Posted in Apologetics

The Wisdom of the Babbler gives Meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord

When Paul was in Athens (read Acts 17.16-34), as was his common practice, he reasoned from the Scriptures to prove Jesus as the Christ. The very thing he did in Thessalonica and in Berea, he did everywhere he went. Scripture tends to give brief summaries of what was said by the apostle, rather than his entire dialogue. However, what is revealed to us is that the heart of his message was Jesus.  The gospel of God focuses on, and finds its being and purpose in, the good-news of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the great I AM.

It was always Paul’s contention to preach “Christ crucified” (1Cor 2.2), and to focus on the judgment of all found in our Lord’s resurrection (Acts 17.30-31). Apart from which, the Christian faith is meaningless. However, the converse is also true—the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord (i.e. empty tomb) are only meaningful to believers. This is clearly explained by the very apostle we find in Athens preaching (Acts 17.16-34), which was the content of a previous post (The Apostle Paul the Babbling Beggar).

Listen to his own testimony…

  • “For Christ… [sent me] to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1Cor 1.17-18; NIV).

Paul admits that the cross of Christ is powerless (i.e. emptied of its power) when divorced from the wisdom of God. True wisdom is sourced in God (Psa 111.10), from which all knowledge comes (Prov 2.6-8; Col 2.3). Not, the philosophy of fallen human beings.

Paul says that this idea is crazy and devoid of meaning (i.e. foolish) to those who are perishing. Who are the ones who are perishing? Those who are not in Christ. The apostle makes a needed distinction between those who are perishing and those who are not; the ones who are not perishing are the people who have been saved by the power of God.

It is not the wisdom of man that saves a man, but the power of God who saves the man.

  • “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe” (1Cor 1.21).

I know what you’re thinking, “God…saves those who believe!” Absolutely right! This is true, but before you do the victory lap, ask and answer the following question: “How?”

How is it that you believed, if the rest of the world did not? Since they view the cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord as utter foolishness? To the unbeliever the gospel of Jesus was not good news, but insanely moronic news. So how are you, a member of this world, a believer? Why did you find the cross of Christ and the resurrection of the Lord not foolish?

Paul answers that question if you’d keep reading:

  • “but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1Cor 1.24; italics added).

Those who have been chosen, or appointed, or elected by God—both Jews and Greeks—Paul says, identify the work of Christ, the grace afforded to us as the power and wisdom of God. The emphasis is on what has been done for us. It is by God’s power that we are saved in Christ, that we enjoy the fruits of being delivered from sin.

The very truth we find him proclaiming at the end of the first chapter, saying “God chose…so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord” (vv.28-31; summarized the emphatic points).  Our being “in Christ,” Paul explains in another place, is due to the action of God—i.e. an expression of His will and purpose—in accordance with “the riches of [His] grace that he lavished on us” (Eph 1.8a; cf. vv.3-12).

Therefore, Paul “resolved to know nothing…except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor 2.2). Rather than appealing to some other standard to show the validity and veracity of the gospel, the apostle’s message was “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirits power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power” (1Cor 2.4b-5).

Human wisdom leads up a dead-end road. This is demonstrated in Jesus’ crucifixion at Golgotha. For “none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1Cor 2.8; emphasis added). But they did, because the message of the cross of Christ and His resurrection is spiritually discerned, and man left to His own abilities is not able (cf. 1Cor 2.14).


A common assumption is made that all we need to do is preach Jesus’ resurrection today. If we can get people to see the truth of the resurrection of Jesus, then people will believe. Andy Stanley, who has adopted the mindset of Norman Geisler, William Lane Craig, and many other significant Christian leaders, believes that if we can tether our message to the resurrected Jesus—i.e. the empty tomb—then that is all that is really needed.

Show them this evidence historically, apart from direct or sustained appeals to the Bible (we don’t want to get in any of those unnecessary biblical questions like inerrancy, etc!), and people will believe.

Besides the fact that the cross and resurrection of our Lord are meaningless apart from biblical testimony, many Christian leaders believe they have found a better way. Even though the very Lord they profess to believe in says it can’t be done, they have convinced themselves, “Oh, yes it can!” Interesting…um, who has the authority to say what can and can’t be done? I was pretty sure calling Jesus Lord settles that issue: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16.31; ESV).[i] “Yeah, but that’s a parable,” individuals like Stanley claim, as if that settles the matter.

“Oh! It’s a parable…Ah, I see that makes it…what less meaningful? Less true? Jesus you idiot! You taught people with parables rather than just saying it. Had you just said it, that would have been better. Then people would know that you were speaking truthfully, not figuratively.”

Is that what you think? Is that how you deal with the wisdom writings in the Bible? They use figurative language (poetic language even!) and so we can’t take them literally.

  • Person 1 says, “Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.” And then explains to Person 2, “You can’t drink the water fella, its no good. Either its poisoned by minerals or by decaying bodies, by either way its not safe to quench your thirst.”
  • Person 2 responds, “Well, you spoke figuratively there, so you must be wrong. I can’t take that literally.”

Now you may think I’m being a bit ridiculous, but the truth is many use those type of arguments all the time to get around what the Bible teaches on a given subject. It is true that figurative language is symbolic. But it is equally true that if you understand the symbols you can derive the true meaning of what is being said.

Jesus’ meaning is pretty clear: If people refuse to repent when they have heard the Word of God—by the way “Moses and the Prophets” is a figure of speech meaning the O.T.—then they will not believe even if someone has risen from the grave. It is not until the power of God has been demonstrated in the life of the individual in question by the Holy Spirit’s regenerating activity that spiritual truths make sense and are, consequently, embraced.


When Paul was in Athens, he proclaimed the cross of Christ and our Lord’s resurrection. The intellectually wise, the best that Athens could offer, called him a gutter-sparrow; a moronic babbler of strange deities. In so doing, they claimed he was a fool and they were wise. He didn’t understand the nature of reality, the truth of things, but they did. And yet, they were the ones confused over the truth. They were the one’s demonstrated to be steeped in ignorance[ii], though they mockingly laughed in derision at the apostle’s claims (Act 17.32).

