Thursday, March 31, 2011

An Elusive Inclusivism

There is a thorn in the side of modern Arminianism and it seems to aggravate a recurring injury inflicted upon us by various adversaries. Our Calvinist brethren are often quick to suggest the end of Arminianism is a Universalist theology, much to our consternation. Arminians, at least those adhering to the classical Arminianism of Episcopius and the Remonstrant as well as James Arminius, are not in any fashion shadowed by the umbrella of a doctrine that maintains all will eventually be saved. Universalism is heresy, acknowledged as such by all of orthodox Protestantism. The charge usually is derived through a misrepresentation of the doctrine of the atonement i.e. our rejection of Calvinist limited atonement. Fortunately, the writings and evidence of James Arminius and others soundly refute these suggestions.  The charge becomes another false representation made by a rather divisive sect within Christendom that is added to several others. These include not only universalism but open theism, semi-Pelagianism, liberalism, postmodern theology, process theology and radical inclusivism. This last error, inclusivism, has been the topic of several discussions lately, both public and private.

Terminology is sometimes an elusive beast. What is inclusivism? In simple terms, it is the belief that souls might be saved via the light that they have received absent explicit affirmation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   Inclusivism can include several facets and variations. In a sense, all but the hardest determinists, the hard Calvinists, incorporate some measure of inclusion in their theological Weltanschauung. Our young children, the mentally infirm among us, aborted children, all fall into a category of inclusion as it regards the assent of explicit faith. Whether the inclusion is via covenant theology, innocence with regard to accountability or the teachings specific to Christ regarding children, conservatives, liberals, Protestants and Catholics alike embrace some form of inclusivism in their theology. The difficulty arises when salvation becomes attainable through general revelation rather than by the means of evangelization. The matter becomes much worse when the inclusivist embraces a post-mortem evangelization allowing the soul who dies lost to be rescued from hell itself. It is these latter notions of inclusivism, salvation through general revelation and post-mortem evangelizing, that are the focus of this aggravating thorn.

By making the accusation of universalism, Calvinists suggest that Arminian soteriology makes universalism possible through an atonement that pays the price of sin for all men and that, if true, condemning men to hell would be an unjust double jeopardy. The Arminian replies that the atonement is an unlimited provision made by Christ to the Father that is efficacious only through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. This understanding is the predominant position in the church and, remarkably, was also held by Calvinists namesake, John Calvin. However, when the inclusivist introduces post-mortem evangelization, what I refer to as radical inclusivism, he brings his soteriology right to the brink of the Calvinist charge of universalism. He has a soul lingering in hell responding to the “great second chance” at salvation. It is convenient to suggest that some souls might prefer the eternity of death to the bliss of glory but I think the suggestion smacks of incredulity. At the very least, such a theology turns the teaching of Jesus on its head and promotes a wide, broadest road to salvation and the tiniest sliver of a path, if at all, to destruction. It becomes an elusive inclusivism that reaches for the universalist ideal while attempting to dismiss what is obvious, it’s own glaring heterodoxy. The radical inclusivist is nothing but a hairs breadth from a Universalist philosophically and for practical purposes is nothing but a Universalist. The moderate inclusivist who denies post-mortem evangelization has other problems, not the least being an inability to reconcile his philosophy with the scriptural teachings of justification by faith. How does a salvation via general revelation bring any sense of justification by faith unless the moderate inclusivist accedes to a post-mortem faith and justification? Logically, the moderate inclusivist is in just as tight a place as the radical. He must embrace either post-mortem evangelizing or reject justification by faith.

With all these things in mind, a passage from the prophet Ezekiel seems proper to close with. It goes to the very heart of our urgency in seeing souls saved and declares without a doubt the eternal importance of salvation now in this mortal life.

