It is a tragic mistake to attribute this question - and the raging fire ignited by it - to specific religious doctrines. Not only that, I suggest our usual methods of handling it only serve to obscure the true nature of our own inner tension, the same tension that has kept the fire burning from the beginning of man. I ask a lot of questions, and it stimulates a lot of thought. As a result, I’ve gotten pretty used to being misread. I don’t particularly enjoy the feeling. But I have learned that you are just like me and have pushed many of your fears out of the way but not out of your life! And this issue is a stronghold where a lot of fears find a place to hide. And I have discovered that no matter how I put it you will assume many things about me that have more to do with some of your own past fears than with anything I’ve said. Pretty lousy PR techniques, I know, but after all, how can one be a rebel if too many people agree with him? :) (Just in case you missed it, that was a joke!)
Hey, do yourself a favor. Right now, slap yourself 3 times and say, I can always escape by the simple push of a button! Ahhhhhhh! … don’t you feel much better now? :)
Religious phrases or doctrinal wording might be preferred in a discussion of this nature, but what would that have to do with reality? Prepare yourself to hear this whole issue discussed from a totally different perspective. I mean to tell you that this thing will sneak up on you as you consider the SOURCE of your quarrels. You do know there are accepted techniques used in arguing this concept, don’t you? When you’ve played the game enough times you begin to recognize the patterns. You can even predict the questions that will be thrown at you.
So, what is the Game?
- YOU LEARN THE APPROPRIATE RESPONSES,
- YOU MEMORIZE THE IRON-CLAD PROOF VERSES,
- YOU MUST KNOW WHEN TO QUOTE THEM,
- YOU MUST GAIN GROUND IN THE ARGUMENT,
- YOU HAVE TO BAFFLE YOUR OPPONENT,
- YOU MUST WIN THE ARGUMENT,
- AND, ABOVE ALL, YOU HAVE TO APPEAR SINCERE,
- THEN YOU CAN BECOME AN AUTHORITY ON THE ISSUES.
To which I have said, Yeah, that’s what they do!? And I have almost convinced myself that I wasn’t playing the same game! No claims that I have arrived here, I am merely learning to get off the merry-go-round. And that is what I desire for you. You may reject what I’m saying because I don’t quote Bible verses for every point I make, but let’s get honest: you most likely have your mind made up and are reading this only to see how I line up with YOUR position! … Maybe? :)
You might call it:
- Calvinism vs. Arminianism
- The Sovereignty of God vs. The Responsibility of man
- Election vs. Free Will
- Predestination vs. Choice
I will simply refer to it as: The Argument
I have observed the argument for years and do you know what I have discovered in all that time? God has revealed His grace to us believers regardless of our particular leanings! Why does He do stuff like that? Doesn’t He know what kind of problems that causes? :) Doesn’t He know what a delicate position He puts me in? (wink, wink! ;) Do you know what bothers me the most? Well, I’ll tell you this much, it’s NOT which side wins the argument … because I think, in reality, BOTH USUALLY LOSE!
I cringe when I watch those who are alive in Christ get sucked into the argument. I hate watching the transition that happens right in front of my eyes. Is there anyone reading this who can relate? I’m not talking about the defensive hesitance to pursue an uncomfortable subject or the aggressive desire to debate an issue. I’m talking about witnessing the sense of the miraculous getting pushed to the background while the believer attempts to defend the faith! Does that sound right to you?
I don’t care which position you take, for you know as well as I do that both sides have been successfully argued by those who haven’t a clue to the miraculous nature of God’s grace. Doesn’t that cause you to question the techniques and logic at all? It has shaken much of what I used to believe. Come on, if an unbeliever can truly understand what we believe (and you know that the natural mind doesn’t understand the things of the Spirit) doesn’t that tell you that maybe you need to rethink a few things? Likewise, if the group you came away from didn’t hold to the reality of our resurrected life in Christ, what makes you so sure they are right about their viewpoint concerning the argument?
What if the whole APPROACH was wrong? What if there was a basic fallacy that pushes us off-track every time? What if we could see how easily we have been drawn away from Christ … EVEN WHILE WE WERE DEFENDING THE FAITH?! What if we could see that there was a VOID in our reasoning process that forces us to go ballistic at the slightest suggestion? Wouldn’t you want to know it?
