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Calvin's Doctrine of Predestination

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By Richard A. Muller

 

John Calvin was part of a long line of thinkers who based their doctrine of predestination on the Augustinian interpretation of St. Paul.[34] Rather than call predestination the central dogma of Calvin’s system, we recognize its importance within a larger complex of soteriological motifs. Within that complex it functioned as the keystone of a doctrinal arch,[35] having a unitive significance within the structure of Calvin’s thought.[36] The concept of an eternal predestination of the elect functions as a corollary of Calvin’s emphasis on God’s free and sovereign grace in salvation: the problems of human inability and man’s reliance for salvation upon the sovereign grace of God as mediated by Christ are the two grounds of Calvin’s predestinarian conceptuality.[37]

 

The central definition of the double decree around which subsequent discussion revolves is as follows:

 

We call predestination God’s eternal decree (aeternum Dei decretum), by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition, rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others. Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other of these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to death.[38]

 

And at somewhat greater length,

 

As Scripture, then, clearly shows, we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable counsel (immutabile consilio) those whom he had determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction. We assert that, with respect to the elect, this counsel was founded upon his freely given mercy, without regard to human worth; but by his just and irreprehensible but incomprehensible judgement he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation. Now among the elect we regard the call as a testimony of election. Then we hold justification another sign of its manifestation, until they come into the glory in which the fulfillment of election lies. But as the Lord seals his elect by call and justification, so, by shutting off the reprobate from knowledge of his name or from the sanctification of his Spirit, he, as it were, reveals by these marks what sort of judgment awaits them.[39]

 

Predestination, Providence, and the Divine Will

 

Apart from the tentative ecclesiological location of predestination in the 1536 Institutio and in the catechism of 1542 (which was not without its influence on writers like Ursinus, Danaeus, Perkins and perhaps even Melanchthon in the final edition of his Loci communes), Calvin gravitated toward an understanding of predestination as the focal point of soteriology. This, according to Barth, was the result of Calvin’s need for a “more comprehensive consideration of the question” of the systematic significance of the decree and, in a sense, the ground for the “more radical turn” given to the issue of predestination by later Reformed writers.[40] The order that Calvin adopted made “the doctrine of election in some degree the consummation of that of reconciliation, introducing it not in the middle or at the beginning, but as the ultimate and decisive word which sheds additional light upon all that has gone before.”[41]

 

Barth’s argument serves to underline the point that the 1559 Institutes does not represent a movement of predestination out of the doctrine of God but a clarification of the place given to predestination already in 1539 and 1554, effected chiefly by the removal of providence to the doctrine of God. Despite the logical association of predestination with assertions regarding the character of the divine will, Calvin chose against any systematic attempt to “deduce” other doctrine from that of the decrees.[42] The solidification of this placement of doctrine in 1559 and the similarity of placement in the catechism of 1537 and the Confessio Gallicana may be seen as a centralization of predestination in a physical sense so that, like the doctrines of God and providence in Book I and the doctrine of Christ in Book II of the Institutes, it can provide an explanation in terms of the divine sovereignty and grace for all that precedes and follows it.[43]

 

When Calvin wrote of providence and predestination, he did not adopt the scholastic determination of predestination as a special category of providence. Both in his 1539 edition of the Institutes and in the treatise, De aeterna praedestinatione dei (1552), Calvin set providence below predestination in his order of discussion, implying that the work of providence lies under and serves predestination. Predestination occupies much the same position in Book III of the Institutes (1559) that providence occupies in Book I. Even as providence represents the power of God maintaining and nourishing the world so does predestination show forth God’s gracious will in calling and preserving the body of the church.[44] But the salvation of man is the great purpose of the entirety of God’s work: “God has destined all things for our good and salvation.”[45] Predestination attains a logical priority over providence since predestination more than providence tends toward this end.

