Layered, Christological Election as a Biblical Story

As I posted some time ago, Evangelical Calvinism has a highly Christological approach to election which, in the history of salvation, involves several “layers.” The election of Christ in eternity has as its correspondence a movement of historical election which takes place through several stages/layers of covenant (all of which, of course, mediate the one covenant of grace in Jesus).

I only recently learned how much this layered aspect is actually present in Karl Barth. I had imagined before that Barth’s Christological focus was so strict as to squeeze out the room for this idea of layers in the history of election, but Nathan Hitchcock summarizes in his PhD dissertation, Karl Barth and the resurrection of the flesh, how this layered aspect of election plays out in Barth’s reading of the Biblical story. All I really want to do in this post, then, is quote his rather epic presentation.

Election’s set of concentric circles plays out the drama of reconciliation28: the eternal decree in Jesus fructified from the One to the many through the creation of Adam, the population of the earth through Noah, then on to the manifold blessing given to Abraham. However, a thinning of the visibly elect community occurs through Moses and David, the kings and prophets, leading ultimately to a convergence back to the One in His single history of reconciliation. Of the millions who lived before Him, only a handful represented the elect Israel, and even these actors in the history of salvation narrowed until, the disciples scattering from the Garden of Gethsemane, only Jesus remained. Upon this one crucified Representative rested the whole task of reconciliation. The circles of election contracted back to the single point on Golgotha, the telos of the divine election, thus enacting God’s gracious election. As for the resurrection of Jesus, the same elective expansion occurs, this time from the divine, single point in the Auferweckung to the second, communal ring during the forty days of appearance to the inclusion of all sorts of individuals at the outpouring of the Spirit. The now-established Church expands into all the world with Christ in His prophetic mission. 

Nathan Hitchcock, Karl Barth and the resurrection of the flesh

Layered, Christological Election as a Biblical Story

2 Biblical Issues I Think Calvinism Gets Wrong

I really am a rare breed when it comes to the debate over Calvinism/election/predestination/sovereignty. There are a lot of studied Calvinists who were once unlearned (and often non-professing, de facto) Arminians. Likewise, there are enough ex-Calvinists (who are now usually Arminians, Catholics, or unbelievers) who never knew the system well, and still repeat common misunderstandings and misconceptions about what it teaches and how it works. What you have relatively few of are ex-Calvinists who knew the doctrine well, in all of its ins and outs, with nuance, precision, and depth, able to mount detailed and comprehensive arguments both for the 5 points themselves and the basic system of causal determinism that accompanies them so readily, especially ones who are still Christians and don’t hate Calvinism. I fall into this latter camp, and I do not mean by the description I gave to “toot my own horn.” My point is rather to identify where I am coming from. Very little of the normal debate involves people from this place, and it cuts off some of the normal lines of argument.

Anyway, from this unusual perspective I just want to offer two simple Biblical points that I think Calvinism just doesn’t get right. This is not stuff at the theoretical, complex theological, or moral level, just two problems that involve Biblical interpretation. Hopefully this will provide some food for thought, or perhaps even provide a place for constructive dialogue.

  1. Biblical use of election: Calvinism frames mostly all discussion of election/the elect in terms of an unconditionally chosen collection of individuals destined for eternal salvation. This does not seem to ring true with the actual Biblical use. Bearing in mind that to elect literally means to select or choose, most of the incidents of election do not appear to fall in line with this systematic concept. Election doesn’t usually appear to be about all the individuals who are going to be saved. Instead, it appears as God’s choice of a people or an individual for a specific purpose in redemptive history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all Israel, Moses, Aaron and his descendants, the Levites, King David and his descendants, even King Cyrus, Jesus, the Twelve, Paul, and the Church all were chosen, selected by God to accomplish particular tasks for God’s design in the midst of history. These people and groups are truly elect, that is, chosen by God. This isn’t to say that God said, “Let’s make sure this person gets to heaven,” but rather that He picked and called them to do His will, bear His word, and share His blessings. Going right along with this, these elect groups and individuals were not chosen merely for their own sake or salvation. Their very election was the grounds of blessing for those who were not elected. Israel was elected to bless the rest of the world (Gen. 12:3, Mic. 4:1-3, cf. Gal. 3:8). Moses was chosen for a role and relationship with God unique in all history (Exod. 3:10, Deut. 34:10), yet this election was for the liberation of all Israel. Jesus is referred to literally as the Elect One of God (Lk. 9:35), and His mission was clearly not for His own benefit, but “for us and for our salvation,” as the Creed says. When taken all together, the picture of God’s choosing is one of graciously bestowing a call, a word, and a blessing on historical persons and groups in order to accomplish His redemptive purpose. This is what I believe the Scriptures generally mean when they speak of God’s chosen ones/elect. (Granted, this does not mean the Calvinist doctrine of predestination and reprobation is false. At most it simply means that, true or false, “election” would be the wrong Biblical word for it. Yet I think that this alternate understanding of the terminology removes much of the weight behind the occurrence of words like “elect” from general Calvinist argument.)
  2. Limited atonement: I am convinced that limited atonement is the weakest point of Calvinism, and I am convinced of this primarily on exegetical grounds. When it comes to the plain statement of Scripture, I think there are few other doctrines without Christian orthodoxy with as little support. Generally, texts cited in favor of limited atonement rely entirely on deductions. John 10 is applied by extracting certain logical deductions from a certain reading of the text. Phrases like “save His people from their sins” and “gave Himself up for her [His bride]” are taken to imply that what they say is not true in any sense to people besides the immediate referents. Texts worded so that they could mean Jesus only died for the elect are taken as they they must mean so, and on that basis texts worded so that it seems abundantly clear that Jesus died for all are taken as though they cannot mean so. Basically, the most direct statements in Scripture on the matter (e.g. Heb. 2:9, 2 Cor. 5:15, 1 Tim. 2:5-6) are interpreted more difficulty based on logical interpretative deductions from less explicit passages (e.g. John 10, Eph. 5). Yet Scripture interpretation is meant to run in the opposite direction: passages less directly about a particular topic ought to be read primarily in light of the more clear and direct statements on it. In the case of atonement, “He died for all” is much more clear and direct than, “the Bible says Jesus lay down His life for His sheep, therefore He must not have intended to die on behalf of anyone who is not ultimately saved.” The latter sounds like it makes sense, but is a couple interpretive steps down the road, and if those steps don’t mesh with the prior clear statements, they ought to be reevaluated.

