February 26, 2008

Can you hear me now?

"And Pharoah hardened his heart..."

It is so easy for us to look at the story of Moses and to wonder at how Pharoah could continue to fight against God's obvious might and power. This morning I was reading Exodus 9 and was struck with the following passage:

Exodus 9:3-7
"Behold, the hand of the Lord will fall with a very severe plague upon your livestock that are in the field, the horses, the donkeys, the camels, the herds, and the flocks. But the Lord will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing of all that belongs to the people of Israel shall die." And the Lord set a time, saying, "Tomorrow the Lord will do this thing in the land." And the next day the Lord did this thing. All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one of the livestock of the people of Israel died. And Pharaoh sent, and behold, not one of the livestock of Israel was dead. But the heart of Pharaoh was hardened, and he did not let the people go.

So after he was told that God would kill all of his nation's livestock but would not touch the livestock of the Hebrews, then all of Pharoah's livestock died. He sent scouts to determine the situation with the Hebrews livestock. And the report back was that the Jew's livestock was fine. And yet he hardened his heart and would not let the people go.

It seems that he was very hard-headed.

But I think we are that hard-headed many times as well. I know that I often hear what God says through his Word, but then I do my own thing anyway. I know that following what God has set out in His Word is the path of least resistance, so to speak, and yet I trudge off down the path that is strewn with logs, tar pits, and cliff faces dropping to certain death. I don't think we're so unlike Pharoah—we just don't want to admit it.

February 24, 2008

Blog Header - February 24, 2008

This week's photo is of a church in Keswick, Virginia. On one of my regular jaunts between Lynchburg and Washington, DC, I was driving past this church just as night was falling. The gorgeous architecture was made all the more beautiful by the spotlights and the dusk lighting in the sky. I had to stop to take a picture.

The slow shutter speed required to capture this photo would have made hand holding the camera impossible and I did not have any of my tripods in the car with me at the time. But, fortunately, my wife had her small calapsible video camera tripod in her purse. It's not particularly steady for a single lens reflex camera with a large lens attached, but I managed to get quite a few good pictures taken before the priests in the rectory noticed I was there and lights began turning on to scare off the intruder.

February 23, 2008

Another reason to love Lynchburg

Last Saturday my son and I went to the local elementary school's playground. It's an amazing large all wooden playground with lots of fun stuff in it. Many of the kids from the various surrounding neighborhoods gather there to have fun and to look for other kids to play with. Quite often there are pick up games of baseball, football, or basketball. There are also benches for us old folks to sit on and read or watch our kids have fun.

But the thing that I love so much when we visit this playground is not the great equipment—it is the fact that in Lynchburg the kids are polite to the adults and play well together. Even kids of significantly different ages play well together. It's wonderful to watch and brings a warmth to my heart that is hard to explain.

Last Saturday we met two teenage girls and a young girl who had just turned three. The four of them played together and had great fun together for about two hours. Just before we all left to head back to our homes, the three-year-old got a splinter in her hand. You can see one of the teenage girls and my son looking at the young girl's hand and comforting her. She was very brave.

The pictures in this post are all from this past Saturday there at the playground. There are many levels at which my family fell in love with Lynchburg. This is just one layer of what makes Lynchburg wonderful.

You just have to visit. But use a U-Haul—you're not going to want to go back to wherever you were from to begin with.

Could it happen today?

State Seal of South Carolina

The Charter of Carolina (1663) was granted by King Charles II to Sir William Berkeley and seven other lord proprieters. It stated:

Being excited with a laudable and pious zeal for the propogation of the Christian faith ... [they] have humbly sought leave of us ... to transport and make an emple colony ... unto a certain country ... in the parts of America not yet cultivated or planted, and only inhabited by some barbarous people, who have no knowledge of Almight God.

The Fundamental Constitutions of the Carolinas (1663) was draw up at the request of Sir William Berkeley and the other proprietors of the colony. It stated:

No man shall be permitted to be a freeman of Carolina, or to have any estate of habitation within it that doth not ackowledge God, and that God is publicly and solumnly to be worshiped.

February 22, 2008

Why be divisive?

I often stir up trouble with blog posts, comments I make in conversations, and just general discussion of theology and ecclesiology with my friends. Our post-modern cultural mindset contributes to this trouble by making us think we are being personally attacked when someone expresses a disagreement with our thinking on a particular topic. This cultural phenomenon comes dangerously close to the censorship of totalitarian regimes, except that this is cultural and social censorship rather than political and governmental censorship.

