Ichthys Acronym Image

Home             Site Links

Calvinism, Catholicism and Ichthys

Word RTF

Question #1:

Greetings Bob, in the precious name(s) of Jehovah/Jesus!

A friend on a Caribbean island just sent me a link to your Bible chronology posting. I I was delighted to get that listing and to have learned about your excellent-looking website, which I appreciate. Thank you.

Two additional very minor questions are:

1. Because you aren't selling anything, why is your website a .com instead of a .org? Do you really desire to give the first impression that your website is that of a commercial outfit?

2. While it is wonderful and appreciated that you have posted your e-books for free access on your website, have you ever considered publishing print editions thereof? I ask this, because some of us old-timer book-lovers hate to sit up at a desktop computer (and we usually don't have any other kind!) to read, but prefer to do so in bed!, which pretty much requires a hand-held paperback book.

Now on a more personal note, thank you for self-identifying – at least as little as you did ("Protestant, evangelical") – at http://www.ichthys.com/about.htm. I doubt that this is sufficient self-identification to enable a reader to know whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian in your soteriology, so IMHO that would have been a useful form of self-identification to put into http://www.ichthys.com/about.htm. Of course, a visitor could read your writings on soteriology, which, I think are identified on your website, but I'm just suggesting that this additional form of self-identification would be useful to the first-time visitor. Also, whether you are pre-, post-, or a-millenialist. Finally, to what extent you believe that all of OT "Law" has been "nail[ed] to the Cross" (other than what Jesus and His Apostles explicitly reinstated), or whether the 'Moral Law' of the OT (however one defines that) survives into the New (or Renewed) Covenant and is to be obeyed by Christians (or Messianists). If 'yes' to that last question, then you would be obliged to provide a list of all OT Law scriptures that you believe are still binding on both Jewish (however that term is defined) and Gentile believers in and followers of Jesus (or YAHshua). All of these things would be VERY useful to put into http://www.ichthys.com/about.htm so that your first-time visitor would know exactly (or rather approximately) whence you are (doctrinally) coming. One could argue, I suppose, that knowing those things about you up front at http://www.ichthys.com/about.htm ought not to influence a first-time visitor to your website as to whether he or she would be willing to read any of your there-posted works. But, realistically, I'm suspect that knowing said information may indeed influence some visitors in that way. Then the questions become:

1. Should first-time visitors have a 'right' (or privilege) to learn such info about you at http://www.ichthys.com/about.htm? and

2. Should first-time visitors be influenced as to whether or not to read any of your works that are posted on your website by learning the above-mentioned doctrinal facts about your beliefs?

I suspect that you already know that I would argue 'yes' to that first question, but as to that second question, I can see reasonable arguments on both sides. If so, why supply the info and let the visitor decide?

I, for one, do not consider myself a Protestant (but also hardly a Netzari), but then labels are often rather meaningless. That said, although OPOM has no website (yet), I have authored a very few articles that could go on a website, and am presently in the midst of authoring another article.

OK, I guess that's sufficient for this initial email.

Blessings!

Response #1:

Good to make your acquaintance, and thanks for your positive comments about the site.

Why dot.com? See the link: FAQ #16: Why do you use the "dot.com" designation if this is a non-commercial ministry?

Why no print books? See the link: FAQ #1: Are these studies available in printed format?

On your series of questions about the "About" page and desire for what amounts to a doctrinal statement, as you say later "labels are often rather meaningless", and I certainly agree. What I do say on the "About" page, namely, that 1) "the Bible study materials found here are in the Protestant, Evangelical tradition", and that 2) "the Bible studies at Ichthys are intended to speak for themselves" sums things up nicely enough in my opinion. There are many introductory and detailed studies on all the issues you ask about, and anyone can find these soon enough. To take one example, I'm neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian (and certainly not the "hyper-" version of either); rather this ministry is dedicated to finding the truth about all the doctrines of the Bible regardless of any denominational or traditional positions taken in the past. My entire C.V. is posted, and this, together with the detailed studies which go beyond labels, has proven to be more than satisfactory to readers since Ichthys went "live" in 1997. So since it's not broken, I am loath to fix it. One problem I have always had with creeds of any sort is that they tend to develop a "doctrinal" momentum of their own which is of necessity and by definition extra-biblical (even if it is felt that the Bible was the basis for everything therein). Some of these issues you ask about can neither be labeled effectively nor explained sufficiently in an economical paragraph. Since there is no limit to the number of words one may use to explain oneself on the internet, I am reluctant to adopt that previous form (especially inasmuch as it has no doubt caused more problems in the history of the Church than it has solved). So rather than trying to explain on one page the ins and outs of what in many cases are unique "takes" on all these things, I have found it better to explain everything which ought to be explained wherever it ought to be explained in sufficient detail to truly explain it.

Thanks again for your helpful observations and suggestions!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob Luginbill

Question #2:

Hey Bob,

I know its never your policy to weigh in on specific situations, but I thought I'd run my thoughts by you on this one anyway. Feel free to respond with as little or as much advice as you see fit.

Several days ago I sent a list of doctrinal questions (attached) to the three elders of the church I am attending (which is about 50-60 people; a house church). Most of these are simply me trying to see where the church stands on various issues, but the last two were a bit more pointed. The main point of this isn't apologetic (though I obviously have positions on these things), but to figure out where the church is doctrinally (in the spectrum of "not teaching very much at all" to "solidly exegeting scripture and taking pains to uphold the truth no matter how small the point").

Anyhow, what I'm trying to figure out is if I should pressure more or just let my questions drop. I've generally gotten what information I was after: the church itself doesn't stake out positions on issues (but individuals do – at least certain individuals), and theological relativism seems to prevail over a zealous pursuit of the truth in "secondary matters" that are subjectively determined.

All the elders are nice enough folks, but I don't think me sitting down and going over all the things I would change in the church is a good idea (even if I'm right and have 5 pages of exegesis to show why I'm right). At the same time, this is the truth we're talking about here, and it's worth taking a stand for (especially since this church is the sort of place where change is actually possible – there is no hierarchy or bureaucracy to interfere with doctrine).

I'd be happy to hear your thoughts about any of this as time allows. No rush.

In Christ,

Response #2:

On your university church, I think your questions are fair (and very well thought out and presented), the answers you received fair (given who/what this church is), and your reaction fair (precisely my reaction as well on all points). This type of church is what it is and can't be expected to be anything other than it is. For that reason, I've never liked the idea of a doctrinal statement. It should go without saying that a Christian church believes whatever the Bible teaches, and it should be obvious to any believer who has a lick of spiritual common sense from the first Sunday morning whether or not there is a gap between teaching and scripture – and whether there is any teaching worthy of the name at all. It's probably good that you are going through this exercise because it will give you a wonderful perspective on what believers to whom you will one day minister have to go through – and without the benefit of your depth of knowledge and perspective on these things. In all these matters, you are receiving an excellent preparation, and I know that the Lord is using these things to sharpen you for what comes next.

