Archive | Theology Proper

Is God an Egotistical Maniac?


“It is absurd to believe that the deity has human passions, and one of the lowest human passions, a restless appetite for applause.” -David Hume

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31 31

“Whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were, the utterances of God . . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever.” 1 Peter 4:11

There is a popular notion among Evangelicals that I think has become part of our folklore. Indeed, it is the shibboleth (secret pass code) of my fellow Calvinists. When I call this “folklore” I don’t necessarily mean “not true” (as we will see), I simply mean that it is uncritically accepted without much thought. Many would say that God’s sole purpose, intent, and motivation for creating humanity and all of creation was for His own self-glorification. If you were to ask God, “Why did you create us?”, his answer, without hesitation, would be, “Easy, to glorify myself.”

Many unbelievers will bring this up as a primary point of departure from the Christian faith. They would say that the Christian God is an egotistical maniac, only out for his own self-glory. As one person put it: “If I had a child I would not bring him into this world and say, ‘Congratulations, I created you to worship me’. I would not want a son simply to serve me.” He goes on, “I never asked to participate in this game of life. I was nothing and then I was created simply to serve him or I’d have to burn for eternity?” He goes on to accuse God of being egotistical, sharing in the most base traits of humanity. Is this true? Does God have a “relentless appetite for applause”?

Wrong Answers

Wrong answer #1: Yes, God is an egomaniac. But it is okay since he is God.

This is the answer many people would give (though not in so many words!). The idea is that being self-serving and demanding of recognition is acceptable so long as the recognition is warranted. It’s only bad when we do it because we don’t deserve it. Therefore, God’s egotism is a “righteous egotism.” What is base and sinful for man is not so with God.

I am going to let you in on a little secret. I am from Oklahoma. We have a certain way of getting by with things here through the way we talk. We can sanctify many conversations by using certain qualifiers. For example, we can get by with any gossip by simply adding the words “God bless his/her/their soul” to the end of the sentence. “Did you hear about Bobby and Susan? They are having marital problems, God bless their souls.” “I hear  Rick is starting to drink again, God bless his soul.” I think we have something similar in Christianity. We can attribute just about anything to God so long as we tag it with the word “righteous.” God is vindictive, but it is a “righteous vindictiveness.” God is jealous, but it is a “righteous jealousy.” God is cruel, but it is a “righteous cruelty.” I think we need to be careful here. Sometimes these things are true, such as God’s jealousy (Deut. 5:9). But simply placing the word “righteous” in front of the character trait does not often do justice to what is trying to be said. 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 →

Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?

You may be surprised to know that my “Do ____ _____ and I worship the same God” posts this week have been inspired by Roger Olson, a man I respect very deeply. Although I don’t agree with him on many things, his scholarship, winsome writing style, and clarity about the importance of understanding theology irenically and historically have deeply impacted my thought and general approach to theological issues. Olson is a professor of theology at Truitt Theological Seminary. I have used his textbook Mosaic of Christian Belief in The Theology Program for years. The primary reason why I have appreciated Olson in the past is because he often represents balance and calmness in theological issues. If you are in my profession, these traits are very hard to find.

However, as of late, he does not come across quit as calm and balanced. In fact, I would say that some of what he says on his blog comes across as downright belligerent. I began to notice this years ago when he wrote a response to John Piper about the Minnesota bridge collapse. I did not find the Olson that I have come to know and love. There was hardly an irenic word on the page. It was as if it was the first time that he had come across some people’s view on God’s sovereignty. His comments were defensive and very emotionally charged. As well, lately he has taken up the blog pen (a very dangerous thing to do). He spends much of his time speaking about issues that divide Calvinism and Arminianism. He is an Arminian and seems to have less and less tolerance for Calvinists. In fact, just this week I got a book from a publisher called “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson. Granted, he is an Arminian who does not agree with the tendencies in Calvinism to see God as one who is in charge of all things, even the most atrocious events of evil. This is understandable. While I disagree with Olson on this issue, it is not this disagreement that discourages me. It is Olson’s repeated implication that the God of Calvinism (my God) and the God of Arminianism (his God) might be different.

Here is what Olson had to say in his response to John Piper:

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism. (emphasis mine)

Implication: His God = God of the Bible; My God = the all-determining deity of Calvinism.

