by Mike Ratliff
18 Ἀποκαλύπτεται γὰρ ὀργὴ θεοῦ ἀπ᾽ οὐρανοῦ ἐπὶ πᾶσαν ἀσέβειαν καὶ ἀδικίαν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τὴν ἀλήθειαν ἐν ἀδικίᾳ κατεχόντων, 19 διότι τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ φανερόν ἐστιν ἐν αὐτοῖς· ὁ θεὸς γὰρ αὐτοῖς ἐφανέρωσεν. (Romans 1:18,19 NA27)
18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness repress the truth. 19 For that which may be known of God is manifest among them because God has manifested it to them. (Romans 1:18,19 Possessing the Treasure New Testament V1)
The circus that visible church has become wears me out. I know that we must continue to oppose the wolves in sheep’s clothing. I know that we must continue to expose the false prophets and false doctrines while, at the same time, continue to teach the truth and point God’s people to the light and away from the darkness. I know this, but it can be tiring at times. However, I have also learned that when that weariness comes, it is also a time of reflection, and most of the time, God uses it to show me a root cause of much of the weeds we are pulling up. Isn’t it better to find the root and kill it then to simply pull up what comes from it?
Let’s start with a reflective question. Is how we interpret the Bible a surface level issue or a root level issue in our theology and, therefore, the foundation of our understanding of who God is, his character, his sovereignty, et cetera? Of course, it is at the very heart or root of everything. This applies to our understanding man, his fallenness, and total inability because of being dead in trespasses and sins as taught in Sacred Scripture. If our method of Biblical interpretation is not literal, but more relativistic in nature colored heavily by presuppositions that are man-centered, for instance, then those passages in God’s Word that speak of His Sovereignty and freedom as the Potter to do with the clay as he sees fit, are repugnant and come across meaning anything but what they say literally.
Let’s look at an example. My son is a physician. He went to Medical School at the University of Kansas and did his Residency at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. but he got his undergraduate, pre-med, degree at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. I remember in his Junior year, he lived in a house with three other young men one of whom was a student in the George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor, which is on the West side of I-35 while the main campus of the University is on the East side. In any case, we were down there for Parents Weekend that year in September and as I was sitting in that smallish living room, I witnessed that seminary student being berated and chastised by the rest of his roommates continually about something. When we left to go to lunch, I asked what the deal was, my son said, “Oh, he’s a Calvinist and we’re just bugging him about it.” This was in the Fall of 2001 so it was prior to my own personal spiritual awakening, but it caused such a “start” in me. I asked him why they were giving him such a hard time about it and why that was such a big deal. He told me that he was probably the only Calvinist at the seminary so he was probably used to it. I thought it was very cruel.
One of the Professors of Theology at Truett is Roger E. Oslon. Here is part of his biography from his own blog:
I am a Christian theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion. I am also a proud Arminian! And I’m influenced by Pietism. Minnesota is my home state and I have lived in Iowa, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Germany and now Texas. My current professional status since 1999 is Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. Before joining the Baylor community I taught at Bethel College (now Bethel University) in St. Paul, Minnesota. My alma mater is Rice University (Ph.D. in Religious Studies). I graduated from North American Baptist Seminary (now Sioux Falls Seminary). During the mid-1990s I served as editor of Christian Scholar’s Review and have been a contributing editor of Christianity Today for several years. My articles have appeared in those publications as well as in Christian Century, Theology Today, Dialog, Scottish Journal of Theology and many other religious and theological periodicals. Among my published works are: 20th Century Theology (co-authored with the late Stanley J. Grenz), The Story of Christian Theology (winner of the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association), The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology. My book Against Calvinism: Rescuing God’s Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology will be published by Zondervan in 2011.
The following is from one of his posts titled: Some thoughts about conversations /debates between Calvinists and Arminians. I have highlighted in bold some comments he made that really struck me about the topic we are discussing here. The words in ALL CAPS were done by him.
The other day I was the guest on a 30 minute Christian radio program hosted by a 5 points Calvinist. He treated me very cordially, but tried vigorously to prove Calvinism true and Arminianism false–in 30 minutes! It seemed to me that he assumed that somehow I simply was ignoring certain Bible passages and just needed to hear them read to me “one more time,” as it were. I wasn’t offended, but I was bemused. Does he think I haven’t studied the Bible? Does he think there are no other interpretations of, say Romans 9, than his? I always come away from encounters like that (and I have more of them scheduled) just somewhat bewildered.
The feeling I have during and after them is like a ship passing another one in the night. We are on such different wave lengths with regard to presuppositions (we both have them even if they don’t think they do), visions of the character of God, hermeneutics. And maybe underlying all of it is a different approach to Scripture. I’ve blogged about this before. Reading Smith’s book brought it back to mind forcefully.
I’m beginning to think even more than before that most 5 points Calvinists I know approach the Bible very differently from most non-Calvinists I know. (I’m talking only about evangelicals here; I’m not including in “non-Calvinists” liberals or unbelievers.) For example (I’m musing here because I’m not sure about this): It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be. In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it. I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust. This is why Wesley said of Romans 9 (paraphrasing here)–whatever it means it cannot mean that! He means, no matter how much Romans 9 (and other Scripture passages) SEEM to say that God selects some people to save UNCONDITIONALLY, leaving others WHO HE COULD SAVE (because election to salvation is unconditional and saving grace is irresistible) to eternal torment in hell, it cannot mean that. Why? Because God is good.
I am sure if you have been reading my posts and studied your Bible along with me for any time at all then you know for certain that Dr. Olson and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Biblical interpretation. I am a Monergist, God is Sovereign. What Paul wrote in Romans 9 does not just seem to say that God unconditionally saves some while not saving others, it DOES SAY IT and that settles it. Dr. Olson and those like him are synergists and, therefore, they approach the Bible with a totally different set of presuppositions than those of us who are Monergists. As you can see in his statements here, he is ready to not literally believe what the Bible clearly says because that would mean his presuppositions would be wrong, so, regardless, it can’t mean that.
At the root of all our Biblical interpretation are our presuppositions. That is why all of our theology must be rooted in Christ and established in faith. That is why we approach God’s Word here at Possessing the Treasure the way we do. It is not open to multiple interpretations, that is, neutrality or relativism, both of which are veiled in agnosticism or unbelief, which is a failure to walk in Christ, an obscuring of Christian commitment and distinctive, and a suppression of the truth (Romans 1:21, 25).
The God who has no choice but to save everyone or he is not good is not the God of the Bible. Instead, he is the made-up god of those with the synergistic presuppositional view of the Bible. The God I worship is Sovereign, Holy, Righteous, and Just. He does as he pleases and no one stays his hand. Jesus Christ revealed him to us (John 1: 18).
Soli Deo Gloria!