Well, those are what I’ve got for now. I could write more on each of these, especially the first, and perhaps I will. Nonetheless, this is a basic overview of two major Biblical objections I see to Calvinism. There is probably one other major Biblical category, all further theological, philosophical, and moral questions aside, but I will get to it some other time.

As always, I do not wish anyone take any offense, for I am not on the offense. I’m mostly writing this to keep you guys informed on where I’m coming from, and to invite anyone who has questions about my views to find answers. I still love Calvinists and respect Calvinism far more than any other ex-Calvinist I’ve met, so make sure to take it all in benevolence. Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.

2 Biblical Issues I Think Calvinism Gets Wrong

In Other Words: An Alternative Dictionary of Election

I’ve written in the last several months on occasion about my move away from classical Calvinism into something which, when I feel the need to name it (and I often don’t), I’d call Evangelical Calvinism. And while I have provided a couple of posts giving some details about this transition, I’ve heard people say to me since then that as they read Scripture it seems harder and harder to get around election, predestination, God’s choosing, and the like. So doesn’t that support the classical Calvinist view of things?

Alas, I suspect this is mostly the result of a vicious cycle of reinforcement by assumption, an implicit question-begging. I tend to think that the prominence of Calvinistic thinking in the Protestant tradition has created widespread assumption about words like “election,” “predestination,” and “chosen” actually mean. So when people see them in Scripture, it registers in a Calvinistic way, regardless of whether the author would have been using them in a way that matches up with or even basically agrees with modern Reformed systematic theology textbooks.

My goal here is to offer a basic alternative dictionary, or glossary, for the terms associated with election that show up in Scripture. These are not entirely original; they will follow on thoughts which have been thought and presented many times by many people before me. Nor will I flesh out a defense of this alternative dictionary here, but hopefully it will become clear in reading Scripture with this list in mind how these definitions can plausibly work. Basically, these are for “test driving”: you take the definitions, read the Bible, and see if the interpretive results are a smooth ride or end in a crash. Without further ado, here they are:

