Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1b-Historical Evidence)

Click here to listen to the “Redeeming Truth” show summarizing this information.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ:

Historical Evidence (Part 2)

 Pastor Brian Chilton

Look for the 1st installment of “Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ: Historical Evidence (Part 1A).”  It will appear on a separate post here on this same website.  God bless.

VI.       Crucifixion Evidence

Some critics have postulated that Jesus may have passed out on the cross and may not have actually died.  We will deal with the “negative evidence” or the alternatives that have been postulated by critics in a later article.  But right now, we want to look at the brutality of the cross.

First, we see that Jesus was flogged or “scourged.”  It appears that not all crucified victims were scourged.  A close reading of the gospels show that Pilate had Jesus scourged in order to appease the abbreviated Sanhedrin and to keep from crucifying Jesus.  The motive of Pilate in doing this is debatable as history shows that Pilate was anything but a compassionate man.

When a person was scourged, the person was beaten so brutally that many did not survive.  The Jews had a limit of 39 lashes in scourging.  The Romans had no limit.  They literally tried to break the victim’s back.  The whip had 3 strands with each strand embedded with glass, nails, stone, and other materials which would strike the body and shred the skin.  It has been noted by ancient historians that a person’s internal organs were exposed by the time many scourgings had come to an end.  So, Jesus would have been severely weakened by the end of the scourging in addition to having been up all night and having no nourishment.  It was of no surprise that Jesus only lasted 6 hours on the cross.

Second, the victim carried a crossbar that weighed around 110 pounds.  The victim took the crossbar to a vertical, stationary post.  The victim was either tied or nailed to the crossbar and then lifted up where he would have been nailed to the vertical post.  Some crosses were “X” shaped (otherwise called St. Andrew’s cross), some “T” shaped, and others “t” shaped (or Latin shaped).  Jesus was most likely attached to a Latin shaped cross.

Third, the victim was nailed through the wrists of the hand.  This would have caused massive blood flow if the nails were removed.  The victim would have been doomed by loss of blood flow by the scourging and the tearing of arteries in the wrists.  A single nail ripped through the ankles or straight through the feet.

Finally, the Romans were good at killing people.  They were experts of execution.  If a Roman allowed a condemned victim to live, the Roman’s life would be taken instead.  The spear through the side, most likely through the fifth rib tearing into the heart, would have sealed the deal.

So how does this apply to the resurrection?  According to the testimony of the gospels of Jesus’ crucifixion and evidence regarding crucifixion in general, it is highly unlikely if not improbable that anyone could ever naturally survive the brutality that Jesus suffered.  So, the fact that the disciples saw Jesus alive on Easter Sunday speaks volumes to the fact that Jesus must have been brought back from the dead and totally restored.  But there’s more.  There is evidence of an “empty tomb.”

VII.     Empty Tomb Evidence

The empty tomb is as sure of a historical fact as any fact of history.  Dr. William Lane Craig gives us insight to the validity of the empty tomb when he writes,

“First, the disciples could not have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if His corpse still lay in the tomb.  It would have been wholly un-Jewish, not to say stupid, to believe that a man was raised from the dead when his body was known to still be in the grave.  Second, even if the disciples had preached Jesus’ resurrection despite His occupied tomb, scarcely anybody else would have believed them…And third, even if they had so believed, the Jewish authorities would have exposed the whole affair simply by pointing to Jesus’ tomb or perhaps even exhuming the body as decisive proof that Jesus had not been raised.”[1]

So the empty tomb shows forth another piece of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Why was the tomb empty?  Did someone steal the body?  Well that wouldn’t make sense psychologically as we shall soon see.  Did the authorities steal the body of Jesus?  Well, that would have made less sense.  Why would they perpetuate a religion that they wanted to squash?  In addition, that does not speak to the fact that the disciples witnessed Jesus alive from the dead.  The empty tomb serves as a reminder that Jesus of Nazareth is not still buried.  He is alive and well.  But there is yet another piece of evidence we must consider: the embarrassment evidence.

VIII.    Embarrassment Evidence

When someone tells a story about his or herself and the story is not flattering, one could assume that the story is legitimate because people do not want to tell bad tales concerning themselves.  People have the inherit desire to be liked and approved.  Yet, with the gospels and the stories pertaining to the resurrection appearances of Jesus, we see several embarrassing details concerning the disciples.  I will concentrate on three main embarrassing details: 1) the bravery and witness of the women, 2) the appearance of Jesus, and 3) the borrowed tomb provided by Joseph of Arimathea.

The Bravery and Witness of the Women

We first see the very embarrassing fact that the women first saw Jesus alive from the dead.  They were also presented as believing and faithful whereas the men were not.  Mark, the Gospel that most scholars believe to be the earliest, writes,

“Saturday evening, when the Sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went out and purchased burial spices so they could anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on Sunday morning,* just at sunrise, they went to the tomb. On the way they were asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled aside.

When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man clothed in a white robe sitting on the right side. The women were shocked, but the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth,* who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Look, this is where they laid his body. Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter, that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died.”

The women fled from the tomb, trembling and bewildered, and they said nothing to anyone because they were too frightened.*”[2]

Where was Peter?  Where were the rest of the disciples?  They were absent, but the women were faithful.  In a culture where the witness of women was not held in high regard, this would have been unspeakable to have the women to be the first witnesses of the risen Christ and of the empty tomb if it were not so.  It would be like telling someone to believe a story from someone who was known for being a compulsive liar.  This is not to say that the women were liars, but this is to show that in the culture of the day that women’s opinions and witness were not held in high regard.  This speaks volumes to the legitimacy to the first resurrection appearances of Christ.

The Unrecognized Appearance of Jesus

We also notice in the gospels that Jesus was not easily recognized by many disciples.  Notice the words of Luke, 28 “By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them. 30 As they sat down to eat,* he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!”[3]

It is an oddity that the gospels present Jesus as having a real body, but also show Him unrecognizable at times and able to become invisible at a moment’s notice.  Before you automatically reject the notion that Jesus could be physical and then become intangible, consider the rainbow.  The rainbow can become visible and then invisible depending on moisture in the air and light reflecting the wavelengths to the human eye.  If God was able to design the phenomenon, then God could easily have performed this feat.  Nonetheless, this is embarrassing for the disciples in their testimony.  The embarrassing nature to the story speaks to its’ validity.

Joseph Arimathea’s Borrowed Tomb

Lastly, it was an embarrassment to the disciples that they were unable to give Jesus a proper burial.  Joseph of Arimathea was a member to the very same Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus.  Evidence exists that Joseph may not have been in the trial that condemned Jesus, but nonetheless, this would have been embarrassing for the disciples.  This also speaks to the validity of the resurrection story.  Dr. William Lane Craig adds, “As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.  Joseph is described as a rich man, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin…There was an understandable hostility in the early church towards the Jewish Sanhedrinists.  In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus.”[4]

IX.       Psychological Evidence

It is difficult to imagine someone willing to die for something about which they were not certain.  It is nearly impossible to imagine someone willing to die for a lie that the person or a group of people concocted.  Some leaders die for power.  Others die for freedom.  But only the disciples died for something they witnessed.  Even if it were possible for a few people to die for a lie, it would be difficult if not impossible to imagine a large group of over 500 people for several decades willing to die for something that was made up.  Eventually, someone would crack.  This never happened with the church.

Wallace writes, “Sex, money, and power are the motives for all the crimes detectives investigate.  In fact, these three motives are also behind lesser sins as well…On the flip side, however, defense attorneys often cite the lack of motive when they are making a case for their client’s innocence.”[5]  Wallace goes on to show that the disciples were not driven by sex, money, or power, yet all of them died for what they knew to be true.  Wallace ends by stating, “As the apostles rose to positions of leadership, they made themselves the target of persecution and abuse.  The more prominent they became, the more they risked death the hands of their adversaries.  The most reasonable inference, given what we know about their deaths, is that the pursuit of power and position was not the motive that drove these men to make the claims they made in the Gospels…Certainly there was no benefit to any of the apostles  in the three areas we would expect to motivate such a lie.”[6]

What was their motivation?  Their motivation was that the resurrection was true.  They had the power now to proclaim the gospel without fear because they knew that there was a life beyond the grave.  It had been proven to them by the literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.

X.        Shroud of Turin Evidence

Time will not allow us to go into the details of the Shroud of Turin.  The Shroud of Turin is a 14.3 by 3.7 foot linen cloth that bears the image of a man whom has been crucified.  We will have a show and article on the Shroud of Turin at a later date.  However, it should be noted that the carbon dating of 1988 which dated the Shroud to the Middle Ages has been disproven.  The blood stains on the shroud have been shown to be actual hemoglobin.  Finally, there have been pollen grains that have been dated to the first century and some which are exclusive to Jerusalem.  While it is impossible to declare the Shroud as the genuine burial cloth of Christ with certainty, it could be shown to be the cloth beyond reasonable doubt.  I believe recent evidence shows just that.  Even if the Shroud is not the authentic burial cloth, you still have ten other lines of evidence presented in this article.  But this could indeed be yet another piece of evidence pointing to the risen Jesus.

XI.       Modern Resurrection Evidence (Not mentioned on Show)

I would like to close by the mentioning of near-death experiences.  These experiences are modern resurrections, not in the same regard as Jesus’, but still nonetheless resurrections.  So, I simply add this for the following reason; some claim that any resurrection from the dead is impossible.  If it is true that some are raised from the dead in our day and age, one could say that the resurrection of Christ is unlikely, but that person cannot claim that it was impossible.

Conclusion:

When then shall we do with this information?  Perhaps you are reading this and you are still skeptical.  I encourage you to review the bibliography presented in this article and do the research yourself.  I have found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that transcends generations and all of time.  I have found that the evidence points to a historical fact that grants ultimate faith based upon real historical events.  I have found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that gives amazing hope in a world full of grief.  I have also found that the evidence points clearly to a historical fact that grants us all the ability to become part of a freely offered gift of unconditional love.  That historical fact is that Jesus of Nazareth literally rose from the dead on the first Easter Sunday, April 9th, 30AD (Nisan 17th, 30AD).[7]  This is a fact that has changed all of history.

 Bibliography

All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Craig, William Lane, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2010), 221.

Geisler, Norman L., and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), quoted in in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

Geisler, Norman L., Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 48.

Josephus, Flavius, Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3.

McDowell, Josh, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

Tacitus, Annals and the Histories 15.44, In Great Books of the Western World, ed. by Robert Maynard Hutchins, Vol. 15, The Annals     and the Histories by Cornelius Tacitus, (Chicago: William Benton, 1952).

Wallace, J. Warner, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013), 50.


[1] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2010), 221.

[2] Mark 16:1–8.

[3] Luke 24:28–31.

[4] Craig, 224.

[5] Wallace, 241.

[6] Wallace, 246-247.

[7] On a previous article, I listed April 5th, 33AD as the date for the resurrection of Christ.  While this is still a possibility, I have since seen that April 9th, 30AD is the more likely candidate for actual date for the resurrection of Christ.

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Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ (Part 1a of 4: Historical Evidences)

Click here to listen to the “Redeeming Truth” show summarizing this information.

Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ

Part 1 of 4: Historical Evidence

 Pastor Brian Chilton

The resurrection of Jesus is the pivotal moment of history.  If the resurrection is an event of history, then life is much different than anyone could ever imagine.  If the resurrection is true, then there is further evidence of God’s power on earth.  If the resurrection is true, then there is evidence that hope in life exists.  If the resurrection is true, then there is evidence that there exists a life beyond this one…as some like to call an “afterlife.”  As Paul writes, “Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die,* this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory.* 55 O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?*” 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.”[1]

The core question to ask is this; did Jesus resurrect from the dead?  Evidence seems to suggest that He did.  J. Warner Wallace, cold case investigator, writes in his book Cold Case Christianity, “If we approach the issue of the resurrection in an unbiased manner…and assess it…, we can judge the possible explanations and eliminate those that are unreasonable.  The conclusion that Jesus was resurrected (as reported in the Gospels) can be sensibly inferred from the available evidence.  The resurrection is reasonable.”[2]  So what are some evidences we have for believing the resurrection of Christ?  Well, we have, I believe, 11 evidences supporting the resurrection of Christ (note: some of these evidences will be expounded in more detail in future posts): 1) biblical manuscript evidence, 2) early patristic manuscript evidence, 3) extra-biblical manuscript evidence, 4) archaeological evidence, 5) traditional evidence, 6) crucifixion evidence, 7) empty tomb evidence, 8) embarrassment evidence, 9) psychological evidence, 10) Shroud of Turin evidence, and 11) modern resurrection evidence.

I.          Biblical Manuscript Evidence

The greatest wealth of testimony, and that which is most important in understanding the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, comes from the New Testament.  Within the New Testament, we have at least 5 if not 7 independent sources to know about the life of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.  (We will deal with this issue in more detail in our next post.)

First, we have the Matthean source, or the source that arises from the testimony of Matthew the apostle.  Internal and external evidence suggests that Matthew was the author of the majority, if not all, of the Gospel that bears his name.  Matthew mentions the resurrection appearances of Christ in great detail.

Second, we have the Johannine source, or the source that arise from the eyewitness testimony of John the apostle.  John mentions the resurrection appearances of Christ in great detail even mentioning the Peter’s reinstating to the ministry at the Sea of Galilee.

Third, we have the Petrine source, or the source that arises from the eyewitness testimony of Simon Peter, the apostle.  A great amount of evidence suggests that John Mark documented the words of Simon Peter in his gospel.  In addition, we have two letters from Simon Peter, as well.

Fourth, we have the testimony of Paul the apostle in his letters.  Paul incorporates many ancient creeds, hymns, and formulations that date to the earliest church in his letters.  The most famous of these creeds is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9.

Fifth, we have the eyewitness testimonies found in Luke’s gospel.  These testimonies are independent from other testimonies concerning the life and resurrection of Christ.  Evidence suggests that Luke may have even obtained some of his information from Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Sixth, we have the testimony of James, the half-brother of Jesus.  Although James does not reference the resurrection explicitly, we can see references to it through James’ reference to Jesus as the “Lord of Sabaoth”[3] and in his teaching about the “coming of the Lord.”[4]

Seventh, we also have the testimony of Jude, another half-brother of Jesus.  Jude, like James, does not explicitly reference the resurrection of Christ, but he does write, “keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”[5]  So, I think we have a seventh implied reference to the resurrection of Christ as Jude seems to indicate that Jesus is the giver of eternal life.

