Michael Boling – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Social Media

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Yahweh, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps. 19:14)

I have been contemplating quite a bit of late this thing called social media, in particular the hold it has on society and on my own family in particular. The sheer amount of time vested in checking Facebook, updating blogs, looking at Pinterest, Tweeting, posting pictures on Instagram, watching YouTube videos is absolutely staggering. Add to that the mobility and access provided to the aforementioned social media outlets (and many, many more I might add), and we have a society every more connected and focused on what transpires digitally.

It seems to me social media can be described as a member of the good, the bad, and the ugly club. I am not one who views the idea of social media as entirely bad. Social media is a helpful medium for information and for staying connected with friends and family. Furthermore, the use of social media can be a great tool to share the truth of Scripture with a worldwide audience. I will also submit I often get a good and much needed chuckle from videos and pictures shared on social media. Those bits of humor can be a needed respite from the daily grind.

With that said, all is not puppy dogs and roses with social media. As with anything that can be used for good, social media can and does fall into the bad category. Let’s face it….social media is addictive and it was purposefully created to be that way. In an April 2017 American Marketing Association article, Hal Conick noted,

“Addictive qualities aside, social media could not thrive if it wasn’t so uniquely—for lack of a better word—social. Humans are social animals who ache for connection with others. Mauricio Delgado, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University, explained to Marketing News in 2014 that social media activity—likes, retweets, comments—activates the brain’s reward center in the same way as a hug, smile or compliment. Social media interactions are positive reinforcement, he says, bringing favorable effects and drawing users back again and again.”[1]

In fact, the development of the FB like button and follow-in post emoji and Twitter’s heart, were purposeful creations by social media designers. Julian Morgans, in a fascinating article on this subject reveals all social media platforms “use something called intermittent variable rewards.

The easiest way to understand this term is by imagining a slot machine. You pull the lever to win a prize, which is an intermittent action linked to a variable reward. Variable meaning you might win, or you might not. In the same way, you refresh your Facebook updates to see if you’ve won. Or you swipe right on Tinder to see if you’ve won.

This is the most obvious way social feedback drives platform engagement, but others are harder to spot.

You know when you open Instagram or Twitter and it takes a few moments to load updates? That’s no accident. Again, the expectation is part of what makes intermittent variable rewards so addictive. This is because, without that three-second delay, Instagram wouldn’t feel variable. There’s no sense of will I win? because you’d know instantly. So the delay isn’t the app loading. It’s the cogs spinning on the slot machine.

Another piece of psychology hijacked by social platforms is that of social reciprocity; if someone pats your back, you’ll feel pressure to pat his or hers. Facebook exploits this by alerting you when someone has read your message, which encourages the receivers to respond—because they know you know they’ve read it. And at the same time, it encourages you to check back to read the inevitable response.

The same bits of your brain get a rush on Facebook as a set of wavy dots appear as someone writes a message. You might not exit if you think you’re getting a message, or at the very least you’re more likely to come back.”[2]

So the very design of social media platforms is to elicit an emotional and brain response meant to draw the user to the point where they are in essence addicted. It is no wonder that a quick scan of the local restaurant reveals a plethora of people with heads bowed, not in prayer over their meal, but rather over their choice of technology, posting and scrolling away vice having a conversation with those at the table.

The ugly side of social media rears its ugly head in a number of ways, starting with the addictive nature of social media. It becomes all-consuming with the basis for how one feels about themselves and others rooted in likes, re-tweets, hearts, and selfies.

Moreover, the very ugly side of social media can be found in how people interact with their fellow man. I recently wrote an article on avoiding lashon hara (evil tongue). The truths spoken of in that article feed into this issue as well. Based on my experience and observation with social media over the years, lashon hara takes place on social media largely due to the lack of personal interaction one has with the recipient of the conversation.

Prior to the submersion of society with all things technology and social media, if you wanted to speak with someone you wrote them a letter, called them, or visited them in person. This at least helped foster a more thoughtful conversation. This is not to say someone cannot be heated and engage in evil tongue through a letter, phone call, or in person. With that said, it is far easier to fire off a nasty tweet or FB post than perhaps it was to sit down and write a letter. There was something to be said for the effort of writing a letter or having that one on one conversation to include the potential for cooler heads to prevail in the process.

In a world inundated with social media, as children of God, we must always keep in mind scriptures such as Psalm 19:14. The words of our mouth, regardless of how our words are “spoken”, need to be found as acceptable in the eyes of the Father. If they are not and if you are finding your interaction and involvement with social media is not acceptable in the eyes of God, then a cease and desist order might need to be enacted. It might be time to step away from social media for a season if you find your priorities in this area of life are askew. If you find yourself constantly checking whether someone liked your FB post or gave a heart to your Tweet to the neglect of weightier matters of life, it is time, make that past time, for an honest evaluation of where your focus is in life.

I am finding on a personal note the need to step away from social media. This may seem like an odd statement given what I am sharing will be posted on a number of social media platforms. I would label an article such as this as being in the good category of social media provided I do not constantly find myself trying to check how many views, likes, and re-tweets it has garnered.

Social media can be good, bad, and ugly. I encourage you to assess where your social media participation lies. If changes need to be made, then make them soonest. Be mindful of the addictive nature of social media and the impact that addiction can have in your relationships. Most importantly, may all we do and say bring honor to God, to include our social media habits.

References:
[1] Hal Conick, “Marketing’s Ethical Line Between Social Media Habit and Addiction,” American Marketing Association, April 6, 2017, accessed July 18, 2017, https://www.ama.org/publications/marketingnews/pages/marketings-ethical-line-between-social-media-habit-addiction.aspx.
[2] Julian Morgans, “Your Addiction to Social Media Is No Accident,” Vice, May 19, 2017, accessed July 18, 2017, https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vv5jkb/the-secret-ways-social-media-is-built-for-addiction.

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Michael Boling – Avoid Lashon Hara (Evil Tongue)

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. (Psalm 34:13)

There is a term used by Jewish rabbinic tradition called lashon hara. I submit most have not heard of this term in the Hebrew parlance; however, it is a concept firmly rooted in Scripture. Lashon hara means “evil tongue” and is derived from passages such as Leviticus 19:16 and Proverbs 10:18. With that said, perhaps the most notable verse that speaks to the issue of lashon hara is Psalm 34:13.

What exactly then is meant by “evil tongue?” There is no shortage in Scripture of passages that speak of the tongue or how to define godly and ungodly verbal interaction with not just our fellow man, but also regarding how we speak of God. Notably as it relates to the tongue and God, we can point to Exodus 20:7 which declares, “You shall not take the name of the God in vain.” In other words, evil tongue as it relates to God involves but is not limited to trying to make the name above all names common. For more insight into what it means to take the name of God in vain, check out my post on this subject.

As lashon hara relates to our fellow man, there are all types of examples. Evil tongue involves things such as gossip, lying, bearing false witness, slander, malice, anger, bitterness, perversion, and honestly the list can go on and on.

It is no wonder the Apostle James saliently noted,

“Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. (James 3:4-12)

I humbly admit that lashon hara is something for which I continually struggle. It is far too easy to gossip, lie, and slander another person. At the moment in which lashon hara occurs, there is a certain sense of evil satisfaction, a belief that somehow you have stuck it to another person. They deserved it after all right? After all, nothing wrong with a little water cooler gossip about that co-worker and nothing wrong with setting someone straight on social media to include a few choice words to boot, right?

The answer to those questions is a resounding no. Lashon hara (evil tongue) should never be part of the daily walk of a child of God. For starters, He commands us to never treat Him that way and furthermore, we are to love God and love others. Love can be stern and corrective; however, love never involves lashon hara. Evil tongue is a hallmark of the wicked. Tearing down and destroying one another with our tongue is the complete opposite of how the body of Messiah is to operate.

Why then do we fall prey so often to lashon hara? I firmly believe it is like a gateway drug if you will. It seems alluring at the time and we make believe words do not matter when in reality they do. If what we say to one another did not matter, God would not repeatedly outline what godly speech looks like. Since He does all throughout Scripture, what we say and how we say it is of the utmost importance.

