About Me

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Bedford, Texas, United States
Pastor of Woodland Heights Baptist Church in Bedford, Texas and former Professor of Old Testament. But mostly I am a husband of an amazing wife, father of gifted children, and servant of an AWESOME God.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why I am No Longer a Calvinist, Part 2

Psalm 111

Perhaps it is best to start this discussion relating what it is about Calvinism that attracted me to it in the first place. While I cannot speak for someone else, I believe that the things about the system that I found attractive are what lead a lot of people into it. Again, I am not trying to “convert” anyone out of the system; I am simply trying to offer understanding and perspective to those who are not Calvinists and also to lay some foundational topics of discussion that will be components of future installments in this blog. In short, while I believe that each of these elements are laudable motives for pursuing a position (some are indispensible), I will be relating in future blogs why these perceptions of this system are not all that they purport to be.
I was attracted to the system of Calvinism because it is:
- Biblical: It is a rare event to run into a committed Calvinists who cannot quote you chapter and verse of numerous texts that are at the heart of their position. Specific references to predestination, God’s hardening of men’s hearts, being chosen, Grace, the Glory of God, and other emphases of Calvinism are ubiquitous in the Scriptures. Indeed, the presence of these passages is the primary warrant for Calvinists to make the oft-quoted statement that “The Doctrines of Grace are the Gospel” – that is, their position is synonymous with Scripture itself. And let’s be honest, what evangelical Christian does not want to be biblical with every position that they hold – such observations are attractive. When I started into college and really began for the first time to dig into the Scriptures, to search the text for myself and to ask the hard questions before me, Calvinism offered me “biblical” answers.
- God Centered: There is an overwhelming desire that is created within people who discover their lostness and experience God’s Grace to want to do all that they can to praise Him with all that they are. Grace IS wonderful, Grace IS miraculous, Grace IS AMAZING! And when you begin to reflect on this wondrous salvation that has been granted, who wouldn’t pursue a doctrinal position that advocates so clearly man’s complete inability and God’s complete sufficiency? Like the Psalmist, we ask “Who am I?” and relative to who God is, the answer is nobody! Much of Christian teaching in revivalistic churches (such as Baptist) centers on us – My testimony, My salvation, My future, etc…, it’s good to be reminded that God must be the center of everything.
- Unambiguous: Life is full of ambiguity. It is sometimes hard to know right and wrong and to find black and white. In the midst of such experiences, a firm, unshakeable foundation is a joy to find and an immense relief. Calvinism offers this – there are no shades of gray in the system and that is attractive – It’s only God, only His grace, only His choice, only His glory. Ultimately, we can’t argue, we can’t question, we can’t doubt (though we do in our journey – Calvinism recognizes this) because it is His will and who are we to question it? In Bridges book Trusting God (one of my first interactions with Calvinism) this ultimate control, coupled with God’s Goodness, is used to help people get past their circumstances to see a bigger purpose – that purpose being God Himself. Such clarity is comforting it’s easy – even in the face of (or perhaps for some being enhanced by) the self-denial that goes with it as expressed in point two.
- Irenic: There is a calmness to the system that exudes thoughtfulness, depth, and logic. For young people raised in churches full of emotionalism and self-centered teaching, Calvinism offers authenticity to their need to connect with God because it is not about self and it advocates repeatedly letting God be God. This is in some ways an extension of the unambiguousness of the system, but goes more to the heart of the need for depth in churches where shallowness is the norm. That’s attractive, especially as one is trying to “earn his stripes” as an academic and as a means of responding positively to the hypocrisy evident in so many churches that are “man centered” in their teaching.
Looking at the reasons, it’s easy to see the attractiveness of the system. But in my own journey, as I began to gather the bigger picture and to look at ALL of Scripture, and ALL of Christianity, and ALL of who God has revealed Himself to be, I discovered that, in fact, the system doesn’t deliver any of these – except in ways that are inappropriate expressions of them. In the coming weeks, I will outline this as I believe Scripture teaches and God has revealed Himself.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why I Am No Longer a Calvinist - Part 1

Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him judge whether they are right or wrong. And with the Lord’s help, they will do what is right and will receive his approval. (Romans 14:4, NLT)

I have been told more than a few times that I represent a rarity, someone who was a Calvinist and left it as he became more educated. While I am not certain how rare that actually is, I am aware of the fact that there is a tendency that as people become more educated, they come to find more and more affinity with Calvinism. Indeed, in my own journey I was not raised a Calvinist, but as I moved into college it was the path that I followed. My early years at Seminary saw me develop even more along those lines and it really wasn't until I moved into advanced studies toward the end of my Master's and throughout my PhD that I moved away from the system known as Calvinism.

Relating this journey to some, they have asked me to write my thoughts on the subject. So over the next couple of weeks, I will attempt to do this in a way that is appropriate and in a way that demonstrates my belief in a sovereign God who is in real relationship with HIS people.

