Divine Determinism and Free Will are Incompatible

14 04 2011

Before we will examine Scripture on this topic, we will have to discuss the philosophical presuppositions of the views through which people interpret the Bible. Although God’s Word is our primary axiom of authoritative teaching, our primary axiom of identifying errors in interpretation is our God-given mental capacity to reason, i.e. to scrutinize. If there is a flaw in our reasoning, we can’t fully understand the authoritative teaching of the Bible. We argue from Scripture, yet in so doing, we have to use Reason accurately.

Two key important notions in this debate are predestination and free will. In philosophy these are known as Divine Determinism and Libertarianism. The traditional Reformed view of God’s providence includes the first and precludes the latter. I will make an attempt to put these two views in perspective just briefly.

Divine Determinism is the view that God, before the creation of the world, has predetermined exactly whatever comes to pass. Whether directly or through specific secondary conditions, God is causally involved in every event. From the smallest movement of atoms to the formation of entire galaxies, all must come to pass inevitably and necessarily because of God’s absolute will and divine decree. God wrote the story of your life, the beginning, the middle and the end. The most dreaded decision of your life has already been decided upon. Your destiny is entirely dependent on what God wills and decrees. Hence, everything you do is ultimately predetermined by God, long before you were born. Thus your actions are incidents part of a long chain of events much like dominoes and are reached by a necessary causal relationship between these events ultimately initiated by the good pleasure of God’s will.

This principle of universal causality, by the way, is a core tenet not only of the Reformed view of God’s providence, but also of Augustinian and Thomist Catholics, Muslims, ancient pagan religions and naturalistic atheists.

Thus, accordingly, most Calvinist’s understanding of God’s plan of salvation is entirely deterministic. God, by his absolute will, has decreed, fixed and selected before the foundation of the world who will be saved through Christ to eternal life and who will be damned to eternal death.

Historian, Philip Schaff explains how this view of predestination and election relates to divine determinism:

  • “Calvinism (…) starts from a double decree of predestination, which antedates creation, and is the divine program of human history. (..). History is only the execution of the original design. There can be no failure. The beginning and the end, God’s immutable plan and the issue of the world’s history, must correspond.”

– Philip Schaff (History of the Christian Chruch VIII, 1997: ch. 14, § 114)

John Calvin himself endorsed divine determinism. He wrote the following on this:

  • “God’s will is the highest and first cause of all things, because nothing happens except from his command or permission.”

– John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian religion, I.16.8)

  • “that his will may be for us the sole rule of righteousness, and the truly just cause of all things (…) Providence, that determinative principle of all things, from which flows nothing but right, although the reasons have been hidden from us.”

– John Calvin (Institutes of the Christian religion, I.17.2)

Libertarianism, however, is the view that people are self-conscious causal agents that have the ability to choose X or to refrain from choosing X. This ability or power to choose is called free will and the human soul is the seat of free will. By virtue of their creation in the image of God, human beings are free volitional agents. God freely chose to create this particular world out of nothing. Note that this freedom doesn’t mean that someone can do anything s/he likes, but simply that as a free causal agent, by his own choice, any human being could also have refrained from a decision. Free will is essentially the freedom to refrain, i.e. you could have chosen otherwise. This is, admittedly, by no means absolute. The range of your options may be partly outside your control, but you are not necessarily forced to choose something. You are the one in direct control over your decisions and are a direct initiator of an event yourself. Thus the ability to choose is part of who you are, it is ingrained in your soul, so to speak.

So it should also be noted that people make self-conscious choices, i.e. our decisions are not impersonal, irrational or morally neutral, but in accordance with our character. But it is not our character, our intentions or reasons that effectuate the choices we make. Reasons aren’t causal agents, they cannot make decisions between themselves: only a person with true causal agency can make such a decision. So, according to libertarianism, the person, the agent who decides is the direct efficient cause, that by means of which an effect is produced, and the reasons behind our decisions, whether for good or evil, are merely ultimate goals, i.e. final causes, which may concur with our decisions. So decisions are made for a reason but by a person.