As you say, "the truth is the truth" – and you can't go wrong with that. It's an excellent doctrinal statement and guiding principle for anyone who really wants to grow in Christ and serve His Church in a serious way.

Feel free to write me back about any of this.

Your friend in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #3:

Hi Bob,

I find Calvinism very comforting because the strong emphasis on God's sovereignty gives me boldness and hope when I'm evangelizing and engaged in apologetic debates. I remember no matter how hardened someone is toward the truth, God is sovereign and can overcome any and all human resistance, pride, and pretension that may be keeping a person away from salvation. I deal with both unbelievers and sometimes apostates, and I engage in fervent prayer for some of them because I know that God can do anything.

"For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ." (II Corinthians 4:6)

"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)

"This is what the sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

Every one of us is capable by nature of choosing to believe in God, but nobody is morally good enough to make that choice because of total depravity. Every one of us suppresses the truth about God, and it requires a miracle of God's grace to make someone pure in heart enough to see the glorious truth about God. We are like the dry bones in the valley Ezekiel was taken to. God sees a great number of bones, and he can observe that they are very dry indeed. But you know how God used Ezekiel to breathe life into those bones, because God can do anything.

Sincerely,

Response #3:

Seems to me you are taking comfort from the truth of the scriptures you are quoting (good for you!). If a system has points of truth, I am all for the truth. I am not for homogenizing the rest of the Bible in order to force it to comply with one narrow understanding of the truth – and if we are talking about a theological system such as [hyper]-Calvinism, there will be much in it which is not true because it has excluding some truths it can't explain and added other things which are not true, inevitably so. Take your last paragraph. I'll admit that this is a Calvinistic way of putting things, but it strays dangerously close to being the opposite of the truth. We are saved "by grace through faith". Over-emphasize either part of this biblical truth and you run the risk of – in Augustine like fashion – corrupting the truth for the sake of "theology". If we think that no free will is involved in salvation because grace is involved, that is wrong; if we think no grace is involved in salvation because free will is, that is wrong. And if we over-emphasize either one to the detriment of the other, that can be almost as bad because it undermines the truth upon which our faith stands. The truth is the truth. I take comfort in that.

Keep up your good forward progress in the truth, my friend!

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #4:

Hi Bob,

Calvinists say that the only reason Arminians believe in ultimate human self-determination (that is, the rejection of unconditional election) is because the human ego writhes at the notion of God being completely sovereign, which is to say, that scripture teaches the traditional doctrines of grace and do so unambiguously.

The Calvinist, however, deliberately ignores all the references to apostasy in scripture, and the necessity of exercising faith. The sad result of this is usually "once saved always saved"ism, or the Calvinist having to invent an elaborate theology that rivals Roman nuances on transubstantiation regarding "false converts" and "true regenerating faith" as opposed to "unregenerated faith." They do not see that these contortions are the result of their systematic theology; they don't actually exist in the Bible.

Sincerely,

Response #4:

Very true. It's always dangerous to build theology merely on theology and then argue "logically" from that derived system which is at least two steps removed from the actual scriptures . . . as if that were a legitimate way to discover the true doctrines of the Bible. No system comprehends all of scripture, so it's best to keep reading scripture and adjusting our models when our consciences convict us in the Holy Spirit.

I often wonder what Calvin would think of modern-day Calvinism.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #5:

Hi Bro. Luginbill,

Greetings from Arizona! Indeed, it has been hot here, close to 100 degrees, and that is at an elevation of 5600 feet (Phoenix got up to 120).

My Calvinist friend visited us recently and we got along okay; did not discuss the subject (I object to many Calvinist tenants, especially the L in their "TULIP" - limited atonement which I consider heretical). He did leave a book containing the biographies and conversion testimonies of a number of men of yore, including Oswald Chambers. I read a couple of these and put the book away because it came across so severe and hard, like they had to struggle and agonize and fight just to get saved, and the slightest off-thought that went through their minds was cause for agonizing pleadings for forgiveness, like salvation hangs by a thread.

I don't believe just because someone says the "sinner's prayer" that they are automatically saved. One needs to seek and ask til they know He has done the transaction in the heart. But at the same time, I do NOT believe that Jesus grudgingly imparts salvation to an earnest and humble seeker, making them wait long hours and agonizing for it. Some of those testimonies seem to go that route; that contradicts what Christ Himself said that the one who comes to Him He will not turn away.

Hope you are doing well and keeping cool. I do pray for you and check the subject of the week on your website; surprised to find some of my older emails there sometimes. If they can help, go for it.

God Bless, bro...

In Jesus,

Response #5:

Thanks for the update. Glad to hear your are doing what you can to escape the heat.

I thoroughly agree with your understanding of hyper-Calvinism and also anyone who thinks "off the deep end" the other way. Trusting the Lord is what it is all about. We do that to be saved. We do that to grow. We do that to serve Him. "Faith" is great, but to matter it has to truly placed in the One who is worthy, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It's not automatic (we had to do it) and it's not difficult (otherwise it would be us working for salvation) but it is very real, a decision to use the image of God we have been given to give ourselves, our hearts, our faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting in Him for deliverance.

Thanks also for your encouragement, my friend . . . and for your prayers. Keeping you in mine day by day as well.

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #6:

Hi Bob,

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone," and, "A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for.
1st Peter 2:7-8

Who is destined for stumbling? Those who disbelieve, and those who disbelieve are destined to disobey the message, not because of God making them disobey, but because the disbelief itself destined them to disobey the message.

Response #6:

I think you are correct. Those who decide to deny the gospel become, as a result of their decision "to disobey", destined to stumble. God has anticipated every free will action and decision and incorporated them all into the one perfect and all-comprehensive plan of God.

In Jesus our dear Lord,

Bob L.

Question #7:

Hi Bob,

I have heard Calvinists say that verses which state that Christ died for all, such as I John 2:2, really mean that the death of Christ secured residual, natural blessings to unbelievers, but not salvation.

Is this a valid interpretation of the Greek?

Sincerely,

Response #7:

I suppose if there were anything in the Bible referencing "residual, natural blessings" they might have a point. As it is, this is a made up theological idea, and a good example of what happens when doctrine is incestuously built on traditional doctrinal formulations with no regard for what the Bible actually says. I would ask said person(s) for any Bible verse that seems to support the idea. 1st John 2:2 clearly says what it says (check any English translation – they are all more or less faithful to the Greek which is incredibly simple throughout John's works): "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (KJV).

Question #8:

Hi Bob,

Do you see a connection between these two verses?

"He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."
(Jas. 1:18)

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth."
(Jn. 17:17)

I hate most cross-references, because the cross references are usually at the most superficial level.

