Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why I Will Be On A Two Week Semi-Sabbatical

My fellow elders here at the Minden Evangelical Free Church have graciously allowed me to take a semi-sabbatical for the next two weeks (Dec. 8-22). I know many of you will want to know what that means and why I requested this.

First, as to what this means, I will be working out of my study at home, spending very little time in the office, and trying to keep meetings to a minimum. I will still be preaching and will be available for any emergencies that arise.

Second, as to why I requested the semi-sabbatical, it is so I can get a chunk of work done on a writing project I have been working on the better part of two years. Most of my work has been very early in the morning and when I could fit it in at other times. Currently, I am done with research, I have the rough draft for six of ten chapters, and would love to be able to write the rough draft of the seventh chapter and do some editing in these two weeks. I chose this time of year because typically people in the church are busy with Christmas preparations and family and so it would most likely afford the opportunity to write without taking away from needed pastoral duties.

Finally, you are probably curious what the topic of the book is. So, let me give you a brief overview. I am addressing a view of how God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility fit together known as Molinism. Please don’t worry if you have never come across this label. If you are generally familiar with the history of the debate, Molinism falls into the Arminian family of stances and it has grown in popularity over the past couple decades. My desire is not only to display the deficiencies of Molinism, but also along the way, to help readers understand the topic more clearly. And, by the way, I also will show where Molinism is a good stance and where my stance comes close to it.

That is the very brief overview, now here are the bullet points of what I have discovered and which make up the meat of the book:

(1) The Bible never argues that one of the purposes God had in permitting sin was so he could preserve a view of human freedom that involves humans being the originator of their own choices—a kind of freedom that would make humans' love for God genuine. The Bible does affirm that God allowed sin so that he could put on display his manifold attributes and, at the same time, heighten the glory and radiance of his saving mercy against the darkness of mankind’s sin. The Bible is clear that God has done this in a manner that mankind is responsible for his sin, God is not responsible, and God is responsible for salvation (it redounds to his glory). This understanding allows us to see the remaining points—especially #2.

(2) The Bible teaches that God governs the world in such a way that he is not dependent upon or limited by human choices. Another way to say this is that God is absolutely sovereign and he exercises this sovereignty through his providence that encompasses all things in the world. The result is that God is bringing about all that he has decreed he would either cause or allow in accordance with his eternal purpose.

(3) Though God governs all things as set forth in #2, nevertheless, he does not govern all things in the same manner. Through an immeasurable (from the human perspective) combination of active and passive governance on the part of God, all righteous acts ultimately come about because of God’s gracious work and all unrighteous acts are the moral responsibility of Satan, demons, and/or humans. Related to this, God brings about what he has determined would take place through responsible secondary agents—and not by-passing their own wills.

(4) Scripture teaches that a truly free human choice is one that a person desires to do. Such a free choice is in accordance with the strongest motive at the time and these motives are shaped by previous circumstances, decisions, and a person’s character. This view of human freedom allows God to govern things as described in #’s 2-3 and so God is absolutely sovereign and yet, at the same time, humans make real, responsible, and free choices. This kind of freedom, along with how we have described God’s sovereignty, allows for humans to be able to change their minds, change the directions of their lives, respond to reason, and overcome habits—even though all that a person will do has been decreed by God.

(5) The kind of human freedom described in #4 reflects how God’s will works. God’s will flows from his nature, his character—and this perfectly and with absolute freedom. Though man’s decisions are not always absolutely consistent with his character and though not all his decisions are absolutely free, nevertheless, as created in the image of God, man’s will does reflect how God’s will operates.

(6) The kind of human freedom described in #4 allows for God to have decisive influence upon the will and yet the resulting decisions are truly the free decisions and movements of the person’s will.

(7) One reason #6 is so important is that Scripture is clear that God must initiate the saving process with anyone who trusts Jesus Christ as Savior. In other words, he must change the heart so the person sees their need for Christ, desires him, and can and will trust in him. The fact that Scripture teaches this is also another verification for the view of God’s sovereignty and human freedom we have described.

(8) Another reason #6 is important is because God’s transforming work must precede a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. To word this in another way, the New Testament over and over again tells the Christian that he/she has been transformed into a new person and so they must live out the change that is there. This necessitates that God can and has changed their desires and will so that they want to and can choose to follow him. The fact that Scripture teaches this is also another verification for the view of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom we have described.

(9) Finally, the reality that Scripture teaches that in the new heaven and new earth saints will always and forever choose freely what is right and never choose to sin again is one of the greatest verifications that the view of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom set forth in this study is what the Bible teaches, as opposed to how the Molinist and the majority of Christians set forth the interplay of divine sovereignty and human freedom.

So, there you have it. My desire is to write more of an academic version of this book that makes the case with a great deal of source citation and strong, detailed proof of every point. Then I would like to write a version that would be more similar to how I preach and could benefit all kinds of Christians. I also hope eventually to enter perhaps into some public forums with a friend of mine who is a Molinist—so we can increase people’s understanding in these issues and also display how to disagree in a civil and loving way.