A Question About Calvinism

August 17, 2017 at 8:10 am | Posted in It's All About God, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

I work with a college ministry called Campus Ventures, and occasionally get questions of a theological nature from the staff there.  I got a question yesterday, and the following text conversation ensued.   I wanted to keep the wording, and thought it would be appropriate to post here.

Glenn, what’s your take on the Five Solas of the Reformation?  We have a volunteer staff that is from a Reformed background wanting to do a Bible study on this.  Any chance this can twist off into Calvinism?  Doesn’t seem like it, but I wanted your thoughts about both questions.

The authority of the scriptures alone.  Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone.  To me that’s just good solid Christian doctrine.  The real Gospel.  Yes there are some areas you can get off into Calvinism, especially grace and glory.  Personally, I have trouble with the Arminian doctrine actually expressing those five things in truth.  But that shows my own bias in the matter.

Thanks, Glenn.  I couldn’t see any problem with it either, but there has been such a problem of late with people here going off the deep end with Calvinism, I wanted to make sure before getting back to him.

The true heart of Calvinism is the glory of God in all things, unfortunately too many people who call themselves Calvinists emphasize things in such a way that they give the glory to themselves. They’re the ones who know it all.
They’re proud to be the elect, but that misunderstands the whole point!

Wow!  That is good stuff, Glenn.  Thanks for sharing that with me.

I would add here that Calvinism correctly understood should make us fully aware that we are very sinful people; that we are separated from God; that we can do nothing about our situation; that our salvation is completely the work of God; that even our good deeds after salvation are God working through us; that it is ultimately all about God.  That should promote humility.

Note how much of what I said in the last paragraph is expressed in this famous passage:  “By grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works that no one should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Forgive me, God, when I am proud of what I know or of what I think are my own accomplishments.


I Hate the Doctrine of Hell

March 3, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Posted in Eschatology, It's All About God, Theology | Leave a comment

“I hate the doctrine of hell.”  So begins the video by R.C. Sproul linked in this post.  I would agree with him.  An eternal hell is one of those things we Christians don’t like to talk much about, because we are so uncomfortable with what we say we believe.  Dr. Sproul explains our discomfort with hell while defending why it is still true.  One of the best things I’ve heard in a while.  The video is well worth the 3-1/2 minutes it takes to listen.  R. C. Sproul on God’s Glory in Judgment.

Reflections of a Recovering Dispensationalist — a Book Review

October 8, 2013 at 7:41 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Eschatology, Theology | 2 Comments

I just read Reflections of a Recovering Dispensationalist by S. P. Sammons.  I picked up this book for two reasons.  First, I loved the title, because “Recovering Dispensationalist” could describe me as well as the author, though he knows far more than I do and was deeper into Dispensationalism than I was.  But second, when I saw recommendations by Gordon Fee and Mark Strauss, two men whose work I have appreciated in the past, I decided it was worth a read.  Sammons’ writing is simple and straight forward, sometimes sounding almost simplistic, but that style fits the purposes of this book very well, since his point is that a simple interpretation of scripture led him to his conclusions.  The subtitle is Revisiting the Pretribulational Rapture in Light of a Literal Interpretation.  Sammons writes as an insider, having grown up a Dispensationalist and having attended a Dispensational seminary, but he has since abandoned that school of thought.   Since I began this blog with a promise to chart my journey from a pre-tribulation rapture position to a post-tribulation rapture position, I had to include this report.

The argument he makes over and over, for numerous tenants of Dispensational Theology, is two-fold.  First he states that these tenants are no where plainly stated in scripture.  For example, Sammons says, “The pretribulation rapture of the Church is a doctrine that is not directly stated in the Scriptures.  It is a doctrine that is based on a nineteenth century theology”  (p.103)  I would have added that, in some cases, the straightforward interpretation of scripture leads to the opposite of what Dispensationalists claim.  Sammons only touches on that in the second stage of his argument.  I’ve written about some of those examples before.

