Thursday, February 23, 2006

What Kind of Faith?

1 Tim. 3:9, "but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience."

There truly is a bit of faith we must have in "the" faith that I had in mind which we must have to fill in our exegetical deficiencies isthe faith required of us that appeared along with the arrival of Jesus Christ. The faith Paul refers to below.
Gal. 3:23 “But before faith came, we were kept under the custody of the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed”.
That new object of our faith is a part of the mystery which was not revealed in the promise to Abraham. Although, Abraham had a broader faith than in just God’s promise which was in God being the one and only true God. The new faith that came was faith that will lead them to instead of Canaan, to the kingdom of God. The faith that Paul was once trying to destroy. A faith that makes us now sons of God. The new household of the faith which replaced the old. A faith no longer based on the assurance of an unseen promise but things able to be seen in the form of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. God revealed more of His unfolding will to us, part of which was, that now we have to behold His Son and have faith. “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life”.

The faith which was revealed to us in the ressurection of Christ is different than the faith in a promise, but it too, provides us with the sufficiency to ascertain God’s truth withaccurateness through exegetics. His Son gave us a very finite amount of words and information, all true and complete in themselves. He also left us wanting to know more about a lot of things. Seems like He did supply us with, as Paul says in 1 Cor., “the things freely given to us by God”, as well as things unrecorded, suggested in John’s remark which went something like, “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”. He’s freely given us all things which pertain to what He thinks we should know, and there is yet much left to wonder about that we would like to know.

Even Peter saw some things would be a struggle for us to understand: Peter remarks in 2Pt 3:16 about “some things hard to understand…” Even John suggests that God has told us what He feels is necessary and didn’t tell us a great deal more. 1 Jn 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”

James suggests that we remain uncertain, although not to questions of any import. James says in 4:14, “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”
Paul explains to Timothy, “We can be sure about life and immortality through the gospel“, 2 Tm:110. But many of the details are not forthcoming. Christ is the knowledge and wisdon of God, and Peter reiterates “…who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God”. In my opinion, the life, death and reserrection of Christ is the greatest example of the knowledge of God we have available to us.

God certainly told Job that there were alot of things he would never know. He told Him that He was presumptuous to thing he even could know. God finally told us “where is the way to the dwelling of light?” but He also pointed out to Job that he would NOT know.

So I see how many questions man desires to answer for himself by means of exhaustive exegesis will not be able to be answered with certainty because the information we have is not complete. And that proof which I do cite in this comment is not thorough by any means, but will certainly start one on the way to the understanding how man is tempted to, and indeed truly does, try and over-reach in his exegetical endeavors.
The world, the flesh and the devil are certainly factors that interfere with man’s exegesis of God’s written truth. Aside from satan prowling the earth like Peter says, here are some other inklings that there are things “warring against our souls” and preventing us from getting to the bottom of the truth together.

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations knowing that they produce quarrels.”
“...known the sacred writing of scripture which are able to give you wisdom that leads tosalvation through faith….so that we may be adequate and equipt for every good work.” 2Tm 3:15-17. They do not equip us for omniscience.

Peter describes his job in 2 Pt 1:16 as making “known the power and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ”, to which he was a witness. That power and coming is salvation to all who believe. “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men… 2Tm 1. Things were heard and then subsequently misused by men to start numerous conflicting Christian traditions and conflicting denominations.

Peter points to things that will complicate the message when referring to, “The fleshly lusts which war against the soul “. And the devil, “enticing unstable souls”, 2 Peter. But still not preventing the Spirit from prevailing and teaching the truth of God in His word to the ‘workman’ who rightly divides the word of God..
But the obvious problem of men’s inability to agree with one another on exegetical meaning remains a glaring obstacle to a unified Body of Christ, and to it’s growth, and as an abomination to the Lord.

What I cannot conclude is that God’s word cannot be accurately interpreted by Christians because of the flesh, the world and the devil, or that there is truth which we cannot know and therefore must simply trust Him on, but I can conclude that ‘agreement’ on the meaning of major aspects of God’s truth is unlikely by Christians, by virtue of the fact that disagreement is so widespread, and if anything, getting worse, shown by more and more lines of fracture among the already divided denominations and differing theological camps. And it is unlikely precisely, in my opinion, for reasons instigated by, the world,the flesh and the devil. And more. Presenting, I believe, serious obstacles to unifying Christain thought, than we may believe, with consequences more grievous to the Lord than I think many of us are ready to accept.

Friday, February 17, 2006

On Calvin: Interpreting the Interpretors.

