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Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 3) Part 1

You can find the previous posts here and here.

This is chapter 3 of the book Grace For All.  This chapter is entitled, “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of New Testament Texts or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist.”

This was an excellent chapter.  The first two chapters laid down the biblical and philosophical foundations to why Arminians reject Calvinism but now we turn completely to the Word of God for our understanding of why Calvinism is flawed.  It begins with what Arminians have the most problem with in regard to Calvinism and that is the Calvinistic teaching of divine determinism.  I was surprised once when talking with an educated Calvinist and he said that he had never heard of divine determinism.  However, we Arminians view Calvinism as divine determinism.  As Glen Shellrude points out in the opening of this chapter, “Theological determinism affirms that everything that happens does so because God has ordained it to happen that way.”  Shellrude points to the Westminster Confession of Faith which clearly teaches that all things come to pass by the ordaining of God.  While many Calvinists affirm unconditional election and thus they affirm divine determinism from a salvation perspective, many Calvinists fail to see that Calvinism (when taken logically) must affirm God’s sovereignty (all-power and all-rule) as “specific sovereignty” meaning that even the “trajectory of the smallest raindrop” is controlled and ordained by God.

Taken further, divine determinism affirms not just the good of the saints (Romans 8:28) but the evil as well (Genesis 50:20).  Yet as Austin Fischer asks, “What about the reprobate? How does God work good for them?”  Of course, He doesn’t.  God’s plan for the reprobate in Calvinism is hell.  This is said to be for His glory.  Reading Calvinist works on the issue of God’s love and the reprobate one understands why John Wesley said that unconditional predestination makes our blood boil.  It simply doesn’t fit the picture of the Bible about God, His nature, His creation, His love, and those whom He created in His image.

Shellrude points out that Calvinists often try to use the language of permission when speaking of evil and divine determinism but this will not fit with the Calvinist understanding of the sovereignty of God.  Divine determinism means that all that happens happens not because God merely permitted it but rather that He plans and renders everything certain for His glory.  So what about evil deeds done by evil men that God did not permit but purposed and rendered certain?  Some Calvinists simply appeal to mystery but some such as Gordon Clark affirm the goodness of God despite His planning evil deeds and events:

God is the ultimate cause of sin, He is not the author of sin. The author is the immediate cause of an action. Man is the immediate cause of his sin. But he was not free to do otherwise. For God is the ultimate cause of sin.

God’s causing a man to sin is not sin. There is no law, superior to God, which forbids him to decree sinful acts. Sin presupposes a law, for sin is lawlessness.

So how does God in Calvinism escape sinning?  Because He is God.  Because God can do what He wants, God cannot be held responsible for sin since He is above the law.  Reminds me of the cops I see flying down the highway going too fast without their emergency lights on yet cops would argue that they are above the law.  I find Clark’s answer less than satisfying.

In the next post I want to jump into this chapter.  Chapter 3 was excellent at exploring how Calvinism fits into the Bible but it doesn’t.  One must have presuppositions of Calvinism to make Calvinism fit into the Bible.  We will examine the many texts that Shellrude looks at in this chapter.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/05/2015 at 1:11 PM

Book Review: Grace For All (Chapter 2: God’s Universal Salvific Grace)

This is an ongoing review of the book Grace For All.  This book is edited by the late Clark Pinnock and John Wagner.  It is published by Resource Publications.

After reading Roger Olson’s chapter on how Arminianism is not “man-centered theology” but instead is “Man-centered theology” with the focus on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ and what He accomplished on the cross and through His glorious resurrection, we are ready to examine what separates Arminians from Calvinists.  This chapter, “God’s universal salvific grace” seeks to focus on the grace of God for all.  The writer, Vernon Grounds, seeks to build a case from both Scripture and logic that God’s grace was given for all humanity.  It was the grace of God that reached out to lost humanity through the cross.