II.        Early Patristic Manuscript Evidence

Not only do we have evidence from the New Testament, but we also have evidence through the early church fathers.  The church fathers were second, third, and fourth generation church leaders.  Some of these leaders, such as Polycarp and Papias, were direct students of John the apostle.  These early church leaders, some dating to the end of the first century, reference the resurrection of Christ and also quote extensive form the pages of the New Testament documents.  Josh McDowell writes, “Ignatitus (AD 70-110) was Bishop of Antioch and was martyred.  He knew well the apostles.  His seven epistles contain quotations from: Matthew, John, Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, James, and 1 Peter…Geisler and Nix rightly conclude that ‘a brief inventory at this point will reveal that there were some 32,000 citations of the New Testament prior to the time of the Council of Nicea (325).  These 32,000 quotations are by no means exhaustive, and they do not even include the fourth-century writers.  Just adding the number of references used by one other writer, Eusebius, who flourished prior to and contemporary with the Council of Nicea, will bring the total number of citations of the New Testament to over 36,000.'”[6]  To all the above you could add Augustine, Amabius, Laitantius, Chrysostom, Jerome, Gaius Romanus, Athanasius, Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Alexandria, Ephraem the Syrian, Hilary of Poitiers, Gregory of Nyssa, and so forth.”[7]  There are other manuscripts that add to the validity of the resurrection of Christ.  Extra-biblical manuscripts also speak of Christ and may hint at His resurrection.

III.       Extra-biblical Manuscript Evidence

Jesus of Nazareth was mentioned not only by those who loved Him, but also by those who did not.  Roman and Jewish historians reference Jesus of Nazareth.  Tacitus, a first-century Roman historian, writes of Jesus and the early church.  He writes,

“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace.  Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurator, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.”[8]

Other writers such as Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and even the Babylonian Talmud mention Jesus of Nazareth.  Many record the belief of the early church that Jesus had been resurrected back to life.  Lucian of Samosata, a second-century comedian, wrote a satire about Christians even stating that Christians thought themselves to be immortal…pointing to the resurrection of Christ implicitly.

Perhaps one of the most popular early extra-biblical citations of Jesus of Nazareth came from Josephus, a first-century Jewish historian.  Some debate the authenticity of Josephus’ words, but there are no reasons to do so.  First, Josephus was not popular among fellow Jews.  The only reason his writings survived was due to the Christians who preserved his histories due to the reference to Jesus, James, and John the Baptist.  Second, Josephus mentions James the brother of Jesus and James’ death.  Why would he refer to James being the brother of Jesus if he had not mentioned Jesus prior to that statement?

Josephus writes,

“Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.  He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.  He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him.  For he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named after him, are not extinct to this day.”[9]

Therefore, evidence in the church and outside of the church shows the validity to not only Jesus of Nazareth’s life, but also to His glorious resurrection.  But, there also exists another form of evidence pertaining to the resurrection of Christ…that of archaeology.

IV.       Archaeological Evidence

Two or three things stand out to me as far as archaeological evidence pertaining to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: an ancient edict from the Caesar, symbols on ancient tombs/ossuaries, and early churches/synagogues.

First, there is the evidence given in an ancient edict from the Caesar of Rome.  Geisler explains the artifact,

“A slab of stone was found in Nazareth in 1878, inscribed with a decree from Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) that no graves should be disturbed or bodies extracted or moved.  This type of decree is not uncommon, but the startling fact is that here ‘the offender {shall} be sentenced to capital punishment on {the} charge of violation of a sepulcher (Hemer, BASHH, 155).  Other notices warned of a fine, but death for disturbing graves?  A likely explanation is that Claudius, having heard of the Christian doctrine of resurrection and Jesus’ empty tomb while investigating the riots of AD 49, decided not to let any such report surface again.  This would make sense in light of the Jewish argument that the body had been stolen (Matthew 28:11-15).  This is early testimony to the strong and persistent belief that Jesus rose from the dead.”[10]

Second, Christian symbols found on early Christian tombs found in Rome and in Jerusalem depict belief in the resurrection of Christ and the hope that the Christian will too experience resurrection.  Third and finally, early Christian churches, sometimes found in abandoned synagogues, also depict these same form of symbols: primarily the cross, images of Jesus being the shepherd…leading them through death and into life, and the fish are among some of these early Christian symbols.  But, there also exists evidence in the form of a change of traditions.

V.        Traditional Evidence

Many tend to view the Bible according to their own culture.  This is, however, a great mistake.  In order to understand the content of Scripture, one must undertake the more difficult task to understand the writer’s intentions and culture in order to understand what the writer seeks to communicate instead of what the reader would like to interpret.

It is important to remember that Jesus and the early church were Jewish.  The church did not begin to change its’ ethnic shape until it grew to distant lands.  Therefore, it is important to understand that Jesus and the disciples did not celebrate Christmas and Easter during the earthly ministry of Christ.  They celebrated Passover, Sabbath on Saturdays, Yom Kippur, Pentecost, Hanukkah, Sukkot, and other Jewish festivals and holidays.

However, after the resurrection of Christ, changes were made in the way Christians worshipped.  They still kept the Jewish festivals during the early years of the church.  However, now they celebrated Easter Sunday (or Resurrection Sunday as some would like to call it) and moved their Sabbath day from Saturdays to Sundays.  This was huge!!!  Why would they move the Sabbath?  They did so because Jesus resurrected on a Sunday.  This would have been a huge change for early Christians.  Evidence also suggests that communion was celebrated often, maybe perhaps at every service, and that baptisms were normally performed early on Easter Sunday…in celebration of Christ’s resurrection.  These changes in traditions cannot be overstated.  These were huge moves for early Jewish believers.

Look for the 2nd installment of “Evidence for the Resurrection of Christ: Historical Evidence.”  It will appear on a separate post here on this same website.  God bless.


[1] All Scripture unless otherwise noted comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Corinthains 15:54–57.

[2] J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook Publishers, 2013), 50.

[3] James 5:4.

[4] James 5:7.

 [5] Jude 21.

[6] Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986), quoted in in Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

[7] Josh McDowell, The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1999), 44-45.

[8] Tacitus, Annals and the Histories 15.44, In Great Books of the Western World, ed. by Robert Maynard Hutchins, Vol. 15, The Annals and the Histories by Cornelius Tacitus, (Chicago: William Benton, 1952).

[9] Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3.

[10] Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 48.

Who Really Wrote the Gospels?

Click here for the Redeeming Truth Radio show on “Who Really Wrote the Gospels?”

The “Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John” portions of this transcript were submitted as part of a discussion board for NBTS 521 at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  The class was taught by Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, author of the book “Where Jesus Walked: A Spiritual Journey Through the Holy Land.”  Due to the integration of the text with the post, Turabian format (with footnotes) is used for the “The Gospel of Matthew” and “The Gospel of John.”  MLA format is used for “The Gospel of Mark” and “The Gospel of John.”   My apologies beforehand for any confusion.

Progressive scholarship has taken over much of New Testament studies.  Some would have you believe that the gospels are a product not from apostolic authority, but by communities.  Even if communities wrote in honor of an apostle, would that not imply that the texts presented came from the apostle?  However, as you examine the evidence and not simply conjecture, you find that the evidence does not support a belief in a community based authorship of the gospels.  Rather, you find that tradition has been correct all along in that these gospel texts do indeed come from writers presenting eyewitness testimony concerning the life of Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew

When it comes to the Bible and the authorship of the gospels, I am a traditionalist.  By “traditionalist” I mean that I hold to what the patristic fathers wrote about who the authors were.  Let’s be honest.  Despite the world-class scholarship we have today, we are still almost 2,000 years removed from the events.  We can speculate, but I believe the early church fathers knew who wrote the gospels.  That does not mean that they were correct necessarily in everything they wrote, but I believe they were correct in most of what they wrote.  As we look to the gospel of Matthew, I believe that Matthew the apostle was the author of at least most of what we have in the gospel today.  This is supported by internal and external evidence.

-external evidence for authorship

The early church fathers all agreed that Matthew the apostle was the author of the gospel.  Why dispute that claim when these men were writing very close to the time of the original church?  Eusebius writes, “The other followers of our Lord were also not ignorant of such things, as the twelve apostles and the seventy, together with many others: yet of all the disciples, Matthew and John are the only ones who have left us recorded comments, and even they, tradition says, undertook it from necessity.  Matthew also having first proclaimed the gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going also to other nations, committed it to writing in his native tongue and thus supplied the want of his presence to them by his writings.”[1]  Why is it impossible to think that Matthew first wrote a Hebrew version of the Gospel and later reworked a Gospel in Greek?  Even if you supposed that Matthew borrowed material from Mark that does not negate the fact that Matthew still could have written the text we now possess.  If the Greek version was more appropriate, why hang on to the Hebrew version?  Matthew could still be the author of both.

-internal evidence for authorship

Carson and Moo give two, among many other, internal evidences for Matthean authorship: “1. Only this gospel refers to “Matthew the tax collector” (10:3)…3. The assumption that Matthew was a tax collector (essentially a minor in customs official collecting tariff on goods in transit) and was the author of this gospel makes sense of a number of details…A number of peculiarly Matthean periscopes do depict financial transactions (17:24-27; 18:23-35; 20:1-16; 26:15; 27:3-10; 28:11-15).”[2]

-Date

Most likely, Matthew was written either in the late 50s or the early 60s.  Some has postulated that Matthew was written after 70AD during the destruction of the Temple.  However, if Luke wrote both Acts and his Gospel which did not record any event after 64 AD and he used Matthew as an eyewitness account, then Matthew must have been written prior to 64AD.

-purpose

I personally believe that Matthew wrote first to show that Jesus was the Messiah.  The book may have been a sort of apologetic for a Jewish audience.  Along those lines, I think Matthew wrote his gospel to show that Jesus, or Yeshua, was the Messiah who had long been prophesied and was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies.  As Carson and Moo write, “Because Matthew devotes so much space to Old Testament quotations, some have suggested that he wrote his gospel to teach Christians how to read their Bibles—what we refer to as the Old Testament.”[3]

-intended destination

I believe Matthew intended his gospel for the Jews first perhaps in Syria.  However, as Carson and Moo write, “Matthew wrote his gospel with certain kinds of readers in mind, rather than readers in a particular location.  Moreover, the strong arguments of Bauckham and others, to the effect that the gospels were first written to be read by all Christians, should not be lightly set aside.”[4]

The Gospel of Mark

The Gospel of Mark is short, sweet, and to the point.  Mark is thought to be the earliest completed Gospel that we possess in our modern New Testament.  But, who wrote the Gospel?  It would appear that John Mark wrote the gospel under the tutelage of the Apostle Simon Peter.  I feel that for this reason that this Gospel could be called “The Gospel of Simon Peter.”  Evidence, externally and internally, exists for this fact.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew’s Gospel, the early church leaders unanimously agreed that John Mark wrote the Gospel that bears his name.  Eusebius writes, “This also the presbyter said: ‘Mark, having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not indeed in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ.” (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.39.15).  Peter shows that John Mark was with him for a time in Rome (called Babylon “symbolically”), “Your sister church here in Babylon* sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark” (1 Peter 5:13, NLT).  Peter shows that Mark was with him and this adds credibility to the patristic father’s writings about Mark.

-internal evidence for authorship

Internally, clues exist that John Mark was the author.  First, several references exist pertaining to Peter.  In Mark, we find references to Peter’s rejection of Jesus during Jesus’ trial (chapter 14:66-72).  The structure of Mark’s gospel even is comparable to Peter’s messages found in the Book of Acts.  Secondly, discipleship is key to Mark’s gospel.  This would have been a major them of Peter’s messages, too.

Also, we are perhaps met with John Mark in an incident in his Gospel that is recorded nowhere else.  It has been noted that John Mark’s home may have been the place where the Last Supper was held.  But, more noteworthy is the reference in Mark 14:51-52, “Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away. 51 One young man following behind was clothed only in a long linen shirt. When the mob tried to grab him, 52 he slipped out of his shirt and ran away naked” (Mark 14:50–52).  It has been held that the young man may have been John Mark himself.

-Date

Evidence is mounting that Mark wrote sometime in the 50sAD.  New fragments have been found that may have been dated from Mark’s Gospel to the 50s, but we will have to wait to hear more from these discoveries.

-purpose

Mark’s main purpose may have been for evangelism.  He wanted to write an easy-to-read book that would show the life of Christ in a brief, compact way; similar to a gospel tract.  Mark may have also written to show the importance of perseverance despite mounting persecutions.

-intended destination

Lea and Black give us our answer as they write, “Internal evidence suggests that Mark wrote for a Roman audience.  His explanation of Jewish customs implies that he wrote to a Gentile audience unacquainted with Jewish practices (7:3-4).  He frequently translated Aramaic expressions so that his Roman audience could understand them” (Lea and Black, The New Testamant: Its Background and Message, 144).

The Gospel of Luke

The Gospel of Luke is among the most exquisite books among ancient Greek texts.  Some have argued that Luke’s equal in the fluency of Greek is found only in Homer’s Iliad.  When Greek students seek to learn biblical Greek, they do not start with Luke.  They start with John or Mark.  They end with Luke because of Luke’s complex writing style.  Evidence suggests that Luke, the physician and companion of Paul, wrote the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

As with Matthew and Mark, early church leaders unanimously contributed Luke’s Gospel to the physician Luke, who was also the companion to Paul.  Luke not only wrote the Gospel but he also wrote the book of Acts.  Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  The personal pronoun “we” is used to show that the author was with Paul in Rome.  Of those listed in Rome with Paul in his letters: Epaphras (Col. 4:12), Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25), Timothy (Phil. 2:19), Tychicus (Col. 4:7), Mark (Col. 4:10), Jesus called Justus (Col. 4:11), Aristarchus (Col. 4:10), Onesimus (Col. 4:9), Luke (Col. 4:14), and Demas (Col. 4:14); only Luke is qualified to be the author of the Gospel.  As Lea and Black write, “Of the companions, Aristarchus, Tychicus, Timothy, and Mark are mentioned in the third person at some point in Acts and thus could not be the author of the book.  Demas later deserted Paul (2 Tim. 4:20) and is not likely the author of the book.  Epaphroditus joined Paul after his arrival in Rome and could not have described the voyage to Rome.  Epaphras also apparently arrived in Rome at a later date (Col. 1:7).  No tradition supports the authorship of the third Gospel by either Jesus (Justus) or Onesimus.  Logically Luke becomes the best choice for the author of the book.  Since the author of Acts is also the author of the third Gospel, we suggest that Luke authored both writings” (Lea and Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition, 147).

