Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

Chapter Two
Connecting My Story to This Book
Have you enjoyed this story? Or has it made you cry and wonder how the church of Christ and the courts of our land could come to this? I think I could have, in good conscience, offered a money-back guarantee to readers and I would have had no takers. The byline would be that I guarantee that pastors would laugh themselves till they hurt, church members would scare themselves out of church for a few Sundays, and those who were considering going into the pastoral ministry would either ditch the idea or suddenly turn up missing from their seminary classes. My sad story doesn’t make such a good bed time story for your kids, though my kids lived through this story for several hundred nights. But this entire story converges right here to the reason why I’m writing this book. All of this amazingly sad history happened because of one hyphenated word: double-predestination. Of all the issues associated with Calvinism, this was the one Alex wielded recklessly as a weapon against me and the leadership. Because it is so misunderstood, and because the mere mention of it produces emotional upheaval in the mind and heart of the average Christian, it is always the first weapon an anti-Calvinist will draw and use against the Calvinist. And as sure as the sun will rise every morning, they will use that weapon in as much of a public display as they possibly can. That’s why I felt the urgency to deal with the matter on a more public level, in an effort to help Christians understand it more, and help pastors who have some understanding of explain it better to those with questions. I figure that if we can rightly divide the word of God on this subject, and explain it in an understandable way on the level of the layman yet providing fodder for the scholar, then we might be able to effectively disarm some of them. Of course, some of them are always going to be contentious by nature and will always be looking for a fight. Double-predestination and Calvinism is just as good a reason as any to fight, especially if you’re pastoring in a small-town, traditional church mostly comprised of older church members entrenched in traditionalism and denominationalism.

Beginning Points

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The kernel of what follows in this book was originally a supplemental article I wrote for an Adult Bible Study Hour class at a church where I pastored in Hudsonville, Michigan. But after the conflict ensued and the dust settled a bit, I returned to visit this subject of double-predestination once more determined to examine the issue in greater detail and attempt an explanation suitable for the layman and scholar alike. This has not been an easy task, by any means. But it is one that I feel is necessitated from my experience so that those who oppose Calvinism on this ground may properly understand the issue before deciding this ant hill is worth dying on. I also feel it is important for those who claim to hold to the position of double-predestination in order that they also may understand it rightly and be able to explain it sufficiently and defend themselves against key objections. With this in mind my prayer is that this book is truly a help to both sides. What follows are several key issues which need very much to be dealt with before reading the rest of the book. There are three such issues. The first is determining my basic bible study methodology. Understanding this will help you, the reader, know where I am coming from. If you know how I go about interpreting the Scriptures, you will be in a better position to understand my position. The second important issue to understand is what theological camp I fall in line with. It is true that labels do divide people, sometimes unnecessarily. But the fact of the matter is that labels also identify. They are shorthand for explaining what a person does or does not believe. Therefore, it will be helpful to you before reading the rest of the book to know how I am labeled theologically. I trust that my labels won’t cause you to burn my book as others have recently done to a book written by an author who wears a similar label! The final essential element to address is how to approach the very subject itself. There is a wrong way and a right way to begin studying a subject like this. Do it the wrong way, and you’ll hate me forever. Do it the right way, and we will more than likely be able to either agree or agree to disagree. Either way, studying theology through our emotions is the biggest “no-no,” and I’ll explain why. * * * * * *

