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Archive for the category “The Christian Life”

The Thomas Doubt Affair: Day Eight, The Encounter

“Put your finger here, and see my hands”

thomas-jesus-meet

Sunday after the Resurrection, Jerusalem circa 30 AD

It’s the end of a long arduous week for the disciple Thomas and for his fellow disciples and friends.  So many questions must have been asked, so many debates and arguments, every theory espoused,  every option analyzed… there could have been so much tension and apprehension and yet in the end we see grace.  They are still altogether.

Did any of them know what was coming the Sunday after?  Probably not. Though there seems to be some anticipation on the part of Peter, John and the others.

Jesus must have assured them he would come back again and so they may have said to themselves… let’s wait in the same place together.  John says they were “inside again”.  But this time with Thomas!

The doors are locked… fear of the Temple Guards?  …of the Roman Guard? Probably.  Doors were locked first time, right?

And then it happens.  Not through the door or window but right through whatever Jesus appears.  He stands among them. After an initial rumble of astonishment the room became still and silent awaiting Jesus to speak.  The apostle John describes it this way.

26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

Words that were a healing balm after such a week. Peace falls on the group.  All eyes are glued to the smiling Galilean, the resurrected Lord.  Then with a look of concern he turns and Thomas’ eyes catch his.

27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:26-28

Thomas does not hesitate to respond not with probing fingers and examining eyes but with the testimony of testimonies!  He doesn’t ask, “Why did you make me wait so long!”  or “Was I not worthy enough to see you last Sunday!?!” or “What misery you put me through!”

When we see the Lord face to face we too will be overcome not with our questions and our hurts but with His glorious presence. The awesomeness of the moment is captured for us.  This man who questions and challenges like the best of any 21st Century skeptic has nothing to say but “My Lord and My God”.

Every time I read this I cannot picture it without seeing the Doubting One falling to his knees in joyful astonishment.  Eyes wide open rapidly filling with tears of relief and amazement.

“My Lord and my God!”

This is not an “OMG it’s you!” exclamation.  It is a confession of one who has been with Jesus throughout his ministry, who has seen the love, the compassion, the truth and the power of his presence, the power of the miracles and now the power of the resurrection.  “Let us go that we may die too” rings hollow in the face of the Risen Saviour.

Jesus is Lord and Jesus is God come in the flesh.  The cross was the way to salvation.  The resurrection guaranteeing its efficacy and power.  This moment is emblazoning itself on his heart and mind.  The disciples stand in rapture wanting to cheer and scream but somehow this has knocked their breath away.

For the sake of many Thomas has not settled for easy believism.  And yet right now he must be a little ashamed of his lack of faith. It all seems quite obvious and quite clear and logical.  Jesus had to die, the sinless sacrifice.  Thomas cannot help but see this truth.

But at this moment everything fades as he gazes upon the Incarnate One, Jesus, risen from the dead and Thomas falls to his knees and worships!

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The Thomas Doubt Affair: Day Seven

“OK, so where is Jesus?”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASaturday, Jerusalem circa 30 AD

It is the 7th day (counting Resurrection Sunday) since Jesus rose from the grave and appeared to Mary Magdalene, Peter and all of the disciples… except Thomas.

Now a strange tension must have developed that we 21st Century readers of the gospels do not experience.  Jesus might have told his disciples to stick around Jerusalem saying he’ll be back next Sunday but we have no evidence that he did.  If not then by Saturday I am sure the disciples are being challenged more and more about the first appearances.  The question would be… OK if Jesus showed up last Sunday where is he now?

And who would ask that question more than anyone else?  Thomas of course.  In his mind his case might be getting stronger.  “OK, so where is Jesus?” he would certainly ask.  I’m sure he had gone through some serious doubts, anxiety, anger and frustration that he was the only one that missed out.  And he might have even gone through a moment or two of regret for his almost thoughtlessly issuing his belligerent challenge.

I remember when my boys were young and we had two or three big “Where’s Waldo?” books.  The idea was to look through each large page covered with miniscule men, women and animals in a plethora of confusing outfits and pick out Waldo.  Where was Waldo?  We would spend an unending amount time until finally a Waldo sighting occurred.  A cheer would rise up in triumph each time it happened.  But we as parents at least knew there was at least one Waldo on each page.  Not so for our band of disciples… at least when it came to seeing Jesus again.

Empty-Tomb-Jesus

So with confusion growing inside the circle of disciples, outside of their group explanations had been created for the empty tomb,

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

I doubt that Thomas gave them much heed.  The other disciples acknowledged the empty tomb but would have absolutely no reason to perpetuate such a ruse with Thomas.  So where was Jesus?

