Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kyle Roberts: God is in Charge, but Not in Control

Kyle Roberts, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, is no longer a Calvinist. Why? Because of natural disasters like the one that hit Japan earlier this month. Form his article "Tsunamis: Or, Why I'm No Longer a Calvinist":
Many Calvinists find comfort in the conviction that God has absolute control over every aspect of life. Some argue that if God isn't scrupulously directing the tough times, including national tragedies and global catastrophes, why should we expect him to direct the good times? This is a fair point. If God wasn't "in control" of the tsunami, why should we suppose him to be in control over the precariousness of a child's birth or an arduous, frustrating job search? It's all or nothing. Right?

Is it really? Does providence only count if God is a micro-manager? Can God be a macro-manager and still be sovereign over the present and the future? Can God be in charge of the whole but not in control of every single detail? I think so. And I think this is the general thrust of the scriptural witness.
Ah, yes. The "God is in charge, but not in control" argument. Roberts offers further clarification of his position in the comments section:
God "could" intervene in such things, but from another angle God "can't," because he values freedom to such an extent that he will not constantly interrupt it...that is, he values both human freedom and creational, natural freedom to such an extent.
Um...a little scriptural support here? What about God's freedom? Are we to believe that the freedom of the Creator is less important than that of his creation? I'm not sure where this notion comes from that God isn't constantly interrupting human freedom; the pages of scripture are filled with examples to the contrary. Just ask Saul of Tarsus.

Roberts comments further:
[T]here were tsunamis and earthquakes for millions of years before morally culpable homo sapiens arrived on the scene. So no, it doesn't make much sense to say humans are morally culpable for the natural suffering that arises from them (except when humans elevate and intensify that suffering through social evils, such as vast economic disparity and inadequate housing conditions).
Ah! Here we go. "Millions of years." "Economic disparity." At least now we know where Roberts is coming from. But regarding his statement about humans not being morally culpable when it comes to natural disasters: What about the Flood?

Now, if he is suggesting that we cannot know exactly why God sends tsunamis to a particular location, I would agree. But I do know that death came into this world as a result of sin (Romans 5:12), and that all of creation was "subjected to futility" because of Adam's sin (Romans 8:20). I think natural disasters certainly fall into that category.

There is one question Roberts avoided entirely: When the tsunami hit the Japanese coast, was God in control of who lived and who died? Scripture teaches that "it is appointed for man to die once" (Hebrews 9:27), and that our "days are determined" (Job 14:5). That's a HUGE question that must be addressed if one is going to make the claim that God is merely in charge of his creation and not actively controlling it.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Free Download from is offering a free download of John Piper's booklet Jesus: The Only Way to God. The offer ends March 31.

Friday, March 25, 2011

This Week in Calvinism - March 25, 2011

  • The King James Bible, the anti-Calvinist answer to the Geneva Bible, turns 400 this year.

  • Brian McLaren responds to John Piper's post about the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan earlier this month: "To me, as I reflect on the Scriptures and on the jagged history of our planet, it is better to say that God's sovereignty is not totalitarian. God isn't the kind of king interested in absolute control. God wouldn't create that kind of relationship with the universe because God isn't that kind of God. Instead, God creates space and time for a universe to be, to become, to unfold in its own story, its own evolution."

  • Tsunamis. That pretty much sums up why Kyle Roberts is no longer a Calvinist.

  • Rich finds it "rather unsettling to have to contemplate the fact that John Calvin may have had more of an influence on Western thought than Plato or Aristotle."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sunday, March 20, 2011

What Does "Interfaith" Mean?

Atheist professor Paul Zachary Myers on the popular term "interfaith":
I concur with Ophelia Benson: "interfaith" is a code word for the religious clubhouse. It's used to exclude secularism and promote a unity of faith, any faith, where it doesn't matter what BS you believe, as long as you really, really believe. I think we ought to rename the ideology of all those people who cheerfully and indiscriminately embrace every faith without regard for content as "tinkerbellism".
Finally, an atheist who makes some sense.

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Week in Calvinism - March 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Secular Media Puts Rob Bell to Shame

The fact that this man is actually taken seriously by professing Christians boggles my mind.

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Week in Calvinism - March 11, 2011

  • How a five-point Calvinist shares the gospel.

  • The "demoralizing dogmas of Calvinism"? For a brilliant man, Thomas Jefferson was pretty ignorant.

