10/27/13

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation

Part 1: Introduction and Definitions

What's this debate about, why is it important?

Part 2: The Problem Stated

The problem Christians face: The Bible presents both human choice and God's sovereignty.

Part 3: Proposed Solutions

Philosophical systems Christians have come up with to try to deal with this issue, and why they don't work.

Part 4: Conclusion

The Biblical position, and why it's the only one that makes sense. (IMPORTANT: DO NOT read this portion before reading part 2 and 3. Fight the urge! The conclusion won't make sense if you haven't first read the background for why this is the conclusion.)

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 4)

Conclusion

The approach the author of this article takes will be referred to as Christian compatibilism, though it has been advocated by those of a more reformed persuasion for quite some time. The problem that most will level at a reformed (biblical) understanding of foreordination and predestination is that it takes away any kind of responsibility. If a person’s actions are certain in advance then how can they be held responsible for those actions? We can state the problem in the form of a syllogism.

It is certain in advance that s cannot do other than x 
Responsibility implies the ability for s to do other than x 
s is not responsible 

The resolution to the problem is this: s can do other than x in a morally responsible sense because s was not coerced. To put it simply, people are not coerced into doing evil. God did not coerce those who perpetuated the arch crime of history (crucifying the Son of God) to do what they did. It says they were "godless men." The roman soldiers didn't have to work that day, they could have done an infinite number of other things rather than crucify the Lord. But the truth is they wanted to. They desired to kill Him, and so they carried out their plan, a plan God had ordained from the beginning. It's hard for finite creatures to comprehend this truth. If we want to make a future outcome absolutely certain we must coerce something or someone in order to accomplish it. For instance, a mobster, if he wants someone killed, must in advance either pay someone reliable to do it, or do it himself (that is, if he wants to be certain it will happen). From God's vantage point this is not the case however. God does not have to coerce in order to accomplish His will. He works in such a way that men retain their choice making abilities and make the choice he predetermined at the same time. So the problem, logically speaking at least, has been eliminated. The law of non-contradiction says that things cannot both be true and not true in the same sense and in the same way. In this case, there is no contradiction because God is sovereign over human affairs in two senses. In one sense He foreordains, and in another sense He does not coerce. To boil it down: foreordination does not equal coercion biblically speaking. God made it certain in advance that men would freely choose.

Another charge leveled at those skeptical of the Christian compatibilist position is that there’s no reason to pray or evangelize if God simply decrees what will take place. The answer to this objection is that God ordains the means  as well as the ends (Phil 1:6, 2:12; 3:14; Eph. 2:10; Acts 2:23, 4:27-28; etc.) It's God who's at work in the believer's sanctification process, yet the believer is commanded to pursue greater spirituality. Whilst the believer exercises himself or herself to obey God it is really God at work in them. It is in God's sovereign plan that the believer will put forth this effort thereby bringing about the intended result. The end (a mature believer) is accomplished through the means (the believers pursuit), yet both are ordained by God. This is true when it comes to evangelism and prayer as well. God has ordained that those things are his means by which he accomplishes an end. So prayer does change things and so does evangelism, yet it is God who is at work in the very process including believers in His divine decree. Eph. 2:10 declares, "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them." God also ordains evil to reach a desirable outcome (as in the example of the crucifixion).

In conclusion, the Bible maintains that the idea that God foreordains and the idea that man is held responsible are not diametrically opposed. Foreordination is explicitly taught in both testaments (Is. 46:10, Psalm 33:11, Eph. 1:3-14; Rom. 8:28-30, 1 Cor. 2:7; 2 Tim. 2:13; etc.). God's control over time is just about always (if not always) viewed as a comforting reality. Just think of the alternative! If God were not in control of the future how much comfort would there be in the midst of any tragedy in this world, and how would we know God's promises would be kept? At the same time, man is morally responsible for His choices and is in fact commanded to choose righteousness. (Deuteronomy 30:19; James 1:13-14; 2 Peter 3:9; Luke 13:3; etc.)

