Thursday, January 29, 2009


“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”
Robert Burns in Man was Made to Mourn

Many would-be readers are put off by all the violence in the Old Testament. (See MY BIBLE.) Even Christians who read their New Testament hesitate to read the Old. Murder enters the story in the fourth chapter of Genesis, and murder, violence and warfare continue through the pages. Many times it appears to be instigated by God Himself.

This seems so out of place when we read the New Testament, which advocates the opposite. One could almost get the impression that there are two different gods – the violent, vengeful God of the Old Testament and the loving, gracious God of the New. But, of course, we know that this is not true. Nor did God change His mind from the Old Testament to the New.

A careful reading shows that God has acted with both violence and grace in both Testaments. In fact, the word grace is introduced in the first book of the Bible, a few verses before the word violence.

“But Noah found Grace (HEN) in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:8).
“ … the earth was filled with violence (HAMAS)” (Genesis 6:11).
And the last book of the Bible, Revelation is filled with violence from chapter 6 through chapter 20.

Where does violence come from? A brief history of violence:
• When “God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1), He created it good. Seven times in Genesis 1, we read “And God saw that it was good” (verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The last verse tells us “And God saw all that He had made and behold, it was very good!” That included man (Adam). There was no violence. (I will not discuss here the question as to whether or not there was animal violence in the original creation.)
• But man, whom God created with a free will, chose to disobey God and brought sin and death on the human race (Genesis 2:17; 3; Romans 5:12).
• It was Adam’s son Cain who introduced violence, when he murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Apparently violence from then on became part of human culture. The rest of the 4th chapter describes the development of culture – arts, trades, civilization, but includes violence. See verses 23 and 24.
• Finally, after some generations we are told that the LORD had enough! “Now the earth was corrupted in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupted for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth Is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth’” (Genesis 6:11-13). God reacted to man’s violence with a violence of His own. Later, after the flood we read that God gave Noah a principle. “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man” (Genesis 9:6). Violence is to be dealt with by violence!

God is a God of justice. We can only understand God’s violence when we understand how horrible sin is in His sight. This is shown in the crucifixion. God in the person of His Son took on Himself the violence of man to atone for that very violence. “This One, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death!” (Acts 2:23)

Man is violent by nature (not as created, but as fallen). Not only the Old Testament, but our history books and our newspapers are filled with it. So also is our entertainment: movies, television, music. God for reasons of His own has chosen to use the violence of man to achieve His own ends. This, however, does not justify all the acts of violence recorded in the Old Testament. Much of it is simply recorded without a “moral” being drawn and we should not be too eager to draw one.

So then, how do we read the Old Testament with all its violence? By recognizing that:
• Violence is not its main theme.
• Violence is part of human history, even of the history of God’s people.
• God is working through sinful people and their acts – through warriors and murderers, as well as fornicators, adulterers and liars.
• The Old Testament is not an end in itself. It points toward the New.
• We look forward, as did the Old Testament saints, to the day when “ … they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4; Micah 4:3)


Bill Ball

Monday, January 26, 2009


Nearly three years ago, not long after I began blogging, I published a post entitled WHY I BLOG, in which I attempted to give some of my reasons for blogging. After re-reading it, I figured it was time to go over and clarify these thoughts (even though I still agree with them) as well as to add a few more reasons.

As far as what I said about offending people, I have come to realize that this is unavoidable, though I still must say, it has never been my intention to offend. Many of us hold very tightly to our opinions and it seems we take any disagreement personally.

I feel I can honestly say that I rather appreciate it when someone questions or disagrees with what I have to say. I have attempted to keep my opinions in line with a biblical worldview, as I understand it. If I am wrong in my assertions, I can always use correction and if I am correct and can probably always be clearer.

I personally don’t like to debate, I prefer dialog. Perhaps it’s the teacher in me.

As a teacher I have long felt that there were essentially two things I needed to impart to my students. One thing, of course was content -- what to think about. But content is not enough. I also needed to impart to them the ability to think – how to think: to interpret; to question; to integrate; to think theologically.

As I said in that post, “I do hope and pray that I will say some things that will jar my readers’ thinking (if there are any readers out there), and force them into reexamining their opinions and prejudices.” If I have done that, please let me know.

