Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pastor's Bookshelf: Knowing Scripture by R.C Sproul

"We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because [we feel] it is dull and boring, but because it is work.  Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion.  Our problem is that we are lazy." -- R.C Sproul - "Knowing Scripture", pg.17

I just finished reading this book.  From the on set I have to say that R.C Sproul may in fact be one of most intelligent men of God alive today.  This book is fantastic, although for me at times it was a bit hard to read simply because it presumes a knowledge of theological "technical" terms and at times I found myself dwelling on a particular term for an extra moment before moving on to be sure that I would understand the further explanation and application of that term later on.  It may well have been my own mental limits in this area because I am in no way the plumb-line for intelligence!

That said, this book sets out to accomplish three purposes.  One, explain the need for Scripture.  Two, equip the reader with an overview of hermeneutic principles for studying the Bible.  As an aside I have to say that for a book of only 125 pages the explanations of each step in the interpretation process are incredibly thorough.  Sproul also takes time to explore misconceptions about Bible interpretation as well as common errors in our approach to serious Bible study.  The third purpose is a challenge to students of the Bible to do that which God has called us to do and that is "abide" in His Word.  He challenges readers biblically to study God's Word and also provides tips and recommendations that range from great Greek Dictionaries, Concordances, and the Bible reading plan that he has personally found most helpful.

Everything that he puts forth in this work is designed to point readers to Scripture, to develop a habit of reading Scripture daily, and most of all to see the amazing fulfillment that God has promised for those who abide in His living Word!

Seeing as how I will be beginning a year long reading plan myself starting January 1 (not the recommended one though) this book has been a great encouragement for me.  I give it 5 out of 5 stars and highly recommend it for anyone.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pastor's Bookshelf: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp

Tedd Tripp doesn't lay out some new method of parenting, he doesn't encourage parents to adopt his methodology of parenting, he even openly admits short-comings that he and his wife had as parents.  What he does is pull out sound Biblical principles to child raising.  The overall theme is that behavioral correction is not the end goal in parenting.  The goal is orienting your child towards the Gospel and teaching them the truth of God's Word from birth so that they know truth from lie as they grow.  I was challenged, convicted, encouraged, and overall just blown away.  We have put into practice many of the Biblical principles that he outlines in the book and have already noticed a change in the goals and expectations we set for our children.  Godly child discipline always points your child towards the saving power of the Gospel of Grace in Jesus Christ alone.

I highly recommend this book for parents with children of any age.  He offers encouragement for the new parent who is a bit scared and overwhelmed by the immense responsibility of raising a child as well as those parents who perhaps didn't raise their child in an always godly fashion and now the teen is rebelling more and more.

Read this, as any theological book, with Bible in hand.  Do the work of a Berean (Acts 17:11) and examine the Scriptures to see if what Tedd Tripp says is fact.  I believe you will find, as I did, that it is.  The absolute best thing about this book is the fact that it points parents to the Word of God for their principles of how to steward the amazing gift of the children that God has given them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Briefly: The religion of secular humanism

Just something to consider.  And this will be very brief.  So many times when a Christian takes a stand for their beliefs (whether it be in the political realm, or in a public school, or wherever...) we usually hear something like this from those in authority; "Well, I see your point, but that is a religious view and you can't push your Christian values on others."

I would readily agree that there is NO benefit whatsoever in forcing someone to believe the way I do.  First of all, if I force someone to think that way then they may act in a way that seems to agree with my way of thinking, BUT it doesn't change their minds and views.  It only breeds resentment to a certain extent.

What strikes me as humorous in their argument about impressing values and such is that they fail to realize that they too push their views on Christians (and everyone else).  Make no mistake... unbelievers, atheists, agnostics, pagans, false converts, and all the rest... all of them worship a god figure.  The difference between truly born again Christians and the unbelieving world is that we worship the One true God and they worship themselves.

In the case of secular humanism, which is the predominant religion found in public schools and the government, worships a god... the god is man.  They do what seems "right" to them and love the things that indulge man's covetous, lustful, hateful, self-centeredness.

Christians are not perfect and we are not without sin.  We are not better than other people.  We are simply better off because of the One in whom we trust.

Pray for those who persecute you and continue contending for the truth Christian.  Don't back down and even though the world will hate you, take heart for greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Angels - What are they? Where do they come from? Do we become them when we die?

Probably the most universally recognized "religious" symbol in the world is that of an Angel.  They are drawn as fat little cherub-like babies, brilliantly illumined figures with long flowing hair, holding trumpets, holding harps... All sorts of images exist of them.  Equally as known as their visage are common misconceptions and cliche phrases about what they are.  

Now let me state up front I am aware that this may hurt a few feelings and I assure you that my intention is not to hurt feelings.  Probably the most common statements heard are that:

1.) People who go to Heaven become Angels when they die.
2.) The people who have become Angels are watching down over us from Heaven.