“ But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.” (Eze 33:6-9 AV)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Redefining Orthodoxy in the Postmodern Church

In light of the Rob Bell controversy and the various accusations and defenses that are dominating the theological blogosphere of late, there has been a lot of discussion (and accusation) concerning the doctrines of hell and salvation. Some of it has been interesting and a lot of it is mere stirring the pot. Admittedly, I am as guilty of the latter as the next fellow. Making no secret of my dislike of Bell and his postmodern emergent theology, I approach this contentious issue with a considerable bias. Universalism is heresy. That is an orthodox judgment. While dogmatic to state it outright, it remains true that anybody who advocates "Universalism" with regard to all souls ultimately being saved is a heretic. Of course one man's heretic is another's mentor but at least not in orthodox circles. So, how does a liberal, emergent postmodern theologian avoid the label of heresy? He covers it up with an endless array of open ended questions. Worse still, he might attempt to redefine orthodoxy itself. The former method is Rob Bell's tried and true tactic and on all reasonable accounts that is what he has done with his latest book. I had not planned on purchasing Love Wins however a loner copy has been made available to me and at some point I will run through it. For now, I have more serious reading material to digest. The latter strategy is far more dangerous because it is being utilized by some who insist they are themselves orthodox.

Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, MI (Bell's church) makes the follow statement regarding Bell's position on heaven and hell.

Love Wins recognizes heaven and hell to be realities all around us. We see hell everyday through the atrocities of war, famine, human trafficking, broken relationships, and abuse. We also see heaven all around us through acts of love, kindness, and compassion. There is also the reality of heaven and hell in the future. Our ultimate future hope is a restored creation under Christ where God will dwell with us forever on a restored heaven and earth [Rev 21-22]. There are many who accept the invitation of the life of heaven and many who reject the invitation. Those who reject the invitation experience a purifying "fire" of judgment in hell, yet there is hope. We live in the hope that the redemptive work of Christ is beyond what we can ask or imagine. Love Wins helps us have a biblical imagination that leaves room for the hope of the redemption of all while recognizing humanities free will to continue to reject God.

That perspective might be a lot of things but orthodox is not one of them. Redefining "scriptural" hell as essentially "hell on earth" is how this carnal world defines hell if they venture as much at all. Love, kindness and compassion are certainly the fruit of the spirit of God but Buddhist or Hindu love and compassion, while outwardly appearing so, are not the fruits of the spirit of our LORD. They are "niceties" manifested through the worship of false gods. They are a façade outside of Christ. Strip the façade away and pure unadulterated enmity is exposed. The world hates Christ and those in Him (John 15:18-19). There is nothing good about this world. Instead we are called to separate ourselves from it (2 Co 6:17). Heaven is not the nice folks living next door however charming they might be. Looking at what comes next in the above statement from Mars Hill is the nail in the doorpost. A life of faith in this world matters not, according to Bell. There is always the purifying purgatory in hell for unbelievers giving them a chance to have faith in Christ. Now, this did not come out of scripture for the Bible teaches us that you do not get a shot in the grave (Heb 9:27). The folks at Mars Hill make it plainly clear where such thoughts come from, the imagination. So, where are the liberal and emergents, the postmodern "thinkers" on this matter? There seems to be an embrace of Bell and worse still, a redefining of what orthodoxy entails. Consider the words of the liberal emergent President of Fuller Theological Seminary (Bell's alma mater) in this comment from the Mars Hill website FAQ.

Richard Mouw, president of the world's largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary based in Pasadena, Calif., calls Love Wins "a great book, well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity and passionate about Jesus. The real hellacious fight, says Mouw, a friend of Bell, a Fuller graduate, is between "generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people. - Richard Mouw, president of the world's largest Protestant seminary, Fuller Theological Seminary, as quoted in USA TODAY

How does such a man consider Bell's theology as "well within the bounds of orthodox Christianity"? He redefines it of course. If you cast true orthodox theology as a "stingy orthodoxy", it leaves room for the Universalist and heterodox to contrast it with their "generous orthodoxy". Having done that, other Postmoderns can then castigate orthodox Christianity as "fundamentalist", "stingy", "harsh", "unforgiving" etc. Eventually, what is good is called bad and bad becomes good. I call it apostasy, whether it sits at Fuller, Mars Hill or for that matter any church or seminary.


