Sunday, February 12, 2012


To all people who follow me on this blog, you may have noticed that I have not blogged in a while. I still participate in discussions on other blogs, but haven't had much time to generate articles designed for blogs lately. So, I have created a new blog for re-posting discussions and comments on other blogs. This is called "Reformed Reactions". See my Introductory posts here and here, and then know that you are all welcome to follow me over there.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Rob Bell: Universalist or Annihilationist?

I was watching a recent discussion on the Unbelievable radio program with host Justin Brierley that involved Rob Bell, author of the recent book Love Wins, and Christian blogger, Adrian Warnock. you can watch it as well at the Unbelievable site:

On a side issue, Rob Bell may not simply be a unorthodox with regard to the doctrine of hell. He may also be a pluralist. (Starting at 2:50)

Rob: This book is part of an ongoing discussion. It’s not the last word. I never thought it was and I assume nobody else thinks it’s the last word. So, I’m taking part of the ongoing discussion and it’s okay. The other opinions and perspectives are beautiful, good, wonderful.

But on to the universalism question:

When asked if he was a Universalist according a specific (but poorly worded) definition he responds (Starting at 7:36):

Justin: But is it fair to say you do believe in a universalism in the sense of that everyone will ultimately freely choose to be won over by the love of God?

Rob: I don’t know. Do you?

Adrian’s response to that was this:

Adrian: Well, it’s interesting because I don’t think Jesus did because Jesus talks about hell and He talks about fire that won’t go out, torment that’s unending. And certainly in your book you say that no one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt the hardest hearts.

Rob doesn’t deny that he wrote that in his book. And there came a time in the discussion where the definition of universalism was investigated and Rob disagreed with the key option to universalism, that God condemns people for infinite time. Justin asked a listener question at 42:52 and sparked a portion of the discussion that ended with this admission:

Justin: And another person asks – this is more directed at you, Adrian, and your view of hell. “If we believe God is justice, how can a finite human being with a finite ability to reason come to earn infinite punishment? Surely justice demands that the time fits the crime. How can you believe in eternal conscious torment?” I mean, obviously a lot of people struggle with this and you’ve mentioned already another option, Rob, which isn’t really featured in your book, but annihilationism: this idea that people…

Rob: Yeah. There’s a section on the book, a sort of ex-human, post-human, formerly-human – that’s one of the sort-of – that the way people…

Justin: Sure. Are you more comfortable with that than the eternal conscious torment view? I mean, it really seems to me like you rule that out as being even considered. You know, that view is totally out of kilter with the idea of God’s love.

Rob: Well, it just raises questions. So like when I’m asking Adrian – those are legitimate, honest, straightforward – tell me more when you say that.

Justin: But tell me an answer to the question…

Rob: W-w-wait!

Justin: What do you think is the answer to that question?

Rob: Well, when he says, like in the questioner who says a finite being in a finite segment of time receives infinite punishment that has to be sort of kept up and maintained by God, that says something about the nature of God. So, let’s say a seventeen-year-old rejects Christ, dies, and seventeen million years from now, if you want to say that (that’s some obviously over-the-top language, right?), God is still punishing that person. Is God like that? And I think it’s a totally legitimate question.

Adrian: Do you think God is like that, Rob?

Rob: No! I don’t think God is like that.

And I love Justin’s response to this:

Justin: So, I’m taking from that answer that you definitely do not believe in an eternal kind of torment. I mean, I can’t draw any other conclusion that you don’t believe that.

And I think most reasonable people would arrive at that conclusion as well. If God doesn’t condemn people forever, then all will either be saved or annihilated. And when the question came to annihilationism, Rob dodged it and landed squarely back in the Universalist camp by denying that God punishes people forever.

And if one should argue that Perhaps Rob Bell is just an annihilationist because he never denied that, then we have another problem on our hands.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Husbands, Are Your Prayers Hindered? Do You Understand Your Wives?

I have heard this numerous times among men. With a chuckle of knowing resignation one may tell another what his wife does that doesn’t make sense to him. “There’s just no understanding women,” they might say.

Is this right?

In a larger passage about being subject to each other, Peter writes:

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 ESV)

Peter admonishes Christian husbands to understand their wives and live in accordance with that understanding. Not only is it possible for a husband to understand his wife, it is commanded. Husband, you study cars, sports statistics, politics, or whatever else you are interested in. Yet you refuse to study your wife to know her better? Study her like your life depended on it.

