Category Archives for Doctrine

Just Say What the Bible Says

December 6, 2017

By Nick Floyd
Lead Teaching Pastor, Cross Church Northwest, AR

Every pastor deals with a certain reality every single week. I’ve heard it referenced as the “relentless return of Sunday.” You preach your heart out, pour yourself empty, and exhaust yourself physically and emotionally only to wake up on Monday or Tuesday and realize the process begins for another week. In many ways, it is equivalent to writing and presenting a research paper every single week.

Any honest pastor will tell you there are days when you stare blankly at a certain passage of Scripture and have the thought, “How do I preach this?” We question how to make it into an outline. We wonder how we can apply this to our people’s everyday lives. Sometimes we even wonder what in the world the passage means!

I’ve discovered a secret that has been more helpful to me in sermon preparation than any other principle. I also believe it’s the key to personal discipleship, to counseling burdened people, and even to sharing the Gospel with a lost friend. Here’s the principle: Just say what the Bible says.

That may sound overly simplistic. In fact, I bet when you read that statement, you thought it was an extremely elementary thing. I understand that. I really do. I also believe that sometimes we complicate preaching, discipleship, counseling, and evangelism. I want to encourage you to begin implementing this simple principle in your everyday life. Here’s how this statement affects the following areas.

Preaching

There are passages that are difficult to preach. Shocker, right? Some texts are hard to understand, difficult to work into an outline, or tough to try to apply to a group of people. My guiding principle throughout this is to just say what the Bible says. I believe it was Paige Patterson who once said, “Expository preaching is getting your people to read their Bible.” There is perhaps no better way to implement expository preaching than to just say what the Bible says. No more, no less. It’s important to notice that the most important question in sermon preparation is not, “What does the commentary say?” God wrote a book. Let that book speak to the people of God.

Discipleship

What is successful discipleship? People would probably answer this in a myriad of ways. I believe all successful discipleship has one thing in common: an intensified passion and focus on the Word of God in the life of the person being discipled. If that happens, then it truly will affect all other areas of his life. In other words, if we can get that person to begin to just say what the Bible says, we have helped put him on the path toward an abiding walk with Christ.

Counseling

The Word of God affects all of counseling. It doesn’t matter if it is a professional counseling environment or one friend counseling another over coffee. We have all had those difficult times in the midst of counseling someone else or simply giving advice to a friend where we have come to that line. You know, THAT line. Do I take a step out and tell him what he really needs to hear? Do I tell him what God’s standard is for his life? Or do I cower back in fear and just say something to appease him? We should maneuver through these times by simply saying what the Bible says.

Evangelism

The reality of heaven and hell are tough things for a lost culture to grapple with. If we’re honest, it is a difficult message to deliver to people who don’t believe the same way we do. Some, in an attempt to be loving and inclusive, change what the Bible says to make it more palatable to a lost person. How unloving! The most loving thing we could ever do is say what the Bible says. The Bible speaks of repentance, of faith, of surrender, of taking up your cross, of following the Lord Jesus Christ. Those words are life. Just say what the Bible says.

I truly believe that if you’ll begin to practice this principle in your everyday life, you’ll see the Lord do some amazing things. God loves to work in the lives of those who hold His Word as the source of life and truth in the world. Will you take God at His Word? Will you just say what the Bible says?

Calvinists Believe in Unequal Grace

December 5, 2017

By Ronnie Rogers, Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church Norman, OK

Calvinists are deterministic in the compatible style.[1] All determinists argue that events happen because they were determined to happen in the way they happened. Events are the result of God’s determined plan and salvation cannot be conditioned upon faith.

Arguing for determinism, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange wrote, “The singling out of one from another must finally be sought not in the human will, but in God who singles out one from another by His Grace.”[2] He cites such verses as 1 Corinthians 4:7, Romans 9:15, and Philippians 2:14.[3]

He specifically engages the issue of libertarian free choice in his argument against Molinism. He provides a good example of how determinists argue against libertarian freedom in general and as related to salvation in particular. Garrigou-Lagrange says, “Let us suppose that Peter and Judas situated in equal circumstances receive equal prevenient grace; then God sees Peter consenting to accept that grace, and hence singling himself out from Judas who does not consent, not on account of the grace, for an equal grace is indifferently offered to each. Therefore it is because the will decides to accept the grace. Thus do all Thomists argue against Molina, and they thus affirm as revealed the principle that can be called ‘the principle of predilection,’ namely, that no one would be better than another unless he were loved more and helped more by God.’”[4] Here are my thoughts on his comments according to my understanding of Scripture.

