Are You a Calvinist, Arminian, or Molinist?

Instead of a long, complicated blog post about these different perspectives on predestination and free will, I’ll boil it all down pretty simply so you can try to find out what you identify with the best. Here are some questions and answers on different issues from each view. You can judge for yourself which statements seem most like what you believe, and which system holds most of your agreement.

What is election? Does God choose me, or do I choose God?

Calvinist: Election is the unconditional decision of God from before time to save certain individuals, despite their fallen state. This decision has nothing to do with any foreknown faith, works, or other merit. People who believe in Jesus do so because of this election. Summary: God chooses you specifically, and because of that you choose Him in return.

Arminian: Election is the decision of God to bring salvation to everyone who will have faith in Jesus Christ, the elect Savior. God foreknew that certain people would come to faith in Christ by free will, and so elected to save them based on that foreknowledge. Summary: God chooses whoever believes in Jesus, so when you choose Him you are already chosen.

Molinist: God always knew every possible future, and knew who would reject Jesus by their free will in whatever future He chose to create. Election is God’s choice to save the people who do not reject Jesus in the possible future that He is best to create. So, it is up to you if you want to reject Jesus in the world you find yourself in, but you do not have a choice about what timeline God has created. Summary: God chooses to create a certain future in which He knows you will freely choose God.

What is the state of man’s will?

Calvinist: Man’s is totally depraved because of his sinful nature. This does not mean that man is as bad as possible, but that every part of him (mind, heart, soul, body) is affected by sin to the point that the natural man is too hardened to ever choose God. Man’s will, whether considered a “free will” or not, is a slave to sin and cannot escape to believe in Jesus. Summary: Man is too hurt by sin to have a truly free will, or to choose God.

Arminian: Man’s will is depraved, just as the Calvinist says, but God has given everyone “prevenient grace,” which restores his capacity to freely choose between God and unbelief. The strong tendency towards sin remains, but can be overcome by free will. Summary: Man’s will is naturally enslaved to sin, but God gives everyone enough grace to have free will again.

Molinist: Man’s will is depraved, must like the Calvinist says, but he retains the ability to say “NO” to his sinful nature. He cannot choose God without a special work of grace, and this grace is generally received when hearing the Gospel. Summary: Man’s will is enslaved to sin and cannot choose God, but retains some freedom to refuse sin and can go along with God’s grace or resist.

How does man come to salvation?

Calvinist: Because man cannot choose God or even believe in his sinful state, God must cause faith. The Holy Spirit regenerates those who have been elected, thus causing them to believe in Jesus and repent of their sins. This is called monergism and irresistible grace. First God’s grace changes the heart with no human cooperation necessary, and then the human response comes. Summary: Salvation comes completely through God’s work to change the will. You do not come to God against your will, but God transforms your will to accept Him.

Arminian: Because prevenient grace has restored all men’s free will to choose or reject God, one must freely believe in Jesus and repent of his sins, though the Spirit will often work to press this issue. Then the Holy Spirit will respond to faith by giving the person new birth. They are regenerated and saved. This is called synergism. God and man work together (though man is quite obviously in an inferior role) in regeneration. Summary: Man can freely choose to believe and then be saved because of prevenient grace.

Molinist: Man’s will is depraved much as the Calvinist says, and because of this the Holy Spirit must work to create faith. The Spirit will give this grace, which is enough to regenerate someone and bring them to faith, to anyone when they hear the Gospel, but it can be resisted by free will. The work of the Spirit to save is like a river current: it would sweep you away (to salvation) if you let it, but if you try you can resist and stay where you are (in sin). Summary: God’s grace through the Holy Spirit can bring you to believe and save you on its own, but you can freely resist it.

What is the purpose of evangelism?

Calvinist: God has elected certain people to salvation through faith, and He has chosen the preaching of the Gospel as the means by which the elect are to believe and be converted. Because we do not know who the elect are, we are to preach the Gospel to all people in all nations, armed with God’s promise that the Holy Spirit will work to bring His elect to salvation when we preach. Summary: We spread the Gospel because we know that God is using this to bring His elect into salvation.