Monday, March 14, 2011

A Must Read Book Review of Rob Bell’s Utter Foolishness

I don't think I need to read fourteen versions of Dick and Jane to get the overall thrust of the story and that is pretty much how I feel about Rob Bell and his latest pile of liberal, emergent jibberish. I've read the same putrid assembly from the fellow before. For that sentiment, some of our esteemed postmodern "senior evangelical theologians" would brand me a fundamentalist but then, these are some of the same fellows who would embrace the adorers of Ellen G. White as within the fold of Arminian thought. Some of them, such as Richard Mouw, president of what has become the largest bastion of liberal, emergent theology in the world, Fuller, extol the virtues of Rob Bell with comments that in my opinion smack of unadulterated ignorance. Quoting from that great theological treasure trove, USA Today, Mouw stated the real hellacious fight is between "generous orthodoxy and stingy orthodoxy. There are stingy people who just want to consign many others to hell and only a few to heaven and take delight in the idea. But Rob Bell allows for a lot of mystery in how Jesus reaches people." Of course, Rob Bell is one of the star products of Fuller's current liberal soup theology so should anything less be expected from Mouw?

Kevin DeYoung on the Gospel Coalition blog has written an excellent book review of Bell's Love Wins. It is more than enough to give me cause to keep this book out of the hands of children and impressionable adults. I do have a good use for it with regard to young pets, however.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Meaning of the Will – F. Leroy Forlines

This concise and logical explanation of the will of man represents the classical Arminian perspective of the will and is an excellent reply to the Calvinist inquiry regarding what a great many non-Calvinists adhere to. Forlines distills the thoughts on this matter to an undeniable and logical simplicity.

The New Testament does not use the noun form of will to refer to the faculty of choice in man. However, the verb form (thelo) is used (Matt. 16:24, 21:29, 23:37; Mk 8:34; John 7:17; Rev 22:17; and others). By will, we mean power of choice. Every command, every prohibition, every exhortation, and every entreaty in the Bible made to people presupposes they are capable of making choices.
Whether we want to think of the act of willing as the function of a faculty of the person or simply the person making a choice, the fact remains that the ability to choose is part of being a person. That ability of choice is what we call will. In his totality, man is a thinking, feeling, acting being. He thinks with his mind, feels with his heart, and acts with his will.
Classical Arminianism, A Theology of Salvation, p.6, F. Leroy Forlenes, ed. J.M. Pinson, Randall House, Nashville 2010

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Arminius on the Predestination of Believers

The following is taken from Arminius' private disputations as one contribution addressing predestination. There is a following disputation of predestination as the means to the end i.e. to faith.




I. As we have hitherto treated on the object of the Christian religion, that is, on Christ and God, and on the formal reasons why religion may be usefully performed to them, and ought to be, among which reasons, the last is the will of God and his command that prescribes religion by the conditions of a covenant; and as it will be necessary now to subjoin to this a discourse on the vocation of men to a participation in that covenant, it will not be improper for us, in this place, to insert one on the Predestination, by which God determined to treat with men according to that prescript, and by which he decreed to administer that vocation, and the means to it. First, concerning the former of these.


II. That predestination is the decree of the good pleasure of God, in Christ, by which he determined, within himself, from all eternity, to justify believers, to adopt them, and to endow them with eternal life, "to the praise of the glory of his grace," and even for the declaration of his justice.


III. This predestination is evangelical, and, therefore, per- emptory and irrevocable; and, as the gospel is purely gracious, this predestination is also gracious, according to the benevolent inclination of God in Christ. But that grace excludes every cause which can possibly be imagined to be capable of having proceeded from man, and by which God may be moved to make this decree.


IV. But we place Christ as the foundation of this predestination, and as the meritorious cause of those blessings which have been destined to believers by that decree. For the love with which God loves men absolutely to salvation, and according to which he absolutely intends to bestow on them eternal life, this love has no existence except in Jesus Christ, the Son of his love, who, both by his efficacious communication, and by his most worthy merits, is the cause of salvation, and not only the dispenser of recovered salvation, but likewise the solicitor, obtainer, and restorer of that salvation which was lost. Therefore, sufficient is not attributed to Christ, when he is called executor of the decree which had been previously made, and without the consideration of him as [the person] on whom that decree is founded.


