Tulipburger

Some time ago, I wrote an article for RC Sproul’s little monthly magazine Table Talk. In it I wanted to stress some aspects of the so-called “Five Points of Calvinism.” As you know, the word T-U-L-I-P is used as a means of remembering each of the points. T stands for total depravity; U for unconditional election, L for limited atonement, I for irresistible grace, and P for perseverance of the saints.

Now, many people find no difficulty in accepting four of the five points, notably, the first and last two in the word. I wanted to stress the fact that in leaving out the L, they not only mess up the word TULIP, but their own theology, and at the same time, miss what is, in many respects, the main doctrine of the five. So, I devised the TULIPBURGER.

Let me explain. The T and the P are like the two pieces of bun that hold a burger together—absolutely essential, but, in themselves, hardly a burger at all. I liken the U and the I to the lettuce and the tomato. Better, but still not a burger. Lastly, I suggest that the L is like the meat in the center. Truly, the idea of limited atonement is the “meat” of Calvinism. To hold to the fact that Jesus didn’t die for “mankind,” or, as that means, persons in general—but for persons in particular, is essential to having a “Personal Savior.” I’m delighted, that with the apostle I can say, “He loved me and gave Himself for me.” I agree with Luther who, when commenting on the first verse of the 23rd Psalm said, “Thank God for personal pronouns.”

To realize that Jesus’ death was 100% effective; that He didn’t die for people in general, but that He knew His sheep, and called them by name, and gave His life for each one of them individually is a blessed truth, not to be omitted from the burger. Because He did, therefore, every one of them will have eternal life. It is a rich doctrine not to be lost by focusing on buns, lettuce and tomato alone, while forgetting the meat.

Jesus didn’t come to make salvation possible—He came to “seek and to save that which was lost.” God was satisfied with His death for everyone for whom He died. He didn’t die needlessly for millions who would reject Him. He knew all that the Father had given Him, and said that not one of them would be lost. They would all be saved. After all, if Jesus’ death for sin really did satisfy God’s justice for any, it would also do so for all. So, if He died for all—all would be saved. Of course, we know that isn’t true. Yet, if universal atonement were true, then God could hardly punish men and women for eternity for whom Christ had already suffered the punishment. There is no double jeopardy. And therefore, there is no burger unless it is a TULIPBURGER!

Think About That

Lots of thoughts occupy the minds of counselees when they come for help. Some are hopeful thoughts; some doubtful. Some are confused; some are harmful, some downright hateful. Unless a counselor is aware of this fact, he will go on talking blissfully as if there were nothing to bother one’s self about. But that isn’t true. Early in counseling, he will want to coax these thoughts out so that he will know which to encourage and which to discourage. Moreover, he may have to deal with them before he can go further. You can’t deal with people abstractly as some, today, try to. Where there is doubt, for instance, he will have to make it clear to his counselee from James 1 that he shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer if it persists. That’s concrete, personal counsel. Faith must replace doubt. He knows that if it doesn’t nothing the counselee does can be expected to last. James also says that the person who doubts is like a wave that continually takes on different formations, the next never really the same as the last. James goes on to explain that a doubtful person is “unstable in all of this ways.” If that is so, nothing he does will be certain to last. Both his words and his ways will fluctuate; he cannot be relied upon.

So, it will be absolutely essential for your counselee to replace doubt with faith. Of course, the faith we’re speaking about is faith in the promises of God—not faith in the counselor. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is, therefore, important to use and fully explain those biblical promises that counter the doubt that fills his mind.

What is true of doubt is true of any and all thoughts that debilitate counselees. These must be countered by God’s unfailing Word. But of course, the Word must be used concretely so that it may be mixed with faith, as we read in Hebrews. So, you will need to pray for your counselee as you open the Scriptures to him. Pray not merely that God will bless him as part of the body of Christ, but that the Spirit will so use His Word and that it will displace whatever it is that stands in the way of belief that leads to biblical action.

