Human Free Will Within God’s Providential Control

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Joseph’s brothers sell him into captivity (1855, Konstantin Flavitsky)

Note: The following post is an excerpt from my third eBook — God’s Acts of Providence.  If you have an iOS device (i.e. an Apple device) then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found using this link.

Background

If God allows our wills freedom to operate then what happens when our corrupt wills collide with God’s eternal decrees?  It appears that God weaves His eternal purposes into the fabric of our willful acts.  That is, though we do indeed make decisions and take actions that are based upon our free wills, God is able to ensure that the accumulated result accomplishes His purposes.

The most notable Biblical story that reveals this dynamic is Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37-50).  Recall that Issac became the child of the fulfilled promise to Abraham and Sarah.  In turn Issac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  Although the younger, it was through Jacob’s line that God chose for the keeping of His promise.  Jacob had twelve sons, the second youngest of whom was Joseph.

Joseph’s Story

To call Jacob’s family dysfunctional may be an understatement.  Jacob showed extreme favoritism towards Joseph, who responded by becoming conceited and boastful.  Not surprisingly this situation created great resentfulness in his ten older brothers.  They eventually became so furious that they decided to sell Joseph into slavery and tell their father that he had been killed by a beast.

Joseph ended up in the Egyptian empire.  There he experienced great danger and suffering.  However, due to God’s gift of prophecy, Joseph miraculously ended up being the second most powerful man in Egypt, with only the Pharaoh above him.

Although the story centers on Joseph in Egypt for a long period of time, we are told that his brothers’ scheme crushed their father’s spirit.  One need no special gift of imagination to infer that their father’s grief coupled with the keeping of a shameful lie must have created gaping wounds in the family’s life.

None of the people in this story were originally attempting to cooperate with God’s providential purposes.  Quite the contrary, they were driven by pride, envy, greed, hatred and selfishness, among many other moral failings.  One would be hard pressed to create a family situation less supportive of God’s purposes.  In fact, their wills appear to have been aligned directly against God by tending to destroy the very family through which God sought to fulfill His promise!

And yet, in the end, it is God’s will that is done.  Not only does Jacob’s family survive, but it does so because of the sequence of sinful events willed by the human participants.  That is, because Joseph becomes powerful in Egypt he can offer his family salvation from a devastating famine.

Bourgeois_Joseph_recognized_by_his_brothers

Joseph recognized by his brothers (1863, Leon Pierre Bourgeois).  Joseph’s brothers didn’t recognize him until long after they had been introduced to the second most powerful man in Egypt.

Far beyond mere physical survival, the experiences of Joseph and his brothers create in them softened hearts, humility and mercy that enable the family to reconcile.  This process only reaches completion upon the death of Jacob.  For, in spite of Joseph’s apparent kindness, his brothers yet fear that he is only waiting until Jacob’s death to take revenge.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.”  So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died:  ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him.  His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.”  But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.  So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Genesis 50:15-21

In Joseph’s astounding statement we find wondrous insight into God’s working of His providential purposes within context of human free will.  There is unambiguous clarity that Joseph’s brothers were willfully intending evil when they sold him into slavery.  However, there is also no doubt that God’s intentions were the exact opposite, and, were operating throughout.  How can these apparently contradictory statements be reconciled?

Meditation

Put another way, where in creation does God have the opportunity to inject His will so as to ensure a chosen outcome within context of human free will?  Here we enter the realm of conjecture.  However, it is conjecture illuminated by the entire Biblical story concerning God’s dealing with mankind.

One obvious place to look is the dimension of time.  We can easily recall numerous historical events when the difference of hours, or even minutes, had a controlling impact on the outcome.  For example, had the caravan to which Joseph was sold arrived hours later his brothers might have decided to kill him (Genesis 37:25-28).  Is it beyond God’s power to influence the sequence of events in time so as to cause a desired result?

Or consider the dimension of human character.  We all should be able to agree that each human being has a unique, multifaceted character that powerfully influences how they respond to ideas and events.  Is it beyond the power of God to imprint upon us character traits that will lead to our freely choosing one path over another?  Does not Scripture explicitly teach that this is indeed so?

For Scripture says of Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. Romans 9:17,18 (NIV)

Who are we to say just where and how this hardening of Pharaoh occurred?  Is it beyond God’s power to create particular character traits that will cause one person to freely respond in one way to a set of circumstances and another differently?  Can this not be an aspect of God’s action when we are being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14)?

These two possibilities are not intended to definitively explain how God’s acts of providence operate.  Rather, they are intended to expand the scope of our investigation to allow room for God’s acting within the simultaneous application of our free wills.

Perhaps a generalized statement of the above specific examples would be:

God, through various and sundry means that are independent of human will is able to ensure that the accumulated result of events will lead to the outcome that He has foreordained from eternity.

Of course, as we have seen in this work and throughout the Bible, none of this precludes God from directly intervening in creation as He deems fit.  However even on these occasions the dynamic is not that of a puppet master pulling strings, but rather of the infinite, eternal God engaging in relationship with frail flesh and blood.  That is, even within these direct invasions of the divine room is made for the operation of our wills.