Also, is faith a work? I hear hyper-Calvinist argue that we aren't saved by faith, because that would be salvation by works.

Response #8:

What I would say about Jas.1:18 and Jn.17:17 is that the truth is the means of all positive progress in the Christian life, at inception/salvation (James) and afterwards in growing in the truth (our Lord's words in John).

As to faith as a work, that is a position based upon a false conflation of what James says (about faith without evidence being evidence of no faith) and what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8 about the "gift of God" – but the gift in that verse is not faith; rather the gift mentioned there is salvation based on responding in faith to Him who is the Gift of God – which explains why the demonstrative pronoun ("this") is neuter (to refer to the concept of salvation in what precedes) and not feminine (which it would have to be to refer to faith/pistis, a feminine noun). See the link: "This is the gift of God"

Yours in Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #9:

Hi Bob,

According to Hypercalvinists, God likes to mess with the heads of some people and cause them to believe false things on purpose for his greater glory, and thinking that the previous thought is absurd is proof that you are one of the people whom God is messing with.

The only problem is that such a God is impossible to trust.

Hypercalvinists usually appeal to I Kings 22:22 as a prooftext for this insane theodicity, but they fail to overlook this one very important caveat in the story: GOD WARNED AHAB BEFORE THE LYING SPIRIT DECEIVED HIM.

Sincerely,

Response #9:

That's the key. If we weren't actually making our own choices, why is scripture replete with all manner of warnings, exhortations, commands and various and sundry appeals to a genuinely free will that some claim doesn't exist? Understanding the gift of the image of God we have been given is fundamental to any correct theology.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #10:

Hi Bob,

Dutch hypercalvinism is a really silly but somewhat prevalent brand of Reformed theology that is popular in some circles: it would be fair to say that it has a cult following. Cornelius van Till and Herman Hoeksema are two examples of this school of thinking, and there are two common ideological threads:

(1) An emphasis on strict Aristotelian logic to the exclusion of common sense. Note that even Aristotle didn't view boolean first-order logic to be the "end-all" system, as his Organon contained fragments of modal logic and other flavors designed to capture nuances in human reasoning (these alternative logical systems are active fields of study in philosophy and mathematical logic today, and have many applications in computer science).

(2) A rejection of the "common offer" of the Gospel: "If you believe then you will be saved" is acceptable to propose, but presenting the gospel as a free offer is heresy.

Here is an example of what I mean by two-dimensional logic that is valid but oversimplified to the point of falsehood. From Hoeksema's sermon on Genesis 2:

We do read of the probationary command, prohibiting man to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and of the penalty of death threatened in the case of disobedience. But nowhere do we find any proof in Scripture for the contention that God gave to Adam the promise of eternal life if he should obey that particular commandment of God. It is true, of course, that Adam would not have suffered the death penalty if he had obeyed. But this is quite different from saying that he would have attained to glory and immortality. This cannot be deduced or inferred from the penalty of death that was threatened. Adam might have lived everlastingly in his earthly state. He might have continued to eat of the tree of life and live forever; but everlasting earthly life is not the same as what Scripture means by eternal life. And that Adam would have attained to this higher level of heavenly glory, that there would have come a time in his life when he would have been translated, the Scriptures nowhere suggest.

Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong logically with this interpretation. It could be possible that Adam being obedient would result in biological immortality and nothing more, and indeed, Occam's Razor demands that this be the preferred interpretation. But what about God? The presence of a cosmos draped with mixed darkness and light already suggests a temporary state of affairs, that is, something that could not last forever, regardless of what Adam chose. Had Adam obeyed, God would still need to bring in the final eschatology. His kingdom, a kingdom of eternal light with no darkness, needed to come no matter what, so God would have intervened eventually.

Far from being "God-centered" thinking, with its advertising of a "high-view" of God's sovereignty, this is actually man-centered theology painted pretty. But lipstick on a pig is still a pig.

Response #10:

I am somewhat familiar with this sub-set of hyper-Calvinism and some of its oddities. However, this quotation you include doesn't seem to me to be anything out of the theologically ordinary. Not appreciating that God had everything planned out ahead of time and why He "did it the way He did it" is certainly not a fault to be laid at the doorstep of this group alone. Many on all sides of the theological spectrum have produced similar speculations which likewise fail to grasp the uniqueness of this one creation and the astounding importance and centrality of its foundation, the cross of Jesus Christ – which sacrifice is incalculable disproportionate in its grace to all human and angelic action or speculation for all time and to an infinite degree. So the thing I always try to impress on people is the cross. Jesus' spiritual death for the sins of the world was not a reaction to events, an accident or an after-thought – it was and is and always will be the absolute rock upon which of all creation is based just as He is the Rock upon which creation and salvation is founded. In other words, by initiating creation, the Father obligated Christ and Christ obligated Himself to die for the sins of the world – because that was the plan, the one and the only plan (in every single small detail), and the perfect plan – so that there could be no other. Everything which did not happen and will not happen whether or not some might speculate that it could have happened is not the perfect plan that produces eternal life for those willing to be saved, saved by grace through faith, that is, through exercising the image of God to come back to Him through Jesus Christ. This was the only plan which could result in creatures given that divine spark being saved . . . at a cost infinitely beyond our estimation.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #11:

From your Genesis sequence, caps mine:

"This last point must have been particularly disturbing to the devil. IN PERFECT CONDITIONS, it would not be long until the population of this new species, so much like his fallen minions in all the morally important ways, expanded to the point of equaling the numbers of his followers. At that point, Satan and his angels would be de facto replaced in God's universe, person for person. And when earth was filled with a population of obedient, God-serving, morally responsible creatures, all responding to the Lord in the exact way that Satan and his followers should have done . . . the lake of fire was already in place (Matt.25:41; Rev.20:10); the judgment had already been passed (Jn.16:11). There could be little doubt that the noose was tightening."

So it seems that you directly contradict Hoeksema's view of what would happen "in perfect conditions."

Response #11:

Yes, I thought that this was also obvious in my email. I don't agree with him at all. I just don't find this to be an egregious example of subset Dutch hyper-Calvinism – it's the sort of stuff I'd expect out of a seminary class or a commentary regardless of denominational orientation.

You said some very good things about logic, useful to me and no doubt to many others too – I just think you need to find a better example.

In our Lord,

Bob L.

Question #12:

Hi Bob,

"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh"
(Joel 2:28)

Here the word "all" does not, in fact, mean "all." If so, then is it also possible that the passages that speak of Christ dying for "all" may, in fact, only be speaking of him dying for the few?

