Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Grey Areas of Theology

All of us come to the Bible with our systems.  It’s hard not to.  This happens when reading any book.  We bring our presuppositions to what we read, what we watch, what we hear.  This is part of being made in the image of God.  Animals don’t bring presuppositions.  Animals don’t get new ideas.  Animals can be trained but not reprogrammed to think differently.  People  can.  It often takes time and sometimes involves years of study, trials, etc.

This is true of theology as well.  I have never been a Calvinist.  I was raised in a Pentecostal home where Calvinism was avoided.  That said, I have known many friends of mine who “converted” to Calvinism.  None of them (that I know of) actually took time to study Arminianism or other non-Calvinist approaches to the Bible, they just enjoyed listening to John MacArthur or John Piper and dove into Calvinism.  Most of them were looking (as Austin Fischer points out in his book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformedfor something more in their faith.  They wanted to go deeper in the Lord and found Calvinism to be what they needed.  Of course, I would argue that Arminianism is actually deeper still.  Arminianism goes past Calvinism in my estimation.

What I want to point out here in this blogpost is that all of us have grey areas in our theology.  I don’t know of a perfect system. There are holes in all of our theology.  For honesty sake, I will post just a few holes I see in my own theology.  These are holes that I can’t fully explain but they don’t cause me to turn away from Christ.  I live with them and just seek to know Christ more and more.  My goal is to know God (John 17:3) but I know that I will never fully know Him and I believe that even in eternity, I will never truly grasp God.  He is infinite in His ways (Psalm 145:3).  So let me list a few holes.

1.  The Trinity.

Cults attack the doctrine of the Trinity because they say that it is illogical.  How can three persons be one God?  How can there be one God yet three persons?  I don’t grasp this myself.  I know the Bible teaches there is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) and the Father is called God, the Son is called God, and the Holy Spirit is called God but there is only one God.

Again, the infinite God is beyond my understanding.  I humble myself before His truth and simply worship Him who is true.

2.  Prayer.

How does God answer prayer?  What role does faith play?  Why does God seem to delay?  What causes God to not hear our prayers nor answer us when we call?  Is God moved by our prayers?  All of these are unanswered questions I have about prayer.  No doubt God calls us to prayer (Matthew 6:5) and Paul the Apostle says that we are to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) but I don’t begin to fully understand prayer.

3.  The Incarnation of God.

I truly believe that Jesus is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) and that this is based on the prophetic promises (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7) but how this is, I don’t know.  How a virgin can be pregnant with the holy one of Israel (Luke 1:35).  When Mary asked how this could be (Luke 1:34), I love Gabriel’s reply (Luke 1:37) and Mary’s response (Luke 1:38).  It was as if Gabriel was saying, “I don’t know how this can be but with God all things are possible.”  God can do whatever He likes and in this case, He becomes a human while not ceasing to be God.  Jesus was not a man on earth while God was in heaven.  Jesus was fully God and fully man.  Jesus was not half man and half God.  While Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus humbled Himself and became a slave, it does not say that Jesus ceased to ever be God.  He can’t.  Jesus was fully God before the manger and He was God after He ascended to the right hand of God.  Jesus has always existed with the Father and the Spirit before time began (John 17:5).  Yet how God became a man is beyond me.

4.  Regeneration.

I accept the biblical truth of being born from above (John 3:3) but I don’t fully grasp this miracle.  Even the good doctor Nicodemus in John 3:4 tried to ask Jesus how can this be.  Let’s give Nicodemus credit here and know that he was not asking about being born physically again.  He is wondering about this miracle of being born from above.  How can this be?  Jesus points to the wind and the mystery of the wind (John 3:5-8).  Again Nicodemus replies, “How can these things be?” (John 3:9).  I agree Nicodemus.  I don’t know.  I preach salvation through Christ alone.  I preach repentance.  I preach being baptized into Christ.  Yet the mystery of the new birth is beyond me.  I know Titus 3:5-7 is true and I preach that salvation is the gracious work of God yet I can’t explain how the God who created all things comes and indwells us.  It is a mystery that I am willing to preach and accept.  I praise God that He saved me!

5.  Free Will.

As an Arminian, I hold to libertarian free will.  I believe all people have the power to choose to either do or refrain from a given action whether sinful or good.  Yet I can’t explain how God allows free will and yet His decreed will is always done.  The cross, for example, was predetermined by God (Acts 2:22-23) yet God did not make the Jews or the Romans kill Jesus.  He permitted them to kill His Son and it was part of His plan but no one believes (even Calvinists) that God made the people kill Jesus.  The people chose to kill Jesus by God’s definite foreknowledge.

The mystery is here is how God in His sovereignty still accomplishes His will while allowing people to make free decisions.  I have no doubt that God knows the free decisions of people but that He knows just means that He knows.  Knows and causes are not the same.  My mystery in free will is that God allows free will people to make free will decisions yet God’s decreed will is done.  However, not everything that happens in this world is the will of God.  Even God said about His people in Jeremiah 7:31 that they did that which He did not plan nor came to His mind.  How can that be?  If God knows all things and He plans all things (according to determinism), how can this be?  Right before Jeremiah 7:31, God says that He had sent prophets to warn His people but they stiffened their necks and became hardened.  This would be later on as well in John 12:40 where God says that He has allowed the Israelites to be hardened for the purpose of the cross.  How can these things be?

