Nathan A. Finn

Historian, Theologian, Teacher, Preacher

Theology Archive

Friday

31

January 2014

4

COMMENTS

On Trying to be a Missional Family

Written by , Posted in Family, Ministry, Missions, Spirituality, Theology

The Finns want to be a missional family. Leah and I desire for our family ethos to reflect a key truth that is helpfully summarized in the “Missional Manifesto“: “God is a sending God, a missionary God, who has called His people, the church, to be missionary agents of His love and glory.” We want our words and deeds to point others to Christ. We want our family to be a lighthouse for the kingdom to our neighbors, friends and extended family.

In recent months, Leah and I have been talking more and more about practical ways that we can proclaim Christ, serve others and promote shalom in our context. We want to be good missional stewards of our blessings, including being a part of a thriving congregation that gathers in one of the most ethnically diverse and culturally eclectic cities in the South and being a part of a seminary community that is focused upon equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission. Our current season in Jackson, Tennessee, where I am on sabbatical for six months, has proven to be a helpful time for us to reflect on how we can be more intentional in cultivating missional priorities upon our return to North Carolina this summer. We have loads of ideas, some of which might even come to fruition! But I thought I would share some of the initial steps we have begun to take.

First, like most Christian parents, we want to form our children in such a way that we point them to Christ and teach them a biblical worldview. But we also want to build mission into our family’s DNA so that, Lord willing, it one day carries over into each of our children’s spiritual DNA. I blogged several weeks back at Between the Times about how we are teaching our children to pray for the fulfillment of the Great Commission as part of our daily family worship time. We want the Finnlings to feel the burden of the world’s spiritual lostness, even as we pray that they would recognize their own lostness and need for the saving work of Jesus Christ in their own lives. Perhaps as they learn more and more about the world that God so loves, they will also come to understand his love for them and his desire that they be saved.

AnnieLottieJarMore recently, we have designated a mason jar to be our “Annie and Lottie Jar”  for missions. Like many Southern Baptist families, we give every year to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American missions and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for global missions. But this has always been a decision that Leah and I make: “So, how much do we want to give this year?” But beginning with 2014, we want to also collect money year round in our Annie and Lottie Jar. Money collected between January and Easter will be added to our Annie Armstrong giving, while money collected between Easter and December will be added to our Lottie Moon giving. This will allow us to give more and also encourage the Finnlings to give toward Great Commission advance. You can see a picture of our Annie and Lottie Jar to the right.

Like many families, we have recently begun sponsoring a child through Compassion International. Our children were involved in this decision and are excited that the Lord will use our gifts to help with Sonjita’s education and physical health, introduce her to the gospel and sound biblical teaching and protect her from those who would exploit her in various ways. The latter is important because Sonjita lives in a nation where child slavery and human sex trafficking are perennial threats. As an added bonus, Sonjita is around the same age as our two oldest children, so they already feel a connection with her. We look forward to watching Sonjita grow up, from a distance, and we are eager to pray for her physical and ultimately spiritual wellbeing. (By the way, if you are skeptical of child-sponsorship ministries like Compassion International, I would recommend you read this helpful article from the June 2013 issue of Christianity Today.)

Lord willing, these are the first steps toward a much more intentionally missional lifestyle for our entire family. It is our hope that our family’s future is an increasingly missional future filled with regular gospel hospitality, family service projects, family mission trips, generous giving of time and resources (both planned and spontaneous) and ongoing evangelistic conversations with non-Christians. I’d love to hear from readers how the Lord is leading your family to live out a missional vision in your context.

Wednesday

29

January 2014

0

COMMENTS

Monday

27

January 2014

15

COMMENTS

Is Monergism Necessarily Fatalistic?

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

Last week, I blogged on the topic “Is Synergism Necessarily Semi-Pelagian?” I did so with some hesitation. I do not like to blog about issues related to Calvinism and Arminianism because I don’t like the turn these discussions often take on the internet. However, the blog post received a lot of (mostly) positive feedback from folks across the theological spectrum. I have been asked by several readers to follow up by addressing the question of whether or not monergism is necessarily fatalistic, since synergists sometimes unfairly claim it is. Angels, I apologize once again. Please don’t put me on “the list.”

I do want to offer one caveat up front: while this is something of a parallel accusation to the one I addressed in the previous post, there is an important dissimilarity. Semi-Pelagianism is a theological position that arose at a particular point in church history and then was condemned as error. Fatalism is not a theological position per se, but is more an unhelpful philosophical outlook. So while monergists who equate synergism with semi-Pelagianism are at least implicitly charging synergists with heresy (or at least heterodoxy), synergists who equate monergism with fatalism are at least implicitly charging monergists with embracing a totally non-Christian position.

