Archive for the ‘Book of Romans’ Tag

COMMUNICATING WITH OTHERS PART ONE – PARENTING

Dear all – I don’t want the site to lie dormant whilst I get back to grips with a new term at school. Therefore I’ve decided to share a few replies to others that I’ve posted or sent of late.

First off – a comment in response to an atheist friends’ blog on corporal punishment. He is against it and has strongly criticised Dr James Dobson’s insistence that it is the loving thing to do (Dobson himself was apparently extensively beaten as a child). He vows not to allow brutality and pain a part in his soon-to-be-born daughter’s upbringing…

My comment:

” I was interested by this, enough to step out from lurking in the shadows for once! I totally disagree with you (although I entirely respect your choice and motives), and not necessarily on religious grounds alone. I’ve just always felt that moderate and controlled smacking – not done as an angry outburst – is a harmless and effective deterrent. Did me no harm whatsoever, nor my parents before me, nor most of our mates… I do get annoyed when the currently overwhelming tide of mistrust and political correctness tries to portray those who do it as abusers; particularly in light of a generation of spoiled and pampered kids starved of discipline and lacking, as a whole, respect for those around them. That’s not merely a changed perspective as I age – kids genuinely don’t have the same automatic wariness and respect around their elders as we did. It’s seen in everything from the failure to surrender a seat to the ubiquitous loud playing of music or swearing on a crowded bus.


There is a Christian element to it – in my assumption that people are not naturally ‘good’, but need to know rebellion carries unwelcome consequences (a conviction hugely strengthened by my 6 years as a teacher!). But that’s not the primary motive on this one – I just think it works. I hate most the assumption that I can’t be trusted to administer such punishment lovingly and without excess or recognising limitations. It’s the same suspicion for all that has led the state to tell me I can’t lay a hand on a pupil or be alone in a room with him because I’m most likely a paedophile. Such fear is only prevalent in a morally baseless and deeply troubled society. One that, at present, trusts children too much and adults too little…

 

PS As for Dobson – I haven’t read the book, so I can’t judge. But I would certainly agree that love includes discipline. If kids don’t learn tough lessons from us, applied with the motive of care and improvement, they will certainly learn them elsewhere with an outcome less sure. All kids are moulded by their formative experiences – it is more loving they learn that wrong behaviour results in discomfort than that they perceive there are no real consequences to their antisocial conduct. That said, if your summary of his experiences are true, it does sound like brutality and abuse – pure and simple. I learned my lessons without any need for bruises or tools beyond the palm (or back) of a hand…

 

PPS And just in case it seemed I was being careful to leave God out of this one – yes the obvious analogy stands. I do believe God disciplines us in love for the good of our eventual character, just as does a parent (Romans 5:3-4). And a spoiled and whingeing Christian is just as unappealing as a spoiled and whingeing kid! “

What do you think? Decent comment. Is corporal punishment OK?

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GOOD INTENTIONS

There’s been a notable lack of self-flagellating angst on this site of late. Well, let’s make amends. Truth is, I am rubbish in school holidays and I can’t abide it. I have made God-assisted strides in introducing discipline and constancy into my term-time routine. My diligence then is relatively assured when it comes to quiet times, completion of the work I’m paid for and the avoidance of some of those bad habits I will always battle as a pathetic sinner. However, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, the lack of school acts as rug pulled from under my routine. Without an alarm to signal the enforced start to my day things like quiet times and work (anything productive in fact) become things to be put off ever further into the expanse of hours unfolding before me. Faced with time on my hands, I will fall into those traps of sloth, gluttony and lust (I’m not confessing to internet-assisted sin here – that lies in my past, but my imagination is more than capable of filling in the blanks) recognised by any underemployed bloke.

