The Confident Christian

Una Fides

First Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV)”. Ever since the Pilgrims set out for the New World in 1620 in search of religious freedom, the Christian faith has played an integral role in shaping American culture. For many, the Christian faith was a stabilizing and positive influence in society. However, with the rise of secularism in the United States as well as the broader western world, many people increasingly look at the Christian faith with a skeptical, even hostile attitude. Will it be said of us that we as believers responded to this challenge with composure and grace, or that we shrank when skeptics asked the tough questions?

Many Christians live in fear of someone…

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Arminianism: A Most Misunderstood Theology

Hi folks, please read with an open mind and feel free to share your thoughts. Blessings to all who proclaim Christ as Savior and Lord, Julian Pace.

 

I don’t think it would be an understatement to say that Arminian theology has fallen on hard times in recent years. I tend to think this is because many of the United States’ most influential preachers tend to be far more sympathetic towards Calvinism than Arminianism. Indeed, some of America’s best-known preachers do not make any bones about the fact that they are staunch Calvinists. Pastors and theologians like John Macarthur, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, and Al Mohler openly profess their embrace of Calvinism as well as their rejection of Arminian theology. Turn on Christian radio, walk into a Lifeway bookstore, or attend a Passion conference and you will hear sermons and see dozens of resources written by these men. While many theologians teaching at Seminaries in the United States are Arminians, I can’t think of an American preacher who openly professes to be an Arminian and enjoys the influence and popularity of say a John Macarthur (maybe William Willimon?) Macarthur has authored one of the most popular study Bibles in the United States, can you name a Study Bible written by an equally influential Arminian preacher?  I am also convinced that many people are fearful of claiming to be Arminian because of the charges that have been leveled against it by some of the United States’ most prominent preachers. Piper has called Arminian theology “Man Centered” and Macarthur has equivocated it with the heresy of Semi-Pelagianism. These preachers and theologians are listened to by millions of American Christians and have a major impact on the American Church’s thinking, practice, and spirituality. Thus, when these Christians hear these preachers speak negatively about Arminianism, many Christians understandably conclude that these well-educated and eloquent preachers must certainly be right. However, I am convinced that Arminian theology is oftentimes misunderstood, probably by even many Arminians themselves!

Although Calvinists have critiqued Arminian theology for dozens of reasons I will, for the sake of brevity, only respond to those objections that appear (in my judgement) most often in Calvinist literature and sermons. First, Calvinists will often argue that Arminian theology is unscriptural because it fails to appreciate man’s sinfulness and his utter inability to respond to God’s offer of salvation. In short, Arminians wrongly reject the scriptural teaching of total depravity. Second, Arminian theology forces one to accept that Christians can “lose” their salvation which could lead to a lack of assurance in a believer’s life. Third, Arminians reject God’s sovereignty.

When dialoging with Calvinists it has been my experience that they are quite surprised when I tell them that I affirm the doctrine of total depravity. Often, they are even further surprised when I tell them that every “Classical” Arminian affirms total depravity as well. I affirm, with the Calvinist, the scriptural teaching of Romans 3:11 that without God’s intervening grace we would never pursue a right relationship with God. Sin has so damaged our will that we can’t exercise the slightest inclination towards God without divine aid. The Arminian solution to this problem is the doctrine of “prevenient grace.” This doctrine teaches that God in his mercy has enlightened the will of people to the extent that they have the choice to freely choose or reject him. Without God’s gift of “prevenient grace”, we don’t have the ability to choose God. All we can do is rebel against God. Both the Calvinist and the Arminian affirm that we need to receive God’s grace prior to justification due to our depraved nature. The key difference between the two positions is that the Calvinist believes in irresistible grace while the Arminian believes in enabling grace. For the Calvinist, if God has elected to save you, he will graciously regenerate your will prior to justification which will certainly lead you to exercise faith in God. The Arminian posits that God’s gift of “prevenient grace” is for all people and it gives you the ability to choose God, or freely reject him. God regenerates and frees our will so that we are then able to exercise a right attitude towards God if we so choose. Thus, for the Arminian, salvation is all of God’s grace. If God had not taken the initiative in salvation we would never have sought him. The positions are distinct, but they are both an attempt to solve the problem of man’s total inability to choose God without the help of divine aid.

