Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Happy Birthday One Day Late Joanna!

Joanna's birthday was yesterday :( and I forgot yesterday was November 27. I was planning a blog celebration complete with high school pictures, but alas, I did not. I am sorry. You're probably not.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Link: Reformation Day Reflections

I thought this was a great blog about the meaning of the Reformation for one person:

From: http://purechurch.blogspot.com/2006/10/reformation-day-reflections.html
Reformation Day Reflections
The Pope of blogging (Tim Challies) has called all bloggers to post reflections on the Reformation and its meaning for us today. In obedience to the pontiff of posts, I thought I’d kiss the ring and share my two cents on so important an observance.What does a German monk nailing a long list of complaints on a church door have to do with an African American ministering in a small, international Caribbean island? Luther’s world and my own couldn’t be farther apart it seems.But on closer inspection, I would not be in Cayman if it were not for that massive Christian church split some 500 years ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about church splits lately… and this one I am quite thankful for. I could wish that the result had been sweeping reform in the Roman Catholic Church. But failing that, I’m thrilled for the recovery of the Gospel.If there had been no recovery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the grand promise of justification in the sight of God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone—I and most African-Americans and Caribbean peoples would likely be utterly and eternally lost today.The greatest miracle of the Reformation is that enslaved Africans heard, above the din of rattling chains and the back-slashing crack of whips, the free Gospel call at the hands of slave traders and many less-than-heroic gospel preachers in the plantation south. That untutored Africans, imprisoned in a foreign land and surrounded by hostile wilderness, heard with clarity the learned oracles of Christ, were spiritually set free, and found the glorious banks of Zion is astounding!However crude, however hampered by their conditions, however assaulted and persecuted by white brothers and sisters in Christ, the Reformation found expression among African descended peoples. There was every earthly reason why it should not have happened. But the one heavenly reason why it should – justification by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone – prevailed even among the meanest slaves of the south and the Caribbean.You see… this gospel truly makes everything level at the foot of the cross. The conversion of African Americans and Afro-Caribbean peoples proves this. Despite caste and castigation, slaves came to Jesus! It’s inexplicable apart from the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Why would the master’s Master become the Master of the mastered? Because He is Master of all.Clifton Johnson’s classic collection of slave conversion stories, God Struck Me Dead, makes the point in the slave's own words. One slave recalled:
I saw in a vision, myself in two bodies, a little body and an old body. My old body was dangling over hell and destruction. A voice said to me, “My little one, I have cleansed you of all iniquity. By grace are you saved and it is not of yourself but the gift of God. Weep not, for you are a new child. Abide in me and you need never fear.” I looked in the distance and saw the rejoicing and singing.
I know that I have been dug up and made alive and my soul made satisfied. (God Struck Me Dead, p. 48).The slave understood God’s sovereignty in election (and all things for that matter) in a way that many of us still fail to grasp:
He (God) spoke to me once after I prayed and prayed trying to hurry Him and get a religion. He said, ‘I am a time-God. Behold, I work after the counsel of my own will and in due time I will visit whomsoever I will (p. 7).Another convert tells a similar story: “I began to pray for my soul more and more and began to hurry God. He gave me the gift in His own time. He was drawing me all the time but I didn’t know it” (p. 41).They knew the sovereign election of sinners in their own experience:
I was born a slave and lived through some very hard times. If it had not been for my God, I don’t know what I would have done. Through His mercy I was lifted up. My soul began singing and I was told that I was one of the elected children and that I would live as long as God lives (p. 23; emphasis added).“How can we find God? God has a chosen people. He has always had a chosen people and He calls whomsoever He wills. Any child who has been born of the spirit, knows it for he has felt His power, tasted His love and seen the travail of his soul.”“After I passed through this experience (a vision of Jesus and the city) I lost all worldly cares. The things I used to enjoy don’t interest me now. I am a new creature in Jesus, the workmanship of His hand saved from the foundation of the world. I was a chosen vessel before the wind ever blew or before the sun ever shined.
“Religion is not a work but a gift from God. We are saved by grace and it is not of ourselves but the gift of God” (p. 57).These are the testimonies of field hands at the twilight of chattel slavery. To these we could add the more educated voices of Jupiter Hammon, Lemuel Haynes, Phillis Wheatley and country preacher Joseph Bayesmore (Weldon, NC) and a host of others. As John Saillant put it: “the Calvinism provided the deepest structuring elements of their thought.”The miracle is that the Reformation Gospel came to African America and the Caribbean.The work that’s left before us is to recapture it and to reform our churches according to the Word of God. There’s much to celebrate this Reformation Day… and much work to be done once the celebration is over.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Wow, wow and more wow

http://www.librarything.com/

This is so cool!