What do I mean by The Argument? It is the term I am applying to the underlying factors that cause the contention. The issue of WHO CHOSE WHO causes these factors to surface in another form.
Concerning the issue of: CALVINISM VS. FREE WILL
- I am NOT a Calvinist!
- I am NOT a hyper-Calvinist!
- I am NOT an Arminian!
- I am NOT a free-willer!
- I am NOT promoting either view!
- I am NOT attempting to balance the two!
- I am NOT offering a new system!
- I am NOT promoting Dispensationalism!
- I am NOT promoting Covenant Theology!
- I am NOT claiming any superiority!
- I am NOT better than those who disagree!
- I am NOT always right!
Then what am I?
- I belong to God, I am His son! —to which you might say, Huh?
- I am forgiven! —of course, you might be thinking, Yeah … and so …?
- I have been made the righteousness of Christ! —and I have to ask, Still not connecting?
- I am born from above! —I know … What does this have to do with it?
- I have been made new! —once again, I ask, Still sound totally unrelated?
- I am found in Christ! —and to this, I’m sure some will react, But no one is suggesting otherwise!
But aren’t we?
Or is it possible we have gotten so used to the attack on our new identity that we don’t even feel the slam-dunk? By the way, I would love to hear from you. But I suggest you read a little more before you assume I don’t know your particular argument. I have been listening to these arguments for a long time, and it has been my experience that you have not considered what I’m suggesting as an answer to the issue. I’m not saying that you haven’t heard this before because if you are of God then you ALREADY know the truth. What I have discovered is that ANYTHING … even good stuff … will demand that you shift your focus from Christ! Want a real eye-opener? Next time the argument comes up, don’t jump into it. Instead observe the dynamics and the tensions and notice how easily the shift happens.
Imagine being born and raised in a world surrounded by paid actors … only you don’t know it. Such is the premise of the movie, The Truman Show. When asked how he was able to fool ‘Truman’ for so long, the producer replied,
People accept reality as it is presented to them.
—from “The Truman Show”
And so it was that this man came to assume many absurdities, among them being a moon that never moves, rain that followed him around, and an outside world he had never seen. The VOID is like that. It has come upon us as we grew up in this world. And we have learned to accept it … even though it never made a bit of sense! A moon that never moves is minor compared to the contradictions we have swallowed. And guess what? We learned to cope. But the void never went away! But what is this void? *You sense it when your worth is questioned. *You hear it in the ramblings of philosophers. *It is stirred up by the argument.
The void doesn’t really change. But we have misdiagnosed it! We’re like doctors who prescribe medicine for conditions we only guess at. To understand what the void is you must realize that it began before you could even put it into words. Whether you remember your early years, you WERE there! I can now only imagine the frustrating cycle of crying & being ignored, then crying & being held. How about potty training? Say what? You were coaxed to produce your stuff in exchange for some kind of positive reinforcement! But once it became routine, the praises were replaced by insults. Your stuff wasn’t so great after all! These experiences created dilemmas within you. The void began to take on a very definite form.
During the course of all this activity, my child has been presented with a very basic contradiction that cannot be computed in that little head of hers … nor does it get resolved in the years to come. Indeed, this is a difficult concept: for if what comes out of me is good, then I am good; but if it is later made known to me that what came out of me was not good, then am I bad?
—from “Hand Me a Shovel, It’s Getting Pretty Deep in Here!”
WHO AM I? That is the question that has plagued humanity since the beginning. So, who are YOU? Are you a good person or are you a bad person? Worthy or worthless? Significant or insignificant? Or have you accepted a hard-to-define position somewhere in between the two extremes? Such a delicate balance we have found ourselves in! Feeling good about yourself has only been made possible by totally avoiding or re-interpreting the crud of your own existence. Your other option has been to own the crud and to accept your role as one hypocrite among many! Can you really hold both at the same time? Or have you just learned to buffer the conflicting demands?
You could get philosophical, but that wouldn’t change the fact that somehow you managed to survive many difficult situations. How did you do it? How many war stories can YOU remember where you thought you wouldn’t make it through another day? If you can recall the total collapse of your world then I think you know what I mean by the VOID. Experience has taught me to protect myself. I learned to install a security system around that stinkin’ BLACK HOLE of despair! And I’ll bet you did, too!
