Monday, July 25, 2011

Arminianism Myths and Realities Review Pt.2 - Free Will

Note: this is the second part of a review of Roger Olson’s – Arminian Theology Myths and Realities in which I am looking into the theological issues that he raises in the ongoing debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. 

In chapters 2-3 of Arminian Theology Myths and Realities, Roger Olson looks at whether Calminianism is an option (a synthesis of both Calvinism and Arminianism) and whether Arminianism is even an Orthodox evangelical option.  Olson, for reasons that I won’t rehash here, does not see how one could actually believe a hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism as he makes the case that one will eventually come to places between the two theologies where there is no compatibility whatsoever. 

I was actually a little surpsied in chapter 3 to find that Arminianism has been considered to be a heretical teaching by many in the last few hundred years.  Perhaps my surprise on this issue is due to my being on the periphery of this debate for most of my Christian experience but I will have to admit that my little understanding of Arminiainism never once made me question if it was on Orthodox Christian theological option.   As with chapter 2 I am not so interested in going over his case for Arminianism other than to say he makes a good case for it as a solid Orthodox way to be a Christian.  For me the real meat of this book comes in the next chapter when he hits the classical point of disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism—free will.

In chapter 4 Olson takes on the objections that are raised mainly by Calvinists against Arminianism for its emphasis on free will.  Many from the Calvinist tradition see the Arminian emphasis on the free will of man as being both incompatible with God’s sovereignty as well as creating a works based righteousness (which would seem to oppose the absolute need for God’s grace in salvation).  This is due in part to the misunderstanding that Arminianism starts in the place of trying to prove the human philosophical concept of free will.  For the opponents of Arminianism this smacks of humanism and secular philosophy.

Olson makes a very compelling case that Joseph Arminius wasn’t starting with trying to prove human free will at all but rather with a certain view of God’s nature and character.  Because Arminius started with the idea that God is good, loving and just he ended up following the logic (as evidenced thoroughly throughout scripture) that humans in fact have free will by God’s grace to respond to his love and goodness.  Arminius could not resolve the deterministic view of God as put forth in Calvinism because it ultimately makes God the author of sin and evil and raises serious issues not only about God’s love and goodness but His justice as well.  For God to be loving his creatures must have the choice of responding to that love rather than simply being pawns moved about a cosmic chess board by the arbitrary and capricious whims of their creator.   As Olson writes, “Arminianism is all about protecting the reputation of God by protecting his character as revealed in Jesus Christ and scripture. (P.100)” 

“Arminius’s most basic guiding principle in these debates is that God is necessarily and by nature good; God’s goodness controls God’s power.  And God’s goodness and glory are inseparable; God is glorified precisely in revealing his goodness in creation and redemption. (Roger Olson, P.103)”

As Olson sees it both Calvinism and Arminianism start with a certain fundamental view of God that is at the core of both theologies.  For the Calvinist the fundamental view of God that is at the core of its theology is that of God as almighty and holy.  For the Calvinist every other attribute of God is secondary to God’s holiness and omnipotence.  Because God is all-powerful he must then be in control of everything thus the resulting theology built around this concept of God results in the belief that God creates some to be saved and some to be damned and that God actually controls everything in the created world even evil and sin.  For Arminius these ideas of God cut against the picture of God that is revealed is scripture and particularly in the person of Jesus.  If Jesus is the ultimate revelation of the father then serious doubts are cast on much of the determinism of Calvinism.  For Arminus Jesus shows us the beautiful picture of God’s goodness, love and justice.  Arminian theology starts with the belief that God is good and loving and that even his power and might are subject to his character.  This runs contrary to the accusations of Calvinists that Arminianism is rooted in humanistic philosophy. 

The other aspect of free will that I will look at in the next post is how both Calvinism and Arminianism deal with how humans respond to God.  For the Calvinist a human response to God comes from God’s irresistible grace.  Arminius sees God’s grace at the core of any human response to God but he does not see that grace as irresistible lest God would be violating the will of the one’s he loves which would malign his own nature and character.  I will dig more into this in the next post.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

You May Be Arminian If…. Pt.1: Common Ground

I recently picked up a copy of Armininian Theology Myths and Realities after hearing a great interview with it’s author Roger Olson on the Homebrewed Christianity Podcast.  In this book Olson attempts lays out some of the fundamental tenents of Arminian theology as well as some of the general myths associated with Arminian Theology.  I would like to devote a few posts to the topic of Arminian theology as I work my way through this book.