Interesting Article

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15653706/site/newsweek/

Losing Our Religion

A gathering of scientists and atheists explores whether faith in science can ever substitute for belief in God.

By Jerry Adler (Newsweek) - Updated: 11:43 p.m. CT Nov 11, 2006

Nov. 10, 2006 - The great Danish physicist Niels Bohr, it is said, had a good-luck horseshoe hanging in his office. "You don't believe in that nonsense, do you?" a visitor once asked, to which Bohr replied, "No, but they say it works whether you believe in it or not."

If one thing emerged from the "Beyond Belief" conference at the Salk Institute in LaJolla, Calif. it's that religion doesn't work the same way. Some 30 scientists—one of the greatest collections of religious skeptics ever assembled in one place since Voltaire dined alone—examined faith from the evolutionary, neurological and philosophical points of view, and they concluded that some things only work if you do believe in them. Richard Dawkins, the British evolutionary biologist and author of the best-selling book "The God Delusion," said he couldn't have a spiritual experience even when he tried. After another panelist, neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran of the University of California, San Diego, explained that temporal-lobe seizures of the brain create profound spiritual and out-of-body experiences, Dawkins disclosed that he had participated in an experiment that was supposed to mimic such seizures—and even then he didn't feel a thing.

Dawkins obviously feels this loss is a small price to pay for freedom from superstition. But even physicist Steven Weinberg, a Nobel laureate and an outspoken atheist, acknowledged that science is a poor substitute for the role religion plays in most peoples' lives. It's hard, he said, to live in a world in which one's highest emotions can be understood in biochemical and evolutionary terms, rather than a gift from God. Instead of the big, comforting certainties promoted by religion, science can offer only "a lot of little truths" and the austere pleasures of intellectual honesty. Much as Weinberg would like to see civilization emerge from the tyranny of religion, when it happens, "I think we will miss it, like a crazy old aunt who tells lies and causes us all kinds of trouble, but was beautiful once and was with us a long time."
To which Dawkins retorted, "I won't miss her at all." Only in the most extreme circumstances would he deign to take account of the consolations offered by religion. He would not, for instance, try to talk a Christian on his deathbed out of a belief in Heaven. He didn't say what he would do if he were the one near death, but it's unlikely he would be calling for a priest. The atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett had been expected to attend, but two weeks earlier had been rushed to the hospital with a near-fatal aortic rupture. At the conference, people handed around copies of Dennett's essay entitled "Thank Goodness," posted on the science Web site Edge.org, in which he described how annoying it was to hear from friends that they had been praying for his recovery. "I have resisted the temptation," he wrote, "to respond, 'Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?'"
It's hard to be a skeptic, that much was clear from the conference. Hard for the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, who described trying to offer up thanks "to the scientists who made this abundance of food possible" at a friend's Thanksgiving dinner, only to be shouted down by demands for a proper grace. Hard for atheist author Sam Harris ("Letter to a Christian Nation") who likes to point out that people today believe in God based on no more evidence than the ancients had for believing in Zeus or Poseidon—with the result that in addition to all the mail he gets from Christians, he's now getting angry letters from pagans who claim he's insulted their beliefs, as well.
The moderate position at the conference was represented by physicist Lawrence Krauss, who took the view that "science doesn't make it impossible to believe in God, it just makes it possible to not believe in God." The majority view was best articulated by Tyson, who said that atheism is not just the only intellectually coherent position, but a positive boon to humanity. He makes much of the statistic that only 15 percent of the scientific elite in the United States, defined as members of the National Academy of Sciences, express belief in a personal God who takes an active role in the world. That's approximately the mirror image of the population as a whole—but to Tyson, the mystery is that the number of believers among the scientist group isn't zero.
Tyson is a commanding public speaker, which is why his fellow astronomer Carolyn Porco, the head of the imaging team for the Cassini space probe to Saturn, nominated him at the conference to be the first minister of her proposed (although not very seriously) "Church of Science." She thinks science is a perfectly adequate substitute for religion. "Being a scientist and staring immensity and eternity in the face every day is as grand and inspiring as it gets," she says. "No religion offers anything comparable." To the promise of immortality, she counters with the proposition that all the atoms of our bodies will be blown into space in the disintegration of the solar system, to live on forever as mass or energy. That's what we should be teaching our children, not fairy tales about angels and seeing grandma in Heaven. "If anyone has something to replace God," she says, "I think scientists do." Of course, it's not clear that anyone else is looking for one.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The play is finished

Our last night! Tonight, very sad/happy to be done. I only cried once, so that was less than previously expected.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Question...

