The Tulip Driven Life Podcast

Friday, May 4, 2012

God's Ignoble Gambit: How Free Will Destroys the Cross


Reformation Bible College









God’s Ignoble Gambit: How Free Will Destroys the Cross








Doctrine of Christ









By

Thomas Booher



Sanford, Florida
May 2012




            No matter how you dice it, the fall of man necessitated the death of Christ if God were to provide salvation. While the argument over the means of receiving salvation has often centered on free will versus election, most have opted to take some route through the Bible that has God allowing man to fall of his own free will, hoping to get God off the hook for the entrance of evil into humanity. If He creates man with the ability to choose obedience or disobedience, the choice itself is entirely up to man. This allegedly keeps God free of the charge of being an evil architect. Closer inspection will reveal that it is when God is not the first cause of evil’s existence that His goodness is lost. It is free will, and not God’s predestination of the Fall, that casts a shadow over the character of God, because man’s choice leads God to predestine His sinless Son to die for sinful man as a reaction rather than a God-glorifying plan.   
            C.S. Lewis in his classic book Mere Christianity said regarding the Fall, “Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.”[1] This is the basic position of many who espouse a free will theology, and many Calvinists even seem to falter and default to a position similar to this regarding the Fall. Most acknowledge that God knew Adam and Eve would disobey, but chose to use their disobedience as opportunity to send His Son to die for man and offer salvation. The question is, how could God guarantee man would disobey if He did not predestine disobedience since He created Adam and Eve good? There is either autonomous free will, or God sovereignly predestining the Fall. That is the only two options. Thus, Lewis was right when he said that God would be taking a risk if He limited His sovereignty and left it up to man to choose between life and death.
            In his book Almighty Over All, Sproul Jr. argues that it is God who changed Adam and Eve’s inclination so they would be willing to eat the forbidden fruit.[2] He is not arguing that God sinned, but that God is the Creator of sin. Logically, this would have to be the case, since Genesis 1:1 says in the beginning all there was, was God. Everything that exists finds it’s being ultimately flowing from God. Those who hold to a free will position say that God inclining Adam and Eve to disobedience is a sin itself, making God evil. Scripture however, and not man’s feelings and opinions, should have the final say on this matter, and Paul in Romans 9:19-24 answers the free will theologian’s objection. These verses say that God has the power and the right to do whatever He wishes with His creation. God has chosen to glorify Himself through preparing some for honor and others for dishonor, some for wrath to be destroyed, and others to receive mercy and grace. Proverbs 16:4 says “The Lord has made all for Himself, even the wicked for the day of doom” (NKJV). God ultimately designed the day of doom to glorify Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:13 says after Christ made a sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God and waits until all His enemies are made His footstool. This happened according to God’s foreordained plan, being foretold through prophecy for centuries, and not as a reaction to man’s misuse of free will.[3] 
            Since God is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise, it makes sense for God to predestine the Fall.  God gives glory to Jesus His Son as a man through the Fall by having His Son take on human flesh and redeem His bride and the creation from sin, making Christ pre-eminent and the firstborn over all Creation (Col. 1:13-23).[4] It is God’s prerogative to do as He pleases with His own creation and to make His Son, who is worthy of all glory, honor, and praise, the only sinless man to ever live and Savior of the cosmos. If this is what the Fall of man accomplished, to make us children of God through the blood-bought redemption of Christ according to God’s plan,[5] then man should heartily applaud it, for God has demonstrated His vast glory perfectly through His Creation, and has even become man through His Son Jesus Christ!
            Conversely, the free will theologian has to concede that God’s plan to send Christ as Lord and Savior was one He never desired to enact. Begrudgingly He would have sent His Son, and why? Not as part of His glorious plan, but because His gambit had backfired. He took the risk Lewis spoke about, and it failed miserably. Why the risk? Free will theologians will say because true love requires freedom to choose. This may be true, but God’s sovereignty over all does not preclude the fact that man still is the one who choose to rebel. God spoke, and there was light. He tells the planets how to orbit, and they orbit precisely as He commands. He decreed, and man willingly rebelled. It was part of His plan, but He uses secondary causes, like man’s will, to accomplish His grand glory story.[6] Thus man, and man alone, is responsible for his sin.
