Long story short – I’ve been invited to participate in a Lifeway Bible study at a Methodist Church. So I did a little homework and realized that there’s some subtle and blatant promotion of Calvinism from the very start. Combined with a nod to both Biblical Inerrancy and Gender Complementarianism – it doesn’t allow for anything that isn’t a conservative Southern Baptist or a Reformed Calvinist to be right in anything. Before we continue, let’s have a moment of silence for the centuries of Christians who perished because John Calvin wasn’t born millennia ago as Paul 2.0 to explain the Doctrines of Grace that would have saved their eternal souls from torment but don’t cry over them because they weren’t the elect and they deserve their punishment. Now let’s begin at the beginning:
“Either the Word of God is true or it isn’t. There isn’t a middle ground. There’s no grey areas. Either it is authentic or it is an imitation … What do you think?”
I believe in the middle ground that’s full of grey areas. More accurately, I believe that the Bible is the collective wisdom of ancient cultures written by 40 authors over a period of 1,500 years describing many thousands of years where events tended to get less clear and more sensational with each re-telling. I believe the Bible was written by a culture that valued metaphor and meaning over literal facts and specific dates. Where stories were meant to convey ideas but not necessarily factual events. I don’t think of the Bible as either true or not true, or as either authentic or an imitation; but more along the lines of both, like an epic piece of poetry meant to convey a truth while not literally being true in every aspect. Some of that comes as a result of learning more about the cultures from which it was written and making peace with the fact that my culture isn’t theirs.I guess for the duration of this Bible study, that makes me a heretic who has turned from the true path and must be gently instructed so that I can return to the truth.
Unsurprisingly, the first verse used in the entire study is the ESV translation of Hebrews 4:12. Here I noticed that the phrase word of God doesn’t have a capital W like the phrase did when originally introduced. It makes me wonder if the Word of God is not the same thing as the word of God. The good news is that the whole thought is thrown away by the need to keep moving forward. I think the idea is to use it to bolster the idea that the Word of God is true because – For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.(Heb 4:12) Which is short for: “The Bible says so.”
Surprisingly, a quote from Tozer follows it: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” The next question is “What comes to mind when you think about God? … Is he trustworthy? Since the Garden of Eden, this is a question the Devil tries to answer for us and he still does so to this day …” What follows is a rather selective interpretation of the Original Sin starting with Adam, Eve, and the serpent. Mostly Eve and the serpent. Just don’t pay attention to the fact that Eve doesn’t get called Eve until later on in this story. It’s just easier to read this passage as if God named Adam Adam and Eve Eve when they were created from the very beginning and that’s how He introduced them to each other. Here’s the quick version:
So the serpent asks: “Did God really say?” … With the insinuation that if God really loved us, he would want us to be knowledgeable. He immediately put God’s character to the test. So at this point, Eve made a choice, she chose to believe the enemy over God. She chose to believe that something about the character of God was not fully trustworthy. Sin happens. Humans hide. God asks, “Where are you?” He’s not asking about their location. He’s asking about the condition of their hearts. “What is it that you think of Me?” Take a moment to look at the similarities of the two questions: “Did God really say?” and “Where are you?” The root of the two questions are the same: “What is it that you believe to be true about God and as result, what is your posture toward Him?” She points out that what we happen to believe about God will affect how we read the Bible. We might ask ourselves: “What kind of God would murder almost everyone in a flood?” We might read this as confirmation of our suspicion that God is a brutal murderer. When we learn that these weren’t good people … The heart of the question I believe is really based on understanding who He is and who we are. If we really really understand the holiness of God and the fundamental truth that we don’t deserve to be in His presence then we see life through new eyes …
She really does seem to like to throw away thoughts. For one, she threw away any thought to Adam’s participation in the story about Eve and the Serpent to focus on Eve’s motivation to sin which isn’t really in the Bible the way she says it is. She threw away any thought any possible other beliefs about God. Like the idea that God is loving. If God floods the whole world, killing every living and breathing human, plant, and animal except those who are on the boat, it looks a tad unloving. One common teaching is that kids under the age of accountability are innocent and all of them will be raptured. That didn’t happen in the flood. What do you do with facts that don’t square with the perceived qualities and characteristics of God? And she threw away the thought after “these weren’t good people”. That’s frustrating to get to a point that has some promise of an interesting conversation just to throw it away.