However, what is laid out before us in Acts 17:16-34 is a demonstration of the power of God at work in the hearts of fallen people. For as Paul was seen leaving (Acts 17.33), some followed: “But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them” (Acts 17.34; ESV).

On that day God called (chose/elected/appointed) one of the members of the Areopagus to new life, even a woman of evidently some repute, as well as others who were not named nor numbered. Paul was wiser than the wisest men that the world had to offer, and he expressed this wisdom not by appealing to men with evidences divorced from Scripture, but evidences rooted in Scripture from which their true meaning is derived.

Had the approach from popular Christian apologists, pastors, theologians, etc. of which Stanley is an advocate, been advanced by Paul two things would have occurred. First, he would have denied what he had set out to prove in 1Cor 1-2 that faith in the cross and resurrection of Christ is spiritually discerned. Belief is brought about by a demonstration of God’s powerful wisdom, not man’s. Second, he would have dishonored Christ and His Word by assuming that some other standard would have been on par with the Spirit’s testimony.

Notice that I didn’t say faith in Christ wouldn’t have come about as a possible result. While, our methods may at times dishonor our Lord, His divine purposes still see the light of day. Our God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick, just look at how He used sinful men and women in the past to bring about what He had formerly intended.

That truth, however, does not remove our responsibility to using His wisdom and knowledge instead of our own.


[i]       When Jeff Durbin tried to prove his point to Andy Stanley in their debate on “Unbelievable” Stanley’s go to was “well, that’s a parable….” This a common rescuing device used by those who desire to skate by uncomfortable passages of Scripture that infringe upon their own preconceived ideas.

[ii]      Before the Areopagus—the gathering of the intellectually elite in Athens—Paul points out their ignorance. They had mocked him in the market saying, “You ignorant fool.” And yet, when he begins his defense of the Christian faith, he points out that they are in fact the ignorant ones, “What therefore you worship as unknown [i.e. in ignorance], this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23b).  How often have we read this passage and passed over this gentle rebuke of Athenian wisdom by Paul?

Posted in Apologetics

Debate over the use of Evidence in Christian Witnessing: the Cross and Resurrection of Christ

Not too long ago (sometime back in May) Andy Stanley and Jeff Durbin, two notable pastors with their own perspective ministries, had a dialogue on the Premiere Christian radio program Unbelievable, with Justin Brierley (here). One of the primary focuses of the discussion dealt with apologetic methodologies. At one point during the interchange Stanley challenged Durbin with the following statement: “I’m tying this [i.e. the Christian faith] specifically to the resurrection…why do you believe what you believe?” Durbin’s response was immediate: “Because of the Word of the Living God.” If you watch the video you will notice that Stanley distorts his face a bit. It appears he didn’t appreciate Durbin’s rationale.

For Stanley (and others who share his mindset), the Christian faith stands or falls in regards to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. William Lane Craig admits as much in a debate he had with Gerd Ludemann, agreeing with his opponent that “the resurrection of Jesus is the central point of the Christian religion.”i

I have listened to this approach many times, and a constant refrain is given to Paul’s statement in 1Cor 15 about the vanity of the Christian faith if Christ has not been raised:

  • And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith…if Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile…” (1Cor 15.14, 17a).

What Paul says in 1Cor 15 is absolutely true. If Jesus did not rise from the grave; if He did not ascend to the Father’s right hand; if He is not seated on His throne in Heaven ruling all creation; then, our faith as Christians is utterly meaningless. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead…” (1Cor 15.20a), as Paul states.

J.P. Moreland writes,

  • We see examples of apologetics everywhere in Scripture. In Acts, Paul argued, reasoned, presented evidence, and tried rationally to persuade others to become Christians (Acts 14:15-17; 17:2-4, 16-31; 18.4) …[Likewise,] Jesus Christ Himself regularly engaged in logical debate and rational argument with false, destructive ideologies in His culture, and on several occasions He told people to believe in Him, not simply on the basis of His Word, but because of the evidence of His miracles.”ii

In other words, don’t just take our word for it. In fact, don’t just take what we claim is God’s Word as the basis for truth (i.e. the Bible), but listen to the evidence. Look at the evidence. Follow the evidence. And as Moreland argues, Jesus and Paul were just following the methodology of the prophets. They “regularly…appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message….”iii


Evidences are important, but they are limited in their usefulness. The Achilles heel of all evidential approachesiv is the standard one uses to interpret their meaning. You may have heard it said, “Follow the evidence,” “Let the evidence speak for itself,” etc., but the truth is evidence must always be interpreted. How one interprets the evidence is determined by the authoritative standard they submit to.

I find that many Christians I speak to have a hard time understanding this. The reason is that they have had encounters where evidence was presented by party “A” to party “B,” and party “B” who are formerly in disagreement has been persuaded to take the position of party “A.” Let me give a quick illustration to help you see what I am saying.

The Pricing Debate…

Sally comes over to your house and says, “Hey, you wanna grab a bite to eat?” Your stomach has been growling for about a half-an-hour, so you don’t need much convincing. You’re starving, but your funds are limited, so you say “Sure, what place did you have in mind?” Sally, who has been craving a nice juicy cheeseburger and fries says “What about Five Guys”? I hear they have really good food, and I’ve been wanting to try it for a while now.” “Five Guys! Man, I heard they are really expensive…you know, a’ la carte and all. I really don’t have much money. Why not McDonald’s?” you respond.

A debate then ensues between You and Sally. How can Sally set Your mind at ease? If we were Sally we’d probably get a copy of the menu offline, and then compare prices. If she told you that a cheeseburger at that restaurant was the same size and price as the Quarter Pounder at McD’s, and then presented the evidence to you, you’d probably change your mind. Isn’t that a wonderful example of the presenting the evidence to win over an unbeliever? Seems like it doesn’t it.