Yes, the disciples would be hounded by such a question… Thomas would hammer them with it.  It’s been a week… and no Jesus!

Also with the Sanhedrin’s accusations flying about the holy city it was not a safe place to hang out if you were a disciple.  You were being accused as a grave robber.  And you were spreading rumors based on obvious lies that Jesus had risen from the dead as your defense.  Tensions must have been high in the city.

You would be wise to lay low as one of the original twelve.  Hiding out but wondering… where is Jesus?  They would say to themselves, “We really need him to show up.  Thomas is pestering us saying that he would not believe us unless he sees him face to face touching his wounds. And the other disciples who had not seen him but believe need a little reassurance.  And heck, we could use a little wisdom on how not to get arrested!”

Ever been on the spot where you wondered where Jesus was when you needed him?  Don’t fret he will show up.  Sunday’s coming!  Maybe you should even go back to the place you last encountered him.  That’s what the disciples did.  They made sure Thomas was with them this time!

The Thomas Doubt Affair: Day Six

“Thomas, The Skeptic for Our Time”  

the-apostle-st-thomas-circa-1619

The Apostle Thomas (Didymus)

Friday Jerusalem circa 30 AD

It is the 6th day since the resurrection non-appearance for the disciple Thomas, the only one to miss encountering the risen from the dead Saviour Jesus.

How do you stand stalwartly against your closest friends and tell them they are all wrong… that they didn’t see what they say they saw?   How do you stick around with them and not have some touchy encounters? Or for that matter full-blown angry exchanges?

Thomas the skeptic… he’s the pain in the butt friend that doesn’t believe anything without a dozen fact check sites reviewed.  He’s got the latest scientific findings on how Adam and Eve couldn’t have existed along the Tigris and Euphrates.  He’s got the latest reported Bible contradiction, hot off the presses.

When he gets saved he still asks the hard questions but you know it wasn’t the road of blind faith that he took.  In fact you look to him when someone asks you the tough questions about the Shroud of Turin, or how the latest militant atheist attack holds no water or how to deal with the latest scientific discovery that somehow shows that Jesus was really married or how one should reply to the newest theological theory of how Jesus body was buried in a heap and the dogs ravaged the grave.  The 21st Century is a tough time to be a Christian (not that it wasn’t before). 

That’s why Doubting Thomas and his stubborn skepticism concerning the resurrection should be a comfort and an encouragement to us post-modern 21st Century folks.  He asks the tough questions and takes nothing for granted.

The caricature of the 1st Century disciple can be none too pretty.  Often viewed as uneducated, superstitious, unscientific, not writing vital information down while relying on verbal tradition, the 1st Century disciple’s testimony can be portrayed as unreliable, gullible, even Neanderthal and decidedly inaccurate.

Into that dingy unflattering portrait steps Thomas (aka Didymus).  He holds back his patented sarcasm and takes a moment to ask for real evidence.  He refuses easy believism.  There is possibly a little bitterness in his refusal to accept the report as true. This is human nature.  Arrogance, pride, bitterness, unforgiveness, deception, anger and fear serve to block us from accepting what deep down inside we know is true.

“But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:25

So Thomas standing in as a proxy for the 21st Century person whether skeptic, seeker or saved poses the criteria for his belief.  Though we will not be able to see the physical marks of the nails and put our fingers into the resurrected Christ’s side there is one who has,  who has done it as the skeptic, as the doubter and we can be assured in the truth of what Thomas will soon declare…

“My Lord and my God!”  John 20:28

Thank you, Thomas, the skeptic for our time!

(This is part 2 of The Thomas Doubt Affair , a forerunner of a longer piece in 10 parts which is in the works)  COMMENTS WELCOME!

The Thomas Doubt Affair: Day Three

thomas-the-apostleTuesday, Jerusalem circa 30 AD

It’s the third day of the Resurrection which occurred on Sunday and the disciples of Jesus, Peter, John and the rest are giddy with glee that the risen Christ has appeared to them all.  Mary Magdalene first to see Jesus is beside herself as are the other women, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, Salome and of course, Jesus’ mother Mary.  There is an atmosphere of exhilaration that surrounds them whenever they see each other.  Their hearts are filled with anticipation and wonder… wondering when they will see Jesus next and what this will all mean for them now that the Master has overcome the grave.

However there is a small cloud of gloom that hovers over the party.  It’s when the disciple named Thomas comes into the room.  You see the Lord did not appear to him on Sunday.  Thomas was missing. Like the other disciples his world was shattered.  He had invested himself 100% in Jesus as Messiah.  But then Jesus was led out of Gethsemane under heavy guard, was rapidly tried and convicted.  And then the death sentence and the crucifixion.  Every hope and dream he could ever imagine came violently crashing down around him.