Many Christians have rejected Arminian theology because they believe that if they affirm it then they are required to affirm conditional security (aka a person who is genuinely saved can lose their salvation.) What might surprise the person investigating Arminian theology is that while many Arminians have affirmed conditional security (aka John Wesley and Adam Clarke) many have not! Indeed, Jacob Arminius of whom Arminian theology is named after, never dogmatically affirmed conditionally security and in fact made several statements in his writings that were quite supportive of eternal security! Many Arminians throughout history have believed in the doctrine of eternal security. Frankly, Arminian theology allows for both opinions in its system. If you feel you can’t affirm Arminian theology because you are convinced from the scriptures of the truth of eternal security, then worry no more, a belief in eternal security is entirely compatible with an Arminian framework.

It is often said that Arminians reject God’s sovereignty. This is simply not the case. Like the Calvinist, the Arminian affirms that God has exhaustive foreknowledge and is all powerful. The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist’s view of God’s sovereignty is that the Calvinist believes that God has determined every aspect of history and has thus rendered each historical event certain. Thus, when Adam and Eve rebelled against God, they could not have chosen otherwise because God before the foundation of time determined that they would sin against him. The Arminian view quite rightly distinguishes between God’s permissive and decretal will. God in his foreknowledge knew that Satan, Adam, and Eve would rebel against him, but they could have chosen to do otherwise. Their choice to rebel was permitted by God but it was not determined by him. While I can appreciate the Calvinist’s desire to affirm God’s sovereignty, I still must reject their view because I do not see how it does not lead to God being the author of sin. If God determined every historical event, thus rendering certain that Satan, Adam, and Eve would rebel and sin against him without the possibility of doing otherwise, then it seems that sin originated in the mind and will of God. To affirm this, as the Calvinist would agree, is blasphemous.

I want to close by noting that I have been positively influenced by several Calvinist theologians. I have benefited greatly from the work of Calvinist theologians like R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, and many, many others. There is much I appreciate about the Reformed tradition in general. Thus, my goal here is not to smear Calvinism or its proponents even though I ultimately can’t affirm some of what it teaches. Rather, my goal is to dispense with some of the more common, and I think erroneous, objections that have been leveled against Arminianism so that people will give it a fair hearing once more. I think someone who approaches Arminian theology with an open mind will find that this doctrinal system takes seriously the depraved nature of people, robustly affirms God’s sovereignty, and is thoroughly grounded in the biblical witness.

 

The Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ

 

Pictured above is Saint Athanasius: Athanasius is one of the Christian faith’s greatest theologians. His classic work On The Incarnation remains one of the greatest defenses of Incarnational theology to this day.   

Do you believe that Jesus is both God and human? Do you know why you believe this to be true? The following is a seminary paper I recently finished that talks about the history of the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union, as well as the good biblical reasons there are for affirming this doctrine. This is for all you theology lovers out there! Enjoy, Julian Pace

 

The Hypostatic Union, or the doctrine of Hypostasis, is the biblical doctrine that Jesus is both God and man. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines the term thusly “A theological term used with reference to the Incarnation to express the revealed truth that in Christ one person subsists in two natures, the divine and the human.”[1] The doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ can be compared to that of the Trinity. Although both terms are not explicitly used in scripture they are both reasonably inferred from the relevant biblical data.

Although the church affirmed the doctrine of Hypostasis at the council of Ephesus in 431, and at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the doctrine has caused some controversy within the church. Many different Christological formulas have been proposed in contrast to Hypostasis. Some differ fundamentally from the Hypostasis doctrine and either deny Jesus’s true humanity or true divinity. Some Christians disagree with the specific Christological formula embraced at Chalcedon while still affirming that Jesus Christ is truly God and truly man (a notable example is the Oriental Orthodox communion which boasts of nearly 90 million members worldwide.)[2]

One view that stands in stark contrast to the Hypostasis view is Docetism. The term is derived from the Greek word “dokeo” which is roughly translated as “I seem.” The origins of this view are obscure but noted theologian Norman Geisler is convinced that the idea had some adherents as early as the first century.[3] Basically, Docetism denies Jesus’s true humanity. The Docetists argued that Jesus was not truly human but only “seemed” to be. Apollinarianism is similar to Docetism in that it diminishes the humanity of Jesus Christ. Apollinarius (c. 310-390) taught that Jesus had no human spirit, thus fundamentally undercutting the truth of Jesus’s humanity.

Other views have exalted the human nature of Jesus over his divine nature. Perhaps Arianism is the best known Christological heresy that denied Jesus’s full divinity. Norman Geisler defines Arianism thusly “Following Arius (c. 250-336), it’s founder, this heresy denies that Jesus is fully God, allowing Him a created status below God.”[4] Saint Athanasius, perhaps Christianity’s greatest theologian, thoroughly refuted the arguments of Arius in his classic work On The Incarnation. Ultimately, the church condemned the teachings of Arius as the Council of Nicaea in 325. Another view that denies Jesus’s full divinity is the heresy of Adoptionism. This Christological model asserts that Jesus was a normal man until God adopted him on the day of his baptism and made him a partaker in the divine nature. Another view that can serve as something of an umbrella term for heresies that deny the divinity of Jesus is Monarchianism. This view flourished in varying degrees in the second and third centuries.

