Friday, July 31, 2009

Not a good luck charm

With the start of my third year of medical school I've been shocked into a schedule quite foreign to me, waking up at four or five in the morning to make it to the hospital to see patients and have charts ready for interns and residents by six or seven. In the last week or so I've gotten in the habit of reading a chapter from the Old Testament with my coffee and oatmeal before heading to the hospital. I've made it through the OT before but in recent years I've neglected it a bit, spending most of my time in the Gospels and also a good amount of time in the rest of the NT in my regular devotional reading.

There are a lot of things in the Old Testament I wouldn't claim to have a good understanding of. This is certainly not the fault of one of my favorite professors at Asbury Theological Seminary, Dr. Lawson Stone, who taught a wonderful Old Testament survey class when I was there. I think the Old Testament is generally harder to understand than the New Testament and one area which has always been difficult for me is dealing with the ark of the covenant. It had bothered me that at times it seemed like the Israelites treated it as a good luck charm. And it almost seems that that was how it worked sometimes, as with Obed-edom in 2nd Samuel 6:10-11 where the Lord blesses Obed-edom, seemingly as a result of having the Ark under his roof.

During my mornings I've been reading through 2nd Samuel and recently read through chapter fifteen. Here David is fleeing from Jerusalem as Absalom prepares to take the kingdom from his father. As David is fleeing Jerusalem, the priests and Levites come to David bearing the ark of the covenant. But David tells Zadok, the priest, to, "Carry the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, 'I have no pleasure in you,' behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him (2nd Samuel 15:25-26)." I'll admit that I had forgotten this passage and when I read that the priests had carried out the ark I figured that David would want to take it with him. But the first thought I had at David's words was that he did not view the ark as a good luck charm. I must be in good company with that assessment because I checked the text note in my ESV Study Bible right away and it read, "David does not try to use the ark as some sort of 'good luck charm.'" Instead David's attitude seems to be completely trusting in God's sovereignty, with or without the ark. David doesn't seem to think that the outcome of Absalom's rebellion will come about by chance or that having the ark will somehow increase his chances of success. David sees his return to Jerusalem as completely dependent upon the will of the Lord and nothing else. This one occasion certainly doesn't undo all of my lack of understanding in this area but I think David's perspective is very interesting here and I think it also reflects the perspective we should have as Christians on the grace of God. That is, we can't earn it and we can't manipulate God in any way to get it. How God bestows grace is completely dependent on his sovereign will and not dependent on anything we could be or do.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Problem with Calvinism

As I've talked with others about the Calvinist understanding of salvation and considered my own thoughts on the subject I've come to a conclusion about one thing that I think is not a problem with Calvinism which has clarified for me where the real problem lies.

The thing that is not the problem is, I think, the place where many people believe there is one. And this problem is the problem of fairness. I think it is ingrained in our American, Western way of thinking that everyone should have the same chance at success, life, etc., etc. The problem comes when this is applied to salvation. If this notion of fairness is applied to salvation and salvation is by God's grace alone and not any inherent quality within ourselves then that would mean that it is God's duty to "give everyone the same chance." But if this is true, grace is no longer grace because God is simply doing his duty in giving everyone the same chance. Grace is no longer grace because people deserve it. Grace by nature is undeserved so those who do not receive grace leading to salvation have not been wronged by God because nothing has been withheld from them which they did deserve. In fact the only thing a sinner deserves is an eternity in hell so any grace from God which would result in any other outcome, that is eternal salvation, should be seen as the abnormal and undeserved outcome. So I think the idea that sinners are in any way deserving of God's grace or the idea that one person receiving grace leading to salvation causes other people to be deserving of the same degree of grace is completely wrong and actually destroys grace.

But even without those philosophical problems I still cannot make the jump to Calvinism. I can't make this jump because of a few, but I think very important, areas of Scripture. Now I'm sure my Calvinist friends have some ingenious explanations for these areas but I can't help but believe that the clear meaning of these verses refutes Calvinism. One of these Scriptures for me is Ezekiel 18:21-32. This is actually one of my favorite parts of Scripture and to paraphrase it says that God is pleased when sinners turn from their evil ways and live and that He does not take any pleasure in the death of the wicked but desires that they would repent. I think this throws a wrench in most Calvinist thought which seems to say that the reason for hell and damnation is for God's justice to be displayed and that God gets more glory because of this. But if God is receiving more glory because of the "death of wicked" then should this not bring him pleasure? Perhaps my reading is overly simplistic but it seems problematic to me. 1st Timothy 2:3-4 which states, "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth," also seems problematic to me. I know that many theologians whom I greatly respect, like Augustine, have interpreted this verse in a way that would fit with Calvinism but I see no reason to stray from the plain meaning of the text - that God does actually desire the salvation of all. We know that not all will be saved though and that is why I remain an Arminian.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Mr. Calvin

Today was John Calvin's 500th birthday. (I had originally entitled this post "Belated Birthday" as I thought I had missed the day - hopefully this will teach me to do one last wikipedia check before posting stuff in the future)... So back to my post: Calvin is a man I've come to respect more and more in the past three or four years since taking a class on his theology at Asbury Seminary. One aspect of Calvin's theology that I especially appreciate is the purity of his focus on the grace of God and the work of Christ in salvation and the complete rejection of the idea that any good work from ourselves could justify us before God. Here is a quote from the Institutes which touches on this issue:
I admit that the ancient writers of the church commonly used it [the word merit], and would that they had not given posterity occasion for error by their misuse of one little word! Nevertheless, in some passages they also testify that they did not intend to prejudice the truth. For in one such place Augustine speaks thus: "Let human merits, which perished through Adam, here keep silence, and let God's grace reign through Jesus Christ." Again: "The saints attribute nothing to their merits; they will attribute all to thy mercy alone, O God." Again: "And when man sees that all the good he has, he has not from himself but from his God, he sees that all that is praiseworthy in himself arises not from his own merits but from God's mercy." You see that Augustine, when he has denied to man the power of well-doing, also overthrows any worth of merit. Moreover, Chrysostom says: "Our works, if there are any that follow the freely given call of God, are repayment and debt, but God's gifts are grace and beneficence and great generosity."

-John Calvin, Institutes 3.15.2

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


With the beginning of my third year of medical school at Loma Linda, this last 4th of July weekend was my last guaranteed three-day weekend of freedom for a long time. I wanted to do something other than just stay in Loma Linda and be lazy so I was glad to find a classmate who didn't have any plans. We decided to head to Zion National Park where we camped for two nights and did some hiking. I had driven through part of Zion once before and had found it to be pretty amazing but this time I was amazed by the beauty of the park as I hiked and got to explore a little more. We arrived on Friday at our reserved campsite at the Watchman Campground and after getting situated grabbed a tour bus into the heart of the park. The only hike we did that day was to Angels Landing, a rocky spire in the middle of canyon with awesome views of the park. On Saturday we headed up a bit earlier to the Temple of Sinawava and began hiking up the Zion Narrows, spending much of the time hiking in the river itself. We hiked about 6 miles up the narrows for a total round trip of 12 miles. The trip was also a great time of Christian fellowship as we spent a lot of time discussing our faith in Christ and also listening to some Matt Chandler sermons on the way to and from Zion.

Zion Narrows - the spectacular effect of a river
slicing a narrow canyon through solid rock.

The view South from Angels Landing - some thunderstorms went through as we hiked to the top and back down.