Thus, the only issue excluded from influence of our wills is that of our salvation.  However, as we have seen, were God to here leave us to our own devices no one would be saved.  Thus our merciful God only overpowers our wills in the one place that they are utterly helpless.

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Taking Stock at the 500th Post

500posts

General Comments

So here I am writing the 500th post on this blog!  The first post is dated November 25, 2014 and titled “Opening Thoughts.”  My first paragraph is:

This blog will focus on my sense of sojourning through a foreign land as an orthodox, Reformed Christian.  This sense has been a longstanding one with regard to the popular culture here in the United States. I am by no means isolated from this country’s entertainment, political and business cultures.  In fact, I am an active participant in them all.  Though many aspects of these cultures are troubling, I am accustomed to dealing with the challenges and benefits that they provide.

Looking back 499 posts later I’m reasonably comfortable with my adherence to this framework.  That being the responses of an orthodox Reformed Christian to a wide variety of issues within the United States.

I am shocked by the speed that this “foreign land” has expanded over these mere four and a half years.  At the start my sense of alienation was clear but not central. Now I find myself fundamentally alienated from my Christian denomination, the culture and the political environment.  Therefore this blog has transformed from one  centered on exploration to one focused on identifying and exposing the myriad of insane ideas that are driving our civilization towards destruction.

Thus what began as an exploration focused on the PCUSA has expanded into areas such as environmentalism, philosophy, economic systems, politics, heresy, literature, abortion and anti-Semitism, among many others.  I have published three eBooks, all focused on topical issues addressed through Biblical exposition and meditation.  Most recently I have added satire as a means of communicating my concerns.

I have identified the prime driver of civilizational destruction to be Progressive ideology as practiced by both secular and religious institutions.  Therefore I have focused strongly on a critique of this ideology’s foundations, strategies and results.  Some of the major themes of this critique are:

I’ve also attempted to understand and then explain the philosophical underpinnings of the Progressive project (e.g., postmodernism, nihilism, Marxism, multiculturalism, intersectionality, pacifism, Gnosticism, identity, etc.).  My goal is to enhance our ability to counter their positions and to unmask the shocking evil that hides beneath that wafer-thin veneer of moral and intellectual posturing (many people who parrot the Progressive ideology have no idea what they are actually supporting).

Although I have expanded my scope far beyond the PCUSA, I still maintain a regular focus on this my denomination. The only way that I can maintain my Christian conscience is by a posture of opposition and rejection.  Yes, there remain many faithful pastors, elders, deacons and members in the denomination.  However, the theology and behavior of the dominant Progressive leadership has been so outrageously apostate and dishonorable that to remain silent is tantamount to support.  My voice is small, yet I will not choose silence.  So, as long as I’m in this denomination I will speak out as necessary.

I’m currently working on a new eBook provisionally titled A Denomination’s Debacle.  The book pulls together much of the PCUSA information and associated commentary from this blog with the addition of new material to fill-out the story.  It’s currently over 300 pages long, which is almost twice the length of my previous longest eBook.  It troubles me that through exclusive use of publicly available information such a substantial case for the PCUSA elite’s apostasy and corruption can be made.

the-truth-about-truth-a-nietzsche-feature-darwin-festival-version-3-638The “God is Dead” Christian Elite

Throughout this blog’s existence I have occasionally paused to discuss why our elite Christian leadership believes and behaves as it does.  Along these lines I have explored postmodern Christianity, the Social Gospel, Gnosticism and raw power politics, among others.  However, identification of a single unifying principle for this phenomena has to this point eluded me.

Perhaps the foundational principle is that these “Christian” elites agree with Nietzsche that belief in “God” as a reality upon which Western Civilization can base its religious/moral world view, “is dead.”  Let’s think through the consequences of this hypothesis.

Let’s say that you are a pastor or elder who has personally lost faith in the Christian God (or any god for that matter). And, you find that there are many others in the church who hold similar views.  So, you all find yourselves in an organization (i.e., the church) whose fundamental reason for existing has, in your opinion, vanished.  Yet the church has many remaining members and wields moral power in the civilization.  What then to do?

Well, you could work to dissolve the church by openly arguing that it has become obsolete and useless.  However, given that tens of millions still (foolishly in your opinion) believe in God’s existence you would likely fail and be expelled.  Therefore you would have to create a new organization to advance your philosophy.  That’s a very heavy lift with a small likelihood of success.  Far better to remain in the church but work for its transformation into an institution that does “social good.”

Of course, if “God is dead” and the Bible is thus null and void, how to find the social good to pursue?  The answer was found in the most aggressive, organized and presumptive human ideology supposedly pursuing the “social good,” that being what we now call Progressivism (which has its roots in Marxism, as contemporary Progressives are finally admitting).  Thus the elite Christian leadership of Mainline Denominations turned their churches from the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “the gospel of social change and justice” as defined by the secular Progressive political project.

chasmFor decades this stealth-coup was hidden behind multiple complex theological smoke screens that orthodox Christians had great difficulty penetrating.  However, with the advent of gay ordination and marriage the chasm between orthodoxy and heterodoxy became so vast that no amount of smoke could obscure it.  Thus we have seen the parting of ways where so many orthodox members and churches have exited.

