Saturday, December 20, 2014

Faithfully Valuing the Limits of Scripture (PART 2 - PROGRESSIVE REVELATION)

Last post I introduced the importance of  approaching Scripture honestly to allow it to speak to us as God actually intended. I expressed my concern that our subconscious faithfulness to our extra-Biblical worldviews has led to us (Christians) to add additional (unnecessary) 'requirements' to our approach to Scripture. In particular, modernism inclines us to approach Scripture as if 'detailed cognitive understanding' was of ultimate importance, because modernism requires detailed cognitive information about God in order to place Him in the grand scheme of things, and inform us how to relate to Him. We often simplify Scripture in order to allow it to fit with our worldview, and end up being faithful to a curated form of Scripture, rather than to the real deal in all its uncomfortable fullness (including those aspects that don't fit well with our worldview).

I'm not implying that these 'uncomfortable aspects' are the major themes of Scripture, and that there is little evidence for e.g. a consistent thread of doctrine, common unity in the faith amongst the authors, God's mercy in the OT and his judgment in the NT, etc. But no one needs encouragement to be faithful to these aspects! We need encouragement to be faithful to the uncomfortable aspects, because this may require us to challenge our worldview (and this is difficult because it gives us a framework for how we think and feel about, well, everything).

Our worldview may also have us believe that considering these things faithfully is actually violating the 'faith' God expects us to have. So I reiterate again, my aim is not to challenge things for the sake of it. I just want us to be willing to challenge our worldview IF being truly faithful to Scripture and God requires it.

Progressive Revelation

Today, as a kind of expanded 'introduction', I wanted to focus primarily on unpacking ONE particular aspect of Scripture that we simplify - the progressive revelation of God's character. It nicely demonstrates the uncomfortable complexity of Scripture, probably more than any of the other aspects I mentioned. And it opens up more discussions at once, than any of the others.

Most obviously, progressive revelation refers to the Scriptures as they were recorded. For example, the law was given progressively over the course of a generation, and not instantaneously. Subsequent additions were made as the Jews unpacked their culture and history in the promised land. There were many prophets, many of whom we have no record of, though some were recorded and eventually deemed 'inspired'. The NT was written over many years, and much of the church for years only had access to a mix of SOME of these materials (as well as many additional letters, which were lost over the years).

But I'm not just talking about new 'facts' being revealed about God over time. This is hardly controversial. There's also the progression in the amount and fallibility of the 'communication' available to God's people. Jews were being circumcised into the covenant community, and having faith that pleased God, for many generations PRIOR to Moses writing a word of the OT. They relied primarily on oral tradition taught by many varied 'rabbis' with varying degrees of training and experience. We could (potentially) argue that God preserved 'direct perfect and unbiased) communication through this diverse array of human instruments, but I contest this is unlikely, and we tend to argue this mainly to protect our worldview. The bottom line is that a huge number of godly saints did not have access to any 'direct perfect and unbiased' communication about God, or to the subsequent 'detailed cognitive knowledge' we deem so important today. The NT also did not exist for many years of the early church, yet these people were baptised into union with Christ. Again, they had access mainly to oral stories passed around (verified of course by the Apostles, but many of these Christians never heard directly from the Apostles - it was all third or fourth hand). And for much of the early history of the church, the OT was minimised as a source of useful instruction (either because it was deemed to be 'evil', or allegorical). So again, these believers had restricted access to any 'direct perfect and unbiased communication' about God.

Finally, and most importantly, Christ Himself - the fullest revelation of God, this time in a more 'relational' kind of communication - took his timing in coming, and even his first coming was only a partial revelation, while we await His return. Even in heaven we will continue to experience Him, meaning that He will not have finished 'expressing' Himself for eternity.

A Changing 'Image' of God

'Progressive revelation' inevitably extends to the broad picture of God presented by Scripture. We minimise this a lot to protect our worldview, but God presents a picture of Himself that markedly changes over time. Try it for yourself - read the Torah as a Exodus Jew would have read it, without any of our modern sensibilities (e.g. about Justice, slavery, women's rights, violence, etc) and without the rest of Scripture to 'balance' things out. This is just one example, but it becomes clear that in the initial stages of the OT God expects His Holy people to willingly and brutally massacre foreign children, without qualms. The God we see now (given the whole story from OT to NT) would expect people to have a heart which naturally flows out in efforts to STOP such behavior, and which would certainly question that command to massacre (was it really from God?), and at least have some qualms about it.

If we argue that God is truly unchanging (as He says), what we're saying is that for much of the OT, God blatantly restrained Himself from revealing these incredibly relevant and important 'balancing' aspects of Himself,  and thus was deliberately creating bias in how His people perceived Him. And it was not just the general populace - it was the judges, prophets, priests, holy warriors, kings - God expected His people to perform in a way which is only consistent with a lopsided view of God.

God may have been slowly weeding this deliberate bias out with subsequent revelations, and working toward a more harmonious 'accurate' picture of His unchanging Himself. But we are still left with the NT apostles differing quite radically on their doctrinal emphases. While this might not seem as drastic as claiming that they held to contradictory doctrinal 'facts', it's still saying that the God that James saw was rather different to the God that Peter saw, that Paul saw, that John saw, etc. We could go so far as to suggest that they disagreed over aspects of God's character or priorities. A common example is the relationship between works and salvation - as a broad generalisation, Paul placed works as a definite outflow of salvation, Peter places some works as a requirement of salvation (e.g. baptism), and James and John placed works and faith alongside each other. Again, we could protect our worldview by drawing attention to the 'balancing' beliefs that the apostles held, which minimised the eccentricities they communicate in Scripture and make their theologies harmonious - or sometimes, when we can't find the doctrines we're looking for, we just assume the apostles held them. But I want to value the Scriptural tendency to communicate the eccentricities very clearly, sometimes more clearly than the harmony. Scripture doesn't seem as concerned with this 'harmony' as we are.

Dividing Scripture

This discussion obviously raises questions about 'dispensationalism' vs 'covenant theology' vs other variants. As you've probably guessed, I think both views are simplifications. Progressive revelation contains components of both.

