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Can We Chop Chopped Wood? – A Preacher’s Response to Timothy Keller’s Defense of Election

IMG_7154I have dealt with and discussed some socially controversial topics from the LGBT community to the police’s use of deadly force to the unlawful interrogation of a kid without representation, so I thought I would take some time and jump into an old fashion theological debate.  For me, these are just fun.  I am a nerd, and for those Bible nerds out there, I think you might find this fun too.  For those non-Bible nerds our there, you are missing out.  You should be a Bible nerd too.

Yesterday I read Timothy Keller’s blog posted to www.thegospelcoalition.org.  In this post, he offers three defenses to three objections to the Doctrine of Election.  I wanted to object to his objections.  First, let me say, I have tremendous respect for Timothy Keller.  If you haven’t listened to Keller preach or read Keller’s works, your faith is poorer for it.  I strive to be a pastor more like Keller with one foot actively pastoring and my other foot in the realm of theology/apologetics.  I think far too often those two spheres are keep separate to the detriment of both.

But I want to respond to his response.  You can and should read Kellers blog post, and you can find it here.

In this piece, Keller responds to three common objections to the Doctrine of Election, but before we dive in.  What does Keller mean by Doctrine of Election?  Keller holds to Reformed Theology when it comes to election meaning he believes that God by His sovereign will alone determines who will receive  grace and forgiveness.  He believe that because of our sin we cannot choose to follow God because we lack the ability; this is often called Total Depravity.  More common names of Keller’s definition of the Doctrine of Election is Predestination or Unconditional Election or Calvinism (Although Calvin was so much more than a doctrine of salvation).  Keller does not hold that humanity has Free Will when it comes to salvation.

The first objection Keller argues against is: if God determines who is saved, why doesn’t God save everybody?

Keller’s response is to say that even Free Will proponents have this problem.  God has the power to save everybody, but doesn’t is just as much a problem for Free Will as it is for the Doctrine of Election.  His argument is as follows.  When God decided to give humanity “equal ability to accept or reject Christ..the moment God determined to se up salvation on that system, he would’ve known” who would choose and reject Him.  “So the minute he ‘”set it up,” he would be de facto electing some and passing over others.  We come out to the same place.” Paragraph 5 under number 1

His argument does not address the problem at all.  He just finger points and says, “they have this problem too!”  It is a weak response.  Then, he finishes this response by saying, God is perfect.  When we see the whole picture, we will not be able to find fault with his system of salvation.  Paragraph 6 under number 1  Again, that doesn’t address the issue of why doesn’t God determine all to be saved.

This avoidance of the issue makes me ask, do the two positions come our at the same place as Keller suggests?  I don’t think so.  Free Will proponents do directly address this question.  Free Will proponents are quick to respond that, for whatever reason, God has decided that His desire is for individuals to choose to follow Him.  God does not want to force or determine or choose people to worship him.  God does not want fatalistic worship.  God wants worship to be freely given, so God has given people free choice to worship or not worship.  God respects their choice and does not intervene even if they do not choose Him.  People reject Christ because they choose too, not because God didn’t choose them.

The Free Will camp does have a response to this issue.  I am sure Keller, among many others, think it is a weak response, but this response is stronger than, we will understand when we get the whole picture one day.

The second objection: if everything is fixed, why pray, evangelize, or do anything at all.  

Keller states that if God didn’t plan everything that would be terrifying because our actions would matter regarding salvation.  It would be terrifying to know that our actions could cause people to miss their “chance” at salvation.  Paragraph 1 under number 2  Keller’s begins this defense of the Doctrine of Election by stating that Free Will is a frightening proposition.

In May of this year, Spiders performing a task called “ballooning” literally rained down in mass quantities from the skies in Australia.  That is frightening.  I carry an umbrella on sunny days just in case this happens in Georgia.  Even though this fact is frightening, it is true.  Check out this article, and I apologize for the nightmares.  Just because Free Will scares Keller does not make Free Will any more or any less, true or false.  This argument has no merit nor any bearing on the discussion what so ever.  It is a scare tactic to get you to agree with him.