Such libertarian freedom is certainly found in the Bible, f. ex. God permits Adam and Eve to eat from all the trees of the garden freely (Gen 2:16), yet he commands them not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (v. 17). Similarly, God’s cheerful giver is allowed to give freely and not under compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7) and Paul writes to Philemon (v. 14) “but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord”. The Bible actually ends with a free invitation: “And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17 KJV).

It is of course a matter of dispute to what extent our freedom is still ours in the fallen and corrupted state of this world. Yet whether by God’s antecedent grace or not, with respect to salvation, Libertarianism holds, accordingly, that, God desires all people to be saved and, therefore, calls all people to salvation, but every human, by his own free choice, has the ability to freely and personally respond to this call by accepting or rejecting God’s free offer of salvation in Jesus Christ. This free acceptance or rejection, generally associated with Arminianism, is what a Calvinist rejects.

However, if you ever come to a philosophical level in a discussion with Calvinists, which you inevitably will, many will say that they do believe in a form of human free will, something known as Compatibilism. It is an attempt to reconcile the significance of human decisions with God’s predestination by redefining free will. To put it simply, Compatibilists don’t understand free will to be freedom of refrain, but freedom of inclination, i.e. someone is free to act in accordance with their desires. Our choices are brought about by our strongest inclinations and, necessarily, due to God’s concurrent causal involvement, only one choice is possible. Hence, all human activity is the result of choices by real human desires, which inevitably have their origin in God’s will and decree.

Note that this is essentially not a form of free will, but a soft form of determinism. For, if someone is only free to follow their desires, then they are not free to refrain after all, but compelled by these desires ultimately resulting from God’s decree. So, contrary to Libertarianism and like Divine Determinism, Compatibilism asserts that not the human agent him/herself, but that God’s will is the invisible primary efficient cause of every human decision and human desires secondary. God is still in primary causal control of human conduct in all aspects of their lives.

Four views of human freedom

Four views of human freedom

As you can see, both Divine Determinism and Libertarianism are contradictory to each other. Free human agency simply requires free will. However, the Bible has got something to say about both God’s sovereign providence and the free choices of mankind, for which they alone are accountable. Therefore, a biblical Christian must deal with some form of predestination and must deal with some form of free choice. Nobody can exclude either to make sense of the Bible, a Biblical Christian must say something about both.

As we will see, those who maintain Calvinism are often left with mystery to God’s will. Similarly, many Christians conclude that their failure to reconcile divine predestination and human free will must be due to their human fallibility.

Even Charles Spurgeon, a great and beloved preacher, in his Defence of Calvinism, admits this:

  • “I see, in one place, God in providence presiding over all, and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions, in a great measure, to his own free-will. […] That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is foreordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon (A Defense of Calvinism)

I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but God is certainly not the author of confusion or contradiction, God is the author of wisdom, logic and reason. If God’s Word is the truth, then it shouldn’t contain logical contradictions. We reason from Scripture using human logic, human language and human thinking, so it is inevitable that our understanding of God and his Word will be incomplete and fallible. Nobody has perfect theology. But if your conclusion from Scripture is unreasonable, inconsistent and logically contradictory, then I’m afraid you’re simply wrong. Some things that the Lord reveals may be beyond reason, but absolutely nothing will go against reason. Fallibility or ignorance is no defence to resort to unacceptable views. Truth is necessarily reasonable and logically consistent.

Christians have to find a balance between two Scriptural truths, God’s sovereign control over his creation and humanity’s accountability for their free choices.

Calvinism is often weighed against Arminianism. Thus it is often claimed that Arminian theology is the only alternative to Calvinism, but this is certainly not the case. As a non-Calvinist, you certainly needn’t hold to all the distinctive doctrines of Arminianism. One position, for example, that coherently reconciles divine providence and human free will is Molinism, which I believe is the truth in light of Scripture. Molinism is providential enough to be accepted by Calvinists and libertarian enough to be accepted by Arminians, but it is certainly not a combination of the two. You should consider it a soft form of libertarianism. We’ll get back to this later, but in a nut-shell, Molinism is the view that God knows all possible circumstances with every possible person and their free choices in those circumstances, and so, accordingly, God sovereignly decrees a world, where his goals will be achieved perfectly and with precision, so that the maximum number of people will accept his free gift of salvation in their own God-given libertarian freedom of choice.

