Friday Round Up

(1) This is an excellent use discernment as you read.

(2) There’s a number of excellent items now available in this week’s Friday Ligonier $5 sale! Especially recommended is the series “The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit” download, the CD set “The Assurance of Salvation” as well as the hardcover book “Theology in Dialogue.” especially in knowing what things are most vital and important for unity and Christian fellowship.

Maturity in Essentials and Non-Essentials

“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity.” – Augustine

Doctrine divides! It divides truth from error. It divides the true teacher from the false teacher; the spirit of truth from the spirit of error; and the true Christ from the Anti-Christ.

In the Church, Christians hold differing views about important, yet non-essential matters. Let me explain. There are doctrines in the Bible that while very important, are not essential to salvation. For instance, whether or not someone believes in the baptism of infants or whether or not God still heals today, I think are important issues; yet, what someone believes about these is not essential to someone being included or excluded from the kingdom of God. Someone is not a “false teacher” who takes a different position on these issues. The same is true for doctrines such as whether someone is “pre-trib,” “mid-trib,” or “post-trib” in their belief about the end times, or for those who take different positions on the millennnium – “a”, “pre” or “post.” Sincere, godly, dedicated believers believe different things about these issues, but it does not mean that one person is saved and another damned because they have a different view.

As Christians, what unites us, vastly outweighs what might divide us. In the essentials, such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, etc., we need to be in agreement. As this quote, which historically has been attributed to Augustine states, “In essentials, unity.” We cannot compromise on these major issues of the Gospel. These are non-negotiables. In fact, to depart from these doctrines is to depart from the Christian faith itself.

Knowing the difference between the essentials and the non-essentials takes a great deal of maturity at times. Christians have been notorious for dividing over such very minor issues, and the Body of Christ has been less effective because of it. The boundary lines are drawn by the Gospel itself. We must be united in the Gospel for true Christian unity to exist. But where this does in fact exist, let us celebrate it, standing united for the cause of Christ.

Augustine went on to say, “in non-essentials, liberty.” Christians need to allow their brothers and sisters room to hold differing positions on some issues without breaking fellowship with them. This takes a great deal of maturity. Church history shows us that the Body of Christ as a whole has not been very good at this. We tend to disassociate ourselves from Christians who don’t have the exact same understanding of the spiritual gifts, the end times, Divine election, or even when a child is old enough to be baptized. These are important issues, of course. In fact, there is only one true biblical position on these issues – not everyone is right! There is a right answer and a wrong answer. In fact, there are many wrong answers. God is not confused on these issues, even if we are. We should note too that God doesn’t ever give us the right to believe false doctrine. If there are two people with differing positions on an issue, at least one of them is grieving the Lord in terms of what they believe. Yet the point is that both people can believe that, disagree on a certain issue with a fellow brother or sister and yet believe the best of the other – that if the other person could be convinced by sacred scripture concerning the truth of the matter, they believe the other one would change their beliefs immediately. But disagreement on these important but non-essential things should not divide us, if we are united in the Gospel.

This is not to minimize doctrine. In a local Church it is entirely right for eldership to state in categorical terms, just what it is that they believe Scripture to be teaching. This is part of their function as elders. Yet, in doing so, we must all recognize our fellow brothers and sisters in the entire Body of Christ, and know that God embraces many who hold differing positions to us on some issues.

The scripture commands us to “maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) “until we all come to the unity of the faith.” (Eph. 4:13). For God to tell us to maintain something, it shows clearly that we already have possession of it. For instance, we cannot maintain a photocopier unless we first have the photocopier in our care. We are called to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This we are to do “until we all come to the unity of the faith.”

Augustine’s quote ends by saying, “in all things, charity (or love).” Let love be chief amongst us, His people. May we unite for the sake of the Gospel, while God, the Holy Spirit continues to lead all of His people into all of His truth.

Does the Bible Affirm Open Theism?

by John M. Frame (original source such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, and William Hasker, seek to do justice to the “give and take” in Scripture between God and human beings. For example, in Ex. 32:7-10, God tells Moses he will destroy Israel for worshipping the golden calf and raise up a new nation from Moses himself. Moses intercedes, however, and in verse 14 God “relents.” God also seems to “change his mind” in Isa. 38:1-5, where Isaiah prophecies that King Hezekiah will die, but in response to Hezekiah’s repentance adds fifteen years to his life, and in Jonah 3-4, where God retracts an announcement of judgment in response to Ninevah’s repentance.

From these and other such passages, the open theists infer that God is a temporal being (not “above time” as in much traditional theology), that he changes his mind, that his plans are influenced by creatures, that he sometimes regrets actions that he has performed (as Gen. 6:6), and that he does not have exhaustive knowledge of the future. On their view, God’s regretting and relenting come about because human free decisions are utterly undetermined and unpredictable. So God must adjust his plans to the free choices of human beings.