Let's address those two statements, although I'm sure there are PLENTY more, by looking first at what Angels are according to Scripture.

Angels are Created Beings.
Colossians 1:16 - For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 

They are created beings.  God created them.  We know this because God created ALL things.  Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology defines Angels as follows: "Angels are created, spiritual beings with moral judgment and high intelligence, but without physical bodies."  It does seem that Angels are male.  They are never referred to with a feminine gender anywhere in Scripture.

Angels have a certain degree of moral choice available to them because 1/3 of them were able to sin and join Lucifer in his rebellion (Isaiah 14:12-14; Ezekiel 28:12-18).  Although they sinned against God, no redemption is available for them.  For those that joined Satan in his rebellion, they remain to this day condemned and damned for all eternity. 

2 Peter 2:4 - For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;

Jude 6 - And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day,

Psalm 103:20 tells us that the purpose of Angels is to glorify God and do His will.  Angels readily await to be dispatched to do the will of the Father. One way in which Angels do the will of God is that they do watch over Believers and war against demonic powers.  

Angels DO watch over us... however, those Angels are NOT our loved ones who have passed away.  Angels are not omniscient nor are they omnipresent.  But they do watch over Christians.  Whether or not each person has a specific "guardian" angel assigned to them is unclear from Scripture, but whether it be one for each believer or just the idea in general that angels are watching over us the same result is clear.  God has provided for our care. 

There are only two Angels given specific names in Scripture.  Gabriel (Luke 1:19)  and Michael (Jude 9).  Other than that Angels are referenced by three different terms.  ((The following types/ descriptions was also taken from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.))

a. The “Cherubim”  The cherubim were given the task of guarding the entrance to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24), and God himself is frequently said to be enthroned on the cherubim or to travel with the cherubim as his chariot (Ps. 18:10; Ezek. 10:1–22). Over the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament were two golden figures of cherubim with their wings stretched out above the ark, and it was there that God promised to come to dwell among his people: “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of testimony, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (Ex. 25:22; cf. vv. 18–21).

b. The “Seraphim”  Another group of heavenly beings, the seraphim, are mentioned only in Isaiah 6:2–7, where they continually worship the Lord and call to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).

c. The Living Creatures: Both Ezekiel and Revelation tell us of yet other kinds of heavenly beings known as “living creatures” around God’s throne (Ezek. 1:5–14; Rev. 4:6–8). With their appearances like a lion, an ox, a man, and an eagle, they are the mightiest representatives of various parts of God’s entire creation (wild beasts, domesticated animals, human beings, and birds), and they worship God continually: “Day and night they never cease to sing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”’ (Rev. 4:8)

Angels remind us that the unseen world is very very real and we must be very careful in dealing with it.

In Galatians 1, Paul warned that fallen Angels may even appear and try to distort the truths of the Gospel and deceive people.  He said that we are to consider such a one anathema.  Which literally means damned and accursed.  
Just as the Sadducees in Jesus’ day said that “there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit” (Acts 23:8), so many in our day deny the reality of anything they cannot see. But the biblical teaching on the existence of angels is a constant reminder to us that there is an unseen world that is very real. It was only when the Lord opened the eyes of Elisha’s servant to the reality of this invisible world that the servant saw that “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:17; this was a great angelic army sent to Dothan to protect Elisha from the Syrians). The psalmist, too, shows an awareness of the unseen world when he encourages the angels, “Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his host!” (Ps. 148:2). The author of Hebrews reminds us that when we worship we come into the heavenly Jerusalem to gather with “innumerable angels in festal gathering” (Heb. 12:22), whom we do not see, but whose presence should fill us with both awe and joy. An unbelieving world may dismiss talk of angels as mere superstition, but Scripture offers it as insight into the state of affairs as they really are.  Even Satan himself disguises himself as an "Angel of Light" (2 Corinthians 11:4).

1 Timothy 2:5 says that there is but one God and one mediator between God and men and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore we are not to pray to or seek out contact with Angels.  If God needs to contact us utilizing Angels He will do so and make it clear that is what happened because they will speak His truth and nothing contradictory.  I'm not certain whether I feel they do or do not appear in visible form today but they are present nonetheless.

When we are protected from some danger, our slipping foot gains footing somehow... or a car swerves and misses us somehow when a crash should have been inevitable.  Anytime we are spared from some apparent danger we can attribute it, I think, to God commanding His Angels concerning us.  

Psalm 91:11-12 - For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways.  12 They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.

Now, how about our loved ones that pass?  Well the Bible says that their bodies go into the ground and their they wait for the return of the Lord Jesus.  We further know that the moment a person dies their soul goes to either Heaven or Hell.  Believers' souls are immediately taken to Heaven. 
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 - Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—  7 for we walk by faith, not by sight—  8 we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

So if your loved one has passed on and they had been born again through Jesus Christ, take heart, they may not be watching down over you but they are in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ and they are ever before His throne praising Him and they suffer no more, neither will they ever taste death again.  And when Christ comes again they will receive their physical bodies back only now they will be glorified and perfected, unstained by the sin curse of this world.

