On the Nature of Divine Election

Patrick Schreiner has a put together a good synopsis of the arguments put forward by Brian Abasciano (corporate emphasis/conditional election) and Tom Schreiner (individual emphasis/unconditional election) here.

He includes the two opposing articles (Abasciano’s article is a response to Schreiner’s work some ten years before, and Schreiner’s article is a response to Abasciano’s response).  I want to highly suggest you reading them both.  They will stretch your mind, and that is good.  And depending upon what side of the debate you are on at present, I would encourage you to a cool frame and tempered, teachable disposition in reading the article that exegetes and argues contrary to your position.  As Piper has said, “it is more important to learn what they are saying than to hear what you want to hear” (paraphrase).

I will tell you, also, that after reading them both, I still land somewhat predictably and unhesitatingly with Schreiner’s position.  I won’t bother you with my own thoughts beyond that.  Just read the articles and we can talk later.  And, p.s., I don’t think this is a peripheral issue!

God Desires All To Be Saved, and Grants Repentance To Some, by John Piper

Simplicity can be both good and bad.  When preaching or teaching or conducting family devotions or discipleship, biblical simplicity is an admirable goal.  But simplicity is a problem when it is used to justify theological laziness or, along the same lines, we discover a verse that we intend to make our pet because it singularly defends our theological position, and we are quite unwilling to give an ear to verses that are not contrary but balancing.  Such verses or passages are in the Bible to make us think, to challenge the mind, to balance our theological or traditional bend.  In other words, biblical simplicity often involves hard labor in the biblical text.  And often times it involves balancing one apparently clear verse with another that seems to be contrary but isn’t.  They are meant to level one another until the bubble of truth stands in the middle.  They interpret one another, though one is usually master of the two.  A good example of this is found in Piper’s exegesis and interpretation of 1 Timothy 2.4 in light of 2 Timothy 2.25:

Put two texts together, and see what you see.

“God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth(eis epignōsin alētheias)” (1 Timothy 2:4).

“God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (eis epignōsin alētheias)” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Go here for his textual labors and the theological interpretation that follows.  Bad theology, even if honestly affirmed, is usually incomplete theology; an unwillingness to do what Piper does here.

Let’s Get Our Theological Priorities Straight, by Luke Stamps

Get your priorities straight. This is true in the realm of Christian doctrine, just as it is anywhere else in life. Doctrinal prioritization has a strong pedigree. Jesus himself placed priority on the two great commandments: love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). The apostle Paul placed priority on the gospel proclamation of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection—the message he considered to be “of first importance” (1 Corinthians 15:3). And so all theologians must prioritize. Certain doctrines have greater significance than others for the whole of Christian theology. The deity of Christ is more consequential for the Christian faith than the timing of the millennium. The latter is still important, but it is not “of first importance,” to borrow the apostle’s phrase.

A good, thought-provoking read.  Go here.

What is it “to praise the glory of his grace”?

Charles Hodge answers:

‘The glory of grace’ is the divine excellence of that attribute manifested as an object of admiration.  The glory of God is the manifested excellence of God, and the glory of any one of his attributes is the manifestation of that attribute as an object of praise.  The design of redemption, therefore, is to exhibit the grace of God in such a conspicuous manner as to fill all hearts with wonder and all lips with praise.

Charles Hodge, Ephesians, Geneva Series of Commentaries, Banner, pg. 14-15.  Commenting on Ephesians 1.6.

Churches Today Do Not Have This Effect

Jesus’s teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day.  However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect.  The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones.  We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people.  The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church.  That can only mean one thing.  If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did.  If our churches aren’t appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we’d like to think.

Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God, 15-16.

A Must Watch Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1.26-31

By John Piper.  Some have quipped, even in the seminary classroom, how Piper has but one sermon.  Well, that may be true, but I can’t for the life of me see anything wrong with that one sermon.  For that one sermon, I believe, approaches the content and joy of that one sermon and song that we will be hearing in glory forever, and I do not think that we will ever tire of hearing it then and there.  Why should we tire of hearing foretastes of it here and now.  A mighty sermon indeed.

A Lecture on Regeneration

Posted under “Other Writings” tab above.