  • Predestine — The Greek word, proorizo, literally means to “arrange/limit/set/order/appoint beforehand.” At simplest this only requires setting something up or making an arrangement in advance, not anything in particular about God assigning an overriding destiny1. As an alternative, I would suggest the more broad meaning of simply making a decision or plan beforehand. In the particular theological usage in reference to believers, the specific pre-arrangement would be God’s intention from the start to redeem the human race and conform us to the image of Christ. This is what God has prepared for us in Christ through His Cross, which He also arranged beforehand. Predestination is thus not God choosing individuals X or Y to end up saved, but God’s gracious choice before and apart from all human response to provide salvation from sin and glorified existence in Christ. It is not something fundamentally about you or me as individuals, but fundamentally about Christ and all who are found in Him.
    Verse references with “predestine/predestined”: Acts 4:28, Romans 8:29-30, 1 Corinthians 2:7, Ephesians 1:5, 11.
  • Elect — The Greek word translated “elect” is eklektos, which literally means “select” or “choose.” Many times that it shows up, it should really not be taken as any more than that. Just like in the real world, there are many kinds of choosing. It can not be assumed that this refers specifically to choosing an individual to end up saved, or to get saved. Christ Himself is called the Elect One/Chosen One on multiple occasions2. This word is applied also to King Cyrus of Persia3, the nation of Israel, and Christians. Obviously, there is a possible range in meaning. I suggest with many others that when used of believers, the meaning is essentially corporate, that is, it is about the body of Christ as a whole, in Christ the Chosen One, instead of about specific people picked out to be saved over other people. (Basically, I think it’s all about Jesus instead of all about man!) In fact, I would add several layers: God freely chose the world He created, He chose humanity as the ones to bear His image and represent His authority over creation, He chose Israel within humanity as the people in whom He would reveal Himself, He chose Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel, and we are chosen because we are a part of all of those layers, being created human beings united to Jesus Christ.
    Verses which speak of believers as “elect”: Matthew 24:22, Mark 13:27, Luke 13:7, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12
  • Call — A word frequently used by Calvinists in support of irresistible grace is “call,” which they relate to the doctrine of the “effectual call,” the way that God’s inner invitation through the Spirit infallibly brings the elect to faith and salvation. Paul uses it apparently exclusively of believers, implying that believers were somehow “called” by God in a way that unbelievers have not been, and more significantly this call seems strongly associated with conversion4. So is salvation the result of some kind of call God only gives to a certain group of people?
    I don’t think this is necessarily the case. I rather think this call is indeed a supernatural invitation given through the Spirit to participate in the life of Christ by faith, but that Scripture does not clearly teach this call to be something only given to those who become believers. Rather, I suggest that the Spirit can and does give out this call frequently along with the Gospel to whomever He pleases, and that it can and often is rejected and denied (for an inexplicable reason). The reason Paul only ever mentions believers as having this call is simply because they are his audience, they have experienced and obeyed this call, and now are bound to live up to it. As a side note, I add that this call is not merely to get saved, but to participate in Jesus’ own life of self-sacrificing, martyr-oriented love, which accords with a number of Paul’s uses of the word.
    Verses which refer to the “call”: Romans 1:6, 8:28-30, 9:11, 1 Corinthians 1:9, 7:17-24, Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 1:18, 4:4, Philippians 3:14, 1 Thessalonians 2:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:11, 2 Timothy 1:8-9

There are probably some other words that I could address, but these three seem the most important. Obviously, this short post isn’t enough to make my case in full detail, or answer any objections that might be brought against my suggestions. But I do think test driving these definitions in Scripture will yield a mostly smooth ride, and that they will be found to work at least as well as the Calvinistic versions. More detail on these may come later, but for now I hope this is useful.

In Other Words: An Alternative Dictionary of Election

Jesus Lived for Us: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ

Another sermon manuscript, one that I preached this morning. This was actually meant to lead into Communion, which you will see that it does.


His Whole Life Matters

This morning, I want to start by asking a simple question. In fact, it’s a good little church question which a bunch of church people should have a pretty easy time answering. So here’s the question: what are some things that Jesus did for us?

One thing which I did not hear anyone say: that Jesus lived for us. And the fact that I didn’t hear this, and didn’t really expect to, is exactly why I want to preach about this topic. Jesus did not only die for us, but lived for us as well, and this is what I want to look at today.

See, I know two great short slogans which can summarize the Gospel. One of them is “Jesus in our place.” That is pretty great, isn’t it? The other is “God in Christ for us.” Both of these are, I think, very good ways to sum up the Gospel in only a couple words. But what’s something they both have in common? Neither one is only about Jesus’ death. The whole Jesus—life, death, and resurrection—is in our place, and God is and was in the whole Christ for us.

Now, the specific way that Jesus lived for us which I want to talk about today is a doctrine with a ridiculously technical sounding name, but it’s not as crazy as it sounds. It’s called the vicarious humanity of Christ. I realize it sounds a bit much, but it’s pretty straightforward. The Christ part is obviously just Jesus, the humanity is of course His being human, and we know as well what vicarious means. It’s one person or thing in place of someone else. In this case it is Jesus, as a human, being a human in our place.

How Jesus Lived for Us

But what exactly does that mean? And what impact should it have on our lives? I want to look at the whole thing in two parts, and so I don’t get carried away I’ll only mention them one at a time. The first part is, as I just mentioned, that Jesus lived for us. From the beginning to the end, from Christmas to Easter, every moment of Jesus’ life was something He did to save us. It didn’t just start counting when He got baptized and began His ministry. It didn’t wait to be meaningful for Him to ride on a donkey into Jerusalem. And it didn’t just start when He was led to the Cross. What Jesus was doing as a human being to save us started when the virgin conceived, and it’s still going.

