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Sunday, August 31, 2014

When I am Weak, He is Strong

Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
(2 Cor 12:7-10)
I'm sure I'm probably the only one, but I struggle with sin. I have not, as yet, arrived at perfection. Indeed, I'm not at all sure what it looks like. So I struggle along, recognizing sin in my life, repenting, sometimes stopping, sometimes returning to it, always hating it. I ask God to remove it from me and rarely is it supernaturally gone. It appears to me as if I have ... "a messenger of Satan to torment me."

Oh, now, that's interesting, isn't it? Now, I'm not saying that's what Paul's thorn was. But it was the same as mine in the sense that it was a messenger of Satan. So, Paul and I share in this difficulty. And what did he call it? "Weakness." Well, now, yes indeed, that's what I'd call it. So now I'm interested in Paul's response to the weakness in himself that God didn't remove because I have weakness in myself that God doesn't remove. What was his response? Complaint? Grumbling? Depression? Hopelessness? Anger? Nope!

"I will rather boast about my weaknesses," he says (and isn't it interesting that he classifies them as plural?). "I am well content with weaknesses."

Why was Paul content with weakness? He gives several reasons. First, he was learning the sufficiency of God's grace. "My grace is sufficient for you." Beyond that, he served as a vessel where God could perfect His power in Paul's weakness. He became a perfect place, in weakness, for the power of Christ to dwell. Ultimately, the whole effect produced strength. "When I am weak, then I am strong."

Weakness isn't pleasant, but weakness has very positive effects in the believer. I want to move toward that contentment. Contentment in trusting in His power, resting in His strength. I never want to hear coming out of my mouth the foolish, "Don't worry, Lord, I got this." In my recognition of my shortcomings I can remain dependent on Him and serve as a vehicle for His work. Both important things for every follower of Christ.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage

I would like to announce to the world that I am in favor of same-sex marriage. Indeed, I think it is preferable. Even perhaps part of the definition of the term, "marriage".

It is my intent and my great pleasure to be married to my wife and to engage in sexual relations with the same woman and only that woman for the rest of my life. Same-sex. That's good and right.

Oh, wait ... that's probably not what you thought I meant by the term, is it?

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Tower of Babel

I have complained for years about the demise of the English language. More precisely, about the decay of language as a tool of communication. Danny over at The Bumbling Genius has written a good article on this concept. Apparently, I'm not alone in my concern. It is, as Danny indicates, a modern version of the Tower of Babel.

Some change is inevitable. Technology drives the necessity for new terms. A mouse once clearly referenced a small creature for which you purchased a trap or a cat to eliminate and eventually every computer user had one for the computer. Not the same thing. Dictionaries are constantly adding new words to keep up with changes in technology. That's to be expected. And British English and American English, for instance, are similar but not the same. A "bonnet" has been a piece of brimless headgear and the hood of a car. In the U.S. we ride in elevators and in the U.K. they ride in lifts. People here live in apartments and in flats there. And so it goes. And the language just evolves. Did you know, for instance, that the "perks" of a job were originally the "perquisites" and we just got too lazy to say the whole word? Then, of course, people are always making up new words. The cell service provider, Sprint, has coined "framily" as a merge of "friends" and "family". Silly. Theodore Roosevelt coined "muckraker" and George W. Bush brought us "misunderestimate" and "embettermment". New terms.

So in many cases due to changes in environment, changes in geography, or just changes over time, the meaning of words change. It is to be expected. And it isn't much of a problem -- that is, as long as the original intent still exists. So if the British still have a word that refers to brimless hats and the Americans still have a word that refers to the hood of a car, the idea of the words still exists and we just have to learn what word expresses that to the other. As long as we understand that "perquisites" has been shortened to "perks", it's not a problem since the meaning hasn't changed, just the usage.

This, unfortunately, isn't always the case. In too many places, words are being subverted without being replaced. One of the obvious examples is the current redefinition of the term, "marriage". It has always meant the union of a man and a woman, but today we've stripped off that meaning, substituted "two people (an arbitrary number ... and, indeed, an arbitrary type -- "people") who love each other and want to commit to each other, at least for awhile." It used to be understood as a lifelong arrangement. Now it's most often temporary. It used to include monogamy; now it is "monogamish" -- serial monogamy. "Only one at a time ... or not." (Even that word "monogamy" has changed. That used to refer to marriage, demonstrating a difference between bigamy (married to two people at the same time) and polygamy (married to multiple people at the same time). No longer. Now it references the number of people with whom you are having sex. Now how is that the same?) So, if I wish to refer to the union of a man and a woman for life, what word is left me today? I can't say "marriage" because that word no longer means that, either in gender or in longevity.

In older movies, songs, and stories there are people who were "making love". This original sense was to be doing those things -- words and deeds -- that inspired love (which has also changed, largely, to mean "sex" but didn't used to mean that at all). That concept has not merely changed; it has vanished. Now the phrase refers to engaging in sexual activity ... and that activity may or may not include actual love. So if I wanted to refer to those things that produce a feeling of love, what term would I use? There isn't one anymore.

It seems like one of the biggest areas of the demise of the meaning of words without substitutes is in the area of Christianity. It is largely the Christians who wish to keep "marriage" just as it has always been intended while the rest of our culture is fine with eliminating the concept while they subvert the word. We've had to work hard to get across the idea of the genuine Christian. We've gone from "Are you a Christian?" to "Are you saved?" to "Are you born-again?" to ... what is it now? ... because each term shifted under our feet. Language and concepts have shifted continually and mostly in the arena of Christian concepts of morality. Sex, fidelity, idolatry, even the meanings of theological terms like Omniscience or "the Atonement" -- these concepts are moving. And they aren't trivial. Trying to discuss them or debate them becomes a monumental task when the words for them have either changed or vanished. So we end up with "I'm a Christian" and "I'm a Christian" and neither one means the same thing at all. Two people separated by a common language.

Danny suggests that we become "bilingual", speaking both the language as we know it as well as the language as those with whom we are communicating know it. That, of course, is a good idea, but I'm just not sure about the practicality of it. The language, it seems, is in constant transition. I will be comfortable with a word only to discover that the meaning has shifted. Just when I nail down the new meaning, it has changed again. Then, when I try to assimilate this new one, it turns out the idea I was trying to express no longer has a word. I don't know the answer, but I suspect that the culprit to this dilemma is not a friend of Man or God.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

No Man Can

I have claimed on more than one occasion that the nature of the unregenerate Man (Natural Man) lacks the ability in himself to choose God. Understandably, I suppose, I am consequently ordered, "Show me where it says no one can choose to follow God." So let's see what the Bible says on the subject.

First, look what Jesus says to His disciples. "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you ..." (John 15:16). Well, now, that's interesting, isn't it? I mean, aren't we the ones that choose Him? So how would Jesus make such a claim? But He did, so we know it's true. But ... okay ... this has no bearing on whether or not we can choose. So let's dig deeper.

As it happens, the text that says "No man can choose to follow God; no, not one" is found in my favorite book of the Bible -- Hezekiah. Right there in Hezekiah 5:8. Okay, no, that text doesn't exist. But we aren't going to settle for "The precise words don't exist, so the statement isn't true," are we? Because "God is three in one" and other essentials of the faith are not stated explicitly in the Bible. They are, nonetheless, there. So can we find my assertion there, too?

First, we actually can find biblical claims limiting natural human ability. We find, for instance, that no man can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (John 6:44). That is a universal negative -- "No man can." And if the exception -- "the Father draws him" -- exists in all cases, the statement is meaningless. That is, if the statement is to have any meaning at all, there must be some who cannot. To put it another way, that there are some who can come to Christ is the exception, not the rule[1]. Another biblical "cannot" is found at the end of the same chapter. Explaining why it is that some do not believe, Jesus says, "There are some of you who do not believe ... This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father" (John 6:64-65). There it is again -- that universal negative, "No man can." Again, if the text is to have any meaning, there must be some -- many -- who cannot come to Christ because it is not granted them by the Father. "No man can." So the Scriptures do comment on the ability -- the lack of ability -- of Man to do what he ought.

Note, by the way, that "Come to Christ" is not a recommendation; it is a command. The lack of ability is by no means an excuse. And that there is a lack of ability has just been established.

That was biblical text. Now let's look at biblical logic. What is required to choose something? First, there must be an inclination. You can't choose something toward which you have no inclination. If you are terrified by heights, climbing a tall ladder is outside of your ability to choose because it violates your natural inclinations. Second, there must be ability. Choosing to do that which you cannot do will not result in doing that which you cannot do. You can't choose, as a example, to climb that ladder if you have no arms and no legs. That's a different kind of "cannot", but it is an impossibility. Choose all day long; you won't climb. So you require both the inclination (the will) and the ability (the power). Does the Bible talk about these? In fact, it does. Here's what the Bible says about our natural inclinations.
The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen 6:5).

