Saturday, August 29, 2009

Crossan and Borg on Anself: Right or Wrong?

In February, the most controversial idea conveyed by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan was their view on substitutionary atonement. In their minds, this is a heinous theology which leads humans away from the true teachings of Jesus. In our human mind, yes, it can sound evil in our own sense of justice. But, we are not talking about the minds of human. We are talking about the mind and justice of God.

We are to be punished by God. Not because He chose some of us to be, but because we have transgressed against His will, or sinned. Sin is not just stealing, adultery, or murder, but something deeper. When we act against God, we are acting as if we know what is better for our life than He. When we do this, we are replacing God with our own will. This, in turn, sets us up as a god in our lives. Putting an idol above the True God is breaking the First Commandment.
When we sin, what must God do? If He is just and perfect, He must punish us. To avoid punishing us, Christ came to earth to take the punishment. Is this barbaric? In the minds of fallen men, yes, it is. But in the eyes of a truly just God, it is not.

The statement I will concentrate on is the idea that this theology did not originate until the 11th century AD with the work of Anselm of Canterbury. Though this thought sounds correct when hearing them speak, it just isn’t true. What Anselm did was to take the theology of atonement and bring it again to the forefront. His writings were popular enough to influence Thomas Aquinas, whose views on atonement are held by the Roman Catholic Church.
The following verses contain the ideas behind substitutionary atonement. My point is to show that substitutionary atonement has been taught from the beginning and not just conceived out of thin air 1000 years after Christ died. If the reader does not believe that Christ, Paul, or Peter wrote them, so be it. Textual criticism can be argued at a later point.

1. Isaiah 53 – represent a prophecy of Christ’s future suffering
2. Matthew 20:28
3. 2 Corinthians 5:14-21
4. Galatians 3:10-13
5. I Peter 2:24; 3:18
6. John 12:27-33
7. Luke 4:16-22
8. Romans 5:18
9. I John 2:2

Those are just a few. The following quotes are taken from sources earlier than Anslem, and they clearly espouse the theology of substitutionary atonement. Take that Justin Martyr lived and wrote less than 100 years after Christ died, that would make him a 2nd/3rd generation Christian.

“If, then, the Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up, why do you argue about Him, who submitted to suffer these things according to the Father’s will, as if He were accursed, and do not rather bewail yourselves? For although His Father caused Him to suffer these things in behalf of the human family, yet you did not commit the deed as in obedience to the will of God.” – Justin Martyr – Dialogue with Trypho – XCV

“And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us.” – Eusebius – Proof of the Gospel

“Thus He offered Himself to the death of the accursed that He might break the curse of the Law, offering Himself voluntarily a victim to God the Father, in order that by means of a voluntary victim the curse which attended the discontinuance of the regular victim might be removed.” – Hilary of Poitiers – Homily on Psalm 53

“He surrendered His body to death in place of all, and offered it to the Father.” – Athanasius – On the Incarnation

Those words are but a few, but they are 700 to 900 years earlier than Anselm. Point made.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan - Can we have Faith in their Reason?

Back in February, I had the dubious honor of attending the Faith and Reason conference entitled Jesus and Paul: Continuity or Discontinuity? For those who don’t know, the 2 rock stars of Faith and Reason are Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. If you want to know more about them, just Google their names. You’ll pull up plenty, trust me. My goal is not to attack them personally, but to offer counterpoints to some statements made during their presentations.

1. Probably the biggest deviation from Orthodox Christianity is the denial of substitutionary atonement by Crossan and Borg. One claim is that the doctrine did not appear in Christianity until the 11th century AD at the hands of Anselm of Canterbury. To quote their handout:
“the death of Jesus is not about substitutionary sacrifice, not about substitutionary atonement. “
“But the death of Jesus in the NT is not about the punitive justice of God.”

They describe this key doctrine of the Christian faith in the following statement:
“God loves the world so much that God sent God’s only Son to die for us, and anybody who doesn’t believe that will burn in hell forever.”