  1. The principle of predilection highlights Calvinism’s commitment to the deterministic inequality of God’s love and grace (Peter could not have made a better choice without God providing him more love and grace than Judas). It also equates a person being better than another because he made a better decision. As Calvinists see it, if Peter exercises his will to believe, he is better than Judas because he made a better decision. But that is not actually true. Simply making a better choice does not necessarily make or demonstrate the person doing so is essentially better than someone else; it only demonstrates the choice is better.

    Humans are essentially equal (Gen 1:26–27), even the ones who make bad decisions. According to libertarian freedom, Peter is not saved because he is a better person even though he did make a better choice, which is precisely the nature of libertarian beings—choosing between options, some of which are better or worse than their counterparts. Sometimes the better person, non-essentially speaking, may actually make a worse choice than his less noble counterpart within a given range of options. For example, we see this when an atheist or thief may make a better choice than a Christian in the context of a particular choice, range of options, or an equivalent opportunity. This does not entail that the atheist, person without God in his life, is better than the Christian in whom God dwells. 

Once the better choice is made by Peter, the consequences of salvation do clearly make Peter an essentially better person, but obviously that is only because of grace. Therefore, according to Extensivism, both the choice and the betterment resulting from the choice are due to the grace of God.[5] To wit, no aspect of salvation in Extensivism (or existence for that matter) happens apart from grace. It is neither necessary nor expected that this fit Calvinism’s determinism; only that it fits what we find in Scripture. Thomists (Calvinists) seem not to be able to conceptualize God’s plan being comprised of his equal love and help for everyone, including grace-enabled freedom to choose differently. We should not be surprised to find Calvinism’s exclusivism here since it pervades the core tenets of Calvinism—unconditional election, limited atonement, and selective regeneration.

  1. Garrigou-Lagrange relates the will to grace differently than seems best. Although he begins his argument by saying there is “equal prevenient grace,” he then seems to move the will to a place that at least appears to be less dependent upon grace. He says, “God sees Peter consenting to accept that grace . . . not on account of the grace . . . Therefore it is because the will decides to accept the grace.” 

First, I would note it is not the will per se that decides, but it is the libertarianly-endowed Peter and Judas as the efficient causes of their actions who decide. Each decides and carries out his decision by exercising his will. Second, being so constituted to possess libertarian freedom is solely a grace act of God in creation, and therefore, not some rogue force operating outside or contrary to the plan and grace of God; it would only seem to be so in a Calvinistically-determined system. Third, the ability to exercise their will in choosing is always by grace, regardless of their choice. Peter’s choice to consent was no more a choice provisioned by grace than Judas’s choice to not consent. Each is able to choose differently because it was the will of God for man to be able to do so. That is to say, God’s endowment of man with libertarian freedom does not attenuate the need for and presence of grace. Consequently, Garrigou-Lagrange’s issue seems to be with God’s decision to endow man with libertarian freedom. What if God said to him, I chose for the will to work libertarianly rather than deterministically as you teach? Would he say that cannot be?

  1.  Garrigou-Lagrange seems to contend that equal grace must result in the same outcome. This seems to presuppose the correctness of determinism, which necessitates a rejection of otherwise choice. Looking at it in reverse, different outcomes necessarily demonstrate either an unequal grace opportunity or that something outside of grace is in play; here it is the will. It seems he is willing to accept libertarian freedom so long as it means one can only choose a certain action given the same past, opportunity—libertarianism compatibly defined.