What’s My Basic Bible Study Methodology? First, let’s address my methodology of bible study as reflected in this work. My method of argumentation and writing follows my bible study methodology (also known as exegesis). There are many keys to bible
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study, and whole books have been written to explain them. I have included my recommendations to you at the end of this chapter. But I trust you will understand if I only briefly touch on a couple of essentials here. The first key part of exegesis is called lexicography, which is the study of word meanings. Key words must be examined in their immediate context, and then examined in their circles of context: how the same book uses the same word, how the same author uses the word elsewhere, how the NT or OT uses the word or concept, and how the rest of the Bible seems to speak of it. The second key to exegesis is called syntax, which is the study of the formation of phrases and sentences. This is an observation of the grammar of a text which the key words make up. We want not only to study the words an author used, but also the way in which he used those words in relation to other words in the same sentence. I’d recommend pulling out your old high school or college grammar textbook to brush up on English grammar. It is extremely vital to being able to understand the syntax of biblical sentences. Both of these keys must never be removed from the key ring of context. Context always determines word meaning and grammar. The point the author is trying to make in the letter he is writing, and more specifically the point he is trying to make in that particular part of his letter will determine, to a large degree, the way he wants his words and sentences to come across. He is attempting to make an argument or a point, and we must get at the point he is trying to make. (This is called authorial intent.) Otherwise, we run the risk of reading our own points and arguments into the text, thereby failing to get at what the author, and hence God is trying to teach us. I make no bones about the fact that I believe a text of Scripture has only one correct interpretation. This is in diametric opposition to the postmodern concept of interpretation. This model of interpretation teaches that all interpretations are possible and therefore correct. They also teach that the importance lie not so much in how we interpret the Bible as much as whether or not the Bible is interpreting us. That’s philosophical weirdness. This understanding inevitably leads to the conclusion that the Bible has many correct interpretations. But as one seminary professor once told me, if the Bible means more than one thing it can mean anything; and if it can mean anything it can mean everything; and if it can mean everything it really means nothing. But while I make no bones about the fact that each text has only one correct interpretation, I do not want to fall into the trap of what
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postmodernism has reacted against, which is pride. The pride with which so many have attempted to interpret Scriptures has to some degree caused them to run over into the welcoming arms of a seemingly humble postmodern approach. To be sure, the culture of our day and time is more bent toward a neglect or rejection of what is objective and absolute. But there is no doubt in my mind that the way some scholars and pastors have communicated their interpretation has created an atmosphere of arrogance which naturally drives anyone away. Instead, humility is what I seek. I am human. I am fallen. I am very sinful and fallible. I err everyday and I know it. What is worse, I err everyday in ways I do not know! Therefore, while I believe that each text of Scripture can have only one correct interpretation, I can do my homework to the best of my ability and offer my conclusions, but I must do so with humility. Depravity demands humility. If I know that I am bound to err as I so often do in life and study, then I am bound to offer my interpretive conclusions with humility knowing that I may be wrong and welcoming any further insight into my exegesis and conclusions. This is where you, the reader, come in. If you are a believer, I’m your brother in Christ. For me this means that you have the same Spirit of God residing in you as it does in me. And this further means that you are able to be guided by the Spirit into a correct interpretation just like me. I want to walk arm in arm with you into the deep waters of Scripture and together discover its intended meaning and application for our lives. In other words, I believe in interpreting the Bible in a community which is seeking to be Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, and Spirit-baptized. If you belong in this community, contact me with love and humility and let’s work further in an attitude of patience, meekness, gentleness and forbearance, with the necessary leaning of the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3). I look forward to interacting with the greater community of Christ on this issue of double-predestination. * * * * * * * *