Response #12:

I have written in the past about the meaning and application of the Hebrew word col which is what is translated "all" here in Joel 2:28 (see the link). If there were an exact equivalency between Hebrew and English – which there is not (and as pointed out in the link even English cannot claim complete philosophical purity on this point); and if there were no other way to explain this passage you cite (there is; see below); and if there were not a plethora of passages that proclaim that Christ died for every single human being (and there are); then perhaps an indirect argument for limited atonement might be made by a hyper-Calvinist based on this passage. It would still be indirect and thus derivative, however. And so in the face of direct statements which proclaim the opposite, that is pretty shaky ground.

And He Himself is the atonement for our sins, and not just for ours, but also for the entire world.
1st John 2:2

As to Joel 2:28, keep in mind that this will happen after the baptism of fire following the second advent. The millennium will start with only believers in Israel – except in the case of those too young to make a decision. So this will be literally true of the Jewish nation, at least initially, and there is every reason to expect that the blessing will be extended to the gentile believers as well. But Joel is talking about Israel here (see the preceding verse twenty-seven).

Given the (in my view) irrefutable nature of this question (see the links on this in BB 3B and BB 4A), this (i.e., a desire to prove limited atonement on the part of hyper-Calvinists) seems to me a very clear case of theology driving the train . . . right over scripture.

Always good to hear from you, my friend!

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #13:

Hi Bob,

You wrote: But we don't need to worry that our actions have side-tracked the plan of God for anyone else: the perfect plan from the perfect mind of limitless God has anticipated everything to a degree we are currently not really capable of comprehending.

So why "train your body for the race," as Paul puts it, for the highest eternal rewards? Whatever the future level of rewards allocated to you, it is absolutely perfect and therefore no training needs to be involved whatsoever (because training assumes that there is something to optimize, but the perfect cannot be optimized by definition).

While some people say that the sovereignty of God eliminates free will, I don't think this is the correct logical interpretation of the text (which is ironic, because Calvinists boast of how "logical" they are). The correct logical interpretation is that the sovereignty of God means that believers don't need to worry about how they use their free will, given that they continue to act with the love of God and with the truth in them. Which is to say, it's not so much what we do as what we don't, namely deliberately choose that which is hateful and a lie. Or equivalently, that the only free will choice that matters is whether or not we act in love and truth. And to some extent, this is what the Bible teaches:

"Love never fails"
(I Corinthians 13:8)

"For this is the commandment that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another."
(I John 3:11)

Sincerely,

Response #13:

If you read the context of the quote carefully (more to the point, if you read BB 4B: Soteriology carefully), you will see that this is exactly the opposite of the right conclusion. When it comes to things which are of no particular importance, God does not deny us the ability to exercise free will – we do so all the time; when it comes to matters of extreme importance, the exercise of our free will in a positive way is all the more critical, both in the plan of God, in pleasing our Lord, and in determining our eternal rewards. The fact that the last Christian in line in eternity will have a perfect eternal body, a place in the New Jerusalem, happiness and no regrets forever, does not mean that those first in line will not be highly rewarded and eternally blessed by those rewards in ways of which at present we cannot even yet dream – and indeed they will be. Endeavoring to be in that first rank, moreover, is highly pleasing to our Lord (which is the real point). The divine decree is what enables and empowers our free will image of God precisely by having taken it completely into account ahead of time, and perfectly so. But the fact of God's complete control of the one and only perfect history is also incredibly comforting: He is never surprised and never fails to hear us; indeed, He has already programmed in all our necessary help before the world began. That truth frees us to focus like a laser beam on the things that really count, putting all ancillary issues aside.

To many it has often seemed that free will and God's complete providence are mutually exclusive; in fact they are necessary partners in the history now underway. The future rewards allocated to you have been allocated to you because of what you have done, are doing will do – but if you stop doing what you should then at the end of the day you will find out that they are not there and have never been there because you didn't actually do what you should have done. This is not a changing kaleidoscope of possibilities (there is only one perfect history, the one decreed); even so you do have free will and what you actual do with that free will is what has been recorded.

The main take-away from our discussion is that we are not to fret about matters over which we have no control, or become immersed in issues that have nothing to do with the plan of God for our lives – the focus of which is growth, progress and production. We do live in the world and we do interact with the physical all the time, but we need to have our heads in the spiritual even as we carry out all the other things that must be done in life. What we don't have to do (and should not do) is get worked up over alternatives past, present and future and philosophical questions related thereto. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow the Lord returns. Today let us be "up and doing" for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Matthew 6:34 NIV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #14:

Thank you very much for this. It was greatly helpful in clarifying the state of things. If I understand you correctly, we are given permission for mundane things to exercise our freedom so that we can pursue God's truth in a matter that doesn't involve constant distraction, but for things of extreme importance, we must not abuse our freedom so as to suffer severe consequences in the world to come.

Response #14:

You are certainly welcome.

What I would say is that we have freedom in all things – but only the truth really makes us free, so that we are only using our freedom correctly when we are using it to submit to the Will of God and carry out His Will for our lives. The plan takes into account all such correct responses – and everything else as well. Worrying about non-essentials is problematic because in a subtle way it suggests that God has not figured everything out for us ahead of time. That is why Jesus commends our consideration of the lilies of the field and birds of the air and the Father's perfect provision for them, though we are certainly of inestimably greater importance.

I wouldn't let prejudice of any kind distract me from doing what God wants me to do. But that is the real question. What does God want me to do? We know very well the answer to that question in general terms: salvation, spiritual growth, progress and production. Working out the details specifically for our own lives involves growth in the truth of the Word, introspection, follow-through, and application of the truth, often in difficult situations. Becoming obsessed with any manner of "off topic" things can distract us from the very clear path the Lord has set down. There are innumerable wrong paths (a number of which will be very attractive and present the impression of being "good"), but only one really good and true path that leads to honoring our Lord and our own great eternal reward. Mind you, most of us spend a lot time in this life "bushwhacking", but once we do decide to get back up on the high road to Zion, and do manage to hack our way back to it, staying away from distracting oases on the right and the left so as to move forward more efficiently is good and appropriate to do. Those who do so more consistently will grow quicker, move farther, and be of more use to other Christians in doing the same – and will be more highly rewarded by the Lord who wants us to behave in this way as a result.

In Jesus our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #15:

Hi Bob,

According to the Calvinist position, those who renounce their faith only "looked like" believers, but were never truly believers in the first place. This is not a scary position, because if someone falls away, there is still hope that they could be restored to the flock.

(It should be stated that there are two different versions of "once saved always saved," and these two versions are very different theologically speaking, but to the layperson sound identical. The first version says that once saved you can't lose your salvation, even if you deny the faith later on. The second one is Perseverance of the Saints proper, which, strictly speaking, is not incompatible with the gist of your soteriology. For some reason, Baptists and modern evangelicals confuse Perseverance of the Saints with "once-saved-always-saved-regardless-of-what-happens-later"-ism.)

According to the Arminians, those who renounce the faith can always be restored. This is not a scary position, because if someone falls away, there is still hope that they could be restored to the flock.