If you struggle with evil tongue, I encourage you to pray to God for forgiveness and to seek forgiveness from those you may have hurt by engaging in lashon hara. This will likely take a great deal of humility, but it is a necessary first step in resisting and purging yourself of this pernicious behavior.

I also encourage you to do a biblical study on the tongue. Note how Scripture outlines the manner in which we should treat one another with our speech. This will involve noting both good examples of proper speech as well as bad examples given in Scripture of speech. The good, the bad, and the ugly are provided in Scripture for a reason.

Finally, realize that more often than not, silence is golden. Lashon hara often stems from immaturity in this area of our life, a desire to fly off the handle to satisfy self. As the old saying goes, “If you do not having anything nice to say, do not say anything at all.” Or as my mother used to remind me, “Zip your lip.”

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Michael Boling – Necessity for Balanced Reading

Up until the past few months, I have been a voracious reader. In a typical year, I was averaging reading through right around 100 books, mostly to provide reviews for a variety of Christian book publishers. There were some leisurely reading involved from time to time; however, most of my reading during that time period would be classified as existing in the “nerdy” camp. Of late, the volume of reading in my life has slowed considerably. I am not sure if there is just not much new material that interests me or if my mind simply needs a break.

Perhaps another reason why I have slowed down with the flow of book reading to include clearing out quite a few books in my home library, is I am trying to spend more time reading and meditating on Scripture itself. Now don’t get me wrong. I am not stating there is no value in reading books or that commentaries or writings of that nature are not helpful in studying Scripture. What I am saying is I am tuning such things out for the time being, betting back to the basics of Bible study – Bible, bible dictionary, concordance, and highlighter.
There is something to be said about approaching Scripture in this manner. Call it turning down the noise or call it what you will, I am finding spending time with a passage with some with some simple study tools is producing excellent results.

I often find as I peruse the blogosphere (also something I am trying to do less of recently), a tendency for conversations and engagement with Scripture to be largely formed based on what an individual has written or said. On too many occasions, there is little, if any actual engagement with the biblical text beyond what the writer(s) being referenced has to say on that text. There is a time and a place for that type of approach, but there has to be care taken to not allow the musings of individuals to constantly form a bias for how Scripture is studied.

For instance, I cannot state that because (insert name of author) says something, that is how a text must automatically be understood. While their perspective may be correct, again great care must be taken to view Scripture from its own lens and not through the lens of our favorite author, not matter how correct their understanding of a text.

It is all a matter of book balance if you will with Scripture carrying the most weight. In my reading schedule of late, I have made a concerted effort to have a more appropriate balance, namely with the aforementioned Bible, Bible dictionary, concordance, and highlighter serving as the tools I am using. I might add a heavy dose of prayer is also part of the equation.

I still will make reference to the valuable thoughts I come across in books. Reading and reviewing new and classic works will also continue to be something I do although on a diminished level for the time being. It is a time when I feel the need to study to show myself approved in a way that forces me to focus on the biblical context without any outside influence.

In some areas, such an approach has forced me to think through in more depth some issues. Of late, some positions have been refined and even slightly altered. In other areas in which I may have not have thought through in as much detail, I have been forced to do some needed exploration.

All in all I am finding this exercise to be quite fruitful. This reading balance has been tremendous. I highly recommend it.

Oh….and I still plan on catching up on a few comic book series here and there as well.

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Michael Boling – Sound Doctrine and True Contentment

(This post was a contribution to a series by Servants of Grace on 1 Timothy)

1 Timothy 6:3-10, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”

The Apostle Paul notes a critical comparison in the first half of this passage, namely the need for embracing and teaching sound doctrine as opposed to those who reject godly teaching. The contrast could not be any clearer.

If one is unsure as to what the sound doctrine is Paul references, they need only to note how Paul describes the doctrine that must be embraced. He identifies the sound words of Jesus and teaching that accords with godliness. In other words, sound doctrine is rooted in the pages of Scripture given Jesus did not teach anything outside the framework of the words of his Father. Furthermore, Paul declares in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” When one sticks with doctrine found in Scripture, it will accord with godliness.

Those who reject sound biblical doctrine are the complete opposite. Paul uses some very clear descriptions concerning these individuals, leaving no doubt as to their intentions. Identify any false teacher throughout history, and one of these flaws can be identified as a hallmark of their life and approach to truth.

The adjectives Paul uses are rather notable. The false teacher is puffed up with conceit. While believing themselves to be wise, they are in fact conceited fools. The Greek word translated as puffed up or proud is particularly interesting. It is the Greek verb typhoō which portrays something that is nothing more than a puff of smoke. It is here and seemingly impressive for a moment, but in the end, it has little firm substance and blows away with the changing winds.

Another description Paul uses of false teachers is their unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels about words. The word translated as unhealthy or morbid is the Greek verb noseō, a metaphor meaning “to be taken with such an interest in a thing as amounts to a disease.” In a world replete with blogs and social media forums that offer the opportunity to debate matters of sound doctrine, it is important that as believers, we understand the fine line between healthy discussion and morbid debate.

Philip Ryken saliently notes, “There is a certain kind of churchman who enjoys a good fight. He (I say “he” because this mentality seems especially prevalent among men) is argumentative. He majors on minors. The more speculative the doctrine, the more tenaciously he debates for it. He not only splits hairs, but he tries to do so with a chainsaw. In the end, he robs himself of the truth. This means that part of being a good theologian is knowing when not to fight.”

I often have to remind myself of when it is appropriate to step away from a debate, even when the discussion involves matters of sound doctrine. If the discussion is not rooted in the building up of the body in godliness for the glory of God, then it is nothing more than a morbid desire for controversy. Such an approach is the realm of the ungodly and unstable individual and is not something that should be a hallmark of those in accord with and the declaration of sound doctrine.

Finally, we are informed by Paul that false teachers believe godliness is something of great gain, particularly financial gain. One will not find in the teaching of a false teacher much if any instruction on godly contentment. Conversely, what one will discover is a constant feeding from such wolves to their sheep of what has correctly been labeled as the prosperity gospel.

Paul again provides a significant contrast between the hucksters who promote worldly gain via the gospel and the godly who understand the life-giving source of true contentment. John Calvin rightly explained the perspective of the godly as it relates to contentment stating that true godliness is “itself a sufficiently great gain to us because through it we become not only heirs of the world but are enabled to enjoy Christ and all His riches.”[2]

Now some have rejected the pursuit of money altogether, claiming money itself as the root of all evil. This is an incorrect interpretation of Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 6:10. In actuality, it is the love of money Paul declares as being the root of all evil and the craving thereof for it that causes many to wander away from sound doctrine. Another more descriptive term for the love of money is avarice, a word not often used in modern parlance. Avarice is best defined as “extreme greed for money or gain.” Money in and of itself is not evil. However, the extreme greed for money, in particular as it relates to those who crave money at the expense of sound doctrine and who in turn teach this ungodly approach to money to others is a root of all manner of evil. The prosperity gospel is quite simply a snare and a trap. The godly find contentment in the arms of their loving Father, knowing He supplies the needs of His children. The wicked run to and fro, seeking contentment in that which is fleeting and decays.

Paul covers some significant ground in this passage, noting issues we all face in our daily walk with God. Let us take note of the need to be in accord with sound doctrine, the requirement to grasp when iron sharpening iron is no longer such, and the deadly snare of the prosperity gospel.

Kevin Halloran, in an excellent blog post on the topic of sound doctrine, shared something I will leave with you in closing:

“Sound doctrine flows from God’s words and revealed will in Scripture. God gave us His Word and sound doctrine so we could know Him, love Him, obey Him, and teach others about Him and what He’s done for us in Christ. Let us love it because we love Him.”[3]

[1] Philip Ryken, 1 Timothy (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 252.

[2] John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, trans. T. A. Smail, Calvin’s Commentaries (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1964), 274.

[3]  Kevin Halloran, “8 Reasons to Love Sound Doctrine,” Anchored in Christ (blog), February 6, 2017, accessed May 14, 2017, http://www.kevinhalloran.net/8-reasons-to-love-sound-doctrine/.