I understand that a cliche like "God got a good angel", "They are an Angel now and watching over me.", etc.. I get that it is intended to bring comfort to the grieving.  And I'm not trying to be callous but rather trying to point you to a living hope!

I would simply suggest that rather than dwelling on your loved one being an Angel and speaking to them and such, seek your comfort from the Lord Jesus Christ.  Cast your burdens upon the Lord and He will sustain you.  

Psalm 55:22 - Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.

Hebrews 4:16 - Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 

 Trust in the Lord.  He is your refuge.  You need not believe that your deceased loved ones are watching down over you in order to find peace... there is a greater peace available and His Name is Jesus!  He is greater than the Angels (Hebrews 1).  He is the King of Kings and the Savior of sinners.  He has come and died so that you might have life!  If you don't know Him, repent of your sin and trust in Him.  (Visit for the specifics of your sin)

As for Christians who are using these unbiblical cliches to comfort others.  Please, you are doing them more harm than good.  If you are unsure what to say in those difficult times, labor in the Scriptures all the more to determine what God's Word has already spoken about our comfort and peace available in Him.  If you can't think of a good verse to share or anything Biblical to say, don't pop out a saying that isn't true... Just be there for the grieving... be a friend to them... try and care for their needs as best you can and pray with them.  Ultimately, from my experience, most people who are grieving are looking for truth but they are also looking for someone to simply be there for them.  Christians have a unique opportunity in that we are often those friends who are there to comfort AND we are armed (or at least we should be armed) with the truth of God's Word which is the best source to turn to in ANY situation.

Hope this helped you glorify God for His provision of Angels for you and cleared up any misconceptions you may have had.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Limited Atonement - Part 2 - Guest Blogger: Jessica Stem

The gospel can and should be freely offered to everyone because of the fact that the elect are only known by God (Thune).  This is why He charges believers in Matthew 28:19-20 to “go and make disciples.”  God uses believers to reach the rest of the elect.  Also, it must be noticed that throughout the Bible God calls the Christian to love all men, even their enemies.  It would be very hypocritical of Him to command man to love and for Him actually to love all people, and to some extent, Himself.  Even when holding the view of limited atonement, it is still the Christian’s job, according to scripture, to evangelize and love others (Torrance).

Another question to think about is about the will of man; because faith is not man’s choice that brings him unto salvation, does this mean that man has no free will?  The Arminian says that if one holds to the view of a limited atonement, man has no free will.  This is a common misconception.  Here is an illustration that will help explain how the free will of man fits into God’s will.  Picture an umbrella that represents the sovereign will of God.  Everything that is underneath the covering of that umbrella is man’s free will.  Man has free will inside the limitations of God’s will.  Furthermore, Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (NASB).”  Faith is not the sinner’s gift to God, but God’s gift to the sinner through His sovereign grace.  Salvation is not our will, but the will of the Father for His children.

The view of unlimited or general atonement, which is held by many, draws its support from scriptures that say Christ died for the world or for all men such as John 3:16, II Corinthians 5:19, 1 Timothy 2:4,6 and II Peter 3:9.  John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life (NASB).”  The objection to this passage is the assumption that “world” means every individual human being (Berkhof, 395-396).  A person must look at John 3:17, the following verse, to define world in this case.  When looking at John 3:17, “For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved (NASB),” one must compare this verse to other scripture to fully understand its meaning.  The word “might”, for instance, can have one of two definitions when just looking at the verse by itself.  It could mean “has the possibility to” save, which would be the interpretation of an Arminian evangelical. 

The other definition for the word “might” is “will in time,” which would mean that everyone from the beginning of time will eventually be saved, which is not the case.  If “might” does mean “will in time,” then “world” in John 3:16 cannot mean everyone, but only the elect.  So how can it be determined what the definition of “might” really is?  Other scripture must be examined.  John 11:4 says, “When Jesus heard that, He said, ‘This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby (NASB).”  The word “might” must mean “will in time.”  There is no “possibility” of God being glorified; He will be glorified.  John 10:17 and John 17:12 also show the same meaning of the word “might.”  By reading in the context of John, the conclusion is that “might” simply means “will in time,” changing the meaning of the word “world” in John 3:16 to the group of God’s chosen and not every single individual that ever lived (Thompson).

Another problem with the interpretation of these types of verses is contextual error.  The Arminian would take I Timothy 2:4, 6, “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth… who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (NASB),”  and say that this proves Christ died for all men.  One must read this passage in context to see that the phrase “all men” is previously defined as all types of men in verses one and two of 1 Timothy 2, not every individual man in the world (Berkhof, 396).  Some say that the Bible should just be taken at face value and not “manipulated,” as is the accusation towards Calvinists.  I Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive (NASB).”  If this was to be taken literally, everyone will be saved, which scripture teaches is not the case and again, leads to universalism (Frame, 151-155).  Scripture must be interpreted with other scripture, not with the thoughts of man.