Yet some orthodox members and churches have so far decided to remain.  If they do so with the clear understanding that they are missionaries to a now pagan, post-Christian denomination then perhaps they can successfully maintain their orthodox Christian identity.

However, if they pretend that they remain part of a “Christian” denomination then they will almost certainly be eventually converted and then absorbed.  This will occur because they grant legitimacy to the denomination’s dominant post-Christian ideology and thus will increasingly fall prey to its influence.  If that be their end then they have no excuse, for they have been warned and their consciences will testify against them at the time of accounting.

The Problem of Righteousness (8)

Eph+2+8-9The Reformed Christian Solution

This blog series has attempted to explore the proper place of righteousness in our Christian lives and the secular culture.  Central to this discussion is how our motives impact the outward manifestation of righteousness. Is our intent to place ourselves above someone else? Or, do we seek to advance healing and wholeness in this fallen world? Do we usurp God’s role as the only true judge, or, do we testify to His redeeming love through the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

We touched on other important issues including the purpose and use of Biblical standards of righteousness, calibration of our responses to the people and situations that call for judgement and the unavoidable conflicts that will occur as we live out our faith.

Not surprisingly my mind turns to the central theological doctrine of justification through faith alone as the lens through which to understand Christian righteousness. I’ve become convinced that this doctrine’s diminution is central to much that vexes the modern church. This is particularly relevant to the misunderstanding of righteousness that can lead to a judgmental Christianity. Following are some brief thoughts as to why.

To begin, just what is this doctrine? Though there are many statements from which to choose, I’ll go with John Calvin’s (emphasis added).

Scripture, when it treats of justification by faith, leads us in a very different direction. Turning away our view from our own works, it bids us look only to the mercy of God and the perfection of Christ. … when, by the intercession of Christ, he [the fallen human] obtains the pardon of his sins, and is justified; and, though renewed by the Spirit of God, considers that, instead of leaning on his own works, he must look solely to the righteousness which is treasured up for him in Christ.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (3.11.16)

The most powerful contemporary doctrine of justification in the modern Western church is often called “Semi-Pelagianism” (another related term is “Arminianism”). R.C. Sproul explains this doctrine as follows in “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church” (yes, this is a repeat, but it’s essential to this discussion, emphasis added).

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R. C. Sproul

Semi-Pelagianism said this: … While we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. … There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I joyfully accept justification by faith alone and reject Semi-Pelagianism / Arminianism. There’s so much that could be said, but I’ll focus on some implications for self-righteous Christianity.

If we believe that our salvation depends on having, or not, that sufficient “island of righteousness” on which all depends, then it becomes a matter of the utmost importance to find it within ourselves. The tragic truth is that we most often seek to prove its existence by comparison with others. This makes sense, since the island’s presence should manifest itself in our visible actions, and, the larger is this island the more likely that it can be found to be sufficient for our salvation. So, off we go, quietly or openly comparing ourselves to others. If we can find someone “worse” than ourselves then we feel a bit more confident. However, if we find someone else “better” we begin to wonder if our island is indeed sufficient. We also often begin to examine this “better” person with great interest, looking for faults and failings that might “bring them down a notch.”

This dynamic leads to destructive competition between Christians, a sense of superiority over non-Christians and a narcissistic focus on ourselves. It also leads to habitual acts of petty, self-serving judgement, as we seek prove righteousness in ourselves and its lack in others.

However, justification by grace alone frees us from all this. Our focus shifts from morbid scrutiny of ourselves and others to the wondrous love of God. By trusting fully in God’s grace, we find in ourselves the desire to obey and serve Him. We also can live in confidence that God’s sovereign grace to us cannot be thwarted or removed.

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Martin Luther

It’s a terrible blow to our pride to confess that no “island of righteousness” exists in ourself. However, in my experience, justification by faith alone is both joyful and freeing. I am no longer bound to others through competition, but rather can hope for God’s grace to all. When I fail and falter, I need not fear for my eternal fate, but can trust that God will complete His good work in me.

Finally, I’m well aware that the above comments may cause discomfort to my brothers and sisters in Christ who hold Semi-Pelagian / Arminian views. My expectation is not that you must agree with my point of view. Rather, I simply ask that you read, consider, pray and contemplate. You must judge for yourself if this is an accurate statement of Scripture’s teaching. If you disagree, then let’s continue the discussion in good will and trust.

For, I stand squarely with Charles Spurgeon:

I believe there are multitudes of men who cannot see these truths, or, at least, cannot see them in the way in which we put them, who nevertheless have received Christ as their Saviour, and are as dear to the heart of the God of grace as the soundest Calvinist in or out of Heaven.