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Michael Boling – The Role of the Servant in Giving Honor to Their Master

(This post was a contribution to a series by Servants of Grace on 1 Timothy)

1 Timothy 6:1-2, “Let all who are under a yoke as bondservants regard their own masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.  Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these things.”

There are a number of Scriptures that speak of slaves and servants. These passages present in a very matter of fact manner the existence of slaves, even among the people of God. 1 Timothy 6:1-2 is one such passage that addresses those noted as being in slavery.

Understanding what Paul is speaking to in this pericope is vital as an improper approach can lead and has led throughout the centuries to an incorrect position on slavery. Even the great Puritan preacher Cotton Mather fell prey to an incorrect understanding of Paul’s statement in this passage resulting in an attempt to find support for the slave trade.[1] While the reality of slavery was indeed an ever-present and unfortunate reality for many in Paul’s day, 1 Timothy 6:1-2 does not condone slavery.

So what is Paul telling us?  He certainly is addressing those under the yoke of slavery. The Greek word doulos which is often translated as servant, slave, or bondservant, refers to one who is in a servile condition. Essentially, it is one who is the property of another. Those in this position are commanded to regard their masters as “worthy of all honor.”  The term master (despotes), meaning master or Lord, only serves to reinforce the fact Paul is speaking to slaves.

This is a rather interesting command by Paul. If one is in slavery, regarding the one who physically owns them as worthy of all honor can be a rather grandiose request. The servant is to approach his master as having a value or weight concomitant to someone who deserves great deference or reverence. Notice Paul does not say this honor is to be given only to a master who treats them with a sense of human dignity. Conversely, Paul commands servants to regard their masters as worthy of all honor, irrelevant of how they are being treated.

The purpose for the slave regarding their master with honor is noted by Paul as essential so that, “the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled.” What teaching is Paul referring to here? It is the message of the gospel. As it relates specifically to the time of Paul, Philip Ryken saliently notes, ”This was an important issue for slaves in the early church, because the Romans typically started to get suspicious whenever their slaves decided to worship some new god. According to Cicero, they commonly believed that slaves who dabbled in foreign religions would turn against their masters and overthrow the social order. If Christian slaves showed disrespect to their masters, then all of the Romans’ worst suspicions about Christianity would be confirmed, bringing dishonor to both the name and the gospel of God.”

Those with believing masters must not take for granted their hopefully better situation. In fact, Paul exhorts slaves in this position to go the extra mile in their servitude and in regarding their master with honor.

Now this passage may seem irrelevant to us today since we are not in slavery to another human being, at least not in a sense experienced by those whom Paul is addressing in 1 Timothy 6:1-2.  Such a temptation to ignore the truth found in this passage must be avoided as there is much in Paul’s command to those in slavery that can be applied to our lives.

For starters, we all work for someone. Even the President of the United States has a boss, namely the citizens of America. As we go about our duties at work, we should do so in a manner that gives proper respect and honor due to those in authority over us. This means giving a full day’s work for our wages. As with those who had abusive masters in Paul’s day, it is difficult to give regard to a tyrannical boss. If we ignore and disobey the command to give honor to those in authority over us by participating in water cooler gossip, slander, and not giving our all at work while at the same time claiming the mantle of a follower of Jesus, we are reviling the name of the Lord and doing damage to the gospel. In the same vein, if we take for granted giving regard to a boss who is a believer by slacking off and taking advantage of their good graces, we are also reviling the name of the Lord and doing damage the gospel.

We can also take Paul’s command in this passage to an even greater level, namely in how we approach our service to Yahweh. Throughout Scripture, believers are called bondservants of the Lord. We often speak of how we are to serve the Lord. Perhaps we flippantly utilize such descriptions, failing to recognize how the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:1-2 apply to us today given we are servants of the Lord.

Are we living a life that glorifies God in all our actions? Are we serving Yahweh with every fiber of our being in a manner that declares the glorious message of the gospel to all we encounter? Are we taking for granted the grace and mercy of God by not recognizing the need to live a life of obedience to His commands to us as His servants? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then there is a problem. Repentance is in order, and a paradigm shift required so that we will give all honor and glory due to the One who regards His servants as adopted sons.

Let us meditate on the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 6:1-2, recognizing the need to work as unto the Lord, resisting the urge to gossip and slander those with earthly authority over us.  Furthermore, let us assess our efforts in service to the Lord, ensuring “whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col. 3:17)

In the words of Paul at the conclusion of these two powerfully important verses, “Teach and urge these things.”

References:

[1] Philip Ryken, 1 Timothy (Philipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007), 236.

[2] Ibid., 242-243.

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Michael Boling – The Doctrine of Election

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THE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION

The doctrine of election, in particular the two dominating positions postulated respectively by Arminian and Calvinistic theologians, is often a highly controversial topic with widely divergent viewpoints. Theological complexities such as the notion of individual or corporate election only serve to further obfuscate the issue. As noted by Leslie Crawford, “though the topic of election is controversial in theological debate, it is crucial to a theological understanding of salvation. One cannot divorce an understanding of election from a correct view of God since God is the agent who does the choosing.”

An understanding of the doctrine of election can only be achieved through a holistic exegesis of the context in which this doctrine permeates the biblical message. One must broach the doctrine of election through the lens of scriptural exposition with careful attention paid to setting aside presuppositions often based on a particular denominational or authorial stance. Given that finite man is incapable of holistically understanding the actions of an omnipotent God, developing a defined doctrine of election is difficult. This paper will show that the unconditional view of election espoused by those of the Calvinistic theological bent adheres most closely to sound biblical exposition and is in keeping with the concomitant principles of salvation and God’s undeserving grace upon believers in Christ.

OLD TESTAMENT CONCEPT OF ELECTION

While arguably the most robust and cogent overview of the doctrine of election can be found in the New Testament, particularly in the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Old Testament is nevertheless replete with references to the divine election of physical items, people groups, offices, and individuals. The most common term used in the Old Testament for election is bachar, meaning to choose. Many biblical scholars have noted “there is no explicit articulation of the idea of election until the Book of Deuteronomy (Dt. 7 and 9).” However, as asserted by author and biblical scholar George Mendenhall, one “cannot give reliable conclusions concerning the existence or nonexistence of a particular religious conviction; patterns of thought may very well exist without specific labels.”

As noted by H. H. Rowley, the primary purpose of election as outlined in the Old Testament is God’s choice of individuals or people groups to fulfill a divine task. This is evinced in the election and empowerment by God of certain individuals to construct the tabernacle and the various elements subsumed therein. Numbers 16-17 clearly notes that Aaron and his progeny were elected or chosen by God to serve as priests. Still further evidence of election in the Old Testament is seen in the election of Cyrus by God to effect the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land. Arguably, the most notable example of election to fulfill a divine task in the Old Testament is seen in the nation of Israel chosen by God as the bearers of the Abrahamic covenant in order to be a blessing to the entire world.

Concomitant to the more familiar New Testament understanding of election is the idea of election for holiness expressed most often in items or people set aside for a holy purpose. Israel was chosen to be a “holy nation” (Ex. 19:6; Deut. 7:6; 14:2) and to reveal God’s glory to the nations (Isa. 43:7). Peter O’Brien saliently avers “Her (Israel’s) election was due solely to God’s gracious decision; it had nothing to do with Israel’s choice or righteous behavior. It was because the Lord loved her and kept the oath he had sworn to her forefathers that he chose her for himself.” Through no specific act of righteousness or personal merit, the patriarch Abraham, from the midst of a pagan culture was chosen by God to be the progenitor of Israel.

The Israelites, as God’s chosen people were commanded to adhere to the Mosaic Law and the Abrahamic covenant, with various blessings and curses attributed to their following or rejection inherent in those agreements. Andrew Lincoln comments “Israel’s election was not for her self-indulgence, but for the blessing of the nations: it was a privilege but also a summons for service.” Thus, the election of Israel as God’s people serves as an “interpretive concept of the plot of the Pentateuch and beyond” connecting the blessing promised Abraham to the ultimate fulfillment of that promise found in Christ. Election in the Old Testament is shown through the lens of individual and corporate selection by God with a shift from the personal election of Abraham seen in Genesis to the corporation election of Israel expounded in Deuteronomy.