Romans 15:5, "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Jesus Christ, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

This blog of mine focuses on the estrangement that can be felt amongst believers when they venture below the surface conversation and attempt to enjoy with one another the richness and excitement of God's word and God's plan . My area of focus in this post is my experience with Calvinism.

The heartbreak which gradually came forth after all too often witnessing the failure of Christians to reach agreement on the acceptable interpretation of God's word, or exegesis of God's word, and the resulting dismay and horror, is finally tapering off into a resigned understanding of the dynamics of what is really going on in the Christian world as many of us stand alienated from one another in our beliefs. And of course this is nothing new. But I had no idea that the problem of clashing biblical interpretations is worse now than it ever has been and only portends, to me, to continue to get worse. Even apart from the biblical context of 'men being vulnerable to every wind of doctrine that comes along', or the many biblical warnings of what will be happening to doctrine in the 'last days', there is a separate, prevailing , and longstanding problem of man's inability to agree on accurate bible interpretation. We have texts that we can place 'in use' at the time of the apostles, during the time the bible was being written, in plain Greek, and know what was said, but cannot come to agreement on what was meant. This is nothing new, but, what in the world is really going on here?

The area of theology that most recently insisted upon making its differences with my understanding of God's word known is Calvinism. I always thought that Calvinism was some historical relic which finally passed with the early American Puritans. I knew, academically, that there were major differences between Christians who believe that God gave us a free and active will, and those adherents to the theologist named John Calvin who don't, but I only recently saw what happens when the two differing interpretations try and occupy the same Christian sphere.

My observations of Calvinism are that, accurate biblical understanding is attainable only through Calvin. You ask a Calvinist what he believes and he refers you to Calvinist doctrine. When asked to point to a clear passage of scripture that explains an assertion of theirs, you may wind up with an illustration that slightly tweaks the hearers mind, if that hearer has not already been taught by, or taught by someone else who was already been taught the Calvinist view.

I cannot get basic Calvinist doctrinal meaning from scripture. I try to extract biblical truth plainly with their doctrine and I am unable to do it without first being indoctrinated with a layer of presuppositions I first must ingest, that are reaching far too far, and cannot be relied upon as they stand. When you are lucky enough to have a verse or two given you in proof of a Calvinist assertion, much of the time the conclusions seem to me to be speculative, and without immediate and unmistakable relevance.

Calvinist thinking is terribly strange to my experience in scripture. It invariably turns everything into an all or nothing affair; everything is either black or white. Their interpretation of the sovereignty of God is a very rigid, controllable sort of sovereignty which, to me, disregards most of the personality of God which God unfolds to us throughout the story of His creation to now. Sovereignty that predetermines everything in advance to the extent that it leaves man with no degree of free will, leaves man with no substance by which he can learn about God from the bible and then either chose to obey, by listening to, remembering and acknowledging Him, as our Father and Creator, as He asks us to do, or chose not do so, and be disposed of. Calvinists are terrified that man will 'boast' if he possess any ability whatsoever to believe or have God-given faith and then respond to God on his own. They see man as being able to create nothing, lest it would take glory from God as supreme Creator, as if anything man could 'create' would in any way be in the same sense as God 'creating' something. And as if, being able to merely identify God as being who He tells us He is, would give us opportunity to boast of something we have done. Just about every mental function man may be capable of doing toward God is precluded by Calvinism. Well, fair enough then. each his own, then,...right? Well, no, that doesn't work for me or Christ either. First of all I'm faced with someone telling me that I have the message of God all backwards, and secondly, it leaves the body of Christ in disarray. Was John Calvin at all concerned with the further fragmentation within the body and mind of Christ when he manufactured and imposed upon people his theological theories? I think he could not have been. It should have been obvious from the experience of the Roman catholic church down through history all of the nasty ramifications which that can have.

When I'm told by someone of the Calvinist persuasion that I have the message of God backwards, well, here we go all over again. How in the world did it wind up so convoluted?

And it does not even matter, to a Calvinist, what I believe, because it's not important what I think of the word of God, it's already been predetermined that I'm already either in or out. And I cannot know which, and there is nothing I can do about it.

