J. K.’s Diary

Another day, another issue in a long line of issues. First I have to struggle through predestination a few years ago. It’s hard for a Southern Baptist to deal with this one. Next it’s an approach to apologetics that I had not heard of before, pre-suppositional. Norman Geisler and R. C. Sproul, my two favorite authors in college, didn’t take that approach. Still quite sure I don’t accept it myself, so I’ll stick with classical. Next it's theonomy. At least that was easy to decide against; Baptist heritage is nice sometimes.

Now it’s a new hermeneutic, a new way of interpreting the Bible. Now I'm supposed to think that any interpretation of the Scripture is just my own interpretation. I’m supposed to buy that anytime I think that I have determined what the Bible actually says, I am as far from what the text says as possible. I’m supposed to get an interpretation of any given passage from what amounts to group consensus on the issue.

It sounds like truth by perspective. That’s easy enough for me to deal with. (Did I mention I read R. C. and Norm?) If truth is just perspective, is the truth that ‘truth is just perspective’ a perspective or an absolute, prepositional truth? Seems it’s self-referentially absurd. So I’ve pretty much dealt with it for myself.

But what about that new Bible study at church, the one where someone reads a passage of Scripture and the rest of us comment on what it means? It drives me crazy to sit still while some of the people comment on propitiation. The consensus seems to be that the word is too difficult for the group to understand. Difficult? It just means that Christ turns away the wrath of God by suffering that wrath when he didn’t deserve it. I didn’t know that it only took one sentence to explain something that was “difficult.”

I lean forward in my chair when it is my turn. I use the “record book of sin” illustration that I learned in Evangelism Explosion training to explain penal, substitutionary atonement. Seems easy enough for the group to understand. They actually even like the explanation! Now I'm a big “expert” on these matters. That’s scary. Very scary.

So what’s the next step? We are to identify the “felt need” that Christ met for us, the one that lead us to place our faith in Christ back when we became Christians. Here we go again. One person identifies freedom from guilt, not real guilt mind you, just guilt feelings. Another talks about a reason to be, a purpose. Two others, a husband and wife, visibly struggle with the issue. (Keep in mind that when an engineering graduate like me identifies your body language it is very obvious.) Their turn is after mine, so I plunge in.

“I guess the reason that I became a Christian is that I didn’t want to go to hell.” I proceed to explain that someone told me that if I didn’t place my faith in Christ and trust that He paid the penalty for my sins that I would have to pay that penalty myself. They had further explained that since I am a finite human being, and the God I had offended was infinite in worth and righteousness, I would have to endure His wrath for an eternity to pay for my sins myself. I further stated, in my usual way, albeit unoriginal and bombastic, that I was a Christian because at one point in my life someone “scared the hell out of me.” You could have heard a pin drop.

But the couple that had been squirming in their seats visibly relaxed (reference my earlier comment about my basic inability to identify body language). The husband said, “I’m really glad you said that. I thought I was all alone on this.” More positive comments followed. Yet again I am generally agreed with and regarded as the “expert.” That is still scary.

The video-based study ends. I feel great, but at first I can not fully explain why. I think about this for a while. It takes time for me to process feelings. They sometimes are so basically foreign to my fact-based approach to life. I have deep feelings, but for the most part they are none of your business.

I find the answer to my question the next morning, during my time of prayer. I am praying through the Psalms again. I read until I find a passage that makes my heart stir, and then form a prayer that expresses my thoughts in my own terms about a situation I am aware of or experiencing. I started this after reading A Simple Way to Pray by Martin Luther.

My verse for the day is Psalm 51:13 (ESV), “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.” I realize my joy came from the fact that I had explained the gospel in an appropriate way to a small group of people who had not really grasped some of its basic content. My freedom from guilt (actual guilt, not just guilt feelings) had motivated me to share with others how they could be forgiven. I had made a difference in the lives of a few people. My message had been well-received. They liked theology. They received benefit from revealed, propositional truth.

This is encouraging to me as I begin to prepare for the Seventh and Eight Grade Boys Sunday School Class I teach. I have always found that they are interested in theology. I read paragraphs from books to them on everything from hermeneutics to Christology to eschatology, all by educated theologians. I even define the words for them as I explain the concepts. They seem to take a genuine interest in what I have to say. They hang on my every word when I explain concepts that the modern church seems to find difficult to understand.

I am hopeful. The gospel has not changed. Human nature has not changed. God uses His truth to change the hearts of men when we express that truth. God gives us opportunity to proclaim his truth to Christians so they can be encouraged. I’ll stick with my old-fashioned, grammatico-historical hermeneutic. I’ll keep on turning to the educated theologians for explanations. I’ll not desert the approach that seems to work in spite of the weaknesses of the engineering-graduate turned amateur theological professor.


Lee P. said...

J.K., you said that you struggled with the issue of predestination a few years ago. What conclusion did you come to, and why?

J. K. Jones said...

Predestination is not a topic I argue over. In and of itself, it is not a topic I ever teach or write on unless asked. The reason is twofold:

1) I have read extensively on all sides of this debate and feel that there are many good Christians who argue and teach better than me on this subject.

2) The Bible always seems to address the topic as a part of a discussion of something else.

I reached the conclusion that, “In love [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1: 4-6, ESV). I also concluded that God, “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

I concluded that we are to, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” because “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). [NOTE: It’s just not smart to disagree with Jesus on a theological issue.] I figure “the whole creation” means everybody. I also pray for those I met that “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26). To use the common caricatures of both sides, I witness like an Arminian and pray like a Calvinist.

John Netwon, the writer of “Amazing Grace,” states my position well. John Piper writes:

"William Jay recounts how Newton described the place of his Calvinism. He was having tea one day with Newton. Newton said, "'I am more of a Calvinist than anything else; but I use my Calvinism in my writings and my preaching as I use this sugar'—taking a lump, and putting it into his tea-cup, and stirring it, adding, 'I do not give it alone, and whole; but mixed and diluted.'" In other words, his Calvinism permeates all that he writes and teaches and serves to sweeten everything. Few people like to eat sugar cubes, but they like the effect of sugar when it permeates [in the] right proportion."
[As downloaded from: http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Biographies/1485_John_Newton_The_Tough_Roots_of_His_Habitual_Tenderness/]

If you want modern books to read on the subject (and I hope you do), I’d pick up Chosen By God by R. C. Sproul and Chosen But Free by Norman Geisler. I would read then in that order because Geisler’s book was written as a direct argument against Sproul’s and Sproul’s argument is very difficult to follow the way Geisler states it. The best book on the subject outside the Bible is The Freedom of The Will by Jonathan Edwards.

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