Can Free Will Explain the Conversion of Sinners?

chess_board_pic_free_will

How many times have you heard someone say, “I chose Christ of my own free will”? In many Evangelical circles such a notion is so self-evident as to be proverbial. “Well, of course we must exercise our free will in order to be saved!” So goes the conventional wisdom. Christians sling the phrase free will about with the same ease Tom Brady throws footballs to Rob Gronkowski. But do most really have any idea what they mean when embracing the notions that stand behind these overwrought words? Free will is part of the stock parlance of Arminian theology, and those who employ it with a little sophistication mean something like that which is advanced by philosophers known as libertarianism. And no, we are not talking about Gary Johnson! On the other hand, Calvinists have usually disparaged the use of the term, avoiding it like the scourge of Black Death. But of course Arminianism and its many step-children believe that Calvinism puts the grip of death upon the freedom and responsibility of human beings. In their mind, the dreaded Calvinists would have all humans beings consigned to a vast kingdom of droids.

Is this true?

A modest renaissance of sorts is occurring with a little known brand of Calvinistic thought that, while opposed to the libertarian impulse of Arminianism, embraces a wholly different kind of free agency. It is known as compatibilism and serves as a useful way to frame what the Bible really says about this slippery notion of free will. This understanding of divine sovereignty and human responsibility was most clearly articulated in Jonathan’s Edwards’ magnificent tome Freedom of the Will. Edwards picked up where Luther and Calvin left off in their carefully crafted works on the subject. Of course, they all stood on the shoulders of Augustine as he tried to grapple with the Biblical text.

In what follows, I offer a humble ode to the thinking of these theological giants on the complex issues that surround the sovereignty of God in salvation and what takes places in sinners who are converted to Christ. In order to understand the dynamics of conversion, one must understand the often neglected doctrine of regeneration. I suggest that regeneration is not only ill-conceived in Arminian theology, it bears little consequence for how we make sense of the metamorphic miracle that transpires when a sinner enters the glorious kingdom of Christ. That supernatural transformation can only be explained by the Calvinistic interpretation of the relevant Biblical data. Furthermore, only Calvinistic compatibilism can make sense of the conundrums that have plagued our understanding of the tension that resides between absolute divine sovereignty on the one hand and human freedom and responsibility on the other.

Let us consider some definitional points first. Continue reading

Advertisements

Book Review: Living Without Worry

Lane Worry

Tim Lane is becoming better known in the Biblical Counseling movement and has written a workman-like book on the subject of worry and anxiety. In 11 short chapters, Lane’s book, Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, lays out the basic problems associated with worry and anxiety and how it should be addressed from a Biblical perspective. In this regard, Lane spends a good deal of time pointing the reader to Scripture instead of psychological remedies. He canvases a great deal of different passages from the Old Testament (particularly the Psalms) and New Testament, where he focuses equal time in Jesus’ teachings in the gospels along with Paul, James and Peter’s epistles. He even looks at the worry Paul suffered when ministering in Athens and Corinth from the book of Acts.

Lane defines the problem from several different angles throughout the book. For example, he says, “The essence of worry is attempting to find your ultimate hope, comfort and meaning in something that is temporal and fleeting” (p. 24-25). He says, “What you worry about is a good indicator of what you truly value and rely upon” (p.93). Essentially worry is turning our eyes off of Christ and upon things that consume us in this world. Lane points out that “worry is a sign that you believe that God is not good or that he is not in charge, and that he therefore cannot be trusted to care for you” (p. 138). Worry becomes a crisis of faith and doubting the character of God. Wrong thinking about God leads to wrong living. However, Lane helpfully points out that right thinking does not always lead to right living. In chapter 9 he says change in the Christian life can be elusive and we should not always expect instant results even when our focus is centered upon Biblical solutions.

The book has a very practical focus. Lane examines many different scenarios that can produce anxiety such as relationships, marriage, parenting, finances, suffering, and even past sins and traumatic experiences. He shows how anxiety relates to our perspective on the past, the present and the future.  Lane makes some helpful distinctions as well. For example, worry should be distinguished from concern. It is okay to be concerned about matters, but concern can become “over-concern” (p. 20) which degenerates into sinful worry. And worry simply reveals what our hearts really cling to. “Over-concerns reveal over-loves” (p. 30). On the other hand, there are legitimate reasons to worry, for example when we contemplate the destiny of our souls if we have not genuinely repented of sin and placed our faith in Christ. In chapter 5, he points out that the prospect of eternal hell should produce a great deal of fear and anxiety. In fact, no worrisome matter on this earth can compare to the fear hell generates. The remedy is to have a secure future in heaven. The assurance of salvation not only dissipates hell as the worst of fears, but it can dissipate all lesser fears. Continue reading