-internal evidence for authorship

Within the Gospel of Luke, medical conditions are listed in more precise details than in any other Gospel.  This would be evidence of someone who had medical knowledge.  Paul writes in Colossians 4:14, “Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas” (Col 4:14).  So, the inclusion of medical knowledge in the text adds to the veritability that Luke, the physician, wrote the text.  We also find that the author was interested in writing down an accurate and orderly account of the life of Jesus.  Luke writes, “

Many people have set out to write accounts about the events that have been fulfilled among us. 2 They used the eyewitness reports circulating among us from the early disciples.* 3 Having carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I also have decided to write a careful account for you, most honorable Theophilus, 4 so you can be certain of the truth of everything you were taught” (Lk 1:1–4).

-Date

Luke wrote both the Gospel of Luke and Acts.  Some even think that it may be one unified book, although I have my doubts about that.  Nonetheless, Acts ends with Paul in Rome.  Paul and Peter were martyred in 67AD.  But, Paul was under house arrest long before that time.  So, 64AD has been tossed around as the probable date of Acts composition.  Since the Gospel was written earlier than Acts, the Gospel must have been written around 61-63AD.

-purpose

Luke wrote to a Gentile audience and showed that Jesus ministered to the outcasts, the Gentiles, and the poor.  It is in Luke we find the only listing of the beautiful parables of “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” and “The Parable of the Good Samaritan” given by Jesus.  Luke provided eyewitness testimony from several that were unlisted by Matthew and Mark.  Internal evidence suggests that Mary, the mother of Jesus, may have been interviewed for the text.

-intended destination

Rome is a probable location for Luke’s original destination.  One thing is for sure; Luke wrote for Gentile believers in Christ.

The Gospel of John

John’s gospel has always been my favorite.  Now I know by our readings that some speculate that John of Zebedee was not the author, but I personally do not see how.  The only reason I can guess is that some would not desire an apostle, or eyewitness, to be the author of a New Testament text.  Nonetheless, strong internal and external evidences show that John the apostle, son of Zebedee was the author of the Gospel that bears his name.

-external evidence for authorship

Several patristic fathers wrote that John wrote the gospel.  Some indicate that John was a pastor in Ephesus before he died.  On that several patristic fathers wrote about John composing his gospel, Carson and Moo writes, “Not only did Irenaeus but Clement of Alexandria and Tertullian provide firm second-century evidence for the belief that the apostle John wrote this gospel.”[5]

-internal evidence for authorship

I think it is simply logical.  Many things could be said about the internal evidence for John’s authorship being the apostle.  Carson and Moo provide two of three powerful internal arguments for John of Zebedee being the author of the gospel that bears his name, “1. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls compels us to recognize that it is unnecessary to resort to a person of expansion into the Hellenistic world to account for John’s characteristic expressions…2. …that at least in some instances John’s quotations are closer in form to the Hebrew or Aramaic than to the Greek.”[6]  For me the most powerful evidence comes from John’s conclusion.  Throughout the gospel we read of the “beloved disciple.”  Then John ends with this, “This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.  Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.”[7]

-Date

Strong tradition holds that John wrote while pastor in Ephesus.  It would seem that John wrote around 80AD or sometime in the 80s AD.

-purpose

Eusebius quotes Clement in saying, “But John, last of all, perceiving that what had reference to the body in the gospel of our Savior, was sufficiently detailed, and being encouraged by his familiar friends, and urged by the spirit, he wrote a spiritual gospel.”[8]  So, I think John filled in the gaps and wrote a more theologically based gospel showing the person of Jesus.

-intended destination

Because there are strong reasons for holding that John lived in Ephesus at the time of the gospel’s composition, it could have been that John wrote to Ephesus first.  Carson and Moo write, “If John the son of Zebedee wrote this book while residing in Ephesus, then it might be inferred that he prepared the book for readers in this general part of the empire.”[9]

Why authorship is an important issue in today’s times?

In a world that is becoming more skeptical, I think it is important to show that the New Testament is built upon strong authority.  Showing apostolic authorship to Matthew and John, while also showing John Mark building his gospel from the teachings of Simon Peter and Luke’s from Paul and other early eyewitnesses, gives more credence to the New Testament text.  My faith was damaged when John Dominick Crossan and others of the Jesus Seminar claimed that the New Testament showed little about Jesus.  However, I was led to the works of some great New Testament scholars who showed otherwise.  This is one reason why I am proud to be part of a university that stands on truth and not popularity.  Being shown that the New Testament was built upon apostolic authority was one of the steps that God used to bring me back to the faith that I once enjoyed.  So, I think the issue of displaying apostolic authorship and authority is essential.

Bibliography

 Carson, D. A. and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005)

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History.

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Thomas D. Lea and David Alan Black, The New Testament: Its Background and Message, 2nd Edition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2003).

[1] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, III.24.5-6.

[2] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 147-148.

[3] Ibid, 157.

[4] Ibid, 156-157.

[5] Ibid, 231.

[6] Ibid, 236.

[7] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 21:24–25.

[8] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VI.14.7.

[9] D. A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 267.

Experiencing Angels

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Experiencing Angels

Pastor Brian Chilton

“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.* 2 Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it! 3 Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Heb 13:1–3.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that at any time we may be “entertaining angels.”  The Bible speaks a lot about these heavenly messengers.  The Hebrew word “ma’lak” and the Greek equivalent “angelos” both mean the same…”messenger.”  We see in Scripture three classifications of angels: archangels, cherubim, and the seraphim.  The Bible only tells us about two archangels: Michael, the warrior angel, and Gabriel, the announcing angel.  The pseudipigraphical book 1 Enoch tells us of seven archangels: Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael, Raguel, Remiel, and Saraqael.  The Bible lists the cherubim as being strange looking creatures who guard the throne of God (Ezekiel 10 and see Revelation).  Seraphim are “fiery angels” who give God praise.  They are mentioned in Isaiah 6.  I do not think the “fire” is literal, but descriptive of the brilliance of their aura.

I certainly believe in angels because I have experienced them on three different occasions.  All three occasions were during times of great distress in my life or in the life of another.  For the remainder of this brief article, I wish to describe those three encounters.

First Encounter: At a Hospital

My first encounter occurred at a hospital.  I was visiting a woman who had a life-threatening disease.  She was a godly, Christian woman who was ready for whatever was before her.  As we talked, a brilliant light appeared at the foot of her bed.  It stayed there for a moment.  After we noticed it, the light darted towards the wall where it disappeared.  Being skeptically inclined, I looked for anything that could possibly have caused a reflection, but there was nothing that would.  The blinds to her hospital window were pulled down and closed.  If any light could have been reflected, it would not have been as bright as it was.  The light would not have been a large orb, but rather a sliver of light.  Also, it would not have been at the foot of her bed.  The light would have been reflected on the wall.  In addition, her room was not facing a highway.  So, nothing would have reflected that brilliant of a light in the first place.  Could something have been in the hallway to cause such a light?  No.  Nothing or no one was in the hallway near her room at the time.  A few nurses were down the hallway, but no one was present at her room.

Something else struck me as I replay this event in my mind.  Reflections of light were coming from the source of light from the foot of her bed.  Light was reflected from the source on the walls, ceiling, her bed, and even on her television.  The best thing I could compare this to was the light that emanated from the recent meteorite explosion over Russia.  For me, this could only have been the presence of an angelic being.

Second Encounter: At Home

February 2013 002

The second encounter that I have had with angels was the most spectacular and meaningful to me.  The occurrence happened in the hallway posted in the picture above.  This recent picture was taken at about the same time of day that the event took place about a year prior.  The only light that you see in the picture is from the light above the hallway.  When the appearance took place, that light was not even on.  I had to turn the light on so that you could see the hallway more clearly because it is normally dark in the hallway.

My son was about to have surgery.  It was not major surgery.  But for a parent, any surgery is major when it is their child that is having the surgery.  I was greatly concerned about the surgery.  Anxiety gripped me as I worried about parting with him as he had to undergo the knife.  A couple of days before the surgery took place, I was talking to my wife about the surgery.  She was in the other room.  I was looking into my son’s room where the sunlight was beaming through his window.  I noticed something out of the corner of my right eye.  I looked to my right and there stood before me a being of light.  It looked human but was completely beaming with light.  I did a double-take.  The second time I looked directly at his face.  He was originally facing the direction of my son’s room.  But, as I noticed him, he turned his head and looked directly at me and smiled.  After he smiled, he was gone.

Again, I looked around for every possible logical explanation for the light.  No one was driving down the street of our rural neighborhood until after the event took place.  Even if someone had, light would have reflected on the walls or off the pictures on the wall  and would not have taken a human form.  Also, I had a feeling of peace and awe after witnessing the being.  I felt calmer after the experience.

Third Encounter: At Church

The third and final encounter (at least up until this point) occurred on Super Bowl Sunday of 2011.  We were having a soup dinner while watching the Super Bowl in the church fellowship building that evening.  I was sitting with Cindy Smith and her fiance.  Suddenly, we all three noticed a light that was similar to the first encounter I had at the hospital.  This time, the being was over the head of one of the parents (also a member of the church) and traveled through the fireplace.  It first appeared in the middle of the room (not reflecting from anything).  What was interesting about this occasion was that it took place at night.  I looked to see if any car lights were shining in the fellowship building.  None.  Also, later that evening a light reflected from a car into the building.  The reflected light did not act anything like the angelic light that we had previously witnessed.

Conclusion:

At no time did any of the angelic beings say anything to us.  But on every occasion, I was filled with a sense of peace and wonder.  I take from three things from these experiences.  First, I know that angels are real.  Angels are not myths nor are they imaginary.  They are very real and appear right when we need them the most.  Two, angels remind us of the faith, hope, and love that we can have in God.  In these dark days in which we live, we need the faith, hope, and love that only God can bring.  Third and finally, I, in a small essence, am reminded of what lies ahead of this life.  If angels display that kind of love and light, can you imagine the love and light that emanates from God?  This is what we will experience if we have Christ in our lives.

I realize that some will read this and will remain skeptical.  I understand.  I am skeptical by nature, too.  Some will outright reject the events that I have documented because their worldview will not allow them to accept these true events.  God allowed these things to happen for a reason.  Hopefully, you will consider the fact that angels are real.  We are not alone and do not have to go the course without help.  For God is with us and has sent His angels to help us in times of need.

May God bless you and keep you.  Remember, the truth shall set you free.

Pastor Brian Chilton

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

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What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Pastor Brian Chilton

Tina Turner popularized the song “What’s Love Got to Do with It” in the 80s.  Turner asks a good question.  What does love have to do with our lives?  For the Christian, it has everything to do with everything.  We are preparing for Valentine’s Day.  Many view love according to the Greek term “eros.”  “Eros” or “erotic” love is a sensual, sexual type of love.  But that is not the ultimate type of love.  Some feel that love is in the form of brotherly love in order of the Greek term “phileo.”  But that is not the ultimate form of love.  The New Testament writers recorded the words of Jesus with the term “agape.”  “Agape” love is unconditional love.  It is not an emotional love, but a love of choice.  This form of love effects every aspect of the Christian’s life.  As we examine love, it would behoove us to look at what has been called the “Love Chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13.

What’s Love Got to Do with…Politics?

Many evangelical Christians are engaged in politics, and rightfully so.  Politics affects everything we do in our nation.  But, we must remember that our first responsibility lies in our heavenly citizenship.  I am staunchly against abortion.  I believe that abortion is murder.  However, if I lose the love that I have for those who committed the crime, I have lost my center of focus.  Let’s read what Paul says in the opening part of I Corinthians 13.

“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;* but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Co 13:1–3.

I am afraid that in our effort to stand against what is wrong, we have failed to show what is right.  I firmly believe that we must stand for truth.  However, if we lose the love that God has commanded us, we have become off-centered from authentic Christian faith.  Liberalism and legalism is two opposite ends of the same beast.  Liberalism occurs when a person focuses on love with no truth.  Legalism occurs when a person focuses on truth with no love.  They are both equally dangerous.  The Christian should be both “salt” and “light,” standing for truth and love.  We need to do this ESPECIALLY in the realm of politics.  Remember, we are ambassadors for Christ first.

What’s Love Got to Do with…Apologetics?

Apologetics is a rational defense of the faith.  To be an apologist means that you defend the faith.  This exercise focus on the intellect and mind.  However, if one fails to speak to the heart with love and compassion, you will lose the impact of what you are seeking to do.  Paul continues…

4 “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Co 13:4–7.

We can win a person’s mind, but if we don’t win their hearts, have we really won?  Unfortunately, I have witnessed on Facebook and YouTube many debates that have gotten ugly on the Christian’s part.  He or she will win the battle intellectually, but will lose the war.  If we choose to engage in debate, we must not only prepare our minds, but also our hearts and spirits.

I know it is difficult.  95% of the time an atheist will begin to insult the intelligence of a believer, especially if they are stuck in a corner.  It is natural for the believer to strike back with great ferocity.  Is that loving our enemies?  I know it is difficult, but we are commanded to show love to all.  As Dr. William Lane Craig once said in an interview, “We should not try to win arguments, but seek to win souls.”

What’s Love Got to Do with…Church?

Church should be the most loving place a person could attend.  Is it always?  Not really.  Many churches display the love of Christ in a powerful way.  This is not to say that problems won’t arise.  We are all still sinners saved by grace.  Yet, many churches do not show the love of Christ.  One church in particular that comes to mind is the Independent Baptist church known as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas.  If you base Christianity on Westboro Baptist, it would be like basing your opinion of a NASA rocket by a paper model of a rocket.  The paper rocket may claim to be a rocket, but it has no power because it is not real.  When a church focuses their attention on hate instead of love, that church ceases to be an institution of Christ.  Christ told us that the two great commandments were to love God and love our fellow man.  Those commandments take precedence over all others.  Jesus even told the disciples that He gave them a new command…to love one another as He loves us.  How is it loving to focus one’s attention on how God hates individuals?  Let me add, that yes we should stand for truth and justice.  But, don’t lose your focus of love while doing so.  Paul continues…

8 “Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages* and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.”  Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Co 13:8–10.