Let’s think this through…

Now take a step back a minute, and think about why this approach worked. You changed your mind when Sally showed you the menu from Five Guys and compared with McDonald’s. You saw the evidence and adopted Sally’s position. Why? Because you both accepted the standard. You both looked at the menu from the restaurant as authoritative on prices. You were able to come to the right conclusion because you submitted to what was presented to you.

The problem is that approach does not work with spiritual truths, of which the resurrection of Jesus Christ is one. That is precisely Paul’s point in 1Cor 1-2, which we I shall address in my next article. But, for a moment consider the Christian claim regarding the resurrection. Are we able to separate it from the rest of the Christian system of faith? Not if we want to make sense of it!

As powerful a piece of evidence that the resurrection of Jesus truly is, it is utterly meaningless apart from the biblical testimony. What do you prove, if you can show that Jesus was raised from the grave historically? What have you done if you can show that a supposed majority of scholars accept your claim, other than ride dangerously close to the fallacious appeal to majority? Not much.


There is an inherent problem with this popular apologetic approach. Where one points to Christ’s resurrection, and then attempts to prove it on mere evidential grounds (historical, psychological, etc.). The cross of Christ and the resurrection of our Lord are absolutely meaningless divorced from the context in which these truths have been formed.

Apart from Scripture, the claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, was crucified on a Roman cross and physically raised from the grave is nonsensical. Every statement that Christian’s profess about this man and His ministry is steeped in theological content. Just look….

Take for instance the name Jesus (Yeshua), that is not just a name but a name with profound meaning: “Yahweh saves” (cf. Matt 1.21; Isa 45.21-22). Or, what about the name of his city (Nazareth), which appears to come from the Hebrew word for branch an allusion to Isa 11:1 (cf. Matt 2.23). Christ (Christos) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messiah (mashiyach) and it means the anointed one of God—prophet, priest, and kings in the O.T., a general reference, but a specific reference to the rightful ruler of all (cf. Gen 49.10; Matt 2.2-6; Mic 5.2; 1Sam 2.10). The Roman cross also has weighty significance in that it represents the curse of God upon the one who hangs upon it; necessary, since Jesus is said to take the curse of His people upon Himself as a substitute (cf. Deut 21.22-23; Gal 3.13; also see Isa 53). And let us not forget the resurrection, of which Paul refers to and gives true meaning to Christian hope in Acts 17:16-34 (cf. Acts 2.24-32; Isa 26.19; Hos 13.14).

How can one preach Christ crucified, proclaiming the cross and the resurrection apart from biblical truths that give contextual meaning to the extraordinary event that Stanley and those like him speak about? The answer? You can’t, not consistently at least. The popularity of the approach does not make it biblical.

Forthcoming: The Wisdom of the Babbler gives meaning to the Cross of Christ and the Resurrection of our Lord


iPaul Copan and Ronald K. Tacelli, Jesus’ Resurrection Fact or Figment: A Debate between William Lane Craig & Gerd Ludemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 31.


iiJ. P. Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: the Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul, Rev. ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress [1997] 2012), 149.


iiiIbid, 149.


ivThis includes Classical and Evidential uses of evidences in apologetic dialogue. All methodologies that start with the evidence in a fashion that cuts ties with biblical revelation are guilty of this approach.

Posted in regeneration, Salvation

Regeneration Logically Precedes Faith (Belief): A response to Haden Clark

Today, I wanted to take a brief moment to give my own thoughts in response to an article that I recently read by Haden Clark (here), whose contention is that our belief precedes our regeneration. A belief common to many Evangelical Christians today. In this response I hope to offer a counter balance to his conceptual argument against Reformed thought. I am admittingly intrigued by his proposed biblical support forthcoming, so I refrain entering into that water until a later date.


Which came first? The chicken or the egg? The question puzzles millions, but only because of a difference in starting points. If you believe in an evolutionary style process where little by little information was added until you have a semi-final product (if its evolving, it can never be final), then no doubt you assume that the egg needed to come first. If you believe in biblical creation, then you realize that the chicken necessarily came first. God created birds, fish, various land creatures, and human beings according to their kinds, and He made them male and female.

The solution to the question is found in the authority that is acknowledged and appealed to. No one was there in the beginning. At least you and I were not, and so our beliefs about what was and how it came to be is decided on what we are found submitting to.

Although, the question of the chicken and the egg is not exactly the same it is similar to the question regarding belief: Which came first, faith or regeneration. Faith speaks of action. While, the world will often see faith as a “blind-leap,” a wishful hoping and wringing of the hands, true faith is the trust one places in another. This trust is not just by word of mouth—an expression of mental assent—but by a purposeful activity towards something.


Salvation is an important Christian doctrine that is often seen as an intramural debate within the body of Christ. The argument that often occurs in Christian circles regarding the issue of creation vs. evolution is the same sort of argument that occurs in the area of soteriology (salvation). Who has the final word? Who gets the final “say-so?” Who has ultimate authority?

One of the key doctrines that sparked the reformer Martin Luther to address the Roman Catholic Church with his grievances was on this very issue—salvation. Who saves who? Is it the Church or is it God? Is it something man must first assent to? Or is it something that God must first move upon? Who is responsible for our belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ? God or man?

Erasmus and Luther debated this very issue in the Bondage of the Will. Erasmus believed that it was strongly implied that man has some ability to believe in God. For, why would God command something that we the creature could not respond to? If God commanded it, then we must be able to respond properly (i.e. exercise faith). Luther strongly disagreed because Scripture does not imply the creatures ability, but strongly denies it. The denials are not implications, but rather direct rebuttals of any form of goodness in man.

