Theology Thursday: Election

I have personally gone back and forth on the whole Calvinism-Arminianism debate. I was initially put off from this conversation by people that I went to Bible college with who were so focused on being right about their stands on either side that they didn’t care about people.

I believe that God is sovereign and has a plan for creation, humanity and all of history. I believe that God the Father sent Jesus to die for the sins of the world and that all who confess their need for forgiveness of sins and out their trust in Jesus are brought into the family of God.

Calvinists and Arminians can agree so far. Where things get sticky is when we start to ask questions about the nature of who is this grace for, the whole world or the elect?

The question that I have been wrestling with in my own journey is the idea of election. Because if you hold to an unconditional election, this leads to a limited atonement (that Jesus only died for the elect people). This also leads to perseverance of the saints (the elect will never fall away).

And these two issues I keep coming back to over and over again because I can’t reconcile John 3:16, “God so loved the world . . .” with the idea of limited atonement. I also can’t reconcile the idea of perseverance of the saints with the warnings and examples in the Old and New Testaments of people who fell out of covenant relationship with God or fell away from the community of faith.

So I’ve been working through these issues on my own. And I began to realize that when Paul talks about election, he always uses the plural you (you all). And when he talks about salvation the community is elected in Christ.

This led me to start thinking about the idea of corporate election. And I asked around and did some research, and it turns out I’m not crazy.

If we hold the idea of Corporate election we can see that:
1. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. (1 Pet 1:19)
2. God has a sovereign plan to rescue humans from sin. (1 Pet 1:18-19)
3. God has had this plan for all of eternity (to send Jesus). (1 Pet 1:20-21; Rev 13:8)
4. God has elected a means to tell the world about Jesus (the church). (1 Pet 2:9)
5. Individuals are grafted into God’s plan by putting their faith in Jesus. (Romans 11, this passage is interesting because it talks about some from Israel [the elect people of ] rejecting God and specifically Jesus and now Gentiles are warned to continue in faith or they will be cut out [Rom 11:22-24]. Why would Paul warn people to persevere in faith is the elect will alway persevere in faith?)
6. The church will persevere through all persecution and through history because it is God’s elected plan.
7. Warnings of falling away from faith are real warnings. Our faith in Jesus needs to be living and active. (Heb 6:4-12)
8. Individuals in the church all have a part to play (1 Cor 12-14).
9. We recognize that individuals are saved but not just for themselves, they are saved as part of the community for good works (Eph 2:10)
10. Works then show the world that your faith in Jesus is alive (James 2:14-26)

I know this is a really long post but this shift in thinking about election has helped me make sense of God’s sovereign plan of salvation in Christ alone, the church being God’s chosen means to tell the world about what Jesus has done, and individual response and responsibility to place their faith in Jesus.

If you would like to read more this wiki article is really helpful.

Science and Faith

I’m not very smart in a lot of areas, and one of those areas is science.  Because I never felt like I needed to learn science-y stuff.  I took chemistry because there was promise of explosions (thank Mr. Hilty).

But lately, I have been compelled to reconsider my understanding of faith and science and how they interact.  This has led me to have some really interesting conversations, but more importantly it has led me to trust God more and more as I talk about scientific investigations that some might feel could discredit my faith.  This has not happened at all.  My faith, I feel, has actually become stronger.

One of the blogs I read is from Professor of Philosophy Jamie Smith.  Smith was the prof. of one of the most impacting classes in my entire MATC at Northwest University.  He posted this blog about an organization called The Colossian Forum, which is trying to help foster conversations between science and faith.  I watched this video today and was encouraged about the science and faith discussion, and reminded that truly all things hold together in Christ.  If you are intersted in the Colossian Forum go check them out.

Freedom of God

“The idealized God is maintained at the expense of his freedom.  The idealized God lacks flexibility; initiative, the capacity to surprise.  The resulting picture of God is a sophisticated idol, but still an idol.” (Judson Mather, “The Comic Art of the Book of Jonah.” Soundings 65, no. 3 [September 1, 1982], 286).

I read this in my research on Jonah and Satire.  The author is essentially arguing that the Author of Jonah is satirizing the idealized God of ancient Israel.  The same God that uses Jonah as a kind of comic foil throughout the text.  But this passage got me thinking about Uber Calvinism.