And I have realized that there’s one more reason why I blog: it’s addictive. I have to write.

Bill Ball


Regarding Sherry’s question on my previous post: “Do you think Calvin meant it the way it has been taught (you don’t know if you’re saved unless your works show you’ve persevered) or do you think he meant that we will persevere because ‘God’s choice of those whom He will save is not due to anything in them’?” I said that I’d have to go back and re-read Calvin.

Well I did do a little study on the writings of my old friend and have to say that though he wrote quite a bit on the topic he doesn’t seem very clear. So my answer to the questions would be yes, both of the above.

Calvin speaks of perseverance in at least three places in his Institutes:
• In Book 2, chapter 3, paragraph 11: “Perseverance is exclusively God’s work; it is neither a reward nor a complement of our individual act.”
• In Book 3, chapter 22, paragraph 7: “Christ does not allow any of those whom He has once for all engrafted into His body to perish, for in preserving their salvation He will perform what He has promised.”
• In Book 3, chapter 24, paragraph 7: “Yet it daily happens that those who seemed to be Christ’s, fall away from Him again, and hasten to destruction … So then, let not such instances induce us at all to abandon a quiet reliance upon the Lord’s promise, where He declares that all by whom He is received in true faith have been given to Him by the Father, no one of whom… will perish … Paul does not discourage Christians from simple confidence but rather from crass and sheer confidence of the flesh.”
(All quotes are from Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, translated by Ford Lewis Battles.) This, of course is not all he has to say, but I believe it is a reasonable sample.

Though Calvin did not use the letters TULIP, they do briefly sum up his beliefs on salvation. Because man is so totally depraved that he is unable to even choose God, God himself has chosen out of the mass of lost humanity those whom He desired and it is for these that Christ died. Those whom He draws cannot resist God’s choice, but come to Him by faith and ultimately come to eternal salvation. It is all God’s doing.

Unfortunately, Calvin also seemed to look for external evidence as to one’s saved condition. And this set up a dilemma for later theologians and pastors.

With a rigid view of God’s sovereignty and the inevitability of perseverance, how does one deal with the fact that some of those who at one time give evidence of salvation, later give evidence of a lack of the same? We see this in the Scripture (“Demas has forsaken me, having loved the present age” – 2 Timothy 4:9) and we also see it in modern-day believers.

There are usually two solutions presented: either (a) these people were saved but lost their salvation (the Arminian view) or (b) they never were saved in the first place.

These both seem to be good ways of simply disposing of problem people. But what about the people themselves? Most of us will fail at one time or another! Does this mean I’m lost? Neither of the above solutions has an answer.

If we believe that God is the one who “perseveres” us, then we have to recognize that perseverance is an inward work. Thought there is a correspondence between the inward and the outward, it is not always clearly recognizable.

Our assurance of our salvation must rest, not on any perceived external acts, but on the promises of Scripture. “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not from yourselves; it is God’s gift (Ephesians 2:8).


Have you personally put your faith in Jesus Christ? If so, then you are saved!

Bill Ball

Monday, January 19, 2009


The other day I came across some notes that I had handwritten on a topic I consider extremely important and relevant to the Christian life. They were probably written when I was being questioned on this topic by someone. Anyway, I thought I might as well clean them up and publish them.

One of the great thinkers of the Reformation was John Calvin. His magnum opus was his Institutes of the Christian Religion. I have personally read it a number of times and have loved to wrestle with the deep thinking therein. It used to be found on the bookshelves of many a theologian. It probably still is today though I don’t believe that many have read it. It was not required reading when I attended seminary and I doubt if it is now.

Many today either refer to themselves as Calvinists (I don’t) or accuse others derogatorily of being Calvinists (again, I don’t – usually). For many, the doctrines of Calvinism can be boiled down to five points, known as TULIP.

• T – Total Depravity: Man is unable to save himself. He is incapable of choosing good.
• U – Unconditional Election: God’s choice of those whom He will save is not due to anything in them.
• L – Limited Atonement: Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save only those whom God has chosen.
• I – Irresistible Grace: The inward call of the Spirit inevitably brings the elect to salvation.
• P – Perseverance of the Saints: “All who were chosen by God, redeemed by Christ and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of the Almighty God and thus persevere to the end.” – Steele & Thomas, The Five Points of Calvinism, page 18.