 

The result of this particular implication for the systematic relationship of predestination to providence—and perhaps to all other doctrine—is to create a tension within the structure of the Institutes itself. The traditional relation of the doctrines seems to be denied as well as omitted, leaving room for a variety of formulations in the thought of Calvin’s followers. Wendel suggests that this conditioning or determining of providence by the eternal decrees of predestination might lead one to expect that Calvin would have “put predestination immediately after the exposition on providence—even, indeed, before the chapters on creation. . . .”[46] Wendel does not, however, carry his argument to its logical conclusion. If predestination does indeed become determinative of providence in the logic of Calvin’s system, might not the positions of predestination and providence be reversed? Predestination, as Otten hypothesized, can be set first as the general principle followed by providence, the means of execution.[47]

 

Calvin’s use of the language of necessity and of fourfold causality in discussing these doctrines relates his thought not only to the formulation of Augustine but also to the tradition of medieval Augustinianism.[48] We note the relationship particularly in the Aristotelian causal structure utilized by Calvin in his interpretation of Ephesians 1:5-8: predestination described according to its first, formal, material, and final causes. This passage and its exegesis, moreover, are crucial to Calvin’s doctrine insofar as they stress the relationship of Christ as mediator to the decree.[49] Calvin comes to terms with the scholastic Augustinianism of primary and secondary causes and of the necessary ordering of events and things at the level of primary causality without a disruption at the level of secondary or inferior causality of the contingent character of things or of the responsibility of human beings for all acts of will.[50] “Here,” comments Mozley, “is the doctrine of the schools. . . .”[51] Here also is Calvin’s defense against the charge of Bolsec that he had followed Lorenzo Valla in the development of an utterly deterministic system: this is not a thoroughgoing necessitarianism insofar as it respects contingency and real possibility at the level of secondary causes. Calvin could state categorically that God had not “necessitated the sin of men.”[52]

 

Election, Reprobation, and the Causal Order

 

The epistemological order of the 1559 Institutes does not represent a categorical rejection of other orderings of loci. Although he placed faith prior to predestination in the Institutes, Calvin never ceased to emphasize the causal priority of God’s elective decree. “Election . . . is the mother of faith.”[53] Faith leads the Christian reverently to examine the decree: “we must climb higher, lest the effect overwhelm the cause.”[54] In order to understand the merit of Christ, a Christian needs “go back to God’s ordinance, which is the first cause” (quae prima causa est).[55] While Calvin preferred to follow the inductive order of faith in search of assurance, he made full use of the language of Aristotelian causality to demonstrate the synthetic and a priori structure of the ordo salutis. We have already noted Calvin’s commentary on the first chapter of Ephesians. A similar interest in the causal order appears in Calvin’s commentary on Romans 8:28: “It is certain that Paul notes the order, so that we may know that the fact that everything happens to the saints for their salvation depends on the free adoption of God as the first cause” (prima causa).[56]

 

In Calvin’s formulation both election and reprobation rest on the sovereign will of God and are to be equally considered as results of a single divine counsel.[57] Unlike many of his contemporaries and successors, Calvin did not shrink from the conclusion that permission and volition are one in the mind of an eternal and utterly sovereign God: reprobation could not be viewed simply as a passive act of God.[58] This teaching represents the more fully deterministic side of Calvin’s doctrine—a point at which the early orthodox would modify formulae and seek other models. Nevertheless, in view of Calvin’s emphasis on knowledge of God, reprobation does not appear the exact coordinate of election. It occurs apart from Christ and therefore apart from any mediated knowledge of God.[59] If those men who remain in the mass of perdition inquire into themselves they can only know their own sin and infer its penalty of damnation. They cannot know of the decree of reprobation as a cause of their condition.[60] As Jacobs comments, reprobation is set in stark isolation from other doctrine.[61]

 

There is no particular attempt to emphasize the trinitarian aspect of the doctrine at this stage of the exposition. Nevertheless Calvin does not project here an image of the Father as deus nudus absconditus.[62] Calvin insists that the Son is more than a means to the end set forth by the Father. Christ elects in common with the Father and may be considered as the “author” of the decree.[63] This formulation points toward a distinction between the second person of the trinity considered as God and the person of the Son in his mediatorial office, in union with the flesh: “. . . although Christ interposes himself as mediator, he claims for himself, in common with the Father, the jus eligendi, the right to choose.”[64] The certainty of Christ’s mediation and the certainty of his promise are grounded in his divinity, since the promise he conveys in his incarnation sub forma servi is the same promise which he decreed in his eternal divinity.[65]