Some synergist theologians and philosophers accuse monergists of being fatalists. Sometimes, this is a nuanced argument that simply suggests monergism has fatalistic tendencies. Other times, the ignorant and slanderous accusation is made that the “god” of Calvinism is closer to Allah than Yahweh. As with the synergism accusations, often folks on blogs are far worse than scholars. For some reason, the internet seems to raise the temperature of the ill-informed with a theological axe to grind. While God may have foreordained some monergists to be jerks, nasty synergists, of course, choose to act out in nastiness by a free exercise of their will.

Strictly speaking, monergists are not fatalists. Fate, at least as traditionally understood, is purposeless and arbitrary. A sense of hopelessness and inevitability characterizes the one who is the victim of fate. No matter what you do, your choices are meaningless. You are captive to forces beyond your control and comprehension that have no personal interest in your wellbeing.

This is absolutely not what monergists believe. It is true that monergists understand God’s providence to mean that he has in some way sovereignly foreordained all that comes to pass, yet without being the author of evil. This would include, of course, who will be saved. But this is not fate for two reasons. First, providence is not purposeless and arbitrary—in fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. Providence is the outworking of a particular plan by the Lord of all creation. Second, providence does not render our choices meaningless. Nearly all monergists affirm that, while God’s providence is “prior” to our choices, it works in tandem with our choices.

So, when we look to conversion, the monergist believes that God has chosen who will be saved as part of his wider providential plan. But monergists also believe that we make real choices for which we are really accountable. Nobody will be saved apart from God’s predestining him or her for salvation. Nobody will be saved apart from a conscious choice to turn from his or her sins and trust in Christ as Lord and Savior. From an eternal perspective, which we only have glimpses into, God has a plan that is infallibly being executed through his providence. From an earthly perspective, of which we have a clearer picture, every moment of one’s spiritual journey is based upon decisions that he or she makes. Though it can irritate some synergists, most monergists do not hesitate to appeal to mystery when it comes to the question of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. Calvin did this frequently.

Just as some synergists are semi-Pelagian, some monergists are fatalists. Certain forms of High Calvinism, often called hyper-Calvinism, eliminate meaningful human response. Some of them argue for eternal justification, or the idea that we are already saved before the foundation of the world. Some of them deny the necessity of a faith response to the gospel. Some of them are antinomian, arguing that God’s moral commands are irrelevant for the elect. Some of them argue that God is the author of evil. But these fatalistic ideas are not necessary to monergists; few, in fact, advocate them.

Tobias Crisp (1600-1643)

In the same way that some synergists who are not semi-Pelagian sound like semi-Pelagians when they are being incautious or sloppy, some monergists who are not fatalists sound like fatalists when they are being incautious or sloppy. I have heard several monergists say fatalistic things and then backtrack upon being lovingly confronted. I have only ever met one honest to goodness fatalist in a Southern Baptist or other evangelical context. Almost no monergists  wear Tobias Crisp jammies to bed at night.

If you know a monergist who sounds like a fatalist, do the Christ-like thing and assume he is not, in fact, a hyper-Calvinist or antinomian, but rather is not really thinking about what he is saying. Instead of making pointed (and perhaps harsh) accusations, have a real theological conversation with your brother. Press him as you would want to be pressed if you were unwittingly saying heterodox things in your own teaching.

This is the bottom line for me: while monergists and synergists can’t both be right, most folks in both camps are not so wrong that they are off the orthodox reservation. The vast majority of evangelical monergists and synergists are preaching the same gospel, even if they nuance aspects of it differently. So let’s talk to each other like grown-up brothers and sisters in Christ rather than treating those with different views like theological lepers.

One more thing: I want to challenge my synergist friends to take the lead in lovingly confronting folks who say abberant things in your own camp at least as often as you debate your monergist friends. And the same goes for monergists—lovingly confront those in your camp who advance unhelpful views at least as often as you debate synergists. I sincerely believe that this sort of self-policing will help reign in some of the most unhelpful voices in our wider discussions about Calvinism, Arminianism, Molinism, Traditionalism and all the other “isms” that represent our honest attempts to wrestle with what the Scriptures teach us about the nature of salvation.

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Tuesday

21

January 2014

102

COMMENTS

Is Synergism Necessarily Semi-Pelagian?