The Bible repeatedly and specifically qualifies the people group for whom Christ died in such a way that points undoubtedly to a limited atonement.  This certain people group is referred to as “His sheep” many places in scripture.  For example, John 10:11, 14 and 15 say, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (NASB).”  It is clearly obvious in scripture, life experience and logically, that not everyone will be saved.  This separates the world into two groups, the saved and the unsaved.  Jesus uses a metaphor in this passage to show that He is the shepherd, and the sheep are the saved.  He does not say that He lays down His life for the whole world, but only His sheep.  The shepherd died for His sheep, ultimately pointing to a definite limited atonement.  There are also other names for this saved group of people such as His church in Acts 20:28, His People in Matthew 1:21 and the elect in Romans 8:33 (Berkhof, 395).

While looking at passages of scripture, qualifiers in verses about the atonement must be given careful attention.  Matthew 20:28 says, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many (NASB).”  The word ransom is a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment for sin, which is simply a synonym for atonement.  The qualifying word in this passage is many.  Christ came to atone for many, not all men.  Another similar verse is Galatians 1:4 which says, “who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father (NASB).”  The reader must first know that this is Paul writing to the church in Galatia.  So, in context, “our sins” and “us” is referring to the Christian, the chosen of God (Owen, 45).  Even though there are “many” applications that can be made from a Bible verse, there is only one correct interpretation which must be made in accordance with other scripture.  Scripture can never mean something that God never intended it to mean.   
Some theologians have proposed that the atonement is not what saves, but has merely broken down the barrier of original sin so that everyone has the choice to either accept or reject Christ.  This means that all the atonement did was make salvation possible by allowing everyone to freely come to faith; the atonement alone is not what gives us salvation (Frame, 151-155).  There are two problems with this.  The first is that it minimizes the Glory of Christ on the cross and maximizes human’s free will.  If humans did have the free will to accept or reject Christ, everyone would reject and go to hell because of the human’s sinful nature.  Romans 3:10-12 says, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one (NASB).”  According to this verse, if it is the case that salvation is a choice of free will, no one will choose salvation because, naturally, no one seeks good or God; therefore, everyone is going to hell if salvation is a free choice. 
Charles Spurgeon said, “We declare on scriptural authority that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained toward Christ.”  The second problem is that the efficacy, effectiveness, of the atonement is limited; it has a limited power to save.  In turn, this confines the power of God.  Whether a Calvinist or an Arminian, the atonement is limited in either its extent or its efficacy.  Particular atonement is limited in its extent, and the unlimited atonement is limited in its efficacy.  It’s not that Christ made satisfaction for the whole world, it is the fact that Christ’s death on the cross is so precious that in itself it is efficacious for the whole world (Hanko, 54-55).  The immensity of Christ’s efficacy is taken away when the atonement is made unlimited and the variable of choice is added to the equation of salvation.

If the atonement was effective for all men, then why are some men still punished with eternal damnation?  When a person says that everyone was atoned for by Jesus’ death on the cross, this can be translated to mean that all of their sins have been paid.  If their sins have been reconciled, then they cannot be denied entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  John Piper uses an analogy that most Sunday school teachers use when explaining the gospel, to show error in the belief that all sins have been atoned for.  He says salvation is like a ticket.  It is bought with the great price of Jesus’ death on the cross.  This ticket is what covers all of your sins and gets you onto the only train that goes to heaven.  God has bought a ticket for you and for everyone else, but gives everyone the choice to believe and take the ticket.  If you don’t take the ticket, you don’t get on the train and therefore will go to hell.  The problem with this analogy is the purchase of the ticket, which is the canceling of the sins of unbelievers.  Sin is the only thing that is keeping anyone out of heaven.  If everyone’s sin has already been paid for at the cross, then why are people going to hell and not heaven (Piper)?  The Arminian would answer this question by saying that people go to hell because of their unbelief and rejection of Christ.  The problem with this answer is that unbelief and the rejection of Christ is a sin, which was already paid for on the cross for everyone, so if He did not die for unbelief, He did not die for all sin.  

Therefore the Arminian view of an unlimited atonement is self-defeating and ultimately leads to universalism.  John Owen further ratifies this point in his book, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ”:  [If Jesus died for all men]...why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all     their sins?  You will say, ‘Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.’  But     his unbelief, is it sin, or not?  If not, why should they be punished for it?  If it be     sin, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it; If this is so, then why must     that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of     the fruit of his death?  If he did not, then he did not die for all their sins.