He was probably hiding out that day or getting drunk or doing something, anything, to get his mind off this greatest of tragedies. 

Then Jesus, alive from the dead appears to all the disciples but him.  Yes, it appears that he was the only one NOT to see Jesus.  When Peter, John or Mary try to tell him about it he bitterly and even sarcastically rebuffs them.

 24 Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.”

But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:24-25

It’s been two days.  Things are not going good for him. Not at all.

But this “Thomas Doubt Affair” or “The Case of Doubting Thomas”  will serve us generations to come.  For Thomas is not an easy believer, no gullible superstitionist, no ignorant 1st century man who blindly follows along.  He suspects that maybe they’ve all been drinking the kool-aid and he is not about to partake in any such tomfoolery.  He needs answers, he needs more.  He asks the hard questions for us.  He represents the 21st century skeptic who must have more than possible mass hallucination as evidence.

But it won’t be easy.  It’s been three days already and he’s growing a bit impatient with all this joyful celebration and unbridled happiness. Mad, they must all be mad. Mad as hatters.  Little does he know what lies ahead in 5 more days.

(This is Part 1 of The Thomas Doubt Affair… check out Part 2 Day Six “Thomas, The Skeptic for Our Time” )  COMMENTS WELCOME!

Friday Review: Who Moved The Stone?

Who_Moved_the_Stone_by_Frank_Morrison

What happened Easter week?  How did Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod all end up together to determine the fate of Jesus? Why the middle of the night trials? Why was Judas even needed to find Jesus?  Did Jesus really die?  And did he really rise from the dead?

Frank Morison as the subtitle declares was a skeptic.  He was so skeptical of the resurrection of Jesus that he set out to write a book about how Jesus did not rise and the claims of Christianity were false.  He set out to write “The Book That Refused To Be Written”.  The more he researched, the more he pondered the facts he collected, the more tried to disprove the resurrection, the more he became convinced of the opposite.

Yet this is more than a typical treatise on the resurrection, arguing that the disciples weren’t hallucinating, the empty tomb and other arguments. Though there is time given to the questions that surround the empty tomb, what separates this book from others in my opinion is Morison’s treatment of Easter week.

Morison does not accept at face value the events leading up to the crucifixion and therefore does not write superficially about the arrest and trials.  He will dig. He will ask why was Judas needed?  There was plenty of time before the Garden of Gethsemane.  Why pay him a seeming pittance for the night brigade he would lead?  Morison asks how much time did he take?  Why not do it right after Palm Sunday in Bethany when no one was looking?

Why a trial at night?  Was it illegal?  What were the Pharisees really afraid of? He keeps delving and poking and asking. He will share some marvelous insights into the trial and how Caiaphas takes it in a risky unorthodox direction to snag the evidence that alluded him repeatedly in the early part of the trial.

He will ask about Pilate and conclude that this was not the Pilate that we encounter in documented confrontations with the Jews throughout his time in Judea.  He is rough, gruff and not very tactful.  More like a bull in a china closet.  So how can this account of him be true to character?  His explanations are insightful.  They delighted me!

Morison is at his finest as he weaves the night tale of the interactions behind the scenes.  His speculations breathe life into the time between Gethsemane and Pilate’s washing his hands of the matter.

I highly recommend this book to you.  First published in 1930 it has sold over 150,000 copies.  In the current paperback (seen above) there is a forward by Lee Strobel, author of “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for Faith”.  His preface assures us that this book is not somehow out of date but still quite relevant for today’s skeptics and seekers.  As a believer in Christ I found the book to be an excellent read especially in the timeline I mentioned above.  That part alone is worth the price of the publication!

(Available in Paperback and in Kindle download at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Who-Moved-Stone-Frank-Morison/dp/0310295610 )

Added 3/29/2013 Book in html format online http://www.gospeltruth.net/whomovedthestone.htm#3 !

Friday Review: “Mary Did You Know?” by Michael English

It’s Christmas Time and the perfect opportunity to do a review for… what else but a contemporary Christmas Song! An incredible one called, “Mary Did You Know”.

mary_did_you_know_part_1

I first heard the song as it was sung by Michael English back in 1993 and I fell in love with the song itself then, but over time Michael’s rendition has continued to be my favorite. After hearing it the first time I was so taken up with the arrangement and performance that I initiated that a custom video be made by our church.  We would use the video and the synchronized instrumental track as background for a Christmas vocal presentation.  