This is the understanding of righteousness that, if reclaimed by the Church and compellingly communicated to our society, can free us from self-righteousness that is driving our nation towards dissolution.

Amen.

The Problem of Righteousness (4)

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It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

1 Corinthians 1:30

The Reformed Christian Understanding

In the previous post I argued that “righteousness” is not what the majority of Christians understand it to be.  I easily admit that if any Christian reader’s confidence in their salvation rests on that imaginary “small island of righteousness” then a single blog post quoting a theologian is unlikely to change their mind.

When Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples as testified by the Gospel of John, He made our complete dependence upon Him absolutely clear:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  John 15:5-8 (NIV)

luther-righteousnessThe Reformers used this Christ stated doctrine of being “in Him” and the utter dependence to which it points to interpret the many other Biblical passages with a similar message.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.  For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.  Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.  Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  Romans 10:1-4

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.  Isaiah 61:10 (ESV)

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.”  Isaiah 45:24-25 (ESV)

Who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.  Psalm 89:16 (ESV)

If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.  1 John 2:29 (ESV)

He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  Titus 3:5 (ESV)

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

spurgeon-righteousnessAnd yet in spite of all this the vast majority of Christians yet imagine that they have exercised their own righteousness to obtain their salvation.  What can explain this ability to overlook overwhelming Biblical evidence for our total dependence upon Christ for our salvation and righteousness?

One answer may be that they interpret the Bible verses that explicitly teach this dependence within context of those other verses that speak of a believer’s righteousness.  By so doing they can conclude that their righteousness belongs to them rather being utterly dependent on Christ’s imputed righteousness to them.

Imputed righteousness is a concept in Christian theology proposing that the “righteousness of Christ … is imputed to [believers] — that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith.” … Thus, this doctrine is practically synonymous with justification by faith.

This concept is well-explained by Thomas R. Schreiner.

We can see, then, why imputation is so important in Calvin’s theology, for our assurance rests upon the truth that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to believers. Believers don’t locate righteousness in themselves but are righteous because Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to them. Calvin puts it this way: “Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sin and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.” A person “is not righteous in himself but because the righteousness of Christ is communicated to him by imputation.” In Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 5:19, which speaks of believers being made righteous on account of Christ’s obedience, he says, “what else is this but to lodge our righteousness in Christ’s obedience, because the obedience of Christ is reckoned to us as if it were our own.”

the-law-is-for-the-selfrighteous-to-humble-their-pride-the-gospelIf you as a Christian believe that “when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell” then by this falsehood the unavoidable consequence is self-righteousness.  For, the only thing that separates you from the unsaved is that you “chose well” while they “chose poorly” at that one final step that made all of the difference.  This falsehood of manufactured, imaginary self-righteousness leads inexorably to despair.  This will be the focus of my next post.

The Problem of Righteousness (3)

righteousness-new-testamentThe Lost Christian Understanding: New Testament

The misunderstanding of “righteousness” from a New Testament perspective and subsequent consequences are far greater than those associated with the Old Testament.  This is the case because whereas we generally engage with the Old Testament as something foreign and therefore obscure, we imagine that the New Testament is familiar and clear.  Therefore we tend to draw provisional lessons from the Old but imagine the New to deliver straightforward, easily accessible guidance.  We are thus too suspicious of the Old Testament and too naive about the New Testament.

This New Testament misunderstanding is most destructive within context of the Christian doctrine of salvation.  For a very large majority of Christians there exists an ill-defined but fundamental relationship between their “righteousness” and their “salvation.”  This assumed relationship is best defined by R. C. Sproul in his article titled “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church” (Modern Reformation, Vol 10, Number 3, 2001, emphasis added).

island-of-righteousnessWhile we are so fallen that we can’t be saved without grace, we are not so fallen that we don’t have the ability to accept or reject the grace when it’s offered to us. The will is weakened but is not enslaved. There remains in the core of our being an island of righteousness that remains untouched by the fall. It’s out of that little island of righteousness, that little parcel of goodness that is still intact in the soul or in the will that is the determinative difference between heaven and hell. It’s that little island that must be exercised when God does his thousand steps of reaching out to us, but in the final analysis it’s that one step that we take that determines whether we go to heaven or hell — whether we exercise that little righteousness that is in the core of our being or whether we don’t.

In a later article (2004) this same author develops in more detail the consequences of this false hope and expectation in the Christian experience.

The Psalmist asked the question: “If the Lord marks iniquity, who should stand?” This query is obviously rhetorical. The only answer, indeed the obvious answer is no one.

The question is stated in a conditional form. It merely considers the dire consequences that follow if the Lord marks iniquity. We breathe a sigh of relief saying, “Thank heavens the Lord does not mark iniquity!”