Again it is seen that if the atonement was general and Christ did indeed die for everyone, everyone must be saved.  This is a recurring idea of universalism, an idea that is not biblical.  In Michael Horton’s book, “The Gospel-Driven Life,” he uses a brilliant illustration to show how the gospel should be explained:  The more we hear and understand concerning the gospel, the more our faith grows and strengthens.  Nevertheless, the weakest faith clings to a sufficient Savior.      Faith itself does not save us from judgment any more than the quality of one’s     confidence in the lifeguard is responsible for being rescued from drowning.  It is the rescuer, not the one rescued, who saves.  In fact, it is in the very act of rescuing that a victim finds himself or herself clinging to the rescuer in confidence.  I have yet to see a headline like, ‘Drowning Victim Rescued by Superior Clinging.’  It is always the lifeguard who is credited with the rescue.  It is on account of Christ that we are justified, through faith, and not on account of our faith itself.

Horton paints a beautiful picture of how the gospel should be told.  God sends His Son to come and save His children from drowning in their sins.  It is not because the sinner grabbed on to Jesus so they would not drown, but because Jesus grabbed and saved the sinner from drowning (Horton, 124).

When searching scripture by reading in context, fully and completely defining all terms, and interpreting scripture with other scripture, it is clearly seen that God’s intent in sending His Son was to make it certain for His chosen to be saved.  Also, the ramifications of what is implied with any view other than a limited view of the atonement are too great to be ignored.  Humans are not and will never be able to incline themselves towards God.  The love that God has for His people is specific.  The power of His saving grace can never be limited.  God is sovereign.  Thank God for the limited atonement!

Works Cited
Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1998. Print.

Bratcher, Dennis. "The Five Articles of the Remonstrants (1610)." Relocate. Web. 26
Apr. 2010. 

"Calvinism -." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation. Web.

"Comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism." The Highway: A Repository of Historic Christianity and the Reformed Faith. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.

Frame, John M. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: an Introduction to Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub., 2006. Print.

Hanko, Herman, Homer C. Hoeksema, and Gise J. Van Baren. The Five Points of Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Association, 1976. Print. 

Horton, Michael Scott. The Gospel-driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker, 2009. Print.

Owen, John. The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002. Print.

Piper, John. "For Whom Did Christ Taste Death.” Minneapolis, Minnesota. 26 May 1996.

Powell-Smith, Michelle. "Calvinism: A Brief History." Online Magazine and Writers' Network. 6 Jan. 2001. Web.

Spencer, Duane Edward. TULIP: the Five Points of Calvinism in the Light of Scripture. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979. Print.

"Theology: Predestination." Home | St Augustine of Hippo | Order of St Augustine. Web. 26 Apr. 2010.

Thompson, Thomas R. "Limited Atonement (John 3:16)." Grace Online Library. Web.

Thune, Bob. "A Dialogue Concerning Limited Atonement." Web. 

Torrance, James B. "The Incarnation and "Limited Atonement"" Web.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Limited Atonement - Part 1 - Guest Blogger: Jessica Stem

Last summer I met a student at an event I was teaching at, named Jessica Stem, who had just graduated high school.  As we were talking Scripture and theology she revealed that for her Senior Thesis she wrote a defense of the doctrine of limited atonement.  I asked her to email it to me, which she did, and I have to say that I was blown away by her well articulated defense and well done research.  I am going to post her paper, per her approval, in its entirety over the next couple of days.  Read and be blessed!

-- jason

Deciding on the limited atonement for my thesis topic was pretty easy for me.  Ever since I heard about it in Coach Allen’s Theology class junior year, I was hooked.  My classmates tried to warn me that I was picking a very tough topic, but I did not care.  I didn’t have a peace about doing any other topic that I thought of.  I am very passionate about my views of the atonement because through all of my research, my faith has been tremendously strengthened as a result of figuring out what I believe apart from what my parents believe and what others have told me.

Even though my sotieriological views are different from my parents, it has been very satisfying to know that I believe what I believe because I have searched scripture for myself.  Every time that I discus this theological issue with my dad, no matter how heated the discussion gets, he always tells me that he still loves me and will always support me; for that I would like to thank him.

I would also like to recognize one of his good friends, Steve Elkins.  Steve has written several pieces on the atonement that I used to help solidify my refutation.  

In addition I would like to thank many different authors for the material they produced that greatly helped me in my research: Luis Berkhof, Dennis Bratcher, John M. Frame, Herman Hanko, Homer C. Hoeksema, Gise J. Van Baren, Michael Horton, John Owen, John Piper, Michelle Powell-Smith, Duane Edward Spencer, Thomas R. Thompson, Bob Thune, and James B. Torrance.  

Furthermore, I owe a big thank you to Mr. Richard Ohendalski for taking time to read my thesis paper and for giving me ideas that have made it better and more complete.
I must also recognize and thank Mrs. Chris Pritchard and my mom for proof reading this paper many times.