If Joanna had to choose between the following color combinations, which would she choose?
 
Black/Silver
Red/silver
Purple/gold
Purple/silver
 
I think she might prefer a red/gold, but since that's not an option, it's been a tough question for me.

Sorry - long post

I enjoyed Tim's "fresh perspective" and examples about this:
 

 The T in TULIP - Part 1

Yesterday morning my pastor preached on Romans 12-13 under the heading of "Cross-Centered Authenticity." Though I missed much of the first half of the sermon walking the halls with a fussy baby, I returned in time to hear the end of the first (and longest) point and the final four points. I am glad I heard at least the summary of the first point, for it is a critical one. The pastor spoke of how the cross is the great leveller. "All of us have the same disease. All of us have the same problem. So I say the cross levels us. It makes us all equal. We all come to Christ dead in sin; no one is in less need of grace than anybody else and if we feel a kind of clinical detachment from other sinners...then I say to you that you don't understand your own sin."

This fit well with something I have been pondering in recent days. I have felt the desire to write a short series of articles on the Five Points of Calvinism (also known as TULIP), not primarily to rehash the theology of each of the points or to provide an apologetic of Calvinism, but to draw some fresh application as well. I hope to show that these doctrines of grace are more than "mere theology," but can be integral in living out the Christian faith. I am assuming that my readers are, by and large, familiar with the Points of Calvinism. If this proves not to be the case, I will gladly step back and defend them from Scripture. But for now, we will assume at least some knowledge of them.

So let's begin this series (which, unlike several other series I've embarked upon, I hope to actually complete) by discussing Total Depravity, the T of TULIP.

The term "total depravity" has fallen out of favor in recent days, in large part because "total" seems to be a word that confuses, rather than clarifies the doctrine. James Boice and Philip Ryken suggest "Radical Depravity," as does Steve Lawson; R.C. Sproul suggests "Radical Corruption" and Michael Horton goes with "Rebels Without A Cause." Regardless of the terms used, the doctrine reads something like this:

"Total Depravity is a theological term primarily associated with Calvinism, which interprets the Bible to teach that, as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin. In other words, a person is not by nature inclined to love God with his heart or mind or strength, rather all are inclined to serve their own interests over those of their neighbor. Put another way, even with all circumstances in his favor a man without God can do nothing but work for his own destruction; and even his religion and philanthropy are destructive, to the extent that these originate from his own imagination, passions and will" (Wikipedia).

There is a sense in which Total Depravity undergirds the doctrines which follow it (Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Without Total Depravity, for example, it is possible for God to base election on the condition of a free will choice, thus rendering Unconditional Election invalid.

There is a bounty of biblical support for this doctrine. Genesis 6:5 tells us that "God saw that the intent of every heart was only continual evil." Just two chapters later we read of man that "The intent of every heart is evil from its youth" (Genesis 8:21). Romans 3:10-18 tells us that there is none righteous. There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside. Other passages include Isaiah 64:6-7, Jeremiah 17:9, John 3:19, 1 Corinthians 2:14, Ephesians 2:1-3 and 2 Timothy 2:25 and 26. Because the purpose of this article is not to defend this doctrine, I will make no further comment by way of defense.

When we say that mankind fell in Adam, we affirm that as our federal head, Adam's sin was passed on to all of us. Adam represented the human race, and when he decided to forsake God, he did so on behalf of all of us. This is similar to a head of state declaring war on another nation – his declaration means that each person within his nation, each person that he represents, is now at war with the foreign country. Job laments "Or how can he be pure who is born of a woman?" (Job 25:4) No one who has been born of man can escape this radically sinful nature. Nature tells us that like begets like; a dog can only give birth to dogs, not to cats or frogs or birds. Similarly a sinful person can only bring forth other sinful people.

Another affirmation we make in the Christian view of the fall is that there is a sense in which the first sin is ours in the same way in which it was Adam's. While we did not actually take the piece of fruit and eat it, God foreordained our relationship to Adam long before Adam fell so that from the moment of our conception we are sinful. We are not innocent until we commit our first sin, but are condemned, sinful people from the moment our lives begin. Psalm 58:3 tells us that "the wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies." Before we are even born we are already sinful, and deliberately go astray as soon as we are able.

