Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

Do Thomists and Molinists Hold Better Alternatives than Calvinists and Arminians in Understanding the Balance Between Sovereignty and Freedom?

If one engages in theological studies, one will be met with two main theological paths: that of Calvinism from French Reformer John Calvin and that of Arminianism from Dutch Reformer Jacob Arminius. Calvin’s theology can best be summarized by the acronym TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). Arminius, while not taking an extreme course as believed by some, took somewhat a different route. For he still promoted total depravity (with some distinctions), but also taught conditional election (based on divine foreknowledge), unlimited atonement (free for everyone), resistible grace, and leaving open the possibility of apostasy (while he did not explicitly teach that one would fall away from grace, he left it open as a possibility).

As I have deepened my studies in Scripture, I have noticed glaring holes in both systems. For Calvinism, there are undeniable problems related to the character of God. Calvin did not focus so much on the love of God as he did the grace of God (for more information see my paper Evaluation of John Calvin’s Views on Election here on the website). There are clear-cut problems with Calvinism (at least the extreme forms) when it comes to understanding a person’s responsibility to respond to the Spirit of God. For example, Paul writes explicitly “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). This indicates that one can resist the Spirit of God. God also says, “…“I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:20-21).Notice that God states through Paul and Isaiah that He reached out to others not associated with Israel while continuing to reach out His hands to those who were disobedient and contrary. Why would God do this if His Spirit were irresistible? Obviously God knew they would resist, but He still tried to reach them.

There are great problems with Arminianism, as well. If you read some of my earlier posts, you will note that I previously identified myself as a classic Arminian Baptist. However, I am not so certain that Arminius holds the best answers either. While Arminius holds fewer problems than extreme Calvinists, Arminianism is problematic in the sense of Romans 9. Many Arminians would hold to what is called corporate election, meaning that God chose to save a group of people through Christ. Christ was the person that was elected and not necessarily other individuals. This is extremely problematic. For, one will note that if God foreknew the people who were going to be saved, God would have known the individuals that constituted that corporate group before they were created, as well as those who were not chosen. Why then did God still create those who were not going to respond?

Luckily, other systems can be discovered that help one wade through the depth of these theological issues. In fact, two other systems are preferred over both Calvinism and Arminianism. These systems are less stringent than those of Calvin and Arminius which leaves more wiggle room, therefore holding less problems. The two systems stem from the uber-intellectual Christian giant known as Thomas Aquinas (Thomism) and from one of Aquinas’ followers, Spanish theologian Luis de Molina (Molinism). Both systems hold similarities with some stark differences.

 

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

Basics of Thomism

Thomism does not have a catchy little acronym to demonstrate the basics of the system. However, for the purposes of this article, it is important to understand two basic principles that Thomas Aquinas taught in his classic writing Summa Theologicae. First, Thomas believed in the sovereign reign of God. In fact, God is responsible for the creation of all things. For Thomas, God is the necessary “efficient cause, to which everyone gives the name God” (Aquinas, Summa I.2.3, 67). Therefore, God is the prime mover when it comes to salvation. However, Thomas seemed to hold to a form of the human will in the process of salvation. Thomas writes that

“just as it is impossible for a thing to be at the same time violent and natural, so it is impossible for a thing to be absolutely coerced or violent, and voluntary. But necessity of end is not repugnant to the will, when the end cannot be attained except in one way: thus from the will to cross the sea, arises in the will the necessity to wish for a ship. In like manner neither is necessity repugnant to the will…For what befits a thing naturally and immovably must be the root and principle of all else appertaining thereto, since the nature of a thing is the first in everything, and every movement arises from something immovable…” (Aquinas, Summa I.82.2, 290).

So for the Thomist, God is the ultimate mover and humans respond to the movement of God. Later, it was added that efficacious grace, or “grace that effects the purpose for which it is given” (Hughes 2001, 521) was necessary for one to be saved. In other words, efficacious grace is grace that plays out to its end. This is somewhat similar to the doctrine of irresistible grace with some differences. It is here that Molina would have issues with the classic Thomist view.