Okay, now here is the scary position: once you are a Christian, you are saved, but if you fall away, your heart becomes permanently seared, so you are destined to eternal damnation. In that case, the rational thing to do if one becomes a Christian is to kill oneself, because no potential eternal reward is worth the risk of continued living and therefore possible eternal damnation.

I have heard stories of Christians who were once professing believers, but lost faith for a few years, but came back to the flock. I don't know how to interpret this evidence (maybe they were never really believers, or maybe they never really fell away).

Sincerely,

Response #15:

I wouldn't get too worked up about this inasmuch as what we have here is a rivalry between competing theologies (and, actually, variations of variations) – none of which has the whole truth – rather than a true estimate of what the Word actually says. God knows the difference. God wants all to be saved. God will bring those who love Him safely through the fiery trials of this life. You belong to that number. Rejoice therein.

Keep building up your faith. In that course there is not only safety but great reward. No doubt you have many scars because of your past, but consider that there are many out there who may potentially be helped by you through your unique perspective, one which many who grew up Protestant don't really understand the way you do.

Also, I admire your spiritual courage, and I know that the Lord wants us all to continue to be "strong and courageous", not spiritual cowards. I would wager that when we stand before Him on that day it will be made clear that there was not a single case where a believer killed him/herself and it was better for them that they did so: caring so much about salvation, they would have made it for sure anyway, but by "deserting", they merely lost their chance of reward.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #16:

Hi Bob,

Ever since I started to take laboring with the Word of God seriously, I've been sorely tested. However, the bulk of this testing has come from Christians wanting to hold hands with the Catholic church.

This is non-negotiable. No matter how nice the RCC is, no matter how merciful Catholics are, no matter how cool and righteous the Pope is, we cannot be friends. The Pope wants you to practice Catholicism like they do in the third world, with rote superstition and mindless obedience to the Bishop, not like Christians by paying attention to the Word of God and training your mind to discern God the Father's perfect, pleasing will. He will not rest until you are like third world villagers praying to a dismembered toenail of a saint, refusing to move a statue because they believe the spirit of Mary has taken residence inside it.

Redditor (appears to be a theologically conservative Episcopalian): I am appalled at your attitude toward non-Protestants!

Me: "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth." (I Corinthians 13:6)

I am agnostic about whether Catholics can be saved, because only uncompromised faith in Jesus Christ is capable of effecting salvation. At the same time, Catholicism is not an antichrist religion like Judaism, Hinduism, or indigenous witchcraft. However, it has been my experience (I was baptized and christmated as a Catholic) that it is impossible to believe the truth and Catholic theology at once, and I've heard it from other ex-Catholics that it is impossible for a full, practicing Catholic to be saved.

Even though this paints a grim picture, I also recognized that most non-lapsi and non-third world Catholics in the USA are effectively Protestant in practice and give intellectual ascent to the handful of peculiar Catholic doctrines (like transubstantiation, sacraments-as-avenues-of-grace, Mary as mediatrix, etc.) while thinking like Protestants everywhere else, as opposed to third world countries which, shall we say in the most polite terms, represent a more authentic and bona fide Catholicism.

There are many things I can go on about what is wrong with Catholic doctrine.

Either the Catholics are becoming more Protestant or the Protestants are becoming more Catholic. The Catholics have NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER in changing their minds, and they never will. Better to be friends with an atheist than a Catholic (you know you're dealing with a fool), and either than one of you filthy lukewarm moderates.

PS: The "you" is a generic you, not directed to you particularly.

Response #16:

It's a very difficult religion to escape from. But I have known those who have, some very enthusiastic adherents of this ministry now. It all boils down to individual choice.

I have, as I have said many times, known many R.C.'s and a good number of Orthodox individuals who were/are wonderful people, great citizens, terrific family members, fulfilling the principle of Romans 2:14-16 to a tee, as far as the eye can observe. And there are plenty of good people of other religions, plenty of good agnostics and atheists as well. But these "alternative religions" are all strategies for getting through this life without ever having to give serious attention to the truth. I've never been particularly adept at breaking through to such individuals, and so this ministry is focused on those who are at least willing to engage with the truth – and in trying to provide as much of it as possible to those who are gung-ho for it. That is a very small universe, even among believers.

I'm very excited to see where the Lord leads you with this noble aspiration to minister the Word of God, my friend!

Keep up the good work for Jesus Christ.

You and your family are in my prayers day by day.

In our dear Lord and Savior.

Bob L.

Question #17:

I also want to add that you are a much better systematic theologian than Calvin ever was. However, you should know that on several points your theology diverges from the Western-Augustinian tradition of Christianity toward the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Your idea that Adam gave us a "sin nature" as opposed to actual imputed guilt from original sin is a strikingly Eastern Orthodox idea.

"In those days people will no longer say, 'The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge.' Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes--their own teeth will be set on edge."
(Jeremiah 31:29-30)

"What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: 'The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge'? As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel!'
(Ezekiel 18:2-3)

Methodism is the theology of the Eastern Orthodox church only with "instant conversion" from the Calvinist tradition. In Eastern Orthodoxy, salvation is the process of theosis (becoming 'partakers of the divine nature,' but called 'sanctification' in the Wesleyan tradition) and apostasy, too, is a process. People become closer or further from the truth depending on the innate orientation of their soul.

And in Eastern Orthodoxy, God doesn't punish anybody. Rather, the orientation of the soul determines how people respond to God's life-giving love. The just receive it as light and peace while the wicked receive it as fire and anguish. The prodigal son received the father's love as fellowship and a party, while the older son (because of his pride) perceived it as favoritism and anguish.

Response #17:

I'm no Calvin, that is certain (and there are a good many things in that "mantel" I would be reluctant to claim). On denominational doctrines, all I can say is that I'm "fer" everything that has the virtue of being true and "agin" everything that doesn't. I don't believe in denominational systems of theology, being of necessity put together by many persons – and so being incapable of having any inner integrity. So while church history and the history of "doctrine" and denominations is no doubt of some value, it's not something I spend much time on. On the damage done by Augustine see the link; on the incorrect nature of the idea of "imputed sin" see the link. I'm happy to know that others may have come to similar conclusions, but small differences can also be important.

Question #18:

Hi Bob,

Augustine was a theologian who taught the same doctrines of grace that John Calvin taught, so as a result the systematic theology of the Roman Catholic Church (not what lay Catholics believe) is the same as Particular Baptist theology. By the way, this is why John Calvin's theology is called "reformed," because it's a reformation of the Roman Catholic Church's theology. Now, both the RCC and Particular Baptists had a problem with apostasy, but they handled it differently. The RCC church would say that the communicant or catechist was in a state of "mortal sin," while particular baptists would say that the communicant (assuming if Baptist churches even practice communion weekly like Paul did and John Calvin stipulated) was never a true believer in the first place.