Such is a false hope. We have been led to believe by an endless series of lies that we have nothing to fear from God’s scorecard. We can be confident that if He is capable of judgment at all, His judgment will be gentle. If we all fail His test — no fear — He will grade on a curve. After all, it is axiomatic that to err is human and to forgive is divine. This axiom is so set in concrete that we assume that forgiveness is not merely a divine option, but a veritable prerequisite for divinity itself. We think that not only may God be forgiving, but He must be forgiving or He wouldn’t be a good God. How quick we are to forget the divine prerogative: “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” (Rom. 9:15 NKJV)

In our day we have witnessed the eclipse of the Gospel. That dark shadow that obscures the light of the Gospel is not limited to Rome or liberal Protestantism; it looms heavily within the Evangelical community. The very phrase “preaching the Gospel” has come to describe every form of preaching but the preaching of the Gospel. The “New” Gospel is one that worries not about sin. It feels no great need for justification. It readily dismisses the imputation of Christ’s righteousness as an essential need for salvation. We have substituted the “unconditional love” of God for the imputation of the righteousness of Christ. If God loves us all unconditionally, who needs the righteousness of Christ?

So, if Dr. Sproul is correct (and I believe that he is), then what is the true meaning of “righteousness” within the Christian faith?  It is to that question I will turn in the next post.

The Problem of Righteousness (2)

And-those-who-are-wise-shall-shine-like-the-brightness-of-the-sky-above-and-those-who-turn-many-to-righteousness-like-the-stars-forever-and-ever.

The Lost Christian Understanding: Old Testament

I have been reading the Psalms as my daily devotional and prayer guide.  As I read the early Psalms I have encountered use to the term “righteous” that contains a confidence and certainty that shocks me.  For example this Psalm that is attributed to David:

Arise, Lord, in your anger;
rise up against the rage of my enemies.
Awake, my God; decree justice.
Let the assembled peoples gather around you,
while you sit enthroned over them on high.
Let the Lord judge the peoples.
Vindicate me, Lord, according to my righteousness,
according to my integrity, O Most High.
Bring to an end the violence of the wicked
and make the righteous secure—
you, the righteous God
who probes minds and hearts.  Psalm 7:6-9 (NIV)

However, in a later Psalm also attributed to David we find a denial that righteousness exists in any human being.

The fool says in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their ways are vile;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.  Psalm 53:1-3 (NIV)

The Apostle Paul quotes this Psalm in his Epistle to the Romans in a manner that removes all ambiguity as to its meaning.

As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.” Romans 3:10-12 (NIV)

How is it that David in Psalm 7 can with utter confidence pray to God as a righteous man while in Psalm 53  (and others) admit that no one, including of course him, is righteous?

The first step towards understanding is that the idea translated into English as “righteousness” is a vast, complex and deep set of ideas.  Just to provide a top-level perspective, the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible devotes almost twenty pages (of small font text) to this word!  While there is no way that I could presume to summarize all of this into a blog post, I will share a couple of paragraphs regarding righteousness as found in the Old Testament.

Rather, righteousness is in the OT the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship, whether that relationship be with men or with God.

The fulfillment of the Law does not constitute righteousness, but he who is righteous fulfills the Law because he accepts it in faith as God’s gracious guidance of him.  Neither works nor works accomplished by faith make for righteousness, but rather only faith, which is manifested in works. Faith is the fulfillment of the relationship to Yahweh and is thereby righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Has 2:4).

Righteousness in the OT, then, is the fulfillment of the demands of a relationship, whether with men or with God.  And though man’s righteousness fails, God’s endures.  He intervenes on behalf of his own, saving them from bondage, forgiving their sin, declaring them in the right before himself and all the world.  The connection with the NT message of salvation in Jesus Christ seems obvious, for “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

Given these insights, the apparent contradiction is found to be no contradiction at all.  For when David calls himself righteous he is not claiming a moral perfection that neither he or anyone else can attain.  Rather he is speaking as one of the elect who, by God’s grace alone, has been declared to be righteous.

In fact, to be declared to be righteous by God vastly increases the Psalmist’s sense of his sinfulness and thus unworthiness apart from God’s grace.

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.   Psalm 51:1-6 (NIV)

So, we find in the Old Testament that righteousness is not the achievement of a moral superiority either by belief or works but rather a God-given position of right relationship through grace alone.  Of course, God’s granting of this positional righteousness does lead to a process of sanctification in which sin recedes and good works increase.

This definition of righteousness is far removed from the common contemporary Christian understanding.  It is in a completely different universe from the contemporary secular “social justice” understanding of righteousness.  The consequences of these misunderstandings are enormous and terrible.

The Problem of Righteousness (1)

Righteousness

When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”

Psalm 11:3

Introduction

One key driver of the contemporary crisis in the United States is the problem of righteousness.  Righteousness is a core driver because, having cast off much that Christianity has taught, we now are consumed with the monumental task of rebuilding this concept from the foundations up.  And, the tools by which this rebuilding project is being conducted are the least capable implements that one  could imagine — those being the mob-inducing, narcissist-encouraging, mind-numbing, spirit-destroying Social Network Platforms.