            Meaningless pain and suffering is hard to swallow. In fact, it is impossible. Even the suffering of the souls in hell is for the grand purpose of God’s glory. One of the great comforts for the Christian is that God works all things together for his or her good (Rom. 8:28), including pain, suffering, and death. They have redeeming qualities. This is what gives the Christian hope in times of pain and persecution, torment and tragedy, when life is dim and death is at the door. To turn the question on the free will theologians, how can God be working all things together for His, His Son’s, or anyone else’s good, by taking a risk with the cosmos’ fate? Romans five makes it clear that in Adam all die. Since mankind died spiritually at the Fall with Adam, how can God say that all things work together for good? Did God work the Fall of man for Adam and all of humanity’s good? No, He could not have because He had no control over it! Then if sin, suffering, pain, and death entered without the purpose of demonstrating God’s glory, without any purpose on God’s part at all, how can God really be working anything together for good since true “good” is God being glorified? It would be more accurate in that case to say that God is salvaging all things for those who love God and are called according to His emergency back-up plan. If man fell without God’s purposing it, everything that follows is a result of man’s sin, and not God’s initiative, not God’s plan. That thought is terrifying, dreadful, because God is not in control of His own Creation. Rather than a perfectly constructed story designed first to last by God for God, His Son, and His people, it is the story of how God’s gamble didn’t pay off and what He did to try and fix his mistake. 
            Can such a state give anyone hope? To be saved in such a scenario would be like the captain of a ship, who also built the ship, tossing his passenger the only life vest on board, the one that was meant to save his only son, after he had let the passenger steer the ship and sink it by slamming it into an iceberg. The passenger drifted through the cold waters and nearly froze to death, but in the end washed ashore and survived thanks to the life vest, though only after enduring an extended bout with pneumonia. It was the captain’s poor discretion, letting the passenger steer the ship that he himself had built and he alone knew how to operate, that put the passenger, and the captain and his son, in such a plight. Yes, he warned the poor passenger not to hit any icebergs, that if he did he would die, but if the captain had known the passenger could wreck the ship, why did he give the passenger the opportunity in the first place? Even further, why would he then give the only life vest to the reckless passenger rather than his own innocent son? This is senseless, evil even, if not planned for good.   
            When theologians say man retains free will after the Fall, they not only contradict Scripture but also say that Christ died for every single man and woman, but that man gets a second chance to exercise free will rightly. In other words, man chooses their eternal destiny. Max Lucado says as much:
All complaints were silenced when Adam and his descendants were given free will, the freedom to make whatever eternal choice we desire. Any injustice in this life is offset by the honor of choosing our destiny in the next….Have we been given any greater privilege than that of choice? Not only does this privilege offset any injustice, the gift of free will can offset any mistakes.[7]     
            The mistake would be, ultimately, with God, would it not? Free will is more a curse than a blessing when it results in the damnation of the human race. It becomes blasphemy and idolatry when it eclipses not only God’s sovereignty but overcomes the work of Christ on the cross for His people, rendering His sacrifice of no effect! God again is left wishing everyone to choose the good, to choose His Son, and yet His plan fails yet again. Why does Lucado esteem free will as the greatest privilege that we have been given when through it we fell into sin and thwarted God’s will? I would suggest another privilege that God’s people have been given as the greatest privilege, it is found in 1 John 3:1 (NKJV) which says, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!” This is only possible because of God’s sovereign plan and choice, not our free will. Further, Romans 8:14-17 states we will be glorified together with Christ.  
            In God’s plan, we end up being children of God because Christ died for us and spiritually marries us. This union with Christ results in His Spirit indwelling us, and even in our glorification together with Christ! Certainly our end state in heaven is a higher state than even Adam and Eve’s before the Fall. This is a plan that brings not only Christ as man glory, but His people glory too, and it cannot fail, because God is sovereign, and man is not.
             