NEW TESTAMENT CONCEPT OF ELECTION

The doctrine of election finds its fullest definition and description in the New Testament, particular in relation to the church. As expounded in the Old Testament, the concept of election has both corporate and individual application in New Testament theology. D. A. Carson, in speaking to the corporate idea of election in the New Statement, states, “repeatedly the New Testament texts tell us that the love of God or the love of Christ is directed toward those who constitute the church.” Furthermore, the robust nature of the doctrine of election in the New Testament is seen in the expansion of election from the nation of Israel to now include all those who place their faith and trust in the salvific work of Christ to include Gentiles.

Author and theologian Wayne Grudem asserts the “New Testament presents the entire outworking of our salvation as something brought about by a personal God in relationship with personal creatures.” Grudem goes on to rightly note “God’s act of election was neither impersonal nor mechanistic, but was permeated with personal love for those whom he chose.” Such comments are in keeping with John 15:16 which states “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.”

Additionally, as in the Old Testament, election in the New Testament is a matter of unmerited favor by God to individuals or groups. Furthermore, election is based on God’s grace. Theologian Thomas Schreiner saliently notes the vital connection made in the New Testament between election and grace. He avers “many worry that the choosing of some and not all would be unjust, but this idea overlooks the fact that election is gracious. No one deserves to be elected, and thus the election of any is a merciful gift of God that cannot be claimed as a democratic right.” Further support for the concomitance of grace and election is seen in Ephesians 1:3-14 where the Apostle Paul notes salvation as being a gift from God. As such, “this saving work of God began in eternity past when God elected us to be made holy and blameless through his Son, and it culminates in the future bestowal of our promised inheritance as now guaranteed by the Spirit who seals us for this day.”

Such statements hearken back to the election by God of Israel in the Old Testament to be the bearers of God’s message and the instrument of blessing to the entire world. The fulfillment of this blessing came to fruition in the person of Jesus Christ and through the sacrifice on the cross. As such, the New Testament also teaches the aim of election is the glory of God. Theologian Louis Berkhof suggests “that glory of God is the highest purpose of the electing grace is made very emphatic in Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14.” In the aforementioned verse, Paul declares the very substance of the spiritual blessings he discusses “include election to holiness, instatement as God’s sons and daughters, redemption, and forgiveness, the gift of the Spirit, and the hope of glory.”

Once again, the doctrine of election as explicated in the New Testament bears a strong resemblance to the idea of election in the Old Testament. Arguably, the greatest differentiation is the expansion of the elect to include all who call upon the name of the Lord thus eradicating the Israelites as the sole bearers and participants in God’s blessings and presence. With that said, it is important to note that God’s election of Israel was never abrogated by the coming of Christ or the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan to spread the message of salvation to the world. Theologian Walter Elwell states, “God’s promise to Israel was to all who qualified as Israel, which included the Gentiles.” Furthermore, as stated in Romans 11:28-29, “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable” which clearly denotes that “Israel is beloved by God because of the fathers.”

ARMINIAN VIEW OF ELECTION

Arguably, the two dominating positions within Christian orthodoxy on the doctrine of election reside within the Arminian and Calvinistic understanding of this theologically difficult subject. The respective views differ largely not on the existence of the doctrine of election within the pages of Scripture, but conversely, on the nature of election, specifically the idea of conditional versus unconditional election.

Author and theologian Roger Olson asserts that “Arminians interpret the biblical concept of unconditional election (predestination to salvation) as corporate. Thus, predestination has an individual meaning (foreknowledge of individual choices) and a collective meaning (election of a people). Moreover, Jacob Arminius defined election to mean “the decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, by which he resolved within himself from all eternity to justify, adopt, and endow with everlasting life…believers on whom he had decreed to bestow faith.”

While Arminius did not dogmatically reject the idea of election, his issue with the Calvinistic interpretation of this concept centered on the illogical nature of a God who would purpose to elect some while purposefully condemning others. This stance is clearly evinced in the following statement by Arminius:

If you thus understand it, – that God from eternity…determined to display his glory by mercy and by punitive justice, and, in order to carry that purpose into effect, decreed to create man good, but mutable, ordained also that he should fall, that in this way there might be room for that decree; – I say that this opinion cannot, in my judgment at least, be established by any word of God.

As seen in this statement, the Arminian position on election is largely centered on the belief “the origin (fontem) of faith can be said to be the gratuitous election of God, but it is election to bestow faith, not to communicate salvation. For a believer is elected to participate in salvation, a sinner is elected to faith.”

Arminians aver God elects certain individuals to fulfill a specific role or service to further His message. As stated by Jack Cottrell, “among those predestined (elected) to fill specific roles in the accomplishment of redemption, the primary character is the Redeemer himself, Jesus of Nazareth.” Further examples of election for specific service can be seen in the selection of the twelve disciples as outlined in the Gospel accounts. The Arminian position finds further support for election to service as opposed to salvation in the fact “Judas is among the chosen twelve, though his predetermined role was that of the betrayer of Jesus.” Such a position hearkens back to the Old Testament examples, namely that of Cyrus who, though an ungodly man, was elected by God to effect the return of the nation of Israel to the Promised Land. Such a position, at least in the Arminian perception, supports the idea that not every occasion of election explicated in Scripture results in the salvation of the chosen individual.

Additionally, in opposition to the Calvinistic belief in unconditional election resulting in salvation, the Arminian posits Scripture does not explicitly support unconditional election to salvation in every case. Author and theologian Robert Shank asserts “the Scriptures cite numerous instances of actual apostasy and believers are urgently warned against failing to continue in faith” thus “not everyone who once believes the Gospel is eternally elect and will necessarily continue in faith.” For the Arminian, individual election is “the idea that God predestines to salvation those individuals who meet the gracious conditions which he has set forth.” Furthermore, since Scripture declares that no man is righteous or deserving of God’s unmerited favor, the “election which results from his meeting those conditions remains wholly of grace.” The fulcrum of the aforementioned argument for election is it is the individual who has the ability and freewill to accept the gracious gift of election and thus is the “ultimate cause of the decision” , not God.

Perhaps the most notable difference between the Arminian and Calvinistic views is on the election of Israel as outlined in New Testament doctrine. According to Arminians like Jack Cottrell, Israel fulfilled her mission as the people who were assigned the task of preparing the way for Christ. Thus, “her purpose was accomplished and her destiny fulfilled in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus.” Israel’s position as God’s elect has been abrogated with the Church as the New Israel. Cottrell points to 1 Peter 2:9 for support for this assertion noting the Apostle Peter’s declaration of the church as God’s chosen people.

CALVINISTIC VIEW OF ELECTION

The Calvinistic view of the doctrine of election also asserts “the Bible speaks of election in more than one sense.” As with the Arminian view of election, Calvinism declares Israel was elected by God for a special purpose and individuals such as Moses were elected to offices of leadership. Where perhaps Calvinism differs from the Arminian viewpoint is on the manner of election as being predestined by God. Calvinists disagree with the Arminian belief that man must meet certain conditions prior to accepting God’s gracious gift of election. In the Calvinist system, as evinced in the lives of Jacob and Esau and further explicated by Paul in Romans 9, God chose Jacob over Esau “before they had done any good or evil, a choice God made that according to choice the purpose of God might stand, not from works but from him who calls.”

As noted by author and theologian Augustus Strong, “election is that eternal act of God, by which in His sovereign pleasure, and on account of no foreseen merit in them, he chooses out of the number of sinful men to be the recipients of the special grace of His Spirit, and so to be made voluntary partakers in Christ’s salvation.” Sam Storms points out “the Calvinist view of election highlights, as does Paul in Ephesians 1, the divine initiative in the work of salvation…there was deliberate, calculated, reasoned intent on God’s part. He knew what He was doing when He chose one but not another.”