There is a consistency to the way God relates to people throughout the ages - through multiple, varied, deliberately biased (and incomplete) expressions of Himself. I'll delve more into this in later posts, but the point for now is that 'progressive revelation' is NOT saying that some 'phases' of revelation were superior to others. All of history has been in constant a state of incomplete revelation, where God has NOT yet made known his fullness in a cognitive sense. Instead, every incomplete revelation naturally combines with others over time / exposure to produce a more and more complete communication - hence the term 'progressive'. The flip-side is what I think is an obvious conclusion from any straightforward reading of Scripture - that our view of God and how we behave as His people is meant to change, between e.g. the Exodus and now.

The difficulty is trying to describe how we are meant to approach this change. Some attempt to arbitrarily divide Scripture into sections that apply in different ways to us (and some don't apply at all). But I think this approach is not faithful to Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest a division between some parts of the OT which are relevant to us today, vs those which are not. It was always considered as a whole by every Biblical author. Even when we try to 'divide' it up, we run into trouble - e.g. we want to keep SOME of the laws about money and property, but not others. We want to keep SOME of the laws about sex, but not others. We want to keep some of the basic laws of the 10 commandments, but want to avoid the punishment associated with disobedience. Jesus and Paul both affirmed the permanent usefulness of the WHOLE law as a unified unit, and condemned the legalistic use of the WHOLE law as a unified unit. There is very little suggestion that how we fundamentally relate to the law is meant to change now that we are in the NT era - the verses commonly used to support this position tend to demonstrate instead that our relationship toward the law was ALWAYS meant to be a particular way (including in the NT era). So if our approach to Scripture has not fundamentally changed, and all of Scripture is approached in a consistent way, how does the Bible expect our behaviour as God's people to change over time? Its because as revelation progresses, the clarify of our vision of God naturally progresses as well, even though our approach to every revelation is fundamentally the same and unchanged. And our relationship to God assimilates this change.

Summary

A faithful approach to Scripture must value the fact that detailed cognitive knowledge did not seem like a priority for God throughout much of the history of His people. It must value the fact that God seems to deliberately create bias in the minds of His people, which has evolved over time. What does it look like when we value these things? That's the sort of question I'm hoping to answer in this series.

OK more comments please :) How does this discussion make you feel? Are there other ways that progressive revelation manifests itself? Or other questions that it unearths? Do you think God is pleased when we consider these things?

Coming Soon...

Next week I'll start a little more logically:
  • I'll discuss that God's fundamental aim in us is a relationship of faith, and that everything (including Scripture) works for this fundamental aim. I hope this will pave the way to discuss the usefulness and limits of cognition and communication (two important aspects of Scripture) when it comes to relationship. 
  • From there we will discuss WHY God seems to not only allow the intrinsic weaknesses of cognition and communication, but seemingly encourages it (demonstrated nicely by e.g. progressive revelation). This requires us to engage with the broader issue of why God allows ANY confusion to exist about his nature (e.g. the existence of evil, sin, etc). 
  • I'll discuss how the faith relationship works in this context (i.e. in the real world of confusion regarding God's nature). And we'll specifically explore how the faith relationship responds to three phases of progressive revelation (the Torah, Christ's first coming, and the possibility of further revelation). 
  • I'll discuss how the Jews approached Scripture in an unfaithful way and the problems this created, and then re-visit how we Christians do the same. And then I'll discuss some implications for Christian unity, discipleship, missions, etc. 
A lot to get through! It'll take time...

The series so far:

  1. Introduction
  2. Progressive Revelation (this post)
  3. Relationships and Cognition
  4. Morality and Evil
  5. Coping with Evil I
  6. Coping with Evil II
  7. How to Read

Thursday, December 11, 2014

'Faithfulness' vs 'Historical Criticism'?

In line with the series I'm currently writing about Scripture (and yes, the next post is coming, eventually...), check this article out:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2014/12/inerrancy-historical-criticism-and-the-slippery-slope/

In summary:

  1. The modern inerrantist tends to equate 'being faithful to Scripture' to 'affirming inerrancy'.
  2. As a consequence, any attempt to critically analyse the inerrancy of Scripture is automatically pitted against faithfulness. Those who deny any truth in the Bible are blatantly unfaithful to it, while those who hold to inerrancy but define 'errors' slightly differently are being mildly unfaithful to it.
  3. This is demonstrated nicely in the straight-line graph, where faithfulness decreased as historical criticism increases.
  4. Actually, we all accept a degree of 'historical criticism' as being necessary for 'faithfulness'. For example, we may accept that a complete lack of awareness of historical context may result in slight errors of interpretation. Hence the most literal straightforward 'inerrant' interpretation may actually be mildy unfaithful to the Scriptures as they were intended to be read. 
  5. Hence the first paradigm is wrong. Faithfulness actually maximises at a specific degree of critical analysis.
  6. This is demonstrated nicely by the curved graph. Only after a certain point does faithfulness start decreasing with more critical analysis.
  7. Once we accept this more accurate paradigm, we can begin discussing things a little more meaningfully. Where exactly does the point of maximal 'faithfulness' occur? What makes us decide 'thus far and no further' when it comes to our optimal degree of critical analysis? These are useful and important things to discuss, rather than dismissing and ignoring them as 'unfaithful' questions.
What are your guy's thoughts?

P.S. For those who worry, I certainly don't agree with everything this author writes. But I think he's refreshingly genuine and honest (more than many evangelical bloggers) when it comes to faithfully approaching Scripture...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Faithfully Valuing the Limits of Scripture (PART 1 - INTRODUCTION)

Those who read my articles / comments will probably recognize that I am slightly divided in my approach to any controversial topic- I try and uphold both modernistic cognitive knowledge AND post-modern soul-oriented subjectivity. I can get agitated whenever I see either component emphasized in isolation :)

In a similar way, I have slowly become more and more concerned with the way we Christians tend to approach Scripture. I feel like we forget to approach it in a way which is faithful to an honest view of God, and His intentions for Scripture. Sometimes we forget that God's primary aims (relationship, holiness, joy) are not particularly related to Scripture as an end to itself (i.e. Modernism). And other times we forget that Scripture and theological debate are nevertheless essential tools to do those more fundamentally important extra-scriptural (Postmodern) things.