The effect is that the wife of a Christian husband will be honored. Perhaps you don’t want to honor your wife. Why did you marry her if you didn’t want to honor her? You show yourself to be a fool for an honored wife will glorify her husband. (1 Cor 11:17)

Ultimately, however, the result of not doing this is that the husband’s prayers will be hindered. I said study her like your life depended on it. If you’re prayers are your connection with the One who gives you life, then your life indeed depends on understanding your wife and living like it.

Christian husband, an amazing way to fulfill this is to pray for your wife. You should be doing this anyway, but I know that many do not. I have seen miracles happen in marriages where husbands pray for their wives. The next miracle could be for you.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Difference Between a Decree and a Cause

Greg Koukl on The Stand to Reason blog is bold to post ideas in Christian philosophy that are not yet fully developed. But such a thing is necessary for allowing the idea to be processed in the community of Christians at large. He recently started a discussion on the difference between God issuing a decree and acting as a cause. That language might not immediately seem pertinent. But there is the tension that we see in scripture where God is absolutely sovereign and where He seems to cause sin as a result. Go here to watch his video blog and read some of the comments:

My slightly edited response:

God, as a causer, is not an agent of cause. "Agent" implies that the causer was himself caused by something else. God's causing is in this way different than His creation, as discreet subdivided iterations of existence, being internally consistent agents of cause. That is, God has eternally established what will happen by decree and has created underlying rules for all of creation to follow as temporal causal agents.

Men, as volitional systems of causal agents, have intent. Where this intent agrees with God's ethical will, then there is no sin. Where this intent does not agree with God's ethical will, there is sin. The will of man is hardly monolithic. Every decision a man makes consists of a cocktail of intents - some good, some bad. If God causes anything to happen in the action of any man in the fallen world, that man will be guilty of sin.

God's intent, conversely, is always pure. God is not guilty where His goodness causes actions that arise out of the evil intents of men.

Men are sinners already and God has not alienated Himself from men any further than they are by causing actions that for men are sinful because of their intents. And their intents are not the most fundamental level of their sin. Evil intents arise out of the status of men being separated from God. We are born in a separated world and are likewise separated from God from birth. Even when we are given the Holy Spirit, we must endure the wiles of this separated world. Being given the Holy Spirit allows us to be separated FOR God (Holy) in this age rather than being separated FROM God in this age.

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Friday, January 21, 2011

From Babel to the Bible

I always ask the question, “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” And every question that starts with “Did God know…” is answered in the affirmative.

I listened to this talk by Jason DeRouchie given at Bethlehem College and Semenary (ht: Justin Taylor). He gave 7 arguments for the need for understanding the Biblical Languages:
  1. Using the biblical languages exalts Jesus and affirms God’s wisdom in giving us his Word in a book.
  2. Using the biblical languages enables us to observe more accurately and thoroughly, understand more clearly, evaluate more fairly, and interpret more confidently the inspired details of the biblical text.
  3. Using the biblical languages allows us to use more efficiently and evaluate more fairly the best secondary tools for biblical interpretation.
  4. Using the biblical languages fosters a depth of character, commitment, conviction, and satisfaction in life and ministry that results in a validated witness in the world.
  5. Using the biblical languages provides a warranted boldness, a sustained freshness, and a more articulated, sure, and helpful witness to the Truth in preaching and teaching.
  6. Using the biblical languages equips us to defend the Gospel and to hold others accountable more confidently.
  7. Using the biblical languages helps preserve the purity of the Gospel and a joyful glorifying of God by his Church into the next generation.
There are many hindrances to the availability of the Biblical languages. Some I can think of:

  1. While we have had the Bible in one form or another throughout and since its writing, we have only within the past century found enough evidence in the ancient manuscripts to be reasonably sure what was precisely written in the original languages. So they have not been readily available throughout most of history.
  2. The printing press has only been available for a few hundred years now. Most people throughout history have not even had a Bible in any language readily available to them.
  3. There are hundreds of people groups who even today barely have the Bible translated into their language, much less have the education available to them to delve into the original languages themselves.
  4. A significant number of people don’t have the intellectual capacity to learn and understand the original languages. Many are barely literate in their own language.
  5. Of the people who have some education in the original languages, the vast majority don’t think in those languages.
  6. God confused language at Babel for a reason.

