Archive | Anthropology

Why I Still Defend the Doctrine of Imputation

I have explained and confessed my belief in the doctrine of imputed sin, which is not a popular doctrine these days. It is one of the many doctrines that are being “rethought” by even the most conservative Christians. Why? Because it seems to fly in the face of everything we feel is just and suggests a characteristic in God that we would rather not be present.

Here is the situation that was concluded from the last post: We are born with a propensity, bent, or inclination to sin. Because of this bent, we sin: It is our nature. When we do act according to our nature and sin, we are held guilty by God and ultimately condemned to eternal punishment. Not only this, but we are already condemned for the sin of another—namely Adam—before we commit any personal sins of our own. This is imputed sin as it is “imputed” or credited to our spiritual bank account before we have a chance to sin. We are held guilty for something someone else did. I can understand why so many are saying “check please” to this doctrine. I did not vote for this. I did not ask to either have this sin nature, or whether or not I approved of what Adam did. I never had a chance. I am sorry, again, this just seems unjust.

It is not hard to see why unbelievers scoff at such a foreign and seemingly cruel proposal. Similarly, it is not difficult to see why believers would decide to either remain agnostic concerning these issues, or change their theology to look more Pelagian. Seriously, this is not an easy subject. We must understand how absolutely shocking this doctrine brings to the table. As Pascal put it, the flow of guilt seems unjust.

Continue Reading →

Confessions of a Torn Dichotomist

(Lisa Robinson)

Our humanity matters. It matters to the Lord and it matters in our Christian walk. I have not always recognized this or believed it. Like most Christians, I have been taught through scripture and reinforced through teachers that Christianity meant being more Christ-like, more spiritual, more conformed to who I was called to be. It meant recognizing that I’m a new creature in Christ, redeemed, forgiven, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. It meant forgetting those things that were behind and pressing forward to grab hold of why the Lord grabbed hold of me. It meant learning, growing, serving, fellowshipping, giving, and maturing.

Now that’s all fine and good, certainly scriptural and commanded. We have the earnest intent to move forward in the Lord, that is until our humanity gets in the way. And even when it does, it is easy to spiritualize what ails us. It’s an attack of the enemy, a sin that needs removal, a lack of conformity to who we were called to be.  In order to be a good Christian, we keep moving in, keep pressing and holding on.  We rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, yet there is struggle, lots of struggle.  Depending on what kinds of things we are dealing with in our humanity, the struggle can be more severe for some than others. There is a reason for this.

I’ve come to learn that when life happens, things impact us.  The more bad life happens the more badly it impacts us. Try as we might to conform or in same cases, just perform, it can seem like an uphill battle.  But in order to walk fruitfully in our Christianity, the worst thing we can do is ignore the issues that plague our humanity. Why? It is who we are and how we have been impacted by life.

So when I speak of our humanity I think it’s important to make a distinction between a trichotomist and a dichotomist. The more I study and reflect on my position, I’m coming to a much firmer conviction that humans are made up two parts – body (material) and soul  (immaterial). This is the dichotomist position, which maintains that soul is interchangeable for spirit.  Trichotomy means humans are made up of three parts – body, soul, and spirit. Now the problem I have with this position is that it separates the part that is regenerated from our humanity.  Because that is what our soul is, the seat of how we think, feel, and make decisions. But when all the faculties that make up our soul are not in synch because of hits by life, it tears our soul. Continue Reading →

Where Theology and Humanity Meet is Good for the Soul

(Lisa Robinson)

I think it goes without saying, that if you are reading this blog on this particular site, you know that we think theology is pretty important. Lest we think it is an academic term, it is simply how we think about God and express that. What we think about God will impact how we as Christians live for him.  We want to think rightly about him according to how he has disclosed himself to us through his word and I dare say tradition.  Our Christianity should rest on simple faith but not simple thinking. We should care enough about him to want to learn about him on his terms.

