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Redeemer Church

Redeemer Church
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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why doesn't God save everyone?

I've never done this before, but in responding to a comment on my previous post I got so long-winded (OK, I've done that before), that I felt compelled to make a second post as my answer. I've included the anonymous question below.

I agree with your argument [in The High, Holy Ideal of Man's Autonomy], but it's ironic because it's a pretty strong case for Universalism, which as an adherent to Reformed Theology, you obviously do not believe in.The question then, could be posed to you, if God desires the salvation of all men, and is willing to "stack the deck" in favor of that, then why cannot all be saved, in your view? Why stop at a few "elect"? Is it simply because your interpretation of the Bible necessitates it? And if so, wouldn't it be a worthy endeavor to consider perhaps an alternate interpretation? And if an interpretation exists, which can satisfy both God's will that all be saved, and still honor the free will of man, shouldn't that be the position we take?

Universalism is probably the last idea that I could accept on biblical grounds simply because of the sheer volume of passages that seem to be unequivocally clear about the reality of a future, eternal judgment for the unrepentant. So if I am trying to find a harmony between ideas present in the Bible, I feel compelled to reconcile the more common and dominant themes first. In this case, the reality of hell before the idea of God's will that all be saved.

Now for the idea that God desires the salvation of all men, I believe the Bible speaks of the will of God in a couple different ways. Or rather, there are a couple different wills of God. Let me explain. We are all familiar with the will of God that cannot be suppressed, resisted, or confounded, what I call his sovereign will. However, I see a second kind of will spoken of in the Bible. This second kind of will is subject to the behavior and obedience of mankind and is satisfied only to the extent that a certain group is able to live up to such desires. I call this God's moral will since, as often as it is used, it's satisfaction is contingent on a morally right response by a person or persons.

Let me give some examples:

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. - 1 Peter 2:15

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable. - 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - 1 John 2:17

And even from the mouth of Jesus . . .

Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother. - Mark 3:35

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17

Notice that in every instance, the possibility is there (either implicitly or explicitly) that the subjects could choose to act in defiance to the will of God. This, then, is certainly not the sovereign will we usually think of. In fact, the two verses that you alluded to don't even use the word "will" at all, rather they are translated as "wishes", "wants", and "desires" which I believe fits the distinction I am making.

So then the obvious question (and one that has been addressed by much wiser men than myself) is: why is it not God's sovereign will that everyone is saved? I would point out (and everyone would agree) that God's mercy and grace are glorified and magnified in the saving of undeserving sinners. However, the opposite is also true. God's justice and judgment are glorified and magnified in the condemnation of deserving sinners. Notice, no one is receiving injustice from God. He gives grace to some and justice to others, but injustice to no one.

So why doesn't God deal equally with all men? Romans chapter nine deals with this extensively, but there is one phrase in particular that will help us here. In verses 11 and 12 we read "Yet, before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--". Thus, God calls some and not others in order that his own purpose in election might stand. This may seem arbitrary, but if God's purpose and call are magnified in such a choice, it is the furthest thing from arbitrary. And again, there is no injustice done here, those not called receive only what they deserve.

Incidentally, this also answers two other big questions that many people have: "Why did God make anything?" and "Why did God decree/allow evil to enter the world?" (or some variation thereof). By creating the universe and beings with free will and then permitting the fall, we see the stage set for the glorification and magnification of all of God's attributes through the course of history past, present, and yet to come.

So I believe this all comes back to the glorification of God and the magnification of his divine attributes. His grace and mercy are glorified and magnified in salvation, his justice glorified and magnified in judgment, and his purpose in election glorified and magnified in calling some and not others. And in all this, mankind receives no worse than what we deserve (justice) and no better than what we don't (salvation).

Want to read more? I recommend John Piper's longest-titled book Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Click here for a free pdf. dowload of the entire book!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The High, Holy Ideal of Man's Autonomy

One of the primary objections I hear to the whole idea of predestination and election is that they both stand as an encroachment upon the free will of man. Of course those who hold to a Reformed view of predestination believe that man's will is free because it can choose what it wants, but fallen because it wants nothing to do with God. So without some sort of intervention by God (what we call the efficacious call), the will remains fallen and no one chooses God.

Libertarian free will maintains that man is a mixture of good and bad but still has the ability to accept or reject God's offer of salvation. Though the Bible says that God is sovereign and directs the paths of kings and kingdoms, and tends even to the sparrows and lilies of the field; yet He abstains from imposing upon our salvation so that a genuine decision can be made of our own free will. He will not and indeed cannot interfere with man's choice without compromising its freedom, so they say.