 

Election is preeminently a demonstration of God’s gracious will in Christ shown forth in calling, justification, and sanctification. It is a doctrine that naturally comes into relation with the doctrines of faith and church, of word and sacrament and, in view of Calvin’s placement of the doctrinal topics in the last edition of the Institutes, with the doctrine of the last things as well.[66] It provides a causal focus for soteriology and, as such, is a doctrine of central importance—but only in relation to its temporal anchor, the work of Christ. We know of our election as it is manifested and confirmed in Christ. Election is not to be inferred from works.[67] Assurance ultimately rests on Christ who is the “mirror” of election.[68]

 

Assurance of Salvation: The Problem of the “Practical Syllogism”

 

Wilhelm Niesel has emphatically denied that Calvin’s thought includes the so-called syllogismus practicus of later Calvinism which, in its consideration of signs of election apart from Christ, seems to depart from the sola gratia that characterized early Reformed theology.[69] Yet Calvin does point to an assurance that comes not directly from Christ and the Gospel but from the effects of the application of Christ’s work and from the effects of the hearing of the Gospel.[70] Calvin offers not a denial of the syllogismus practicus but a warning against its misuse and misinterpretation.[71] Christ is the foundation of election and assurance, but there is an assurance also to be gained from the spiritual benefits conferred upon the elect by God.

 

In presenting his arguments on effectual calling,[72] Calvin notes that whereas the preaching of the Gospel finds its source in the election of God (Evangelii praedicatio ex fonte electionis scaturit), preaching itself cannot be a ground of assurance, since preaching addresses both the elect and the reprobate.[73] The effectiveness of the divine call, then, is not immediately obvious from the fact of Christian preaching. This problem, in turn, raises the problem of assurance: for there is truly a call and the call does rest upon the free election of God. “If indeed we ask whom he calls, and according to what reason: he answers, those whom he has elected.”[74] The call of the Gospel makes God’s eternal election manifest: thus it is faith that confirms election, verifies it, seals it upon the heart.[75] Assurance begins with this result, with faith, not with the decree itself. The theological principle operative here is, of course, the distinction between the decree and its execution: assurance derives from faith, “since if we try to penetrate to the eternal ordination of God, that profound abyss shall swallow us.”[76] The doctrine of election, as it is preached, derives, however, from revelation in which the ordination of God is made plain.[77]

 

This remaining separation of the objective declaration of God’s electing will from the subjective apprehension of election by faith leads Calvin to approach the formulation of the syllogismus practicus.

 

Therefore, as it is wrong to make the force of election contingent upon faith in the gospel, by which we feel that it appertains to us, so we shall be following the best order if, in seeking the certitude of our election, we cling to those latter signs which are sure attestations of it.[78]

 

Faith recognizes that the objective preaching of election in the Word of God has its subjective reference, but final confirmation of personal salvation derives from the “latter signs,” the signa posteriora, of election. Calvin fully recognizes the danger in this thought and strives to avoid reducing the quest for assurance to empiricism: there can be no movement from personal righteousness upward to the eternal counsel apart from the Word in Scripture or apart from Christ in whom we are adopted.[79] “Still,” and here Calvin introduces briefly the confirmatory latter signs, “this does not prevent believers from feeling that the benefits they receive daily from God’s hand are derived from that secret adoption.”[80]

 

If Niesel overstates his case in claiming “Nowhere does Calvin teach the Syllogismus practicus,” he is nevertheless quite correct in separating Calvin from all teaching which infers election from outward activity and from any formal, logical solution to the problem of assurance. In addition, Niesel has a very clear sense of the relationship of an empirical syllogismus practicus to the problem of predestination as a “central dogma.”