But how does that work? What does everything Jesus did besides the Cross do for us? To answer this question, I want to look into the concept of the covenant. The basic idea here is that God created a covenant relationship with mankind, where God promised to be our God and He called us to be His people. But from Adam onward, humans have consistently failed to keep up our end. But God is faithful, and He is not willing to let us go so easily. Since we couldn’t seem to manage a right response to God, God Himself became one of us in Jesus Christ, and as a human being fulfilled the human side of the covenant. He gave a saving call to us, and then He answered that call as one of us for all of us. By doing this He created an actual, reconciled relationship between God and man. And that is eternal life.

Now, I’ve said all of this without referencing too much straight from the Bible, so I want to dive in a bit deeper. First, we can see the pattern of God calling us into a relationship with Himself, especially a covenant relationship, throughout Scripture. Some people see this in the Garden of Eden, though not everyone agrees with that. But after that, it just keeps coming. God makes a covenant with Noah in Genesis 9 to never destroy the world with a flood and kill everything in it again, which hints at more grace in the future. Next God makes a covenant with Abraham, promising both to bless his descendants and to bless the entire world through them. Then from Exodus through Deuteronomy we see God making a covenant with Israel, a people which Deuteronomy 9:4-5 tell us were no better than anyone else, to be their God, give them a land, and save them from all their enemies. And of course, after this King David receives a covenant from God for an eternal dynasty.

But the problem is that there’s another theme running right alongside this. God keeps making covenants to bless us and bring us to Himself, but we’ve been resisting and breaking them since day one. In Genesis 3, there’s the Fall as the first instance of man just resisting God’s grace to do his own thing. Then in Genesis 9, right after God makes a covenant with Noah and blesses him, Noah gets drunk and passes out naked, leading to a curse on a whole body of his descendants. Then Abraham is given a promise for a son and for a land, but in both cases he takes serious missteps, relying on human help like maidservants and Egyptian surpluses when in need. And of course, once we get to Israel we are all too familiar with their repeated history of God showing mercy, and them falling right back into the same sins. And David, well, we all know how far he fell and how this ultimately led to his kingdom divided two generations later. This whole pattern gets worse and worse until eventually God’s people lost it all in exile.

But what’s great is that right at this point, when it is clear that Israel is a failure and God’s plan to bless the world looks doomed, Jesus shows us. He appears at the center of all these circles and covenants. And at this point we have to combine the idea of representation with substitution. Jesus, by being in the center of all this, represented as soon as He came on the scene all the world in Himself. How does this work?

Let’s go back and trace these lines. God created everything, and then He made man at the top, the pinnacle of creation. So man, by being steward over creation, also stands as the representative at the top of creation. Then comes Israel. They were, as I mentioned before, just one nation out of many. Deuteronomy 9:4-6 says:

When the Lord your God thrusts them out before you, do not say to yourself, “It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to occupy this land”; it is rather because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is dispossessing them before you. It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you are going in to occupy their land; but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is dispossessing them before you, in order to fulfill the promise that the Lord made on oath to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, then, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to occupy because of your righteousness; for you are a stubborn people.

They were just like everyone else, but were called to bless the world. So now there’s another layer of Israel standing before God as a microcosm of all humanity. But next come the priests and the kings. The priests minister before God constantly on Israel’s behalf, and once a year the High Priest himself represents all Israel when he goes to make atonement in the Holy of Holies. Same goes for the kings, who God treated as a representative of the whole nation, something you can see among other places in how God handled David’s sinful census at the end of Numbers.

Now Jesus sits right in the middle of each of these circles and layers. He is our High Priest, as Hebrews tells us, and the King of Israel, as the Gospels tell us. He is the Son of Man, a man born of a woman. He is, as Colossians 1:15 says, the firstborn over all creation. Basically, as the King and Priest He represents and substitutes for all Israel. As Israel He represents and substitutes for all the rest of humanity, who are no different. And as humanity, He represents and substitutes for all creation. This one man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived as the center of all creation, as the representative and substitute of everyone everywhere. So He lived in our place and for us. He gave God the perfect response of human faith and obedience which He called us to give, and since He was doing that in our place, He won salvation for us all. Saint Irenaeus, who was actually a disciple of a disciple of John, said this:

He [Jesus] fought and conquered…He was the man who struggled for his fathers and through his obedience cancelled their disobedience.

And of course, this obedience had to lead to the Cross, too. If Jesus was going to identify Himself as this representative, He had to face our doomed fate and die with our weakness. But even then, He rose from the dead. So while being our representative and substitute, He came back from death. This was the how the whole thing was completed. He came out victorious, and He came out in our place. All this added up to giving us eternal life, which Jesus Himself defined as a fellowship between God and man when He said in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Finally, before I move on to my next point, I just want to read Hebrews 5:7-10 and then quote Gregory of Nazianzus. Hebrews 5:7-10 says:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

And here’s what Saint Gregory has to say about all this:

For that which he has not assumed [that is, taken on Himself as a human] he has not healed; but that which is united to his Godhead is also saved.