"The intention of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Gen 8:21).

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:7-8)[2].

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience -- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (Eph 2:1-3).
There's a sampling of the biblical expressions of human inclinations. "Only evil continually", "evil from his youth", "hostile to God", "dead in sin" -- these are the types of descriptions of Natural Man in Scripture[3]. The inclination, then, required to choose God would appear to be lacking in the Natural Man. To do so would require that the continually evil inclination that occurs from childhood and the natural hostility toward God that is part of the flesh and the spiritually dead condition in which we find ourselves as born sinners would have to change. Without that change, Paul says,
The natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).
And, once again, we have that "not able", that "cannot". A lack of ability. What, in this case, is the missing element that would enable the choice? It is spiritual discernment. And it is not available to Natural Man.

Contrary to this, in the regenerated we find that "It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). See that? In this case, the two necessities for making the proper choices are provided. God works in the believer to have both the will and the ability. This constitutes a change in Natural Man.

It would appear, then, both from the explicit texts that say that there is a universal negative -- "no man can" -- unless there is a particular exception made as well as the biblical logic based on the conditions required to make the proper choice versus the condition of Natural Man that the unregenerate human lacks the necessary conditions to choose God.

There are a couple more items that need to be said before concluding here. First, note that I did not suggest that Natural Man lacks the ability to choose God. The Bible doesn't suggest that he is prevented from choosing God. The Bible says that he cannot because he will not. It would violate his own nature. What is required is a change of nature. So I don't think the Bible is saying that Man lacks the ability to make the choice, but the will.

The other issue is the claim that "God commands us to choose, so we must have the ability to do so." This is a problem. It is a problem of language. You see, verbs (like "choose") have "moods". In New Testament Greek, there are four moods: 1) Indicative (certainty), 2) Subjunctive (probability), 3) Optative (possibility), and 4) Imperative (command). A command (imperative) is not an indication of a possibility, but an indication of a command. "You must do X" is simply a statement of what you must do without any indication of whether or not it is certain, probable, or possible. This is standard English. A biblical example of an imperative is in Paul's "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). That is a command. It doesn't say that you can or will, but that you must. Indeed, he explains the apparently impossible command in the next verse by telling us that it is God who does the work in us (which indicates that we do not have the inherent ability to carry out the command). The famous and beloved, "For God so loved the world, that He gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16) is an indicative, telling about the method of God's love for whoever believes, but not about who that "whoever" will be. It does not say nor does it require "everybody can" to be a truthful, indicative statement. The command to "choose" does not require the ability to choose. Further, as I said, the Bible does not indicate an incapacity, but an unwillingness. So the "It's not fair of God to command something we can't do" doesn't quite work when the only thing preventing the unregenerate is himself.

The biblical description isn't actually that we cannot, but that we will not. Because to choose to follow Christ would violate the nature of the Natural Man, he cannot because he will not make that choice. That appears (at least to me and many others) to be the biblical position.
[1] Please note: Included in that text is the certainty that those whom the Father draws will come to Him because Jesus concludes, "And I will raise him up on the last day." No question.

[2] Paul goes on to say what determines the difference between "the mind that is set on the flesh" and the mind set on the Spirit in the next verse: "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you" (Rom 8:9). Thus, the difference between the mind set on the flesh and the mind set on the Spirit is not a matter of choice or effort, but the indwelling of the Spirit.

[3] See also Isa 64:6; Jer 17:9; Jer 13:23; Matt 7:17-18; John 3:3; John 6:63; Rom 3:10-11; Rom 6:17-18; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 4:17-18.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Bibical Option

The whole "homosexual" debate has not cooled down. As our society shifts its moral view to amorality -- mostly "anything goes" -- Bible-believing Christians are still forced to hang onto their "homosexual behavior is a sin" position or surrender the Bible as a viable book of truth at all. Between these two extremes are a million shades of opinion.

Part of the difficulty in this dialog is, as seems to often be the case, a definition of terms. "Gay", which used to mean "happy", became "homosexual" and "homosexual", which used to be sexual interaction between two people of the same sex, became a lifestyle rather than an activity. You no longer had a "sexual preference"; you had an "orientation". Interestingly, we can see this very evolution of terms in the translations of the Bible. The King James Bible translates ἀρσενοκοίτης -- arsenokoitēs -- in 1 Cor 6:9 "abusers of themselves with mankind." Kind of a generic concept. A later translation, Young's Literal Translation, prefers "sodomites", a reference to a particular sexual act. Later still, the New American Standard uses "homosexuals" since the term "homosexual" was now available to the English language. (It wasn't used prior to until 1869.) But it changed its meaning again, so the most recent ESV uses the phrase "men who practice homosexuality" because the practice is in view here, not the modern "gay as a state of being" kind of thinking. So we've come up against these "gay Christian" debates. The question is already hazy, you see? Are you talking about the behavior or the same-sex attraction? Are you talking about the lifestyle or the act?

The Bible does not comment on the temptations of individuals that we use to define people today. It doesn't reference heterosexuals as a definition of a type of person, for instance. You are an adulterer not by virtue of any temptation to the deed, but by violating the moral law on the deed. A woman tempted to steal is not a thief until she steals. A man who thinks of lying but tells the truth is not a liar until he fails to tell the truth. The Bible defines people by their sins, not by their temptations. So "homosexual" in today's use of the term isn't really addressed in the Bible.

What is the biblical option? Is there anything in the Bible that suggests what a person of same-sex attraction should do in order to remain in line with biblical morality? I know. The answer most people who agree with Scripture about the morality of the act would expect would be "gay reparation therapy". Get free of the desire! Oddly enough, I have to admit I don't find it in my Bible. Well, of course I don't. They didn't think that way about that particular sin. To the mind of biblical writers, mankind is sinful by nature and we choose what actions we will make in response. So what does the Bible say on this?

Believe it or not, Jesus gives the answer to that question. In Matthew 19 the Pharisees tested Him with a question on divorce. Jesus's response provides a confirmed definition of marriage.
"Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate." (Matt 19:4-6).
It is unavoidable both in human history and in biblical text that the definition of marriage is "man and woman joined". But the question at hand is not marriage. The question is regarding sexual activity, specifically for the "homosexual".

But, as it turns out, the Bible is abundantly clear on biblical morality regarding sexual activity. It is only moral if it occurs in the marriage bed. Thus, it cannot be classified as moral outside of marriage, and marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman. This rules out any sexual relations between people who are not married and, by definition, absolutely eliminates the possibility of moral sexual relations between two people of the same sex.

The disciples were struck with Jesus's response. They saw the enormity of it. They understood that divorce was right out. So they parried, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry" (Matt 19:10). And here was Jesus's response to them.
"Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it." (Matt 19:11-12)
What is Jesus saying here? Jesus admits that it is austere. "Not everyone can receive this saying." Then He gives two options. You may marry and engage in genuine, godly, beautiful sexual union, or you can be a eunuch. Jesus defines three types of eunuch -- "from birth", "by men", or "made themselves". That is, a person can be born with the nature of celibacy, can be forced into celibacy by others, or can choose to be celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven."

And there, dear readers, is the biblical option. If a person finds himself or herself with same-sex attraction, is a genuine Christian, and wishes to follow the instructions of Christ, there are options. He or she can take efforts to find and marry someone of the opposite sex (because marrying someone of the same sex is not marriage) and engage in the standard heterosexual practices (1 Cor 7:2-5). You might think of this as reparative therapy. Or, he or she can be a eunuch -- celibate. In this way and only in this way can a person (using current terminology) be classified as a "gay Christian". (Remember, Jesus said, "If you love Me you will keep My commandments.") I would classify a person who has same-sex attractions that he or she does not indulge just as Christian as a heterosexual who is not married and remains celibate. That seems to be the biblical position. There are options for the modern "gay Christian". Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. However, "God made me this way, so I should be allowed to violate the biblical standards on this" is not one of them.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hyperbole Fail

Hyperbole: n, rhetoric, a figure of speech that is an intentional exaggeration for emphasis or comic effect.

There you have it ... the definition of hyperbole. You know how it works. You make an overstatement to make a point. Your teenage daughter asks if she can go to a church group gathering. "Who will be there?" you ask. "Oh," she assures you, "everyone." So you ground her for lying to you because you know that there will not be 7 billion people at that gathering. No, of course you don't. You understand that "everyone" is hyperbole. You understand she is exaggerating for effect, and you understand the intent. Easy.

