You can’t even get through one verse in 1 Peter before coming across an enormously controversial theological issue: divine election and foreknowledge.
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…”
I didn’t even try to wade into these choppy waters in my sermon this past Sunday. Though I did tip my hat that I do not fall in the Reformed/Calvinist camp on this issue. (Though I genuinely respect those who do.)
For the novice, what’s at stake in this debate? What’s been keeping theologians and pastors up at night for 2,000 years? Some of the following questions are at play:
- Does God sovereignly choose, or elect, some people to be saved and others to be damned?
- If so, do we really have “free will”? If so, then are we really responsible for our choices?
- What do we do with texts that say things like “God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9) if God indeed has “willed” that some should be saved and others perish?
- Does God exhaustively know the future — all things that will come to pass? Or does God merely know all possibilities that might come to pass depending on the free choices of human and angelic beings?
- If the future is to some degree “open” because God has given his creatures (human and angelic) real free will to reject God and his purposes, then does this mean God is not all-powerful (omnipotent) and all-knowing (omniscient?
- Are we genuinely partnering with God to bring about his purposes, fighting real evil that can at times really (temporarily?) thwart God’s purposes?
- Or is all history following some predetermined blueprint, and God has really ordained all things that have and will come to pass? How then do the atrocities of Auschwitz, or the kidnapping, rape and murder of an innocent child fit into God’s sovereignly predetermined plan for history. Why would he ordain such evil?
- If God’s sovereign will cannot be thwarted and God is always all-powerful, then how do we explain Satan’s role in the cosmic drama? Is he just a pawn who God could overpower but chooses to let him win a battle here and there?
- Or, has God actually chosen to give up some of his “power” by creating a world populated with genuinely free beings who can actually rebel? If so, how can we be confident that God ultimately wins in the end?
- More to the point of our passage above: When the Bible talks about “election”, is it usually referring to chosen/elect individuals or a group? This is where I believe we need to begin in understanding the Bible’s teaching on the ‘elect.”
Continue reading God’s Chosen ‘Elect’? (1 Peter 1:1-2)
Question: What about the people who were born in the deepest jungles or in some rural African village? They never heard of Jesus, and no one has ever shared with them the “way to salvation” through Jesus Christ. Will they spend eternity in Hell for not believing in something they never heard about?
Answer: There are a few different positions held by Christians on this issue. I will mention just two. Continue reading Q&A – What about those who’ve never heard the gospel?
As a Bible geek, I’m also a Bible movie geek. Movies have the power to bring written story to life in living color. In a visual culture this is an especially important medium for introducing people to the story and claims of the Bible.
So, I’m definitely hoping Mark Burnett and Roma Downey’s latest work A.D. The Bible Continues — the sequel to their 2013 success The Bible — will be widely viewed and well received by the masses if not the critics. Now, after two episodes I’ve already read some typical Hollywood pop-culture entertainment reviews. They are focused on the casting, acting, screenwriting, storytelling, and other typical measures of good art.
As one random example, take an Entertainment Weekly review by Jeff Jensen:
Interesting in theory. But A.D. is one more piece of Christian pop that’s poor in creative spirit and poorly served by true-believer passion. The production is chintzy, the acting is too broad or too earnest. The writing dotes on emotions and lacks sophistication. Superficial characterizations abound. The risen Jesus (Juan Pablo Di Pace) is so soft, so beatifically delicate, he might blow apart with a sneeze. “It’s time we shut this story down!” thunders Pilate at one point. A.D. is more proof that it’s time for Christians to tell their stories with more artistry.
Regardless of one’s evaluation of “creative spirit” and production value, I hope viewers and reviewers will also enjoy pondering the historical events and claims that stand behind it. Here’s some reasons I think this series is unique and important to take seriously — for believing Christians and your average unbelieving or skeptical TV viewer. Continue reading Why the A.D. Series is ‘Must See TV’
A repost from 2009. -JB
I had two very nice Jehovah’s Witness gals show up at my door this morning. I never quite know how to handle these encounters. I think these encounters are especially awkward for pastors/Bible teachers who are equipped to engage them in theological debate but don’t feel like that is the context (standing at the door freezing). Plus, they are usually just well-meaning laypersons who might not be able or wanting to actually be challenged themselves. What does one do?
