Thursday, May 4, 2017

Calvin on Assurance: Comparing views on Assurance of Salvation between Calvin and Modern Websites

In the fall of 2015, I wrote a paper about John Calvin's view of assurance of salvation. It was a fun paper as I went through many pages of Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. As I was writing the paper, I found some interesting differences between what Calvin had to say and what I had believed. So as a continuation of the paper, I want to look at three evangelical websites and compare their views on assurance with Calvin's view. The websites are Christian Answers, All About God, and Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

When looking through these three websites, there are some common threads in their teaching. They all understand that a person must believe in Christ as their savior from the sins. Secondly, they agree that assurance is possible in this life.

Christian Answers and All About God say Christians need to have evidence or be doing something about assurance. However, Calvin does not agree with such a statement. Christian Answers says that "(w)e can be encouraged that we do have eternal life (read: assurance of salvation) because God says so, because changes have taken place in our lives, because we want to share Christ with others, and because we desire to live lives that would be pleasing to God." Note the last three: change in life, sharing Christ, and desire to live godly lives focus on the human action. The website says earlier in the paragraph that these are not a test of salvation. The problem surfaces when they offer a list of evidences for a Christian.

Looking at All About God, it gives a long list of actions that can help someone with assurance problems. These all are a great help as they are means of grace that God uses to gives us assurance. But examining their list places a focus on the human ability to keep themselves. On the Billy Graham website, the "4th pillar" of assurance moves in a different direction with less actions for but a looking back. This pillar must be taken with the other three in mind. Evidences of a changed life is seen better when we trust God, seek the Savior, and receive the testimony of the Spirit.

As I move into Calvin's view on assurance, this will move us to something that is missing in Christian Answers and All About God, namely the Holy Spirit's role in assurance. Before understanding Calvin's view on assurance, we must know that assurance is embedded into faith. Little faith equals little assurance and the much faith equals great assurance. Calvin defines faith as "a firm and sure knowledge of the divine favor toward us, founded on the truth of a free promise in Christ, and revealed to our minds, and sealed on our hearts, by the Holy Spirit.1" Assurance can be seen in "firm and sure knowledge" of this definition. Any idea of works is missing from the definition as faith and assurance can be found only in the triune God. According to Calvin, Christians only know assurance when we ground it in God's work of salvation. Commenting on Philippians 2:13 in his Commentary of Phillippians, he says, "Farther, we must take notice, that, as believers repose with assurance upon the grace of God, so, when they direct their views to their own frailty, they do not by any means resign themselves carelessly to sleep, but are by fear of dangers stirred up to prayer. Yet, so far is this fear from disturbing tranquillity of conscience, and shaking confidence, that it rather confirms it. For distrust of ourselves leads us to lean more confidently upon the mercy of God." In the Institutes, Calvin in 3.13.3-5 explains that our consciences cannot stand before God with our own righteousness but faith in Christ allows our consciences to stand before God. The authors of Christian Answers and All About God allows our works to become some standard of our salvific standing instead of founding our faith and assurance resting on Christ.

Since Christian experience does include a perfect assurance, Calvin helps those who suffer with doubt to look at the promises that God has made to the believers. Calvin writes:
(W)hile we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty  that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. On the other hand, we say that believers are in perpetual conflict with their own unbelief.2
Calvin notes that believers continue to fight assurance so what does offer as the solution. It is the Word of God. Faith increases as Spirit works through promises as revealed in the Word of God. So Christians take heart in promises like he will never forsake you (Heb 13:5) and nothing can separate a believer from God's love (Roms. 8:31-39). Faith cannot be separated from the Word.

Calvin promotes something different then what can be seen in most other articles about assurance. I should also note that the Puritans start moving away from looking at assurance directly related to faith. In J.C. Ryle's book, Holiness, he offers many quotes that move away from Calvin's teaching. However, they do not depart from the fact that assurance comes from trusting God's promises in the Word and not on our actions.

1. Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, 3.2.7
2. Ibid., 3.2.17

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Where I Have Been.

