Calvinism and Deism


One of the major sections of Reformed Protestant Christianity is Calvinism. Named for John Calvin, it has its roots in a theology that started soon after the Reformation and has been a major developing theology ever since.

There are five unique elements to Calvinist theology. Predestination is the one we will take a brief look at. In this theology, God has foreordained who will be saved. It is debated the exact when of the declaration (before or after the fall), but there is a plan along this line. The point of this is sovereignty. How can an all powerful God be if he has not ordered salvific history? It is a good question. Though I am part of the Arminian side of the Reformed tradition, this question does baffle me.

One thing I have noticed in Calvinism is a lean to Fatalism. Fatalism says that what fate has been given to is unaltered by the decisions you make. This is not true. Throughout the Scriptures, God interacts with decisions in an intimate way. Fatalism creates an impersonal God that cares nothing about personal decision.

A major view that says God is impersonal is Deism. Deism teaches that God place the world into motion, but made it in such a way that it would run itself. This meant for the Deist that God created the universe, but would not intervene. God made a great plan, but it is unfortunately an impersonal plan. If Calvinism heads in this direction, it will not fit with Biblical Christianity’s view that God is active in history.

Developing a good Calvinist theology means not getting Christian Theology mixed up with an alternative theology. Going to Fatalism and Deism will not help us live in Christian hope. Looking at John 3:16 and the teachings of the Gospel accounts teaches us that God incarnated to human form. God, even if he made plans like a Calvinist would teach, he still must be involved. God decided that he would hear the cries of His people and got involved. God, if he foreordained the events of History, only does it in response to the cries of his people. If God is fulfilling a plan he made before the world began, it has to be because the plans are full of His promises of salvation and rescue. Isaiah 54:10 teaches that God’s will remain faithful even in the worst chaotic event imaginable to the human mind. The point of theology is to study who God is, but that means that we must focus on God’s Love for us, even if sovereignty is a concern.

What is your view of God’s plans? Do you think he is distant and watching things run? Is he that distant and unloving? Or is he acting in love, fulfilling his promises in the here and now?

 

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Ira


“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” – BCP

Ira is Latin for Wrath. One might say this is for the person who is always angry or picking fights. We have many of those in this culture. I grew up in Southern USA, who are stereotyped as a people who are easily angered at someone saying the wrong thing. This is not completely devoid of truth. In the Bible we see the same thing being mentioned in Ephesians 4:26.

Let’s not get too confused here. We must remember that the traditional view of wrath as a deadly sin is more connected to destructive personality. The person who is oppressed or physically injured or has seen this done to someone else has every right to be angry since this is an anger derived from a desire for justice. The anger we are discussing is one that provokes all sorts of destructive circumstances.

What we must be cautious of are violent endeavors and always starting fights. In other words, bloodshed and bullying are to be avoided at all costs. The reason for this is that the Kingdom came as a harbinger of peace. Jesus is even called the Prince of Peace. He even went to a cross without resisting.

Peace is the will of God for humanity. From the creation it has been the desire. In the end, it will be part of our reality. In the present, we must live out this reality as we reflect Christ to everyone. It will not do any good to throw punches and draw blood. We must heal wounds and restore life to the broken and dying.

…he (Jesus) humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:8

 

In what ways do you practice wrath? Do you try to hurt others and try to cause trouble in other people’s lives? Are you willing to put that death and go as far as accepting being a victim who will be rescued? Or do you think that you can plan better than God and rescue yourself?

Acedia


“Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” – BCP

Acedia is Latin for Sloth. This term is commonly used to refer to someone who is physically lazy. Our culture seems to understand that on a physical level, someone who does not exercise is bound for a bad future. Failure to act in health usually brings someone towards death.

Failure to act is something the Church has noticed also. The Church has taken note of a more devastating slothfulness of the spirit. The person who participates in this sin does not take part in disciplining the spirit and in such lives a life that rejects God. This does not necessarily indicate a view on whether someone can reject God or not. But it is a reflection of what is in a person’s heart.

Spiritual Laziness is more poisonous than many people realize, mostly because it’s effects are not felt until it is too late. Starting lazy spiritual practices are seen as harmless, but they are really a letting down of our guard, which allows evil to reign in our lives.

Living Christ’s mission takes discipline. We cannot take up a cross without a commitment to practice the way of Christ. Who can bring love, forgiveness, and peace if they do not practice these qualities in their own heart.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. – Philippians 2:7

how are you a sloth? What keeps you from taking up your cross in spiritual discipline? Are you willing to commit to practicing the way of Christ and exercising your faith?