Second, Sammons shows that the tenants of Dispensationalism also cannot be drawn from the Bible.  That the literal/historic hermeneutic that the Dispensationalists claim to follow really doesn’t give the conclusions they claim, unless they assume those conclusions to begin with.  The only way one can arrive there is to come to the scriptures with a predisposed bent toward them.   For example, “I would submit that to attribute meaning that the Apostle Paul did not intend is not the result of a plain and normal interpretation; rather, it is the result of coming to the text with an interpretive agenda.  One must impose a predetermined theological filter  .  .  .  ” (p.108)  He says similar things throughout the book, using this same two-fold approach for other points of the system.

I suppose I liked the book because the author wrote what has been my theological journey over the past 30 some years of Bible study.  It’s always been my intent to understand the text of the Bible.  That lead me to many unanswered questions and contradictions concerning Dispensationalism.  I came to the conviction, at one point, just as Sammons did, that one has to have a predetermined Dispensational bent to come to a Dispensational conclusion.  It is a theology that isn’t drawn from scripture; it is one that is brought to the scriptures.

Sammons claims not to be a Covenant Theologian either, and though he doesn’t clearly offer an alternative system, he quotes books that would offer one.  He does however, graciously invite those of a Dispensational bent to ask themselves some tough questions about their own system of belief.  If you’re willing to hear an insider’s journey out of Dispensational theology, you will find this book very interesting.

The Sovereign Lord Who Bought Them

March 25, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, False teaching, Security and Assurance, Theology | 7 Comments

While recently reviewing verses I’d learned in the past, I was struck by some thoughts from 2 Peter 2:1.  In spite of the chapter change, this verse is a follow up to the argument in chapter 1:12-21, which is, in my mind, the definitive chapter about the inspiration of God’s word.  Peter tells us that Christians will have two sources for knowing the truth when he and the other apostles are gone.  The first is the accounts of those who were eye-witnesses of Jesus (which we call the New Testament) and the second is the word of the prophets (which we know as the Old Testament).  See 2 Peter 3:1-2 for a similar description.  But in the beginning of chapter 2, Peter tells us the negative or warning side of that matter.  Just as there were false prophets in the Old Testament days, so there will be false teachers in the New Testament days.

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.  They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1 NIV)

I had three thoughts as I pondered these words.  First, the language makes one wonder if the position of teacher has, in the New Testament era, replaced the role of prophet from the Old.  Today the main method God uses of getting his word to his people is not prophets speaking forth his word so much as teachers expounding what he has already given.  Second, I noticed what is denied by the false teachers of the New Testament era.  They deny the sovereign Lord who bought them.  This should be no surprise, because so many false teachings deny the sovereignty of Jesus.  Whenever someone says Jesus is not fully God, that person is a false teacher.  But, third, they deny the sovereign Lord who bought them.  Notice, as I often point out when it comes to salvation issues in the New Testament, that the tense is past; the purchase has already taken place.  Anyone who denies that God’s people are already redeemed, and were so at the cross, also runs the risk of being a false teacher.  Teachers of the true gospel know that we are redeemed, that we have been purchased, that salvation of God’s people is already guaranteed.  There is such great security in knowing my redemption took place at the cross, for then it is dependent on God’s unbreakable promise and not on my wavering faith and weak commitments.

In Jesus, All Is Fullfilled

September 22, 2012 at 8:47 am | Posted in Books and Movies, Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

I am reading F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Development of Old Testament Themes.  Though I am only 1/3 the way through the book, it has already been interesting and thought provoking.  Bruce does exactly what the title implies; he follows key themes of the OT into the New, to show how they are developed.  I found this book, believe it or not, in a Mormon used-book store, when we drove to Utah to pick up our daughter and spend a day with Loren and Carrie, our church planter friends with whom she worked.  Loren said he often found some treasures there.