Have you ever seen one of those Sci-Fi/Fantasy shows where every path the guy takes brings him right back to the place he started? For us, that’s pretty much the pattern we have established concerning that dark place! How often have you and I concluded that we have conquered the fears that drive us deep into insanity? And how many times have you heard yourself say, That will never happen again!? And each time we are so sure.
The VOID also creates the insanity behind the argument. For when the opposing view triggers my alarm system it becomes a matter of self-protection to defend this outright attack against my correct view of reality. I don’t want to be IN THE WRONG! I don’t want to be BAD.
Do you hear what I’m suggesting to you? More times than not, when the two parties have their hackles raised there is something else going on than what APPEARS to be going on. It’s really not so much about the specific issues raised as it is the perception that your view seeks to pull me into ERROR! From each other’s point of view we don’t understand how the other has not been pulled in already. After all, if I believed what you believe, then I KNOW what that would cause me to do. So, it is obvious that you are doing exactly that!
Let me play it out for you just a bit. What is your leaning? Do you go out of your way to defend man’s responsibility, God’s sovereignty, or do you try to walk a fine line between the two? If the mention of GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY compels you to counter it with HUMAN DUTY, could there be something else behind the need to argue the truth that God is in control? Or else, does the mention of FREEWILL make you feel obligated to defend a POSITION? If God is sovereign, why do you strive? Who are you really trying to convince? Someone quotes a verse that indicates that salvation is God’s choice and not yours … and you proceed to react almost violently. What gives? If it is true, it is true; if not, then why the nutso stuff?
What are you hearing that sends you into the irrational? Something attacking your worth, maybe? On the other hand, could a sense of inferiority cause you to force a verse about Christ dying for the world to fit your doctrine? Does your security rest on your ability to make all scripture fit together in a neat little package? There is always one more verse that SEEMS to suggest that you might not be worthy.
The VOID is the place where my worth is held in question because what I have experienced and what I have learned insists that I have no worth.
What if the pattern remains? Why should it be so surprising that you and I would do the same thing in the realm of Biblical issues that we have done our whole lives for everything else? Why can’t we see that MAYBE, just MAYBE we many times react out of a sense of our own protection more than we are that of the faith? Truth is truth, and I am not denying it. But what if we are, in fact, misdiagnosing the real struggle that tears us apart? Is freedom in Jesus about the side we are on, or the position we hold? Does it really have anything to do with the quantity of truth we know? No, it’s about the stuff that turns our wheels … and causes us to fear … and eats our lunch … and tries to steal our true hope … and constantly pulls us from seeing our true reality in Christ! Freedom is about REAL life. And as much as it’s great to know true facts and ideas, the sum total of all of the truth you have ever learned can leave you totally vulnerable and defenseless against your own personal void.
The Void. It’s just a word, but it describes a concept that silently haunts you.
- It’s the stone you leave unturned from fear of what’s under it.
- It’s the room you won’t enter from fear of what’s in it.
- It’s the three little words you don’t want to hear.
- It’s the rejection you learn to ignore from your loved ones.
- It’s the answer you avoid because it might validate your fear.
- It’s the dilemma of conflicting realities that threatens to destroy your world.
- It’s the possibility that you might be proven worthless.
The good news is that the VOID has been done away. Christ removed it. It’s gone. So, why do we still have our guardrails up around the memory of it? If Jesus removed it, then why are you taking a stance to protect yourself from something that is not there anymore? Make no mistake about it, for the argument taps into those same basic fears that have haunted you since childhood. Don’t be fooled just because your new versions have been given a facelift. Do you have any idea how holding to the reality of what Christ has done would neutralize those volatile arguments? Maybe if you and I weren’t so obsessed with our individual insanity brought on by illegitimate fears we might be able to see each other in a new light and to hear what is really going on with each other.
What do I mean by the VOID? It is the fear that the contradictions of my own life prove that I am not right and that I have no basis to see myself any other way.