However, the longer I live, the more I become increasingly aware of just how complex is our humanity. We have a range of influences that have impacted us, forming our personalities, our fears, hang-ups and our distortions.  While I still don’t yet have 100% conviction, I lean towards dichotomy, meaning that humans are made up of material and immaterial parts. The immaterial parts all work in concert together.  So when I say soul, I mean the conglomeration of our immaterial parts – our mind, heart and will.  As a dichotomist, I would say it is essentially our spirit.  Distortions in area, set off distortions in others. Places of hiding and deflection can develop to ward off detrimental impacts. Understanding our humanity and being in touch with it is important.

I have loved studying theology and the bible. But I confess that I have loved it much more than the care of my soul.  But the Lord has taken me on quite a journey in the past few years that have involved understanding where our humanity plays a part.  I am discovering just how much events in our lives can impact and even damage the soul.  I am learning that in our broken condition, we will put up walls and grope for relics of significance to compensate for troubled spots.

What I have observed both objectively and personally, is that our Christian convictions can cause us to lean more heavily on one, even to the neglect of the other.   As in any case, extremes can develop. Having right theology takes precedence over what is going on with our humanity or tending to the care of our soul, puts theology on a back burner.  Neither is ultimately good for the soul. Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Five: Early Church Fathers and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the fifth (and long overdue) installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” As explained in the first part of this series, Peterson quotes from the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, an unnamed Jewish source, and a few church fathers to illustrate the Mormon belief that Joseph Smith’s doctrine of exaltation restored an ancient doctrine. Specifically, Peterson says:

“With this doctrine of exaltation or human deification, though, Joseph Smith wasn’t actually moving away from Judeo-Christian tradition. He was returning to a forgotten strand of it. For ancient Christians and Jews also had a doctrine of human deification, which scholars call ‘theosis.’”

Scholars do indeed use the term theosis for what can be called a doctrine of human deification. Continue Reading →

Single Compensation

(by Lisa Robinson)

In my attempts to completely ignore Valentine’s Day, the last thing I intended to do or thought I’d be doing is writing a post about singleness and V-Day.  Well, it’s not really about the day but more about singleness, that was prompted by something I heard on a Christian radio station this morning from a single mom regarding Valentine’s Day.  The mom started a tradition with her sons when they were young whereby the sons would go out on a date with mom.  She would even slip them money under the table so they could play the role of paying.  I gathered from the boys ages (now 18 and 20) and the length of time that she had been a single mom, that she started this ‘tradition’ fairly early.

Now, I did not get enough information to assess what exactly the motivation was for setting these ‘date nights’.  So I can’t make judgments on whether the mom was looking for her boys to meet an emotional need that was missing from the absence of a significant other, whether she was trying to instruct her boys in the art of dating or whether she just thought it would be a cool thing to do.  While I can maybe see some positive motivation, overall this did not sit right with me and I realized it is indicative of a much deeper issue in the Church – how we handle singleness.

Unless you are truly content with your single status, for must of us, including myself, there is a sense that something is missing.  It doesn’t matter, how content you are with yourself, how devoted you are to the Lord or the work of ministry, how social you are, how busy you are, to varying degrees there is something inside of us that wants a mutual, loving relationship with another person.

I am going to suggest, the reason we feel that loss is because we were designed to be in communion with the opposite sex in ways designed by God.  When God said it is not good that man should be alone,  he created male and female with the intent of the highest form of an intimate relationship through oneness by the marital union. (Genesis 1:27; 2:18-25).   It is a reflection of the love Christ has for His church (Ephesians 5:25-27).  The desire to love and be loved, is endemic to our humanity.  Is it any wonder why those cited in Romans 1 who have rejected the revelation of God,  end up with inordinate affections towards one another (Romans 1:24-27)? Continue Reading →

Is the New Birth in the Old Testament? or Why Was Christ So Hard On Nicodemus in John 3:10?

John 3:1-10
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?

One of the most difficult issues in Bible interpretation is to understand how the New Testament uses the Old. I have in front of me a massive commentary called Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament edited by C.K. Beale and D.A. Carson. It is a great work which seeks to give answers about how New Testament writers used the Old Testament. Sometimes it is very difficult to determine how the Old Testament is being used in the New. When it comes to Christ’s rebuke of Nicodemus in John 3, even the best of New Testament scholars are often perplexed, wondering what Christ meant when he rebuked Nicodemus concerning his ignorance.