It’s horrible, but the worst of it is that I don’t address it – which is where you, the reader, become my accountability partner. Those, like my wife or fellow-prayer tripleteers whom have heard me moan about this for years have every right to ask – why not set the alarm? Why not schedule activities for those hours and leave the house in doing so? And the horrible truth of the matter? Well, part of me relishes these lapses – part of me, my sinful nature, is forever counting down the weeks to falling off the wagon. Which is why we’re back at another ‘enough is enough’ moment. It is time to repent – and that means more than saying ‘sorry’. It means turning away from my sin, and walking in a different direction. Holidays are no longer outside of my drive to grow in godliness. That would be to run this race whilst neglecting to acknowledge the rules; to claim status as a soldier whilst engaging in civilian affairs (2 Timothy 2, if you hadn’t spotted it!). Come half term, I will allude to this post and will pledge to report on my progress. It is important to set a precedent prior to the vast stretch of the summer holidays – a blessing yes, but dangerous indeed if misused.

So, soul bared, this issue constitutes the first of my list of good intentions for the coming term; intentions I will now share with you. They will not make me any better a person or more deserving of salvation. However, I believe they represent a healthy attempt to fight the ongoing battle within me as described in Romans 7 – a war between my worldly nature and an indwelling Spirit of righteousness. Pray that, by God’s help, I may not fail entirely!

 

Andy’s List of Good Intentions this term:

 

  1. Sort out attitude at half term – same rules apply as at any other time!
  2. Put wife’s needs before my own without resentment, particularly in light of her imminent operation, hospitalisation and subsequent recuperation
  3. Buy food/cup of tea for the homeless I pass in town who ask for money (social justice)
  4. Read Christian books – and finish them!! (By half term – Stott’s The Cross of Christ, Carson’s How Long O Lord, Lewis’s Mere Christianity and Driscoll’s Vintage Jesus all to be finished! (3 out of the 4 currently at various stages of incompletion!))
  5. Continue blogging at least weekly
  6. Get guitar strapped and practise in order to be of better service in church worship!
  7. Spend time on internet only after required work has been done for the day
  8. Bring the gospel in some manner to each non-Christian friend, either by one-on-one chat, by invitation, by email correspondence, or by lending a book
  9. Maintain weekly Bible study with wife
  10. Cycle to work instead of driving 3 times a week this term (good financial stewardship)
  11. Save some money each month
  12. Prepare properly for each lesson I teach (diligence and witness in work)
  13. Prepare properly for school Christian Union sessions – put together series on The Sermon on the Mount
  14. Take some responsibility for development at least one younger Christian who has recently joined church

I’ll let you know…

AM I A CALVINIST??

NEW DISCLAIMER HERE – REPLACING THE ONE ALLUDING TO LENGTH. I HAVE MADE A COUPLE OF ALTERATIONS SINCE POSTING – ONE TO AMEND AN INACCURACY, ONE TO CORRECT AN OFFENSIVE SLIP OF THE ‘PEN’. SORRY FOR THE ORIGINAL OVERSIGHTS (sorry mum!)!

Well here’s my third attempt at answering the title question. The first two never made it onto the site. Never has a post waylaid me for so long or caused my brain to so ache. It has led to fascinating conversations with good Christian chaps (thank you Colin, Stu and Tom) and the odd argument along the way. And I think I have found some kind of resolution…

Why does any of this matter? Isn’t a Christian a Christian?? Well, sadly, we all know that’s not quite the case in these fallen times. A quick perusal of this the internet will quickly confirm that countless numbers of those labelling themselves as followers of Christ hold views barely comprehensible, or indeed palatable, to my church mates or I. And I’m quite sure others feel the same about us. So, if the church means anything; if we are to be anything more truthful and integral than another messy forum for human opinions and priorities; then we must attempt to get a handle on God’s truth. And truth must exist, for if God is OK with everything done or believed in His name then he is hypocritical bordering on schizophrenic. So, I will trust in the Bible because, without it, I have nothing to go on but the subjective experiences and accounts of flawed humankind. So, to put it another way, if the Bible is Calvinist (and Perkins, Driscoll, Piper, Carson etc etc would say it is) then so must I be.