 

The position which Calvin thus takes up makes it clear that his theology is something very different from a predestination system of thought concerning the relation of God and man, in which the Syllogismus practicus is assigned an important place. It becomes clear that Calvin is strictly concerned with the theology of revelation and that his teaching is wholly centered on Jesus Christ.[81]

 

If the system of doctrine is to remain christocentric, Christ and the Word of God which calls man to Christ must remain the center and focus of assurance. Any other focus—particularly an empirical focus upon outward signs of election—creates an alternative structure of assurance, indeed an alternative structure of redemption according to which Christ’s objective satisfaction for sin hardly touches the life of the believer and the whole of piety looks to the decree, to the promulgation of the deus nudus absconditus. This possible function of a highly developed, empirical form of the syllogismus practicus makes the problem of assurance and its formal solution an index of the relation of predestination and Christology within the Reformed system, for it is here in particular that the decree, the vertical causal axis of the soteriological structure can begin to overshadow or exclude the horizontal or temporal axis of salvation denoted by the work of Christ and its application by the Spirit.

 

From Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins Richard A. Muller

 

 

 

ENDNOTES

 

[34]. Cf. A. M. Hunter, The Teaching of Calvin (London, 1950), pp. 96-99; also Luchesius Smits, Saint Augustine dans l'oeuvre de Jean Calvin, 2 vols. (Assen, 1957-58), vol. I, pp. 96-110; and J. B. Mozley, A Treatise on the Augustinian Doctrine of Predestination, 2nd edition (N.Y., 1878), pp. 267; 393-409. Wendel and Niesel should be consulted on this as on all problems concerning Calvin’s theology. The fourth volume of Emile Doumergue, Jean Calvin, les hommes et les choses de son temps, is still a useful survey of Calvin’s thought. The epoch-making work in the field is Paul Jacobs’ Prädestination und Verantwortlichkeit bei Calvin which documented carefully the soteriological intention of Calvin’s doctrine of predestination. Hans Otten, Calvins theologische Anschauung von der Prädestination (Munich, 1938) adopts a more traditional approach to the subject but, in its basic argument, tends to support Jacobs’ thesis. Among the works available in English, Fred H. Klooster, Calvin’s Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids, 1961) presents a well-balanced account.

 

[35]. Doumergue, IV, 357.

 

[36]. Hermann Bauke, Die Probleme der Theologie Calvins (Leipzig, 1922), pp. 84-85. Bauke views Calvin’s theology as a complexio oppositorum which has no single dogmatic center (ibid., pp. 16-19).

 

[37]. Cf. Wendel, p. 269.

 

[38]. Inst., III.xxi.5.

 

[39]. Inst., III.xxi.7.

 

[40]. CD, II/2, p. 85.

 

[41]. Ibid., pp. 83-84.

 

[42]. Cf. Barth, CD II/2, p. 86. Note his categorical denial of the idea of a ‘predestinarian system’ not only for Calvin but also for Calvin’s successors.

 

[43]. Ibid., p. 86.

 

[44]. Inst., I.xvi; III.xxi.7; cf. Wendel, p. 268.

 

[45]. Inst., I.xvi.22; cf. I.xvi.6.

 

[46]. Wendel, p. 268.

 

[47]. Cf. Otten, p. 99 where he reflects on the priority of predestination over providence in the 1539 edition. Barth disagrees (II/2, p. 46).

 

[48]. Cf. Inst., I.xvi.9: “Unde iterum videmus non temere in scholis inventas fuisse distinctiones de necessitate secundum quid, et absoluta: item consequentis et consequentiae: quando ossa Filii sui Deus, quae a fractura exemerat, fragilitati subiecit, atque ita restrinxit ad consilii sua necessitatem quod naturaliter contingere potuit.” Calvin here clearly accepts and utilizes the language of necessity as found in, for example, Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I, q. 19, art. 3 and Duns Scotus, In quatuor libros sententiarum, ed. Gratianus Brixianus (Venice, 1490), I, dist. 39, q. 35. Cf. Mozley, pp. 399-401.