And so it is that humans are sinful from the moment life begins. But how sinful are they? We will turn to this now.

As we have seen, many Calvinists are uncomfortable with the term "Total Depravity." Like others, I am convinced that a term such as Radical Depravity or Radical Corruption is superior. I believe these issues contribute to clarifying the matter, for by total depravity we do not mean that people are as depraved as they could possibly be--they are totally corrupt in some ways but not in others. It is here that it is helpful to distinguish between extent and degree.

When we say humans are totally depraved in extent, we mean that their depravity has reached every part of their being. It extends to every part of them – their mind, body and spirit are all corrupt. When we speak of a total degree of depravity, we indicate that something is exactly as bad as it could possibly be so that there is not even a tiny bit of good left.

Consider the illustration of three glasses of water. The first glass contains clean, pure water and represents Adam in his perfect state before the Fall. Now consider a second glass which contains this same clean, pure water. We can put one drop of deadly poison in that glass and it renders that entire glass poisonous so that if you were to drink it, you would quickly drop dead. That one drop extended to every part of the glass even though the entire vessel is not filled with poison. This represents humans after the Fall. While they are not wholly corrupt, the corruption they do have extends to every part. And finally consider a third glass which is filled entirely with poison. From top to bottom there is nothing but deadly poison. This represents Satan, who the Bible portrays as being absolutely corrupt so there is no good left whatsoever, but this does not represent humans here on earth. Humans are not as depraved as they could possibly be. We must note that sinful men who have been cast into hell will also be in this state where they are wholly depraved.

One might ask, then, why God has allowed men who are corrupt in extent not to be corrupt in degree. The reason we find in Scripture is simply that God is merciful. Had He not intervened every human would indeed be corrupt in both extent and degree. If every person in the world were as filled with sin as he could be, the world would be uninhabitable, filled with murderers, thieves and all manner of evil. Thankfully God has allowed even sinful men to avoid being wholly corrupt. There are several means He has given to do this.

Conscience – Every human being has been given a conscience, an inner working which helps restrain the desire to do evil. Paul writes in Romans 2 "...their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (verse 15)

Government – God has put civil authorities in place to restrain men from evil. Furthermore, He has given them the authority to dispense justice and punishment. Romans 13 verses 1 through 5 speak to this. "Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience' sake."

Fear of Death – Humans have a natural fear of death. Every man-made religion emphasizes the necessity of doing good so that we can store up a treasure of good deeds to supposedly sustain us in the life after death. Hebrews 2:14-15 reads "[Jesus] likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."

Society – People are also restrained by the desire to appear good before their friends, families and society in general. Doing good is generally valued highly enough that people seek to attain to some degree of goodness.

That is the Christian view on depravity. All humans are corrupt in extent – every part of us testifies to our imperfection, but thanks be to God, not in degree. And before us lies a decision. God tells us that when we die we can anticipate either becoming perfected, so once again we will be like that glass of water that is crystal clear, free from any poison of corruption or being cast out of His presence where we will become like that glass of poison, as corrupt and evil and filled with hate as we could possibly be.

In our next article, I'd like to make an application for this doctrine. 

The T in TULIP - Part 2

This is the second article in a series dealing with the Five Points of Calvinism and attempting to draw some fresh application from them. I anticipate that each of the five points will merit two articles.

The first article dealing with the T in TULIP can be found here. Today we will seek personal application for this doctrine.

Total Depravity: The Great Equalizer

I often feel that I have a boring or even uninspiring testimony. Like most believers, I have sat through (and sometimes endured) courses, seminars and Bible studies that have taught the value of a good testimony in evangelizing the lost. Many of these have taught evangelistic techniques that begin and end with a riveting testimony, as if God can only save through such a testimony. Of course, like any long-time believer, I have heard some incredible and inspiring testimonies. I have heard about women who were prostitutes giving their lives to the Lord and becoming active in ministry to women. I have met men who were drug dealers, living lives that would cause the most hardened of us to pale, but who were convicted of their sin and, through God's grace, were saved. Compared to these, my testimony seems bland. It seems boring.

