Several years ago I read a column by Donald W. Haynes — and its content has stayed with me. Haynes used to write a regular “Wesleyan Wisdom” column for the United Methodist Reporter. (I always appreciated what he had to say.)
The one I’m thinking of was titled “Like Wesley, do we seek an ‘inward witness’?” It appeared in November of 2012. It was about the experience of the assurance of salvation. First, Haynes talks about Wesley’s religious life prior to his famous Aldersgate experience. Was he seeking God? Certainly. Was he seeking a holy life? Certainly. Did he have faith? Yes. But, there was a vital and missing element: an experience of inward assurance. It was this that he found at the prayer meeting at Aldersgate. Haynes writes:
Wesley’s doctrine was sound and his self-discipline was exemplary, but he still lacked what Paul called “witness of the spirit.” Wesley admitted later that he did not understand his father, when the old Anglican on his death bed in April 1735 told him that “inward witness” was the “strongest proof of Christianity.”Surely, many of us know how Wesley must have felt. In the years since revival altar calls gave way to confirmation classes, very little has been said in most United Methodist churches about an experience of assurance that one’s sins are forgiven. Evangelical United Brethren and Methodist children once learned a little chorus: “I’ve got the peace that passeth understanding down in my heart . . . down in my heart today.” The second stanza was the same except the last line, “down in my heart to stay.”
How many of us must confess—while we believe that God loves us, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died to save us from our sins, that the Bible is the Word of God, and that we are to reach out with deeds of kindness and acts of mercy—we still have a missing link in our relationship with God? Deep in our soul, there is an empty spot which only the Holy Spirit can fill. Is this not the Achilles heel of multiple millions of Christians? Is this not one important clue to the net loss of 650,000 United Methodists already in the 21st century?
The Gospel message in the Bible assumes the existence of God. So, is belief in God, in and of itself, meritorious?
Belief in God is basic to Christianity. The Bible never sets out to prove the existence of God — it assumes God’s existence. Yes, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans say that God’s existence can be seen from created things — but in a day and age when people talk and write (quite seriously) about self-organization in the universe, and the development of life from natural processes, this observation seems a bit less obvious than it did at the time it was written. The Christian Gospel of Jesus Christ has a lot of backstory to it. The Old Testament story of Israel is an assumption for the New Testament. The story of Jesus is understood against the backdrop of the previous story of Israel. And, what we have in the Old Testament is the story of Israel’s relationship with God. This growing and changing portrait of God lies behind all that Jesus says about his “heavenly Father.”
So, if belief in God is considered a disputed point, can the Gospel still be heard?
Or, looking at it another way: if faith in Christ is the basis of human salvation from sin and divine judgement (as generally regarded by Christians), and faith in Christ presupposes belief in God, then is belief in God itself meritorious?
Some people already believe that the issue of faith versus unbelief is the existence of God. They seem to think belief in the existence of God, per se, is the essence of Christianity — and that it somehow helps to make one a “good person.” I don’t know how many people really think like that — but it appears that some do. Yet, for Christians, the issue of faith is trust in Christ. We see Christ as being our way to understanding God.
Is belief in [a] God meritorious? I think the answer is No. My reasons follow. (more…)
- Step one: Glory belongs to God and not to the nation (v. 1). (See: No Glory to Us and Glory to God’s Name.)
- Step two: Why should the nations say ‘Where is there God?’ (v.2).
- Step three: What Israel’s God is Like (v. 3). (See: The God Who Can’t Be Manipulated.)
- Step four: What the nations’ gods are like (vv. 4-8).
- Step five: A call for Israel to renew its trust in Yahweh (vv. 9-11).
So, now the Psalm turns from reflections on whatever misfortune has come upon them, to an affirmation of renewed hope in their God. (more…)
STUPIDITY VS. EVIL
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgement simply need not be believed — in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical — and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters & Papers from Prison, 43. Quoted by Nijay K. Gupta here: Bonhoeffer on Stupidity.
RACISM AS A SPIRITUAL CRISIS
From a joint statement prompted by the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, by pastors Gabriel Salguero, J. Mark DeYmaz, Le Que Vu-Heidkamp, Jeanette Salguero, Bryan Loritts, David Anderson, and Eugene Cho: “At its core the scourge of racism presents a spiritual crisis with real life and death repercussions. And while government and educational programs, together with the efforts of countless individuals, groups and agencies, have long-sought to eliminate prejudice and the disparaging consequences of systemic racism still deeply embedded within our society, it is long-past time to recognize that systemic racism cannot be overcome apart from the establishment of local churches which intentionally and joyfully reflect the love of God for all people beyond the distinctions of this world that so often and otherwise divide. For not only does God require of governments and institutions the work of justice, we, too, the local church, the bride of Christ, have been ordained by God to this task. With this in mind, the American Church can and must do better in providing spiritual leadership toward a healing response. Indeed, we call immediately for it to do so.” Here: Multi-Ethnic Churches Lament America’s Racial Injustice. (more…)
כִּי אֲנִי יָדַעְתִּי כִּי־גָדוֹל יְהוָה וַאֲדֹנֵינוּ מִכָּל־אֱלֹהִים
“For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods.”