Is belief in Jesus Christ a good or bad thing? Is having faith in the gospel of God—trusting in what God has done in history, specifically in Jesus of Nazareth—a good thing? Obviously, it is we would be foolhardy to deny it. But, that leaves us in a bit of a conundrum for the Bible is very clear on this: there is no goodness in fallen man. Not even a tiny, little spark.


And yet, our faith in Christ, is an exceedingly good thing. Why? Because it is a gift from God, something that we did not originally possess, but was given to us. Haden Clark agrees,

  • Faith being a gift is another concept worth pointing out. All are in agreement on this point. Calvinists, Arminians, and Traditionalists all agree that salvation, faith, repentance, and the whole nine yards are a gift from God” (par. 18).

That is to say, it is the grace of God that brings about our salvation, faith, and repentance. It is the unmerited favor of our Lord that bestows upon us such wonderful treasures. Ironically, where we seem to agree is where we are found in strong disagreement. The problem is that we do not define grace in the same way.

Clark’s analogy serves as a good example of what I mean. He writes,

  • If I freely gave you a one-hundred dollar check that you took to the bank and cashed, and then proceeded to march around town boasting about how you had earned it, who would take you seriously? No one who knew the truth of the matter” (par ).

Well, what is the truth of the matter? According to Clark it appears that God grace is similar to a person offering you a gift of money, and you reaching out and taking it. However, what are the underlying assumptions? First that the person being offered the gift is fairly neutral to the prospect of a free gift. There is no apparent hostility between the two individual’s. Second, that the person who “receives” the gift is free to take it. Nothing binds the person. Shackles of any kind are non-existent. Third, that the individual “receiving” the gift is capable of discerning between that which is good and that which is not. Spiritual depravity is denied.

I am familiar with this line of argumentation. I used to believe it, even taught it for a time. What changed my heart/mind regarding it? My belief did not find allegiance with the text of God.

A better analogy might be offered at this point.

You are a criminal standing before the judgment seat. The books are opened, and the evidence is stacked heavily against you. “What say you?” says the Judge. Our mouths at that moment are found shut. In the past, we may have offered excuses to others in our lives for our sin, but before Him in the light of His holy Law we know in our hearts that we are rightly condemned. “Guilty! The verdict is punishment by eternal death.” When all hope seems lost, another opens His mouth. He says to the Judge of all the Earth, this one is spoken for. I have paid the price, laying down my life for his. I have already bore His punishment on the cross.” At that moment, the Judge looks at you and says, “Though your sin is deserving of death, One worthy and able of paying your debt has stepped in. Rather than receiving wrath—which you deserve—I give to you mercy. You have received the gift of life, when death was all that was promised to you. At that moment, you look to your Savior, your new Lord and pour out praises and undying fealty to Him. In Him you trust alone, for He has done what you could not do for yourself. He has given you eternal life—the gift (grace) of God.

To be fair, I will point out to you my own assumptions.

We are not basically good, but fully evil. Though we assume that we are free and nothing binds us, the reality is that we are slaves of sin. Our crimes are against a Holy God whose Law, which is perfectly spiritual and good, shuts our mouths. Had no one acted on our behalf we would all be damned. Our choices in life do not lead us to Him, unless He has been the one guiding our steps. The gift of God’s grace is not that we reached out to Him in hope, but that He reached out to us in love, and placed that love in our hearts. He first demonstrated this love by taking our place on the cross, and we return this love in faith because He changed our hearts, giving us new life. His grace He poured into us, we did not seek to do this for ourselves.


Clark points out rightly that Calvinists believe, “If God grants you faith, you will necessarily believe” (par. 20). That is true. In Reformed thought, salvation—which includes our faith—necessarily leads to belief in the Triune God of Scripture.

Understandably so, given his own presuppositions, Clark finds this very distasteful. Why? It has to do with the way in which we defines “gift” or “grant” or the “grace of God.” He concludes,

  • If I give you a gift that you cannot resist, I didn’t give it to you. I forced it upon you to the extent that you could not reject it” (par. 22).

So, it is a violation of man, if God does for the creature what the creature is incapable of doing himself? It is a violation of man if God opens the eyes of the creature showing them the light of glory by giving him eyes to see? It is a violation of man, if God saves the creature from his own destructive living, stopping him from running headlong off a cliff chasing after the hounds of hell?

Perhaps, this is easier for me to see that this is not a violation of the creature, since I have children of my own. I pour my love into my kids lives doing for them what they do not intend to do for themselves. Perhaps, they sometimes view it as a violation of their own precious wills, but they are fools. It is my duty before God, and out of love for them, to correct their waywardness. To do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Clark does not like mischaracterizations of a person’s position, and I agree with him. But he is mischaracterizing what Calvinists believe when he says that our view of God’s saving us is in reality Him “forcing upon” us the gift of eternal life. We believe that it is God doing for us what we are incapable of doing for ourselves, because of our fallen condition and inward hostility towards Him. If He did not act in such a manner, we would be left in our sinful state. His giving us such mercy, rather than wrath is not seen as violating us, but loving us.


Why do we need a new heart? Why do we to be made alive? If we are fully capable of turning, trusting, and responding to God apart from receiving these things, then why do I need them?

If faith comes before regeneration (i.e. being born from above), then why do I need a new life? I can already run to God, choosing the good. It seems to follow that I could likewise be obedient to the Law, for the gospel is also a law which demands that I repent of my sins and swear allegiance to Christ anyway. The consequence of failing to do so guarantees my damnation, just like the consequence of refusing to obey all of God’s other instructions.

Scripture identifies the order of life as a gift of God. Something that He brings about, and we the creature enjoy the benefit. What is true of our natural birth, is likewise true of our spiritual birth. “The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help” (John 6.63a; NET). That’s why we have nothing to boast in; even our belief.