The Grandeur of Grace

Grace. Amazing Grace. It is a theme richly woven within every fiber of the tapestry of the Christian faith. Yet, it has become so much a banal staple of the parlance of Christian discourse that the term has lost its luster. It no longer excites the passions of believers beleaguered by indifference. But, Oh! How glorious is that grace that set the captives free—the fountainhead of God’s love for a world trapped in its own destructive melee.

venusmoon_pascual

God’s grace in its simplest expression is unmerited favor. It speaks of a particular kind of love largely unrecognized in even the most compassionate enclaves of human kindness expressed in this world we inhabit. It is reserved for those who embrace it and thus become privileged to be named as His children. It is a moving display of affectionate passion that forms the very ground of God’s redemptive actions toward rebel souls. This grace is a gratuitous, ill-deserved reward; a prize conferred for no achievement. It issues forth from the incalculable benevolence of its heavenly source. God’s grace is unfettered and free, bounding forward into the hearts of receptive sinners like you and me.

This is to say no one is able by the strength of moral will to gain God’s favor. Virtually every religious system conceived by mankind is rooted in the ability accorded to ourselves. Religious man is transparently focused on the self. He thinks he is fully capable of appeasing what ever powers he imagines through his own self-inflated perception of success. However, God’s grace only extends toward those who recognize their utter failure in meeting the terms necessary to attain salvation.  Ironically, the force of grace is only apparent when such individuals recognize how unworthy they are of its benefits. Continue reading

8 Truths about Marriage from 50 Words of Jesus

Many people assume that because Jesus had little to say on marriage during His ministry on earth that He was open to the flexibility of this institution including the acceptance of same sex marriage. But is this true?

While Jesus said little about marriage, what He did say is packed with such depth of insight that only Jesus could unfold so much in so few words. We need not consider what He said about the issue of divorce and remarriage. The substance of what Jesus said on marriage can be ascertained from His positive affirmation of the institution in Matthew 19:4-6. These 3 verses contain 50 words Jesus spoke on the subject. From these 50 words (in the Greek text) we discover 8 truths about marriage.

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” (vs. 4) Continue reading

What to Look for in a Girl

I have 4 boys, 3 of whom are teenagers. So this means there is a good deal of talk about girls, dating, marriage and what not. When our oldest started thinking about girls a few years ago these discussions began in earnest. I decided to put together a guide to help them think about what to look for in a girl they wanted to date and eventually of course the girl they would like to marry. This is not our philosophy about dating. It’s just about girls. So here we go!

Qualities to Look for in a Girl to Date or Marry (mostly in order of importance):

This is a guide, not a set of rules. It contains mostly questions to start thinking about what to look for in a girl. The qualities represent something of an ideal set of circumstances. You must realize that nobody is perfect and you should never look for somebody perfect because there is no such person. We are all sinners in constant need of God’s grace as well as grace from one another. If you set your expectations too low, you will be disappointed. Likewise, if you set them too high you will be disappointed. Of course set your expectations reasonably high but be prepared to extend grace. Also realize that you yourself don’t meet the perfect ideal in a man. So you should expect grace to be shown to you too. The first section is non-negotiable, a girl must be committed in her relationship to Christ. Some of the questions in last two sections are somewhat more flexible and subjective. Some things might be more important to you than others and you might think of still others. Continue reading

Book Review: Tempted and Tried

Image

Tempted and Tried: Temptation and the Triumph of Christ is written by Russell Moore, the dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president  for academic administration at the Southern Baptist Theological  Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.  Moore is a well known Christian thinker modeled after his close friend and mentor Albert Mohler.

I really hate to give this book a less than stellar review, but it was quite disappointing to me. I choose to use the book for a men’s group largely based on the reputation of Russell Moore and the overwhelming 5 star reviews on Amazon. I have not read any of Moore’s other books, but I have heard him speak and have read some of his shorter articles on the internet with profit. How could I go wrong? Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not reading the book in full before proceeding to use it for our men’s group.

The fact is, the book contains some real substance but is marred by several things. First of all, the chapters are way too long. Furthermore, they were not divided up into manageable reading chunks. Some kind of discernible outline for each chapter would have been helpful. It made it difficult to wade through page after page with no break. Secondly and related to the first point, the organization of the book did not seem well thought out. I realize that it is supposed to be an exposition of sorts of the temptation of Christ in the wilderness. Continue reading