Counseling—because it involves concrete thoughts and actions—is perhaps the best antidote to that run-away biblical theology that falsely teaches application is unbiblical. Not only do biblical writers themselves apply Scripture concretely to those to whom they preach and counsel, they do so with great power (Cf. the exemplary application in I Corinthians 10!). What those who only want to talk about the “history of redemption” fail to realize is that there are always two strains running side by side in that history. There is what God is doing in history over the large, long-range scope of things, but there is also what He is doing in the lives of those involved-those who live in the milieu of that history. A clear example of this harmony of the whole with the part is found in the last chapter of Genesis where Joseph speaks of how God ordered his personal history 1) for his good and 2) to save a whole people alive. The theocratic, covenant people from whom the Messiah would come. To fail to recognize God’s hand simultaneously at work in both spheres—the personal and the corporate—is to fail to interpret the Bible correctly. And a failure to help people. Because of this failure on the part of those who see only the larger picture, perhaps there is no greater antidote to falsely using the Scriptures than to be forced to deal with the wayward thinking and living of individual counselees. Moreover, the providential working of God in Joseph’s life, again, points to the way that God deals with individuals. Providence, a principal doctrine daily in use by biblical counselors, shows how God cares and blesses His church as a body, but also every individual in it.

Jesus is not much of a Messiah, if He is viewed only as the One about Whom history speaks. No, He is a Messiah about Whom history speaks as a saving and providentially-working Savior Who changes the lives of His people—even settling their doubts, giving the faith, and enabling them to live for Himself. Just think about that!

Providence

Providence is the name of the biblical teaching that God not only planned His work, but actively works His plan.

Since we know that “all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28), we can be assured that He is working out a beneficent plan for each of His true children that is going to turn out well.

We can, therefore, say, whenever a situation arises that may not be very pleasant

  1. God is in the problem
  2. God is up to something in the problem
  3. God is up to something good in the problem

Every truly saved person, therefore, may take heart, knowing that in the end, God has something in view that in this life, or the next, will be seen to have been for his very best.

Sometimes God allows us to see that outcome in this life; sometimes He doesn’t. Often we see only parts of it. Usually, that is the case. Joseph is one of those exceptions (See Genesis 50:20). Indeed, since He is working “all things together” it’s virtually impossible to begin to understand all of the ramifications of what is happening. (Even Joseph didn’t know what effects his words would have throughout the centuries and in your thinking today!). We don’t know all things; we can’t, therefore, put very many of those infinite number of things “together” to see the overall pattern of His plan at work.

So, then, what do we do?

Trust. Or, as the song rightly puts it, Trust and Obey.

Whose Plans Are Accomplished?

Many think that God proposes, but man disposes. But they have it dead wrong!

Man simply doesn’t change God’s plans, as that statement indicates.

From all eternity God planned (rather than proposed), and man does what He planned in the first place. Now, this happens in such a way that man does what he intends to do (without any pressure exerted upon him to do it), but it always turns out to be exactly what God planned for him to do.

What man does fulfills God’s plans.

If you don’t believe me consider Genesis 45:5,7 and Genesis 50:20—

Now don’t be worried or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.

God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

Joseph’s brothers had one intention, which they carried out, but God had an entirely different intention—which they also carried out! Both their intentions and God’s were accomplished in such a way that they were rightly held responsible for their actions, and God’s will was carried out by them.

For more biblical instruction in this matter, consider—

this man, delivered up by God’s predetermined plan the foreknowledge, by hands of lawless men, you killed by crucifixion!     Acts 2:23

In this city it is true that Herod and Pontius Pilate together with the Gentiles and people of Israel gathered together against Your holy Servant Jesus, Whom You anointed to do those things that Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.  Acts 4:27-28

Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of Yaweh will prevail.         Proverbs 19:21

Man proposes; God disposes!