Arminian: Because people are saved by faith in Jesus, they need to know about Jesus to believe in Him and be saved. The only way this can happen is if we tell them. The more people we tell, the more people have a chance to use their free will to accept Jesus. If no one evangelized, then very few people could ever have a chance to be saved. Summary: We evangelize so people have a chance to accept Jesus freely.

Molinist: We know that there are people in this world who will believe the Gospel when it is presented, and so we evangelize so that they have the opportunity to do so. When they hear the Gospel, the Spirit works, and if they do not resist they will be saved. Summary: Evangelizing gives everyone the chance to freely be saved.

Why are some people lost?

Calvinist: Everyone in their fallen state deserves condemnation, but by grace God has chosen a few to be saved. The rest of them, who cling willfully to sin, will be judged for their sin as they deserve. Summary: People are lost because they are sinful and deserve condemnation. It is pure grace that God chooses anyone.

Arminian: Everyone deserves condemnation for their sin, and moreover everyone is provided with the grace of free will to choose God if they want. So for rejecting Jesus by their free will and sinning, many people are lost. Summary: People are condemned for their sin, especially their free will rejection of Jesus.

Molinist: As everyone deserves condemnation for sin, those who remain in their sin will be condemned. People are lost when they resist God’s saving grace, which would otherwise be enough to regenerate them and bring them to faith, and remain in their sins. People freely resist and are so freely lost. Summary: People are lost because they freely resist God’s grace in the circumstances in which they find themselves.

How does God relate to sin, and other things that people do or that happen?

Calvinist: Everything that happens can only happen because God has said so. He does not directly cause all things, but He chooses everything that will happen and establishes this through secondary causes and various means (read: normal cause-and-effect). Some things God might just permit. When people choose to sin, they do so because they want to; however, they do not necessarily have the ability to control what it is that they want. Man can be said to have “free will” in that he does what he wants to do, but God wrote the story first. Summary: God decides everything that will happen, but does so in a way that allows natural cause-and-effect and people’s desires to play out.

Arminian: God simply knows the future, and by freely giving man free will He has relinquished His right/ability to choose who people will do. So people choose by their own free will to sin, though God wishes that they wouldn’t. All other actions are by free will, as well. Natural disasters are usually the natural result of sin in the world, not necessarily God’s will, though sometimes they may be divine judgment. Summary: God permits people to sin by their own free will, but has no role in their sin whatsoever. Some events may be caused by God, but many are simply natural consequences of sin in the world.

Molinist: God always knew everything than every person would freely do in any given set of circumstances, and He knew every possible resulting future. So God choose to create the world that leads to the best future, in the process making all the people who will freely choose to do what they do. Everything people do, they do freely, but God chooses what “set” of choices will happen by choosing what future to make real. Summary: God chooses the circumstances, knowing how you will freely respond, and so maps out the entire future.

Does God want everyone to be saved? Does God love everyone?

Calvinist: While God does want all people to be saved on some level, God’s plan for the entire world would not be completed properly if everyone were to be saved, so He does not choose everyone. Some are left in their sins as we all deserve. God also loves everyone, but His love for the lost is expressed as the common grace of this world, blessings and pleasures, while His love for the elect leads to salvation. In the words of Paul, “what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom. 9:22-23) Summary: Although God would enjoy the salvation of all, to execute His final story of redemption requires judgment on some who are lost side-by-side with the redemption of others.

Arminian: God love everyone and wants everyone to be saved, but will not violate their gift of free will to make them believe. Without free will, their salvation and love would be a farce. Summary: God loves and desires the salvation of all, but permits free will instead.

Molinist: God does indeed love everyone and wants everyone to be saved, but permits man free will, so instead He chooses the best possible future in which the most possible people freely believe. Either there is no possible future in which everyone freely comes to Jesus, or perhaps that world has something else really wrong with it (e.g. only has a dozen people in total).

So which line of thought seems to ring true best to you? Maybe you find yourself conflicted on some of these, or don’t agree on many points with any of them. In that case, feel free to comment and discuss your views.

The Island Savage: What about Those Who Never Hear?

If the sheep know His voice, then tell me what is the choice

For the ones who haven’t heard and have no need to rejoice?

