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Friday, July 18, 2014

Family Arguments

In a few months I will be leading a Sunday school class that examines the Sovereignty of God and free will.  Yesterday I was working on preparation for that and in the midst of doing another task stumbled on a website that can only be described as overtly hostile to the doctrine described by most as Calvinism.  Hostile is putting it mildly.
How do you respond to people who do not agree with you on what the Bible says?  Thoughts at DTTB.
There were numerous posts that claimed to disprove elements of what the individuals who were writing viewed as Calvinism.  The illustrations were passionate and intended to cause a strong emotional response.  They certainly accomplished that objective.  However there was no reference to Scripture in the illustrations and the illustrations did not adequately address the elements of Calvinism with which they took issue.  The arguments were logical.  But poorly cast and multiple logical fallacies were committed.

I scanned the comments.  That is a discouraging exercise, because it reinforces the reality that most of the people who respond to this type of thing either have never studied what the Bible says about the issue at hand, and or do not really understand the matter being discussed.

I took a minute to respond and suggested that those in the conversation would be better served not to dissect what John Calvin and other authors might have said about something.  Frankly, I do not care.  Further I really do not care what the person presenting the issue thinks, nor should he or she care one whit what I think.  That is the wrong pursuit.

On issues about which there may be disagreement, what matters is what the Bible says, what God thinks.  That is where the dialog needs to center.  We should not line up and defend what we think to be true.  We should examine the Word and make sure that we understand what it says honestly evaluating whether what I hold to be true actually aligns with what the Word says.   In the past I have found myself being substantially corrected by the Word.  That continues.

I published the comment on the blog and went about my other tasks.  Checking back an hour or so later, I saw that the comment was there with a note that it was being held for moderation, in other words someone was going to read it before it was published.  Checking back an hour or so later, the comment was gone.  Apparently, since I was perceived as disagreeing with the premise of the site, my comments were not welcome.

We do that a lot don’t we.  We do not listen to those with whom we disagree or think we disagree.  We do not consider their argument and the way they support it.  We just cut them off.  I have done that.  I fight not to.

In a family fight like this we need to fight fair.  Fair in part means to listen.


  1. Mike,
    I'm currently studying this issue further - God's sovereignty balanced with free will (because the bible teaches both) - and also struggling with not just cutting off those we disagree with. Let me discuss the latter first - I was responding to a direct attack against the bible as God's word, or that we as believers divorce intellect and only use the bible as a means to authenticate itself, etc. Just after I responded to this member of my extended physical family, God brought into my path "do not throw your pearls before swine", and I felt He was directing me to leave those kinds of discussions alone and focus on building up the body of Christ, at least in those persons who are willing to view pearls as pearls. So, while I see our human tendency to only listen to what builds/reinforces our own views, I also see balancing that with audience and a tenderness to the Holy Spirit's direction when who, and when to speak.
    As calvinism vs arminianism, I am struggling on how best to share the truth with those who have commented that this is a mystery too great for us to understand, and that if for the past several hundred years of church discussion on the subject, no one could come up with an integrated theory/understanding, how arrogant would I must suppose I am to present my thoughts on the matter.
    The problem is, the bible teaches both free will and God's sovereignty throughout the full of scripture, either by inference or by direct teachings. My thought is that they are two sides of the same Godly balance - i.e. He would not want anyone to perish and causes no one to sin, yet without His hand, none could / would choose Him.
    I am very curious about 2 things:
    1: How are you going about studying God's word in totality for your understanding? and
    2: How are you sharing that understanding with others in a way that stimulates growth and understanding in others?


    1. There were significant typos in the first reply so I am reviewing and reposting... OK here it is...

      Andy - thanks for the simple question. But, I recognize that I invited it with the topic. There are three specific things, well probably more, but three I think I want to address now. They are somewhat integrated. Let me answer your questions first.