I try to comment on things that are happening around me—observations I have made regarding Evangelicalism, Christianity, and my own social networks. I comment on these things because commenting on things that are not currently on the cultural radar doesn't make a lot of sense and wouldn't promote a lot of interest in the coversation.

Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses
from the film "Luther"

I think this social censorship quite likely happens to all of us who comment on current events from a political or theological or philosophical bent. During the Enlightenment, these types of comments were conversation starters—they began the dialog. Opposing opinions were voiced and folks considered the pros and cons of each argument and everyone's thought process was challenged and improved.

The new censorship is evidence that we would rather not discuss the pros and cons of an argument but would rather simply believe what we believe and not be challenged to do any actual thinking about it. It is a shame, but it is nothing new—it did not begin with Postmodern thought. In fact, the Great Reformer Martin Luther dealt with these same attempts at censorship and he responded with:

"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.

"Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point."
– Martin Luther

Slow posting week

I apologize for the lack of posts here for the past week. I've been working on a huge project for my firm and it has taken up almost all of my available time during the day. This will continue until the end of the month. I'll try to post as often as I can, but will likely miss a day here or there. Thanks for your patience.

February 20, 2008

Rising above the crowd

Luke 6:32-36
“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

I find it so easy to pat myself on the back. Like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like the tax collectors and sinners, I look at evil people and notice with pride that I am not doing some of their evil acts.

But this is not what I am called to. This passage from Luke reveals that many of the things I think are good deeds are in fact normal courses of action for human beings—loving my friends, loaning money to those I know will pay it back, doing something special for someone who regularly does nice things to me—none of these things rises above the run-of-the-mill actions common to humanity. We are called to love those who hate us, to do good to those who "despitefully use us," and to loan to people with bad credit. These are the things that will make us as Christians stand out from the crowd.

February 17, 2008

Unbridled Affections

I have lived through many years of borderline poverty and a desire to rise above the level of living paycheck to paycheck under huge piles of credit. I have lived with abundance, decent pay, lots of comforts and luxury. They both have their pitfalls. I won't try to be super-spiritual and say that I'd just as soon live in poverty for some altruistic reason. I do prefer to have the ability to pay my bills and to take my family on a vacation every now and then to scraping by and answering creditor phone calls at home and at the office.

The following quote from Thomas a Kempis addresses our desires—what Jonathan Edwards called "affections." May God grant me the ability to live at peace in the way the Apostle Paul did when he said in Philippians 4:11: "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content."

When a man desires a thing too much, he at once becomes ill at ease. A proud and avaricious man never rests, whereas he who is poor and humble of heart lives in a world of peace. An unmortified man is quickly tempted and overcome in small, trifling evils; his spirit is weak, in a measure carnal and inclined to sensual things; he can hardly abstain from earthly desires. Hence it makes him sad to forego them; he is quick to anger if reproved. Yet if he satisfies his desires, remorse of conscience overwhelms him because he followed his passions and they did not lead to the peace he sought.

True peace of heart, then, is found in resisting passions, not in satisfying them. There is no peace in the carnal man, in the man given to vain attractions, but there is peace in the fervent and spiritual man.

Blog Header - February 17, 2008

Our house with snow

It's now mid-February and the days will be warming soon, so I don't have much time left to post photos of the snow.

The photo above is from a snowstorm we had in Lynchburg in January. I just love the fresh brightness of it all.

February 16, 2008

It Is Well With My Soul - 4 Him

I love the old hymns. I love well-done contemporary Christian music. When the two are combined in a manner that respects the original intent of the hymn, something special happens. This is wonderful.

February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Twenty-one years ago (getting close to 22 now) I married the most wonderful wife the world has ever known. Sorry girls, but she really is—maybe you can work on being the second best. At the beginning of our reception, I played the guitar and sang this song to my wife. And it is more true today than it was 22 years ago—and I understand its implications more.

I thought I'd try to tell you
How much I love you in a song
But found out very soon that
   that would make it last too long
I started it last evening
When the sun was going down
I'd barely just begun it
When the sun came back around

I'd really like to tell you—
I'd really like to show how much
I'd really care to share this love with you.
I'd really like to tell you
I'd really like to show you
But I'm afraid I just might never
   quite get through

If every star that's in the sky
Could scream, "I love you, girl."
And if I sent a rose for every
   flower in the world
It would only start to tell
The things I long to say
The stars will fall and the rose will die
But my love won't go away!