A friend, Chris Rogers owned and operated a multi-media company and with his help we video taped “our Mary”, Marilyn Lorence, all dressed up in period garb.  We did the filming at Great Falls Park one morning.  It turned out splendidly with added scenes from the Matthew Gospel video and some other random clips to complete the video edit.

I recently purchased Michael English version for my Kindle Fire.  Upon hearing it again I was reminded that the VHS tape of the recording can be transferred to DVD.  Looks like I have a new Christmas project!

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Here is the Youtube Link to the song Mary Did You Know

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A LOOK AT THE LYRICS

After the wonderful airy keyboard intro the song places us directly into Mary’s perspective and experience.  A question begins the interaction… “Did you know?” Mary is asked.  What are you thinking as you hold this child?

But the brilliance of the song is greater as the question indirectly extends beyond Mary to the listener… what do you, the listener, think Mary knew as she held the baby?  Does the listener think she has any inkling of who Jesus is and what his life will be like?  How does a God-man act?  How does one mother a Messiah? 

We know she understands that something miraculous has happened. She knows the God has brought the Messiah into the world through her womb.  But how the purposes of God will be played out… what can she know?

 The incarnation is an awesome cornerstone truth of the Christian tradition and experience.  God come in the flesh… and who was holding this miracle in her arms?  Mary.

There are three verses and each ends with a creative, clever and rather poignant poetic turn.

The first verse ends with “This child that you delivered will soon deliver you”.   The cute maternal manger scene is flipped on its head with a marvelous play on the word “deliver”.  Mary who is the source of human life for the babe is asked if she realizes that the role of life-giver will in the end be profoundly reversed.  Mary must be “delivered” from death and brought into eternal life.  Mary must be saved by the same Messiah who was birthed from her womb as we all must be.

The second verse reminds us that the incarnation is real.  Behind the vulnerability of a child is the God come in the flesh. But even more so the immediacy of God with us is seen in a face… the face of the child, the face of God.

The third verse is the coup-de-grace. Each line progressively expands on who Jesus is and how awesome He is… from “Lord of all creation” to “ruler of nations” to the “perfect Lamb” and redeemer of the human race to “Great I Am”.  This sleeping child is the one Eternal God with no beginning and no end.  The picture most have of the sweet baby Jesus in a manger, meek and mild, explodes now in majesty and awe before our very eyes!

THE SONG, PERFORMANCE AND ARRANGEMENT

The song has no real chorus other than the repeating “Mary Did You Know”.  The melody is beautiful and set in a minor key fitting the reflective mood it intends to create.  You will not forget those first four words and you will be singing them to yourself wanting to remember it all.

Many have performed this song, even Kenny Rogers!  A favorite of mine is the version by Kathy Mattea.  Nice acoustic guitars. But they all pale compared to Michael English.  His voice quality for the verses is perfect.  He does not try to “jazz it up” with many vocal turns and inflections, trying to “make the song his own”.  He trusts the song’s power and we are enthralled by singing as he gives us room to contemplate the lyrics.  If you have never heard the song before you will not be ready for the bridge.  Michael English is virtuoso here.  His voice soars and we listen in hushed amazement when at the end of the bridge he asks pleadingly… “Mary did you know’.   We are ready to encounter the third verse’s powerful theme.

The arrangement is the crown on this song for me.  Other songs have nice instrumental backing, good musicianship but usually the song is played straight forward.  Most church groups could perform the renditions.  This arrangement is special from the very first moment as the keyboard sets out an other worldly sound playing around the 4/4 beat.   The studio recording is hard to reproduce live.  The “open” space that is created by the keyboard drums and vocal is what captures a heaven has come to earth sensation.  Hard to reproduce that in a concert setting.

FINAL NOTE

Michael_English

One interesting note concerning this rendition involves Michael English’s fall from grace (as it were) in 1994.  Michael had just received four Dove Awards, including Artist of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year when it was learned that Marabeth Jordan, with whom he had an affair, was pregnant with his child. Marabeth, who was a vocalist with the group “New Song” that Michael had toured with, would later have a miscarriage.  Michael’s wife of 11 years would divorce him. He would later sign a secular music contract, be taken in by Ashley and Wynonna Judd during his recovery period and finally re-emerge as a broken man healed by God. He would record the song “Healing” with Wynonna.  His testimony is featured in his autobiography “The Prodigal Comes Home”  He is currently the lead singer of the Gaither Vocal Group.  So this rendition might have fallen a bit under the radar for awhile after the revelation of the affair. 

But the song and the performance are priceless and are well-worth having in your Christmas collection. I’m glad to put it out there for those who have not heard Michael’s powerful vocals of “Mary Did You Know”.