My testimony goes something like this: I was born into a Christian home. I was a pretty good kid and never got into any real trouble. Sure I lied a little bit and stole some pocket change from my mother on occasion, but I never did anything really bad. At some point during my teenage years I became a Christian. I do not have a crystal-clear idea of when this happened, but I do know that by the time I graduated high school I was a committed Christian. The end. Not surprisingly, no one has ever offered me a book deal or a spot on the speaking circuit to share that testimony with others.

Rebecca of "Rebecca Writes" fame, once expressed a similar sentiment in an article on her blog. "I came to Christ when I was very young. For almost as long as I can remember, I have been a crooked arrow being made straight rather than a crooked arrow spinning wildly. My testimony doesn't start with 'I was a teenaged prostitute drug-dealing felon, but God saved me.' Nope. 'I was a naughty five-year-old' is about the worst I can do."

In the article Rebecca expresses a belief that I share - Total Depravity is the great equalizer of believers before God. Even when we compare the most sinful man to the young boy who was saved long before he even knew how to get into serious trouble, we see that all men are equal before this law. After all, the Scriptures teach that we are not sinners merely because of the degree of our depravity, but because of the extent. As we saw in the first article on this topic, if we were to speak of a person who was totally depraved in degree, we would mean that the person was exactly as sinful as he could possibly be. Every thought of his heart and every action he undertook would be wholly, completely evil. Clearly there are some people in the world who are more depraved in degree than others and thus the degree of human depravity varies from person to person. This is why we need to distinguish between degree and extent. When we speak of a person who is totally depraved in extent, we mean that every part of that person has been affected by sin. His mind, body, spirit, motives, and thoughts are all corrupt and imperfect. In this measure, all men are equal.

The extent of my depravity is just as great as that of the worst sinner the world has ever known. The thoughts of his heart were continually evil, and so were mine. He hated God, and so did I. I had little opportunity to express this hatred and resentment, yet the Bible teaches that it was there all along. Titus 3:3 tells us that "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." These words are as true of a child as they are of an adult. Even a young child passes her days in foolishness, disobedience and malice towards both God and men. There are none who are truly innocent before God.

Ephesians 2:1-3 reads, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Rebecca writes, "Yep, there I was, in the evil band of those marching along the wrong path. I looked innocent enough, with my ringlets and ruffly dress and patent leather shoes, but what you couldn't see is that I, too, was being energized by a spirit ruled by the prince of the power of the air. Yet God, in his mercy, reached down and plucked me from the power of darkness and transferred me to the kingdom of the Son."

Were it not for Scripture's clear teaching on Total Depravity, I may have cause to boast or to consider myself somehow more innocent than a person who instigated and endured much pain and suffering before being drawn to the Lord. Yet the Bible teaches me that my depravity, even as a child, was as great in extent as anyone's. It was only His grace that kept me from being as corrupt in degree. If God delights in saving us, who are depraved in extent, we know also that God can save anyone despite the degree of his sin. If I compare myself to another and find him more in need of a Savior than I, I have made the mistake of comparing my sin to his, instead of comparing my sin to God's perfection. God does not judge us by comparing one to the other, but against His perfect Law.

Before I close, I want to return briefly to those of us with what we perceive to be boring testimonies. It is amazing - shocking really - that the miracle of being delivered from death to life can be considered bland by myself or anyone else. Yet we all love a good story, and my story does not seem particularly exciting. But in reality, I think the testimony of a person, raised in a Christian home, who was saved in childhood is the most exciting testimony we can be privileged to hear. Is it not immeasurably beautiful that God is, indeed, faithful from one generation to the next? He promised the Israelites that He would show "steadfast love to thousands [of generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:6). Perhaps this is best-expressed (as the footnote in the ESV says) as "showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation" of those who love Him. When the child of believing parents is given the gift of eternal life, we can marvel in God's faithfulness to His promises. We can marvel also in His grace, that there are some whom He so blesses so that they do not need to experience such a degree of sin. Truly God is merciful. I pray and plead that He will extend such grace to my children, that they, too, may have testimonies of being drawn to Him while they are still young.

Total Depravity is not mere doctrine, but is truth that should and must impact the believer's life. This truth is the great equalizer, for it shows that the best and worst of men are all equally corrupt in light of God's perfect standard. "The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does." (James 1:23) Rebecca writes, "Total depravity is both the nastiest and loveliest of truths, because it's only by seeing exactly what I was that I can understand what has been done for me. Knowing the depth of God's love comes only as I fathom how far he had to stoop to grasp me." God had to stoop just as far to grab me as He did the lowliest criminal, for we were equally dead, equally depraved and equally in need of His grace, His life. We are equal as we fall to our faces before the cross.