Father, help me understand.

“Hearts Safe”, Tenth Avenue North

The Gospel is the power of God for salvation. “Amen!” we say. But what about those who have never heard the Gospel? That is, for many, a tough question, for some because they find it hard to answer and for some because they’re scared of the answer. If all have sinned, and fall short of God’s glory, and Jesus it the Way, then how can people who have never heard of Jesus be saved? And if they can’t, is that fair? Is it their fault that they never heard the Gospel to believe it?

I won’t waste too much time pontificating, but instead would like to cite a handful of relevant Scriptures before explaining the major positions on this, as well as their strengths and weaknesses.

Relevant Texts

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?

Romans 10:13-14

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Genesis 18:25

(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)

Romans 2:14-15

Christian Universalism: Come on In, Everyone!

I might as well get this one out of the way first. One of the oldest theories which speaks on this point is universalism, which is a broad term including various theologies in which everyone will be saved. There are many different forms, from the more liberal “God is love, so Hell is stupid, so everyone goes to Heaven” to the moderate “Hell is temporary and everyone will eventually be taken to Heaven” to the more conservative “God will bring everyone to saving faith in Christ at some point.” Generally, universalism is regarded as heresy in all least some forms. This has been the case since at least AD 553, when the Fifth Ecumenical Council reportedly condemned a form of universalism held by Origen.

Universalism is a broad term including various theologies in which everyone will be saved. Generally, universalism is regarded as heresy.

Naturally, universalism deals with those who have never heard quite simply: they are saved just like everyone else. This is an exciting prospect, and certainly a lovely idea. Of course, the major problem with universalism is that it really just doesn’t square with Scripture. While there are a handful of groups which will defend it from the Bible, they are not very convincing, and the repeated Biblical emphasis on the punishment of the wicked and the eventual extermination of the unrepentant speaks convincingly against this option. In most forms, I would say universalism decimates the Gospel, and even in more conservative ones too much is lost.

Universalism Summary

  • Holds that everyone will be saved.
  • Comes in many various forms, from radical to nearly reasonable.
  • Usually considered heresy.
  • Some forms deny Hell, others say only demons will go there, others make it temporary before Heaven.

Major Text

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 4:10

Inclusivism: Some Open Doors

A less radical idea that universalism is inclusivism. Basically, inclusivism holds out hope that some people who never hear the Gospel can still be saved. Like universalism, there are different forms of inclusivism. Probably the most well-known form is that of C. S. Lewis, who demonstrated this theology in the end his Chronicles of Narnia series. C. S. Lewis’s inclusivism holds that every religion besides Christianity contains at least a hint of truth, much like every convincing lie starts with a little truth, and that there is some truth to be gained from natural revelation as well. Because of this, those who have never heard the fullness of the Gospel may still embrace whatever right knowledge of God they do have and follow in faith, unaware that they are actually following Christ. A less nuanced version of inclusivism simply would say that everyone who has not explicitly rejected Jesus might be saved.

C. S. Lewis’s inclusivism holds that those who have never heard the fullness of the Gospel may still embrace whatever right knowledge of God they do have and follow in faith, unaware that they are actually following Christ.

There are problems with inclusivism, though. For one, the entire New Testament, especially Romans, makes Jesus Christ personally the center of saving faith. The message was always to believe in Him. Maybe I’m just picky, but to me it seems that when faith in Christ is required, this means to imply knowledge of Christ as the object of faith, and not just a vague commitment to a hazy kernel of truth. On the other hand, we could argue from the possibility of infant faith (John the Baptist was, after all, filled with the Spirit in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy at Jesus’ presence) that ignorant faith can still be enough. Testimonies also abound of people who called out to God without knowing the Gospel, only to be given the truth soon afterwards whether by evangelism or visions of dreams, and they were already committed to it in faith (these stories are especially frequent in Muslim countries and some far-flung tribal regions). So one could imagine that they had already been born again as soon as they called out to God, with knowledge coming later, much likes works sometimes do. This brings up the question of if they had died in between the two events. Then what?