How We Live from Jesus

Wow. As far as I’m concerned, this stuff alone is awesome enough, and is probably worth at least a year’s worth of preaching. But, I want to go ahead and move on to my second part. As if it weren’t enough that Jesus lived for us in such an awesome way, I want to add a second, following point. Jesus lived for us, and now we live from Him. What’s that mean? It means that none of our human faith and obedience started in us. It all started in Him.

The key passage for this is Galatians 2:19b-20. Unlike what I usually do, I’m going to read this one in the KJV, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

What I especially want to point out is the phrase, “the faith of the Son of God.” If you don’t have a KJV, it probably says “faith in the Son of God.” This is because of the funny Greek behind it, which could in theory be translated in four major possible ways:

“faith of the Son of God”

“faithfulness of the Son of God”

“faith in the Son of God”

“faithfulness to the Son of God”

Now, obviously the biggest difference is that the first two are about something Jesus has, whereas the second two are about something we have towards Jesus. What is interesting to note is that while most translations since the KJV have picked “faith in the Son of God,” many modern scholars have been moving back to agree with the KJV on one of the first two options, the faith or faithfulness of the Son of God. This fits what the rest of the passage is saying. Yes, we believe. Yes, we obey. But even though it is us, it’s also not really us but Jesus living in us. It’s not just our faith, but faith rooted in Jesus’ careful trust of the Father during His earthly life. It’s not our faithfulness, but Jesus’ faithful obedience to His Father. We only share in these because we are, like Paul, in Christ. We died with Him to sin, and have been raised with Him to a new life, His own life.

Possibly, though, some of you may be wondering what I mean by Jesus’ faith, and how for that matter we can live from it. So I’ll go back a bit. Jesus, as I said before, lived the perfect human life in relation to God as our substitute and representative. He did everything for us that God wants us to do. He had faith in His Father, as Hebrews 12:2 says that He is the author and perfecter of our faith who pushed forward faithfully to obey God. And if “faith of Christ” is the correct reading from before, then in Scripture we have several good references to Jesus’ faith and its role in saving us, such as Romans 3:22, Galatians 3:22, and Philippians 3:9.

Jesus also repented for us. Now I realize that sounds weird. How can Jesus repent from sin if He didn’t have any sin? See, the basic point of “repent” is to turn away from something. So Jesus never sinned, but He was constantly turning away from sin when it reared its ugly head to tempt Him. We can see a great example of Jesus doing that in both Matthew and Luke 4, where He resisted all the temptations Satan put before Him and came out victorious. This vicarious repentance is exactly what makes it possible for us to repent, even when we’ve already sinned.

Another thing Jesus did for us was good works. I would give some Scripture to prove that, except for the fact that it is probably pretty obvious. Jesus healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, forgave poor sinners, fed the hungry, and throughout His whole ministry did act after act of compassion and mercy. These good works of Jesus are, again, the source of our good works. Whenever we do mercy or show love to people who need it, we’re participating in what Jesus Himself did, connected to Him by the Spirit.

Finally, of course, Jesus died for us. This is another one that is too obvious to need any specific verses references. In our place, as our representative and substitute, Jesus faced the death due to us sinners. By doing this He killed our old man, the flesh, and then rose again and created for us the new man.

Now, all of this that Jesus did is the ground for our Christian life. When we, as Paul says, walk according to the Spirit, what is happening is that the Holy Spirit is pouring into us the very faith, repentance, good works, death, and resurrection of Jesus Himself from His human life. Because He was man, the sanctified, set-apart life that He lived has become the source of our sanctified lives, something that again ties into Hebrews 5:9.

So because of all this, everything that we do as a Christian, not our fleshly works but our spiritual ones, comes straight from Jesus. It is us, but not us, but Christ living in us. We live by the faith of the Son of God, and the end result of this transformation worked out by the Holy Spirit is fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ His Son. And that, in my humble opinion, is altogether wonderful.

Abiding in Christ

So what is the application here? How should this truth, the vicarious humanity of Christ, the fact that Jesus lived for us and we live from Him, impact us? I can think of two major things.

The first is that this doctrine should give us more assurance than ever. Our salvation in every last part is of Christ, not of ourselves. And if it is not of ourselves, our own weaknesses and failures can’t hurt it. There is nothing left to trust in ourselves for. If we believe, that’s from Jesus, who believed perfectly. Even if we don’t believe enough, Jesus did for us. If we do good works, that’s from Jesus, who did the most good of anyone ever. If we don’t do enough good works, Jesus did for us. Like Romans 8:1 says, there is no condemnation because we are in Christ Jesus. We are secure in His arms.