Any discussion about the doctrine of Hypostasis must consider the views of Nestorianism and Monophysitism. These views do not fit easily into the two heretical paradigms just discussed. The Monophysite view, held by Eutyches (c. 375-454), diminished the humanity of Jesus and stated that the divine nature of Jesus overwhelmed the human nature of Jesus. (The “Miaphysite” view held by the Oriental Orthodox Churches, who were mentioned earlier, is a moderate form of the Monophysite view. Many theologians believe it is amenable to orthodox sensibilities even though its adherents are not comfortable with all the affirmations of Chalcedonian Christology.)[5] The Nestorian view, probably not held by Nestorius (c. 386-450) to whom the view is named after, but by his followers, did affirm that Jesus was truly God and truly man. However, it also affirmed that Jesus was in fact two persons: one divine, and one human. This view presents obvious philosophical and theological problems.

The central problem of the views that either diminish Jesus’s humanity or divinity, is that they simply fail to take into account the richness of the biblical data. Understanding the person of Jesus Christ properly and how his divine and human natures relate to one another, is simply not an either/or proposition. Fortunately, the great theologians of the past agreed with this sentiment and when asked whether Jesus was divine, or human, answered with both/and, and not either/or. Many passages in the Holy Scriptures teach the divinity of Jesus including Colossians 1:13-18 and John 1 to name just a few. For brevity’s sake I will only consider John 1 in some detail.

John 1:1-3 says “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (NASB).” The broader context of this passage in verses 1-18 clearly identify the “Word”, in the Greek the “logos”, with none other than Jesus of Nazareth. It is notable that in this passage the “Word’ is personalized, identified as preexistent, and the creator of the universe. Not to mention the specific the specific reference to the “Word” being God. Indeed, this passage so clearly teaches Christ’s divinity that the Jehovah’s Witnesses are forced to add “a” (an indefinite article which has no equivalent in the Greek language) before the final word “God” in verse 1 to reconcile this verse with their Arian Christology.

It must be equally emphasized that the scriptures teach not only Jesus’s divinity but his humanity as well. Jesus was born like all other people (Luke 2:1-20), hungered like other people (Mark 11:12), wept like other people (John 11:35), and bled and died like other people (Matt 27:32-56.) To argue for a Docetic belief about Jesus’s humanity, requires special pleading and undermines important theological concepts in the scriptures such as Jesus being the “Second Adam” who takes away our sins (1 Cor 15:45-49). Thus, when presented with the dual realities of the Christ’s divinity and humanity, a good theologian should seek to synthesize the two doctrines rather than exalt one nature over the other. We should avoid the extremes of outright denying either nature of Jesus and be careful not to repeat the far subtler errors of the Monophysites and the Nestorians. The doctrine of Hypostasis is indeed a complex one, but the scriptures do in fact teach both Jesus’s humanity and divinity. These truths are made quite clear in a wide number of passages of Holy Scripture and they have been affirmed by the church at both the Councils of Ephesus and Chalcedon. For these reasons, all orthodox Christians should hold to the doctrine of the Hypostatic Union of Jesus Christ confidently and without apology

 

[1] Pace, The Catholic Encyclopedia, 320.

[2] Ibid, 423-437.

[3] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 552.

[4] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 552.

[5] Pelikan, The Spirit of Eastern Christendom 600-1700, 37-38.

 

Bibliography

Clarke, Adam, Clarks Commentary: The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments. Nashville: Abingdon, 1977.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.

Geisler, Norman L. Systematic theology. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2002.

Hall, Christopher A. Learning theology with the church fathers. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Pace, Edward. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Vol. 2: The Spirit of Eastern Christendom (600-1700). Vol. 2. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.