Luis de Molina
Luis de Molina

Basics of Molinism

Luis de Molina, a Spanish theologian and knew and taught from Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologicae extensively. However, Molina held some issues with the two forms of knowledge promoted by Thomas Aquinas and in his view of efficacious grace. Molina held that while humans were free to respond to the grace of God, God knew how a person would respond under certain circumstances. Molina held that in addition to God’s natural knowledge (things that are) and free knowledge (things that could be), God also possesses middle knowledge (or the things that might be under certain circumstances). So, in other words, Molina believed that God knew how a person would respond to God’s grace under certain circumstances. Therefore, God places people in events and places that would bring the person to His grace without impeding upon the human will. This differs from Arminanism because God absolutely knows what it takes to bring a person to faith and knows those of whom no amount of persuasion would influence. This holds a greater balance in the context of Scripture than one might think. The Scriptural support for Molinism will be argued in a future article. Because of middle knowledge, Molina did not see efficacious grace as necessary.

Robert Bellarmine
Robert Bellarmine

Congruism

Finally, future Molinists would create another version of the Molinist system. Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suarez developed a system called Congruism. Congruism fits well in both Calvinist and Arminian perspectives. In this system, God knows individuals before creation. God’s knowledge of the individuals includes the knowledge of what the person would do in certain circumstances. Therefore, those who would respond to the grace of God were placed in positions that would lead the person to respond to the grace of God. Efficacious grace re-enters this version of Molinism. While more study of Bellarmine and Suarez’s theology is necessary before expounding on their systems extensively, the Congruist system is explained by Millard J. Erickson as “a mild Calvinism…that gives primary place to God’s sovereignty, while seeking to relate it in a positive way to human freedom and individuality. This theology is a dualism in which the second element is contingent on or derived from the first. That is, there are realities distinct from God that have a genuine and good existence of their own, but ultimately received their existence from him by creation (not emanation)” (Erickson 1998, 448). Erickson also writes that Congruism was the position of B.B. Warfield who termed the position as congruism as it “holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice God intends” (Warfield, in Erickson 1998, 385).

B. B. Warfield
B. B. Warfield

Conclusion

While any of these three systems work well in dealing with the sovereignty/free will conundrum, it is in this writer’s opinion that Congruism works the best. However, I would disagree with Warfield, Erickson, and Norman Geisler that Congruism is a version of mild Calvinism. Congruism should be noted as being mild Molinism. For Congruism seems to fit the system of Molina more than Calvin. In fact, Congruism seems to fit the systems developed by Bellarmine and Suarez even more as these two theologians presented their own twist to Molinism. I would add one small detail to Warfield’s description of the system, however. It is God’s will that all should be saved. It has been written many times before, but it bears repeating that Peter wrote that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). In fact: if Congruism is true, then God has not only a purpose for each life, God holds a purpose in an individual’s existence in a particular timeframe. In which case, you have a purpose not only to God but also to the world in which you are placed.

So to answer the question presented in this article; do Thomists and Molinists hold better answers in solving the conundrum of God’s sovereignty and human freedom in regards to salvation than do Calvinists and Arminans? My answer is a resounding…YES!!! Regardless of where one finds oneself on the theological spectrum, it is important to find balance. While we may strive to understand the ways of the infinite God and the workings of God’s creation, it is important for us not to become so obsessed with the differences in the theological systems that we forget the clear commands of God in that we are to love God with all our being and to love one another as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40).

 

Francisco Suarez
Francisco Suarez

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologicae. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. In Summa of the Summa. Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1990.

Hughes, P. E. “Grace.” In Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 2nd Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Warfield, B. B. The Plan of Salvation. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1942. In Millard J. Erickson. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

The Biblical Balance between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

touching-god

Several issues in theology become heated, but none like the issues between Calvinism and Arminian models. As my studies in theology have progressed, I have noticed an inconvenient truth. The Bible addresses both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. One cannot choose to accept one without the other and maintain biblical soundness in their theology. Apologist Ravi Zacharias even stated that “any system that does not hold to divine sovereignty is unbiblical. If any system does not hold to human responsibility, it is unbiblical” (Zacharias, podcast, 2014). The Bible teaches both. Some passages of Scripture provide evidence for this within the text itself. For the purposes of this article, four passages of Scripture will be given that indicate both divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

 

Philippians 2:12-13

Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul indicated that a person must work out their own salvation. Richard R. Melick writes in his commentary about the meaning of “working out one’s salvation,”

The Philippians were to make salvation work in their lives…Salvation was central to Paul’s theology. Normally the word has its full soteriological sense of spiritual deliverance from sin and the world. Paul described salvation as a past event (Eph 2:8–9) and as a future consummation (Rom 13:11). Here he spoke of working out salvation…Personal salvation brings with it responsibilities which Paul related to Christians’ obedience. The responsibility was to live in accord with their salvation, letting the implications of their relationship with Christ transform their social relationships. Paul really meant, in the first place, that they were to act like Christians (Melick 1991, 109-110).