Now here's the catch: pastors of Particular Baptist churches have no way of determining whether or not a true conversion happened until AFTER the communicant in question is dead. So the result either way is that you are saved by beliefs, but damned by works.

Response #18:

Take any doctrinal issue you wish, and Augustine set the Church back by corrupting the truth about it. The problem with many of his teachings is not that he is so wrong that this is obvious, but that he is convincing and persuasive in his wrongness often in small, subtle ways which in their effect turn truth on its head. If he is in heaven – a big if (despite the joke I shared with you from my old seminary professor) – I'm sure he'd like nothing more than for his works to burned.

I'm not a Calvinist as you know, nor a subscriber to any set theory of theology. Set theories are always problematic because inevitably the subscribers further develop derivative theology out of the theory and then back-interpret that derived confusion onto the Bible instead of letting scripture speak for itself. Everything any theologian or church father ever wrote is so inferior to the obvious truth of scripture that it would be a mistake for any lay person to pay such things any attention, and those who want to teach the Word need to be careful about imputing false authority where it doesn't belong.

Religion, however, is a different story, because religions are all about power and money and prestige, and tradition, backed up by "scholarship" which is an important part of their legalistic bulwark.

To return to Calvin and the reformers, they deserve a little bit of a break because they courageously and at risk of their lives bucked this trend against the most powerful political force in human history, the false church. If they only went 10% of the way toward the truth, well, it's easy for us today to criticize them for the missing 90%, but it's also worth asking in my opinion whether if we were in their shoes we would have had the courage, persistence and vision to fight our way forward into the 10%.

Giving them credit for this today, however, does not mean that we should enshrine their baby-steps toward the truth. Doing so makes us as bad as the R.C. church (almost). As always, I stand with the truth, not with any organization, group, movement, church, nomenclature, or any other humanly devised division. The Church is composed of those who are truly born again through faith in Jesus Christ, and growth is only possible by believing the truth of what the Bible actually says. Everything else is off the fairway and in the rough.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #19:

What is the difference in the beliefs of the Baptist Church and the Catholic Church?

Response #19:

Good to hear from you.

First off, I've never been either a Roman Catholic or a Baptist – and as far as the latter is concerned, there are many versions of Baptists: American Baptists, Southern Baptists, and even Cooperative Baptists (and many others). And in terms of the Roman Catholic Church, there have been many opinions on many subjects rendered by many church fathers and popes over the years so that "their view" on any given subject is not necessarily easy to determine with specificity and dogmatism despite the mounds of documents which may apply. This was true even by the middle ages, and so much so that Abelard was able to write a book entitled Sic et Non ("Yes and No") wherein he detailed opposing positions in the church each supported by church authorities past.

Both groups, generally speaking, are very legalistic. But Roman Catholicism is a religion of works rather than what I would call true Christianity, because they neither teach nor believe that salvation comes by grace through faith in Christ alone (though that is clearly what the Bible says: Eph.2:8-9). And anything that is of works is necessarily not of grace and so not of God. So it should not come as any surprise that almost to a person everyone I have ever met who is now a believer and who has escaped from that religion has told me that it is impossible to be saved "in that church". I'm personally agnostic about that, because nothing is impossible for God, but since their religion is antithetical to grace it does seem that any truly saved Catholics are so in spite of their religion and most definitely not because of it, and also that if said persons really wanted to grow up spiritually in Jesus Christ they would exit that religion ASAP.

The Baptist church, while not nearly as seriously bad, still has its problems along similar lines. For while they do teach grace they also insist on water-baptism as a fundamental tenet of their church(es) – hence the name. And water-baptism is a ritual which pertained to Israel in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. It was continued briefly by the apostles for the benefit of Jews and Jewish proselytes who knew of John, so that this continuation was one that stressed continuity between the herald and the Messiah for the generation alive when John and Jesus ministered. But it is not a ritual for the gentiles who followed beyond the apostolic generation, and the information we do have tells us that Paul for one recognized this clearly enough (1Cor.1:17). The "one baptism" of the Church in Ephesians 4:5 is obviously enough the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the miracle whereby the Spirit enters us into Christ and indwells our bodies as a seal of our salvation – not some ritual with literal water which has no spiritual content (no one can tell you definitively what modern water-baptism does or means because it is not legitimate now in the first place).

Baptist churches in my observation and experience also tend to be quite legalistic about the behavior of their members (and intrusive in trying to control them – a cult-like characteristic), including in areas which are not strictly prohibited by the Bible as sinful, smoking, for example. Smoking is bad for one's health among other noxious things one could say about it, but it is not something a church should make an issue of in spiritual terms (this is just one of many examples). Also, most Baptist churches today do not actually teach the Bible in enough substance and detail for a congregant to grow spiritually merely from attending – and the whole purpose of Christian assembly is spiritual growth. Of course in this the Baptists are no different from almost every other contemporary Christian denomination and independent church, the exceptions being very few and far between – which does much to explain why this ministry is on the internet.

This is a bit of a rambling answer, I know, but I hope it gives some "purchase" on the question. Do feel free to write back if you have some more specific concerns or questions on this topic.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through faith in whom alone we are saved.

Bob L.

Question #20:

Which one is worse, the Roman Catholic Church, or Westboro?

The former is a religion that has incorrect views on grace and places way too much weight on tradition, but otherwise has a sane outlook on theology and the world. The latter is a religion that teaches salvation by grace, but is totally insane in every other way.

The problem with all Evangelical churches that I've been to save for one (which is a largely Korean church) is that they look like Westboro, except being a little bit more moderate.

Response #20:

The word "church" has an interesting etymology. It comes through Scottish and is derived from the Greek kyriakon, meaning "the Lord's thing". However, whenever we read "church" in the Bible we understand that the word behind it is ekklesia or "assembly". This is the same word, moreover, which the Greeks used for their political assemblies. As at Athens, the people are "called out of / away from" (the etymology of ekklesia) their daily activities to assemble on the Pnyx across from the acropolis when important business comes up. It's a wonderful analogy for the community of believers who are likewise "called out of / away from" our secular pursuits in order to give attention to the teaching of the Word of God. That is, first and foremost, the purpose of Christian "assembly", namely, the mutual encouragement and edification that comes from attention to the truth (1Tim.3:15; cf. Heb.10:24-25). This is not to say that there can't be group prayer or singing or announcements, but that is not the purpose "of assembly". And if the reading of scripture and the teaching of its truths are crowded out by these and other things so as not to be the fundamental focus and reason for the assembly, then to that extent the assembly is purposeless. And if there is no reading of the scriptures and no teaching of the truth, then the assembly is completely purposeless and should not be called a Christian assembly/church. And if instead of the truth, things are taught which are not true, then what we have is an assembly of the devil. In the latter two cases, it hardly matters "which is worse" since believers who wish to please their Lord and Savior will have nothing to do with either one. Nutritious grain has nothing at all in common with worthless straw (Jer.23:28; cf. 1Cor.5:9-13; 2Cor.6:14-18).

p.s., It is fair to group all RC churches together for obvious reasons. I don't think the generalization "evangelical churches" is helpful here because of the vast disparity between all manner of independent churches as well as numerous denominations which would describe themselves as such and/or might be described that way. E.g., I'm sure the vast majority of such churches, most of whom tend to be patriotic, would find the Westboro comparison most invidious. I will say that it is the rare brick and mortar church today (of any type) which even comes close to fulfilling the actual biblical mandate for what an assembly of believers ought to be (which goes a long way toward explaining why this ministry is on the internet).