I would like to thank Alpha Omega Academy and Clint Allen for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share what I have learned.  Specifically, to Coach Allen, thank you first of all, for introducing me to the limited atonement and second, for taking so much time to talk to me about this topic.  Also, thank you for the plethora of resources that you have provided for me to use.

Finally and most importantly, I would like to thank my Savior AND Lord, Jesus Christ, for providing me with so great a salvation.

Jesus Christ, the Messiah, died on the cross to atone for the sin that separates man from God.  This is no question for one who is truly a Christian.  The question that is asked by Christians, however, is what was the intent of God in sending His Son to die for sin?  Did God send His Son to make it certain for all men to be saved?  Did God send His Son to make it possible for all men to be saved? Or did God send His Son to make it certain for His chosen to be saved?  These questions deal with the theological implication of the extent of His atoning grace that was seen on the cross more than 2,000 years ago.
Theology concerning the extent of the atonement is by no means a matter of new business.  This discussion traces all the way back to 300 A.D. with St. Augustine’s full understanding of predestination.  Predestination is a Christian doctrine according to which a the eternal destiny of a person, whether it be salvation or damnation, is determined by God alone prior to, and apart from, any worth or merit on the part of that person.  The regeneration of interest in this theology revived in the late medieval period with John Calvin, along with other Protestant theologians during his time ("Theology: Predestination").

John Calvin began preaching in Paris as a young Protestant and later fled persecution to his final destination of Geneva in 1536.  Here, he took a job at the Evangelical Church of Geneva as pastor and continued his theological studies, including the doctrine of the atonement, which would later become Calvinism (Powell-Smith).  After Calvin’s death many great men in history picked up where he left off, such as Dutch theologian Franciscus Gomarus and John Knox, founder of the Presbyterian church.  Later eminent theologians included English Baptist John Bunyan, American preacher Jonathan Edwards and John Owen (“Calvinism”).

Calvinism is known by, but not limited to the acrostic TULIP, the five points of Calvinism: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.  These five points were formed in a direct response to the five articles of the Arminian Remonstrance, an outline of the view of Arminianism (Hanko).  These five articles deal with: free will or human ability, conditional election, universal redemption or general atonement, resistible grace, and falling from grace ("Comparison of Calvinism and Arminianism").  The Arminian Remonstrance was written to try to refute the theology of Calvinism that was so quickly sweeping the continent of Europe during the 17th century.  It was found contrary to Scripture and declared heretical by the Synod of Dort, a counsel that was formed to review the Remonstrance (Spencer, 13-14).  However, this did not stop the doctrine from spreading and greatly affecting the church under the movement begun by John and Charles Wesley, influential Arminian advocates (Bratcher).

Specifically, the issue of the atonement, the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, accomplished through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, is still a very controversial issue within the body of Christ.  There are three main views concerning the doctrine of the atonement.  The least convincing of the three is Universalism, which says that Christ died on the cross for everyone, therefore everyone is saved.  This is biblically unsupported and easily nullified by the existence of hell.  The next view of the atonement comes from the third article of the Remonstrance, which says that Christ came to atone for the whole world’s sin and it is each individual’s choice to either accept or reject Christ.  Contrary to this is the third and final view of limited atonement, the “L” in Calvinism’s TULIP.  This theological view says that Christ died on the cross for those who God chose beforehand and only the predestined are saved.
The love of God is one of the first aspects of the atonement to be considered.  However a person views the atonement, whether general or definite, is how that person views God’s love towards them and all other Christians.  If someone holds to the view of a definite atonement, they have a different understanding of the love that the Father has for them compared to the love that He has for the unsaved.  Here is an analogy to help distinguish between these different types of love.  

Think about the way a father loves his children.  Now, think about the way that the same father also loves his best friend’s children.  Is the love of the father for his own children any different from the love he has for his best friend’s children?  Yes!  In the same way God loves His children.  He loves His children, the elect, in a different way than He does the rest of His creation because the elect are in the Son.  When the atonement is seen as general, the love of God for His children is watered down to the same love He has for those who are not His children, diminishing the idea of covenant love.

With this view of a special love of God, a concern that arises often from those who are skeptical about a particular atonement is the question of evangelism; what is the point of evangelizing if the elect have already been chosen?  Does the view of the atonement diminish the free gift of the gospel?  Is it wrong to tell everyone that God loves them?  Bob Thune says, “not at all!”  He points out that many avid evangelists in the Christian history were Reformed theologians that held to a view of definite atonement.  For example, John Calvin led a movement that planted churches all over France.  Jonathan Edwards moved from a successful urban church to the wild frontier to share the gospel with American Indians.  Charles Spurgeon preached some of the most powerful evangelistic sermons in the English language. 

(stay tuned for part 2 in a couple of days)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Just throwing out some thoughts on FBC Dallas and the Grinch Alert website...

I already know that this may irritate some, sorry... nonetheless this is just some thoughts on the subject...