This thought crystallized across exposure to numerous sources.  Initially I was struck by this paragraph in an article from The Federalist (emphasis added):

When I look at this generation, I see young people fiercely, desperately trying to be good. A righteous fervor is sweeping America, shaming and punishing all who do evil. Yet the standards for “good” and “evil” seem unfamiliar and arbitrary. This is a strong indicator that the post-Christian agnosticism is over, and a new religion—one I’ll call progressivism—is rising from the ashes.

So yes, I can easily agree that our “young people” are “desperately trying” to be righteous.  But the reason that they are starting from scratch is because their elders (i.e., parents, teachers, pastors, coaches, politicians, bosses, etc.) have somehow failed to pass on the Christian-derived civilizational wisdom that should be their inheritance.  I must include myself within this failure as all three of my beloved children are currently not looking to Christianity for the answers to their most fundamental questions.

Screen Shot 2019-04-07 at 2.26.22 PMA second source brought into sharp focus the nature of that Christian-derived civilizational wisdom along with the most influential challenging ideology to it.  The source is Jordan Peterson’s preface to the The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (emphasis added).

And it is exactly the necessity for interminable sacrifice that constitutes the terrible counterpart of the utopian vision. “Heaven is worth any price”—but who pays? Christianity solved that problem by insisting on the sacrifice of the self; insisting that the suffering and malevolence of the world is the responsibility of each individual; insisting that each of us sacrifice what is unworthy and unnecessary and resentful and deadly in our characters (despite the pain of such sacrifice) so that we could stumble properly uphill under our respective and voluntarily-shouldered existential burdens. But it was and is the opinion of the materialist utopians that someone else be sacrificed, so that Heaven itself might be attained; some perpetrator, or victimizer, or oppressor, or member of a privileged group. A cynic might be forgiven, in consequence, for asking: “Is it the City of God that is in fact the aim? Or is the true aim the desire to make a burning sacrificial pyre of everyone and everything, and the hypothesis of the coming brotherhood of man merely the cover story, the camouflage?”

The implication of this dichotomy between our Christian heritage and the newly resurrected materialist utopians is profound.  For, whereas in a Christian society members are encouraged to look into themselves to find the source of evil and suffering; the people seeking a materialist utopia try to divide the world into the evil oppressors and the spotless victims.  But, as Mr. Peterson goes on to explain, there is no way to draw such a line in a just and stable manner.

Thus the doctrine of group identity inevitably ends with everyone identified as a class enemy, an oppressor; with everyone uncleansibly contaminated by bourgeois privilege, unfairly enjoying the benefits bequeathed by the vagaries of history; with everyone prosecuted, without respite, for that corruption and injustice. “No mercy for the oppressor!” And no punishment too severe for the crime of exploitation! Expiation becomes impossible because there is no individual guilt, no individual responsibility, and therefore no manner in which the crime of arbitrary birth can be individually accounted for. And all the misery that can be generated as a consequence of such an accusation is the true reason for the accusation.

Finally, just why is it that the attempt to create a human-made righteousness that excludes God has proved to be not just difficult, but rather a genocidal failure?  Here I found the following statement by David P. Goldman in his review of Chumash Mesoras Harav – Complete Chumash with Commentary Based on the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XIX, No. 1) to be of great help (emphasis added).

Man has free will, but never knows to what extent his will is free. The penitent cannot know the full extent of his guilt. He cannot escape “the unknown and irrational” because his powers are limited. He is declared not guilty when he accepts that ultimate knowledge and power reside in God. God not only summons man to partnership, he consoles him in his lowliness.

Yes, we cannot ever escape the unknown and irrational nature of our existence by our own human resources.  For we are ultimately a mystery even to ourselves, let alone to others.  We can never fully understand and therefore prove our own righteousness.  We can only go on erasing and drawing lines that attempt to define who is righteous and who is not.  But the lines always eventually fail to accurately and definitively separate the righteous from the unrighteous.

girl-blaming-guyAnd so a war of all against all ensues.  For to be declared unrighteous is to suffer humiliation, social isolation and physical want.  To be found within the bounds of the righteous means automatic moral superiority, social preeminence and wealth.  But those who seem safely inside the bounds of righteousness today can be thrown out into utter darkness tomorrow.  Thus is explained the paranoia and destabilization that we see throughout our society.

What is happening now are the skirmishes that precede the total war that always accompanies a utopian totalitarian project.  We need not go to war.  But to avoid such a conflagration those of us who know better need to take a stand.

 

The Silence of the Lambs (4)

Religious Hatred Here and There

How can we place the following statistics on worldwide Christian persecution into perspective?

  • 3,066 killed;
  • 1,252 abducted;
  • 1,020 raped or sexually harassed;
  • 793 churches attacked or destroyed.

After all, aren’t we in the United States bombarded with media reports claiming that, particularly in the “Age of Trump,” our society is saturated with religious hatred that manifests itself in hate crimes?  Were that claim found to be true then we would have no moral right to point our finger at others.