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 3)

Proposed Solutions

Open-Theism

As we examine the proposed solutions to this problem we will progress from more simplistic to more nuanced approaches finally culminating in a biblical solution. The first approach we will be examining is known as “open-theism.” Open-theism maintains that “Scripture depicts God as having a perfect, immutable character but as expressing this character through his wonderfully flexible interactions with his creations.” It posits a God who is “frequently grieved, frustrated, and even amazed at how stiff-necked people are toward him.” To give an example: God, in an open-theistic system, did not know about the September 11th terrorist attacks before they happened. He was in no position therefore to prevent them from occurring, and as a result, shares in the pain and outrage felt by the American people that such an injustice would take place. In short, God is open-theism denies God’s sovereignty. This is one way to reconcile the tension between sovereignty and choice—simply deny sovereignty. The major problem with this view is that it does not correspond to the God of Scripture, a God who “turns [the king’s heart] wherever He wishes,” ordains the future of His elect, and knows what will take place in the future. Such a God would not be able to guarantee the salvation of His people or for that matter, the ultimate victory of His kingdom over the dominion of Satan. There would be no comfort in God’s plan because His plan would be subject to change as He reacts to the natural disasters and free decisions of men. Presbyterian theologian R. L. Dabney describes such a God this way: “If [God] could not foreknow and control [the world] He would be the most baffled, confused and harassed of all beings; and His government one of perpetual expedients.” A God who is not sovereign is no God at all.

 Best Possible World's Defense

A second proposed solution to the problem can be referred to as “the best possible world’s approach.” Many Christian apologists use this approach when attempting to answer the problem of evil (How can God be both good and sovereign if evil exists?), but it can also be used to answer the sovereignty/choice dilemma. Theologian John Frame relays the argument in his book Apologetics to the Glory of God:
The philosopher G.W. Leibniz and others have argued that this world, for all its evils, is nonetheless the best world which God could have produced. . . Certain evils are logically necessary to achieve certain good ends. . . So the best possible world will include some evil.
In other words, God chose to create a world in which bad choices were possible because it was also the only world in which love was also possible since “love cannot be programmed, it must be freely expressed.” In this world “freedom is preserved in that each person makes his own free choice to determine his destiny.” John Frame dismantles this assertion by showing that the best possible situations do not in fact require the existence of the possibility of evil. The perfect love of God himself within the Trinity does not assume the choice to rebel. The new heavens and new earth will likewise be environments of perfection in which sin will not be a possibility. A second philosophical problem with this approach is that it is only a possibility.
If God can make a whole world that is imperfect and requires renovation, surely it is possible that he can determine a whole historical sequence which is imperfect in comparison with other worlds he might have made.
In other words, we don’t know that this is the best possible world since “God is free to make things that are either imperfect or perfect.” One other problem with this approach to the sovereignty/choice conundrum is that love is merely assumed to lack any kind of compulsion without a defensible exegesis from the biblical text to prove that such a requirement is in fact a contingency. It may be that love has to be initiated (making it not a completely free choice) as 1 John 4:19 suggests.
 
Corridor of Time Argument


A third solution, and perhaps the most common solution (often used in conjunction with “the best possible worlds” approach) is the idea that God passively looked down the corridor of time, saw those who would choose Him, and so chose them to be His elect. This solution is specifically aimed at addressing predestination by defining it in a way that allows (seemingly) for both a sovereign God and a free mankind. In His book Calvin on the Ropes, Douglas Shearer attempts to interpret Romans 8:29-30 in such a way that God is merely sovereign in the sense that He knows what is going to take place. Shearer asks his readers:
The interpretation we give to Romans 8:29-30 is radically changed when we stand foreknowledge on its own. Why should we be surprised that God can look down the corridor of time and know that Jacob will choose to ground his relationship with God in faith—Jacob's choice, not God's—thereby putting him in right relationship with God and transforming him from a "vessel of wrath" into a "vessel of mercy?"
While this approach may seem very attractive, it has two major problems. One is philosophical, and the other exegetical. We will start with the philosophical problem. Those who advocate for the “corridor of time” solution believe that God is sovereign in the sense that He knows the future before it has taken place. The diagram below illustrates the point.