Thus, with respect to salvation, God, by the sovereign freedom of his loving will, has granted humanity’s freedom of choice, therefore, not determining man’s choice, but establishing man’s freedom of choice. He has so ordered the world that those he foreknew would freely accept his offer of salvation in whatever circumstances, will accept him in a freedom-giving circumstance and those he foreknew would reject him freely in whatever circumstances, will reject him in a freedom-giving circumstance. God’s perfect precise plan for the sovereign salvation of humanity is achieved through the free will of his creatures.

Follow my series and make your own judgement.


COPYRIGHT © 2011 Life put in perspective by Harry a.k.a. Buckleherry. All rights reserved.

A Fair Chance

8 04 2011


In a preface to this series, I explained that our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour is what unifies all Christians and that every Christian has a shared goal to become more like him. For Christianity essentially is not a belief system. It is a Person we follow, not a system. It is Christ, we follow, not a religion. Christ is, quoting S. M. Lockridge: “the loftiest idea in literature. He’s the highest personality in philosophy. He’s the fundamental doctrine of true theology.” Jesus is the truth, the way and the life (John 14:6); it is him we all love and therefore desire to put his commandments into practice. That’s what unites us.

On another level, however, which is also important, what divides us is our theological persuasion, i.e. our interpretation of the Bible and our view of God and his plan of salvation for humanity. As we reason from Scripture, we sometimes come to different conclusions about what the authors meant. Now in many areas this is trivial, insignificant and superficial, such as the type of hymns, the organization of service, worship and ministries in the church, but in some areas, such as who God is and how he relates to mankind, teachings and beliefs can radically diverge, to such an extent that people won’t consider each other brother and sister in Christ anymore. This is not theological niggling or nitpicking over some minor details, this is a clash of different worldviews. And none is without its implications. Your theological persuasion will not only radically influence your interpretation of the Bible, but also your view of God, his church and the world. As you know, these different views can’t all be true at the same time.

One extreme way of thinking about God’s providence that is upheld by a minority group of Christians is Calvinism. It is also commonly called Reformed Theology, although not all Reformers were associated with Calvinism. This religious philosophy is known for its distinctive doctrines of sovereign grace and God’s eternal predestination and pre-election of who will be saved. But its teachings are certainly not limited to the national Reformed churches. They’re upheld across denominations and generally taught by Presbyterians and Calvinist Baptists, but also (Evangelical) Lutherans, Dominican Catholics and the like.

There are Calvinists of all sorts and sizes. There are many different branches, even in the Reformed Church alone, ranging from the sectarian and conservative to the more moderate and liberal churches, but they all endorse the concept of sovereign grace and unconditional election. Some believe Calvinism is the only true gospel, others rightfully understand it as tradition.

Needless to say, accepting the gospel of Calvinism has also encouraged many Calvinists to come to genuine repentance and to put their faith in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But we should not credit such fruits of the Spirit to the power of their theology. Frankly, in my experience, it is in spite of the distinctive doctrines of Calvinism that people have been saved. Sadly, many people in the Reformed Church do not know Christ intimately.

What I would like to explore with you in this series is a debate that has been going on for a long long while between Calvinists and non-Calvinists regarding the role of God’s providence and man’s decision-making in salvation. Unlike other Christians, Calvinists believe that there is a pre-elected number of people, called the Elect, that God has loved particularly before the foundation of the world and has predestined to sovereignly draw to faith in him. Keep in mind that it is this what I refer to as “Calvinism”, which roughly comes down to the doctrinal views held by John Calvin himself. Not all Calvinists endorse the full story, some have added to the story, but don’t accuse me of misrepresentation, if I am using the Calvinistic trademark for a particular product of Calvin that you don’t support.

For the goal of our series is not to misrepresent or destroy Calvinism or run its adherents down, but to show with love and respect that Calvinism is wrong in several respects and to offer the Calvinist a better, more Christian and more Biblical view that reveals the splendour of God’s providence, his unconditional love and his universal call to salvation. And I hope my Calvinist brothers and sisters who are watching now will hear me on this without prejudice.

