Exciting news this week, as this podcast joins forces with the Theology Mix podcast network! Be sure to visit the website and check out the other awesome contributors. In future episodes you will start to hear promos for other shows, and I’ll be producing one for them to run for this show. There are a lot of great podcasts that you should add to your subscription list.
There are also a lot of awesome blog posts, such as this one right here: we’ve also made Calvinist Chewbacca’s list of Chewy Approved Podcasts! It’s truly an honor, and if that sounds absolutely bizarre…well, it really is an honor. Seriously, you guys.
I’m going to put my response to Dr. Boa aside for a while, as I have had a few other things come across that require my attention and I don’t want it to be rushed or incomplete. I also wanted to take time to respond to another issue, one that I have had on my mind frequently due to it being a common one in my area. It has weighed heavily on my heart and I felt like it was appropriate to spend time writing about it.
A friend of mine on Facebook pointed me to this article at Gawker by Hamilton Nolan, about whom I know literally nothing except what’s written here, wherein he goes to a revival featuring a variety of names from the prosperity gospel/Word of Faith movement, such as Kenneth Copeland, and the man who is apparently over the organization running this particular revival conference, Morris Cerullo. Naturally, the author goes for vivid descriptions of every grandiose and bizarre experience, from the very excited attendees there seeking the “double portion” of God’s favor, to the lady spending half the conference waving a flag in the back of the room. But there is a certain starkness to the most detailed moments: the hope and dreams of so many who, multiple times over the course of the revival, make their way up front upon the call of the speakers to give money–large amounts of it. I can only imagine how much money changed hands there.
My friend wanted me to tear the article apart, and produce what would no doubt be an entertaining screed. I began a blog post, but got sidetracked and it ended up being put by the wayside. Yesterday*, however, I encountered another article posted in a few places around the web: Death, the Prosperity Gospel and Me, written by Kate Bowler and published in the New York Times, certainly no bastion of conservative theological discussion. But her article was heartfelt and hit right at the heart of the same issue I saw on display in the first article (albeit in a more satirical style): no matter its claims, the prosperity gospel has at its core idolatry and a human desire to hope that our own works will get us what we want.
Both articles resonated with me not because I stood on similar theological grounds with the authors (as far as I can tell, neither is explicitly a Christian), but because of a recognition of the damage this teaching was doing to their view of the true purpose of the church and the cynicism it breeds among those who come to realize that they will not find what they desire this way.
Reminder if you’ve forgotten: you can read Dr. Boa’s paper in full here.
There is a greater issue that must be addressed in light of all this, and is the larger reason why I felt this response was necessary: this is an issue of how we, as believers, view Christ’s work on the cross. As Dr. James White writes in his book The Potter’s Freedom:
[T]he ransom that Christ gives in His self-sacrifice is either a saving ransom or a non-saving one. If it is actual and really made in behalf of all men, then inevitably all men would be saved. But we again see that it is far more consistent to recognize that the same meaning for “all men” and “all” flows through the entire passage [referring to 1 Timothy 2:4], and when we look at the inarguably clear statements of Scripture regarding the actual intention and result of Christ’s cross-work, we will see that there is no other consistent means of interpreting these words….
The doctrine of justification by faith is one that requires an understanding of the nature of Christ’s work on the cross. The book of Hebrews discusses this at length, and while I won’t walk through the multiple chapters of argumentation here, I want to discuss some key texts and encourage my readers to read the whole book for themselves, to see the majestic work of salvation accomplished perfectly for God’s people in Jesus Christ.
In this next section I will address what I view as an incorrect use of Scripture to support his assertion, and show how it has led to a conclusion that is arguably not defensible scripturally. Dr. Boa writes:
Finally, God’s plan is not always the same as His desires. Although His plan controls what men will be, the product often is not what He desires. This is partly because God has chosen to allow human will to operate. For instance, God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4; see also 2 Peter 3:9). Yet He has not elected all men: “… The elect obtained it. The rest were hardened” Rom. 11:7).
Thus, God’s plan and desires are two different aspects of His will. He has revealed His desire (what men ought to do), but His plan for what specific men will do has for the most part been hidden. This is almost a mystery within a mystery, because there is no way we can conceive of how these two aspects of God’s will relate together in His mind.
Now, the concept of the two wills of God–His decretal will, or God’s plan He will carry out in creation, and His prescriptive will, what Dr. Boa calls “what men ought to do”–are not at all foreign to the reformed believer. One of my first introductions to reformed theology was through a sermon of Matt Chandler’s when I was first in the process of joining the Village Church some years ago called “Are there two wills in God?” John Piper has a similar teaching available, and of course there is much discussion of this subject in the extensive writings of the reformers, all available for free online. The difference, however, is that where Dr. Boa sees a conflict, the reformers saw harmony, and this is arguably a key part of the issue of compatabilism. That is a subject we shall address later, but I argue that Dr. Boa has created division within God that is not warranted. A big reason for that is the way he is handling some commonly abused texts here. 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 are cited here in support of the idea that God’s true desire is to save all of mankind, but I want to demonstrate here that this is not an appropriate exegesis of this text.
This began as a single post I started some time ago, but it has grown until it has simply become far too long for a single blog post, so I’ve decided to carve it up into parts and post more of it as I write it.