You can find the website referred to here... Grinch Alert

So that I don't misrepresent First Baptist Dallas, you can find the Pastor's interview with Fox 4 below.

With that aside, let me offer up 10 suggestions that perhaps should have been considered before this and now perhaps thoughts on the aftermath and perhaps what should have been done?  These are just my own musings on the issue.

What you do is ultimately your business... but I would just put forth a couple of questions for you to consider. 
1.) Let's say that your website DOES in fact encourage businesses to begin using Merry Christmas as opposed to Happy Holidays... Have you considered that you have then pressured obvious unregenerate people to blaspheme the name of Christ by using it in a false way? 
2.) We, as Christians, are to discern and judge between true and false teachings within the church and within those claiming to be Christian.  We are not to go about making unrighteous, and in this case unnecessary, judgments on the unbelievers short of warning them of the wrath of God to come to them due their sin.
3.) Have you gone about cleaning up the doctrine and shoring up the theology in every aspect of your own ministries?  What about the local "Family Friendly" Christian Radio Stations such as KLTY that consider it acceptable to play secular Christmas songs and commercials for the WB and the like.  Granted, those commercial spots are paid for by those outside companies, but those radio stations have the duty to discern between what should and shouldn't be aired on their station.  Have you considered confronting them in an Ephesians 4:15 way?  Speaking truth in love to them. 
4.) What about these business on the naughty list... has any staff person personally contacted any of them and arranged a time to sit down with them and share the true meaning behind Christmas which would easily lead into a way to share the Gospel with them and perhaps lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ?
5.) It doesn't seem that this whole endeavor was thought through too wisely.  All things are permissible... but not all things are profitable.  This seems to be a profitless and fruitless endeavor.
6.) Do I use Merry Christmas personally?  Absolutely.  Should businesses?  It would be nice, but I don't expect much from the "darkness" of this world.  They hate God by default and so I'm not shocked when they display behavior in keeping with that...
7.) How does this accomplish ANYTHING for the Gospel or the glory of God?  Even if they begin using the "proper" phrases... did you really accomplish anything? 
8.) The end result of this is that those business who give to your bullying and change their signage (if any do) you've not changed their hearts, you've soothed the consciences of your church members who are out there indulging in worldly items and coveting everything they see... (as we all do from time to time because we are all sinful)
9.) Shouldn't we be consistent? If you are going to call out businesses using Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas then let's also go and call out businesses that support abortion, that backed Obama, don't expressly hire only Christians, or that serve alcohol, or that put out sinful media products (movies and music and such).  Where does it end?  The commission of the church is not to chiefly attack the peripheral issues of this sin broken world, but rather to attack the heart of all issues with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That though they are sinners bound for God's wrath, their is forgiveness and pardon in Jesus Christ alone! 
10.) Preach the WORD in and out of season... PREACH THE WORD.  Just because a few so-called Christians are willing to give your website and these businesses a pat on the back for this does not equal success or wisdom.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Joel Osteen once again misses an opportunity...

Joel Osteen and his wife Victoria was recently on the Sean Hannity program on Fox News.  He was there to plug his new book "The Christmas Spirit".  I have not yet read the book, but I have read some of Joel's earlier works and so I'm sure this is no departure from the norm.

Now he talks about Christmases in his past.  Experiences growing up.  His mother, who survived a terminal illness 30 years ago.  All of those things, I really have no comment on because they are more or less harmless comments. 

Then as the interview progresses, Joel says that what caused his father (John Osteen) to see their family become wealthy was because of faith in God + a determined spirit.  Two major problems with that.  One, where oh where does Scripture tell us that God wants us to be rich?  Two, a determined spirit?  Does that need comment?  Where does the Bible ever talk about me having a determined spirit?  Paul said, I determined to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).  In Matthew 6:33 Jesus said to seek first GOD and HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS!  That's just two examples, but it seems less and less to me that the focus of our spirit if their is to be on Christ.  Glorifying His name.  Submitting to Him.  Nowhere is there a blanket promise that if I do that I will be wealthy or any other worldly comfort.

What then do we do with verses like Hebrews 11:37-38?  Hebrews 11:37-38 - They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.

This referring to those great ones of the faith who have gone on before us.  Certainly if anyone had a strong faith in the Lord it must have been them since they are included in Scripture!  Yet was their reward anything Earthly?  Absolutely not!  

Sean then asks them about those who are suffering and enduring heartache this time of year because of how difficult it can be for many people for a myriad of reasons...

Now, this may be my opinion alone... but I'll toss it out there anyway.  It really seemed to be that their reaction was a bit delayed.  As if the idea that there are those out there who suffer suddenly dawned on them and prior to they hadn't considered it... no backing for that assertion, and perhaps I shouldn't make it, but I'm just tossing that out there...