Hyperbole is not, by definition, a lie. It is making a point. Does the Bible use this technique? Yes, indeed, it does. Take, for instance, Mark's claim when Jesus was in Capernaum. "And the whole city had gathered at the door" (Mark 1:33). We don't actually believe that every man, woman, child, dog, cat, sheep, and building were standing at the door of the house Jesus was in. We understand that there was a very large crowd. When Jesus told us not to worry about the speck in your brother's eye when you have a log in your own, He wasn't really suggesting that anyone had a log in the eye. It was hyperbole, an exaggeration for effect. We get it. We're okay with that.

There is a feeling among some -- a feeling, not necessarily a thought -- that the nature of a hyperbole makes it free of truth claims. That is, once it is classified as hyperbole, it can't be falsified. But we know that isn't true. If your daughter told you "Everyone will be there" and three people showed up, she wasn't honest. While the "everyone" was hyperbole and, therefore, not literal, it still meant "a lot of people". If Mark wrote that the whole city showed up and it was actually only a little boy and his lamb, Mark would have been dishonest. Hyperbole, while not woodenly literal, means to say something, and if that something isn't true, it's a lie.

So now we come to the biggest hyperbole fail in the Bible. I'm referring to Romans 3.
What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 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" (Rom 3:9-12).
It seems like every time I bring up this passage, someone feels the need to explain to me that it's hyperbole, not literal. So, let's examine that.

First, we've defined hyperbole. Second, I showed that the Bible uses that literary tool to express truth. So, I will agree that this text is, indeed, hyperbole. If there is, in fact, not one righteous person, then that would exclude Christ, wouldn't it? If there is none who does good, that would exclude Christ, wouldn't it? Indeed, we understand that believers are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them" (Eph 2:10). That we are to do good is a given. So that moves this text to the hyperbole category. And now we run into our problem.

Having acknowledged that this text is not woodenly literal, it appears to lose any meaning to many (most?) Christians. They contend that it is hyperbole and then proceed to tell me that lots of people seek God (maybe even most), that lots of people do good. And now we have a failure to communicate (or a lie). If by terms like "none", "all", and "not even one" we mean "lots and lots ... even a majority", it is no longer hyperbole; it is a lie. If the text says "there is none who does good" followed by an emphasizing "there is not even one", and we understand it to mean "lots of people routinely do good", that is a hyperbole fail.

I agree that it is hyperbole, but I can't seem to make any sense out of the discarding of the sense of the hyperbole because we see it is hyperbole. The sense of the text is that very, very few are righteous, that seeking God is an extreme rarity, that doing good is not at all a common occurrence. Paul is quoting the Psalms and indicating there is a problem here. If we set it aside as hyperbole, we nullify his intent and make the Word a lie.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Foreknowledge Dodge

One of the key components of "Reformed Theology" is the doctrine of Predestination. Now, to be perfectly clear, Predestination is not about Election. Election is the idea (and it is thoroughly biblical -- we just differ on particulars) that some are chosen for salvation. It is a principle throughout the Old and New Testaments. But Predestination is not Election. Predestination is much, much more. Predestination covers everything.

In Romans 8 we have that wonderful 8:28 verse where all things work together for good. The "good" for which all things work together for those who love Christ is in the following verses.
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Rom 8:29-30).
There is that "predestined" word. And it is not Election. It is a fore-ordaining that those whom He foreknew would become conformed to the image of His Son. In 1 Cor 2:7 we read of "the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory." God predetermined Judas's betrayal (Luke 22:22) and the murder of His own Son by "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel" (Acts 4:27-28). In Ephesians Paul writes, "He predestined us to adoption as sons" (Eph 1:5). Again, not Election. The principle behind Predestination is found a few verses later when Paul writes that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11). Thus, Predestination refers to all things. The Bible is full of God predetermining what will happen.

I will always get the inevitable push-back from fellow believers. "God has foreknowledge," they will tell me. "Foreknowledge is not foreordination." Well, now, is that true?

It is true that the two terms mean different things. One is regarding what is known and one is regarding what must happen. But I suspect that "ordained" means something different to me than to those who object. Here's why I say that. If God has foreknowledge -- perfect, correct knowledge of what happens in advance -- and God is Omnipotent -- able to do as He pleases -- then we have a problem. If God knew, in advance, when He made Adam that Adam would sin and God did nothing to prevent it (did not exercise His Omnipotence), then knowing perfectly what would happen and doing nothing to change it would be to foreordain Adam's sin.

Now, clearly that sounds wrong. So we need to examine just what "foreordain" means before we conclude anything else about it. If, by "ordain", we mean, "to invest with ministerial or sacerdotal functions" (the first definition in my dictionary), we're just being silly. No, it's not about an "ordained minister". So ... what? Maybe it's "to enact or establish by law, edict, etc." That might be closer to it. But when I use the term, I use it in this sense (my dictionary says it is in the sense of God): "to destine or predestine". Ah, now, see? Now we've run into that "Predestination" thing. My point here is that "ordain" does not carry with it the necessity of "cause". It simply means to "establish". To "foreordain", then, would mean to establish in advance.

So where are we? If God knows in advance that X will happen, has the capability of preventing X, and does nothing about it, He has established -- before the fact -- that X will happen. He doesn't have to cause it. Indeed, by not exercising the power to prevent it, He does nothing to cause it. But because He knows it perfectly and allows it willingly, it cannot be avoided that He foreordains it. It's the nature of the Omniscient and the Omnipotent.

Yes, indeed, to foreknow is not to foreordain. One is knowledge; the other establishes something. But to know perfectly in advance and to have the power to change something means that if He does not, He has ordained that the something happens. That is foreordination. So if you'd like to get around foreordination by claiming that foreknowledge is not the same thing, you'll have to do it by removing either perfect knowledge or absolute power.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ella Theology

Have you ever seen the movie, Ella Enchanted? Released in 2004, it was kind of a mix of fairy tales like Cinderella (thus, "Ella") and Sleeping Beauty and, well, all sorts of stuff. It had a modern flare set in a medieval time so you had a 14th century town with a mall, complete with an human-operated escalator. In the castle there is a "IV Seasons" complete with a glassed elevator. Funny stuff. The premise of the story is that a little girl, Ella of Frell, is "gifted" (which, of course, is no gift) with the requirement of obeying every command. "The gift of obedience," her fairy relative who gives it to her calls it. This, of course, gets her into all kinds of trouble when ne'er-do-well step-sisters figure out her secret and force her to do bad things. So she sets out to find her fairy aunt and get her to take it back. The basic story line, then, is this: "No one should be forced to do what they don't want to do." She encounters an elf who wants to be a lawyer but is legally required to be a performer. She encounters giants who want to be free but are forced into slavery. And she herself is commanded to commit a murder she doesn't want to do. All very touching. And a humorous story, to be sure.

I'm wondering, though, how well this works itself out in life. Is it a truism that "No one should be forced to do what they don't want to do"? We like the sound of it, but is it true? I can't imagine anyone actually standing on that ground. "I don't want to stop at red lights, so I shouldn't be forced to do it." "I don't want to be without a sports car, so no one should prevent me from taking one." And, of course, the obvious problem, "I don't want to lose my sports car, so no one should be allowed to take it." I mean, this doesn't work at all.

I call it "Ella Theology" because it is, as it turns out, basic human theology. "I will be like the Most High." We wish to do whatever it is we wish to do and will not tolerate anyone else telling us we cannot. It isn't rational. It isn't workable. And yet, we seem to hold it as the highest principle.

The good news is that Christ came to pay for that Cosmic Treason of which we all stand guilty. We have all shaken our fists in the face of God -- "No one should be forced to do what they don't want to do!" And we all face eternal punishment for the vastness of the crime. And Christ came to fix that problem.

Oddly enough, as a result of the new heart placed in the followers of Christ, the ultimate end is ... wait for it ... obedience.
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph 2:10).
So we do end up with "the gift of obedience", in varying shades now and, ultimately, in complete obedience. The beautiful difference is that when we actually arrive (in heaven) at perfect obedience, it will be that we are doing exactly what we want to do. Now that's a good thing, isn't it?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Secondhand Porn

We are commanded to let our minds dwell on, among other good things, "whatever is pure" (Phil 4:7). We are warned "Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you," to "not become partakers with them" and that "it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret" (Eph 5:3-12). We are to be "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10:16). So, we followers of Christ, serious about this relationship, work hard at that. We get ourselves connected to fellow Christians who can hold us accountable. We put software on our computers that block "those kinds of sites". Maybe we even throw out the computer in order to tear out the right eye that causes you to sin (Matt 5:29). We're working this to the best of our ability.