I’ve had the opportunity to teach for an ongoing discussion group/class my church has been hosting, going through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I recently was given the opportunity to teach on the doctrine of the Trinity, an opportunity I was extremely excited to take advantage of. The discussion was good and I was very gratified to spend an extended period walking through large chunks of the Gospel of John to see how the doctrine is revealed by God’s Word: not in a singular verse that says “God is one being made up of three persons,” but by the manner in which God reveals Himself, the perfect cooperation of Father, Son, and Spirit in calling God’s people to Himself in salvation and completing that work perfectly.
And it is about that work, and about that call, that I wish I write. In our discussion group our leader posted a link to this paper by Dr. Kenneth Boa on the question of God’s sovereignty in salvation versus human responsibility before God. Dr. Boa says much with which I can agree; it is by no means a thoughtless screed like those so often written against the reformed position, and he goes to great lengths to insure that Scripture is looked at as a whole. He does not deny God’s election of His people, nor the power of God to save.
Nevertheless, there are a few things I wish to consider in this paper, to discuss at some length and respond to in good faith and brotherly love. I will argue that Dr. Boa has a tradition that is driving him to certain positions in opposition to what the Scriptures reveal, and I want to try to walk through the relevant texts to demonstrate that. Not because I have a driving desire to spend my every moment defending reformed theology, but because I take the doctrine of God’s freedom to save His church to His own eternal glory very seriously, and I take just as seriously the doctrine of the depravity of man.
These two doctrines are analogs, they inform each other and are seen, I will argue, very clearly in Scripture: man’s complete inability to turn from his sin and the rule of his desires over his heart to his own ultimate destruction, and God’s perfect ability to take a man in that state of slavery and spiritual death and turn him into a man whose heart beats for the glory of Christ. I consider myself an example of this by God’s grace, and therefore will say before any reader that the only boasting that will be done here will be done in the cross of Christ. I believe that Dr. Boa would agree to this as well, and I hope that, should he actually read this, he sees that this is written in a tone of respect and a desire to glorify God by honoring the full measure of God’s revelation.
Christ is truly the friend of sinners, yet this idea has been maligned, twisted, and abused so much over the years. In this sermon we discuss in depth the truth of Jesus’ friendship for the sinner in need! Listen above and subscribe on iTunes and Soundcloud!
After doing the episode and spending time thinking about the topic, I wanted to turn back to this and expand the subject, and have my own say on what it really means to say that Jesus is the friend of sinners, and that Jesus is my friend. We typically think of “friend” in a very non-committal way, but when we say that Jesus is a friend of sinners in the sense that Spurgeon exegetes the text to understand, we see that we’re not thinking of “friend” in the standard American sense, where He is some acquaintance we are on generally friendly terms with and who we might invite over for a party to watch a football game. This is a relationship that Christ takes very seriously, and furthermore, it reveals that only by realizing our deep need for that friendship, can we come to Christ in search of it.
I am very aware of my deep-seated need for that very friendship. The Holy Spirit has been gracious enough to me to open my eyes to my nature as a broken sinner, who has nothing good to offer and who has been trying to live for so long under my own power and for my own glory. Let’s look back at the passage in question:
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like?They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”–Luke 7:31-35
I’m using the fuller context to show the contrast and hypocrisy of the Pharisees, as well as to discuss how I can to understand my own deep-seated need. There was a time, I would have been like those men, standing there looking judgmentally at these people who are doing exactly what they should be doing: coming to Christ, bringing their sins, their fears, their needs, and thought to myself “How clever am I, that I have managed to make something of myself! Look at these screwups, I’m so much better off than them.” All the while, like the Pharisees, hiding my sin and pretending nothing is wrong, a whitewashed tomb.
But thank God for His mercy even to the prideful and foolish, and thank Christ for His friendship to the sinner. I am a man who needs it desperately, because in Christ I have the One who made me, who knows me and is the source of my very identity and being. In Christ I have life, a real life that leads to life beyond just pursuing my next whim. These sinners and tax collectors who came to Christ and gathered around Him, who invited Him into their homes, were people who were very well-acquainted with sin and with pursuing their desires, and they had tasted the bitterness of unfulfillment it brings. They had seen the death and pain it wrought in their lives.
In the church today it is important for us to keep our balance, with the fulcrum point of our lives being the Gospel first and foremost. The Gospel brings us daily reminders of what is ultimately true: man is sinful and rebellious against God by His nature, but God is both just and merciful. He sent His Son to pay the price for all those who believe in Him by dying on the cross, He conquered death in rising again, and He stands at the right hand of the Father as the perfect high priest who can say of His people, “I have covered their sins, I have atoned for them, they are of Me and have life in Me.” But the desires of our flesh are always trying to pull away from this center that destroy’s man’s self-aggrandizement, and move to one of two equally wrong positions: either self-righteous Pharisaism, where behavior and moral assent are more important that repentance and faith, or simply rejecting God altogether. Both entail a foolish belief in man’s autonomy, and both rebel against who we were made to be: created in the image of God, made to know Him and have our fullest life in knowing Him.
Jesus Christ is the friend of the sinner who cries out to Him for mercy. He is the friend of the sinner who has had his heart broken by the Word of God taught to him by the Holy Spirit and needs to be lifted up. He is the friend of the sinner who, like the blind man from a couple sermons ago, cries out “Son of David, have mercy on me!” That mercy is readily and lovingly given. Cry out for it, my friends, and know His peace.