Listen to understand. Patiently live with moments of perplexity, misunderstanding or oddness. Be determined to discover something new, not merely verify everything you thought you knew. Above all, look for ways that the Word is making demands for change in your life. The more we obey, the more sensitive we become to the Word, and our listening skills increase.
Sometimes our spiritual problems come from unexpected places. We expect that people who disagree with the doctrine, preaching, and teaching of the Word will not grow much, and that is certainly the case. But unexpectedly, some people fail to grow because they agree too much. I think this is your situation.
Now by the term “agreeing too much”, I do not mean that it is possible to agree too vigorously or too often with revealed truth. Like love, it is impossible to love what is good too much, provided we do not love it as a substitute for God.
Instead, I mean it is possible to adopt a kind of “agreeableness” that never reflects on what it is agreeing with. Your default response to every teaching, comment or admonition is “I know”. Every doctrine meets a nod, and a knowing smile. But I fear the problem lies just there: there is not as much knowing behind the smiling as there ought to be.
Lana, it is possible to mistake broad agreement with the church’s position for actual agreement about particular applications of truth in your life. In your case, I happen to know that there are some habits and practices which you have not tackled or changed in twenty years of church attendance. Yet you are able to see everything under the visage of “I know. I agree.” You would likely say that you have found the sermons incredibly challenging and convicting. But you have been able to sidestep their demands for change for decades.
This is where I believe you have managed to fall prey to a particular form of the deceitfulness of the heart. The world sometimes speaks of ‘confirmation bias’.
You Might also like
By Bill Muehlenberg — 6 months ago
So some of the squeamish (and often woke) believers of today who say we should never call out pagans, or pagan rulers, or pagan nations, for their many wrongs, immorality and evil, because they are not Christian, are greatly mistaken. Yes we should uphold God’s standards to one and all. A good cop or judge will not allow a person’s religious status to determine whether or not he or she gets justice. Neither should we.
Sometimes believers (often of the left), will say some rather unhelpful things – especially when it comes to the Christian in society, the culture wars, and so on. For example, how often do you hear some Christians basically making excuses for the behaviour and actions of non-Christians by saying something like this?-‘Well, he is not saved, so what do you expect?’”-‘He is just doing what pagans do.’-‘He does not have the Holy Spirit so we cannot expect him to do any good.’
I hear this quite often unfortunately. It is as if the non-believer can just get off Scot-free from the consequences of his actions. Now, there is SOME truth in all this. Theologically speaking, the law of God was given, among other things, to show us our sinfulness and show us how we cannot save ourselves.
So yes, in terms of salvation, the pagan is hopeless in trying to please God or get right with him. We are all guilty under the law, and we can only cast ourselves upon the grace and mercy of God. But here I am speaking about something different.
We can be too willing to excuse the sins of pagans. They might cheat on their taxes or cheat on their partner. Or worse, abuse their children or kill their spouse. But the truth is, God still holds them all accountable for their actions. And we should too.
Consider how this plays out in the real world. Suppose Joe Pagan is caught running red lights – over and over again. The cops pull him over, and issue him a ticket or two. If the driver was a pagan and the cops Christian, would it make any difference if the law-breaking driver simply said, ‘Well, what do you expect? I am not a Christian you know?’ Would the Christian cops say, ‘Oh right, sorry – off you go’?
Um, no. Of course they would proceed with writing tickets, or even arresting the repeat offender. And it would be the same in a court of law. If a bank robber told the judge, ‘Hey, I am not a Christian and do not have the Holy Spirit, so what do you expect?,’ would the judge nod his head in agreement and let him walk out of the court?
Um, no. again. We expect everyone to obey the laws of the land – whether they are Christian or not, whether they have the Spirit or not. And this for various reasons. We know that everyone is made in God’s image, and we know that we are all morally responsible for our actions. And one day God will judge every single one of us.
The big difference is whether the sinner turns to Christ for the forgiveness of sins, or rejects what Christ had done on their behalf. But we are all still responsible for what we do. Certainly in this life any worthwhile cop or judge will not let criminals and lawbreakers off the hook, based on whether or not they are born-again Christians.
Case in Point: Lucy Letby
Most of us read recently about neonatal nurse Lucy Letby in the UK who was found guilty of killing 7 newborns. And now there are reports saying there might be many other just-born babies that she harmed or tried to kill. Says one report:
Police believe Lucy Letby, the nurse convicted of murdering seven babies, may have harmed dozens more infants at two hospitals in the north-west of England, the Guardian has been told. A source with knowledge of the police investigation said detectives had identified about 30 babies who suffered “suspicious” incidents at the Countess of Chester hospital where she worked. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2023/aug/20/lucy-letby-dozens-more-babies-police-believe-chester-liverpool
She is truly evil, and human courts of law held her accountable for what she did, just as will the heavenly court.
