Bragging Rights

March 11, 2014

In Ephesians chapter 1, notice that the “riches of His grace… lavished upon us” in verses 7-8 are part of God’s eternal purpose of “uniting of all things in Christ” in verse 10.   This is very significant.  Will God be gracious to you? Forgive you? Redeem you?  Yes.  But how can you be sure God will do these things?  Because these things are all part of His plan to unite all things in Christ, and to bring glory to Himself.  Rest assured – it’s not all about you.  And this is comforting, because we like to think of our salvation as being both all about us and dependent upon us; but fortunately it is neither.  God is doing this for bragging rights, and He will not be ashamed by the outcome.

Just and the Justifier

March 19, 2010

In my last article, comparing an Anabaptist view of justification with a Reformed view, I said this:

“So in one view I am justified when, by my works, my life mimics Christ’s righteousness; in the other view, I am justified when, by faith, Jesus’ righteousness becomes my righteousness.”

Another way of saying this is that in the later view, I am justified by imputation. I am not justified because of a righteousness that inheres in myself; rather, I am justified because someone else (Christ) was righteous, and the righteousness of that someone else is applied to me as though it were mine. Christ’s righteousness is imputed to me.

But an objection arises at this point. How can we say that God calls righteous that which is not righteous? God would not lie, the objection goes, and so it would be wrong to suppose that God would ever call me righteous unless I actually became righteous in reality.  I want to interact with that objection here.

Those who would raise this objection generally fit into two groups. One group will try all their lives to attain to justification through the unmitigated righteousness of their own works, hoping to eventually achieve a state of actual sinlessness; the other group is essentially the same, the only significant difference being that the people in this group say the grace of God plays a part in their attaining to a state of sinlessness. But both groups share a reluctance to consider themselves justified until they reach a state of actual sinlessness.

I see several problems with this objection, and with those views. But before I get to them, I want to agree with a part of the premise underlying the objection, and that is that God is just. God does not lie, God does not cheat — “the decrees of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Psalm 19:9). I vigorously affirm the perfect justice of God.

But in affirming God’s perfect justice, I am not arguing away from imputation; rather, I am affirming a premise given by the apostle Paul in his argument for imputation. And this leads to my first answer to the above objection: God’s perfect justice is the best single argument for justification through imputation. And that’s why Paul spends so much of the book of Romans developing that very argument.  In Romans 3:21-26, Paul says there is something that God did, which He had to do in order to be both just and a justifier of sinners. Now before we even talk about what God did to pull this off, we have to acknowledge that being both just and the justifier is a problem requiring a divine solution. God had to do something special in order to be both just and a justifier. Why is this? Well, precisely because of the objector’s premise — God doesn’t lie. No judge can set the guilty free and remain just, any more than He can declare the innocent to be guilty and remain just. God had to do something to make this work, and before He did it, there was something about the state of things that made His justice and His justification of sinful man in conflict with each other. This is Paul’s argument. According to God’s perfect justice He has judged us all to be sinners worthy of death; but because He loves us He is not desirous that we perish. But because He is just, He cannot simply sweep the sin under the carpet; so if God’s going to save any of us sinners without compromising His justice, something big has to happen. And this is the thing that Paul describes in Romans 3.

Now before we talk about what that thing is, we already have enough information to know what it is not. In other words, before we discover how God justifies the sinner, we already know how He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t do it by the law; for we are all guilty before the law, and the law requires that we die. But what is sin, but a violation of God’s law? Therefore we know that God does not justify the sinner by the sinner’s sinlessness. And this would be true whether that sinlessness is graciously attained to or not. Wait — go over that again — how do we know this? Well, if man were justified through sinlessness, then what about that arrangement would make it a problem for God to be both just and the justifier? What is there about righteousness-through-sinlessness that would require God’s special intervention to preserve God’s justness? It would already be a just arrangement at the face. Why would Paul even need to write this section of Romans 3? To ask it is to answer it; therefore we know that God does not justify a man by means of that man’s sinlessness.

