Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Do You Have to Be Cold-Hearted to Be a Calvinist?

Do you have to be cold-hearted to be a Calvinist? Or does it just help?  To deal with this we first need to ask, What is the point of Calvinism?  As I see it, this is that though we were sinners and in rebellion against God so that we would not have come to Him if left to ourselves (Romans 3:10-12; 8:8; John 6:44), God chose to bring us to Himself (Ephesians 1:4-11; Acts 13:48; Romans 8:29,30).  The point of this is the greatness of God's grace and the realization that there is absolutely nothing we could do to contribute to our salvation.  Far from being a reason for pride, it is a reason for humility, and the description given of those He chooses is hardly a basis for boasting (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).  Therefore, it should cause us to have compassion on those still enmeshed in the darkness of sin.

But there is a danger here of making God's choosing into an abstraction totally divorced from the fact of the fall and the price of redemption and of seeing God as choosing between people as casually as a socialite chooses outfits.  We need to recognize that God is beyond our understanding (Romans 11:33; 1 Corinthians 3:18; Isaiah 55:9), and we cannot fully comprehend how God's sovereignty fits with human responsibility or  how or why God chooses.  But He did not have to save anyone, and He paid an enormous price to do it (Romans 5:6-8; 8:32; John 3:16).

Calvinism can be confused with Stoicism, which says life is tough and God made it that way because He wants us to be tough. Rather, the Christian says life is tough, so we need to realize we cannot deal with it ourselves, but must trust God.  (Note that the original Stoicism had no clear idea of a Fall, which distorted their idea of God and the world.)  Calvinism is also confused with psychological determinism, which says our behavior is completely the result of our heredity and environment. But it is one thing to say our behavior is controlled by a personal God and another to say we are merely the result of background influences.  Psychological determinism leaves us in doubt as to whether we can know anything at since all our thoughts are the result of irrational causes.  It also can leave us looking at other people as just mechanisms determined by their programming.

All these misconceptions can influence Calvinists or be read in by opponents. Also, Calvinism in our culture, and in some parts of the Christian church, carries with it a considerable stigma.  Therefore, only those who have or who develop considerable determination and strength of conviction can hold to it.  Such people may be perceived, fairly or unfairly, as cold-hearted.  Sometimes you produce what you perceive in people.  But to be kept in perspective, predestination must be considered in connection with the Fall and redemption.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Aletheia Rolls On

There was a great vehicle built by the All-Sufficient One before the dawn of time.  She had huge treads made to move mountains and strong armor to defect flaming darts, but there was no lock on the door and it opened to all who would come (though it was said you only came if driven aboard by the Breath of the All-Sufficient One).  She was painted with the colors of the rainbow, the colors of grace, and held together by the blood of the Lamb.  She was powered by the Breath of the All-Sufficient One, which was said to be one of the forms of the All-Sufficient One Himself.  She was dubbed Aletheia, though she was also know as Euangelion or Soteria. She rolled forth into the world with the full blessing and power of her Master.

While she had traveled since ancient times, she rolled out into the full light of history in obscure places.  A feeding trough for cattle, a fisherman's boat, a place of execution, and a tomb strangely missing its occupant.  When she reached public attention it was with a blaze of mighty words and mighty works, and she was immediately opposed.  Many of those on board were harassed and killed, but they lost only their physical lives and reached their destination quicker.  And Aletheia rolled on.

 Later, she became popular, and many lauded her and extolled her beauty.  Even those who would not come on board applauded her approach and cheered as she passed.  But many both on board and off fought to control her, though only her Master had access to the cockpit.  They tried to obscure her colors of grace and to use her to make profit and justify many shady schemes.  But Aletheia rolled on.

 Then came the great wars of control when many fought over who would possess her.  Those on board all huddled together in their little cliches in various parts of her passenger area.  And many built their own imitations of her and traveled off in their own directions. And many both on and off  board feared, hated, and even killed those of the other cliches.  And Aletheia rolled on.

Then came the time when many rejected her;  they hated her and avoided her and argued against her.  Those who were on board were shunned and sometimes even tortured and killed.  They were demeaned as stupid and uneducated for staying aboard such an obsolete vehicle.  Those on board responded  to the criticisms with logic and persuasion, and some were convinced to come on board, but many stayed off to follow the crowd.  Some of those on board became seriously concerned and took up clubs and fought those off board in order to protect the vehicle.  Many came back beaten and bruised, but those who did not proclaimed victory and said the safety of the vehicle was their doing.  But Aletheia rolled on.

One might almost suspect she knew where she was going.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Satan's Self Portrait

Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Nowhere does this show up more than in how he pictures himself and his minions. Much of what people think they know about Satan and his demons comes not from Scripture but from sources like Hollywood and Medieval tradition.  One of Satan's chief ploys is, of course, to convince us he does not exist.  But the other false pictures can contribute to this by saying if we cannot believe in them, we cannot believe in him.  

One of Satan's other strategies is to portray himself as more powerful than he actually is.  This worked very effectively in the Middle Ages, producing great fear and ultimately encouraging people to lash out at those who were in some way painted as Satan's agents.  Today in many forms of media we have the demonic shown as powerful, and good as marginal and barely competent.  This need not involve direct reference to demons but to other powerful supernatural beings. It can end up making evil look empowering and liberating and good as hopeless.  If Satan can even get well-intentioned people to feel overwhelmed and helpless, he has won a victory.  But Scripture teaches he is a defeated foe (Colossians 2:15; 1 John 4:4), who should treated with caution but not cowered before (1 Peter 5:8,9; Ephesians 6:10-13).