In the above passage, Christ is talking about the new birth. To make things as simple as I can, Christ tells Nicodemus that no one can enter God’s kingdom unless he has been born again. This idea of being born again can also mean “born from above.” Nicodemus, though desirous to go against the grain of Jewish leadership and follow Christ, is confused by Christ’s teaching. He takes him quite literally believing that Christ is saying that we must pass through the birth canal twice. He responds with what seems to be a valid question to Christ’s confusing and, seemingly, radical statement. “How can these things be?”

Christ does not miss a beat in lowing the hammer on Nicodemus’ ignorance. “Are you the teacher of Israel and you don’t know these things?” In other words, Nicodemus was the theology professor of the day. He was a leader of the congregation of Israel. He was supposed to know these things! How could he lead without know this basic truth?

Concerning this John Calvin adds to the rebuke:

As Christ sees that he is spending his time and pains to no purpose in teaching so proud a man, he begins to reprove him sharply. And certainly such persons will never make any progress, until the wicked confidence, with which they are puffed up, be removed. . . But still Nicodemus, with all his magisterial haughtiness, exposes himself to ridicule by more than childish hesitation about the first principles. Such hesitation, certainly, is base and shameful. For what religion have we, what knowledge of God, what rule of living well, what hope of eternal life, if we do not believe that man is renewed by the Spirit of God? (Calvin’s Commentaries: John 3:10).

But how was Nicodemus supposed to know these things? Why does Christ come down so hard on him? Was the new birth taught in the Old Testament? If so, where?

These are good questions. The first thing we may try to do is find some parallel with such teaching explicitly taught in the Old Testament. New Testament scholars have offered some possibilities: Continue Reading →

The Voice of Reason: Decision Making and Spirit-Led Direction

Recently, I have been confronted with some rather significant decisions.  As one who is committed to Christ as Lord and Savior, naturally these are things I have brought to God in prayer, looking for his will and guidance.  At the same time, I have had to think through ramifications of varying options and scenarios and gauge what is the reasonable thing to do given what I believe is consistent with the witness of scripture and the place where God has me currently situated.  In short, I have confronted these decisions prayerfully, with the voice of reason.

Now some might object and believe that we need to rely on what God tells us to do.  That relying on reason and engaging our mental faculties is the same as relying on human wisdom and understanding apart from the spiritual understanding that comes from divine direction.  After all, doesn’t Proverbs 3:5 indicate to not lean to our own understanding, but acknowledge the Lord in all our ways?  Most certainly it does.  But I don’t think that means that engaging in a thought process involving reason is not engaging spiritual guidance.  In fact, I am convinced that God very much operates through reason, too.

As Christians, we are told in Romans 12:2 to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing our minds.   Conformity to the world involves a mindset of identity.   Prior to regeneration, the believer can only follow the mindset that does not set affections on God or his ways (Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:7).  It relies on a philosophy of the pattern of this world, which is keeping with human understanding and that which is sourced in self-interest.  The renewed mind understands that life decisions must be filtered through a new lens.  We are subject to a different standard that is keeping with who we are as citizens of heaven, indwelt with the Holy Spirit who provides illumination on how to bring life into alignment with God’s will and ways.  So as we think about life and all of its decisions, we should be in touch with that identity and what is in its best interest.

It does raise the question of how the Holy Spirit works in the faculties of the believer.  Does the Holy Spirit provide guidance by bypassing our thought process and just mechanically gives us answers and directives?   Or does the Holy Spirit invade the mind and influence our thoughts so that they align with the will of God?  I suppose that answer will rest on where one stands on the composition of our humanity, whether dichotomist (body and soul/spirit) or trichotomist (body, soul and spirit).   I also wonder that if we take the position that the Holy Spirit speaks to us separate from our mental faculties, if that means we are responsible for some decisions but God is responsible for others.  That does present some difficulties that I can’t even wrap my mind around at the moment.