This ties into the second application, though. If every part of our new life comes from Jesus, then we have no choice but to abide in Him if we want to live. John 15:4-5 says it well:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.

These verses show that we have to rely on Jesus for everything. We have to stay connected with Him to live. So how do we do that? How can we abide in Christ and stay connected? I’ll finish with just a few examples.

Prayer is the first key. In prayer we communicate with God Himself, mediated by Christ our High Priest, with the help of the Spirit’s intercession. This keeps us connected to Christ and gives us His strength.

Scripture is also vital. When we read Scripture with the help of the Spirit, we see Jesus more and more clearly. He said Himself that all the Scriptures testify of Him, so when we read them we grow to know Him even more.

Another important part of abiding in Christ is being a part of His church. The church is His body, a called out community of people bound by His Spirit to each other for service and worship. We cannot abide in Christ without abiding in His body.

Then there’s what most call sacraments, but Baptists usually call ordinances. The first of course is baptism. Anyone not baptized ought to be, because in baptism the Holy Spirit grips us with the visible act and says, “Look! You have died and risen with Christ! You are a new creation!” We can think back on baptism and just remember what a perfect picture it is of what Jesus has done for and with us.

Finally, though, there’s also Communion, which we’ll be practicing today. Baptism is the one time sign of our union with Jesus, but Communion is the ongoing one. When we have Communion, we get to experience a spiritual reminder of how we depend on Christ for our life. Just as we need food and drink, the bread and the cup, to survive physically, so spiritually we rely completely on the life of Jesus which was given for us. Having Communion pushes our hearts towards that reality and remind us that our life comes only from Christ, because He chose to live for us. I’ll finish with a quote from T. F. Torrance and then turn it over:

As one summoned to the Holy Table [the Christian] is commanded by the Word of God to live only in such a way that he feeds upon Christ, not in such a way that he feeds upon his own activities or lives out of his own capital of alleged spirituality. He lives from week to week, by drawing his life and strength from the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, nourished by the body and blood of Christ, and in the strength of that communion he must live and work until Christ comes again. As often as he partakes of the Eucharist he partakes of the self-consecration of Jesus Christ who sanctified Himself for our sakes that we might be sanctified in reality and be presented to the Father as those whom He has redeemed and perfected (or consecrated) together with Himself in one. Here He is called to lift up his heart to the ascended Lord, and to look forward to the day when the full reality of his new being in Christ will be unveiled, making Scripture and Sacrament no longer necessary.

Jesus Lived for Us: The Vicarious Humanity of Christ

Jesus the New and True Israel

What do God’s redemptive plan and the movie Inception have in common? Complex layers within complex layers. If you don’t know Inception, the movie is about dreams, and involves dreams within dreams within dreams. Each dream is very different, but also very connected to the dreams on the higher and lower levels. The dreams are all important and, after you wake up, end up changing your real life.

How does this relate to God’s redemptive plan? Like the Inception dreams, the history God shapes with His people has many very different but very connected parts. What happened with Adam is connected to what happened with Noah, which is connected to what happened with Abraham, which is connected to what happened with Isaac, Jacob, and all Israel, which is connected to what happened with Jesus. In fact, from the beginning with Adam, everything that happened was similar to and leading up to Jesus.

The most important connections involve Israel. In order to redeem all humanity, God chose one particular human family starting with Abraham (Gen. 12:3). These people came to be known as Israel, and they were not chosen because they were any different than everyone else (Deut. 9:4-5). In fact, as the whole sweep of the Old Testament reveals, the Israelites were no less messed up than all humanity. They had to be for God to bless all nations through them. If a doctor wants to cure a disease, will he study the healthiest person around and use him to test potential cures? No, he will take an average sick person just like all the rest, so that by curing one of them he can cure them all.

So what happened to Israel? First, they were born from a normal family. After an exile to Egypt, who persecuted them and killed their babies, they were baptized through the waters of the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2) and entered the desert, where they were tempted for 40 years. They received God’s laws so that they would love Him and love each other. As a kingdom of priests, God intended to make them shine before the world so that He would be worshiped by every people. After the 40 years they entered their land and conquered the evil people living there. But they disobeyed, so God let them be conquered themselves and carried off into another exile. Yet He was faithful to His promise, so He brought them back. (See a summary of all this in Acts 7:2-50.)

Since Israel failed so miserably and constantly, God’s plan to bless everyone on earth through them seemed to be at a standstill. How would God save the world if His chosen people were so stubborn and always resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)? As the prophets foretold in shadowy and obscure language, God Himself was going to create the perfect Israelite obedience He was looking for. He became a human being, a Jew Himself, so that despite human problems He could fulfill His covenant from both sides. The human being Jesus, who is the eternal Word of God, acted both as the faithful God and the faithful Israelite. But He couldn’t just start from the middle of their failures. He had to go back and redo the whole project.