And then ... you drive to work. Or turn on the Family Channel. Or flip through a magazine in the dentist's office. Or open your eyes just about anywhere but a dark room. And what do you find? Secondhand porn. It's everywhere. It's on the billboards and in the advertisements. It's on TV and on just about any given screen available. Where it used to be a shame to have such things shown, now you can find it displayed larger than life just by walking by a Victoria Secret store in the mall. Indeed, there once was a concept known as "underwear", but a lot of women don't seem to understand that "underwear" would be worn ... you know ... under clothes, not in plain sight. Hey, you can't hardly go to church anymore without some young lady thinking that "modesty and self-control" (1 Tim 2:9) means "display what I got". It appears as if it is not actually possible to avoid secondhand porn.

Job made "a covenant with my eyes" (Job 31:3). I wonder how that would have worked out today. I don't know. I don't know what his culture did with the problem. Ours is not doing well. We'll ban smoking in order to save people from secondhand smoke, but we embrace the destruction that is pornography and freely display it for everyone else to suffer. This is not a small problem for any genuine follower of Christ. If we are to take sexual purity as seriously as Scripture does (Matt 15:19, Acts 15:29; Rom 13:13; 1 Cor 5:11; 1 Cor 6:13, 18; 1 Cor 10:8; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3 ... well, you get the idea), then this is going to have to be serious business. It will require that "covenant with my eyes." It will require "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17). It will require letting our minds dwell on whatever is pure and the rest (Phil 4:7). It will require vigilance, a determined attitude, a head full of things of God, and a heart for God that won't allow either arrogance or apathy, but a constant dependence on God.

But, then, isn't that always the case?

Friday, August 22, 2014

A Visit to the Hardware Store

Have you ever gone over to the hardware store and bought what you believed to be the right components to do a job around the house, got the stuff home, only to find that you were missing something essential? I mean, seriously, it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. "How many trips to home repair store does it take to repair your home?" You just wish, at times, that someone or something could give you a hand, a list, a set of instructions, something that would make sure you got everything you needed to accomplish the task at hand.

I can't tell you how many voices out there tell me (us) to "back off". You know. Stop all this "Jesus is the only way" stuff. Quit with the serious, step-by-step explanations about sin and damnation and "What must I do to be saved?" clamor. "Look," they tell me, "Jesus is all about grace. Do you think he's going to limit his grace to your little formula? No, no, just believe. That's enough."

That's one of those "helpful" little visits to the hardware store. You feel like you got what you need. You think you have the essentials to accomplish your aim. And then you get to the gate and say, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" Imagine your shock when you hear, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness" (Matt 7:22-23). And, you see, it's there, at that gate, you don't want to find out that you didn't have everything you needed, right? Because you can't go back to the store and get it anymore.

Somehow it sounds kinder, gentler, more gracious to say "Jesus is all about grace" and "Jesus is the Way; it's not about works" and all that. It does. It really does. It sounds more inclusive, you know? Much broader than "Repent and believe." So narrow, you know? But I, as a follower of Christ, read where Christ (you know, the One I'm following) said, "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matt 7:13-14), and I'm forced to conclude ... I don't know ... that the gate is narrow, the way is hard, and few find it. Jesus didn't sound very inclusive there. Nor did John seem to be saying that works are no issue when he said, "Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). You see? "Obey" is not incidental. It is integral.

Jesus told His disciples, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). (Yes, that same "Jesus" whom we call "Christ" ... in the term, "Christian".) James said, "Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). So we are saved by faith apart from works, but the effect of that salvation ... is works. John wrote, "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). "Cannot keep on sinning." In that vein, Paul told us to "Work out your salvation" and even "with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12). Now if works were of no effect in salvation, in what sense could he say that? He doesn't leave it there, of course, He tells us that "it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). So this work isn't in a vacuum. It isn't "Knuckle under and get to it!" But neither is it, "There are no works in view in your salvation." In fact, right there in the "saved by grace through faith apart from works" passage (Eph 2:8-9) is "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). "For." The reason we are saved by grace through faith.

You see, I'm not trying to be mean or narrow or ... well, wait ... yes, there definitely is narrowness in there. Jesus used the term. But it isn't a case of "Obey or die!" It is a case of "If you love Him, you will obey His commandments." That is, I haven't the arrogance to say, "Yeah, but He didn't mean all that." No, this is by way of full disclosure. I don't want you to make the trip to the gates of heaven and find out you didn't get everything you needed while you were here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

But I Thought ...

Perhaps one of the most ominous verses in the Bible is found in Proverbs.
As [a man] thinks within himself, so is he (Prov 23:7).
We like to think that we're pretty good people, at least much of the time. We aren't stealing, murdering, committing adultery ... you know, doing a lot of bad things. Oh, sure, we may think about that stuff, but that's just in the privacy of our own minds. We never act on any of it. On the light side, there's the mental response you have to the guy who cut you off on the freeway that never gets expressed. On the heavier side is the secret time you spend fantasizing in porn that never gets expressed. It's all just mental, fantasy, private, unreal. Sure, it's not good, but it's not really that bad either, is it? I mean, you're not actually acting on any of it. Isn't that self-control?

Solomon said that you are what you think. Jesus said similar things. Adultery is sex between someone who is married and someone to whom they are not married. Jesus said it also was the desire to do so (Matt 5:27-28). Murder is the malicious termination of the life of another human being. Jesus said it was also the desire to do so (Matt 5:21-22). As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.

That's a bit disturbing. I know I take comfort in knowing that most of the things I think about that are bad never make it past the brain. They're stopped right there. Self-control. And that's why this text is so ominous. It means that my self-control needs to start a lot earlier ... like in my thinking. Because if what I think about is what I am, then it's not good ... not good at all.

If you think "good enough" means "I think about it, but as long as I don't do it, it's good enough", you'd better think again. I suppose that's why it is necessary to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Rom 12:2).

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Universal Draw

I'm sure you've seen this verse. It's popular, but it's most popular among those opposed to the doctrine of Election.
"I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself." He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die (John 12:32-33).
There, see? He draws all people to Himself. Next?

Of course, it's not that simple. There are problems here that need to be addressed.

The Problem of All

If Jesus means "I will draw all people to Myself", what about those that never hear, never know the name of Jesus, never have the slightest draw at all? If Jesus means "I will draw each and every human being to Myself", what about those who preceded Him? What about those who reject Him? If Jesus means, "I will draw all people to Myself", how can all people not come to Him? If He actually draws all people to Himself, why does He fail?

There is another textual problem with "all men". Jesus said in the prior verse, "Now is the judgment of this world" (John 12:31). If the world is being judged, but He knows that all men are drawn to Him, what's the point?

That's one problem.

The Problem of Draw

The suggestion is that all are drawn to Him, but not all come. This is logically a problem because it makes human will out to be superior to the drawing of God. But it is biblically a problem because of the earlier use of the term. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me" (universal negative) "unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Now, if this is to have any meaning at all, it would require "Not everyone is drawn." "No man can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him ... but, don't worry, everyone is drawn" makes the universal negative pointless. It would be like, "Well, we're ready to go on a vacation at the lake ... but ... wait ... no man can survive at the lake without oxygen!" "Oh, don't worry, there is oxygen at the lake." "Oh, whew! That was close!" No, it wasn't. If a statement ("I will draw all people to Myself") is universal, then its absence ("No man can come to Me unless the Father draws him") is meaningless. "No man can" refers to no one. "You know ... if a Blavitz fell on you, you'd die." "There's no such thing as a Blavitz." "Good thing, isn't it?" No, not a good thing; a meaningless thing.

The Commentaries

I looked at a lot of commentaries. Without exception, whether the commentator was Arminian or Calvinistic, they universally agreed that "all men" did not mean "each and every individual".

Barnes - "I will incline all kinds of men ..."
Clarke - "I shall attract and illuminate both Jews and Gentiles."
Chrysostom - "All" refers to "all nations, not only Jews".
Gill - "Not just those around Him, but the gathering of the elect"
Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown - all types.
Robertson's Word Pictures - "By 'all men' Jesus does not mean every individual man, ... but this is the way that Greeks can and will come to Christ, by the way of the Cross, the only way to the Father.

Comparison with Scripture

It's always good to compare Scripture with Scripture. What else do we read that is similar?
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him (John 1:6-7).

"I will make you as a light for the nations, that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth" (Isa 49:6).

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Rom 5:18).

"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone" (Heb 2:9).
We see the "all men" -- the universality -- repeated in these. Do they mean that each and every individual is involved? If so, I would suspect Look at the same concept from Revelation where it does not require "each and every individual".
"Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals, for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation" (Rev 5:9).
Compare also the context. What was going on when Jesus said it? "Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks" (John 12:20). It was these who were seeking Jesus. When the disciples told Him, He indicated that "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified" (John 12:23), a voice came from heaven confirming Christ (John 12:28), and Jesus said what He said in verse 32 in response to the reaction of the people who heard it. It could rightly be suggested, then, that Jesus was referencing "all types of people -- Jews and Gentiles" when He said "all".