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #21:

Hi Bob,

I posted this thread which lead to a vigorous discussion: https://www.reddit.com/r/TrueChristian/comments/4sjm3h/a_question_for_high_calvinists_and/

I'm also going to quote one of my comments: It seems strange and doesn't really make sense that a sovereign God who wants to save everyone would not effectively save everyone. I can't say that it would be unjust of God, because who am I to speak back to my creator? But it's just a totally bizarre and almost irrational way of thinking about things. The Last Judgment would then resemble Franz Kafka's The Trial.

Response #21:

There are plenty of eternal things which finite minds have a hard time grasping. I'm amazed that even "graspable" things, particularly things which are contradictory or opposite in human logic but necessarily coexistent in the divine economy, are so difficult even for theologians to accept (e.g., the necessary coexistence of predetermination and free will – one really is impossible without the other).

Here's how I have explained it. We know that God is perfect in every way. Also, given that our Lord Jesus has taken on true humanity and has died for the sins of the world (something that is so much bigger than a google of universes it can't really be comprehended this side of eternity and probably not completely even there), we know for certain that "this creation" is no accident. More than that, "this creation", time/history, is the one perfect time/history. If there were any other, if things were different in the slightest detail, it wouldn't be "the perfect one", the one where Christ became a human being and paid the price for all sin. This is a hard one for people to get their heads around because we see all the imperfections of life – and of course there are many. But such imperfections are necessary in order for there to be a time/history where creatures are given the God-like ability to make decisions from free will (including "the" decision: "where will I spend eternity?"). Seen in that light, everything that happens, the good, the bad and the ugly, was absolutely necessary and indivisible from the whole. Change one thing and what you have would not be "the perfect time/history". But that is what we DO have, and the cross proves it. We can conclude then that in order for there to be some saved, it was necessary to make some who were unwilling to be saved. Give people free will (or angels too, for that matter) and many (angels) or most (human beings) will choose to use that free will to reject willing subordination to the will of God. The image of God makes us "God-like" in this regard, and most people in the history of the world have been unwilling to relinquish their "God-likeness" even to the seemingly (to us) small degree of humbling ourselves to accept Jesus Christ. Could God have done it differently? Not and have us be us. I don't know about you, but I am happy to be me and not an automaton. If being us means that they (unbelievers) continue to be them, well, that is their choice – that's what it's all about. God can do anything. What He chooses not to do is to force us to make anything but our own choice – and that is a decidedly blessed thing . . . which came at the price of our Lord's death in Calvary's darkness for the sins of the world.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #22:

Hi Bob,

I was reading this article by him, when I realized that I am envious of John Piper. I always get this feeling that he has this excellent insight into the joy and depth of God's being that I at the moment see as if I have glaucoma.

However unlike true envy I do not wish him harm for having this insight. I only wish to see it as well as he does too!

Response #22:

It's not uncommon nor wrong in any way to wish to emulate someone who, in our judgment, is running a good Christian race.

"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ."
1st Corinthians 11:1 NKJV

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #23:

Hi Bob,

John Piper said that if Christ died for everyone, then it is impossible for unbelief to keep anyone out of heaven, because that would imply a limit to the effectiveness of Christ's atoning work. In other words, it is blasphemy to suggest that Christ is so weak that man's free will can prevent his work from being effective. Rather, those consigned to perdition go there because Christ did not die for them.

Response #23:

This is a good example of the process of false teaching / false doctrine. First, believe something that isn't true because you've received it / concocted it apart from scripture. Second, come up with logical reasons (logical in your estimation) of why what you say has to be true. Third, vituperate any and all who disagree with your reasoning, preferably via refutatio. Fourth, don't bother quoting scripture – because of course your position isn't scriptural.

If Christ only died for the elect then it doesn't matter if we believe or if unbelievers don't believe because we are elect and they are not. If Christ died only for the elect then there is no point in sharing the gospel with those who are not elect because they will not be saved in any case; and there is no need to share the gospel with the elect because they are elect and are saved in any case. In short, there is no need to do anything or worry about anything because none of this down here on earth makes any difference whatsoever: if Christ died only for the elect then there is no free will. And if there is no free will then the only two logical things for a person to do are to blow his/her brains out immediately or indulge in every possible sinful behavior he/she finds agreeable. Because the unelect are going to hell anyway and the elect are going to heaven anyway; and because there is no free will then obviously there can't be any differentiation of reward of punishment. So the sooner this is over the better or, if a person is too afraid to end it, then the more indulgence or whatever other opium of choice a person can find to get through it the better. But none of it makes any difference. If Christ died only for the elect then brother P. is wasting his time with all of his efforts because nothing matters – so his teaching doesn't matter.

It's easy enough to reduce ad absurdum things that are ipso facto absurd.

"Behold, the Lamb of God, the One who takes away the sin of the world".
John 1:29

"These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved."
Acts 16:17 NIV 

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
Hebrews 10:39 NIV

People go to hell out of choice. It's called free will ("the image of God"), and that's what life is all about, viz. (link: "Unlimited Atonement").

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #24:

I was thinking about your response and there's a flaw: people think that "free will" is so important, but they do that thinking that if God gave man free will, then surely some would choose to follow him. But that's not true. If we have "free will," then 100% of humans will choose to go to Hell. The existence of the elect is proof that free will doesn't and should not have the final say, but grace does.

Response #24:

I don't follow your logic. Even it what you say is logical, the Bible is theological, so what it says is true even when/if it seems to run afoul of man-made enthymemes (and the reason for the flaw in all human arguments which seem to contradict scripture is failing to take some aspect of the magnitude and character of God into account).

There is no salvation without grace. There's no salvation without accepting the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Part of the "problem" is what people mean by this term. We have the image of God – free will being the secular counterpart. But I have often termed it "free-will faith", because that is the operative principle. This ability to respond to God is entirely non-meritorious. It doesn't take any effort and it wouldn't even be possible if He didn't give it to us. The only functional issue is that of accepting or rejecting the gospel (until one is saved, that is), and all a person has to do to be saved in so doing is "not say no" to God the Father's gracious offer of salvation in Jesus Christ who died to make it possible. That is about as grace-based as I can imagine.