Starting out, let me say a little about the beliefs that I will be expressing over the next couple of weeks:

- It's not about "fairness": One of the elements often raised by those who oppose ONE element of Calvinism - predestination, is that it is not fair of God to choose one for salvation and to choose one for condemnation. I firmly believe that God is God and I cannot determine what is "fair" for a Being who created the concepts of justice, mercy, and grace in the first place. It is about consistency with the revealed word of God.

- It's not about denominationalism or eschatology - While being a Baptist certainly informs my positions, there is a very strong strand of Calvinism in Baptist history. There is no inherent reason why someone cannot be both a strong Calvinist and a Baptist at the same time (despite what some argue :-)). Furthermore, the primary opposition of Calvinists are often diehard Dispensationalists -since I am not a dispensationalist and in fact reject a lot of the interpretative presuppositions of dispensationalism, the struggle between the two schools of thought does not come into play in this discussion. It is about consistency with the revealed word of God.

- It's not about division or purification - I don't want to disfellowship from Calvinists and I hope that those who know me know that I consider all Christians (Calvinist or not) to be brothers and sisters in Christ and worthy of my respect, prayers, and fellowship. I am, in fact, saddened by the militant strides that have been taken on both sides of this issue (both within my denomination and outside it) in classifying "opposition" as being lost, apostate, or ignorant. Disagreement does not have to devolve into name calling or marginalization. I understand that since I am arguring that my approach is biblical, that, by extension, I am implicitly arguing that those who hold to a different approach than me are not. But one can hold a position, argue it forcefully, and still maintain a level of humility and a recognition that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are servants of the same Master I am and are seeking the same truth I am. Paul compels all believers to understand that in relating to other believers, we remember that God is the Master not us, and that as servants, we let the Master deal with other servants about disputable things. In some ways, I see this discussion to be about disputable things.

My purpose over the next several entries will not be to bash Calvinism. I am not writing these articles out of some crusade to see the view squashed - as if someone writing a blog could have a real impact on a movement that has been part of Christianity since at least the time of Augustine (1600 years now). Rather, I am writing this for people who have found my position unique and have wondered about my journey. I won't entertain debate on the subject and I don't believe I will change any Calvinists' minds. I am simply expressing the journey I have traveled over the last 20 years of my life as a theologian.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Blaming God for Sin

James 1:13 - And remember, when you are being tempted, do not say, “God is tempting me.” God is never tempted to do wrong, and he never tempts anyone else." (NLT)
Jeremiah 32:35 They have built the high places of Baal in the Valley of Hinnom to make their sons and daughters pass through [the fire] to Molech —something I had not commanded them. I had never entertained the thought that they do this detestable act causing Judah to sin! (HCSB)

Over the past several months I have experienced the carelessness of men and women toward their brothers and sisters in Christ on many different levels. Sometimes the carelessness or cruelty has been targeted at me and sometimes at those around me. As one might expect other brothers and sisters in Christ step in at such moments to offer their words of encouragement to the wounded and to let them know that God is with them in the midst of their loss. This is good! This is what the Church is supposed to do and who Christians are supposed to be! And, when the encouragement is offerred to me I take it as it has been intended and I am grateful for people who care enough to encourage!

Still, at times the words that are expressed by well meaning believers can communicate a view that the sin of those who have caused harm is God's. "God has a plan" is a phrase that offers hope and encouragement that God will turn the evil of man into good without making Him responsible for the activity. But more than once I heard phrases that made the sinful acts of man somehow God's doing.

Since Augustine, determinism has been a part of a Christian worldview to varying degrees. Some are full-fledged determinists who believe that God does actually cause the actions of men.

Calvin wrote: "That men do nothing save at the secret instigation of God, and do not discuss and deliberate on anything but what he has previously decreed with himself and brings to pass by his secret direction, is proved by numberless clear passages of Scripture." (Institutes 1.18.1).

Few (if any) of the people I have encountered over the last few weeks would be comfortable with this quote, yet their words of what God is "doing" in the sinful actions of men reveals that they have been shaped by this sort of thought. Of course, all monotheistic religions struggle with the degree of their god's interaction with the actions of men - If the Christian's God is sovereign all things in some way fall into His purview.

But, how does Calvin's perspective square with passages that clearly state that God is not the author of sin? Herein lies the problem with systems. Once God has been categorized, identified, and defined by our theology - then ALL must fall into that system. And systems rarely seek balance between different revelations, rather it emphasizes one over the other in order to create a "logical" outcome. For the Calvinist the doctrine of God's Sovereignty, for Arminians the doctrine is God's benevolence, for those who are neither any number of doctrines can become preeminent at the expense of others.

What I want to suggest here is that a perspective or outlook on life that blames Him for the evil of man is not consistent with the total picture given in Scripture. Please note I am not saying He only gives blessings and has no role in the bad that happens to people in general, what I am saying is that as moral agents WE ALONE are responsible for the sins we commit - God does not tempt.

I will be expanding on these thoughts in the weeks ahead. But for now, choose words carefully. Every phrase we utter communicates something about what we believe.