One other textual note. The phrase "all men" or "all people" is not in the text. The text says πᾶς -- pas -- "all". The "men" or "people" is put there by implication, not by the Greek text. Thus, some translate it as "all things". In his commentary, Calvin says it "must be understood to refer to the children of God, who belong to His flock." "All of His own", then.

I would contend that interpreting Jesus's words "I will draw all people to Myself" to mean a universal draw of all people to Him would be difficult given 1) the problems with the logic, 2) the problems with Scripture, 3) the problems with the nature of God (who, apparently, can draw only ineffectually), and 4) the problems with the texts. It would seem, from the host of commentators that they don't believe that it can actually mean "each and every individual" either. Perhaps, comparing Scripture to Scripture, the verse to the context, and "rightly dividing the Word of Truth", we should be more careful about a blithe understanding of that verse.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

That Pesky Propitiation Problem

Among the Arminian types perhaps the biggest argument is with that last point -- Can you lose your salvation? Some Arminians say you can and some say you can't (in line, in this case, more with the Calvinist thinking). So you'll find "four-point Arminians" so to speak. Among the more Calvinist-leaning folk, perhaps the biggest argument is with that bloody "L" -- "Limited Atonement". The most common "four-point Calvinist" balks at that one point. What was the extent of the Atonement? Was it limited or not?

To be fair, there is actually wide agreement on the point. They just don't know they're agreeing. The Calvinist says, "Jesus said He laid His life down for His sheep[1], so we believe He laid His life down for His sheep." The Arminian will say, "No, He died once for all[2], so we believe His Atonement was for all." When pressed, however, they do not stand there exactly. They argue that the Atonement was only effective for those who come in faith[3]. So both believe that the Atonement was actually limited. If they did not agree on that, they would be Universalists. So there is, in almost everyone's perspective, some limitation on it.

It doesn't matter. Agreeing as we do that the Atonement is limited in some way, it seems that we're still not going to agree. One of the absolutely most popular "proofs" thrown up against the Calvinist belief that the Atonement was limited is 1 John 2:2.
He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
I'm sure I don't have to explain how that objection works. It is explicit, isn't it? "Not for ours only." Whose? "For those of the whole world." I mean, can it get any clearer than that? So they lay that egg in the laps of the Calvinists and wait to see what hatches. Surely they'll have to recant and join the ranks of the faithful, right?

Enter the pesky propitiation problem. It's much more than a clever alliteration. It's a problem. And not for Calvinists. You see, the text says "He is the propitiation for our sins." Understand that "propitiation" is the actual appeasement of wrath. It is the means by which God's righteous wrath against our sins can be set aside. It is Atonement. The Just Judge is right to damn us to eternal torment. Christ appeases that wrath. The problem is solved. But is it?

If you simply leave it as it lies, you're kind of stuck. If He is the propitiation for our sins and "the sins of the world" in the sense it is being suggested -- each and every sin of every person that has lived, lives now, or will live -- then what do we have? Well, surely the Calvinist is wrong; that's easy. Unfortunately, so is the Arminian. You see, if the sins of the whole world are propitiated, then God has no more wrath against sin and there can be no judgment. All that stuff about Hell and "the worm that never dies"[4] and that stuff? Nonsense. Doesn't happen. Everyone -- Cain, Pharaoh, the Amorites, the Pharisees, Pilate, Judas Iscariot, even that silly rich guy in the Lazarus story, Hitler, Stalin, even that gay guy down the street -- is going to heaven because all sin is propitiated.

"Oh, no," they will assure me, "it is only effective if you come to Christ in faith." And, of course, we would all agree with that ... except that this isn't what the text says. The text indicates that He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Not "He might be." Not that He potentially is the propitiation. Look, either He is or He isn't. If you're going to say He is, you're going to have to figure out how any sin could be un-propitiated.

The illustration is offered of the murderer on death row. The warden shows up and says, "Look, you may not believe this, but someone else has been put to death in your place and you're free to go." The prisoner is incredulous. "What? No! Can't be!" He refuses to leave the cell. He is still due the death penalty. You see, the debt was paid, but if he doesn't accept the payment, he'll still be put to death. The problem, of course, is that this would be unjust. If the penalty was paid in full and the warden said, "Well, I guess, if you won't accept the payment, we'll just have to carry out the sentence" and he did, the next occupant of that cell would be the warden. You can't have the payment made twice. To execute someone for a capital crime is justice. To execute someone who owes nothing is murder. If Jesus paid the bill for everyone, God hasn't a leg to stand on.

So, you see, you're kind of stuck here. If He is actually the propitiation for the sin of everyone ever -- if that is what the text means -- then you're going to have problems explaining how a just God can send anyone to Hell[5]. There is a lot of Scripture that will be piled up against you. If you're going to argue that He is potentially the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, then you're going to have to explain why it says what it says, because that's not what it says. You think this is a problem for Calvinists? Oh, no. It's yours, too.
[1] John 10:15

[2] Heb 10:10

[3] Interestingly, both sides can be heard to say, "The Atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient for some." As if they're disagreeing somehow.

[4] Mark 9:48

[5] Hint: I do not believe that's what is intended by the text. I believe it means "not only for ours" -- the readers of this epistle -- "but for all the sins of the whole world that are propitiated." That is, Jesus is the only propitiation. This allows that not all sin is propitiated. Unfortunately, it also removes this as proof of Unlimited Atonement. Of course, why people would be arguing for Unlimited Atonement isn't entirely clear to me ... since none of us believe in it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Problem of Demons

Ever hear of a succubus? Well, most sources would tell you it is a fabled female demon in folklore that seduces men in their dreams. Less popular (except, perhaps, as a rock band) would be the male counterpart, the incubus. One of these was fabled to have fathered Merlin the magician. Nasty things, really. Fortunately, they're fables, folklore, mythical. Actually, I met a man -- indeed, a pastor -- who told me they were real. He had seen them. These, along with a host of other demons like the demon of chocolate (yes, he mentioned that one specifically) were around causing lots of problems, especially for Christians. This pastor argued that it was possible, even fairly prevalent, for Christians to have a demon. Do you have a besetting sin? Likely a demon. We can deal with that. It's the writings of Neil Anderson, author of The Bondage Breaker. When I asked about demon possession, specifically of Christians, this pastor assured me, "I'm not saying that a demon can possess a Christian. I'm saying that a Christian can possess a demon." It's an "invitation thing", where a believer, perhaps unwittingly, invites a demon into his or her life. That succubus or incubus -- or, worse, the demon of chocolate -- or the like.

Let me just say that I find this line of thinking silly. At best. More likely dangerous.

What does the Bible tell us on the subject? We've all heard, "The devil made me do it." Did you know that the origin of the phrase is Geraldine Jones, a character from the '70's comedian Flip Wilson? And here we are admitting to a theology of a cross-dressing comedian to determine the source of our own sin. Now that is a problem. The Bible says, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death" (James 1:14-15). The Bible says the devil oppresses (Acts 10:38), tempts[1] (1 Thess 3:5), and accuses (Rev 12:10). He doesn't make you sin.

What does the Bible tell us about satanic abilities? He tests (as already indicated) and "seeks whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8), but is limited. We cannot be tempted (tried) beyond what God enables us to handle (1 Cor 10:13). In Job's case, God allowed Satan access, but limited access (Job 1:12; Job 2:6). He is powerful but controlled, dangerous but limited. And we are our own worst enemies.

Something else the Bible tells us on the subject. "We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him" (1 John 5:18). "Does not touch." There is an ultimate limit to demonic influence on those born of God. "Does not touch." Tempt, test, accuse, oppress ... yes, all of these. But in the final analysis, we are protected by our Father, freed by the Spirit, and kept by the Son. Demons are a bad thing worthy of care, but not fear. They may possess, but not Christians. And no amount of books on "Deliverance ministries" makes it so.
[1] Note that "tempt" in Scripture refers to being seduced to sin or, perhaps more often, being tried or tested. Slightly different than our current mode of understanding.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Camping with Dad

I never really realized how good I had it growing up. We weren't rich by any means. Dad worked for the county. Government workers are typically not among the wealthy. But we had food, clothing, and shelter. We weren't hurting. I didn't really appreciate that. (Appreciate: to assign value.)