I was interested in the title, and wanted to see how Bruce handles some topics that affect Dispensational theology.  I was pretty certain he was not a Dispensationalist himself, since very few European theologians are, and that has already been confirmed by my reading.  However, Bruce’s development has been thought provoking in other ways.  Without going overboard into typological interpretation, he shows how the major themes of the OT are fulfilled in Jesus.  The following quote was in the first chapter.  It was worth the cost of the book just to find this:

In Jesus the promise is confirmed, the covenant renewed, the prophecies are fulfilled, the law is vindicated, salvation is brought near, sacred history has reached its climax, the perfect sacrifice has been offered and accepted, the great priest over the household of God has taken his seat at God’s right hand, the Prophet like Moses has been raised up, the Son of David reigns, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated, the Son of Man has received dominion from the Ancient of Days, the Servant of the Lord, having been smitten to death for his people’s transgression and borne the sin of many, has accomplished the divine purpose, has seen the light after the travail of his soul and is now exalted and extolled and made very high.

That’s a great thought for the day.  I’m sure if the Mormon’s knew what was in it, they never would have sold it in one of their stores.

Some Recent Reads

July 12, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Eschatology, Swimming, Theology | 2 Comments

I haven’t posted any book reports for a long time now.  Here are some recent reads that I found interesting:

100 Cupboards

Since my wife and daughter were reading this series and discussing it, I had to read it for the second time to keep up with the conversation.  I enjoyed it just as much as the first time.  I reviewed it here.

Michael Phelps: The Untold Story of a Champion, by Bob Schaller with an Introduction by Rowdy Gaines and a Forward by Jason Lezak.

The swimmers who wrote the Introduction and Forward made this look like a great read, and being a life-long swimmer myself, I couldn’t resist picking it up a while back.  Since this is an Olympic year, with Phelps back in the spotlight, I thought this would be a great summer read.  The information was interesting and I enjoyed that, but the editing was poorly done.  I noticed that the book was published in 2008 right after the Beijing Games, and I assumed it was quickly mass produced to take advantage of Michael Phelps’ popularity at that time.  Bob Schaller had written numerous magazine articles on Phelps, and this book must have been a compilation of some of those along with hastily scribbled notes from the 2008 Games.  For instance, numerous introductions of some key people, like Michael’s sisters, leave the reader with the impression the author is senile or each chapter was intended to be a separate article.  It’s no wonder I found it at the dollar store.  Maybe subsequent editions are better done.

Louis L’Amour

I hadn’t read any books by Louis L’Amour for at least 20 years, but when another swimmer at the Recreation Center loaned me a copy of The Last of the Breed, I thought I should get it back to him in a timely manner.  It was a great book – an exciting page turner.  The last one L’Amour ever wrote, and I’m sure a sequel was in his head somewhere.  It is the story of U.S. Air Force Major Joe Mack, who escapes a Soviet prison camp after his experimental aircraft is forced down over Russia.  If you like adventure stories and remember the cold war, this is worth your time.  It inspired me to pick up another L’Amour for a quick weekend read when I had some time away last week.  Called Milo Talon, it wasn’t as good as the first book.  However, L’Amour is a good story teller, and I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, by John Gerstner

This one has been on my shelf for a longtime.  Gerstner’s thesis, that Dispnsational Theology is mutually exclusive of Calvinism, fascinated me, but I’d never taken time to read the book.  It made me think more than any I’ve read in quite some time.  Gerstner begins with a historical presentation of Dispensationalism, and though it’s clear he doesn’t believe what he is presenting, his presentation was fascinating and seemed fair enough.  The section where Gerstner claims to show that Dispensational theology contradicts all five points of Calvinism was overstated.  He does demonstrate that the most popular Dispensational authors have some Arminian tendencies and do not agree with his understanding of Calvinism, but he fails to make his point.  Nowhere does he demonstrate that the tenants of Calvinism are exclusive of Dispensationalism.  However, in a later chapter, when the author asks the definition of a dispensation, he makes a strong point that Dispensationalists have changed their definitions over the years to avoid valid challenges from other Evangelicals, yet they haven’t yet corrected the problem.  Any definition given to the word changes the basic message of the gospel and opens up other means of salvation beyond the grace of God.  That chapter is a powerful refutation of Dispensationalism from a Calvinistic point of view.  Definitely a thought-provoking book that made me question what I believe on some of these issues.