I'd really like to tell you
I'd really like to show how much
I'd really care to share this love with you.
I'd really like to tell you
I'd really like to show you
But I'm afraid I might not ever quite get through.

I love you Kim!

Check out our love story on my wife's blog.

February 12, 2008

Blog Header - Valentine's Week

I just realized that this is Valentine's week and I had posted a blog header that was not a picture of my wife. So I am correcting that now. These photos were taken on our honeymoon in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. It was a beautiful place, but as beautiful as the Virgin Islands are, they are not as beautiful as my wife. I am a blessed man. Especially considering that she has put up with me for more than two decades since these photos were taken.

I love you Kim!

Which way will you vote?

Today is primary voting day in Virginia. I will be casting my vote today and will pray that God leads our nation in a way that brings glory to Him.
With this on my mind today, I share with you a wonderful photograph that sums things up nicely. (Notice that "Clinton" points to the Left.)

February 11, 2008

A father's grief

Life is hard. Not much more than that needs be said. We often wonder what God is doing as our lives seem to unravel. I was reminded recently by a friend that it is okay to question God as long as we are willing to accept his answer (or willing to accept his decision to not answer our "why?" question). My friend pointed out that Job asked God "why?" on a number of occasions—even, at one point, asking God why he had been born. But in the end we are told that in all that Job said he did not sin.

Many of my why? questions seem to revolve around my role as a parent. Being a father is not an easy job and I often feel that I am not up to the task. But in my personal bible reading this morning and read part of the story of Joseph and I was struck with a different viewpoint on this story than what we normally think of—the viewpoint of Jacob, Joseph's father

Imagine the difficulties, agony, and emotional pain Jacob had to endure as his sons showed their hatred for their brother, Joseph. Imagine his disappointment when Joseph started saying things that appeared to be calculated to make his brothers hate him even more—such things as, "you all are going to bow down to me one day ... and I heard this news from God in my dreams last night." Imagine Jacob's pain upon the news that his favored son had been killed by a wild animal, the news of which was brought to him along with a bloodied garment to prove the violent report.

But it didn't end there. Years later, during the famine, His sons were told to bring their younger brother with them to Egypt or they would not be able to receive food. Jacob must have felt terrible trepidation at letting his youngest son, the only other brother of his favored wife Rebecca, go with the other brothers to Egypt. And then for the younger brother to be kept in Egypt when the brothers returned to Canaan, it must have been almost unbearable for Jacob.

In fact, the brothers told the Egyptian leader in Genesis 44:30-31, "Now therefore, as soon as I come to your servant my father, and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy's life, as soon as he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die, and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. This must have been a terrible thing for Jacob, the father.

But in the end, Joseph tells his brothers:

Genesis 50:19-21
But Joseph said to them, "Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones." Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

From this story I find great comfort in knowing that whatever happens in my parenting—whatever happens with my children, I must rest in God's total and complete sovereignty over all that happens. Whatever happens, I know that it will bring ultimate glory to God. In that I must rest.

February 10, 2008

Blog Header - February 10, 2008

This week's graphic is one of the the backgrounds I created for our church's worship lyric projections. I did a series of photos of musical instruments with the church logo and slogan embedded (through Photoshop) on the instruments. On this set of bongo drums I put the slogan ("the Word - Worship - World Evangelism") on the left drum and the logo on the right drum. I created the logo for the church when they decided to place a new sign in front of the church. The old sign was looking a bit haggard.

February 09, 2008

Post-Christian Britain

Many of us heard yesterday that the Archbishop of Canterbury made a statement accepting the likelihood that Sharia law will be put into place for Muslims in the U.K. This is evidence of the breakdown of British culture—especially British religious culture. But this article from the Alpha & Omega Ministries blog reveals much greater evidence that our Christian brothers and sisters in Great Britain are living in an openly hostile environment.

February 08, 2008

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Can it get more beautiful than this? I think this video is a small taste of what heaven will be like. Even so, come quickly, Lord.

February 07, 2008

How Jesus preached the social gospel

Matthew 11:2-5
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

So many times I have read Matthew 11:2-5. But until recently I had not noticed that this passage deals directly with what has come to be called the "social gospel"—the idea of taking food to the needy, helping orphans, providing shelter, and meeting other needs, but doing so without particular concern for meeting spiritual needs.