It is has been a couple of years since posted here. While I wished that I was able to blog more, the fact remains that life becomes busier as I seem to get older. Family, church, school, and work become a mad dash to keep commitments. While I have sat down and wrote some rants about different topics, all have been discarded because the events expired and no longer required a response. I am, however, currently writing and editing a piece about assurance of salvation looking at a couple of websites and what John Calvin had to say about the issue. I hopefully will write some more in connection with my classes and my podcast, for which I am a co-host.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

How Biblical Theology is done at Kosmosdale.

On Feb. 28th and Mar. 1st, I went to 9 Marks at SBTS. It was a great experience and learned a lot about how to better incorporate biblical theology in areas where I teach. However, I am not the only one that teaches biblical theology. Our pastors teach us biblical theology every week, and you might not even know it. So, this conference helped me to appreciate Pastor Mitch's preaching even more, and his faithfulness to the text. So I want to help you understand what is biblical theology and how Pastors Mitch and Tim teach us it within their roles.

What is Biblical Theology?
Biblical theology is theology as it found in the Bible as a whole and in books individually. Biblical theology is not systematic theology, e.g. Grudem's Systematic Theology. Systematic theology connects different passage that talk about different themes while also looking at historical development. Some examples of these truths are: God's attributes, the person of Christ, and a doctrine of sin and man.  From these understandings, it is applied to today's context for further growth.
Biblical theology, however, looks only at how the Bible develops theology within itself. Different theological concepts, like temple imagery, what the Messiah will do, and God's plan to save the world, are repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments. An example from Pastor Mitch's sermons is the new exodus, which is found in Christ. We have learned that this theme is developed from the Old Testament and Jesus embodies the exodus story in His own Life as the "Son of God."

Pastor Mitch's Preaching
I want to explore is Mitch's preaching first, and I will use the Mar. 2nd message as an example (listen here). This sermon was about obeying Christ's preaching from the Sermon on the Mount. I want to recall two distinct references to biblical theology in his sermon. The first was the rock, and the second was the storms. In both references, he went back into the Old Testament and showed us where these illusions were found. Mitch made it clear that Jesus is not just thinking up an illustration. Instead, Mitch explained that the rock represented God as a constant refuge from judgment. The storms, then, represented the judgment of God. Jesus uses this illustration to enforce the seriousness of following His teaching, which they would have already known.
With that, Mitch's preaching connects the whole canon as one storyline with Christ as its beginning, middle, and end. Every sermon develops the different themes found that the Biblical authors before and after also talk about. When he preaches, we learn where the authors are developing their idea before them and also how other authors after them develop the idea further. This helps us also study the Bible by finding these same themes in other passages and seeing how the Bible relates to itself.

Pastor Tim's Sunday School
Tim also demonstrates biblical theology in his Sunday School class. Currently, Tim is teaching in Old Testament narrative. Like Mitch, Tim brings the whole canon together by showing the development to Christ. So while reading through David's life, he places the stories within the storyline of the Bible and connects its developments to Christ. An example is Samuel growing in favor with God and man (1 Sam. 2-3). Luke will use a similar wording when he describes Jesus in Luke 3. Tim also pointed out that King David did some actions we would expect priest would do. The author Hebrews, as we have seen from Mitch's series, shows Jesus as the ultimate priest. 

These are two examples of biblical theology at Kosmosdale. My hope is that you see what they are doing and how it is important for a fuller understanding of Scripture. The Bible is multiple books with one storyline with many developments. Biblical theology helps us to understand the Bible better and not allowing us to forget or neglect parts because we do not found relevance.
As church members, we can also learn biblical theology. This is a consistent study of the Bible and knowing it by reading both Testaments and also the Holy Spirit illuminating our minds. It is knowing the Old Testament stories and the Holy Spirit opening our eyes to see these connections. It is looking at the footnotes of quotes and going back to the stories that are alluded to and seeing how the biblical authors understood Scripture. A resource that can help understand better biblical theology is a book by James Hamilton called What is Biblical Theology?. There is also a 9Marks book called Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church.

N.B. This was originally posted at Kosmosdale Baptist Church's Blog.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Reflection from Missiology Class.

