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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 22)

30 Jul

~~ Ch. 22 ~~
Monday morning’s “Theology 101” class was one of Hornby’s most enjoyable. Because the students were freshmen, their questions created great discussions, sometimes generating debates between various perspectives.

“Debates are good,” Hornby said as he closed his office door and began walking toward the classroom. “I really want my students to think for themselves.” He remembered G.K. Chesterton’s statement in defense of good argumentation: “What good are words,” Chesterton asked, “if you can’t argue over them?”

Hornby especially appreciated the beginning few minutes of class, a segment his students also looked forward to. It was his practice to share a short devotional from the Bible in every one of his sessions, and today was no exception. He had been working his way through John 11, the story of the raising of Lazarus. Hornby had entitled this little series “Friends Don’t Let Friends . . . Die!” “But that’s exactly what Jesus did with His friend Lazarus, right, students?”

Hornby’s short devotional was followed by a vigorous discussion of God’s allowing — sometimes arranging — difficult circumstances in our lives for His glory.

After a brief word of prayer, Hornby said, “This morning, class, we’re going to talk about a subject that is very much related to our present discussion about the death — and subsequent resurrection — of Jesus’ friend Lazarus. The topic is the sovereignty of God.”

“But, Dr. Hornby, isn’t that a topic that pretty much divides Christians from one another?”, asked a young coed on the front row.

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Typically the topic of God’s sovereignty has divided believers into two categories: those who emphasize man’s free will (the Arminians) and those who put their emphasis on God’s control (the Calvinists).”

“Which category do you fit in, Dr. Hornby?”, asked Michael Delganey, obviously intrigued by the topic.

“Great question, Michael. But in some ways not a very easy one to answer.”

“How do you mean, Sir?”

“Well, above all I want to be biblical in my theology. And the challenge in this area is that there is biblical data on both sides of the debate.”

“What would be some of the data on the Armenian side?”, asked a student in the back.

“Great question,” Hornby said. “And I hope you won’t be offended, but the term you want is ‘Arminian’, not ‘Armenian.’ Armenians are those who come from the country of Armenia, a former Soviet republic in Asia. I guess you could have an Arminian Armenian, couldn’t you?”

The class laughed, including the student who confused the two terms.

“But back to your question. We get several Scriptures that emphasize man’s free will (the Arminian perspective) such as Mark 8’s statement about ‘whosoever will come after me’ and Joshua’s famous challenge in Joshua 24 to ‘choose you this day whom you will serve.’ The Bible is filled with expressions that imply man has the power to choose or not choose the Lord. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 23, ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ I’m quoting the King James’ version. It just sounds better! Such statements certainly seem to imply man’s free will, don’t you think?”

Hornby could see the students’ thinking hard.

“But, Dr. Hornby, what’s the evidence for the other side, the sovereignty of God side?”, asked an older student.

“Well, we do get verses about predestination, such as Romans 8 which says, ‘For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.’

“And we also get some challenging statements like Acts 13 which tells about the Gentiles who heard Paul and Barnabas share the gospel: ‘And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.’ ‘Ordained to eternal life’ — hmmm,” Hornby said.

“So God sovereignly chooses who will believe in Jesus?!”, asked a tall, lanky young man.

Hornby thought for a moment. “We need to be careful not to overstate our position. I once heard a Bible college president (not ours here at FBC) say that our challenge is to “remain in the center of biblical tension.”

“What in the world does that mean, Dr. Hornby?”, asked the same student.

“It means that our theological perspective, our theological framework, should not have power over what the Bible actually says. We don’t determine what the Bible says and what it means by our theology. We should derive our theology from what Scripture teaches.”

“So, I believe there is truth in both the Arminian and the Calvinist views. For the Arminian, the emphasis is on responding to the gospel. For the Calvinist, the emphasis is on God’s electing those who will believe. The danger for the Arminian is that it can fairly quickly become a kind of works-salvation. The danger for the Calvinist is that it can degenerate into a kind of fatalism (God knows who will believe and there’s nothing for us to do).”

“So, what’s the answer, Professor?”, asked a female student who was sitting at the back of the classroom.

“The answer, I would suggest, is to take all of the Word of God seriously, allowing every text to make its point, and not try to force any verses into our preconceived notions. The answer is that the gospel must be proclaimed and believed. And God will bless our efforts — both here and in other countries — to be faithful in our evangelism and missions.”

“There are other issues that are impacted by the Arminian/Calvinist debate,” Dr. Hornby said. “Such as the question, ‘Can one lose his salvation?’”

“The broader topic — God’s sovereignty — has very practical implications, students. It means, for example, that nothing in this life is accidental. God either ordains all things or allows all things. The biblical perspective is that He actively ordains some things and He, in a sense, passively allows other things. So human beings have, at least to some degree, free will or choice.”

“The book The Gospel of Coincidence makes the point that things don’t just happen. People do things.”

Michael Delganey thought to himself. “No accidents, huh? So what happened to my Uncle Bubba?”

Hornby did not miss the pensive look on Michael’s face and decided then and there that he would do a bit of investigating that critical event in his student’s life.

 

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