Hard Truths: Election

When most of us think of the word election we think of a democratic process in which we decide who we want to vote for and select for office.

The Bible also speaks of election and it has historically been one of the hardest truths for Christians to wrestle with.

The truth is no Christian who seeks to be faithful and wrestle with the full text of the Bible can avoid the subject.  So what do you do with it?

I could of course expound all the biblical evidence for individual election and why I think it is clearly found in the text, but let me go a different direction.

Two points.

1. Election seems unjust.  It does indeed, if we are viewing things from a western democratic framework.  We think, “hey that’s not fair, I should get to have my voice heard and make my own choice.”  Ephesians 2 tells us that humans are dead and unable to make any choices for or against God.  The human nature apart from God electing them is not that some would make a decision for God and some would not, but that none of us apart from God’s grace can make any kind of decision.  Dead people are unable to choose or elect for anything, this is why God elects and gives life to those who are spiritually dead.  Dead people cannot vote and when they do, its called election fraud.  Therefore it is not unjust for God to elect, all of us are dead and God does not owe any of us life, it is all grace.

2. No matter what, salvation involves a (pardon the Bushism) a “decider.”  Either each of us make a decision for God or God makes a decision to save us.  The bottom line is that decisions are being made.  So while this question is outside of the biblical scope, and assumes my first point is incorrect, I would ask who is it you want making such weighty decisions?  Creator God who is kind, wise, and all-knowing; or sinful humans that often make foolish choices that are not wise or in their best interests?

Though the truth of election is a hard one, especially considering our cultural framework and perspective to which we approach it from.  It is a major mountain I believe believers must summit as they progress in their delighting and submission to the word.  Let me leave with a quote from Paul Jewett.

The question of individual election has led more people to read scripture for what they want to find ( rather than listen to scripture for what they are afraid to hear) than virtually any other theological issue.

Yet I believe that letting the Bible speak clearly on the matter of election regardless of how it first sits with us, has exponential value to our souls.

ryan

On The Other Side Of Repentence Is Joy

I have been obsessed with Psalm 74 for the last month or so.  I literally cannot get it off of my mind.  In a good way the Holy Spirit is haunting my soul with attempting to deeply live out and grasp what it is trying to say.  Let me share two verses with you and plead with you to linger, the way you would over a new dress, or iphone.  Take time to absorb it.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire but you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (Psalm 74:25-26).

For my last post was about repentance and constantly proclaiming that Jesus is our God but we do this so that we may have the joy of our Lord.

Repent but do so with the joy that God is your only desire.  That nothing in this earth holds any weight in comparison to the richness and pleasure of God.

I imagine that when we stand on the other side of this life we will be bewildered at what we loved, thought about, served and focused on.  As we spending eternity enjoying God forever.

ryan

You And Your Bible

There are many important relationships in your life and they all deserve your attention and care.  But there is one that many Christians have been to neglectful of, and that is the relationship you have with your Bible.

When it comes down to it most Christians know the right things to say about the Bible.  They will tell you that it is the word of God and that people need to read it for revelation and spiritual transformation.

Of course when Christians are told they need their Bible a measure of guilt sets in and from that follows legalism.  We are then prone to set up a reading plan or 10 mins in which we can blow through a few passages and then move on to doing more fun things like Facebooking or watching re-runs of Scrubs (I am guilty of the second).

Yet by having such a poorly functioning relationship with the Bible we are all being cheated of Spirit-filled transformation that God would have for us.

Bonhoeffer says it well:

We must learn to know the Scriptures again, as the Reformers and our fathers knew them.  We must know the Scriptures first and foremost for the sake of our salvation.  But besides this, there are ample reasons that make this requirement exceedingly urgent.  How, for example, shall we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activity if we do not stand on solid biblical ground?  It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s word.

Did you get that?  All the decisions, dreams, ambitions, and values you have will not determine your ultimate destiny more than what you glean from God’s word.  Scripture shapes us, it fuels us, and determines your direction.

Your relationship with your Bible is of the utmost importance and one you cannot afford to neglect.

ryan

What Is The Gospel?