What Camp Do I Fall In Line With? My view on the subject of this book will become more apparent as you read. And as it becomes apparent it may seem a bit odd to some folks who call themselves “Reformed.” So let me say to these folks from the outset that I am not a man of labels. I desire to call myself “Christian” because I follow Christ. That was the label the early church wished to call themselves by, and that’s the one I choose.
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Having said that, labels are important because they define us by making legitimate distinctions. When you hear the label “dispensationalism,” for example, there are certain theological conclusions that come to mind which would describe a person holding this label. To be sure, a dispensationalist does not have to be bound by everything that label represents. But on the whole, it is a word that in many ways sums up some of their core theological distinctives. But the fact that a dispensationalist does not have to be bound by everything inherent in that term is why some labels often become hyphenated, thus, “progressive-dispensationalism.” Beyond that, the only labels attached to me are those I receive voluntarily because they generally reflect my convictions and conclusions regarding certain matters of Scripture. I am baptistic, for example, because I believe in baptism of believers by immersion. I lean toward a charismatic persuasion, a non-cessationist position, on the spiritual gifts (which basically holds that all gifts are still in operation within the local church today).1 Also, as it relates to this book, I would most definitely be considered reformed, because I believe in the basic tenets of the Reformation: sola fide (faith alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola Christi (Christ alone), sola Scriptura (Scriptures alone), soli deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory). But even in this circle there is another label which more sharply defines my distinctives, which is the label Calvinist. Professor Richard Mouw, when writing a book about Calvinism, was urged by a friend to use a different label. “’You’d be better off talking about being Reformed,’ he said. ‘It gives the feel of something that is a little broader, and frankly has a nicer feel than Calvinist.’”2 Mouw’s response would probably be mine were I to have received the same suggestion. “The Calvinist label is an important one for me. It was for Jonathan Edwards as well, and I have found his thoughts on the subject helpful. The great Puritan theologian was well aware of the negative associations of the Calvinist label, but he chose to embrace the term anyway. At the beginning of his great work entitled Freedom of the Will, he wrote:
1

I realize that this is quite an odd sounding theological combination to some readers. If so, I would encourage you to visit Sovereign Grace Ministries at www.sovereigngraceministries.org, and purchase from the online bookstore the sermon entitled “The Distinguishing Marks of the Charismatic” by Pastor Dave Harvey. The website for that series can be found at http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/gigichpe.html.
2

Richard J. Mouw. Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), p. 18. Revision: March 2012 No part of this draft may be reproduced in part or in whole…yet. Seriously.

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© Rob Wilkerson

‘However the term Calvinist is, in these days, amongst most, a term of greater reproach than Arminianism; yet I should not take it all amiss, to be called a Calvinist, for distinction’s sake.’ Edwards is not only right about Calvinism in particular; he is also making a good point about labels in general. Labels are helpful only if they make legitimate distinctions. They serve us well when they are informative, when they tell us something important about the person who chooses to use a specific label. Like Edwards I find it helpful to call myself a Calvinist ‘for distinction’s sake.’ It say something important about what I believe, something not quite capture by any other label. And so, even given the bad connotations the label has, I willingly claim it for my own.”3 But while these labels are attached to me by virtue of my theological convictions, I by no means proudly or arrogantly attach them to myself. And neither do I preach them. Yes, labels are shorthand. But we are not to preach our shorthand, but rather the gospel of Christ through the exposition of Scriptures. Labels are for books and discussions. They are understood best in a context of close, personal relationships in which they can be discussed. Labels do not belong in sermons and evangelism. This is definitely contrary to what the great Charles H. Spurgeon practiced in his sermons. He was completely unafraid to use the label Calvinism in his sermons, even defending it in a sermon entitled, “A Defense of Calvinism.” But as I may slightly disagree with this prince of preachers, I am more prone to think from my research of his life and preaching that his pattern was a necessary remedy to the day and times in which he lived.4 Therefore, I have stated it loud and clear for everyone to hear. The only label I am to wear proudly is Jesus Christ. I am united to every other genuine believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, not on the theology of baptism or the Reformation or charismatic issues. My
3

Ibid, pp. 18-19. See further the section entitled “A Hierarchy of Labels” on pages 1922. Speaking of himself, Mouw writes, “First and foremost, I am a human being. But I find being a Christian to be the best way to be a human being. And I find being a Protestant the best way for me to be a Christian. And I find Reformed the best way for me to be Protestant. And I find being a Calvinist the best way of being Reformed” (p. 20).
4

An excellent resource for researching this area of Spurgeon’s preaching ministry is Iain Murray’s work entitled Spurgeon v. Hyper-Calvinism: The Battle for Gospel Preaching (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1995). Revision: March 2012 No part of this draft may be reproduced in part or in whole…yet. Seriously.

