Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My take on the book of Romans

The theme of Romans leading up to chapter 9 is that Paul had written a letter with the Jews in mind, evidenced by the many Jewish themes throughout, including pointed questions aimed directly at the Jew. From the start, Paul identifies with the Jew by pointing out the depraved state of the Gentiles, and their condemnation under the Law. But then Paul challenges the Jew with a charge of hypocrisy, when they do some of the very same things as the Gentiles. Paul then points out the hopelessness of achieving righteousness through the Law, while simultaneously pointing out that not all was lost, since there were well known historical Jews such as Abraham, Moses and David who did, in fact, achieve a state of righteousness with God, and this is where Paul points out that it was not through the Law at all, but by faith. This becomes the perfect segue into Christ being the ultimate end of faith. Paul extols the riches of Christ and all that God has eternally stored up for those who believe in Him. That’s when we reach Romans 9. The standing question is that if Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, then why don’t the Jews believe in Him? There’s actually a long history there. God reached out to the Jews with many offers of grace, until God finally had enough, which resulted in their hardening, as recorded at Isaiah 6:9-10, in which God states that He will harden Israel so that they could not receive His Son, or at least, they would not receive His Son without first reconciliation with God. God was not going to have people reject Him, while instead embracing a conquering Messiah to deliver Israel from the Romans. So God sent Christ in the same image of the prophets whom the Jews persecuted before Him. Now Paul’s objective at this stage of Romans 9 was to develop the backdrop for the illustration of the Olive Tree described at Romans 11, in terms of the natural and wild branches, in which the natural branches were being cut off, for a time, so that the wild branches could be grafted in. What Paul was doing in Romans 9 was expressing his sincere passion for the Jew, which was also God’s passion, while highlighting the fact that God was now, as a result of Jewish unbelief, turning to the Gentiles in order to graft them in. Jesus warned the Jews with illustrations that this was going to happen. So Paul sets up God’s sovereign right to first choose the Jewish nation (by using examples like with Isaac, the one chosen to receive the inheritance, including his son Jacob), as the basis to suggest that God also has the right to choose the Gentiles, which validates Paul’s ministry of the Gospel to the Gentiles. In other words, if God has the sovereign right to choose the Jews, then it stands to reason that He has the same right to graft in the Gentiles. Additionally, He has the same right to harden the Jews, which is what He warned at Jeremiah 18:1-13 and what He did at Isaiah 6:9-10, and ultimately quoted as its fulfillment at John 12:36-43. When Paul asks the question of what right does the pot have in responding back to the Potter, this is a question aimed at the unbelieving Jews (or at least, unbelieving in the Messiah, Christ), in anticipation of their protest against God's hardening, in terms of the Jews, the natural branches, having been removed from the Olive Tree. But even despite the hardening, Paul points out that it is a "partial hardening" until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. So this is what I see going on in the book of Romans, and it has nothing to do with either Calvinism or Arminianism.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Roger Olson on God-Centered Theology

Roger Olson comments on what he believes constitutes a truly, "God-Centered" theology. Click on his photo and that will direct you to the sermon on youtube. I thought it was well done. I thought that the eruption by some Calvinists made little sense. "Why didn't the eruption occur sooner?", I thought to myself. Basically, he set up the Deterministic scenario, and only when he put 1 & 1 together and spelled it out in black & white, did the eruption finally occur. I didn't get that. In other words, if there is no such thing as independent thought, and that all thoughts and deeds are scripted, and that all evil is decreed by God, and that there is only 1 free will in the universe, and that God needs sin in order to accomplish his purpose and to give Him the "most" amount of glory, and the devil does only and precisely what he is directed to do, being under the complete sovereign control of God, then what does that result in? Roger Olson spells the answer out in black & white, and kaboom! Oh well.

Two points that I thought interesting were the following:

1) There are two ways to look at the reality of sin in our universe. Either God’s plan will succeed despite the existence of sin, and that sin contributes nothing positive to the cosmos, or according to Calvinism (or at least Determinism), God’s plans will succeed through the utilitarian necessity of purpose-based, God-ordained sin, insomuch that the success of God’s plan required the existence of sin, which sin, Determinism holds was immutably scripted by God, in which there exists no form of independent thought, outside of God’s own predeterminations. However, I operate under the assumption that God doesn't need sin, and never did, in order to obtain the most amount of glory. I think that God uses sin, but I don't think that He needs it for any reason, and I agree with Roger Olson that sin contributes nothing positive to the cosmos. God will be perfectly glorified throughout eternity future, without the existence of a single sin. It is completely unnecessary to God's goodness and glory. Sin was born in the angelic realm through the rebellion of Satan and his fallen angels and born in the earthly realm through the rebellion of Adam and Eve. God didn't create it, never needed it, never wanted it, but will use it, proving that He can still achieve success despite it. When Calvinists differ, Arminians accuse them of diminishing God's goodness and ultimately making God and the devil indistinguishable, and then kaboom!, Calvinists erupt. It's an odd thing to me, but it was kind of a humorous moment in the youtube clip. "Read my book," says Olson, "and I'll see you back here."

2) The prevailing Calvinist view is that in order for a particular theology to be considered truly "God-centered," human decision must play no role in salvation, whatsoever. But if you suppose that God possessed the power and sovereign freedom to select either the Calvinist or Arminian plan of salvation, then it seems to follow that either hypothetical plan of salvation would be "God-centered," simply by virtue of the fact that He chose it, and is getting the most out of it, as opposed to whatever alternative option that He could have chosen instead. So even if human decision played a role in salvation, that is, for a person to either accept or reject God's offer and provision of grace at Calvary, I gather that it would still have to be considered, "God-centered," and I think that the argument works both ways. You can look at it from a bunch of different angles, and claim one alternative as superior to another (in terms of God-centeredness), but ultimately, it seems that the mere fact of God's choice guarantees that the plan selected (whichever it may be) has be God-centered by definition. I think this also applies to the sovereignty arguments. For instance, if you suppose that God could have preferred and chosen the Arminian plan of salvation over the Calvinist plan of salvation, then if the former was in fact what God had selected, it could not detract from His sovereignty if that's what He had chosen from His sovereign prerogative to choose it. A non-Calvinist Baptist pastor once stated from the pulpit, "I believe that God is so sovereign that free will presents no problem to His sovereignty." That's why I think that it's silly to suppose that God could have chosen the less-sovereign plan of salvation, since either one would be THE sovereign plan if it results from His sovereign right to choose it. In other words, the whole argument on God-centeredness and sovereignty is fundamentally silly.