 

[49]. CO, LI, 148-150; cf. Barth, CD II/2, p. 88; note also Calvin’s reference to Eph. 1:3 in Inst., III.xxii.10: “Nam a serie causarum et effectuum facile colligitur, ubi dicit Paulus nos esse refertos omni benedictione spirituali, sicut nos elegerat Deus arte mundi creationem . . . quia elegit Deus tantum quos voluit.” The fourfold Aristotelian structure of causality appears also in Inst., III. xiv.21.

 

[50]. Inst., I.xvi.8-9, on providence; II.xii.7 on the birth of Christ and cf. De aeterna praedestinatione dei, CO VIII, 354-355, 360, also on providence.

 

[51]. Mozley, p. 396.

 

[52]. Reply to Bolsec, CO, VIII, 182. And compare the distinction made between predestinarianism and determinism by J.K.S. Reid in his introduction to John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God (London, 1961) pp. 25-27. Also see the discussion of the controversy in Henry, The Life and Times of John Calvin (N.Y., 1851-52), vol. II, pp. 130-137.

 

[53]. Inst., III.xxii.10.

 

[54]. Inst., III.xxiv.3: Calvin here argues that assurance begins with the Word and that believers must therefore seek assurance of salvation from the Gospel rather than from an attempt to penetrate the eternal ordination of God. On the other hand, God has revealed in the Gospel his eternal election as the cause of salvation: “Sed ubi earn nobis patefecit Deus, altius conscendere oportet, ne effectus causam obruat. Quid enim magis absurdum et indignem, quum Scriptura doceat nos esse illuminatos, sicuti nos Deus elegit, lucis huius fulgore oculos nostras perstringi, ut attendere ad electionem recusent?”

 

[55]. Inst., II.xvii.1.

 

[56]. CO, XLIX, 158: “Certum est enim ideo notari ordinem, ut sciamus a gratuita Dei adoptione tanquam a prima causa pendere, quod sanctis omnia in salutem succedunt.”

 

[57]. Inst., III.xxi.5-7; xxii.6. If Augustine does not draw out a causal pattern of the decrees, he does provide Calvin with a model for the doctrine of praedestinatio gemina: see De civ. Dei, XV. 1 (PL.41.437)—on the two cities: “Quas etiam mystice appellamus civitates duas, hoc est duas societates hominum: quarum est una quae praedestinata est in aetemum regnare cum Deo; altera, aetemum supplicium subire cum diabolo.” Cf. XXI.xxiv (PL.41.736-741); De perfectione justiciae hominis, cap. xiii.31 (PL.44.308), “. . . in eo genere hominum, quod praedestinatum est ad interitum”; and De anima et eius origine, IV.xi.16 (PL.44.533): “. . . quos praedestinavit ad aeternam vitam misericordissimus gratiae largitor: qui est et illis quos praedestinavit ad aeternam mortem, justissimus supplicii retributor. . . .” The causal argument most certainly derives from the medieval scholastic development of the doctrine of predestination.

 

[58]. Inst., III.xxiii.8; cf. Otten, pp. 66-67. Otten argues that this concept of reprobation is a corollary of the doctrine of particular rather than general predestination. It is part of Calvin’s particularistic soteriology and not an overly speculative concept.

 

[59]. Dowey, pp. 213-216; Jacobs, pp. 147-148.

 

[60]. Inst., III.xxiii, 3-4, 8.

 

[61]. Jacobs, pp. 145-146.

 

[62]. Barth (CD, II/2, p. 111) has not fully discerned the relation of Christ to the decrees in Calvin’s theology, but he does see more clearly than any historian of Reformed orthodoxy the scope of this doctrinal problem as it developed after Calvin (cf. ibid., pp. 111-115).

 

[63]. Inst., III.xxii.7: “Christus electionis facit authorem.” Also note II.xiii.3: “Christus author salutis” and the commentaries on John 13:18 and 17:8-10 in CO, XLVII, 310-312, 379-381. Cf. Klooster, p. 20.