Again, he goes on:

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you’ve come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.

Although I have yet to read Against Calvinism, it would not be hard to find this kind of rhetoric (“the God of Calvinism” vs. his God) on his writing on his blog. I suppose the main redemptive thing I am getting from him lately is that he still keeps “my” God in caps! (Instead of “the god of Calvinism).

In fact, after writing my last post about Osteen, another Arminian suggested the same thing on another forum. About me he says:

“Lets see. [Michael] follows a Reformed view of theology has written blogs on being a cessationist. I have the same question when I talk to Calvinist, do we serve the same God? Why would anyone serve such a bitter vengeful and hateful God, who really doesn’t care about us that much. At least that’s been my experience when talking to [Calvinists].”

I have the feeling that this guy has been reading Olson.

Since the implications of Olson’s increasingly polemic stance against Calvinism are clear and, increasingly, influential, I feel comfortable writing this and asking this question: Is the God of Calvinism (my God) different than the God of Arminianism (his God)? Is that responsible rhetoric?

My purpose in this blog post is not to debate whose view of God is the correct view, but to initially recognize with Olson that our views of God are indeed different. Like the post with Osteen, I want to focus on this question. When does your description of God cross the line to where ones description of God is so divorced from truth that it is not longer proper for that God to go by the name Jesus? When is it proper to use rhetoric such as “his God” vs. “my God” in Christian circles? Continue Reading →

Do Joel Osteen and I Worship the Same God?

What a presumptuous question, right? The presumption is in the fact that I would even pose such a question. The question itself presumes that I might answer in the negative. Chill. It is just a question. But your are right. The presumption behind the question does evidence my uncertainty as to its answer.

I was listening to Osteen the other night. He was very pleasant and had a lot of nice things to say. For the most part, except for his interjections of the word “God” here and there, his speech was a typical motivational speech. He did not use the Bible, but he attempted to give the impression that he was. He held it in his hand the entire time. Continue Reading →

Did Joseph Smith Restore Theosis? Part Three: The Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith’s Doctrine of Exaltation

This is the third installment in my series responding to Dan Peterson’s recent article, “Joseph Smith’s restoration of ‘theosis’ was miracle, not scandal.” If you missed the previous installments, I hope you will read at least the first part of this series. In this third part, I will address the question of whether the Book of Mormon contains any evidence supporting Joseph Smith’s later doctrine of exaltation.

Peterson’s Proof Text

According to Peterson, that doctrine was “implicit…though perhaps unnoticed, in the Book of Mormon,” in the following statement that the Book of Mormon attributes to Jesus:

“And ye shall sit down in the kingdom of my Father; yea, your joy shall be full, even as the Father hath given me fulness of joy; and ye shall be even as I am, and I am even as the Father; and the Father and I are one” (3 Nephi 28:10). Continue Reading →

Does God Have Libertarian Freedom? A Response to Roger Olson

Roger Olson asked a very interesting and difficult question the other day: Does God have libertarian freedom? He was specifically addressing Calvinists (he is an Arminian) due to our characteristic denial of what is called “libertarian freedom.” I, as a Calvinist, will attempt to answer his question here.

Let me begin by explaining libertarian freedom, and the reason why most Calvinists deny the concept. (Just scroll to the end if you already know what libertarian freedom is.)

Libertarian Freedom

Libertarian Freedom is often described as “the power of contrary choice.” In other words, the one who believes in libertarian freedom believes that in any given circumstance, when a choice is made, the chooser had the “power” or ability to choose differently. For example, even though this blog is already written, I could have chosen not to write it.

That seems self-evident and rather intuitive as our days are made up of the sum total of all our choices. We make thousands of conscious and unconscious decisions every day in which there are multiple options present. As well, we hold people accountable for their choices because we assume that they could have done otherwise. We tell our children to clean up their room. If they disobey, we discipline them, believing that they had the power of contrary choice (i.e. they could have obeyed!).

As easy as this concept is to accept from a very practical standpoint, from both a philosophical and theological point of view, it is hardly so cut and dry. If you ask me whether a person has the power of contrary choice, I would answer “no.”

