Monday, December 26, 2011

Pastoral Implications of the Death of Christopher Hitchens

Introduction:  Some would wonder what could possibly be the pastoral implications of the death of a gifted God-hater.  That's a fair question, but before answering that, let met briefly bring the not so informed readers of this blog up to speed as to who Christopher Hitchens was.

A Brief History

Christopher Hitchens met his maker on Thursday, December 15, 2011.  He was a brilliant social and political commentator during his professional career, but what interested evangelical apologists most about him was his open, unashamed hatred for all things religious, especially Christian.  Whether believer or unbeliever, foe or friend, anyone who really knew anything about Hitchens would admit that he was a very gifted writer and speaker.  Sadly, he used those God-given gifts to war against the very God in whose image he was created.  Given his interest in politics, his unapologetic criticism of religion, and the promotion of "free-thought" he was very much like a modern Voltaire.

Interestingly, he shared some common views with Christians (he was pro-life) and in some political respects was in agreement with many evangelicals. However, he was an outspoken enemy of religion and spent the latter years of his life attacking various forms of it, especially Christianity.  Here's an example of clips from his fight against what he considered to be the "ultimate wickedness and the ultimate stupidity":



The Pastoral Implications of the Death of a God-hater

As far as I know, Christopher Hitchens died a God-hater.  In light of that, I want to specifically focus on what this means for churches that believe in the doctrine of reprobation.  What should be the Christian response to the death of Christopher Hitchens in light of this doctrine? How did he help us understand this doctrine better?  Yes, you read that last question correctly, how did Hitchens' rage against God help the Christian and the cause of Christ?  I have waited to publish this article because I wanted the Reformed evangelical world to have a few weeks to reflect upon Hitchens' death and then I wanted to listen to their responses.  As expected, even among Reformed bloggers, none of them have discussed the implications of what is glaringly evident to all of us who believe in sovereign grace:  Hitchens was a reprobate. 

What is Reprobation?

Before offering pastoral comments on the implications that the doctrine of reprobation has for Christian congregations, let's consider a few definitions:

Louis Berkhof said,
"Reprobation may be defined as that eternal decree of God whereby He has determined to pass some men by with the operation of His special grace, and to punish them for their sins, to the manifestation of His justice."  Quoted in Curt D. Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, (Springfield, IL:  Good Books, 2003), 297.
Wayne Grudem defines it this way, adding an element of God's sorrow to his definition,
"The sovereign decision of God before creation to pass over some persons, in sorrow deciding not to save them, and to punish them for their sins and thereby to manifest his justice."  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology:  An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Grand Rapids, MI, 2000), 684.
Section III of the 1646 London Confession defines election and reprobation this way,
GOD hath decreed in Himself, before the world was, concerning all things, whether necessary, accidental or voluntary, with all the circumstances of them, to work, dispose, and bring about all things according to the counsel of His own will, to His glory: (Yet without being the author of sin, or having fellowship with anything therein) in which appears His wisdom in disposing all things, unchangeableness, power, and faithfulness in accomplishing His decree: And God hath before the foundation of the world, foreordained some men to eternal life, through Jesus Christ, to the praise and glory of His grace; and leaving the rest in their sin to their just condemnation, to the praise of His justice.
Section V of the 1646 Confession's appendix says this regarding reprobation,

