August 5, 2009

I was taught clearly from my years at Dallas Theological Seminary the extreme importance of studying the Bible word by word. I believe that all scripture – every word, every line, every paragraph – is inspired by God and profitable for truth, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness in order that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I believe that every word – every noun, pronoun, verb, adjective, preposition and clause – is placed in the Bible exactly as the Holy Spirit designed it to be. There are no wasted words, and the words are to be taken in their proper context. This belief has been used by God to launch me into a lifetime of studying and teaching God’s word literally and word-by-word, line-by-line, paragraph-by-paragraph, and book-by-book.

It wasn’t long before I began to navigate through some minefields of truth that both puzzled me and challenged me.  I remember the first time I worked through the book of Romans.  Romans 8 began to plunge me into another world. The Holy Spirit opened to me small glimpses of an incredibly awesome eternal God who had a predetermined plan for this universe and for me.  I remember the excitement that filled me when I sensed in awe just how very small I am in comparison.

Then I ran into Romans 8:28-30 and Romans 9-11. As I weaved my way through this text, I began to ask myself why these words did not really mean what they appeared to be saying. I remember going back to the text time and time again to ponder its meaning and to find a way to escape the incredible truths that they were opening to my small mind. The truth that God had chosen to set His love upon me before time began. The truth that I had always been in His mind and in His plan.  He knew me long before I stood by the old fishpond at Boca Raton, Florida, and trusted Jesus Christ as my Savior. He knew me when he shaped me in my mother’s womb. I wept!  My continued study has led me to the fact that God’s divine election is indeed a part of His plan.

I had never read a book by any of the reformers in Europe. I had learned bits and pieces about these great men from Dr. John Hannah at DTS.  As a part of his required reading, I read books on the history of the Reformation.  I developed a deep sense of gratitude for the work of men like Luther, Calvin, Wycliffe, and Latimer.  They are a part of my spiritual heritage, and I’m proud of that. Their personal sacrifice retrieved and clarified the gospel message that had been confused for years by a web of religion. Every believer on the planet should feel a deep indebtedness to these men. But that had no bearing on what I began to see in the word of God concerning God’s elective purposes. Said simply, I had little knowledge of John Calvin and the system called today, “Calvinism.”

As I began to teach passages from Romans and Ephesians and John in their proper context using their plain common sense meaning, I noticed that people – even some of my friends – began to refer to me as a “Calvinist.”  A Calvinist?  I remember the first time this happened. A friend said to me, “Oh you’re just like Wayne Neal; you’re a Calvinist!” That line was used by God to launch me into a serious study of the issues. It seems that today I have to place myself in one of two camps, Armenian or Calvinist – although I do not totally agree with either group.  If I am going to teach the Bible’s view of election the way I understand it, then I am going to be branded a “Calvinist.” This is the case even though I have never considered myself as such at all.

I have discovered something else through this process. The Bible’s teaching of election has never been popular. In fact, it was this very teaching that led ultimately to the cross of Calvary.  In Luke 4 Jesus had begun His ministry and, as was His custom, He went to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach.  He read and explained a section of the prophet Isaiah and applied it to Himself.  The text implies that at first His teaching was well received by everyone. In fact, the people marveled at the gracious words that proceeded out of His mouth (Luke 4:22).

Our Lord knew that the people expected Him to perform miracles there in His hometown, but Jesus said that no prophet has honor in his own country. Then He said something amazing. He said that there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, but God sent him to only one, the widow of Zarephath (Luke 4:26). He also said that there were many lepers in Israel at the time of Elisha the prophet, but God cleansed only one, Naaman the Syrian. This is simply divine election!   But note the result. “So all those in the Synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and threw Him out of the city and led Him to the edge of a hill planning to throw Him off of it, but He slipped away” (Luke 4:28-30). This wrath against the teaching of Jesus Christ led men eventually to crucify Him. If you ask me things haven’t changed a whole lot.