In this verse both the personal name of God (יְהוָה) Yahweh and the term “Lord” (אָדוֹן) adon appear. In the original language the words lie side by side: as if to emphasize that it is Yahweh and none other who is Lord above all other powers.
As I understand it, the word “worship” comes from the old English term worth-ship. Worship recognizes the worthiness and power of the God we know through Jesus Christ.
Worship acknowledges that I am not at the center of the universe: God is. Worship works against narcissistic self-absorption. It says I have a Creator. It says there is One who is greater than I am. It calls me into relationship with the One who is greater than I am. It calls me into the Presence of the One who is greater than all people — and all the powers of this world. (more…)
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—” (Ephesians 2:8 NRSV)
Many Calvinists fear that any retreat from the conviction that God causes faith will make salvation a human accomplishment. If faith is something we do, then salvation rests on our deeds and no longer on God’s grace. If faith is viewed as our part in the process of salvation, then salvation must he viewed as a cooperative affair, and we should then describe ourselves as self-saviors in part.
But the flaw in this Calvinist fear lies in its improper understanding of the nature of faith itself. The Bible itself does not describe faith as a work that accomplishes a task, or as a deed that establishes merit, or as a lever that forces God to act. Instead, we find that genuine faith is something quite different. As Paul’s treatment of Abraham shows, the patriarch’s faith had no power over God, earned no merit before God and stood as the polar opposite to honorific deeds. Abraham believed God, and righteousness was ‘credited’ to him, not paid to him. God alone justified Abraham freely on the basis of Abraham’s faith (Rom 4:1-6). Since by its very nature faith confesses the complete lack of human merit and human power, it subtracts nothing from the Savior’s grace or glory. By its very nature, faith points away from all human status and looks to God alone for rescue and restoration.
— Jerry L. Walls & Joseph R. Dongell, Why I Am Not a Calvinist (2004) pp. 77, 78.
An email and my response:
Hello Mr. Adams, I read with interest your comments on Calvin's comments on John 3:16 on your web site. I was wondering what your thoughts are on Jesus' words as recorded in John 6:44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (NKJV) (It is unfortunate that English editions tend to translate the Greek as "draws" rather than the more accurate "compels" — especially since it is also translated more accurately as "dragged" elsewhere.) Have you considered that perhaps Calvin's "on the other hand" was intended to recognize what the whole of scripture says about this issue? He just may have been appealing to theology that is rooted in scripture itself.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” — John 3:16 (NRSV).
JOHN CALVIN COMMENTS (my responses are in blue):
“’That whosoever believeth on him may not perish.’ It is a remarkable commendation of faith, that it frees us from everlasting destruction. For he intended expressly to state that, though we appear to have been born to death, undoubted deliverance is offered to us by the faith of Christ; and, therefore, that we ought not to fear death, which otherwise hangs over us. And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term world, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.”
Um. Okay. I think I’m with you there, brother John. (more…)
In this passage John Calvin says that God sends people to Hell for no other reason than that God wishes to do so:
“Many professing a desire to defend the Deity from an invidious charge admit the doctrine of election, but deny that any one is reprobated…. This they do ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.”
— John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (translated by Henry Beveridge), Book 3, Chapter 23.
The message of the Wesleys and of the subsequent “Methodist” movement was a message of radical faithfulness to God. It affirmed an optimism of grace which believed that people’s lives could be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit and that society could be changed — through the impact of prayer and through the impact of people who were filled with love for God and love for others. It was a movement that saw a progressive and liberating movement in Scripture that made it clear to them that the institution of slavery — the buying and selling of human beings — was wrong. It allowed them to see that God was calling both men and women into the service of Christ. It was a radical message of inward and outward holiness.
It can be hard to sustain a radical message. (more…)
In the second part of his ongoing review of Austin Fischer’s Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism John Frye tells this story:
Some years ago the senior pastor of a large Assembly of God Church told me this story. He met with the denominational leaders of the Christian Reformed Church to discuss church growth in West Michigan. The Assembly’s pastor thanked the Reformed leaders for filling his church and many other Assemblies churches. The Reformed leaders were a little taken back, asking, “How did we do that?” The pastor said, “By preaching your view of God so faithfully. Thank you. People from your churches flock to ours to escape a wrathful, unpleasable God and they find in our churches a God who so ravishingly loves them that he chases them down with passionate desire.” We can argue Pelagianism, Arminianism, semi-Pelagianism, Open theism, and Calvinism ad infinitum. Yet, people, ordinary people, just want to know “What kind of God is at the center of the universe?” At the center of reality is there a meticulously determined decree or a “Lamb, looking as it if had been slain”?
The post is at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog here: Young Restless and No Longer Reformed (2) (John Frye). The first part of the review is here: Young, Restless and No Longer Reformed (by John Frye).
Guest blog by Dr. James E. Pedlar. Dr. Pedlar is Assistant Professor of Wesley Studies and Theology at Tyndale University and Seminary in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The areas of his specialization are: Wesleyan theology, ecclesiology, unity and diversity in the church, renewal and reform movements.
it says on his faculty bio: “James is a Wesleyan theologian whose work focuses on ecclesiology – especially questions involving the place of renewal and reform movements in the church. His doctoral dissertation explores the use of the Pauline concept of “charisms” as a way of thinking about the unique gifts that different movements bring to the life of the church as a whole.”