Reading List On Molinism

About two or so years ago, I had created a worldcat list with reading material relating to Molinism. Some of the material counters it; some of it might touch on it accidentally as it were. I’ve been working through the list but with some recent additions, I think it’s at a point where I can share the contents for your own benefit. I’ve put them in publishing order but I personally started with the translation of Molina’s Concordia. Bold, as on other lists, means I’ve read it and crossed it off the list. Feel free to make suggestions. Also make sure to follow the reading list on worldcat since any updates are most likely to happen there than here.

Garrigou-Lagrange, R., & Rose, B. (1939). Predestination. St. Louis, Mo: B. Herder.

Plantinga, A. (1977). God, freedom, and evil. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Plantinga, A. (1982). The nature of necessity. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hasker, W. (1989). God, time, and knowledge. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Pinnock, C. H. (1994). The openness of God: A biblical challenge to the traditional understanding of God. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Craig, W. L. (2000). The only wise God: The compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Craig, W. L. (2000). The tensed theory of time: A critical examination. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

Craig, W. L. (2000). The tenseless theory of time: A critical examination. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic.

Craig, W. L. (2001). Time and eternity: Exploring God’s relationship to time. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books.

Beilby, J. K., Eddy, P. R., & Boyd, G. A. (2001). Divine foreknowledge: Four views. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Lewis, D. K. (2001). Counterfactuals. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Lewis, D. K. (2001). On the Plurality of Worlds. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publishers.

Ganssle, G. E., & Woodruff, D. M. (2002). God and time: Essays on the divine nature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Molina, L. ., & Freddoso, A. J. (2004). On divine foreknowledge: (part IV of the Concordia). Ithaca, N.Y. ;London: Cornell University Press.

Flint, T. P., Flint, Thomas P., Taji, Acram, Ph. D., & Reganold, John. (2006). Divine providence: The Molinist account. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

MacGregor, K. R. (2007). A Molinist-Anabaptist systematic theology. Lanham, Md: University Press of America.

Ware, B. A., Helm, P., Olson, R. E., & Sanders, J. (2008). Perspectives on the doctrine of God: 4 Views. Nashville, Tenn: B & H Academic.

Keathley, K. (2010). Salvation and sovereignty: A Molinist approach. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Academic.

Allen, D. L., & Lemke, S. (2010). Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism. Nashville, Tenn: B & H Academic.

Salza, J. (2010). Mystery of predestination: According to scripture, the church, and St. Thomas Aquinas. Charlotte, North Carolina: TAN Books.

Helseth, P. K., & Jowers, D. W. (2011). Four views on divine providence. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.

Kvanvig, J. L. (2011). The Blackwell companion to natural theology. Chichester, U.K: Wiley-Blackwell.

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How To Prepare For Change

Remember the beginning of T2? A dark road running into the distance; Sarah Connor’s voiceover speaking about the inevitable an impending future? The movie ends the same way but this time she’s talking about the openness of the future since things have changed. Instead of depression she’s speaking in hope.

Good thing Sarah Connor didn’t survive until Judgment Day. Sure things changed, but not by much. The machines still took over. Connor still wound up being a military leader. Her fears were realized, even if she wasn’t there to see it happen.

But she had hope because of change.

It was actually President Obama’s campaign promise. Things will be different. All we need is a change. Hope in change because we can make things happen. We can do it; yes we can.

Change comes in various forms. There’s fool’s gold change. Like Sarah Connor’s change. Or Obama’s. It has a spurious glitter that promises so much but then doesn’t deliver. When you’re caught in the doldrums and things are looking glum we turn to some nice shiny change for a solution. But then, the change happens, and we find out that things aren’t what we’d hoped they would be.

Last year I’ve had several friends destroy their marriages by running off with someone else. No one could convince them that they’ve done wrong. “I’m happy now,” is all they would say.

Then you have catastrophic change. When it just happens when things, you thought, were going good. It doesn’t have any of the shine; just this black hovering shadow ready to crush everything in its way.

I’m also friends with the spouses of these people. They would each say that things were going fine and then suddenly this change happened.

Indeed, this last year I was happily working from home in the place of my dreams and things changed. My house is now sold. I live in a smaller place, away from all but my immediate family and in a state that I never planned to be in. I find myself dreading and asking, just like these other people, “what other change should I expect?”

Therein lies two extremes: either hoping for change or dreading it. And being humans who have no access to omniscience, we find ourselves potentially tossed in a sea of uncertainty.

But we can’t properly be happy in that state. Happiness winds up being this tenuous balancing act which is tipped by the merest breeze. What we need is a sort of foundational fulcrum of happiness—something we can bank on even in the midst of change. Something to ground ourselves in which supersedes change and properly satisfies our deepest needs of being happy, of being safe, of being confident, and of feeling success.