Lest I seem like I am actually arguing for inclusivism, because I’m not actually convinced, these accounts of people who called out to God and then received the Gospel actually work against inclusivism in another way. After all, if God sent missionaries to these people, or gave them visions or dreams, to tell them the Gospel so that they could believe it, then what reason is there to believe that He would at some point save someone and never do any of these things? If God would save people in ignorance for a time and then make sure to bring them understanding, why would He sometimes skip the second part? It seems more likely to me that if anyone is saved in ignorance, God will provide a way for them to know the truth.

If anyone who does not reject the Gospel can be saved, then evangelism is basically terrorism.

As for the branch of inclusivism which holds that anyone who does not reject the Gospel can be saved, we have another problem. If this is the case, then evangelism is basically terrorism. Everyone who has never heard would be on their way to eternal life with Jesus Christ, but by sharing the Gospel with them we would be opening the door to their condemnation. Witnessing to people would be like playing Russian roulette with their soul. Given the urgency with which the apostles spread the Gospel, I doubt this is the case. Finally, Scriptures like John 14:6 and Romans 10:13-14 seem to argue against this quite directly.

Inclusivism Summary

  • Holds that some people who have never heard the Gospel can be saved.
  • Two most common forms: people can be saved if they follow the light they have; anyone who does not specifically reject the Gospel can be saved.
  • Makes salvation possible for the island savage or a Muslim who lays down his life for his friends.
  • Some forms can make evangelism basically evil.
  • Believed by some prominent teachers, such as Billy Graham and C. S. Lewis.

Major Text

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”

Acts 10:34-35

One More Point: Is Inclusivism Heresy?

I would also like to address the question of whether inclusivism is heresy, since I do not believe it to be true. To cut to the chase, no. Inclusivism does still affirm that Jesus Christ is the only way to God; what it denies is that conscious, knowledgeable faith is the only way to Jesus. While I am not sure this is true, there are certainly places in Scripture from which you could get that idea, and the Gospel is not compromised. Everyone is still a sinner, corrupt from birth through their father Adam. Jesus still died to save humanity, and He is still the only way to be saved. Works still cannot save, and salvation still comes through faith. The only difference is that inclusivism holds that ignorant faith, trust in what someone does understand of God, can still count. And while I am not convinced of this, I see no reason to condemn those who are, especially since I, along with many others, do hold out this hope for infants and some others like the mentally handicapped who cannot receive the Gospel.

Exclusivism: One Way to the One Way

After explaining universalism and inclusivism, exclusivism is pretty easy to define, because it is basically the other end of the spectrum. For exclusivists, conscious faith is the only way to be connected to the only Way. If you do not hear the Gospel and believe in Christ, you will not be saved. Many will make exceptions, however, for those who die in infancy and sometimes the severely mentally handicapped.

For exclusivists, conscious faith is the only way to be connected to the only Way.

Exclusivism is, for the majority of people, hard to swallow. There are billions of people who have never heard the Gospel. Many of them are decent people, and very many struggle to survive. Some only manage to suffer a few miserable years before they die without having believed. A number lay down their lives for their friends. Yet the exclusivist position would hold that they are all condemned, for they have not believed the Gospel.

Now, having given that picture, I do not mean to make exclusivism sound horrible. After all, few exclusivists believe that people are condemned because they never believed what they never heard. This scene is not how it works:

God: Did you believe in Jesus or not?

Bob: No, God, but no one every told…

God: I don’t care! Guilty! Toss him to Hell!

No, for the exclusivist, people are condemned because of their sinfulness. Whether someone has heard the Gospel or not, all have sinned. And, as I pointed out recently, we are not simply people who messed up a little, but monsters. Whether we know the Gospel or not, we’re really messed up and God is justified in destroying us if He wishes. The Gospel is a special offer of grace, undeserved. So if the island savage is condemned, it is because his soul is black as night, not because he never heard the message.

Whether we know the Gospel or not, we’re really messed up and God is justified in destroying us if He wishes. So if the island savage is condemned, it is because his soul is black as night, not because he never heard the message.

Still, some will argue that it is not fair that some can hear the Gospel and be saved while others never have the chance. Yet as I mentioned earlier, there are many testimonies of people who called out to God and then did receive the Gospel, whether by evangelism, vision, or some other means. So it seems likely to say that if someone is truly willing to repent and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ, then God will provide a way. If we know anything about God, we know that He will never abandon anyone who is truly seeking Him.