Of course, nobody’s understanding is perfect, so I am not so bold as to proclaim that I have the full understanding of the truth and that everyone who disagrees with me is necessarily wrong. I am not wise in my own eyes (Proverbs 3:7; Romans 11:25, 12:16), lest my folly put me to shame (Jeremiah 8:9; ; 1 Cor 8:2). But this is no excuse for intellectual laziness, we are called to love God with our mind. Surely, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and although it is the glory of God to conceal things, it is the glory of kings to search things out (Proverbs 25:2). So let my modest research be an encouragement to revere God’s power and love and to continue to study his Word.

For the sad thing is that a Calvinist can’t say to a stranger, let alone their own children: “God loves you”, for they don’t know whether they belong to God’s elected few and it would certainly be unfair to them to say so if they don’t. What’s worse is when Calvinism is presented as the one true Gospel, someone who rejects these teachings is labelled reprobate. It is dreadful that this extreme way of thinking has led many people away from God.

Whereas people speak of a resurgence of Calvinism in North America, in the Netherlands, where Reformed Theology took definite shape as the state religion, the total number of registered members of the Dutch Reformed Church has decreased from 43% of the population in 1899 to 12% in 2003. In Dutch, the term ‘Calvinistic’ unfortunately has become a pejorative for extreme strictness, prudishness and conservatism. The Reformed church had been fragmented into various denominations and many are emptying, because the preachers don’t preach the Lord Jesus Christ and thus many of its members don’t even know Christ or believe in his resurrection.

Often you won’t be able to argue with Calvinists on a subject like free will. You’ll be labelled Arminian without even knowing what this means. You’ll be accused of believing in salvation by works, diminishing God’s glory and being influenced by “humanistic” thinking. If you don’t accept their doctrines, sometimes you’ll be told you’re not spiritually born again and don’t know God and his gospel.

Non-Calvinists aren’t as charming either. They have to deal with an image of being worldly, fickle and compliant. Often Calvinists won’t get a fair chance to discuss God’s providence either. As a Calvinist, you might be labelled a Gnostic without knowing what this means. You’ll be accused of sectarianism, reluctance in evangelism and turning God into a tyrant.

Of course, these accusations don’t apply to most adherents of either view. And we need to give each other a fair chance to discuss our view on divine providence and human free will respectfully and constructively, so that we may learn from each other’s view and grow in our faith.

But what’s the problem here? What’s at stake? In debating Calvinism, a good illustration of the problem that we are going to face is the following one, which I’ve got from David Pawson. With regard to God’s salvation of mankind there are three opposing views, of which only one can be correct:

  • Assisting Grace (Personal Merits): a man (representing humanity) is drowning and God, standing on the shore, encourages and instructs him to save himself and swim to the shore;
  • Sovereign Grace (Forced Faith): a man has already drown, dead on the bottom of the sea, and God has to jump in and pull him onto the shore in order to revive him;
  • Free Grace (Free Faith): a man is drowning and God throws him a rope; neither would the man say he saved himself or would God say I forced you to be saved.

Of course, this illustration isn’t perfect, but it will stimulate your thinking on this subject. Calvinists say or actually fear that some form of human involvement in saving faith means that God will not be given all the glory that he deserves. That there is some credit in the free faith of people that glorifies the human being and diminishes the glory of God. But is this fear legitimate? Have you ever met someone who willingly received the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ yet glorified themselves instead of God who graciously offered it them?

(We, from YouApolgetics, understand that this covers difficult material that may come across one-sided. It is not our intention to misrepresent Calvinism or to attack Calvinists personally. If you’re inclined to comment on our videos or want to have a decent discussion, we would like you to make a video response on YouTube.)


COPYRIGHT © 2011 Life put in perspective by Harry a.k.a. Buckleherry. All rights reserved.

Jesus is God Almighty, Lord of hosts, King of kings

13 03 2011

This video shows that the Deity of Christ is unmistakable. Undoubtedly, Jesus is fully God and truly Yahweh (Jehovah), King of kings and LORD of hosts, who came in the flesh to save and will come again to judge and reign forever. All glory be to our Lord. May He bless you all.