I'm going to write a series of posts on what (I think) it means to faithfully approach Scripture. I'm know I'm likely to upset some tightly-held beliefs about Scripture - but my aim is not to question things for the sake of it. I just want us all to approach Scripture honestly, and with a willingness to change our beliefs about it, if that's what 'being faithful' to it requires.

Background

To me, any faithful and honest approach to Scripture will do three things - be true to what Scripture says about itself, be applied consistently to make sense of every aspect of the text (as a whole, and as individual texts), and gel with the picture of God presented itself (when approached this way). It is not a simple task to stay true to all three principles, although I think it must be possible (even if we never know whether we are doing it 'right') if the Scriptures are inspired by God, or are simply intended by God slightly useful in any way.

However, we make this task impossible by adding subconscious extra-biblical requirements to this list. Humans do this to every interpretive action we undertake - from appreciating the beauty of the sunset or a massage, to studying physics and mathematics and music, to reading letters or the American Constitution. So there's no surprise we do this to the Bible.

Our worldview is the sum total of not only our perceptions (both cognitive and non-cognitive e.g. emotions, about the world and ourselves i.e. our identity and purpose), but also meta-data about those perceptions (such as how they relate to each other, how important or useful or integral each perception is, and how we decide these things). Obviously a lot of this is not consciously performed, but it definitely happens, and becomes more obvious when we deliberately explore it, IF we allow ourselves to admit it. Our worldview does the same with Scripture - it tells us how to give it value, emphasis, and purpose, etc. And by doing this it adds requirements to our approach to Scripture.

For example, modernism is a common component of many people's worldview in the Western world. Modernism has many aspects (including e.g. a focus on the human ability to forge its own destiny, via Free Will / Science / Humanism / etc), but a the big factor I'll talk about today is how it assigns purpose, value, identity, and relationships on the basis of detailed cognitive information. The more detailed cognitive information is available, the better modernism can supply purpose, value, identity, and relationships. Modernism thus provides a subconscious drive to seek clear and detailed cognitive knowledge. If a pure modernist wants to value and relate to God, their worldview adds the requirement that He readily provides clear and detailed cognitive information (for which Scripture is seen as the ideal conduit), and will be unable to grasp any purpose/value/identity/relationships that God and/or Scripture INTENDS to provide in the absence of such information.

Mixing Worldview and Scripture

When we struggle to bring all these requirements together with our worldview, we tend to fudge something to make it work. Unfortunately, my observation has been that we tend to accidentally stay faithful to our worldview, and to the obvious statements Scripture makes about itself - thus leaving the second principle (and the third, as a consequence of it) to be fudged. We end up 'simplifying' Scripture in our minds to a form which we CAN apply all the remaining principles to (including our worldview). We minimize the uncomfortable complexities and maximize the comfortable aspects with are coherent with our preconceptions.

The reason we are so faithful to our worldview, is that it has been instrumental in integrating everything we have ever experienced or known - our identity, our understanding, values, purpose, etc. To question our worldview literally raises the possibility (unlikely as it may be) that all these things have no basis. Our world would fall down around us. In addition to this, for religious people our worldview is integrated into our very concept of God and 'faithfulness' - to question it (even indirectly by questioning our consequent understanding of Scripture) is not only potentiating the collapse of our world, but the collapse of (what we consider to be) 'faithfulness' to God. 

There are several examples of scriptural characteristics that conflict frequently with our worldviews, and are thus 'simplified' to a form which allows us to continue with our worldview. The difficult 'doctrinal' passages are often split into those which align with our view, and those which need explaining away - and this is then done, often successfully, but not without minimizing the contribution these passages bring to the Scripture, while maximizing the contribution others bring. Some will say that this 'difficulty' results from addressing issues God doesn't want addressed, but this itself is minimizing the contribution these verses bring to Scripture. Others label it an attribute of our fallible interpretation, rather than Scripture per-se. Fair enough, but I don't think you can separate it from the fabric of Scripture itself so easily - there are other characteristics that suggest God was TRYING to avoid perfectly clear communication. Many of these 'opposing' views of God seem to be very clearly expressed and deliberately NOT fully integrated into a systematic theology, and the emphasis certainly isn't on reconciliation.

And even when we manage to simplify our view of God to be conveniently consistent in terms of doctrine (through our bias in emphasizing a subset of Scriptures), its hard to escape the changing morals He expects from His people - not just between Testaments, but within the same Old Testament Law! And then there are the blaring contradictions in terms of historical 'facts' and conversation, something the authors and readers didn't seem concerned about. And some very strange ways that Paul and Jesus mis-quote and re-interpret Scripture, suggesting they didn't view it quite like we do today. Then there is the fact that both Judeism AND Christianity existed and flourished before the 'Scriptures' per-se existed, and the Scriptures are never presented as the basis for a relationship with God.

Summary

If we believe God truly inspired Scripture, it means every characteristic is deliberate and aids His purposes, even if some of those characteristics make it difficult for us to know how to approach it, and challenge our fundamental understanding and approach to the world, ourselves, knowledge, life, etc. These difficult characteristics need to be considered just as 'Scriptural' as the more comfortable aspects, and made sense of and embraced just like the others we find convenient.

In this series I want to explore where the second principle of Scriptural faithfulness (being true to the text's characteristics, including its uncomfortable complexities) actually leads us, and which of our extra-biblical worldview 'requirements' can and can't stand alongside it. My aim is not that we will be free from personal bias or worldviews (I don't think this is possible), but that we will be free to consider Scripture as it really is BECAUSE we are not afraid to see and challenge (and attempt to change) our worldview IF God exposes some weaknesses.

Lets get the comments rolling :) How does this discussion make people feel?  What goes through your head when you consider 'challenging' your view of Scripture? Are there other ways we wrongly 'simplify' Scripture?

Next Time...

  • When the dust settles (LOL), my next post will explore one simple observations about Scripture, that many  feel the need to minimise (rather than accept at face value). It'll be a kind of extended introduction, just to help contextualise some of what I've been saying, and to get us more familiar with the kind of questions we'll be considering. 
  • After that I'll start on a more logical progression from the basics (God's fundamental aim in everything), to His specific purposes for Scripture, to the Jewish and Christian misuse of Scripture, and finally some implications for Christian unity and missions.