Of course, there does remain the matter of infants and the mentally disabled. Why should (as very many exclusivists do) they get an exception? Really, the reason is that we think they should based on God’s mercy. After all, worse than those who grew up and never heard, these people have never even had the ability to understand the Gospel, and neither have they had the chance to recognize right and wrong. They have a certain level of innocence which seems unique. But I’ll be honest. Besides 2 Samuel 12:23, there’s really no Biblical evidence for this (and basing a belief on one verse in an Old Testament story which was spoken by a grieving person instead of God or a prophet is probably a bad idea). Yet I and others cling to the belief that God somehow lets these people be born again and share in Jesus’ salvation. So should we really be inclusivists? Eh, I don’t know about that. I do trust, though, that God will do what is right.

[fquote align=”left]Why should infants and the mentally disabled get an exception? Really, the reason is that we think they should based on God’s mercy.

Despite its difficulties, I think exclusivism makes the best sense of the New Testament teaching on faith and salvation in Christ. The entire thrust of “believe” seems to be based recognizing and trusting in the person and work of Jesus Christ, which requires at least some knowledge of them. I also think that exclusivism is the only position which takes the utterly sinful state of the unsaved heart seriously. Inclusivists especially seem to forget that we’re all monsters underneath before being reborn. So whether someone has heard or not, God is just when He condemns.

Exclusivism Summary

  • Holds that no one may be saved without explicit, conscious faith in Jesus.
  • Often provides an exception for infants and the mentally disabled.
  • Has been the dominant position of most of the church for ages and ages.
  • Recognizes that God will provide a way for those who truly seek Him.
  • Considers most of the world throughout all history condemned.

Major Text

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:12

5 Snowflakes for Frozen

I was a latecomer to the party, but last week I saw Frozen, and I completely loved it. It is the best Disney animation I’ve ever seen (noting that I don’t remember at all some of the classics I saw when I was young). I really liked Tangled. I liked Wreck-It Ralph. But Frozen blew them both out of the water. Besides the obvious attractions (excellent music, great visuals, etc.), I think there a number of themes, messages, and object lessons to be found that truly set Frozen apart from the pack. I’ll give five great truths to see in Frozen. (Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet!)

Yeah, About “True Love”

No movies are more associated with the myths surrounding “true love” than Disney movies. So when Frozen defies the stereotypes not once but twice, I find myself someone refreshed. Early in the movie, when Anna meets Hans and they almost instantly fall in love (which led to the excellent “Love is an Open Door” song), their quick engagement doesn’t seem that stunning. If they had followed through and gotten married, no one would have batted an eye because in the Disney universe, you can find true love in a few hours. Yet not in Frozen. Instead, the concept of such instant love is scoffed by Else, ridiculed by Kristoff, and finally revealed as a scam when Hans betrays Anna and exposes his true motives. (This was, by the way, one of my few nitpicks with the movie. The twist was a good idea, but I think they played the good-Hans a little too convincingly up until that point, making his actual plan seem like an unrealistic twist.)

“Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”

Olaf

If Frozen had stopped there, I would have been content. Yet the challenges continues. Near the end, when Anna is dying of her frozen heart and racing for Kristoff, apparently her real true love, she sees Hans about to kill Elsa and turns to save her. She chooses to save her sister instead of be saved by her handsome hero. Again, this is a refreshing twist on the usual portrayal of love. In fact, this self-sacrifice becomes the act of true love which thaws Anna’s frozen heart. This goes well with what the quite wonderful snowman Olaf said, which is a much better definition of love than what some will give: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.” Word, Disney. Frozen’s portrayal of love actually reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” 

Letting Go: The Right and the Wrong

Even if you haven’t seen Frozen, there is a good chance that you’ve heard the musical masterpiece that is “Let It Go” (and if you haven’t, then go to YouTube right now and listen). Easily the most memorable and high quality song of any Disney movie in many years, “Let It Go” expresses the sudden shift in Elsa when, having failed at her number one goal to never let anyone see her icy powers, she takes a 180 and decides to embrace and explore her abilities far away from all the people from whom she had been hiding. For years, she blocked out everyone else and isolated herself, trying to hold in her powers and not hurt anyone. Now she’s failed, and she’s ready to quit that road and enjoy what she can do.

