I have a few John MacArthur books on my shelf.  Truth is truth wherever you find it, and sometimes MacArthur speaks the truth.  Sometimes. Here lately, he’s been spewing a bunch of unholy chunks of bunk.  I stopped by his website to see what he’s been up to lately, and it turns out that for the last two weeks he’s been picking Rob Bell apart.  (I’m not surprised.)  But this makes me very happy.  Let me explain.

In the early days of the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church was in such a tizzy over the idea that the masses of stupid sheep were being mislead by Martin Luther’s heresy (that is, we are saved by grace through faith that is not of ourselves, it is God’s gift) that they concentrated their efforts on reeducating people in the same-old-same-old-church-has-got-you-by-the-balls junk, comparing their doctrines to Luther’s in an attempt to show how right they were and how wrong Luther was.  Only, it had the opposite effect.  People would read the Roman Catholic propaganda and see Luther’s quotes and ideas and think, “Well that makes sense.  I wonder if the Bible really says what Luther says it says.”  And then they would go and do their homework and find out that the church has been misinterpreting the scriptures, covering up the truth, persecuting those who speak the truth, etc.  The more the Roman Catholic Church fought against the Reformation, the more they inadvertently helped the cause.  Well, I’d love to do a point by point analysis of MacArthur’s material – maybe I will someday.  But for now, I just want to say how disappointed I am that so many people don’t check up on what MacArthur teaches to make sure what he says is true.  He has definitely been off base on his teachings in the past two weeks.  For an example of just how far out there his (and a good portion of all evangelical Christian) teachings are sometimes, I’ve posted a vid that one of my MacArthian Facebook friends posted the other day.  In order to make sense of the rest of this blog, you will need to watch the vid.  For a good ironic belly laugh, keep in mind that MacArthur’s ministry is called “Grace to You.”  Apparently that “you” is an exclusive group of chosen people, according to MacArthur, and for the rest, it is “Eternal Torment to You.”

MacArthur vid

MacArthur website

MacArthur’s ideas are as follows:

1. “Jesus died for somebody”

Does MacArthur not know “the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us ALL”?

2. “Jesus died specifically for those who would believe in Him”

Does MacArther not understand that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world”?

‎3. “If He gets glory from judgment the way He gets glory from salvation, who are we to question that?”

MacArthur is really saying that by tormenting your Grandma or your best friend in Hell forever, God is getting glory.  How can this possibly be true?

4. “If you say that He paid in full the penalty for all the sins of all the world then what is anybody doing in Hell?”

This shows me that MacArthur thinks God torments people forever because they need to pay the penalty for their sin. This also demonstrates to me that MacArthur must believe that Jesus did not pay the penalty for all the sins of whole world. Yet, anyone who argues with this can be accused by MacArthians of “diminishing the nature of atonement” as MacArthur says in this video.

5. When MacArthur is asked if believers who witness to those who I call “not-yet-believers” should bring up the idea of LIMITED atonement, he replies, “We have to be careful of what we say…”

Kudos to McArthur for at least being humble enough to acknowledge the tension with his awful doctrine, and he is “happy to concede that God can resolve things [MacArthur] can’t.”

McArthur says the resolution to this dilemma is “only in the mind of God” but he is wrong. The resolution is in His people as well. Unfortunately, the institution of church shuns and ostracizes those who try to explain this resolution to others.

 

This is the second of a series of blogs about R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will.  If you haven’t read the first one, “Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?” you really ought to.  It covers some foundational questions about free will.  Moving right along…

Chapter Three: “We Are Capable of Cooperating”

“If anyone says that man’s free will [when] moved and aroused by God, by assenting to God… in no way cooperates… [and] that it cannot refuse its assent if it wishes… let him be anathema!” – Council of Trent

Ah yes, the Council of Trent and their favorite word, Anathema!  (Not the band from Liverpool.)  Anathema is church-speak for excommunication.  Keep in mind as you read this that over 1000 years have passed from the time of Pelagius and Augustine.  The church has been through the Dark Ages.  The Council of Trent takes place not too long after Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses and the Protestant Reformation started spreading like wildfire.  The Roman Catholic Church felt that it needed to regroup, so they met 25 times over the course of 18 years and decided among other things, Tradition + Scripture = The Rule of Faith, condemned Protestant “heresies,” and affirmed the Latin Vulgate as the official Bible translation.  The Protestants were guaranteed safe passage (in other words, they wouldn’t be killed going to and from) for Protestants who wanted to attend the church council meetings.  They were allowed to participate in discussion, but they were not allowed to vote.  This is the backdrop for what you are about to read.