Screen Shot 2019-04-04 at 6.03.10 AM

2017 FBI Hate Crime Data

It turns out that, so concerned is our federal government about the occurrence of hate crimes that the FBI has been directed to collect and publish data in this area.  The FBI publishes this data on an annual basis, the most recent year being 2017.  Thus it is easy to find and assess the level of hate crimes across many years and for many groups including religious, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, disability, etc.

The following figure shows the total number of murders, rapes and arsons identified as motivated by hate against Muslims in the United Stated between 2008 and 2017. Note that so unheard of is abduction motivated by hate that there is no category for this crime.

FBI-Hate-Muslims

The results are likely surprising to some readers.  Please keep in mind that these are results across our entire nation of 320 million inhabitants.  Some of my observations are:

  • The hate crime statistics against Muslims are identical between the year of Obama’s 2008 “hope and change” Presidential campaign and Trump’s 2016 “make America great again” campaign (i.e. 0 murders, 0 rapes and 5 arsons);
  • In the ten years covered not a single rape occurred against a Muslim due to hate in the entire United States;
  • In the ten years covered six murders occurred against a Muslim due to hate in the entire United States, which is well less than one per year on average;
  • In the first year of Trump’s Presidency there were zero murders, rapes and arsons against Muslims due to hate, a result that never occurred during Obama’s Presidency.

What can we conclude but that, in spite of massive Progressive propaganda to the contrary, the United States is an exceedingly tolerant country?  Yes, we are deluged with accusations of Islamophobia, but the actual hate crime data shows the opposite.  The reason for this falsehood’s persistence is that any criticism of the Muslim faith or of some Muslim individuals and organizations is attributed to Islamophobia.  In other words, the Progressives have placed Muslims outside the realm of criticism by designating any concern about their religion or behavior as a kind of mental illness.

And yet Progressives criticize, mock, condemn and yes, hate Christians on a massive scale without being accused of “Christaphobia.”  I must ask, from the Progressive multicultural perspective are only Western Civilization, Christianity and Judaism capable of sin?  Were we to examine the history of Islam, Hinduism, etc. would we find only sweetness and light in their past and present?  Are the past and present for all countries and ethnic groups outside of Western Civilization beyond reproach, beyond criticism?  The apparent Progressive multiculturalist answer is YES!

So, when we note that thousands of Christians are murdered, abducted and raped throughout the world because of their faith we in the United Stated do have moral standing to care and criticize.  For, if the religious tolerance that exists in the United States were replicated throughout the world the number of hate crimes against all people for all reasons would be massively reduced.

Yes, we are far from perfect.  Yes, we sin in a many ways.  Yes there are many and deep reasons to criticize our nation.  But for goodness sake, why can’t we acknowledge and celebrate that a level of tolerance has been achieved here that enables human flourishing at a remarkable level?

We can and must.  For to do otherwise is to become complicit in the Progressive multiculturalist lie that only the West, Christianity and Judaism are capable of sin.  All other religious, ethnic and country peoples are presumed to be either incapable of or justified in their sinful acts.  We Christians have doubly no excuse for supporting this lie.

as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”

Romans 3:10-12 (ESV)

Am I saying that because Western Civilization is more tolerant then it must be more righteous than all others?  Not at all.  For the righteousness of which the Apostle Paul speaks is the perfect righteousness demanded by God.  As is well said by R.C. Sproul:

Good is a relative term. It is defined against some standard. If we establish what that standard is, we can congratulate ourselves and take comfort in our attainment of it. But if God establishes the standard, and His standard includes outward behavior (that our actions conform perfectly to His law) and internal motivation (that all our acts proceed from a heart that loves Him perfectly), then we quickly see that our pretended “goodness” is no goodness at all. We then understand what Augustine was getting at when he said that man’s best works are nothing more than “splendid vices.”

There are aspects of Western Civilization in which we are far worse than others, with abortion being a particularly shameful and stark example.  But there are other areas, such as religious tolerance, where we have achieved far better results.  We must not denigrate our successes because in other areas we have failed.

Thus we should in clear conscience and loud voice speak up for out brothers and sisters in Christ who are experiencing brutal persecution.  While so doing we must also look at ourselves and recognize that there is great sin at work in the West as well.  But it is inherently unjust and unsustainable to apply one standard to ourselves and another to anyone else.

A Modest Overture to the 224th General Assembly (1b)

Presbytery-of Gaia

This is not as far removed from the current PCUSA situation (for example see here, here and here) that one would hope.

On Bringing our Book of Confessions into the Post-Christian PC(USA) Era — from the Presbytery of Gaia

Rationale

For the fifty years after acceptance of the Confession of 1967 the PC(USA) has dragged all of the Confessions that preceded it along like anchors.  Until 2011 this ruse may have been necessary to maintain quiescence of the denomination’s majority of orthodox-minded members.  However, with the Progressive victories on gay ordination and marriage we have successfully driven most of these orthodox-minded members either out of the denomination or into a state of fearful submission to our victorious ideology.

Glorious-Exit

This is actual PCUSA data.