We will continue this discussion in the future, as we move to the "U" in TULIP.

 

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Monday, November 06, 2006

What it means to be Reformed

I have been investigating Reformed theology for a few years now and found this helpful article.
 

What It Means To Be Reformed

Every year or so I find myself crawling back to a definition of the word Reformed that I first wrote up a couple of years ago. I find it worthwhile to revisit this every twelve months or so. With the amount of reading and studying I do in a year, I feel it is interesting to turn to this definition to see what I would change and what I would refine. I also find it humbling to see which parts of the definition I may have emphasized at the expense of others. And so today I thought I would define the word Reformed, trusting that the readers of this site will find it helpful. While Calvinism and Reformed are not fully synonymous, most people understand them to be so. Because the differences between them are subtle, I will use them synonymously.

It is important to understand that because the Reformed tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation, the term Reformed was not defined from within a void. Rather, it was defined as a biblical response to the excesses and perversions of the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers, having returned to Scripture, attempted to carefully and faithfully rebuild the church upon the teachings of the New Testament. Thus by affirming Reformed theology, a person is implicitly denying certain other theologies, such as Catholic theology (which Reformed theology rose in opposition to) and Arminian theology (which later rose in opposition to Reformed theology). While Calvinism predates Arminianism, it was only codified in the five points after the rise of Arminianism. There is a sense in which Calvinism is both a cause of and the reaction to Arminianism. Or perhaps we could say that Arminianism is a response to Reformed theology, and the codification of Calvinism is a response to Arminianism.

There are many expressions of the Christian faith that are based at least partially on the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Bible. These are separated into four main divisions: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant and Cults. Protestantism can be fairly readily divided into two camps: Arminian and Reformed. The vast majority of Protestants hold to Arminian doctrine. We will concern ourselves today with the minority who consider themselves Reformed. These tend to be people who attend Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist Churches, though they may be found in other churches as well. Sadly, there are many churches that were once Reformed and may still use the title, even if they have long since abandoned the theology.

It is surprisingly difficult to find a worthwhile definition of Reformed. While many people claim to understand the Reformed faith and are eager to provide a definition, few seem to be both fair and adequate. Here are a couple of examples culled from a Google search:

  1. A term used to refer to a tradition of theology which draws inspiration from the writings of John Calvin (1510-64) and his successors. The term is generally used in preference to "Calvinist."
  2. Referring to the Reformation, it's theology, and/or those subscribing to it. Also used to differentiate a,) Calvinism from Lutheranism, or b.) Continental European Calvinism from Scottish Calvinism, aka Presbyterianism.

Those are both concise definitions but ones that do not capture the full sense of the word. A far better and more complete definition is found at Five Solas. There Professor Byron Curtis, a professor at Geneva College breaks the definition into four parts which I will expound in some detail. The first two parts define foundational Protestant beliefs and the second two are exclusively Reformed. According to Curtis, to be Reformed is:

  1. To confess the consensus of the five first centuries of the church:
    • Classic theism: One omnipotent, benevolent God, distinct from creation.
    • Nicene and Chalcedonian Trinitarianism: one God in three eternally existent persons, equal in power and glory.
    • Christ, the God-Man, the one mediator between God & the human race, incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended, & coming again.
    • Humanity created in the image of God, yet tragically fallen & profoundly in need of restoration to God through Christ.
    • The Visible Church: the community of the redeemed, indwelt by the Holy Spirit; the mystical body of Christ on earth.
    • The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
    • The Sacraments: visible signs and seals of the grace of God, ministering Christ's love to us in our deep need.
    • The Christian life: characterized by the prime theological virtues of faith, hope, and love.

    It would be correct to say that, to this point, we are dealing with a statement of the Protestant faith more than a statement of the Reformed faith. From this list we see that Reformed Christians adhere to all the foundational beliefs taught in the Bible. These beliefs were the foundation of the early church and are based on the teachings of the Bible as interpreted by the apostles and early church fathers. Many of these beliefs were changed or lost as the Catholic Church grew in power and authority from the fifth century onwards. Throughout history there were isolated and often-persecuted pockets of non-Catholic believers who held to many or all of these points of doctrine, but they were largely lost until their rediscovery at the time of the Reformation.