Mary Did You Know link

Verse 1
Mary did you know
That your baby boy would one day walk on water
Mary did you know
That your baby boy would save our sons and daughters
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new
This Child that you delivered
Will soon deliver you

Verse 2
Mary did you know
That your baby boy would give sight to the blind man
Mary did you know
That your baby boy would calm a storm with His hand
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
Oh Mary did you know

Verse 3
Oh Mary did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation
Mary did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb
And the sleeping Child you’re holding
Is the great I Am
Oh Mary oh

Misc 1
(BRIDGE)
Ooh Mary did you know
Ooh ooh The blind will see
The deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb

CCLI Song # 839225
Buddy Greene | Mark Lowry
© 1991, 1993 Word Music, LLC (a div. of Word Music Group, Inc.)
Rufus Music (Admin. by Gaither Copyright Management)

Flew, Dawkins & God

NOTE: As you can see I have re-posted Flew, Dawkins & God from another blog. I highly recommend it.

I am very interested in what is happening with the “new atheists” or whatever they are called.  I’ve had a few encounters with their materials including Dawkins but also with other places on the web. 

I recommend Reasonable Faith site with William Lane Craig as a good resource for apologetic resources and videos and transcripts from debates he has had with notable atheists.

With All I Am

In There is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind”, the British philosophy professor, late Antony Flew, shared his reasons for converting from atheism to deism.

“We must follow the argument wherever it leads”, a principle that Plato attributed to Socrates, was the norm to which Flew followed (Flew 2007: 46).  With increasing evidences of the teleological argument, Flew had to change his position.

“I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine”, explained Flew, “has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason.”(Flew 2007: 155). He further expounded,

Science qua science cannot furnish an argument for God’s existence. But the three items of evidence we have considered in this volume the laws of nature, life with its teleological organization, and the existence of the universe can only be explained in the light of an Intelligence that explains both its own…

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An Arminocalvinist Spectrum, or Why it’s Not So Simple as Arminians vs. Calvinists

Jacobus Arminius

John Calvin

As a follow-up to my “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities” post I have reposted a blog article by Adrian Warnock from December 10, 2010 (Link to original post) 

I think when we come to the Arminian / Calvinist debate we must understand it is not simply a clear cut issue.  When I meet other Christians and get to know them, the most important question I have is not whether they agree with every line of theology I have, and express that agreement with the same wordings I do. I am much more concerned with what is their attitude to the Bible.

Some on each side seem more attached to their system than the Bible itself.  Others love the Bible, but do not realize that the other side is not as extreme as they were told. There are many who have been taught to reject either Calvinism or Arminianism as rank heresy that fail to realize that as a moderate they have much more in common than they believe.  For more on this see my previous post on the subject.

Today I thought I would share a breakdown of different perspectives on this debate, in a similar style to one I called the “Evolutionary Spectrum.”  Where are you on this spectrum and why?

The following spectrum aims to reflect the views of people I am aware of, but I would value anyone who wants to suggest that it needs to be tweaked.  Indeed, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that I have incorporated feedback from, among others, Roger Olson who was eager to emphasise that while he understands my desire for a mutual respect between Bible-believers from both sides, there really is a divide between the Arminians and the Calvinists.  I remain open to tweak this further, but here is my Arminocalvinist spectrum:

1. Hyper Calvinist

  • Believes in double-predestination (God actively chooses to damn unbelievers in a similar way to which he chooses to save the elect)
  • Believes God in a sense stands behind every act that occurs, including sin. Opponents will say this makes them sound like they believe God is the author of sin.
  • Believes in the so-called Five Points of Calvinism or TULIP
  • Often has a tendency to work around certain scriptures (or, as their enemies might accuse them, “twists” or uses some Bible verses to “trump” others.) Parts of the Bible which are not convenient to their theology are conveniently ignored.
  • Believes that the Gospel offer is only valid for the elect so there is no need to preach gospel till people seem under conviction.
  • Is often passive in evangelism, believing God will save whoever he chooses so there is no point preaching to everyone.
  • May discourage the gospel of grace being taught to anyone unless they already seem convicted of sin.
  • May argue we should not say that “Jesus died for you” or “God loves you” to anyone unless we are sure they are part of the elect.
  • May argue that God hates sinners.
  • Does not see that faith is a duty to be commanded (see Wikipedia’s Hypercalvinist article).
  • God’s sovereignty rules supreme, but man’s responsibility is essentially denied.