I think that would be the historical revelation of God in His Son: in his life, death, burial and resurrection. The unchanging God took on change so as to identify with those who suffer shipwreck within the waves of change. The unchanging God bore the marks of that change and with those stripes those who trust in Him are satisfied and properly happy.

But we’re so finite. So blind. And we find that, even now, we hope and fear change. We’re not perfect. We fail. We’re not what we will be. So although I can speak confidently about my foundational fulcrum I can also acknowledge the reality of my own fears and the shedding of my friends’ tears.

We wind up having to constantly redound back to our hope as revealed in the Gospel. It’s in the Gospel where we find ourselves as properly conquering. Doesn’t matter what storms may come. Nothing (spouses leaving, children dying, jobs changing, cars breaking, wars, demons, life, death—nothing) will separate us from God’s love (Romans 8).

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Infographic on 1 Corinthians 2:2

I enjoy making graphics and every now and then I have some sort of chart or graphic that makes sense to me, though rarely I share them. One of my favorites is the one on Psalm 110. Here’s one I had made on 1 Cor 2:2 but without highlighting other verse connections. I should probably go back and do that. I’ve included two: one with the intro part of the verse and one which focuses on what Paul might have meant by Jesus Christ and Him Crucified and how that really isn’t a small thing (in other words, it’s not Nothing vs. A Little Something; It’s Nothing–the Wisdom of the World–versus A Whole Lot of Something Encapsulated in Three Words).

Click on the images for biggie sized versions.

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The Gospel In Songs

We all like music. The most tone-deaf of us enjoy music. You can sometimes hear them, in the shower or in their car, dissonantly barking out a tune. We might not like a particular style (like rap or rock) but we all seem to enjoy music.

You know, I think that it might be something built into people. We take what moves us emotionally, or even just what is important, and put it into song. Knowing the truth of the alphabet is important: we put it into song. Our country is pretty important: we put that it into song. I really love my wife, my kids and my dog and have dreams of a mini-van: I better make a song. And if we want to get really serious, we sing about ideals which we cherish: like freedom, hope, goodness or love. Ooh: good songs. We sing what we believe in. What we think is important. What we hope for.

Animals just don’t do this.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I know we have other songs. Silly things like “Let’s Do the Twist” or “Can You Mash Potato”. But I think all that does is bring out the problem.

Many of our songs suffer from a fatal flaw which, I think, points to our main problem. The Twist isn’t only fun, it’s funny—remember when people actually did the Twist? Not anymore. Singing about my dead minivan or my last dog is sad but—hey, you don’t know them.

In fact, don’t we sing national anthems with an unstated concern in the back of our minds? Something we just don’t say aloud? We know that there have been other countries, and other anthems, that are no longer sung since those countries are long gone. No one sings the national anthem of ancient Assyria, anymore. Can this happen to our country?

All our music, we realize, falls short in what it praises. What is the praise of love if those meant to be loved are gone? What is the point of singing about Jane, if Jane loves someone else? What is the purpose of singing about a dance move if dances come and go?

Scripture says that God has placed eternity in the hearts of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11) but with our main problem, we have a relative sense of the sheer abruptness of life. We know that relationships break. Nations fail. Life ends. And what we sing about just fades into the past.

Our songs must fail. They ground themselves on what fades away. We’re people who mess up, who purposefully do wrong, who do things that ultimately don’t stand in a world that is always changing, and who add insult to injury by praising things that aren’t permanent.

Relationships fail for tons of reasons often bound in selfishness. Nations burn in war and poverty. Lives end in ruin. Scripture tells us that everyone has sinned; everyone has messed up, and has fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) and that the payback for sin is death (Rom 6:23) —a life that ends—and that one day, the world will change drastically. We mess up, we fall short, and the temporariness of it all reflects that reality.

And yet our songs keep striving and hoping without the right focus. They want to reach outward and hold onto love. They want to sing of countries that really stand as a bulwark for something. They want to sing about something that you can bank on, forever.

Enter God.

God, unlike us, is perfect. He is great. He is awesome. He doesn’t change. His love never fails. He’s forever constant.  God is the one subject that can rightly ground all songs. You can’t sing about that time when God broke down. You can’t sing about that time that God failed. You can’t even sing about that time when God once, upon a time, loved you.

So you’ll find in Scripture that songs pointt to one who is always there, who always loves, who can never be conquered. Large swathes of scripture devoted to singing about, and to, God. The Scriptures say that the stars themselves sing out the glory of God (Psalm 19). As Christ entered a city, the people had to sing out praising Him—and if they didn’t, the rocks would (Luke 19:28-40).

Then, in Revelation 5 we hear a new song.

“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.”


“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.”


“To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”  (Rev 5:9–13).

A Song, rightly grounded in God, sung to a lamb who was killed. And yet lives.

Songs like this can only be sung by those who have bent the knee to him alone who is rightly found song-worthy. Every single tune, every single song, every single whistle falls short and screams for a need to be permanent—but the songs that are sung to Him are the only songs that are grounded in unchanging truth and unfailing love.