           





[1] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperSanFrancisco; Revised & Enlarged edition, 2001), 48
[2] R.C. Sproul, Jr., Almighty Over all (Baker Books Publishing; 1999), 53-54
[3] R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross, (Reformation Trust Publishing, 2007), 103
[4] Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange: My Sin For His Righteousness, (Crossway Books, 2007), 41
[5] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, (William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1955),  43
[6] Westminster Confession of Faith, Cha 3.1
[7] Max Lucado, Cast of Characters: Common People in the Hands of an Uncommon God, (Thomas Nelson, 2010), 108

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Trinity's Influence on the American Church and Its Gospel


Reformation Bible College










The Trinity’s Influence on the American Church and Its Gospel









Doctrine of God










By

Thomas Booher



Sanford, Florida
May 2012







                The American church is not presently known for its theological prowess. Mega-churches attract “seekers” with doctrine that the apostle Paul would consider “ear tickling” (2 Tim. 4:3) and by centering their worship service not around worshiping God  but evangelizing unbelievers. Recently, a pastor named T.D. Jakes participated in the Elephant Room with several other pastors who claim to be Calvinists. The event was intended as a gathering of Christian pastors to discuss and debate their theological and methodological differences.[1] Jakes’ presence caused a controversy, not only because he is a proponent of the prosperity gospel, but for his modalistic understanding of the Trinity. While American Christians would likely condemn Jakes’ understanding of the Trinity once it was explained, many unwittingly ascribe to a very similar view themselves, or alternatively to a tri-theistic understanding of the Trinity. This is in large measure a result of pastors not preaching on the Trinity and expressing its importance from the pulpit. The Trinity has been treated like an anomaly, a side issue, yet the Trinity is essential to what and who God is.[2] Consequently, the American church’s failure to understand and worship God as triune has resulted in a disjointed understanding of who God is and what His will is, especially regarding the atonement.
                Even in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the Trinity does not show up until question six, and the extent of the explanation of the Godhead is, “There are three persons in the Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.”[3] This may indicate the devaluing of the Trinity’s importance in the Western church’s mind. Christians often think they do well to simply avoid worshiping other gods, keeping the first commandment , but the second commandment forbids worshiping God wrongly. To not understand who God is in His triune nature is to break the second commandment, because having a basic grasp of the Trinity is necessary in order to have a fundamental understanding of God’s nature, how He acts, and why He acts the way that He does. It should come as no great surprise then that many church services across America do not reflect a reverent, accurate worship of God. Jesus Christ is often seen in stark contrast to God the Father because many do not realize that Jesus was involved in the creation process with God the Father in Genesis (John 1:1-5), and that He and the Father agree with one another perfectly, and indeed are one in essence (John 10:30). Some do not realize that Christ is pre-existent,  with God the Father in heaven as God the Son before He took on flesh as a man. This misunderstanding has led to various Trinitarian errors throughout church history and is still believed by some today.
                When we understand, however, that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have always existed in harmonious relationship with one another, we will grasp the unity within the will of the Trinity. In fact, there is no variance from God the Father, the Son, or the Spirit regarding their willing. Jesus as a man came to do the will of the Father who sent Him (John 6:38), and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son to glorify them (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7,14).  All three mutually glorify and indwell one another, and thus when one acts, all three in some capacity act, which is referred to as perichoresis.[4] The Trinity has never had a disagreement, because the Godhead is triune, three in persons but one in essence. If this was understood, Christians would see that the difficult passages of God commanding the Israelites to destroy opposing nations in the Old Testament was just as much the will of God the Son as it was God the Father. Yet this unity between the Father and Son is not realized, and many believe that Jesus died on the cross to pacify an out of control, raging Father, and even had to persuade the Father to let Him die for man.
                The disunity between the Father and the Son can be seen in America through R.C. Sproul’s book The Holiness of God. Sproul refers to what he calls a second “born again” experience, of being converted to God the Father after he seemed to only understand and be converted to God the Son.[5] Sproul soon realized God was a holy God, and that Christ came as man to be the exact representation of the Father (Heb. 1:3). Indeed, Jonathan Edwards in his essay on the Trinity says that Jesus exists eternally as the express image of the Father.[6] Again, we see there is no dissension in the Godhead; they do not act independently of one another, but together.