    This idea is either explicit or implicit in all the arguments I have encountered that contend if salvation is conditioned upon faith, then the person who gets saved is either wiser or more virtuous than the one who does not; therefore, he is saved by a mixture of grace and human merit. If their argument was correct, such can only mean that man receives some of the glory or credit for his salvation. I think the premise that equal grace must result in the same outcome is invalid. He also appears to presuppose that God’s granting of grace is only given to procure a determined choice rather than the certainty of otherwise choice. To wit, determinists make the only possible goal of grace to be a predetermined outcome rather than an outcome resulting from grace-enabled otherwise choice; they simply assume determinism is correct before the conclusion, thereby, subtly and unjustifiably superimposing the restraints of determinism upon Extensivism. Garrigou-Lagrange does not demonstrate why grace is so restricted apart from determinism. 

It may be cogently argued that equal grace is the raison d’être (reason for being) for otherwise choice resulting in different outcomes, as Extensivism contends. Garrigou-Lagrange says that Peter’s singling himself out is “not on account of the grace, for an equal grace is indifferently offered to each. Therefore it is because the will decides to accept the grace.” In this, he presupposes, but does not demonstrate, if individuals can exercise their will differently given the same grace, that such ability cannot be the result of grace. But there is actually no reason, outside of a deterministic system, why a person’s freedom to will different outcomes cannot be because of grace as indeed Extensivism argues.

He is simply limiting the purpose of grace to ensure a certain outcome rather than grace enabling man, at times, to create different outcomes. This means that Garrigou-Lagrange’s limitation is not imposed by Scripture, logic, the inability of God, or a deficiency of grace, but rather determinism’s narrowness precludes such a state of affairs. He seems to have simply drawn his conclusion that the equal grace did not include the will (technically the efficient cause) to be able to choose differently within the same grace, which is, in fact, the essence of libertarian freedom. Therefore he says that the singling out is “not on account of grace” (if libertarian freedom was true). But Extensivism contends that the singling out is precisely because of grace that affords otherwise choice in an equal opportunity.

  1. Garrigou-Lagrange seems to elide the grace permitting Judas’s choice. He notes only Peter’s act of “singling himself out.” Of course, Peter’s choice did single him out, but did not Judas, having the same grace opportunity, single himself out by not consenting to the invitation of the sovereign God? One may easily infer, as I do, that his argument (about how libertarian freedom operates) includes the reality that Judas’s act to reject God was not one of grace; at least if he does consider it so, it is neither stated nor obvious. However, I contend that every sin and thought of defiance about or regarding the sovereign that does not lead to instant obliteration from the face of the earth and being hurled into eternal torment is because of grace. One does not so choose and then continue to live because of some intrinsic merit of the person (Rom 2:4; Acts 17:26–31).

    Libertarian freedom is given and operates only because of and in God’s grace, and it is God’s will that a person exercises his will. God does not desire man to choose evil, but he does desire man to make an actual choice between accessible options, which happens only in the context of grace. Libertarian freedom entails that different people, given the same opportunity, can make different choices because equal grace does not necessitate equal outcomes.
  1. Garrigou-Lagrange indicates that Calvinism’s compatible and decretal freedom is all grace, but yet libertarian freedom cannot be by grace, as though God is incapable of such a feat. Although I do not accept Calvinism and compatibilism, I do believe if God did choose to so operate, it would be by grace; it is not something beyond the ability of God. Calvinists seem to either find it impossible, or they are unwilling to consider the same is true of libertarian freedom. Maybe because it requires thinking God is not limited to determinism.

    It is clear to me that whether God endowed man with a compatible free will or a libertarian free will, each would have been designed by God and given by God. Therefore, each is, including all its entailments, by God’s grace. According to Compatibilism, the person freely chooses but does not have a choice. God decided this by grace. The result of the determined person’s choice is a determined act of the grace-provided will. According to Libertarianism, the person chooses between accessible options. God decided this by grace. The result of the non-determined person’s choice is a non-determined act of the grace-provided will.

Garrigou-Lagrange’s portrayal is that if a person can by an exercise of his will choose a better outcome than someone else, it demonstrates a greater grace and love from God. This conclusion is true in Calvinism’s determinism but it is not demonstrated in Scripture nor is it logically necessary in a non-deterministic approach such as Extensivism. Extensivism contends Scripture teaches everything is by grace, including libertarian freedom and its entailments.

