I recently had a good discussion with a friend about some of the reasons I left a Dispensational church for a Presbyterian church (PCA). I previously documented a number of reasons here in my journey, but I also wanted to look up resources that speak to the issue and found a few articles and sites that are worth perusing. It’s interesting to note that the major founders of Dispensationalism left Presbyterianism in particular.
Tag: Theology Page 1 of 4
“[Calvin] was more pastor than theologian, that, to be exact, he was a theologian in order to be a better pastor.” – John T. McNeill
Of all the things I’ve learned in the past couple of years, it hasn’t simply been more aspects of systematic theology, or a deeper, broader understanding of covenant theology, or getting a deeper sense of the larger, redemptive view of scripture given in biblical theology, or seeing the truth of and studying deeper on the sacraments as means of grace that has done my heart the most good, though it all certainly has in abundant ways. The deepest impact that has been made on me personally, in my own relationship with Christ, has been practical theology or what could even be called affectional theology. How does all of that theology meet real life? And how can it all be made accessible?
“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” Psalm 115:1
“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Genesis 11:4
As a teenager growing up in east Fort Worth, in the summer of 1995, I can remember it well. Stuck in the doldrums of my own sin, like a washing machine on spin cycle, I was miserable. With a number of dark industrial bands blaring in the background of my room, in anger I tried to ignore and suppress the Lord calling me, until one day this guy showed up to my house, in my room, and brought a presence with him that I couldn’t explain. We chatted some, then he looked at my CD collection and said very directly, “You need to get rid of all these and throw them away.” Now normally, anyone else could have told me this and I would have cynically blown it off as some religiousy call to “clean my act up.” Not that day.
The antinomian, in an attempt to overthrow the law of God for lawlessness, finds himself, of necessity, creating his own basis for morality. The void will not go unfilled. The end result is legalism, that is, the establishment of his own laws that he attempts to enforce on others. The ironic thing about lawlessness is that it actually produces the worst kind of law: legalism. Whereas antinomianism and legalism are normally pitted against each other as two ditches on either side of the road (which in fact they are in many respects), the deeper reality is that they are extremely complimentary and inextricably tied together, one giving rise to the other. Antinomianism ironically produces legalism and many times the worst forms.
Going to make this quick. This continues to be a growing problem: people either positively posting Osteen’s material as if there aren’t serious theological issues at stake or flabbergasted anyone would criticize the man. Show’s precisely how far gone mainstream evangelicalism is in the realm of discernment. What’s the problem with Joel Osteen and others of his “American positivism,” self-made, will-it-into-existence Christianity? Michael Horton embodies it here:
- Doesn’t God Want Us to be Happy?
- Joel Osteen and the Glory Story
- What Ever Happened to Sin?
- Suffering and a Theology of Glory
- Are You in God’s Story?
Legalism is quite a charge. When someone is imposing a legalistic vision upon others, they are saying that unless they do certain things, they are out of God’s salvific favor. Christ + something = justification. So when a person is charged with this, it is serious business. You’re stating that they are preaching a false gospel. Galatians is a case study.
Many times, however, believers who are like-minded on many core, essential things, yet butt heads, sometimes vigorously, over what Christians should or shouldn’t be doing as a result of their salvation, lay this charge of legalism against the other. In all fairness, legalism is probably not always the right term to use. You can usually discern what they’re trying to get at when using the term, overstated though it may be, but legalism is a high charge and doesn’t necessarily fit. The problem though is that there is some truth to the charge, but not exactly in the same way. It needs some redefining.
Whereas legalism puts the “offending” persons’ relation to God in question, legalism light puts the offending persons’ relation to the community in question. In other words, if you don’t do X, well, this isn’t the place for you. Or, since we’re with these people now, doing X, we can’t hang out together. It may not be so overt, just implicit in action. I have a hard time seeing how this squares with what I’ve been reading from Paul on unity among believers in 1 Cor 1:10-17 and 1 Cor 3:1-15.
In response to the worldly “wisdom” going around these days that says entertaining doubt and questioning the Lord’s righteousness in trial and His infinitely sovereign wisdom and control of all things, something that is beyond comprehension in how and why He carries out or permits what He does, as something that should be encouraged, I present to you, Job.