This past Wednesday night Ranger Horton spoke at our church's mid-week service. He pointed out something I had never noticed before in this passage. Jesus directly addresses how he met the needs of specific people:

To:He gave:
The blindThe sense of sight
The lameThe ability to walk
The lepersHealth
The deafThe sense of hearing
The deadLife
The poorThe gospel

Did you notice what Jesus gave to the poor? He gave them the gospel. Yes, he fed people—in fact, he fed thousands with a few loaves and fishes. But those he fed were with him because they wanted what he had to give more than they wanted to care for their own physical needs, so Jesus took care of their physical needs for them. It seems from this passage that Jesus' main concern for the poor was that they hear the message of good news that the Christ had come to redeem mankind through his death on the cross and eventual resurrection from the dead.

Christianity compels us to care for the needs of others and we should certainly feed the poor, clothe the naked, and comfort the hurting. But we must never do it without sharing the gospel. We are not here to save the world—that's God's job. We are here to tell the world that the Almighty God reached to sinful man with his love by sending his Son to die on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins of everyone who believes.

What a wonderful message! What a wonderful way to meet the needs of the people around us.

February 06, 2008

Busy, busy, busy

Progress always gives us more and more of everything faster and faster . There are only so many details that can be comfortably managed in anybody’s life. Once this number has been exceeded, one of two things happens: disorganization or frustration. Yet progress gives us more and more details every year—often at exponential rates. We have to deal with more “things per person” than ever before in the history of humankind. Every year we have more products, more information, more technology, more activities, more choices, more change, more traffic, more commitments, more work. In short, more of everything. Faster.... Progress automatically leads to increasing overload, meaninglessness, speed, change, stress, and complexity.

Richard A. Swenson, The Overload Syndrome (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), pp. 43-44; emphasis in the original.

The more we watch the lives of men, the more we see that one of the reasons why men are not occupied with great thoughts and interests is the way in which their lives are overfilled with little things ”

quoted by William Philip in a January 2003 newsletter from The Proclamation Trust in London.

Resources for your spiritual education

Wow! What a fantastic list of recommended resources is available at the Dead Theologian Society. I just discovered this site recently and have found it to be well-written and full of wisdom and insight. And it's written by a pastor to boot. Check it out when you get the chance.

February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday - Voting Day

How should we as Christians view the political process? This is, and has been, a very difficult concept for Evangelical Christians for quite some time. I think that our difficulty with these issues is grounded in the fact that we so often follow the philosophies of the world around us rather than looking to scripture.

On one extreme side we see many Evangelicals putting their faith in the Republican Party, citing areas of agreement with general Christian thought in certain areas. These folks quite often view anyone who votes Democrat as a non-believer (infidel).

On the other extreme side we have folks like one member of my family who wrote in an email to me yesterday:

We keep reading up on presidential election stuff. One good article (from Singapore) pointed out that the US president so thoroughly affects the whole world that the world should get to vote. It's not fair that only Americans vote (since that's thoroughly UN-democratic!) Interesting thought- and hey, it's accurate. The world is naturally concerned.

Both of those extreme views are not even close to what we find in scripture about governments and authorities and our responsibilities regarding those institutions. For those who see conservatism as their savior, we must not look to civil governments in that way. We should be involved in the political process. We should vote. We should use our vote to encourage biblical thought in moral and civil arenas. But when we begin to look at a particular political party as the equivalent of "the Church," we have made a grave error. We should not pledge our allegiance to a political party.

God governs the world, and we have only to do our duty wisely and leave the issue to him.
Supreme Court Justice John Jay

On the other hand, we live in a nation that God has blessed with a form of government that is somewhat unique in history. We have the right as citizens of this nation to vote and to volunteer for involvement in our local, state, and federal politics. These rights are granted to us by a democratic republic—the United States of America. Our government, our constitution, and our civil rights are not extended beyond our sovereign borders. This describes the concept of democracy. The antithesis of democracy would be letting people who are outside the sovereign control of our nation to vote in our elections. It is completely fair and it is right. The mere suggestion that those outside the pervue of the United States should be allowed the right to vote in our presidential elections should be repulsive to the core—not only to United States citizens, but to anyone who loves democracy, republicanism, and who sees national patriotism (for whatever country) as a virtue.