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #25:

Hi Bob,

Here are John Piper's words on Pharaoh, from a Calvinist perspective:

"Paul raises the objection: "You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’" Now at this point most people today say, God finds fault because his hardening is a response to our prior self-hardening... Let me say this calmly and firmly: That is exactly the opposite of what Romans 9:18 teaches."

Is the "self-hardening" theory exactly the opposite of Romans 9:18? I am a big fan of your Exodus 14 series, so naturally Piper's words piqued my interest here, and far be it from me to set one spiritual giant against another. Although like Paul and Barnabas, conflicts must emerge.

"No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval." (1 Corinthians 11:19)

Response #25:

I certainly wouldn't describe myself this way; I leave it to others to describe Piper. The one thing that I will say about his teachings which you have asked about a number of times (and I have gotten a number of questions from others about his teachings over the years) is that he usually seems to be dogmatically wrong about everything that has been brought to my attention. No doubt this stems from a hard-headed defense of hyper-Calvinism, which, as you surely know, only has one half of the picture in my understanding of scripture (i.e., preaching the sovereignty of God without really understanding the free will of man which God gave us; hyper-Arminians have it wrong too, the other way around).

Since you've read the Exodus 14 "series" (mini-series is more like it), you know that my position on this is that Pharaoh of course had free will, but God made a special example of him to show us what the unbelieving heart is like. Without being given a special ability to ignore the obvious, no one would have been able to resist the undeniable power of God manifest in the ten plagues the Lord sent upon Egypt, and no one would have pursued Israel as Pharaoh later did, and no one, surely, would have followed them into a supernaturally opened sea. So when people complain about God's unfairness towards unbelievers, I always try to remind them that, given unlimited opportunity, unbelievers would always reject Jesus Christ without limit. The only way they would submit to the truth is if they were no longer able to shield themselves from the glory of God. No one, seeing God in person, could not acknowledge Him ("even the demons believe . . . and tremble"), and "before Him, every knee shall bow". But on this earth, unbelievers are able to ignore Him and His truth. That is how He has set things up so that the true desire and intention of heart for each human being may be revealed, and at the last judgment this will be made clear in the case of all condemned. And even in this world, without seeing God face to face, there are certain limits to what the human psyche can take and still maintain the posture of resisting God in their hearts. What happened to Pharaoh and Egypt, though it is possible to disregard it sitting in one's arm chair reading about it rather than being there and experiencing it, was beyond the power of anyone to resist and not relent – without the special hardening that God allowed to Pharaoh to bring upon himself – and the Lord did this so as to reveal Pharaoh's true state of mind, which is the exemplar for the heart which resists God and His truth true of all unbelievers. There will be a similar "empowerment of evil" poured out on unbelievers generally during the Tribulation (2Thes.2:11-12), and this explains to a great degree the horrific behavior of that part of the human race following antichrist (not to mention revealing what is really inside of them).

So Romans 9:18 is, of course, not only completely consistent with the Pharaoh paradigm but, obviously, has it specifically in mind – since Paul had just quoted this very example in the previous verse (Rom.9:17).

This is how I understand these passages. I won't speculate on what JP means by "the self-hardening theory" or what he thinks others mean who may use that (unknown to me) phraseology. But if he means that we don't actually have free will and that hardness of heart is not from us but rather that it comes somehow from God and that the "God hardening" passages don't mean the allowance by God to man to do what man wants to do in rejecting Him, then in my view he has not read scripture carefully enough since that principle is unambiguous and ubiquitous in the Bible. People choose to reject the truth, that leads to accepting the lie, and that leads to increasing hardness of heart (see the link):

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
Romans 1:20-25 NIV

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

Question #26:

Dear Dr. Luginbill,

Thank you for sharing your understanding of God's word. I've been recently pressured by some beloved and well-meaning friends to come back to attending a local church with them. I was conflicted and unsure, and honestly, I'm still not 100% sure what God wants for me on this subject. Regardless, I spent some time on your website, and I've studied again the scriptures that are thrown out as 'proof texts' on church attendance. I appreciate your humility and honesty when dealing with this subject (and others!). I am very blessed to have your website available to me!

Thank you again.

In His love,

Response #26:

Thank you. Your good words of encouragement are much appreciated.

I think you are right that what is needed for resolution is figuring out what God wants for you on this subject – and what He wants for you is not necessarily the same as for others. Most Christians today are lukewarm in their attitude towards the Word of God; for such, getting something on Sunday morning may be better than nothing (not saying I'm endorsing that of course).

The good news is that you are always welcome here at Ichthys, which as I have become accustomed to say is "my church". I also highly recommend pastor-teacher Curtis' Omo's Bible Academy (at the link). You don't seem to have a specific question (though I am happy to discuss this subject).

Hope you and the whole family are doing well. Wishing you a very blessed 2017!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.

Question #27:

Hi Bob,

Once again I am thankful for your replies. I am always reading all the stuff on your web site. I am learning a lot. My last question was about the "Church of Christ" and you had mentioned the fact that you do not like to give advice on such subjects. I understand a cautious attitude on your behalf when it comes to "passing judgment" on denominations. But Sir, let me ask you as a child would ask his daddy, "Dad I want to go to church. Which one would you suggest?"

Seriously Bob. Where would you send your own child to church if they wanted to go worship with other believers? Is there any particular group that you believe comes the closest to the truth?

Response #27:

It's not that there aren't some independent churches out there in the US where the Bible is actually taught in a substantive, orthodox way – it's just that they are very few and far between. For some of the reasons already discussed, I can't recommend any denomination (this sort of organization is not authorized by scripture and all the ones I know about are deficient in large part). Here are some links on that:

Finding a church - or something better?

Finding a church - or something better? II

Can you recommend a church?

Mega-Churches, Emergent Christianity, Spirituality and Materialism.

Christian Unity and Divisiveness.

Dysfunctional Churches.

Church: The Biblical Ideal versus the Contemporary Reality.

Red Hot or Lukewarm?

The Meaning and Purpose of True Christian Assembly

Spiritual Growth, Church-Searching and "Discipling"

Ichthys and Contemporary Christianity

Fighting the Fight III: False Teaching, Local Churches, and the Truth

Whereabouts do you live? I know of a few places around that country which wouldn't be terrible, but as I say these are very few and far between.

What I have taken to telling people is that "Ichthys is my church" – and you are welcome here any time. I also highly recommend pastor-teacher Curtis' Omo's Bible Academy (at the link). Fellowship is nice – but it is not more important that actually growing spiritually so as to accomplish what the Lord wants you to do with your life.

Yours in our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Bob L.

 

Ichthys Home
 

Bible Options
Bible Study Software