One thing that struck me the other day was my father's penchant for vacations. He loved vacations. (Still does, in fact, well into his 80's ... and retired.) So we would go on camping trips. Tents, sleeping bags, fishing poles ... you get the idea. I remember us three kids stuffed in the back of a Volkswagen Beetle (my little brother stuffed behind the back seat) with gear on the roof and we'd go up to the Mammoth Lakes area of California, set up a campsite, and vacation. Good times. Once he took my brother and I and packed us in by horseback up into the Sierra Nevadas. We tented there and fished and then hiked out the ten miles home. He often enjoyed taking us two boys with him for a weekend excursion to Ensenada, Mexico, to go deep sea fishing. We saved money by sleeping in sleeping bags on the beach.

Of course, Mom wasn't exactly a tenting aficionado, but what she was was a godly woman who followed her husband's instructions and we did it. My father, though, was a good husband. He figured out that if he was going to please his wife and do his traveling, he'd have to come up with another approach.

I remember that first trip -- the summer of 1970 -- around the country for four weeks in his first motorhome. Now, I have to tell you, a young teenage boy traveling the country all summer is typically not very impressed. I was no different. I did enjoy those RV trips to Baja California where we brought a friend and stayed a week on remote sand dunes along the beach. Four years after that first big trip, we took a 6-week trip to Alaska. And I was definitely not pleased. A sour puss for the whole time, I actually thoroughly enjoyed the trip; I just wasn't going to admit it right then, especially not to myself.

Well, so it went. My father was a good dad who enjoyed traveling, fishing, vacations. He always seemed to enjoy himself. He never complained. I remember, on that backpack trip in the Sierras, my fishing reel exploded. So there I was, not too impressed with fishing anyway, holding the pole while my father, an avid fisherman, was trying to recover reel parts from the lake to reassemble it while my brother hauled in trout with only half of a worm. Dad didn't complain. When I caught my brother in the face with the two-hook bass lure, Dad calmly removed the hooks and didn't complain. When I snagged my fishing line on his pants, Dad didn't complain. He was always good to me.

I grew up fairly comfortable, well loved, and well taken care of. Good parents, good breeding, good education, and good times. And you know something? I didn't really appreciate it.

That's the way we are. God is so good to us. He gives us so much. He doesn't get mad when we throw tantrums or when things go wrong or He "doesn't get His way". He gives us more than we deserve and less than we deserve. More grace and less pain. For which we are typically and sadly ungrateful.

Well, I aim to be grateful. At least today.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


The debate over the Hobby Lobby thing hasn't much abated, even though the Supreme Court decision is already on the books. Just the other day a coworker was complaining to me about it. "I don't think a corporation should be allowed to have their religious beliefs affect their business." (Whatever you do, do not think about that statement because if you do, it will become a staggering concept.)

The loudest response to the whole thing was ridicule over the Hobby Lobby position. President Steve Green argued that allowing four contraceptives -- Plan B, Ella, and two particular IUDs -- would mandate that Hobby Lobby become abortion providers. And that was not a possibility. And the medical world exploded. "These things don't cause abortions!" they thundered. "They merely prevent pregnancy." And the perception, thanks largely to the media and to misinformation, became that Hobby Lobby (and others like them) were, in essence, pro-pregnancy. Not true, of course, but that was the sense of it.

Where does this confusion come from? Well, as it turns out, it comes precisely from the same place that many of the problems I highlight come from -- a failure to communicate. This side says "love" and that side says "love" and they're not using the same concept. This side defends "marriage" and that side defends "marriage" and the two ideas are not the same. I'm a Christian and he's a Christian and we are not of the same religion. In this case at hand, these are contraceptives, not abortifacients, because "they are not being used to terminate established pregnancies."

"Established pregnancies"? Yes, well, you see, it appears that "pregnant" is a variable term. In the Journal of the American Medical Association the term "pregnancy" is defined in terms of gestational periods and does not begin until implantation occurs. Prior to implantation of the fertilized egg, it is not an "established pregnancy". (It is, by implication, a pregnancy ... just not established.) On the other hand, most U.S. doctors believe pregnancy starts when the sperm fertilizes the egg. Go figure. So, while the rest of us wrestle over "What is marriage?" and "What is male or female?" and "What is Christian?" and "What is this thing called love?", they're trying to figure out "Just what is 'pregnant'?" And now you see the problem.

If "pregnant" means "an implanted egg" and the method in question simply prevents implantation, then it is not a termination of a pregnancy. True ... which is why we are not "pro-pregnancy" and why we aren't protesting "contraceptives" and why the whole world seems to be completely confused here.

The owners of Hobby Lobby -- all genuine Christians, in fact -- are pro-life. We aren't interested in defending pregnancy. That may be a Catholic concern, but not that of the Steve Green or the pro-life crowd. The question is not "When does pregnancy occur?" but "When does life occur?" and all that science and logic and Scripture tells us is that it occurs when the egg is fertilized. So when the FDA says that Plan B "works mainly by preventing ovulation", that's not an issue, and when it says, "It may also prevent fertilization of a released egg", that, too, isn't a problem for the pro-life view. But when the FDA says that it may prevent "attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus", we've just stepped into a pro-life question. You see, if we can define "abortion" as "the termination of a pregnancy" and "abortifacient" as "that which causes an abortion", we've bypassed the whole problem, right? Wrong.

This is why Hobby Lobby protested the four methods they protested. This has been the issue all along. Is it the right of the government to force the owners of a closely-held company to violate their religious principles and pay for murdering children? That is the question.

"But," I've already heard, "Plan B does not do that. It's an outdated warning. Plan B doesn't do that!" And, if that's true, I'm pretty sure that Hobby Lobby would be happy to return Plan B to the list. Of course, the other three will still remain on the list of "abortifacients". The claim is that they "prevent pregnancy" and, therefore, are not abortifacients, but this demands first that your position is pro-pregnancy, not pro-life. Because while it is true that they prevent pregnancy when pregnancy is defined as implantation, it is undeniable that Ella, the copper IUD, and the hormonal IUD do as a matter of course prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. "That's not an abortion," the medical community will tell us and you're free to go with that if you're of the opinion that "pregnant" means "implanted embryo" and "abortion" means "the termination of that implanted embryo". Of course, if you're pro-life, none of that matters, does it? A life is a life. But, I suppose, that term is up for debate as well.

This, by the way, is one of the reasons that I am not "anti-abortion". "Abortion" just obscures the issue. Life is the issue.

Just something to consider when you're listening to the debates about Hobby Lobby, religious freedom, and what constitutes an abortion.

I'd like you to keep in mind that there is an underlying concept in these complaints against Hobby Lobby and the entire question. The debate, you see, is largely on, "That's not abortion!" Do you understand what that means? That means that in their view you are only free to exercise your religious beliefs as long as they agree with your principles. "We've examined your position, found it wanting, and do not wish to allow you that freedom." That's where it is. You see, on the basis of the First Amendment, if Hobby Lobby's owners were Catholics opposed to all contraception as a matter of morality -- that requiring them to pay for it would be a sin for them -- then the question of whether or not it is a good position to take is irrelevant. The question is are they going to be allowed their First Amendment rights? The loudest view today in this country is "You can have your First Amendment rights ... pending our approval on the beliefs you'd like to follow." Now, that's a bit more difficult to handle.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Theology Proper

Theology isn't a pleasant field of thought these days. It's too narrow, too impractical, too stuffy. Oh, sure some of those PhD types might go there, but for the everyday types, it has little use. Of course, that's the perception. It's not the truth.

Theology is generically defined as the study of religion, but that's not quite accurate. From its roots, theology is most accurately the study of (logos) God (theos). To differentiate between the generic and the actual, they call it "Theology Proper", the analysis of the divine. And, as it turns out, every single human is a theologian. Every one of us has a view of what God is like. For the atheist, God is like nothing at all because He doesn't exist. For the polytheist, God is like a lot of different beings with different characteristics and functions. For the monotheist, God is a singular being, but from there His nature diverges. But no one has no opinion on the nature of God.

So, look, here's what I'm going to do for you. I'm going to give you a little hint that ought to aid you on your theological journey. I'm going to give you a basic rule of thumb that should guide you in your study of the nature of God and its natural consequent, the nature of religion. Here it is. Ready? Theology proper ought to begin with ... wait for it ... the nature of God. Yes, I know, revolutionary, but there it is.

Now, of course, that just sounds mindless. Of course a study of the nature of God ought to start with the nature of God. I mean, what else would it start with? Oddly enough, while the study of mathematics starts with mathematics and the study of history starts with history and the study of animals starts with animals, in almost no case does the study of God begin with God. I know, I know, you'll dispute that, but think about it.