Posted in Theology

Predestination Controversy: A Review of “Paul on Predestination” by Haden Clark

Recently fellow blogger Haden Clark wrote an article (here) attempting to refute the biblical doctrine of predestination. Using a few key proof-texts found in Ephesians 1 he sought to offer what he believed are key reasons why Christians should reject the Reformed1 (i.e. Calvinist) understanding.  According to Clark, “Ephesians 1 is not a Calvinist proof-text for ‘unconditional election’ in the sense that God unconditionally elects some individuals to salvation” (par. 43) Confidently asserting that Paul “never says we are predestined to be ‘in [Christ].’ God has not chosen, or predetermined, who will believe and who will not” (par. 40). After offering his reasons for believing this is the case, he then invites his readers to: “Let me know what you think…” (closing sentence).

I accept the invitation of “fun dialogue” (to use Clark’s words) to offer my own thoughts to be scrutinized by him and his readers. I hope in this I treat him fairly, and that my citations of his thoughts are accurately cited.2 I will begin where he started…

Ephesians 1

Clark’s effort to refute Calvinistic teachings on predestination begins with Eph 1:1. He writes, “As far as I can tell, this verse is the key to understanding, or rightly interpreting, the rest of Ephesians. It sets the stage, or the content for the rest of the letter” (par. 13).  I think he makes a valid point here. A key to properly understanding what is written is the “who” and to “whom.”

I will provide this verse for the reader in more than one English translation:

  • “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (ESV; italics added).
  • “From Paul, who by God’s will is an apostle of Christ Jesus—To God’s people in Ephesus, who are faithful in their life in union with Christ Jesus” (GNB; italics added).
  • “From: Paul, an apostle of the Messiah Jesus by God’s will. To: His holy and faithful people in Ephesus who are in union with the Messiah Jesus” (ISV; italics added).
  • “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus” (NET; italics added).

All of these translations (you can check more)2 emphasize the same thing. Do you see it? What is it? (Well if you don’t see it that’s okay we’ll discuss it later).

Clark believes the answer is found in “the phrase ‘in Christ’ [which] is repeated throughout…at least 13 times…” (par. 15) in various forms in the first chapter alone. I believe this is an important observation by him.

Obviously, Paul is very concerned about the people he is writing to (not just in Ephesus, but abroad as this was a circulatory epistle sent to several church’s).  He identifies them personally and lovingly as can be seen in v. 2, where the apostle says, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now Clark believes he’s onto something here. He then cites three important verses (vv. 4, 5-6) that he rightly identifies as proof-texts for the Calvinistic thinker. Here they are:

  • “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless…” (v.4)3
  • “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,” (v.5)
  • “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (v. 6).

Earlier Clark had noted that the Calvinist finds Eph 1 “of particular importance…because it is here we find ‘predestination’ and ‘being chosen before the foundation of the world” (par. 16). Please note that the words he refers to are in the section he and I cited by Paul. The bold highlights what Clark believes the Calvinist focuses on, and the italicized identify what he finds of particular importance.

After citing these three verses, Clark asks his readers a very important question: “Do these verses teach that God chose before the foundation of the world a select number of people to be saved” (par. 25). He then offers his own answer: “Honestly, I couldn’t force my eyes to see that interpretation” (par. 26; italics in original). I’m not entirely sure that this was meant to be funny, but I couldn’t help but laugh at the honesty of the statement.

Clark admits earlier that he is not “entirely objective” –that’s good, because none of us are—but here he identifies the underlying issue. It is not that he cannot see the possibility of another interpretation, but that he will not allow it. You can’t force him to do it. He won’t!

To be fair, he gives another reason for not accepting what the Calvinist believes. He says it is due to “…the phrase ‘in Him’ that I emphasized in the above verses” (par. 27) He asks, “Who is the ‘us’ that God has ‘chosen before the foundation of the world’? The ‘us’ refers to those who are ‘in Him’ back in verse 1…Paul and the ‘faithful saints’ in Ephesus are the ‘us’ in verse 4 and they are also ‘in Christ’” (par. 28). Agreed!

On this point Clark appears to be on the right track. He is correct that the “us” are those who are also “in Christ.” The question I present is “Why? Why are they in Christ?” Herein lies the line of demarcation between Clark and the theological system he is arguing against.

He argues that the only thing predestined (predetermined) is the destination and the blessings promised to those who are headed that way. He writes, “Those who are ‘in Christ’…were not predetermined to be ‘in Christ,’ that’s not what the verse says. It says those who are already in Christ are predestined” (par. 32). In essence, one must first be in Christ—be a Christian, be born-from-above—in order to be predestined. Christians are not predestined until they have decided that is the route they want to travel down.

I’m not sure if you are getting that, but what he is saying is that “we,” the “us in Christ,” first predetermined to be such, before we were predestined. God cannot personally predestine a particular individual, He can only predestine the rewards, the blessings, and the final destination; an impersonal thing(s). God has determined that “believers in Jesus will reach their destination: sanctification and glorification. God has predetermined it to be so” (par. 33).

Let me get this straight. We predestinate ourselves, God just ratifies our decision? The Creator of Heaven and Earth is left to the whims of his creatures? Regardless of what all else is said, that’s the argument. Is that really what you believe?

Looking Back…

I want to walk through those verses and see if you are able to notice what is truly being said in them. In Eph 1:1 we learn who is writing to whom. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus…To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Jesus Christ.” The apostle of our Lord is writing to Christian men and women in Ephesus and in various other locations throughout the Greco-Roman world. We know that Clark believes the key is in understanding those “in Christ Jesus,” the “us” discussed throughout the letter.

But I have a question of my own, why is Paul writing to them…other than edification and instruction? Why is he an apostle? Who determined that Saul of Tarsus would be sent as an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles throughout the Roman world? It wasn’t Saul; Paul did not choose to be such, it was chosen for him (cf. Acts 8.1, 3; 9.1-20).

In his own words, Paul says it was because of the “will of God,” (Eph 1.1) not his will; not his choice. If left up to him, he’d still be murdering Christians, but something (or rather someone) changed his heart. It was God’s plan of purpose in the life of Paul that transformed, or rather, transferred him into Christ. God’s will not Paul’s.