ANTHROPOMORPHISMS

Commenting on Genesis 6:7, where God says that He repents that He made man, Reformer, Henry Bullinger (successor to Zwingli in Zurich) wrote,

. . . repentance is figuratively attributed to God, like to the affection of mortal men: as when he saith, “I repent me that I Have made man.” For God in his own nature doth not repent as men do, so that he should be touched with grief, and that the thing should now mislike him which he before did like of. (Decade Four; Sermon two).

Anthropomorphic language is that which God frequently used to explain something to us in terms we can understand. He says, for instance, that his arm is not shortened, that he cannot save. He is using a figure of speech to say that he has all the power he needs to save. So when he speaks of repenting, God is saying something more about us and our wickedness than about Himself. To let us know that He doesn’t miss anything that we do He also speaks of His eyes and ears.  But He has no body. So, He is saying that, if He were a man, He would have to change His mind about making man because he has become so sinful. How do we know this? Because elsewhere, when actually speaking of God’s nature Scripture says, “God is not a man that He should repent” (I Samuel 15:29). There is no contradiction—one passage speaks of His actual being; the other speaks in human terms (anthropomorphically) as if He were a man in order to help us understand what he is saying.

God uses other figures of speech to help us thick-headed humans.  God is not a Rock, though the Scripture calls Him such, or a Fortress as, again, we are told in the Bible that He is. He is not a cosmic chicken, even though we are protected “under His wings.” We’re not chicks. All these figurative terms are for our benefit. We are so dull, we need to hear truth in such a manner.

So, when reading about God grieving—as Bullinger notes—understand: God isn’t sitting in the heavens weeping over a mistake He made. He stoops to our level to speak in terms we can understand for our benefit. Moreover, such figures of speech are usually more graphic and, therefore, striking, and memorable.

A concluding note: The word “Anthropomorphic” is composed of two Greek loan words, anthropos (meaning , “man”), and morphe (meaning “likeness, form”). God speaks in such passages as Genesis 6 as if he were man-like.

Traducianism

This doctrine, which by many is derided as esoteric, is anything but. It has very important moral and social implications. But before turning to that, let’s set forth what is meant by the term and why it must be accepted as biblical.

Traducianism is the teaching that not only the body but also the soul is passed down by natural generation. That is to say, in contrast to the rival doctrine called Creationism there is no time from conception on when there was not a soul present in the child. Creationists believe that a new soul is created for every child but differ as to whether it is placed within him at conception or possibly at some other time preceding birth.

Now, the proofs for traducianism are many, among which I shall mention these:

  1. When God finish creating there was nothing more left to create. According to Genesis 2:3, after creating man He ceased creating. His Creative work was complete. The Scriptures never indicate that God created anything else. In His providence He now orders all that occurs in that creation, but does not create anything more de novo.
  2. Sin (both corruption and guilt) is passed down from one generation to the next. Though the body suffers from the effects of sin (clubfeet, retardation, and so on), it is not the conveyor of the sinful nature itself. The sinful nature is a matter of the heart (or soul). Unless sinful corruption is passed down through the generations by means of the soul, it could not happen. Such continuity would be broken if the Creationist’s suppositions were true.
  3. If God created souls (after Adam and Eve’s) then He would be creating something sinful rather than “good.” That, of course, is unthinkable. He Himself declared His creation “good.”
  4. The fact that children die before birth indicates that they are considered “sinners.” That is true because the “wages of sin is death.” In Adam all die. Since children in the womb die at every stage, their standing as human beings, held guilty of Adam’s sin, is assured from conception.

From this discussion there is but one conclusion to reach – Traducianism is true. There is also one implication that I wish to draw: If Creationism were true, Creationists could not be called upon to refute the idea that the fetus at some stage or other might be less than a human being. Creationists might be forced to admit that until the new soul was created and placed into the body (whenever that might be), the living substance within the womb could be considered non-human. Clearly, Creationism leaves this option open, though (without any evidence) many Creationists refuse to posit such a period of time. While it is unknown how the soul is passed down in conjunction with the body, that is no objection to Traducionist teaching. There are aspects of many things that are assuredly true for which we await answers.