In a psalm of Asaph he writes of the problem of sin. "You give your mouth free rein for evil and your tongue frames deceit" he says (among other things) (Psa 50:19-20). He concludes, "You thought that I was one like yourself" (Psa 50:21). Elsewhere we have to be reminded that "He is not a Man" (1 Sam 15:29). I mean, think about it! Isn't that obvious? You'd think so, but apparently it's not the case. And, if we're honest, each of us has the tendency to assign human characteristics to the Almighty. Maybe it's the ever-popular beard and white hair or, more likely, our own sense of what's right and wrong. Today's "God" is largely in favor of whatever we're in favor of and if you disagree, you just don't know God. What the Bible says is not particularly relevant. Because, well, we think He is just like us, and we measure Him starting with us.

So I say again, theology proper needs to start with God. We have, for instance, God's creation that declares His glory and handiwork (Psa 19:1). We have natural revelation seen in creation and in what He has revealed about Himself there (Rom 1:19-20). Beyond that, we have His written Word in which God explains Himself. Now, many Christians at this point are nodding and saying, "Yes, we're good with that." As it turns out, there are descriptions of the nature of God in the pages of Scripture that we're not good with. When it says, for instance, that Jesus spoke in parables so they wouldn't understand (Matt 13:10-11) or that God "has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them" (John 12:40), you're going to see some push back from Christians. Because that's not right ... at least not from a human perspective. The repeated biblical descriptions of a God who judges sin with eternal torment is not acceptable from a human perspective, and even people who call themselves Christians balk at it. When Paul explains that God "has mercy on whomever He wills and He hardens whomever He wills", the expected response is a complaint -- "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" (Rom 9:18-19). The correct response to this complaint from a theology that begins with God is "Who are you, O Man, to answer back to God?" (Rom 9:20).

You see, by nature -- sin nature -- we tend to start our theology with us. God is like us. God agrees with what we find good. God opposes what we oppose. He is a man, just like us. And that would be a theology improper. If you want a proper view of God and His nature, start with God and His nature. Start with what He tells us about Himself. Start with what can be seen in creation. Do not start with the nature of Man. Because God is not a man. And the only right way to understand God is by looking at God instead of Man. Judging God by Man's standards is not proper theology. Oh, and, by the way, if you still believe that theology is too impractical and too stuffy, you need to question exactly how important your god is to you. For those who love God, a study of the nature of God is a lifetime endeavor.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Comparative Religions

I took a course in public high school called "Comparative Religions" in which we were introduced to various religions and their beliefs. I didn't do well in that class because I had the audacity, on the final essay, to conclude that one religion was different than all the rest. But, hey, high school was a long time ago and things are a lot better now, right?

No, of course not. The popular view is the American one. Under the Constitution, all religions are treated equally. Therefore, all religions are equally valid. The popular view is that whole "blind men and the elephant" thing. They each experienced the elephant in different ways. This is proof that all religions are equally true. Indeed, many suggest that only in the embracing all religions can we come up with the proper sum.

The truth is that the world's religions do have a lot in common. I can't tell you how many times I've heard "All religions are basically the same." They say it because of the seemingly high amount of commonality. Almost all religions, for instance, are about a deity. Or deities. Almost all. Because there are a few without any god at all. Buddhism, Jainism, Humanism, and Materialism, for instance, all go without. But mostly there is a god or gods of some sort. Commonality. Most religions have a "hereafter" (except, of course, for Humanism and Materialism). Some take longer than others to get to. (A reincarnation system, for instance, takes a long time before you reincarnate to the "hereafter".) But a standard idea is that there is something beyond this life. Commonality. Most religions include the concept of a "soul". Something about Man that is spiritual. Beyond this existence. Some view that soul or spirit or whatever as also inherent to animal life. And a couple don't include anything beyond the present, physical world. But most agree on something like a soul. Commonality.

One of the singularly most common points between religions is the certainty that there is good and evil. All religions have a system of morality. Even Humanists and Materialists hold to this belief. And "Be good" is a common message. Whatever else we might conclude about religions of whatever stripe, they're all about morality.

Odd thing, though. Herein lies a key difference. While it is certainly true that all religions have a sense of "good and evil" and all religions express the need to "be good", they are almost all without a common perception of what "good" is. Oh, some share some of this and some share some of that, but none actually share a common standard of what is or isn't good. Worse, determining what any one group thinks of as "good" is very difficult. For Hindus, "good" is not eating cows. For most others, not so much. For Buddhists, ancestor worship is "good". For Christians, it's evil. And so it goes. While we all agree there is good and evil, we can't agree what that good and evil is or what measure of good and evil we must attain. For those religions with a hereafter, the message is "be good enough and you'll go to ... our good hereafter."[1]

On this point there is a singular divergence. All religions teach "be good", but Christianity alone separates "be good" from the hereafter. Christianity starts, in fact, with a primary message: "You can't be good enough." The proverbial bad news. The world's religions generally preach "Be good and you'll go to a better place" while Christianity alone teaches "The standard of good is beyond your ability to reach. You're due to be damned because you can't attain the standard ... which is perfect obedience." This is somewhat jarring, in fact. In contrast to the entire world's perspective of "I think I'm good enough" by comparing themselves to, say, someone like Hitler, the Bible says, "You are to be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48) followed by "The wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23). So while other religions are urging you to be better, Christianity is urging a different path.

Given the thundering bad news, we are left with a serious question. "If I can't be good enough to get to heaven, what's the point? What can I do?" The first answer is "Nothing", but it, fortunately, doesn't stop there. Paul's answer was, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). And that is the only possible answer in Christianity. Not works. Not effort. Not even choice. John wrote, "But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13). Not a birthright (as the Jews thought). Not by works (as most everyone else thinks). Not even by choice (as even a lot of Christians think). "But of God." Paul said, "So then it depends not on human will or exertion but on God who has mercy" (Rom 9:16). Radically different than any other religion. 1) You can't be good enough to make it to heaven. 2) Christ died for your sins and if you trust Him for that, God makes you His adopted child.

Now, it is unavoidable that Christianity also preaches morality. However, Christian morality is different at its basis. While the rest of the world's religions are working hard to be "good enough", mostly good enough to get to heaven, Christianity offers morality as a demonstration of an existing relationship with Christ. It is a result, not a cause. It is a necessary product of faith (James 2:14-17), the clear response of a grateful heart. We aren't moral in order to obtain a relationship with God, but because we have a relationship with God and wish to please Him. A completely different motivation.

Of course, I didn't get a good grade on that high school essay. I pointed out how world religions were alike and I pointed out how they differed. I ... compared religions. But the truth is that "All religions are equally valid" and "All religions are equally true" is a manifest falsehood. Can't be. Unless we are willing to admit "All religions are false and, by that measure, equally true", it is not possible for all religions to claim that their religion is true and the rest are not and still all be true. And when Christianity claims "Saved by grace through faith" where all other religions offer "saved by being good" while dancing around what "good" means, you can't say that they're all the same, especially on this key question. If all religions (essentially all) are about relating to the divine, you have to see that Christianity, whether true or false, is not the same. But, then, if God were to make a religion as opposed to Man making his own versions, you'd kind of expect that, wouldn't you?
[1] For those without a hereafter, "be good" has no object. Of course, for those without a deity, "be good" also has no basis.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Philos is not Eros

Someplace along the line we slipped a cog. We, collectively, as a society. It seems mostly the Westernized societies. Not all. We understand that it is possible to have friends and we understand that it is possible to have sex. We understand that love for pizza and love for mother and love for a spouse are not the same thing. All of this stuff is correct in our heads. But not in everyday consumption. Someplace along the line we somehow equated philos with eros[1] -- not the same thing.

Evidence the woman who wrote a book about the correlation between loving God and sex. (I can't find the link right now and it's a shame because any thinking Christian would think I was making that up. I'm not.) When she was taken to task about this stretch of a thought -- loving God is the ultimate sexual relationship -- she said, "Well, Jonathan Edwards thought it was true because he often wrote about 'intercourse with God'." You see, in today's highly sexualized society, "intercourse" can only mean one type of intercourse, and that's sexual. And "love" can only mean one kind of love, and that's sexual.

Evidence the current trend to assign "love" to "sex" in all sorts of bizarre connections. Charles Marsh has written a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that includes the implication that he was gay. Now, mind you, "Bonhoeffer was engaged to a woman at the time of his execution, observing that he had lived a full life even though he would die a virgin." But that doesn't matter, you see, because Bonhoeffer had a close male friend, so clearly he was gay. Bonhoeffer isn't alone in this. Other voices out there tell us that David and Jonathan were gay because the Bible clearly says they loved one another and Jesus was gay because He surrounded Himself with men that He loved and ... well, you see the trend. This line of thinking demands that "love" equals "sex".