The funny thing about “Let it Go” is that most people seem to miss the point. Far from being an anthem of self-expression and self-realization, “Let It Go” marks Elsa only getting things half-right. She rightly realizes that the suppression she put on her abilities have been damaging, and she does well to embrace them, but what she fails to see is that the most dangerous part of her power is still present. She still isolates herself. She still fears sharing her life with others and loving people. So she goes to the wilderness and revels in her self-satisfying abilities, but remains broken, as is clearly seen later when Anna tries to bring her home. What “Let It Go” really shows us is that self-expression alone is quit unsatisfying and impotent. 

For Elsa, sharing herself and her powers with others to benefit them is shown to be the best way to live.

Fortunately, Elsa is eventually redeemed from her isolation, and when she learns to love her powers are no longer an uncontrollable force of destruction but a beautiful force for good. Enjoying her powers alone left Elsa only slightly better off than repressing them alone, but sharing herself and her powers with others to benefit them (like ice skating for all her people, or using a magic cloud of snow flurries to keep Olaf around in summer) is shown to be the best way to live. This is a pretty great alternative to the usual Disney message, which makes self-expression the primary virtue and only brings others into play as people who support your self-expression, and whose self-expression you support. In fact, this makes me think of verses like, “Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4) and “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others” (1 Pet. 4:10).  

The Sacrifice

No Christian review for Frozen would be complete without mentioning Anna’s Christ-like sacrifice at the resolution of the movie. Though Elsa has frozen her heart, when she comes to the choice of being saved by her apparent true love or losing her last moments to save Elsa, she chooses the latter. The Christian parallels should be obvious. We were not worthy of God’s love any more than Elsa had deserved Anna’s. Indeed, we treated God and His grace with far more contempt than Elsa did to Anna. Elsa shut Anna out of her life, but Paul tells us that we were once enemies of God and hostile to Him (Rom. 5:10). Yet Anna continued to love Elsa by choice, regardless of merit, just as God has been faithful to love us in spite of all our wrongdoing and rebellion. Anna’s love ultimately became the means for redemption, for though Elsa had brought death upon herself by her frozen outburst, ready to fall to Hans’ sword, Anna gave her life to save her. Elsa was saved by this love, and indeed this constituted just the “act of true love” which was needed to thaw Anna’s frozen heart, giving her a kind of resurrection (any time you throw in sacrifice+resurrection, my Christian allegory senses start tingling). In a similar way, Christ died for us even while we remained estranged from Him, and by His death we are saved from death, and in the end He rose from the grave, leading to reconciliation between us and God.

The best part about this particular event is that Anna’s sacrifice really makes every bit of good as an allegory for the Cross as Aslan’s death in The Chronicles of Narnia, even though C. S. Lewis’s work was specifically intended to have such a parallel while, as far as anyone knows, Frozen was not. Yet the story of redeeming love breaks out even here because the reality is powerful. What Jesus really did is something so marvelous that His story begs to be mirrored, even if unconsciously. Pointing this out to children who see Frozen is, in my opinion, an excellent idea and a great excuse to watch the movie again (and again).

Law and Grace

I actually missed this connection at first. Somehow the thought escaped me. Only after I read this blog post did I notice. Yet Frozen actually makes a good allegory for the dynamics of law and grace, in addition to the other themes. See, in the beginning, Elsa works entirely by her willpower to obey one command, first imposed by her parents and then self-imposed: “Conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.” She is motivated by fear to follow this charge strictly, as one deviation could ruin everything. Yet this doesn’t actually help. The rule doesn’t work. Instead, Elsa’s powers grow increasingly uncontrollable and dangerous. This parallels life under the Law. The Law can do nothing to change or save us. We find ourselves controlled by sin and fear, and the Law cannot do anything about that. Instead, we are unable to keep the Law, and until we realize our hopeless state we will continue to disappoint.