Next, he defends the practice of prayer and evangelism by using an illustration of a father and children chopping wood.  He says that the father can chop all the wood, but he ask the children “to learn to chop the wood and stoke the fire as well.” Paragraph 2 under number 2.  The father wants his children to share in the work.  This illustration falls a part because according to the Doctrine of Election (and possibly Ephesians) that God chopped all the wood before the foundation of the world.  So Keller is really arguing that God wants us to go and chop already chopped wood.  God wants us to help in an already completed task.  This illustration does not follow the Doctrine of Election because again the wood is already chopped.  If you want more fun with bad analogies check out this fun video of the analogies used for the Doctrine of the Trinity.  You are welcome.

Then he concludes by saying, we should never second guess God, and we should be motivated to evangelize. Paragraph 3 and 4 under number 2  We should never second guess God…Keller might need to tell this to, Elijah, Gideon, Jeremiah, Abraham, Paul, Solomon, among many, many others of the elect, and quite possibly to Jesus during His prayer time in the garden of Gethsemane.  Then, we should be motivated to chop already chopped wood!

The third objection: “I believe the Bible and I see all the teaching about election, but why do I still dislike it?

There is a problem with this question.  First, there are many biblical scholars that believe the Bible and do NOT see the Reformed Position on the the Doctrine of Election.  This question implies the Doctrine of Election from Keller’s perspective is the Biblical teaching.  You can’t make that implication.  There are multiple views of the Doctrine of Election.  There is Unconditional Election; held by Keller.  There is Conditional Election where God elects based on something (people disagree over what that something is) done by an individual, and there are others.  A good book to see these different views on the Doctrine of Election also called God’s Providence is Four Views on Divine Providence.  Check it out and see that people who do believe the Bible and do not only see Keller’s view of Election.

Keller answers this objection by saying it is your cultural background that holds personal choice and independence in such high regard that causes you to be uncomfortable with the Doctrine of Election.

He also makes the statement the Doctrine of Election “combines the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of human beings.  Here, too, we find that human cultures and philosophies cannot combine these things.” Paragraph 1 under number 3  There is a reason for that.  They appear to be opposites that break the Philosophical Law of Non-contradiction.

He completely ignores the several Biblical arguments that Free Will theologians use that make me uncomfortable with the Doctrine of Election.

In the three responses by Keller, he says: 1.  we will understand when we get the whole picture 2. don’t second guess God 3. your culture has blinded you.  None of those are actual defenses.  I have tremendous respect of Tim Keller, but this defense of Unconditional Election is weak. There are much stronger defenses that I have a difficult time responding to.  I wish he would have used them and furthered the interesting and ongoing dialogue on this subject.

But saying, we don’t have the whole picture.  We shouldn’t second guess God.  We are blinded by our inability to understand how opposites can both be true.  This is more of an attack on the other side than a defense of your position.

Also, it doesn’t address the elephant in the Doctrine of Election room.  The one objection I want to hear a response to is: when offering the gospel, Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles, and many others preach, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  They call for the individual to respond.  Repent!  They do not call for God to elect.  They do not preach, “Pray, that God will elect you to salvation.”  Jesus, John, the apostles, all present the gospel as the individuals that are hearing possess the ability to respond.  “Repent” implies choice.

The biggest issue that I see with Keller’s Doctrine of Election is the call issued throughout the gospel is for individuals to do something, to respond, to choose.  The call is not for God to do something.  The word “repent” all throughout the gospel presentations is difficult for me to reconcile with Unconditional Election.  Why isn’t the gospel presented in a  way that shows God is electing rather than a call for people to choose?  The presentations made in Scripture, to me, imply choice is possible.

I am not saying there isn’t a response to that.  I just want to hear a response to that.

Come on my Reformed friends.  I want to hear from you.  I want to engage in dialogue.  I enjoy a loving and kind debate.  Make my two cents four.  Convince me, and I will change my position…and it won’t be the first or second or third time I have changed on this issue.

Truly, Preacher Jes

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