The answer to both of these wrong-headed concepts is scripture. As the following verses show, we are to submit to our authorities because they are placed there by God. So conservative Christians should get involved in our election process and should pray that the resultant leader will honor God and protect the nation. And he should obey and respect those authorities once God has established them. And those Christians outside our nation's borders should pray for the United States elections. God determines the governments of men. God guides the hearts of those governments. Prayer allows non-US citizens to be involved in our political process. Non-Christians do not have a say and should not have a say in United States politics. Imperialistic ideas are not attractive whether your nation is large and strong or small in insignificant. The best way for these folks to have an impact on the US elections is to turn to Christ, repent of their sins, join the family of God, and then pray that God will place the right leader in the White House.

I'll be voting in the primaries one week from today because as a US citizen I have the right to be involved in our elections. I am going to exercise that right. I will be voting for someone who wants to maintain the purity of our election process. May God place the best leader for this moment in our nation's history in the White House.

Romans 13:1-7 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God's wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Titus 3:1-2 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.

February 04, 2008

Working your way into heaven?

My father's Navigators blog is covering the letters to the churches in Revelation. This week is dealing with the church in Thyatira and with the concept of works-based salvation. Check it out.

This answers a lot of questions

February 03, 2008

Blog Header - February 3, 2007

This week's photo is from a recent snow storm we had in Lynchburg. Virginia snow never lasts long, so I had to take the pictures when I saw them. I leaned out the back door of our porch to get a better view of the snow covered patio behind our house and noticed these berries on one of the bushes next to the door. I zoomed in close with my telephoto lens and snapped this picture.

God's creation never ceases to amaze and brings us such undeserved pleasure. What a great God we have!

February 02, 2008

Was Jesus a Calvinist?


n yesterday’s post [Hyperbole in action], Daniel L. Aiken commented on some statements that he has heard recently that he found to be irresponsible. Most of the statements had been made by the new breed of virulent anti-Calvinists. These folks make irresponsible statements regularly on many topics. Ergun Caner of Liberty University is quite likely the leader in this crowd of irresponsible statement makers and was the one who proclaimed: “Calvinists are more dangerous than radical Muslims.” I would agree completely with Mr. Aiken that the first four of the statements he listed were irresponsible and hyperbolic.

But the fifth statement he declared as irresponsible was the statement, “Jesus is a Calvinist.” I’d like to consider that statement while discussing what it truly means when someone says, “I am a Calvinist.”

There are at least three ways people respond to the statement, “I am a Calvinist.” They think it means:

  1. Calvinists adhere to John Calvin the man
  2. Calvinists adhere to the totality of the teaching of the man John Calvin
  3. Calvinists adhere to a particular set of doctrines that over time have come to be associated with the name of the man John Calvin

Let’s look at each of these in historic context and determine whether it is irresponsible to say, Jesus is a Calvinist.

Calvinists adhere to John Calvin, the man

This may have been true of a few people who lived in Switzerland at the time of John Calvin. Mentors are a good thing and a protegé could be described as adhering to his mentor. However, John Calvin has been dead for a long time. Everyone who hears someone say, “I am a Calvinist” knows that Calvin is not mentoring that person. So I don’t think anyone makes the mistake of thinking this way.

Is Jesus a Calvinist in this manner? Obviously not. In fact, Calvin was a Christian, not the other way around.

Calvinists adhere to the totality of Calvin’s teaching

This is the most common misunderstanding proclaimed by those who want to vilify John Calvin and the people called Calvinists. I think the vast majority of them know that this is not what those who are called Calvinists are proclaiming. But they say it anyway.

Quite often these folks will say, “How can you be a Calvinist? He believed in burning heretics to death,” or something similar to that. These folks will also argue the other side of this coin, saying that those who are “Calvinists” follow the teachings of a man. They often follow this up by saying, “I’m not a Calvinist. I’m not an Arminian. I’m a Biblicist.”

For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
—1 Cor. 1:11–13

This line of reasoning is completely wrongheaded. First, the vast majority of those who claim to be either Calvinist or Arminian have come to that position because of their understanding of scripture, making them de facto Biblicists. This line of argumentation is actually unscriptural as it is exactly the thing the Apostle Paul was decrying in 1 Corinthians 1:11–13 (seen in the callout box to the right).

Saying I follow Calvin or I follow Arminius is this exact thing. This is not what either of those statements means though.