Though the law of concealing failed her, Elsa finds she can live differently when grace comes from Anna. This is also like the grace that God gives us. Though we are unable to keep the Law, through grace we can begin to live in the way that God has prepared for us.

Yet then there is grace. While facing death, Anna makes a choice to show mercy. She sacrifices herself for her sister who doesn’t deserve any help. Anna loves and sacrifices because she chose to love an unworthy Elsa, and this is what sets Elsa free. No longer a slave to fear and unable to control her powers, Elsa finds freedom in the love and grace showed to her by her sister. Grace thaws the frozen heart and enables real life. Though the law of concealing failed her, Elsa finds she can live differently when grace comes. This is also like the grace that God gives us. Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), and this sets us free from condemnation and the power of sin. We no longer have to fear, and we can begin to live in the way that God has prepared for us. Grace changes us and enables us to live more in line with the Law than we ever could when we were under the Law.

Wrapping Up

I could go on about other great parts of Frozen, but these are the main themes I wanted to highlight. Frozen gives better moral messages than most Disney productions, and also unwittingly provides powerful Christian allegory about law, grace, and redemption. Plus, being an animated Disney movie, you can count on the lack of objectionable content (unless the words “gassy” or “impaled” upset you). There are some who claim a pro-gay theme running throughout the movie, but I deem their claims hogwash and refer you to this blog for reasons why. So, needless to say, my children will enjoy Frozen one day, as I have, and they will certainly hear the Gospel commentary from me afterwards. For the rest of you, I encourage everyone to see this great movie if you haven’t already!

We Are the Walking Dead (And Good Men Shoot Walkers)

A billion people I know love The Walking Dead. Mind you, I sometimes wonder why, but to each his own. Because of this, at one point I decided to try The Walking Dead and see if the show is good. I came away enjoying some of the story (which doesn’t say much since I can enjoy almost any story) but not really liking the show in general. Honestly, I just don’t love gore and morally ambiguous good guys.

To the point of my post, though. The other day I was listening (in my head, of course) to “Forgiven” by Relient K around the same time that I was imagining how to share the Gospel with someone. I don’t really remember how the train of thought went, but I did come to think of something that may seem startling from these lyrics:

‘Cause we’re all guilty of the same things
We think the thoughts, whether or not we see them through

So a thought struck me. I, along with the rest of the human race, am a monster.

Does this seem far fetched? I don’t think so. See, we all have had moments in our lives where we realized that there was something wrong deep within us. There are times when we think or feel things so shocking that we don’t believe they came from our own hearts. Yet we know the truth. We have all had that realization that somewhere within our souls lurks a monstrous demon who is somehow a real part of us.

“Maybe this is true for you,” you might say, “but I am not that way.” But are you so sure? Maybe I am the only one, but I suspect you all have had the thoughts that prove this. Maybe you’ve caught yourself entertaining the potential benefits if someone you love were dead. I would bet good money you have had an impulse to grab the nearest object and bash someone’s head in. With near certainty I expect you have sometimes felt a hint of fury at someone who has done nothing wrong. Will I judge you for this? No, because I didn’t come up with these out of thin air. I know them from my own experience.

Somewhere within our souls lurks a monstrous demon.

And of course it is not as though we usually embrace these thoughts. For various reasons, we tend to reject them, whether for reasons of convenience, social convention, affection, duty, or a sense of right. Because we reject them, we think of ourselves as basically good. When we realize what we are, we rarely embrace the truth and live like that (those who do are generally considered sociopaths, though I posit they are more true to their nature than most of us). Instead, we deny it, forget it, suppress it, or defy it. Yet this doesn’t amount to much. No matter what the reason, no one will bother to applaud a man for not becoming a demon, but they will rightly condemn him for having such a powerful impulse in his soul. And this is who you are. You are that man. But, again, I cannot judge, because I am, too.

Unfortunately, though I will not judge you, there is Someone who will. For a man named Jesus died and rose again, and God has declared Him Lord over all the earth. He is coming back to judge the living and the dead, and when He does, we’re dead. Or at least we should be.