Jesus was born in a normal family (Matt. 13:54-56). After escaping to Egypt while Herod killed babies, He was called out of Egypt back to the Promised Land (Matt. 2:15-16). There He was baptized in the waters of the Jordan River (Luke 3:21-22), and after that He entered the desert to be tempted for 40 days (Matt. 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13). He preached to Israel how to really obey God’s law to love Him and others (Matt. 5-7) and made His disciples to be the light of the world for God’s glory (Matt. 5:14-16). Then He went around Israel conquering the forces of evil in all forms: demons, death, suffering, and sin (Matt. 8:16-17). Through the Spirit (Luke 4:14) by means of prayer (Heb. 5:7) He remained obedient to God to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8). But God was faithful to His beloved Son and brought Him back from the dead (Acts 13:30-37).

If you missed the strength of these parallels, try reading the paragraph about Israel again. I didn’t even cover them all. There are several smaller details as well, such as the miraculous feedings (Matt. 14:13-21 with 2 Kings 4:42-44), raising children from the dead (Matt. 9:18-26 with 2 Kings 4:18-37), and judging Jerusalem with the Temple (Luke 21:5-24 with 2 Chron. 36:10,15-19). Jesus relived the history of Israel, but with one crucial difference. Israel gave into temptation and disobeyed, leading to exile, and received a partial restoration simply because God was faithfully merciful, but Jesus resisted temptation and remained obedient, leading to a saving death, and He received a total, one-of-a-kind resurrection because of His own faithfulness to God.

This retelling of Israel’s story in Jesus is actually how we are saved. Israel, as we mentioned before, was only ever made of normal people among normal people. They stood before God as a microcosm of the entire human race. So by blessing and saving Israel God intended to bless and save all the world (again, Gen. 12:1-3). Yet Israel was unfaithful, and was always going to turn out that way, so within God’s chosen people God brought forth His chosen Son, Jesus. Jesus redid and repaired Israel’s history in His own life, winning salvation for His people (Matt. 1:21). His people, by the way, are firstly Israel, since He is a Jew, and secondarily all people, since He is human (Heb. 2:5-18). This is how salvation is from the Jews (John 4:22), and why Paul tells us that salvation and condemnation will come for the Jew first and also the for the Gentiles (Rom. 2:9-10). Jesus’ life fulfilled Israel’s life which fulfills humanity’s life.

Given all this, I can’t think of anything else to say. Words fail the complex reality God has accomplished in His Son. Praise God for Jesus, the new and true Israel!

Jesus the New and True Israel

TULIP Status Update

As many of you know by now, I am no longer a classical Calvinist. But alas, as almost as many of you probably wonder, what I believe on such matters is no longer obvious, either. So for anyone who never read all of my posts on Evangelical Calvinism (located here if you are interested), or for anyone who read them and simply went away confused, I thought I would offer this post as a simple overview of my stance on the five points of Calvinism, aka TULIP. Hopefully, this will be of some clarity. So without further ado, here are my stances on the five points:

Total Depravity: On the point that the human fall has made us all completely incapable on our own of seeking God, to bring Him any faith or good works, I still completely agree. We are altogether lost and dead in our sins from the beginning, and cannot possibly make any free will choice for God. Whatever the state of our human will, we are so corrupt that we only choose against God.

Unconditional Election: On the doctrine that God has, in eternity past, freely and unconditionally chosen a certain mass of humanity for salvation and, either by that choice or as its own choice, a certain mass for damnation, I do not agree at all. The Scriptures are clear in their insistence that God has loved the entire world, and God elects those He loves. I would instead argue that God has chosen all people for Himself, and within all people chose Israel as a special people through whom He would bless all people, and within Israel chose Jesus as the Mediator by whom He would redeem all people, the Jew first and also the Gentile.

Limited Atonement: On the doctrine that Jesus’ death was only intended to apply to the sins of the elect, I also vehemently disagree. A quick glance at the New Testament proves that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was offered on behalf of the entire human race. To say otherwise would be to deny that Jesus’ human nature was real enough to make Him one of us, or that through Jesus’ nature as the divine Word we all exist and were created.

Irresistible Grace: On the belief that the Holy Spirit’s inner call to salvation is offered only to the elect, and to them cannot fail to bring them to faith, I cannot agree. There is a definite current in the New Testament of people being condemned because they resist the Spirit’s work toward salvation. Moreover, if this were the case, then ultimately the reason people do not believe is because God refused to give them the infallible cure to unbelief, yet the Scriptures do not seem to attribute unbelief to God, except in the case of hardening the heart after someone initially displays stubborn unbelief.