You can’t properly sing songs like this without trusting that He is in fact Lord, that He in fact reigns, that He really died, that He in fact bled for you, that one day you will bow to Him in his very presence. Yet some of us sing along without really believing. These songs point outward at a reality that demands to be wrestled with; demands allegiance to the one has died, gave himself for you, and has risen again victoriously—according to the Scriptures— to receive all glory, honor, power and praise.

So what will you do with this? Will you continue on, humming along with songs you don’t really believe, or will you dare to wrestle with the reality on which these songs are permanently grounded: the second person of the Godhead, the Lord Jesus Christ? Trust is rightly placed in Him. Hope is rightly placed in Him. Acclamation is rightly heaped on him. And songs are rightly sung to him.

But can you rightly sing to him? Do you really trust him and his work? Do you really hope in what he did on a cross when he died and when he rose again? Can you really sing out that “Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS” (Rev 19:1-2) while crying out “Jesus is Lord God who died and bosily rose again”?

Can you?

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Holy Saturday Litury of Basil The Great

Some thoughts from our brothers and sisters in the Eastern Church. Not everything is right and I don’t approve certain practices but the imagery is pretty nice when you consider it as a picture.

Rejoice, you heavens, sound the trumpet, you foundations of the earth, shout aloud your joy, you mountains; for see, Emmanuel has nailed our sins to the Cross, and he that gives life has slain death and raised up Adam, for he loves mankind.

( From the morning watch until night, from the morning watch: let Israel hope in the Lord.)

Today Hell groans and cries, ‘It were better for me had I not accepted the one born of Mary, for he has come upon me and destroyed my might. He has smashed the gates of brass. Souls which before I held, he, being God, has raised’. Glory, O Lord, to your Cross and to your Resurrection!

( For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him plentiful redemption: and he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. )

Today Hell groans and cries, ‘It were better for me had I not accepted the one born of Mary, for he has come upon me and destroyed my might. He has smashed the gates of brass. Souls which before I held, he, being God, has raised’. Glory, O Lord, to your Cross and to your Resurrection!

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An Honest Atonement That Worked

Just like how my faith was rescued by the resurrection of the Son of God, my theology was generally rescued by Christ’s crucifixion. But to see how that works, I have to give some general preliminaries of what others say. I’m not going into the detail of any of the systems. I’m just touching on them because these are where my personal questions arose, where they collided with the text, and where I had to leave those ideas. Their explanations of key texts made me nervous.

So They Say
Calvinists say that God’s mission was to glorify himself and to do that he would bring in many sons to glory. He prepared vessels of mercy beforehand to show mercy to and the rest he passed over (or elected to make reprobate: there’s some discussion on that point). But to rescue these many sons there must be the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. Therefore Christ was sent to pay for their sins—not for anyone else’s. His sacrifice was enough to rescue all but it was particularly applied to those that were chosen: the elect.  The Atonement, therefore, secured the redemption and salvation of the elect.

Arminians say that God sent his Son to die to make a way possible for any who believed: redemption is obtained but salvation isn’t secured for anyone unless they believe and keep believing. So it wasn’t a pre-chosen group that was being atoned for, it was a category called “Those Who Believe”.  That group winds up being known, but in no sense was the crucifixion particularly for a group—even if in effect it is solely for that group.

Others have different explanations. Ockhamists say that Christs death was for all, redeeming the world unto Himself, but that his love results in an effectual call that draws those who will be saved. The Atonement, therefore, is the love of God reaching outwards. Molinists say that Christ’s work of redemption is for all, making an actual payment for all, but applied only to those who believe.

Pelagians say that Christ’s death is a necessary example that was accomplished so that humans could break out of the cycle of damnation and sin that they were part of. Atonement was helpful but not necessary. Semi-Pelagians might say that Christ’s death was effectively the extended hand of God that was being reached for by those who were reaching out to God. They couldn’t save themselves so he supplied a solution in the atoning work of Christ. Now if they believe they get helped.

Universalists say that Christ’s death was accomplished to save all by paying for the sins of all. No one is ultimately damned. Of course, Universalists split up how this is accomplished (either all are elect and are irresistibly drawn or all eventually willfully come to Christ, even if some spend time in separation).

What Sayeth The Scriptures?
The Atonement is impossible to be accomplished solely by humans (Ps 49:7–8). In the Old Testament, atonement worked when the shed blood was applied (Lev 4:20; 16; 17:11). It is for those who apply it (John 6:51) which automatically denies something to those who don’t take it and yet it is not merited (Tit 3:5). It winds up with a purchase of people from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev 5:9) So, the atonement definitely worked.