Environmental Extremism: A One World View

No intelligent and dedicated Christian wants to debate the idea that we ought to be judicious about how we conduct ourselves in the planet that God has given us to inhabit and enjoy. Reasonable conservation is, of course, nothing more than good stewardship of those bounties. We applaud efforts at reforestation, preservation of Natural Wonders, and the like. But our views of the earth ought to collide with those of the environmental extremists who are more concerned about snail darters than about the livelihood of hardworking farmers whose efforts to earn a living are impeded by them. As believers, therefore, it is important for us to consider what God, Himself, has said about the matter. I want to suggest that, in passing, Paul makes an all-important statement in Colossians 2:22a that has been overlooked by many of our people. His words rest upon a world-view that simply is not shared by non-Christians. This dissimilarity in views leads to many of the differences that we find between ourselves and the environmentalists. Here are his words:

“These refer to things that are intended to be used up and perish.”

In the passage Paul is referring to “ascetic” injunctions concerning fasting, various uses of food and so on, that unbelievers and Judaizers alike sought to impose upon Christians. Paul would have us refuse to follow them. So, in passing—as I indicated above—he says that the things that the world holds sacred, to the Christian, are but items that God has provided for our use. His point is that when they are “used up” that’s OK (assuming they were used in a responsible manner). It is no great tragedy to deplete the supply of fossil fuels, for a species of unusual fish to become extinct, or for the wolves to be banned from lands where they attack and destroy herds of cattle and sheep.

“But that is a tragedy,” says someone. “After all, once they are gone—“used up” as your apostle put it—they are gone forever. To lose an animal species or a rainforest is to have suffered an irreparable loss!”

Yes, in that objection, you detect quite a different philosophy of existence. Christians should expect outcries from environmentalists about oil drilling in the Arctic, logging in the West, the use of SUVs on our highways, and similar human activities that they believe will noticeably affect the environment. Such objections to these activities are perfectly in accord with the one-world view of the non-Christian. He would be inconsistent to his basic philosophy of existence if he didn’t raise an outcry.

“What, then, are you saying,” asks a Christian?

Simply this. The unbeliever has but one world. He knows nothing of another world to come. He clings to every aspect of the present world‘s assets because, as he believes, once they “perish” they are gone forever. No wonder he is goes to lengths to preserve all that he can. But the Christian looks forward to a new heavens and a new earth that will be so far superior to the present one that he cannot stake everything on what now exists. He looks on the present world as a marvelous creation, in which God had provided all things for us to use and enjoy now—insofar as we can since it is under the curse of sin. Because of that curse, however, nothing will remain forever. Indeed, the book of Ecclesiastes was written to point out that nothing is permanent. And, in that book, like Paul, Solomon tells us to enjoy what we can so long as we are here and the deteriorating world in which we live continues as it is. The clash in opinions that occurs over various environmental issues is, in reality, a clash of a one-world and a two-world view of existence.

Promptings by the Spirit

In a book recently published by Hope Publishing Co., Edmund McDavid, III said it again. In answer to his own question, “Does God’s Spirit testify to me that I am a Christian?” he quoted Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Then, on the basis of this quotation, he went on to ask the reader, “Do you have promptings from the Holy Spirit that convince you that he indwells you—that you are a Christian?” Without further discussion or explanation of the verse (he assumes that one will agree that it teaches the Spirit not only prompts a Christian, but thereby assures him of his salvation) he goes on to another point, seemingly thinking that mere citation is sufficient to verify his view.

There are serious problems with this all-too-frequent misuse of Paul’s words. Let me mention two:

  1. Neither the term “prompt,” nor anything like it, ever occurs in the Scriptures as a means of assurance. The Bible allows for no such personal, individual revelation. People may have what they think are hunches, promptings, and the like, that originate from the Holy Spirit, but they have no biblical basis for interpreting these inner feelings as such. In particular, this verse teaches just the opposite, as I wish now to show you.
  2. The word translated “with” is the Greek term, sun, which means “together with.” It never has the meaning assigned to it that is required by McDavid’s understanding. The verse simply cannot mean that the Spirit “testifies to our spirit”—as his interpretation requires.

