Saturday, December 22, 2012

Acts 4:28 - Mental Resolution or Causal Predetermination

The Scholastics used to ask “does predestination place anything in the predestined?” A relevant question indeed concerning Acts 4:28. Consider the translation change from the 1984 NIV to the 2012 ISV:

“They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” 1984 New International Version

“to carry out everything that your hand and will had predetermined to take place” 2012 International Standard Version

The NIV speaks of God’s choice – a mental resolution on His part – the ISV speaks of God’s actions impacting and determining the events. In the NIV, God’s mind is set; in the ISV the events are set. The Greek term proorizo is flexible in either direction – both translations are permissible. Yet the ISV clarifies the ambiguous term in favor of Calvinism.

The argument for determinism based on the ISV is simple – God predetermined sinful actions for which man is morally responsible, therefore compatible determinism is true. But this argument is not quite so straight forward based on the NIV. Yes God decided it would happen, but the passage is silent on why God so decided and more importantly how the events would come about. Given God knew the sinful desires and intentions of the Jews, God need only hand Christ over – give them the opening to do what they wanted. Determinism does not flow from the NIV the way it does from the ISV.

I understand the passage in the NIV sense, God’s choice or plan. I take this view because it’s grammatically and contextually likely and because it reconciles with my understanding of the balance of scripture. But as far as translations go, if the Greek is ambiguous, the English should be as well. So I like the ASV “to do whatsoever thy hand and thy council foreordained to come to pass.”

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Not the American Way

In Unam Sanctum, the Pope declared himself to be over the secular government and history is replete with examples of Pope’s trying to control governments.1 By contrast, the Baptist Faith and Message sates: “Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others. Civil government being ordained of God, it is the duty of Christians to render loyal obedience thereto in all things not contrary to the revealed will of God. The church should not resort to the civil power to carry on its work.”

Which is more in line with the American Way  and the 1st Amendment which states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”?


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1We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: 'Behold, here are two swords' [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: 'Put up thy sword into thy scabbard' [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: 'There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God' [Rom 13:1-2], but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal. This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgement if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: 'Behold to-day I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms' and the rest. Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: 'The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man' [1 Cor 2:15]. This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, 'Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven' etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God [Rom 13:2], unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth [Gen 1:1]. Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff. (link)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nicea - Universal Bishop or Bishop of the Burbs

Some Roman Catholics argue that the first council of Nicea proves the Bishop of Rome was a universal bishop over all regions.

The ancient customs of Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis shall be maintained, according to which the bishop of Alexandria has authority over all these places since a similar custom exists with reference to the bishop of Rome. Similarly in Antioch and the other provinces the prerogatives of the churches are to be preserved. In general the following principle is evident: if anyone is made bishop without the consent of the metropolitan, this great synod determines that such a one shall not be a bishop. If however two or three by reason of personal rivalry dissent from the common vote of all, provided it is reasonable and in accordance with the church's canon, the vote of the majority shall prevail. (link)

The statement is ambiguous if the bishop of Rome is over the surrounding provence of Rome or over everything.  However, it's important to note that Rufinus understood and translated the council as saying the bishop of Rome was over the Roman suburbs.

VI. The ancient custom in Alexandria and the city of Rome is to be maintained whereby [the bishop of the former] has charge of Egypt, while [the bishop of the latter] has charge of the suburbicarian churches. Rufinus (c340 to 410)

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Pope" Gregory Denies the Title "Universal Pope" or "Universal Bishop"

Your Blessedness has also been careful to declare that you do not now make use of proud titles, which have sprung from a root of vanity, in writing to certain persons, and you address me saying, As you have commanded. This word, command, I beg you to remove from my hearing, since I know who I am, and who you are. For in position you are my brethren, in character my fathers. I did not, then, command, but was desirous of indicating what seemed to be profitable. Yet I do not find that your Blessedness has been willing to remember perfectly this very thing that I brought to your recollection. For I said that neither to me nor to any one else ought you to write anything of the kind; and lo, in the preface of the epistle which you have addressed to myself who forbade it, you have thought fit to make use of a proud appellation, calling me Universal Pope. But I beg your most sweet Holiness to do this no more, since what is given to another beyond what reason demands is subtracted from yourself. For as for me, I do not seek to be prospered by words but by my conduct. Nor do I regard that as an honour whereby I know that my brethren lose their honour. For my honour is the honour of the universal Church: my honour is the solid vigour of my brethren. Then am I truly honoured when the honour due to all and each is not denied them. For if your Holiness calls me Universal Pope, you deny that you are yourself what you call me universally. But far be this from us. Away with words that inflate vanity and wound charity.  (link)