Double Double, Toil & Trouble?

© Rob Wilkerson

unity with other Christians in the death of Christ is what determines the label I will proudly display. For this reason, then, I do not tow any party line. Because I may hold to the tenets of the Reformation, I do not hold to all the theology that came out of the Reformation, such as paedobaptism (infant baptism). And because I have leanings towards a charismatic understanding of the spiritual gifts, that does not mean I endorse all the abuses that continue to take place within that circle of thought, such as some televangelists display regularly. And for the purposes of this book, this means I will not necessarily endorse all the theological views and interpretations of Scripture on double-predestination that are taught by other Reformed theologians. But neither will I endorse interpretations that are blatantly antiCalvinistic, or Arminian as it is sometimes called. Just because I do not plaster the label or wave the banner of Calvinism doesn’t mean I’m automatically an Arminian. This is unfortunately the mistake that many Reformed people make when it comes to theology. For some reason they feel compelled to reject a person and his theology if any part of it is in the slightest disagreement with the theology of the Reformation. That’s not what I’m about. I’m about embracing Jesus Christ as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. And that means I’m about embracing the teaching of Scriptures as taught by Christ and not as taught by a theologian, a tradition, a denomination, or system of thought. So if you are Reformed and I do not happen to hold your viewpoint concerning a passage, I hope you will still love me and embrace me. After all, Jesus does. And if you are not Reformed, or are perhaps antiCalvinistic or Arminian, and what I say offends your tradition or denomination or system of thought, I hope you will love me and embrace me, and fight hard the urges you will have to dismiss me. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, united under the blood of Jesus shed at the cross which alone saves us and justifies us in the sight of God. If we can agree at least on that, then the rest is mere discussion. * * * * * *

How You Must Handle This Subject Now for the final essential introductory element before reading the rest of this book – our emotions. This is a good way to transition from this chapter to the next. As I noted in my preface, I think that perhaps the toughest issue involved in a discussion of the doctrines of grace is centered on this subject of double-predestination. This doctrine is seen
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among some who hold to reformed theology as a necessary parallel to predestination. But among this group are many folks from both sides of the fence – reformed and non-reformed, Calvinist and Arminian - who have a severe reaction to this on the grounds that God cannot be charged with actively sending people to hell. They would argue that He simply elects and passes over the rest. The lost are already headed for condemnation by their own sinfulness, such that God has no need to pursue a course that puts them in hell. Others may argue with the question: “But doesn’t predestination and election necessarily imply double-predestination? If God predetermines whom He will save, then hasn’t He by default simultaneously predetermined whom He will not save?” If you’re asking me personally, I’d say it all sounds very logical to me. But the real question is whether or not it is biblical, right? I have heard many theological conclusions in my short, young life. Many of these things sound very logical, but when compared to Scripture there is either no Scripture to justify the supposed logical conclusion, or there is Scripture that flatly contradicts the supposed logical conclusion. So we’ve got to put on our biblical thinking caps, if you will, being careful to hold our logic and reason to the standard of Scripture. 1. Put the Squeeze On Your Emotions