His opposite move, though, is to picture himself in a crude, simplistic way--even a silly way. He becomes the guy in red tights with horns and a tail or the blatant huckster who forthrightly asks, "Want to sell your soul?"  If this does not get people to dismiss the whole thing as silly, it presents evil as obvious and easily avoided.  It also can cause people to see demonic forces as easily dealt with and their plans as easily foiled.  Even the common idea (which has no basis in Scripture) that Satan and his minions are currently torturing the lost in hell can make it seem he is off the scene on earth.  But Scripture pictures him as a clever schemer who can disguise himself and his followers as promoters of good (2 Corinthians 11:13-15; 2:11) and who is in control of this present world (2 Corinthians 4:4; Hebrews 2:14,15).  We need to be careful of underestimating Satan, but should trust in God's power to deal with him (James 4:7). But we also need to avoid taking Satan's pictures of himself as the truth.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christian Malpractice

There are many people in the world who are victims of Christian theological malpractice. This consists in telling people that if they come to Christ they will have no real problems and will be happy all the time.  I am not simply talking here of the health and wealth gospel, though they are the worst offenders.  There are multitudes of other approaches which, though they do not go as far, nonetheless teach that Jesus is some kind of happiness pill which, if you take, you will not feel pain anymore. And when people find out this does not really work, they write off Christianity as a piece of false advertising.  (Many times such people have never really been saved because they have never really dealt with the basic issues of sin and forgiveness.  But even if they are saved, they can end up struggling in their walk with God.) We set them up for a fall. Is this really what the Scripture teaches?

The Bible says we should expect trouble (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2 Corinthians 1:4-7) and opposition (2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4).  The Christian life is pictured as a battle (Ephesians 6:10-13; 2 Timothy 2:3.4; 1 Timothy 6:12) and an athletic contest (Hebrews 12:1-3; 1 Corinthians  9:24-27; 2 Timothy 2:5).  Now we are able to put these things in perspective because we know what our ultimate goal will be (2 Corinthians 4:17,18; Romans 8:18; Revelation 21:4) and know God is using the trials we go through to make us into the people that God wants us to be (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5; 8:28,29).  As Christians, we have reason to rejoice (John 15:11) in who God is (Philippians 4:4), in our hope of salvation (Romans 5:2; 12:12; Philippians 3:3), in the fact God hears our prayers (John 16:24), and even in our suffering for Christ's sake (Matthew 5:12; Acts 5:41).  But all this, as I said, is a matter of perspective.  To sell Jesus by the Madison Avenue method is to set both you and your converts up for failure.  You may show superficial success, but you will not be doing what God has genuinely called you to do. And you will be in danger of producing disciples like the seed that falls on rocky soil and sprouts up quickly but withers at the first sign of trouble (Mark 4:16,17).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Speaking in Tongues

I have called myself a charismatic who does not speak in tongues, but where then do I stand on the subject?  Scripture says not to forbid speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:39), but it also says not everyone is intended to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).  There are incidents in Scripture where the Spirit's filling people resulted in their speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4; 10:44-47; 19:6; in 8:17-19 there was evidently some noticeable effect, though we are not told what).  In Scripture there are four instances of people parting bodies of water (Exodus 14:21; Joshua 3:15-17; 2 Kings 2:8,14).  Does this mean to truly follow God one must part a body of water?  In other cases people were filled with the Spirit, producing different effects (Acts 4:8,31;  13:9-11).  God does sometimes repeat miracles in order to make a point.  But it is a mistake to think God must always work that way. Is it wrong, then, to seek the gift of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:31; 14:1)?  These verses say to desire the best gifts (tongues is not high on the list; see 1 Corinthians 12:28), but the final determination is made by God (1 Corinthians 12:11, 1 Corinthians 12:15-19). We can ask, but God can say no (1 Corinthians 14:13).

It can be difficult to explain something if it is not your gift.  I have more then once told God if He wanted me to speak in tongues I was willing, but I wanted what He wanted. Every time, I felt He clapped my jaw shut.  I therefore conclude tongues is not my gift.  Holding that everyone should speak in tongues can encourage those who do not have the gift to somehow drum it up.  Based on my own gift of discernment of spirits, which is, of course, itself questionable, I am convinced that tongues today can be from divine, demonic, and human sources.  Whether you accept this or not, you need to be careful about regarding every instance of tongues as valid (1 Thessalonians 5:21,22).  But rejecting them all out of hand also does not have any basis in Scripture.  (1 Corinthians 13:8-12 clearly refers to the Second Coming.)

Scripture does give rules for speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14:26-33), though there may be questions of how to apply these in various circumstances. If someone says they cannot obey the rules because they cannot help themselves, I have to question whether what they are speaking in Biblical tongues.  Those whose tongues  I have found most convincing seem to be able to control them.  Therefore, I do not buy that tongues are simply a hysterical response to pent-up emotion.  There may be cases of this, but I have known several people who can speak in tongues in a perfectly calm state of mind.  While I do not speak in tongues myself, I am not opposed to speaking in tongues.  But I think it should be carefully tested and done in a Biblical manner.