The Bondage of Whose Will?

Recently there has been considerable heat generated in Evangelicalism over the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. The Southern Baptist Convention has been moving to ground the doctrine of the denomination in Arminianism[i]. Following this, there was a post on Christian Post, an Evangelical news website, by John Piper declaring that “It’s sin not to like the true doctrine of election. It’s sin not to like what God likes.”[ii] This post by Piper came out just days after the issue was raised in the SBC, and people started signing things.

You might be wondering at this point where in the world I am going with this post, and why I’m bothering to write it. Well, I have been following this entire thing, and the last post (in refutation of John Piper) got my blood boiling.  On the front page, once again of Christian Post, the title ran “No, John Piper . . . It’s NOT a Sin![iii] This article was frustrating to say the least, and rhetorical at best.

I think there were two major problems with George Sarris’ response, and even if nobody reads this, I need to get them off my chest. Firstly, he starts off by saying that, “If he [Piper] had said that it is sin not to like the true Biblical doctrine of election, I would not have been nearly as concerned.” Sarris then proceeds to continue his entire post without actually saying what that doctrine actually is. Furthermore, he goes on to say that, “As a committed Calvinist, however, Dr. Piper is not referring to the Biblical doctrine. He is referring to the Reformed doctrine of election as stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith.” Sarris then goes on to quote extensively from the Westminster Confession.[iv] The issue I believe with the entire focus of this article is precisely that the article is not focused on the issue, but that instead the article is intended to make the reader assume that John Piper is not getting his theology from the Scripture, but that instead he is getting it from the Westminster Standards! This is classic theological rhetoric. The reader, after Sarris is finished, will be left assuming Piper to be creedal before being biblical.[v] Not only that, but the reader is not presented with a single Scripture reference refuting any of the quotations made from the Westminster Standards. The assumption is, because they are Reformed, they must not be Biblical.

The second point which got me hot under the collar, perhaps even more than the first, was that Sarris went to Church history in order to refute Piper’s point. Church history! I don’t believe that is the battle you want to take up, my friend. Sarris said this, “I am glad that Dr. Piper is confident in his beliefs. However, he should be very much aware that only a relatively small percentage of Christian believers throughout history have actually believed what he believes […]That view was not held by believers in the Early Church up to the Reformation – as can be seen by the fact that it has never been the belief of either the Roman Catholic Church or the Eastern Orthodox Church. It was formulated by John Calvin and his followers in the 16th century, and quickly repudiated by Jacob Arminius and his followers as grossly misrepresenting the gracious nature and character of God. It was not held by Martin Luther or John Wesley or the Reformers who followed in their steps.” Quickly repudiated? Apparently people no longer understand that the Canons of Dordt exist. Not to mention the fact that the Romanists hold a more “Calvinistic” doctrine of sin and depravity than do Arminians[vi]. I would also like to add that Martin Luther wrote an entire book on the subject, one that I would recommend the author of this article read[vii]. There is so much historical misunderstanding, and on the part of Martin Luther, lying, that I don’t even know what to do about it. The biggest problem is that Evangelicals at large no longer study the history of Christ’s Church, and so most people just believe articles like this.

Instead of accusing John Piper of being a confessionalist, and grossly misrepresenting Church history, why can’t we actually discuss the doctrine from the Biblical texts themselves? I post for the consideration of the reader some texts of Scripture. Doubtless these have been read by you before. However, I would like to pose them for contemplation and reflection as this point of doctrine is discussed within our churches. Here are several which I find to be especially pertinent[viii]:

John 6:35-40
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Romans 9:6-24
6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,
7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”
8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.
9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”
10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac,
11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—
12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”
13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!
15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”
18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction,
23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—
24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

Ephesians 1:3-14
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love
5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,
6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,
8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight
9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ
10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,
12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.
13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Titus 3:4-7
4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,
5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,
6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,
7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

2 Timothy 1:8-12
8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God,
9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,
10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,
11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,
12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.

I could continue, but I feel that the above texts will suffice. This discussion need not be rhetorical, but Biblical. These are the passages, along with many others. Now they must be understood exegetically. We needn’t twist history, or the positions of our opponents. I am saying this with all due respect, but most of all an earnest desire to see men of God carefully study the Scriptures and engage in scholarly debate.

[i] Hankins, Eric. “An Introduction to “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation”.” Southern Baptist Convention, 30 May 2012.  Al Mohler wrote a well-balanced response, as a member of the SBC with Calvinistic leanings, which can be read here.

[ii] Piper, John. “Is It Sin for Me Not to Like the Doctrine of Election?” Christian Post. N.p., 4 June 2012. Web. 14 June 2012. <>.

