Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Abandoning Age Old Arguments

For hundreds of years there have been many fruitless discussions and disagreements between Calvinist and Arminianist thinkers. You do not have to look far to find various defenses of these views. Try a quick search on Google. You can easily discover the five points of Arminianism and the corresponding five points of Calvinism. And then you can get bogged down in all the logical arguments defending either side.

In my discussions with Calvinists, it appears a fundamental goal is to defend the sovereignty and power of God. Calvinists exalt the idea that God is in control, God is sovereign and unchanging. Their doctrine of election comes from his sovereign choosing.

With Arminianists I’ve found a protectiveness over the foreknowledge of God. They exalt the idea that God foreknows all events in the future, all choices and actions of man. Their doctrine of election extends from this.

Does God’s Opinion Matter?
My recent mental meanderings have made me question: What does God exalt about himself?

I recently asked a group of young people what they thought God’s glory was. I believe their answers reflect many people’s opinions: “his power”, “his strength”, a “bright shining light like Bruce Almighty saw when he was introduced to God”, “his control”, “his knowledge”. But is this what God says his glory is? Another way to ask this question is, “What does God see as glorious about himself?” Perhaps this is what we should be defending above all other theological notions.

Show Me Your Glory
Moses prays, “Show me your glory” in Exodus 33. God’s response amazes me. He doesn’t show Moses his great power, strength, or the blinding light of his presence. God answers Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you”. It appears that God’s goodness is what he considers most glorious about himself.

God then says he will proclaim his name to Moses. In the Hebrew dictionary, “name” means also “reputation, fame, glory, and memorial.” At the beginning of the next chapter the Lord proclaims his name:

The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.

The glory of God has more to do with his character than his might, power, sovereignty, and knowledge.

Glory in This
God also says in Jeremiah 9:23, “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches” (NKJV). Interestingly, God doesn’t appear to glory in these things either. He is infinitely knowledgeable, but he doesn’t glory in it. He is infinite in might, power, and ability. But he doesn’t glory in it. He is infinite in riches (“the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it”), but he doesn’t glory in that either.

Instead, he continues, “let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the LORD, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight,” says the LORD.” First and foremost, God obviously cares that we know and understand his lovingkindness, his judgment/justice, and his righteousness. He puts an exclamation point at the end by saying, “I delight in these things.”

A Calvinist Response to Suffering and Hell
Some theologians would have us believe that God planned and purposed evil and suffering (as well as for countless millions to be condemned to hell). When these ideas offend our understanding of love, justice and righteousness, the common Calvinistic response is: God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, his ways are higher than his ways; we cannot understand these things in our limited understanding. God, however, seems to have a different opinion. Minimally he believes that we can know and understand his lovingkindness, his justice and his righteousness.

What about Arminianists?
Arminianists run the risk of camping closer to the Calvinists than they admit when they affirm God foreknows the destiny of every human being. A fitting philosophical question would be, “If God foreknows my destiny, is it an actual possibility for me to choose something different than what he foreknows absolutely?” Thus they hold to a form of fatalism. Yet they will strongly defend his absolute foreknowledge while claiming man’s free will. Various unsatisfactory illustrations (to me, anyway!) are used to do this.

God isn’t Insecure
God doesn’t need us to defend his infinite power, knowledge, and sovereignty. He’s secure in who he is. In fact, God makes statements about himself that no Arminianist or Calvinist would dare make. In Jeremiah God says three times that the Israelites were burning their sons and daughters to false gods, a thing which had not entered his mind (see Jeremiah 7:31, 19:5, 32:35). God says to Abraham, “now I know that you fear God” (Gen. 22:12) and to the Israelites that he tested them 40 years “to know what was in their heart” (Deut. 8:2). There are also the instances of God changing his mind (a peculiar difficulty with many views of God’s foreknowledge): Ex. 32:12-14, Jer. 26:19, and Amos 7:3,6. (I can already hear different objections to these references.) Hmmm. I wonder if the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of man.

God is Love
If there is one thing God wants to be known for, I believe it is summed up in John’s repeated phrase, “God is love”. This appears to be the most glorious thing about God. This is what God cares so much that his creation knows about him. (Perhaps we should care more about understanding this than predestination and free will.)

Certain attributes of love are included in 1 Corinthians 13. One of those is love “does not insist on its own way” (ESV). Yet Calvin, at least, would have us believe that God is love and God does insist on his own way by his sovereignty.

Our Theological Base
Theology means the study of God. Shouldn’t our starting and ending points be what God reveals as most important about himself?

God is more concerned about his goodness, his lovingkindness, his justice and his righteousness. When our logical conclusions lead us away from common sense understandings of his good character maybe we should stop. Maybe we should reexamine our theology rather than redefine who God claims to be. Should we sacrifice God’s love and goodness on the altar of his sovereignty, power and knowledge?

Shouldn’t our theology be based in the goodness of who God shows himself to be? He says we can understand and know these things. We don’t have to redefine God’s justice or grace or love to match a theological position. Instead our exegeses should stem from what God declares as the most glorious thing about him.

Let’s spend more time and energy defending and glorying in what God says he delights in. What he delights in should shape our theological interpretations of scripture.

And maybe, just maybe, the scriptures we use to defend our age old arguments have different, legitimate interpretations than what we’ve considered.


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