Could Christ Have Sinned: Understanding temptation

Before we can get into the issue of answering whether Christ could sin or not, we need to do some groundwork. Specifically, we need to talk about temptation.

Let me start out by saying this: I think most Christians would agree with me that being tempted is not a sin in and of itself (if you hold that being tempted is sinful by nature, you need to be asking the question, “Since Christ sinned, what does that mean?”) Outside of that concession, opinions on temptation seem to vary quite a bit, both as to the mechanics of an actual instance of temptation and as to temptation’s overarching purpose.

So, I’d like open a dialogue about temptation. What is the purpose of temptation? What is temptation actually? What does Christ being tempted and never sinning tell us about Him? What does our failure in the face of temptation tell us about ourselves?

Anyone want to take a shot at it?

Divinity and Temptation: Could Christ have sinned?

For the past several months, members of our church have been meeting on Sunday evenings to work our way through the Second London Baptist Confession. The format is pretty informal, with two of the elders leading the discussion and keeping things loosely on track and more importantly, orthodox (which is not to say that people can’t bring up completely unorthodox positions and try to prove them, but that the elders have a responsibility – as all Christians do –  to make a reasoned defense of the faith)

Anyway, last week we were covering point three of chapter five and we got off on an interesting rabbit trail. The question was asked, “Could Christ have chosen to sin, and if not, does that mean that he was not tempted in every way that we are, and does that therefore mean that He can not identify with us and understand our position?”

One of the interesting side effects of having discussion like these is that you are very quickly made aware of how difficult it is to articulate anything, much less topics that depend on prior topics and concepts being defined. You also find that the very act of articulation changes the way you understand the subject.

So here’s what I’m proposing: I’ll let this sit until Thursday of this week, possibly longer if there is some activity, and I invite anyone and everyone to leave a comment describing their take on this subject. Be as brief or as verbose as you like. But understand something, saying what you mean so that someone else gets it is harder than you think. (Man, I hope that made sense.)

A question about the scriptural basis for free will

Free will can be defined in a number of different ways, but lately the definition that I hear most often goes something like this:

Free will is the ability of a man (or woman) to choose what he will do or what he will believe, and while certain situations may limit the number of options he has at any given time (for instance, all men can not choose to be able to dunk a ball, or fly an airplane), there must always be at least two options (one of which may be the choice to do nothing at all).

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I do not agree with this definition. To those who do hold to this definition I would like to ask the following question:

From where in Scripture is this line of thinking about free will derived?

I will freely acknowledge that Scripture talks about choice, but it doesn’t define choice in such a way that each person must always have two options. When God called Abraham there was no requirement that the possibility of Abraham saying no existed, and it is not obvious from the text that God chose Abraham because God knew Abraham would obey. If anything it makes more sense to say that Abraham obeyed God because God chose him.

Any takers?

Hitchens and Wilson: Answering a fool according to his folly

If you haven’t heard, Douglas Wilson (a Christian) and Christopher Hitchens (an atheist) are debating the question “Is Christianity Good for the World?“. I’d be grossly under-exaggerating if I didn’t say that Wilson is destroying his opponent. Over the last several exchanges, Wilson has been asking Hitchens to explain what warrants his authoritative use of the words “good” and “evil”. Unsurprisingly, Hitchens doesn’t seem to know how or where to start.

In what may be the final segment, Wilson replies to Hitchen’s reference of LaPlacian thinking with the following:

But it is interesting that the same thing happens to you when you have to give some warrant for trusting in “reason.”. I noted your citation of LaPlace in your book and am glad you brought him up here. LaPlace believed he was not in need of the God hypothesis, just like you, but you should also know he held this position as a firm believer in celestial and terrestrial mechanics. He was a causal determinist, meaning that he believed that every element of the universe in the present was “the effect of its past and the cause of its future.”

So if LaPlace is why you think belief in God is now “optional,” this appeal of yours actually turns into quite a fun business. This doctrine means (although LaPlace admittedly got distracted before these implications caught up with him) that you, Christopher Hitchens, are not thinking your thoughts and writing them down because they are true, but rather because the position and velocity of all the atoms in the universe one hundred years ago necessitated it. And I am not sitting here thinking my Christian thoughts because they are the truth of God, but rather because that is what these assembled chemicals in my head always do in this condition and at this temperature. “LaPlace’s demon” could have calculated and predicted your arguments (and word count) a century ago in just the same way that he could have calculated the water levels of the puddles in my driveway — and could have done so using the same formulae. This means that your arguments and my puddles are actually the same kind of thing. They are on the same level, so to speak.

