Interesting thoughts on the Calvinist/Arminian divide and how it speaks to our other divides

Calv_Arm Divide postsInteresting thoughts on the Calvinist/Arminian divide and how it speaks to our other divides

Josh Crowe is a good friend of mine, a valued co-worker, a fellow believer in Jesus Christ, and a card-carrying “Free-will Baptist.” There’s about one-third of that last descriptor that would apply to me, and even there, I’m more “baptistic” than Baptist.

So, in conversation one day, he asked me what percentage of “Bible-believing Christians” would I say were Calvinistic. I searched my thoughts and eventually came up with 20%. “Really?” he said, incredulously. See, in his thinking it was more like 80%.

As we talked further, it became apparent to me that the theological dividing line for him was at Eternal Security. A belief in “Once saved, always saved” was enough to put you squarely in the Reformed camp. “Once saved, always saved” might be the sine qua non of most Southern Baptists (the one group I have the most experience with), but as a firm believer in the doctrines of sovereign grace, my observation is that the vast majority affirm mostly classic Arminian doctrines (with the exception of OSAS) or haven’t given the issues any serious thought but recoil at hearing sovereign grace teaching.

I asked Josh a question. “In a Presidential approval poll, why might a liberal express disapproval for President Barack Obama?” He thought for a moment and then answered, “If they think he’s not liberal enough?” Exactly. What Josh saw as Calvinistic from his point of view was not nearly Calvinistic enough from mine.

This conversation has led us both to further reflection, and not just in a theological way. It has been very eye-opening on several fronts.

Could this shed some light on the dynamics of other divides in our culture? We live in a time of increasing polarization. As Josh said, “Perhaps the way of “Them” is wide, and the way of “Us” is narrow.” I think he’s right.

How easy it is to assume that the number of people who are different from us is greater than the people who are like us. We start to generalize and assume that we have nothing in common with this or that group simply because we don’t have XYZ in common.

“fill in the empty spaces with grace”

What’s great is that Josh and I work together, laugh together, and endlessly recite lines from The Office together. We also talk civilly about matters in which we are polar opposites, like our theological persuasion. Someday, he’ll come around. But in the meantime, we’re great friends.

All it takes is a little dialog and an ability to “fill in the empty spaces with grace.” That’s a wise phrase I learned from Josh.

The blog has moved…

For those interested, I’ve moved my blog to a new website. The URL is http://www.learningcontinues.com. It is the website of my professional and personal development endeavors and is unifying my web presence. The mission of “taking root downward, bearing fruit upward” is still the driving force at Learning Continues.

Thank you for following me, and I hope you’ll follow me over there as well.

This is your God!

Note: Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach at my church.  Missio Dei Churchvectorstock_20456096 small, in Asheville, NC. We are in a series on the 10 Commandments, and my message was on the 1st Commandment, “you shall have no other gods before me.” In my message, I indicated that the true God has revealed himself to us by his name and by his work in history. What follows is a recitation of some of the true God’s deeds…

Who is the true God?

He is God the Father, the God who created all things out of nothing by the power of his Word, which we know is his Son, Jesus Christ…

The God who placed the crown of his creation, man and woman created in his image in a perfect garden, with the promise of life if they obeyed and immediate death if they did not,

Who, when they sinned, graciously withheld his immediate judgment and promised a future redeemer and covered their sin with clothing from a slain animal,

Who judged the wicked world by flood but spared Noah and his family so that mankind and his redemptive promise would go on,

Who entered into a covenant with a pagan Abram and promised his seed would be as numerous as the stars.

This is your God!

Who preserved his people by sending Joseph to Egypt in chains so that the family could be saved from famine,

Who 450 years later spoke to a lowly shepherd from a burning bush and sent his servant Moses to rescue this now nation from bitter bondage,

Who spoke from the mountaintop and gave his people laws and commandments so they would know how to worship and obey,

Who time and again was patient with his people when they failed to keep the covenant he had made with them.

This is your God!

Who, after speaking at many times and in many ways by the prophets, spoke to us in these last days by his Son, Jesus,

Who was God-made-flesh, born of a virgin, God with us, Emmanuel, Jesus, who shall save his people from their sins,

Who lived a life in perfect obedience to the law, both in deed and in thought,

Who, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

This is your God!

Whose death lovingly purchased forgiveness for the sins of all who would believe in him, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus,

Who, when his work was complete, demonstrated the Father’s acceptance of his sacrifice by raising from the dead,

Who ascended to heaven, with the promise of his return as reigning King of kings and Lord of lords.

This is your God!