                The good news is that there is no need to parse the words of Christ from the words of the Father or from the work of the Spirit. They represent each other and speak for one another. This is best seen in Scripture at Christ’s baptism, when the Spirit appears like a dove and the voice of God the Father is heard approving His Son (Mat. 3:16-17). This is crucial to understanding the sinless life Christ lived and the atonement. In His life, Christ fulfilled perfect obedience to the law through the power of the Spirit, and in like manner, Christians are to live by the power of the Spirit to resist temptation (Rom. 5:5). At the cross, God the Father poured out His wrath on His Son, Jesus Christ (Is. 53:10-11). Christ as a man died, but God the Son did not die, for God is immutable and immortal. Because man sinned, a man had to atone for the sin. Christ, as the perfect, sinless substitute of infinite value, did this on behalf of man, gaining glory as a man for Himself.[7] This was the Godhead’s plan from the beginning, and is the epicenter of history as Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 indicates. Note that the Spirit was involved, enabling Christ to fulfill all righteousness. Again, each member of the Godhead is acting in unity.
                The nature of the atonement is misunderstood by many because they do not grasp the triune, perichoretic nature of the Godhead. Some atheists, and even some Christians, deny penal substitutionary atonement precisely because they think this would make God guilty of cosmic child abuse. A proper understanding of the Trinity illustrates, far from being cosmic child abuse, that this was the agreed upon plan of the Godhead to glorify one another, sending God the Son to die for sinners. This was God the Father’s way of making His Son the hero of history: Christ purchases His bride and saves her from sin; it also makes Him king over all creation in His humanity, redeeming it from the corruption it groans under (Rom. 8:22). The Son was eager to do this, not reluctant. He did not have to be talked into it by His Father, nor did He have to talk His Father into letting Him do this. Beyond showing us the unity in the Godhead once more, this demonstrates that God does everything for Himself, for His glory. The three exist in relationship, enjoying one another’s company by glorifying one another.[8] The Godhead sovereignly orchestrated Creation and all history to glorify one another, extending this glory to the Creation. Through the Creation, the Father, Son, and Spirit are glorified through displaying wrath and grace, justice and mercy, hate and love.
Man, too, was created in the image of God to glorify God by joyful obedience and enjoyment of His presence and glory.[9] This cannot be rightly understood, however, if the Trinity is not properly understood. Our sinfulness, even as Christians, leads us to believe that God would not create man solely to glorify Himself. We somehow think that that makes God an egomaniac. The truth is that it does, but this is in fact a good thing. The question is whether or not we believe Scripture when it says that God is worthy of all the glory, honor, and praise, forever and ever. If He is, then it would be wrong for God not to make all things to glorify Himself, because He would be denying Himself. Further, since God is worthy of all the glory, honor, and praise, it means that man is not, and so to be created for the one who is infinitely worthy is infinitely better than being created to live for oneself, who is infinitely unworthy of living for in comparison. The American church has forgotten this, and as a result we see many churches that preach a health, wealth, and prosperity gospel, or a gospel that says God is all about you, making you happy and giving you what you want like a magic genie in a bottle that is at your beckoning and call. This sounds good to many in America because America does not understand how much more glorious the Creator of man is than man is, and much of God’s glory is wrapped up in the doctrine of the Trinity. When the church forgets the Trinity, it often begins preaching a message that says man was worth saving, indeed that God had to save man because He somehow needed them. Then man becomes the center of the universe, the most glorious and praiseworthy being. Nothing could be further from the truth, particularly in this fallen, sinful world where man reigns only in wickedness.
The American church needs to discover the God who is, and that starts with a correct understanding of the Trinity. This needs to be taught in the Bible colleges, seminaries, and especially from the pulpit on Sundays and in Sunday school. It is only when the Father, Son, and Spirit are seen  acting as one without disunity that all of Scripture can be harmonized and seen as the glorious unveiling of God’s story from first to last, all according to God’s sovereign, impeccable plan. The focal point of God’s plan is the gospel, that salvation has come through the righteous life of Christ and His atoning death, but until the Trinity is firmly rooted in the hearts and minds of American churchgoers, the full weight of the gospel will not be felt, and the sinful hearts of man will only be affected to the degree that the truth of the gospel is weighty to them.        


[1] Eryn Sun, “T.d. Jakes Linked to James Macdonald's Resignation from Gospel Coalition,” The Christian Post, http://www.christianpost.com/news/t-d-jakes-connection-to-james-macdonalds-resignation-from-the-gospel-coalition-67881/ (accessed May 1, 2012).
[2] R.C. Sproul Jr., “Doctrine of God Lecture Notes” (lecture, Reformation Bible College, Sanford, FL, January 25, 2012).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2004), 264
[5] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, 25th Anniversary Edition ed. (Carol Stream: Ligonier Ministries, 2010), 6
[6] Jonathan Edwards, “An Unpublished Essay On the Trinity,” Monergism, http://www.monergism.com/Edwards,%20Jonathan%20-%20An%20Unpublished%20Essay%20on%20the%20Tr.pdf (accessed May 1, 2012)
[7]   R.C. Sproul Jr., “Doctrine of God Lecture Notes” (lecture, Reformation Bible College, Sanford, FL, February 1, 2012).
[8] Ibid.
[9] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 25th anniversary reference ed. (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Multnomah Books, 2011), 22
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