However, I want to challenge the idea that Reformed doctrine alone violates man's free will. If, in fact, this is the case, then I have a question for everyone who holds to the position of libertarian free will. Have you ever prayed for the salvation of someone? Maybe a friend, a co-worker, or someone even closer to you, a loved one perhaps.

If so, what exactly were you praying for if not God's intervention? Whether you were praying that God would "open their eyes", "soften their heart", or "show them the light", your intent in the prayer was that God would somehow alter or manipulate the circumstances (internal or external) so they would be more inclined to believe.

Such a prayer is directed against such circumstances as rebellion, the temptation of sin, ignorance, peer pressure, etc. that are essentially alternative options for the will of man to choose as more desirable than God's gift of salvation. These factors, left unchecked, would bring an individual to choose of their own autonomous free will against God and for the lure of sin and the flesh. How glorifying to God is such a such a situation, if this is in fact the case? That God must remove sinful lures and enticements of the flesh that our will would choose as more desirable than Him so that we will settle for His salvation amidst the remaining alternatives.

The problem as I see it is this: as long as an individual's autonomous free will is held up as the ultimate ideal in humanity, our prayers are useless or even offensive. Such a prayer at best falls on the deaf ears of God who dares not "stack the deck" for anyone to love him, and at worst asks God to violate the most precious of man's character traits, his autonomy (*note the sarcasm).

Of course every Christian knows this is absurd. We should be praying fervently for the salvation of all men. And my point is this: a praying Christian who believes in libertarian free will is not really so opposed to God's intervention and involvement as they claim (and one who isn't praying for the salvation of the lost, well, we've got bigger problems there). Thus, Reformed doctrine is not singularly guilty of doing violence to man's autonomous freedom by suggesting that we are slaves to sin and God must change our wills before we can respond to Him. If our will desires the inclinations of the flesh, how will we ever choose salvation unless God first performs surgery and removes our hearts (and wills) of stone and gives us a heart that actually pumps life through our veins?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why the BCS is the bane of my existence

I know this is a radical departure from my usual diatribes, but enough passengers on my shuttle at work wanting to talk college football have worked me up into a lather about the whole BCS system. All the BCS shills (n. A person paid to endorse a product favorably, while pretending to be impartial) try to argue that "Every game counts" but I counter that "Every season is insufficient". Here's my three main gripes about the BCS:
  1. A loss early in the season is better than one late in the season, even if it's to a clearly inferior team. Case in point: Florida loses early in the season to an unranked, unimpressive Ole Miss but works it's way back to a spot in the Championship. Alabama plays an undefeated season up to their last game and loses to no. 4 Florida and drops out of contention. So if our top five teams are all one-loss teams, why should the teams that got that loss early have an advantage? Should the strength of the opponent be a bigger factor in a loss than how early or late in the season the game was played?

  2. The BCS clearly favors certain conferences over others. Not only do six conferences have automatic bids into BCS games, but those in the smaller and often weaker conferences are at a disadvantage in the BCS polls. Case in point: this year we have two undefeated teams (Utah and Boise State) who are both undefeated and ranked 6th and 9th respectively. Boise State isn't even playing in a BCS bowl game. I am not arguing that Boise State is the best team in the country, but you can't say that "Every game counts" if Boise State wins all of them and gets left out. What if the nation's best team in a coming year happens to be in a non-BCS conference, is the current BCS ranking system set up to reflect that? It seems not.

  3. A weak schedule can ruin your chances at working up to a BCS game. In fact, this is one of the primary factors for Utah and Boise State. They are both in non-BCS conferences, thus they will be playing weaker schedules (since the majority of one's schedule is made up of conference play). But this has even bigger implications. Most schedules are made 4-5 years in advance, and who's to say which teams will be good in five years (Michigan, Tennesee, and Miami for example)? Even a schedule designed to give a team every shot at the Championship can be ruined by a team's conference or floundering non-conference opponents.
So not only is "Every game counts" proven false by non-BCS conferences and weak schedules made five years ago, but the current system is inadequate to determine a clear-cut champion year after year. Only a playoff system will solve the problems above and give us a satisfying series of post-season games. Does a playoff system come with it's own set of problems? Sure. Underdogs can still upset. A strong favorite can still lose on a fluke. But do you hear the same volume of complaints coming out of the NFL about the Superbowl being a sham of a championship when it is set by games played on the field? No.