The series so far:

  1. Introduction (this post)
  2. Progressive Revelation
  3. Relationships and Cognition
  4. Morality and Evil
  5. Coping with Evil I
  6. Coping with Evil II
  7. How to Read

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Christianity vs Maturity?

Before I release the initial post of the series I've been working on for a while (regarding our approach to Scripture), here's a nice little article to contemplate :)

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2014/11/04/rugged-rationalism-and-the-churchs-alternative-story/

To summarise it:

  1. 'Evidence' (e.g. logic, 'science', textual criticism) plays a relatively minor role in 'conversion to unbelief / atheism'
  2. Instead, the deciding factor seems to be that the narrative 'unbelief' offers is one of honesty, problem-solving, maturity in the face of our complex reality - more so than the person's previous / alternative 'belief' system. 
  3. 'Evidence' is then offered as a supporting factor which integrates well with the preferred narrative.
  4. This implies that the church's mission attempts should not be primarily focused on 'evidence', even if we think we have lots which integrates well with our preferred narrative. This will only alienate people who are preconditioned (by their preferred narrative) to reject these 'evidences' in favour of their own.
  5. Instead, the church should seek to provide an alternative attractive narrative - one which is MORE honest, mature, and pro-active in the face of our complex reality, than the person's previous experience of 'belief'.
  6. The best initial step in evangelism, then, is to spend life with people, come alongside them, invite them to church. The goal is to help them grasp a narrative that can handle their complex reality in a way which is mature. 

Some thoughts of my own - If we fail to provide a narrative which is attractive, there are several possibilities:

  • Christianity is not real, and hence can't handle reality. If Christianity is real, an alternative MORE mature narrative must be possible.
  • WE probably need to adjust our understanding of the Christian narrative, so that it becomes mature enough to handle the other person's complex realities. This requires humility, a Christian value strangely lacking in many evangelical strategies.
  • Of course there are other things (besides 'maturity')  which make narratives attractive. Some may be able to be superseded by Christ's narrative, but others may be fundamentally opposed to it. We can't provide a narrative which is exclusively attractive on all fronts, or exclusively supported by all the evidence. Whatever the case, our aim is the same - to provide a narrative which is SUPERIORLY attractive, and which is supported by evidence.

What do you guys think? Especially keen to hear from the atheists out there :)

Friday, October 24, 2014

'Freewill'? Arminianism’s Philosophical Problems – Part 3



In Search of a Coherent Narrative 



Part 3: 'Freewill'? Arminianism’s Philosophical Problems 
Introduction



Previously I discussed how the concept of man’s Freewill does not hold a monopoly on scripture. I also discussed how foreknowledge seems to fail to explain how God’s predestination is a response to man’s Freewill choice of Him. This additional discussion looks more closely at the very concept of Freewill, not so much from a scriptural perspective but from philosophical perspective. This post asks how Freewill is actually meant to work, and explores some potentially negative consequences that is associated with Freewill thought. I realise books could be written on these subjects, but here, I aim to at least provide an exploration of some ideas in order to provoke thought around these subjects.




Cause and Effect



Arminian thought regarding Freewill cannot be explained. I believe it cannot be explained because it does not provide an answer to the important concepts of cause and effect. Cause and effect is the direct relation between a cause and the effect that it brings. Let me explain using the scenario of salvation. If we choose God over absence from Him, cause and effect would ask “what caused us to choose or not to choose God?”. Freewill thought would state that WE chose to or not to. However, in reality I do not think that it is that simple. Observing nature provides us with an understanding of cause and effect within creation. Quite simply, we are to a great extent products of our environment. I was raised in a New Zealand European family who are strong Christians. Guess what happened to me? Yes, I took on largely their language, culture, values and even their faith. My upbringing dictated to a great degree who I would become. Others absorb their surroundings also, such as a person in an Arab state may likely grow up to be a Muslim. Proverbs strongly hints towards a similar conclusion where the impact that our surroundings can have on us, actually determines the path we walk. It states that when you “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” When observing reality, it seems to suggest that our context that we live in drastically dictates where we will grow up, how we will act, and what we will believe. Thus, I believe we can fairly ask, “What causes me or anyone else to accept God or not to accept Him?”




A Dichotomy

When observing the concept of cause and effect and its relation to Freewill, it leads to a dichotomy about the nature of our Freewill. Either our decisions have direct causes, or they have ‘random’ causes. In Arminianist thought, people must have ultimately (in the end) an EQUAL choice between salvation or absence from God. If it is not equal then it implies that our circumstances, our experiences, and our nature would be the deciding influences to tip the balance on what we ultimately decide. Some Arminianists say that our surroundings do have an influence, but that we still have a choice to override that influence. However, if something does influence me then it must definitely have an effect on me. Can I really be held responsible for responding to an influence that had an effect on me, especially if that effect had no opposing influence to pull me in the other direction? If it were really true that we had a free choice to choose against influences, then reality would reflect that. As demonstrated earlier and clearly seen in reality, influences heavily determine the outcome of individuals in society - the way we think, the god (or lack of) we believe in, and even the prevalence of generational or societal sin! If we deny that influences determine outcomes then we must look at the alternative, which would mean something even more drastically unsettling. If we have a perfectly equal choice with no influencing factors, then what is it within us that makes any particular choice? What would cause me to choose to be saved, but the person across the road to choose not to be? I cannot say that it is because I wanted to be saved more, because that would be a predisposition of mine, or created by an outside influence. The only other disturbing option is that the decision would be completely random. If the decision is completely random, then there is no basis to discuss the importance of making any choices whatsoever. So any particular decision either has a cause (or a largely determining factor) or is completely random.


In my opinion, according to cause and effect, God ultimately created my circumstances, and He created my predisposition. I do not see any way that our Freewill can fit into this picture. I will speak more on the implications of this in my final post.


