Friday, September 29, 2006

New and Old Devices

Before I became a missionary I served as a pastor for eight years at a church in the western part of Kentucky at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. That area is a hunter’s paradise, containing an abundance of ducks, geese, and quail. I have never liked the idea of sitting and waiting for something to fly by me, especially in cold weather, so I did not try hunting ducks and geese there, but I did try hunting quail. When people go quail hunting they do not stay in one place; instead, they constantly walk and follow bird dogs.

I went quail hunting a couple of times with a deacon in my church who owned some great hunting dogs. It was a thrilling sight to see the dogs pointing and then to hear the sound of the covey of quail taking flight after they were flushed from their hiding place. The deacon had somehow obtained a dog named Jake who had great bloodlines but simply no interest in hunting quail. I had two young sons at the time, and the deacon knew that my sons would like to have a dog for a pet, so he gave us the beautiful English setter.

Jake was a friendly dog, and he good-naturedly allowed the boys to play with him. As a pet he only had one flaw: He enjoyed barking—a natural behavior for a dog. At night I would put him in our large storage room so the neighbors could sleep, but I was concerned he would disturb them during the daylight hours.

I later bought a device I thought would solve the problem, and I took it home with an expectation of success. Jake did not have any choice on whether or not he would wear the device. It fit around his neck; he could not remove it. Whenever he barked the device was supposed to emit an irritating noise. Theoretically, the dog would connect the barking with the irritating noise and “decide” to stop barking. After I put the device around Jake’s neck, I left him in the back yard and watched with great anticipation from the house.

Not surprisingly, Jake quickly found things at which to bark. The device at times did make noise when he barked, and at first his ears “pricked up” at those times, but his natural behavior did not change. He eventually began to ignore the device, and soon after he became hardened so that he did not notice the unnatural noise at all. Therefore, I took off the device and never used it again. (I do not know why the device did not affect Jake’s behavior; perhaps I did not calibrate it correctly, or maybe he just decided to resist it.)

Each human is born with a functioning conscience, but as was probably the case with Jake’s device, the conscience becomes improperly “calibrated.” A person’s innate depravity corrupts the conscience, but there are also outside influences which corrupt the conscience. For example, perhaps because of false religious teaching, some people think it is wrong to kill any living animal, and their conscience bothers them even if they kill something as small as a mosquito.

Our missionary team in South Korea witnessed to fishermen who felt guilty about catching (killing) fish. The consciences of such people are not functioning properly. At certain times, however, God in a sense activates and properly calibrates “conviction devices” (the conscience and the will) on some non-Christians and thus temporarily places them in a freewill state by counteracting their depravity. At those times (special conviction events) those non-Christians have true free will to accept or reject His offer of salvation.

What does the Bible say about conviction? The Bible says the Holy Spirit does the convicting:

"But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you no longer behold Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged" (John 16:7-11).

The “Helper” is the Holy Spirit who helps those who “do not believe” during the time of conviction. The Greek word for “Helper” (paráklētos) can also be translated as “Advisor” or “Counselor.” He helps the non-Christians clearly understand God’s righteous standard during the time of conviction. The non-Christians then understand that they are sinners who “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). They also understand that only Jesus could meet God’s perfect standard. At this time the non-Christians can objectively look at their own sins in comparison with Christ’s righteousness. The Greek word for “convict” (elégchō) means “to expose as guilty” or “to convince.” Thus, the non-Christians under conviction are convinced of the truth in regard to their guilt.

The Bible says the gospel presentation occurs with power: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Robert H. Mounce, president emeritus of Whitworth College, Spokane, Washington, commented on verse 16:

"The gospel serves the eternal purposes of God, who before the creation of the world chose to create for himself a people who would respond to his love. Becoming a child of God requires deliverance from what we are as children of Adam. It is not something we can do for ourselves. It requires the power of God himself working through the gospel. The gospel does not negate a person’s free will but is God’s power for 'everyone who believes.' God does not force himself upon people against their will. For the power of the gospel to effect salvation, the hearer must respond in faith. Our faith is in no way meritorious, but without faith there can be no individual salvation."

Robert H. Mounce, “Romans,” The New American Commentary, ed. E. Ray Clendenen, vol. 27 (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 71.

The power of the gospel presentation is also described in 1 Thessalonians 1:5: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” This type of spiritual power is necessary to counteract the effects of total depravity on the human will. The human will is put in a freewill state when the power is applied.