Up to this point, Elihu has just finished rebuking Job and his friends. He then exhorts Job to glorify the Lord. Previous to Elihu’s response, Job had just finished taking up his own defense and questioning God in light of the very weighty trials permitted in his life, by essentially asking, “Why God? What is it I’ve done to deserve this?” (Indicated by the fact he tries to draw conclusions from his own works that he lists) This is just a portion of God’s response in Job 38-40:1-2 (I’ll just quote portions):
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7)
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken.” (Job 38:12-15)
“Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?” (Job 38:37-38)
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” (Job 39:19-25)
Finally the Lord says:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it. (Job 40:1-2)”
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)
God then responds again:
“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:7-14)
Job finally responds with a final expression of his complete submission to the fact that “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35)
Job’s response that submits and rests in the fact that God’s wisdom is enough, though it may not be comprehensible:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
Humility. One of the points for trials in our lives is for the formation of humility. Job exhibits it here as a result of wrestling with God. There are tons of unanswered questions about why things happened the way they did for him. But it all comes down to resting in the truth that it is enough for God to be God, for His choices to be in the right and know that in spite of the pain, He is for you and knows what’s best to make you into His image as His child. Questioning God, shaking your fist at Him is easy. Trusting that He’s for you in spite of what you see and feel that’s faith, and opposed to all doubting.
Interestingly enough, as it relates to the aspect of God’s sovereignty (particularly as it relates to election and predestination), Paul follows a similar pattern of God’s response to Job in Romans 9:19-24. Paul has just laid out the truth that God chooses some to become children of God and not others, not based on works but on His own purpose and will, and that He’s perfectly righteous in doing so. So Paul begins verse 19 by preemptively asking a seemingly logical question from a fictional human questioner:
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)
In both of these contexts, both with Job and the readers of Romans, the response should be the same: put your hand over your mouth. Stop questioning (in the rebellious sense). Submit to His sovereign rule and grace. It is counterintuitively comforting (from the world’s standpoint). The world’s answer these days, especially in our liberal democracies (or what’s left of them) is to “question everything.” Faith doesn’t question, it submits in humility. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t probe to understand, but the type of questioning I’m referring to is asking God to give an account of Himself, putting him in the dock of human courts and thinking. As you can see, He doesn’t take too kindly to our sinful human questioning.
Now in dealing with people in trials, patience needs to be exhibited in their wrestling. People aren’t going to automatically come to this view. If they do, praise God, but most people have wrestling to do, even as believers. That doesn’t negate any of the aforementioned, but it is to say we need to be patient and understanding, sometimes not saying anything, especially if a trial or traumatic event is very fresh.
If I could re-title this book, it would be, “Freed From the Shackles of Inerrancy.” I wouldn’t waste my time on it, frankly; I’m not. Yeah, call me dismissive. There are way too many other books of immediate importance (recent and from church history) and worth reading out there and I don’t need one more subversive, alleged evangelical to add to the list. You know, the old school theological liberals (at the very least, as I understand it) were fairly clear, in the main, about what they were doing, what their intentions were. Our generation of theological liberals, while claiming humility and to be within the evangelical camp, implicitly and explicitly mock the very concept of inerrancy as something foolish, backward and archaic and then make it into a project that gets picked up and promoted by the Christian marketing apparatus. Inerrancy is, or has been until now, at the very core of evangelicalism (along with penal substitutionary atonement, which is also being discarded), so one wonders which evangelicals she’s talking about being a part of. There are many, many frothing atheists that make me less angry than Rachel Held Evans. And, contrary to one of her fans I read in a comment section, I’m not upset with the book because I fear her, rather I fear the hermeneutic she uses will do damage to the cause of the Gospel. IMHO, her angle and tactic is dishonest (1: about what she’s doing, and 2: her supposed neutrality as if she has no bias) and it’s subversive to the faith once for all delivered. And subversion of the faith almost always starts from within and works itself outward. I’m still stunned how many people I know are eating this nonsense up.
“To some extent, cohesive social forces are at work in any culture or subculture with shared worldview and shared doctrines. In itself this counts neither for nor against the truth of the worldview or the doctrines. But it does mean that things that seem ‘obvious’ or ‘plain’ or ‘commonsensical’ to members of a social group need not be at all obvious to those outside.” – Vern Poythress, Understanding Dispensationalists.
As a side note, this book was explained to me by a DTS graduate as a book in which they learned more about dispensationalism than their whole student career in attendance at DTS, ironically enough.