I agree with Clark that this verse is paramount to understanding the rest of the letter, but he has passed over a key part of this verse. What Paul reveals in verse 1 he continues to reveal throughout the entire first chapter and beyond.

Clark did not just miss that, but he also missed what was being said in vv. 4-6.  In grammar, English or Greek, there is a wonderful rule regarding subjects, verbs and objects. The verb identifies the action/activity being presented in the sentence. The subject identifies the one who is doing the action/activity. And, object is the one who is receiving the action/activity.

For example, “the doctor gave him a vaccination shot.” In this sentence the verb is “gave.” Who gave the shot? The doctor did; the subject. Who received the shot? “Me” or I am the one who received the shot; the object. Where do you suppose the emphasis is truly being laid in this sentence? Is it the one who received the shot or the one who gave the shot? It is the one who gave the shot, for the doctor performed what needed to be done. Had the doctor not performed the shot, the person in question would not have received the necessary medicine to protect life.

I think if you want to clearly understand what is being said by Paul in Eph 1, you need to not only pay attention to the flow-of-thought (i.e. context), but you also need to pay attention to where stress is being laid. Whose activity is being highlighted, and who is the recipient of that activity. Look at those verses cited by Clark again, but this time, let’s include v. 3.

**Note to Reader: “Bold” is for God (subject), “bold-italicized” is for activity/action (verb), and “italicized” is for “us in Christ” (object).

  • “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” (Eph 1.3; emphasis added).3
    • Here Paul tells his readers that God is to be blessed (i.e. praised) because of what he has done. What has God done? He “has blessed us in Christ.” Who did the blessing? God did. He is the one to be praised for the activity! How so? That is answered in what follows.
  • “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him…” (Eph 1.4; emphasis added).
    • Here Paul explains the reason for “us” being “in Christ” because God chose us. This looks back to verse 3 and the spiritual blessings that we have received, chief among them our union with Jesus Christ. Who did the choosing? Paul says “God” did. Who received the activity of God? “We” (i.e. us) did. When did this action of God take place? Before the world began, which is the meaning of “before the foundation of the world.” Notice the emphasis is not laid on our having believed as Clark says; rather, Paul says we are found in Christ—the chief of all blessings because God chose to put us there. Where? In union with Christ Jesus, from which all the other blessings of God flow.
  • “In love, he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph 1.5; emphasis added).
    • Here Paul gives the reason for God’s choosing the “us in Christ.” He says it was “in love” or because of God’s love that we find ourselves adopted into His Holy family through Jesus Christ—the gate that all must pass to be saved. Jesus is the means to which we are grafted into the family of God. How so? Again, who is doing the action of predestinating? God is. Who is the recipient of this activity of God? We are; those in Christ. And this, we find an important tie in by the apostle with what he said in verse 1: “according to the purpose of his will….” Whose will? Whose purpose? God’s or man’s? According to Paul it is because of God, not man…not the believer.
  • “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1.6; emphasis added).
    • The reason, Paul says Christians should praise God is because “of his glorious grace.” Because of God’s undeserving favor and mercy, He has chosen to bless “us in the Beloved.” Again, who is doing the action here? God is. Who is the recipient of the activity of God? We are; the “us in the Beloved [Christ].”

The emphasis is continually laid on what God has done, not on what we have done in Eph 1. Clark would like to reverse that order and deny its personal application. Yet, Paul is speaking to specific persons, not everyone in Ephesus—the city or the church—is found in Christ. The choosing and predestinating of God is a personal activity, not impersonal. In writing this letter, the Holy Spirit through Paul is making a necessary distinction.

Moreover, our “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (v. 7a) are not the result of our activity, but the Lord’s. It was “according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” (v. 7b-8a). God did that which was “according to his purpose” (v.9). Yes, Christ was “set forth” (v.9b) as the necessary sacrifice and gift, “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (v. 10). Again, Paul emphasizes to the observant reader that “In him [Christ] we have obtained an inheritance…” (Eph 1.11a) How so? “…having been predestined according to the purpose of him [God] who works all things…” (Eph 1.11b). All things? All things. Even my belief in Christ, God worked that out as well? Yes, all things are brought about in creation “…according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1.11c).

What of our belief? What about our choice? Did we not choose Christ? Does not Paul say as much in v. 13. Yes, he does. He writes, “In him you also, when you heard, the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit….” No one denies that we are the ones called (commanded) to believe in Jesus Christ as the only true source of our hope. The question is “why?” Why do we believe in Him? Paul addresses that in the 2nd chapter, but again you will find the emphasis is laid upon God’s action not man’s.

Eph 1 explains our station before God, the benefits that are a part of that station, and the emphasis he lays is on God’s activity not our own. Paul develops why that is necessarily so in Eph 2 and beyond. Clark refuses to accept this (at least for now, I hold out hope) because of another underlying issue. Rejecting the fallenness of mankind, he still assumes that we possess the neutral disposition towards right or wrong that Adam and Eve appear to have been created with. Believing it is in our power to either chose or reject righteousness/holiness as a mere mental exercise, leads to the erroneous position that it is wrong for God to change our hearts to love Christ, whom we formerly hated.

While I appreciate the anthem cry of “Freedom!” as done by William Wallace in Braveheart, the fact of the matter is that we are not free unless the Son sets us free; allowing us to be adopted into His Father’s house (John 8.35-36; cf. 14.2-4).

I hope that I have been fair to Clark, and want it known that I have no ill will towards him. I want to thank him for the exercise in thought, and pray that the Lord lead him down right paths. And, I also extend the invitation that he put forth in his own writings; all critical thought is welcome! God bless.