Friday, December 7, 2012

Hebrews 10:14 - "He has Perfected Forever"

Calvinist often site Hebrews 10:14 as teaching limited/definitive atonement. Specifically, the perfect tense of “has perfected” indicates our perfecting took place in the past – it’s settled and done with, though it has lasting results into the future. Of course, this leads to questions like are we born justified, and also, if we are already perfect, why are we being sanctified? But rather than critiquing the Calvinist view, I would like to focus on alternative explanations.

For years, I held this passage references three time frames: three events. Here’s what it looks like as a timeline:



First is the cross, which is the offering whereby Christ supplied the provision – the only basis for salvation. This is the “by one offering”. The third event is happening while the book of Hebrews is written; the sanctification of the believers. This is referenced by “are being sanctified”. In between is a second, implicit event; the conversion of the people spoken of in Hebrews; the moment when they first came to faith. This is when Christ “perfected forever” those believers. So the perfecting is in the past, relative to the writing of the book of Hebrews and is based on the cross.

Lately, I have been thinking about another explanation. Perhaps the passage references two events: the cross and those being sanctified at the time of the writing of Hebrews. Literally, the passage is saying we were perfected forever at the cross. However, the statement is a synecdoche, a part referenced as a whole. Christ is so certain that what He has done will perfect forever the people spoken of in Hebrews, that He can say, “I perfected them”. However, He must still intercede for them, He must still justify them; He must still sanctify them – and this He does only while they believe. And this certainty is primarily in knowing He has already done the hard part; He died for them. Secondary, this certainty based in His knowing the efficacy of His blood; whoever He applies it to will be cleansed.

There’s a great scene in Hunt for Red October involving two subs play chicken where one sub ends up torpedoing itself. When an officer on that sub learns his own torpedo is heading straight for him, he says to his commander “You’ve killed us.” Maybe in a similar sense, Christ has perfected whoever will believe.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christ Redeemed Faith

The Canons of Dort say Christ acquired faith for us by His death (Point 2, article 8).1  The significance of this seemly minor point is that Christ buying the condition of the covenant effectively changes the covenant from conditional to unconditional. Christ buying faith links the provision and application of Christ’s blood – ensuring the provision and application are co-extensive.

When the bible says Christ bought us or redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, it’s talking about penal substitution. God’s law and justice demand the punishment of sinners, so we were lawbreakers and under a sentence of death. Christ redeems us by penal substitution – He satisfies justice by His death.

The same cannot be said for faith. The bible never says Christ bought or redeemed faith. Does faith need to be rescued? Is faith a lawbreaker and under a sentence of death? It’s not like the bible speaks of Christ’s death overcoming some obstacle to God’s giving us faith. Rather, scriptures speak of God redeeming us from sin’s penalty.

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1  For a more recent example, see Schrock’s chapter 4 in Whomever He Wills, page 103. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I Told You So Molinism

Deuteronomy 7:3-4 Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD's anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.

1 Kings 11:2, 9
They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love.... verse 9  The LORD became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice.

God uses His middle knowledge to warn people. If you put yourself into a given circumstance, you will do this.  God knew what would happen if the Israelites intermarried.  He knew what the foreign wives would do and how the Israelites would respond.  Sadly, Solomon didn't listen.

On divine determinism, God's foreknowledge is logically "too late" to serve as a warning.  All  (even the hypothetical - if you intermarry, you will fall away) is determined by God.  So 1 Kings 11 turns into "I told you I determined you would fall" as opposed to "I told you you would fall".    

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Counts as an Interpretation?

Interpretation brings out the meaning of something. There has to be some original being interpreted and some level of faithfulness to represent that original. When interpreting the bible, you have to know what the bible says and try to represent what it says. Now bad interpretations are still interpretations. Much leeway can be given for those who are not experienced in the word of truth (Hebrews 5:14). A child might interpret scripture badly, but they are still interpreting scripture, so long as they are trying to represent what they read. But if someone simply disagrees with scripture, they are not interpreting scripture. For example, if someone “rationalizes” a biblical account of a miracle, they are not interpreting scripture.

