Friday, November 18, 2016

Reformed Theology: More than 5 Points.

Reformed theology is often called "Calvinism." So, what is Reformed theology, and what is a Reformed Christian? Some Christians often describe themselves as five point Calvinists, four point Calvinists, and I remember one minister describing herself as a 3 point Calvinist at most. What am I? My reply is that I hold to more than just five points.

You see, John Calvin, a pastor-theologian, did NOT come up with the specific five points attributed to him. They are all found in the Bible, but specifically, were derived from the Canons of Dort in response to five theological points disputed by followers of Jacob Arminius (called the Remonstrants). In this sense, Calvin was a Reformed Christian, but not a "Calvinist." The five points are often explained as TULIP:

  • Total depravity of humans - meaning sin is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. We were created to enjoy God, but sin separates us from Him.
  • Unconditional election - meaning we are spiritually dead and helpless to save ourselves, and do not by nature desire God as God. As a result, He must choose us.
  • Limited Atonement - meaning Jesus' death atoned for our sins, but He did not die for people in general, but purposefully came and died for His children.
  • Irresistible Grace - meaning God's grace is effective by accomplishing His purpose in the lives of individuals. God does not give up His sovereignty regarding salvation.
  • Perseverance of Christians - meaning God's salvations depends not on our works, but on His work of atonement. He will not let us go (though he may bring us home soon).
Another way to explain this is by BACON:

  • Bad people
  • Already elected
  • Completely atoned for
  • Overwhelmingly called
  • Never falling away

The problem today is that modern so-called "Calvinists" claim these five points as the defining theological positions of Calvinism. Yet, Reformed theology is so much more than these five points. It is rooted in God's sovereign love and mercy. The Christian story is about the Son of God coming to earth and taking the penalty of sin for us, though He was innocent. The Christian story is both a love story and a mystery.

For this reason, when these five points are removed out of the context of Reformed theology, they often produce an angry, proud attitude in its adherents. However, when understood within the broader context of Reformed Theology based on the Bible, the results differ. His love and mercy, when understood in context of His sovereign will, should produce a humble, loving response in such Christians. In my case, I am humbled when I look back at my life and understand that my salvation is 100% God's doing. I know I need God's sovereign love and mercy in my life because I sin against Him daily. So, while I know I have offended Him more than I will ever fully realize, at the same time I know I am loved by Him more than I will ever realize.

So, as a Reformed Christian, I know there are many more points to the Christian faith than these five points; and in it all, God remains sovereign. Yes, I hold to all five points in the context of Biblically based Reformed theology. I understand God wants me to enjoy Him forever.

"Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
  A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever."

- Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism with Scripture Proofs; Presbyterian Church in America.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Jonathan Edwards Resolutions: Maintaining and Establishing Peace

In today's political environment, many Christians approve of name calling, stereotyping, and opposing just about anything done by those of the other party or political ideology. Given this, Jonathan Edwards resolutions remind us that Christians are called to be both faithful in our beliefs and peacemakers:
33. Resolved, always to do what I can towards making, maintaining and establishing peace, when it can be without over-balancing detriment in other respects. [[Dec. 26, 1722.]]
34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
[[35. Resolved, whenever I so much question whether I have done my duty, as that my quiet and calm is thereby disturbed, to set it down, and also how the question was resolved. Dec. 18, 1722.]]
36. Resolved, never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call for it. [[Dec. 19, 1722.]]
- from Resolutions, by Jonathan Edwards [1716], Letters and Personal Writings (WJE Online Vol. 16) , Ed. George S. Claghorn. From the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University: 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Political Fear

I love to study politics. That is why I worked hard to earn my doctorate in political science. I learned that a good scholar listens to all sides and tries to understand different perspectives (no, not all political scientists do this, unfortunately).

One thing that needs to be done more in election years is for people to listen to understand different opinions. Yet, fear drives people to stereotype the opposition, and when confronted with facts that challenge these stereotypes, such people often resort to name calling. Willful ignorance is the ally of fear.

What bothers me is this tactic works to reinforce the stereotypes, and is often used by Christians in violation of Exodus 20:16, I Peter 3:15, and many other verses in the Bible.

As an educator, I try to teach my students that there is nothing to fear in listening to others to understand why they believe they way they do. Furthermore, we Christians need to be reminded that the Kingdom of God will continue to grow on earth until Jesus returns in spite of what happens in politics:

"...on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." - Jesus in Matthew 16:18

 "And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirity teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." - Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20.

And finally,

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts our fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." - 1st John 4:18

No amount of fear will make the future better or help change the future to accomplish God's mission. Each of us needs to vote and argue on the basis on intelligent facts, and resolve in our hearts to allow others to disagree without receiving our condemnation. We need to focus on the "what" rather than the "who" in such political conversations.