The Scriptures tell us that Christ’s atoning work would provide salvation for many (Is 53:10–11; Matt 20:28; Eph 1:7; 1 Pet 2:24-25) which includes us (1 Jo 4:10), those who have faith (Rom 3:24-26), people (Heb 2:17), the sheep (John 10:11, 17-18), the ungodly (Romans 5:6-21), sinners (2 Cor 5:18-20) the unjust (1 Pet 3:18), the heretic (2 Peter 2:1) and everyone (1 Tim 4:10) of the entire world (John 1:29; 4:42; 1 John 2:2). This is much broader than the Elect, something 1 John 2:2 outright denies.

Some Calvinists have been quick to point out that the many is the Church, the whole World is all who are being saved, and All are All Those Who Believe. They redefine the terms to suit their theology. Scripture is the reason why other Calvinists consider themselves Four, instead of Five, Pointers.

If they consider it problematic, why shouldn’t I? Say the Five Pointers, like Sproul or Packer: those who are Four Pointers have misunderstood one of the other points. That is dishonest. The problem is with the doctrine of a particular atonement not aligning with Scripture, it is not with getting one’s theological ducks lined up to quack in harmony.

This entire thing of Particular Redemption doesn’t jive with Scripture which teaches that the extent of the redemption as total: of the entire world (John 3:15-17), those who were under law (which is everyone: Gal 4:4-5), indeed all things (Col 1:20-22). Or with the call to believe being offered to all (Acts 2:21; Rom 10:13; Rev 22:17) The Atonement’s scope in Scripture is no less than universal because it is easier to explain the limited passages in light of the universal passages (cf. Gal 2:20. No one thinks Christ died only for Paul).

And at this point Calvinists raise the question: well, if everyone is atoned for then everyone is saved? Universalists say this is true. But Scripture speaks quite emphatically about people not being saved, going to hell, and facing judgment.

Indeed, this idea of a universal atonement resulting in universal salvation is only accurate if the interpretation of Christ’s work on the cross is specifically tied together to election and salvation via special pleading. The idea comes piggybacked on the doctrine of election which weaves into the tapestry but stands contrary to Scripture.  Calvinists asks “If Christ died for all, does that necessarily mean all are saved?” Universalists are quick to point out that this is the case and cite that Christ’s dead is to draw all men to Himself (John 12:32) and those universal passages add that extra weight while reminding us of Exodus 11 and the Children of Israel. The blood of the lamb covered everyone in the house but those who didn’t apply the blood of the lamb would face death.  This is further substantiated by salvation being consistently withheld from the rebellious (Jos 22:22), the unbelievers (Mk 16:16; Lu 8:12; Jn 3:36; 2 Th 2:10; Re 21:8) and the wicked (Ps 119:155) and only applicable to those who believe (Romans 10)

If the atonement is enough for all, why not all? If the atonement is specifically for the elect, how is it right to charge the non-elect for rejecting the Atonement? Doesn’t this make the appeal to believe the cross work of Christ fundamentally dishonest? If the atonement is an empty category and the mission is to save people, then how is this atonement that works? If this atoning work was an example, then what good is it? Why couldn’t it have been something else?

But then deeper Biblical and Theological questions arise: what’s the point of the cross work of Christ? Maybe something else is going on with the atonement that doesn’t necessitate purchasing only specific individuals for salvation? I mean, Hebrews 2 says that the death on the cross was the means for Jesus being crowned with glory and honor as a second Adam—the head of a new human race. It says he tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9) for a reason: what is that reason?  It was through this death that he is given authority (Col 3) and power (Rom 1:2; 1 Cor 15:55) over all creation. So why make it a main concern to be about saving the Elect? Indeed, the explicit verse we have of God saving an individual (Gal 2:20), none of us take to mean that only that individual was atoned for…so why limit on a broader circle that doesn’t consist of the totality explicated in Scripture?

Did God have to save humanity? Arminians and Calvinists strike me as having to say it was necessary; Arminians by necessity of foreknowledge and Calvinists by necessity of foreordination and God’s glory. Indeed, some Calvinists make it seem as if all this adds to God’s glory—which is crazy. God doesn’t need us.  I think the Hebrews passage and Phillipians 2, 1 Corinthians 15, Romans 5, Acts 2 and Acts 13 shows that he only had to save one human: Christ Jesus. He vindicated Him by raising Him from the dead but he didn’t have to save anyone else. He saved him by giving him unending life—he doesn’t need to give him kids. But, he also gives all things into his hands. All creation, all people, all things, including those who are God the Fathers—they all belong to Christ. As the head of Humanity 2.0 he can do what He wants with them.