The Nature of True Confession

May 24, 2012 at 10:25 am | Posted in Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | 6 Comments

“If I’m pretty sure that I’m going to commit the same sin again, how can I repent and turn the other way?  Does confession at some point become a lie?”

What a great question!  It came to me from the comments of a fellow blogger, who then asked me for my opinion on it.  It’s a great question because it is so honest, because it reveals the depth of our sinfulness, and because it reveals the nature of genuine faith in Christ.

The simple answer is, “No.  Confession of that nature is not a lie; it is, in fact, more honest than most confessions.”  Moore to Ponder’s words about 1 John 1:8-10 are a great commentary on this point.  (My gut reaction is to say that the most damaging lie we could utter is “I have no sin.  I sinned once, but I will “never” commit “that” sin again.)  True confession recognizes not only the sinful act but also the sinful heart from which the act proceeds, and it admits dependence on God to overcome that sinfulness because we know we probably will do it all again, if not the same act, another which comes from the same heart.

A more in-depth, theological answer could take an entire book, and indeed the theological issues that touch on this have filled many books.  But here is my brief attempt:

Those who follow the biblical teaching are quick to confess that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone.  And this question was wisely asked on a post about that very issue.  However, those of the Reformed tradition are also quick to point out that, though salvation is through faith alone, genuine faith is never alone.  In other words, saving faith is always demonstrated by how we live our lives.  Biblical faith is not simple head knowledge, or even assent to the facts of Jesus’ death for our sins.  Biblical faith is a total trusting of one’s self to those facts.  Faith and repentance, as understood correctly, are two descriptions of the same thing.  Faith emphasizes turning to Christ, while repentance emphasizes turning away from other things; for if genuine faith is total trust, then nothing else can be trusted, and whatever one trusts before following Jesus must be trusted no more.  Just like faith in Jesus has a beginning, sometimes in an event, but is an ongoing experience for the Christian, so also repentance may have a beginning in an event, but is really an ongoing experience of Jesus’ disciples.  In other words, confessing and repenting should be a part of our normal and daily experience.

This thought raises the question of what confession really is.  We often think of it as admitting certain acts of sin to God.  However, confession should go much deeper than that; it must include the heart attitude that gives rise to the act of sin we committed.  Acts of sin come from a sinful heart, a heart that in some way or another puts self on the throne where the Lord belongs.  Many Christians may confess a certain act, like offending people by speaking out of turn (I know that one well), but never confess the heart attitude of wanting to be noticed or thinking of one’s self as the expert or of wanting to prove someone else wrong.  Yet those things are the deeper sins that also must be confessed.  Sometimes we don’t even know the depth of our sinful motives. I addressed that issue in this post.

Also confession must never be seen as the condition of our forgiveness.  That attitude puts our salvation into our own hands, but the truth is that our salvation is in God’s hands and not ours.  We are forgiven because of Jesus, not because we confess.  The popular misunderstanding of 1 John 1:9 that gives rise to this idea is one I addressed here.