Grounds contrasts how Calvinism views the grace of God that is given only for the elect (those predetermined by God’s sovereignty to be His elect) and that of Arminianism where God’s grace is the power of God, the acting of God to bring sinners to salvation.  The gospel by nature then is the grace of God reaching out to lost sinners (Matthew 28:19).  God’s grace was fully manifested in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:14, 17-18) and Jesus shed His blood for all (Mark 10:45).  Jesus is the one mediator before God for lost sinners (1 Timothy 2:5-6).  By the grace of God, Jesus tasted death for everyone (Hebrews 2:9).

The chapter tends to get bogged down in philosophy more than exegesis.  If one is to err (in my opinion), let them err on spending too much time examining what the Bible says about grace and salvation above what Calvinist theologians have said.  While I do think that it is important to see what some Calvinists have said about grace and particularly how salvation is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus, it is more important to see what the Bible says above what Calvinists or Arminians have said.  The final authority for both Arminians and Calvinists must be the Word of God.  Therefore, I feel that Grounds doesn’t do justice to this chapter by spending too much time on what Calvinists have said above what the Bible says. No doubt he does cite Scripture here and there but true exegesis is missing.

One need only examine the great commission in Mathew 28:19-20 to see that Jesus intended His gospel to go into every nation.  This is the grace of God at work.  The message of the Church is now: Jesus is King!  Jesus has defeated sin and death.  Jesus has won the victory!  The message of the cross is thus one of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  God calls out to sinners to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15-16; Acts 17:30-31).  Whenever one does repent and believe the gospel, they find that God’s grace was drawing them to salvation (John 6:44).  It was the Spirit of God working to draw lost sinners by the gospel to the cross for salvation through faith (Ephesians 2:1-9).  A person then is justified before God through faith (Romans 5:1) and not by works (Titus 3:5-7) nor is our salvation unto faith (as in Calvinism).

Blogging Through Grace For All – Chapter One

Chapter 1 of the book Grace For All is written by Roger Olson.  Dr. Olson’s focus is on the issue of whether Arminianism is man-centered theology.  This is a key question as Calvinists often accuse Arminians of being “man-centered” and “Pelagian” in our theology.  I find this ironic since I have read much of great Arminian scholars such as Arminius, John Wesley, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, Daniel Steele, Roger Olson, Vic Reasoner, Jack Cottrell, etc. and none of them have a man-centered approach.

Arminius wrote:

Our sacred Theology, therefore, is chiefly occupied in ascribing to the One True God, to whom alone they really belong, those attributes of which we have already spoken, his nature, actions, and will. For it is not sufficient to know, that there is some kind of a NATURE, simple, infinite, wise, good, just, omnipotent, happy in itself, the Maker and Governor of all things, that is worthy to receive adoration, whose will it is to be worshipped, and that is able to make its worshippers happy.

Far from having a man-centered theology, Arminius was clearly at home with the Reformers in embracing a theology that first and foremost focused on God.  It is the nature of God, His character that is the main debate among Arminians and Calvinists in my estimation.

Dr. Olson focuses first on various Calvinist theologians view of Arminianism and how it is nothing more than “man-centered theology.”  It seems Calvinists (or some at least) hold that Arminianism is barely orthodox.  Dr. Olson points out that Calvinists often attack Arminianism as man-centered in three ways:

1.  It’s focus on human goodness and ability in the realm of redemption.
2.  It limits God by suggesting that God’s will can be thwarted by human decisions and actions.
3.  It places too much emphasis on human fulfillment and happiness to the neglect of God’s purpose and glory.

Dr. Olson uses these three questions to jump into the rest of the chapter.  He does a good job of using the works of Arminius here to show what Arminius believed about what Calvinists have later said about his theology.  Ironically, even John Piper says that after reading Arminius, he enjoyed him and found him to be a deep, serious thinker with a focus on the glory of God.  I couldn’t agree more.  Having read Arminius on and off for most of the past 10 years, I have found Arminius to be nothing like what Calvinists often describe of Arminianism.  Arminius is clearly God-centered and his focus is on the glory of the King!