The same problems with the concept of Freewill can be applied to God. If God had choices before Him and randomly chose one, He would be an inconsistent and untrustworthy God. He definitely would not be the same yesterday, today and forever as it claims in the scriptures (Hebrews 13:8). In scripture, if God does something, it seems to always be for a reason, and that reason does not seem to be random. Either He makes random decisions (Which isn't Biblical or logical) OR He has some predisposition inherent in Him that causes Him to decide one way or the other. God would not be the God of the Bible if something existed outside of Him (Randomness or other) that would largely determine Him to do one action or another. Therefore, He must have a fixed nature that determines His actions.


Dangers of Freewill Thought

The concept of Freewill also creates other concerns when relating to people and creating discourses about society. The concern is that Freewill may cause us to lack compassion for those who reflect their external environment. I realise that we do have individuals natures that can cause each of us to act differently in different situations, however when looking at reality there is a strong correlation between our circumstances and the type of people we become. Freewill thought, on the other hand, limits the degree to which our external environments can be looked at as a potential cause. For example, if a child is born into a low income, abusive family with no work ethics etc, how would he be judged in Freewill thought if that child grew up to become just like his or her parents? The child would be seen as choosing ‘Freely’ his lifestyle, and therefore judged with limited compassion. With a true commitment to Freewill, I believe it is not possible to have full compassion on that grown-child’s disposition while being consistent with Freewill thought. Under Freewill thought, instead of compassion or understanding, the tendency can be to focus on, treat and judge a person on the symptoms of their behaviour, rather than addressing the underlying causes of their behaviour.


Unless we acknowledge the power that external circumstances have over our choices, it not only extremely limits our ability to have compassion on people, but it restricts the belief in the power to assist change. I believe that as one can take on the characteristics of their environment, so we can create new environments where there is hope for change. However, this is not as possible in Freewill thought. We would be merely wishing that people would change their “free” mind from each moment to the next. In fact, what good have we done if we have merely for the moment convinced someone to “freely” choose God? No real change has been done in their life because they then may freely choose to reject Him at any given moment. Believing that influences truly can have an effect provides a more positive outlook to changing the characters of people towards becoming more Christ-like.


Heaven? 

What happens in heaven - do we have Freewill to choose God or not to choose Him? If we do not have Freewill in heaven, then we are back to being mere ‘robots’, which Arminianism appears to characteristically oppose like a vampire to garlic. Some Arminians say that the glory of God will be so great that we will not want anything other than God. However, all that is saying is that we have a predisposition to enjoy the glory of God rather than having a “real” choice – thus taking our Freewill away.


Death of Innocents

One last thought about Freewill, is that of the death of the unborn or young child. If the way to God is only generated by a Freewill cognitive choice on our part, then this makes it nigh impossible for children to cognitively choose salvation. One could say that children either automatically go to heaven or hell, but these conclusions take away the purpose of “choice”/Freewill in the first place. Arminian thought would normally state that it is impossible to have loyalty without the opportunity to be disloyal; therefore, children going to heaven would mean a reneging of this value. Unless of course they believe in another age or realm after death, by which children can have a choice, which most Arminians probably deny. Maybe children just die and no longer exist for eternity? Who knows, but the Arminian narrative does not provide answers consistent with their narrative on this point.


Man’s Freewill does not Absolve God’s Responsibility for the Existence of Sin

On a brief note: Freewill does not get God off the hook when it comes to taking responsibility for the existence of evil (as I briefly mentioned in the previous post). Some people in defence of a Freewill state within humankind say that because people can ‘freely’ choose to commit evil, any evil that happens in the world is because of humankind. However, I believe that I can demonstrate that God has at least some responsibility for evil in this world. For example, if I were to throw someone into a pool of sharks and then hope the sharks would overlook that person, and that person then gets eaten, I would consider myself responsible for that outcome. God is involved in equivalent situations that actually happen in reality. He lets children be born into likely to be or currently abusive environments. Thus, the motive to believe in Freewill as a means to absolve God of ‘guilt’ is put into question.


Final Remarks

Many Arminians accept paradox when it comes to our Freewill coinciding with God as our Creator. This is a noble act. Many things cannot yet be explained, but if we want to explain how our relationship with God works, then these topics need to be addressed. Arminians do mean well. I do not think that all Arminians believe in Freewill in order to belittle God’s sovereignty per se, but instead aim to take the responsibility of sin onto our shoulders. Another up for Arminianism is that it clings to much of scripture, by enabling the potential for all people to be saved - something which Calvinism denies, as we shall see in the next post. However, when looked at closely, Arminianism is grossly unexplained, and can have the potential to oppress those who reflect their environments.


Next post we look at Calvinism and the issues that it has as a scriptural narrative.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What is the purpose of wealth?

Earlier last week I heard a sermon from a visiting speaker at church. It was about wealth and prosperity and how God wants to financially bless those who are His people. 
He used many verses to talk about how God provides wealth for His people, or more accurately, provides us with the ability to produce wealth. He seemed to think that Christians had a poverty mindset, where it is more holy to be poor and that the rich tended to be looked down upon.
He said some things that I agreed with, especially on the latter point. Like him, I don't believe we were called to be poor, but more to be without need or to have sufficient income to live on (depending on our context). However I felt that the sermon was heavily one sided. Maybe because he was swimming upstream against some Christians who tend to reject prosperity teaching - to be rich is bad and to be poor good? I take it that he was well meaning, but simply was too one-sided.

In this write up I would like to share a few verses that I find pertinent to how we should be handling the issue of money. Later on, I will raise some questions about the validity of leverage, passive income and 'blind' giving for the purpose of assisting the needy. I will also share a question that I have found helpful to ask myself when giving to others.