By Nicholas K. Meriwether — 9 months ago
Written by Nicholas K. Meriwether |
Tuesday, May 16, 2023
According to Scripture, God designs us in such a way that moral knowledge is natural. In Romans 2:14-16, Paul says the moral law is “written on our hearts,” that is, through the conscience, described by Calvin as “a certain knowledge of the law by nature,” so that all are without excuse.
Natural law is that apprehension of the conscience which distinguishes sufficiently between just and unjust, and which deprives men of the excuse of ignorance, while it proves them guilty by their own testimony.—John Calvin, Institutes, Bk. II, Chap. 2, xxii.
In Part 2 of this series, we looked at the content of natural law, which is the Ten Commandments (aka the Decalogue) and the basic design of human nature. One might think that we learn the Ten Commandments by reading the Bible. But if the Bible were the only source of moral knowledge, only a very small percentage of the human race would know right from wrong. And as we will see, the Bible itself doesn’t claim that people know right from wrong only by reading it. But how do we explain how we know the Decalogue? In Part 3, we turn to how we know right from wrong.
To add to the difficulty, doing the right thing often occurs in a bewildering context in which justice doesn’t seem to prevail (Jer. 12:1; Hab. 1:13). Many suffer and die for doing the right things. So we can’t base moral knowledge upon who lives a long and contented life, or a short, difficult one.
Not only do we often fail to see justice prevail, we may find ourselves in circumstances in which being moral is dangerous. Austrian author Stefan Zweig describes a harrowing situation in post-WWI Salzburg during a period of rampant inflation, where in order to survive, one had to be immoral.
A man who respected the food rationing system starved; only one who disregarded it brazenly could eat his fill. A man schooled in bribery got ahead; he who speculated, profited. If a man sold appropriately to the buying price, he was robbed, and if he calculated carefully, he was cheated. Standards and values disappeared during this melting and evaporation of money; there was but one virtue: to be clever, shrewd, unscrupulous, and to mount the racing horse rather than be trampled by it.
The situation Zweig describes challenges those who believe moral knowledge derives from our environment. Saying we obtain moral knowledge from the society or culture we live in has disturbing implications—not just in periods of civilizational collapse as in post-war Austria, but also in contexts in which being immoral is ingrained in the culture we inhabit, such as a street gang, the Mafia, or a corrupt society (Gen. 19). Moral knowledge must have a more stable basis than what we experience most of the time.
So we can’t simply assume people know, we must at least explain how they know, and especially, why they so often violate what they know, which complicates the question even more.
Yet it is here that natural law by itself is inadequate. We see this most clearly in Aristotle’s wrestling with moral responsibility in the Nichomachean Ethics. He does in fact claim that every human being is responsible for any wrong he commits, unless his action is forced by something outside himself (a blast of wind), or he’s ignorant of the circumstances (1110b25). Yet his explanation of how it is that people can be held responsible is through an indirect argument: If we say that vice isn’t our fault, then neither is virtue, yet this seems preposterous. He concludes:
No, I *AM* Spiritually Closer With Evangelicals Who Reject Certain Tenets Of “Classical Theism” Than With Classical Trinitarians Who Reject The Reformed Doctrine Of Justification.By Ronald William Di Giacomo — 3 months ago
Fellowship among evangelicals will always be along a vast theological continuum of spiritual closeness whereas with devout Roman Catholics spiritual closeness is a binary consideration. There is none. Let us not confuse sanctification and fellowship within the body with evangelizing those outside the evangelical church. Our personal spiritual affinity toward other professing Christians should be walled in by their objective ecclesiastical standing, which is based upon baptism and a credible profession of faith before the elders of a true church that preaches the biblical gospel. In a word, how can evangelicals enjoy spiritual closeness with Roman Catholics when they are not to be admitted to the Lord’s table?
I will interact with portions of this article by Professor Carl Trueman.
A recovery of classical theology also raises an interesting ecumenical question. Why do Protestants, especially those of an evangelical stripe, typically prioritize the doctrine of salvation over the doctrine of God? If an evangelical rejects simplicity or impassibility or eternal generation, he is typically free to do so. But why should those properly committed to the creeds and confessions consider that person closer spiritually to them than those who affirm classical theism but share a different understanding of justification?
I am committed to the catholic creeds and Reformed confessions. Maybe that is why I find it interesting that we are being asked to consider why those committed to the creeds and confessions (like myself) can enjoy more spiritual closeness with those who reject certain tenets of classical theism (like certain evangelicals) than with others who have “a different understanding of justification” (like devout Roman Catholics). In other words, in the context of spiritual closeness we are asked to compare (a) an evangelical’s rejection of “simplicity or impassibility or eternal generation” to, what is framed as, (b) a mere “different understanding of justification”. (Let that sink in.)
