Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Does The Story of Cain Contradict Calvinism?

I recently visited Alan Kurschner's site and read some comments that a fellow named Dennis Clough had posted concerning Calvinism. I responded with a couple of points concerning his comments and he responded by directing me to a challenge he made concerning Cain that shows, according to him, that Calvinism is false. So, in order to avoid any accusations that I, or any Calvinist will not or cannot answer Mr. Clough's challenge concerning Cain, I will take the time to respond to the claims made by Mr. Clough.

Mr. Clough, in a somewhat lengthy commentary on various issues, had this to say concerning his challenge to Calvinists:

I challenge any Calvinist to say that God did not call Cain! One must deny the clear record of Scripture in order to do so.

Apparantly, Mr. Clough is saying that God called Cain to salvation thus negating the Calvinist doctrine of irresistable grace because Cain rejected God's call. Further, Mr. Clough states that to deny Cain was called salvifically would be to deny clear scriptural teaching. So we have here several assertions made by Mr. Clough that he believes refutes Calvinism. Is he right? Let's take a look.

Mr. Clough's first statements regarding Cain in his post read thusly:

Besides receiving what God freely gave, Eve’s faith was seen in her excitement at the birth of Cain indicating that she thought he would be the promised Messiah.

Mr. Clough states that Eve was excited at Cain's birth because she thought that Cain would be the promised Messiah. But where does the text say that Eve believed Cain to be the Messiah? Nowhere in the text of Genesis 4 does it state that Eve believed such a notion. In fact, Genesis 4:1 simply states that Eve credited the LORD with helping her bring forth her firstborn. So where does Mr. Clough get this idea if not here? It appears that right off the bat, Mr. Clough is reading notions into the text that aren't there. Is this a developing pattern? Let's continue and see.

Cain refused to bring blood and rebelled against God’s clear call to get right.

Here, Mr. Clough claims two things concerning Cain. The first claim is that Cain refused to offer God a blood sacrifice. The second claim is that Cain rebelled against God's salvific call. So in response to the first claim, I'll quote Genesis 4:3-5 which reads:

So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the LORD of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the LORD had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. NASB

Mr. Clough's first claim from his above quote is that Cain refused to offer God a blood sacrifice. But where in the above citation does it state that Cain refused to do anything? The text simply states that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground and that God rejected it. So it appears that Mr. Clough is still reading things into the text that aren't there. His second claim is that Cain refused God's salvific call. But is he yet again reading a notion into the text that isn't there? So far, Mr. Clough is 2 for 2. Can he keep it up?

Genesis 4:6 & 7 read thusly:

Then the LORD said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouchning at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it." NASB

Here, the LORD addresses Cain and tells him that if he does well his "countenance" will be lifted up. If Cain does not do well then sin will overcome him. Now, I presume that Mr. Clough's contentions are based on these two verses (he doesn't give specific citations in his post). If so, where is this supposed salvific call? Where does God explicitly state that He is calling Cain to salvation? And where is Cain's denial of this supposed offer? God's statements are simply what will happen if Cain does this or does not do that. And notice that if Cain does good then all that happens according to God's statements is that his "countenance" will be lifted up. This simply means that he'll be in a good mood with perhaps a smile to boot. Thus, it is my contention that God's statements to Cain are *descriptive* of what will happen if Cain does good and not *prescriptive* of what Cain could and should do for salvation. It is also my contention that Mr. Clough is fairly consistent in reading concepts into the text that aren't there as all of his stated assertions cannot be demonstrated from the referenced texts.

In Mr. Clough's first quote above, he stated that he challenges any Calvinist to deny that God called Cain and that to make such a denial is to defy Scripture. I submit to Mr. Clough that I have not only denied that God called Cain salvifically, but have shown this from the text of Scripture itself.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Anonymous Response

This morning, I recieved a response to my article about Ergun Caner's recent anti-Calvinism sermon. I would like to briefly address this response sent in by "Anonymous".

Oh, my! All this wears me out!! I am sick and exhausted of all this debating, etc.