Semi-Pelagianism

While Pelagius asserts humanity has the ability to obey God, Augustine asserts that humanity is incapable of obedience.  Many people, unable to figure this thing out, decided on what is called Semi-Pelagianism, a sort of hybrid doctrine.  The Council of Trent, according to Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz, “both reaffirmed the church’s condemnation of Pelagianism and retreated from a clear condemnation of Semi-Pelagianism.  In the sixth session of the council this declaration was made, “If anyone says that after the sin of Adam man’s free will was lost and destroyed, or that it is a thing only in name, indeed a name without reality, a fiction introduced into the Church by Satan, let him be anathema.”  For some reason, I have a hard time punctuating anathema with a period.  It really feels like it needs an explanation point, doesn’t it?  Anathema!

Chapter Four: “We Are in Bondage to Sin”

“Free-will without God’s grace is not free at all, but is the permanent prisoner and bondslave of evil, since it cannot turn itself to good.” – Martin Luther

Martin Luther considered his most important book to be The Bondage of the Will, “because it spoke to issues that he regarded as being the [...] very heart of the church.”  He even went so far as to say that anything he wrote besides this and a children’s catechism could be tossed out.  Sproul explains,

To the chess player these are contingencies, events he cannot predict with certainty.  We speak of a contingency plan, to which we will turn if our original plan does not work as we hoped. [...] In his perfection God knows all things perfectly. [...]  He is not a Great Chess Player who must wait to see what we will do, but he knows absolutely what we will do before we do it.

If God has decided ahead of time how everything happens, who believes, who does not believe, then free will is more than irrelevant, it is non- existent.  It is with this in mind that Luther claims, “This bombshell knocks ‘free-will’ flat, and utterly shatters it…”  Luther sees no middle ground at all in this argument.  Salvation belongs completely to God, because a person can’t choose to believe or obey.  God’s grace isn’t mere assistance for salvation, it is necessity.

Is God a Bully?

I started in the first blog asking, “Does God Command Us to Do the Impossible?”  Let’s suppose for argument’s sake that we cannot obey God or believe God unless He intervenes and causes it to happen.  If you take this idea in combination with the idea that God chooses only some to believe then the implications are huge.  Why would God command people to believe, knowing all along that they can’t?  Is He rubbing our own weakness in our faces?  This is what Erasmus infers.  Luther comes against Erasmus’ idea, saying that we must consider God’s character.  God’s cosmic game of nanee-nanee-boo-boo-stick-your-head-in-doo-doo is a ludicrous assertion.  So is there any other reason that God would command us to do what He knows we are completely incapable of doing?  Luther says there is a perfectly good reason, that is, “God is trying us, that by His law he may bring us to a knowledge of our impotence.”

If the objective is to make us aware of the fact that we cannot save ourselves, then this whole thing makes a little more sense.  God is teaching us, not being a bully.  This should be a relief, but we still have a huge problem that has yet to be addressed.  If Luther is correct, that we are in bondage to sin, and so much so, that we cannot obey God’s commands, and we can’t even believe for salvation unless He first places that desire to believe in us, then all of us are in big trouble.  So far in this adventure through R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe: The Controversy Over Free Will, it is implied that God will place the desire to believe in only some of us.