Some scream and yell, some carefully manipulate, and some do it in silence. The FALLACY lurks under any technique … even my own superior ones. haha! It’s not about an issue, it’s the whole system of belief hanging in the balances. And I will pull out my entire arsenal if I think you are threatening my world. So, when you are facing your own dilemma at the same time and place as I, the sparks will fly! If both of us weren’t defending the faith we wouldn’t tolerate the contradictions we hear slipping out of our own mouths in the process. But we’ll do whatever it takes to refute error! It’s nuts! It’s absolutely nuts! Of course, this makes it necessary to constantly re-evaluate and reinforce our position with increasing amounts of proofs. So we go to the answer man to remind us why the other guy is wrong and we are right.
Now, as you and I pursue our individual defenses in the name of Christ how is it that we conclude that each other doesn’t get it? Simple. We are both holding an inaccurate concept: until you see the whole thing as I see it, then you just can’t see it! Never mind the fact that my own concepts are ever changing and evolving, you must accept truth as I am currently viewing it … or you don’t understand it at all! Just a little bit tricky, wouldn’t you say?
What exactly is the purpose of the Statement of Faith? Or have you not considered the irony in being asked to make a public confession of faith according to an official written statement when those who create the statements are still debating it among themselves? I know we hold certain things to be true, but how well do these devices work?
Have you ever sat in on the creation of a Statement of Faith? It is an experience! Sometimes they’re put together in haste; sometimes they’re just copied from another church’s documents. And I am not discrediting any truth in the statements. But I do have to wonder: what happens when the Statement is refined? Are those who agreed with the earlier version now wrong? Or is the new Statement wrong and those who agreed with the first one right? Yikes! Well do I remember the elder who sharply told the preacher, “Well, I’m holding to what you USED to teach, and I will pretend that you still believe it that way!”. Who can know all of what they are agreeing to when they confess their faith in accordance with the beliefs of their church? You would need years of Theological training to understand the majority of it!! But somehow, this is rarely questioned. How could I stand on the fact that my beliefs have remained a constant if I considered it? What a shaky framework we use to know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. But, at least, at any given time we can know who is wrong. Isn’t it obvious? It’s those who don’t agree with the official version of truth!
What is the FALLACY? It is the concept that my WHOLE SYSTEM OF BELIEF must be proved right. This means that in order for you to discover truth (as I see it) you must adopt MY system. It is nothing more than an ILLUSION of being in the right based on agreement with the current accepted version of truth.
Yeah, right! Here is where I tell you that everybody else is wrong and I am right, huh? If you think that then you must have jumped ahead without reading the stuff leading up to this. If you did read it and still think I’m saying I’m right and you’re wrong, then you might want to re-read everything before continuing. Go on … I’ll wait for you right here!! :) So, what TRUTH do I offer to solve our differences? Simply this: THE GOOD NEWS OF JESUS CHRIST HAS SET US FREE!
Notice, I did NOT say the correct understanding of the good news sets us free. What’s the difference? How about reality versus the perception of reality? We are not free because we understand freedom; we are free because we were actually set free. The simple fact is that most of the time you and I think we are free in proportion to what we are currently believing. When Jesus said… John 8:32
And you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free
…did you really think the TRUTH he spoke of was a level of relative comprehension on your part? Pilate had asked Jesus, “What is truth?”, but didn’t wait for an answer. The answer had been standing right in front of him are you possibly looking right past it?
Jesus is absolute truth … not a perception of it. My freedom (and yours) is as absolute as the truth we have come to know. The truth does not fluctuate with our changing thoughts of Him, for He does not change. If you have Christ, you have the truth, for you have been set free. It is this truth that answers the bondage of the argument. If this seems difficult or too deep to comprehend it is only because someone has masterminded a scheme in which the simplicity of Christ appears complex while complex systems appear simple.
Let’s take a look at how the simplicity of the gospel of Christ answers the basis of the argument. For the message of freedom in Christ ruins strategies, and it destroys the rules of play of the argument. You know, in order to carry on a good contentious argument about the MECHANICS of the gospel you have to set aside the REALITY of the gospel. Think not? What does the gospel say about DIVISIONS? It has done away with them! How? Simply because Christ has removed the thing that divides. And what is the first reality that gets trampled at the onset of these arguments? A division is acknowledged. And believers are categorized!
