06.03.2018: One Chapter of Nonfiction

Today's soundtrack is Mike Oldfield: Tubular Bells.

This afternoon, I'm reading the first chapter of James White's The Potter's Freedom, "The Vital Issue."

The Jesuit Catholics believed that the Protestant Reformation was heretical; one of its proponents, Luis de Molina, wrote the Scientia Media (Middle Knowledge), a philosophical paper that attempted to show that God knows what actions people will take in any circumstances, but leaves them free to perform those actions. The idea of this paper was to refute the Reformers' teachings, which said that God is sovereign and in control of all things, because if the God is sovereign, then the Catholic idea of needing its followers to cooperate with God's will (as given to them by the Pope) would be undermined.

Luther identified the vital part of the Reformation as being "[t]he truth of predestination (God's freedom) and man's depravity (his will in bondage)" (p. 36); White says this: "Here at the very inception of the Reformation the definitional issue is laid out: God is the absolutely free Creator, the Potter, who has complete sovereignty over the pots, humans, who, as fallen creatures, find their wills enslaved to sin, in bondage and unable to "cooperate" with any offered grace" (p. 36).

We call this "sola fide, 'faith alone,' the truth that one is justified not by any meritorious action or work but by faith in Jesus Christ alone" (p. 36). Our faith is founded on the inerrant word of God (sola scriptura); we believe that the entirety of the Bible is God's holy word (tota scriptura). Charles Haddon Spurgeon is quoted as calling God's sovereignty his most comforting attribute to the believer, but the most hated attribute of the "worldlings" (p. 37). Haddon is quoted as saying, "Men will allow God to be everywhere except upon His trhone. They will allow Him to be in His workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow Him to be in His almonry to dispense His alms and bestow His bounties. They will allow Him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of Heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends His throne, His creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and His right to do as He wills with His own, to dispose of His creatures as He thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on His throne is not the God they love. They love Him anywhere better than they do when He sits with His scepter in His hand and His crown upon His head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon His throne whom we trust" (p. 37).

So we as believers love "God as He reveals Himself" (p. 37), but nonbelievers want God to be tame and powerless so that they can rebel against Him. God opens our hearts to love Him as He is. And this is what separates biblical Christianity from other religions: our salvation does not depend upon our works, but is "perfectly accomplished by God for His own glory" (p. 37)!

It is proper exegesis (interpretation and explanation) of the Bible that leads us to the conclusions of the Reformation, not any human philosopher. And this is where reformed theology differs from Arminianism.

The biblical teachings that show us "the goal and means of God's perfect work of redemption" (p. 38) are called the doctrines of grace. Non-Biblical religions keep their followers in check by "1) limiting God's power, 2) exalting man's abilities, and 3) 'channeling' God's power through their own structures" (p. 39). This is what makes biblical Christianity a threat to Catholicism and Arminianism: it takes the power away from people and restores it to its rightful place, God on His throne.

The five arguments made against Arminianism, the "Five Points of Calvinism," are under the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints. James White wants to add a sixth important point: "the freedom of God" (p. 41). The first extra-biblical recording of the debate about the sovereignty of God was between "Augustine and Pelagius in the fifth century" (p. 40). But even in the New Testament, we can see arguments for God's sovereignty - so it has been a point worth discussing since the beginning of our faith!

Though it is in vogue to confess a belief in God's sovereignty, few people are willing to "let" God "do as He pleases without getting permission from anyone, including man" (p. 41); but they are inseperable! An acknowledgement of God's sovereignty is an acknowledgement of "the free and proper kingship of God" (p. 41). White gives many examples of scriptural confirmation of God's sovereignty: Psalm 135:6, Isaiah 14:27, Isaiah 46:9-10, Psalm 33:8-11, Isaiah 41:21-23, Proverbs 21:1, Daniel 4:34-35, Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9, Isaiah 64:8, and Jeremiah 18:4-6. Several of these passages refer to God as the Potter who controls the clay and makes the pots however He pleases. The clay can do nothing by itself; it cannot turn itself into a pot, or argue with the potter, or resist the potter's will.

There is nothing in the universe outside of God's control. Everything that has happened or will happen is an act of God. An example given is from Isaiah 10:5-7, when God used Assyria to mete out punishment against Israel for their disobedience. Assyria was not a nation of believers, but God used them for His purposes, then punished them "for their intentions" (p. 46), for they acted according to the sin in their hearts, and in doing so, fulfilled God's will. In the same way, Joseph's brothers who sold him into slavery acted in sin, but they also acted according to God's will - sending Joseph to Egypt to save the people from the famine. God allows people to act according to the sin in their hearts to fulfill His will; it is only through His intervention that they do not do things much, much worse! Dr. White says that the greatest example of God using the sin in people's hearts to accomplish His will is seen at the cross. The men who convicted the Son of God to death and then crucified Him were certainly acting in accordance with the sin in their hearts, but Jesus' crucifiction was by no means "an after-thought, a desperate attempt to 'fix' things after all had gone awry" (p. 48). The crucifiction of Christ would never have happened without God allowing it to, and what the men did was evil, but their actions were in accordance with God's will. And God's will is always just and right.

Jonah 2:9 tells us that "Salvation is of the Lord." The acknowledgement of this truth is what separates "the God-centered Gospel of the Apostles and of the Reformsers and all other viewpoints" (p. 50). Since "by His doing [we] are in Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 1:31), and since we cannot boast about earning our salvation, we know that we do not "cooperate" in our salvation: Salvation is of God alone.