V. We lay down a two-fold matter for this predestination  —  divine things, and the persons to whom the communication of them has been predestinated. (1.) Those divine things are the spiritual blessings which usually receive the appellations of grace and glory. (2.) The persons are the faithful, or believers; that is, they believe in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ raised from the dead. But faith, that is, the faith which is on Christ, the mediator between God and men, presupposes sin, and likewise the knowledge or acknowledgment of it.


VI. We place the form of this predestination in the internal act itself of God, who foreordains to believers this union with Christ their Head, and a participation in his benefits. But we place the end in "the praise of the glory of the grace of God"; and as this grace is the cause of that decree, it is equitable that it should be celebrated by glory, though God, by using it, has rendered it illustrious and glorious. In this place, too, occurs the mention of justice itself, as that by the intervention of which Christ was given as mediator, and faith in him was required; because, without this mediator, God has neither willed to shew mercy, nor to save men without faith in him.


VII. But, as this decree of predestination is according to election, which necessarily includes reprobation, we must likewise advert to it. As opposed to election, therefore, we define reprobation to be the decree of God's anger or of his severe will, by which, from all eternity, he determined to condemn to eternal death all unbelievers and impenitent persons, for the declaration of his power and anger; yet so, that unbelievers are visited with this punishment, not only on account of unbelief, but likewise on account of other sins from which they might have been delivered through faith in Christ.


VIII. To both these is severally subjoined the execution of each; the acts of which are performed in that order in which they have been ordained by God in the decree itself; and the objects, both of the decree and of its execution, are completely the same and uniform, or they are invested with the same formal reason, though they are considered in the decree, as in the mind of God, through the understanding, but, in the execution of it, as such, actually in existence.


IX. This predestination is the foundation of Christianity, of salvation, and of the certainty of salvation; and St. Paul treats upon it in his epistle to the Romans, (viii, 28-30) in the ninth and following chapters of the same epistle, and in the first chapter of that to the Ephesians.


VIII. To both these is severally subjoined the execution of each; the acts of which are performed in that order in which they have been ordained by God in the decree itself; and the objects, both of the decree and of its execution, are completely the same and uniform, or they are invested with the same formal reason, though they are considered in the decree, as in the mind of God, through the understanding, but, in the execution of it, as such, actually in existence.


IX. This predestination is the foundation of Christianity, of salvation, and of the certainty of salvation; and St. Paul treats upon it in his epistle to the Romans, (viii, 28-30) in the ninth and following chapters of the same epistle, and in the first chapter of that to the Ephesians.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What’s his name, Rob

I've tried to read this guys junk in the past and I think I would rather read War & Peace in the dark while hungry instead of torturing myself through his latest book that has certain bloggers up in arms on both sides of the fence. Liberal emergent types don't have much to offer the church world other than what they think is another way to Jesus and Rob Bell is no exception. To be fair, all the criticism concerning his suspected and strongly hinted at universalism seems to have been made within its own veiled darkness. The critics had not read his book although Bell and his promoters certainly didn't attempt to still the flames with their early teaser. However with the book now available and a few bloggers providing comments, I suspect the criticism was well deserved. What is more interesting for myself will be the reaction from the sympathizers, some of whom attempt to mask their liberal, emergent tendencies behind the pretty picture label of postmodern evangelicalism. I think their battle is not so much against undue criticism but against their boogey monster of theological conservatives. Conservative bloggers picked up on Bell's implied heterodoxy and therefore theological conservatives receive the tar brush of the irenic postmoderns. Of course, one man's melody is another's screeching disdain. There is something about the liberal emergent sympathizers, the postmoderns, that bothers me a great deal. Aside from their ready embrace of the heterodox messengers, they strike me as particularly intolerant and bigoted, quite the opposite of irenic. I've been labeled an interlocutor (in a poor sense), a fundamentalist, by a couple of them. As I don't share a pew with either, I'll not be concerned with their bad gas nor they with mine. Nonetheless, I'll be very curious to observe how they substitute pheasant for crow in their mental gymnastics regarding this Rob Bell foolishness.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

James 4:1-10

The LORD gave me the opportunity to reflect on this passage for a while this morning. Being a great offender in this regard, it is timely for me to take the whole import of it under consideration. Humility is not weakness. It is a strength rewarded by the grace of God. Blustery indignation is a weakness contrary to the outward flexing and puffing up of the carnal man and it stifles the work of God in a believers life. Humble yourselves in the sight of the LORD, and He shall lift you up, the Apostle states.