6.  The Cross.

Could there not be another way?  Did the cross have to be?  I understand the holiness of God demands a sacrifice for sins (Hebrews 9:22) but could there have been salvation without the cross?  Could God have accomplished redemption of sinners by some other means?  Biblically I know that the cross is a must.  Sinful humanity sinned against a holy God with the fall of Adam and Eve (Romans 5:12) and the cross demonstrates both the love of God for human beings and His holiness at the same time (Romans 3:22-27).  Amazing!  Jesus died for sinners since He never sinned Himself (1 Peter 2:21-24).  Jesus suffered at the hands of sinners to redeem sinners (Luke 19:10).  Simply amazing!

Yet did the cross have to be?  Could the Lord have saved us another way?  I don’t know.  I am thankful for the cross and I praise God that salvation comes through the cross but the mystery of the cross is beyond me.

7.  God Changing His Mind.

Genesis 6:6 is tough.  How could God truly be sorry for making mankind when (according to determinism), He knew what would become of them in the first place?  Is this not true emotions from God?  The typical answer is that such talk from the Lord is only given to show us humans so that we can relate to God who is beyond us.

In Exodus 32 we read of the Israelites and the golden calf.  God declares to Moses that He is going to wipe them out for this sin yet Moses intercedes for the Israelites and God relents (v. 14).  Some say that God did not really relent but He was using this to teach Moses how to be a leader or how to pray.  Yet the text is a mystery.

There are more.  I could go on.  There are texts that suggest that God relents and I don’t know how to answer them.  The open theist points to them as proof that God learns certain things (see for example Genesis 22:12).  I can’t ignore the language but I don’t have clear answers either.  Yet the same God can say of the unborn Cyrus that he will be his servant (Isaiah 45:1).  God could call forth even the city where the Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2) and arrange entire nations for this purpose (Luke 2:1-2).

So on the one hand God is said to relent of things and learn things yet the overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is infinite in His wisdom and awesome in all His ways.  This is a mystery to me.

What To Do With Grey Areas?

My advice: keep studying.  Keep praying.  Keep hoping in God.  Grey areas don’t mean that God’s Word has failed nor do they mean that God is not trustworthy.  His promises are sure (2 Peter 1:4).  Grey areas mean that I don’t have God figured out and that He is God.  I am satisfied with that.  I will never grasp God.  His ways are beyond me.  His thoughts are beyond me (Isaiah 55:8-9).  I do know that He loves me (John 3:16) and He has demonstrated that love through the cross (Romans 5:8-9).  I rejoice that this is clear: Jesus died for sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).  This is clear: Jesus rose from the dead (Acts 1:3) and salvation comes through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Romans 10:9-10).  I rejoice that the gospel is simple and clear (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  My prayer is to know Christ more (Philippians 3:10).

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/30/2015 at 11:18 AM

2 Responses

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  1. You said: “Most of them were looking (as Austin Fischer points out in his book Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed) for something more in their faith. They wanted to go deeper in the Lord and found Calvinism to be what they needed. ”

    It seems to be a sad fact that when people are looking to deepen their faith they tend to turn to men to give them the answers instead of FIRST turning to God and His Word for themselves.

    I did that many years ago and thought I’d found the answer to my lack with Word of Faith teachers. It satisfied for a time because it had the promise of giving me the kind of Christian faith and experience I could see in the Bible. However, like ALL of men’s religious movements, it tended to base its teaching on selected portions of scripture, and anything in scripture that was contradictory was noticeably ignored.

    The only way to escape the influence of men’s religious systems and their teachings is to put them aside (at least for a time) and to turn to scripture for ourselves.

    One thing that helped me to see the need to do that, was when I eventually stopped pushing aside those areas of doubt about the teachings, where I no longer wanted to ignore the all too noticeable contradictions. I’d advise not listen to anyone who tries to explain away the contradictions by attributing them to the mystery of God’s ways. That’s a handy smoke screen to cover up weaknesses in a theological viewpoint.
    Scripture was given to to REVEAL God to believers, NOT to conceal things or to create confusion.

    If there’s something we don’t understand we need to be patient enough to let God give understanding when we are ready for it, instead of running too and fro from teacher to teacher until we get answers we like.

    Onesimus

    08/30/2015 at 10:34 PM

  2. I appreciate your blog. Your conditional security belief along, with a hunger for holiness, without being secluded from society–yet not conforming to society, is encouraging. How I wish I could find a church like this. I barely think its possible anymore. So I go to a church that believes in truly holy living but also in “high-bar” OSAS, ( my term for OSAS in which the truly saved WILL be holy and WILL kept, thus not ever losing salvation). I am very encouraged there in holy living, but lonely in my conditional security belief. So I just wanted to express my appreciation for your work on the web. VGC

    Ginny Carnell

    08/31/2015 at 12:40 PM


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