    We will find that Professor Curtis' definition is based largely upon a Presbyterian understanding of several doctrines. Reformed Baptists may take issue with the sacraments being signs and seals. I would suggest that Reformed believers will have a high view of two sacraments, though they may differ somewhat on just how they are to understood and how they are to be administered.

  2. To confess the four solas:
    • The authority of Scripture: sola scriptura (Scripture alone)
    • the basis of salvation: Sola Gratia (Grace alone)
    • the means of salvation: Sola Fide (Faith alone)
    • the merit of salvation: Solus Christus (Christ alone)

    Again, these form the basis for Protestantism as much as they do for the Reformed tradition, though sadly the majority of Protestants will never encounter the terms. These are the principles that drove the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century and separated it from the Roman Catholic Church. These four points of doctrine are based entirely on the Bible and were the theological driving force behind the newly formed Protestant movement.

  3. To confess the distinctives of the Reformed faith:
    • In salvation: monergism not synergism. God alone saves. Such monergism implies T.U.L.I.P., the Five Points of Calvinism from the Synod of Dordt:
      T = Total Depravity U = Unconditional Election L = Limited Atonement, or, better, Particular Redemption I = Irresistible Grace P = Perseverence and Preservation of the Saints

    These five distinct points of doctrine are also known as the five points of Calvinism as they were first articulated by John Calvin after the Reformation was in full-swing. They are based entirely on the Bible. When people speak of being Reformed these five points of doctrine are most often what they are referring to. Most evangelical (non-Reformed) churches do not hold to all of these points. Some hold to two or three (and occasionally even four), but most reject them in favor of Arminian theology which is, at heart, synergistic, relying on a cooperative effort between man and God.

  4. Other Reformed Distinctives:

    Professor Curtis goes on to list other points of doctrine he believes are Reformed distinctives. They include: The Regulative Principle of Worship, Covenant theology (The Church is the New Israel - we most often see an expression of this theology in infant baptism, but it also impacts eschatology and many other doctrines) and Life is religion (Christians have neither jobs nor careers; they have vocations (callings)). I would not consider adherence to these principles necessary to consider oneself Reformed and I suspect the majority of Reformed Christians would agree with me. It is these distinctions that provide some of the differences between Calvinist and Reformed.

  5. Finally: in everything, Soli Deo Gloria - to God alone be the glory in all things.

    This is, once more, something all Christians would claim, either explicitly or implicitly. In all areas of life we are to give glory to God alone.

So what does this all mean? To be Reformed is to adhere to the purist teachings of the Bible - to affirm the doctrine taught by Jesus, Paul and the apostles. Scripture is considered the ultimate authority in matters of life and faith and all Reformed doctrine is founded on the Bible. I am convinced that Reformed doctrine is nothing more than the teachings of Jesus, the Apostles and the totality of the Scriptures. Were it not for human sin we would have to make no distinction between biblical Christianity and the Reformed faith.

If you are interested in learning more about the Reformed tradition, there are many excellent resources availble to you. Here are a few favorites:

  • Christian Handbook by Peter Jeffery - an excellent little book I reviewed here that introduces Christian beliefs from a Reformed perspective (A very brief review).
  • Putting Amazing Back Into Grace by Michael Horton. This is an excellent, fun introduction to the Five Points (my review).
  • Desiring God by John Piper - not for the faint-of-heart but does a great job of explaining Reformed principles (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul (Discerning Reader reviews).
  • The Doctrines of Grace by James Boice (Discerning Reader reviews).
 

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

It has arrived!

My new car. This is my first car with a key fob with a button that locks/unlocks your doors. I feel ridiculously wealthy. I think this may also be my first car with functioning air conditioning! It is a 1999 Honda Civic! Doesn't that just sound economical? Ahhh. It has about 90000 miles, so just about "broke in" I hope, like a pair of jeans that haven't been washed for a few days/weeks. It is dark (may I say "forrest?") green, a color of car I never thought I would have, but this opens many new names I would have not been able to use if it was a different color. Mi favorito hasta ahora: El guisante verde sabroso. (My favorite so far: The tasty green pea.)

In sad news (for reader #1 of this blog anyway): The Brawny Man was soundly defeated by the Ninja in a recent GoogleFight: http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=ninja&word2=Brawny+Man. For such a manly man, he didn't really even show up. The metric system was actually a stronger contender, though still unvictorious: http://www.googlefight.com/index.php?lang=en_GB&word1=ninja&word2=metric+system