Paul is speaking of the well-known biblical requirement that testimony must be given by more than one witness in order to be accepted as valid. So, here, he says that not only does a believer have an inner conviction of one’s salvation (i.e., the testimony in his own spirit) but that, along with that inner assurance, the Spirit testifies as well. The inner testimony that belongs to a Christian comes from his faith in God’s biblical promises. The external testimony by means of which the Spirit testifies is those dependable Spirit-revealed biblical promises themselves.

It is time for people to stop misusing this passage. A Christian’s personal assurance is dependent upon the certain witness of the Spirit in the Word that we believe and to which we testify; not upon some subjective feeling in us which may or may not remain constant.

Let’s Talk Theology

Too often when people hear the word they become uninterested and turn away—was that your response to the title of this blog?

Well, if it was, please indulge me for a couple of minutes’ read to try to change your opinion.

What is theology anyway? Systematic theology, as its name indicates, is the culling of the principal aspects of various teachings in the Bible, placing them in juxtaposition to one another, and reaching general conclusions about what God has to say concerning each one. Let’s just take a taste of what this means.

For instance, consider the Bible’s teaching about salvation. In the Scriptures, we learn that the original word for “salvation” means “rescue.” So, to begin with, we discover that there is a need for rescuing people from a desperate situation. We also read that all have sinned and come short of eternal life. That is the situation from which there is a need to be rescued—failure to measure up to God’s standards. Moreover, we discover that because God demands perfection in order to enter heaven—which is a perfect place from which all sin is excluded—we are unable to rescue ourselves. We probe some more and note that the situation from which we must be rescued is everlasting punishment for our sin. Thinking biblically about sin—this barrier to heaven and cause of punishment—we conclude that sin is offending a holy God by disobeying His commands. So, in order to be saved from hell, and get to heaven, we next understand that someone else must rescue us by satisfying those commands. Moving along in the Bible, we next come to see that this is why Jesus Christ came to the earth. Since a holy God demands satisfaction, Jesus—the only perfect man (Who obeyed those commands in our place)—came to die in the stead of guilty sinners in order to save them from the consequences of their sin. As a perfect man, He did this by bearing the punishment of all who would believe in Him, as He suffered and died upon the cross. That God accepted His sacrifice for sinners is made clear by the fact that He raised Him from the dead and ascended into heaven. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that He will return a second time to receive all believers who are alive and to raise those who have died. Then, we shall ever be with the Lord.

Nearly every statement in the paragraph above (and almost every word) is a theological statement. It wasn’t hard to follow them was it? Yet, whether or not you know it, you have compassed a great deal of theology merely by reading it. If you find it interesting to note such interrelationships, and want a truly systematic approach to Christian theology, I suggest that you buy and devour either L. Berkhof’s Systematic Theology or A. A. Hodge’s Outlines of Systematic Theology. If you are a serious student of the Bible, you couldn’t do better than to purchase both!

Nuanced!

Beware of those who frequently use the word “nuance,” or some derivative thereof.

“Why?”

Because they may be attempting to “snow you” by using that term.

“What does the word mean?”

It comes from a French word that means “shades,” and refers, for instance, to various subtle shades of color.

“I still don’t get it.”

You see, such persons are claiming, “I don’t see things quite as black or white, they way you do. I see various delicate shades of meaning that you don’t,” while all the while the differences are wide enough to drive a Mack truck through.

“Oh!”

And, so what is supposed to be a subtle distinction, quite often, is nothing of the sort—instead, it is a vital difference.

“And this is a way of covering up true differences?”

Exactly. While there are distinctions in the Scriptures, they are rarely (if ever) so subtle as to be called “nuances.” Often, a denial of some biblical truth is behind the use of the term.

“It’s a way of disguising true differences, then?”

Often is. And if you buy into it you will have been NUANCED!