Calvinism in Context: 1 Corinthians 8:11

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And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed,
the brother for whom Christ died.
— 1 Corinthians 8:11 —

When Paul confronted the Corinthians for eating meat sacrificed to idols, he warns that their carelessness threatens to “destroy” their brothers. In the context of 1 Corinthians 8, Paul uses this warning to motivate followers of Christ with greater “knowledge” (i.e., stronger consciences) to think twice before eating meat sacrificed to idols in the presence of younger believers whose consciences have not been so trained. This is the literary context. In the context of theological debates, however, this verse serves another purpose—namely that this verse proves general atonement, the belief that Christ died for all humanity without exception.

Convinced that Christ’s death effectively accomplished the salvation of his elect, a vast number beyond comprehension (see Revelation 7), I believe that it is errant to conclude 1 Corinthians 8:11 is a proof text for general or unlimited atonement. Rather, it is one of many verses that articulate a view of Christ’s death that is personally connected to a people the father gave him before the foundation of the world (cf. John 17). But instead of making a theological case, let’s consider the context of 1 Corinthians 8 to see what Paul says and how his language informs this theological debate. Continue reading

The Goodness of God in What He Does

In Exodus 33:18, Moses makes one of the most audacious requests in all the Bible.  After Israel is nearly destroyed and replaced by a people coming from Moses’ offsprings, Moses asks the God of the Passover and the Red Sea to show him his glory.  Amazingly, God responds in the affirmative.

In Exodus 33:19-34:7, God reveals his glory through the revelation of his goodness and his glory.  Today, we will look at the goodness of what God does; tomorrow, we will consider the greatness of God’s name.

Notice three ways that God’s goodness is revealed in Exodus 33.

God Who Listens and Speaks (33:19).  The first thing to notice in the character of God is that he hears Moses prayer.  He listens and he speaks.  He doesn’t ignore Moses prayers, but he answers with specificity.  God’s goodness is seen in this reply.

However, notice what God listens to.  He is not simply responding to a request for personal help, or a plea for personal safety, comfort, or assistance.  He hears and answers prayers most powerfully, when the suppliant is coming with a heart that longs first and foremost to make Christ famous.  This is not to say that supplications for “my needs” are not legitimate, but they should be secondary to the greater design of prayer for God’s kingdom and glory.

God loves to answer prayers that glorify his name and that satisfy his saints in him.  Just consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6, Jesus is asked how they should pray, and in “The Lord’s Prayer,” he doesn’t begin with small, physical, prayers that orbit around people; he begins with audacious prayers that ask God to do what only he can do.  Thus, Jesus’ prayer, like Moses prayer, calls us to ask God to show off his glory on earth as it is in heaven.  The very first command is one that essentially pleas that God who sanctify or glorify his name!  When Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of the kingdom, this is a request for God’s glory to come in tangible form to the earth–now and forever.

All in all, Moses’ prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and our prayer can be lifted with confidence because God’s goodness hears and answers.  Yet, the heart of prayer is one that focuses on God and his glory, as seen in his goodness, more than simply asking God to do good things for us.

Returning to the model of our Lord’s prayer, the requests for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil all come after we have oriented ourselves towards God.  Prayer that is Christian puts the goals, desires, and demands of God above our own.  The safety, security, health, and help we request should desired as they fulfill his plans and purposes.  Goodness is putting God at the center, and God-centered prayers are the ones God delights to answer.

The God who Protects and Provides (33:20-23).  Next, in verse 20, YHWH tells Moses that he cannot see his face, because he would die, but in the same breath, he makes way for Moses to experience God’s glory.  Verse 21-23, God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, covers him to protect him, and then shows him the train of his glory.  Amazingly, verse 23 uses three body parts to describe God: Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.

The body-language is metaphorical–because God does not have a body—but it emphasizes the personal closeness that Moses felt as God spoke to him.  Still, the point of this passage is not for us to replicate the experience of seeing God on a mountain, but to receive the Word given to Moses at that time.  The God of Sinai is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but the way he has revealed himself is not always the same.  In Exodus 33-34, we see God’s goodness in the way he reveals himself and protects Moses from an over exposure.  Today, we have a greater revelation and a greater protection in our mediator, Jesus Christ.  What God does in type with Moses, he does in actuality with Jesus.  In Jesus, we see the glory of the Lord, we hear God’s ultimate word, and we have safe passage into the very presence of God.  We are not sequestered into a rocky cleft; we are able to stand upon the temple mount and abide with God.

In this way, the goodness experience by Moses, though more cinematically-captivating, is less than the goodness we now have in the fullness of God’s plans in redemptive history.  Such goodness beckons us to forsake sin and press on towards him!

The God who Gives His Law (34:1-4). Finally, since the tablets were broken, a new set of tablets was needed.  Thus, in Exodus 34, Moses is appointed to cut two new stone tablets just like before.  This is the first element of God’s revealed law in Exodus 34, but this is not it.  Quickly following this charge to rewrite the law, YHWH tells Moses to come into his presence once again (v. 2), and to set a perimeter around the mountain to preserve its holiness and to protect the people (v. 3).  Still, God’s law-giving is seen most clearly in the reissue of the covenant laws laid out in the rest of the chapter (vv. 10-35).

These commands which resonate with the earlier instructions in Exodus 19-24, show the consistency of God’s character, and the fact that he never lowers the standard of his law.  Instead, he will provide means of grace to allow sinners to dwell in the midst of God’s holiness.  Such legal constancy is a revelation of his goodness, for God’s goodness is not just seen in meekness, mirth, and mild treatment of terrorists.  His goodness also executes law-breakers.