T1---------------------------------------------------------------------------T2
x is certain                                                                       x takes place

From the vantage point of eternity (T1) it is certain that a particular event will occur (x) at a particular time (T2). Jonathan Edwards critiques this position by affirming that it is certain in advance that what takes place will take place for the simple reason that the thing that takes place (x at T2) has a previous effect (at T1) in the mind of God. To put into a simple syllogism :

x is foreknown 
If x is foreknown it is not contingent 
x is not contingent

X represents all events, and therefore proves that if foreknowledge exists all events in history are certain to take place before they happen. Thus the “corridor of time” solution really turns out to be no solution at all. If anything, more problems are created since God knowing full well the evils of the creation decided to create anyway with no real purpose for the evil which exists. The Lord’s desire for “all to come to repentance” becomes a frustrating pipe-dream that God is not able to bring about—a slave to His own decree. Logically speaking, God would have no real control over his creation if this were the case rendering biblical passages of comfort for believers meaningless. Tragedy would be purposeless and the universe absurd. There would be no real reason to pray to a God bound by the choices of free agents since He would have no ability to interact in such a way as to bring about any change. The exegetical problem with the “corridor of time” approach is that it hinges on a dubious interpretation of the word “foreknowledge.”
The Arminian . . . not having imbued foreknowledge with the character of foreordination, will continue to believe that God’s fore-knowledge, considered as prescience, is part of his omniscience and includes all things as certain, both good and evil, contingent and necessary, without being in itself causal
In other words, the Arminian position is that foreknowledge is a passive knowledge God has concerning future events. Unfortunately, this is not how the word is defined biblically. James White asks, “What Greek lexicon gives us this as the meaning?” Romans 8:29 states:
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified
This passage is referred to as the “golden chain of redemption.” The words foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified are all:
active verb[s] in the past tense; that is, these are actions that are, from God's perspective, finished and certain. . .The term translated foreknow is an active verb. . . When we examine the use of this word in Scripture, we discover that three times in the New Testament God is said to "foreknow." And what is vitally important to understand is that in none of these passages does God foreknow future events. That is, the word does not refer to looking into the future and observing events. The direct object of "foreknow" when used of God is always personal. God foreknows the elect (Romans 8:29), His people (Romans 11:2), and Christ (1 Peter 1:20).
Thus it can be clearly seen based on both philosophical necessity and biblical exegesis that the “corridor of time” approach will not work when reconciling divine sovereignty with human free choice.

Molinism

The last view to briefly examine before providing an answer to this problem is the view of Molinism. Molinists believe that God utilizes something referred to as “middle-knowledge” to enact his decree. William Lane Craig, a major proponent of middle knowledge, maintains that God knows all possible outcomes of human decisions within all possible environments, and thereby creates the environments that will ensure His plans are carried out. The same critiques leveled at the “corridor of time” approach are applicable here. In addition, molinism maintains that God only really knows the choices that men will make after they occur which opens it up to the same critiques leveled at the open-theist position. Molinism therefore, is the worst of all worlds in attempting to resolve this dilemma. It posits a God that knows the potential choices of men without knowing them in actuality till after they occur, and trying to gain the best result by shaping the environment to constrain man into obeying the will of his creator. This view also denies what Christ said about the nature of man. “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries.” Man’s decisions for evil are not motivated by environmental factors. 

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 2)