Avaritia


“O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” BCP

Avaritia is the Latin word for Avarice or Greed. This concept seems very perceivable in our culture through commentary on government in movements such as the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. We are all constantly aware of greed, because it is a sin that is very evident in all people. How many times have we ignored more important matters in order to have more money and things.

What makes Greed so bad is relational trauma. Much like soldiers with PTSD, we can cause long-term effects on us and others by competing on the battlefield of material gain. There is nothing but death there, physical and spiritual. It does not bring life to the participant.

We were not made for this death, because it is final and without hope of a future. There is another death we take part in, one in covenant with God as we join in the death of Christ. But this death is a death of hope. Although it is found in sacrifice, not greed, it experiences the promise of resurrection. It is filled with eternal life, not just in the future, but immediately.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to. – Philippians 2:5-6

What are you desiring more the God’s grace and love? Do you find more happiness in material wealth or relationships that reflect Jesus? Are you willing to make Christ the center of your pursuit of satisfaction and the model for your life?

Out of Reach


Have you had a dream where you were trying to reach something but you could never reach it. It would always be just at your fingertips and out of reach. That feeling is very frustrating and is tiring. It leaves you tired in the morning and cranky until you get your first cup of coffee down. That feeling, if you recall the dream, sticks with you. That thing you can never reach. It can even hit you in the most spiritual contexts. Most of religion has a way trying to reach something and attain something. But what humanity has not been able to see is quite impossible to reach. How do you connect with a great reality that you cannot see and cannot explain fully?

People always try to reach God, or something out there that is real that would explain life and give meaning. That is why all throughout history we have seen religions try their hardest to reach out to the unknown and benefit from. If you look at the Old Testament, every other religion seems to be reaching out to with all the rules rituals and rules to get to God and be blessed by His presence. The only problem is that it has been just out of our reach. The moment we feel as if we are being blessed, moments turn for the worst. If we follow these efforts, we find ourselves in those nightmares where we cannot seem reach what we want to reach.

Ever since the fall, we have been stuck in a sick cycle of reaching out to God, but not being able to fully reach Him. But the great thing about God has always been reaching out to us. Even right after the fall, He was calling humanity to let Him change their lives for the better. One story that shows us the difference between being religious and letting God chase us. The story is of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on top of the mountain facing off. They were there to see who could summon their God to answer. The prophets of Baal commit to rituals of yelling louder and louder and then end up cutting themselves in order to get their god to answer them and give them what they need. They are never successful. Elijah, however, knows that God is present enough to just hear him as he prays for an answer. He gets a very powerful answer.

The great thing about the God who answered is that he was reaching out. He always reaches out. If He was not reaching out to us, we would have to yell and come up ways to grab His attention and hopefully getting Him to do things for us. But our God has come to us and can here us. He wants to be close to us in our history. And we don’t have to reach far. We do not even have to reach. He has already put His hand into our lives and is constantly calling us to a better purpose. That is what should amaze us, that a God that humanity rebelled against has decided to chase us and change our lives for good.

People trying to reach God creates two things, people frustrated at not feeling the spirit or people confident that they have completely experienced God with no need for more. Those are things God is out to stop. He wants us to be confident that His Spirit is here with us and that He is taking us on a journey. This is not an arbitrary journey that He is making us travel for His own amusement or to make us jump through the hoops to please Him. He really wants us to have a purpose towards greatness to create faith, hope, and love. He wants us to be the people He created us to be. What will we be? Are we going to keep reaching out to the things we will never reach? Or will we let God reach out to us and transform us and the world around us to be beautiful?

Heroic: 2 Kings 24-25


There are times when our communities can forget what we stand for and fall into something that we cannot get ourselves out of. The thing we fall into is that we try to become our own rulers instead following God’s will, something that we have been attempting for thousands upon thousands of years. That story always turns out with someone getting hurt or oppressed throughout Scripture. We have this tendency for trying to take over what God has given us. All through our history, we have been trying to take over God’s throne. This story repeats itself in over and over again and shows up in these two passages for today. The kings of Israel wanted to take control over the world and make it what they wanted to be. They wanted to fit in with the rest of the world. The only problem was that this was a world of of violence, oppression, and greed, much like todays world.