And Hebrews 2 it says that Christ can stand with those who are flesh and blood and call them brothers before God. Not everyone. The ones who are partakers of holiness. The ones who are being made perfect. It seems to me that the Atonement actually works in what it was sent to do. It makes all redeemable and then comes up with a condition for that redemption: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. If this wasn’t the case, wouldn’t it make every call in Scripture to repent and believe a magical and empty appeal? Plus, there’s nothing important about this specific condition except the fact that God demands it. Couldn’t it have been any other condition?  It could have been any other condition like some impossible law abiding? Why would God stipulate this arbitrary and silly thing? So that he can count a silly and arbitrary thing as righteousness based on his own grace, yes, and doesn’t that make more sense than some magic words that do nothing but activate a magical foreign faith made available by a magical work on a cross?

Doesn’t  Christ’s death work for a very different reason than what Calvinists and Arminians say? Doesn’t it say that all are purchased and then the requirement for application is stipulated as belief? And then, don’t the Scriptures repeatedly show people given a chance to respond in their own situation? And isn’t it so, that in every situation, the Lord is free to do what he wants with them? Isn’t the fact that He opts to do what He promises ultimately up to Him and not up to us at all?

Too many questions that are easier explained by Scriptural answers: Limited Atonement, no matter what it is called, winds up being rejected. It must be. It is a philosophical solution (nothing wrong with that) to a Biblical problem (nothing wrong with that either) which is already explained in the text (this is the real problem) and it is explained in this way: the atonement, Christ dying for all, is effective for all; redemptive of every single individual, but is only applicable when appropriated by faith.  Just as God says: the just shall survive by trusting God to save.

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Questioning Salvation

Narcissism. The web (a blog) is all about Me. Who cares about what I say? Who cares if I’ve gotten to a point with soteriology (that is the study of salvation) where I might tentatively define myself by a label again? No one cares. But I post it anyway. I’ve often said that I write for myself and you should feel free to read over my shoulder. So this is going to be more stream of consciousness than my usual writing.

Years ago, when I first became a believer and actually started to read Scriptures, I thought that everything that happened, everything that occurred, was predetermined and ultimately the cause for everything happening. Everything was inevitable and outside of anything to do with me. I very much believed that if I sinned, it was preordained; if I did good, it was preordained; If I preached, it was preordained; if I didn’t preach it was preordained.  I was, quite literally, a fatalist.

It was a depressing place to be even if I only knew that in retrospect.

Eventually I rejected that and became something closer to a Calvinist, though a slightly mixed bag one. I was convinced that the only reason I believed was because God decided to prepare me beforehand as a vessel of mercy. I saw the Fall as something God preordained and used as a means to ensure that the elect are saved and the damned weren’t. I would speak to people as if God’s genuine grace was being offered to all but I never knew if it was being offered to this or that person. I thought that a sinner was dead in his sins, unable to respond to God without God’s specific calling of them.  I thought that if you continue believing (especially before passing away), then you were always one of the elect; if not, you weren’t. I felt dishonest when I said things like “God loves you.” And I started, in my mind, to mean “You, plural.”

Eventually I rejected that as well because I had too many Biblical questions. Mostly from the book of Romans; always from context of passages. I found myself unable to make excuses for passages or embarrassed when I was redefining things to fit into what I believed. At that point I stopped thinking about salvation and just let it be: it was beyond me, just preach the Gospel. Stick to the text.

Years after, I was handed books: Saved Without A Doubt by Macarthur; Chosen by God by Sproul; Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace and others. I was told that these books would reinvent the way I thought about God and my position before him. They would open my eyes to the Awesomeness of God. Here were people that thought things through!

The old questions came back. This time with a vengeance. I was reading my Scriptures at the same time and I made a point of studying Romans with several commentaries close at hand. I read through systematic theologies that pointed to the necessity of believing in Calvinism. I was nervous. I was seeing things in Scripture that was completely contrary to what these guys kept inserting into their books but who am I? I don’t know Greek. I never went to seminary. Who am I?

I examined the footnotes and read the books these people were responding to. Geisler. Robert Shank. The list grew. I’ve found myself reading the writings of Van Til, Warfield, occasionally Bavinck, Luther, Edwards, Arminius, Ockham, Modern day Thomists like Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Roger Olson, the writings of Augustine and the Early Church, the work of William Lane Craig, Alvin Plantinga, the quotes of Pelagius and recently the works of Thomas Oden and also Luis De Molina. These books aren’t even the full range of the things I’ve read on the topic. All of these people using Scripture. All of them working out a theology from the text and trying to make sense of something they almost all call inscrutable.

This all repeatedly sent me back to the text of Scripture. Questions were raised in light of these teachers. I am firmly not a Calvinist, I know that. But I also don’t think I’m an Arminian though I’ve been called that. Maybe I am. Like I said, I’ve tended to avoid the labels.

I’m not going to bother unraveling or examining the systems. Calvinism isn’t really TULIP and you can’t really address it in five easy to contain posts. Plus, back in the day I had a guest poster who did that already. But even so, Calvinism is a tapestry whereby each of its points runs through the entire thing. Arminianism likewise contains many ins and outs and one might want to differentiate between Classical Arminianism, Wesleyism, Finneyism and modern day Arminianism. And how can one even touch on Pelagianism, Thomism, Molinism and so on? So these series of posts are questions, raised by (1) Scripture, (2) reason and philosophy and sometimes (3) Church History that have brought me to somewhere else.