In chapter 1 Olson deals with the myth that Arminianism is the opposite of Calvinism.  Quite to the contrary Olson finds that there is much common ground between the two theologies.  Here are some of the aspects of common ground between Calvinisim and Arminianism:

  1. Salvation by grace alone – Both Calvinism and Arminianism hold to the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace alone and not by works.  “Arminius stands firmly in the tradition of Reformed theology in insisting that salvation is by grace alone and that human ability or merit must be excluded as a cause of salvation.  It is faith in Christ alone that places a sinner in the company of the elect. (quote by Carl Bangs)”   So while there may be many strong differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, the Arminianists are definitely in the Protestant camp.
  2. The sinfulness of man – Another point of common ground between these two theologies would be the total depravity of man.  As Arminius wrote, “In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost:  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except as are excited by Divine grace.” (P.56)
  3. The glory of God – Olson also finds common ground between the theology of Arminius and the Reformed confessional statement–-“What is the chief end of man?  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  Arminius’ statements on the chief end of man are no doubt similar, “In this act of mind and will,—in  seeing a present God, in loving him, and therefore in the enjoyment of him,—the  salvation of man and his perfect happiness consist.”  “For what purpose or end has God restored the fallen to their pristine state of integrity, reconciled sinners to himself. And received enemies into favour?—We shall plainly discover all this to have been done, that we might be partakers of eternal salvation, and might sing praises to him forever.” (P.51)
Reformed and Reforming - In the end Olson sees the theology of Arminianism as being a correction on Reformed theology not a departure from it.  In another sense it is Arminius’ efforts at continual reformation of Reformed theology that keep him perhaps more true to the spirit of the great reformers.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Thank God For Bad Pastors!

Throughout my faith journey I can recall many authors, teachers, friends, and pastors who have influenced my spiritual walk in a positive way.  There are authors like N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, and Dallas Willard who helped me to connect the dots of spirituality and theology.  There have been people in ministry who God has sent into my life during difficult seasons who have really helped me to know Christ.  And through it all there have also been friends who have wrestled with God, trials, and heartaches with me along the way.  Yet this list is incomplete because it fails to recognize the positive impact of bad pastors in my life.  That’s right, the positive impact of bad pastors. 

I think most folks would prefer to grow in their faith when life is good, when the bills are paid, when the kids are healthy, when relationships are peaceful… but the truth is, as with Israel of the Old Testament, that the last place for spiritual growth is when things are going well.  Growth in our faith comes in the context of trials, questions and conflict.  A faith that has not faced discouragement, loss, and disillusionment is not really faith at all but na├»ve idealism.  Like it or not it is within trials and confrontation that we grow to know and become more like Jesus. 

Throughout the history of the Bible and of the Church as well faith is never an easy road.  This goes for Abraham who had to believe God when everything else seemed contrary to his understanding of reality.  This was also true for Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of rape, and locked in prison for years.  The same was true of the apostles who not only had conflict with Rome but with one another.  I am convinced that even David would have never turned out to be the celebrated king of Israel had he not faced 10+ years of being hunted by Saul—10 years of wrestling with God and his call on David’s life.  As Gene Edwards so insightfully noted in Tale of Three Kings, God used Saul to get at the Saul inside of David.  

In my own journey it has been my experiences with conflict, legalism, manipulation, disillusionment and so on that have actually forced me to reevaluate much of the theology and practices in the church.  All of my black and white ideas about faith as well as my ideals about ministry and the church needed to be broken, as well as my own confidence in them.  This breaking didn’t come in times of peace and blessing but in conflict and tears, in times when I wanted to write the church off entirely.  And yet it was in those very times that I began to experience the Pastoring of another.   It was also through these times that I realized my issue wasn’t the Saul out there but the Saul within me. 