This is where most people get tripped up. Not thinking of the truth, not realizing or admitting the beast within, we protest when Jesus speaks of hellfire. When God declares a sentence of death, most of us want to say this is unfair. How could a good God do that to us sweet little angels? Yet we ignore the truth. We are monsters, and we deserve it.

For this reason I bring up The Walking Dead. In many ways, our state is similar to that of the Walkers (zombies, for those of you who have not seen the show). Like them, we are not truly alive, at least not from the start. Even though we move around in this world, we are dead and diseased. Just as they are no longer considered human, so we are barely recognizable as humans the way God meant for humans to be. Even our story is similar. In The Walking Dead, every person on earth is infected with a disease, and when they die it turns them into a zombie. Likewise, just as Paul said, we are all infected by sin, and in our case when God’s Law comes, sin comes to life and we die, becoming similarly monstrous creatures. Most importantly, like Walkers, in this state we are a threat to all that is good and right in the world. In our state of death, we are dangerous to those who are alive.

When God declares a sentence of death, most of us want to say this is unfair. Yet we ignore the truth. We are monsters, and we deserve it.

This brings me back to the point of judgment. We are as much monsters as the zombies are, and no one blames Rick when he shoots a Walker in the skull. In fact, when people stubbornly refuse to kill them, but instead treat them as worthy of life, we viewers tend to get frustrated with them. “They’re monsters!” we shout. “Kill them already! Don’t let them live or they will destroy you!” Good guys kill Walkers, and those who don’t are usually ignorant, deceived, or plain evil.

In the case of us, there is only one human left. Only one man has ever gone through life without succumbing to the disease which makes us into monsters. He is Jesus. So Jesus is left in the position of being the only human left, surrounded by monsters. Yet He has done something amazing. See, Jesus knows who we really are. He knows that this monstrous state is not who we would be except for sin. And He loves us. He loves humanity, and because of this He saves us, too. He took the disease of sin on Himself and went down to the grave, but He was stronger than even death, so though sin died Jesus rose again, bringing life back to all who believe in Him. When we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, which we would expect to turn Him into one of us, He brings us back to His life! So the brilliance of the Gospel shows us that by dying, Jesus undid the disease which killed us all and made us monsters, so now we can live again as human beings. Unlike the zombie virus, for which there seems to be no cure at all, Jesus cures us from sin and death. And this grace is made even more marvelous when we realize that, also unlike Walkers, we remained willing slaves of our sickness!

Good guys kill Walkers, and those who don’t are usually ignorant, deceived, or plain evil.

Still, one problem remains. Not all come back to life. Not all will join Jesus and those to whom He has given life. So what to do with them? This is judgment. Jesus is rebuilding the world. He is taken a creation which has been polluted and broken by the effects of sin and recreating paradise. And monsters have no place in paradise. For this reason they will all die, an eternal death. Everyone who is not with Jesus is still walking dead, and to protect His people and restore this world they will be judged. Yet how can we blame Him? Like I said before, we’re as bad as the zombies, and good men shoot Walkers. If God didn’t judge sinners, He couldn’t be the good guy. He would be naive, confused, apathetic, or worse. What should be more troubling to us than God’s wrath against sinners is His grace towards sinners. Who would show kindness to a zombie?

When we eat of His flesh and drink of His blood, which we would expect to turn Him into one of us, He brings us back to His life!

As a final note, when I say that “we are the walking dead,” I am referring to our state in sin. A monster is what we become because of sin, but in this world that is not always obvious. Like I said, there are social pressures, personal affections, laws, pleasures, and other reasons to hide our evil. And since we all were meant to be alive, since we all were made humans in God’s image first, we know that this monster is bad and try to hide it. Yet in another sense the monster within is not who we really are, no more than a Walker is the same person as it was when it was alive. Humanity is good. Humans are good and wonderful creations. That is our nature. Yet sin infects and corrupts beyond recognition. Also, when Jesus brings us back to life, we are not really this kind of monster anymore. Some of that diseased, rotting flesh still clings to us, but we have been made new. We are human and alive now by the power of the Holy Spirit. We’ve simply spent so much time in this world of death that sometimes we still act like a monster, and the impulses of that old instinct still crop up at times. Yet that is not who we are now. Now we are alive!