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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Advent: Week 4


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 3


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 2


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

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Advent: Week 1


Read Isaiah 35 Here we find hope. What has been declared in Christ already, we look forward to. “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes, and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside is not a bad picture of advent.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Further reading: Isaiah 30:27-35:1)

Week 1 of Advent: Matthew 1:18-2:18 (The King Who Was Scared of a Child)

The first week of advent approaches the book of Matthew 2:18-22. Here we see the story of Mary’s Virgin Birth, The wise men visiting King Herod and slaughter commanded by King Herod that God plucked Jesus from. Take time and read this story.

As we exit the story, one thing comes to mind:Did Herod remember Isaiah 35? It is certain he did, along with the rest of a nervous Jerusalem. If you start in 30:27 of Isaiah, you see a God who rides in rescuing His people from the grasps of foreign pagan rule. Everyone knew this was aimed at Rome in Jesus’ day. King Herod, a ruler sanctioned by Rome had much reason to be nervous. “This child could incite rebellion very quickly and dethrone me.” It’s no surprise that Herod did what he did. This is not much different from today. Most of us in the western modern and post modern world like to think we rule our own lives, thoughts, and actions. We think we are the masters and keepers of our own being. Although there is a truth hidden in that statement, our highest hope is that God fully saves and rules us here and now. We are not over everything and we have to trust a righteous and just God at the end of the day. What do you hear when you think of a God coming to rescue His remnant?

Are you still waiting for the Kingdom to come? Do you hope for escaping? Do you fear for your life? Do you hear that there is a place for you at this table? Do you see hope in Christ’s way of living? Do you react violently to His challenges to your way of living? The God we serve is one that has come and will always come to rescue his chosen ones (in Christian tradition, this is the Church). Find your self aligning with Isaiah as we approach the gospels the next few weeks.

COME, THOU LONG EXPECTED JESUS – CHARLES WESLEY

“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King, Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By Thine all-sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”

I find a read through NT Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God a good help in understanding a God of the righteous remnant.

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 23:1-37


Being a facilitator of change usually takes epically heroic nerves. Changing things that are ingrained into the culture of a people is near impossible.  Josiah, after hearing God’s will for the community, decided to change everything around him. Everyone was comfortable with the status quo of their religious tendencies were not even thinking change was a necessity. But God revealed to Josiah that the way things were were not the way they should have been. So he called him towards the tough road of change.

Josiah’s change starts with the symbols. When you try to enact something that brings people closer to God, you are always bound to face resistance at some point. So many things in church communities are symbolic, from what they sing to what they do. Even how things are done have symbolic value. When these values start to hurt the mission of God to humanity, most communities are severely invested in the value. Whether written or unwritten, the expectation towards the practice is assumed and when people do not move in that direction, they are labeled as enemies either of the leaders of the community or worse enemies of God. The passage does not say this, but there probably was someone saying that Josiah was destroying their traditional values. Josiah, knowing God revealed this mission to Him, was undeterred. The change had to happen. The good of the world depended on it.

Josiah’s change never included disrespect of those who came before Him that were chasing what God had for them. One of the easiest things to do when changing things is to disregard other Godly people or not learn from those who came before you. We have so many people we can learn from who were game changers of faith. Without those people, the movement of Christianity would not be here. It would just be a dying mass of people who were not experiencing anything important from God. It is these people who made faith what it is today and we owe it to them to keep looking for the things that need to change. We should always remember those people and remind others of them. It is with gratitude that we look back to these people.

Another aspect of Josiah’s change was that it did not guarantee success. Josiah never saw an Israel of economic success or in a time of peace. One of the things we have to accept as heroes is that tragedy is possible. By tragedy, I mean that we might never see the fruits of our work. What makes Israel’s situation more dire is that the next king brought back the bad things that existed before. Have you ever seen a community like that? These are people led by this desire to keep certain trends, rules, or traditions with no regard to how they affect people. Even in getting the traditions back, they will burn anyone who stands in their way. It’s amazing what we will do when we allow religion to over turn our God given mandate to love others. We will raise a banner with holy written on it while trampling over others. This is the reality we live in, a world battling back and forth between God’s will and human demise.

The reality raises the question is changing the world worth it? It’s a good, pragmatic question. If we are practical about this, there is not a guarantee that we will see our return on investment here. We might have to let posterity experience that. But the answer is still yes, it is worth it. You can’t see that by asking the practical questions. You have to ask the experiential questions. The only way to do that is to be the change for good in others. Have you ever given money to poor or been there for someone in need? In the end, those experiences might be unforgettable for some. We have the potential to change a life for good. We can’t do that if we are focused on tradition and ritual. We can only do that when we are focused on people. Traditions and rituals have to at least be peripheral matters. People seeing Jesus and experiencing blessing must always be our main mission.

One last thing, change needs to be about people seeing and experiencing Jesus. Change for change’s sake is just as bad as resisting change no matter how necessary it is. God changes the world for the benefit of the world. It’s time we begun the changes we need and did them for the right reasons. If we keep people in mind and follow God into this, we can trust that this is worth the work and disappointment, because in the end, lives are changed in an unforgettable way for the better.

 

Heroic: 2 Kings 22:1-18


Ever discovered a little peace of God’s heart and been so surprised at it’s direction? Every time I sense a new thing revealed by God, I am always surprised at where He is going or what I have been missing this whole time. God is always and has always had a plan and a path that He is carving. He also is continually inviting people to carve that path and help other people find this path.

King Josiah had one of these moments. Josiah understood that he was supposed to honor God and did everything he could to do just that. He even went as far as to remodel the temple. During the renovation, someone discovered that there was an old scroll that had not been read in ages. This ended up being the scroll of the covenant between God and Israel. After Josiah heard what was written in the scroll, he went into panic thinking that God could destroy them at any moment. He orders the leaders of the temple to speak to God for Israel.

This is the moment the story accelerates quickly. The leaders, since they just discovered the scroll, went to a prophet. This woman gave instructions from God to all the men concerning God’s mercy. What makes the story interesting is that it was not the finding of the scroll or following some ritual that made God show mercy. What God responded to was the humility and repentance of Josiaj. Josiah knew that God was over Him. Any indication that he was rebelling against God devastated him. The direction that Israel was going and the direction they were supposed to be going was not in sync.

Many churches end up at these crossroads and are faced with a decision. Will they keep the status quo rituals, even if God is heading in a direction that will call them to abandon those things? Or will they be so in tune with God’s direction that they will embrace the surprise of God’s plans with humility, patience, and perseverance? It’s a question that even the Israelites struggle with. They loved the way they did things. It made them feel safe and in control.

But God never asked what was safe for us. He actually asks for us to risk everything for Him.

He never asked for us to control everything. He asks us to follow him into the way of the suffering servant.

God’s plan always involves reaching out to rescue and serve, even to those who do not get Him. He wants us to carve that path and remind each other that servanthood defines the Kingdom. God is adamant through Jesus that all believers serve and love. That is a core if the DNA of faith. Jesus in Philippians showed us that servanthood and submission is what leads us towards true victory. The cross with the servant hanging on is mysterious because that ends up with the empty tomb.

God’s plans may surprise, but they will win. Not by force or by oppression, but through serving God and serving others. That is a plan worth following and worth seeing win.