The Problem Stated

In the intro to their book, Predestination and Free Will, David and Randall Basinger state:
The Christian faith presents us with a dilemma. On the one hand, we believe that God made us morally responsible beings with the ability to make meaningful moral decisions.   . On the other hand, Christians also believe that God has sovereign control over all earthly affairs. . . Nothing can thwart God's plan. . . The dilemma becomes clear. Can both of these basic Christian beliefs be true?
If man is really a victim, so-to-speak, of God’s determined plan, how can he be held responsible for his decisions? On the other hand, if man truly does have control over his moral decisions, how can God be said to be sovereign over them? These questions have challenged great Christian thinkers throughout the centuries. Augustine of Hippo affirmed the inability of man to choose freely by stating, “The free will has been so enslaved that it can have no power for righteousness.” In a treatise on predestination he affirmed that, “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy, that we do good works.” Therefore, human beings, according to Augustine, rely solely on God to carry out the very commands He holds them responsible for. John Calvin had the same viewpoint believing that “those destitute of his Spirit cannot produce any thing that does not deserve cursing.” He agreed and attributed to Augustine the idea that, “men also are ruled by Providence [and] that there cannot be a greater absurdity than to hold that anything is done without the ordination of God; because it would happen at random.” However, in Calvin’s teaching there is an attempt to reconcile these two paradoxical truths. He states:
Man is said to have free will, not because he has a free choice of good and evil, but because he acts voluntarily, and not by compulsion. This is perfectly true: but why should so small a matter have been dignified with so proud a title? An admirable freedom! that man is not forced to be the servant of sin, while he is, however, [a voluntary slave]; his will being bound by the fetters of sin.
Calvin therefore does allow for two separate senses in which it can be said that mankind is free. In one sense, man “has a free choice because he acts voluntarily.” In another sense, he is incapable of voluntarily acting in any other moral way. This observation will become extremely helpful to us as we seek to resolve the dilemma. Among those of Augustine’s and Calvin’s persuasion (that man’s will is in bondage to sin) sit the eminent theologians Martin Luther, John Knox, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon, among others. On the other side of the fence (those who believe man’s will is not in complete bondage to sin) sit such influential scholars as Pelagius, Jacobus Arminius, Desiderius Erasmus, and John Wesley, among many others. Though some on this side of the fence, such as Pelagius, can be considered heretical in their extreme libertarian stands to the detriment of God’s sovereignty, most from this “Arminian” persuasion seek to reconcile free will with God’s sovereignty in some way. John Wesley affirmed that God “can do whatever He pleases. He can strike me or you dead in a moment. But he loves you; he loves to do you good.” Randy Maddox, in his book Responsible Grace, in which he describes John Wesley’s practical theology, states Wesley’s position as follows:
While a sovereign monarch might technically be free to dispose of subjects as he or she
sees fit, a loving parent would not even consider withholding potential saving aid from any child (i.e., unconditional reprobation or limited atonement). On the other hand, truly loving parents also respect the integrity of their children. Ultimately, they would not impose their assistance against the (mature) child’s will.
The attempt within the Arminian persuasion seems to be a preservation of man’s ability to choose apart from God’s determined foreordination, while at the same time affirming that God is sovereign over His creation. As we shall see, philosophically this is an impossible task, thus leaving both systems with the same basic problem: How does God’s sovereignty not override man’s responsibility to keep God’s moral law? In popular evangelicalism this issue is often termed “the robot problem?” Poet Hiam Gosaynie puts it this way, “[If predestination were true] wouldn't that mean that everything is decided before we even take any action at all? Before we live? Before we fall? Wouldn't that necessitate in making no decision—in being robot-like throughout our lives?” Man’s aversion to being controlled by an outside agent makes such arguments compelling. Though the other side of the coin is rarely considered. If God cannot interact with His creation in such a way as to influence them would this not make Him a robot helplessly observing a chance universe without a purpose for any of it? The robot problem runs both directions. On a popular level it would seem we either have to make God a robot, or man a robot—something evangelicals who believe the Scriptures are reluctant to embrace in either direction. It is the resolution of this work to prove that there does exist an answer to the conundrum—an answer that reduces what seems to be a contradiction to a paradox without any reasonable alternatives.

The Sovereignty of God and the Free Choice of Man: A Reconciliation (Part 1)

Introduction

Reconciling God’s sovereignty with man’s ability to choose is one of the perceived “contradictions” in the Christian faith. Skeptics attempt to use this alleged problem to support the claim that Christianity is false, and Christians are often confused by the fact that both teachings, while clearly perceived, seem to be unreconciled in the pages of Scriptures. Commonly, many evangelicals tend to think that Calvinists posit a deterministic answer to this problem that belittles man’s choice, while Arminians possess an answer that sacrifices God’s sovereignty. It is important for Christians to have a balanced approach that does not sacrifice either doctrine. Skeptics may never be satisfied, but they should at least know that a resolution does exist. Addressing this contradiction lies at the heart of apologetics and is vital in our understanding of God’s nature. Every major theologian has had to come to terms with this paradox—some devoting lengthy famous works to the topic: Martin Luther’s On the Bondage of the Will, Jonathan Edward’s Freedom of the Will, all the way up to such modern classics as Norm Geisler’s Chosen But Free, and James White’s The Potter’s Freedom all attempt a reconciliation. The modern controversy between Calvinists and Arminians will continue leaving many “meat and potatoes” evangelicals wondering how to understand any of the philosophical sounding arguments being made. My attempt in this work is to, without sacrificing the concepts, provide an understandable and clear reconciliation between God’s sovereignty and man’s choice.