So have you been debating this issue yourself? If so, where? When? Certainly not here. If not, then how can you be exhausted from something you have not engaged in?

For me, I will follow the Lord Jesus Christ! I want to be available to hear His still small voice.

Okay, so are you suggesting that because I and others choose to debate relavant issues within the Church that we do not follow the Lord Jesus? And just what does it mean to be "available to hear His still small voice"?

How can this happen if I jump on every bandwagon that comes along in Christianity?

By "bandwagon", do you mean denomination, or perhaps a particuliar theological view? If so, are you denying that you are a member of a denomination with particuliar theological views (i.e. bandwagons)? If you are a protestant, are you not on the "protestant bandwagon"? If your theological viewpoints put you in agreement with Jacob Arminius, are you not on his "bandwagon"?

Can we come together in the essentials of the Word of God and eliminate all this debating?

As long as false doctrine exists within Christ's church, then no. Would you want to fellowship with someone whom you believed was teaching false doctrine? Or perhaps someone in your congregation that openly attacks what you believe to be the Gospel? Are you seriously suggesting that Christians should throw out doctrine in favor of unity?

No wonder the American Christian Church is going down the toilet!!

I would agree that evangelicalism is indeed swirling down the toilet. But who is to blame? Those who are trying to confront false teachers and their doctrines or those who stand idly by and do nothing?

The drug addict whose life is transformed by the Gospel of Christ couldn't care less about your debates.

This would depend on whether or not this former drug addict cared about what Scripture so plainly teaches on watching your doctrine closely (2Timothy 4:2-4)

Mike Ratliff is correct when he says, "it's a sad day when 'Christians' are more in love with their traditions than they are with their sovereign Lord".

Mike Ratliff was indeed correct but not in the way you mean. What Mike is talking about are those who would sacrifice clear and unambiguous passages of Scripture for the traditions of men. You are thus in error by trying to turn Mike's statements into an endorsement of Christian complacency.

I might add: it is a sad day when "Christians" are more in love with their "interpretation of theology" than they are with their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

What I see here is nothing more than a veiled attack on my, and every other Calvinist's status as a believer. It is a common thing for folks such as yourself to suggest that just because a Calvinist dots his soteriological "I's", and crosses his theological "T's", that he is somehow a subversive heathen seeking to destroy the truth of God's Word. What is telling about such assertions is that they can never be demonstrated and I would invite you to try. But that would involve going to the Scriptures for such things just as the Bereans did, which, based on your comments is apparently something you would be unwilling to do. This tells much about who really cares for God's truth as revealed in Scripture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Questions and Answers

I received an email recently containing some questions regarding my previous post on God's relationship to evil. I would like to address those questions here for the benefit of any curious readers out there.

The first question reads thus:

What do you mean when you said that a natural disaster and evil are the same thing?

This question refers to my comments on Amos 3:6 regarding the prophet's statement that God causes disaster to befall the cities of men. The first thing I would point out for the questioner is that the translators for the NIV chose the word "disaster" over the more literal term "evil" meaning that they themselves saw these terms as synonymous. The second thing to point out is that a natural disaster is considered a kind of evil by both sides of the debate on the problem of evil. Just because natural disasters are beyond the control of man doesn't mean that they are not a kind of evil. I believe that the questioner would agree that whatever causes suffering and death can be considered evil, be it man or hurricane.

The next question reads as follows:

Isn't evil a man's action?

Yes it is. But as I pointed out above, evil is not limited to the actions of man. For instance, is it an evil thing or a good thing that thousands died when the tsunami struck a few years back? As stated above, suffering and death result from natural disasters. Surely suffering and death are not morally neutral things.

And God being responsible for 9/11?!?!?

