Resources for Studying Calvinism

TULIPWhen Phil Johnson taught on Spurgeon at the 07SR he referenced some of Spurgeon’s contentions regarding Calvinism. I thought it would be helpful for some of our youth staff and students to get a better grasp on what Calvinism really is, so I began a brief series entitled “God Saves Sinners” during our Sunday morning meetings (see the end of this post for links to that material). We are more than halfway through and I thought now would be as good a time as any to suggest some additional resources for those interested in studying Calvinism on their own.

Online Resources

Books

The first two of these are in my top 10 list of most influential books. If you’ve been waiting for a good time to start your theological library, wait no longer.

  • The Five Points of Calvinism, by Steele, Thomas, and Quinn. I’d recommend the newest version that has an updated typeface and some additional articles in the back. If you are going to buy just one book, this is the standard.
  • The Sovereignty of God, by A.W. Pink. You can also read this book online, or print it out for free, though it is worth having on your bookshelves–after you’ve read it, of course.
  • The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, by Loraine Boettner. Likewise, you can read this online.

Online Audio

If iPod listening is your thing, I wholeheartedly recommend:

And though I haven’t listened to any of these, and though it is only focused on the “L” of TULIP, I’m planning on listening to:

My own material is obviously not the first, nor is it the best, nor will it be the final word on Calvinism. Yet it is my attempt to explain it.

God Saves Sinners

2008 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference

We Are Not Our Own

UPDATED [August 20, 2009]: These are messages I preached at the 2009 Faith Bible Church Reformation Conference. In 2008 they asked me to preach on the five points of Calvinism. These are follow up messages. I titled the series: We Are Not Our Own: The Implications of Calvinism, driven by this quote from Calvin in his Institutes:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for Him and die for Him. We are God’s: let His wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward Him as our only lawful goal. (3.7.1)

The audio for each session is available if you’re interested.

If you have other recommended resources for studying the sovereignty of God in salvation, please share those suggestions in the comments.

Teenagers Are Irresponsible

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The second lie teenagers believe is that they are, intrinsically, irresponsible. “Research” shows their brains have not yet fully developed so they can’t be expected to act appropriately. They are not ready to answer for their actions. Experts define adolescence as an extended season for experimentation and prolonged preparation. The teen years are for development and responsibility must be deferred.

Inevitably, the teenagers is a disappointment, whose combination of adult capacities and juvenile irresponsibility sows personal heartbreak and social chaos.” (Hine, 8)

*Our government doesn’t hold teens responsible. We’ve created an entirely different legal system to segregate younger lawbreakers from older ones. We’ve written new laws with lower standards because we don’t think they are able to make right decisions and behave appropriately. Many parents, teachers, and youth ministries have done basically the same thing by postponing opportunities to fail, as well as by protecting young people from the consequences of wrongdoing. We’ve gift-wrapped the excuse for them.

Shifting blame and shirking responsibility is as old as sin. Adam did it first when he sidestepped culpability in the garden–and he wasn’t even a teenager (Genesis 3:12). “It’s not my fault; it’s her fault.” And then he went even further and said “It’s the woman You gave me.” Adam was shameless enough to claim his sin was God’s fault.

Teenagers walk a similar path of unreasoning when they disavow responsibility. “I’m just a teenager.” Who does that blame? It implicitly points the finger at God. It’s almost as if they said, “God is in control of how old I am, and since He has me in this stage of life as an adolescent, He can’t hold me responsible.” They also take that to mean no one else can either.

But here is the crucial question: when a teenager disobeys God, is it a lesser offense in God’s sight? Is the penalty for adolescent sin more along the lines of purgatory rather than eternal death? No. God’s law opens no loopholes for teenagers. His standard remains perfection for all His creatures, including those who are still growing. We may be slow to hold teens responsible morally and spiritually; God is not. Church leaders, especially those of us who are parents or youth pastors, do young people no favors by failing to prepare them for God’s judgment.

Happy Sheep Come from Happy Shepherds

sheepThere is a sinewy connection between joy and shepherding and I regret that there are still too many occasions when the two are cut asunder. It isn’t that I lament others seeing the lack, I lament the fact of the lack. I don’t wish that I could hide my joylessness better, rather I want to experience and display joyfullness better.