My adaptation of the Nicene creed:
I believe in the one and only true living God and Lord over all, the Eternal Unseen, the First and the Last, the great I AM who is and who was and who is to come (יהוה YHWH), LORD of hosts (YHWH Tsvaoth), God Almighty (El Shaddai), God Most High (El `Elyon), who exists in the person of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who as the Creator and Sustainer of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible, and the King of kings and Lord of lords is forever worthy of all praise and glory and power.

Who revealed Himself decisively in the Person of the unique Son of God, Jesus (ישוע Yeshua) of Nazareth, the Word of God (λογος logos), Mighty God (El Gibbor), Prince of peace (Sar Shalom), the promised Christ (משיח Messiah), the awaited Saviour of the world, who was in the bosom of the Father before the creation of the world, who is the true Light, the Eternal Life, uncreated, fully God, truly LORD, being of one essence with the Father.

Beside whom there is salvation in no one else, who, for the redemption of mankind, came down from heaven as the prophesied Son of Man and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and like a servant took on flesh and blood, being born truly and fully human, yet without sin, who as he walked with the Father in full obedience fulfilled the Law (Torah); and, becoming the Lamb of God, He suffered and shed his blood as a perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins, was buried in a tomb and rose again from the dead for victory and vindication on the third day vanquishing death, sin and evil once and for all and, ascended into heaven, now sits at the right hand of the Father, highly exalted above all; and He shall return, with eternal glory, to judge the quick and the dead; and His kingdom shall have no end.

(roughly in order of appearance; some have been skipped)

“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.”
(Isaiah 43:10-11)

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
(Genesis 1:1)

He who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”
(Isaiah 45:18, cf. Ps 33:6)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
(John 1:1-2)

The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
(Hebrews 1:3)

For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
(Colossians 1:16-17)

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD YHWH is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
(Isaiah 40:28)

You are the LORD YHWH, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you.
(Nehemiah 9:6)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him.
(John 1:9-10)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

(John 1:14)

Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.

(Philippians 2:6-8 NIV)

And now the LORD says, he who formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him; and that Israel might be gathered to him.
(Isaiah 49:5)

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: [Christ] who was manifested in the flesh.
(1 Timothy 3:16; some mss read “God was manifested in the flesh”)

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.
(Isaiah 7:14)

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall give birth to a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel , which means “God with us”.
(Mathew 1:23)

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
(Luke 2:11 NIV)

For in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead lives in bodily form. He is the head over every power and authority.
(Colossians 2:9,10b NIV)

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

Great and mighty God, whose name is the LORD Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds.
(Jeremiah 32:18)

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
(John 1:14)

No one has ever seen God; the Only one, being God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
(John 1:18)

God said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
(Exodus 3:14)

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
(John 8:58)

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me….Don’t you know me….. even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
(John 14:6 and 9)

“… he who receives me receives him who sent me.”
(Matthew 10:40)

“Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me.”
(John 12:44)

“I and the Father are one.”
(John 10:30)

“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.”
(John 6:38)

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life
(John 6:40)

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”
(Luke 19:10)

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. “
(John 12:47)

The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

“I, I am the LORD YHWH, and besides me there is no savior.”
(Isaiah 43:11)

… everyone who calls on the name of the LORD YHWH shall be saved.
(Joel 2:32)

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
(Acts 4:12)

Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; ‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song; He also has become my salvation.’
(Isaiah 12:2; skipped in video)

Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!” Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.”
(Mark 2:5-11 NLT)

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.
(Psalm 103:2-3)

Thus says the LORD: “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Isaiah 43:25
Jesus said: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
(Matthew 24:35)

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
(Isaiah 40:8)

And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day.”
(Mark 2:19-20)

“Your new name will be “The City of God’s Delight” and “The Bride of God,” for the Lord delights in you and will claim you as his bride. Then God will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”
(Isaiah 62:4a,5b NLT)

Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
(Isaiah 40:9-11)

Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
(John 10:10-11 NIV)