Between 2011 and 2017 the PC(USA) experienced a net loss of 601,000 members and 1146 churches. Thus, over this period the denomination lost a net of almost 30% of its membership and almost 12% of its churches.  The majority of these losses were the orthodox Reformed members and churches that had held us back and that continued to value the pre-1967 Confessions.  Thus this glorious exit of irredeemable members and churches has freed the PC(USA) from the dead hand of orthodox Reformed Christianity!

Glorious-Exit2

This is actual PCUSA data.

In 2013 the PC(USA) had 1086 Ministry Candidates.  The very next year, 2014, this number fell by almost 50% to 562.  Can there be any doubt that this sudden flight to the exits was by candidates who had orthodox Christian beliefs that were supported by our outdated and destructive historic Confessions?  Thus, in a single year, we “Purposeful Progressives” (see below) gloriously emptied our denomination’s seminaries of virtually all orthodox Christians!

These results are a great victory for our self-described strategy of exclusion and submission, which we acknowledged in “When We Gather at the Table: A PC(USA) Snapshot” as the “Purposeful Progressives” (emphasis added, note that this is a true quote from an official PCUSA document, not made-up satirical quote).

They are less tolerant of conservative theologies within the denomination. Some remain hopeful that conservatives who are upset with the 221st General Assembly (2014) decisions on marriage will see that there are different ways to interpret scripture, and will choose to stay and accept the changes, over time. Others would simply be happy if the conservatives left the PC(USA), and a few offered suggestions for helping dissenting congregations to leave the denomination with grace and dignity.

Now that, through our fierce commitment to inclusiveness, we have successfully driven out most of the irredeemable theological members, churches and ministry candidates there is no longer a need to maintain the pretense that the pre-1967 Confessions (and the Brief Statement of Faith) have the slightest relevance to our wondrous post-Christian denominational future.  In order to more efficiently and effectively pursue this goal we must cast off these fraudulent documents.  Eventually the Confession of 1967 itself may need go be deleted, as its problematical tangental relationship to past Christian orthodoxy becomes an impediment achieving our ultimate goals.

As itemized in the Overture, this result has already happened in effect.  In order to grasp our glorious future as co-comrades with the gods we must have the courage to cut loose these worse than useless monument-anchors.  Then we can openly proclaim our post-Christian message without confusion or constraint.

We have demonstrated the will to power necessary to drive out or subdue the morally and spiritually inferior (i.e., those who lack our blessed gnosis) among us.  Let’s now, together, take the next and necessary step to cement our future in post-Christianity!

A Modest Overture to the 224th General Assembly (1a)

Presbytery-of GaiaOn Bringing our Book of Confessions into the Post-Christian PC(USA) Era — from the Presbytery of Gaia

Overture

The Presbytery of Gaia respectfully overtures the 224th General Assembly (2020) to make the following statement:

Because

  • The Confession of 1967 was, by the admission of its primary authors, intended to directly contradict the Westminster Confession on numerous central doctrinal points and generally demotes the historic Confessions to “monuments.” See that in The Proposal to Revise the Confessional Position of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., Edward A. Dowey, Jr., chairman of the committee that composed The Confession of 1967, writes: “A statement that is appropriate and powerful in its own day may fail to guide the church after some decades or centuries have gone by. It comes to resemble a monument marking the past more than a tool for present work.” (pp. 20, 21).
  • The PC(USA) has redefined the meaning of “Christian Marriage” in the Book of Order without changing the definition of marriage in any of the historic Confessions from the PC(USA)’s Book of Confessions.  As one example see the Westminster Confession, Chapter XXIV: “Of Marriage and Divorce 1. Christian marriage is an institution ordained of God, blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ, established and sanctified for the happiness and welfare of mankind, into which spiritual and physical union one man and one woman enter, cherishing a mutual esteem and love, bearing with each other’s infirmities and weaknesses, comforting each other in trouble, providing in honesty and industry for each other and for their household, praying for each other, and living together the length of their days as heirs of the grace of life.”  This decision officially confirms the irrelevance of all the historic Confessions for Biblical interpretation or theological guidance.
  • The Senior Pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago, one of the largest and most influential churches in the PC(USA), in a 2018 interview denied the nature of God as defined in all of the historic Confessions, from the Nicene Creed to The Theological Declaration of Barmen by declaring that “God’s not a Christian . . . We are.”
  • The Ordination Vows for Officers have become impossible to uphold in clear conscience given that at least two distinct and contradictory sets of doctrine are contained in the Book of Confessions.

The 224th General Assembly (2020) therefore decrees that all Confessions in the Book of Confessions are null and void “as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do” except for the Confession of 1967 and the Confession of Belhar. An updated Book of Confessions that includes only the Confession of 1967 and the Confession of Belhar will therefore be generated and distributed.  All current and future Officers will be instructed to use only the Confession of 1967 and the Confession of Belhar until such time as a new Confession is added to this new Book of Confessions or the Confession of 1967, having served its historic purpose, is also eventually removed.