Regarding number 5: Scientific American has a short article touching on some research that is being done in the link between language and thought. The language that a person typically uses governs his thought. The example in the article was a 5-year-old Australian aborigine girl who could easily point the way north where a lecture hall of accomplished academicians could not. It reminded me of my mom’s side of the family. Always, they refer to things by their compass directions: “the south bedroom,” “the west field,” “Go to the end of the road and turn north on Kessler Road.” I can’t talk to my wife this way or she would get lost. For her, directions are relative: “the bedroom to the right of the bathroom,” “turn left on Museum Road.” Mastering language means being able to follow the linguistic logic of the references over and against those that one is accustomed to.

Regarding number 6: I’ll deal with this one shortly because it’s in the title. I wanted to make a reference here so you don’t think I just made a provocative statement without talking about it.

What can we make of the fact that A) Studying the Biblical languages is essential and B) The vast majority of Christians are not going to have the spiritual luxury of doing so? I mean, if this were the case then we revert back to dependence on priests for our understanding. We should close our Bibles and not even try to read them because we’ll never quite get it right.

And we indeed need to get it right. Our salvation is at stake if we don’t follow the true gospel. God’s glory is at stake if we don’t get our understanding of Him correct. Judging by the disputes and disagreements between Christians, it is more normal that we disagree on many things than if we agree.

What are we to do? I go back to my original question: “Did God know that most people in the world would not have the original languages of the Bible readily available to them?” We could also ask, “Did God not know that nearly all of the people who profess to follow Him wouldn’t get their theology straight?” So, if we assume that He knows these things we can further ask if He takes this all into account?

This is where we discuss things like the perspicuity of scripture (how clear it is), what is necessary to understand for salvation, and how understandable different things of scripture are. Some factors I see:

  1. Some passages of scripture are more understandable than others no matter what language you use.
  2. Some topics are more understandable than others.
  3. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is necessary for proper understanding.
  4. Some understanding depends on wisdom aside from intelligence.
  5. Some understanding requires great intelligence or education.
  6. Individual levels of understanding depend on personal experiences.
  7. The understandability of some things of scripture depends heavily on cultural influences.
  8. The understandability of most things of scripture depends on our level of spiritual discernment.
  9. God causes a lack of understanding for His perfect purpose.

This is hardly an exhaustive list. But it is these last points that are key to tying Babel with God’s revelation of Himself in scripture and walking away with an assurance that we can know enough well enough.

God caused language to be confused in Babel and then proceeded to reveal Himself through prophets and inspired scripture.

In Babel, the goal of mankind was the exaltation of Man over God and the self-sufficiency of Man. God confused the language of Man so that His revelation to Man would be clear to Man when it came. In other words, Man could not rely on himself for knowledge of God, but had to rely on God to reveal Himself.

We still do. That’s the bridge between Babel and the revelation God gives us in the Bible. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God on our own accord, we lack understanding. Inasmuch as we approach knowledge of God by the light and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, we have understanding. Those who lack understanding don’t understand how those who have understanding got it, and they often disparage those who have understanding as though they cannot have understanding. Those who lack understanding typically cannot believe that there is some understanding that they do not possess.

Here is another list (I seem to be into lists today) of how God works with us to understand His revelation:

  1. Obtaining an understanding of scripture is part of our being made perfect as we are sanctified, set aside, for His glory. (Romans 15:14-21)
  2. We are told, clearly enough, to study scripture. The implication is that we can know something from it. (Ephesians 5:17; 1 Timothy 4:13)
  3. We are told that scripture is a sufficient revelation for us. (Romans 15:4; 2 Timothy 3:16)
  4. We are told how to deal with each other in grace as we differ in our understanding. This indicates that God knows that we are going to have slightly differing understandings for a time although we are all brothers and sisters in the faith. (1 Corinthians 8)
  5. God deals with us graciously in our lack of understanding. (Romans 7:15-25; Philippians 4:7)
  6. Although we often get things wrong and disagree, the revelation of God is not open to interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
  7. God gives us understanding. (1 John 5:20; 2 Timothy 2:7; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Romans 1:19)
  8. God takes understanding away. (John 12: 39,40; Romans 1:29; 11:25)
  9. It is our desire to understand and our trust in God rather than our own intellectual machinations that give us true understanding. (Hebrews 11:3)
  10. Understanding is not the ultimate goal. (1 Corinthians 13:12; John 5:39-40)

So, seek understanding. Study the Bible. Struggle to get it right. Learn the original languages if you can, but do not despair if you cannot. Understanding comes from God. Trust Him and seek Him above all, and deal graciously with others when you disagree.