The Bible says the proper response to the Holy Spirit’s special conviction is the willingness to surrender one's life to Christ in repentance and faith. As Southern Baptists we believe that a special act of the Holy Spirit is necessary for salvation. Our current confession of faith, the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, contains a description with which both five-point Calvinists and non-five-point Calvinists can agree: “Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.” In this case a non-five-point Calvinist would say the sinner’s response is to “conviction of sin,” and the five-point Calvinist would say the sinner’s response is to the “change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit.” The 1925 Baptist Faith and Message has a description of regeneration that is unacceptable to five-point Calvinists because it says that faith is a requirement for regeneration: “Regeneration or the new birth is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit, whereby we become partakers of the divine nature and a holy disposition is given, leading to the love and practice of righteousness. It is a work of God's free grace conditioned upon faith in Christ and made manifest by the fruit which we bring forth to the glory of God.” Notice in the 1925 version that regeneration is “wrought by the Holy Spirit” but is “conditioned upon faith in Christ.” Thus, in logical order, faith precedes regeneration in the 1925 version, an order that conflicts with the order espoused by five-point Calvinists. I'm not a five-point Calvinist, but I think our current confession has a good description of salvation. Isn't it nice that Southern Baptists of the five-point Calvinist variety can cooperate fully with Southern Baptists of the non-five-point Calvinist variety in evangelism?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Responsiveness to the Gospel

Should we send most of our missionaries and resources to responsive areas (until those areas turn resistant or until the national Christians can take over the evangelistic task) while lightly seeding resistant areas (until they turn responsive)? Some quotes:

“Mission strategists like Cal Guy felt that such a tremendous investment of money and personnel into a resistant area was unwise. Guy told his students, many of whom were added to the Foreign Mission Board’s missionary force, that advance ought to be made in directions of response. He advocated token forces in resistant areas until the situation ripened and favored heavy commitments of men and money in areas obviously responsive to the Holy Spirit.”

Jessie C. Fletcher, Baker James Cauthen: A Man for All Nations (Nashville: Broadman, 1977), 247.

“Correct policy is to occupy fields of low receptivity lightly. The harvest will ripen someday. . . . While they continue in their rebellious and resistant state, they should be given the opportunity to hear the gospel in as courteous a way as possible. But they should not be heavily occupied lest, fearing that they will be swamped by Christians, they become even more resistant. They should not be bothered and badgered. . . . While holding them lightly, Christian leaders should perfect organizational arrangements so that when these lands turn responsive, missionary resources can be sent in quickly.”

Donald A. McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, Third Edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 191.

“I find nothing extrabiblical or antibiblical in this principle of concentrating on the responsive elements of society—the principle is thoroughly biblical. . . . The church as a whole must surely concentrate its resources on the ripe field, particularly since the responsibility for proclamation has been fulfilled to an unprecedented extent in our day. Yet forces to cultivate the fields yet unripe are still necessary. Further, we need representative forces in the totally unresponsive fields to serve as outposts to vindicate the name of our God, to glean, and to reconnoiter for signs of life and response.”

J. Robertson McQuilkin, Measuring the Church Growth Movement (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 42-43.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Parable of the Sower and the Soils

Lately I’ve been looking at some statistical studies that indicate that a high percentage of American adults think they are Christians. Some of the studies, however, also indicate that a much lower percentage of adults can be described as Christian when biblical criteria are applied. The parable of the sower and the soils presents a good explanation for what we see in American society. The discussion of what the four soils represent is found in Matthew 13:19-23, Mark 4:15-20, and Luke 8:12-15. Here’s my opinion of each soil:

1. The Hard Soil by the Wayside – People that hear the gospel but are not under conviction when they hear it. They do not understand it in a spiritual sense.

2. The Rocky Soil – People that hear the gospel while under conviction. They believe the gospel intellectually, but they do not surrender their lives to Christ in repentance and faith. There is no root, and these non-Christians are revealed for what they are in an obvious manner. Simon Magus (Acts 8:13-23) was an example of this type of person.

3. The Thorny Soil – People that hear the gospel while under conviction. Like the rocky soil, they do not surrender their lives to Christ in repentance and faith. They never produce any good fruit (Matthew 7:17-20). These non-Christians try to compartmentalize their false brand of Christianity, and they manage to fool many Christians.

4. The Good Soil – People that hear the gospel while under conviction and that surrender their lives to Christ in repentance and faith. This is the only type of soil that is truly Christian. They “hold fast” the seed, and they bear good fruit: some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some a hundredfold.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Moon Pie and R. C.

Many people have had the pleasure of drinking an R. C. Cola and eating a moon pie. One seems to go well with the other. Folks always find the drink filling, but they are usually disappointed in the snack food (until they acquire a taste for it). At first glance, the moon pie looks substantial, but when biting into it for the first time, people are usually disappointed by the marshmallow stuff. It tastes sweet but is not very filling. The marshmallow ingredients have been whipped to produce a spongy product with a lot of air.