Nonetheless, the process of “working out one’s salvation” depicts human responsibility. However, Paul goes on to state that the one working out one’s salvation is being worked in by God to do His good pleasure. In other words, Paul is expressing divine sovereignty in the process. Thus, one evaluates sovereignty and responsibility in the text.

 

Romans 8:28

Paul wrote

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. 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. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

In this popular text, Paul addresses the fact that individuals love God. The act of “loving” demonstrates human responsibility. For those who love God, Paul states that God will work all things for good. In addition, Paul states that the individuals who love God were called, foreknown, predestined, and would be glorified; all of which demonstrates the sovereignty of Almighty God. Were individuals held responsible for loving God? Yes. But did God work sovereignly to bring them to that love? Yes. In some sense, both the sovereignty of God and human responsibility worked together.

 

Matthew 18:7

Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes” (Matthew 18:7)! Jesus first indicated that “offenses must come.” Why must offenses come? We are not told. However, the fact that offenses must come indicates the sovereignty of God. God uses the offenses (the bad) for His glory and the glory of His saints (the good). Nonetheless, sovereignty is presented. Then, Jesus flips the lesson back on the one bringing the offense demonstrating the responsibility of the person bringing the offense. Therefore, Jesus presents a lesson on sovereignty and human responsibility.

 

Matthew 16:13-17

Matthew writes that,

  When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).

In this passage, the faith of Peter is praised. For Peter willingly proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God. Thus, the human response was demonstrated resulting in human responsibility. However, Jesus indicates that Peter could not have known this unless God the Father revealed this truth to Peter. Hence, divine sovereignty is clearly indicated. Therefore, both sovereignty and human responsibility are demonstrated in this passage.

mind in universe

The Theological Move: Moderate Calvinism

So which system fits this combination the best? It must be admitted that this writer’s perspective has changed in recent days, primarily by an exposure to different systems. Also, I can say that I did know that so many variations of systems existed until now. Norman Geisler states that there are four primary systems concerning the blend of sovereignty and human responsibility: “Of course, there are other shades and variations of views, but Pelagianism, Arminianism (Wesleyanism), moderate Calvinism, and strong Calvinism are the four main perspectives” (Geisler 2011, 786). In Geisler’s view, “the biblical, theological, and historical evidence favors the moderate Calvinist view” (Geisler 2011, 786). What is moderate Calvinism? Millard J. Erickson writes that moderate Calvinism is…

“what B. B. Warfield regarded as the mildest form of Calvinism (there are, in fact, some Calvinists who would deny that it deserves to be called Calvinistic at all). Warfield termed the position ‘congruism,’ for it holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice that God intends (from B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, 90-91)…” (Erickson 1998, 385).

The system is balanced between divine sovereign election and human freedom to respond…something that the Bible teaches. The system does not allow such strict determinism as do strong Calvinists that human freedom is eliminated. Neither does the system negate divine involvement in the salvific process as does Pelagianism. In fact, moderate Calvinism can be likened to what is called Semiaugustinianism. Everett Ferguson writes that “the final phase of the conflict over human nature and salvation aw the triumph of what may be called ‘Semiaugustinianism,’ as expressed by Caesarius, bishop of Arles (502-42)…Although Caesarius and the Council of Orange were largely Augustinian, their views allowed for predestination to grace, but not for predestination to glory (the absolute gift of perseverance)…” (Ferguson 2005, 301). Naturally, there are differences between the Semiaugustinianism of the sixth century and the moderate Calvinism being promoted by Geisler and Erickson. As I have studied theology, my theological base has moved slightly from Remonstrant theology to the congruism, or moderate Calvinism, promoted by Erickson and Geisler. Some strong Calvinists would still see the system as a form of Arminianism. Geisler and Erickson would not agree. Nonetheless, whatever system one finds as the best fit, I feel it is demonstrated that a middle system (one that is not inclined to either extreme) best fits the teachings of Scripture. For in the end, the sole authority of the doctrines for the Christian faith do not come from Calvin, Arminius, Augustine, Geisler, Erickson, or even me; it must come from the Bible itself.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume One—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2011.

Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991.

Zacharias, Ravi. “He Saw, He Left, He Conquered.” Podcast. Just Thinking Broadcasts. (April 14, 2014).