2. Strong Calvinist

  • Believes in double-predestination, may well describe this decision as unequal in weight, endevoring to maintain the idea that God is not willing that any should perish.  In other words, God stands behind the decision to save and the decision to damn in different ways.
  • Believes that Jesus only trully died for the elect (strong limited atonement) though may accept that his death had implications for all.
  • May believe that the world is the best of all possible worlds (These first two bullets are the so-called “sixth and seventh points of Calvinism according to Piper).
  • Believes God is entirely sovereign over all acts but not in such a way as to make him the author of sin.
  • Believes in TULIP in its classical sense.
  • John Piper would be a good example of a strong Calvinist.

3. Moderate Calvinist

  • Believes in all the TULIP but may understand some of them in a slightly different way to stronger Calvinists.  For example “limited atonement” may be moderated by saying that there are some senses in which Jesus died generally for the whole world, and others in which he  died especially for the elect. (see for example Edwards on Limited Atonement)
  • Does not believe in double predestination. In other words does not believe God damns sinners willingly.  Despite the apparent illogicality of this statement believes that man condemns himself entirely freely and rejects a genuine offer of salvation from God, while the believer is saved only because of God’s irresistible grace and predestination.
  • Another way of putting this would be to say that God gets all the credit for saving us, but man gets all the blame for damnation. Spurgeon was a strong advocate of this position.
  • Is likely to believe that although salvation is secure, a mere response at a gospel event is not sufficient to be sure that someone is genuinely saved, and many backsliders were never saved at all.
  • Believes the Gospel must be preached to all, and Jesus commands everyone to repent.
  • Will freely teach God loves sinners, and that Jesus died for the world.
  • Believes that God chooses some to be saved out of his love for them rather than any foreseen faith.

4.  Soft Calvinist

  • Drops at least one of the five “points” or so extensively redifines one of them they would be unrecognizable to stronger Calvinists. Mark Driscoll is hard to place in this scheme as he desrcibes himself as a four and a half point Calvinist, modifying one of the points so much that he calls it “limited/unlimited atonement.”
  • In fact Driscoll’s view is very similar to many others who would fit in the moderate Calvinist group.
  • Many soft Calvinists would doubt irresistible grace, and may begin to speak in some way about God’s predestination being in some way associated with man’s response.
  • Eagerly stress both God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility

5. Reformed Arminian (often called Classical or Evangelical Arminianism.)

  • The really key point that separates all Arminians from all Calvinists is this, that they do not believe in irresistible grace, in other words they do not believe that in some way God overcomes our resistance to being saved in order to save us.
  • Would very much see themselves in the Reformed part of the church, and as the heirs of a man like Wesley who by the end of his life could agree with the Calvinist Simeon, although would surely have been considered strong Arminian during his earlier years. Arguably Arminius himself was a Reformed Arminian.
  • Believes (as do all the groups above this one) in the so-called “Five Solas of the Reformation
  • Like the other groups above will passionately believe in Penal Subsitution, holding that it is central to our understanding of the work of Jesus.
  • Deny some or all of the so-called TULIP, though very likely to believe in a form of Total Depravity, and Total Inability, i.e. that without God’s help we are incapable of responding to the gospel. (see for example the Society of Evangelical Arminians).
  • Likely to believe that someone who is truly saved cannot be un-born again.
  • Believes in regeneration, and that salvation is only possible if God acts upon the human heart.  Unlikely to believe that this process is irresistible.
  • May well believe that election is in some way resultant from faith foreseen i.e. that it is not entirely unconditional
  • Will boldly say that Jesus died for all.
  • Still believes that God is sovereign over the universe and over every event that happens (as does every group above this) and yet that he limits himself, thereby giving man free will, but God remains able at any time to restrict this.
  • Would join all Calvinists in upholding that as per the words of Romans 8:28, God is working all things together for good to those who love him.
  • Some Reformed Arminians will in actual fact believe very similar things to those held in the TULIP but will express them in different ways.

6. Strong Arminian

  • May adamantly deny all points from TULIP, although many would make an exception for Total Depravity, and believe in that (see for example this post although the author of that post identifies himself as a Reformed Arminian)
  • Rejects as contrary to God’s character that he could choose to save people irrespective of any act in them or cause in them.
  • Believes that faith is a response of the human heart (possibly aided by God) that is the trigger for salvation.
  • Believes it is possible to lose your salvation.
  • May well still believe in penal substitution but likely to stress that it is only one aspect of the work of Jesus for us.

7. “Open” Arminian

  • Believes that God has chosen to limit himself to make room for love and freedom to truly exist (See this Tweet).
  • Critics accuse them of using human logic to deny critical aspects of our faith: For example, if a future event has not happened, some argue it is impossible for God to foreknow it.  Thus God is surprised by faith in us, or indeed by whether or not we sin
  • God is portrayed as somehow weaker and less God-like than any of the other groups would suggest
  • Many deny aspects of the gospel, and see the Bible as culture-bound.
  • God is no longer truly sovereign, but man’s responsibility rules.