The reason for saying, “I am a Calvinist” or “I am an Arminian” is theological efficiency. It is no different than saying “I am a Baptist” or “I am a southerner.” It is a shortcut, laden with meaning so we don’t have to waste time explaining Baptist distinctives or geographic features of where we’re from. In typical conversation, folks understand that when you say, “I am a Baptist,” you mean: I hold to Believer’s Baptism, I am a Christian, I oppose a state-run church, and other Baptist distinctives. When a person says, “I am a Calvinist,” he is not saying that he holds to every single teaching or activity of the man John Calvin. In fact, he may be strongly opposed to much of John Calvin’s teaching. What he does mean by saying that he is a Calvinist brings us to our next definition.

But first, Was Jesus a Calvinist in this way—did Jesus hold to all the teachings of John Calvin? Of course not.

Calvinists adhere to a particular set of doctrines that are associated with the name John Calvin

Labels are useful shortcuts. They allow us to describe ourselves quickly. Baptist is a useful label. Conservative or Liberal are somewhat useful labels. American is a useful label. Biblicist is a totally useless label. It means nothing at all. There is not a theological shortcut provided by claiming to be a Biblicist. More likely it means, “I disagree with what you’re saying, but I can’t prove my point with scripture so I’m going to vilify you by implying that you are NOT a Biblicist.” Not a particularly useful way of arguing a theological point.

Labels must be defined by those who use them, not by those who oppose them. So Calvinists must be the ones who define the term Calvinism and Arminians must be the ones who define the term “Arminian.”

When a Calvinist claims that label he means, “I hold to the peculiar doctrines that over time have come to be associated with the man John Calvin.” Those doctrines are:

  • Total Inability, sometimes called Total Depravity
  • Unconditional Election
  • Particular Redemption, sometimes called Limited Atonement
  • Effectual Calling, sometimes called Irresistible Grace
  • Perseverance and Preservation of the Saints, sometimes inaccurately described by the phrase "once saved, always saved"

These doctrines are scriptural and would require a great deal of time to explain in detail, thus the reason for the theological shortcut—I am a Calvinist. But is it appropriate to use this theological shortcut to describe Jesus Christ? I guess the answer to that question is to determine whether or not Jesus holds to those doctrines.

The main doctrines under contention in Daniel Aiken’s list are Unconditional Election, Particular Redemption, and Effectual Calling. So to determine whether Jesus can be described as a Calvinist, we should look at what Jesus himself taught:

John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

In this verse Jesus teaches Total Inability (“no one can come”) and Unconditional Election combined with Effectual Calling (“unless the Father ... draws him. And I will raise him up”). They can’t come (Total Inability), the Father draws and those he draws (Election) will be raised up (Effectual Calling and Perseverance of the Saints).

So Jesus believed in Total Inability, Unconditional Election, Effectual Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. He’s pretty close to being a Calvinist. But the most hotly contested doctrine is Particular Redemption. Where did Jesus stand on that one?

When he prayed his High Priestly prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was fulfilling the role of the High Priest. When he sacrificed a lamb, the Jewish high priest would pray for God’s chosen people—Israel. He did not pray for the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Amorites, or any of the other people around. The sacrifice was not made for them. In fact, God has specifically told some people that they would not receive the offer of atonement for their sins (the very defnition of “Limited Atonement”). For example: Isaiah 22:14— The Lord of hosts has revealed himself in my ears: “Surely this iniquity will not be atoned for you until you die,” says the Lord God of hosts.

So the high priest prayed for a specific group of people who were to recieve atonement for their sins based on the sacrifice.

As Jesus prepared to become that sacrificial lamb, he prayed: I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours (John 17:9). Jesus knew who he was going to the cross to make atonement for. He was doing it for the chosen ones—the elect. Jesus believes in Particular Redemption. And just in case anyone might not completely get the point, he said, “I am not praying for the world....” There was no doubt in Jesus mind for whom he would be making atonement.

So what is the answer to the question: Is Jesus a Calvinist? I think the answer, quite clearly, is a resounding yes.