Calvinism declares that the Holy Spirit extends only to God’s elect, a “special inward call in addition to the outward call contained in the gospel message.” Calvinists emphasize the Triune nature of the salvific process: God predestined the elect, Christ provided the redemptive element of salvation with His sacrifice on the cross, and the Holy Spirit initiates regeneration of the believer’s sin nature. This understanding is stated by Calvinists to be supported by Scriptures such as I Cor. 2:10-13, 6:11, 12:3 and I Peter 1:1-2 which describe the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. Emil Brunner saliently notes in this regard the “basis of election never lies in the one who is chosen, but exclusively in the One who chooses.”

Of particular importance is the Calvinistic belief of irresistible grace. This principle states that once God has initiated the salvific process in the heart of His elect, man is incapable of resisting His efforts as “God’s grace is irresistible because God changes the will of those who would otherwise resist it.” Scriptural support for this idea is found by Calvinists in passages such as Jeremiah 31:31-34 which depict God actively working in the hearts and minds of His elect in an effort to bring them into a saving knowledge of Him. Perhaps the most comprehensive summary of the Calvinistic approach in this area is presented by theologian Edwin Palmer in his statement, “the Holy Spirit will certainly – without any and’s, if’s or buts’ – cause everyone whom God has chosen from eternity and for whom Christ died to believe on Jesus.”

Furthermore, Calvinism purports the doctrine of election as a comfort for believers, a reason to display at all times thankfulness to God for being among His elect, and a clear reason to pursue evangelism. Wayne Grudem, in support of these assertions, points to Paul’s statements in Romans 8 declaring God’s conforming to the image of His son those whom He has predestined or elected before the foundation of the world. Gruden states “from eternity to eternity God has acted with the good of his people in mind. But if God has always acted for our good and will in the future act for our good, Paul reasons, then will he not also in our present circumstances work every circumstance together for our good as well?” While the Arminian view of election posits the need for man to achieve at least a minimal conditions, the Calvinist points to 2 Thessalonians 2:13 as proof we can praise God that it was He who chose the elect of His own accord, thus diminishing “any pride that we might feel if we thought that our salvation was due to something good in us or something for which we should receive credit.”

Finally, in response to those who assert that unconditional election abrogates the need for evangelism, R. C. Sproul comments “we find God’s external call in the preaching of the gospel. When the gospel is preached, everyone who hears it is called or summoned to Christ. But not everyone responds positively.” It is because of our inability to know those whom God has chosen that we are implored to fulfill the Great Commission thus leaving the choosing of the elect in the hands of God.

BIBLICAL VIEW OF ELECTION

Regardless of whether one ascribes to an Arminian or Calvinistic view of the doctrine of election, one cannot deny that election exists as a dominant them within God’s word. This does not diminish however, the mystery that surrounds the doctrine of election. The condition under which God elects some and not others is ultimately the grounds of debate between the Arminian and Calvinistic mindsets. One thing is certain and that is God has chosen the elect from the foundation of the world.

Some question whether free will should be included in the doctrine of election in an effort to determine whether man can reject the election of God. Scripture continuously depicts diverse situations in which man chose to reject God’s commandments and His call to repentance even when the resultant consequences were clearly evident. As noted by Geisler, “all who receive His grace will be saved and all who reject it will be lost.” The free will nature of man in relation to responding to God’s call is clearly evident in Scriptures such as Deut. 30:19 which outlined God providing a choice for Israel to make. They either chose to follow God’s commands with the resulting blessings or they could reject His commands and endure the horrific consequences of that choice. The story of Adam and Eve presents another valid support for the Arminian position of free will. Geisler notes that the commands given to Adam and Eve “imply the ability to respond.” Unfortunately for man, as stated in Jeremiah 17:9, “their heart is exceedingly wicked” and often the result of the gift of free will is the rejection of salvation.

Ultimately, despite the myriad of issues facing one who seeks to understand the totality of the doctrine of election as revealed in Scripture, believers must assert that God, in keeping with His divine plan has elected some in order to display His glory. As noted by G. C. Berkouwer, “when the church of Christ understands her election, not as a fatum or a dominium absolutum, but as a sovereign, gracious, undeserved election, then she also understands her service to the Lord in the world, a service which is indissolubly connected with her election.” A true biblical doctrine of election is centered on the necessity of living in service to the One who elected us. Our of thankfulness to God who before the foundation of the world has unconditionally chosen His elect to fulfill His divine purpose, the body of Christ should seek to enlarge the kingdom of God by fulfilling the Great Commission, proclaiming the day of redemption is nigh.

Arguably, it is not for us to seek to holistically understand the machinations by which God elects some and not others as such things are truly beyond the capability of the finitude of the human mind. What we can ascertain is God is holy and his methods are pure and righteous. There is no arbitrariness within God’s election and for that, we should be forever grateful. As noted by Millard Erickson, “election is immutable. God does not change his mind. Election is from all eternity and out of God’s infinite mercy; he has no reason or occasion to change his mind.”

CONCLUSION

The stance espoused by Calvinism and Arminianism present often two polar opposites of the mainstream evangelical views on election. Scripture is replete with passages that seemingly support to varying degrees both Calvinism and Arminianism. Perhaps the best approach to a holistic understanding of the modalities by which God works His mysteries in the lives of His people is to adhere to the teaching found in Deut. 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” While neither treatise may be unconditionally incontestable through Scripture, one thing is sure. God desires that none should perish and He has commanded His people to be diligent to fulfill the Great Commission. Believers, regardless of which side of the Calvinist/Arminian fence they may reside, must never lose sight of the necessity of reaching the lost soul for the Kingdom of God for this is what we have been called to do as the elect of God. Arguably, it is not for us to seek to holistically understand the machinations by which God elects some and not others as such things are truly beyond the capability of the finitude of the human mind. What we can ascertain is God is holy and his methods are pure and righteous. There is no arbitrariness within God’s election and for that, we should be forever grateful. In the words of author and theologian Karl Barth, “the election of grace is the whole of the Gospel, the Gospel in nuce…the very essence of all good news.”

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arminius, Jacob. “The Life and Struggle of Arminius in eh Dutch Republic.” Man’s Faith and Freedom, ed. Gerald O. McCulloh. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962.

_____________. Works Volume 1. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown and Green, 1825.

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics Volume II, Pt. 2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 2001.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, 1996.

Berkouwer, G. C. Divine Election. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1960.

Boyd, Gregory and Paul Eddy. Across the Spectrum. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002.

Bruce, F. F. New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1984.

Brunner, Emil. Christian Doctrine of God. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950.

Carson, D. A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2000.

Cottrell, Jack. The Faith Once for All. College Press Publishing Company: Joplin, 2006.

___________. “Unconditional Election,” Grace Unlimited, ed. Clark Pinnock Minneapolis: Bethany, 1975.

Cottrell, Jack, Clark Pinnock, Robert Reymond, Thomas Talbott, and Bruce Ware. Perspectives on Election: Five Views. Edited by Chad Brand. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2006.

Crawford. L. J. “Ephesians 1:3-4 and the Nature of Election.” The Master’s Seminary Journal 11 no.1 (Spring 2000): 75-91.

Elwell, Walter. “Election and Predestination,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Downers Grove: IVP, 1993.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002.

Farrelly, Dom M. John. Predestination, Grace, and Free Will. Westminster: The Newman Press, 1964.

Geisler, Norman. Chosen But Free. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001.

Gruden, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000.

Lincoln, Andres. Word Biblical Commentary: Ephesians. Dallas: Word Books, 1990.

Mendenhall, George E. “Election,” The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2. Nashville: Abingdon, 1962.

O’Brien, Peter. The Letter to the Ephesians. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1999.

Olson, Roger. Arminian Theology. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2006.

Palmer, Edwin. Five Points of Calvinism. Grand Rapids: Baker House Books, 1972.
Rowley, H. H. The Biblical Doctrine of Election. London: Lutterworth Press, 1950.
Schreiner, Thomas. Baker Exegetical Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998.

Shank, Robert. Life in the Son: A Study of the Doctrine of Perseverance. Springfield: Westcott Publisher, 1961.

Sproul, R. C. Chosen By God. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 1986.

Steele, David, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented. Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2004.

Storms, Sam. Chosen for Life. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007.

Strong, Augustus. Systematic Theology. Judson Press: Valley Forge, 1907.