Your Feedback, Please

What do you say, reader?  Does God do most of the work in salvation as long as we cooperate with Him?  Do we have any part at all in our own salvation?  Or are we completely helpless and at God’s mercy?  And what do you think about this idea that God has chosen only some to be saved?  Did He choose the ones who He knew ahead of time would choose Him back?  If this is the case, then why does Jesus explicitly say, “You did not choose me, I chose you”?  Why does the Bible say that we love Him because He first loved us?  If His loving us and choosing us is what causes us to love Him, why would He only choose a few?

For anyone who feels very upset by all of this, please understand that the content of this particular blog (as well as the next one in this series) could be compared to walking out of the movie theater while the girl is still tied to the railroad tracks, and the good guy is being chased by a bunch of bad guys with guns.  It always looks hopeless until the last 5 or 10 minutes.  You know how it is.  This is not the end of the story.  There is much more to be said about Who God is and what God does.  Unfortunately, there is also 1500+ years worth of religious bullshit to clear out of the way as well.  Don’t walk out of the theater prematurely.

Coming soon…

Chapter Five: “We Are Voluntary Slaves” & Chapter Six: “We Are Free to Believe” (These are the big two, in my opinion, because they hold such influence over modern Christian thinking – the views of Calvin and Arminius.) See you then.

I learned something very disturbing, yesterday… But first, let me give you some background information.  Everyone is aware of the concept that history is written by those in power, so we only get their version of the story if that is all the information that is available.  For example, there are certain Native American tribes that we only know about because some Spanish sailor decided to keep a journal.  These thousands are only represented in history through the eyes of one who was to them a distant stranger.  No one really knows their story.  Now back to what I heard yesterday.

It is Illegal in the State of Florida to Teach Revisionist History

This concept, that history is written by those in power, is now outlawed in Florida’s Public School System.  Yes, you read it correctly.  Public school teachers are not allowed to present anything other than a state approved view of history, and they are not allowed to teach kids (even high school age) the concept of revisionist history.  No kidding.

The information about this Jeb Bush approved act of censorship, although available to the public, is buried in a 160 page Bill (H.B. 7087e3):

“American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”  So that everyone is clear on exactly what history is, the Bill includes a list of people groups represented during “the period of discovery, early colonies, the War for Independence, the Civil War, the expansion of the United States to its present boundaries, the world wars, and the civil rights movement to the present.”  Unfortunately, this list fails to include what is probably the most significant example of why revisionist historicism is extremely important, the Native Americans.  We’ve all heard the Columbus version of history.  Who will tell the story of those who were silenced?

There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation. – Herbert Spencer

Sometimes information is available, but it is withheld, suppressed, or misinterpreted by those currently in power. The same rings true for church history.  There are certain very important stories that are either not included or glossed over in most church history books, even though the information is available to those who write the books.  I suspect that there are those who omit on purpose and those who omit out of ignorance.  God is the judge as to their intentions, but the fact that the important information is omitted is now glaringly obvious to me.  I’m sure that if you continue to read this blog, you will see examples of the missing or distorted information being pointed out to you.

During the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church accused Martin Luther of making things up, coming up with new ideas that have never been part of the Christian tradition.  But when all the dust settled, after people finally had the information they needed made available to them, after they were able to consider all the possibilities instead of just the clergy-approved possibilities, Luther was vindicated.  He didn’t make up the ideas after all.  They were there all along, only conveniently buried, suppressed, and misinterpreted by those in power.  Why?  Because they didn’t want people to know that they had misrepresented God.  Does this sound familiar?  I certainly hope it does.  If it doesn’t, then start paying attention when the rumors fly around church as to why someone stopped attending.  It could be that they write blogs like this one, and those in power want to silence them.  Those in power want their own version of church history which maintains the status quo.  Who will tell the story of those who died, lost their property, and went through all kinds of hell to share the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ?  Who will set the record straight?

