Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Theological Debate Overheard
In our home, the radio is on from early morning until late at night. Ninety-nine and seven-tenths out of 100, it is tuned to Cleveland’s Moody Broadcasting affiliate.
This has been the case now for well over two decades. Once in a while (usually during absences by my Lovely Bride) the tuner finds itself on the local jazz station. Sometimes, once in a very blue moon, the local country station fills the room.
But, by and large, it is Moody Broadcasting.
As a result, I overheard the most amazing conversation the other night.
It was storming, with lightning reflecting off the bedroom walls, peals of thunder rattling the window-frame, and torrents of wind propelled rain peppering the siding. I lay there awake, wrestling with the blankets when I heard it.
From the kitchen, Ike’s youthful canine voice raised the question:
“Mimi, what do you think of Grace? Is it provisional, or un-conditional?”
Shaking my head to clear the cobwebs, I heard Mimi reply, even as she lay between LB and me;
“Ike, Ike, Ike… how many times are we going to go over this? Grace is unmerited. No one can earn it. Look at what Paul wrote in Ephesians 6; “For by Grace are you saved, not of works.”
“I know salvation is not works based… but what are the limits of Grace?”
“Ike, how can Someone as limitless as God place a limit upon one of His most fundamental virtues?”
“Why do you have to answer a question with a question?”
“Do I do that?”
“Yes, and it drives me nuts! Now back to Grace. So, you are saying God’s Grace is limitless. Now, what if we extrapolate that to followers of Christ, can they, do they, have unlimited Grace?”
It began to dawn on me, that after nearly a dozen years of listening to the radio, Mimi has a very solid grasp of theology and doctrine! In fact, she could give most ministers a run for their money; with the possible exceptions of Erwin Lutzer, C.S. Lewis or the Rev. Dr. David Welle. The more I listened, I began to see she holds to a “Calvinian” belief; Calvinist, with overtones of Arminianism.
She cleared her throat, took a deep breath, sighed and replied.
“You are asking a question with several prongs. As I see it, the first is ‘Can followers have unlimited Grace’, the second is ‘Do followers have unlimited Grace.’ As you are aware, there is a gulf of difference between ‘can’ and ‘have’.”
“Yeah, yeah…I get all that. What do you think?”
“Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples, shall we? Perhaps one of the earliest, and most poignant, examples of Grace being extended by one of Christ followers is the stoning of Stephen. While the hatred of the mob washed over him like a wave, the stones breaking his bones, splitting his skin; yet Stephen implored the Lord to not hold his murder to the account of the ones stoning him. That, my little friend is unlimited Grace exemplified.”
“Yes, I recall hearing about Stephen the other day.” Ike proclaimed.
I sat up, eyes wide, staring at the little brindle dog lying there. “How is she doing that?” I wondered. Tentatively, I reached toward LB’s shoulder; she has to hear this.
“Another example of unlimited Grace is that of Ananias, in Acts chapter 9. Here we see not only Grace being exercised, but also Obedience to God; despite the possibility of great physical harm. Here, God called him, a believer, to seek out the feared Saul of Tarsus; the Persecutor of the Church. Yet, he believed God. Through Grace, with Obedience, he extended his hands, touched Saul’s blinded eyes, and prayed for healing, and an in-filling of the Holy Spirit, upon Saul.”
“Okay, I see. Do you think believers of today have the same capabilities?”
“Again, the ultimate answer lies within Scripture. The writer of Hebrews…”
“Wasn’t it Paul?”
My hand stopped mere inches from LB’s shoulder! I wanted to awaken her, yet I feared the disturbance would slam the door shut on what I was experiencing. I thought back upon anything I may have eaten or drank before bed-time. Nothing, not a thing I could recall. A crash of thunder shook the very walls of our home. The trees beyond the window thrashed as if crazed, caught in an unfettered dance with the wind.
“No, there is no certainty Paul wrote Hebrews. For one, he was not ashamed to announce he was the writer of his known epistles, unlike the anonymity of this letter. Secondly, the sentence structure and syntax do not conform to other Pauline examples. As I was about to say, though, Hebrews 13:8 states “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”, which underscores that He is unchanging. Therefore, if He is unchanging, his Grace is the same today as it was to Ananias two thousand years ago.”
“Whew… that is good to know.”
“Why do you ask such deep questions so late at night, little buddy?”, Mimi asked.
“Well, you know that blue-green carnival glass fruit bowl on the kitchen table?”
“Of course I do. That has been in the family’s household since the 1970s. Every dog that has been privileged to be part of this family knows that bowl.”
“ ‘Un-huh’ what, Ike?”
“Well, do you remember that one really, really, really loud clap of thunder?”
“Vaguely, I sleep pretty soundly at my age, you know.”
“Yeah, well, I don’t. I jumped up, bumped the table and, well….”
“Oh no, Ike! You didn’t.”
“I think I did. Nothing went crash, but I have a smorgasbord of apples and bananas down here.”
“Oh my… oh my, I will be praying for you, little man. I hope that Puppy-cuteness still works for you.”
The next thing I recalled was the sound of a contemporary Christian song coming from the clock radio.
Groggily, I pulled on my jeans, scooped up Mimi, headed down the stairs and outdoors. After her morning oblations were complete, I came into the kitchen to prepare their breakfasts.
There, safely on the table, the apples and bananas intact, was the bowl.
As I turned to get the dog-food from the refrigerator (LB cooks her own food for them), I could have sworn I heard Ike humming “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”