It doesn’t take much digging to find verses in the New Testament that support the doctrine of substitutionary atonement. The problem is that Borg and Crossan (along with their Jesus Seminar associates) pick and choose the verses they believe are truly the words of Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. I could provide a list of verses, but they would view most of them were not authentic.
Interesting fact: One member of the Jesus Seminar, along with Crossan and Borg, is Paul Verhoeven, director of Robocop and Starship Troopers. No joke.

2. During one of Crossan’s lectures, he made the statement that “evil consists of only violence” and that he “couldn’t think of any type of sex that would be evil.” During the course of a later lecture, Crossan stated that he truly believed, along with mainstream scholarship, that both Romans and 1 Corinthians were authored by Paul. The problem Crossan has is that Romans 1 and 1 Corinthians 5 both proclaims that sexual immorality is evil. Romans goes so far as to list it with murder.

3. Borg stated in the first lecture that they only take into account “mainstream” scholars that do not believe in infallibility of inerrancy. Just from an honest intellectual standpoint, this seems extremely dishonest. Just by nature, the area of Biblical studies is full of believers who hold to both inerrancy and infallibility. It shouldn’t matter who does the research, if the evidence points in a factual direction, deal with it and go on.

4. Finally, during a Q&A session, a question was asked about Paul’s Damascus road conversion. Within the answer Crossan gave, he stated that the Roman government would not have allowed Paul to bring Christians back to Jerusalem for trial. As soon as this statement was made, it brought to mind the following events that give historical credence to Paul’s Damascus mission and him having extradition papers in Acts 9.

A. Julius Caesar gave the Jewish nation, and particularly the priesthood, the right.
– Josephus, Antiquities 14:192-195; The Jewish People in the First
Century – S. Safrai and M. Stern

B. 142 BC – Romans patronized the new state they acquired (Israel) by giving them
privileges of a sovereign state, including extradition rights – during Hasmonaean dynasty
– New International Commentary of the New Testament – Acts of
the Apostles – Acts 9 – F.F. Bruce

C. Ptolemy VII handed gave the priesthood (specifically Simon) extradition rights.
– I Maccabees 15:21

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John MacArthur & Arminians

I want to start off by saying that I respect John MacArthur. I love that he has taught Lordship Salvation. I applaud him for defending the Christian faith on national TV in front of millions. Not only is MacArthur a higher caliber mind, but also one with class.

But, it shocks me that he misrepresents his Arminian brothers and comes close to slandering John Wesley at the 2008 Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference. In addition to these statements, MacArthur goes against one of the 5 points of TULIP. Very interesting indeed. In the following, I will break it down and give links to not only his speech, but other sites with additional info.

1. MacArthur refers to John Wesley as a “messed up Calvinist” who believed that “there’s some residual good left in the sinner.” This can’t be farther from the truth. MacArthur did not have to look far to find Wesley’s thoughts on sin. Wesley held the classical/reformed Arminian view that man was totally depraved. Has MacArthur not read one of Wesley’s most famous sermons entitled “Original Sin?” Here is an eye opening quote from the same:
“But was there not good mingled with the evil? Was there not light intermixed with the darkness? No; none at all: “God saw that the whole imagination of the heart of man was only evil.” It cannot indeed be denied, but many of them, perhaps all, had good motions put into their hearts; for the Spirit of God did then also “strive with man,” if haply he might repent, more especially during that gracious reprieve, the hundred and twenty years, while the ark was preparing. But still “in his flesh dwelt no good thing;” all his nature was purely evil: It was wholly consistent with itself, and unmixed with anything of an opposite nature.”
This sure dosen’t sound like someone who believes that man contains residual good. For more of the same from Wesley, read the entire sermon.

2. MacArthur equates Semi-Pelagianism with Arminianism. Remember, the big difference is that Arminians believe that man has no way to reach God and Semi-Pelaginans believe that men do. MacArthur says, “As this progression came from Pelagianism to semi-Pelagianism, and then came down to some contemporary Arminianism.” Again, one does not have to read far to find that Jacobus Arminius DID believe in total depravity and so do modern Arminians. Here’s a quote from Arminius:

“In this state [man’s fallen condition], the Free Will of man toward the True God is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”

So why does MacArthur think that Arminians believe man has good left in them? Obviously Arminian teaching does not agree. Just in case that is not enough, here is another quote from Arminius:

“Christ does not say, Without me ye can do but little; neither does He say, Without me ye cannot do any ardous thing; nor Without me ye can do it with difficulty: But He says Without me ye can do nothing! Nor does he, Without me ye cannot complete anything; but Without me ye can do nothing.”