We should not ignore these “relenting” passages. On the other hand, we should not forget either the pervasive biblical emphasis on God’s sovereign control of the world and his exhaustive knowledge of past, present, and future. God brings about natural events (Psm. 65:9-11, 135:5-7), even apparently random ones (Prov. 16:33). He controls the smallest details of nature (Matt. 10:29-30). He governs human history (Acts 17:26, Isa. 10:5-12, 14:24-27). If someone dies accidentally, it is because “the Lord lets it happen” (Ex. 21:12-13). Contrary to open theism, God brings about human free decisions, even sinful ones (Gen. 45:5-8, Judg. 14:4, 2 Sam. 24, Isa. 44:28, Luke 22:22, Acts 2:23-24, Rev. 17:17). He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21, 7:3), and others as well (Deut. 2:30, Josh. 11:18-20, 1 Sam. 2:25, 2 Chron. 25:20), for his own purposes (Rom. 9:17). He is also the source of human faith (John 6:37, 44, 65, Eph. 2:4-10, 2 Tim. 1:9, Acts 13:48, 16:14-15, 18:27) and repentance (Zech. 12:10, Acts 5:31, 11:18). So human freedom is not indeterminate as open theists maintain. We are free in that we do what we want to do; but behind our plans and desires are those of God (James 4:13-17).

In general, God “works out everything in conformity to the purpose of his will” (Eph. 1:11; cf. Lam. 3:37-38, Rom. 2:28, 11:33-36). And God cannot fail at anything he seeks to do (Ps. 33:11, 115:3, 135:6, Prov. 21:30, Isa. 14:27, 43:13, 46:10, 55:11, Dan. 4:35, Rev. 3:7).

Since God controls everything, he knows everything, including the future. Knowing the future is a test of a true prophet (Deut. 18:22) and indeed of a true God (Isa. 41:21-23, 42:9, 43:9-12, 44:7, 48:3-7). Through his prophets, God often predicts the future centuries in advance (as Gen. 9:26-27). Contrary to the open theists, who think God cannot anticipate human free decisions, he often predicts human behavior in detail (1 Sam. 10:1-7, Jer. 37:6-11, Matt. 26:34). He predicts the behavior and character of human beings in the distant future (1 Kings 13:1-4, Isa. 44:28-45:13).

How then should we understand God’s “relenting?” For one thing, God states as a general policy in Jer. 18:5-10 that if he announces judgment and people repent, he will relent; similarly if he pronounces blessing and people do evil. In other words, relenting is part of God’s unchanging plan, not a change forced on him by his ignorance. Further, God is not only transcendent, but immanent. He has dwelled on earth in the tabernacle and temple, in Christ, and in his general omnipresence (Psm. 139:7-12). When God interacts with people in time, he does one thing, then another. He curses, then blesses. His actions are in temporal sequence and therefore, in one sense, changing. But these changes are the outworking of God’s eternal plan, which does not change.

It is important, then, to see God as working from both above and below, in eternity and time, not only in time as open theists propose.

For Further Reading

John M. Frame, No Other God: a Response to Open Theism (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishers, 2001). A critique of open theism.

John Sanders, The God Who Risks (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-varsity Press, 1998). A favorable exposition of openness theology.

The Preservation of the Saints

John 6:34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” 35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. 36 “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe. 37 “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out. 38 “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus presents the big picture perspective regarding salvation. His words are altogether clear and unmistakable, as He portrays the complete sovereignty of God in salvation. The crowd that was following Jesus “believed” in Him as a miracle worker and as the Messiah. John 6:14 states, “Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.”

However, Jesus makes it clear that this crowd did not possess true living faith – a faith that saves. They instead possessed a temporary “belief” or affection for Christ, but as the rest of the chapter shows, when Jesus finished preaching this latest message, most in the crowd were no longer following Him. John 6:66 says, “As a result of this (“this” meaning Jesus’ own words) many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.”

This then is the context. Jesus is addressing this unbelieving crowd and seeks to explain to them why it is they do not believe. Lets allow Jesus to tell the redemption story from His perspective, in His own words.

Jesus starts by saying “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.” If there was ever a claim to true faith, Jesus dismisses that idea out of hand, telling them that they did not in fact believe in Him, and He knew it. He then goes on:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me.”

Each word here is vitally important. As we meditate on these words, we should notice the order Jesus gives us. All that the Father gives to Jesus – every single one of them – will come to Jesus. It is not the coming to Jesus of a certain group of people that prompts God to then give them to the Son. No, according to Jesus, its the other way round. Firstly, the Father gives a group of people to the Son, who will then come to the Son. It is the Father’s giving that takes place before the people’s coming. Jesus teaches us, in verse 37, that there is never the possibility of a single person being given by the Father to the Son who will not come to the Son.

Why do only some come? Continue reading

Intelligent Designer?

Ben Stein: What do think is the possibility that there then, intelligent design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics… or in evolution?

Richard Dawkins: Well… it could come about in the following way: it could be that uh, at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civilization e-evolved… by probably by some kind of Darwinian means to a very very high level of technology and designed a form of life that they seeded onto… perhaps this… this planet. Um, now that is a possibility. And uh, an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the um, at the detail… details of our chemistry molecular biology you might find a signature of some sort of designer.