Wright, J. W. “Election,” Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003

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Michael Boling – Uprooting the Log of Hypocrisy

You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

I have been thinking quite a bit lately about hypocrisy. It is something for which I cry foul when it comes to the actions of others, but yet I seem to fail at identifying my own trials with this pernicious approach to life. As such, I was reminded of the words of our Messiah in Matthew 7:5, specifically the exhortation to remove the log in my own eye before trying to pinpoint a speck in another’s eye.

What exactly is hypocrisy? The standard dictionary definition is “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” A biblical definition is rooted in both one who worships God on the outside, yet inwardly has a heart far from God. Additionally, a hypocrite is defined as one who puts on a performance, a show if you will of loving God but doing anything but from the perspective of godly character and inward purity.

Basically, a hypocrite is a fake. A hypocrite is one who is included in the category of the ungodly. God detests this type of behavior. Steven Cole aptly notes that hypocrisy is “one of the most subtle and dangerous of sins.”[1] The subtlety of hypocrisy is such that in the end, as noted by Jesus in Matthew 7:5, the hypocrite ignores the log that has grown in their eye.
Think about that for a second. A metaphorical tree has grown in their eye. This tree was likely not a transplant. It was planted as a seed, was water, and grew up to a size worthy of being labeled as a log. Little by little, this tree arose in the eye of the hypocrite. While large in size (at least compared to the speck being investigated by the hypocrite in the life of another), the hypocrite seemingly is unaware of the log in their eye. What a sad state of affairs.

While sad, I submit many of us to include myself have logs of hypocrisy growing in our lives. We water and care for these seeds of hypocrisy each time we maintain an outward appearance of godliness yet refrain from truly being obedient to the Father’s commands.

This issue of hypocrisy is one I am focusing on of late in my own life. Countless times I have stated I affirm something as true yet abstained or tried to find excuses from being truly obedient in my actions to what God has commanded.

Dealing with hypocrisy is not easy. We become comfortable in our hypocrisy as it is painful to admit this failure and it is hard to remove the log from our own eyes. However difficult, it is a must, not so we can pick out the speck in another’s eye, but so that we can do what we claim we are to be doing, namely being obedient children of God.

Do not merely trim the branches of hypocrisy. Completely uproot it.

References:
[1] Steven Cole, “Lesson 12: What Hypocrisy Does (Romans 2:17-24),” Bible.org, June 4, 2013, accessed June 19, 2017, https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-12-what-hypocrisy-does-romans-217-24.

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Michael Boling – Do Not Stretch the Truth

“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another.” (Lev. 19:11)

Nestled within commands to not steal or bear false witness is a three word prohibition. It is stated in a matter of fact manner and simply – do not lie. There is no leeway provided for those so-called little white lies or an option for stretching the truth from time to time if needed. God states unequivocally that we are not to lie.

I address this issue because recently I have been the recipient of an individual stretching the truth (a.k.a. lying) in a matter that involved my actions, or in the mind of this person, my supposed inaction. Thankfully, the full truth is widely known and the falsehood that is attempting to be spread will gain no traction. Even still, it is a stark and personal reminder of the impact lying has on relationships, in this case a work relationship.

As believers, we are to have the life goal of being more and more like Jesus. After all, we do sing about such a pursuit at church and we at least make this claim when around other believers. When the rubber hits the road and the opportunity to stretch the truth (those little white lies) comes calling, we tend to give in to that temptation, thinking it has no long term impact. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Speaking the truth at all times is necessary because truth is the only option in any situation. Now mind you there are certainly ways in which we can share the truth so as to not hurt someone. A situation that comes to mind is when your spouse asks whether they look good in a certain outfit. All you husbands out there have been asked this question untold times. You know your wife wants an honest answer, but you also know saying, “Heck no honey. You look horrible” is probably not the best response. Truth can be told in a loving, positive manner. Truth can be balanced with building one another up.

With that said, there is never allowance provided in Scripture for lying. Some attempt to look at the story of Rahab, the story of the Hebrew midwives, or other instances where lying took place as evidence that lying can be conducted as long as the end justifies the means. This is quite frankly theologically incorrect and gives credence to an activity God repeatedly states as being an abomination to Him (Prov. 6:16-19; 19:9; 12:22; Rev 21:8).

Telling lies to include those aforementioned little white lies do nothing but destroy relationships both with our fellow man and with God. God makes is quite clear in Revelation 21:8 the eternal lot of those who engage in a lifestyle of lying. He states, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Notice the activities lying is include with? Murders, sexual immorality, sorcery, idolatry. It is evident lying is never a little white anything in the eyes of God.

Always tell the truth. It really is that simple. If you are tempted to lie, it must just be best to not say anything at all lest you fall into the trap of stretching the truth to fit what ultimately are carnal desires. Lying is a character trait of the enemy. He is after all the father of lies and that fatherhood is evident in the events of the Garden of Eden. Let us be people who pursue truth and who speak truth at all times. There is no other alternative for the people of God but to eschew lies.

Lying destroys. Truth builds up. What will you choose? I trust it is truth.

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Michael Boling – Yahweh: There is None Like Him

(This post was a contribution to a series by Servants of Grace on 1 Timothy)

1 Timothy 1:17, “To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

I love declarations in Scripture that speak to the attributes of the Lord. One such passage is 1 Timothy 1:17. In this verse, the Apostle Paul provides us a summation if you will of who it is we pledge our allegiance and what our response should be to this Elohim of Elohim.

The first description given by Paul of the Lord is He is the King of the ages. The word King is the Greek noun basileus, meaning “leader of the people, prince, commander, lord of the land, king.” What is arguably even more interesting about this term is its root word, namely basis. Basis speaks of a leader who walks or steps, revealing that the Lord is not some distant deity. Conversely, He loves and cares for His people. He sent His Son to be the Emmanuel, God with us and He sent the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us in all righteousness.

Furthermore, the Lord is no fly by night ruler whose power can be usurped. He is King of the ages, ruler of all things from eternity past to eternity present. John MacArthur saliently notes that eternal “refers to the two ages in Jewish thought, the present age, and the age to come.”[1] This encompasses the fullness of time.

Next, Paul describes the Lord as immortal, a term that relates to the idea of eternality, but that also explains the Lord cannot and will not ever experience cessation of existence. As the epitome of perfection and holiness, He is not subject to the ravages of sin such as death and decay. Revelation 1:8 describes Him as who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” His rule will never know an end.

The Lord is also described here as invisible. In John 4:24 Jesus stated, “God is a spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” Stephen Charnock explaining this particular attribute of the Lord when he states, “he hath nothing corporeal, no mixture of matter, not a visible substance, a bodily form…God is therefore a Spirit incapable of being seen, and infinitely incapable of being understood.”[2] Unlike the pagan elohim, the Lord is not made of wood or stone, He is the Elohim of Elohim.

Moreover, the Lord is the only Elohim. This hearkens back to the Shema found in Deuteronomy 6:4.  All faithful Jews would have recognized what Paul was saying when he described the Lord as the only Elohim, given the Shema was a prayer that was spoken twice daily.

Paul concludes 1 Timothy 1:17 with the only viable response to the eternal, immortal, invisible, Elohim of Elohim. As His people, we are to give him honor and glory, forever and ever. Sometimes we forget what giving honor and glory to Lord is all about. It is more than mere lip service or a “thanks to the big Guy upstairs” routine. Honor and glory speak to something far more. Thomas Lea avers, “The honor Paul gave to God involves esteem and reverence due to God because of his personal qualities of excellence. The term glory is an acknowledgment of God’s majesty and power.”[3]

This honor and glory are to be given to the Lord for all eternity. In fact, given we will be praising Him for all eternity, it might behoove us to get into practice today. This doxology should be more than just something we say as part of a ritualistic prayer or something we skim over in Scripture. Giving the Lord honor and glory should be the hallmark of our lives with all we do and say bringing praise to the Elohim of Elohim. Nothing less should be acceptable.

References:

[1] John MacArthur, 1 Timothy: MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1995), 33.

[2] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 178, 184.

[3] Thomas Lea, The New American Commentary: I-II Timothy, Titus (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1992), 77.