There is much in 1 John that touches on this topic.  This little New Testament book was written so that Jesus’ followers would have assurance of their salvation (5:11-13), and it gives many tests of the true believer.  True believers, according to John, trust in Jesus; they confess their sinfulness; they love Jesus’ other followers.  However, there is one particular test in 1 John which is important to this discussion:  True believers make some sort of progress in righteousness.  Though we are and always will be sinful, if we are truly regenerated by God’s Spirit, then we will demonstrate that regeneration by how we conduct our lives (2:4-6, 15-17, 29; 3:4-10; 5:4-5).  The discussion of faith in James makes this same point; genuine faith is demonstrated by good works.  I mention this here because we must understand the nature of new life and of true repentance.  If your attitude is, “I will go out and sin as much as I want, because I can confess it to God and be forgiven,” then you either confuse the sinful act with the sinful heart or you may not have experienced a genuine conversion.  God’s people may have to confess the same sins over and over, maybe even for a lifetime, but they will not intentionally sin with the attitude that they can simply confess later.  When they do sinful acts, and when they see the depths of their sinful attitudes, they will be repentant in attitude and action.

If you struggle with certain sinful activities and attitudes, confess those to God, trust Jesus’ death as the payment for your sin, and tell God that with his help, you will go out and live a righteous life.  When you fail, do it all again, knowing that Jesus’ sacrifice has already covered all your sinful acts and all your sinful attitudes and motives.

I think this post is too long already.  If some of you are interested in more on this topic, read a good theology book about regeneration and/or perseverance of the saints.  Those are the theological terms that I’ve touched on here.  In the meantime, keep pursuing righteousness and keep confessing when you don’t

Are Ghosts Real?

February 7, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Posted in Eschatology, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Theology | Leave a comment

Hello Pastor Glenn,

I have a question about “spirits” or “ghosts.”  Recently a family member of mine called his ex-wife and told her he keeps seeing a man in his house whose always dressed in grey.  When he called the landlord, the landlord asked if he was dressed in grey.  He said the previous owner saw this spirit as well.  What is that?  Is it something evil?  Buy the way, this took place in Sweden.

Phenomena like this have been reported in popular tales for centuries.  The common accepted explanation is that these are ghosts, particularly spirits of dead people who may have passed away in the building or area where they appear.  Does the Bible have something to say about this?  Is the popular explanation a viable one within a biblical world view?  To answer, I will assume that at least some of the stories are factual, though to some people that is a big assumption.  Because of the human nature to embellish stories, I tend to think many of these are just fictional folk tales, but let’s say for argument purposes that some of them are true.

The Bible recognizes the existence of a spiritual world and of spirits.  However, the Bible calls those spirits “angels” (messengers from God) or “demons” (fallen angels, who oppose God).  Demons and angels are created beings, separate from humans.  The popular notion that good people die and become angels in God’s service is not biblical, nor is the idea that dead people are spirits just kind of hanging around this world until the end of time.  When believers die, their spirits are immediately in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:1-10; Philippians 1:22-23; Luke 23:43), and their bodies will someday be resurrected to live forever (1 Corinthians 15).  When unbelievers die, their spirits are immediately in torment (Luke 16:19-24), and they too will be resurrected (John 5:25-29).

Between the time of death and resurrection, can these spirits of dead people visit the earth and appear to or talk to others who still alive?  Apparently not.  Jesus’ story of Lazarus and the rich man indicates that such a thing cannot happen (Luke 16:19-31).  Even if they could appear, they would have more important things to do than haunt people; for this story indicates they would want to give warning of what is to come.

What then of these ghostly appearances?  I believe we are left with two possibilities.  Either they are psychological in nature, or they are demons.  The psychology explanation, in my mind, leaves a lot to be desired,.  For instance, it can’t explain why appearances in the same location are often the same to different people, like the case you mention from Sweden.  That leaves only one possible explanation, and that is that such appearances are demons.

If that is the case, then why do they appear as they do – sometimes in the same form to different people in the same location?  I do not know.  Remember that Satan and his army are out to deceive and mislead.  They are liars, so anything spirits say is suspect, unless they prove to be spirits from God.  The Bible gives a clear test of a true spirit (1 John 4:1-4), and one would be wise to memorize it.  A spirit that cannot confess the true Jesus as the divine one in the flesh is not a spirit from God.  Finally, remember that all spirits are under the authority of Jesus, for he is the King of kings and Lord of lords; he is their creator, and they must answer to him (Colossians 1:15-20).