Since I have been a pastor I have heard so many discouraging stories from people in my congregation recounting issues with former pastors concerning moral failure, legalism, abuse of power and so on.  I have to admit that after hearing so many stories like these that I have at times begun to feel very scared that I might somehow become another one of these pastors that will bring further hurt into the lives of these believers.   Not too long ago I was discussing this fear with a friend of mine who is a counselor.   He asked me to reflect on the some of the bad experiences I’ve had with folks in ministry, whether pastors, or other ministers that I had looked up to who had fallen from grace.  The question he then posed was what difference it had ultimately made in my faith.  The truth is that as long as I have kept my heart open to God’s work, He has actually used even bad pastors to work his purposes into my life.  Looking back I believe that had I not had some of those very difficult experiences with folks in ministry early on in my faith I would not be where I am today.

In the end I take comfort in the words of Jesus, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  I am sure as my journey continues, now as a pastor myself, that I will be considered by some to be a bad pastor (that is likely the case even now).  While I hope I will never fall into sexual immorality, or become an abusive leader, I know that at my best I will still end up hurting some people along the way.  While I will endeavor to be a good pastor my hope is that I can lead people to know the one true Pastor and Shepherd and that even when I do stupid or hurtful things that folks will listen to and follow Him.  I trust this will be the case because it has been true in my own journey.  Though human pastors have failed me, though people in ministry have let me down, one Shepherd has been leading me, guiding me, and protecting me through it all. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Missing the Point - Jesus!

I came across this video on Mike Friesen's Blog thought I'd repost it here.  Leonard Sweet talks about the absence of Jesus in the church.  Sometimes we can get so distracted by our activities for God, our programs, and as Sweet points out, even the Bible that we miss the point of it all--Jesus!
John 5:39 "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me..."

Can the Internet Helps Us Be Better Christians?

For all of the bad stuff on the internet I am pleased to see more and more that there are some very engaging and redemptive conversations going on between Christians in the online world.  In just the past few days I have been a part of many blog discussions about central issues to the Christian faith where all parties were generally respectful and where folks were really endeavoring to move towards the truth.  Okay, so maybe this isn’t the norm in the blogosphere but it is a window for me in how the internet can be a part of building community and vibrant faith in the lives of Christians.  In another sense I think the internet is helping Christians who may feel all alone in their particular way of pursuing God to realize that there are thousands of others out there who are wrestling with the same ideas.  Sure the downside is that lunatics are finding out their not alone either but I think it is still a good phenomenon for Christians.  How has the internet helped you in your faith journey? 

Can a Blog be Updated Too Much?

I love reading blogs and even writing them though I frequently hit stretches of my life when it is difficult to do either.  Conventional wisdom says that one must frequently update a blog to keep one’s reader’s attention but I wonder quite often if blogs can update too much.  I say this because there are many blogs that I follow, some of which post so frequently that I cannot keep up.   So sometimes the quantity of posts actually drives me away from reading because there is just too much to go back and read through to get to the current posts.  This might not be a problem if I only read 2-3 blogs a week but I currently try to follow about 15 different blogs a week on a regular basis plus the handful that I stumble upon frequently.  What do you think?  I'd comment more but I have another blog to post and about 10 others to read...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to Respond to Religious Bullies, Some Thoughts on Mark Driscoll

Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church, Seattle

In the past week there has been quite a controversy surrounding a Facebook update from Seattle mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll in which he posted: 
"So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?"
For those familiar with Mark Driscoll this kind of comment is nothing new as he has developed quite the reputation for saying controversial things (and quite a record for having to apologize for the things he’s said).  Yet for some Christians these kind of judgmental and hateful words were the final straw that demanded a response en mass. 

Rachel Held Evans, author/blogger

I was introduced to this controversy at Rachel Held Evans’ blog where she compared Mark Driscoll to a bully and encouraged her readers to stand up to him by writing/emailing the church and the elders to call Driscoll to accountability and repentance.  While I frequently read Rachel’s blog I have never seen a topic garner so much feedback in such a short time—some 513 comments and 9,000+ shares on Facebook.  Apparently she was not alone in feeling that Driscoll needed to be confronted for his history such inflammatory and hurtful words (I will not rehash his past comments as Rachel Evans has quite a sampling of them on her blog). 