“And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.”
(Matthew 26:63-66)

He was in the world and the world was made by him and the world knew him not.
(John 1:10)

Him who knew no sin, he made sin on our behalf, so that we may become the righteousness of God in him.
(2 Corinthians 5:21)

Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; (…)
although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.
(Isaiah 53:4-6,9)

All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him.”
(Psalm 22:7-8)

and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all
(Isaiah 53:6)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
(Romans 3:23-24)

[Christ Jesus] was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead
(Romans 1:4)

… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame
(Hebrews 12:2)

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippians 2:8-11)

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.
(Ps. 148:13)

“Stand up and bless the LORD your God from everlasting to everlasting. Blessed be your glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise. You are the LORD YHWH, you alone.”
(Nehemiah 9:5-6)

Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.
(Isaiah 45:22-23)

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.”
(Revelation 1:17-18)

This is what the LORD says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
(Isaiah 44:6)

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself. And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies which were in heaven followed him upon white horses, clothed in fine linen, white and clean. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And he hath on his vesture and on his thigh a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.
(Revelation 19:11-17)

Follow Christ, not a tulip

7 02 2011

(Skip to the first post of this series)
Our loving God has inspired me to make a video series about Calvinism, predestination, God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. This is a preface.

This series will first of all be for the glory of God and for the edification of your faith. It is my desire to give a Biblical frame of mind for those Christians who seem to have difficulty with making sense of predestination, election and free will in the Bible.

Calvinism or Reformed theology, maybe you never thought about it, maybe you hate it, maybe you love it, but it’s about a minority group of Christians who adhere to the five doctrines of Calvinism. If you’ve never met one of them, all the better reason to watch this series and allow me to inform you about it in the coming videos. You might even ask, if it is only a minority group, why even bother?

Well, as Bible believing Christians, we are called to examine or test everything what is said and to hold fast to what is good, examining the Scriptures to see if these things are so: “test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21 NLT), “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:11).

It is also out of love that I wish to show the truth to my Calvinist brothers and sisters. If you are a Calvinist and you love Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour, then you should know that I love you as my brother or sister in Christ. But I do disagree with you and I encourage you to watch this through and listen carefully to what is said. Remember the good saying: (Proverbs 18:13) “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” and not mine.

Predestination and free will are usually linked to belief systems or –isms such as Calvinism, Arminianism and Molinism, theological traditions that were named after their founders John Calvin, James Arminius and Luis de Molina. Most of you have probably never heard of them before. And as you’ll watch this series, you’ll get to know more about them and their traditions.

As they’re said to be in direct conflict with each other, they seem to cause conflict among Christians who adhere to either view. And it is my experience that there is a lot of disagreement up to great tumult among Christians on predestination and free will. Calvinists, Arminians, Molinists, whatever people call themselves, all suppose that they adhere to the true doctrine of salvation. But which view is correct? Who’s right and who’s wrong? What is the truth?

It has become an agonizing debate, honestly, a debate that’s going on for hundreds of years, even tearing Christian families apart. Of course, it has also spread to Youtube and has been going on for a while. When the emotions are running high, those who favour one view even go as far as to call the other a disease or poison, accusing each other of heresy and worshipping a false God.

  • “And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here.”

– C. H. Spurgeon (A Defense of Calvinism)

But heresy is a relative term. A teaching is heresy only if it is contrary to another teaching that is believed to be more authoritative. People who base their beliefs on councils, decrees and synods in the past should be reminded of the fact that the earliest Reformers themselves also taught doctrines that were in direct conflict with the established teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants are, in fact, Protesting Catholics and what they taught was again protested and proclaimed heresy by the Catholic Church. Similarly, Remonstrants or Arminians are Remonstrating Calvinists, protested and proclaimed heresy by the established Reformed Church.

But, don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that tradition is all together useless, quite the contrary, I think we should stick as close as possible to what the earliest Christians taught in accordance with Scripture, but we shouldn’t just take tradition for gospel. To speak in Reformed terms: Sola scriptura. Scripture alone is our authoritative teaching. God’s Word is the eternal and unchangeable Truth. And Truth is always consistent and reasonable. Only our faith in the Truth is changeable and fallible. As we reason from Scripture, it is our task as the church of the living God, as the body of Christ, as the pillar and ground of the truth to remain in the truth and to sustain it.