We affirm, that as Jesus Christ never intended to give remission of sins and eternal life unto any but His sheep (John 10:15, 17:2; Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 5:9); so these sheep only have their sins washed away in the blood of Christ: The vessels of wrath, as they are none of Christ's sheep, nor ever believe in Him, so they have not the blood of Christ sprinkled upon them, neither are partakers of Him: And therefore have all their sins remaining upon them, and are not saved by Christ from any of them under any consideration whatsoever; but must lie under the intolerable burden of them eternally. The truth of this appears unto us by the light of these Scriptures compared together. Heb.12:24; 1 Pet. 1:2; Heb. 3:14; Matt. 7:23; Eph. 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:9; John 8:24.
The Westminster Confession of Faith states regarding reprobation:
"The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice." (III:7)
So, in summary:  Reprobation is non-election.  According to Curt Daniel, 
"Reprobation has two stages in God's eternal decree.  first, there is preterition.  This is His eternal decree to pass some men by.  The men, of course, did not yet actually exist, but God first decreed that they will exist and then that He will permit them to fall and incur His wrath.  Then God chose some men to be saved, and left the rest behind.  Second, there is predamnation.  Having left some sinners in their sins, He then ordained that they will suffer divine wrath for their sins.  Preterition is a purely sovereign act of God, whereas predamnation is an act of pure divine justice."  Daniel, 297.
This means the following: 
  • Reprobation is unconditional, just like election.  It doesn't depend upon anything in man but rests in God's sovereign decree.  This means that people aren't reprobated because they are sinners, but because in God's sovereign will He chooses to leave them in their sin.  
  • God sovereignly planned to withhold salvation from some sinners.  He foreordained to withhold some or all of the things necessary for their salvation (i.e., hearing the gospel, effectual calling, faith and repentance unto salvation, regeneration, etc.).  He further decreed that their final end be eternal punishment so that He would be glorified in giving them His powerful justice and wrath.
  • God's election of some sinners means He didn't choose the rest.  God's choice to save some sinners means that He didn't choose to save the non-elect but chose to leave them to the self-destructive effects of their own sin. 
Considering a few Scriptural Examples
Proverbs 16:4 - The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil. 
  • Indeed, God has a purpose for making the wicked, for they are prepared "for the day of evil." 
Matthew 11:25-27 - "At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him." (Matthew 11:25-27)
  • In general, the Father is pleased to not reveal truth about Jesus to the "worldly wise" and Jesus praises God for this (v. 25-26).
  • Jesus says that the only way He is revealed to a person is if He Himself makes it happen (v. 27).  Apart from that, no one will come to the Son in faith.  Indeed, Jesus affirms this teaching elsewhere (John 6:44, 65). 
Romans 9:6-25 - But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham's descendants, but: "THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED." 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: "AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON." 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER." 13 Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED." 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, "I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION." 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.
  • Though Paul quotes from Malachi 1:2-3, this doesn't refer to only nations (i.e., Edom and Israel), for Paul co-opts Malachi's statements to go on and use an obvious pagan individual (Pharaoh) to point out that God raises people up for His own sovereign purposes, either for saving or for damning.
  • According to v. 15 (quoting Exodus 33:19), the question as to why God loved one savingly and not another is answered with this, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion." (Romans 9:15)  Paul then says that all of this doesn't depend "on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. (v. 16)  God is the cause of why men receive mercy. 
  • Then Paul points to a pagan individual to show that God didn't create Him for salvation, but to show off God's power and to make God's name known throughout then then known world:  "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.' 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires."  (vv. 17-18)  Paul concludes from this the following: "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (v. 18)  
  • Then come the usual objections: "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" (v. 19) In other words, how can God blame me for what He's created me to do?  The divine answer brings a rebuke and an answer:  "On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles." (vv. 20-24)  In other words:  "Who do you think you are to talk back to God, cannot God do what He wants with His creation?  God has prepared some people for destruction so as to show forth His justice and created some to show forth His mercy, and He's called both from among Jews and non-Jews. 
  • The take-home point:  Many Jews rejected Jesus because they were created for damnation.  This is because God takes the mass of sinful humanity and creates some of them for salvation and some of them for damnation.  It's all done for His glory (Romans 11:36); the reprobates glorify Him in the justice they receive from God in their damnation and the elect glorify God in the unmerited grace, divine favor, and forgiveness of sins they receive in their salvation.   
1 Peter 2:8 - "For this is contained in Scripture: 'BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.' 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,' 8 and, 'A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE'; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed."  
  • The word "doom" isn't in the original Greek text, but the concept is certainly there, for those who reject the gospel were appointed to always reject the gospel and ultimately end up in eternal perdition.  This is a sobering truth. 
2 Peter 2:12 - "But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed . . ."  
  • This is a sobering verse.  It says that reprobate false teachers are like cattle that have been created to be fattened up for the slaughter of God's justice. 
Matthew 11:25-26 - "At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. 26 "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. 27 "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him."
  • Notice that Jesus praises His heavenly Father for being well-pleased not to spiritually reveal Himself to the religious hypocrites standing in front of Him.  
  • Jesus says that no one knows God unless Jesus Himself wills to reveal Him to them.  Thus, it logically follows that Jesus doesn't desire to reveal Himself to everyone in the sense of causing them to embrace the gospel via regeneration.  Indeed this is affirmed by other passages (John 6:44, 65). 
Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 13 -  "All who dwell on the earth will worship him, everyone whose name has not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain" (Revelation 13:8); "And those who dwell on the earth, whose name has not been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, will wonder when they see the beast, that he was and is not and will come" (Revelation 17:8); "For God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose by having a common purpose, and by giving their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God will be fulfilled." (Revelation 17:17)
  • Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 both affirm that those whose names were written in the book of life were so written before the universe was created.  17:8 affirms that those who have not had their name written in this "eternal register of the elect" will not only marvel at the "beast", but will also follow after him because "God has put it in their hearts to execute His purpose . . . until the words of God will be fulfilled."  Everyone has a purpose for their existence, including the reprobate.
Some Important Implications
  1. Many people you witness to will never be saved.  This is because by divine decree, the way to eternal life is very narrow, and there are few that find it.  The only reason some do find it is because God brings the gospel to them through some type of Christian witness and then causes their hearts to positively respond to the gospel (Matthew 7:13-14; John 6:44, 65; Romans 10:14-17). 
  2. We can't change the number of the elect or reprobate.  The number of the elect and reprobate is eternally fixed, and so instead of overly worrying about not having all of your evangelistic and apologetic "i's" and "t's" crossed, trust God to use your well-prepared and faithful (yet imperfect) witness to bring the elect to faith in His time, not yours.  Just do what you're Biblically responsible to do, then leave the rest to God (Proverbs 16:31; 1 Corinthians 3:6-7).   
  3. When you're faithfully preaching Christ, don't become overly concerned if people don't regularly respond to the gospel.  According to Jesus, the majority of mankind will reject the gospel (Matthew 7:13-14).  Assuming that you are behaving in a godly manner while evangelizing, knowing this fact beforehand will enable you to have a confident, mature, patient, and settled understanding that people are rejecting the message and the messenger because of the content of the message, not because you didn't smile enough.  What causes people to embrace the message isn't ultimately tied to how white your teeth were when you smiled at the unbeliever or how sweetly you spoke when witnessing to them, but in the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.   
  4. Don't fool yourself in thinking that someone came to Christ because you were smarter than other Christians they encountered in the past.  The natural man cannot embrace the things of the Spirit of God, no matter how eloquently you articulate them.  This doesn't discount the use of means in conversion, but affirms their usefulness in exposing the falsehood of unbelieving systems (i.e., apologetics and polemics) and provides a platform for proclaiming the gospel (evangelism), which is the God-ordained means whereby the unsaved elect hear, receive, and believe the gospel (Romans 10:14-17).  
  5. Don't wrangle with unbelievers.  I've done my fair share of this through the years, and I'm sad to say that much of what goes by the name of on-line "debate" and "apologetics" is nothing more than the sin of wrangling.  There is a place for well-reasoned scholarly debate with unbelievers, but I question whether debating God-haters who have openly stated that Christianity is better ridiculed rather than reasoned against qualifies as scholarly debate.  We are commanded to avoid factious people after a first and second warning knowing that such are perverted and sinning, being self-condemned (Titus 3:10-11).  We are to avoid quarreling and instead, we should be "able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who oppose themselves, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil having been held captive by him to do his will" (2 Tim. 2:23-26).  When we display those godly qualities and the unbeliever continues to wrangle after two or three attempts, we should look for someone who will listen.  This is because unbelieving "wranglers" are simply looking to waste your time by making you look stupid through ridiculing your faith.  Such hacks aren't interested in intelligent interaction but only in stoking the flames of their burning hatred of God.  They have heard the truth over and over again and have access to the same excellent online information that you do but they still reject it.  All unbelievers who never come to faith in Christ do so because they're reprobates and God is in the process of hardening their hearts so that He can display His judgment against them on the Great Day (Romans 2:5; 9:18).  Thus, be discerning so as to avoid casting your pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).    
  6. The reprobate have an important part to play in God's creation.  All people have a God-given purpose for their existence.  As it pertains to the reprobate, some of them will cure diseases, create helpful inventions, and do amazingly wonderful things that benefit the world at large and the elect especially.  Thus, they have a God-ordained function in the overall scheme of God's plans for history.  Ultimately, their denial of God will serve to glorify God not only in their damnation as God gives them over to their just deserts, but their rejection of Him also creates a playing field in the here and now that causes believers to respond to their arguments wherein they show the folly of their unbelief, the truth of Christian theism, and the unconverted elect hear and seeds are sown that eventually bring forth salvation in the lives of God's elect. 
If Christopher Hitchens got his wishes, he died as an unbeliever.  He was one of those people whom God created for damnation; he was a reprobate.  He was exposed to some of the best argumentation that Christian apologetics has to offer, yet he consistently rejected it.  In his debates with Christian apologists, I have heard other Christians wonder why the same arguments that tend to strengthen our faith and really make sense to us proved totally unconvincing to him all the way to His grave.  Why was this the case?  It ultimately had nothing to do with the arguments themselves, but instead it was rooted in an inability to spiritually receive the love of the truth so that he might be saved.  I lost count of how many times I heard Hitchens say that he was spiritually unable to understand and embrace the gospel when he told debate attendees and interviewers that hearing believers attempt to explain the faith was, to him, like listening to "white noise".  Indeed it was "white noise" to him.  Its high-time that Christians pay careful attention when the reprobate speak like this.  They are telling you exactly what the Bible says about them.  They can't hear the gospel, can't receive it, can't embrace it, and it's simply foolish nonsense to them (1 Corinthians 1:18).  Unless the Son of God sets them free, they'll die in bondage to self and sin (John 8:32).  As far as I know, this is what occurred to Christopher Hitchens. 

IN CONCLUSION, without the sovereign grace of God opening our eyes to the truth of Christ's glorious gospel, every one of us would do just as Christopher Hitchens did by using our gifts to fight against our Creator.   For His own eternal purposes, it appears that Jesus didn't choose to savingly reveal Himself to Christopher Hitchens, and in light of that sobering fact, we all would all do well to consider the implications of this in our evangelistic, apologetic, and pastoral work.