Definitions

In order to be clear about the subject at hand we must first establish what is meant by the terms that will be used. There are certain words commonly thrown around concerning the discussion pertaining to God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom that are easily redefined based on the theological background of the individual using the term. To avoid confusion, we will first, as best as we can, accurately provide biblical definitions for each of the theological terms used. The term “sovereignty of God” refers to “The biblical teaching that God is king, supreme ruler, and lawgiver of the entire universe.” As one author put it, “There are no random, renegade molecules running loose.” God is in complete control of “whatsoever comes to pass.” His kingly authority extends over everything that exists including time itself. Foreordination describes the aspect of God’s sovereignty in which He ordains, or “plans beforehand” what will take place within His decree—i.e. The inner-workings of His ultimate purpose for the consummation of all things. In other words, God has an active control over His creation—including the volition of man. Arminians would tend to favor a more indirect foreordination in which God passively knows what will take place, while Calvinists tend to favor a more direct foreordination in which God actively plans every detail of His decree from eternity. The word predestination concerns God’s specific foreordination when it comes to the issues of election (whom God chooses to send to heaven) and reprobation (whom God chooses to send to hell). Some theologians such as B.B. Warfield make no distinction between the terms predestination and foreordination, but for the purposes of this book we will assign a broader meaning to the former and a more specific meaning to the latter. Predestination is therefore concerned with God’s choice to save some and not others from the vantage point of eternity. Once again, Arminians tend to focus on God’s passive knowledge of humanly actions in making this decision, while Calvinists tend to focus on God’s active involvement in making such a choice. An important distinction that must be made for the purposes of this article is the difference between “free will” and “free choice.” Although the term “free will” can and has been used by good theologians such as Augustine to refer to something closer to the definition of “free choice,” its definition is commonly understood as, “the power of making free choices unconstrained by external agencies.” The problem with this definition is that it renders decisions as being uninfluenced by outside forces whether they be in divine or human categories. To give an example for the sake of clarification—if an individual is given the simple choice of eating an ice cream cone or running a marathon there are a plethora of influences that go into determining what course of action to take: from the time it would take to run a marathon, to the weather on that particular day, to the physical effects of each decision, to the personal pleasure derived from each experience, etc. Biblically, man’s fallen nature is a very strong factor that (at the very least) influences him towards evil. Therefore, I find it better to use the term “free choice” to refer to man’s ability to choose from a range of options, considering the outside influences that affect his disposition. That is to say, the decisions man is responsible for are not made in a vacuum.

10/18/13

The Communist Agenda = Supplant Christianity

I have been thinking a lot lately about the direction the U.S. has been going for the past 150 years (toward more government control), and the surprising lack of interest Christians have toward doing anything to stop it, let alone being even remotely informed about what's taking place culturally. I'm not pointing the finger at all Christians by any means. I know there are some great men and women who have woken up and who are sounding the alarm and trying to do something about it. But I know they are the exception. Most Christians are unaware about how what's happening in our country is a war against Jesus Christ and their own faith-commitment. They're in a battle, but they're not soldiers. Conversely, most patriotic Americans don't understand that in order to restore what they once loved they must look toward Christianity as the moral basis for accomplishing any of their goals. They're soldiers, but they're fighting the wrong battle.

So here's the frustration for me, and this is after reading lots of books (i.e. The Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, Marx and Satan, Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists, Liberal Fascism, Total Truth, By This Standard, How Shall We Then Live?, A Christian Manifesto, etc. etc.) and staying informed (watching a lot of MSNBC, FOX, Listening to Talk Radio, etc. etc.): Why don't most patriotic Americans get the fact that they need Christianity, and why don't most Christians get the fact that they need to be patriotic Americans? (Just to be clear, I'm not stating any of my supposed "accomplishments" as something to brag about. I just want people reading this to know I'm not speaking from ignorance)

So here's the deal. I thought to myself, "Self, what can you do to influence the Christians you know to wake up and see what's happening as it relates to them, and how can you influence patriotic Americans you know to wake up and see how what's happening all relates back to a war on Christianity?" Then I came across these two documentaries. I know most people say things like, "I don't like history," or, "I'm not interested in politics, it's just boring." So I thought, well, these two films are kind of entertaining. They capture your attention AND if watched together, they explain exactly what I'm trying to communicate in a short concise way. So, I encourage you: Watch both of these documentaries and share them with as many people as possible! Yes, there will be those on the Left who won't like them, etc. but their target audience isn't for people who have already drank the cool aid.