The visiting preacher's leaning tendency was pretty much that Christians should be seeking to make money to be wealthy. To give him credit he at least 'mentioned' that if we have more, then we are able to give more. However, here are a few verses that I think challenge his tendency to focus on the value of wealth:

Matthew 6: 19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

The preacher made it clear that he did not think Christians should make wealth their primary goal, but that it should still be a goal in life. However, here in Matthew, Jesus is making it very clear that we should not be seeking wealth here on earth but that we should be focusing on the rewards heaven has to offer. 2 Corinthians talks about the purpose of having plenty:

2 Corinthians 8:8-15 I speak not by commandment, but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.
10 And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; 11 but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. 12 For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.
13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written,“He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

In the beginning of the sermon, the speaker made reference to people having 'dreams' of material goods, but that as we moved through life we realised that those dreams were too large. He claimed that we tend to drop those dreams, not because they are necessarily misguided but because they are out of our reach. He also emphasised verse 9 where Jesus came to make us rich. However, verses 13-15 qualify the purpose for gaining riches. It is not so that we can spend the riches on ourselves but to create fairness and equality between us and those around us. Don't get me wrong, I believe in enjoying the work of our hands, but it needs to be done in balance and not at the expense of others. There is no rule per se when it comes to how much money we can have or spend, because for each person it would be different in our infinitely diverse contexts. 

The biggest struggle that I had with some of what he said, was that he promoted concepts of leverage and passive gain for personal gain. They are both intelligent ways of making money, but at whose cost?
I am no economist, but it doesn't take much imagination to wonder where the extra money earned has actually come from. If I am not working for a "day's" money or earning more than a "day's" labour, then where is the money coming from?
Ultimately using leverage and passive income means that we are actually using or exploiting someone else's labour for our own pocket. Being a little bit controversial here, but what is 'profit' really? Money gained after our expenses seems to me, to be the very definition of exploiting someone else somewhere down the line. It is the people with power who eventually win and those who do not that lose. Money gained up the top of the stratification ladder would come from down below, would it not?
This is part of the reason why the majority of the money in western cultures is in the hands of a few.

Should we as Christians be promoting this behaviour for our own gain? If we do it for the good of others, then that's awesome. However, maybe this could be done by leveraging the rich somehow to assist the poor, instead of oppressing them? What needs to be taken into consideration is that the people we are trying to help, may be the very people we are exploiting.

I felt that possibly the sermon actually discouraged and alienated people rather than encouraged them. How many people have chased money before and only failed? This sermon may have indirectly caused these people to feel like they had failed God or had sinned somewhere in their lives. Not all of us want to make more money than what is sufficient for us.

There was an article I read recently that was talking about empowerment - how we could be seeking to assist the powerless to become powerful themselves. It raised the concept of charity and how it actually encouraged the power imbalances within the stratification in society. Even though charity can be done with good intentions, we must ask ourselves whether it is actually benefiting the people we are trying to help. What I mean by that, is that each time we who have abundance give to those who have need, it potentially creates a situation where they feel like they owe the rich one and the rich feel like they are owed one. It doesn't necessarily close the gap between the rich and poor, but actually confirms it. Instead of giving blindly to the poor, maybe the rich could give a little more strategically, if they really are wanting to assist the poor to empower themselves and get back up on their feet.

I heard someone raise an important issue regarding giving that I found extremely helpful to check my motives about giving. Do I give because I want to feel like I am helping people, or, do I give because I want to actually help people?

So, in conclusion regarding these thoughts:
  1. Seeking wealth primarily should be for the good of others. Though, in balance, I still believe in enjoying the work of our hands.
  2. Is leverage and passive income really helpful to those in need?
  3. Sermons inspiring people to become rich could potentially be alienating or discouraging to those who have not done so well in the business arena.
  4. Is 'blind' charity the most helpful form of assistance for those in need?


     



Sunday, June 22, 2014

Arminianism’s Scriptural and Philosophical Problems - Part 2

In Search of a Coherent Narrative


Part 2: Arminianism’s Scriptural and Philosophical Problems

Photo by Darren Tunnicliff

Previously I discussed what an Arminian narrative or paradigm generally looked like. Ultimately, it emphasizes the concept of Freewill and denies the hand of God in ultimately choosing whom to save. God’s choice is a response to man’s choice.

Even though I do consider Arminianism still workable and honourable in many aspects, I still find it uncompelling concerning its ability to explain the scriptural revelation given to us by God. It also struggles to explain Biblical concepts in a philosophically coherent manner. In this next section, I will firstly take scripture as an example, and then cover some of the philosophical difficulties that Arminianism has with dealing with these scriptures. Many aspects of scripture come against the Arminian idea of Freewill and suggest that God through our surroundings determines who we are and what choices we make. The Bible contains many, many scriptures pertaining to God predestining and determining people’s lives. Aspects of our lives being determined can be a frightening concept, but is an idea that will be further addressed throughout this series.

For the mean time, here are some examples in the Bible suggesting that at least some parts of our lives are determined:


  • Psalm 139:16 “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
  • Proverbs 16:4 “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble.” 
  • Proverbs 16:9 “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” 
  • Proverbs 16:33 “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.” 
  • Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” 
  • Proverbs 21:1-3 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” 
  • Proverbs 22:6 “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” 
  • John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.” 
  • Acts 4:28 “They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.” 
  • Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”
  • Romans 9:11 “Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls” 
  • Romans 8: 29-30 “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” 
  • Romans 9: 14 – 24 “What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ ” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” 
  • Romans 12:3 “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” 
  • Ephesians 1:4-5, 11 “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” 
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” 
  • Revelation 17:8 “The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come.” 

In Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:11 the Greek word for “predestine” is “prooriz√≥”, which according to Strong’s concordance means “I foreordain, predetermine or mark out before-hand”. In verses like these, God gives a strong impression that He decides an outcome beforehand and makes it happen. Could it be that our destiny is decided before we have any say in the matter?

Not only does the Bible talk about predestination, but it also talks about God giving a measure of faith to people (Romans 12:3). However, strangely, in many other places God seems to attribute us the responsibility of generating faith, but as already mentioned, Romans suggests that our faith actually comes from God.

Proverbs is often clear about the outcomes of our plans actually being determined by God, even people’s hearts! Proverbs 22:6 says to “train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It suggests that our surroundings (parents, in this instance) have a heavy influence on who we become. Conclusively, scripture expresses ideas that suggest that our wills are not as free as some would suppose.


Foreknowledge


Faced with these verses that threaten Freewill, Arminians sometimes try to get around the idea of predestination by attributing His choice of individuals to His foreknowledge, as found in the five points of Arminianism mentioned in the last section. Romans 8:29 is a key verse that provides us with a concept of foreknowledge along with predestination. If God merely knew beforehand (rather than predestined) who would choose to be saved and who would choose not to be, then this seems to enable our Freewill. That is, God supposedly predestines people’s salvation after His foreknowledge of their choice of outcome. However, there still seems to be several difficulties with placing foreknowledge before predestination in this manner, which will be my focus in the remainder of this section.

