Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Effects Of Synergism (Part II, Practice)

II) Practice

Previously I wrote primarily on theological problems that arise out of a synergistic view of salvation, it was my contention that the problems which synergists often find to be difficult to reconcile are non existent for the monergist. For example the unreached, the question is what about the people who never were presented with an opportunity to choose Jesus? The synergist makes up responses that have flimsy if any biblical basis for how those outside of Christ are saved. I respond to all of these absurd constructs by simply asking so why should we even bother to do missions if people are saved by some seen merit in them not the blood of Christ? That was the previous post here I want to take up some of the practical implications synergism has upon how we do evangelism and church outreach. Because again faith and regeneration are seen as a decision one makes the effects on how we proclaim the gospel message is enormous. This can be seen clearly in alter calls, sinners prayers, "revivals", church growth techniques, evangelism, and the over arching fear of "pushing people away". I will take these up as briefly as possible.

a) The altar call

The altar call was popularized by Charles G. Finney in the second great awakening, he called it the "anxious seat" where those who were close to a decision would come and hopefully by the physical steps spiritual steps toward Christ would be simultaneously be made. Iain Murray has a sharp little booklet called "The Invitation System" documenting the arguments for the altar call and responding to them. A popular argument is psychological saying "There is something about coming forward which settles it." (p.11) In our time no one has used the alter call method more than Billy Graham who says of the system "You have the ability to choose you stand at the crossroads, you may never be as close to the kingdom again, I believe you heart is specially prepared...you get up and come forward." (p.19) Naturally the question comes to mind what does it mean to be prepared? Does the Spirit do the same work on the hearts of all who hear the message? If so why then do only some come to a decision? Was it something in themselves that made them differ from those who rejected this wooing work? It must be, they who made the decision must be smarter or have softer hearts than those who did not.

My point is that the alter call system itself is rooted in Arminian theology, faith and regeneration are decisions one makes and evidence of the decision is to come forward. This is in contrast to the churches prior to Finney who simply preached the gospel and trusted God to convert the sinners who would hear the message. One can think of the revival that happened under the calvinistic preaching of Edwards and Whitfield which no alter calls were made, yet all of New England was set on fire with zeal for God. To sum my point up on this issue, my point is that practically speaking we see the out workings of Synergism in the alter call whether good or bad, because the alter call declares to all "I have made up my mind, I am deciding to be born again and follow Jesus." All I really want to show with addressing the alter call is to show firstly that our theology directly effects our practice.

b) evangelism (charismatic)

There are many practices in evangelism which are common today that are clearly rooted in synergism. There is of course the numerous different "steps to salvation" presented on the back of most tracts followed by a recitation of the sinners prayer with an assurance given to the one who prayed of their rightstanding with God. There are also a wide variety of techniques of evangelism which Christians are taught to employ. One stands out glaringly to me and that is a what I would call hyper-charismatic evangelism. In this view the idea is that if miracles accompany evangelism conversion will almost be a guaranteed result. This of course presupposes that conversion is an act of human will, and God (in the hyper charismatic sense) is always desiring to do the miraculous but is in need of willing human vessels to do His work. Both of these presuppositions show that man decides what God can and will do by human will. So those who subscribe to this view put performing miracles at the forefront for effective evangelism.

This sort of argument is presented in Bill Johnson's book "When Heaven Invades Earth: A practical guide to a life in miracles" as the back advertises "Anyone can walk in the miraculous-even you!....It is truly possible for human people to walk in the divine, and Christ came to show us the way." Now just the back of the book to me is in gross error, to say that anyone can walk in the miraculous is to make the miraculous a work of man, man tapping into God. It is Johnson's premise in the book and his teachings, that God longs to do miracles but He needs willing vessels to work through. God is dependent upon man to act, and until men tap into God He can not move. And if that wasn't' enough there is the bald assertion that this was the mission of Jesus Christ, to come show us how to live a life of miracles. God seems to be a force we tap into and unleash on those around us via signs and wonders and Christ came to show us how to do so.

I am sorry but I really feel icky just writhing this mancentered nonsense.
1) God does not need man to accomplish His will "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth none can restrain His hand or say to Him 'What have You done?'" (Dan 4:35) God is sovereign over His creation or so realized Nebuchadnezzar after he came out of his self centered madness (which was ordered by God).

2) Miracles are not what saves souls nor do they necessarily give greater incentive for conversion: we hear of the 10 lepers healed in Luke and only 1 returns to honor Christ (Lk 17:12) most importantly is the fact that it is the gospel which saves "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation" (Rom 1:16) Now charismatics like words like "power" and think signs and wonders but the power Paul speaks of is not a power to heal sick or prophesy but the power of the risen Christ to save sinful men from the just wrath of Almighty God, that is why the gospel is powerful! The gospel saves men from an eternity in hell and gives them an eternity of delight.

3) Christ did not come as a teacher of a course in the miraculous as Johnson asserts, rather He came as a savior. "What shall we do that we may work the works of God?' And Jesus said to them 'This is the work of God that you believe in Him whom He sent.'" (John 6:28-29) and "...for this reason Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief." (1Tim 1:15) Here is the purpose of Christ's comming according to the blessed apostle to save sinners.

c) Fear of "pushing away"

There is definitely a good deal of weight laid upon the Synergists shoulders, if conversion, repentance, and regeneration are acts of will then one right or wrong word could potentially push a sinner toward or away from Christ. This fear of "pushing people" away I think has become a cop out frankly for being ashamed of the gospel a lot of times but there is a genuineness to it if Arminianism is true. Many churches have gone with "seeker sensitive" models to draw people in who otherwise would not come to church. This is part of what the emergent church movement is fueled on. It is this notion which arises form Arminian soteriology that the right methodological presentation of the "gospel" will result in greater conversions. We need to present the gospel in a way that the culture can understand (I agree completely in premise, I will get to this more in point d). The point is that sinners outside of Christ by merit of the poorness of messengers of Christ can be pushed away and now never make a decision for Christ. This leads to the modern churches zeal for relevance in the culture.