[iii] Sarris, George W. “No, John Piper . . . It’s NOT a Sin!” Christian Post. N.p., 11 June 2012. Web. 14 June 2012. <>.

[iv] I would like to say that I have no problems with the Westminster Standards on this point, as I myself am Reformed in soteriology, amongst other things.

[v] Anyone who stops and reads the name of John Piper’s church will realize that he does not affirm the Westminster Standards. It doesn’t take much to figure that out.

[vi] The Church sided with Augustine over Pelagius, and even reaffirmed Augustine’s views of original sin, in large degree, in the Council of Trent. Here is an excerpt from the declaration of that Council, translated by J. Waterworth, concerning original sin, “If any one asserts, that this sin of Adam,–which in its origin is one, and being transfused into all by propogation, not by imitation, is in each one as his own, –is taken away either by the powers of human nature, or by any other remedy than the merit of the one mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath reconciled us to God in his own blood, made unto us justice, sanctification, and redemption; or if he denies that the said merit of Jesus Christ is applied, both to adults and to infants, by the sacrament of baptism rightly administered in the form of the church; let him be anathema: For there is no other name under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved. Whence that voice; Behold the lamb of God behold him who taketh away the sins of the world; and that other; As many as have been baptized, have put on Christ.” Read the rest here.

[viii] I am quoting from the English Standard Verson.

What is Queen?

I suppose some of you reading this have already heard my opinion about the name change. Before I state it clearly, I want to say that I am not seeking to rebel against the authority God has placed over me.  If the name bothered me that much, I have the option of leaving; while I’m here, however, I need to respect those above me.

That being said, I think there is an underlying issue with the name change that many have failed to address or point out. Cairn is not all that bad of a word, and the meaning is nice—it doesn’t lend itself well to pronounce in casual conversation, but it could be worse. My problem does not arise from the phonetics of the name, or the meaning of the name. My problem arises from the shift that I see this name representing.

My personal belief is that “theology is Queen of the sciences.” As Christians, we should primarily be concerned with understanding the Doctrines of God, and allowing the illumination of God and His Word to enlighten our understanding of every other discipline. I believe that, at the core, this is different than the idea of integration. When we look at the various disciplines of study separately, only to try our best to make them all interconnect and work together, we have integrated. When we have looked at everything else from the foundation that God’s Word is true and pure and everything else must be both illuminated by His Word, and brought into subjection to His word, have we given the study of God the place that it deserves.

In recent months, as you all know, Philadelphia Biblical University has cut several of the Bible requirements and opened the door for students to graduate without getting a degree in Scriptural study. Simultaneously, there has been a very intentional push to add to the core of the curriculum more classes in Psychology, the Arts, History, and Sociology. Now, don’t misunderstand me here, I thoroughly enjoy all of those disciplines and think they are worthy of our time and study; my fundamental concern is that they are being given an equal place of study as the Word of God. Theology is no longer Queen. The name, by removing the word “Biblical” is simply a marker that we are no longer just a place to study the Scriptures, we are much more. I think the term more, and the way it has been used, is important. Our field of study has expanded to the point that Scripture and Theology are now some among many of the disciplines we study—they are no longer Queen.

Looking to the One who Suffered

The theme of suffering permeates biblical wisdom texts, specifically in regards to how people are to act under, and respond to, that suffering. In many ways, the wisdom literature fails to provide any specific answer to why suffering exists in the world. It does, however, serve as a tool for Christians who themselves are in the midst of suffering. Psalm 22 is the quintessential example of this; this psalm deals with the relationship between the believer and his God in the midst of suffering, and gives insight into how that God responds to the suffering of His people.

David, in Psalm 22, is writing in the midst of great suffering. What the specific details of that suffering are is not the focus of the text, but instead the text focuses on David’s response to that suffering. Psalm 22 is not unlike Job in this regard; the first 2 chapters in Job deal in specifics, while nearly the entire rest of the book is about response. The important question to the literature genre is, “how should a believer relate to God in the midst of suffering?” Canonically and historically, there is a running theme throughout the wisdom texts (Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and even Daniel) that point to Israel’s exile and subsequent relationship to Yahweh without a Temple, working priesthood, or land. Psalm 22 therefore, seems to fit into this broader idea of suffering in general, and it is no surprise that the Psalm opens in verse 1 with David saying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV) In David’s cry, the reader harkens back to the sons of Jacob in Egypt, the oppressed Israelites during the time of the Judges, and even readers in Babylon could see themselves there—suffering is a constant theme, on this side of the Garden, among the people of God.