If you were to take a bottle of Mountain Dew and another of Dr. Pepper, shake them vigorously, and put them on a table, it would not occur to anyone to ask which one is “winning the debate.” They aren’t debating; they are just fizzing. You refer to “language in which to write this argument,” and you do so as though you believed in a universe where argument was a meaningful concept. Argument? Argument? I have no need for your “argument hypothesis.” Just matter in motion, man. [full text of this exchange, here]

A response like this is delightful to read, not because it is sure to silence Hitchens, nor because it is a panaceic answer to all issues that an atheist might raise. Instead, it is delightful because it reminds us that there is not one spoken answer to all questions, but rather that the way you answer a fool is according to the nature of his folly. Paul does this on Mars’ Hill by pointing out the hypocrisy of worshipping a god who dwells in a temple made by man or who can be worshipped by the hands of men (as if he needs something of man to exist). We see also that Stephen does this very same thing when he tells the Pharisees that they have not kept the law, just like their father’s before them who put to death God’s prophets. It is something that we see throughout Scripture, and it is something that we should do when we find ourselves with the chance to speak to those who (knowingly or unknowingly) mock the name of God (being quite careful not to fall into the trap that we are adjacently warned of: answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him)

Getting back to Hitchens and Wilson, I heartily recommend that you read through their five-part exchange. In fact, the only criticism I have of Wilson’s replies to Hitchen’s is regarding his recent choice of a particular Tombstone reference. While there was nothing wrong with the one he used, I was hoping he’d go with a (slightly altered) line by Doc Holliday: Why Hitchens, perhaps thinking just isn’t your game… I know, let’s have us a spelling contest.

Questions about Prevenient Grace

I don’t know a whole lot about Wesleyan Theology. I do know a little bit about the concept of Prevenient Grace, but I have some questions. If anyone out there is a Methodist (or a follower of any of the other churches in the Holiness tradition) who wouldn’t mind answering them, I’d be delighted.

My understanding of Prevenient Grace is that it is what gives all men the ability to exercise their free will to choose or reject God. Here is my primary question: If God has given all men the power to choose him, then what is it that makes one man choose God and another reject Him? Is it their upbringing? Their environment that shaped them? And what role does Wesleyan Theology ascribe to God in making those choices? What I am getting at is this: if God makes the man and determines all the little things about him, and if God chooses the man’s parents and so on and so forth, then how is Wesley’s concept of free will any different than Calvin’s? What am I missing?

Thanks in advance.

Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things

In my last article on grace, I wrote about Prescriptive Grace and the way that grace is always applied specifically according to God’s desires. In this post, I want to talk about grace in a slightly different way, but first I want to clarify some things. Because this post is about why God chooses to bless certain things I don’t want to give the impression that I believe that we can control or even manipulate God, however, because God has told us that He is a God of order and because He has revealed a great deal about Himself through His Word and through the world, there are things that we can know about His behavior and that we can, through faith, respond to. Of course, God can do anything He chooses at any time and is not bound by anything other than His own nature. As C. S. Lewis writes of Aslan in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe: He’s not a tame lion.
Continue reading “Analogous Grace: Why God chooses to bless certain things”

Soulwinning, Methodology, and Going in unto Hagar

Abraham had a problem. God had made a promise to him, and to the best of Abraham’s understanding, God had not delivered. Plus, the way things looked, God was not planning on delivering any time soon. And it was starting to bother Abraham. It was also worrying his wife. It worried her enough that she finally approached Abraham and said to him:

Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her.

Sarai makes it clear to Abraham that she knows it is God who has kept her from having children. She recognizes that God is the one who opens and closes the womb, but at the same time, she also doesn’t believe it or at least is not satisfied with it, because she tells Abraham to go into Hagar and see if God will bless that union and give him the promised heir by her (as if God does not control the womb of Hagar as well).

What happens next? We all know the story. Hagar brings forth Ishmael, and fourteen years later, Sarah née Sarai, brings forth Isaac, a son of her own. A few years later, Ishmael is sent away, and he grows up away from his father and his step-mother and brother. The next time we see Ishmael in Scripture, he is meeting Isaac to bury their father Abrhaham. Go a few verses further and we are reading Ishmael’s obituary as it were.

