Sunday, November 20, 2011

Self Made Theology

Roger Olsen has come out with a book entitled "Against Calvinism".  In it he claims to be saving God's reputation from the New Calvinists who believe that God is sovereign to the point that he has determined even calamity to happen such as 9/11.  Evidently one can be sovereign and yet not control all things.  One of the most disturbing things he states in his book is that a God who would deliberately chose to let some go to Hell and cause calamity in the world would be hard to distinguish from Satan!  One wonders how he can come to such a conclusion but eventually in the book he shows his hand as to why he thinks God's reputation needs to be salvaged.

When asked by one of his students if God should come down to him and tell him that the Calvinist position is correct concerning election and predestination would he be able to worship this kind of God, Olsen says no!  In other words he is saying that it doesn't really matter what the Bible says; I already have my mind made up as to what God should be like and I will not worship any other kind of God even if I am wrong.

Well I know that the few people who read this blog are as appalled at such a stance as I am.  It would be easy for me write about how unbiblical such a presupposition is and I think a case could be made that no actual Christian could say such a thing.  If fact I am somewhat surprised that some Calvinists have called this a scholarly work when he makes no real attempt to support his arguments from the exegesis of Scripture, argues primarily from his own preferences (see above) and refuses to enter into dialogue or debate publicly to defend his positions.  But my concern is not what he believes but what we as Christians believe.

I think sometimes we do something akin to what Olsen does when it comes to believing the Bible.  In our hearts we know that if the Bible says something it is true and wouldn't dare say that we believe something so strongly that even if God himself said we were wrong we wouldn't give it up.  He tells us that we can give ourselves totally to his care, take up our cross and follow him, forsake family and security for something far better and we can do so because he is sovereign over all things not just over what we let him rule over.  We say we believe this but when push comes to shove and we have to stand for Christ or bow to this world or say no to a loved one we balk.  Our sin is the same, if not worse than Olsen's.  We refuse to worship the God we believe in.  He at least refuses to worship the God he doesn't believe in.  He might be wrong but he is at least consistent.

At the end of the day we either believe what we read in the Bible or we decide that the presuppositions that we have come to through the experiences of our lives and the influence of others will rule what we believe and more importantly will rule how we live out our lives.  What I find disturbing when I saw what Olsen was saying is not that someone can say that and still claim to be a Christian but how close we can come sometimes in doing the same thing and perhaps not even realizing it.  May the Lord grant us power and wisdom to live in light of his divine sovereignty and wisdom, not to deny it by either our words or our lives.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How Great is Your God?

In Mark 4 we read of Jesus calming the storm: Mar 4:38  "But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" Mar 4:39  And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mar 4:40  He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" Mar 4:41  And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"  

After rebuking the wind Jesus rebukes his disciples for a defective faith.  One might wonder why Jesus is so rough on them.  After all their lives seemed to be in grave danger and all Jesus was doing was sleeping.  It seems the perfect time to pray. I don't think that they were rebuked for coming to Jesus and if we dig a little deeper we can see why they are rebuked.

What we actually see is that their prayer is an attack on the character of Christ.  "Lord, you don't seem to care about us".  They had assumed smooth sailing since Christ was with them but such was not the case.  Their next mistake is to assume that difficulty and tribulation meant that Jesus didn't love them as they thought he should.  So as they (and we) complain of God's providence in their lives, what they are actually doing is questioning the wisdom and love of God.  And equally as sinful they are saying that they have the right to question him as if they are wise enough to see a mistake he has made.  It would do us well to remember this when we are tempted to complain about things.  We aren't just murmuring but we are questioning the very character of God and in so doing exalting ourselves.  Small wonder that all the murmurers in the wilderness died without reaching the Promised Land.

In verse 40 we see that Jesus doesn't chide them for waking him up and coming to him but for fearing the storm more than they feared him.  When he says, "Why are you so afraid?" in the original he is saying why do you have this kind of fear.  The kind of fear that they had was one that feared danger more than the Lord and caused them to question him.  I don't think it is sinful to fear things that are legitimate dangers.  If you don't try to get out of the way of an approaching tornado you aren't spiritual, you are a fool!  The disciple's God was just a little too small in their eyes to do them much good.  They needed to see what sort of God they had and so vs. 27, "Who then is this, that ever the wind and the sea obey him?"   This was why the Lord calmed the storm so that they would quit looking at it and stand amazed at him.  