In case you haven’t guessed by now, I would place myself as a moderate Calvinist.  What about you?

Postcript

Hope you enjoyed this article.  I found it very thought provoking and informative. I would best describe myself according to this listing as #5 A Reformed Arminian.  As the author asks… where do you place yourself in the spectrum?

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Friday Review: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

(You may skip my personal opinion piece PREFACE if you like and go straight to the review without skipping a beat! Though I believe I make an interesting point or two leading up to the REVIEW.)

PREFACE: Calvinism & The Mystery People

I have noticed over time that there seem to be two main categories of people (among many) in American Christendom. Not to over-simplify too much but one category would be those who are Calvinists and the other category contains those who are not but don’t care a dribble about delving deep into the theology, thinking it’s all a waste of time and just a striving after the wind. Who can know the mind of God in this?  The mystery of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will is fine enough for them. For lack of a better name I’ll call them the “Mystery People”!

The majority of US non-Calvinists might be carelessly classified as strictly Arminian but that might not be a very accurate or satisfying description.  Some of them would actually be called Semi-Pelagian not knowing what that meant, though some might be fine with it once this category was described to them.

With 20% of the nation claiming NO religious affiliation many Christians are wanting to move to more solid scriptural high ground.  Whether it is too much vagueness, too much political correctness, too much seeker sensitivity, too-much post-modern deconstructionism or just plain too much fluff they’d like stronger Biblical teaching that is not just rehashed fundamentalism.

So some have chosen to look again to Jonathan Edwards and revisit the Puritans for safe harbor… they are called by various names, The New Calvinists, Piper-cubs (after Minneapolis Baptist Pastor, Author and Passion Conference speaker, John Piper) and the best of the lot, “The Young, Restless and Reformed”.   Not all Calvinists are in this camp.  Many quiet and content Calvinists exist but there’s a new breed, the New Calvinists and they evangelize their theology much as one would the gospel.

I came from a church which was wonderfully started in 1979 or so and had not declared its allegiance to any camp (at least not to my foreknowledge) but was nonetheless (after affiliating itself with a larger group to form an non-denominational denomination) transformed into being Reformed with a charismatic emphasis church.

I was never able to fit myself into that camp even though I drenched myself in John Owen’s thoroughly probing and provocative work, “Sin and Temptation”.  Jonathan Edwards wasn’t too bad as he allowed for the operation of the Spirit of God in his midst.

My dilemma was compounded by the fact that I don’t make a very good “Mystery Person”.  I am too inquisitive and yes, too contentious to settle for a vague premise.  And being a pastor doesn’t give you much wiggle room in the non-committal approach to theology!

So in my journey to define what I really am and to understand what a real classical Arminian believes I came across this wonderful book by Roger Olson.

REVIEW

Due to a possible lack of understanding or significant judgemental bias Calvinists have often lumped Arminianism in with Semi-Pelagiansim.  There has been more than a few times where Calvinist leaders have called Arminianism heresy. (not to be confused with being an “Armenian”… your born one of those!)

I am not sure how I discovered the  book “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”.  But when I did it was a breath of fresh air. I was elated.  The book was both informative and easily understood.  A good introduction to Classical Arminianism.  As one review said,

Very well written description of classical Arminianism. Every christian interested in theology and soteriology in particular should read this book. Even if you don’t hold to same views as classical Arminianism you should read this book so that you actually know what being an Arminian means.

Olson divides the book into Myths instead of Chapters:  Myth 1, Myth 2, Myth 3 etc.  Ten Myths in all.  Myth 1 is titled “Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinism/Reformed Theology”.   Other interesting titles are Myth 4: “The Heart of Arminianism is Belief in Free Will” and Myth 9 “Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone”. 

For a full list of the 10 Myths you should check out this link:  10 Myths. It links you to Amazon so you are ready to purchase the book if you like.

A few other concepts that one might not know are part of Arminian Theology… Total Depravity is a concept integral to Arminianism… Prevenient Grace is integral.  A person cannot come to Christ with being drawn first by the Father… and finally God’s Divine Sovereignty is not subject to Man’s Free Will.  God is God and can intervene in any way he wishes.  Just because an Arminian does not subscribe to the notion of Irresistable Grace he can adhere to a God who as omnipotent and sovereign and able to direct the affairs of man as he desires.

In each Myth section, Olson gives the reader a brief overview into the perspectives of authors, teachers and proponents of Arminianism.  You will learn who has written concerning each topic and how they compare with the writings of Arminius himself.