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Michael Boling – The Rise of Fundamentalism

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INTRODUCTION

The rise of fundamentalism, originally a reaction to the influence of modernism and the effort to amalgamate evolutionary science with the Bible, has had an enduring influence upon the milieu of American religious tradition. The founders of the fundamentalist movement sought to rescue Christianity from the rising influence of liberalism which had surfaced in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their desire was to return to the core beliefs of the Protestant Reformation and these individuals were at the forefront of the battle that waged against the likes of evangelical liberalism, Liberation Christianity, and most importantly, the rapid spread of the influence of biological evolution. Church historian Ernest Sandeen notes of Fundamentalist proselytizers that, “the Fundamentalist considered himself a champion of certain religious truths and worked within the scope of definable beliefs.” It is these definable beliefs that formed the foundation upon which the Fundamentalists rallied. Marching against those whom they perceived as foes to scriptural truth, the Fundamentalist movement continues to be a relevant force in today’s society, as the issues which the founders faced are even more prevalent in today’s culture.

FUNDAMENTALISM OPPOSED

The late 18th and early 19th centuries were a time of rapid economic, social, and scientific expansion. It was during this period that many conservative Protestant leaders in the church began to soften their once firm foundational viewpoints on the inerrancy of the Bible. Instead of viewing the Bible as an infallible source of knowledge, many chose to find ways to combine science and the Bible in an effort to move to a more modernist viewpoint. It was this modernist viewpoint which was sweeping across the United States. At the forefront of modernism was the influence of biological evolution. An additional influence which shook the Protestant religious foundation was the acceptance of intellectual criticism of the Bible. These factors helped to solidify the development of the Fundamentalist movement.

Liberalism

Fundamentalism history expert George Marsden notes that “by the 1890’s most of the clergy had abandoned traditional assumptions concerning the full historical accuracy of Scripture for some form of higher criticism.” As industrial and scientific progress began to revolutionize the lives of the average American, this progress brought forth “immense social changes plus rapid secularization, especially in science and higher education” serving to erode “Protestanism’s practical dominance” on society. This erosion of fundamental Protestant beliefs quickly caused many religious leaders to modify their long held Protestant viewpoints of the world. In an effort to assuage the formidable influence of liberal thought which had begun to permeate both secular and religious society at large, Protestant leaders toned down their message.

Historian Sydney Ahlstrom claims, “To these problems were added the intellectual difficulties provoked by scientific discoveries, religious scholarship, and pervasive shifts in moral and religious attitudes.” Liberalism attempted to provide answers to the problems which Americans were facing in dealing with scientific discoveries which seemingly conflicted with their faith. Moreover, as technology began to increase human capability, the efficacy of science proved itself, whereby scholars promoting science over faith led to concrete thinking, likewise marginalizing faith-based reasoning. This transition opened up the general population to a more liberal mindset, similarly exposing them to the path of alternative theories and choices.

Liberalism began as a condemnation of “the belief that spiritual doctrines always lend themselves to a precise embodiment in black and white, and can thereafter be dealt with like so many clauses of an Act of Parliament.” This type of thought led to a new branch of Protestantism, labeled evangelical liberalism, which: “abandoned much of the Christian tradition in favor of a scientific worldview….and agreed on the incompatibility of science with the central affirmations of Christian faith.” Many liberals began to emphasize “the immanence of God in His creation, to assimilate Him to the evolutionary principle, and a stress on the moral capacities of all men.” This view of God was largely an effort to strip fundamentalist Christianity of its roots leaving nothing behind but an impersonal view of God with the Creator detached from their personal lives.

Perhaps the most significant inroad through which liberalism was able to make its greatest strides was in the arena of addressing the vast social ills that had arisen as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Those who began to espouse to the ideals of liberalism developed what became known as the social gospel. Church Historian John Dillenberger comments that “Horace Bushnell, who did more than any one else to further the liberalization of American theology, had emphasized the overwhelming importance of social environment in the development of character.” The development of ‘character,’ as stated by Bushnell, was instrumental in the establishment of liberalism as an alternative to Biblical teaching and developed into its own social gospel. This reinterpretation of traditionally Protestant ideals provided an avenue for liberalism to influence the average American. Naturally, the new social gospel was in stark contrast with the Biblical teaching of the kingdom of God, but became a generally accepted notion.

Evolution

Perhaps the greatest influence upon the psyche of most Americans in the 20th century was the introduction of biological evolution by Charles Darwin, which unsurprisingly, still resonates on the ethical block to this day. Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, became the “chief symbol of the intellectual revolution” and caused great concern for those who held to their Fundamentalist beliefs. Despite an initial attempt by both the church and the scientific community to reject biological evolution, it soon made inroads, initially in science, but eventually into every aspect of society.

As noted by Church Historian James Nichols, individuals such as John Fiske in his book Cosmic Philosophy “argued that evolution is God’s way of doing things” thus harmonizing science with scripture. Lyman Abbott further outlined the ultimate goal of combining science with scripture through the vehicle of evolution by stating “as God’s way of doing things, evolution could be combined with the idea of Providence, and greatly strengthened the prevailing faith in Progress.” As scientific creationist author Henry Morris notes “the crowning blow is that the courts have supported this evolutionary takeover of the public schools.” Author Jeremy Rifkin also notes that, “evolutionary theory has been enshrined as the centerpiece of our educational system, and elaborate walls have been erected around it to protect it from unnecessary abuse.” This influx of evolutionary thought was a departure from the once fertile ground of literal creation beliefs that were a part of the standard curricula taught in the nation’s earliest and most prestigious universities. The teaching of evolution counteracted years of adherence to Biblical truth regarding Creationism, and proved a major setback to Fundamentalists and the evangelical community alike.

RISE OF FUNDAMENTALISM IN RESPONSE TO LIBERALISM AND EVOLUTION

As aforementioned, Fundamentalism rose as a response to the increasing influence of liberalism and evolution upon society. The term “fundamentalist” was first used by Curtis Laws in 1920 to describe those who “rejected liberalism and embraced evangelical teachings.” The return of American culture to more foundational Biblical doctrine was the desire of the Fundamentalist movement. As noted by sociologist Joe Feagin, the Fundamentalist movement initially:

“focused on two fundamental issues: the imminent return of Christ and the verbal inspiration of the Bible. In the early 20th century the doctrinal issues also included the miraculous birth, works and resurrection of Christ. The defense and propagation of these basic beliefs were the core concerns of the movement.”

The Fundamentalist community, in response to the rise of liberalism and particularly in response to the influence of evolution, developed what have become known as the five points of fundamentalism. These five points are: the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement, and the physical resurrection and bodily return of Christ. These five points served as the foundation of the Fundamentalist movement, referring their adherents to them as the authoritative doctrine of true Christianity.

Response to Liberalism

In an attempt to reverse the course of liberalism’s influence, Fundamentalists developed a dispensational structure and view of the Bible. In holding firm to the foundational canon, Fundamentalists emphasized a literal view of the Bible. The five central tenets guiding Fundamentalist doctrine became known as the “The Fundamentals,” or “Dispensationalism,” as it is often connoted. This literal view of scripture was in direct opposition to the viewpoint held by proponents of Liberalism, who viewed God as having a hands-off or laissez faire management style over their activities. Liberalism with its “interpretation of the Bible through the lens of human history” and dispensationalism with its interpretation of history exclusively through the “lens of scripture” are markedly differentiated. As such, the goal of the Fundamentalist movement was to reveal that answers to the issues of the day were not to be found in liberal theology but in a proper understanding that the “Kingdom of God would come as part of the historical process.”

In a continued effort to combat the influence of liberalism and liberal theology, the Fundamentalists, published a series of essays written by A.C. Dixon and R. A. Torrey, titled “The Fundamentals”. This twelve volume set was distributed in an effort to reach “every pastor, evangelist, minister, theological professor, theological student, Sunday school superintendent, YMCA and YWCA secretary in the English speaking world.” The distribution of this work served to greatly enhance the ability of the common believer to “defend the doctrine of the Bible’s literal inerrancy.”