Arminian concept of God’s foreknowledge attempts to provide us with an ability to choose God before He chooses us. Yet, concerning this explanation, it falls apart when looked at more closely. Let me explain. I see that comprehensibly God can know the future by three possible ways:


  1. God foreknows the future because He is outside of time as we know it. God could view reality like a video and zip back and forward as He wills. Alternatively, He could see all time periods at once. Either way, from His perspective, the future is as if it has already happened.
  2. God set creation in motion like a wound up clock and can predict what will happen by observing everything according to a cause and effect (domino effect) scenario. Thus, God determines man’s “Freewill” through cause and effect.
  3. The future is predictable not because of cause and effect but because God creates and plans (in the present) every aspect, and does as He wishes. Thus, man’s will would be determined by God’s active involvement in the present moment.

The last two views violate Arminian Freewill because God would be the one who is micro managing processes and outcomes, even our wills. Arminians could go with the first explanation in order to keep man’s Freewill at the same time as God foreknowing who would be saved. The problem with this view is the emphasis on the future tense of “will be” or “would choose”. Arminianists say that God foreknows who would choose Him or who will choose Him, implying that the future has not happened yet. However, if God already knows the future, then surely it must have already happened, at least from His perspective. Otherwise, how could He know it? If that is true, then all of time must be knowledge to God – not foreknowledge.

In addition, if everything has already happened in the future, how then can God be involved within that future? If He did enter that timeline and intervened somehow, then the future must not yet have happened. However, if we accept that God can know the future without it already having happened, then we immediately enter one of the other two options mentioned earlier, where God creates or handles the very outcome of the future – ideas which go against the very grain of Arminianist thought.

Some people try to get around the idea of God being a deterministic sovereign Being, by saying that He does not know the future - the future is unpredictable. The future therefore is open to “possibilities”. This is called Open Theism. Arminianists could adopt this idea in order to “free up” Freewill as well as keeping God’s “choosing” abilities. However, I do not believe Open Theism is scriptural at all. The Bible is quite clear about God’s ability to know, predict or create the future. God’s predestining according to foreknowledge as expressed in Romans 8 would not be consistent in an Open Theist narrative, because He would have no knowledge of the future. The future is open to “possibilities” and cannot be foreknown.

Lastly, one could say that the people whom God chooses to be saved are not chosen on an individual basis but more on a hypothetical collective level. My question regarding this is where does God’s foreknowledge come into this perspective? If God had foreknowledge of the future people group who would choose Him, then surely He must have had foreknowledge of the individuals who would make up that people group that He predestined. Thus thinking of predestination as a hypothetical group of people does not answer how the people within that group actually become a part of that group, and in my opinion does not provide a leg for Freewill ideas to stand on (Romans 8:29).


Arminianism Freewill not only tries to 'free up' our choices, but ultimately tries to attribute the existence of evil to man. However, if God foreknows the future as well as allows man the freedom to choose good or evil, it still leaves God with the responsibility of allowing evil to happen. James 4:17 states that even the act of choosing not to do good and thus allowing evil to happen, is a form of sin. This implies that if God is able to change the future and does not do so, then He is ultimately responsible for everything that happens.



This then leads to questions that we can ask of God as to why He actively allowed evil to happen, especially when He had foreknowledge of it. If God knows who will be saved and who will not be, then why bother creating people in the first place who will suffer eternity without Him? Does their existence simply suggest that God values Freewill, by providing an example of evil that the rest are saved from? These questions lead to concepts that some Calvinists have, such as God directly creating people for heaven and for hell. However, Arminianist thought opposes these ideas, because it would mean that God chose to create a situation for evil to exist (even though they still say that He had foreknowledge that evil would definitely exist). Thus, foreknowledge does not truly get God “off the hook” when it comes to creating evil - God actively allows evil to happen, especially because He foresaw it.



In conclusion, the Arminian concept of Freewill does not have a monopoly on scriptural verses that point towards it. Many contradict it, in fact. In addition, the concept of God’s foreknowledge enabling man’s Freewill does not actually work. It fails on multiple levels, such as failing to attribute the author of sin to us, failing to provide a way for God to choose us after we chose Him and therefore failing to provide an answer as to how humankind chooses redemption or not.

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Friday, June 13, 2014

Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative - Part 1


In Search of a Coherent Narrative

Part 1: Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative

Photo by Stuart Anthony


Introduction

This series is about a search for a coherent scriptural narrative of our lives in relation to God and the world that we live in. Looking at reality, we all create some sort of narrative or way of understanding the world around us - sometimes realised and sometimes not. Within Christian circles today, two grand narratives go head to head. They are the narratives of Arminianism and Calvinism. These two narratives are not synonymous with each other even though they both fall under Christian belief. At first glance, they seem to be a dichotomy, but I do not see them as necessarily being so. This series will seek to draw a sought after unity between concepts within Arminianism and Calvinism with regards to their inherent difficulties. The first analysis will cover the key concepts of Arminianism - what it is, why it is attractive, and why I believe it does not work. The second analysis will cover Calvinism - what it is, why it is attractive, and why I believe it doesn’t work. The third analysis will provide a potential solution to the inherent difficulties within the Arminian and Calvinistic narratives.

Before I begin, I will share a little of my background surrounding these issues to shed some light on where I am coming from. I grew up in a dedicated Christian family who taught me to search for truth. Ever since I was young, I enjoyed mulling over idealistic views about life. I relished the challenge of explaining reality in a way that others could understand. My journey ventured into trying to provide an answer that tied together the disparities between Arminianism’s “man’s free will” and Calvinism’s “God’s free will”. I originally held to Arminian thought but became more and more unsettled by it. I valued human choice. To me, if we were without choice, then questions like these arise - how can one have love for God? Or – How can one be loyal without the opportunity to be disloyal? I understood love to be a choice and therefore not compelled. Not only that, but as I read the Bible it seemed to me that man’s free will was evident, especially considering that God required and expected certain actions and outcomes from people. However, emphasizing man’s responsibility meant that I read over many of the passages that talked about predestination and the role that God played in choosing who would be His chosen people (the elect) and who would not be. I tried many a time to get around these passages. This disparity left me perplexed - how God could expect actions and outcomes from people contrary to what He had already predestined them to do? For a good while, I simply saw this inconsistency as a paradox and trusted in God’s love and grace to bring about the best outcome for individuals and humankind. However, I have since studied these disparities more closely and discovered an idea that I believe provides a possible resolution to these otherwise opposing narratives.