Recently I placed a comment on my Facebook status pointing out that I have a new blog, and I would like to include a list of websites.  Then something happened that I did not expect to happen, something that made the remnants of legalism (that’s church-speak for spiritual-police behavior) in me rise to the surface.  A Preterist friend named his blog AD70.net to be added to the list.  My knee-jerk reaction was, “I’m not a Preterist, so I should not post his website.  People might view his website and be led astray by the ideas there.”  But then I realized that if I were to go along with my initial reaction, that I would be doing to him what was done to me in my old spiritual stomping grounds.  The reason I was shunned out of that fellowship was, “We are not Christian Universalists, so we should prevent you from sharing your views in this place.”  If we examine this concept psychologically, we could say that people plant a flag in an organization or on a blog – a flag that is symbolic of their particular brand of truth, in order to exclude anyone with differing views.  I’m all for planting flags, as you might have noticed, but ought flags be planted for the purpose of censorship and control?  Is this Biblical?  Is this the will of God?

Unity of the Church

In another blog, I mentioned that believers would likely get along much better if they thought of the church as a who instead of a what.  We don’t go to church; we are the church.  And the church is a very diverse group of people.  Did you know that there are over 33,000 denominations in Protestantism alone?  A not-yet-believer might ask, “How did this happen?” wondering what the heck is wrong with church people that they need to divide themselves in such an extreme way.  Well, it happened because when people started planting flags, they forgot that the only flag that really matters is the one that says, “The glory of God is displayed in Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, Who died and rose again so that we might live.”  People may disagree about the exact nature of the God-head (another example of church-speak, the English translation of the Greek word theotes, which means the divine nature or the fullness of deity or simply, God’s Godness), the exact manner in which Jesus was crucified, how people ought to be baptized, what the so-called end time prophecies mean, whether believers ought to celebrate Christian holidays (since most of them have pagan origins), etc, without disassociating with one another.  They can agree on what matters and agree to disagree on the rest.  I believe that this is what the Biblical references on unity indicate.  Finding a heretic behind every blog post or heresy in every spiritual discussion that takes place outside of one’s church-bubble is wrong.

Test everything, hold on to what is good.

That is why I decided to post the Preterist website, even though I disagree with some of the Preterist ideas.  I have Preterists to thank for helping me have a better understanding of the events that took place AD70 and the significance these events have on the way certain passages of scripture are to be interpreted.  They are one piece of a puzzle that seems to be coming together nicely for those of us who are willing to cooperate with each other in love, holding on to those essentials of the faith that unify us.  We are told to “test everything and hold on to what is good,” and the only way to test something, really test it, is to examine it thoroughly, to ask the Spirit of God to show you the truth, to compare it to other scriptures, and to use your God-given common sense.  If, after examining certain ideas, you still find yourself at odds with the ideas another believer presents, ask yourself this – “Does he or she acknowledge Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, died and rose again so that we might live?”  If so, what right do we have to accuse him or her, using words like heretic, wolf in sheep’s clothing, or say he or she is causing division, regarding other issues?  What right do we have to silence him or her?  Some of the Preterist ideas are correct.  Should I cut myself off from someone because we disagree on nonessentials?  How else are we supposed to learn from each other, but to compare notes, agree or disagree, explore the reasons why we agree or disagree, and perhaps even solve mysteries that have boggled the minds of believers for centuries?  Do we believe that God is done teaching us?  Do we already know everything there is to know?  Are we to assume that every single thing we currently believe is 100% accurate?  Absolutely not.

Church Club Rules of Conversation

One of the reasons that the institutional church is afraid of engaging in challenging discussions is that they fear some impressionable people who happen to be listening will be suckered into believing something that will eventually land them or someone they know in Hell, to suffer for eternity. To them it is better to avoid the conversation and react very strongly to anyone who insists on putting everything on the table in the light of scrutiny. The same thing happened to Martin Luther in the Reformation.  The Roman Catholic Church was wrong for engaging in the practice of indulgences.  And they were double wrong for not having the humility to recognize that God had sent someone to correct them.  Why is it that God’s people have more freedom to discuss hot issues at Starbucks or in a discussion thread online than they do inside the walls of their church-club?