The belief in our society that is not often voiced but is almost universally accepted is the firm conviction that life without sex is life unfulfilled. And love without sex is love unfulfilled. And, obviously, pizza without sex is ... well, let's not get silly. Because if we got that silly, we'd begin to see the nonsense of our modern thinking that sex is everything important. (If, indeed, sex is required for fulfillment, it would be strange, for instance, that Jesus spoke of "eunuchs" as a good thing (Matt 19:12).)

Then there is the entire missing of the point going on in today's world. This constant equation -- "love" = "sex" and "fulfillment" -- misses the distinction of "sex" and "love". In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis writes:
We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he “wants a woman.” Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).
A stroke of genius. How much of today's "sex" is a simply about "pleasure" and "personal fulfillment" rather than a physical expression of agape (limited by definition to one's spouse)? We're not looking for love. We're lusting. And we call it love. And it's only sex.

Or consider the latest figures on marriage. According to recent studies, half of today's 20-year-olds will never get married. So even though Beyonce is telling single women, "if you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it", marriage rates are at historic lows and "Today's young adults are on track to have the lowest rates of marriage by age 40 compared to any previous generation," according to this CNN article. The clear distinction here is "marriage = bad" ... "but that has no bearing on love and sex."

Another example. A friend told me about his teenage son's trip to the movies with some pals. They didn't sit together even though they were all friends and all went to the same movie. Why? Well, if you sit with someone of the same gender, someone might think you're gay. So they employed the "anti-gay seat" (his words) method where they made sure there was a seat between each of the guys. That's where we've come to. Male with male must mean homosexual. Especially if you're close to each other. Yeah, that's it. Proof! Because love for fellow man must mean sex.

I would think it would be obvious -- as obvious as the difference between loving your pizza, your mother, and your spouse -- but apparently very few are paying attention. So here it is: philos is not eros. It is entirely possible for a man to love a man without having or even thinking of having sex with him any more than anyone would consider having sex with their pizza. Love and sex are not intrinsically connected. Sex can be had without love. Love can be practiced without sex. We are commanded to love God, love our neighbors, and love our wives. These are all commands. They are not the same. Indeed, until you can figure out how you can love your wife (Eph 5:25) and remember that your body is not your own (1 Cor 7:4), you haven't got this "love" and "sex" thing figured out at all.
[1] Just on the off chance you're not clear, philos is the Greek word (the one found in Scripture) for brotherly love, for the love of friends, and eros is the Greek word (interestingly not found in Scripture) for sex, for erotic love. As distinct from agape and storge ... because the Greeks seemed to have a lot of words for the various types of love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Agreeing with the Enemy

I have heard a lot of debates lately between Calvinists and ... non-Calvinists. (Technically, like "Catholic" and "Protestant", you are one or the other. You either agree with Roman Catholicism or you protest them. You either agree with the particular five points in the Calvinist view or you do not. "Arminian" was simply defined as "We disagree with Calvin on these five points." If you disagree on them, that's "Arminian". But, hey, I get that we don't like to use those terms.) Something that has struck me listening to these dialogues has been the number of times that non-Calvinists have hurled accusations at Calvinists that, as it turns out, I agree with.

God doesn't force people to come to Him.

Being of the Reformed view, I agree with this statement. It is offered so often as a diatribe against my theology, and I just nod and agree. The notion is not that God drags some, kicking and screaming, into the Kingdom. Nor does He stand before some, pleading to get in, preventing them. The idea is that those whom God will save are given a heart of flesh in place of their heart of stone (Ezek 11:19), a new spirit (Ezek 36:26). From this new heart these people choose freely of their own will to come to Christ in faith and repentance. No force. No coercion. It is simply a removal of the part of Natural Man that blocks this option.

God doesn't program people to sin.

I've actually heard this very phrase in opposition to Reformed theology. I've actually agreed wholeheartedly. God does not program people to sin. Good! We're in agreement. Of course, they'll wag their finger and say, "Now you're being evasive! Don't you believe that God ordains all that comes to pass, even sin?" And I would have to agree with that. But is it necessary, in ordaining all that comes to pass, that God actively cause it? I believe He ordains all that comes to pass, but I don't think that requires in any sense a direct causal relationship to all that comes to pass.

God is not the author of sin.

It is argued that if God ordains all that comes to pass, including sin, then that makes God the author of sin. To which I would enthusiastically agree that God is not the author of sin. "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God,' for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one" (James 1:13). Agreed! But if God knows that you will sin tomorrow and if He has the ability to change that (Gen 20:6) and if He does not, then can it be truly said that He did not ordain it without having caused it? And, as such, wouldn't you still bear the responsibility for your sin even though God allowed it and even "meant it for good" (Gen 50:20)?

Humans have free will.

I find this one interesting. Interesting because I agree that humans have free will. And so we're in agreement, right? Except that the nature of this "free will" turns out to be in question. Is it "Libertarian" -- humans can do whatever they want (which, to me, is manifest nonsense)? If God knows all that will occur and knows it rightly, do humans (who will surely choose to do all that God knows they will choose to do) have free will? I say that a choice that is not coerced, even if it is foreknown and even predestined (without, remember, causing it) is still free since nothing outside of the chooser caused the choice. So I agree that humans have free will. (And I agree that the Bible teaches that we must choose Christ.)

I don't know. With all that agreement, perhaps "enemy" isn't a good term.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cause and Effect

Much of the debate about Election is about cause and effect. Reformed types even use the term "effectual cause" when claiming that God causes individuals to come to Him. The opposition says, "No, no, God doesn't cause it. He simply influences it." And they'll suggest that God draws or woos or urges or calls -- all things outside the person -- but that the person is the cause. But, oh, no, that is not what they say. Because now we've walked into a known problem.

You see, if I caused my own salvation, then I have something to boast about. And we all know that this cannot be the case. No one, then, will agree that I cause my own salvation. "It's a gift" they'll say and indicate that there is no room for boasting just because you received a gift.

I've used this illustration before, but it's worth repeating (primarily because it is likely forgotten or readers never heard it before). Imagine a town built at the base of a tall hill. At the top of the hill is a massive boulder. Thus, the town is called Boulder. (No, not Colorado. This is imaginary.) The boulder has never moved, but when geologists examine it they find that a single, small, key stone is wedged in at the bottom and keeps it in place. Interesting, but, well, okay. One day a couple of boys climb the hill as boys are wont to do and are playing around the boulder. One dares the other to grab that little stone, not actually believing that it would make any difference at all. So the dared one deftly snatches the little rock from its position and returns triumphantly. A minute later the boulder rolls down the hillside and crushes everything in its path, creating a swath of destruction. Now, the question. Who caused that boulder to roll down the hill? The town is certainly going to blame the kid. But, given the thinking of the non-Reformed, wouldn't it have to be God? I mean, those kids didn't put that boulder there. They didn't balance it precariously. They didn't wedge the stone in there. They didn't build the hillside or create gravity. No, no, God did 99.99% of the work here. All that kid did was one, little, tiny thing. He removed the stone. Of course, that one thing was the thing that changed the entire set of conditions -- from "town" to "crushed town". But if logic is to be consistent and we can see that God did 99.9% of the work here, shouldn't we exempt those boys from any responsibility?

Consider another illustration. "Pool party!!" I like this one, of course, living in the desert as I do. A fellow lives in the big house in the middle of his community. He loves his neighbors, so he has a brand new pool put into his backyard big enough to include everyone. He arranges the best possible pool party of all time. He goes door to door handing out flyers, meeting and greeting, inviting each and every person to come to his house for a pool party. Everything is paid for. Everything is provided. Just come! He is a little disappointed, then, when so many don't show up on the day of the party. So, who determined who would show up? Was it the fellow with the pool? Was it the guy in the big house who paid for everything and arranged for everything and invited everybody? Or was it the individuals in the community? Who made the final determination of who would get wet that day? The pool owner decreed that there would be a pool that would have people in it. Who decreed who would be in it?

Another Arizona example would be a firearm. I buy a gun. I load the weapon. I cock the weapon. I take the safety off the weapon. I put the weapon in your hands and point down the gun range at the target. You shoot the target. What determines whether that gun went off? I did all the work. All you did was point and pull. So where does the credit for shooting the target lie? Is it me who did all the work, or is it you who pulled the trigger? And to whom would the blame go if that weapon, prepared as it was by me, was used to do something illegal? You or me?

The constant claim by all sides is a sound, "We have nothing to boast about." No one will claim that our salvation is by our doing. It is "all of God." Right claim. I just can't figure out how, if I determine if I get saved and my choice determines that I am "in" or "out" it can be said that I and not God is the final determination.