I wouldn't say that God is "responsible" for 9/11 but I would say that this event happened according to His will. In my article on God's relationship to evil I made mention that Calvinism does not say that God can be responsible for evil in the sense of somehow being held accountable to His creation. The notion that creation can hold it's Creator accountable for His decrees is absurd. Can man really sit in judgement on God himself? I believe to ask this question is to answer it. But I do understand where the questioner is coming from. For the non-Calvinist, it is difficult to see how God can have anything to do with the decisions of evil men. I mean, how can God have "caused" the terrorists to do what they did? The best way to answer this is to show from scripture what God has done in similiar situations in the past. Case in point:

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him agaisnt a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me, to seize loot and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets. Isaiah 10:5,6 NIV

In Isaiah chapter 10, we find that the Jewish nation has fallen away from God and that God intends to punish His people by sending the Assyrians to invade and destroy. The thing to note here is that God is the One bringing the Assyrians against the Jewish nation and not just allowing them to do what they would otherwise do anyway. This is further evidenced by God's statements that the king of Assyria believed that these events transpired apart from any divine influence. The text of Isaiah 10 further states:

Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? Isaiah 10:15a

Here, God is rhetorically stating that it was He who is the cause of the actions of the Assyrians. He goes on to say that He intends to punish the Assyrians for the arrogant attitude of their hearts due to their belief that they have accomplished these things on their own. Non-Calvinists have had a difficult time explaining how these events fit in with the notion that God only allows things to happen according to the supposed free-will of man. But this issue aside, I would ask the questioner to think of these passages in light of 9/11. If God could bring a heathen nation like the Assyrians against the Jews, why not then can God bring the terrorists against the people of the United States? I mean, what is the fundamental difference between these two events? Does the questioner believe that we as a nation are better than the Jews of Isaiah 10 and should not be punished as God sees fit?

If you hold God responsible for evil then what is Satan for?

Again, I do not hold God responsible for anything. I would not presume to think that I or anyone can call into account God's decrees. As for Satan, I believe him to be on a leash of sorts. That is, he does only what God allows him to do instead of what man allows him to do. But I believe that in light of all the verses I covered in my article on God's relationship to evil, this question about Satan also applies to the questioner's beliefs. In other words, if God Himself claims to create and/or cause evil, what is Satan's role? Does he act contrary to an omnipotent God's decrees or does he act according to those decrees? Can a creature such as Satan defeat his Creator's purpose for him? If so, how does this square with God's omnipotence? I hope our questioner will place as much time and consideration on these questions as I've given to his/hers.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

God's Relationship to Evil

In almost any conversation about Calvinism, there is the accusation that Reformed theology makes God responsible for sin and/or evil. The Calvinist will usually answer this charge by denying that God is responsible in the sense of being held accountable by His creation and that He is not the author of sin by making a distinction between primary and secondary causation. However, the Calvinist at some point must admit that Reformed theology affirms God as the ultimate cause of all things and that nothing occurs but by His will. Through all this theological wrangling lies the main issue, which is, what scripture says about God's relationship to sin and evil. I will review several sections of scripture that speak directly to this issue without going through all the theological considerations just mentioned.

The first verse I would like to briefly discuss is Isaiah 45:7 which reads:

I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. KJV

The obvious point to make about this verse is that God, thru the prophet, states that He creates evil. The King James translators chose to give the most literal rendering of the underlying Hebrew which is why you would see other, less pointed, translations in the NIV or NASB. But even with other, less literal translations of the underlying Hebrew, the meaning changes little, if at all. The terms employed by other translations such as adversity, disaster, catastrophe, etc. are all synonyms. So, in light of these considerations, what does the non-Calvinist do with this verse? How does the common assertion that God only *permits* evil to happen but has nothing to do with it otherwise, do justice here? How does the non-Calvinist point an accusatory finger at Reformed theology for making God the "author of evil" when you have God's own testimony that He creates it? These questions will become more weighty as we continue with the Biblical testimony.

In the book of Lamentations we read:

Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Lamentations 3:38 NASB

Here we have the prophet Jeremiah stating that both good and ill come from God. The NASB's rendering is a bit interpretive in comparison to the KJV which again has translated the underlying Hebrew as "evil". But do the implications not remain the same? Is not the prophet trying to communicate that both sides of the moral spectrum come from God himself? If not, what other possibilities are there that can do justice to this verse as it reads?