While I have read a couple of books by Mark Driscoll in the past and really enjoyed them (partly for his edgy and in-your-face style of writing) I have come to feel troubled both at his way of communicating as well as his theological bent which, in my opinion, is quite destructive in the long run.  It seems to me that in recent years Driscoll’s attempts at being edgy have actually caused a loss of credibility in his message.  In the media Driscoll has continued to occupy the place reserved for reality TV divas that people watch not for their insightful social commentary but for the over-the-top drama that they seem to stir up in every situation in which they insert themselves.  This is heartbreaking because Mark Driscoll is truly one of the most effective Christian communicators of my generation and yet he has continually chosen to go down a path that, in my opinion, distracts people from the good news of Jesus Christ.

So when Rachel Evans asked her readers to stand up to this bully I was ready to join in the charge… at first that is.  Yet once I gave it more thought I became a little bit more conflicted with what the right response might be in this situation.  While I certainly don’t agree with his statements, I don’t know if a mass protest is the most redemptive way to deal with these issues or if it will truly work for a change in his heart.  Sure, after a few days of comments and thousands of emails Driscoll did apologize for what he said (well, kind of) but I can’t help but wonder if this was just another “I’m sorry” or if there is truly a commitment on his part to change.  

The great modern philosopher Bono once wrote, “They say that what you mock will one day overtake you, and you become a monster so the monster will not break you.”  My concern is that in our attempts to confront a bully we may just as well end up moving in the same spirit.  When this happens everyone loses.   

When I consider this situation I take comfort in the life of the Apostle Paul.  Before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was a fervent persecutor of the church.  He preached against Christianity as a heresy, hunted Christians down and even consented to their executions by his tribe of religious zealots.  Paul only became the famous Christian apostle, church planter and author of nearly half of the New Testament after he had encountered the grace of Jesus Christ.  What caused Paul’s change of course was neither persuasive intellectual arguments or protests, or even the example of Christians around him, it was nothing short of encountering God himself.

As I look back on my journey with Christ there are definitely some stretches of which I am very embarrassed—the years when I was quite the jerk to anybody outside of my very narrow view of Christianity.  I look back now and cringe at how I used to love arguing with people about anything from abortion to evolution to sexuality and how self-righteous I felt when I encountered resistance thinking that I was being persecuted for Jesus when in reality I was being persecuted for being an ass.  However something happened to me.  Even in my zealous self-righteousness I began to experience the unrelenting grace of Jesus Christ.  I have come to realize that God has loved me in my worst sins when I wasn’t a believer and didn’t have any hope in this world as well as in my moral arrogance when I gleefully persecuted Christian and non-Christian alike who didn’t believe the way I did.  It is precisely this unrelenting grace that has changed me and continues to form me within. 

So as much as I want to confront Mark Driscoll, I wonder if perhaps I should trust him to the grace of God.  After all that grace changed the apostle Paul… and a former fundamentalist like me.    

Maybe this line of thinking is just a copout from someone who isn’t a big fan of confrontation.  Maybe a very public outcry is exactly what needs to happen in this situation.  What do you think?  How ought Christians react to fellow Christians who say ugly and hurtful things in very public ways?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Book Review - God Without Religion by Andrew Farley

In God Without Religion Andrew Farley invites the reader to step away from the trappings of religion and enjoy the life of grace-filled freedom that God intended in the New Covenant.  Though this book is a very easy read it is packed with sound theology and solid exegesis of scriptures that confront many of the erroneous interpretations that have become commonplace in modern Christianity.  As Farley sees it many Christians are trying to live a mixture of two different covenants—the Old Testament law and New Testament grace which go together as well as oil and water when in reality we should only be under the covenant of grace in and through Jesus Christ. 

Farley takes issue with many of the practices that have become commonplace in modern Christianity such as tithing and following the Ten Commandments (of which he says in reality most folks only follow 9 because we don’t really keep a biblical Sabbath).  Our tendency is to fall back on the law because we don’t trust ourselves to the grace of Christ to lead us into freedom and thus we end up with something far less satisfying than what God has for us namely a rules based religion instead of a grace-empowered relationship with Christ.

While I could write more on the content I have posted a clip of Andrew Farley in which he sums up some of the main topics covered in God Without Religion. 

By the way I did a message not too long ago called BEWARE OF DOGS! where I specifically dealt with the tithing issue as well.