But the objection has other problems as well, even if Romans 3 is completely ignored. Remember, the objector will maintain that justification comes by sinless living from here on out. God wipes the slate clean by forgiving past sins, the argument goes, and God continues to forgive future sin as we grow more and more holy, until eventually we grow right out of sin and become actually righteous, at which point we are declared righteous and justified. See? — no cheating on God’s part — we become righteous, and then He calls us righteous and justifies us. Perfect justice. But the problem is that this kind of justice cannot account for how the past sins were forgiven in the first place. If by the phrase “God doesn’t lie” you mean “God doesn’t call the unjust ‘just’,” then you must also mean “God doesn’t call the guilty ‘forgiven’.” The objection to the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the grounds of God’s justice proves too much, because it rules out any kind of pardon whatsoever. This is not to say God isn’t just; rather, God’s justice does not mean what the objector thinks it means.  True text-book sinlessness has to start from the womb, and none of us can claim that kind of sinlessness, no matter how perfectly we live after our conversion. According to strict justice apart from imputation, even 40 years of sinless living after conversion, were it possible, still would not result in righteousness, because it provides no mechanism for forgiveness of past sins; and an appeal to God’s perfect justice only makes that point more emphatically.

And this leads to my third answer to the objection. Those who object to imputation really only want to object to half of it; they think of it as though it only flows in one direction. But it flows in both directions, and not even the objectors dare deny the other half of it. The problem is that the math by which they object to the one half excludes the other half as well. Here’s what I mean. At issue is whether or not Christ’s righteousness can be imputed to me, and the objectors object on the ground that imputation itself constitutes an act of injustice. When “God cannot lie” is raised as objection to imputation, it is implied that imputation is a form of lying. So here’s my question on this point: was God lying when He made Christ a curse for us? What about when He caused the chastisement of our peace to be on Christ? Was God acting unjustly when the wrath that was due us was directed toward Christ? When Christ died in my place by God’s sovereign decree, was that God’s unrighteousness at work, declaring the innocent to be guilty? Or, rather, did Christ not really bare my sins after all? This is absurdity! And yet, if imputation of Christ’s righteousness to me were an act of injustice, then so also wold be the imputation of my sin to Christ on the cross.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” God be thanked and praised that He sent Christ to be the propitiation for our sins! “This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”

Amen!

No False Comfort

March 12, 2010

I am wanting to do some writing on justification (in my spare time).  This is the first of several, hopefully.  We’ll see how it goes.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us that we have in Jesus a sympathetic high priest, not one who was untouched by our weaknesses, but rather one who was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.

I have to admit that for years I had a nagging complaint in the back of my mind about this passage.  I knew it was supposed to bring comfort to me, but I couldn’t help seeing it as a false comfort.  I mean, what good does His sympathy really do me in the big picture?  There has to be some kind of difference between us and Christ, right? Because we all sin and He did not; and whatever the ontological difference that accounts for this fact, it would be like a finger on the scale, wouldn’t it?  How can I really see Jesus’ example or sympathy in any useful way pertaining to my salvation, given the finger on the scale?  How can Jesus’ sinless life ever be of any comfort to me, when I know I can never in this life attain to sinlessness?  And how can God not know this?  It seemed like I was being patronized.  That was my secret, nagging complaint.

But that was before I left anabaptist thought for reformed thought.  And here’s why that shift in thinking makes all the difference.  As an anabaptist, I saw Jesus’ sinless life as merely an example, and believed that if I followed His example, perhaps I too could be justified.  I believed my righteousness came only by my adherence to the law.  “The man who does these commandments shall live by them” (Romans 10:5).  So when I would read Hebrew 4:15, I would understand it this way:  “Jesus walked a mile in your shoes and He did fine, so no excuses.  Jesus obeyed the commandments and lived by them, and so can you.”  I knew that somewhere in that passage was something that was supposed to bring me comfort, but the only hint of comfort I was able to identify was that Jesus could sympathize with me, as if to say “God still expects sinlessness from you, but ever since the incarnation, the Godhead now knows how hard it is.”  Well woopty-doo.  Not much comfort there.  Not much relief from overburdening guilt.   Not much hope for sinful man.   Is that the gospel? ’cause I don’t see any real good news anywhere.