God has given us all gifts.  We should use them to the fullest of our abilities.  However, we should never seek to worship or receive worship for our efforts.  Only one person should receive worship: the Triune God.  No one else.  I would dare say that it is when a person takes his or her eyes off of Jesus and places it on another that it is then when problems begin to arise.

What’s Love Got to Do with…Personal Living?

Paul continues…

“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.* All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Co 13:11–13.

“Childish things”…what are those things to which Paul refers?  The word “nephios” refers to an “infant” or one who is untrained.  This coincides with Paul’s thought in the latter part of the passage when he speaks of seeing things clearly.  What are some childish things that we cling to while seeking to obey Christ?  Racial prejudices, self gratification, and selfish motives are just a few.  Let me remind everyone that heaven will be filled with people from all generations and with people from all walks of life.  White people, black people, Native Americans, Indians, Latinos, Arabs, Jews, Russians, along with a multiplicity of other nationalities will be there.  Let me also remind everyone that Jesus was Jewish.  Since He was outdoors quite a bit and due to His olive complexion, Jesus may have been dark skinned.  This is in stark contrast to the pasty, anemic Jesus you see in many Christian films.  If Jesus were pale skinned, that would be fine.  If Jesus had a complexion as dark as night, that would be fine.  For Jesus, whatever skin tone He possessed, gave us life eternal.  He taught us how to love.  That transcends the childish preferences of skin color that some still maintain.

It may be that the “childish things” are other issues in your life.  Whatever the case, may I challenge you to love the way Jesus commanded you by simply giving Him your “childish ways”?

                                                        

Conclusion:

As Tina asked, “What’s love got to do…got to do with it?”  Well, love is NOT a second hand emotion.  Love, for the Christian, is the focal point of his or her life.  The love of God and the love of humanity should flood every Christian’s life.  If we were to focus on this tremendous truth this Valentine’s Day and beyond, maybe would would see a change in our culture.  Maybe then, everyone would truly know how love has everything to do with everything.

Does Science Conflict with a Belief in God?

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Does Science Conflict with a Belief in God?

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

Does science conflict with a belief in God?  Some atheists would like for you to think that it does.  Yet, a close examination reveals that science can tell us nothing without interpretation.  Dr. Frank Turek writes,

‘Science’ doesn’t say anything—scientists do…Misbehavior by scientists is more prevalent than you might think.  A survey conducted by University of Minnesota researchers found that 33 percent of scientists admitted to engaging in some kind of research misbehavior, including more than 20 percent of mid-career scientists who admitted to ‘changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source.’  Think of how many more have done this but refuse to admit it! (The researchers said as much in their findings)…Why is it so hard for Dawkins and other Darwinists to see this?  Maybe they refuse to see it…Or maybe they’ve never realized that you cannot do science without philosophy.  As Einstein said, ‘The man of science is a poor philosopher.’  And poor philosophers of science may often arrive at false scientific conclusions.  That’s because science doesn’t say anything—scientists do.”[1]

Don’t the laws of physics negate belief in God?  Well that is preposterous at the outset because then one is to wonder where the laws of physics arose.  But, Dr. John Lennox explains in his book “Gunning for God” that it is audacious to believe such a thing in the first place.  Dr. Lennox speaks about Dr. Stephen Hawking’s book “The Grand Delusion.”  Many hold Hawking to the level of a scientific god, but understand that Dr. Lennox holds three doctoral degrees himself.  Lennox writes,

“According to him (Hawking…mine) the laws of physics (not the will of God) provide the real explanation as to how life on earth came into being.  He argues that the Big Bang was the inevitable consequence of these laws: ‘Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing’…Hawking is guilty of a number of serious misunderstandings and logical fallacies.  Firstly, his view of God is defective…Hawking’s inadequate view of God could well be linked with his attitude to philosophy in general.  He writes, ‘Philosophy is dead.’  But this itself is a philosophical statement.  It is manifestly not a statement of science…It is a classic example of logical incoherence…Physical laws on their own cannot create anything; they are merely a (mathematical) description of what normally happens under certain conditions.  Newton’s law of gravitation does not create gravity; it does not even explain gravity, as Newton himself realized.”[2]

Lennox stated at a lecture at the 19th Annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics in Charlotte, North Carolina, that one must be careful in taking too much stock on a scientific theory or a biblical interpretation.  Note, he did not say that you could not take stock in the Bible, but just that of a certain interpretation.  As he mentioned, everyone in the medieval ages thought that the Bible and science taught that the sun rotated around the earth.  A closer examination of both proved the interpretation false.  With this in mind, I would like to challenge you to see that science does not negate belief in God by three different supposed conflicts.  You may hold a different interpretation and that is fine.  But what I seek to show in this article is that the Bible does not conflict with science nor does science conflict with the Bible…interpretations of both cause the conflict.

Does Science Conflict with Scripture in Beginnings?

Does the Big Bang Theory conflict with the biblical understanding of creation?  No, it does not.  Actually, what the Big Bang Theory does is to identify what the Bible has been stating all along; that God created the universe and everything in it ex nihilo (from nothing).  The author of Hebrews writes, “And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.”[3]  The apostle John also writes, “In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created,* and his life brought light to everyone.”[4]

So the Big Bang Theory does not demote a belief in God.  It actually supports it.  Some would claim that the universe could, as Hawking supposed (before quoted in Lennox’s work), spawn from nothing.  But, that comes from a misunderstanding of “nothing.”  Nothing means “not any thing” or the “lack of any substance.”  In other words, it means to be “non-existent.”  Hawking gets around the conundrum of “nothing” by presupposing that “nothing” means “particles and vacuums.”  But simple logic tells us that vacuums and particles are not really “nothings” but rather “somethings.”

To illustrate: suppose your spouse asks you to go to the market to buy some coffee.  You go to the market and arrive back thirty minutes later than you expected.  Your spouse asks, “What took you so long?”  You respond, “Oh, I met somebody I knew and we talked for a while.”  Your spouse responds, “Oh, who was it?”  “Nobody,” you reply.  Now, you know and your spouse knows that the “nobody” to which you refer was actually a “somebody” unless you lied and did not talk to anybody.  But if you talked to nobody, then you really didn’t talk to anybody.  So you could not have both spoken to nobody and somebody.  This breaks not only the law of contradiction (p ≠ ~p)…or an apple tree cannot both exist and not exist…but it also breaks the law of excluded middle (p v ~p)…or it must be true that an apple must either exist or not exist.  So in reality, the universe has either always existed or it must have come from a higher intelligence.  Since the evidence suggests that the universe has not always existed, it must have come from a higher intelligence.

Does Science Contradict with Scripture in Time?

If you are more prone to fundamentalist interpretations without any wiggle room, then you may wish to skip to the third and final question.  I do not seek to thwart your interpretations in any direction.  But, I do wish to show that the Bible and science do not contradict necessarily in the age of the universe.  Some hold that the universe is only 6,000 years old.  Those who hold this interpretation are called “Young Earth Creationists.”  This interpretation comes from an understanding that the Genesis account of creation states that the 6 days of creation took 24 hour periods of time and that the genealogies given are exhaustive.  With those who hold this view, their interpretation does indeed conflict with data that suggests that the universe is 13 billion years old.  So, one is wrong.  Either the scientific data is incorrect or the biblical interpretation is wrong.  But, this does not necessitate that the Bible is wrong.

Two things must be considered: the word “yom” (my) and the genealogies of Scripture.  It is absolutely necessary to hold that the word “yom” means a 24 hour period?  Actually, no.  The word “yom” is used especially in the Prophets to describe a period of time called the “yom YHWH” or the Day of the LORD.  Sometimes this day may be used to indicate one day, such as the crucifixion of the Messiah, and at other times it may be used to indicate the “last days.”  The fact is; the ancient Hebrew language only had a few thousand words.  Compare that to the millions of words used in the current English language.  Some words held multiple meanings.  The word “day” best represents “yom” because “day” itself can represent different meanings; such as, “it is a nice day” (moment in time)…”the project is due sometime Sunday” (meaning a 24 hour period)…or “did you read about the day of the dinosaurs” (a long period of time).  So the Bible itself does not necessitate a 24 hour period of time for each day, but that is the interpretation of many.[5]

Therefore, the scientific data does not conflict with the Bible or belief in God, it only conflicts with a certain interpretation.  In the end, as I told the folks at church during our study of Genesis, it really does not matter whether it took God 13 billion years to create everything or just a few days.  God is still God and God still made everything.  That really was the intent of Moses when he documented the creation narrative.  The Bible tells us that God is not on the same timeframe as are we because God is not limited by time.  “But you must not forget this one thing, dear friends: A day is like a thousand years to the Lord, and a thousand years is like a day.”[6] 

Does Science Conflict with Scripture in the Beginnings of Life?

Actually, no it does not conflict.  Even if one held to Darwinian evolution, the person would still need to believe in God.  Why?  It is because that the process understood as “evolution” is a process that acts according to laws and regulations.  That designates intelligence.  Processes and procedures do not come by random chance and by non-intelligence.  A rock does not plan a space launch.  A piece of grass does not build skyscrapers.  Inanimate things do not do intelligent things.  Even the term “natural selection” is an oxymoron.  The process of “selecting” is something that only intelligence can do.  Only something with a will can choose to select certain things over others.  How can nature, an inanimate set of things, choose anything?  It can’t!!!

Now, I must admit that I do not hold to Darwinian evolution.  When the evolutionist claims that evolution has been proven, they are stating that micro-evolution has been proven.  Even the most ardent fundamentalist person would admit this because micro-evolution speaks about adaptive changes within a species.  This is really not evolution at all, but adaptation.  Adaptation is necessary for all species to survive.

What has not been proven is macro-evolution.  Macro-evolution is the change from one species of animal to another.  Now, yes there can be changes within a species.  You can breed different types of dogs.  But you cannot breed a Doberman with a beagle and have a cat.  If you could manage that, I would say that you would definitely be on a lot of television shows.  When Charles Darwin observed the changes to the beaks of the Galapagos finches, he did not notice that the birds changed into lizards.  The birds were still birds.  Tests with fruit flies do not produce anything but other fruit flies…with adaptations yes…but they are still fruit flies.

What of the fossil record?  Doesn’t it show that animals became more complex over time?  Yes, but so does Genesis.  God first made the animals of the sea, then the birds of the air, then the wild animals, then domesticated animals (or animals that could be domesticated), and finally human beings.  So, where’s the conflict?  There is none.

Conclusion:

In this paper, I have sought to show that science really does not affect a personal belief in God at all.  From the laws of nature, the mathematical formulations ascribed to the universe, the cosmological constants of the universe, the intricate beauty of life, the moral standards given, and et cetera all show that belief in God is rational and logical.  I would close by adding another illustration given by John Lennox which I shall paraphrase.

Lennox said at the 19th Annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics that he has heard people claim that they do not see God in the universe.  He went on to say that this would be similar in saying that one could not find Henry Ford in a Ford engine.  Of course you couldn’t, the creator is far greater than the creation.  God may be more involved in everything than you might think, but unless you seek for Him and/or allow Him to find you, you will not find Him.  “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.”[7]

Bibliography:

Lennox, John C., “Are Faith and God Enemies of Reason and Science,” Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford, England: Lion Hudson, 2011).

The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

Turek, Frank, “Science Doesn’t Say Anything, Scientists Do,” Southern Evangelical Seminary publication.

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Excerpts from various lectures at the 19th Annual National Conference of Christian Apologetics, sponsored by Southern Evangelical Seminary and held at the Central Church of God, (Charlotte, NC: October 19th and 20th, 2012).  Contact http://www.ses.edu for more information concerning future conferences.

 


[1] Dr. Frank Turek, “Science Doesn’t Say Anything, Scientists Do,” Southern Evangelical Seminary.

[2] John C. Lennox, “Are Faith and God Enemies of Reason and Science,” Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target (Oxford, England: Lion Hudson, 2011), 31-33.

[3] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Heb 1:2.

[4] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 1:1–4.

[5] Some hold that there are theological problems that arise from “Old Earth Creationism.”  But this is simply not the case.  Adam and Eve would still have been the first two humans.  They still would have fallen from grace.  This means that we would still need a Savior to save us from our sinful nature.

[6] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 2 Pe 3:8.

[7] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Is 55:6.

“Two Major Problems with the Ideas of John Calvin” by Pastor Brian Chilton

Here is my refutation of Mr. Andrew Payne’s paper.  As we mentioned earlier, critical examination of ideas is imperative at the scholarly level (or in our case the graduate level).  This is not intended to be a personal attack upon Mr. Payne or necessarily his work.  This paper expounds upon two problems that I see with “extreme” Calvinist doctrine.  May God bless you on your search for truth.

Two Major Problems with the Ideas of John Calvin

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

Calvinism can be a beautiful doctrine.  Calvinism has strengths, undoubtedly.  Calvinism excels at showing God’s love through adoption and shows the favor of God upon the elect.  However, Calvinism loses its’ luster when you look at the negative side.  What of those who were not elected?  What of them?  But, deeper issues threaten Calvinism at its’ core.  Those deep issues are the problems emerging from determinism and that of evil.

Before we begin, let me add one addendum.  As this is a technically a refutation of Mr. Andrew Payne’s paper on “The Ideas of John Calvin,” I must add that this paper does not mean to insult or insinuate anything about the character and/or intelligence of my friend Mr. Payne.  We will go on as Christian brothers regardless of our differences.  This paper is not an attack upon him or even the Calvinist in general.  Rather, this paper serves to expose some of the deeper problems emerging from Calvinism.  With that in mind, let us examine the two major problems of Calvinism.

The Problem of Determinism

Calvinist doctrine leads to determinism.  What is determinism?  Determinism is the belief that everything is a matter of fate with no human free will.  By human free will, we are indicating the ability for human beings to choose.  It is a matter of the will.  The Calvinist doctrines of predestination (unconditional election for you TULIP fans) and irresistible grace lead towards determinism belief system.

Theological Problems of Calvin’s Determinism

For me, there exist at least two theological problems with Calvinism: the negation of love and the problem with evangelism.  Let us take time to evaluate these issues.