      1. I have taken on this topic several times primarily through a study of Romans as the launching point. I have done synthetic overviews of all 66 books excluding Psalms and Proverbs which do not lend themselves to that method. To say that my study has been exhaustive would be arrogant. But I have a fairly good handle on the prime data.

      To push myself further I am reading Carson's, Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. I have previously read Rupp and Watson, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. I will also review my notes from Systematic Theology classes in cemetery.

      This will segue to the third point before I try to answer the second question. One of the reasons I am reading Carson and review - oh I mentioned the other thing in the post. I am reading the posts on the Pelagian/Armenian website to try to understand their positions Biblically as well. The reason I am doing this is that try as I might I cannot validate your opening sentence. I have neither read nor heard a cogent defense of free will specifically as it relates to salvation that is supported Biblically. Logic yes. Illustrations that tug at our hearts, yes. Solid use of Scripture, no. I am searching for that - if you can help me there please do.

      2. My primary gift is exhortation. I am not real interested in sharing what I know, rather in equipping others to discover for themselves. What is driving this particular exercise is not an attempt to sway folks one way or the other, rather to challenge the way they think about controversial issues.

      In conversations in the past several months the sovereignty/free will topic has surfaced a number of times. The reality of the matter is that people on both sides of the issue do not share reasons soundly grounded in the Word to support their positions. The answers are typically preceded by "Well I think..." and then they parrot something they read in a book or else what they have heard from a pastor or Sunday School teacher.

      As believers we are to, as Paul exhorts in Romans 12:3, "think so as to have sound judgement..." I am aware that the context of The passage is gifts and body. However, the theme of mindset, thinking, considering, and other "thinking" words is thick in the New Testament. It matters, how we as believers think. It matters how we approach controversial issues.

      Many believers do not engage, like you are. We have created several generations of consumers of Christian pabulum. Predigested meat that the writer in Hebrews 5:11 - 14 refers to as milk. So...

      I am going to focus in the time I am allotted, on how we should think about issues like this. I am going to ask, require actually, that during the discussion when a position is shared, that it is backed up with Scripture. None of this, "I think..." without Bible.

      My prayer is that it will create a noble MINDED (there is that theme of thinking again) curiosity much like the Berean's had in Acts 17:11.

      I hope this helps. Please keep engaged with this. I really do need help with the pelagian/armenian Biblical foundation.

      By the way I discovered that Augustine resolved this issue the same way I did.

      Andy, thanks for the question. It helps me no end to respond in writing. It is tough but incredibly helpful.

    2. I think this was longer than the original post...

  2. Thanks Mike... I'm just building a solid biblical foundation for the thinking that both lines of reasoning are taught throughout scripture... though, probably a helpful start on my part is to throw out the terms and historical mess of the debate and start fresh with simple biblical precepts and scriptures. One of my logical conclusions is drawn from the most known scripture in the world, John 3:16 and following, as God clearly says that it is/was not His will that ANY should perish, and yet we know through the rest of scripture that MOST will. So, in terms of thwarting the ultimate will of God, satan seems to have done a pretty good job, through the leverage of our free will, which is (more) ultimately God's will, in that He does not create us to be robotic machines but lovers who choose Him.

    It may take months, but I will try to write out the totality of this answer from a scripturally sound perspective so that it can encourage more discussion, understanding and writing! ;)


  3. 2 Peter 3:9 states His will more directly as well.

    1. You will need to look at the terms in 2 Peter 3:9 and determine their referents. For instance to what does "all" refer.

      One of the things that has to be done as well at the start of any study of this stripe is to codify what you currently hold to be true. To not acknowledge that up front makes one more likely to see the data, the Scripture, through the lenses that one has already constructed. To acknowledge one's current position gives one a chance to look around that position to see if the data, in fact, supports said position.

      It is not an easy thing to do but adds significant integrity to the inquiry. It is something that Theological Method bequeathed to its child Scientific Method that the child has abandoned.