But notice how quickly Victoria goes back to promoting the book and away from truly addressing the topic of suffering.  In the prosperity movement, all suffering comes from a lack of faith or an unconfessed sin.  Neither of which can be backed Scripturally I might add...

She then says, referring to the theme of the book and the goal of the book which is to give stories about the true "Spirit of Christmas", that "'s the memories that you make, it's not always the gifts you buy or... it's the memories that you make and people who are lonely alot of times people say 'Well what do you do?' or sometimes if you go out and help someone else, that's one of the greatest things you can do for yourself" (emphasis mine).

Well, the fact that her statement doesn't even qualify as a coherent comment... people who are lonely are apparently asking her.. 'What do I do?' and her best advice on worldwide television is to respond, go out and do something for yourself, BECAUSE it is one of the greatest things you can do... for who?  for others... oh no... FOR YOURSELF!  

Motive revealed... me me me... self self self...  Sean Hannity then goes on to boast in his own selflessness and giving nature which is expected... But the issue is with the responses from a so called Christian and a so called Pastor at that!

Now, the real kicker.  Sean sets Joel up to give the Gospel.  "But there's a lot of people who really believe who really need help around the holidays.  What do you recommend they do?"

What a golden opportunity to share the REAL meaning behind Christmas!  The news of the birth of the sinless Son of God!  God in the flesh!  Sent to redeem the lost!  Joel could have said something like... 'You know Sean, there are a lot of people out there Christian and non-Christian alike who are hurting and suffering the perils of this world... but there is one thing that separates those who believe in Christ from the rest of the world... and that is their hope.  Not in gifts, or health and wealth even.. but in Christ. The true reason to celebrate Christmas is the birth of Christ, the promised Messiah, sent so that we might be forgiven by God. You see Sean, there really isn't anything in this world to hope for that won't ultimately disappoint.  But there is one true hope to live for.  Every person ever born into this world was born sinful.  The Bible says that we are all sinners.  God has graciously and mercifully defined sin for us in His word.  The Ten Commandments gives us God's standard for goodness and reveals how we have all not only broken one or two commandments but that we are all in fact sinful people who have repeatedly broken the perfect Law of the Lord and our transgressions against Him are innumerable.  Every person is guilty before God because of their sin, but Sean, the good news is that Christ came and lived a perfect life under God's Law and died a perfect death.  The Bible says that He and He alone is our hope and our salvation.  The perfect sacrifice for our sin.  God made Him who knew no sin to be sin so that WE might become HIS righteousness!  That is the true hope!  Hope is found in Christ.  God has promised, and His word is sure, that all those who will call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!  If anyone will repent, turn away from their sin, and place their faith in Jesus Christ, God will save them.  That is true hope."

Now... that's just an example of what he might have said... certainly elements of that are what he should have said.  BUT, what did he say?

"I recommend that they don't get bitter, that they turn their faith toward the Lord.  I think, like Victoria said, if you can go out and help somebody else, get your needs off yourself and reach out to others." (even though Victoria actually said that helping others was the greatest thing you can do for yourself) "Sometimes all you can give is a smile or a hug or go enjoy some fellowship with somebody else, I think that's the key.  Don't sit around with your curtains closed, depressed, thinking about how bad you have it, that's just going to pull you down further."

That's it!  That's all!  Try that method folks.  Go out on the street, find someone who is hurting and hopeless and tell them to just go help others and keep their curtains open because THAT will bring them hope.  Or maybe YOU are the person reading this and it is you who is depressed or disappointed or hurting or whatever.  Just try that method.  Just go out and make yourself feel better by helping others.  Because, of course, the goal in helping others is to do something great for yourself... The audacity of Joel Osteen! 

Listen, believe it or not, you are not a good person.  Neither am I.  The Bible says we've our sins are manifold.  If you've ever lied, stolen, lusted, coveted, hated, failed to honor God as number one, failed to honor your parents, etc... If you've ever done any one of those things then you are not a good person but in fact a guilty sinner who deserves the just wrath of the Holy God whose Law you've transgressed.  If you die in your sins you will spend eternity in Hell suffering the unbridled wrath of God.  But God offers hope in Jesus Christ.  God can't overlook your sin or He would no longer be just however He has sent Christ so that if you will repent (turn from your sin) and trust in Christ you will be saved!  God will place your sin on Christ and forgive you because of Jesus sacrificial death on the cross in your place!  You can be saved!  God will grant you eternal life because of Jesus!  It isn't about what you can do to be good or earn forgiveness, because you can't be good and you can't earn salvation.  It's about what Jesus DID!  Repent and trust in Him right now!  Look unto the Lord and be saved! (Isaiah 45:21).

I would be more than happy to talk with you if you have questions but please know I cannot save you.  I can merely point you to the One who will!

For those of you who follow the likes of Joel Osteen, please... throw his worthless teachings out and get into the true Word of God!  His books make GREAT kindling for your fireplace as this chilly winter season sets in!