Who sent the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, to indwell his people with power, and to intercede for us with groanings too deep for words,

By whom, even to this day, is building his Church upon the rock of the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God,

Who now is seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come,

And he is the God who in the fullness of time will by his return unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,

To the praise of his glorious grace!

THIS IS YOUR GOD!

Clearing clutter


by The Organization Man

I’ve been on a crusaSAMSUNGde to reduce the amount of physical clutter in my life.  Like most people, I’ve managed to collect quite a bit of stuff over the years.  Couple that with a major career change some five years ago, and I’ve found myself to have saved many things that I no longer use or need.

Six years ago, I was a teacher.  As such, I collected quite a bit of tools, books, and supplies befitting my trade.  Then, I was no longer a teacher. After all this time, I’m probably not going back to it. So much of my Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) is sitting here taking up space and benefitting no one.

As I’ve gone through this process, I’ve managed to compile some thoughts and observations that you might find enlightening.

There’s a difference between clutter and organization.

You would not find my basement storage area on a typical episode of “American Pickers;” it’s too neat. My stuff is neatly stored in plastic bins and boxes, neatly tucked away on metal shelving of just the right spacing and height. So it’s organized.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not clutter.  Clutter could be defined as any resource that you no longer use and is a drain on other resources. It takes up space. It might represent potential value if you sold it, which would allow you to access other resources if you choose to. If you have to do anything to maintain your clutter, it takes up time.

My organization was a smokescreen to my real problem. I was hoarding. And there’s a good reason for that.

Getting rid of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) is psychologically hard.

I’ve taken the Strengthsfinder 2.0 assessment.  One of my top 5 strengths is “Input.” This makes me a collector…of ideas, facts, quotations, and even physical objects. All of which I tend to view as having value. So keeping all these possessions quite simply arose from this very real strength in my psyche that sees all things, whether material or immaterial, as potentially useful.

I found myself viscerally torn as I began to choose to part with various pieces of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM). “I could use this!” I found myself saying. I recalled other times when I’d tossed something, only to find that I needed it later. Didn’t want that to happen again.

I had to change my way of thinking. Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) became simply…stuff.

Perhaps the fact that I tended to think of Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) in a “trademark” sort of way led me into this hoarding, protectionist mode. I had to change my way of thinking. Perfectly Good Stuff (TM) became simply…stuff.  Stuff I no longer used or needed.  A friend said it well: it’s not worth the time or energy to keep it.

As I began to part with my stuff, I found…

It becomes self-rewarding to de-clutter. And easier.

The more I chose to part with clutter, the easier it became.  And I began to see the rewards for doing so. Every additional bin that was emptied, every load taken to the dump or to Goodwill, every piece given and received joyfully by someone else who could use it, every “one-man’s-junk-is-another-man’s-treasure” item sold on eBay…each of those occurrences was a feel-good pat on the back for someone who previously felt very conflicted to part with his possessions.

And so, it became easier.  Items that were earlier off-limits were now on the chopping block. “What else?” has become the battle cry. “Please stop giving us stuff!” has become the plea o20180224_213806f my extended family. Where once there was a certain anxiety, there is now peace and joy.

And to the person who bought a 12-year old empty Xbox 360 box from me for $25 (that’s right, just an empty carton!), my bank account thanks you.

Recollections on R.C. Sproul

RC_Sproul

R.C. Sproul, theologian, pastor, and founder of Ligonier Ministries, died on December 14, 2017, at the age of 78.

The autumn of 1977 was pivotal in my life and development. After 3 years at a Bible college, I had just transferred to Ashland University, a church-related but largely secular liberal arts college.  I’d made that decision for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that I was undertaking an existential search for the reality of the claims of Christianity.

If it seems ironic that a young man, a believer in Christ since his youth, would leave the comfortable confines of a conservative Bible education to seek for certainty in his faith in secular pastures, then so be it.  In God’s sovereign plan to lead me to that intellectual assurance, he took me on the scenic route.

I was a pretty typical, good Christian boy — grown up in the church, active in my youth group during my teenage years, planning on seminary after college. But by the end of my junior year at the Bible college, I was beginning to wonder if the truths I was so sure of could hold water when rubbed up against modern, secular thought. I hadn’t reached to the level of skepticism, but if I didn’t see for myself that Christian ideas held together when contrasted with other world views, then my uncertainty would only continue to grow.

So, I transferred.  I took a minor in Philosophy only because a major wasn’t offered. I took religion as my major because all my credits from Bible college transferred.  And I got what I’d hoped for — my thoughts and comments in class contrasted with hardened, non-believing hedonists and with High-Church, religious liberal neo-orthodoxy.  And just like a muscle straining against the weight that will build it up, my intellectual senses began to sharpen.