[1] Compatibilism contends that determinism and moral responsibility (free choice) are compatible; hence the name. Free choice is not attained by lessening the deterministic nature of compatibilism. Rather, it is derived from defining free choice to mean so long as one chooses from his greatest desire, he has made a free choice. Importantly, the greatest desire is determined; consequently, compatibilism provides only a determined free choice.
[2] Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The One God, tr Dom. Bede Rose (St. Louis: B. Herder, 1944), 462. Garrigou-Lagrange was a prominent 20th century neo-Thomist. See also Thomas P. Flint, Divine Providence, The Molinist Account, ed. William P. Alston (New York: Cornell University Press), 117.
[3] “Theological Determinism” from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource, http://www.iep.utm.edu/theo-det/ accessed 1/3/16. See responses by indeterminists to his argument.
[4] Garrigou-Lagrange, One God, 463, quoted by Flint, Divine Providence.
[5] Extensivist is used in the place of non-Calvinist.

 

Baptist or Badtist?

October 27, 2017

By Walker Moore
Awestar Ministries

With my semi-retirement coming up, I have been reflecting on the journey God has taken me on. In 1973, when I was 22, First Baptist Church of Wyaconda, Missouri, called for my ordination.

In those days, ordination was taken seriously, and a church would only call for your ordination if you had demonstrated real evidence of God’s calling on your life. I don’t mean to downplay modern ordinations, but it seems to me that the church is ordaining people as fast as the copier can print. I am of the old school that says there should be a period of testing and examination of those who feel called.

I also understand the struggle of that calling. It is hard to tell if the feeling you have in your heart is from God or the hot sauce at Senor Fajita’s restaurant. In either case, you need the Lord.

Back in those days, ordinations were far and few in between. I was nervous about the whole process. On the Sunday of my ordination, the church set aside an entire afternoon to examine my doctrine. A chair was placed in the center of the platform, and the auditorium was full of ordained deacons and pastors from all over the county. I took the hot seat, and the examination began.

The first question they asked was about my testimony and how I came to saving faith in Christ. I told the story of how I was lost, without hope and unable to save myself. I told of how I called upon the shed blood of Christ to cleanse me and asked Jesus to become the Lord of my life, promising to follow Him the rest of my days. They asked me to quote Scriptures to back up each of my points.

Another man stood up and asked me to testify about how God called me into the ministry. I told the story of how I was going my own way when God tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear that he wanted me to preach the gospel. (I left out the part about the hot sauce; these were very serious men.)

Still another man asked me to explain what my spiritual gift was and how it had manifested itself in my life. Again, I responded with Scriptures and testimonies of God using me in teaching for the church.

For the next three hours, I sat there, sweating, as they grilled me on every possible doctrine: salvation, justification, sanctification, the Second Coming and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. These men were just warming up. Even though many were laymen, they knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards and could preach the gospel at the drop of a hat.

They were almost through when one of them had another question for me: Would I always preach in a Baptist church?

“No, sir,” I said simply.

There was a collective gasp and a rustling in the pews as they turned and looked at each other. Did they hear correctly? In their mind, I had just gone from being a Baptist to Badtist.

The man who asked the question looked stunned. “Maybe you didn’t understand. Will you always preach in a Baptist church?”

Again, I answered simply, “No, sir.”

“Where do you think you’re going to preach?” he asked.

I explained to him that my calling was not to be a Baptist but a defender of the truth, preaching hope to the lost, those in need of a Savior.  I would preach “in season and out of season” (1 Tim. 4:2). If no one came, then I would do what the Lord said in the book of Luke: “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that My house may be filled” (Luke 14:23, KJV). I told him if God allowed me, I would keep going until I had preached to the uttermost parts of the earth. “Yes, I am a Baptist, and I will probably be asked mostly by Baptists to come and preach,” I explained. “But if God opens other doors, I will step in and proclaim His Word.”

After I finished, the men dismissed themselves to convene a council to discuss my answers. It seemed to take forever, but after an hour, they came out, laid hands on me and presented me to the church. I was glad it was over. And almost 45 years later, I still feel the same. The author of Acts says it best: I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24, NIV).

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