Negates the Essence of Love

Love is a reciprocated act.  If love is forced, it is no longer love.  Have you ever had a person who was infatuated with you, but you didn’t feel the same?  Ladies, how would you feel if a guy really wanted to date you, but you didn’t care a thing in the world about him?  What if that person said, “You’re going to go out with me and you’re going to like it”?  You would probably smack him upside his head.  We all know that is not the essence of real, genuine love.  As Dr. Peter Kreeft said in Lee Strobel’s classic book “The Case for Faith,” “Real love—our love of God and our love of each other—must involve a choice.  But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate…The point to remember is that creating a world where’s there’s free will and no possibility of sin is a self-contradiction—and that opens the door to people choosing evil over God, with suffering being the result.  The overwhelming majority of the pain in the world is caused by the choices to kill, to slander, to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.”[1]

When you reach to shake a person’s hand, you initiate the handshake and the second person responds, either accepting the shake or refusing it.  This is the essence of a true handshake.  It is a reciprocated action.  Love is the same thing.  God initiates the action.  It is always His to give.  The person responds either positively or negatively to the initiated act demonstrated by God.  This is the essence of love and this is the essence of John 3:16-20.

Why Evangelize?

Herein lies a huge problem for Calvinism; why evangelize?  Mr. Payne writes, “Simply put, Christianity is not universalism or inclusivism or anything of the like.  The salvation of God is meant for the elect—those whom have been chosen for salvation.”[2]  But, may I kindly ask, what is the point of evangelism?  Why should we witness?  If God decides without any human responsibility, then why tell people about Jesus?

Now many Calvinists will state that evangelism is done in order to obey the commands of God.  But that argument itself implies the human capacity to choose or reject the commands of God.  If God determines human action, then why does God not automatically make us keep His commandments?  But if God did cause us to keep His commandments, then why is it so difficult to keep His commandments.  Furthermore, if God makes humans choose Him, then why did God allow Adam and Eve to fall from His grace in the first place?  Adam and Eve knew God fully, but were given a choice.  They chose to reject God.  Doesn’t the story of the Fall seem to indicate that humans can freely reject the grace of God?  This would have consequences even in salvation.  If God causes humans decide or reject God’s grace, then why did Jesus need to come and atone our sins in the first place?  Why not cause the elect to live perfectly and without sin so that the elect would not need a Savior?  But the great missionary Paul shows the difficulty in keeping the law of God, “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.* I want to do what is right, but I can’t.  I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”[3]

Now the Calvinist will say, “Yes, but the passage claims that it is the sin within Paul that does causes this problem.”  That is true.  But, Paul shows that his sinful nature causes a rift in his relationship with God.  In the end, he still has the decision to listen to the sin nature or to God’s law.  The Calvinist will say, “Yes, but with his sin nature, Paul would not be able to know God without God revealing the truth to him.”  The Arminian would agree with that, too.  But, Paul expounds on this later in Romans.  He states, “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”[4]  Here is Paul living in the Spirit who is making a choice.  Allowing sin to control your life leads to death.  However, letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace, as Paul writes.  Again, a decision process in the Spirit is shown in this case.

Getting back to the point of evangelism, if God does the saving completely without human interference, then why does God not just tell everyone Himself?  Why use human beings?  What then would be the point of the Great Commission?

Philosophical Problems of Calvin’s Determinism

Two philosophical problems emerge from Calvin’s determinism: the elimination of human responsibility and the essence of participating in this very examination of doctrine.   Let us examine them now.

Eliminates Human Responsibility

I will keep this brief at this point as I expound on this issue later.  But, the problem in Calvin’s determinism is that is can easily create lazy Christians.  Being of the freewill Baptist persuasion (meaning that I am Arminian with the sole exception of the perseverance of the saints doctrine of Calvinism), we met a woman who was of a more holiness background.  She said to me, “There is one problem I have wit’ you Baptists.  Y’all hold that a person can git saved and then live like the Devil.  I don’t git that.”  I told her, “Ma’am, I would not be a Baptist either if that is really what Baptists believed.”  Obviously, there are some who hold that as long as they are saved, they don’t have to worry about doing anything else.  But is that a true mark of a disciple?  I think not.

Calvinism in its’ extreme form could lead to belief in justified Christian laziness.  However, the Bible clearly teaches about the Judgment Seat of Christ for believers.  That’s right…believers.  It is not a judgment that leads to condemnation, but a judgment that evaluates one’s deeds done in the Body of Christ.  Why would this be necessary if all of our deeds were enacted by God with no human responsibility?

Why Engage in This Process?

It was classic!  On a podcast of CrossExamined with Dr. Frank Turek, a caller chimed in and said, “Science has proven that people do not have free will and everything is predetermined.”  Dr. Turek responded, “Okay, do you and the scientists who did that investigation have the free will to decide the findings were true?”  The caller mumbled and murmured as he knew that Dr. Turek had him in his tracks.[5]

In the end, it is logically inconsistent to claim that humans do not have free will when we are employing are freedom reading this article.  You are choosing to read this article and you are choosing to decide which track to take.  Yes, God has to illumine our minds to His existence and to His salvation that He gives.  But, to negate the freewill is to negate an aspect of character that God gives to us.

The Problem of Evil

Perhaps one of the greatest problems with Calvinism and many Calvinists would concede is the problem of evil within the framework of Calvinism.  How does one deal with evil in the world while holding that God predetermines every action?  At the outset, that would conclude some difficult things about God.  Let us look at the theological and philosophical problems concerning Calvinism and the problem of evil.

Theological Problems of Evil with Calvinism

Two theological problems exist with the problem of evil concerning Calvinism: the essence of God’s holiness and evil and the negation of human responsibility.

God’s Holiness (Causes God to be the Source of Evil)

Many view Saint Augustine as a Calvinist which is highly anachronistic.  Yet in Augustine’s classic work City of God, Augustine takes what I would consider an Arminian position although that too is anachronistic.  Augustine understood the natural end of assuming God’s absolute sovereignty with the absence of human free will.  It causes God to be the author of sin.  As Augustine writes about the beliefs of Cicero, who seemed to be more in line with Open Theism, Augustine writes, “Cicero chooses free will.  To support this, he denies foreknowledge and thus, in seeking to make men free, he makes them irreverent.  For the religious mind chooses both, foreknowledge as well as liberty; it acknowledges both, and supports both in pious faith.”[6]  Augustine continues later in his book with these words,

“It does not follow, then, that there is nothing in our will because God foreknew what was going to be in our will; for if he foreknew this, it was not nothing that he foreknew.  Further, if, in foreknowing what would be in our will, he foreknew something, and not nonentity, it follows immediately that there is something in our will, even if God foreknows it.  Hence we are in no way compelled either to preserve God’s prescience by abolishing our free will, or to safeguard our free will by denying (blasphemously) the divine foreknowledge.  We embrace both truths, and acknowledge them in faith and sincerity, the one for a right belief, the other for a right life.  And yet a man’s life cannot be right without a right belief about God.  Therefore, let us never dream of denying his foreknowledge in the interests of our freedom; for it is with his help that we are, or shall be, free…The fact that God foreknew that a man would sin does not make a man sin; on the contrary, it cannot be doubted that it is the man himself who sins just because he whose prescience cannot be mistaken has foreseen that the man himself would sin.  A man does not sin unless he wills to sin; and if he had willed not to sin, then God would have foreseen that refusal.”[7] 

Here we see that Augustine solves the problem, but not the mystery.  There will always be a mystery on how sovereignty and free will merge.  However, to reject God’s sovereignty (in this case “foreknowledge”) is blasphemous and to reject human free will is irresponsible.  So, foreknowledge is the answer.  This is missing in Calvinist doctrine, but not in Augustinian doctrine, at least according to the passage formerly mentioned.  Yes, Augustine would agree that God is working in the person to bring salvation.  The Arminian would agree.  But, Augustine would also claim that free will is engaged in the process, as well.  As such, the Arminian would also agree.

To deny human freedom in at least some sense is to purport God as the initiator of sin.  This would go against God’s holiness at its core.  With all due respect to my Calvinist friends, the issue of human will is something that has not been explained in Calvinist doctrine.  To deny the will is to make God the originator of sin.  God could not be holy if God caused sin.  So, herein is a great problem that the Calvinist must seek to solve.  To claim that it is a mystery that God forces a person to be saved without making God the reason for evil without seeking a solution, while I would submit that Arminianism gives a solution, is disastrous for the Calvinist cause.  For the Calvinist, this is an issue that must be worked out.

Although coming from a Molinist perspective, Drs. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland show the difficulty of Calvinism.  Although Arminianism would be considered compatibilist, it would be more in line with Molinism than would Calvinism.  They write, “Compatabilists have a more difficult time with the existence of evil because, on their view, God determines everything that happens, including the sinful acts of his creatures.”[8]

                        Negates Human Responsibility

Many naturalists do not believe in the human soul.  But, a severe internal problem exists when one denies the human soul; mainly, the denial of human responsibility.  If we our being is only that of neurons and neurotransmitters, then how is it that anyone can take personal responsibility?  Our bodies constantly change.  We lose molecules and cells and are replaced with new ones.  You are literally not the physical person you were ten years ago.  So then; if there is not a constant of the being (separate from the brain), then how do we hold anyone accountable for anything?  How could you condemn a person for a crime committed earlier when their body is not the same as it was?  We all can clearly see the ridiculous nature of such an argument.  The fact that we consistently stay the same person gives credence to the belief of a soul.

However, we can hold a person responsible in a court of law because of the conscious decisions that mind/soul person committed.  Why?  We do so because we realize that people have the inherit ability to make decisions.  If we take extreme Calvinism to its natural end, how then could we condemn anyone for a bad decision that was made?  Would it not be God’s fault instead of the person’s?  This leads to some dangerous ends.  Consider the Sandy Hook tragedy.  Would any rational Christian claim that God desired the events of that infamous day?  How then could we call God a God of love as John proclaims?

Some would say, “Well, you shouldn’t question God.”  Is it not the whole enterprise of philosophy and theology to examine and question what the attributes of God are?  But look at Habakkuk and Job.  That is exactly what they did.  Look at the Psalmists.  They did the same.  It is true that God uses all events to bring good for God’s children.  But, God causes events to happen while allowing for human response.  The Arminian recognizes that God knows beforehand what a human decision will be and works through those decisions.  God absolutely knows what will happen because God is not restrained by time.  However, that does not mean that God takes away human will to do so.  Perhaps one of the greatest theological problems with Calvinism is this issue: it takes the responsibility of evil from the human and places it on God.  If I am wrong on this issue, I beg the Calvinist to explain it further.  But, I cannot see how this does not occur.

Philosophical Problems of Evil with Calvinism

For me, there exist three philosophical problems to Calvinism in the realm of evil.  We must ask if God predetermines human actions, why is there anyone who winds up in hell.  Also, if God predetermines human actions, why should we concern ourselves with injustices?  Finally, we must ask ourselves why there is evil in the first place.

                        Why Some to Hell?

Let us examine the following verse of Scripture: “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.”[9]  In the Greek text, it reads, οὐ βραδύνει κύριος τῆς ἐπαγγελίας, ὥς τινες βραδύτητα ἡγοῦνται, ἀλλὰ μακροθυμεῖ εἰς ὑμᾶς, μὴ βουλόμενός τινας ἀπολέσθαι ἀλλὰ πάντας εἰς μετάνοιαν χωρῆσαι.”[10]  Trying to keep this response as brief as possible, let us examine the last segment.  “μὴ (not) βουλόμενός (wishing) τινας (any) ἀπολέσθαι (to persish/die) ἀλλὰ (but) πάντας (ALL) εἰς (to) μετάνοιαν (repentance) χωρῆσαι (to reach/to go).”[11]

I have heard some claim that “any” represented the elect.  However, I cannot see that as exegetically viable.  Herein is the problem: if God desired everyone to come to repentance (which implies that God does not desire anyone to go to Hell) and forces one to come to repentance, then why is there some people who go to Hell?  Something is fishy here.  But, if we take the viewpoint that Augustine gave in the earlier text in “The City of God” and that which Jacobus Arminius gave, the problems subside.

Why Stand Up for Injustices?

As this article is getting longer by the moment, I will briefly summarize the last two points to be made.  The Calvinist states that man cannot know to do good or certainly would not know God without God causing him or her to do good or know God.  Taking this to its natural end; if this is the case, then why should the people of God stand up for injustice?  The prophet Isaiah writes, “Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows.”[12] 

These are powerful words the prophet gave from the mouth of God.  From God’s breath to Isaiah’s lips to the pen’s ink, we learn that the child of God should stand up against social oppression and defend those who cannot defend themselves.  We should be real life Avenger, but without the cool suits of Captain America, the mechanics of Iron Man, and the rippling muscles of the Hulk.[13]  But we do have a hammer that strikes far deeper than Thor’s…the Bible.  Nonetheless, this whole enterprise would be lost if we did not recognize the fact that humans have the response to accept God’s grace that God gives or to freely reject.  Injustice should make us angry.  But, that anger is not directed at God, the source of love and grace.  It is directed at the offenders.  Why would this even make logical sense if human will did not exist?

                        Why Even Evil?

All of these problems escalate to an issue that has been indirectly ascribed with Calvinist thought: the existence of evil.  If God maintained control over wills like a benevolent dictator, then why does evil exist?  Jesus brought it out and John confirmed the fact that God is love.  It is found all throughout the Bible: God is love.  “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.[14]  So the Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion.  For the Lord is a faithful God.  Blessed are those who wait for his help.[15]  So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”[16] “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”[17]

Why then is there evil?  Well, I think Jesus tells us why.  “And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”[18]  Why does the atheist get so angry with the Christian?  I think much of it is due to conviction.  I really think that everyone has a knowledge that God could at least possibly exist.  But many atheists concede the fact that they do not WANT God to exist.  Why?  Maybe it is due to what Jesus referenced.  Evil could not be known unless there was a standard for good.  Evil is the absence of good.  Or, evil is the absence of God.

Consider this.  Back in the forties and fifties (laying aside the racial prejudices that are inexcusable), a belief in God resonated strongly in the atmosphere of the general populace.  Guns were as accessible, if not moreso, than today.  Yet, you did not hear of school shootings and random massacres as prevalent as you do today.  Why?  It was because that people allowed God to be the central focus for the most part.  This does not mean that times were perfect…far from it.  But, there existed a desire to help a fellow person in deed much more than today.  When you take God out of the equation, bad things follow.  Why?  People CHOOSE to reject the grace of God and go their own way.  The absence of God brings forth evil.