It is in this world that trouble is born. If we participate a world that is dog eat dog, we will try to be the top dog. We always tend to forget that at some point there will be a bigger dog ready to eat us. It’s a known fact that if we are alive long enough in the world, there will be someone else bigger and better than us. That reality makes this world end up in a cycle of having its own system turn on itself. The kings who did the oppressing in this story were attacked and oppressed by a bigger power called Babylon. The story ends up being a tug of war for power until Babylon finally places its own people in power and says we are not going to let a small country threaten our thirst for power again. Israel ends up having its land stolen from under her, just like she took it from the weak in her own community. It’s the ultimate ironic twist. People so good at taking from other end up having things taken away in the same way.

Does this not make us raise questions? If this system is going to continue to cannabalize itself, then why keep it? Is there a better system out there that would promote life for everyone instead of taking life from people? By the end of these two chapters, we see God begin to intervene for the people of Israel. As the last king of Israel is imprisoned by Babylon, one of the rulers sees him positively and begins to give him bigger and better things. This intervention stands in stark contrast of what Israel’s king did. The king, who came out of a reality of taking, is being subjected to reality of generosity and peace. God is trying to grab his attention and say that peace and love is supposed to overtake destruction and greed. The story ends with this. It’s the rhetorical ending asking if God’s people will take back what they were meant to be, a light for the nations.

What in our communities of faith is stopping us from being heroes of faith? Are we taking life from people? Do we offer peace, hope, and love? Not just spiritual talk, but real and tangible items of hope. Do we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the orphans? Do we seek the betterment of the weak people in our society? To make it more applicable, do we try to take away what could be given to those in need? Some people would rather fight others with no second thought that those people could be ministered to. They look at taking care of those who have little as a sign of weakness. Even some Christians will say this. When you look back to the first century Christians, we see that we come from a people who would originally care selflessly for people and be a voice against violence. Today there are many believers who are standing between God and the world and are turning their back on what God has for them and the world. How long until some of the same things are done to us? Are we safe from being on the other end? There is no guarantee that we would not be the person in need. In the moment of need we become acutely aware of how being deprived of the necessities of life makes life hard and miserable. If we could only know what it means to need Jesus and need some hope, we could understand the command from Jesus to do for others what we would want done for us.

This is a call to thought. What does it mean to follow a Prince of Peace and to take seriously that he has come to bring life to the fullest? God is calling us towards a new reality. We have too long been chasing a reality of greed. We have for too long chased a reality that is not based on faith in Jesus, but is faith in our own ability to get what we need. We should put away those efforts and pursue the reality of heaven, where there will be no one dying, no lack of what we need, and no reason to mourn our present state. If the Church took up this reality, people would begin to wonder at us. People drop the world and come to Jesus, but we have to follow that calling. God has invited, but will we respond. That is where this story ended, but the question has hung in the air ever since the Fall.

Heroic: 2 Kings 21:1-26


When movements gain age, they can tend to lose perspective on what defines them or the stories that have made them. Christians can experience the same exact thing. Early Church history can prove this. Not even 500 years after the death of Jesus, people were already killing each other for mere heresy. Christians, named after the god who defined things with peace, love, and mercy, were out finding enemies and killing them. And it was not even outside of the faith, but with their own line of brothers of the faith. Movements need continuous reminders of what started them. Countries need constant reminders of their founding fathers and documents to define them and Christians need the same concerning God and the Bible. Without it, we tend to find other things to define us, like power, fame, money, etc. In the end, if we stray from our founding experience in Church history and even our own personal experiences, we grab for the same things that we were saved from.

After Hezekiah passed away, his son, Manasseh, became King. After all of the experiences of Hezekiah, which Manasseh had to have experienced on some level. Despite the experiences of Israel, which included rescue from certain defeat by the Assyrians, Israel followed Manasseh into the pagan worship that Hezekiah did away with. This is always the story that repeats itself. The pattern is that they experience a God of amazing love and profound saving experiences and they turn to other thing in hopes that they will bring them a life of peace and meaning. By this time, God has done many things to show that He is better than the other gods. He has shown that he is the one who is always the source of everything good, beautiful, and creative. The common assumption that has not changed to this day is that if it is safe and is adopted by everyone else, then it must be the thing to go for. No risk and conformity are in high demand because nothing is lost. What that leads to is people not wanting to follow a God who calls them to risk. Not even the religion of Christianity is completely on board sometimes and will find ways to twist the gospel and theology to look less risky and conforms to a pattern that popular culture will approve of at least a majority of the time. Even if we disagree with others, the way we do it fits with the status quo. We say that it’s us versus them and that we could never show love to the other people. In the end we end up trying to do things just as we have always done them instead retaking our faith and learning that new way to be human.