But the reformed view of scripture is not like this.  The reformers recognized that although Jesus’ sinless life does serve as an example for all Christians, the fact of His sinlessness plays a much more significant role in God’s justification of man, and the reformation placed much needed emphasis on this role.  Whereas anabaptist thought seeks righteousness by imitation of Jesus’ sinlessness, reformed thought sees righteousness as belonging to God alone.  Righteousness does not inhere in man, and it never can, which is why the gospel is exactly that — good news.  The glory of the gospel — the gospelness of the gospel —  resides precisely in the fact that God’s people are saved by Jesus’ righteousness being accounted as though it were ours.  So in one view I am justified when, by my works, my life mimics Christ’s righteousness; in the other view, I am justified when, by faith, Jesus’ righteousness becomes my righteousness.

Seen in the latter way, Hebrews 4:15 no longer seems like a poor attempt at patronization, a sorry sympathy, a false comfort.  No, rather, it appears as a glorious, unspeakably wonderful gift!  Christ’s perfect obedience to the law is the righteousness by which all the faithful stand before God justified.  Praise be to God, who has borne my transgressions, to whom my sin has been accounted, and whose righteousness has been accounted to me!

In the comments section of the “What Makes Him So Sure?” post, I acknowledged my own inability to diagram exactly how God can both ordain whatever comes to pass and remain untainted by the guilt of sin.  I believe He can and does, just to be clear, because I believe this to be the undeniable declaration of scripture.  But don’t ask me for a schematic.  And, as I said in my comment to Kevin, the same goes for the Trinity.
 
I bring attention to this now because I just so happened to get into an after-dinner discussion with a Roman Catholic priest the other day about the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of Divine Sovereignty, during which I made the same reference to the Trinity.  I don’t know how it is, says I, but I can’t deny that it is.  I’d like to share part of his response to this, and why I found it blogworthy.
 
The priest asked if I wouldn’t rather hold a view that I thought was more intellectually satisfying.  I had to admit that I would prefer to have a schematic rather than not, if given the choice, but that we’re not always given the choice, as with the doctrine of the Trinity.  The priest replied by saying he could think of an illustration that was analogous to the Trinitarian view of God, but could think of no analogous illustration of Calvinistic sovereignty.  And his for-example illustration of the Trinity was this:  The Father is the sun in the sky, the Son is the reflection of it on the windowpane, and the Holy Spirit is the bright spot on the hardwood floor.
 
Now unfortunately our conversation had to be cut short, so in fairness to the priest, know that he hasn’t had a chance to respond to what follows.  Stay tuned for updates on that.  But since I’ve got your attention, here’s my reaction.  I think this is a terrible illustration of the Trinity, and I do not find it intellectually satisfying in the least.  And the great big day-glow orange warning flag that for the life of me I can’t figure out why isn’t flapping wildly in the priest’s head is homoousios.  As any Roman Catholic apologist will gladly tell you, the Nicene Creed formally defined what we nowadays call the Trinitarian nature of God, testifying that this was the truth to which revealed scripture demanded we submit.  The controversy driving the council of Nicea was the teaching of Arius, that heretic who denied the Deity of Christ.  It was chiefly Athanasius the bishop of Alexandria who, in order that the church leave no room for Arius’ heretic views, tirelessly insisted the phrase homoousios (of one substance) be included in the description of Christ: “We believe in… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father…”   The problem I have with the priest’s sunspot illustration of the Trinity is that it appears to leave no room at all for homoousios.  The reflection of the sun is NOT the sun, any more than the air warmed by the sun is the sun.  For this and many other reasons, I find this illustration decidedly not intellectually satisfying.
 
Now I mention this here because, at the premature closing of our conversation, the priest promised me an intellectually satisfying way to illustrate the nature of Divine sovereignty.  I’m all ears, and I mean that sincerely.  I mean, hey — if you say you got a map, I’ll look at it.  But I have learned the hard way that the sin of presumptuousness grows on theological systemization like gangrene on a bullet wound.  We must be always mindful that we cannot know the mind of God unless He reveals it to us by His Spirit, and there are just some things that He plays close to the chest.  Quite often the fact is revealed, but not the how-to manual.  That’s not our end of the stick to whittle on.  God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

What Makes Him So Sure?

September 10, 2008

Part of the self-identity of Restoration theology is that it intentionally non-Calvinistic.  But this non-Calvinism is not consistently applied, and that’s part of what I’m driving at in this series.  Anabaptists have an interesting habit of needing to be Calvinists in spite of themselves.
 