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Christ Didn’t Die For All: He Died For Paul

It is patently obvious that we have gotten the atonement wrong this whole time. We keep saying things like Christ died for all but the fact is that this is completely unscriptural and dangerous. Scripture is clear about the extent of the atonement: one man.

Note that Paul explicitly points out the particularity of the atonement (Gal 2:20):

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Now, after thousands of years of Church History (in this post-enlightenment era influenced by the individualism of people like Schleiermacher) we wind up getting this exceedingly unbiblical idea that Christ died for Me since I am part of the world. But that’s just wrongheaded. The fact is that Christ died for one man alone and that was Paul.

Now, I can hear the responses like John saying that Christ gave himself as a propitiation for us and the entire world—yes, I hear the simple proof texting already. But in context, John is referring to several things. Propitiation is the sating of God’s wrath in regard to a specific problem. That specific problem is made evident by understanding that John was Jewish and the Us being mentioned is Israel. The term “the whole world” then refers to breaking the boundary of Israel and expanding the proclamation of the Gospel (that it is for one person) to the entire wicked system espoused by the Gentiles.

At this point the proof-texters will point out that how can Paul be both an Israelite and a Gentile—I admit, there is a fair amount of tension and mystery here but we can’t throw out other parts of Scripture just because a doctrine isn’t palatable!

First, note what Paul outright says in Romans 9:6—it’s not like all Israel is Israel! This is an important point in his entire treatise. He argues that Israel was hardened but only a remnant was saved—who are the elect, who have been covered by the definite atoning work of Christ. He then makes this important statement in Rom 11:1: I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. You see, Paul knew that the rest of Israel was not saved because God chose that they were not to be saved. His wishing is hypothetical (I wish I could be cut off and accursed for them) but he knew that was an impossibility. Christ’s death was sufficient for all but definitely applied to only one: Paul, who was chosen before he was born (Gal 1:15).

Secondly, note that Paul’s Israeliteness was able to be subsumed in Gentile-ness. After all, Gentiles (Pharaoh) and Israel (Jews) were both of the same lump of clay. In that same way, Paul argues that he became a Jew for the Jews and a Gentile for the Gentiles—he became all things to all men so that he might save a few. Of course, he knew that they wouldn’t be saved (just like he knew the rest of Israel wouldn’t be saved) but he was speaking hypothetically because his mission was to preach the good news that he was saved!

Of course, the proof-texters will point out passages like John 3:16 but in all honesty, this has nothing to do with the atoning work of Christ with every individual. The way some people read it is that God loved everyone in this way: that he gave his son to die for them—but that’s just wrong. Calvinists do better by offering that the World there is limited to all believers. And that is true in some cases (for example, Romans 5 is referring to the Many and All but it is in fact speaking about Paul who is a representative of every nation, tongue or tribe by his malleability in the proclamation and the fact that he speaks more tongues than any (1 Cor 14:18).

The fact is that John 3:16 supports my point. The passage is saying that God loved the Antithetical System of Sin which persists under the heading of World (remember, in 1 John he says that the World and Satan are enemies!). As God is light and good the World has the qualities of being dark and sinful. The fact is that Christ Himself says that men loved darkness rather than light so God just left them in their situation while the Elect One (Paul) was Chosen. Indeed, Paul underscores this point when he says he is the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15)!

Yes, I know there are some tensions and mystery since Paul uses sinners plural or the fact that Peter says that Christ purchased the reprobate false teachers (2 Pet 2:1) or places where Christ mentions many members in one body (and frankly, he’s just speaking about all of the parts of his body and the way people confess Christ as Lord with no hope of being saved) but that’s just the nature of God: he’s above our understanding and some of these things are hard to understand. One thing we can’t do is expand the boundaries of the atonement to cover everyone—even in the Church—because that will deny the particularity of the atonement (that it was for Paul), overturn total depravity and unconditional election, and ultimately prove that sinful man just wants to rebel.

So prayerfully, consider this an invitation to Paulinism whereby all of us hear the message, understand the message, believe in some sense, can hope to be saved, but really are rejecting God in our rebellious sinful nature because the truth is Christ died for Paul. And, if you’re going to complain, realize that this questioning came up to Paul and his response was “who art thou o’ man to respond to God?” If he chose one lump (the entire world) for dishonor and another lump (Paul) for glory, who has the right to question the Potter?

Not I. I humbly, prayerfully, acknowledge my worthlessness and God’s right to send Christ to die only for Paul.


