Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Is it piety or sophistry?

One day in the early 1970’s I answered a newspaper ad and began to receive a periodical that promised to explain the teachings of the Bible for people seeking to understand the Christian faith.  The articles were well written, used extensive Scripture quotations and their logic seemed intellectually satisfying.

The foundational thesis of their teachings was that Jesus Christ, after His death on the cross, descended into hell and there suffered inconceivable torments, equal to the eternal punishment of all souls who would ever be saved.  Implicit in this teaching was the belief that Jesus did not suffer for all mankind, but only for the elect.  It followed logically from this, though this part was not highly stressed, that it made no difference how one of the elect would live, since he could never be lost.

This is five point Calvinism in its pristine mathematical splendour.  Now I love mathematics for its clear logical purity.  I have been certified by the ASQC as a Quality Engineer, which required extensive study of statistics and probability.  The Calvinist doctrine did have some appeal to my mind, but it did not warm my heart.  On the contrary, I rather found it very troubling.

If God predetermined everything that would happen in this world before time began, does that not make Him responsible for all the evils and the horrible atrocities committed in this world?  I know that Calvinists have sophisticated arguments that maintain the determinism of God, yet clear Him of moral responsibility for the evil.  It just seems like sophism to me.

After receiving and reading several issues of this publication, I became quite troubled about my inability to formulate a clear intellectual doctrine of the atonement to rebut Calvinism.  I knelt in prayer and earnestly pleaded with God to give me an understanding of the atonement.

God answered that prayer.  He told me, “You don’t need to understand it.”  That wasn’t the kind of answer I had expected, yet I found the grace to accept it, and in accepting that answer I found peace.

It has taken many years to fully appreciate the wisdom of that answer.  As Christian brethren we sometimes become involved in lengthy discussions over points of doctrine, and I think this is a good thing.  Yet sometimes I perceive an attitude that seems to say “God is not capable of doing something that I cannot understand.”  That intense desire to make the purposes and works of God fit into the measure of the mind of man is nothing but hubris.

God’s ways are higher than man’s ways.  Would I really want to worship a God who knew nothing more than what I am capable of knowing and understanding?  That would come pretty close to making God in my own image, which would be idolatry.

So I am content with the things that are clearly revealed in Scripture and trust that God has purposes and plans that are beyond my ability to comprehend.

“Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind” (Colossians 2:18).


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