Where were we? Oh, right, the R.C. Sproul quote: “In two decades of teaching theology, I have had had countless students ask me why God doesn’t save everybody. Only once did a student come to me and say, ‘There is something I just can’t figure out. Why did God redeem me?‘” She continues to quote from the same source material, neglecting to put the rest of the quote up and since I don’t feel like subjecting myself to it repeatedly to type it out fully, I’ll leave it up to you. I’ll give you a hint: It sounds like blatant Calvinism. Sproul is an ardent Calvinist, one of the leaders of Reformed Christianity, specializing in Classical apologetics, Systematic Theology, and Biblical Inerrancy. In other words, he’s quite a partisan Christian that belongs to the party of Christianity that is pretty much the opposite of the party the church that is doing this Bible study belongs to. It’s the equivalent of the Democrats cheating off of the Republicans because they haven’t bothered to do their own homework. It shouldn’t be surprising to see core elements of Calvinism slipping into the thoughts she’s already presented: “For reasons having nothing to do with me, God chose me” “When you understand God’s holiness and that these really weren’t good people (they deserve to be wiped out in a flood because they’re evil and they’re not among the elect.)” “We don’t deserve to be in is presence (because we’re totally depraved sinners.)” It’s not what just what she does say, it’s the inevitable conclusion that’s the result of what she begins to say and doesn’t finish. Calvinism is sneaky like that. You have to know what it sounds like to hear it, and sometimes it can be missed by Arminian churches that are less than diligent about teaching the specifics about what they believe and why it’s important.
So what is it that comes into your mind when you think about God? ... She goes onto say that we have to remember that we’re sinners and God is holy. I sort of zoned out here. But she comes back with an Andrew Murray quote: “The more abundant the experience of grace the more intense the consciousness of being a sinner.” Murray belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church which was also influenced by Calvinism. Remember how she said that what we believe about the Bible affects how we read it, understand it, and apply it? Calvinism (and Arminianism for that matter) is a pre-packaged sets of beliefs that affects how one reads the Bible. The difference is that in a very subtle way, the material leans on that Calvinist influence to interpret Scripture. Which wouldn’t be a problem for the Reformed crowd or Southern Baptists; but we are a Methodist Church. We belong to the other party but aren’t getting any reinforcement to bolster our position, rather, we’re being weakened by allowed the other side to preach the message unquestioned and unchallenged when we use their resources: We’ve already “agreed” that this a women’s Bible study because there’s pink all over the place. It’s not for men. We’re doing this study as women teaching women, which is what the Bible says is God’s ideal. We’re stepping away from what we believe to be true: women can teach men to agree with something we believe is not true: women cannot teach men. The subject is the entire Bible. It should be for men and women. We’ve already agreed to suspend our own beliefs about Arminianism and doubts about Biblical Inerrancy in order to agree that we’re Biblical Inerrantists and Calvinists for the duration of the study. I hope that Baptists would return the favor and agree to be Methodists for the duration if they did one of our studies, they have nothing to fear – they’re among the elect and can never really not be saved. Like the sign says: “God’s love is unconditional as long as you are obeying Christ.”
“From the garden to the flood to Babel, we can see this constant need of humans to raise themselves up … over, over, and over again we’re going to see this complete lack of humility in God’s people.” Right, it’s not as if we’re preconditioned to believe that out of nothing we did, we’re God’s elect. It’s not out of God’s grace, but His holy and sovereign justice that no matter what we do, we’re going to go to Heaven because His grace is irresistible and He gives supernatural persistence as saints to never fall away. That will really humble us when we think about all those other poor Christians who claim to follow God but don’t believe in the doctrines of Grace. Like those poor Methodists and other Arminians who just don’t believe in God the right way. Same goes for those non-Christians all over the world. When we’re in Heaven and they’re not, we promise to think about how humble we are that God chose us and not them. That’s definitely a recipe for humility.
“God’s still asking where our hearts are …” I’ve noticed that she sometimes points to marriage metaphors, “He’s given us this ring …” “He’s our bridegroom” “He’s given us this eternal proposal” That tells us somehow of how she see’s God, the thing is – in the context of the first few chapters – creation, fall, flood, and the Tower of Babel, there’s just not the time or place for that. Or better yet, it’s not God’s role at that particular point and time. That’s one of the flaws of the ideas that we have roles. In real life, roles change. There’s no permanency involved in them. God didn’t step into the role of the bridegroom until the New Testament. To do that, he had to stop being the role of the faithful husband who initiates a divorce. (Isaiah 50:1, Jeremiah 3:8) Like us, His roles change throughout Scripture. Look at the ‘roles’ God plays in the creation, the fall, the flood, and the tower. He’s not always “the creator” in the midst of being “the destroyer”, He’s not always the same here on out with the rest of the story: “the husband”, “the Egyptian curse-sender”, “God-of-the-Angel-Armies”, “the wilderness scout”, etc.Let’s not get our New Testament terminology confused with our Old Testament picture of our multi-faceted God.
Were this a men’s Bible study, questions like “What do you think about God?” “What do you think about the Bible?” “What do you feel that God is speaking to you through the Bible?” wouldn’t be at the top of the list. But it’s not a men’s Bible study, so questions that relate everything back to the person doing the study rather than on God himself is the norm here. Methodist churches owe it to their members to question everything they hear from Lifeway Bible studies, to point where where Calvinism and Arminianism clash and why that’s important. If they don’t, they might as well paint over “Methodist” on the church sign with “Baptist” and start firing all the women pastors who teach men. If we aren’t going to challenge to their theology, we might as well swallow it, hook, line, and sinker.