 

The Promise of Paradise: A sermon by Julian Pace

Una Fides

Below is a link to a sermon I preached at the First Christian Church of Savannah on Memorial Day weekend. It is entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” You will only be able to understand the banter with the congregation in the beginning of the audio by realizing that I preached this sermon from a raised pulpit which greatly limited my ability to move while I preached (I am typically very active while delivering my sermons.) Still, we shared a sweet time of fellowship together and I can’t wait to return. If you want to hear the sermon just click on this link and scroll down to the sermon entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” Blessings!

https://www.fccsavannah.org/sermons

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The Promise of Paradise: A sermon by Julian Pace

 

Below is a link to a sermon I preached at the First Christian Church of Savannah on Memorial Day weekend. It is entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” You will only be able to understand the banter with the congregation in the beginning of the audio by realizing that I preached this sermon from a raised pulpit which greatly limited my ability to move while I preached (I am typically very active while delivering my sermons.) Still, we shared a sweet time of fellowship together and I can’t wait to return. If you want to hear the sermon just click on this link and scroll down to the sermon entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” Blessings!

https://www.fccsavannah.org/sermons

Wolfhart Pannenberg: Theologian of the Resurrection

With Easter Sunday rapidly approaching it is only fitting to recognize one of the greatest defenders of the historicity of the Resurrection in the twentieth Century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg felt that the study of Theology should be undertaken like other Academic disciplines and in his lifelong quest for truth he found that the Christian faith was deeply intellectually satisfying. I hope you enjoy reading about one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Blessings and peace to all, Julian Pace.

He vehemently defended the Resurrection but denied the Virgin Birth. He was hugely influential but leaves few disciples. – Fred Sanders writing for Christianity Today upon the death of Wolfhart Pannenberg

It would not be implausible to say that one day church historians will include Wolfhart Pannenberg, along with Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, and J.I. Packer, as one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Pannenberg’s prowess in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime, he molded a unique theological system that on the one hand was generally traditional and Lutheran, yet probing and rational in a way that placed him squarely within the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is probable that his most important contribution to Christian theology was his stirring defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and how he saw this event as the key to all of history, indeed the key to all revelation as well.[1]

Wolfhart Pannenberg was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1928, and though he was baptized as an infant into the established Lutheran church he was raised in a secular household. Despite his unchurched and secular background, Pannenberg was apparently a spiritually sensitive person and at sixteen was privy to what he would later call his “Light Experience”.[2] This powerful experience led Pannenberg to critically investigate the world’s religions in light of their philosophical and intellectual merits. The results of this intellectual quest, combined with the guidance of Pannenberg’s literature teacher who was a member of the Confessing Church during the second World War, led Pannenberg to conclude that Christianity was the most reasonable faith system available and therefore he became a Christian.[3]

For virtually his entire career, Pannenberg was a creature of the academy and it is in the field of academic theology that he produced the most written work. However, it should not be overlooked that his contributions in defending the historicity of the Resurrection have influenced and continue to shape the thinking of Evangelical theologians and New Testament scholars to the present day.[4] Indeed, this aspect of his theological output is probably his most enduring legacy. While Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection has won him many admirers in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic world, his liberal German peers were shocked at his findings. While Pannenberg was undoubtedly shaped by the liberal biblical criticism that was, and remains, rampant in German universities, this did not stop him from making the case that the evidence from the Pauline epistles and the existence of the church itself plausibly leads to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead.[5]

Dean of Beeson Divinity School Timothy George, is right to point out that Pannenberg’s thinking on several critical theological issues present some problems for Evangelicals.[6] Pannenberg rejected the Virgin birth, Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the concept of biblical inerrancy. However, this did not stop Pannenberg from taking the scriptures seriously and he felt that since the Bible was the record of God’s dealings with man it should be studied vigorously. In conclusion, Evangelicals should approach the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg critically but also with an eye to learn. Despite his errors on important theological issues, Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection has inspired many other Evangelical theologians and scholars to defend the Resurrection’s historicity with an even greater level of sophistication. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how many have been persuaded to accept the claims of Christ in part due to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg demonstrated that Christianity is a belief system that is firmly grounded in historical events and therefore one need not sacrifice rational thinking and critical investigation on the altar of blind faith. For this reason alone, Pannenberg deserves our enduring respect and admiration.

References

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: (The Westminster Press, 1977), 67-69.

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things (March 2012): 3-4. Accessed April 5, 2017. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the­achievement­of­wolfhart­pannenberg.

[3] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” 3.

[4] William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus” Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus. It is evident when reading Craig that the influence of Pannenberg is present. This is only reasonable as Craig did doctoral work under Pannenberg in Germany. Other Evangelicals like Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have built on Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection.

[5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 88-106.

[6] David Roach “Dean George on Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Accessed April 5, 2017 http://www.beesondivinity.com/fromthedean/posts/dean-george-on-wolfhart-pannenberg.

For Further Reading

Braaten, Carl E., and Philip Clayton, eds. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Twelve American Critiques with an Autobiographical Essay and Response. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1988.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983.

Olive, Don. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972.