Not that it’s easy. I was raised a Baptist – my dad a Methodist and my mum a High Church Anglican (AUTHOR’S NOTE: MY VERY CROSS MOTHER HAS DEMANDED AN APOLOGY, ASSURING ME SHE MOST CERTAINLY WASN’T ‘HIGH CHURCH’, AND THAT MY GRANDFATHER WOULD HAVE A FIT AT THE SUGGESTION. SORRY!!).  All of these would generally be seen as Arminian, ie not Calvinist. What’s the difference?? Well most of it lies in that old favourite – predestination. The Calvinist sees the God of the Bible as a God who controls all things, at all levels; who has chosen those who He saves and who ordains all things by His plans and purposes. Arminius on the other hand was insistent that, for our conversion and faith to be in any way genuine, or our sins to be deserving of punishment, they must each be our own decisions, borne of free will. Arminians thus teach that God’s ‘elect’ are simply those whom God, by His omniscience, knows will respond favourably by their free will to the offer of eternal life by the blood of Christ. They would point out that, in the famous passage from Romans 8, it is ‘those He foreknew’ whom He ‘predestined’.

It is more conceptually comfortable to humankind that way, to be sure. However, Calvinists would argue that the Bible is stronger than that – that God is far less passive than such a reading would imply. They point out that Jesus says that the ‘blessed of the Father’ shall inherit a kingdom prepared for them ‘since the beginning of the world’ (Matthew 25:34), and that Jesus ‘shall lose none of all that He (God) has given me’, but will ‘raise them up at the last day’ (John 6:39). Most convincingly, among many clear verses, is Ephesians 1:11, in which Paul writes that ‘we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will‘. It is hardly worth noting that, for even one person to be chosen, or for one biblical prophecy to be fulfilled, an imponderably vast number of strings must be pulled by God in order to make true to His plans. Would this ever include not ‘electing’ someone? Well, the Calvinist will always point out that He hardened the Pharoah’s heart – so bringing about pestilence and judgement on an epic scale – so that His people whom He loved may be freed to reach the land He had promised them. Judas Iscariot too was ‘lost’ ‘that the Scripture might be fulfilled’ (John 6:12) – it certainly wasn’t an accident, but was part of God’s good plan.

It would indeed then seem undeniable then God predestines and actively controls according to the Bible… yet Arminians are not just indulging in wishful or rebellious thinking. The Bible consistently does talk of an offer of salvation open to all. A Calvinist must make some interpretive leaps (AUTHORS NOTE: I HAVE CHANGED THIS FROM ‘LIBERTIES’, HAVING DECIDED IT IS VERY OFFENSIVE AND MISLEADING TO SUGGEST THAT CALVINISTS ‘TAKE LIBERTIES’ WITH SCRIPTURE. I OFFENDED MYSELF READING IT BACK!) with biblical text in viewing all universal language as referring, in fact, only to those God has elected. Paul certainly appears on this side of the argument also: In 1 Timothy 2 he writes of God our Saviour; ‘Who will have all men to be saved… who gave Himself as a ransom for all’. In Hebrews, Jesus tastes death, ‘for every man’. In John, of course, God so loved ‘the world’… not just a few within it. We know, of course, that justification is by faith; and Jesus was prone to congratulate people for the extent of their faith. The language is of a human choice well made, rather than of divine coercion. An Arminian might see the direct and undeniable intervention of God in the Pharoah’s heart as an exception worth recording – much as that made in the memorable case of Saul/Paul en route to Damascus – rather than as a rule. This is not after all a God unable to choose and deliver – but one who values submission made of free will – a free will allowed by a God who could easily withdraw it, and sometimes perhaps does. The Calvinist alleges that an Arminian is attempting to take some share of the credit for their salvation. However, and this thought is my own, is there really any credit to be found in the guilty allowing an innocent man to take their place in the electric chair?