There are two specific things David does, in the midst of his suffering, that are crucial to understand how Christians deal with suffering. Firstly, he calls upon God to act: “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” Surely, in the midst of trial the Lord seems farthest from his people. David is bringing his case before God, like Job, and pleading with God to act. There is no shyness, no bashfulness in the way David comes before his Creator. He is a broken man, and such a man the Lord will not despise (cf. Psalm 51:17).  The second thing that David does in the beginning of this Psalm is to remember who this God is that he calls upon. In verse 3 it reads, “Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.” David affirms that even if Yahweh does not deliver him from his suffering, Yahweh remains holy. Yahweh is still good and righteous; He is set apart from everything in creation as its Creator. Even though David’s cries go unanswered night after night, and day after day (v. 2) David will not deny the holy character of Yahweh. The second thing David recalls about Yahweh is his acts in history. “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them” verse 4 says; great comfort is taken in the redemptive acts of Yahweh in history—particularly the redemption of Israel from captivity in Egypt (cf. Exodus 1-14). David is placing himself amongst a great cloud of witnesses. God heard the groans of the Israelites in Egypt, and surely he will hear the groans of his servant.

While this text provides a way for Christians to act in the midst of suffering—namely by crying out to God on behalf of his own goodness—the main idea of this text is not about what the Christian should do, but instead this text gives an insight into what God has done for the Christian.  In the ensuing description of David’s suffering, he creates a picture of suffering that points us to Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, who will suffer in the same way as David, yet in David’s own place (cf. Mark 15:24, 33-39; Psalm 22:1, 16-18). God’s answer to human suffering is not that he explains it logically for us, a divine theodicy of sorts, but instead that he enters into our suffering himself. God himself enters into the furnace for his people, as it were (cf. Dan. 3:24-25). There is no doubt that Psalm 22 is meant to be read Christocentrically—the gospel accounts make that point emphatically. The suffering David portrayed in Psalm 22 is the Lord Jesus himself; he was poured out like water, he was surrounded by the strong bulls of Bashan, it was his clothes that were divided and gambled over, it was his hands and feet that were pierced (cf. Psalm 22:12-18). Jesus, as he hangs upon that cross, cries out with David, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (ESV) Jesus comes in a long line of God-fearers who have suffered, yet Jesus does not only suffer with them, but he suffers for them. Jesus himself is God’s answer to suffering. Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross, that his Church may be brought near (cf. Ephesians 2:13).

In just this broad look at suffering in the wisdom literature, Psalms 22 specifically, there are two mains ideas: how Christians should relate to God in the midst of suffering, and how God chooses to relate to Christians by himself suffering. Apart from a God who comes and suffers in the place of his people, there could be no redemption. David could not say, “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them” if Jesus had not himself been willing and obedient to enter into that suffering (ESV, Psalm 22:4). Therefore, because of Jesus, Christians can cry out to God in the midst of their suffering, for they have a faithful and compassionate High Priest who himself suffered (cf. Hebrews 4:14-16). The cross shows how deep God’s compassion runs, and how far he is willing to go in order to redeem his people from their suffering, either in this life or in glory (cf. Romans 8:18-25).

***This was originally written for a Wisdom Literature class at Philadelphia Biblical University

John Newton — “Grace in the Blade”

Puritan writings often contain a depth of understanding and insight that is all too often lost in modern Evangelicalism. John Newton, most famously known for his hymn Amazing Grace, is among the Puritans who still feed the souls of saints with insight. Newton, like Bunyan before him, was not initially a scholar or man of great academic achievement. The following excerpt is from Letters of John Newton, specifically the letter called “Grace in the Blade.” Newton is here describing the character and evidences of a Christian. Not only can the Puritan’s provide great comfort, but also conviction and warning: this, it seems, can be evidence of both comfort and fear.

“That he believes the Word of God, sees and feels things to be as they are there described, hates and avoids sin, because he knows it is displeasing to God, and contrary to His goodness; he receives the record which God has given of His Son; has his heart affected and drawn to Jesus by the views of His glory, and of His love to poor sinners; ventures upon His name and promises as his only encouragement to come to a throne of grace; waits diligently in the use of all means appointed for the communion and growth of grace; loves the Lord’s people, accounts them the excellent of the earth, and delights in their conversion. He is longing, waiting, and praying, for a share in those blessings which he believes they enjoy, and can be satisfied with nothing less. He is convinced of the power of Jesus to save him; but through remaining ignorance and legality the remembrance of sin committed, and the sense of present corruption, he often questions His willingness; and not knowing the aboundings of grace, and the security of the promises, he fears lest the compassionate Savior should spurn him from his feet.”

John Newton 1822 – 1895