Many things jump out at me. First, should we infer that a “different understanding of justification” does not entail a rejection of the true and Reformed doctrine of justification? Such an inference seems unwarranted. After all, how much can we differ on the Reformed doctrine of justification and still hold to the gospel? (Given the later comparative reference to Roman Catholic Dominicans, who are to be considered orthodox in their doctrine of God, it is apparent that what is being called a “different understanding of justification” does not cash out as any mere theological difference but an outright repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.)
Would it not be fairer to evaluate the foundational basis for spiritual fellowship between a confessional Reformed believer (like myself) with either of these two different classes of people: (1) those who cannot accept and, therefore, reject the philosophical underpinnings and subsequent implications of certain constructs of, for instance, divine simplicity (e.g., Alvin Plantinga), and (2) those who reject the simplicity of the gospel as it relates to a Reformed doctrine of justification (e.g., any of the popes since the sixteenth century)?
Before reading on, it might be helpful to internalize that the idea that we should not prioritize the doctrine of justification over the doctrine of God can imply that we should not prioritize God’s grace over the God of grace. Although a worthy reflection in its own right, one can easily miss the point if it’s abstracted from the present context. We aren’t to be prioritizing complementary doctrines in the abstract but rather discerning which doctrines are absolutely essential to understand and embrace for there to be the possibility of “spiritual closeness” in the household of faith.
Back to Basics:
Although the doctrines of simplicity, impassibility and eternal generation are glorious truths to be cherished and defended, we may not deny that the basis for genuine spiritual closeness (i.e., true fellowship in the Lord) is union with Christ by the Holy Spirit and agreement over gospel truth. Accordingly, it is no small matter that entrance into that spiritual oneness is gospel wrought conversion, which eludes official Roman Catholic doctrine according to confessional Protestant standards. In a word, one cannot possibly enjoy spiritual closeness with a Roman Catholic who is true to Roman Catholicism. Therefore, no matter how pristine a Roman Catholic’s theology proper is, there’s no possibility of Christian fellowship for those who truly reject the Reformed doctrine of justification.
Simplicity Isn’t as Simple as the Gospel;
Regarding the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS), some of its loudest proponents have identified and acknowledged different implicit difficulties having to do with (a) God’s absolute freedom as it relates to the necessity of the divine decree, (b) personal properties of divine persons as they relate to a non-composite being, and (c) the intelligibility of divine attributes being one and the same attribute due to the transitive nature of the law of identity (just to name a few conundrums). Others have hedged on certain tenets of DDS while claiming to affirm the doctrine. And even others simply have hand-waved while labeling evangelicals who disagree with them as dangerous if not heretical. (To varying degrees we can cite similar observations about eternal generation and impassibility.)
Surely divine simplicity, impassibility and eternal generation do not just jump off the pages of Scripture. That is not to say these doctrines aren’t imbedded in Scripture and cannot be inferred by careful study. But that seems to miss the point about Christian fellowship. To understand the gospel and be genuinely converted one needn’t understand how God, not being made up of parts, can be three distinct persons yet one divine being. One can be genuinely converted and enjoy spiritual closeness with other regenerate believers without having considered, let alone reconciled (a) orthodox conceptual distinctions about God that are understood analogically with (b) how God cannot be a composite being (either logically, metaphysically, or physically). Moreover, if God is creator and redeemer, then how might we address challenges relating to God taking on accidental properties? And if God is “most free” yet the divine will is timelessly eternal, then how could God have created another world in place of this one? Or is the logical trajectory of DDS that God has actualized all possible worlds? How might the average born again believer in the pew, with whom I can enjoy spiritual closeness in Christ over the forgiveness of sins, answer the question of whether God has unactualized potential?
Of course there’s a difference between not having an opinion on x and having a reasoned rejection of x. However, if one does not believe that a sophisticatedly developed conscious-rejection of these philosophical constructs is sufficient to undermine a credible profession of faith, then why not consider those who mistakenly reject these loftier doctrines, while affirming the evangelical gospel, as standing more solidly on fellowship ground than all the Thomists within Rome who reject the simplicity of the gospel? Yet if it is believed salvation hinges in part upon not rejecting simplicity, impassibility or eternal generation, then we would not have elevated Roman Catholics who decidedly oppose sola fide above such professing Protestants. We would merely have placed them on equal ground! Neither sort would be spiritually closer than the other to a true believer.
Although I have not been satisfied with some of the representations I’ve heard from some of the most vocal defenders of DDS, I do believe there are adequate answers to such questions even though some strident proponents of DDS seem to struggle with arguments levied by the ablest objectors to DDS. But the point isn’t whether divine simplicity, impassability or the eternal generation of the Son are glorious truths over which we can fellowship with other true believers. (Indeed we can!) Rather, the point is merely this. I am much “closer spiritually” with (a) an evangelical who sadly rejects DDS because he has not found the arguments he has read particularly persuasive, than with (b) a Thomist who believes in the transubstantiation of the mass and that his works of piety can assist in meriting his justification. (In this example, the evangelical needs further spiritual understanding, whereas the Thomist is in need of spiritual conversion.)