Don’t Quench the Spirit

I do not want to perpetuate small-minded practices that quench the Spirit of God. Take a look at this blog comment:

Alex Smith writes:

evangelicaluniversalist.com

As far I can tell, up until Calvin, belief in postmortem salvation (for at least a few) was mainstream (see http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=1355). Interestingly, one of the reasons given was Matthew 12:32 (ESV) “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Which implies there are some things that can be forgiven in the age to come.
Also in a letter to Hanseu Von Rechenberg in 1522, Martin Luther wrote “God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future”

I appreciate Alex’s comment.  It is well thought out and contains specific references and clear, reasonable ideas.  However, there is a portion of the comment that I believe is not completely accurate.  Jesus spoke these words before He was crucified.  I believe that when Jesus died and rose again, we entered into a new age.  In other words, I believe that when Jesus said, “…in this age,” He was referring to what was His present time period, the age of the sacrificial system and the Mosaic law, and when He said, “…or in the age to come,” He was referring to the age following His death and resurrection, the age of Grace in which we presently exist.  Now should I, as admin of this website, mark Alex’s comment “unapproved” or reject his request to post his website on my list (if he were to make such a request), just because we disagree on this?  What if he is right, and I am wrong?  I have just shut him out, disrespected him, and quenched the Spirit of God, Who may want to teach me something that I am misunderstanding about the ages.  Or perhaps it goes the other way around.  If I behave this way toward Alex, this would likely cause division between us, because I would not be acting in love, I would be acting in fear.  He might not pay any attention to me when I try to discuss this idea with him, because I would have established an unhealthy precedent for this or any other discussions we might have had.  I would have quenched the Spirit of God, Who wants to teach Alex something that he is misunderstanding about the ages.  Do you see how responding to each other in love instead of fear makes a huge difference?  Do you see how ignoring the ungodly restraints the institutional church places on conversations helps us to relate to one another in freedom and respect, without fear?  Isn’t that a wonderful way to be the church?  I think so.

Comments

Being new to the blogosphere, I am very grateful that people are actually taking the time to read this blog (thank you Google Analytics for showing me what happens after I hit “publish”) and refer it to others.  I am especially thankful when people take the time to comment.  From time to time, I will feature in blogs some of the in-depth comments that resonate with me for one reason or another.  Please do feel free to respond to blogs, make suggestions, or even comment on stuff that has nothing to do with the blog, and don’t be insulted if your brilliant insight doesn’t end up in a blog – I am a full time student, so starting this blog under heavy time constraints is a small miracle in itself.

Coming Soon…

The next blog will be a book review on Bill Tancer’s Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters.  Of course, I will examine the book’s (unintentional) spiritual insights, which is evident from a recommendation by TVWeek, who named Bill Tancer one of “12 to Watch” for 2008: “There once was a time when we used to share our deepest secrets with our hairdresser.  Now, we share those secrets with Google or Yahoo or MSN.com.  We tell Google what we want, who we’re interested in, how we are feeling.  We are what we search for.  That’s why Bill Tancer is in demand.”  Kirkus Reviews said, “In Click, he boils down those mouse-using multitudes to reveal valuable observations about [...] the very human frailties that people expose in their online searches.”

“Questions matter,” says Tim Challies in his review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins.  Indeed, questions do matter.  Part of the reason that the orthodox evangelical crowd is so hot under the collar about Bell’s particular questions is that they have no control over who is asking or how the questions are asked.  This is something entirely new for the institution of church, a very controlled environment where only certain preapproved people are allowed to ask or answer doctrine-threatening questions in an official, representative manner for all of the rest of the people.  For the entirety of church history, there have been three dynamic shifts in the question-asking, question-answering environment.  Other important events occurred along the way, of course, but for the sake of this blog, I am noting what I consider to be the top three.

The first shift was somewhat gradual, with the egalitarian groups of believers, who considered each other as equally gifted, holding equal positions of authority, gradually being persuaded or forced into a larger, more stratified church model where the same few dozen big-shots were making important decisions about what others were allowed to discuss.  Leaders found approval not in their sensitivity to the Spirit’s leading but in their not being timid about elevating themselves over others or their level of cooperation with the current leaders.  This dynamic is covered in more detail in my youtube series on Religious Tolerance.  It was during this time period that any talk of the Amazing Hope was forcibly removed from believer’s gatherings. The Dark Ages soon followed.