Ben Stein: [voice over] Wait a second. Richard Dawkins thought intelligent design might be a legitimate pursuit?

Richard Dawkins: Um, and that designer could well be a higher intelligence from elsewhere in the universe. But that higher intelligence would itself would have to come about by some explicable or ultimately explicable process. It couldn’t have just jumped into existence spontaneously. That’s the point.

Ben Stein: [voice over] So professor Dawkins was not against intelligent design, just certain types of designers. Such as God.

– From the movie “Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed.”

The Time is Nye (for a rebuttal)

Ken Ham writes: I wanted to provide you with a link to a short video we just produced to counter an anti-creationist video that has gone absolutely viral on internet through YouTube and other outlets. The video shows Bill Nye, well-known for his popular PBS-TV program for young people called “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” taking a shot at creationists who teach that Genesis is true. It’s one of the most-watched videos this week on the Internet. (At last report, there have been over 2.2 million views on YouTube.) It was produced by an on-line think tank called Big Think.

Check out the link here to view two scientists with far greater qualifications than Bill Nye, respond in a short 3 minute video rebuttal.

Sovereign Election and Sanctification

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Richard Gaffin (Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary) explains the connection between God’s electing grace and our personal holiness.

Christ Has a Stake in Our Sanctification from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Principles for Christian Dating

If you were to look up the word “dating” in a Bible concordance, it might be something of a shock to learn that it is a word never mentioned in the Bible – not even once. “Dating” is not a Biblical word. Neither is “courtship.” In the scheme of things, dating is a fairly recent cultural phenomena. Even today its prevalence is seen mainly in the western world.

Because of this fact, and in spite of the title above, you won’t find a Bible passage that addresses principles for Christian dating. The concept is just not there. Yet unless parents employ the arranged marriage approach still favored in many parts of the world, ‘dating’ is the default mechanism in play for any single person seeking to find a compatible partner for marriage.

With this in mind, here are two short but helpful articles from that deal with the topic of Christian dating. The first is by Brandon Andersen, entitled “5 Notes on Dating for the Guys.”

I work in church operations, which I means spend an inordinate amount of time with young, single volunteers, many of whom are recent converts. When I first started, it quickly became clear that most young Christians have no idea what Christian dating looks like practically. Here are some insights to help Christian men date in a way that honors God.

1. A Definition of Intentional
“Intentional” is one of those words that sounds right, but no one really knows what if means. So I would like to clear that up. Here is my working definition for intentional and how it relates to how a Christian man should pursue a woman.

The intentional man repeatedly and constantly goes first and takes on all of the risk of rejection. He always lets the girl know where he stands so she feels secure and isn’t left guessing. (On the other hand, don’t weird her out by talking about marriage on the first date.)

Approaching her initially:

Intentional: “I’d like to take you out on a date.”
Unintentional: “Wanna hang out sometime? My roommates are all gone this weekend.”
Paying the bill:

Intentional: “I’ve got it.”
Unintentional: “Can you cover half the bill? I’m pretty broke right now.” (My wife believes this communicates, “You are worth about $20, but not quite $40.”)
Following up after a date:

Intentional: “I had a great time tonight, and would definitely want to do this again. I will give you a call this week.”
Unintentional: “I’ll call you sometime.”
Bringing other people in:
Continue reading

The Unity of the Trinity in the Work of Redemption

Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles, authors of the book, “Whomever He Wills: A Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy” respond to a question about four point Calvinism (those who reject the “L” of Limited Atonement in the acrostic TULIP):

What about the death of Christ have convictional “four-point Calvinists” perhaps failed to adequately consider?

At least two things: (1) the priestly role of Christ and (2) the Trinitarian unity in redemption planned, accomplished, and applied. First, as Stephen Wellum recently argued in his SBTS faculty address and as David Schrock contends in chapter 4, Christ is the great high priest of the new covenant and therefore acts as a representative, substitute, and intercessor on behalf of God’s people. In doing so he not only pays the penalty for their sin, but purchases everything necessary (including the work of the Spirit) to bring them to salvation. Universal atonement advocates fail to situate Christ’s priestly work in its covenantal context.

Second, to affirm an individual, unconditional, and particular election by the Father and an effectual, unconditional, and particular calling by the Spirit—but then to affirm a universal, provisional, and general atonement by the Son—creates confusion in the mission of the Trinity. Robert Reymond captures what such inconsistency would sound like as Jesus prays in the garden: “I recognize, Father, that your election and your salvific intentions terminate on only a portion of mankind, but because my love is more inclusive and expansive than yours, I’m not satisfied to die only for those you’ve elected. I’m going to die for everyone.” Therefore, as Robert Letham argues, universal atonement “threatens to tear apart the Holy Trinity,” for it means the Father and Spirit have different goals than the Son. But as the Reformed slogan opera trinitatis indivisa sunt reminds us, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. The Father plans redemption, the Son accomplishes redemption, and the Spirit applies redemption, and all three persons of the Trinity are simultaneously and actively involved in each other’s salvific work on behalf of the elect.