They still had fear but now it was the wonder and awe of the Sovereign God that filled their eyes, not the storm.  By having a good understanding of God we can put everything else into its proper perspective, but a weak God will produce a weak faith and a life full of fear and defeat.  It is hard to give up much and persevere to the end when the prize, God, isn't all that appealing.  A fear that drives you to rest in Christ is a good fear but one that causes you to question him is an ungodly fear.

Two examples in Scripture show this.  In Isaiah 6 we read that Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up in the temple and the effect unmistakable.  God asks who is willing to take a message to the Jews that they did not want to hear, that they would not listen to and would not produce any converts.  Without hesitation Isaiah volunteers because once you see your sinfulness and the glory of your Savior nothing else matters.  Whatever he says we gladly do even giving our lives because our God controls the universe and has promised to work everything out for our good.  There is no safer place to be if we are in Christ doing what he asks of us.

Peter supplies a slightly different fear.  He asks to walk on the water to Jesus during another storm and the Lord grants his request.  All is well as long as Peter keeps the eyes full of Christ.  But as soon as he fills his mind with the waves he is overcome with fear.  At the end of the day, in the darkest day, when your trial and pain seems insurmountable you will trust and flee to whoever or whatever is the greatest help in our mind.  This is why the Lord squeezes us with trials, so that what is in us will come out and we can prove what kind of faith we have.  In other words we can prove how great God is to us. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Slaying the Enemy

In Deut. 13:6-11 we read, "If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods,' which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. Deu 13:9  But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people.  You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.  And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."  

This is an astounding passage in that it reveals how God expected them to treat even their closest family members and closest friends who would try to entice them to serve anything else other than the true God.  They weren't to ignore them but turn them in to the elders of the city and be the first one to cast a stone at them in judgement!  This is a far cry from what we sometimes hear today, "He who is without sin let him cast the first stone".  

Under the Old Covenant such things are dealt with rather harshly and with the Lord's blessings.  In 2 Kings 11 we read of all of the Baal priests and anyone who followed them were to be cut down with the sword under Joash's reign, 2Ki 11:18  "Then all the people of the land went to the house of Baal and tore it down; his altars and his images they broke in pieces, and they killed Mattan the priest of Baal before the altars. And the priest posted watchmen over the house of the LORD."  Just a few years before this Jehu was told to slay Ahab's descendants because of his sins.  

Can we find any application to this today?  Many have tried throughout church history to apply it and with disastrous results.  When we confuse the covenants we run into all sorts of problems and using the sword against the enemies of the gospel is clearly not how we are to deal with our enemies today.  But I would like to point out that in a very real sense Jesus has brought this concept over into the New Covenant.  I think Luke 12:26-27 says pretty much the same thing with a rather large exception.  "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

The difference, of course, is found in that we don't kill our enemies but the similarity is that we just as aggressively battle the influence of sin both in ourselves and in those around us.  We know that Jesus isn't telling us to hate our families but that anything or anyone who would come between us and the Lord is not to be allowed any room to work.  A similar passage is found in Matthew 5 where we are to be willing to cut off body parts for the sake of Christ.  Paul later on uses language that speaks of death when he commands us to put to death the deeds of the body in Romans 8:13 and put to death what is earthly in us in Colossians 3:5.

As I was thinking about all this the thought hit me that there are still people dying in the New Testament times but instead of saints killing their enemies, we do the dying; we kill ourselves in a spiritual sense.  Instead of us removing other people, we remove ourselves from their influence.  We discipline ourselves to say no to their temptations and speak the truth to them in love.  Many times when we will not allow them to sway us to sin and instead speak of Christ to them, they will separate themselves from us.  The love of Christ constrains us bring all things into obedience unto the Lord.

This is better sanctification than those under the Old Covenant enjoyed for a number of reasons and maybe the best one is that it allows us to love and minister to the lost rather than killing them!  Let us learn to die daily that we might bring life to those who are dead.