" ¶ From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God. Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy? But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." (Jas 4:1-10 AV)

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Nopes and Nots

This is brief.

Universalism ... nope
Annihilationism ... nope
Arianism ... Not
Liberal-Emergent ... Not for me
Open Theism ... nope
New Wave ... No way
Egalitarianism ... Nah
Calvinism .... well, I'd have to succumb to all of the above first.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

An Essay by J. Matthew Pinson Addressing the Theology and Inclinations of Jacobus Arminius

The Society of Evangelical Arminians has provided an excellent essay written by J. Mathew Pinson entitled "Will the Real Arminus Please Stand Up? A Study of the Theology of Jacobus Arminius in Light of His Interpreters. This should be required reading of anybody who wishes to understand and discuss the theological inclinations of Arminius and I am thankful SEA has provided this with the author's permission. The essay can be accessed here.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Lest You Think Calvinists Wise

I was browsing through one of the polemical websites, being somewhat polemical myself, and came across a brief column presented by one Jamin Hubner regarding a commonly discussed passage from Matthew's Gospel.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord." (Mt 23:37-39 AV)

Arminians, myself included, often point to this passage (and its second witness, Luke 13:34) as a lamentation of Christ for the rejection of the LORD's willing embrace of a people He desired. The willingness and desire of God to gather together the children of Jerusalem (representing the people of Israel's loins and not just a physical city on a hill) demonstrates His love and purpose in raising up a people to call His own. This is not a passage extolling the virtues of an imagined free will. Instead it is a confirmation of God's own sorrow at being rejected and thwarted by a people and its leaders, its various kings, the false prophets over the years. It is a picture of true remorse and not the expression of crocodile tears as John Wesley once phrased it.

This brings me to my browsing. Hubner was taking issue with how the passage was presented in a non-Calvinist text, objecting to a feigned presentation of "free will" doctrine. That is generally the objection of most Calvinists, that the passage demands some support of "free will" in opposition to the deterministic theology of the Calvinist. In one sense, they are correct however it is a freed will that must be discussed and not an innate, libertine free will as is often misrepresented. The fellow represented this particular passage as Jesus bemoaning the Pharisees interference in keeping the people of the city away from Him, ultimately preventing Him from embracing them. Now, this raises a striking quandary that goes unaddressed but before doing so, let's see Hubner's understanding of the passage through the words of James White (Hubner's quote of White).

The ones the Lord desired to gather are not the ones who "were not willing"! Jesus speaks to the leaders about their children that they, the leaders, would not allow Him to "gather." Jesus was not seeking to gather the leaders, but their children. This one consideration alone renders the passage useless for the Arminian seeking to establish freewillism. The "children" of the leaders would be Jews who were hindered by the Jewish leaders from hearing Christ. (Potter's Freedom, 138, 2nd ed.)

Now the quandary comes into play. How is it that the Pharisees are able to thwart the will and desires of God? How is it that the leaders of Jerusalem were able to prevent a single soul from turning to the LORD? Calvinism has no room for such antics. It is an impossibility to thwart the will of God, according to the Calvinist philosopher. Yet, Hubner, through White, has the LORD Jesus Christ in submission to ungodly Pharisees and a people that He desires kept from being His people! Hubris is a term that comes to mind regarding such understanding. Certainly there is a poverty of insight into the passage on the part of the Calvinist if not an outright deception. Oh often God would have gathered the children like a hen and her chicks but not for the all powerful Pharisees who have the power over spiritual life and death were the Calvinist "interpretation" correct. I hesitate to call it an interpretation for I see it more as willful deceit in an effort to cling to a disreputable philosophy.

Hubner's short column can be found here.