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Judging God: My Personal Struggle with Doubt

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-clouds-thompson-pass-alaska-image26038279By Jesse Jost

He was a man passionate for God. In his late teens, Charles was rescued from a life of rubbish and filled with the Holy Spirit. His conversion dramatically changed the course of his life. Eager to put his new found faith into practice, Charles poured his life into evangelism. In his early twenties, he became close friends with Billy Graham. They hit the spotlight almost simultaneously. Their sincerity and fervent, yet thoughtful invitations to Christ were an effective combination. Charles’ success continued into his thirties. After attending Princeton Seminary, he carried on his evangelistic mission. A sought-after speaker and an able debater with a very compelling personality, he persuaded many to go to the mission field or to attend seminary. He also hosted a weekly show on CBS and was a rising star in the Presbyterian denomination. If you were looking for a hero of the faith, Charles Templeton was your man.

Despite his outward fervor and success, Charles was haunted by intellectual doubts about his faith. He simply could not reconcile what the Bible had to say with his own intuition and the “facts” of history and science. Charles judged the God of the Old Testament as a “petty, jealous, inept, vindictive, unjust, tribal god.” This god repented from making men and then killed them with a flood, hardened the heart of Pharaoh so he could murder all of Egypt’s firstborns, and ruthlessly commanded the slaughter of entire people groups. To Charles, this god simply was not compatible with the God of love he had been told about. Regarding the story of Job, Charles asked “How would you feel if God killed all your children just to make a point in an argument?” He denounced the story and the god as “immoral.” Finally, Charles shocked his congregation by saying he could no longer believe Christianity to be true, and walked away.

I once was blind but now I see?

I read about Charles Templeton’s spiritual derailment in his book, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. People like Templeton pique my curiosity. Like a moth drawn to a candle flame, I am attracted to atheist websites. I want to understand how “the other side” thinks so that I know how to reach them. I also want to better equip young people to respond to the objections of agnostics like Templeton. But as I read the writings of former Christians and “ex-apologists,” my faith is shaken and my heart is saddened. The website, www.ex-christians.net, has the testimonials of hundreds who have abandoned the faith.

In my earlier years, I was naïvely optimistic about the facts of Christianity. The evidence was so clear, I reasoned, and the arguments so compelling, that anyone who walked away from the faith must have been simply uninformed. If only these people would read The Case for Christ or, I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, then they would be able to see! But I was deeply disturbed to hear about former apologists walking away. “What ominous information have these people discovered that caused them to lose faith?” I feared that I too would discover some dark secret revelation and my own de-conversion process would some day be chronicled online. I had to dig deeper. As I read the arguments and reasons given by those “un-born-again,” I realized I wasn’t as equipped to answer their objections as I had thought. Here I encountered the “bitter root of unbelief that defiles many.” (Heb 12:15 NLT) Continue reading…

  • Claire

    Thank you. Your struggles are the same as the ones I’m having now. This post is so helpful. I have come to the same conclusions as you, but am still struggling to battle with my mind! So relieving to find someone who has been where I am and come out the other side.

  • Andree Verhoog

    Once again very well put Jesse. Don’t ever put your pen down. The Lord has blessed you with a beautiful gift and I thank you for sharing it with us on this blog. Andrée Verhoog

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Calvinism, Arminianism, and What’s at Stake

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-gavel-book-black-background-closeup-image28250587By Jesse Jost

When we try to wrap our finite minds around the magnitude and complexities of an all-powerful God, we are going to fail. For starters, how can God be in complete control of this world and have perfect knowledge of the future, yet still grant us the power of real choice?

Because our tiny minds are trying to grasp realities way above our pay grade, we will inevitably have a very poor understanding of all the issues. This has created strife and division among Christians who have reduced these awesome mysteries to a self-titled war of “Calvinism versus Arminianism.” There are complex theological systems with these names that do genuinely differ from each other, but few Christians today fully understand them. Calvinism has become shorthand for believing in the sovereignty of God, and Arminianism is often the insult thrown at those who wonder what role our ability to choose plays in our life and salvation.

The problem here is that both sides have biblical truth, and both accuse the other of ignoring an aspect of truth. Both sides also raise troubling issues: Was it fair for God to create people he knew would reject him and let them suffer in hell? If God graciously chooses to awaken some who are spiritually dead, why doesn’t he choose to regenerate everyone?

A younger me set out on an epic quest to forever resolve the sovereignty/free will debate. I was going to find the perfect scriptural balance. I read books on both sides and carefully studied the relevant Bible passages, and all I got was a giant headache. I realized it was absurd for me, a little speck of dust in our swirling galaxy, to be arguing about what God could and couldn’t do.  I gave up.

But since that point, I have realized that, while I will never be able to grasp how these seemingly contradictory truths resolve, I need to be careful that my meditations and efforts to understand do not lead me away from the truth that God has revealed in His Word.

If I am not careful, I can take one aspect of truth, and then twist it into an untruth by use of misinformed logic. For instance, I can focus on the truth that God is in complete control of this world but then twist this into the idea that I am simply a character in God’s novel, and whatever will be will be.  Whatever sin I commit or choice I make is just part of the predetermined plot: I have no real choice so why bother with careful decision making? This can produce apathy about effort, or lead to abandoning my responsibilities. Of course, the complete version of this pseudo-fatalism is unliveable, not to mention that God’s sovereign grace prevents me from fully embracing such error.

However, what I believe does affect my actions and when I lose sight of God’s control, and instead focus on man’s choice, a whole new set of perversions can enter: anxiety, pride, self-reliance, etc.

My purpose is not to resolve the mystery or answer all the questions, but to urge you to not lose sight of the biblical boundaries for exploration of this topic. Continue reading…

  • nicodemus

    I agree with you Jesse that many of the errors and arguments are based upon extrapolations and presupposed ideas of what passages say instead of the true meaning of texts.

  • Jesse Jost

    For those of you who are curious about where I stand in regard to these two views: I think everything that my friend mentioned in his concise Calvinist definition is pretty clearly taught in scripture. Emotionally, I struggle with the flip side that God could save certain people if he wanted to but chooses not to. But since Scripture does not specifically state this reverse of Calvinism (at least as far as I can see) I just choose to be thankful that my own Salvation is graciously and undeservedly being secured by God and trust that God will treat the non-elect in way that accords with his intrinsic love and kindness. When all is revealed I believe that we will have nothing but an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude and worship Him for doing all things well.

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