The first documentary is made for patriotic Americans who see their country being ground down and making the connection to the actual spiritual battle between Satan and Christ which is going on with America as the battleground. For instance, did you know that the "gay rights" movement was a communist conception to institute government control? The vast majority of those advocating it don't even understand this, but that's exactly the plan. The connection between civic morality and economics is a direct one, you'll see that through this documentary.

The second documentary is designed more for Christians, helping them understand our heritage and the importance of defending this heritage in the hear and now.

Watch, Wake Up, Warn.

Agenda: Grinding America Down

AGENDA: Grinding America Down (Full Movie) FREE to watch for a limited time! from Copybook Heading Productions LLC on Vimeo.

Monumental: In Search of America's National Treasure



8/28/13

The Mosaic Law's Lasting Legacy

By: Jonathan Harris

One of the harder subjects to tackle theologically concerning Paul’s treatment of the law of God concerns the way in which the Apostle viewed the legitimacy of the Mosaic law in the New Covenant. Theologians from even conservative perspectives disagree on this point quite frequently, oftentimes looking at the topic through an eschatological lense of either Covenantal or Dispensational theology. The goal of this work is to, without drawing heavily on outside texts or eschatological perspectives, formulate a view on Paul’s perspective on the Mosaic Law.
     
The first thing to realize about Paul’s view of the Mosaic Law is that to him it was a positive thing personally. In referring to Ex 20:17 Paul writes, “So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” It was “You shall not covet,” that brought the Apostle to a knowledge a conviction of sin. Again in Rom 7:16 Paul states, “I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good.” But can this confession encompass all case laws of the Old Testament and apply them to various human institutions under the New Covenant? J. Daniel Hays explains the traditional view with which many would approach Paul’s statement.
         
Many evangelical scholars interpret the Mosaic Law by emphasizing the distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. They define moral laws as those that deal with timeless truths regarding God's intention for human ethical behavior. "Love your neighbor as yourself” is a good example of a moral law. Civil laws are those that deal with Israel's legal system, including the issues of land, economics, and criminal justice. An example of a civil law is Deuteronomy 15:1, "At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts." Ceremonial laws deal with sacrifices, festivals, and priestly activities. An example is in Deuteronomy 16:13, which instructed the Israelites to "celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days after you have gathered the produce of your threshing floor and your winepress."

Since the passage seems to be referring to a “timeless principle,” many theologians would not take Paul’s statement to indicate anything remotely close to a full scale endorsement of Jewish case law. However, Paul shows his readers that in fact he does believe in applying the case law of the Mosaic Law—at least the principles behind them. In 2 Cor. 6:14 the Apostle writes, “Do not be bound together with unbelievers,” a restatement of a case law from Deut 22:10 in which an ox and a donkey are not to be harnessed together. Lest critics would appeal to the notion that Paul was just using case law as imagery, it becomes important to also cite 1 Tim 5:18 where Paul relays, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” An examination of the context will reveal that Paul is using a case law from Deut. 25:4 and a quote from Jesus in Matt 10:10 to prove that it is right to compensate a pastor for his work. This goes far beyond a mere word picture. Paul presents the words of Christ and the words of God in Deuteronomy as being on equal footing as “Scripture.” He then seeks to apply the principle behind the civil law presented in the Mosaic Code. Greg Bahnsen comments concerning this passage that “what is remarkable here . . . is that Paul offers no explanation for his relying upon the Older Testamental case law—as if it were an exception to some rule. It is simply, silently, and forcefully, assumed that the law of God, even its jots and tittles, has contemporary obligation and value in the New Testament age.” It is true that Paul valued the “timeless principles” of the moral laws, but he also recognizes that such principles were contained in even the case laws of the Old Testament. Eph 2:14-15 makes this truth apparent. “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.” Paul does not say that the “enmity” or “division” between Jews and gentiles is the law period. He is very specific—“the Law of commandments contained in ordinances.” It is the ordinances, or civil and ceremonial laws specific to Jewish culture that have been abolished. Gorden Fee writes concerning this truth that “Christ’s death and resurrection have brought an end to Torah observance.” He refers to “circumcision, food laws, and Sabbath observance” as “identity markers” that distinguished Israel as God’s people. Since Paul’s teaching in Ephesians is that both Jews and gentiles are one in Christ, there exists no need for such a distinguishing feature, but this does not mean there does not still exist a need for the law of God in the form of moral principles behind such distinguishing features.
 