The gospel is screaming out that we have been made ONE, but you and I are demanding that we are on a different level than those of the other persuasion. “What divisions?” you ask. Don’t you realize that when you call someone Calvinist or Arminian or something else you establish your viewpoint as the standard of truth? I remember the attempts to justify the attitude of superiority vs. inferiority, and it took me years to figure out why it never set right with me. SO WHAT if my point of view has more credibility to it than the opposition? If it supports the lie that the body is divided, then all of its rightness has been nullified.
Which, do you suppose, contains the greater damage:
- refusing to confront an ISSUE? or,
- assuming that AGREEMENT is the basis of fellowship?
I am not opposed to discussing points of disagreement if they are something real, but I find that this is rarely the case. This argument among others is designed to POLARIZE believers into camps. The stated purposes for doing so appear pretty good, and truth can actually be learned in the process. But at what cost? Do I really increase my understanding of God if I am learning to avoid the real stuff of my life. This is what the argument does. By it, I can gain the sense that I am defending the faith which allows me to avoid the pressing fears of my own life. My fear, in turn, becomes part of the thing I am defending and it gives me that arrogant resolve to not budge!
Once you see it for what it is you’ll realize that THIS is the attitude you need to stand AGAINST … for it seeks to destroy the truth of our common bond in Christ! For in what Jesus did, He not only removed the divisions between us, He took away the CAUSE of our fears. Wouldn’t it be great to experience dynamic relationships where we actually listened to one another without the need to push an agenda? Well, it ain’t going happen while our fears are standing on alert. Don’t you realize that because Christ has already defended you it makes no difference if everyone else in the world doesn’t accept that fact? Don’t let the argument establish an official pretense in which it seems legitimate to judge another. For it will seek to artificially soothe your fears so that you can project them on to someone else.
Hold to the freedom of Christ, for it is real. There is nothing artificial about what He accomplished. And He has done away with the judgment that is continually readdressed by the argument. It took the miraculous risen life of Jesus Christ to convince me that God’s Spirit is able to reveal His truth to you outside any system created by or associated with ME. I hope you followed that. If not, please re-read it until you get it, because it is a struggle that you deal with just as much as I do. It is no different than when, as a child, you insisted that your brother or sister or best friend play the game by the rules that YOU played by. Don’t misunderstand me here, for I am not suggesting that we all make up our own rules for that is not the point at all. It has nothing to do with rules, but with MY need to have others do it MY way!
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.Proverbs 14:12
Guess what? Those ways that seem right to us were terminated by death in Jesus Christ. Our intense NEED to be right has nothing to do with true rightness. The thing that gets under our skin is that HIS rightness is totally oblivious to OUR rightness! Our systems were never really valid, it’s just that ever since they got hung out to dry and were executed with Jesus they have no legitimate place in our lives. Whose idea was it to go back and dig them up? I won’t suggest that you don’t have some good Biblical understanding in the controversy between God’s Sovereignty vs. Man’s Responsibility. My desire is that you minister the LIFE of the Spirit and not the DEATH of a system. You may be right, but just remember that the Law is righter and it kills whoever you give it to, and it has no respect to the one who is dishing it out. The realities of truth can be written down, but truth cannot be contained in the writing. That might sound deep but it really isn’t. Simply stated: I can write about Christ, who is the truth, but as soon as I establish MY approach as the correct approach, then I am no longer referring to Christ, but to my approach. This is why Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of his approach in preaching Christ.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Here was this man who had been a master of the Law and superiority was an attitude he learned well. But something happened to him that unravelled both his perceptions and his manner of expressing them, which caused it to be commonly said about him that:
His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive, and his speech contemptible.2 Corinthians 10:10
It’s not because he didn’t know how to speak, but he determined to come…
in weakness and in fear and in much trembling1 Corinthians 2:3
In weakness, because his strength had come from his superior powers of argument, but the reality of Christ put a hole in his logic. “In fear and in much trembling” because this is the result of having your eyes open to the power of God, but refusing to let the old logic try to communicate it. In short, you usually come across as inadequate to anyone of reputation … and the corker is that you are well aware of it. But the good news is that our Father takes infinite pleasure in delivering those who believe the absurdity of His Son.
What is TRUTH? The age-old question, huh? Truth is not the sum total of all true things, but is instead a person and His name is Jesus.
This does not cancel out any truth, but it actually establishes the reality that makes anything true.