Conclusion:

In my estimation, many more problems exist in Calvinism that does in Arminian doctrine.  I clearly admit that it could be that I am wrong and that Calvinism is right.  So for my Calvinist friends, don’t grab the ropes and seek to hang me.  It may very well be that the Calvinist holds answers to these great dilemmas.  But, to the extent that I can tell, none of these issues have ever successfully been defended.  I do not seek to negate the authority or the intellect of the Calvinist.  Quite frankly, I have many friends who are Calvinist and I highly respect them.  But, in this paper, I have sought to show the problems that come forth from Calvinism.  It is for the reasons that I have mentioned that keep me from accepting Calvinism in its’ entirety.

***NOTE:  It is my great hope that you have taken the time to read both sides and both rebuttals.  Essentially in the end, it is up to you the reader to decide where the evidence lies.  May the Sovereign God bless you and keep you…and lead you to freely choose the right decision (wink…wink).  God bless. ***

Bibliography:

Craig, William Lane and J.P. Moreland, “Free Will and Determinism,” Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003).

Holmes, Michael W., The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010).

Payne, Drew, “The Ideas of John Calvin,” www.pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com/2012/01/15/the-ideas-of-john-calvin-by-j-andrew-payne/.

St. Augustine, Book V.9.4, The City of God (London: Penguin Classics, 1972).

Strobel, Lee, “Objection #1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot,” The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

Turek, Frank, “Can Science Rule Out God,” http://www.crossexamined.org.


[1] Lee Strobel, “Objection #1: Since Evil and Suffering Exist, a Loving God Cannot,” The Case for Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 37-38.

[2] Drew Payne, “The Ideas of John Calvin,” 3.

[3] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ro 7:18–20.

[4] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Ro 8:6.

[5] Dr. Frank Turek, “Can Science Rule Out God,” http://www.crossexamined.org.

[6] St. Augustine, Book V.9.4, The City of God (London: Penguin Classics, 1972), 191.

[7] Ibid, V.10, 195.

[8] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, “Free Will and Determinism,” Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 282.

[9] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 2 Pe 3:9.

[10] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Logos Bible Software, 2010), 2 Pe 3:9.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Is 1:17.

[13] Avenger characters owned and are copyrighted by Marvel Comics…all rights reserved.

[14] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Dt 7:9.

[15] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Is 30:18.

[16] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 13:34–35.

[17] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), 1 Jn 4:8.

[18] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007), Jn 3:19.

“Why Not Arminianism?” by Andrew Payne

As we mentioned before, Mr. Payne and I come from two different viewpoints on the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.  Mr. Payne is a classic Calvinist whereas I am more in line with Arminianism.  The following paper is a rebuttal to my previous paper “Why Arminianism.”  I will soon post my rebuttal to his paper on Calvinism.  As my professor at Liberty University, Dr. R. Wayne Stacy, stated in class, “At the scholarly level, we must understand that the critique of ideas is not a personal attack.”  This is why I post both sides of the equation to let you decide which conforms the Scripture the best.  It is in these papers that we seek to also show that it is possible and reasonable for us as Christians to be able to disagree and still show the love of Christ.  So, without further ado, here is the rebuttal to my paper by Mr. Payne.

Why Not Arminianism: A Critical Response to Arminianism

by J. Andrew Payne

            This essay is an attempt to refute the claims of Arminianism. It must be noted at the start that it is not intended as a personal attack to the individual ascribing to a more Arminian view, nor is it meant to incite anger. Its purpose is educational, with the hope that those who read it will be blessed by it and will be forced to delve deeper into their faith. It is the conviction of this author that, though Arminianism is mistaken in its view of God, it is not a heresy. Still, it does raise several points that when taken to their furthest conclusions, present the believer with some troubling conclusions.

As it is the fact that the current debate is one that has been fought by literally thousands of individuals over hundreds of years, producing thousands (if not millions) of pages worth of text espousing one view or another, I would urge the reader to not stop here, but rather to thrust themselves into the literature that has been produced. Considering the voluminous works that have been produced on this subject, the summary of the arguments presented here is hardly to be considered adequate. Instead, due to the constraints of the format, the issues here are only briefly described and deserve the much fuller treatment that they receive in, say, the works of John Owen. It would be best if the reader would delve into the literature of both sides so as to not be overly biased in their research and more prone to error. But finally, no matter what conclusion the reader finds themselves facing, it must be remembered and believed with the firmest of convictions, that God is the God of the Bible, and that He is good, loving, and worthy of our worship, no matter how He might momentarily appear to us. He is not subject to our judgment, but rather we are subject to His.

Limitation and the Power of God

            The seeming paradox that has consumed the majority of the discussion of the controversial issue of predestination often takes a turn to the discussion of the full limits and bounds of God’s omnipotence. That God can be all knowing and all powerful, controlling everything, seems to be at odds with the freewill of man. It seems that they are each on opposite sides of a scale with the increase of one entailing necessarily the decrease of the other. But how should one approach this issue? Wherever one falls on this issue, one should work out his salvation in the fear and trembling that Philippians 2:12 speaks of, recognizing the full consequences of the beliefs acquired through such a study. How one answers these issues impacts directly how one comes to view God.

The claim of Arminius and his followers is that Calvin extended the power of God beyond its natural employment, though not its natural ability. That is to say that, while it does not limit God’s power, it limits God’s actualized power, or rather, that power which He actually employs on a regular basis in the affairs of the world. Consider what Pastor Chilton wrote, “The Arminian does not reject the sovereignty of God. Arminians have a high view of God’s power. However, just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time? Could God not limit Himself in some ways?” Pastor Chilton goes on quote Philippians 2:5-8 to support it this view, claiming that Christ, upon taking human form, chose to limit Himself. But is this a proper example? Can such a view of God’s providence be accurate?

As a starting point for how I am going to treat Providence, consider this passage from Spurgeon:

“Providence is such a checkered thing, and you and I are so prone to misjudge God and to come to rash conclusions concerning His dealings with us, that perhaps this is the greatest stronghold of our natural atheism – a doubt of God’s dealings with us in the arrangements of outward affairs…We find most men very willing to confess that God is God of the hills, but they forget that He is also Lord of the valleys. They will grant that He deals with great masses, but not with individuals; with seas in bulk, but not with drops. Most men forget, however, that the fact which they believe of providence being in great things involves a providence in the little, for it were an inconsistent belief that the mass were in God’s hand, whilst the atom was left to chance; it is indeed a belief that contradicts itself; we must believe all chance or else all God.”[1]

As a basic starting point for viewing God’s providence, it is essential that the reader grasp the all encompassing nature of such providence. The will and power of God inundates every moment, not only causing it to be in a certain way, but causing it to be. As Spurgeon pointed out so well, it is an all or nothing game.

Such a view is not at all anathema to the view of God’s providence as set out in the Scriptures. Jesus Himself speaks of how a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without the consent of God (Mat. 10:29-30). If a sparrow is subject to such intricate providential care, it would seem to be absurd that a man, whom Jesus says is “worth more than many sparrows,” somehow falls outside of God’s providential care – especially concerning the single most important event of a man’s life: salvation.

Those familiar with the argument of First Causality or the Cosmological Argument, are well aware of the necessity of God’s continual sustaining of every existent thing’s Being.[2] Being, according to Aristotle, is predicated of a thing as an accident, that is, as something a thing possesses but which it possesses apart from its nature.[3] Thomist philosopher Joseph Owens states that, “An accident is a form or act that perfects a substance in a secondary way. It actuates the substance, tough in accidental fashion. The substance, consequently, is in this respect a potency for accidents.”[4] This brings up another important term distinction that needs to be elaborated on: act and potency. For purposes of simplicity, it is easiest to understand these terms by using other words. Act speaks to what a thing is in actuality, whereas potency speaks to what a thing is in potential.[5] A rubbery red ball is in current actuality just that: a rubbery red ball. However, being composed of a rubbery substance, containing the nature of rubber, if said ball were tossed on a grill, it would melt. This melting is the transition between one way of being – rubber being formed accidentally into the form of a red ball – into another potential way for rubber to be: melted goo.

To the rubber in the above example, the accidents were redness and ballness. Rubber is not of its nature red or of its nature a ball. These accidents did not exist within the rubber’s nature, but were given to it, or caused by another to exist in it. Because of this, accidental properties must be caused to exist within a thing. And if Being itself is predicated of a thing as an accident, then Being itself must be caused to exist in such a way. When one follows the chain of causes back, it quickly becomes apparent that one needs an uncaused cause. This is more than just motion moving things such as the expansion of the universe, but the very cause causing them to be as they are. This cause cannot be traced back forever and requires that there be a subsistent being – that is, a being that exists of itself causing itself to be. To those with any familiarity with the cosmological argument, this being is said to be God.

So if the subsistent being of Aristotelian metaphysics, affirmed by St. Thomas Aquinas, is God (though this tells us nothing of the person, or rather, persons of God), what implications does this have upon Providence? In short it means that without God’s causing a thing to exist, it would not exist. There is literally no “outside of God.” Outside of God is nothingness. As Norman Geisler put it, “The God of the Bible not only existed before all things, but all things also exist because of Him. He is Pure existence, who gave existence to everything else that exists. Without Him nothing else would exist.”[6]

It is a tendency for Christians to view this argument as the argument of the Unmoved Mover who first set all things that exist into motion. As such, it is common for the believer to adopt a more Deistic view, supposing that God set the universe in motion and merely lets it play itself out. From this point, in order to cause the precise ending that is desired (the ending prophesied about in Revelation), God merely reinserts Himself into creation and finagles with it to bring about the desired conclusion. Because of this we feel comfortable in adopting a view that He only overcomes the will of man on certain events of magnanimous importance, such as that of King Cyrus the Great releasing the Israelites. But what was presented before was not the argument of the Unmoved Mover, but rather, the argument from a First Cause. That first cause is not a linier thing, but rather that which causes all things at all times to exist – it gives being to all existence.

The Simplicity of God shows us that God is without parts, or indivisible.[7] As such, His knowledge is one with His causality. It is not incorrect to say that His very knowledge of things causes them to be.[8] This being true, no event can escape the providential hand of God, as it is through His sovereign power that all events are. The idea that God is limited in any way by His creation is by extension absurd, as it is instead creation which is limited by Him.

By consideration, then, is the claim that God chose to limit himself even tenable against such doctrine? Pastor Chilton’s question, “just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time?” becomes quite curious in such lights. Along with it, such an interpretation of Philippians 2:5-8 would be instantly ruled out. This is not to deny the Scriptures, but simply to deny one interpretation of them for the following reasons.

Firstly, it is inconceivable for God to merely set aside His power even for an instant as it is the very exercising of His power which grants being to all existence. Secondly, it must be recognized that the person of Christ adopting the form of a man in no way limited the being of God. Rather, since Christ contained within Himself the full power of God, whenever He calmed the storms with a word, it was in fact He who caused the storm but also who calmed it for He gave being to both. The incarnation of Christ was an event so mind boggling that theologians and philosophers have been grappling with it ever since. In the person of Jesus is contained the entirety of God, as a simple being.

As God is the cause of each moment, it follows that He is the cause of all future moments. His predestination is inescapable. But it is not incompatible with the freewill of man. As was pointed out in the previous essay on the ideas of John Calvin, Calvin in fact did not deny freewill when it is defined as the freedom to choose between alternatives. He merely denies that the choice between good and evil as a way of being existed within the prerogative of man. As freewill exists, then, as a property of created beings, it is not incompatible with God’s providence as it is God who gives being to such freedom. However as God is the only being who is not contingent upon another, it is only He who can be truly called free in the purest form.[9]

Restated and simplified, the proposed argument of Pastor Chilton, speaking for the Arminian position, was that God would have to limit Himself in order for man to have free choice. Since this free choice is something God endows each human being with, it would follow that what is claimed, in effect, is that God created a rock that He cannot move. Is such a proposition something that should be accepted by believers? If so, we can no longer speak of an Infinite God, but rather, simply, of a God who is limited by His creation and to some extent, now, Finite. Such conclusions should deeps perturb believers.

Election by Foreknowledge

            If what was written above is true, and God is the creator and sustainer of every moment – the One who gives being to every moment – then what would election by foreknowledge even mean? God’s foreknowledge would be the same as His current knowledge, thus election would not be election by foreknowledge but simply election. As Pastor Chilton has affirmed, God is not limited by time, and as such it would seem inconsistent to predicate of Him that He chooses out of His knowledge of the future.

God’s knowledge is now seen to not only know, but to cause. This does not allow for the Arminian’s attempt to assert that God’s choosing is merely His allowance of events to play out in a certain way. All events must now exist as God wants them to exist for His purposes, and this means that He created this world and chose upon its creation who would be saved and who would not. He is in complete control and, short of limiting God, there would seem to be no way to escape such conclusions. God is the cause of the future equally as much as He is the cause of the now for there is no future for God. Thus election cannot be by foreknowledge.

Now inevitably one is going to bring up the problem of evil as a trump card to refute such a claim. As this question is a complex question that falls outside of the scope of this immediate debate, I will have to leave it unanswered for the moment. Suffice to say that the problem of evil is still a problem for the Arminian as much as it is for the Calvinist. The answer, unsurprisingly, is merely different for each. However, as it is equally a problem for each, it is unsuitable as an argument urging the reader towards Arminianism.[10]

Providence in Salvation

            2 Peter 3:9 (as well as Matthew 23:37 and 1 Timothy 2:4) is often quoted in order to establish that God’s salvation is contingent upon man’s own will. As Pastor Chilton expressed, he can see no alternative interpretation to that passage apart from the freedom of man to choose salvation. The argument is made that though God could force man to come, He simply chooses to leave that choice up to man alone. While admittedly a sticky verse to navigate for the professing Five Point Calvinist, it must not be taken as a statement by itself. It is merely one part of the cumulative revelation of God found in the Bible. Other verses seem to make contrary statements such as John 6:65, “(Jesus) said, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted to him by the Father.”[11]  Ephesians 1:11 states, “In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will.” Philippians 2:12 has already been mentioned, but consider the following verse, “For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose.” Romans 9 is a rather infamous passage in this debate as it is a powerful testimony to the destitute state of the will of man with regard to choosing between good and evil. This passage reminds the reader that God is righteous in choosing some and not others (9:7-13) establishing that the righteous judgments of God are not things subject to the judgments of man but rather that man is indeed subject to God’s judgment. It quotes Exodus 33:19 to great effect declaring, “I will show mercy to whom I show mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (9:15) My purpose in quoting all of these passages is not to call some ‘contrary’ verses into question but rather to illustrate that taking individual verses and holding them above others will never accurately depict how one should approach interpretation. The fact is that all verses exist as a part of the whole. Such an interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9 is only further exacerbated when one takes into account the metaphysical constraints as outlined in the above section on the freedom and the power of God. What might seem to be a more favorable interpretation that is concomitant with the other passages is that though God desires all, He does not call all to salvation, but instead made some as objects of His wrath. It is an important distinction to make.