Arminius speaks for himself. In the same T4G conference, R.C. Sproul affirms that Arminian teaching does contain total depravity.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Definitions are Important

Throughout the last 500+ years, the arguments between Calvinists and Arminians have been heated. For the past 100 years or so, it has seemed to wane somewhat. But within the past 6 to 7 years, this argument has become a major issue. The problem is that unfair labels are being applied to Arminians that are absolutely false. We don’t just see this happening amongst individuals, but in the media, at conferences, and in sermons. Definitions are important and many times, it’s easier to just throw around names that seem to fit, even though they differ in from the subject you are discussing. I do my best to correctly identify the groups or beliefs that I discuss, teach, etc. I go out of my way to be fair to my Calvinist brothers when talking about the subject. But, it seems that many are beginning to issue false or confused statements about the Arminian belief. Does this occur in reverse? Yes. But not in the volume or from such high profile sources. Hopefully, we can begin to dialogue using correct definitions, instead of subjective ideas.
These definitions are definitely lacking and one can research them further if necessary.

1. Arminian Theology – Belief that humanity is totally depraved, but is given the ability from God to become a believer. The individual is also able to refuse the call from God. Arminians may or may not believe in “eternal security.”
2. Calvinist or “Reformed” Theology – Belief that humanity is totally depraved and is unable to choose God and become a believer. On this basis, God elects whom he will save and whom he will condemn based upon His sovereign grace and choice.
3. Christian Universalism – Belief that ALL people will be reconciled to God through Christ sometime in the future. (This is the basic belief due to their being a few different schools of thought.)
4. Pelagianism – Belief that human nature is still able to choose and reach God without any divine touch, Jesus Christ included. This belief removes God from the equation of salvation except in accepting the individual if he reaches God.
5. Semi-Pelagianism – This belief rejects total depravity, but not salvation through Christ alone. It believes that man has the ability to make a decision for Christ on his own without any Divine help. In this view, man and God cooperate in the process of salvation, without the prompt into the life of the man by God.

I hope these clarify the basic differences.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Strawmen and Calvinism

Straw men are easy to construct. It’s probably the best way to quickly discredit someone with whom you are debating. The problem is that straw men fall away under scrutiny. Very quickly. Straw men are intellectually dishonest and serve no positive purpose whatsoever in a debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. They have been used on both sides for centuries and have done nothing but caused division among the body of believers.

In the past few years, I have seen a certain straw man argument consistently pop up when discussing theology with my Calvinist brothers. Invariably, I am the recipient of the following criticism, “Well, you just aren’t comfortable with the total sovereignty of God.” This statement usually suggests that I believe that God can’t know everything and is not totally capable of doing as He wishes. A few times, I have been accused of accepting Open Theology since I was arguing for the Arminian position. Again, a straw man thrown to discredit my position.

Having a proper view of God is important. Just read Your God is Too Small by JB Philips. One aspect of that view is that God is sovereign over all. The main difference between the Calvinist and the Arminian is not whether God is sovereign, but how He chooses to manifest it.
Calvinists believe that God chooses whom He will elect. With this, there is a great deal of thanksgiving given to God for His grace. I admire this. The Calvinist is truly grateful for the grace that was given to him since he was literally plucked from the fire by a loving God.
The Arminian, on the other hand, believes that God does not elect, but gives the individual enough faith to become a believer. This doesn’t take away from His sovereignty, but shows that He is permissive in letting us choose, but only with His help.

So let’s cut it out with the straw men. It happens on the Armininan side too. One famous Christian radio host calls the God of Calvinists a “cosmic rapist.” I find this utterly reprehensible and totally misrepresentative of the Calvinist belief. One thing will be helpful, let the person speak for their own beliefs instead of making the assumption. It will go a long way in furthering the dialogue.