The connection between joy and shepherding is consequential. Though Hebrews 13:17 is primarily a call for the sheep to follow the shepherd in such a way that he may shepherd with joy, it establishes the principle that a joyful shepherd is an advantage to the sheep. The potent consequence of the shepherds’ rejoicing is blessing and profit for the sheep, and often I must apologize that I have not been as great an advantage to my sheep as is right.

I do recognize there are still multiple things to be thankful for even in this shortcoming. First, sheep are less likely to follow me because of me; the clouded reflection of Christ in me is a constant reminder that He is the clear goal. Second, the sheep have much opportunity to serve me in prayer, that more of Christ would be formed in me. Third, we can commiserate together toward the day of glorification, when our joyful experience of completeness in Christ will equal our status.

So as we encourage one another, build up each other, and shepherd, let us do so with the joy of the Lord as our strength. Thank you for bearing with me as I progress in the same.

An Addendum on ADD

One of the compelling issues in the adolescence, ADD, and ADHD phenomena is the possibility of genetic or hormonal causation. We are told that if it can be scientifically determined that certain actions or attitudes are inherent in a person’s physical make-up, then we are obligated to consider their behavior normal and should remove moral responsibility from the discussion. After all, if they can’t help it, we shouldn’t expect it.

One of my points in the original post is that most of the deviant behavior diagnosed by doctors in adolescents has nothing to do with biology or endocrinology. Instead it is entirely related to hamartiology–the study of sin. And though I tried to state my case carefully, acknowledging the possibility of certain physical conditions that affect one’s conduct, a few additional or clarifying thoughts came to mind.

First, the Bible indefatigably reveals that sin is the dominant human problem, that sin originates from within our own hearts, that sin has a commanding influence on our behavior, and that we are morally responsible to God for our sin. Scripture holds us accountable, not others, our circumstances, our upbringing, our DNA, or anything other than the passions of our flesh. Since teenagers are human (some may still be waiting for medical confirmation on that one), their supreme trouble is sin.

But second, even if someday doctors do discover a biological basis for inattentiveness, laziness, rebellion, etc., that will not change our accountability before God.

I think there is a striking similarity between this subject and the argument for normalizing homosexuality. My wife has made this point in personal conversations for many years, and earlier this month Albert Mohler published a foundational article at his blog on the connection between moral responsibility and biological causation. As scientists look for “genetic or hormonal cause for sexual orientation,” see if some of Mohler’s take-away points don’t apply equally to the “genetic or hormonal cause for teenage disobedience” discussion. He encourages “Christians who are committed to think in genuinely Christian terms” to “think carefully about these points:”

1. There is, as of now, no incontrovertible or widely accepted proof that any biological basis for sexual orientation exists.

3. Given the consequences of the Fall and the effects of human sin, we should not be surprised that such a causation or link is found. After all, the genetic structure, along with every other aspect of creation, shows the pernicious effects of the Fall and of God’s judgment.

4. The biblical condemnation of all homosexual behaviors would not be compromised or mitigated in the least by such a discovery. The discovery of a biological factor would not change the Bible’s moral verdict on homosexual behavior.

9. We must stop confusing the issue of moral responsibility and moral choice. We are all responsible for our sexual orientation, but that does not mean that we freely and consciously choose that orientation. … We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

10. Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior.

So Christians who identify sin as the problem and the sinner as responsible do not need to fear the future discoveries of science and medicine. Even if biological factors are found in sexual orientation, teenage rebellion, or any other kind of temptation for that matter, personal culpability for sin is not removed. The Bible exhorts us to rebuke sin as sin–even in teenagers–and urge them to repentance and to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

UPDATE [7:53AM March 15]: The original post by Mohler is still making waves, upsetting both conservatives and liberals as seen in this article at The Christian Post (HT: Challies). Again, Mohler is not saying that there is a biological cause for homosexuality, he says if a connection is eventually pinpointed, it still won’t change the person’s moral responsibility to God for breaking His law.