Conclusion

As affirmed in the previous essay on the ideas of Calvin, this author must then continue to affirm that salvation is not a choice but a state of being that exists as a creative act of God. With this the believer is forced to reconcile within themselves the full extent of their faith. Just how far are they willing to follow God? The individual who affirms the infallibility of the gospel must simultaneously affirm that God’s righteousness is no more contingent upon our judgment than the salvation of man is contingent upon man’s will.

This is no small issue that is reconciled within the heart of man. It requires that the individual grasp the hand of God and hold tightly to it in faith even when the answers to our problems are not readily made available. Our knowledge of God must maintain, in spite of a world full of pain and heartache, that He is still providential. And though such a world seems at times irreconcilable with a God of grace, we maintain that there is an answer, even if we as individuals don’t see it in the present moment. But the problem of pain is never something that should be answered in the minds of man by limiting the power of God that we hold to, for it is the very same power of God that our very faith is tied to. A limitation of the power of God that we allow for in our minds is simultaneously a limitation on our faith. As brothers and sisters in Christ we must not do this, but rather turn to the One who is our salvation, and trust in His faithful Word.


[1] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Providence” in Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5 (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 372-373.

[2] Though this is not a proper philosophical definition, the word “being” is here termed to mean all things existing as they are. As this paper is not predominately a philosophical treatise on Being or Metaphysics, I will try to keep the explanation here as basic as possible without employing too many technical terms.

[3] Joseph Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Milwaukee, University of Notre Dame Press, 2011), 74.

[4] Ibid, 76.

[5] Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginners Guide (Oxford, Oneworld Publications, 2009), 10-11.

[6] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2 (Bloomington, MN, Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 31.

[7] Ibid, 39.

[8] Reginald Garrigou-Legrange, Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (United States of America, Ex Fontibus Co., 2007), 83-84.

[9] An Elementary Christian Metaphysics, 99.

[10] This author would be more than willing to, at a further date in time, continue this debate further with a discussion of the problem of pain and the problem of evil. It too is a subject of much controversy that merits a Christians attention but that must be treated delicately.

[11] All references taken from the HCSB.

“What’s Wrong with Open Theism?”

Click here for the episode on “Redeeming Truth” that deals with Open Theism.

What’s Wrong with Open Theism?

by: Pastor Brian Chilton

Does God know the future?  Most evangelical Christians would say yes.  However, a good number of Christians would say no.  Who are those who would espouse such an answer?  Adherents of Open Theism would say that God does not know the future.  There are various versions of Open Theism with various degrees of how the Open Theist views God’s restraint with time.  Since this is an abbreviated article, we will have to spend time with only the general problem of placing time restrictions on God.

Various doctrinal problems arise out of an extreme view of Open Theism.  In this brief article, I would like to espouse four problems with Open Theism which would cause severe doctrinal problems when taken to their natural ends: the demotion of God’s Omnipotence, the demerit of the power of prayer, the deification of time, and the endangerment to end-times.

1. Demotes God’s Omnipotence (Almighty Power)

The first major problem suffering Open Theism is the demotion of God’s Omnipotence.  The word “Omnipotence” means “all powerful.”  In other words, omnipotence is the description of God’s power to do all things logically consistent.  By logically consistent, I mean that God would not make a square circle.  Yet, in the great mystery of it all, God created logic itself.  Solomon writes in his melancholic book, Ecclesiastes, “God gives wisdom, knowledge, and joy to those who please him” (Ecclesiastes 2:26, NLT).  How could God give wisdom if He did not create it?  For me, this is problematic with Molinism which seems to make a dualism with God and logic.  But I must admit that I do not completely understand the tenets of Molinism.

John makes it clear in the first of his gospel, “In the beginning the Word already existed.  The Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He existed in the beginning with God.  God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him” (John 1:1-3, NLT).  The Bible even credits God with omnipotence.  “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns” (Revelation 19:6, NKJV)!  We could go on and on with the biblical references to God’s “almighty power.”  Since this is an abbreviated article.  This will have to suffice for now.

But let us point out that since everything came from God, time itself came from God.  This, too, is what the scientific data points to, as well.  We will discuss this in more detail on the third point.  But for the time, it should be noted that God has no equal.   Another problem exists with Open Theism.  This next problem deals with the arena of prayer.

2. Demerits the Power of Prayer

A second theological problem that exists with Open Theism is in the arena of prayer.  If God does not know the future, then how could we trust Romans 8:28-30?  “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30, NASB).  If God is restrained by time, then how could God foreknow anything?  If God could not foreknow anything, then how could God predestine anything?  If God could not predestine anything, then how could we know that God could make all things work together for good?  If God could not work all things together for good, then how is God still omnipotent?  If God is not omnipotent, then why should we ask God for help in our prayers as Jesus, Paul, James, and others instructs?  I would not say that prayer becomes unprofitable, because the Open Theist could bring about the relational aspect that we all need with God.  But, I would say that the Open Theist loses a great deal of comfort in God’s ability to bring about good teleological ends unlike the Arminian and Calvinist.  Another problem exists in my mind with Open Theism and that is the issue of time itself.

3. Deifies Time

An element of blasphemy is potential with Open Theism.  That blasphemy could come by the deification of time.  God stands alone.  If time is made superior to God, then in essence time must be greater than God and may be seen as God…as strange as that sounds.  Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae writes about how there must be a Prime Mover.  The first to move is not restrained by time.

“It should be said that we must affirm that whatever in any way exists is from God, for if something is found to be in a thing through participation, it must be caused in it by that which essentially is that something as iron is heated by fire.  It was shown above, however, when we treated of the divine simplicity, that God is subsistent existence itself, and it was also shown that subsistent existence must be unique just as if there were a subsistent whiteness there could only be one, since whitenesses are multiplied by recipients.  It follows therefore that nothing apart from God can be its own existence, but rather participates in existence.  Therefore it is necessary that all the things that are diversified because of diverse participation in being, such that they are more or less perfect, are caused by the first being who is most perfect” (Thomas Aquinas, “On Creation,” 361-362).

Yes, there is a lot in the previous paragraph, but Aquinas in nonetheless logical and factual in his assessment.  God is the source of all things.  As John said in his gospel, “nothing was created except through him” (John 1:3).  So, placing any limits on God even limiting God in time negates the biblical concept of God.  Since there is evidence that the Bible is God’s word (let the reader know that we will deal with this issue in a later article and show), then to go against the solid teaching of Scripture could be claimed to be heretical.  Yet another problem exists for Open Theism and that is found in the realm of eschatology.

4. Endangers End-times

Lastly, let us consider the danger if the Open Theist is right.  If God does not know time, then God is not omnipotent.  If God is not omnipotent, then there could be a possibility that God could lose to Satan.  We could say that the deck is still stacked against Satan, but what if Satan tricked God by some means?  This opens up a disastrous scene.  Worse than a movie that ends on a sour note, all of history could prove to be in big trouble.  Yet that is not the idea I receive from reading the book of Revelation.  As a matter of fact, the way I read Revelation, Armaggedon will not be much of a battle.  God will lower the boom and then…game over.

This is what the text states, “When the thousand years come to an end, Satan will be let out of his prison.  He will go out to deceive the nations—called Gog and Magog—in every corner of the earth. He will gather them together for battle—a mighty army, as numberless as sand along the seashore.  And I saw them as they went up on the broad plain of the earth and surrounded God’s people and the beloved city. But fire from heaven came down on the attacking armies and consumed them.  Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:7-10, NLT).  That’s it.  The Devil gives it one more try.  God lowers the boom…and that’s it.  As I type this, I can feel the change in the barometric pressure as a severe storm front approaches.  It is very ominous.  Can you imagine the troops joining Satan as they arm up against the gates of heaven?  Can you imagine the power emanating above them as God begins to strike?  The power surging and charging causing perhaps the hair to rise on the backs of the perverse.  Could they for a moment realize the doom that faces them?  Then…BOOM!!!  The end.  No great cosmic battle.  No big finish.  Just a big strike sending the powers of evil to their eternal end…a lake burning with crimson and sulfur.  But if God is restrained by time, why on earth would God reveal God’s own plans before God enacts them?  Some will ask why would a loving God do this?  How could a loving God not do this and allow evil to run rampant?  That’s the key.

Conclusion:

Short and simple, Open Theism does not work.  We have discussed four problems with Open Theism, but I dare say that many more exist with Open Theism.  Do I think Open Theism is a heresy?  Yes, I believe it is.  But, we should not condemn our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who hold this view.  We should seek to correct their fallacious views with great love.  It may be that the Open Theist will receive far more comfort when he or she realizes that God has everything under control.

Works Cited:

Aquinas, Thomas, “On Creation. Summa Theologiae, I, 44 (1268), Thomas Aquinas Selected Writings (London: Penquin Classics,               1998).

New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).

The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982).

Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation, 3rd ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2007).

“Why Arminianism?” by Pastor Brian Chilton

Why Arminianism?

 Pastor Brian Chilton

Theologians ask big questions concerning big issues.  One of the great questions in theology is based around the issue of the sovereignty of God and the free will of humanity.  In this brief exposition, we will list abbreviated summaries on why Arminianism is a biblical concept.  We will look at the basics of Arminian theology.  While we examine the basics of Arminianism, we will also examine the misconceptions of Arminianism.  The core tenets of Arminianism are: Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God, Election by Foreknowledge, Unlimited Atonement, Resistible Grace, and Falling from Grace.

The five core beliefs are antagonistic to the “TULIP” beliefs of Calvinism.  But, it is not as extremely different as some may be inclined to think.

 Depravity of Man, Enlightened by God

Arminians believe that man[1] is depraved.  As Paul writes, “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” [2]  Some would ask, “Doesn’t that mean that no one has the capacity to choose?”  Not really.  Isaiah writes, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.”[3]  The act of “seeking” is a personal thing.  It is part of the human equation.  So, this depravity means that we are morally corrupt, but does not necessarily mean that this depravity has completely deadened one’s theological senses entirely.  For, every person has an inclination to worship God.  This is an inclination given to us by God.  As Paul writes, For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”[4]

The Arminian would agree with the concept that man cannot know anything about God without it being first revealed.  Arminians and Wesleyans call this “Prevenient Grace.”  This means that God calls us by His Spirit and reveals His truths to us from whence man has a free will to choose or reject His grace.

 

Election by Foreknowledge

The Arminian does not reject the sovereignty of God.  Arminians have a high view of God’s power.  However, just because God is omnipotent, does it require that He use all of His power all the time?  Could God not limit Himself in some ways?  Well, the Bible seems to indicate that He can and in fact did.  Consider the ancient hymn listed in Philippians 2.  Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”[5]  Christ limited Himself to come to earth.  Could God not do the same to allow for human freewill?  Could God force people to accept Him?  Of course He could.  But does He, I don’t think so.

The Bible indicates that God desires for every person to come to faith.  Peter writes, The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”[6]  The Greek word “panta”” (pantas) means “each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything.”[7]  So, this writer sees no other exegetical possibility but to accept that God desires every person to be saved.  So if God has the power to save everyone and desires to save everyone, why doesn’t He?  I feel that it is due to the power of reciprocated love.

Take for instance a time when God revealed truth to a person that He really loved and the person rejected the truth.  This case involved the Rich Young Ruler.  “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,  “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.”[8]

So how does one deal with election?  Well, the answer is foreknowledge.  God is not restrained by time as we are.  God created time.  So, God is non-linear whereas we are linear.  Therefore, God can foresee and know what a person’s free decision will be before the person makes the decision.  This best defines the dichotomy.  The Scripture gives an indication of this very thing.  “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.”[9]  The Greek term for “foreknew” is the term “proginwskw.”  It is from this term that we get our word “prognosis.”  It literally means to “know beforehand.”[10]  So, Arminians believe in election, too.  But, Arminians believe that election goes hand-in-hand with reciprocated love; love extended from the hand of God and love received by the heart of man.

 

Unlimited Atonement

Arminius did not believe that Christ died for just a few people.  He believed that Christ died for all people.  This seems to be the indication of the gospels.  Take the famous verse John 3:16; For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”[11]  The word used for “world” is “kosmon” (kosmon, or kosmos).  This word is defined as “the world, the world’s inhabitants, or the human race.”[12]  Take this in addition to the words of Paul, For there is no partiality with God.”[13]  How can it be that God is impartial if God only chooses some to save without giving others a chance to be saved?  With Calvinism, there exists a logical inconsistency with God’s omnipotence and God’s holiness for the Calvinist precept of double predestination causes God to be the author of sin and evil which goes against the holiness of God.  This is something that has yet to be explained in a logically consistent way by the Calvinist.  If there is a good explanation, this author would love to hear its explanation.  This is predominantly the core reason why I cannot accept Calvinism as it has been described.

 

Resistible Grace

The fourth tenet of Arminianism is “resistible grace.”  This indicates that a person can accept or reject the grace that God reveals and grants a person.  Some postulate that Arminians believe that humans have the absolute freedom to choose God or reject God.  That is not the case.  As we mentioned earlier, Arminians believe in “prevenient grace” which means that God reveals Himself to a person before the person is able to freely choose or freely reject.  Take the words of Christ for instance,For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”[14]

In the former passage, we see that the word “believe” is used.  The Greek word is “pisteuwn” (pisteuon).  It means to “trust, have confidence in something.”[15]  The usage in this text seems to indicate that people choose to accept or reject the light of God once exposed.  This seems to strengthen the case for Arminianist theology.