In the meantime, it can be very confusing, even humiliating, when you see your brothers and sisters arguing over a topic like predestination and calling each other heretics or worshipers of false Gods. If you are as heartbroken as I am about this endless quarrel, you’ll agree with me that it’s not a good testimony toward seekers of Christ.

Is Calvinism a way to understand the Bible? Yes. Is Calvinism the correct and truthful way to understand the Bible? No. Should we therefore show that it is wrong? Yes, but with brotherly love and respect. Name calling or anything below that won’t do anybody good and isn’t a healthy way of discussing these matters with each other. For God says that we should not speak vile of one another (Eph 4:29-30).

I do not think it is an evil to discuss these matters with each other, no, we ought to point out the rights and wrongs in each other’s views, but it should be done in a peaceful and respectful way, lest we’d grieve the Holy Spirit.

So let’s agree that whatever convictions on this issue we might have, we will not call brothers in Christ heretics. Anyone who believes that Jesus is the risen Lord and Saviour and is born again in the Holy Spirit is not a heretic, but a precious child of God. Let those quarrelsome people who delight in theological conflicts, do whatever they like, but you and I, let’s hold onto the truth in peace, since we’re called to be peacemakers (Math 5:9).

Another thing is that we shouldn’t be confused, when talking about this subject. Both sides seem to be able to make a Biblical case for their theologies. Does this mean that the Bible, the Word of God causes confusion? No, it doesn’t: for God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

The root of all confusion and disagreement among the body of Christ are fallible human beings, fallible theologians in the pursuit of their own interests instead of the truth. Let’s not give the devil the opportunity to disrupt and dislocate the members of the body.

We’ve got to face the challenge to keep a balance, fixing our eyes of faith on Christ and the whole Word of God and not be confused by people’s teachings. We should all be willing to seek and accept the truth with all its implications, striving for unity in the Spirit of truth.

Let’s not be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Eph 4:14 NKJV). But let’s hold on to the truth in love. We shouldn‘t put our trust in what people say, but in Christ. Don’t trust me for what I say, but test it, examine it, scrutinize it, prayerfully read the Bible and make your own judgement.

Even in the earliest stage of the Church, such quarrels as these were going on in the congregation of Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:11-13). Personal doctrines entered the church causing quarrels and division. “I follow Calvin!”, “I follow Arminius!”. People appealed to superior knowledge of salvation, to the saving power of their theology. And how did the apostle Paul respond?

  • “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”

(1 Corinthians 2:1-5)

What matters is: do I follow Christ? Do I know Him intimately? For whatever your convictions are regarding predestination and free will, the responsibility of every child of God is to follow Jesus Christ and their destiny to become more like Him, the head of the body, who keeps all members together. The Lord appeals to us through the writings of Paul that we are to agree with one another and be perfectly united in mind and thought. So, come, let’s reason together.

  • “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

(Eph 4:16 NLT)

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb is Rock-Solid

16 01 2011

This is a general defence of the historicity of the empty tomb as well as a response to the YouTuber myintellectualjourny. Well, I hope you can appreciate it and that this clarifies my position.

When it comes to the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, most skeptics will cast doubt upon the general reliability of the Gospels and rest their case. Needless to say, their case normally hinges on some philosophical presuppositions biased against miracles and the supernatural or grounded in some theory that is without any plausibility and without a shred of evidential support, such as the conspiracy theory or apparent death theory. Such forms of scepticism turn out to be at best question begging or a feeble attempt at humour.

I won’t be tempted to give a defence of the Gospels’ general reliability, not just because this would take me a book or three, but also simply because it is unnecessary. I don’t believe there is any good reason to doubt their reliability. For now, one remark by C. S. Lewis will suffice:

  • “I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like this. Of this text there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage — though it may no doubt contain errors — pretty close up to the facts; nearly as close as Boswell. Or else, some unknown writer in the second century, without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative.”
    (Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism, Christian Reflections)

However, a historical case for Jesus’ resurrection doesn’t depend on my demonstration that the Gospels are generally trustworthy historical documents. Even if they were unreliable, they could still contain a historical core that the historian will be able to find properly using the methodology he has.