 

[64]. Inst., III.xxii.7: “Interea quanvis se medium Christus inserat, sibi tamen ius eligendi communiter vendicat cum Patre. Non de omnibus, inquit, loquor: scio quos elegerim Iohan. 13.6.18” This argument is overlooked by J. K. S. Reid, “The Office of Christ in Predestination,” in Scottish Journal of Theology, I (1948), pp. 5-19; 166-183; cf. Wiley, p. 164.

 

[65]. Commentary on John 13:18, loc. cit. Note how the structure of this doctrine reflects the extra calvinisticum.

 

[66]. The chapter entitled “The Final Resurrection” (III, xxv) follows directly upon Calvin’s discussion of the confirmation of election in calling (III, xxiv); cf. Klooster, p. 29.

 

[67]. Cf. Niesel, pp. 169-181 and Klooster, pp. 34-36. Niesel, against the arguments of Barth in CD, II, 2, pp. 335-336, denies that the syllogismus practicus occurs in Calvin’s thought; Klooster follows Niesel to a limited extent, acknowledging that Calvin treads a fine line: “he does not urge men to look at their own good works. Rather, his repeated emphasis is upon the work of Christ, which is performed in them” (p. 34).

 

[68]. Inst., III.xxiv.5.

 

[69]. Niesel, pp. 178-179.

 

[70]. Inst., III.xxiv.1-6.

 

[71]. Barth, CD, II/2, pp. 333-340 and Berkouwer, Divine Election, pp. 279-306 where there is a detailed analysis of the Barth-Niesel debate over the syllogismus practicus.

 

[72]. Inst., III.xxiv.1-5.

 

[73]. Inst., III.xxiv.1.

 

[74]. Inst., III.xxiv.1.

 

[75]. Inst., III.xxiv.3.

 

[76]. Inst., III.xxiv.3.

 

[77]. Inst., III.xxiv.3.

 

[78]. Inst., III.xxiv.4.

 

[79]. Inst., III.xxiv.5.

 

[80]. Inst., III.xxiv.4. Cf. the commentary on II Peter 1:1-12 in CO, LXXXIII, 449-450 and the analysis in Berkouwer, Divine Election, pp. 302-303 and in Klooster, p. 34.

 

[81]. Niesel, pp. 180-181.

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      We have many good conversations about predestination. But we seldom define the degree to which predestination affects the universe and all. At the least it appears many think God imagined the universe before he created it. Let it run its own course without his intervention. And then created what he saw. Making it unchangeable and therefore predestined to happen just as he foresaw it.   Another view, the most extreme says: God created all, including every thought and act of every creature in the universe when he created the universe. That not a grain of sand on the furthest planet shifts position without God who also created its path and movements in the appointed time.   Both extremes depend on God’s perfect knowledge. If God only energizes but doesn’t control all, he then must watch and learn what might or might not happen. And this would mean he is not all knowing as the bible says.   Other theories emerge but the Westminster Confession (London Baptists Confession) Chapter 3:1; God's Eternal Decree defines biblical predestination this way.   1.     God, from all eternity, did—by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will—freely and unchangeably ordain whatever comes to pass. Yet he ordered all things in such a way that he is not the author of sin, nor does he force his creatures to act against their wills; neither is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.   So as I understand, we freely choose for the reasons God created along with us. Reasons we would freely base our choices on as we meet up with them at the right time and place in life.    This resolves free will and divine sovereignty.