And not only this, but we must also especially be careful to hold our emotions to the standard of Scripture. Double-predestination is a difficult doctrine for first and foremost it flies in the face of emotion and preconception about what we think is or should be right and wrong. Those who get emotionally charged about this whole issue adamantly argue that there is just no biblical warrant for such an understanding. My wife was involved in a ladies community bible study for a while. They were using a bible study series written and produced by a very well known female bible teacher. Many of the things my wife learned under this woman were life-changing, producing massive maturity and spiritual growth in her life. But the bible teacher’s emotions became apparently riled when it came to the issue of God’s sovereign grace in salvation. In an effort to teach about the mystery of God’s sovereignty in salvation, she became visibly irritated at what she perceived as arrogant assertions and implications. There were two things that were very remarkable when I watched this portion of the video. First, the bible teacher seemed to completely take
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the mystery out of sovereign grace. To say it is a mystery, and then provide a concrete solution to it, makes it no longer a mystery. But more importantly, the second thing that was remarkable was that my wife caught her emotions ‘red-handed’ in the act of being tempted to tune out the rest of what the bible teacher said. She had missed that video the previous week. Her remarks made this husband proud: “I realized that if I had watched that video last week, I would have probably just tuned out the rest of what she had to say.” Whereas the bible teacher seemed to be led to respond to a Calvinistic understanding of God’s sovereignty with reactive emotion, my wife was able to pinpoint in her own heart what would have been a similar response to the teacher’s Arminian understanding of God’s grace. Oh, how self-righteous we can be sometimes! And the brightest reflection of our own self-righteousness is usually see in our emotive response to what we do or do not like very much. Now, I have always been an advocate for casting off preconceptions and their consequent and sometimes reactive emotions when considering the subject of God. He doesn’t fit any human mold of thought we try to find or make up for Him. It seems better to let God dictate my preconceptions so that the emotions that should and do follow will be good and reasonable, rather than bad an unreasonable. In my pastoral opinion, emotions are the biggest enemy of solid Bible study and they must not be allowed to interfere with an exegesis of a biblical text, though they will always and forever try to do so. If we allow our feelings to determine what truth we will or will not believe, then our entire theological system is built on a rollercoaster. As the rollercoaster of emotions go up and down, so will our ability to interpret the Scriptures properly. Emotions must never be allowed to determine what is true. And they must never be allowed to color the truth for others. As Christians we must be death on this or else it will push our Christianity to failure. Truth stands upon the nature of God as revealed in the Scriptures and nothing else. Whatever you do, make sure that your emotions follow the truth. Otherwise, your emotions will become the steam engine that may ultimately railroad another brother or sister in Christ out of close, intimate fellowship with you. That said, to examine this subject of predestination biblically, we must take off our steaming-red glasses of emotional anger. We must calm ourselves and then begin by asking: “What does the Bible say on this subject, if anything at all?” That’s all that matters. Our emotions on the subject must then be subjected to the truth of Scripture. And you’ve
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probably guessed by now that my even bringing this up means that there must be something in the text with which we must grapple intellectually and mentally, but not emotionally. It may even mean a spiritual grappling, since for many there will be a splinter within the heart that just won’t let them hear what is being said. If that is the case then humility is the need of the hour. This only comes by a remembrance of how wretched we are, how darkened our minds have become as a result of sin, and how much pride really does lurk in the hearts of all Christians. Solve this issue before going further, I urge you. We’re about to tread some very deep waters here, so any fighting over oxygen tanks will only lead to the demise of our exploration. 2. Ask What the Bible Says About Double-Predestination Now, assuming you’ve resolved the emotional problem I want to spend the remainder of this book taking as honest a look into the Scriptures on this subject as I am humanly capable of at this point in my life. Humility is an implication of my fallen nature, and as such humility demands that I be open to change when I find that I am wrong. There was a time when I would not have even considered holding to Calvinism, the doctrines of grace, much less double-predestination. That attitude was based on bad emotion, bad logic and not good exegesis. But when I calmed myself and was willing to really study the Scriptures for myself, change was demanded of me. I couldn’t remain the same way, believing the same thing about this subject. That’s what most of us do, don’t we? We keep on believing the way we have always believed because our mommies and daddies believed it, or because that’s not what our preacher says, or that’s not what our denomination believes. Some are at least honest enough to admit that they’ve never been taught that before. But there is a certain level of ability that every single Christian must have when they come to the Scriptures. Though each Christian still lives in a mind tainted with sin, we trust that by the power of the indwelling Spirit, each Christian will be able to wipe away more and more of those stains of sin and replace it with Spirit-illumined thoughts. This is where Bible study is so important. But important also is the biblical logic that flows from our study and interpretation. There are some more simple-minded Christians out there today who would just prefer to chuck logic out the back door with the leftovers to the dog. But as we are created in God’s image, we must act like God and think. He is a thinking, reasoning, rational person. He created us to
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do the same thing. So the idea of refusing to use logic when it comes to Bible study, interpretation and exegesis is nonsense. It is no huge statement to say that without logic and reason, one cannot even attempt such adventures as Bible study and interpretation. Now, the reason I bring this up is twofold. First, I want to recapture logic and reason. I fell into the trap years ago of throwing it out and only letting the Bible say what it says. But then I had an epiphany: when I say what the Bible says, I’m saying it with my own logic and reason. So if I can’t avoid using it when I say what the Bible says, I can’t avoid using it when I’m studying what it says. However there is a balance. Secondly, then, I want to make sure that our logic is submitted to Scripture and that it flows from such. It is dangerous to put human logic, so tainted with sin, on par with Scripture. Because I am made in God’s image, this very truth demands that I subject myself to Him as my Creator. I do this in and with the Scriptures. Applying these two issues, your study of double-predestination will hinge largely on your ability to balance logic and reason with solid Bible study and interpretation. Jerome Zanchius, Italian Reformer (1516-1585) recognized this very point. “From what has been said…concerning the election of some, it would unavoidably follow, even supposing the Scriptures had been silent about it, that there must be a rejection of others, as every choice does, most evidently and necessarily, imply a refusal, for where there is no leaving out there can be no choice. But beside the testimony of reason, the Divine Word is full and express to our purpose; it frequently, and in terms too clear to be misunderstood, and too strong to be evaded by any who are not proof against the most cogent evidence, attests this tremendous truth…”5 Notice what Zanchius does. He admits that reason and logic demand the truth of the flipside of predestination. But He also admits that the Scriptures rule the day when it comes to stating the issue. That’s what we’ve got to do here. I say this as an encouragement to those who are reformed because there is the tendency too often to rely too heavily on human reason and logic rather than on Scripture. Use the logic, and use your reason, but let them be born out of good bible study. I do believe in what Zanchius
5