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
(Genesis 25:13-17)

We know a little more about Isaac. We know that he married Rebekah and that he had two sons, Jacob and Esau. We know that he became wealthy. We know his story in greater detail without having to look it up. But, here is my question:

If we accept the premise that the spiritual counterpart to bringing forth children is seeing souls born into the family of God, then what is the spiritual counterpart to going in unto Hagar?

I believe that as Christians (both individually and collectively as the Church), we often find ourselves in situations that bring us to say, the LORD has restrained us from bearing. The LORD has not given us souls. We know and testify that salvation is of God, that it is by the working of His spirit and by His hand alone that sinners come to repentance, but at the same time we do not believe it, because we go in unto Hagar. We go in to the world and we say, perhaps by these methods that we once thought were wrong, we might raise up souls unto God. What it terrifying is this. More often than not, by these methods, we see fruit.

What we have forgotten is this, Ishmael had twelve sons, each of them a prince with castles and land, and Issac had only two, one of them a shepherd living in semi-exile. If someone looked at the fruit of Abraham’s life, at his child with Hagar and his child with Sarah, which one would they conclude was more “successful”. Would they conclude that going into Hagar was such a bad thing after all? Could they even conclude that it was a good thing? Based on Ishmael’s life, would the modern church have told Abraham: Go down into Egypt and purchase from the slave blocks one hundred Hagars and get them all with child and raise up an army of Ishmaels? Sometimes, I wonder.

What I am saying is this: the ultimate fruit of Ishmael was not determined in his or in Abraham’s lifetime. In many ways it has still not been completely determined and will only be known in full, in eternity. But It is no different with our methods of winning souls today. It is not immediate results that tell us whether we are doing the work of God or not. There was no lack of people to dance around the golden calf that Aaron made, yet Noah preached 100 years and only reached his household.

What do you think? Does this hold up to the light of God’s Word? Have we gone in unto Hagar? If so, how do we make things right?

Al Mohler, Ann Coulter, John Edwards, and the word “faggot”

Apparently Ann Coulter recently called John Edwards a faggot and Al Mohler has written a piece distancing himself from her actions. And while I agree with Mohler in general, here’s where I start to lose the thread of his argument:

Conservative institutions cannot afford any association with this kind of language or attack. The issues are far too serious to be treated in this manner, and the very convictions Ann Coulter often defends are now sullied by association with her. Referring to John Edwards by using a word meant to demean homosexuals? What was she thinking?

How about saying that Christians cannot afford any association with this kind of language or atttack. How about saying that because sodomy is a serious sin in the eyes of God, it should not be mocked (something I am guilty of) by making a joke out of it. In other words, the problem with the word “faggot” is not that it is offensive to “homosexuals”, but because it is offensive to God in that it makes light of sin. As I think about this, I am convinced that by distancing himself from Ann Coulter’s comments for the reasons he states, Dr. Mohler is demonstrating how easily we fear men more than we fear God. I should also say that I’m not accusing Dr. Mohler of something that I haven’t done myself many, many times. In fact, I probably do it every day without thinking about it. And that’s the problem I’m addressing. Ann Coulter may very well be a jerk. She might be rude and crude and downright mean. But the problem is not with Ann Coulter. The problem is with Christians who are not holy. The problem, is that we don’t fear God.

The First Type of Evangelism, part III

In the part one of this ongoing series, we talked about the Shema Yisrael and its connection to what Jesus Christ calls the first and greatest commandment. In part two, we discussed evangelism in general and the dangers of over-simplifying the Gospel. Today, I wanted to go in a slightly different direction and talk about marriage as a form of evangelism. But before we can do that, we need to lay a little more ground work.

We are spiritual beings, and that’s important to remember, if for no other reason than the fact that we are constantly forgetting it. And it’s so easy to do. We wake up in the morning, and the first things we are faced with are the pressing demands of our bodies.

“To the bathroom,” screams our body, “but you should also start the coffee. Also, how about some breakfast? I’m thinking sausage and pancakes and maybe some eggs… Or a bagel!!! One of those asiago cheese thingies with bacon scallion cream cheese… But first, I need a shower, and a good gargle or two — what did I eat before I went to bed?!? — and by the way, HOW’S THAT COFFEE COMING?!?!”

Continue reading “The First Type of Evangelism, part III”