It was fashionable when I was in seminary to identify oneself as either a 4-point or a 5-point Calvinist. If you weren’t one of these you must be an Arminian! The point in dispute was the L – Limited Atonement.

While that point is usually the disputed one, and I still fret over it, the one that really bothers me is the P – Perseverance of the Saints.

The definition above sounds really good! It sounds biblical! It should give assurance to those who have placed their faith in Christ. But quite often it has the opposite effect. It is often taught in such a way as to imply that one can never be assured of his/her eternal salvation unless he/she perseveres. A true believer can never lose his/her salvation, we are told, but the problem is that one cannot know if he/she is a true believer unless he/she perseveres “to the end.” If one “backslides,” he/she obviously wasn’t saved in the first place! Somehow I don’t see much difference between this and the Arminian teaching that one can fall from grace, that “Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc.” (Steele and Thomas, page 18.)

To quote a modern Calvinist, “Superficial appearances to the contrary, this does not imply that true saints can lose their salvation … It does imply that one can be called a ‘brother’ on the basis of appearances but in the end prove not to be a brother because of failing to persevere in faith.” (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, pages 108, 109.) He goes on to say, “What is at stake in pastoral admonition and in preaching is not merely the church’s progress in sanctification but its perseverance in final salvation.”

Huh? With all due respect to Mr. Piper, this is double-talk. It is circular reasoning. It ends up being a works-salvation. It forces the believer to look to himself and not to Christ. He can never be sure if he’s saved till his dying breath, and then has to evaluate his salvation by his works.

This is not simply a quibble among professional theologians about irrelevant esoteric issues. It goes right to the heart of the gospel. Any doctrine or teaching that forces the believer to look for his final salvation to himself or any thing or person other than to Jesus Christ and His finished work, is a works-salvation. We don’t persevere! God does! “Being confident of this very thing, that the One who began a good work in you, will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6.)

Bill Ball

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


On the index finger of my left hand are a number of scars. I appreciate them even though I don’t notice them much anymore. They are a reminder to me of why there is a warning sticker on a chain saw that says, “KEEP BOTH HANDS ON THE SAW”!

I have lived with these scars for nearly 30 years. Though they are thin and fading now (as well as less discernible among all the wrinkles on my old hands), they once were bright and red; there were years when my finger would not bend at the knuckle; there were occasions when a lost stitch would work its way out in an infection. And of course, before the stitches, there was a brief period when my finger looked like a forkful of Italian spaghetti.

My chain saw incident occurred shortly after I had resigned my first pastorate. I was still licking my wounds from attacks on my qualifications as a pastor as well as even assaults on my character. I had gone through some major crises in the church which were not of my own doing, as well as crises in my family. I was questioning my “call” to the ministry. I was “bleeding” internally (spiritually and emotionally). I had no idea what God was doing.

I received very little comfort or encouragement from most of my friends. Many seemed to have the attitude that I should just “get over it” and get on with life. But most wounds don’t just heal on demand. They take time. They take care. Gradually over time, both sets of wounds healed; the bleeding stopped; the infections cleared up; I was able to function again. I came to realize that my messed-up finger was sort of a metaphor or parable for my internal pains.

Most of us have been wounded at some time or times in our lives. Some wounds are self-inflicted (as my chain saw incident). Others are inflicted on us by others, some deliberately, some out of ignorance or indifference.

Many of us have been wounded by those closest to us, whether physically, emotionally or sexually. I know people who seem to never heal – they have been bleeding for years. I’ve known others who appear to have been healed only to have their wound or wounds reopened by some triggering incident. And there are some who seem to heal quickly with little evidence they’ve ever been wounded.

Even when wounds do heal, they often leave scars (whether physical or metaphorical). But there’s a big difference between a wound and a scar: a wound still bleeds; it is still liable to get infected; a scar is simply a marker where a wound used to be. In a sense, healing is (among other things) a turning of a wound into a scar. And our scars have reasons: they remind us of past sufferings; they teach us to be more careful next time; and, they are evidence of healing.