The pattern does not stop with Manasseh, it continues on to the next king, Amon. Eventually, these kings die and another king named Josiah takes over, which leads to a better situation, but for the time being we must focus on how devastating losing our core narrative is. We cannot deny that Jesus changed everything. Even many non-Christians admit that His existence shifted history. Even His followers, who kept connected to the narrative that Jesus created shook the Roman Empire and the rest of the known world. Think about the story of Acts and how many people were probably healed. Think of the national and ethnic lines crossed to bring different people into what was an almost impossible community. Think of the many people who society forgot and were remembered by these heroes of faith, all because people took the story of Jesus and lived it in their world.

2000 years later and we have seen many ups and downs and have seen ourselves stray from the story and then come back to it. The question is where is your community of faith now? Is it heading in the direction of the story of Jesus or has it abandoned that story to find a more comfortable story? We are called as a people to lead the world and each other towards the story that God has made for us. This story is about creating a beautiful reality. The risk is still there as it has been for thousands of years. The fallen kingdom is filled with violence, greed, and misery. We combat that with the story of Jesus. We give our lives for others and live in a community fighting to bring good to the world. God has never stopped calling us to that. Our choice is simpler that most would have you think, choose to live the story we need to be saved from or, like Hezekiah, we can decide to shake the world and find our God given story again.

Heroic: 2 Kings 19:1-37


Enacting change that shakes a certain ethos of a community can be difficult. Change is never easy. When we talk about change, the very subject leads most people to think that they will lose something valuable or that they will be forgotten as the change progresses. Others tend to love the dysfunction of the status quo and will do anything to keep it because they are reaping a temporary benefit from it. And there are also times that forces, spiritual and physical, will surround us and attack us. Change for the good is always being opposed by someone somewhere. But if we are able to stand within the confidence that God is doing something important in the world and for us, we will someday see God make His dream for humans come true.

This is the moment where we return to Hezekiah’s story. Israel is surrounded. Hezekiah is at the brink of losing His mind because of Jerusalem being seized by the most powerful military of His day. This was a military in which Israel stood no chance against. In the middle of this, God uses Isaiah to let the king know that there is something bigger happening here. When it is all said and done, the good will win. Violence will lose to peace. Love will triumph of oppression. Those who know they are powerful will find out that they are actually weak. What makes this story even more amazing is that God himself says that he is going to take care of things and make Assyria run for the hills.

This goes back and forth and we can be certain that the Hezekiah went from despair to faith over and over again. Note that the word is faith and not confidence or certainty. Hezekiah was far from certainty the whole time. There was no rational being that could even remotely fantasize that Israel was going to make it out of this. The story shows us how joining God’s movement will take moments where our fate is balanced between tragedy and success with most of the evidence saying we will have a tragic ending.

What makes this story simply astounding is that the act of God takes time to happen, but when it does happen, it is overnight results. The invincible army of the nation whose god had conquered all other gods and was ready to take the title of God over all gods home was reduced to barely the population of a small village by the God of the small and not so impressive Israel. The god of Assyria had lost to the God of Israel. It’s no small wonder that after all the taunting about how great his god was, the King of Assyria left the camp immediately and went straight back to his palace. Not long after that, he was killed by his owns sons, showing that his god was not protecting him.

As Christians we are not supposed to simply put people in separate categories of us and them, but the reality is that people who are not following seeking good, which comes from God, are in another category based on what they are pursuing. And have you ever noticed that people tend to take on the virtues of the group they are part of? If you hang out with athletes, you will likely try a sport. If you hang out with entrepreneurs, you will likely try to create a new line of business. If you hang out with artists, you likely try to make an work of art (and maybe complain about everyone else selling out). You take on the character of your investments. It’s not necessarily bad. For groups to move forward they have to accept at least a few main goals to chase together. Even some of the greatest movements were formed from groups accepting a common goal. These groups, however, can be either good or bad for humanity. They can choose to end violence, stop hunger, and create things that make people want to do good themselves, but they can also kill millions of people in concentration camps, steal money from weaker people, or do things that cause everyone else want to give up helping each other. Either way, we will reflect the group that we join, or we can change our settings.

What made Assyria bad was that their entire culture wanted power and control and they would stop at nothing to get it. It led them to do terrible things when they conquered other countries, but it also led their King’s own sons to kill him while he was worshipping their god. This god supposedly supported violence and when no one challenged the assumption towards violence, even the royal family was not safe.