Can you imagine the alternative?  What would a world be like in which moral order was erased?  Or a world where God’s expectations were unknown?  God’s laws are demanding and absolute, and this is good.  In them, God’s wisdom, justice, and love are displayed, and thus the world observes who God is.  Which leads to a final consideration: When we come to passage like Exodus 33-34, do we listen to what God is saying?  Or do we interpret it in light of our pre-conceived ideas about goodness, justice, and love?

God Is The Standard of His Own Goodness 

Too often Christians and non-Christians test God according to their own standards of goodness.  This is problematic.  God is his own standard.  He defines and delimits goodness.  Thus what he reveals of his goodness at Sinai and in later installments of inspired revelation must shape and reshape our notions of goodness.  In fact, before delighting in his goodness, we probably need to be offended by it!

Offended because, we as fallen creatures are naturally opposed to the God of Scripture and the God of Sinai.  What we see at Sinai is that YHWH’s goodness is not mutually exclusive with retributive judgment, is not contradictory with legal demands, and is not simply a universal benevolence towards all people.  God’s goodness is distinct, covenantal, particular, and gracious.  God’s goodness is given to some and not to others (Exod 33:19).  This is how God presents himself!  It is offensive to human pride, but glorious to those who have died in Christ.

Failure to understand God’s goodness as he himself presents it will inevitably result in skewed views of God and ultimately Arminian and/or Universalist impressions of how God should act in the world.  Right now I am reading a book by such theologian–Roger Olson–whose views relabel and redefine God’s goodness in countless doctrinal categories.  As an upcoming book review will show, he and others like him, wrestle little with texts and rest their views upon philosophical inventions of the mind, rather than God’s revealed Word.

Considering Exodus 33-34 makes us take a different path.  One that rebukes us mightily for having lethargic views of God’s goodness, but one that opens new vistas of God’s glory.  In meditating on Exodus 33:18-34:7 you will find that the God of glory is the God of goodness, and that his goodness is not submitting to any philosophical law of the greater good.  God is goodness in justice and mercy, and by his grace, he is revealing that goodness to all who have eyes to see.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Postfoundationalism as Spiritual Adultery

This last semester, I spent a good deal of time reading about, thinking through, and writing on the subject of “postfoundationalism,” the postmodern, postconservative, postevangelical theology of the late Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, and a handful of others.  In my readings, one recurring feature was the denial of Scripture’s sufficiency.  For instance in Beyond Foundationalism, Grenz and Franke propose a method of correlation that adopts an epistemic method “based upon” scripture and Tradition and culture, so that their theological method upholds its beliefs with an integrative mosaic web.

Reading Raymond Ortlund Jr.’s book on spiritual adultery this week, God’s Unfaithful Wife, has made me think back on postfoundationalism’s proposal and to reflect that this aberrant mode of interpreting Scripture is nothing more than spiritual adultery, akin to the ancient Israelites dissatisfaction with God’s Torah and their subsequent pursuit of pagan deities, foreign allegiances, and extra-biblical–to use a word anachronistically– revelation.

Consider some of Ortlund’s words.

Commenting on Leviticus 20:6, he says, “Consulting mediums and spiritists also amounts to whoredom, because, like idolatry, resorting to their ministrations denies Yahweh’s all-sufficiency.  Just as the counsels of a perfectly wise husband should be satisfying to a fair-minded wife, so Yahweh’s revelation in law, Urim and Thummim, prophetic word, and so on, should satisfy the questions and perplexities of his people.  To seek revelation beyond his provision insinuates failure in him, exposes a prying restlessness in the covenant people and subjects them to compromising guidance from degraded sources” (38).

Writing about God’s leadership and revelation in Judges, Ortlund goes on, “The period of the judges was infamous for its widespread moral confusion.  ‘Every man did what was right in his own eyes’ (21:25), and not even Gideon escaped the spirit of the times.  Rather than respect the unique prerogatives of the Levites at the tabernacle in Shiloh, Gideon made his own personal ephod in Ophrah.  As a device for enquiring of God” (43).  Adopting cultural practices of receiving communications from the divine, rather than humbling submitting to God’s prescribed means of revelation, Gideon “inadvertantly [led] the people of God into whoredom” (44).  “[Israel] trusted in it [the ephod] rather than in Yahweh and neglected his formally established means of grace” (44).

Continuing on this theme, Ortlund writes again concerning Israel’s metericious tendencies during the time of Jeremiah, “In real terms, Jeremiah sees the people of God as faddish and insecure, nervously searching the latest offerings from neomania, for they do not grasp the true meaning and abiding claim of covenant (87).

All in all, Ortlund’s biblical-theological treatment of spiritual adultery is a shocking exhortation that all types of revisionist theologies that dismiss the Reformation principle of Sola Scriptura are not just poor, they are prostitution.  Paul says of the church’s tendency towards unholy unions:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness?  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God…Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing, then I will welcome you (2 Cor. 6:14-16a, 17).

If marriage is to be protected from physical prostitution, so the doing of theology must be guarded against the perverting effects of worldly accomodation.  Theological methods that purport any kind of admixture, combining the biblical authority with tradition, culture, sociological reasoning, psychological sensitivity, or philosophical reasoning ultimately conjoin the unilateral revelation of God’s word with the fleshly calculations of fallen men.  The union is not binding and cannot be consider acceptable in God’s sight.  Grenz, Franke, and Olson call this revisionist theology postfoundationalism, but Scripture seems to call it something else–prostitution. 

May we be warned and wise to heed the singular message of God’s Word and to conform our lives to its gospel and its truth, so that we may not be deceived and “led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ,” to whom we are singularly betrothed (2 Cor. 11:3).

Sola Deo Gloria, dss