      in Apologetics and Theology

    • 6 Theses for Saturating the Nations With Sound Doctrine

      I recently returned from a week in Uganda and Kenya, where I was helping to train pastors and church planters. I was in Africa as part of Acts 29’s Emerging Regions Network, a team that works in various parts of the world where we want to see churches planted. I had the privilege of serving with some other Acts 29 pastors, and the trip left quite an impression on us. Here are six personal reflections about theological and pastoral training in underdeveloped regions of the world. 1. Join the fight against theological poverty. There are many good, global causes that one can be part of today. I’m part of many, from orphan care to fighting gendercide. But I would love to see an increased excitement and commitment to fighting theological poverty. As I’ve traveled the world the past 15 years, teaching church planters and other church leaders, it has become clear to me why many false gospels abound. People simply haven’t been taught the true gospel. What I found in Uganda and Kenya is a real hunger and openness to historical Christian orthodoxy. The only problem is, certain truths have never been well articulated and distinguished from false teaching. Consequently, people tend to believe what they hear. It has been said that humanity is incurably religious, that we are religious beings who will believe something. And if we don’t saturate the nations with sound doctrine, then people will believe something else. Whatever means of influence you have in this world, would you consider leveraging some of it to help make robust theological training available to such hungry students? 2. Realize that online training is insufficient for much of the world. During the course of our teaching, the subject of online learning came up periodically. While a few students said they have decent internet access, most don’t. So online learning simply isn’t an option. These students need life-on-life teaching, and they need printed materials. (By the way, even if online training is an option, it’s no replacement for embodied, communal learning.) As I’ve traveled, I’ve become increasingly grateful for resources like the little 9Marks books. These are so important and beneficial. A big thank you to Mark Dever, Jonathan Leeman, and others who contribute to that series. On this particular trip, I gave out a copy of my commentary on Acts, and the response was remarkable. You’d have thought I’d handed the students gold. They thanked me endlessly. We need to get more good resources in their hands. 3. We need context-sensitive theological training. I gave one talk called “Church Planting 101.” Along the way, I encouraged the students to “plant the church that fits you and your community.” I encouraged them not to do an American church model, but to plant a church that fits their context. That is, to consider their city when they think about music, discipleship programs, outreach events, and so on. So much training from the West has failed to make the distinction between timeless, biblical principles for the church and the flexibility for doing church in our context. There was an audible affirmation from the students (some even clapped) when I said, “Do church for Uganda or Kenya, not America.” Now, these students, as in every other country, must start with Scripture when it comes to ecclesiology, preaching, eldership, and so on. When we train people, we must give them biblical ecclesiology. But as we provide training for pastors in other countries, let’s not mistake our Western practices for biblical principles. 4. The majority of the world needs basic-level training; they’re not ready for an MDiv. Thanks to our friends at Church in Hard Places, our team was able to use the two-year program for mentoring our students. Church in Hard Places has broken down the (rigorous) Acts 29 assessment into monthly learning models, which includes reading, writing, and meetings. We’ve found over the years that most of the guys we train in emerging regions are not ready for an MDiv degree or a thorough theological/pastoral assessment. They can get there if we will walk with them, which we plan on doing. But most haven’t had the basic training many assessments often assume. Most seminaries cater to educated people with undergraduate degrees. I’m not throwing stones, just pointing out the fact that we’re overlooking millions of people when we don’t have a plan for bringing basic training to theologically hungry students. 5. To increase theological depth for generations, we need churches planted and pastored by trained leaders. Part of the problem of rapid multiplication efforts in missions is that they are not taking the long-view of ministry. We need to be thinking in terms of 50-plus years, not five weeks (or even five years). To see the theological landscape change in a country for the long haul, we must identify, train, and resource faithful pastors who will serve their churches for years to come. And we need them to plant churches that will plant churches for generations to come. So let’s give ourselves to this task. 6. Let’s challenge people who have access to resources and training to recognize this privilege, and take advantage of it. There really is no excuse for people in various parts of the world not to engage in serious study of the Bible, theology, missiology, church history, and spiritual disciplines. From books to blogs, seminars to seminaries, conferences to computer software, the resources in the Western world are vast. Yet many don’t take advantage of this precious privilege. Our worldliness is evident when we prefer endless entertainment, and the pursuit of more possessions and comforts, over soul-nourishing education. If many would substitute learning God’s Word for even half the time they spend on Netflix, maybe we’d see a spiritual awakening. One Goal The goal of training leaders—who will lead and plant churches in the neediest places in the world—is the glory of Christ. That’s what’s at stake. Robust theological training is for his glory in his church throughout his world. And there are brothers and sisters who are hungry—and I mean really hungry—to be trained for this task. So for those of us in privileged positions with resources galore: will we spend ourselves for the glory of Christ and the good of his people in the neediest parts of the world? How I pray that we will. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

