we’re not into fighting cultural wars or taking political sides. Rather, we simply want to do what Jesus called his followers to do. We want to follow his example in our daily lives, share his message and do our best to extend his peace around the world.

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