Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's About Time

Some time ago I was asked by an Open Theist if it was possible for a Calvinist to believe in a person dying “before their time.” I do not believe the query was a genuine search for truth, but rather was posed as a defeater question.

Recognizing the interrogative for what it was, and resolving to follow the wisdom of Proverbs 26:4; I did not respond according to the Open Theist’s terms and presuppositions, but rather answered biblically.

May God add His blessing to your reading as you contemplate the subject of death and dying.

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Rather than address your questions and terms as you define them, I am going to address your concerns as they are spoken of in scripture.

I do this for two basic reasons: 1) Your questions and proposed definitions are loaded with your own assumptions and 2) Calvinism is, above all things, a thoroughly biblical system of theology.

Thus, I am going to explain my position to you with biblical terms and meanings and concepts. (I do not think you'll object.)

It is true that, biblically, no one dies apart from the will/ordination/decree of God. Jesus teaches this as He argues from the lesser to the greater in Matthew’s Gospel.

Matthew 10:29, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will."

Jesus teaches here that sparrows do not die apart from God's will. In the previous verse (28) He speaks of death. In the following verse He speaks of value (30-31).

Thus, Christ is arguing from the lesser to the greater. Sparrows do not die apart from God's will/ordination; therefore, humans do not die apart from God's will/ordination.

We also read, “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:16).

And Daniel exclaims “the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified” (Daniel 5:23).

Furthermore, the Apostle Paul preaches: “He [God] gives to all life, breath, and all things . . . in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25,28). 

James instructs us, “What is your life? It is even a vapor . . . you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that’” (James 4:14,15).

Upon the tragic and seemingly untimely death of his own children, Job says: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Thus, the Bible is abundantly clear that we live and die according to God’s will/ordination/decree. (Obviously, God’s decretive will is unknown to us Deut. 29:29.)

Now, without contradicting any of the above scriptures and their clear meaning, we also see some general biblical principles concerning the timing of man’s death and dying. I am thinking specifically of Psalm 90:10 and Ecclesiastes 7:17.

The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they are eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow . . .” (Ps. 90:10).

Thus, without regard to the decretive will of God, we see in scripture that man may have a reasonable expectation to live somewhere around 70 years. As a general rule, it is a biblical, reasonable expectation.

Today, at least in the West, we anticipate living 70 years or more. This is not an unbiblical expectation. If one dies at the age of 55, we consider the life lived to be short. If one dies at 95 we consider the life lived to be long. (We could very easily use the terms “untimely” and “timely” in lieu of “short” and “long.”)

In other words, “before their time” and “after their time” has reference to the biblical expectation or anticipation of around 70 years of life. Thus, if I were to say that one died “before their time” I would be speaking of their age in relation to 70 years—not of their dying apart from God’s will/ordination/decree.

And this is exactly what Ecclesiastes speaks of: “Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?” (Eccl. 7:17).

Dying “before your time” in the Bible has reference to dying before the biblically-reasonable expected time of death at around 70 years. It is not speaking of dying apart from the will of God.

Thus we can affirm, with biblical precision, that one may die “timely” or “untimely” (in regards to the biblically-reasonable expected time of around 70 years) without denying the will/ordination of God. Biblically speaking, it’s not either/or, it’s both/and.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mayberry Theology: “Surprise, Surprise, Surprise” pt. 2


The following is an irenic discussion with an Open Theist who takes exception to my hermeneutical approach to scripture; in particular my insistence that narrative be interpreted or understood in light of didactic.

(To read my specific statement regarding narrative and didactic passages in the Bible, see here: http://revtheruminator.blogspot.com/2012/08/mayberry-theology-surprise-surprise.html)

My interlocutor's words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.

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“The didactic vs narrative criteria is going to take a shellacking . Such a construct just doesn't have purchase with a majority of language scholars. I wonder if you've attempted that hermeneutic on the teaching of Jesus."

Have I tried this on the teaching of Jesus? The TEACHING of Jesus--by definition--is didactic. (Perhaps we're talking past each other here.)

We must be extremely cautious with basing doctrine on narrative. (True, teachings of Jesus, sermons of the Apostles, exhortations of prophets, etc. may appear within narrative portions of scripture; but the teachings, sermons, exhortations and the like are themselves didactic.)

I've no idea who these "language scholars" of which you speak are (appeal to "authority"?), but I know of no reputable treatment of hermeneutics which doesn't clearly distinguish between proper interpretive approaches to the various genres of the Bible.

“Good hermeneutics is forever calling the practitioner to review and seek other angles of approach on a topic.”

Unless the “other angles” are themselves thoroughly biblical, you and I are disagreed on this point. (I adhere to the “analogy of faith” principle that the Bible is its own best interpreter.)

If one approaches the text—untethered by the text—and is constantly in search of “other angles,” what is to keep one from fanciful, ingenious, subjective, and eisegetical “interpretations” (misinterpretations)? Such an approach to scripture, in my mind, is a “wax nose” hermeneutic.

“It could be said, that everything Jesus said or did was 'didactic' in that there will always be derived meaning and truth discovered.”

Yes, this is often said. And, it is often abused. How can we properly base objective doctrinal positions on narrative (stories about what Jesus did) without regard to didactic scripture? Again, such an approach is vulnerable to fanciful, ingenious, and subjective eisegesis.

For example, one may rightfully observe from the Bible that Jesus’ preferred methods of travel were walking, sailing, and--on one occasion--donkey-riding. Should we extrapolate from this that He was morally opposed to equestrianism? I hope you’re thinking: “Of course not! That would be silly.

Well...this is exactly the approach some folks bring to these facts of narrative. They observe Jesus’ travels and then ask: “What would Jesus drive?

And, from the narrative portions of scripture they authoritatively answer: “Jesus would NEVER own an SUV. It is most likely He would ride a bike or when necessary borrow a moped. IF He had to go by car it would be—without question—electric.”

How does one avoid or refute such “interpretations” and “applications”? I think the answer lies in interpreting scripture with scripture; in this case, understanding narrative in light of didactic.

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The entire discussion may be seen here: https://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/257166614399367/