Teenagers Are Incompetent

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Today we’ll address the first of the six lies of adolescence. Remember, by the name “adolescence” we are not simply referring to the biological changes that take place in a person over a small period of time (i.e., puberty). In our culture the word is more than a convenient catalog of the days, months, and years of being a teen. Adolescence refers to a mindset, and now an entire sub-culture, that has been established by certain lies that need to be laid bare.

1. Teenagers are incompetent.

*The first lie of adolescence says teens are not quite competent, in some ways not really complete humans. Thomas Hine said, “The concept of the teenager rests…on the idea of the adolescent as a not quite competent person, beset by stress and hormones” (The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, p.4). Someone who is “incompetent” is a person who fails to have or show the necessary skills to do something. This lie presumes that teenagers don’t yet have the necessary skills for life. The church version of the lie maintains teens do not have the wisdom or ability for spiritual life.

To be sure, growth and maturity is a process. There is no reason to expect teens will have the wisdom and competence that they will when they are 30, 50, or 70. But the lie of adolescence implies that because teens are not as mature as they will be someday, it is okay for them to remain childish. Many parents defend their child’s incompetence like it is a right while others even insist that it is unreasonable to expect them to grow up!

This low expectation has far reaching consequences. Because we believe the lie that teenagers are incompetent we don’t expect them to be responsible, so we don’t give them responsibility, and the downward spiral is perpetuated. We’re not surprised when they fail. We anticipate their excuses. And now even medical doctors are dispensing excuses for their incompetence.

For example, one diagnosis of teenage incompetence comes in the form of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is a behavioral disorder found mostly in boys that renders them incapable of paying attention for any significant length of time. Those with ADHD are easily distracted and physically incapable of sitting still. Currently, ADHD is understood to be “a persistent and chronic syndrome for which no medical cure is available.”

There have been some very excellent advances in medicine and technology in our day. Of course, some of those advances have enabled us to become really good at packaging our bologna. ADHD may just be old bologna in new packaging. When I was growing up, failing to pay attention was called rude, and 1 Corinthians 13:5 exposes rudeness as a lack of love. Getting low grades in school didn’t mean that you had a disorder, it typically meant that you were sluggard. Proverbs 6:6-11 clearly designates laziness as a moral problem, not a medical disorder.

I am not denying that there are legitimate disabilities that make it difficult for some people to learn and that may even make it hard for some people to sit still. In fact, I don’t love sitting still for long periods of time. Maybe I have adult ADHD (which of course is now a sanctioned diagnosis from medical professionals). But isn’t it obvious what happened? The kids diagnosed with ADHD grew up and, low and behold, it didn’t go away. But the reason their inability to pay attention didn’t go away is because it’s not an adolescent problem, it’s a heart problem.

For the majority of young people, hyperactive behavior, unwillingness to pay attention, habitual forgetfulness, etc., is just plain selfish. Selfishness says that my plans and what I want to do with my time are more important than what you want me to do. Not paying attention to someone else has more to do with focusing on yourself (cf. Philippians 2:3-5). That is selfishness and pride, not a disorder. Selfishness is a sin.

The lie of certain adolescent incompetence paints a pathetic picture of teens. But to believe that every teen is incompetent ignores thousands of years of capable and accomplished young adults. Consider David the shepherd boy as he defeated the giant, Daniel the exile who stood up to the Babylonian king, Mary the young mother of the Messiah, and even Jesus Himself as a young man in the temple confounding the wisdom of the Scribes. The Bible specifically exhorts young people, “Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but be an example of the believer” (1 Timothy 4:12). Scripture assumes teens are capable of spiritual competence with the Spirit’s help.

Of course, saying that teens are incompetent not only casts an ugly shadow on teens but it also calls God’s competence into question. Is adolescent incompetence so powerful God cannot overcome it? Or does He just not care about teenagers to begin with? We must press to this final point of trusting God at His Word and looking for His grace in our young people. Buying into the cultural lie that adolescents cannot be spiritually empowered to live wisely merely reveals a deeper problem, namely a belief that God cannot or will not use our teens for His own glory.