 Fall From Grace       

This is the only element of Arminianism in which I struggle to accept.  I believe that salvation can be “locked in” by God.  But to be fair, let’s look at the Arminian belief in falling from grace.  Many Arminius’ believes to mean that salvation becomes a doctrine of works.  Unfortunately, many Pentecostal advocates do seem to make salvation that way.  However, Jacob Arminius simply showed that it was possible for one to reject the faith that saved him.  So, “falling from grace” meant to Arminius that one could come to a point in which a person rejected the faith and not that a person committed a sin that denied them salvation.  If the latter is true, then Arminius would have been promoting a work-based salvation.

Despite this possibility, Arminius believed in an assurance of salvation.  However, he also believed that if one fell from grace, that person could not be “re-saved.”  This is where the great evangelist John Wesley differed from Arminius.  He believed that one could be “re-saved” multiple times.

As I said earlier, this is one area that I have to agree with Calvin.  I do believe that when God saves, He saves thoroughly and completely.  But this does not necessitate that a person has no say in the process.  If love is forced, the act no longer becomes an act of love.  The moment it is forced, it is not love.

 Conclusion:

This debate will not be solved on this side of eternity.  From the paper of Mr. Drew Payne, you have read the strengths of Calvinism.  In my paper, you have read the strengths of Arminianism.  Now it is up to you to research and decide for yourself what the Bible teaches.  In some strange way, it could be that the truth is found somewhere between the two theological doctrines.  I heard a preacher quote the great Charles Spurgeon once, who said that salvation may be like a doorway.  Above the entrance to the doorway reads the words “Whosoever will, let him come.”  After the person passes through the doorway, he looks back to the door and sees these words over the back of the doorframe, “Only the elect of God shall pass this way.”  It could be that in the great schemes of things that this could be the end result.  Such are the difficulties for us finite beings struggling to understand the infinite Creator.


[1] The use of “man,” unless explicitly used otherwise, refers to all of humanity.

[2] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 3:10–11.

[3] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Is 55:6.

[4] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 1:20–23.

[5] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Php 2:5–8.

[6] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), 2 Pe 3:9.

[7] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[8] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Mk 10:21–22.

[9] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Ro 8:28–30.

[10] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[11] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16.

[12] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

[13] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Romans 2:11.

[14] The New King James Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982), Jn 3:16–21.

[15] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).

“The Ideas of John Calvin” by J. Andrew Payne

 NOTE: The following is a transcript by Mr. Andrew Payne.  Mr. Payne’s transcript lists out the rationale behind Calvinism and gives a detailed exposition of the thoughts and beliefs of Calvinism.  I will offer a rebuttal and offer an exposition behind Arminianism to which Mr. Payne will offer a rebuttal next week.  This is done for two reasons: to allow the reader to digest the information and form their own opinion, and also to show that as Christians we should actively engage our theology and remember that as the Body of Christ, we do not have to always agree.  That is part of the freedom that we have in Christ.  God bless and enjoy Mr. Payne’s research.  -BC

Drew Payne

The Ideas of John Calvin
by J. Andrew Payne

John Calvin is one of the more controversial figures throughout the history of the Christian Church. In many circles merely mentioning his name is enough to start an argument. But why is this? Are his ideas really that radical? Some have even gone so far as to call his teachings heretical.

The following essay will consist of a brief outlining of some of the major points of Calvin as well as presenting reasons for believing it. It is the hope of this author to demonstrate that Calvin’s views, though potentially unsettling to some at first, presents a view of Scripture that is at the very least worthy of consideration by all who consider themselves to be Christians. This essay is also written in the hope that it may lay to rest some of the misunderstandings that have so dogged this approach so much that it has almost become a mockery of its roots.

TULIP and Calvinism

            All those who hold to a Calvinistic persuasion are familiar with what are known as the “Five Points of Calvin.” Though these points themselves are not explicitly laid out as such within the writings of Calvin themselves, they do faithfully capture the essence of Calvin’s teachings. The acronym TULIP has been created to help us remember the Five Points, and stands for: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. Each of them are intimately linked and build upon each other so that the system usually demands that it is either wholly accepted or wholly denied.

Total Depravity: This beginning point lays the very foundation for the rest of TULIP. It is also, much like the rest of TULIP, often misconstrued to say something wholly anathema to the point that it is trying to get across. Total depravity is the teaching that man is by his very nature depraved and utterly incapable of doing a good work by his own means.

This point is often misrepresented to say that all men are as desperately wicked as they can be at all times. Such an understanding of total depravity just simply is not accurate. However, it cannot be summed up in one pithy sentence either.

The accurately understand total depravity, one must first recognize that all good things come from God and God alone. But man, before salvation, exists apart from God. Because of this, man exists apart from that which is good, and is also incapable of acting in a manner that is strictly speaking good. The idea is that God alone is the measurement of what is good, and man can never aspire to the level set by God. He is thus in need of God’s loving hand coming down to scoop him up and carry him across the goal line.

Unconditional Election: Building upon total depravity, it makes sense then, that man cannot earn his salvation. Goodness exists outside of man’s natural ability. It is no longer something resigned to the realm of free choice, but of being. Man either is good or he isn’t, there is no choice in the matter. If this is the case, then salvation is also not a choice. Man cannot choose to be something that is beyond his ability. It must be given to him. Seeing that salvation is a gift, richly lavished on the elect, man must realize that he cannot earn salvation but can only accept it with a humble heart, realizing his own inadequacy. God’s election to salvation is unconditional; it has nothing to do with man’s actions, and everything to do with God’s.

Limited Atonement: The doctrine of limited atonement is a highly controversial doctrine even among Calvinists. This is not surprising to those who are acquainted with Calvinists as it will become readily apparent that even no two Calvinists will agree on everything. The view of limited atonement presented here will thus be the least presumptuous interpretation of this teaching.

Limited atonement it its core affirms the truth that Christ’s salvific work on the cross did not extend salvation to all of humanity instantly. Simply put, Christianity is not universalism or inclusivism or anything of the like. The salvation of God is only meant for the elect – those whom have been chosen for salvation.

Building upon unconditional election, limited atonement recognizes that God reigns supreme over all events that take place on earth. Nothing can happen outside of God, for outside of God, there is nothing. But since salvation is not a volitional act of the will, contingent upon the actions of man, it must then be that God chooses some for salvation and others for perdition.

Some might object by bringing up 2 Peter 3:9, which says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” This verse can be read in a number of different ways, and when read by itself, apart from its context, seems quite clear. However, there is a strong case that such a verse is actually referring specifically to the elect even still. In this rather lengthy quote, James White reminds us of the importance of context and how it will transform the meaning of the statement:

When speaking of the mockers (speaking of the broader context of 2 Peter 3) he refers to them in the third person, as “them.” But everywhere else he speaks directly to his audience as the “beloved” and “you.” He speaks of how his audience should behave “in holy conduct and godliness,” and says that they look for the day of the Lord. He includes himself in this group in verse 13, where “we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth.” This is vitally important, for the assumption made by the Arminian is that when verse 9 says the Lord is “patient towards you” that this “you” refers to everyone. Likewise, then, when it says “not wishing for any to perish” but “all to come to repentance,” it is assumed that the “any” and “all” refers to anyone at all of the human race. Yet, the context indicates that the audience is quite specific.[1]

From that exegetical insight, the all must then be understood as speaking directly of the elect. Now, I am not so naïve as to assume that this is the only passage to be quarreled over, but my purpose in citing that example was to take a well known rebuttal and demonstrate that it is not as straight forward as it may initially seem.

Regardless of the debate, the minimum of limited atonement is the belief that God’s salvation is only granted to the elect. When studied in its proper context within TULIP, one also comes to realize that God also must have elected some and not others for salvation. While initially unsettling, this belief is not blithely assumed, but rather believed after carefully studying the scriptures. Such subjects merit patiently being studied. Consider the words of Calvin on the perils of considering the issues regarding predestination:

When men hear anything of what Scripture teaches respecting predestination, they are especially entangled with very many impediments. The predestination of God is indeed in reality a labyrinth, from which the mind of man can by no means extricate itself: but so unreasonable is the curiosity of man, that the more perilous the examination of a subject is, the more boldly he proceeds; so that when predestination is discussed, as he cannot restrain himself within due limits, he immediately, through his rashness, plunges himself, as it were, into the depth of the sea.[2]

This inquiry is without doubt one of the most important inquiries man can undergo. Its conclusions do nothing short of determine how we are to approach God Himself. As a result, whether affirming or denying Calvin’s greater teachings, it is essential that one makes sure that they proceed cautiously, recognizing the gravity of their endeavor.

Irresistible Grace: As it has already been pointed out in the previous points, salvation is not something that is contingent upon man, just as man’s very existence is not subject to his will, neither is his state of existence in regard to salvation. Salvation is not an act of the will that is chosen, but an act of God in creating – or recreating, as is the case with salvation. As such, just as a man cannot resist his very own creation that first brought him into being, he cannot resist the recreative work that God does in him again, bringing him to salvation.

Man, by nature, is in a state of being “dead in his trespasses and sins.” As a dead man is unable to respond, neither is man able to respond to the call of God that resides in his heart. It takes the act of God, and not the will of man. Due to this, the grace of God must be recognized as such a thing that it cannot be rejected or resisted.

Perseverance of the Saints: The simple explanation of what is meant by this final point is what is thought of in the phrase, “once saved, always saved.” It is impossible for man to lose his salvation. After all, if the gaining of salvation has nothing to do with the actions of man, then, by implication, losing his salvation is also outside of his prerogative. We needn’t worry about the ability to retain our salvation, for its very existence is not something that we in fact hold on to. Rather, it rests within the firm, competent, and trustworthy grasp of our savior, Jesus Christ.

Some Final Questions

            Now that the basic premise of the teachings of Calvin has been established, it is time to apply them. Admittedly, some of these issues can be a little hard to grasp at first, but after seeing them applied, they become more elucidated to the reader.

Freewill

Calvinism has almost become synonymous with the issue of freewill. In fact this very issue, along with the issue of predestination, makes up virtually 90% of the debate that is actively argued. However, such an issue does not merit such attention. If Calvin were really denying the freedom of the will, then he would certainly be rightfully incurring such a debate. But this is not his goal, nor is it his teaching.

Freewill concerns, unsurprisingly, the free exercise of the will in choosing between potentials. Illustrated simply, the agent is free to choose either A or B. By extension, all of his actions exist in like form. Man acts because he chooses to. If this is what is meant by freewill, Calvin would not disagree. In fact, he says as much in one of his lesser known works, entitled, The Bondage and Liberation of the Will. In this book he elaborates on what is meant when he uses the phrase, “bondage of the will.” He writes,

Now as far as the term (‘freedom’) is concerned I still maintain what I declared in my Institutes, that I am not so excessively concerned about words as to want to start an argument for that cause, provided that a sound understanding of reality is retained. If freedom is opposed to coercion, I both acknowledge and consistently maintain that choice is free, and I hold anyone who thinks otherwise to be a heretic. If, I say, it were called free in the sense of not being coerced nor forcibly moved by an external impulse, but moved of its own accord, I have no objection. The reason I find this epithet unsatisfactory is that people commonly think of something quite different when they hear or read it being applied to the human will. Since in fact they take it to imply ability and power, one cannot prevent from entering the minds of most people, as soon as the will is called free, the illusion that it therefore has both good and evil within its power, so that it can by its own strength choose either one of them.[3]

Put simply, man is free to choose between ordinary everyday things. What Calvin is proposing might better be grasped in the term “meta-will”; that is, the nature of the sum total of all the choices of the will. Such a term as will is in all honesty wrongly even used here, as it is not so much concerned with the will, as much as it is concerned with the individuals very being in relation to God.

Why Pray to an Immutable God?

If God is in control is all things are already predetermined, why pray? And even more critically, why pursue the Great Commission to spread the gospel message to the farthest corners of the earth? The answer, though shockingly simple once grasped, is not as obvious as it would seem. One first envisions that, no matter what they might say to God in offering their petitions to Him, that it does not matter, the same thing will happen in the end regardless. But in saying this, one oversimplifies the nature of a predestined future.

Consider that a question is not answered unless it is first raised. Then consider that it is the same with prayer. When one prays, it is only because God has decreed from eternity past that he should do so. And once that prayer has been prayed, and answer is given. But just as it was the will of God that man should pray, it is the will of God that He should answer. If nothing is prayed, then nothing is answered, but if a prayer is prayed, then a prayer will be answered. Consider that when one asks a question about mathematics, the answer is predetermined. It exists as the same truth no matter how the questioner decides to go about asking their question. But the question itself will never be answered unless it is first asked. Prayer is like this.

Turn now to the call to be a light to the world to win others to Christ. It is God’s providence that we should do so as all events rest within the omnipotent hands of God. But if one never witnesses to a lost soul, then it should be impossible for the lost to hear of Christ and to learn of their salvation in Him. Thus, like with prayer, the Great Commission must be answered.

Conclusion

            Though this essay has been in no way exhaustive of the doctrines of Calvin, it is the hope of this author that its readers will have been brought to a deeper understanding of these most important issues to the Christian faith. Regardless of whether or not someone agrees with the teachings of Calvin, it must be recognized that they are at the very least worthy of deeper study, if for no other reason than because of the impact that they have had upon Christendom.

I urge the reader, however, to proceed in prayer, seeking the will of God and the truth of God, with the firm recognition and conviction that it exists apart from what we may want it to be. But we must also persist in the knowledge that, though we may not fully understand or even grasp how it is so, God remains good, no matter what things may seem to us, because man is not the measure of goodness. Only God is.

Bibliography

Calvin, John. Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Grand Rapids:           Baker Books, 2009

Helm, Paul. John Calvin’s Ideas. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007

White, James. The Potter’s Freedom. Amityville: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000

Further Reading Considerations

Providence, by Reginald Garrigou-Legrange

The Confessions of St. Augustine, by St. Augustine

On Christian Doctrine, by St. Augustine

Spurgeon’s Sermons, 10 Volumes, by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Systematic Theology, Vol. 3: Sin & Salvation, by Norman Geisler

Death of Death in the Death of Christ, by John Owen

Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin

No One Like Him, by Paul Feinberg

Knowing God, by J.I. Packer


[1] James White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 146.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2009), 353-354.

[3] Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (New York, Oxford University Press, 2007), 159.