d) culturally relevant

Because sinners can be pushed to or from Christ depending how well the message is presented, the modern church is bending over backwards to appeal to our culture. This is fairly clear in the new mega churches. One only has to listen to Joel Osteen for 10 minutes to realize why he has the largest church in America, he's telling everyone what they want to hear. Other mega churches to draw in people have been more materialistic in their methods one last month in southern CA was giving away a 42" plasma t.v. to new members. Another church was giving away a house in a gameshow style contest. To give the benefit of the doubt the rationale is that if doing these things draws people in who normally wouldn't come then why not. Of course the question is what are we drawing them in for?

On the more avant garde end it seems we have everything "for Christ", skateboarders for Christ, gothics for Christ, bikers for Christ, rappers for Christ, actors for Christ, NRA members for Christ, artists for Christ, atheists for Christ and so on. Everyone has their own cliche and bible to go with it, it is all marketing. An example of this is the "Revolve and Refuel" biblzines, they are bibles made to look like YM and Guitar magazines. To hear a fairly eye opening interview with the woman behind these biblzines and what they have done to the word of God click here: http://www.vcyamerica.org/crosstalk/event_popup.cfm?programid=1018

My point is while we are trying to be all things to all men it seems there is a fine line to becoming just a copy of the world in Christian form. This is where liberalism failed and where I think the emergent church movement will go belly up. Those going to these mega churches full of feel good purpose driven messages will realize that the church doesn't offer a message any different than the worlds message precisely because the church is striving so hard to walk and talk like the world. Os Guiness said it so well when he said: "After two hundred years of earnest dedication to reinventing the faith and the church and to being more relevant in the world, we are confronted with an embarrassing fact: Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant."

e) Conclusion

By way of conclusion I just want to say I do respect my Arminian brothers in Christ, I know that I addressed examples that I hope are in their eyes absurd. However, I do think that these issues do naturally rise out of Arminian theology, and out of love for the glory of God I must say something. Sure I am dogmatic who isn't! (By disagreeing with me you only validate my point) Wishy washy ecumicalism is not the answer we need a love for the truth. Our love for the truth is penultimate to our love for the glory of God, or rather dependent upon the latter. Those deceived by the lawless one "received not the love of the truth," (2Thess 2:10) how much then should it be our aim to love the truth?

Sola Deo Gloria

Monday, February 20, 2006

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Scriptural Innerancy, Another Problem For Synergists? (Part I cont...)

Before I address the more practical issues which arise from synergist theology there is one more vital theological issue to address. All genuine christians confess that the Bible is the inspired innerant word of God and our source for absolute truth of God and man. By inspired I mean that God is the one whose words are recorded in the bible. By innerant I mean that the bible is without error, the bible is wholly the word of God. These are basic truths that are embaced by all genuine christians. My question is how can these truths be supported by a synergistic view, more particularly a libertarian view of free will. By libertarian I mean a view that the human will is absolutely free and must be by neccessity for personhood. This means that for God to override and govern human will results in humans losing their personhood.

Now in reference to the bible's innerancy I ask how could it be innerant and libertarainism in men be preserved? How can we be certin that the bible is indeed wholly the word of God if the men who penned scripture had a will which God could not govern? The apostle Peter for example as we have seen in the gospels was a sinnful man who said "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Lk 5:8) and Peter later denied Christ, to say the least he doesn't appear to be a man of great integrity. Yet we have his writings which we call the innerant word of God how can this be? How can we be certin that Peter didn't just throw some of his own personal opnion in the writings or possibly think he was hearing from God and write a mistake that way? God couldn't stop the error for to do so would override Peter's freedom which again is essential for Peter to be a person. To use the words of Geisler and Pearl again for God override Peter's freedom to keep His word from error would constitue "Divine rape." This being so if one has embraced such views of human freedom I think the result will be problematic in trying to defend biblical innerancy.

I am not sure what the mechanics of the inspired writing looked like, I doubt that Paul and Peter suddenly went into trances and penned the epistles in a zombie like fashion. The mechanics really is irrelavant to the issue at hand. The problem for the Arminian libertarian view of free will is that it teaches God has no right lawfully to exert His will over man's will. Again as before I ask where does this view come from? As a Calvinist I have no problem defending innerancy because I have no such view of personhood and free will, God in the Reformed system is not bound in any such way. God I believe in some way (the mechanics I don't know so I am not going to just make something up) superimposed His words into the men who wrote the bible leaving no room for error. God has every right to do so and no harm is done to the personhood of the authors whom God chose to use in the task of writing His word for man.

This is a crucial issue to get this wrong will result in many problems. It is easy to trace the line of descent from Arminianism to theological liberalism. Liberalism has denied innerancy for these very reasons. To be honest I think liberalism is in a way Arminianism which is simply consistant. Not to be mean I really do respect a lot of Arminian teachers even Norman Geisler's work in apologetics I have been blessed by not to mention J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, although I think they have tweaked their views of libertarian will to be more consistantly solid. However I simply think that these problems arise from such views, where from a Reformed perspective these are non issues. I do not wish to put down Arminian brothers in Christ but I think these are problems which arise out of their school of thought.
Too much is at stake to get innerancy wrong as it is written:
"All scripture is inspired by God, and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be well fitted and adequately equiped for every good work." (2 Tim 3:16-17)