1 Calvinist theology is a nickname for Reformed theology. John Calvin was not alone in his thoughts regarding “predestination,” “free-will,” “divine-election,” “depravity of fallen man,” etc. as many of the initial Reformers held his convictions. He is more well-known due to his ability to systematically categorize the Christian faith-system (worldview) in his mountain of literature that he produced.  Unfortunately, many of those writings are unread by those who find it necessary to take to task that which they are somewhat unfamiliar with. For starters most believe Calvinists start their thinking with predestination, but soteriology is only one branch in the Reformed theological tree as important as it may be. Reformed thought has more to offer, but for some ignorance is bliss. Moreover, I’m not sure that Calvin would be overly thrilled with his name being used to define a particular branch of theology, as his premiere purpose was exalting the God of the Bible, being led by the Holy Spirit, in order to magnify the Name of Jesus Christ.  In any event, I will go by that title if it eases identification for the reader.

2 I chose the indicator “par.” to help the reader find their way through Clark’s work. Sometimes, what I call “par.” is only a sentence long, but I thought that “line” would have been much more tedious that what I had chosen. Hopefully, my eyes did not jump a line here or there, but if they I pray that the reader would show some grace on my part.

Posted in Apologetics

The Apostle Paul the Babbling Beggar

“There is no wrong way to share your faith.”1 Is that accurate? Does the Lord look down from His throne in heaven and say, “I don’t care how you do it, just do it!” If the Holy Spirit commands that we are to “eat” and “drink” for His glory, and these are everyday activities that at first glance don’t seem like real spiritual issues, then it most certainly follows that whatever we seek to do, we are to do it for God’s glory (1Cor 10.31). Wouldn’t Christian witnessing fall under this umbrella?

The Lord is concerned with how we share our faith. There is a right and wrong way to represent Christ to the world. And, if you want plenty of examples of how it should be done, I would suggest you start studying your Bible’s. First look to Christ, then examine the apostles and prophets of old. There you will find exemplary models that need re-imaging.

However, this does not ignore we have difficulties before us doing so.

Christian Witnessing in our day…

We live in a post-Christian world. Our generation no longer sees or accepts the teachings of the Holy Bible as authoritative.  Our society is pluralistic and so it is wrong to assume that people will recognize one authority over and above all others. If we are going to reach people today with the truth, then we need to use other means to get them to that truth; rather than appealing to the truth from which we say we have obtained life.

Christian witnessing in the Apostles day

Paul lived in a pre-Christian world. Paul’s generation did not see or accept the Holy Scriptures (Tanakh) as authoritative over and above all others. The society he witnessed to—the Greco-Roman world—was pluralistic. But, what method (or means) did the apostle use to appeal to those he was witnessing to?

Two Choices…

For all the talk about how different our circumstances are in comparison with the 1st century apostles, an honest examination/reflection over the biblical texts and the historic context of the period reveal what we are seeing today is NOT a new thing. Now there are at least two options laid before the Christian witness2 at this point. First, pragmatism is believed to be the best method. That is to say, “What we did in the past no longer works, and so new innovative approaches are needed if we are going to reach people.” Second, an attempt at integrating the apostolic method is deemed the wisest. From the material that I’ve read on Christian evangelism/apologetics the latter approach is considered extreme naiveté.3

Now you may want to chop these categories up a little finer than I have done. That is fine, but I’ll leave you with the burden of doing so. I believe that there are sufficient grounds for labeling the two distinct approaches as I have done; realizing that the underlying issue is theological. In other words, the manner in which one pursues Christian witnessing is based upon their basic presumption about the current state of mankind.

If people are essentially good and their minds are relatively unharmed by the noetic effects of the fall (i.e. original sin), then some variant of pragmatic witnessing is inevitable. However, if the view is the opposite. If the human condition has been radically corrupted by the sin of our fore-parents (Adam and Eve), and this entails our mental faculties, then an attempt at applying biblical principles when witnessing to the lost will be the goal. With those things in mind, let the reader now approach Acts 17.

The Setting…

Paul enters Athens awaiting the rest of his ministry team (Acts 17.16). He has been to various places teaching/preaching Christ from the Scriptures; in particular Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 17.1, 10). Each time he arrived at a location it wouldn’t be long before he was driven to the next. Everywhere he went “he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17.2; cf. v. 10) that “Jesus [of Nazareth] …is the Christ” (Acts 17.3). Those who opposed Paul and his gospel complained to any and all that he was “turn[ing] the world upside down…saying that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17.6, 7), and they followed him doggedly until he finally found himself alone in Athens.

How Does Paul Appeal to the Athenians?

To identify Jesus as the Christ—the Anointed One of God—is synonymous with claiming His kingship. This bothered the unbelieving Jews, and it also negatively stirred the hearts of the Greeks. Only those who believed in Jesus as the Christ, understood that having Him as Lord is necessary and good. If Jesus is Christ and rightful King over all, then fealty to Him is absolutely necessary. Such truth will work differently upon the person in question, depending upon their inward disposition towards God.

If we are attentive to what we are reading here in Acts 17:16-34, we will notice the reason for Paul’s initial reaction in the city, the content of his message at the Areopagus, and the response of those in attendance that day. Here’s what I mean.

The Reaction…

When Paul enters Athens, we are told that “his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17.16). Paul was loyal to Jesus, and these idols were an affront to his Lord’s lordship. Idols demand fealty, loyalty, reverence and worship, everything that is to be given to God alone. Paul was intensely irritated by what he saw, his inner heart was angered by such foolishness, and this prompted him to open his mouth.

Therefore, we find that he did in Athens as he had previously done in other Greco-Roman cities:

  • “…he reasoned in the synagogues with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17.17).

In other words, Paul argued for Christ in the synagogues and in the marketplace every day. It is an interesting admission that he did this “with those who happened to be there,” for the marketplace in Athens was the societal nexus of the people who lived there. The marketplace drew not only the common rabble, but the intellectual giants, the sophisticated philosophers of Athens. While, it is true that at this time Athens had lost some of its luster as the crown intellectual dynasty of the world, the truth remains that it had retained a significant portion of that notoriety.