Also ironically, I found that the most robust defense of historic Christianity came not from my professors in the Department of Religion but from the sole professor of the Philosophy Department, Dr. Bruce Stark.  My first class with him was Philosophy of Religion, and his very first assignment introduced me to a theologian I’d not heard of before, Dr. R.C. Sproul.

We were assigned to listen to a tape of a lecture titled, “The Psychology of Atheism.” The fact that I can still recount the key points of this lecture without consulting my notes or his book of the same title speaks to the immense impact it had on me.

Sproul talked about how thinkers like Freud posited that God was an invention of man, and that religion was created as a coping mechanism to allay our fears, an opiate for the masses as it were.  Freud was answering the question, “Since there is no God, why is there religion?”

Sproul asked one simple question, and that question rocked my world — “If there is a God, why are there atheists?” He went on to explain, especially drawing from Romans 1, that the reason there are atheists is not that God hasn’t shown Himself enough, but that men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” basically that because of our sin, people don’t want God. If humanity were to invent a god, it would certainly not be the God of the Bible, who is utterly holy and righteously judges sin.

“Death reminds us that we are creatures. Yet as fearsome as death is, it is nothing compared with meeting a holy God. When we encounter him, the totality of our creatureliness breaks upon us and shatters the myth that we have believed about ourselves, the myth that we are demigods, junior-grade deities who will try to live forever.”

R.C. Sproul provided me with the certainty and clarity I craved.  That was my first exposure to “R.C.” but it was not my last. To this day, I still remember exactly where I was driving as I was listening to his series on the 5 Points of Calvinism when I “got it” on the doctrine of particular redemption (not that I fully comprehended this, but when I finally understood and embraced the doctrine).  His book/video series, “The Holiness of God” is a must for any serious Christian. I’ve led small group discussions using his series “Objections Answered.”  The sheer volume of resources he left behind is beyond imagination.

After hearing “The Psychology of Atheism,” I wrote a song based on those concepts.  It was called “You Know Full Well.”  Somewhere I have the lyrics.  I always wanted to make a recording and send to R.C. to tell him how much that lecture meant to me.  But you know how it is…life happens and I just never got around to it. Someday, I’ll get a chance to thank R.C. for what he did for me, as will countless other believers in glory.

For tonight, I’ll be thanking the Lord of the Harvest that He raised up his tireless worker in the faith, R.C. Sproul.

40 of the best quotes from R.C. Sproul

Preaching depth to a shallow generation, part 1

Deep part 1

It began in late April 1998.  It ended 8 years, 7 months and 28 days later, on Christmas Eve 2006.

It is John Piper’s sermon series on Romans, presented to his church during Sunday services.  225 messages.

Romans is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and I have been listening off and on to this remarkable series, especially his treatment of chapters 5-9.  I have repeatedly been amazed at Piper’s willingness to tackle tough theological issues and go deep into the text, sometimes spending three or four weeks on a particular passage.

But there’s something even more amazing.

His church let him do it.

A generation accustomed to the shallow end

“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” –2 Timothy 4:3-4

It’s been well documented that “content” has been in decline all across the spectrum of our culture. As E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has pointed out in his book The Knowledge Deficit, “Disparagement of factual knowledge as found in books has been a strong current in American thought since the time of Emerson.” (p.9)

Unfortunately, this “disparagement of factual knowledge” is not exclusive to the mainstream; it has also infected the church. The modern church by and large has become a purveyor of practical principles and applications with a few Bible verses tacked on (from whichever translation or paraphrase says it just the right way) to give them credence. Some pastors have come to embrace the cultural disdain for content by discarding even the attempt to teach doctrine from the pulpit.

Thus, my amazement that Piper’s church stuck around for over 8½ years of deep, theological teaching from Romans. Many an elder board would have asked him to “tone it down,” or worse, asked him to leave and then counseled the next pastor to “keep it simple” or “be more practical.”  To be fair, Piper himself addresses this from time to time by intentionally bringing his current text to bear on the practical implications for the Christian life, or by frequently tying it to how it fits with the great “Therefore” of Romans 12. But he never shies from the hard truths of his text, even when there’s not an immediate “application.”

As a result, what we have in this archive of sermons is a true gift to the Church at large. Whether you agree or disagree with Piper’s theology is beside the point.  What he created there was not only a blessing for his congregation, but also a platform of influence to Christians everywhere.

May more pastors have the desire and the courage to go deep and take their flock with them.  And may many more congregations demand it.

[In subsequent parts of this series, I’ll examine the common approaches churches take on this matter, and how God uses his Word in our lives. Stay tuned.]