I honestly believe that adopting the mentality that divine guidance must come through that ‘small still voice’ or some other form of receiving a direct answer can be counter-productive to an authentic Christian life that must confront decisions on a daily basis – big and small.  I am not saying that God does not operate that way or there aren’t ‘impressions’ that are convictions of a direction that God would have us take.   But he did give us mental faculties to use that should be used to honor him.  If he just gave us the answer, how then would we grow and make choices that demonstrate our love for him?  Moreover, the fact that convictions come in the form of thoughts, I believe makes for a compelling case that the Holy Spirit very much works through out mental faculties, which we then should use for the glory of God in the decisions that we make.  In fact, I am of the opinion that the voice we ascribe to God speaking can actually be the Holy Spirit bearing on our own thoughts, which is what we may possibly hear.

If we are just listening to the voice separate from any type of mental engagement, then what is to prevent someone who is mentally challenged with proclivities towards distorted thought processes from declaring some divine directive that is nothing more than a product of that distortion?  I do believe that God can work through mental illness but that doesn’t prevent the impact that misunderstood and misapplied guidance can have those who are subject to that decision.  In fact, I have encountered ministries that I believe were either founded upon the spiritual leadership or run by someone who was mentally unstable.  As one who is not trained in this area, I can only speculate but I would bet money that this is far more prevalent than we probably think.

If the Holy Spirit can operate through the voice of reason, I suspect that the conscience very much plays a role in this facilitation.  The NT writers use the word conscience  (συνειδησις) 29 times and is associated with an inward conviction that aligns with a mindset that our thoughts, words or actions are consistent with our identity as believers in Christ.   The Greek-English lexicon (BDAG) renders the meaning of the word as “an inward faculty of distinguishing right and wrong”.   A few examples are here

Romans 2:15 – in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.

1 Corinthians 8:10 – For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols?

2 Corinthians 5:11 – Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.

Hebrews 9:14 – how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

It seems that everywhere conscience is used, it denotes that inward conviction that must bear on our decisions but nowhere denies the existence of decisions or having to think through what is the reasonable and God-honoring thing to do.  But several of the verses where ‘conscience’ is used indicates the need to keep it clear (Acts 23:1; 24:9; 1 Timothy 1:5, 19; 3:9; 2 Timothy 1:3; Hebrews 10:22; 1 Peter 3:16).  It’s why I believe Paul warns that the spiritually wayward will have a seared conscience (1 Timothy 4:2) that prevents subjection to God and his ways and how it can distort decisions we make.

So the bottom line is that I don’t think we should fear the voice of reason or relegate to a product of non-spiritual human understanding.  If our thoughts are filtered through the grid of prayer, scripture and an attitude of subjection to Christ, I believe the Holy Spirit can use them to align with the very direction that God would have us take as we think through what to do.

A Calvinist’s Understanding of “Free-Will”

There are many words and concepts in theology that suffer from misunderstanding, mis-characterization, and misinformation. “Predestination,” “Calvinism,” “Total Depravity,” “Inerrancy,” and “Complementarianism”, just to name a few that I personally have to deal with. Proponents are more often than not on the defensive, having to explain again and again why it is they don’t mean what people think they mean.

The concept of “free will” suffers no less with regard to this misunderstanding. Does a person have free will? Well, what do you mean by “free will”? This must always be asked.

Do you mean:

  1. That a person is not forced from the outside to make a choice?
  2. That a person is responsible for his or her choices?
  3. That a person is the active agent in a choice made?
  4. That a person is free to do whatever they desire?
  5. That a person has the ability to choose contrary to their nature (who they are)?

Calvinists, such as myself, do believe in free will and we don’t believe in free will. It just depends on what you mean.

When it comes to the first three options, most Calvinist would agree that a person is not forced to make a choice, is responsible for their choices, and is the active agent behind those choices. They would reject the forth believing that a person is not free to do whatever they desire (for example, no matter how much one desires, he or she cannot read the thoughts of another person, fly without wings, or transport from one location to another just by thinking about the desired location). Continue Reading →