I would encourage all of you to continue to engage with this question.  There is perhaps no more important thing you can answer.  That is because the Gospel is the good news of God.  It is something all of us need EVERY day; believer and unbeliever.

Dr. Don Carson in his editorial to the wonderful Themelios Journal gives some great insight into what the gospel is and is not.

It is worth your time to read the whole editorial but at least read this snippet, then take a moment today and preach the Gospel to yourself.

By contrast, the first two greatest commands—to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves—do not constitute the gospel, or any part of it. We may well argue that when the gospel is faithfully declared and rightly received, it will result in human beings more closely aligned to these two commands. But they are not the gospel. Similarly, the gospel is not receiving Christ or believing in him, or being converted, or joining a church; it is not the practice of discipleship. Once again, the gospel faithfully declared and rightly received will result in people receiving Christ, believing in Christ, being converted, and joining a local church; but such steps are not the gospel. The Bible can exhort those who trust the living God to be concerned with issues of social justice (Isa 2; Amos); it can tell new covenant believers to do good to all human beings, especially to those of the household of faith (Gal 6); it exhorts us to remember the poor and to ask, not “Who is my neighbor?” but “Whom am I serving as neighbor?” We may even argue that some such list of moral commitments is a necessary consequence of the gospel. But it is not the gospel. We may preach through the list, reminding people that the Bible is concerned to tell us not only what to believe but how to live. But we may not preach through that list and claim it encapsulates the gospel. The gospel is what God has done, supremely in Christ, and especially focused on his cross and resurrection.

ryan

Militant Mysticism: Wrestling With Rob Bell

Rob Bell gave an interview to Christianity Today which you can read here.  Rob Bell is a guy I wrestle with.  I love his heart.  I believe he loves Jesus, as he understand him, and that he has deep compassion for those who are hurting and lost.  I have been provoked, convicted, frustrated, and inspired by Rob Bell.  But I began wondering a few years ago about his trajectory.  I wondered where his shift in understanding the Gospel to be primarily one of social justice, and joining God in re-creation.  Well the article has me right back in a spot of wrestling with Rob Bell and uncertain about his path.

For example here is one question and response in the interview.

All well and good, but how is this good news to people with no earthly hope? If I’m dying of aids or cancer, I probably don’t give a rip about the renewal of all things. I want to know if my sins are forgiven, and when I die, if am I going to see Jesus or not.

Yes, and I would say that central to that new creation is the problem with the first creation—death. The Resurrection is about God dealing with the death problem. And central to this giant cosmic hope is a very intimate, yes, you can trust this Jesus. You can trust this new creation. You can trust being with him when you die, when you leave this life, however you want to put it. Yes, there is an intensely personal dimension to this giant story that you and I get to be a part of.

Bell’s comments are stirring and emotively resonate with many ( I know they do with me).  But I am left hanging… What is the death problem? And how does God deal with it?  Fundementally there has been a split or separation in the relationship between God and humans.  The death problem is that we have turned away from God in favor of our own rule and will, this is sin (Rom. 6) . I like where Bell is going in this answer but I just wish he would have finished the story like Paul did;

and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (Col. 1:20).

Oh how sweet that through the BLOOD of Jesus on the CROSS God took care of the “death problem.”

Now for some comments that truly puzzle me.

“I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I’m really absolutely sure of some things that I don’t quite know.”

I do not want to go to far with this but I just do not know what Bell means.  Is he referring to the Trinity?  Context seems to suggest not.  As an overall strategy of militant mysticism (which is a strong reliance on mystery) is a shabby substitute for a God who has gracefully revealed so much, not everything, but more than enough for us not to perpetually walk in the fog of questioning about central matters of the story of God’s redemptive history.

Asked to give a brief telling of what Bell believes to be the Gospel this is the response that Bell gives.

How would you present this gospel on Twitter?

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Against you alone God has humanity sinned. And you God made him who knew no sin to be sin so that we might be reconciled to God.  You reconcile us to you through the Cross so that we might be conformed to his image and that Jesus would be the first born among many brothers and sisters in God’s Kingdom.