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Do Egalitarians Really Think Women Are Special?

A poll was taken by Dane Ortlund who writes the blog, Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology, among several prominent theologians and posted the results on his blog. Most of the comments in the meta have been helpful. (Many have been anti-Christian trolls, and sometimes particularly vulgar. I haven’t checked to see how many of these have been deleted.) But one or two comments have been made by egalitarians pointing out that none of the theologians polled were women.

Some are not aware of what egalitarians and complementarians are much less the theological differences between them. I’ll not go into detail here. Dave Miller is writing a series on this where he lays out the arguments of both sides. I’ll only define them quickly and give you my stand on them.

Complementarians believe that God created men and women with equal human value and likewise have equal value under grace. However, God also created them differently to fill different roles, and this distinction is part of His revelation to us.

Egalitarians believe that men and women are created equal in every way and that there are no ministerial distinctions between them mandated or even suggested by scripture. They believe that any place in scripture that seems to indicate a difference is only because the culture at the time either clouded the mind of the writer or made it necessary to assent to aspects of the culture and has nothing to do with cultures that have no such distinction.

I’m a complementarian. Given clear hermeneutical guidelines, there is no other conclusion. To go the route of egalitarianism requires formulating a hermeneutic around a desire to reach that conclusion. Therefore, the conclusion for egalitarians precedes the argument. That’s eisegesis, not exegesis, and the stuff of poor theology at best and heresy at worst.

So egalitarians have commented in the meta of Dane’s blog wondering where the female theologians are. This is part of the issue with communication and argumentation between people of different presuppositions. In short, the tendency is to frame differences in the presuppositions as though they are an incongruence in your opponent’s position by evaluating their position as though they are subject to your sensibilities. Good polemicists with truth on their side know how to avoid this.

That aside, the one thing that is evident if you evaluate an egalitarian as an egalitarian is that if men and women are assumed to be the same, there is no reason to deliberately seek the viewpoints of both as though you would get a usefully diverse answer.

Only the complementarian view assigns women a special place distinct from that of men. In this case, however, theology is the same whether a woman or a man does it.

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Saturday, January 08, 2011

As Iron Sharpens Iron: A Test

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17 ESV)
This verse is, rightly I think, interpreted as a general wisdom that people need the input of each other to hone our hearts and minds in the pursuit of spiritual growth in God. I like the way Matthew Henry wrote it in his commentary:
"One man is nobody; nor will poring upon a book in a corner accomplish a man as the reading and studying of men will. Wise and profitable discourse sharpens men's wits; and those that have ever so much knowledge may by conference have something added to them."
Perhaps the writer of Hebrews had this sort of thing in mind when he wrote:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV)
The ESV Study Bible comments on this verse:
"The third and final exhortation in vv. 22–25 calls for serious thinking about other Christians with a purpose to stir up (or “provoke”) them in their love and service (good works). Christian perseverance is thus also a community endeavor."
As Christians, we need other Christians in order to grow in godly wisdom. We need the mental correction of others to keep us from going astray. We need to seek and submit to each other’s correction.

As a Christian, I need interaction with other people. As one with a penchant for thinking outside the box and as one who loves truth above my desire to understand it, and yearn to grow in ministry, I earnestly desire the meaningful interaction of my fellow Christians. My hope has always been to develop the relationships with other Christians necessary for provoking them to grow in their Christian walk as well as receiving the same. I enjoy building others up in Christ as much as anything.

But I need to be built up as well. I blog in order to organize my thoughts. As a non-linear thinker I need to be able to make my thoughts linear in order to communicate them. As one gifted with a certain brand of intelligence, I’m prone to eccentricity. Therefore, it’s necessary to have meaningful feedback if I want to use this gift to edify people.

I’m already aware that few people read my blog articles. It’s extremely rare to receive any feedback from them. I have to consider that there are a few people who may read but never comment. Therefore, I have this request. If you regularly read what I write please leave a comment and let me know how what I write helps you or if I need to pursue some other activity that would be more fruitful. And I want to encourage you that doing so would be exceptionally meaningful. The response I get from this will let me know how important my thought life and spiritual growth is to other people.

To all who respond: thank you in advance.

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