Personally I really benefited from Olson’s defense of Classic Arminianism.  It clarified what I believed and gave me confidence in articulating Classic Arminian Theology.  It also increased my desire to learn more. While at my former church I was not encouraged to study and compare the two systems of thought.  Thank you, Roger Olson for bringing clarity and answers to the issues I struggled with before.

I recommend this book to anyone who has encountered Calvinism and wants to understand the biblical alternative of Classsical Arminianism, to the Calvinist who wants to understand true Arminian Theology and not the caricatures that are communicated in the general public and among Calvinists themselves.  It just not Free Will vs Sovereignty.

AUTHOR

Roger E. Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (both InterVarsity Press) and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox).

Friday Review: “Building Up One Another”

Thinking about starting up a small group?  Got one going and wondering what your next topic to focus on will be?  Got some young leaders you want to disciple concerning the practical outworking of Church life?  Got a college Bible Study you’re sponsoring and need fresh material? Look no further!  I have just what you need.

Each Friday I hope to review a book, or movie or other media, some old and some new.  Todays’ review is of  book that was released in 1973.  That’s almost 40 years ago.  It’s called “Building Up One Another” by Gene A Getz.  

The book’s a classic.  How do I know?  Well you can get a brand new copy online at various sites.  At  Christian Books in paperback for $9.99, at Amazon for $10.39 and at Barnes and Noble as a Nook Book for $10.52 (as of 8/15/2012).

The original cover

The original that I have still in my possession was put out by Victor Books did not have the Group Study Guide.  It cost $2.25 back in 1980!  I believe that someone actually posted the book in entirety on their site after this edition went out of print.  It’s for free so you might want to google it.

The beauty in this book is its simplicity and brevity.  The original sans study guide was a mere 120 pages (with big print!) but it is rich in practical application, good Church theology and continues to be relevant in today’s society where people ask “Do I need to belong or even go to a Church to be a Christian?”

As the title says this book is all about the “one anothers”.  The New Testament is filled with exhortations to “server one another”, “love one another”, “forgive one another”, be kind to one another” etc..  In all there are 58 “one anothers” in the epistles.

I remember going through this book the very first time.  My wife Nora and myself were part of a newly started Church and a non-negotiable foundation stone of it was everyone’s participation in a small group.  We called them “home groups”.  The justification?  The “one anothers”!  You could not live out Christianity in a vacuum.  So the small groups were meant to facilitate relationships.

A slogan that was prominent back then was “The Church is not a series of meetings but it’s relationships!”  The first time I heard that was from Larry Tomczak, a man with a vision for what was termed “New Testament Christianity”.  Years ago we thought the American Church had become too “institutionalized” and needed to be brought back to its New Testament roots especially in the area of relationships.

We saw that sections of scripture like Acts 2:42 and Acts 2:46 were alive with fellowship, praying together, sharing meals and meeting from house to house.  All about relationships and community.

Acts 2:42
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

Acts 2:46
Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,

So we met at the Benny & Sheree’s home (the founding pastor and his wife) in those early days of the Church and opened up this book each week to study, discuss, pray and learn how to apply the truths found there and in the Bible.

The book’s layout made it easy.  12 chapters (from the original)

1 Members of One Another    7
2 Devoted to One Another   20
3 Honor One Another   29
4 Be of the Same Mind with One Another 36
5 Accept One Another   43
6 Admonish One Another   51
7 Greet One Another   60
8 Serve One Another    68
9  Bear One Another’s Burdens 78
10 Bearing with One Another     91
11 Submit to One Another      99
12 Encourage One Another   110

You quickly learn that you can’t obey these commands in a vacuum.  And wandering from church to church you could do some of these.  Not going at all negated 95% of the realities that the book pointed us to, that God intended us to experience. 

These commands are not just legalistic exhortations to perform robotic duties.  God’s blessing of joy, peace and love flow from the “one anothers” done in grace and faith.

I would have to say that the small group, the early focus on relationships and this little book spoiled me for a rich Church life.  For many, many years the fruit of this foundation of “one anothers” laid in my life abounded.  It became the DNA of this young Church and to this day 40 years later it is still bearing fruit. 

After that we held our own small groups.  Through them relationships were established that survive the test of time.  Even if you have not seen a person from your group for years the moment you meet up a special joy and kinship rises up within.

Few churches I have attended and been a member of since have had such a committment to the “one anothers”.  But I know it can happen again though.  That’s because its God’s Word and His plan for His Church!

So do your group a favor and pick up this book. You might want to start it off as a personal devotional if it’s not time for your group to do it.  You will benefit greatly.  And others will be blessed as you “Build Up One Another!”

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