Thursday, October 28, 2010

Three Things I Hate About The Calvinist-Arminian Debate

Before I tell you the three things I hate about the Calvinist-Arminian debate, I first need to clarify some things. This is an important issue and I'm not meaning to take away from that fact. However, I think that the way in which we Christians have gone about discussing this issue has become rather unhelpful. If we better the means in which we address this issue it'll better the outcome of any debate.

For the purpose of making a point I'm not going to give a long, drawn out description of my opinion of the Calvinism-Arminianism issue. However, if you are interested in a brief summary of my beliefs, I'd encourage you to check out this sermon by Mark Driscoll. As I've stated before, I don't agree with all Mark Driscoll's stuff, however, he does a nice job of summarizing his beliefs on this issue, which I happen to be in full agreement with.

#1. The names.
In the early Church, Christians use to say that they were of Paul or of Apollos. Now we say that we're of John Calvin or of Jacob Arminius. We haven't made much forward progress, have we? Not only that, but the names are kind of misnomers. Neither Calvin nor Arminius were in full agreement with the schools of thought that would later bare their names. John Calvin never advocated Limited Atonement and Arminius, while he did express some doubts, never denied the doctrine of Eternal Security in any of speeches or writings.

The fact is, we can't put too much stock in any human being, even great Christian leaders. Calvin and Arminius were both great men who loved Jesus. However, they were also both sinners. As created creatures, we naturally feel the need for a hero. Since we can't physically see God we tend to idolize someone we can see. While they're is nothing wrong with having people we like and admire, we need to remember that all are sinners. We can't every fully trust any sinners, even great theologically minded sinners.

#2. The points.
In 1610, the Arminians got together for an event called the Remonstrance, or Protest. During this event they came up with five doctrines which directly defied Calvinism, which had been a Protestant staple since the Reformation. In response, the Calvinists held a synod at Dort (pictured) and came up with the Five Points of Calvinism, all of which were handpicked to discredit the Five Points of Arminianism.

This is really, really bad way to do theology. We don't create doctrine in response to someone else's doctrines. We get our doctrine from the Bible. The result of the current five-point system is that instead of discussing Romans 9 and Ephesians 1, we end up arguing over Irresistible Grace, Unconditional Election and the Perseverance of the Saints. The debate quickly becomes academic rather than biblical.

Personally, I always find it really frustrating when I try talking to someone about this issue and they refuse to address the Scriptures. Everyone has a cute illustration or catchy little quotable to prove the infallibility of their point. Meanwhile, the Bible stays on the shelf.

#3. The divisions.
There are certain things that should divide us. If someone tells you that Jesus wasn't God or that the earth was created by aliens, run from them like Forest Gump. However, I don't believe this should be a dividing issue. And yet it is.

It always amazes to see how willing credobaptists, paedobaptism, charismatics, cessationists, Complementarians and Egalitarians are to get together and sing Kum Ba Yah providing that they agree on the Calvinist-Arminian issue. However, if they agree on nearly everything else but can't agree on predestination, they suddenly become die hard separationists.

Honestly, I can't help but wonder if it has become more of a pride issue. Because if you examine this issue in light of many of the other truths, it really isn't that big a deal. It's important, but not quite as important as we make it out to be. However, this topic has become the defining issue within Christian circles. I once heard some one say that there are only three kinds of Christians. Calvinists, Arminians and Catholics. This debate has been so heated for so long that no one is willing to back down.

I think it is vital to remember that this is an in house debate. At the end of the day, we're on the same team. Granted, the Body of Christ will always have its little family quarrels. That's nothing new. Some times these disagreement will even create a need for us to separate, just as Paul and Barabbas did. However, that doesn't mean the Church of Jesus needs to be consumed in hate and in-striving. Rather, let us remember that we are one Body with one Goal.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Loving the Unpopular Side of God

Lately, I've been conducting a bit of a social experiment. On this site and elsewhere I've been asking people what their favorite attribute of God is. I've yet to have anyone tell me that they just love God's justice and holy anger. But this came as no surprise.

It seems that we no longer like talking about the side of God that burnt whole civilizations to a crisp or killed even His children on the spot for their sin.

Since we don't want to come across as fire-and-brimstone extremists, we prefer to talk about love, mercy, grace and all those non-offensive attributes of God. However, there are many dangerous repercussions of this. I'll list two of them.

#1: It is an inaccurate portrayal of God. God is love. No one is denying that. Everything He does is saturated in pure, undefiled love. But God is also just. Therefore, everything that He does is also immersed in justice.

One of the most common forms of idolatry today is the worship of our favorite part of God. Look at one Mark Driscoll says on the subject,

Jesus is not a nice old man in a button-up cardigan sweater and loafers singing happy songs while loading everyone onto a trolley headed to the Neighborhood of Make-Believe to meet King Friday like some Mr. Rogers clone. That god is the neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that wants to bless everyone, does not care what you call him/her/it/they, never gets angry, and would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. This mythical Sky Fairy is increasingly mistaken for Jesus, however, by many young pastors and Christians I have met who don’t want the gospel to be the offensive and foolish stumbling block that it is. So they remake Jesus in to a feathered-hair fairy in lavender tights and take the sword of Revelation out of his hand, replacing it with a daisy.
When Moses asked God to identify Himself, the Lord said that He was Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh. I am that I am or I will be who I will be. God is who He is and it's not for us to start picking and choosing our favorite parts of Him. We can't hold to the God who feeds the five thousand and not to the God who destroyed the Canaanites and is coming back with a sword in His hand.

This is when people start accusing me of worshiping a mean, selfish God who just wants to strike everyone will lightning. Not so. I worship a God of both love and justice. I believe that to be the God of the Bible. Every just thing God does is sprinkled with love and every loving thing He does is sprinkled with justice. This is why Jesus had to die. Because sin has to be punished.

I love what John Piper has to say,

We are creatures, and our Creator is not bound or obligated to give us anything - not life or health or anything. He gives, He takes, and He does us no injustice...And besides being creatures with no claim on our Creator, we are sinners...All we deserve from Him is judgment. Therefore, every breath we take, every time our heart beats, every day the sun rises, every moment we see with our eyes or hear with our ears or speak with our mouths or walk with our legs is, for now, a free and undeserved gift to sinners who deserve only judgment.
God doesn't owe us anything but wrath. The fact that you and I are still breathing right now is a testament to our Father's mercy. For some reason we think God owes us life and comfort and a free choice. But He doesn't. If He gave us what He owes us we'd all be in Hell right now.

For those who would argue that I'm still making God out to be a tyrant, let me first say that God has every right to be a tyrant. Shall the clay say to the Potter why have You made this way? God is our Creator and therefore our Owner. A painter has the right to poke holes in His own masterpiece.

But second, we must remember how we define right and wrong. We don't define who God is based on our own understandings of morality. We define morality based on who God is.

#2: It cheapens the rest of God's attributes. When we look at what God does and we think God is unloving, what are we saying? We're saying that God owes us love. But, if He owes us love, grace and mercy than those attributes are meaningless. When we start with love, God's justice looks cruel. But when we start with justice, God's love looks so much more amazing.

Likewise, when we begin to understand how worthless we are in the presence of an Almighty God, it should make us stand in awe of God's deep love. When we begin to see ourselves as sinful enemies of God who justly deserve death and Hell, the fact that God has offered us fellowship with Him is all the more incredible.

That is the desire for my own life. That I learn to love the unpopular side of God. The side that everyone else shoves under the rug. I want to claim that awesome, almighty Judge as my Daddy. Lightning bolts and all.