Because intent is involved, sometimes it’s hard to say if someone is interpreting the bible or not. For example, I recently read a homosexual argue Paul, in Romans 1:26-27, does not condemn all homosexual activity. When someone challenged this, the person didn’t defend their previous comments, but rather said “why do you believe what shepherds thought 2,000 years ago, you say the bible is inspired, but I believe in the inspired words of Satan”. OK, it’s clear that person isn’t interpreting the bible – they are not interested in what the bible means. But if they spoken out against the bible, it would have been harder to tell the difference between a bad interpretation and statements that don’t even qualify as interpretation.

Perhaps this person was simply rehashing someone else’s comments on Romans 1:26-27. In that case, while it’s clear they are not interpreting scripture, perhaps someone else did. And that may be true, but someone else’s interpretation doesn't become your own, unless you follow their logic and agree with their conclusions. And so while a large group holds to a certain interpretation of a passage, it may be that a great number within the group are not interpreting that passage at all.  So sometime a really bad interpretation gains credibility because of the number of supporters – but that’s not necessarily an argument in favor of the reasonableness of the interpretation.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Eternally Frustrated God

Some Calvinists say God desires for us not to sin, even though He determines us to sin. This divine desire is  like Paul’s unfulfilled desire not to sin (Romans 7:15) or my desire to eat cake when I am on a diet. If all things were equal, I would act on my desire, but all things are not equal.

At the same time they accuse Traditional Baptists and Arminians of holding to an idea of an eternally frustrated God. God pines away throughout all eternity as He watches those He loves suffer. Some even go as far as to call God (on Traditional Baptist views) a looser. But how does their view avoid this charge?

Here’s Bruce Ware’s example explaining the “two wills” of God.

Second, I do think we can understand something of how God can genuinely desire the salvation of all yet ordain and determine the salvation of only some.43 We can understand something of this because we experience much the same reality at times in our human experience. I recall watching a PBS special many years ago that told the story of an agonizing decision Winston Churchill had to make during WW II. Hitler’s messages to his frontline troops and U-boats were sent to them encoded, and the German units possessed decoding machines (called “enigmas”) to read and know what he was instructing them. Allied scientists developed their own version of such a decoding machine, and they would intercept Hitler’s messages, decode them, and call Churchill, telling him what Hitler had instructed. On one occasion Churchill learned through his scientists’ hard decoding work that Hitler had planned, in three days, to send a squadron of bombers over the English channel to bomb the small city of Coventry (a munitions factory lay just outside of the city). Obviously, Churchill wanted to call the mayor of Coventry, have the city evacuated, and save his people. But as recounted in this PBS special, Churchill never made this call. Instead, just as he had been told, German bombers flew over Coventry and bombed it mercilessly, unanticipated by all in the city, resulting in many English lives lost and much property destroyed.

Why didn’t Churchill warn the city? The answer is this: if he had called the mayor of Coventry and had the city evacuated, the Germans would have known that Churchill had been able to decode Hitler’s instructions. But then this intelligence-gathering advantage would be lost. Churchill believed that the entire war effort was at stake here, that is, that he could save Coventry, but he could nto save these people and also win the war. He chose, then, not to save those whom he could have saved–those whom, in one sense, he willed very much to save–because he valued even more highly the fulfillment of the mission that the allied forces win the war.

Clearly all illustrations break down at some point, but where this one helps especially is here: One can possess both the will and the ability to save certain people, and this will can be genuine and the ability real. Yet one can also possess, at the same time, a will not to save those same persons whom one could have saved. Why would one not save those whom one both could and wants to save? Answer: One would will not to save only if there are greater values and higher purposes that could only be accomplished in choosing not to save those whom one could save, those whom one would otherwise want to save. Scripture does give us some indication that this is the case with God.
” (link)

Ware invokes a “greater good” defense. Yes, God loves the non-elect, but there’s something He loves more. But this is every bit as susceptible to the eternally frustrated God argument above.

A Calvinist could deny the “two wills of God” or limit the second will to only God’s commands and desire for us to be responsible. But this goes against passages saying God hates sin and He takes pleasure in us repenting and living rather than dying. (Psalm 45:7, Ezekiel 18:23).