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Teaching Children The Gospel and Moral Responsibility

I have several posts about teaching children doctrine (here about the image of God and here about the meaning of the mistreatment of God’s image and here some messages). Each example is used to give the fundamental Biblical and theological point without all the extra stuff that you or I might believe–by that I mean interpretative conclusions that have very little bearing on the fundamental truth of the Doctrine.

Anyway, I wanted to post about something that came up in Summer Camp last year which doesn’t only apply to Summer Camp.

First some context: this is a camp that has children from eight to fifteen (?) as campers and Junior Counselors In Training (JCITS) starting at around seventeen (sixteen?). So it’s a pretty broad range of kids–all boys. In an effort at hitting all the kids with some straight up Biblical teaching, the directors have decided to have several teaching sessions that are comprised of the entire group. So you’ll have a teaching session in the morning, one in the evening, and some days another in the afternoon focused on how to study or something like that.

BUT. Even with this context, this is not the first time I’ve witnessed the following problem.

The Problem:
After reading the context, at least some of the problems might be obvious to the reader but I want to make it clear what each individual teacher is concerned about: that the older saved Christian boys live moral lives and that those who aren’t believers are saved. So each teacher is concerned enough to make sure the Gospel is in each lesson coupled with a call for moral living. It’s a proper concern.

The first problem, the one I think most would pick up on, is that understanding range is too broad. You can’t possibly warn the fifteen year olds with their moral activity without exposing the young with unnecessary information; and it is exceedingly difficult to speak to the young in such a way that the teens will tune in, sift the points, and apply to themselves.

The second problem is that most of the teachers were not ready. There were maybe two (and not even the main speaker) who had a history of dealing with a broad age range.

The third problem is the teachers’ understanding of what the Gospel is accomplishing. People usually have a habit of divide these two teaching targets (pre-Gospel and post-Gospel) because they rightly know that there is a difference but incorrectly assume the difference is one between Salvation and Sanctification that must be dealt with differently. These teachers generally did the same.

Let me give you an example to make it clear. At one of the sessions, one of the preachers was speaking about the necessity of believing Christ and what He did and confessing Him as savior and being at peac with God. Further down the talk, the teacher quoted 1 Corinthians 15:33 about the necessity of having the right friends. Then he did something horrifying: he pointed out what happens if we have the wrong friends that we turn to God and are rejecting him and his ways we have no more peace.

Now mind you, in the speaker’s mind he had clearly delineated salvation (believing the Gospel) and sanctification (the daily walk) and he was no longer talking about salvation (you must believe to get peace) but requesting believers to keep trusting Christ in their daily behavior else the relationship is strained (lacking peace). My problem is not so much with the theology (though, yes, I have a problem with it) but with the connection of thought that makes this lesson necessary and thus throws the non-Christianized else into a tailspin.

One of my campers wondered if being friends with people who aren’t Christians would make you not go to heaven.  Mind you, my campers were nine and ten so the question likely passed in and out of their mind even though I quickly addressed it to the entire cabin.

The Solution:
On the practical level to the first problem, I think that the age groups need to be divided. Maybe eight to eleven year olds go in one building and the rest go into the other. This way you can really speak at their level and not be worried about missing part of the target audience

As to the second problem, effectively speaking to a mixed crowd is something that takes many long hours of dealing with that problem under guidance and shouldn’t be relegated to a week (or two if you’re lucky) in a camp where kids might come through once. For young kids, get an older experienced guy to teach them. For the teens, the younger guys are fine. The exception is if these younger teachers have been working, under guidance, with kids. I frankly don’t understand why it’s all the rage to get hip-young teachers for little kids when what little kids need (and want, though they don’t say it) is an older, confident, knowledgeable adult.

And the solution to the third problem is this: Preach the Gospel! Stop trying to preach about getting the right friends or the importance of bible study or the need to fight the world. Look, those things are important but you have one week so why waste an hour on them when the Gospel is infinitely more important.

But furthermore, the Gospel is the solution. Clever solutions about “Life after we’re saved” are wrongheaded.  The Gospel is not something that we must get beyond to figure out what we must do now in this time After The Gospel. The Gospel is not merely the door to salvation, it is the fundamental aspect of our theology. Christ, demanding moral living, tells his disciples to crucify their own lives daily or to take up their cross and follow him to Calvary. Paul, speaking about the necessity to stop sin in our members reminds believers that they have died in Christ and have risen again to walk in newness of life. This is based on a Christian-life long theology that Paul (and anyone who believes) has been crucified in Christ and yet lives: therefore it is Christ living in me. When noting the moral problems in a Church at Corinth, Paul doesn’t help them out by offering moral platitudes: it is a constant call to return to the Gospel. Get the leaven out of your house because we’re living in a perpetual feast of Unleavened Bread! Don’t eat meats offered to idols because we are partakes of the Body of Christ! Don’t divorce because we’ve been called and saved where we are! Don’t’ divide because we have trusted God’s Gospel of Stupidity which empties our wisdom.