If the Mosaic law is still in effect today, according to Paul, it would be reasonable for all institutions that Paul endorses as being responsible for applying God’s law to use them as a guide. This would mean that the government, the church, and the family should seek to understand and apply the full counsel of God to every situation in which they are responsible before Him as stewards.

4/28/13

Should Abortion Be Legal? A Debate



Resources I found very helpful in this debate:

Scott Klusendorf's book "The Case for Life"
Scott Klusendorf's "pro-life apologetics" and accompanying course. Search in Itunes U for "Klusendorf Biola"
The Silent Scream

http://www.maafa21.com/
Short Post-Script

3/1/13

Sola Scriptura: The Only View for the Early Church

By: Jonathan Harris

For download click here.

Book Review: James White's "Scripture Alone"

By: Jonathan Harris

I don't think I'm over-exaggerating when I say this book is excellent---I'll tell you why. I'm a grad student trying to balance full-time seminary courses, full-time work, and the ministries of which I'm a part (to say nothing of a social life). When I read a book, I want to know the bottom line, I want to  know it fully, I want it to be applicable, and I want to avoid having to sift through hundreds of pages to get through it. James White met my challenge. He not only wrote a book that's understandable to anyone with a high-school level vocabulary, but he made it down-to-earth and exciting even! Half the book is written in a conversational style (So hypothetical examples---though drawn from hundreds of real world situations Dr. White has engaged in---of a Christian conversing with different sects of "Christianity" that deny sola scriptura). So while you're reading, essentially a story, you're learning how to defend your faith. My confidence in the cannon has been boosted through this experience. It's only 224 pages---for a theology book that's short trust me. Every Christian, especially the apologist, needs to order this!

1/21/13

Book Review: Augustine as Mentor by Edward Smither

By: Jonathan Harris

Edward L. Smither’s work Augustine as Mentor tells the story of the man universally respected by both Catholic and Protestant alike as one of histories greatest theologians. Specifically, Smither’s aim is to provide “a focused study on his approach to mentoring spiritual leaders.” This work is even more specifically aimed at pastors. Smithers writes:
        

Many pastors today, especially in the West, are struggling in isolation without a pastor to nurture their souls. Sadly many of these, unless they encounter a radical change, will not finish the race. Augustine might just convince them that they, too, need a shepherd as they shepherd others. In the same vein may other pastors learn from Augustine and reach out to other pastors.

It should thus be understood that Augustine as Mentor presents the man himself as a mentor to not only his historical mentees, but also to the modern reader. I felt somewhat of a kinship to the man myself, and in a summarizing way he stands out as a humble man, yet a man of conviction, two rare qualities for one man to possess simultaneously. 


Smither starts his valuable analysis by first setting the historical context. What was the purpose of discipleship in the early church? The author answers, “Jesus and Paul and other early Christian mentors were mentoring leaders in the context of their goal—the establishment of the church.” This logically gave credence to discipleship in group settings. There was always a church community aspect to both the setting and the end goal. The mentor would usually have more than one pupil and the pupils would become mentors themselves in due time consistent with the biblical mandate for men to  train men. We see this in Augustine’s four key approaches to mentoring: “participation in church councils, resourcing them with letters, resourcing them with books, and disciplining the clergy.” “The mentor was [also] still a disciple.” Namely, a disciple of Christ. This concept was not lost on Augustine who recognized the church’s need to see themselves all as disciples on the same journey with Christ as the leader, aptly stating “For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian.”
 

Another focus of the book is on those who mentored Augustine himself. His first spiritual leader was no doubt his mother, Monica.  He wrote, “My mother did all she could to see that you, my God, should be more truly my father than he [Patricius] was.” Augustine’s friend Nebridius was also something of a mentor to Augustine, “convincing [him] to give up his involvement in the Manichean sect and his interest in astrology.” One of the most beautiful statements by Augustine concerning any of his mentors, in my opinion, pertains to Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan who Augustine had gone to for the purpose of instruction. Augustine says of him, “I began to feel affection for him, not at first as a teacher of truth, . . . but simply as a man who was kind to me.” Augustine was also privileged to receive instruction from Ambrose’s own mentor “Simplicianus [who] mentored Augustine in three clear ways: as an intellectual resource, by emphasizing the authority of the church, and by modeling that the mentor is still a disciple. However, the most significant of Augustine’s mentors may be his pastor “Valerius [who] mentored Augustine. . . by selecting him for ministry, by maintaining a personal mentor-disciple relationship, by involving him increasingly in ministry, and by releasing him to ministry.” Valerius exemplifies the attitude of humility that so characterized the bishop from Hippo.  Smither’s notes, “While Valerius demonstrated respect for his young and talented presbyter, it is also apparent that he was not threatened by Augustine.” This seems to me to be an essential part of mentoring anyone—if and when the student becomes greater than the master, does the master rejoice with him or seek to destroy him? A true mentor seeks the best for his disciple and rejoices even when he is outshone by him. Augustine took this concept to heart regarding “humility ‘the virtue he conside[red] to be the foundation of the Christian life.”