    • The Doctrine You’ve Never Applied to Your Work

      Google “robots” and you’ll discover dozens of articles forecasting the future of our economy. One study projects a potential 800 million global jobs lost to automation. We can see the trend already in the self-service lines at stores, the rise of chatbots, and the touchscreen kiosks sweeping the country’s fast food chains. Though the changes leave some hopeful about the possibilities of automation, others are uneasy at the prospect of being replaced. Whether or not you fear that your current role being taken over by a robot, the truth is many of us go through periods when our work feels unneeded. Our workload is filled with dead-end projects, our tasks feel monotonous, or there is enormous competition in our field. It leaves us wondering: Does my work matter? God Didn’t Need You As we consider these questions, we can find hope in a seldom-discussed attribute of God. The opening words of the Bible are “In the beginning, God” (Gen. 1:1). Here we get the first look at God’s aseity (literally “from self”). The aseity of God means that he wasn’t created by anything, dependent on anything, or in need of anything. He always existed, and he is fully satisfied in himself. It’s easy to slip into the thinking that God was filling a void when he created—maybe he needed a friend? But God didn’t progress through each day of creation until he finally got it right. Each day was called good not because the prior day wasn’t, but because he created and made it so. We see this theme echoed in the humbled cries of King Nebuchadnezzar, who concedes that man is nothing and God does according to his will among the heavens (Dan. 4:35). Additionally, Paul references divine aseity at Mars Hill, recounting the God who isn’t served by human hands, as though he needed anything, but who gives life to everything (Acts 17:25). The news that God doesn’t need us isn’t another declaration of our uselessness; it’s a precious gift. The doctrine of aseity allows us to marvel at the incredible love of God in creating us. For he made us not out of need, but freedom. In God’s aseity we’re also freed from burdens too heavy to bear. Neither the goodness nor power of God rests on our weak shoulders. The amount of worth we receive from our work doesn’t change his character, catch him off guard, or render him any more or less glorious than he is right now. God Gave Work as a Gift Not only did God freely create us, he also chose to give us work. He tells Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Gen. 1:28). If we read these words without a proper understanding of God’s aseity, we set ourselves up for disappointment when we feel stuck in the menial. Our dead-end job doesn’t feel like we have dominion. We might think we were made to be an Esther, birthed into this world “for such a time as this,” but we forget the humbling first half of that well-known verse, when Mordecai tells Esther that God will save his people with or without her (Esth. 4:14). The truth is God doesn’t lean on us to fill a void he can’t fill, since he has no void and his plans will never be thwarted (Job 42:2). Instead we can look at our work through the lens of God’s aseity and see the command God gave us to fill and rule over the earth not as a burdensome need, but as a gift to obey—no matter how small the task seems. As we labor in faithfulness, we acknowledge that our work is a form a worship, and that ultimately it’s God who makes any of it good. So we can sit through eight hours of meetings, take food orders, or mop floors that will only be dirty again because God uses our work to glorify himself. He doesn’t need us to pick up Legos or take pictures or even write articles, but God gave us these tasks as a gift to participate in his good work in the world. God Gave Us Co-Workers Along with faithfulness in our work, God calls us to faithfulness to those who do need us—our neighbors in general and Christ’s body in particular. God called each day of creation good, and yet it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). This need for community is repeated throughout the New Testament, and echoed in the very picture of Christ’s body. A body’s various parts are all dependent and connected, whether they seem weaker or not (1 Cor. 12:15–26). So, too, we as the church need each other—to serve, to teach, and to encourage each other to stay faithful in whatever callings we’ve been entrusted. You have a stronger hope, and a fuller mission, than simply finding the you-shaped hole in the universe. Maybe it’s okay that a robot could do your job, or that there are hundreds of other workers just like you. Your ordinary work, after all, is a chance to worship the God who made you and gave you everything you need—not because he had to out of lack, but because he wanted to out of love. View the full article

      in Christian Current Events

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