Cairns notes that, “during the high tide of fundamentalism, many evangelicals had been trained in Bible schools, so called because the Bible and not the traditional liberal arts studies formed the core of their curriculum.” This resulted in the establishment of Bible colleges and universities across America, enabling the Fundamentalist movement to be promulgated among future generations of Christians in the five fundamentals of Fundamentalist doctrine.

In more recent history, Fundamentalism has experienced a renewed vigor in the struggle against the spread of liberalism. Development of organizations like the “New Christian Right” and the “Moral Majority” is causing a resurgence of involvement in the Christian community on the social and political front, after a seemingly extended period of inactivity. Many of the issues which the Fundamentalist leaders in the early 20th century faced, like poverty, social inequality, the teaching of evolution, and liberal theology continue to surface. Nonetheless, no other matter has spurred the resurgence of the Fundamentalist movement, at least in its modern context, more than the issue of abortion.

Leaders of today’s Fundamentalist movement, like the late Jerry Falwell, extensively influenced and coordinated the Christian response to numerous public policy issues affecting the Christian community. Christian leader like Pat Robertson still carry this torch. Issues such as homosexuality, evolution, prayer in schools and minority rights serve as rallying points from which Roberston and his similarly aligned constituents use to encourage a return to Biblical fundamentalism. Christian involvement is proving increasingly influential in many aspects of society, especially in the political arena, much of which can be traced directly to calls for the Christian community to “come out of the closet,” as Dallas evangelist James Robinson once memorably put it.

Response to Evolution

The initial response by evangelicals and scientists to the introduction of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species was “vehement rejection.” Biological evolution was initially viewed as an attempt to “contravene the biblical doctrine of a creating God, to rob man of his unique religious and moral character and, by implication, to deny biblical inspiration and revelation in principle.” Additionally, as noted by church historian William Sweet, when evolution was introduced into America “most Christian people in the United States at this time were literalists as far as the Scriptures were concerned and to many earnest people, evolution seemed to strike at the very foundation of Christian belief.” This controversy struck at the very heart of Biblical doctrine as viewed by the evangelical establishment; however, the Christian community was initially unable to successfully combat the spread of evolution.

Intensifying the conflict and fanning the burning flames of contention between evolutionary doctrine and Fundamentalism thought was the trial of John Scopes in 1925. Unfortunately, this trial helped spread the teaching evolution as an acceptable notion concerning human origins, while the fundamentalist view of Biblical creation became viewed as increasingly out of touch with modern science by the scientific community and shockingly, in the same way by the religious community.

The Scopes Trial pitted famed criminal lawyer Clarence Darrow against the leading fundamentalist spokesman of the period William Jennings Bryan. Historian Robert Handy notes that while fundamentalism formally won the debate it was at the “high cost of having its positions severely and publicly criticized and ridiculed.” It was this blow which caused many in the evangelical community to review their strategy of combating the influence of liberal beliefs such as evolution. A return to fundamentalist views of scripture as outlined in the five points of fundamentalism was the chosen method which the Fundamentalists used to fight the spread of evolution. While previous legal precedent established creation as the model from which schools were to teach the study of human origin, the Scopes Trial altered forever the conflict between the evolutionary establishment and fundamentalism. Sadly, evolutionary dogma prevailed as the choice doctrine between the two in both the state and federal educational establishment.

Famed evangelists in the early 20th century such as Billy Sunday used their pulpits and popularity with the public to “denounce and ridicule the bastard theory of evolution winning wide approval from his audiences and even from several state legislatures.” The fervor with which the Fundamentalist community fought the battle against evolution in the first half of the 20th century is best described by the statement by one fundamentalist champion, “Above all things I love peace, but next to peace I love a fight, and I believe the next best thing to peace is a theological fight.” Even though some fundamentalists chose to fight against the spread of evolution, many instead chose to acquiesce to the influence of the scientific community by amalgamating science with the Bible, which has become known as ‘theistic’ evolution. Others chose to abide by the fundamental precepts and continued to espouse the inerrancy of Scripture regardless of what the scientific community stated.

In recent years, the rise of the scientific creationist movement has become a new bulwark, contending against the evolutionary community of scientists’ previous hegemony. This movement, led by not only theologians but experts in various fields of science, combines the precepts of fundamentalist doctrine with scientific expertise in an effort to reveal the fallacies of evolutionary theory, hearkening back to the inerrancy of the Bible. Evolution has made tremendous inroads into the educational and scientific establishment due to Fundamentalism’s inability in the early 20th century to provide a coherent and consolidated response to evolution. The modern scientific creationism movement reinvigorated the Fundamentalist response to biological evolution and is making tremendous strides at repelling the theory in general.

CONCLUSION

Efforts by the scientific community to undermine the foundations of Christian ideals forced the Fundamentalist movement to enact what Germans call Vergangenheitsbewältigung or “coming to terms with and overcoming the past by recognizing oneself as a product of the past and by mastering the history of one’s own past.” The past that Fundamentalism had to come to terms with is the foundation of Biblical tradition and the return to this Biblical tradition which incited the worldwide Protestant Reformation. By standing firm to these values as outlined specifically in “The Fundamentals,” the Fundamentalist movement combated the influence of liberalism and biological evolution on the American conscious. While not always successful, as liberalism and evolution continue to rear their “ugly heads” even to this day, committing themselves to the past and the foundations of the Bible enabled the Fundamentalist movement to be a beacon of light to a society heading down a dark path. By refusing to be assuaged by the increasingly liberal tendencies of modern society, fundamentalism continues to be the fortification of Biblical truth, creating a substantial obstacle against the hostile attack of the scientific community. This renewed relevance of Fundamentalism is noted by historian John Fea, who quips:

“By the early 1980’s, it was no longer possible to dismiss conservative fundamentalism in America as a declining rural peculiarity, consigned to oblivion a half century ago by the Scopes trial and the inexorable forces of modernization. It was necessary to recognize it as a considerable and growing social and political force, which was finding expression at times at the heart of the American state.”

Fea’s remark is very fitting, as dismissing fundamentalism seemed at times in the past, politically expedient. Nonetheless, its reemergence on the political scene forced its recognition and its legitimacy. Ensuring that the doctrinal foundations of American society, namely Christianity is not forgotten, the soldiers of the fundamentalist movement march onward. No longer will they (fundamentalists) allow the marginalization of the Bible or an ersatz theory of human origin to rule the hearts and minds of America, especially when so much scientific literature debunks or offers alternative theoretical evidence to the “ape-man” conjecture of Charles Darwin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ahlstrom, Sydney. A Religious History of the American People. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1972.

Bruce, Steve. “Modernity and Fundamentalism: The New Christian Right in America.” The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 41, no 4 (1990): 478.

Cairns, Earle. Christianity Through the Centuries. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Dillenberger, John. Protestant Christianity: Interpreted Through Its Development. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.

Feagin, Joe. “Varieties of Fundamentalism: a Conceptual and Empirical Analysis of Two Protestant Denominations.” Sociological Quarterly Vol. 20, (1979): 37.

Fea, John. “An Analysis of the Treatment of American Fundamentalism in United States History Survey Texts.” The History Teacher Vol. 28, no. 2 (1995): 206.

Fowler, Henry. “The New Testament and Fundamentalism”, North American Review Vol. 219, no. 1 (1924): 290.

Gaustad, Edwin, Leight Schmidt. The Religious History of America. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 2002.

Handy, Robert. A History of the Churches in the United States and Canada. New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.

Hudson, Winthrop. Religion in America. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1965.

Marsden, George. “Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon: A Comparison with English Evangelicalism.” Church History Vol. 46, No. 2 (1977): 218.

Marsden, George. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991.

Morris, Henry. The Long War Against God. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.

Nichols, James. History of Christianity. New York: The Ronald Press Company, 1956.

Rifkin, Jeremy. Algeny. New York: Viking, 1983.

Sandeen, Ernest. “Toward a Historical Interpretation of the Origins of Fundamentalism.” Church History Vol. 36, no. 1 (1967): 82.

Sweet, Leonard. “Wise as Serpents, Innocent as Doves: The New Evangelical Historiography.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Vol. 56, no. 3 (1988): 402

Sweet, William. The Story of Religions in America. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1930.

Walker, Williston. A History of the Christian Church. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985.

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