I have enjoyed listening to Dr. R. C. Sproul’s radio programs, and I have also enjoyed reading his written work. I usually learn something from him; his work is normally filling. His argument against free will, however, seems to be lacking something, sort of like a moon pie.

Current, Popular Definitions

1. Free Will: the power of contrary choice; the ability at certain times to make an intentional, morally-significant choice from an unbiased (neutral) position.

2. Free Agency: the ability to do what a person wants to do. The person, however, only wants to do what he is already biased to do; thus, he does not have the ability to make an intentional, morally-significant choice from an unbiased (neutral) position.

It is clear that Dr. Sproul (a five-point Calvinist) believes that only #2 is possible. He does not use the term “free agency” in his famous book Chosen By God. It is obvious, however, that when he uses the term “free will,” he normally means #2, and he thinks that #1 (the common definition) is impossible:

“Probably the most common definition says free will is the ability to make choices without any prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. For the will to be free it must act from a posture of neutrality, with absolutely no bias. . . . If the will is totally neutral, why would it choose the right or the left? It is something like the problem encountered by Alice in Wonderland when she came to a fork in the road. She did not know which way to turn. . . . For her to take a step in any direction, she would need some motivation to do so. Without any motivation, any prior inclination, her only real option would be to stand there and perish.”

Sproul, Chosen By God (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986), 51-53.

When discussing free will, the state of Satan and Adam before their first sins usually becomes an issue. Satan was in a perfect environment, and he was unblemished by sinful inclinations for a period of time before his first sin. There was nothing outside Satan to tempt him to sin. Both Satan and Adam were not created as depraved beings. What would cause them to commit their first sins? Are they proof that #1 is possible? Dr. Sproul does not think so. He seems to believe that they were both free agents (#2), inclined to do good before their fall—desiring God (but somehow capable of doing what they were not originally inclined to do):

“Where did the devil come from? How did he manage to fall from goodness? Whether we are speaking of the Fall of man or the fall of Satan we still are dealing with the problem of good creatures becoming evil. Again we hear the ‘easy’ explanation that evil came through the creature’s free will. Free will is a good thing. That God gave us free will does not cast blame on him. In creation man was given an ability to sin and an ability not to sin. He chose to sin. . . . Adam and Eve were not created fallen. They had no sin nature. They were good creatures with a free will. Yet they chose to sin. Why? I don’t know. Nor have I found anyone yet who does know. In spite of this excruciating problem we still must affirm that God is not the author of sin.” (Ibid., 30-31)

Dr. Sproul summed up his rejection of #1: “The neutral view of free will is impossible.” (Ibid., 59)

Isn’t it easier to believe, however, that Adam and Satan fell from a neutral state rather than from a state in which they were inclined toward good? If God did not cause them to sin, then they were somehow able to generate a bias toward sin. Dr. Norman Geisler, a non-five-point Calvinist, wrote Chosen But Free in response to Dr. Sproul’s Chosen By God. Dr. Geisler focused his attention on Satan’s free will at one point in the book:

“For the strong (extreme) Calvinists the ultimate question is: Who made the devil do it? Or, more precisely, who caused Lucifer to sin? If free choice is doing what one desires, and if all desires come from God, then it follows logically that God made Lucifer sin against God! But it is contradictory to say that God ever could be against God. . . . Consequently, some less strong Calvinists claim that God does not give any evil desires but only good ones. However, this view has two problems. First, why would God give a desire to do good only to some and not to all? If He is all-loving, then surely He would love all, as the Bible says He does (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). Second, this does not explain where Lucifer got the desire to sin. If it did not come from God, then it must come from himself. But in that case, his original evil act was self-caused, that is, caused by himself—which is exactly the view of human free will the strong Calvinist rejects.”

Geisler, Chosen But Free (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1999), 20-21.

In response to Dr. Geisler’s Chosen But Free, Dr. James White, a five-point Calvinist, wrote The Potter’s Freedom. Dr. White did not address the issue of whether or not Adam and Satan had free will before their falls, except to quote from the Second London Confession of Faith of 1689:

“1. In the natural order God has endued man’s will with liberty and the power to act upon choice, so that it is neither forced from without, nor by any necessity arising from within itself, compelled to do good or evil. 2. In his state of innocency man had freedom and power to will and to do what was good and acceptable to God. Yet, being unstable, it was possible for him to fall from his uprightness.”

White, The Potter’s Freedom (Amityville, NY: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 78.

I’m still disappointed by marshmallow stuff in moon pies. I believe that both free will decisions (#1) and free agent decisions (#2) are possible, depending on the circumstances.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Friday's Photo

These boys are reacting to some of the latest blogs.