Israel was different. Their God was one who wanted to take all of humanity out of violence, oppression, and fear and propel them towards love, peace, and joy. This meant that this people who were brought out of a culture based on violent assumptions were always interacting with figures like Hezekiah who would be led by God to change things for the better. And Hezekiah had to put much work into being a catalyst for change while trying to keep trusting God. Once again, he was not certain, but he had faith. And this God, who brought up this people to change the world, saved them in the end. And note that the ones he lead are not going out and taking over everybody and wiping out whole cities. They are actually praying to God to help them.

There are a few things to pull from this post. First, change takes work, but if it is change that God enacts, then it is worth pursuing because it makes the world better. Also, the values of your group or tribe are very powerful and can shape you if you do not choose to shape the values. Choose carefully which group you try to identify with and be someone who seeks to contribute to the group by allowing God work through your voice. Be open and warm to everyone, including those who want to make the world a terrible place. But always remember that we identify with Jesus who gave his life so that others could have their life made fuller in Him. And finally, remember Hezekiah’s story. It will try your faith to shift a community back to what God created it to be, but that is faith. It’s not when you have the sun shining on your face and the cool breeze hitting you that you learn what faith is. It is when you are in caves of doubt and feel like curling into a fetal position that you learn what faith in an unseen God is. It’s remembering that there is a promise of something better and moving towards it. Heroes are alway remembered for the changes they make in their story and the faith they have in the change they are enacting.

So how is it that you can enact a change in your community? Maybe there is some form of oppression or some assumption that is biblical bad for humanity. Maybe there is a lack of passion for Kingdom and Mission. Either way, once we see what God wants, we have a choice to ignore it or jump into it. We can take a safe status quo if we want, but jumping into God’s plans, though risky, can produce a beautiful movement if we only respond to the good wishes God has for us.

Heroic: 2 Kings 15:32-16:19


This current story begins Jotham as a young king. He did not quite do everything that would have made the community great, He still encouraged doing things well. He sounds like many leaders today, he might not be great in any popular sense, but at the end of the day, the country was still intact and the worship of God was still standing. There was relative peace. It’s a great start of a story, but the story does not end there. After Jotham dies, His son takes over the country, but he does not live like his father.

Ahaz, Jotham’s son, was the next king and was described as evil. He allowed many pagan things to be prominent in the country. As the story moves forward, it becomes apparent that Ahaz does not fully trust God to rescue. In the moment of disaster, he began an alliance with Assyria which would shape Israelite culture.  Assyria comes to its rescue, but not without a price. The Assyrian King meets with Ahaz and in the process Ahaz gets guidance on how to run the religion.  By the end of the chapter, Ahaz has made the religion of Israel to look like the religion of Assyria. It seems strange enough that this King decided to allow these changes to the religion. Most people have a hard time with these kind of changes and would prefer for the status quo to be upheld in matters that do not matter, like the color of the carpet or a minor detail in the structure of a temple. What Ahaz did was not that menial. Ahaz began making Israel’s religion into the image of the Assyrian religion, which was dangerous, since Assyria was not taking the same path God had laid out for the world.

A look at ancient history shows us that Assyrian culture was violent, oppressive, and based on utilizing force for influence. Their religion helped support that justification of violence utilized for control. Ahaz’s transformation of the religion was not simply being progressive change of the practices of faith, but changing it into something that God was trying to avoid. If you compare the Law of God in the first five books of the Bible and the religious/political law of Assyria, you begin to see that violence was much more prevalent in this culture. God was always trying to make a better world for everyone. Assyria was trying to make a world that fit them. It’s not bad to make changes in a religion, but when your religion is based on faith, hope and love, and you start to tear that away from the canvas, you begin to endanger the very essence of what God created.

The question that raises for us is are we willing to give up what we stand for in order to survive. Now before we begin any conversation about fighting for the survival of Christianity, let me begin by saying that we are to reflect a savior whose defense against His oppressors was dying by their hands. There may be times to struggle in a physical sense against something or someone, but we cannot let it eradicate our call to love our enemies and bring hope to everyone. The core of our faith is King YHWH loving us and allowing us to be apart of His grand scheme. Are we doing that with those around us? Are we being inclusive hope? Are we helping people realize their potential in Jesus? Are we willing to carry that kind of  work when it endangers us and the ones we love? That is what faith means in Christianity. It means being passionate well into the painful storms of life and knowing that one day all of this traveling on the path God laid out for us will lead to place of glory, honor, and peace.