Thus New Testament scholars have come to the conclusion that the following facts are historical, namely that Jesus Christ died on a Roman cross, that he was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, that the tomb was found empty shortly after, that the apostles sincerely believed that the risen Christ really appeared to them bodily, such that some of them would die for their belief and, finally, that the apostles preached and testified to the resurrection in Jerusalem, where eyewitnesses were still alive. The case for the resurrection of Jesus depends on the established historicity of these facts and on its theoretical adequacy as the explanation inferred from these facts.

One of these facts, the discovery of the empty tomb, I am going to discuss with you now. First of all, very early independent sources report Jesus’ burial. We have the sermons in the book of Acts and four independent historical biographies based on eyewitness testimony. They relate Jesus burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and the women’s discovery of the empty tomb on the first day of the week. The three synoptic Gospels and the book of Acts were most likely written independently within about 35 years after the events, far too early for legendary influences to wipe out the historical core. It is implausible that the figure Joseph of Arimathea is a legendary embellishment, for one because the Gospels are extremely polemic against the Jewish Council and rich people in general.

But that’s not all, we also have an extremely early apostolic tradition that Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15, which probably goes back no later than the first five years after Jesus’ death. A formula or creed that Paul hadn’t made up himself, but had received as such from the apostles.

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

  • that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,
  • that he was buried,
  • that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and
  • that he appeared to Cephas,
  • then to the twelve.
  • Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.
  • Then he appeared to James,
  • then to all the apostles.”

Is this the same empty tomb tradition as we find elsewhere? Probably, it is. If we compare the creed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 with the sermon in Acts 13:28-31 and the narrative in Mark 15:37-16:7 (see image below), you’ll find that the correspondence of these independent attestations is sufficient to conclude that the Pre-Pauline creed is a summary of the core events, incl. Jesus’ burial in the tomb.

The fact that the tomb was empty is also implied by the statements “he was buried” and “he was raised on the third day”. But the emphasis is on the appearances of the risen Messiah. This tradition doesn’t simply proclaim the belief or profession that Jesus was raised from the dead, but also has the audacity to demand a verdict, as if it says: if you don’t believe it, ask these witnesses and make your own judgement.

Interestingly, the first Jewish objections to Jesus’ resurrection didn’t deny the empty tomb, but claimed that the disciples stole his body. This is something we wouldn’t expect, if Jesus’ body was still there or, as MIJ seems to suggest, if they were at all ignorant of Jesus’ burial site. Instead of questioning the integrity or credibility of the apostles or asserting that Jesus’ body was still there in the grave, they openly accepted the fact that the tomb was found empty, but explained it differently by way of body theft.

The idea that Jesus was buried in a criminals’ common graveyard cannot be substantiated and seems rather contrived to me. Indeed, if you want to avoid the early literary evidence of the family tomb, you will have to resort to some sort of conspiracy theory, which is the last thing a good historian would propose. There is also no good theological reason for a first century Jew to invent the burial in the tomb.

If Jesus’ body was still in the grave, why wouldn’t anybody correct the disciples in their proclamation of Jesus’ resurrection? Especially knowing, as I said before, they proclaimed it in the very city of Jerusalem where Christ’s judgement execution and alleged resurrection occurred. Like MIJ, you might argue that his corpse was no longer identifiable. But this is actually false, since Jewish burial customs included excavating the bones of the deceased after a year and deposing them in an ossuary. So Jews would keep a close eye on every Jewish burial site, even in case of so-called criminals.

COPYRIGHT © 2011 Life put in perspective by Harry Buckley. All rights reserved.

What a skeptic truly believes

6 01 2011

“One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is actually a true believer in another set of beliefs.”
– Phillip E. Johnson (American law professor, 1940-)

When truth fails to persuade

6 01 2011

“Every failure of truth to persuade reflects the weakness of its advocates.”
– Aristotle (Greek philosopher, 384 BC – 322 BC)