Perseverance of the Saints: On the final point that all genuine believers are given by God the gift of enduring to the end and keeping the faith, I more or less agree. The New Testament seems to see two kinds of “believers,” those who have a temporary and shallow faith and eventually fall away, and those who have an unassailable faith wrought by the unfailing work of the Holy Spirit in the irreversible new birth. Despite all struggles, backslides, and lapses, God seems willing and able to keep His saints until the Day of Christ Jesus.

With all this said, I’m sure there are still unanswered questions. So what I’d like to do now is construct my own TULIP, one which represents from a positive perspective what I actually do believe. So here is my TULIP, for the quasi-Evangelical Calvinist.

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Total Inability: In substance the same as total depravity, it simply means that we are too sinful from birth onward, because of our race’s fall, to possibly approach God with any faith or good works on our own. If we are to believe and repent, we will have to be transformed from this very sinful state.
See: Isa. 44:18, Jer. 9:6, 13:23, John 6:44, 65, Rom. 3:9-19, 8:7-8, 11:32, 1 Cor. 2:14

Universal Atonement: The most important difference from classical TULIP, I strongly affirm that Jesus’ work was on behalf of absolutely all people. He lived, died, and rose as the representative of all and the substitute for each. Atonement has no limits except for Christ Himself: it is found in His person and life alone. Moreover, Jesus’ work was objectively efficacious for all, actually accomplishing justification, sanctification, forgiveness, and redemption for each and every person. All that remains is for the Holy Spirit to actually impart this subjectively into the life of lost individuals.
See: Isa. 53:6, Lk. 23:34, John 1:29, 2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, Heb. 2:9, 1 Jn. 2:2

Layered Election: Contra classical Calvinism, I believe that God has chosen the entire human race for Himself, to be His own people and He be their God. This election is the guarantee that God will give Himself for all people. It entered history with the election of Israel as the people though whom God would reveal Himself and bless all nations. Finally, Jesus Himself came from Israel as the Chosen One of God, and by His faithful obedience in His life, death, and resurrection He accomplished the end goal of election, free salvation, for all. By His work He brought redemption to all people, to the Jew first and also to the Gentile. While this layered election at the universal level is designed for salvation, the historical instance of this election is not who God chooses to save but who God chooses as His instruments, servants, and ambassadors to share salvation with all the rest of the world.
See: Gen. 12:3, 18:18, 30:27-30, 39:5, Deut. 4:37, Ps. 72:17, 76:68, Matt. 12:18, Lk. 9:35, John 3:16, Acts 3:25-26, 9:15, Gal. 3:16, Eph. 1:4,  1 Tim. 2:4, Heb. 1:8-9, 1 Pt. 2:3-4, 2 Pt. 3:9

Impossible Grace: I do agree with the classical Calvinists that God’s grace altogether precedes our response, and indeed that God must be working in us through the Holy Spirit for us to be able to believe. When people come to Christ, they do so because of the sovereign and unpredictable work of the Holy Spirit. However, I do not think of this grace as some impersonal force the Spirit pours on us to create faith like some chemical reaction. Instead, we believe because the Spirit imparts to us the very life of Jesus, who is Himself God’s grace. So when we do believe, it is us, yet not us, but Christ believing in us. The faith we exercise in our lives we hold by the faith Jesus Himself held on to throughout His human life. But this is not an exclusive and irresistible call. It is given to very many, if not even all! While it is overwhelming and should be irresistible, by some mysterious and seemingly impossible evil of sin people do indeed refuse this new life of Christ from the Spirit. It doesn’t make sense, but many people do close their eyes, stick their fingers in their ears, and sing loudly to resist the sweet call of Jesus. In this way they smash themselves against the speeding train of God’s love and find themselves condemned.
See: Ezek. 36:26, Matt. 11:27, 16:17, 23:37, John 3:3, 8, 6:44-46, 12:32, Acts 7:51, Gal. 2:20 KJV/NET, Eph. 2:4-10, Phil. 1:29

Preservation by the Spirit: Finally, I am in fairly substantial agreement with the old P in TULIP. The New Testament seems to indicate that there are ultimately two kinds of people who believe in Jesus: there are those with what I call the “faith of the flesh,” which people can muster on their own without the Spirit and usually for wrong motives, and which is always temporary or too shallow to produce any fruit. There are also those with the “faith of the Spirit,” a true and living faith created in Jesus’ life and given to us when the Spirit calls us to new birth, which does produce good fruit and will endure to the end. God remains faithful to these true believers by protecting them from apostasy through His Holy Spirit using Jesus’ perfect faith.
See: Job 17:9, Ps. 37:28, Jer. 32:38-40, Matt. 10:22, 24:24, Lk. 8:4-15, John 4:14, 6:37-39, 10:28-30, Gal. 6:9, Phil. 2:12-13, Heb. 3:14, 10:39, 1 Pt. 1:3-5, 1 Jn. 2:19, Jd. 1:20-21

TULIP Status Update