There is simply no more story or new creation that Rob Bell calls us to, without the work of Christ on the Cross.  If we lose the work on the Cross we lose everything.

I implore all of you to say no thanks to “tiny slivers” of some possible great oneness, and instead choose the blood stained cross, and empty tomb of Jesus.

ryan

Tim Keller, The Prodigal God Pt. 2

I know the economy is tough but if you have an extra 15 bucks go buy Keller’s new book, at least put it on your Christmas wish list.  Its a short little diddy and something you could easily read through and pass along to a friend.  Now if your still recalcitrant to ponying up 15 dollars at least listen to the sermon which Keller gave and based the book on.  Please!!!

Let me share with you another snippet that hit me hard as I have continued to study Luke 15 and the three parables (lost sheep, lost coin, prodigal brothers) found in there.

There is, though, one striking difference between the third parable and the first two.  In the first two someone “goes out” and searches diligently for that which is lost.  The searchers let nothing distract them or stand in their way.  By the time we get to the third story, and we hear about the plight of the lost son, we are fully prepared to expect that someone will set out to search for him.  No one does.  It is startling, and Jesus meant it to be so.  By placing the three parables so closely together, he is inviting thoughtful listeners to ask: Well, who should have gone out and searched for the lost son?”  Jesus knew the Bible thoroughly, and he knew that at its very beginning it tells another story of an elder and younger brother–Cain and Abel.  In that story, God tells the resentful and proud elder brother: You are your brother’s keeper.” (p.81)

Our elder brother, Jesus, did not grumble when sent out to search for his younger brothers.  Instead, he humbled himself and came to earth so that we might be reconciled to the Father.

ryan

Practically Rethinking the Arminianism/Calvinism Debate

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Let me start with a quote from “A Primer on Perspectivalism” by Reformed Theologian John Frame:

“Sometimes our divisions of theology and practice are differences of perspective, of balance, rather than differences over the essentials of faith.”

Let’s apply two different (very condensed) gospel presentations through this filter:
(note: when using the terms Reformed and Arminian, I am referring to the practical expression of these theological teams today not their classical finer points)

Reformed: You are a depraved dirty rotten sinner that hates God. God has taken his wrath out on Jesus in your place. Won’t you repent of your sins and follow Jesus to confirm your election as one of his chosen people?

Arminian: You are completely lost and unable to do anything to save yourself and have a relationship with God. In Jesus God has provided a way for you to be saved and enter into relationship with him. Won’t you accept Jesus and enter into relationship with him?

Now we can safely say that these are two polar (if not hyperbolic) examples of how the two teams share the gospel. Is there a biblical basis for both examples? Yup, I would say the book of Romans covers both adequately (note: this is my sorry excuse for quoting the Bible in this post. I don’t have the time to get verse examples for all I am writing, nor to I think proof-texting is exegetically sound. This is my way of appeasing both.) Can we say that neither really attacks the essentials of the faith? Yup. Can we say that both examples represent a balance of the what God has done in salvation? Um, actually, no.

One way to really take this rethinking deeper is to focus on salvation. Namely, what we are saved from. The two teams mentioned focus on different biblical examples of what we are saved from:

Reformed: God (primary), Satan sin and death (secondary)

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Arminian: yourself (primary), Satan, sin, and death (secondary)

Separation

The main theological quandary here is as follows: what does it look like to have a balanced theological view of what we are saved from, so that we can have theologically balanced gospel presentations? Are we primarily saved or primarily lost? Surely we are not equally both? Are we? Wait, doesn’t our lostness lead to our depravity, or is it the other way around? Doesn’t God’s justice and love for his glory outweigh his benevolence and desire to see “all saved”? Is a church that only preaches one unbiblical?

Before I give an argument for how this should be practically lived out (in a later post) I would like for us to discuss it first. I mean, if we can get 50+ comments on the election then surely we can produce a lively discussion on this topic. So what say you on the questions I posed and any other that this subject brings up?

matt