Jesus is a Calvinist

February 01, 2008

Hyperbole in action

President Daniel L. Akin of Southeastern Theological Seminary sent a letter to the students recently. It is an outstanding letter calling for evangelicals to bridle their tongues—to refrain from making outlandish and foolish statements. He lists in his letter a few recent statements that he considers foolish. It’s a good list as many of these are beyond belief in their vindictiveness, their avoidance of the truth, and their sheer stupidity in some cases. This is the list along with a few of his comments:

A Plea For Theological
Responsibility And Integrity

In recent days it has become painfully evident that many Southern Baptists do not “do theology” very well. Some are apparently ill-informed and sloppy. Others trying to be cute, are bombastic and irresponsible. Despite our rhetoric to be “people of the Book,” we do not know the Book very well. We do not grasp its rich theology. We are failing, and failing miserably, to obey 2 Timothy 2:15–16: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth. But avoid irreverent, empty speech, for this will produce an even greater measure of godlessness.”


If you are wondering what are some of the careless theological statements I have in mind that has moved me to put this challenge before you, let me note just a few that I have heard coming from a number of different directions.

  1. You cannot attract a crowd and build a church on expository preaching.
    It is true you can build a crowd without biblical exposition, but you will never build a Christ-honoring New Testament Church without faithful exposition of the whole counsel of God's inerrant Word. Further, a number of churches in our Convention have built both a growing church in terms of breadth and depth. It does not have to be an either/or scenario.
  2. Evangelical Calvinism is an oxymoron.
    Anyone who knows church and Baptist history knows how irresponsible this statement is. William Carey, Luther Rice, Adoniram Judson, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, James Boyce, Basil Manly Jr., and John Broadus are just a few of the great missionaries, pastors, and theologians who embraced a Reformed Theology. You may be convinced that Calvinism is wrong. However, do not make yourself look foolish by saying there are no passionate, evangelical Calvinists.
  3. Five-point Calvinism is the same as Hyper-Calvinism.
    This statement again demonstrates historical ignorance. Hyper-Calvinism is a particular movement that appeared in the mid 1700s that rejects the mandate to share the gospel, denies man’s responsibility to repent and believe the gospel, and in some instances runs perilously close to making God the author of sin. The overwhelming majority of five-point Calvinists would reject each of these positions. Spurgeon, himself a five-point Calvinist denounced in the strongest measure these errors in Spurgeon and “hyper-Calvinism.” Now, those of you who know my theology know I am not a five-point Calvinist. I believe Unconditional Election is not incompatible with “the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures” (Abstract of Principles, art. IV), I affirm a Universal Provision with a Limited Application as it pertains to the Atonement, and I believe Effectual Calling to be a much better way to describe a significant aspect of the salvation process than Irresistible Grace. Further, anything that weakens the missionary passion of the church and the evangelistic favor of an individual is both dangerous and useless to the Church. Perhaps what some mean by “hyper-Calvinism” is extreme Calvinism or Calvinists with an attitude. I have met more than a few in my lifetime and to be sure, they were not of much value when it comes to the health of the church and reaching the lost. Still, we need to be honest with history and accurate with the facts. Mischaracterizations are of no value on any level.
  4. Calvinists are worse than Muslims.
    The irresponsibility of this statement is tragic. It is one thing to disagree with your brothers and sisters in Christ on a point of theology. It is incredible that you would place them in the category of unbelieving militants who murder innocent victims in the name of Allah.
  5. Jesus was a Calvinist.
    Theological foolishness is not limited to one theological perspective. In a Pastor’s Conference a few years ago one of my pulpit heroes made this statement. Recently a friend of mine wrote a book with one of the chapters entitled, “Christ, The Calvinist.” Such statements are wrongheaded, and yes, again irresponsible, at several points. First, the statement is historically anachronistic. Second, it is Christologically disrespectful. Jesus is the Lord. He is the King. He is God. Our Savior is the grand subject of Christian theology. So whether it is Whitefield, Boice (men I greatly love and admire), or whomever, to call Jesus a Calvinist is theologically misguided and pastorally dangerous. Yes, Jesus believes God is sovereign but He also taught man is responsible. Yes, Jesus taught, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44), but He also gave us the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20).

The list continues, but I will end it there in order to comment on statement number 5 “Jesus was a Calvinist.” I will comment concerning this statement in a post on this blog tomorrow [Was Jesus a Calvinits?]. I will deal with a few potential views about what it means to be a Calvinist—that Calvinists adhere to John Calvin the man; that Calvinists adhere to the totality of the teaching of the man John Calvin; or that Calvinists adhere to a particular set of doctrines that over time have come to be associated with the name of the man John Calvin.