Indeed, that bit where Paul speaks about friends is a sidebar after he said something stupid: if Christ hasn’t been resurrected (which is fundamental to the Gospel) then we might as well eat and drink because tomorrow we die. Then he quickly jumps in: don’t listen to that stupidity–and quotes a platitude in passing to slap some sense into these silly ADULTS.

Children can get the Gospel. They get it by the droves. What they also need to get is what the Gospel means to them. That although they are kids, they are children of a new family that looks like Christ.

Teens can get the Gospel too. That although they are teens, they can actually look at God and say DAD! That although they struggle from day to day, the ruler of this world has been robbed of his power. That Christ reigns, right now, seated in heavenly places and they are seated with him–and therefore they must look like the young Kings they are.

And so on. The Gospel should not be taken lightly and we must always go back to it. So, Camp staff, if you want to teach kids remember: target your speaking to the age group, keep it simple by not conflating your message, and there’s no such thing as Beyond The Gospel by dealing with moral do’s and do-not’s. We won’t get beyond The Gospel in eternity, so why do it now?

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Hell? Yeah.

I’ve touched on lots of Scripture (in both Testaments) but I needed to bring up some broad theological points. I didn’t want to make this a book, I just wanted to put up a few posts that pointed out that the Scriptures are fraught with the doctrine of hell and Christians should believe it. This second to last post is to affirm that the answer to the question “Do you seriously believe in hell?” should not be no, but yes (for all the reasons I’ve already stated but also) because:

God really is saving people from Something. It’s strange to posit that God’s salvation is merely a matter of everyone Going to be with Him. If annihilation was true, then one can still argue that God is saving people from Something but with the preponderance of texts, and some of the further reasons I give in this post, that solution is just as wrong as universalism.

God is love. Yes God is sovereign. Yes, he’s not willing that any should perish. But people are still going there because they have rejected God. This isn’t merely the ruin of poor choices. This is people in active rebellion against a loving God.  Like CS Lewis, I like to think that Hell is barred from the inside.

God is consistent. Folk might also want to say is that this doctrine is inconsistent with a loving God who has been revealed by Christ. I encourage these folk to read the Gospel accounts again to see Christ on his own terms. Clearing a temple with a whip. Calling people white-washed tombs and vipers. I encourage reading of the Revelation of Christ to see a Christ who is stamping his enemies down. As CS Lewis said in the Chronicles of Narnia about the gentle, loving, and kind Aslan: he is not a tame lion. He is powerful. He acts how he wants. You take him on his own terms. And one must be careful with telling him he must act a certain way.

Justice Demands It. Folk might raise a charge that we wouldn’t punish our own children forever—why would God do worse? Look, the concept that is more predominant throughout the entire book of Psalms is the idea of justice. The righting of scales. The setting things back in order. The fact is that God stands ultimately against all sin. If you get rid of hell, and the eternality of judgment, you wind up with disbarred justice.

God is right. The people who haven’t heard of Christ have already rejected God. They don’t only reject him upon hearing the Gospel. They reject the very revelation of God wherever they are. Romans 1 gives a long explanation of people who have been exposed to God’s illumination and who reject it forthwith experiencing God’s wrath in the present. This is why Christ can say that the folk who don’t believe him are condemned already (John 3:18).

Scripture is fraught with the Seriousness. Scripture is fraught with the fact that there is a condemnation in the now and the hereafter. Saying things like Heaven and Hell are here on earth reaching outwards is fine, but that shouldn’t blur the line that there is in fact a Heaven and a Hell—even if this series didn’t bother drawing out what we hear about Heaven. The book of Proverbs goes as far as having a person beat a fool with a rod so as to save him from Sheol and that wasn’t even with all the information that Christ decided to reveal.

Jesus took it seriously. Jesus  took the place seriously and painted some graphic images of people sawing off their arms to ensure that they don’t head there.  If he thought it was this serious, so should those who follow him.

God Knows what He’s talking About. Folk might want to say is that Scripture and Christ are both wrong on this point. I don’t know how someone would go about proving that since we don’t have many hell-travelers coming back and letting us know that “it was all a mess of bunk. Not even there.”

We take God on His terms. I didn’t go over the numerous texts that establish that God is both holy and loving but they’re there. How we put those things together in our mind can raise some questions, but the fact is that Scripture presents it as fact. We shouldn’t shy away from that. The same God that was concerned with how the Egyptians were treating Hebrew children is the God who wound up pouring plague after plague on the Egyptians. We can’t just throw out the Biblical Concept of God into the purifying flames of reason and pull out whatever is right in our own eyes and call it “The God that Saved Us.”

So when asked “Do you seriously believe a loving God, the Christian God, the God of the Bible, will send people to Hell? The answer will have to be: unabashedly Yes.

In the next (and last) post, I’ll post some questions and misgivings that I think are justified but shouldn’t detract from preaching the doctrine of hell.

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