To further explore Arminianism and Calvinism, I will first give an overview of the KEY components of each respectively. At the end of each overview, I will raise in more detail the scriptural, philosophical, and moral struggles of each that I have found inherent in their thought. Now I realise there are multiple variants of Arminianism and Calvinism, such as the difference between Moderate Calvinism and High Calvinism. However, I believe they all fundamentally have the same core issues. It is predominantly these core issues that I will address.


Part 1: Arminianism – A Seemingly Attractive Narrative

The key components of an Arminian worldview are found in the five points of Arminianism, which is given in a little more detail here (http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/reformed-theology/arminianism/calvinism-vs-arminianism-comparison-chart/). A key concept in the Arminian thought is the very common idea of Freewill. (For the purpose of this series, in order to help distinguish what I mean by Freewill, I will use a capital “F” for Freewill when referring to Arminian Freewill.) Here is my brief summary of the five points of Arminianism:

Freewill or Human Ability. This understanding of man’s relationship to sin and God consists of a Freewill that is not bound. Man can freely choose to have faith in God but can also choose not to. Man’s will is not entirely subject to the sin nature. Once a man freely accepts God and puts faith in Him, then that is when the Spirit provides the needed assistance and intervenes in a person’s life.

Conditional Election. This is a reference to the process of how God choses those whom He will save. “Conditional Election” is where God chooses based on foreknowledge of the future as to who would place their faith in Him and who would not. Therefore, humankind ultimately chooses whom God chooses to be saved. God’s choice for salvation is a reply to man’s faith in Him.

Universal Redemption or Universal Atonement. This covers the scope of atonement provided by Christ on the cross. “Universal Atonement” says that Christ died for everyone’s sins, but that redemption will only come into effect if a person accepts what He has done for them on the cross. If a person rejects Christ, then there remains no atonement for their sins and therefore no forgiveness.

God’s Holy Spirit can be resisted. Similar to the above notions, this concept emphasises man’s Freewill. The Holy Spirit will work in people’s lives by calling them to Himself, but only will have effect for salvation when He is not resisted by them.

Falling from Grace. Some Arminians (not all) consider that those who are truly part of God’s people can still turn away from God. Some others believe that once a person has turned to God they cannot then turn away, thus creating division on this thought.


Taking all these key ideas together, they create a narrative or “worldview”. This narrative goes something like this: In the beginning, God created humankind. He created us like Himself so that we have Freewill to determine our own outcomes. We are ultimately our own sovereign over the outcome of our lives. Some say the reason for this is that God wanted a people who would be able to love Him freely and without compulsion. It would be impossible to have loyalty without the opportunity to be disloyal. God gave Adam and Eve this Freewill, but they used it to turn against God and put all of humanity in a state of separation from God. This grieved God. It grieved Him so much that He wanted to restore mankind to Himself. Yet God must keep justice by punishing evil. If He merely let Adam and Eve do as they wish with no consequences, He would be unjust as the Sovereign Creator. Therefore, He separated mankind from Himself because dark could not dwell with light. His grand plan was to send a Redeemer (Jesus Christ) who was to pay for the evil done by mankind, thus fulfilling the justice due. At the same time as this desire to draw mankind to Himself, He still values man’s Freewill and wants to draw them to Himself according to their choosing. If He forces mankind to choose Him then it would defeat one of the purposes of creating them in the first place – to have a people who would love Him freely and without compulsion. It would violate their Freewill. Thus God is divided – He wants good to reign and yet at the same time have Freewill. God values Freewill over all other desires of His, including the salvation of all people. Being a righteous judge, He must punish those who chose evil while still respecting their Freewill, and thus sends them to an eternal separation from Himself. Evil and light will not forever dwell together. In conclusion, sin is the result of mankind’s choice. However, mankind can seek after salvation and then form a partnership with God that will ultimately restore them into the image of God.


Another scenario that may help to explain the saving relationship between God and people is the drowning man (borrowed from David Pawson, http://davidpawson.org/). To an Arminian, salvation is like a man drowning in a river. God sees the man and throws him a rope to pull him ashore. The man then chooses whether he will grab hold of the rope or not. Many will reject it but some will accept it. As the man is pulled to shore, it would be incorrect to say that he saved himself. Yes, he did choose to grab hold of the rope, but God is the One who ultimately pulls him to shore.

The reasons behind accepting this paradigm are potentially many. The key ones that I see as the most relevant are:

- Arminianism takes the responsibility for sin away from God and places it on the individual. The alternative would state that since God is the Creator of all then that also makes Him the Creator of sin. If we were not responsible for our sins (that is, if God was responsible for sin) then that would seem to make God unfair – it paints Him as having unreasonable expectations of people, especially if He then sentences them to eternal conscious torment for acts of sin that they had no choice in. However, the Bible requires us to love God. Some Arminians believe that if God is the Creator of all and we are to love Him, then he must be lovable. Arminianism gets around the problem of a God who does “evil” (through directly creating sin) by attributing the existence of sin to mankind’s Freewill, thus letting God off the hook.

- Arminianists believe that people ultimately do not have a predisposition to choose God or not. When God judges people, He judges us according to our Freewill deeds. God would be unjust to judge us according to predisposition, because He created our predisposition.

 If man’s Freewill did not exist, then love or loyalty would not exist because it would not be free. How can one be loyal without the opportunity to be disloyal? We would be robots, mere play figures in the Creator’s world of evil and good.

 Much of scripture supports the Arminian belief. The general message of the Bible is that man is responsible for our sins and that God holds us accountable for our every action and thought.

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