Paul’s preaching eventually caught the attention of the elite men in Athens, the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. They too “conversed with him” that is “reasoned with him,” “argued with him,” “debated with him,” and it is here that we ought to notice their frustration. “Because [Paul] was preaching Jesus and the resurrection…” (Acts 17.18c) these Greek philosophers, when they could not gain any ground in their conversation resorted to ad hominem tactics. That is to say, they began attacking Paul mockingly by calling him a “babbler” or a gutter-sparrow. One that picks and chooses from this piece of trash or another in order to tie together their own private teaching. Therefore, “they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting?’” (Acts 17.19).

The Areopagus is often thought of as a location—i.e. Mars Hill—however, a better understanding is the premiere officials of the city, the ruling counsel if you will. The Areopagus was made up of the intellectual best, who weighed all things taught in the city, and made various judgments concerning them. They are the ones that killed Socrates for teaching strange doctrine many, many years before. They are the ones that will now hear the apostle of Christ speak.

The Grounds of Paul’s Appeal

It is here that many unwarranted assumptions are smuggled in by Christian leaders today (i.e. apologists, philosophers, theologians and ministers). The common assertion is that when Paul spoke to the Areopagus he did not appeal to these Greeks with Scripture, but chose more reasonable grounds. Rather he offered them natural proofs for God, even quoting their own poets to buttress his position, in order to prove the resurrection of Jesus. Some assume that Paul erred because he was laughed off the stage so to speak (when he got to Jesus), and so never really finished his gospel presentation.

Is it true that Paul quotes the Greek poets? Is it true that Paul leaves the Bible out of the discussion, because the Greeks do not “accept” Scriptural teaching? Is it true that Paul reasoned to them with evidences alone in order to prove Christ Jesus?

First, the answer is yes. It is true that Paul quotes Greek texts written originally in support of Zeus.  Here is what he said:

  • “…for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17.28).

If taken at face value, I can see why some would presuppose that this is a validation of using “whatever means necessary” in order to witness to the unbeliever. However, this verse does not sit in isolation.  Paul cites these Greek poets with a specific point in mind, which we shall see in a few moments.

Secondly, the answer is no. It is not true that Paul left the Bible out of his message to the Areopagus. Just because one does not make direct references to the biblical text does not necessarily mean that they are not starting, working out, and ending their argument from the Word of God. I find that many Christian’s are often confused over this point. What good does it do me to cite verse and text, unless my audience is familiar with those specific reference points? Eventually, those things will be drawn out in the conversation. However, my faith is drawn from God’s Word and it would be impossible to account for the hope within me apart from what is written.

The first thing that Paul establishes in his speech, after the cordial opening (i.e. “men of Athens), is a correction on the Athenian worldview. These philosophers claimed to know enough about the truth, about reality, to call Paul a “babbler,” but what he immediately shows them is their own ignorance.

  • “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17.23).

He then goes on to explain that this God is the Creator of all things (v.23-24a), the sovereign ruler over all things (v. 24), including all mankind whom He made from the blood of one man, namely Adam (vv.25-26), even going so far as determining the time and place of their dwelling (v.26b). Paul says, that none of us have anything to boast in because this God alone provides our very lives and being. He points out the foolishness of their idol worship (v.24b, 29), calling an end to this former period of ignorance (v. 30a).

Thirdly, the answer is yes. It is true that Paul used evidence to preach Christ, the chief among them being the resurrection. However, it is likewise false that this evidence is divorced from the teachings of Scripture.

**(Since that is the subject of my next post I am not going to defend that position now, only state it).

Paul tells the Athenians that God has commanded them to repent (v.30b), to turn from their sinful ignorance towards the one righteous man “whom [God] has appointed”; of whom “he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (v. 31). Three responses were given: “some mocked,” (v. 32a) others said they’d “like to hear more,” (v, 32b) and some “believed” (v. 34).

The Apostolic Position of Paul: Begging the Question

Careful exegesis of Acts 17 reveals to the observant reader the presuppositional method of Christian witnessing. When Paul was in Thessalonica he reasoned from the Scriptures. When Paul was driven to Berea he reasoned from the Scriptures. And, when Paul found himself in Athens, his inner-heart stirred because of the blatant idolatry in the land, he reasoned from the Scriptures. This is how the apostle of God proved Christ.

The flow of thought in this chapter is undeniable. Paul, knowing what the Athenians believe does a compare and contrast between worldviews. He argues for Christ and the resurrection from the Scriptures. He presupposes the God of the Bible, and makes various allusions to over 20 O.T. texts4 in order to demonstrate the superiority of the Christian worldview. Yes, he uses what they know but not to puff them up, but to knock them down. Not meanly, but to show them the folly of their position.

They claimed to be wise, but were in reality fools for they were worshiping what they did not know. Their beliefs are steeped in ignorance. What they did not know, Paul set about to show them with gentleness and respect. And, he did so on the grounds of Scripture, not apart from Scripture.  Paul presupposed Christ, argued from Christ’s Word in order to justify his position and nullify their own, eventually leading them to the Christ that all people shall be judged by. Then the apostle Paul the babbling beggar left the stage afforded to him.



1 J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 196.

2 I use the phrase “Christian witness” as encompassing both the evangelistic/apologetic efforts of the disciple of Jesus Christ. To be a disciple is to be the Lord’s witness (herald), and to herald the truth means both sharing the good-news (evangelism), as well as offering a reasoned argument (apologia) for the hope within.

3 Some of those difficulties stem from individuals in their ivory towers of academia.  When you have professors with PhD’s, but no pastoral experience teaching in Christian colleges/universities/seminaries you get reproductions of critical thought and philosophical meanderings, but no grass root realities.

4 Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, Robert R. Booth, ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, [1996], 2001), 224, Adobe Digital Editions.