Next, we have the prophet Amos stating:

When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it? Amos 3:6 NIV

The prophet Amos states that when a disaster strikes a city, the LORD has caused it. Again, the KJV renders the underlying Hebrew as "evil" versus the NIV's "disaster". But I again point out that the meaning is the same. Moreover, this statement by the prophet has modern implications. Do not modern disasters such as 9/11 or hurricane Katrina not fall under God's hand and will according to Amos? If this be admitted, is it not true that the terrorist attack on the twin towers was "caused" by God Himself? Was this act of terrorism not evil? I believe that many non-Calvinists would still be reluctant to state that God had anything to do with 9/11 even if they conceded the above reasoning. But what about hurricane Katrina? Many non-Calvinists have stated that Katrina was an act of punishment from God. But is not a natural disaster a kind of evil? If the non-Calvinist answers in the affirmative, what does this do for his criticism of Reformed theology?

Next is Job 2:10 which reads:

But he said to her, "You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips. NRSV

Here, Job has just answered his wife by saying that men receive both good and bad from the hand of God. Again, the KJV translators chose to render the underlying Hebrew term as "evil" versus the New Revised Standard's "bad". The most important thing to notice concerning this verse is that it explicitly states that Job did not sin by the comments he made. In modern discussions of this topic, it is the non-Calvinist that accuses Reformed theology of "making a monster out of God" by stating essentially the same thing as Job. But notice it is scripture itself that defends the Calvinist's assertions against this criticism. I have commented previously on one non-Calvinist's handling of this verse. His solution to how the verse read was to simply not quote it in full and to state that Job was suffering from some sort of dilusion due to his afflictions. As I noted before, this attempt at censuring the word of God in order to save one's theological presuppositions is inexcusable.

The next verse I would like to briefly discuss is Exodus 4:11 which reads:

The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? NIV

In this section of Exodus, Moses himself is complaining about being God's mouthpiece. God's answer is very interesting in that He states that it is He that makes men mute, deaf, seeing, and blind. Now, I do not believe that these are the only infirmities that God can be said to be the cause of. I mean, why would God only be the cause of blindness and deafness and not of, say, cancer or diabetes? Either way, disease is considered a kind of evil amongst those on both sides of the debate on the problem of evil. If it be admitted by the critic of Calvinism that disease is a kind of evil, then what is his explanation of this verse? How does this fit into his system of theology?

The last verse I would like to discuss has to do with what theologians have called the single most evil act man has ever commited. This act being the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The book of Acts has this to say:

For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. Acts 4:27, 28 NASB

This text states that Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Jewish people and the Gentiles did whatever the "hand and purpose" of God predestined them to do. As all Christians know, these people were all involved with the execution of our Lord and though the crucifixion is how our salvation is made possible, this was an act of pure evil on the part of the parties named. So if it be admitted that all those involved in the crucifixion were predestined by the hand and purpose of God to the roles they played, and it be admitted that they commited evil, what can be said against the Calvinist who affirms that God is the ultimate cause of all things? In the case of this particuliar verse, the non-Calvinist will try to slip in their concept of "foreknowledge" in order to distance God from what is plainly stated. But the Calvinist only need respond by pointing out that the term foreknowledge is not mentioned here or in the immediate context. So what else is left?

In all the verses that we've looked at, nothing is at all stated that God merely "permits" or "foreknows" evil. In fact, four of the verses bluntly stated that God creates or causes evil. So for the non-Calvinist who takes the view that God only permits evil and does not in no way cause it, what does he do with these verses? How will he continue to criticise Calvinism for affirming what the text of scripture so plainly states?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Strange Baptistfire Launched

In response to one of the worst anti-Calvinist sites on the web, Gene Bridges, Evan May, Timmy Brister, Dustin Segers, and Nathan White have collaborated on a new site called "Strange Baptist Fire". Aside from answering the anonymous folks over at "Baptist Fire", they will also be discussing issues related to Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention. Everyone is encouraged to visit this site regularly.