Do I just play dumb, hide the fact that I’m a pastor, take their pamphlets and send them on their way with a smile? Other uncertainties include: Is it appropriate to invite them inside? Can they even accept and come in? (I think Mormons are a different story here — more willing to sit down and chat.) Is it wise when they are two women and I’m a guy home alone? Of course, behind all of these questions is my own sense of obligation to evangelize and try to convert them to the “true faith.” Should I feel guilty when I miss an opportunity to “witness” back to them — even when I don’t believe door-to-door evangelism is a very effective or wise approach to personal evangelism?
QUESTION: What do you do when Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons come knocking on your door? Continue reading Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Door
Check out Trevin Wax’s review of Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters (Penguin, 2009). Keller is one of my favorite Christian thinkers these days, and I find him a very insightful, articulate writer bringing clarity to very complex theological issues. He is a gift to the church and a newfound favorite among my preferred authors.
I want to whole-heartily recommend this book for further exploration of the foundational issue of modern-day idolatry. More great coverage on this hot-topic in the media today can be found at Out Of Ur. Here’s snippet:
There is nothing like a recession to put Americans in a reflective mood. Unemployment and a devalued stock market have led many to consider whether money is the pre-eminent form of American idolatry. New York Timescolumnist David Brooks has called for a new culture war, a “crusade for economic self-restraint” in a self-indulgent age. Adam Sternbergh wonders whether thrift is a virtue that can be developed or a trait that must be inherited. ABC’s Nightline invited Mark Driscoll to discuss the allure of celebrity and corporate idolatry. And Tim Keller has turned his attention to rooting out idolatry with his latest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.
For Keller an idol is “anything more important to you than God, anything which absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” Elaborating on the book’s title, Keller writes that a “counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life, that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” What does Keller have in mind? Well, everything: family, children, career, earning money, achievement, social status, relationships, beauty, brains, morality, political or social activism—even effective Christian ministry.
Below is great introduction to Tim Keller. Keller was invited to speak at Google’s headquarters on his book “The Reason for God.” A lively, engaging discussion ensued. Enjoy!
What do we make of the story of the wise men following a magical star from the East to the newborn king in Bethlehem? Sound a bit far-fetched and fairytale-ish? I used to think so as well.
Many deny the possibility of a supernatural explanation to begin with. This is unnecessary. If God can bring the universe into being with divine decree and raise the dead at will, then I see no reason why he could not have also sent a bright star that first Christmas.
However, must we rule out all naturalistic explanations? A little historical and cultural background of this story also reveals some very plausible scientific theories as to what this astronomical/astrological phenomenon might have been. Perhaps under God’s wise sovereignty and foresight, that “star” that led the magi to Bethlehem was a combination of natural astral activity in concert with God’s supernatural sending of his son “when the fullness of time had come” (Gal 4:4). Let’s take a look.
First, these were not “three kings” as the song goes. They were “magi” from the East — most likely superstitious astrologists perhaps from the royal court of the Babylonian empire. It does not specify how many. The ancients assigned great significance to the art of reading and interpreting the movements of the skies. They kept careful records of the notable celestial activity, and with computer technology today we can calculate exactly where each star and planets were in the sky accurately all the way back 2,000 years and beyond.
Second, the scientific records indicate some pretty interesting astral activity occurring around the time of Jesus’ birth. Continue reading The Star of Bethlehem: One Theory
Another question from a former student of mine — now in college. Great question for Halloween!
Q: What do you believe about spiritual warfare and its affects on people, including believers? I know it is pretty open ended question and topic but I am not quite sure what type of answer I am looking for. Any input would be greatly appreciated, thanks.
A: Here’s my brief input on the topic of spiritual warfare. Much more could be said — but I thought 7 points was a good start. =)
1. The battle is very real. Satan’s most effective tactic against modern Western people is to keep them disbelieving in his existence altogether. As C. S. Lewis has the senior devil Screwtape say:
“I don’t think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade that since he cannot believe in that (it is an old textbook method of confusing them) he therefore cannot believe in you.”
2. The battle is rarely overt with outward manifestations (e.g., possession, exorcism, etc). It’s usually more subtle. Continue reading Q&A: What do you believe about Spiritual Warfare?