With regard to the three questions.  First, Olson points out that Arminianism has always held to total inability when it comes to sinners.  We need the divine aid of God to be saved (John 6:44).  The concept of prevenient grace both in Arminius (though he doesn’t use those words) and later John Wesley clearly shows a view of man that is anything other than sinful.  Man, because of sin, cannot obtain the perfect righteousness God requires (Matthew 5:48).  We need the aid of the Lord which He has graciously given to us in His Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Like Paul the Apostle, we find nothing in us but everything in Jesus (Philippians 3:8-9).

Secondly, Olson points out that Arminius held to the sovereignty of God.  The mystery in Arminianism is just this: how does a sovereign God get His will done while still allowing for free-will decisions by sinful humans.  The mystery in Calvinism is this: how is God not guilty of sin when He is the one who renders all things certain and nothing comes to pass without Him first ordaining it.  I will continue to uphold the mystery in Arminianism as the biblical mystery rather than trying to explain (as in Calvinism) how God can punish people who are only doing what God has ordained for them to do (according to their nature but their nature is determined first and foremost by God).  Arminius never wavered on the issue of God’s sovereignty.  He merely didn’t see divine determinism in the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty.  To be sovereign does not mean that God must not only control but cause all things as in Calvinism.  Arminius was clear that God is sovereign over His creation and can do as He like but there is one thing God will never do and that is sin (James 1:13).  Because God cannot sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin, Calvinism runs into trouble by taking their definition of sovereignty and applies it even to sin.  In this way, God ordains sin and renders it certain yet the Calvinist has to wrestle with why God is not sinning.

And lastly, Olson rightly points out that Calvinism does not back away from the issue of happiness either.  John Piper preaches on this issue often with his Christian Hedonism.  A reading of Arminius shows that this was not a focus for him.  Arminius lived and preached during a time of great plagues.  Many died from the plagues and Arminius often risked his life to minister to the dying.  Arminius knew that heaven was the joy for the child of God.  This world is fleeting but heaven is eternal (John 11:25).  We focus on what is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Olson concludes this chapter by making the focus not about man-centered versus God-centered.  The key issue, writes Olson, is the character of God.  In Calvinism, writes Olson, he finds little difference between God and Satan (Olson is not suggesting Calvinists worship Satan nor a false god).  The God of Calvinism wants a few to be saved and to damn most.  How is this different than Satan? writes Olson.  The character of God is best seen in His Son who is the “exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).  In Jesus we find a God who is loving, kind, praying both for His friends and His enemies, who has come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus came to show the Father (John 14:9) and He perfectly revealed Him to us in His life, death, and resurrection from the dead (Colossians 1:15-20).  Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:8) and this love was given for the entire world (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 4:10, 14).

Book Review: ESV Readers Edition

The ESV Reader’s Edition is a nice addition to the ESV line of Bibles.  I purchased mine from Lifeway Christian Bookstore.  Mine was about $26.

The layout of the ESV Readers Bible is that it comes with only the text of Scripture.  For example, I have the Bible before me and I have it opened to Psalm 41.  This edition has Psalm 41 over the words but no verses.  It is like reading a novel.

Now does this help?  I am use to reading the Bible with verses that I find myself trying to figure out what verse I am in.  Sometimes I have been reading from this ESV and have had to pick up my ESV pitt minion to see where I am reading.  I know that I am reading from Leviticus but what verse?  Yet on the other hand I enjoy reading a Bible that just flows.  I don’t get sidetracked by cross references or by even the verses themselves.  I just read.  The other advantage would be that you don’t find yourself counting verses.  I just read chapters and not verses.  This allows for longer Bible reading.  My plan is to read the Bible through in this edition.

Overall this is a unique Bible and one that I do recommend.  It has semi-large print (about 8.5) which makes it easy to read.  This, of course, would not be a preaching or even study Bible.  It is made simply to read from.  I do encourage all disciples to read this edition of the ESV and enjoy!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/19/2015 at 10:52 AM

Book Review: Authority in Prayer by Dutch Sheets

Dutch Sheets is known for his teaching on prayer.  I hope he is also a man of prayer though I don’t know much about him other than from his books.  Sheets is a charismatic teacher and travels the world teaching on prayer.  He has written other books on prayer besides the one that I am going to review.