Hang with me. The basic argument would be this. Any given choice that a person makes is not made in a vacuum. In other words, none of our choices are birthed out of neutrality. It is a person who makes the choice, not some innocent bystander called “free will.” By the time any given choice is made, the person making the choice will already be, by nature, predisposed to make that choice. This does not mean that the outcome is determined by an outside agency (determinism) nor does it mean that the choice in inevitable (fatalism), but that it is self-determined. Simply put, a person’s nature makes up who they are. Who they are determines their choice. Therefore, people always choose according to who they are at the moment. There is no “power” of contrary choice, for we cannot identify what or who this “power” might be.

Arminians such as Roger Olson believe that when we reject God, we do so out of a neutralized will (total depravity + previenient grace).

Calvinists such as myself believe that when we reject God, we do so out of a fallen will (total depravity).

Think about all that goes into making who you are. We are born in the fallen line of Adam. Spiritually speaking, we have an inborn inclination toward sin. All of our being is infected with sin. This is called “total depravity.” Every aspect of our being is infected with sin, even if we don’t act it out to a maximal degree.

But even if this were not the case—even if total depravity were a false doctrine—libertarian freedom would still be untenable for humans. Not only are you who you are because of your identification with a fallen human race, but notice all these factors that you did not choose that go into the setup for any given “free will” decision made:

  • You did not choose when you were to be born.
  • You did not choose where you were to be born.
  • You did not choose your parents.
  • You did not choose your influences early in your life.
  • You did not choose whether you were to be male or female.
  • You did not choose your genetics.
  • You did not choose your temperament.
  • You did not choose your looks.
  • You did not choose your body type.
  • You did not choose your physical abilities.

All of these factors play an influential role in who you are at the time of any given decision. Yes, your choice is free, but it has you behind it. Therefore, you are free to choose according to you from whom you are not able to free yourself!

Now, I must reveal something here once again that might surprise many of you. This view is held by both Calvinists and Arminians alike. Neither position believes that a person can choose against their nature. However, Arminians (such as Olson) differ from Calvinists in that they believe in the doctrine of “prevenient grace,” which essentially neutralizes the will so that the inclination toward sin—the antagonism toward God—is relieved and the person can make a neutral decision.

However, we still have some massive difficulties. Here are a few: Continue Reading →

Not “Something on a Stick”

Sometimes I have to laugh a bit at human endeavors into knowledge and understanding. Sometimes I have to laugh at myself as I attempt to learn and, of all things, teach people about God. Sometimes I want to give it all up and throw in the intellectual towel and head East, where mystery is much more accepted. I have taught theology for over a decade now. I have written more than a thousand articles (if I can call a “blog” and article!) articulating my understanding about the Bible, God, and human nature. I have evaluated, contemplated, discussed, and fellowshipped with who I believe to be some of the greatest living “scholars.” I have a Th.M. Translation: Theological Masters. Therefore, I am a “master” of theology? 

Chuck Swindoll used to say, “Sometimes you think you are something on a stick. You are not something on a stick.”

The truth is when I am at my best, I realize how little I know. God is infinite, I am not. People often get insecure when they encounter someone who, from the world’s perspective, is “learned.” We call them “academicians,” “experts,” and, my favorite, “scholars.” Sometimes we put Ph.D.s and Th.M. after their names. In Christ’s day, they were called “scribes.” Same meaning, different time. We give away awards and prizes for people whom, from the perspective of the awarder, has made significant contributions in this field or that.

I wonder what God thinks of these type of things? Does he think we are something on a stick?

Simply put, God is incomprehensible. I was reminded of this as I have been in correspondence with a “seeking” atheist over the last few weeks. Her inability to even grasp the concept of God as I explained him caused me to once again realize that I don’t grasp it either. As I described his infinite, transcendent, holy nature, I was describing things that were beyond my ability to fathom. The conversation was pushing my buttons of ignorance and finitude. My theological legs began to shake as I realized once again the ineffability of God. Our inability to fathom these things does not make it any less true. It just puts us in our place.

1Co 1:20
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Problems arise when we begin to think we can comprehend the incomprehensible. Bigger problems arise when we think that in order to qualify for belief, it must be understood. So many people our there are like this young atheist saying, “Explain it to me until I comprehend it, then and only then will I believe it.” We think that we are something on a stick. We think that we can rise to the heights of God and look him in the eye. Continue Reading →