Finally, Smither focuses most of his attention on Augustine’s mentoring style. Protestants may raise an eyebrow when they find out that most of the humble theologian’s discipleship took place in the context of the monastery. While Augustine as Mentor does not go into great detail on the theology of monasticism or the differences between medieval monasticism and the monasticism of Augustine’s day, it does tell us that “the monastery served as an indirect training center for monks who would eventually be ordained,” and that, “more and more [Augustine] recognized that service to the church was a task pleasing to the will of God, to which the comfortable tranquility of monastic communities must always give place.” In my own view, based on the descriptions in the book of Augustine’s view of monasticism, it would seem best to describe such a community as a “communal seminary” rather than a monastery. While Augustine did certainly have natural leadership abilities, it was the power of God that made his mentoring successful. Augustine’s primary focus was training the clergy in the Scriptures, both from exegesis and from philosophical apologetics education. After formal teaching, the discussion would continue around the monastery’s dinner table, where frequently, visitors would share in the discussion as Augustine was known for his hospitality. The work of the monastery was taken care of by the monks with a “provost” position being assigned on a rotating basis—a position Augustine himself submitted to. This isn’t to say that Augustine was a weak and mild passive figure however. Augustine regularly participated in disciplinary action against immoral clergy for restorative purposes. After all “Holiness was, in [Augustine's] eyes, inseparable from the clerical state.” The bishop’s greatest contribution perhaps was his final step of sending the clergy out to minister in other places when their training was complete. To sum up Augustine’s philosophy of mentorship as it relates to the monastary, “Augustine culminated his monastic itinerary by effectively clericalizing the monk and monasticizing the cleric.” He advocated that his bishop/monks practice “a balance between a contemplative and an active life,” the life he lead himself. 

When we look at Augustine’s personal life we find a man who hated gossip, prohibiting it at his table, and quickly apologized for his faults when they became apparent. In short, this was a man who cared about people. “You cannot be separated from the human kind, as long as you live among men,” he would say. In all of Augustine’s letters, speeches at church councils, books, and personal interactions, we see a man who treated others with respect. “Even though he was clearly the authority figure or a shepherd, Augustine's language in communicating with other spiritual leaders was still fraternal.” It is for this reason that “though Augustine never became the senior bishop of Carthage or Numidia, he was without a doubt the most influential African bishop of his day.”            

Smither obviously relays to us the biographical sketch and specific examples that showcase the character of the great bishop. For me what stands out, and what I truly appreciate about the man, is his ability to disagree with someone. Augustine writes:

Hence, let us rather teach, with as much insistence as we can, our dearest friends who most sincerely foster our labors that they may know that it is possible that among friends one contradicts the words of another, though love is, nonetheless, not diminished and though the truth, which is owed to friendship, does not give birth to hatred.
 
This skill was most probably demonstrated in his disagreements with Jerome. In one letter Augustine writes, “I am not only fully prepared to hear as a brother what you hold to the contrary, if something disturbs you in my writings, but I also beg and demand this of you. For I will rejoice either over my correction or over your good will.” The bishop of Hippo would have rather there not been a dispute at all between two believers if one could not carry out such a disagreement in Christian love. This is a skill and attitude I desire to learn in my own life. 


I found the theme of the necessity of a mentor having his own mentor(s) to be sufficiently documented and exemplified in Augustine’s mentors. Likewise , the theme of humility, and its necessity to the discipleship process was shown to be of prime importance in numerous examples. Augustine was certainly a great Christian leader, but at the same time, just a man, and this is what Smither demonstrates to all those who would seek to follow in the footsteps of Jesus with Augustine as Mentor.
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