Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bishop Spong and James White Debate: The Missing Truth

I listened to a debate between Bishop Spong and James White recently. As the two presented very different views of God, a realization began to emerge from their discourse.

Bishop Spong insists that we humanize God by portraying him as vengeful and dispensing wrath and judgment on humanity. After all, God is Love. Therefore, he says, we need to move beyond our narrow view of God, stop portraying him as angry and mean, and accept everyone in love as God does. His first points are true. His conclusion falls terribly short.

James White counters by saying Spong is making man too much of the focus and obviously has no understanding of sin. He argues that this position detracts from God's work on the cross. Therefore we must recognize the depth of our depravity and understand that God must pour his wrath out on sinners. His first point is true. His conclusion is close, but also misses the mark in that White also focuses too much on man.

Hear me out.

What were they both missing in their debate? God's Holiness.

I think this may be the reason so many Calvinists are concerned about Arminians, and why some "Arminians" slide down the slippery slope into liberalism and universalism.

First of all, Romans 1 tells us that "...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men...". The sin in us is the object of his wrath. So many times Calvinists make people the object of His wrath instead. This is White's mistake in my view, and Spong seizes on this with objections that are somewhat justified.

Where Spong misses the boat is failing to recognize that God is Holy. It is His primary, and most often overlooked attribute. Possibly because we cannot truly fathom what it means.

Isaiah, in chapter 6, declares that he is undone for being in the presence of a wrathful - no, wait - HOLY, God when he himself is unclean. God's holiness prevents him from being the feel-good, everbody-gets-a-pass old granddad that Bishop Spong argues for. But it's also why we need the cross.

When we only see our sin, we fail to see his Holiness, and the focus becomes us and what terrible worms we are under the wrath of a righteous judge. We have to move beyond seeing only his wrath, but not so that we can negate the need for a savior. We need to always remember He is a Holy God that we cannot know until we are in Christ.

The Spong's of the modern era belittle the T in TULIP and try to persuade us that God is bigger than we are sinful, therefore he welcomes all who earnestly seek him, regardless of their creed. "All roads lead to God" as long as the path is sincere. But the Calvinist focus on the T is ironically humanistic in that it puts the emphasis on man in the first place. It would be so much better to just make the T stand for "Total Holiness" and put the emphasis on God and his purifying fire of Holiness, recognizing that as our starting point. Then we can reasonably argue that no matter what we do, we cannot come into his presence in our imperfect state unless he provides a way himself. It's the same conclusion - that we are spiritually dead and separated from God without Christ - but the path to the conclusion is much different.

When we see our sin in the context of God's pure and unfathomable Holiness, we realize our need for an advocate, sanctification, and a covering that will allow us to be in the presence of a truly loving God without being utterly destroyed by His primary attribute. "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday, Star of Bethlehem

If you have not already seen it, I encourage you to buy/borrow/rent the short film, The Star of Bethlehem, and watch it as soon as possible.

The research is done by Frederick Larson, a lawyer and amatuer astronomer, but the film was produced by Stephen McEveety (The Passion of the Christ).

For an amatuer, Larson has done his research, and his credits are impressive:
"About 99.9% of the Star of Bethlehem stuff is nutty, but this isn't that. It's well-researched and reasonable."—Ronald A. Schorn, Ph.D.—Schorn founded and served as Chief of the Planetary Astronomy department at NASA and was Technical Editor of Sky & Telescope magazine. He is the author of Planetary Astronomy.

The movie site is:

Larson discusses the signs in the sky, not only announcing Jesus' birth, but also at the time of the cross:

It's very compelling, and as Larson describes it, like "a poem of terrible beauty written in the stars" that testifies to God's plan.

All I can say is watch it for yourself.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Meditations on John

(from Wikipedia) Semiotics, semiotic studies, or semiology is the study of sign processes (semiosis), or signification and communication, signs and symbols, both individually and grouped into sign systems. It includes the study of how meaning is constructed and understood. Let's talk about a few terms that come up in semiotics: signifier and signified.