The Positives 

1.  The Short Chapters.

The book has only 14 chapters.  This is a relatively short book for me.  It is only 197 pages.  The chapters are short and mostly to the point.

2.  No Guilt Trips on Prayer.

Some books on prayer simply seem to make you feel guilty.  “You are not praying enough.”  “You must spend 2 hours with the Lord or you are not even saved!”  “You will never see revival with your pathetic prayer life.”  This is what I mean by guilt prayer books.  They beat you up with no mercy or grace.  This book doesn’t do that.  While prayer is the focus, the author does not spend a lot of time focusing on making you feel guilty.  He just wants you to pray.

3.  Some Biblical Focus.

What I will have more to say about this later, there was some emphasis placed on what the Bible says about prayer and the promises of God.  Nearly every chapter had passages of Scripture in them.  The Bible wasn’t ignored in this book.  While I have some troubling aspects of the author’s usage of some passages, I appreciated that the author seems to believe the Bible is the Word of God.

4.  Victory in Christ.

Daniel 7:13-14 has been in my heart now for days and the author focuses on how Christ has won the victory.  Christ will reign forever over His enemies and His disciples will rejoice!  In the meantime, we have been given biblical authority to preach the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20) and to pray (John 14:12-14).  Because Jesus sits at the right hand of God (Hebrews 7:25), He is able to help us (Hebrews 4:14-16) and this is true in prayer.  We pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The author does a good job of teaching that Christ has won the victory, that Satan is defeated, and that we can seek God through Christ.

5.  Prayer is Powerful!

Prayer is powerful only because God is all-powerful!  The author shows that God answers prayer (Mark 11:22-24).  He tells many stories to teach the reader that God does hear our prayers and He does answer our prayers.  In the author’s case, the Lord answers prayer in many astonishing ways.  I too have seen the Lord answer prayer.  God has been faithful to hear my cries and to answer my prayers.  While I have never seen miracles (though I have seen His hand of providence), I don’t doubt that God can and does miracles from time to time but always for His glory and honor and not for ours (Acts 14:3).  We should pray big prayers and seek God for big things.  I have no trouble with this and in fact I was convicted that I pray too often for “easy” things instead of praying for amazing things like the saving of souls by the thousands.

The Negatives

Let me point out a few negatives I took away from the book.

1.  Too Experiential For My Taste.

I prefer books that focus on the biblical text.  There are books that are more devotional in nature such as the prayer books of Andrew Murray and there are books on prayer from a more theological point and those are my favorites.  Sound doctrine goes hand in hand with sound living (1 Timothy 4:16).  This book has many experiences from the author.  The author writes much about his experiences with hearing God speak.  I have never heard the voice of God and I am convinced that we hear God speak in the Bible.  The Bible is His final, inerrant, and infallible revelation given to us (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and this is why we should teach prayer from the Bible and not from personal experiences.

2.  Lack of Biblical Content.

I mentioned above that the author does use Scripture.  Sheets used a Bible verse in every chapter.  Yet Sheets never really teaches the text.  In fact, his chapters used Bible verses but much like a topical preacher.  He sort of used Bible verses only to back up his points.  Sheets didn’t deal with the text nor exegete them at all.  I would rather read a book say on the disciple’s prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 which deals with each verse slowly and deeply than to hear personal stories over and over again.