As I understand it the challenge with theological systems that lean so heavily on pre-destination and the foreknowledge of God is that God can’t really change his mind.  And what Mather is saying is that God changed his mind regarding Nineveh because they repented.  This made Jonah angry, because God didn’t do what Jonah understood God was planning on doing.  (I understand that’s a really bad sentence.  Sorry).  Jonah is frustrated because he knew that God was a God of compassion and that he would relent of destroying Nineveh.  Jonah wanted to follow the formula, and he wanted the result that God had promised, That the city would be overturned.

Now, in the book of Jonah, the City did repent.  Nineveh was not destroyed but could it be argued that their hearts were overturned?  Which is more important, the destruction of a city or the destruction of wickedness and idolatry.

If we try to make God follow our formulas, then we are treating him like an idol.  Idols don’t work and they always disappoint.

I would rather serve a sovereign God who desires repentance rather than destruction, and would much rather dispense Grace than wrath.

It’s not my job to tell God that he has destroy cities or people.  It’s not my job to be angry when what I think is justice on the wicked is not delivered.  My job is to tell the truth about God that he has revealed through the Bible and through the leading of the Holy Spirit, and then let God do the rest.

I want God to be free to forgive, to love, to show mercy and grace.  I know how much grace and mercy I have received from God so for me to not be willing to let God give that to others is selfishness and worse it’s idolatry.

thoughts?

The GOSPEL

This is a great 5 minute presentation of the Gospel.  Creatively presented and compelling.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

The Gospel should always be compelling.  Unfortunately we spend so much time in the minutae that I think we lose sight of what the Gospel is really all about.  We debate over atonement theories, and soteriology, almost like we need to tell God how to do his job, because it’s really important to Him that we understand all that he does.

It is important to study theology.  It is important to know what we believe and why.  But we should never lose sight of these truths:

  • The Gospel is the greatest story that was ever told.
  • God’s love is really big
  • We are the problem with this world
  • God provided the solution through Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection

Do we really need to know how it all works?  Do we really need to foot note those truths that we find in the Bible with the words of theologians who lived thousands of years after the event?

Whenever I read the Gospel accounts I find that Jesus is way more compelling than our Theology or Christology or Soteriology makes him out to be.

So in all the debates about salvation that are going around the internet and in churches, let us not lose sight that the Gospel is an amazing story of God’s love for us.  And let us not lose sight of the fact that we need to tell people about Jesus.  And let us not lose sight that we are to continue the work that Jesus started, through the power of the Holy Spirit!

We have a mission before us.  Stop fighting, and tell the good news.  Our hope should be that all will accept God’s story of rescuing his people! That should be our motivation.  Our motivation should not be that our side is right and their side is wrong.  Stop!  Tell the Gospel story.

I should stop before I get angry.

(thanks to Josh Hebert for the heads up on this video)

Fear God, not the world

I received Church Dogmatics for Christmas, and when I have a few moments I like to read a bit.  Also, I can only digest a little bit at a time.  Today I read this and I was encouraged and challenged.

The Church should fear God and not fear the world.  But only if an as it fears God need it cease to fear the world.  If it does not fear God, then it is not helped at all but genuinely endangered if it fears the world, listens to its opposition, considers its attitude, and accepts all kinds of responsibilities towards it, no matter how necessary and justified may be the criticism it receives from this quarter.

The Church’s biggest responsibility is to Fear God with awe and reverence, and not to fear the world.  Fear of the world is what drives the church away from the Gospel.  But if the church rightly fears God, then the Gospel work will continue.

 

Nouwen on Leadership and Theological Reflection

Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologist, pseudo social workers.  They will think of themselves as enablers, facilitators, role models, father or mother figures, big brothers or big sisters, and so on, and thus join the countless men and women who make a living by trying to help their fellow human beings cope with the stresses and strains of everyday living.

But that has little to do with Christian leadership because the Christian leader things, speaks, and acts in the name of Jesus, who came to free humanity form the power of death and open the way to eternal life.  To be such a leader, it is essential to be able to discern from moment to moment how God acts in human history and how the personal, communal, national and international events that occur during our lives can make us more and more sensitive to the ways in which we are led to the cross and through the cross to the resurrection.

The task of Christian leaders isn not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to the new land of Freedom.

. . .

THe Christian leaders of the future have to be theologians, persons who know the heart of God and are trained — through prayer, study, and careful analysis — to manifest the divine event of God’s saving work in the midst of many seemingly random events of their time.

Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s guidance.

Henri Nowen In The Name of Jesus: Reflections of Christian Leadership. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Co, 1989. pp 86-88