I was unlucky enough to see John 6 interpreted in a very confusing way by a Calvinist gentleman just recently. I was out doing a field study and I pretty much got what I asked for. It was not pretty. It's regarding Jesus' exchange with the Jews, in John 6, while teaching the crowd at the synagogue in Capernaum, as recapped by John. It shows Jesus telling about how "all that the Father gives to me will come to Me,...". It was explained to me through Calvinist doctrine that, "all who are given will come, behold, believe, and be raised". They are already saved in advance, being predestined, and the 'beholding' and 'believing' is all incidental. I was told nothing is dependent upon 'beholding' and 'believing', and in fact someone who are not predestined could 'come', and 'behold', and 'believe', and not be raised, or saved, because they were not 'given' to start with. Here is the Calvinist's explanation for that. But first, here is John 6:35-40:

"Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
"But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.
"All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.
"For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
"This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.
"For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day."

I suggested that we simply did not have enough information in the passage to know exactly when or how the 'giving' takes place but simply that it does, as it must, before the Son can raise up a believer with Him. But we can rely on what we already know from the rest of the New Testament to fill in our understanding of the 'giving' referred to in the passage. The Calvinist was adamant that the 'giving' had to precede the 'beholding' and 'believing' in the Son. In other words, the person was saved even before he beheld the Son and believed. The following is a quote offered to me from the Calvinist, albeit not in its perfect context, nonetheless, self-explanatory enough to explain the 'giving' in the passage of John 6:

"Again, you are mistaking specifications with qualifications. Jesus specifies his statements, but he does not qualify them. All who are given will be raised. Therefore, all who are given will come, believe, behold, and be raised. The first statement necessitates the latter. "

Thank goodness he is there to save me from my mistaking what Jesus plainly says. But, no thank you, all the same. I cannot put the 'giving' as the sole criteria for being raised. Because Jesus also palinly states, "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day". Jesus places those clear requirements for being 'raised' all very neatly into one self-explanatory sentence. I'm not sure how exactly where or how the 'giving' happens in the line of events, and moreover, I am not going to put words in Jesus' mouth and explain it in any other way than He does in the text.

After reading that statement, it should not take much convincing that I was not able to get any clearer statement out of this individual as to how he knew exactly when or how the 'giving' was taking place, or a tenable answer as to how the 'giving' could take place, and therefore, the raising already be decided, before the 'beholding' and 'believing'. Much hangs in the difference of these two interpretations, yet, clarity was not attained when arriving at the conclusion as to why"...all who are given will come, believe, behold, and be raised". In fact, concluding that the 'giving' determines the 'believing', oversimplifies the nature of God's plan and causes serious contradiction with other scripture, and upheaval amongst the fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

Was Calvin reacting towards scripture or against the pope? John Calvin was a wonderful apologist for Protestantism in defiance of the Roman catholic church, brilliantly learned and articulate, formulating theories on scripture that are still very intimidating and nearly convincing even today as you can see in the very intellectually gifted people postulating right in line with Calvin's extensive original expositions. But his theories on the total depravity of man, the Holy Commonwealth with all of it open 'tests of faith', rigid predetermination, are overzealous. Is it as it seems, that Calvin was reacting to the turbulence of his times, with an amazing intellect that just lost sight of the all-important prescription to strive to attain to the unity of one body and the one mind of Christ?

Romans 15:5, "Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Jesus Christ, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ."

With doctrine like Calvin's you are going to wind up having Christians with non-Calvinist views needlessly alienated from ones with, both entrenched in opposing camps, one against the other.

I find myself having to put faith in either God, or Calvin, and not being able to do both.

Alright then, enough scolding, enough hindsight and drama, but what of now? I mentioned in a previous post in this blog that Calvin and others like him who came before and after, have suceeded in helping to make corrections in scriptural waywardness, but all of them had their glaring flaws and could not stand alone. And now we may have to do something on our own that perhaps none of them had taught, and that is to determine to work consciously towards being of the same mind with one another according to Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean we don't disagree on things, it just means, on all the major biblical principles, we recognize that there is just one right answer, one truth, the one in the bible, and we strive for it together, knowing that, subsequently, with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and perhaps, bring more glory to God than there has ever been amongst His children since the beginning. And that's where the pipedream begins, and reality ends, I suppose. But I'm going to go with the pipe dream because that's what the bible says to do.

I am slowly becoming able, actually finding the time that is, to make some sense out of my own personal exegetical differences with people who are 'of Calvin'. Simple differences in bible interpretation, which lead to the coming away with conclusions which do not mesh. There is something very unusual going on with the Calvinist theology, in my opinion, and I'm going map it out to myself, here in this blog, for my own clearer understanding, in order to have something to refer to in the future, whenever I am confronted with these messy issues of Calvin. Just to give aid and comfort to my very inadequate memory. And also to give aid and comfort to anyone else in the world of Christian conversation who may see something similar going on. All the enjoyment and love of the Word to you.