As with most spiritual and emotional aspects of our lives, there is no “easy button”; no formula for instant healing. But there are some biblical principles.
If the wound is our fault, we can confess it to God and accept His forgiveness. “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). Sometimes this may require the help of others. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

If the wound has been inflicted by others, we can forgive them. We may not always be able to pronounce forgiveness, but we can by the inward power of the Spirit of God, take an attitude of forgiveness as did Jesus on the cross. “And Jesus was saying, ‘Father forgive them; for the do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34). Or Stephen, as he was being stoned to death, “Bowing his knees he cried, ‘Lord do not charge this sin against them’” (Acts 7:60).

We can recognize in all of our pain the sovereign hand of God. “The Father of compassions and the God of all encouragement who encourages us in all our affliction that we may be able to encourage others” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). God has a purpose in our pain, even though we may not see it at first – or maybe ever.

Wounds happen. We can choose to pick at them and keep them bleeding, or we can seek with God’s help to let them turn into scars. We may never get rid of our own scars (even plastic surgery can’t heal most of them), but we can live with them and learn from them.

After all, Jesus, after rising from the dead, still had His scars. I believe He’ll have them through eternity.

Bill Ball

Thursday, January 8, 2009


My wife Uni became a believer at an early age, and at the age of 11 she began reading through her Bible once a year and has ever since. When I came to faith in Christ at 18, she purchased me a Bible. It was a King James Version with all the “thees” and “thous.” I began reading it immediately and finished in about 3 months. I’ve been at it ever since and wore out that first Bible and a few more since.

Now I have many Bibles (in Greek, Hebrew and English) which I read and study. My favorite is my Greek New Testament. It’s a large print Nestle-Aland critical text. The margins are marked with cross references and notes. The words have been colored by pencils according to a code known only to me. The edges are dirty. Some pages are torn and taped. The original cover is gone and replaced with a simple glued on piece of leather. It has tire tracks on a few pages. (I had left it on top of my car one morning after having coffee with a friend. I had just pulled on to the highway and got up to speed when I heard a thump, looked in the mirror and saw my New Testament being run over by a car following. I retrieved it still in one piece.)

I love this book, as well as my other Bibles. They are my friends. Through the years I believe the Bible has been the major factor in my growth as a Christian. (I’m not there yet!) Though I have read many books that have added to my knowledge and growth, this is the one by which all others are judged (see BOOKS).

Just about every year, people make resolutions to read through the Bible and like most resolutions they don’t carry through. Some have probably already gotten bogged down this year in the “begats” in Genesis. And of those who make it through them, some will get bogged down in the “abominations” in Leviticus. Some will make it through all those and beyond, only to discover even more “begats” in Chronicles. And so, people who have been believers for years never get to know firsthand what’s in the Book.

And I’ve heard many excuses besides “I got bogged down.”
• “I don’t understand the Bible.” Of course! One can’t understand the Bible without reading it!
• “I don’t have a seminary education.” One doesn’t need a seminary education to read the Book! In fact, years of reading the Bible made my seminary education a lot easier.
• “Living out the Christian life is more important than just reading the Bible.” I believe it is impossible to “live the Christian life” without some knowledge of and familiarity with the instruction manual!
• “Isn’t regular reading some sort of legalism?” Yes, I suppose one could get legalistic about reading the Bible. If we read the Book just to say we did, we can become satisfied with the reading as an end in itself. But we mustn’t confuse developing good habits with legalism. Most of us eat, sleep, brush our teeth and do all sorts of things as part of a regular routine.

And yet Bible reading should be much more than a regular routine if it’s going to affect our lives. Get to know the Bible. It’s a love letter from your dearest Friend. You can’t really know Him well without finding out what He has to say.

“ … be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you …” (Philippians 3:16).

“All Scripture is … profitable … that the man of God may be complete, furnished for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).

If you’ve never done it, please start reading now. One can read through the whole Bible in a year at 3 or 4 chapters a day. Start with the New Testament. Don’t get bogged down with the notes. Don’t worry too much about the parts you don’t understand. Many of them will be answered as you continue reading.

Have a great new year!

Bill Ball