Hang in there; it's not as painful as it sounds.

First, consider John 1:1-14 NKJV:

"IN the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."

In studying language, the relationship between the signifier and that which is signified is examined. A realization about language quickly comes to light: it is hopelessly flawed.

We have a thought that we want to express. Once we attempt to communicate that thought, our words (signifier) are already one step removed from the thought (signified) that prompted them. The pure essence of the thought is already degraded by the limitations of language. How many times have you struggled to find the right words to express something? How many times have you been misunderstood by someone else? In fact, how many problems in the world would be resolved instantly if we could just communicate perfectly?

But with human language it cannot happen. That degradation or loss that occurs from thought to expression is even further complicated by the challenge of interpretation. I'm not referring to the tower of Babel, I'm talking about two people simply trying to understand each other. The challenge isn't just hearing expressed words as they are intended, but it's also the baggage we bring to the interpretation. In fact, both the speaker and the hearer are flawed from the start.

A quasi-practical example: a woman asks her husband if a pair of pants make her look fat. He is distracted about something else and his answer isn't convincing (this has never happened to me). He may really believe she looks great, but it wasn't communicated well to her. Further, the insecurity she brought to the exchange wouldn't be satisfied by a simple no in the first place.

Now some technical examples: We have one word for snow. The Inuit have over 30 I'm told. Does that mean we don't know what snow really is? Probably not to an Inuit. Some cultures have a few broad words that cover what we would consider to be several different colors. They don't care - red, purple, whatever, it's close enough. Actually most women have many more words for colors than I will ever understand. Did you know that butter and lemon can actually be different colors? That in itself is a little depressing, but think of all the ways language falls short for us.

Now let's shift to scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, etc. But is it the perfect expression of God to humanity? It certainly points us to him as his authoritative written word, but is it enough? Well, I think the same challenges of signifier and signified exist. In fact, we work from a translation that struggles to even capture the essence of the original languages of the texts, much less the true essence of the signified they attempt to convey. Don't panic, I'm not about to say that scripture is useless. But I am about to say that scripture is not God's perfect expression of himself.

Have you ever wondered about Jesus as the Word incarnate? It sounds cool, but it's also extremely profound in light of this problem we have with language. Jesus is the perfect expression of God's Word. He is the Word made flesh and that means he expresses perfectly the thought, intent, the signified that is from God. He became perfect language, so to speak. And he didn't stop there, because God in his wisdom placed his Word inside us though the filling of his Holy Spirit. So he bridges the communication gap that exists between speaker and listener, between thought, speech, and interpretation. His Holy Spirit is fused into the believer in a way that overcomes the flaws of communication. All we have to do is abide in this state and obey.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Mat 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen.

Lorraine Boettner, a firm Calvinist, admits in Predestination (I am quoting the excerpt from Erickson's Christian Theology) that Isa. 55:1, Matt. 11:28 and other verses present a problem for Calvinists.

Boettner says "It is true that some verses taken in themselves do seem to imply the Arminian position. If, contrary to what these verses seem to imply, it is not God's intent that all persons be saved, he must be insincere in his offer."

Can God's call be insincere if only a few of those called are chosen? Or is it more likely that He truly desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth? If I simply take scripture at it's word and believe that his call is sincere and he truly has a heart for all men then I don't have to resort to philosophical hoop-jumping and make arbitrary distinctions between "external calls" and "internal calls".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Five Articles of the Remonstrants

Article I - That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ's sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John iii. 36: "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him," and according to other passages of Scripture also.

Article II - That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John iii. 16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life"; and in the First Epistle of John ii. 2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Article III — That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John xv. 5: "Without me ye can do nothing."

Article IV — That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of an good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without that prevenient or assisting; awakening, following, and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts vii, and elsewhere in many places.

Article V — That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the word of Christ, John x. 28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.