  • Christian universalism doesn't just go against "traditional Calvinist teachings on Heaven and Hell"; it goes against scriptural teachings of Heaven and Hell.

  • Speaking of Christian universalism, the much-anticipated Tim Challies review of Rob Bell's new book is finally here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sometimes You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover

Such is the case with Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Many of us were concerned when we heard of it, and with good reason. And thanks to discerning readers like Tim Challies, we don't have to actually read it for ourselves.

In his excellent review, Challies confirms what most of us expected:
[Bell's] argument progresses to this: Because heaven will eventually come to earth, if we're to take heaven seriously, we must take the suffering that exists in the world seriously now. Therefore, we are called to participate "now in the life of the age to come. That's what happens when the future is dragged into the present" (p. 45). In light of this, humanity's role within creation is redefined so that we are not so much stewards as we are God's partners, "participating in the ongoing creation and joy of the world" (p. 180), and engaging in creating a new social order with Jesus (p. 77). This language of partnering and participating is frequently applied by Bell to causes of social justice.

But what about hell? Is hell a future reality or a present one? Is it an earthly reality or one that exists elsewhere?

Hell appears to be more about what we do to each other than what we've done to God. Bell reads Jesus' warnings of divine punishment as addressing only the temporal, rather than both the temporal and the eternal. These warnings were for the religious leaders of the day, and had very little to do with some other reality or some other time, he argues (pp. 82-83). Instead, hell is "a word that refers to the big, wide, terrible evil that comes from the secrets hidden deep without our hearts all the way to the massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God's world God's way" (p. 95). There's no fire and no wrath, at least, none that is extrinsic to us.

Does Rob Bell deny the existence of hell? He would say no. We would say yes. He affirms, but only after redefining. And that's just a clever form of denial.

Further Thoughts on Paedobaptism

Last week I asked a question: "How can infant baptism be considered the more biblical position when there is not a single example of it anywhere in scripture?" The comments generated were interesting and spirited.

Let me respond by saying up front that I understand the basic theological thinking behind paedobaptism. Proponents see a connection between New Testament baptism and Old Testament circumcision. Reading no explicit prohibition of the baptizing of infants, they feel obliged to follow the commands and examples seen under the Old Covenant when applying the sign of the New Covenant.

Support for the paedobaptist position relies heavily on the Old Testament since, as has been pointed out, no example of it can be found in the New Testament. Many point to passages like Acts 10:24-48, Acts 16:30-34, and 1 Corinthians 1:16, which mention the baptism of entire households. But the "entire household" argument is one made from silence, as there is never any mention of infants. In each instance, however, we can see that baptism followed belief in the gospel that had just been preached. I have a hard time picturing the disciples, in the middle of baptizing those who believed, saying, "While we're at it, let's take care of all the babies, too." With the exception of Jesus, baptism in the New testament is always preceded by repentance and faith.

Jesus ushered in a New Covenant that replaced the Old, so why this insistence that everything associated with Old Testament circumcision be carried over to New Testament baptism? Yes, all infants in ancient Israel were given the sign of the Old Covenant. And, yes, the unregenerate shared in the blessings of that covenant, even to the point of crossing over into the Promised Land. But scripture is quite clear who the members of the New Covenant are: those who have been born again.

What sealed the debate for me was what Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-4:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
If we have already died (past tense) to sin, and baptism symbolizes our sharing in Christ's death and resurrection, then how, by any interpretation, does that apply to unregenerate infants?

I would agree with those who say that this is not an issue over which we should divide. After all, baptism is not the gospel. I do think, however, that friendly discussion and debate over issues like this is helpful when all of us share the goal of gaining a deeper understanding of scripture and a closer walk with Christ.

Friday, March 04, 2011

This Week in Calvinism - March 4, 2011

  • Justin Taylor discusses Rob Bell's upcoming book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

  • Phil Johnson weighs in as well.

  • C. Michael Patton on the doctrine of Hell.

  • John MacArthur believes the protesters opposing authoritarian rule in the Middle East "are all in violation of a biblical command -- to submit to the powers that be because they're ordained of God."

  • Inter Varsity Press spotlights Kenneth J. Stewart, author of Ten Myths About Calvinism.

  • Darryl G. Hart has "nothing personal against John Piper," but...

Thursday, March 03, 2011

A Question for Paedobaptists

How can infant baptism be considered the more biblical position when there is not a single example of it anywhere in scripture?
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