From the introduction:

Last week I mentioned that I doubted whether there were any more important doctrines to recover, know and experience than the doctrines of God, Christ, depravity, and regeneration.  That was confirmed again this week in a lecture by Adam Greenway, when he identified the lack of a robust knowledge of sin as one of the great depravities in the contemporary evangelical church.  Wherever there is little knowledge of sin, there will be little thankfulness for the reality of the new birth; when one does not acknowledge that he is or has been dead, then he will rob himself of the knowledge of the fullness of God’s mercy and love in granting spiritual life.  This is captured poetically in Charles Wesley’s hymn of 1738, “And Can it Be That I Should Gain,” where he bids us sing, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray – I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee; my chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”  Where there is no biblical understanding of the new birth, there is only a shallow Christendom, the shell of true Christianity – religiosity with not an ounce of divine life.  This morning, we want to recover this biblical doctrine of regeneration, or the new birth, and become grounded in it, for the vitality of our own souls, for the health of this church body, for an evangelical distinctiveness from the world, and for the glory of the God who in mercy makes the dead to live.

Regeneration Confessed and Defined. “Regeneration is a change of heart, wrought by the Holy Spirit, who gives life to those dead in trespasses and sins, enlightening their minds spiritually and savingly to understand the Word of God, and renewing their whole nature, so that they love and practice holiness.  It is a work of God’s free and special grace alone.”  “God effects a change which is radical and all-pervasive, a change which cannot be explained in terms of any combination, permutation, or accumulation of human resources, a change which is nothing less than a new creation by him who calls the things that be not as though they were, who spake and it was done, who commanded and it stood fast.  This, in a word, is regeneration” (Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 96).  What is it that makes the difference between, “every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” and “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God,” but God’s monergistic work of regeneration that changes the heart which has not loved God for one second to one which is filled with new throbs of love for God.  Regeneration is nothing less than the onset of new spiritual life, freeing the mind, the heart, and the will to love God and walk in holiness.  Thus, the sinner who receives the new birth is called a new creature.

Lecture on the Fall of Man

Added within “Other Writings” tab above.

From the Introduction:

On July 8, 1741, a well-known preacher and theologian found himself in Enfield, Connecticut on a missionary tour.  That day he had chosen as his text Deuteronomy 32:35, “Their foot shall slide in due time.”  This was his introduction . . . (399-400).  The sermon was “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; the preacher, one Jonathan Edwards.  What he vividly portrayed that day was the perilous condition of man before God as a consequence of the Fall; and when combined with his emphasis on the mercies of God, it was this that promoted what Edwards journaled as, “an immediate and general revival of religion throughout the place” (399).

The doctrine of the Fall of Man is one of the most important doctrines to reclaim, preach, and teach in a secular and church culture that has largely come to deny the biblicity and experiential fact of it, along with that of God, Christ, and that which belongs to redemption.  Significantly, when these doctrines disappear from the evangelical church, the product is a Christless, powerless, man-centered theology.  This doctrine, the doctrine of the Fall, sin and total depravity, is one of the pillars to a God-entranced, Christ-centered, Spirit-filled life.  The knowledge of our spiritual inability teaches us that the whole of salvation belongs to God, and that He alone is worthy of all of our praise – the object of our boast is reoriented away from us to God (1 Cor 1:29-31).  Understanding the sinfulness of sin, and the depth of human wickedness, the cross is magnified for what it truly is: the power of God!  When the soul is awakened to its hellish principles and rebellious nature by the “quickening ray” of God in Christ by the Spirit, grace becomes altogether remarkable.  This is what the famed lines of John Newton’s Amazing Grace teach us: “Amazing grace!, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me; I was once lost but now I’m found; twas blind but now I see.”  So it is, that we will not perceive grace to be so amazing until we know and feel that fact of our wretchedness, and so consequently, know and feel our need of Christ.

Reflections on Genesis 6:5: Depravity and Grace

In the past couple of weeks, the Lord has grabbed my heart for meditation upon four verses in particular: Genesis 6:5, Psalm 42:2, Isaiah 42:3, and Hebrews 12:14.  Over the next couple of days, I hope to post some reflections upon them in that order.

Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

A part of, if not the whole of, wickedness as it is defined by God is “that every intention of the thoughts of [the sinners] heart was [is] only evil continually.”  The doctrine of the verse is the depravity of man, total, universal, and natural.  It is the pervasiveness of wickedness that is prominent in the passage.  It is not some of our intentions, but every intention.  It is not just the intentions of our actions, but our thoughts also.  But it cannot be relegated to our thoughts alone, for it regards the thoughts of the heart, and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks and the man acts.  It is not that our intentions are sometimes good, sometimes neutral, sometimes evil; but only evil.  And there is no respite from this depravity – it is only evil continually!  This is the condition of every man apart from the saving grace of God which regenerates the sinner, imparts a new heart with new proclivities, new loves, desires, passions, and pulses for God, grants a new spiritual principle, the Holy Spirit and resurrection and eternal life.  Now the sinner can take no comfort from the idea that he is not seen by God, for “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth.”  The Lord saw it!  It is the illusion of the wicked, even mine prior to the mercy of Christ in my own life, that God will not find out our sins and hold us accountable for them.  They say to the righteous, “Where is your God?” (Ps 42:10); they say in their hearts, “There is no God” (Ps 53:1).  The Psalmist writes, “[The wicked] says in his heart, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it. . . . Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, ‘You will not call to account’?  But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands . . . break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none” (Ps 10:11, 13-15).  Indeed, such depravity, wickedness, evil, and sin is noted by God, seen by God, and will be called to account before God.  There is no wiggle room for the sinner before God.

Now it is a great mercy that God, Himself, overcomes our wicked nature by sovereign grace, that God regenerates the heart of the wicked and declares Him righteous on the basis of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ; for what we read of in Genesis 6:5 is not at all the case with Christ.  While He put on the likeness of sinful flesh, He Himself was without sin; He was in His humanity what we all were created by God to be.  Therefore, bearing our penalty on account of our sin as He did on His cross, He made substitution for sinners, intercession for transgressors, so that all who repent and believe in Him might be forgiven their sins by God, given Christ’s righteousness, reconciled to God, invested with resurrection and eternal life, indwelled by the Spirit of the living God.  Therefore Jesus is the Way from, “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually,” to “as a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and appear before God?” (Ps 42:1-2).  Grace manifest supremely in the cross, where the depravity of men climaxes in the face of the highest display of mercy, is the only Way of salvation in every possible sense of the biblical concept.  Only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from their utter helplessness to save themselves; only Christ and Him crucified can save the sinner from the insurmountable depths of their depravity; only Christ and Him crucified can bring such a wretch as me to eternal glory.  Only Christ has accomplished such a great salvation, and can speak thus: “Remove the filthy garments from him. . . . Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zech 3:4).  May God be praised for His glorious grace!

It Matters How We Get There

In a recent theological conversation, the topic inevitably moved to the sovereignty of God in salvation, otherwise known as the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism.  It matters not what was discussed from the beginning of the conversation up until the end, but what was claimed at the end.  The end was this: we both agreed, regardless of position, that a bona fide Gospel offer, a universal proclamation of the message of Christ was the explicit command of Scripture and the necessity of any man’s salvation.  Then one said, “So long as we get that, it doesn’t really matter how we get there.”  This bothered me throughout the night, because it absolutely matters how we get there. How we arrive at biblical affirmations matters precisely because we are dealing with the Bible; that is, the Bible does not present two equally valid views on the sovereignty of God (or lack thereof) in salvation and then say, “and both of these end up here, so just get here however and as quickly as possible.”  Theology matters; doctrine matters; that we can agree on a universal Gospel offer is truly wonderful and good, but that does not mean that we can set aside the correct way to approach such an affirmation, for that is tantamount to setting aside the revelation of God in preference to a more postmodern ideology which says, “you read it this way, and I read it this way, but at least we can agree on this, so the other stuff doesn’t matter.”  No, it matters!  It influences the way we view God, it influences our view of man, it influences the way that we offer the Gospel universally; it heightens or dampens joy, satisfaction, humility, mercy, graciousness, thanksgiving; it should even effect the way that Christian husbands love their wives, and the disposition with which wives submit to their husbands (see Eph 5:21ff); it relates to other biblical doctrines like the intercessory work of Christ in His exalted state, and the “riskiness” of the Triune God with something so, well, eternal.  ETC.  Let us be careful, then, not to fall into doctrinal laziness or imprecision; the casting aside of the whole counsel of God as if it were unessential.  It matters how we get there, brothers and sisters.  I hope that you will take the road (unfortunately) less traveled.