Written by , Posted in History, Theology

It is with great hesitation that I break with my usual practice and blog about a topic related to Calvinism and Arminianism. Anytime someone blogs on this subject, an angel loses its wings. I want to apologize, in advance, to the poor angel who is now grounded because of this post.

Several years ago, I was reading a book by a well-known Reformed theologian with a significant following. In his treatise, he argued that early Arminianism was a revival of semi-Pelagianism; the latter is a heresy that was condemned in the sixth century at the Council of Orange (529). More recently, I was listening to a different Reformed scholar teach on the debate between the Calvinists and Remonstrants that led to the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619. This second brother made exactly the same argument: Arminianism represents a revival of semi-Pelagianism. Their point, of course, is that Arminianism is at least borderline heretical and that Calvinism, as understood by the scholars in question, is more or less the same thing as the gospel.

As a historical theologian, this sort of argumentation drives me bananas. The scholars in question, each of whom holds a prestigious Ph.D. and has taught for many years in more than one theological seminary, ought to know better. I think it is at least possible that their polemics ran ahead of their scholarship in this particular case. Unfortunately, this sort of approach is even worse at the popular level. Who hasn’t read a highly caffeinated Reformed blogger at one time or another who basically draws a (barely) dotted line from “two-point” Calvinism, to Arminianism, to semi-Pelagianism, to Pelagianism?

Now I know that Arminians do this same sort of thing sometimes. Amyraldianism is just a poor man’s version of Calvinism, which in turn is just a Christianized version of fatalism, which makes Calvinism similar to Islam. Yep, I’ve heard that one before, also from folks who ought to know better. But since the Calvinists own the internet, which God predestined Al Gore to invent just for them, I want to focus this particular post on offenders who are more Reformed in their inclinations.

Arminians are soteriological synergists. They believe that men and women cooperate with God’s grace in their conversion. God’s grace is prior to conversion, and no person takes the “first step” toward God in his or her salvation. Nevertheless, regeneration is the result of a human response to God’s gracious initiative. This is different than monergism, which is affirmed by Calvinists. In monergism, God is the only actor in human conversion, regenerating the dead heart and granting the ability to believe. For the monergist, men and women don’t cooperative with God’s grace–salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.

John Cassian (c. 360-435)

Though Arminians are synergists, they are not semi-Pelagians, even though the latter are also synergists. Semi-Pelagians believe that original sin, though real, does not impair human ability to believe. Therefore, we take the “first step” toward God when we believe. God then responds to our faith by giving us the grace that completes our conversion. This is not what Arminians believe. This is not what “two-point” Calvinists believe. This is not what “Traditionalists” in the Southern Baptist Convention believe. None of these latter groups, all of whom affirm synergism, believes that we up and decide to trust in Christ and then God responds by giving us saving grace. Instead, they argue–like Calvinists–that God graciously initiates our salvation and is involved in every step of conversion, even if they nuance matters differently than monergistic believers. Synergism is not necessarily semi-Pelagianism, in much the same way that monergism is not necessarly fatalism.

To be clear, I am not saying that semi-Pelagianism is not a real danger. I have heard preachers say semi-Pelagian(ish) things in their sermons. For example, I have heard many preachers say things like, “God has done all he is going to do at the cross, and now he is waiting for you to respond. It’s all up to you. If you choose to believe, he will give you grace and save you.” That certainly smacks of semi-Pelagianism, mixed with a dose of revivalism. It makes it sound as though God is waiting idly by to respond to our free will decisions. This sort of preaching is a real problem, sometimes among Southern Baptists, and we ought to be constantly on guard that we are not slipping into human-centered gospel presentations.

And yet, even when I hear this sort of rhetoric, I highly doubt it is convictional semi-Pelagianism as much as it is theological sloppiness–not an uncommon thing among even the most educated and erudite preachers. Almost certainly the brother who spoke such things would deny semi-Pelagianism if you explained it and contrasted it with other views. There is about a 3% chance he would respond, “Yep, I’m totally a semi-Pelagian. John Cassian is my homeboy.” This preacher doesn’t need to be demonized with a label that only sticks if you squint–he needs to be gently corrected in a real conversation by someone who cares about him as a brother in Christ and values his ministry as a preacher.

For a helpful, brief resource on the differences between Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism, check out this insightful post by Marc Cortez. In the interest of full disclosure, it was reading Cortez’s post that inspired me to write my own thoughts on this topic.

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Wednesday

15

January 2014

1

COMMENTS