This past December, I took a J-term with a former missionary for the IMB, who is now lead's their theological education. This class covered a different perspective from what I received at Liberty. It was theological and practical, which was theologically founded. Here are some thoughts from the class:

  1. The church needs to become mesmerized with the gospel again. Missions flows from people that believe in the saving power of the gospel. American Christianity has a problem that people attend Sundays and maybe Wednesday but they really do worship God every day. Now worship is more than singing songs. Traditionally, worship included singing, praying, and listen to God speak through His word (thus hearing and listening). The Bible shows the pereminates of the gospel as God's ordained way to bring sinners to life in Him.
  2. Worship, Theology, and Missions are completely interdependent of each other. Simply put, Worship without theology is idolatry, Theology without worship kills the soul by lead to pride, Worship fuels missions, missions is needed because worship is not, theology is the basis of missions, in missions, we teach theology. When one of these is missing, the church becomes ineffective in this world. Now this also displaces the people are too heavenly minded to be earthly good. Theology is the foundation of doing anything good in the world.     
  3. The American church as a whole fails to see the importance of missions in the daily life of the church. Missions requires us to to give up and lean on Jesus. It requires a devotion that cannot be found in money or possession. It calls us to die to self and follow Jesus even through suffering. It calls to rethink our possession and be more willing to give for the advancement of the gospel.
These are some quick comments about my class but there needs to be output. All of these require a response of obedience to the call of missions. All of these reflect a deficiency with my own life and most likely yours too. God desires to save the nations and He has accomplished it through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son when people repent and trust in Him. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

A New Semester is Here!

So this week starts a new semester as I finish my second year. This semester's courses will provide more than enough problems with reading and translation. I finish learning the basics of Hebrew and I take a more advance Greek class. All of this will provide me some background for Historical Theology class.

All of this last night made my freak out last night as I look at all of my syllabi for this year. There is tons of reading which I am not good at but this also provides a great opportunity to force to find my strength in Christ. This has been the biggest lesson I have needed to learn while at seminary, that and time management. This next semester will provide abundance opportunity to realize that I am weak.

There are a couple of passages that come to mind while I think about the great strength that God gives to those that trust Him. 1 Samuel 16 provides a great example. David and Goliath, a well know story for sure, shows that God is faithful to His promises and will deliver them in mighty ways. David knew the promises that God will provide the land and he trusted God that he would deliver Israel from their enemies. God provided the strength that was needed for David to kill Goliath. So with my pending semester, God can provide the power to push and learn more about Him. He must the strength that I lean upon as a weak vessel.

Another verse is Matthew 6:25-34. Here Jesus explains that God provides the necessities for living. He tells His disciples that all they need to do is trust God and seek after Him and the things they NEED will be provide. This need part is important because God does not promise that He will give everything that we feel we need. He gives to us what we need to live in this fallen world. This may be different items but everything comes a gift. Yet I do not worry about how this semester is to go because He will be with me and provide for me always. I need not worry but to trust Him fully.

As my pastor said yesterday, a good theology is needed before bad times hit so you can come to Him boldly in prayer and get help in times of need (Heb 4:14-16).

Friday, December 27, 2013

3rd day of Christmas

Hopefully for the next 12 days, I will blog about Christmas looking at the good gifts that God gives spiritual and physical. This idea comes as I think about church tradition and the lack of celebratory element that this time deserves. Now, I know that Jesus was not born on Christmas but it is a good time to think about the impact this event has on the world. It is the one of the few days that has complete impact the world.

This third days is based off what I meditated on this morning. It is about the speech and knowledge that God has given to me. Now I am not as wise as Solomon was but I know more that I did a year ago. One thing about knowledge is that sinful humans use it to justify themselves as better. Yet, my missions professor showed us that knowledge without worship is prideful sin against the One that gives the knowledge. Knowledge should drive a better worship of God because we get to know him better, whether from the Scriptures or watching the world around as it displays His glory and majesty. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2nd Day of Christmas

Hopefully for the next 12 days, I will blog about Christmas looking at the good gifts that God gives spiritual and physical. This idea comes as I think about church tradition and the lack of celebratory element that this time deserves. Now, I know that Jesus was not born on Christmas but it is a good time to think about the impact this event has on the world. It is the one of the few days that has complete impact the world.

On this second day, a great gift given is my wife. I praise God that I received a wife that loves Him and desires to serve Him. There has been many times my wife has saw my sin and pointed it out. She has helped shape who I am now in now a short 3 years that we have known each other. As our vows say, I don't need her, I need Christ. God has provide a wonderful wife and I cannot think of a better person to be paired up with for ministry.