So what do I think?? You can well see that I’m sympathetic towards elements of both sides of the dispute. Am I then merely a fence-sitter? Well no… at this point I’d like to allude to the story of the woman who poured her expensive jar of perfume over Jesus’ head whilst he sat with his disciples, much to the disapproval of Judas (Mark 14). Why? Well, we see two clear and undeniable things going on – the plans of God and the plans of mankind. First, God is fulfilling His gigantic purposes – Jesus is being symbolically anointed for burial on the eve of his long-prophesied death. This is not a coincidence. People’s actions are played out entirely according to His vast and perfectly realised plan. I see the same in the unfolding of my own life according to his sovereign intention. I am exactly where God would have me at this point of my life. Second though, the woman is choosing to spend a year’s wages on showing her love for Christ. Jesus is mightily impressed, telling the group that ‘wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her’. She has genuinely made a good decision worthy of praise and reward, just as did Noah or numerous others lauded in the Bible. Judas soon made a bad decision, worthy of great punishment, as did the Sodomites or numerous others condemned in the Bible. Both interpretations – that seeing here free will and that seeing divine dictation – are entirely valid, yet the explanation of how the two can co-exist is entirely and irrevocably beyond us. But then, as soon as we accept both, we cannot put God’s actions and our own on an even footing. He is the creator, we the creation, so His will clearly trumps and ordains ours. Thus, I am a Calvinist, but not a smug and triumphant one, nor one who supposes I have it all figured out. After all, we live in the realm of the woman who bought the perfume. We must make our decisions, and are accountable for them. The realm of God’s purposes is generally well beyond our scope – even beyond that of the angels, who simply rejoice when they see a sinner repent (Luke 15:10) – but it is nonetheless real and ultimately all important.

So I am perhaps a ‘conceptual Calvinist’, utterly convinced of God’s ultimate control; utterly sure that I was unable to save myself (‘Total Depravity’), that I did nothing to deserve my salvation (‘Unconditional Election’), that God has chosen not to save everyone (‘Limited Atonement’), and that God will, by His Spirit, convince and deliver all of those He has elected (‘Irresistible Grace’ & ‘Persistence of the Saints’). But I’m not sure I’m a practical Calvinist, as many implications of these ‘five points’ are practically beyond our knowledge and understanding in the here and now. To be a practical Calvinist is to risk grieving less for our sins – after all, they were ordained by God and no other outcome was possible; to strive less in evangelism – after all, God has already chosen his elect, regardless of who I decide to invite to church. Such fatalism is absolutely contrary to all biblical instruction and neglects the fact that, contrary to appearance, we have absolutely no idea who has ultimately been elected and who hasn’t. That’s why I believe the ‘Persistence of the Saints’, in particular, to be almost unhelpful to dwell on. After all, however Spirit-filled I may be, however strong my love for other Christians, however powerful my witness and however evident my growth in godliness… I could still lose my faith, deny Jesus and curse God, securing eternal punishment for myself in doing so. It has happened to better than me. Then the Calvinist sighs ‘well, he was never a Christian to begin with’. Conceptually it is true – God cannot ‘lose’ those he has elected for heaven. But it’s a pretty meaningless statement from our perspective – as far as any of us can possibly tell I am indeed a Christian! Satan is a roaring lion and it will take discipline and work to keep him and his lies at bay. We must work, and evangelise, and PRAY, as if it is all important. That is the world that we are ordained to live in, whatever mysteries we are assured lie beyond it. It is also the world we preach – telling people to repent and believe for salvation, not telling them that they’re helpless and dependent on the will and action of God’s Spirit outside of their control.

Furthermore, as Calvinists, we cannot answer every question and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. No human mind can truly get their head around the paradox that God, who controls all, creates all and ordains all in this world, then remains blameless for the rebellion, rape and murder done within it. Sometimes we really must accept that God created this outrageously beautiful world, that He gave His son that we might know Him, and that His character is thus such that we can trust Him even when we don’t understand. Plus, we must remember that we’re not saved by the strength of our doctrine, but by faith in Christ and repentance. There are many who truly love Christ, who shine as lights for Him in this world and who serve Him mightily, who nevertheless have never heard of Calvin nor lost a moment’s sleep over predestination. The intellectualisation of Christianity can be a distraction from the golden rules to actively love God and our neighbours. That’s not to say this was a waste of time – I want to know my doctrinal foundations are firm, biblical and bear scrutiny – but it’s Christ, not Calvin, who will save me.