The second shift took place quickly compared to the first, over the course of a few generations, mostly because the Spirit’s leading could no longer be silenced due to the invention of the printing press.  Martin Luther posted the 95 Thesis and the Reformation was under way before the institutional church had a chance to react.  Of course, they did cry heresy, but they were unable to contain the spread of information, like a God-ordained virus.  Any effort to suppress or refute Luther’s claims only served to further Luther’s agenda.  Thankfully, not all of Luther’s ideas and practices were embraced, just the ones that mattered.  Luther makes Bell look like an altar boy in the morality department, not that it really matters, though.  If God can speak through Balaam’s ass, He can speak through anyone, even me.  Anyway, people learned that salvation is by grace through faith, and that this faith is the gift of God, not something that can be earned.

Unfortunately, somewhere between the second and third institutional church shift, people fell back into old patterns of thinking.  They gave lip service to salvation by grace through faith, but they also gave a list of steps one must complete in order to be saved.  This group of believers opposed that group of believers’ list, as to exactly what our part in salvation may be, while other groups of believers even claimed that people could lose their salvation.  If you are wondering to which group of believers you belong (assuming you believe at all), check your church’s website or statement of faith. It will tell you exactly what hoops you must jump through in order to be considered part of the “family” and it will also tell you what severe consequences await should you not get this thing right by the time you die.

The third shift is happening now.  Really it has been happening all along, only no one knew it, because anyone who dared speak up about it was quickly labeled heretic and put out of the church.  This is still the standard approach in most congregations, but something else happened that the institutional church never expected, something that if they had known ahead of time they still would not have been able to prevent.  Something remarkably similar in potential to the printing press, that is, the internet.  Social media.  The ability for people to easily and anonymously access information.  We are living during a pivotal time in history.  God is turning the institutional church upside down and inside out, shaking it to see what falls out and what sticks.  The wineskin is bursting with Good News that really is good.  People are remembering Who God is and what God does, how His plan of the ages involves calling out a “firstfruit” people for Himself, and that this firstfruit harvest is just the beginning of the entire harvest.  The year of Jubilee is on the horizon – out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.

These concepts may be found in the scriptures if people take the time to look past the modern translation and tradition and study the Greek and Hebrew.  But there are those who would like to snuff out this light that threatens to shine brighter than church buildings and programs and paid positions of authority and power.  Among them is Tim Challies, who says, “Now here’s the thing: aion and aionos [sic] definitely can mean ‘age’ or ‘period of time,’ they also mean ‘eternal.’ The word’s context helps us to determine its meaning.”  Why is Challies concerned with assigning the meaning eternal to aion?  Because that is where one can make or break the case for the majority of eternal torment proof texts.  If it turns out that these are more accurately translated age or age-abiding, then the eternal torment doctrine very nearly deflates altogether.  Challies intends to convince readers to accept that aion is eternal by threatening to pull the rug out from under the idea that God will give us immortality – implying that we will die or cease to exist if aion does not mean eternal.  He reasons, “So if we assume that these words primarily mean “age” or “period of time,” what happens when we apply that definition to John 3:16 where aionos [sic] is used? For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have life for a period of time.” Challies adds, “Not as encouraging, is it?”

Here I begin to wonder why it is that people so learned in scripture, so practiced in studying the Word, can miss something so obvious.  We are promised immortality (athenasia, meaning no death) and incorruptibility (aphthartos meaning non-deteriorating or non-aging condition).  We are promised life that does not end (ouk estai telos, meaning no end, literally translated not shall be finish).  And there are plenty of other reasons to believe God has good things planned for us that do not include death or suddenly being snuffed out of existence once the age ends.  Challies’ arguably knee-jerk assertion is easily refuted, because not one of these ideas rely on the word aion.  We don’t need aion in order to live forever, we need the life that Jesus gives, in whatever manner He intends to give it.