The goal of Satan is to get an individual to take his or her mind's eye off of Jesus. Fear is a primary tool to accomplish this. Political fear is very effective in getting Christians to forget that God is in charge, even when the political outcome is bad. When this happens, politics becomes a dreadful idol in the human heart.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Advice to Pastors: Let us know we are welcome back...

As a professor, I often have students who must drop my class due to a variety of reasons (e.g. work, health, personal issues, etc.). When such students approach me about dropping the class, they are often afraid I will be upset or disappointed in them. Therefore, I let them know I understand the situation they are in and that they are always welcome to take my class in the future. In fact, I have encouraged some students to retake my class if their performance to date suggests they will fail the class and there is no reasonable way for the student to recover. The key here is that I want them to know that they are welcome back to my class after they have resolved whatever it is that prevents them from performing well in class. I encourage them to resolve the issue, and I look forward to their return in the future.

This is something ministers in churches should do. I have attended churches where I subsequently left for some reason (other than moving from the immediate area). More times than not, I do not return. I am not an advocate of church hopping, but situations come up that have lead me to leave a church.

There have been times, though, where I have reconsidered my original decision, and knowing the pastor would welcome me back would help my decision on whether to return to the congregation. However, I cannot recall a minister letting me know that I am welcome back should I change my mind in the future (I do recall one lay elder letting me know I was always welcome back). I have had pastors ask me if I would reconsider staying with the church. The problem with this approach is that it feels like a door is shut should I decline to stay. However, if the pastor added that I am always welcome back, this helps me understand that the door is open for me to return.

Returning to a congregation can be somewhat embarrassing because it can appear that the original decision to leave was in error. This is not necessarily so. In fact, leaving can help an individual or family realize how well they fit into their former church.

It is much like applying for a job. I once knew a Dean of a college who encouraged his faculty to apply for other faculty positions should they find one they desired. He said such applicants often find by going through the interview process that they like their present faculty position better, and such faculty find they appreciate the support they received from the Dean during the process. In a similar way, a pastor who verbally lets individuals and families know they are always welcome to return shows that he respects them.

I do wonder if the reason pastors have not said such welcoming words is because they feel rejected by the members leaving. In my case, as a professor, I let my students know that I do not take their decision personally, and that they must do what is best for them in their academic career. Likewise, a pastor letting individuals and families know they are always welcome back lets them know he is not hurt by their decision. Plus, by doing so, should he come to doubt himself in his ministry, the pastor can assure himself that he has done what he can to make such people feel welcome.

Finally, I recently listened to a talk (podcast) by Reverend Alistair Begg entitled, "The Dangers and Delights of Long Term Ministry in One Place," given at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference (April 09), where he said one of the delights in a long ministry in one place is to see people return to his church. He said some members have the "Little Bo Peep Syndrome" (leave them alone and they'll come home, dragging their tails behind them) where members leave because of something they do not like about the church (youth ministry, politics, etc.). He noted that a minister should let such members know he hopes they will come back. Furthermore, should a minister stay at a church long enough, he said such ministers will find many of these members do return believing things have gotten better. He recommends the minister let these people know he is sincerely glad they have returned and that he is privileged to preach the Word of God to them. I think this is an excellent attitude to have.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Beware of "Christian" Political Candidates

Michael Wear at Christianity Today (May 5, 2016) has written an excellent article about Gov. Kasich's faith, entitled, "The Kasich Conundrum." From the article: "...Kasich explained to reporters that he thinks it “cheapens God…to go out and try to win a vote by using God.”
Also from the article: regarding a fundraising event hosted by the wealth Koch brothers, "Kasich was asked by one woman why he agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, extending health insurance to more low-income people...Kasich responded, in front of an audience of wealthy, libertarian-leaning donors: “I don’t know about you, lady, but when I get to the pearly gates, I’m going to have an answer for what I’ve done for the poor.” According to Politico, about 20 donors left the room and his fellow panelists, Gov. Nikki Haley and Gov. Bobby Jindal, spoke up to disagree. Kasich has not been invited back to a Koch gathering since."
I also share his views. There are other aspects of Kasich's politics I especially like that are contained in this article.
From my experience of being a political activist years ago, and also form my years being a political scientist who is a Christian, I advise people to beware of candidates who try to get your vote because they are a Christian, and also beware of candidates who claim their faith is so personal that they do not talk about it at all. The former merely use God as a means to winning elections, the later might be covering up their lack of faith (although they might be shy about sharing their faith). There is a balanced middle ground, and Gov. Kasich tried to keep that balance.