Jerome Zanchius. Absolute Predestination (Chingford, London: Silver Trumpet Publications, 1989), pp. 69-70. Revision: March 2012 No part of this draft may be reproduced in part or in whole…yet. Seriously.

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has just stated regarding the reprobation side of predestination. But I believe it not because it seems to be the most logical thing, but because the Bible teaches it clearly. Finally, to all my readers I ask you to arm yourselves with the attitude of humility - that mind of Christ to which Paul refers in Philippians 2:5. Instead of the storm cloud of emotions, let us treat one another as we would want to be treated. Let us love one another in our feelings, motivations, words, thoughts and demeanor towards each other. And above all, let us wade into the Scriptures together, holding hands, locking arms, bracing and leaning on each other as we work through this difficult issue. I know I don’t have the market cornered. And I trust you feel the same way. None of us has it all figured out. What this means is that we need each other! That’s why Jesus gave us each other! So let’s use each other in humility and depend upon Him while we love one another.

Recommended Resources on Bible Study and Interpretation • • • • • • • • • • Robertson McQuilken. Understanding and Applying the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1983). J. Edwin Hartill. Principles of Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishers, 1960). B. Corely, S. Lemke, G. Lovejoy. Biblical Hermeneutics: A Comprehensive Introduction to Interpreting Scripture, Second Edition (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2002). Robert Thomas. Evangelical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2002). Gerhard Maier. Biblical Hermeneutics (Wheaton, IL: Good News Publishing, 1994). Milton Terry. Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1964, Reprint). John MacArthur. How to Study the Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985). John MacArthur. Unleashing God’s Word in Your Life: How to Effectively Study and Apply the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2003). Greg Herrick. How to Study the Bible. Available online from Biblical Studies Press at www.bible.org. Robert Stein. A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997).
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© Rob Wilkerson

• •

Dan McCartney and Charles Clayton. Let the Reader Understand: A Guide to Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2002). Robert Traina. Methodical Bible Study (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2001).

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