Salvation by Grace through Faith? Look at the Overwhelming Evidence!

April 18, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Posted in False teaching, Grace and Faith, Questions for Pastor Glenn, Security and Assurance, Theology | 8 Comments

Do we really believe that God offers salvation freely by his grace, and that our part is simply to trust in his provision?  I am so often hit with questions about this matter that I thought I would post many or these references together.  There are those who teach that we must practice certain things or go through certain rituals to be saved.  But what does the Bible say?  Look at the overwhelming evidence in this matter.  Notice that there are not just a few verses pulled out of context but some long passages and references from four of the major authors of the New Testament.

From Luke:

Acts 2:21;  Acts 4:4;  Acts 10:43;  Acts 13:38-39;  Acts 14:1, 27;  Acts 15:6-11;  Acts 16:29-31;  Acts 18:27;  Acts 20:21;  Acts 26:12-18.

From Paul:

Romans 1:16-17;  Romans 3:21-26, 27-30;  Romans 4:1-25;  Romans 5:1-11;  Romans 10:9-13;  Galatians 2:15-21;  Galatians 3:1-15;  Galatians 5:2-6;  Ephesians 1:13-14;  Ephesians 2:8-10;  2 Timothy 3:14-15;  Titus 3:3-7.

From John:

John 1:10-13;  John 3:14-17, 18, 36;  John 5:24;  John 6:28-29, 35, 40, 47;  John 7:37-39;  John 8:24;  John 11:25-26;  John 12:44-46;  John 20:30-31;  1 John 5:11-13.

From Peter:

1 Peter 1:3-5, 18-21;  1 Peter 2:6-10.

Maybe you never realized the Bible was so overwhelmingly clear.  Maybe you’ve run across this post because you’re under the teaching of someone who wants you to sign on his program or get baptized by his church because, he tells you, it’s the only way you can be saved, and he’s quoted to you a few obscure verses twisted to his purposes.  Maybe you think you’re saved because you were baptized or you’ve done many good works or you walked down a church aisle one day.  Maybe you’re trusting in yourself and what you can do.  The Bible is unmistakably clear on this matter:  Salvation is a gift of God’s grace through our trust in Jesus.  All that must be paid for our salvation has been paid by Jesus.  When you trust in him you are eternally saved from your sin.  Put your trust in Jesus today.

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned.  He has crossed over from death to life.”  –Jesus

Two More Quotes from Ladd

February 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Books and Movies, Devotional thoughts, Theology | Leave a comment

Here are two more wonderful quotes from George Eldon Ladd’s The Gospel of the Kingdom.  Great thoughts to ponder:

Apart from the Gospel of the Kingdom, death is the mighty conqueror before whom we are all helpless.  We can only beat our fists in utter futility against this unyielding and unresponding tomb.  But the Good News is this: death has been defeated; our conqueror has been conquered.  In the face of the power of the Kingdom of God in Christ, death was helpless.  It could not hold him, death has been defeated; life and immortality have been brought to life.  An empty tomb in Jerusalem is proof of it.  This is the Gospel of the Kingdom.   (p.128)

This is a staggering fact. God has entrusted to people like us, redeemed sinners, the responsibility of carrying out the divine purpose in history.  . . .  God has said this about no other group of people.  This Good News of the Kingdom of God must be preached, if you please, by the Church in all the world for a witness to all nations.  This is God’s programme.  This means that for the ultimate meaning of modern civilization and the destiny of human history, you and I are more important than the United Nations.  What the Church does with the Gospel has greater significance ultimately than the decisions of the Kremlin.  From the perspective of eternity, the mission of the Church is more important than the march of armies or the actions of the world’s capitals, because it is in the accomplishment of this mission that the divine purpose for human history is accomplished.  No less than this is our mission.  (pp. 134-135)

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