3.  Lack of the Gospel.

A book on prayer should be gospel-centered and Christ-exalting.  Sheets did not tear down the Lord Jesus in any way so I want to make that clear.  Sheets, in my estimation from this book, is not seeking to turn people away from Christ as a false teacher would.  Christ is spoken of all over this book.  Yet what was missing was the gospel.  The gospel is the very reason that I get to pray!  The gospel is what opens the doors of heaven so that I can pray to my Father.  The work of Christ is vital and our understanding of the gospel is necessary to help us to pray.  When we understand the death of Christ for our sins (Galatians 1:4) and His resurrection for our justification before God (Romans 4:24-25), this opens our prayer lives because we see that we are not praying out of religious duty to earn God’s perfection (Isaiah 64:6) nor His blessing for what have all that in Christ Jesus (Romans 4:5).  Christ is the reason that I get to pray (John 15:16).  While Sheets does mention the Lord Jesus often, he doesn’t spend any time speaking of the glory of the cross nor of Christ sitting at the right hand of God making intercession for the saints.  This point is vital to prayer.

4.  Territory Spirits.

One final point.  Sheets talks often about God placing him in places to pray.  He tells a story in the book about the Lord placing him in Washington DC to pray for the United States.  He believes his prayers have shaped many political situations and has kept the hand of God back from judging the nation.  Sheets seems to have a view that spirits control areas such as DC or other cities.  This comes from some who teach this based on Daniel 10:13.  I appreciate those who would pray for cities and nations.  Paul prayed for people groups in Romans 10:1.  The Messiah prays to the Father in Psalm 2:8 for the nations.  Did He fail to get those?  No!  Jesus reigns over the nations and that is why He could tell His disciples to go and get them (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8).  We are Christ’s ambassadors telling the world to repent and submit to the Lordship of Jesus in all things (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  So I disagree with Sheets over this issue.  Satan is defeated and Christ is victorious.  Our job is to proclaim Christ and His victory over the enemy (1 John 3:8).

Conclusion

Overall this book was not a bad read.  I don’t want you to think from my negative points that the book was all bad.  It wasn’t.  There was some good that I took from this book.  While I have read better books on prayer, this was not the worst.  I would recommend it for someone wanting to devour books on prayer.

This review was based on a free copy of the book provided by Bethany House Publishers.  I was free to give my review in whatever way I saw best.  Thank you to Bethany House for the book.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/28/2015 at 6:48 PM

Book Review: Exploring Christian Theology (Volume One)

Exploring Christian Theology (Volume One) by Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel.

This book is a solid work.  The authors are both graduates from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and so I expected there to be a solid evangelical emphasis with a dispensational leaning.  This was not so (at least in the areas of theology they covered).  In this book, the authors cover the doctrines of revelation (how God has revealed Himself), Scripture (the inerrant and infallible Word of God given to us by inspiration of the Spirit), and the Triune God.  While I was going into this book thinking that the book would be written on a simple level (too simple were my thoughts going in), the book was actually very well done and the language, while not deeply theological for those who are just studying theology, was solid enough for even seminary level students to enjoy.

The authors do a good job at exploring two main ares in this book.  First the authors explore what the Bible says about a given subject.  For example, the authors first show what God has said in His Word about His own revelation.  Then the authors explore what Church history and others have to say about the subject at hand.  I appreciated the biblical background being the heart for the disciple of Christ.  The Bible is how we can speak for God (2 Timothy 3:16-17) and the Bible is faithful to reveal the truths we need for the Christian life.  One cannot begin theology or anything else in life without a solid foundation from the Word of God (Psalm 119:142).

The chapters are full of knowledge.  I appreciated the Scripture memory sections in each chapter that highlighted various passages of Scripture on the subject.  A disciple of Christ would do well to memorize these passages (John 8:31-32).  The authors also include charts throughout the book.  The charts often take complex issues and help the reader to see them clearly.  For example, the authors show the erroneous views of Christ by taking the major views of Christ throughout Church history and place them in a chart for one to read.  This makes it easy to see how various leaders have erred about Christ in the history of the Church.

Overall I am looking forward to reading the next editions to this work. While this book is not a deep systematic theology text, it is very good for the average disciple who just wants to know more about the faith.  I do recommend this book.

This review is based on a free copy of the book that was given to this reviewed from Bethany House Publishers.

The Kindle version is found here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/26/2014 at 1:38 PM

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