Here’s an example.  God has made quite an impressive collection of promises to His people, promises which are to be fulfilled in the future.  How do we know that God will fulfill His promises?  Well, in a nutshell, we know because God declares His absolute faithfulness, and redemptive history supports His claim.  But how does God know that He will fulfill His promises to us?  What makes Him so sure?  When God says that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, how can He know this confidently enough to say it with a straight face?  Does He look back on His winning record and figure that the odds are pretty favorable?  I say that God is not guessing, or lying, but that He knows with absolute certainty that He will accomplish all His decretal will.  But I also say that He cannot know this unless He holds all things, including evil, in the palm of His sovereign hand.  If God does not control evil, then neither He nor we can be sure of His ability to keep His promises regarding our salvation from evil. 
 
But hold on — can’t we just say that God is stronger than evil, so that while He does not ordain it in any sense, He is still always able to overcome it as it occurs?  Well, yeah, we can say it, but it doesn’t get us anywhere.  First of all, if we mean that God doesn’t know what’s going to happen ahead of time, but fields the ball flawlessly anyway, we’ve denied a basic biblical attribute of God (foreknowledge), and that won’t do.  Second, if we mean instead that God foreknows but doesn’t ordain, then we’re talking nonsense, because we’re talking about a foreknowing God who created this world instead of, say, a world without evil (see here).  Third, if God doesn’t ordain evil, then who does?  Satan?  Okay, fine — let’s go with that.  But then, to whom is Satan subordinate?  Who sets the bounds for Satan’s activities?  Who determines the extent of Satan’s evil schemes?  Why, God of course.  And how does God determine the extent to which He is going to limit Satan at any given time?  By the council of His own will.  So then there’s no entity outside of God governing how much He has to limit Satan?  No, of course not.  God and God alone is the sole determiner of the extent of Satan’s efficacy.  God could, if He wanted to, snuff Satan right now.  But He doesn’t, and that’s got to be either because He can’t, or because He has decided not to for a reason.  Translation: we either answer like flaming heretics, or we answer like Calvinists.  And most days, anabaptists answer like Calvinists.
 
Not surprisingly, there are some who try to invent a third option.  God can know the future, the argument goes, but He chooses not to.  I swear, I am not making this up.  This argument is meant as an attempt to dodge the obvious exegetical difficulties of Open Theism while also keeping one untainted by that horrible stench known as Calvinism [boooo, hisss].  But instead it manages to have all the difficulties of both, for it describes a God who could secure His promises, but refuses to, and then lies about it.
Continuing from the previous post in this series: God is everywhere, God knows everything (ahead of time), and God is all-powerful, and in a world where all these things are true, evil occurs.  I maintain that this cannot be explained in terms of restorationist theology, and of course this means that restorationist theology, biblical attributes of God, and the fact of evil simply cannot stand being in the same room together, and they’re certainly not going to shake hands.  Now as I mentioned before, there are retorts to this from the restorationist point of view, and I’ll spend some time interacting with some of them here.  If you find I’ve misrepresented the arguments, feel free to enlighten me in the comments section. 
 
A popular objection to my position is that God is not the author of evil, and therefore does not ordain it.  This argument will not withstand biblical scrutiny, and falls under the category of denying biblical attributes of God, as I will show.  There are  basically two kinds of evil (natural evil and moral evil), and scripture is clear on God’s control over them both.  An example of natural evil would be a hurricane, or an earthquake, or some kind of freak accident that kills people.  Biblically speaking, God is in complete control of natural evil (Matthew 8:27, Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6). This means for example that during a flood nobody drowns outside of God’s control.  If we say that God does not control natural evil, then we have denied God’s claim of omnipotence.  I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of me.
 
But the bible is equally clear that God is also in control of moral evil.  For two examples, it is God who sent Joseph into Egypt (Psalm 105:17, Genesis 50:20), and God who predestined the actions of Pilate, Herod, and the crucifying mob (Isaiah 53:10, Acts 4:27-28).  Now some may be quick to point out that in those two examples God only ordained the glorious end of the event, and not the sinful means; He just kinda worked with what was given to Him.  But I say that those glorious ends could not have been accomplished without evil (try brutally shaming and killing an innocent man without sinning).  But if you don’t buy that, then you have to explain why God chose the evil route over the alleged evil-free option.  Good luck with that.  So, for us to deny that God controls moral evil is to again deny God’s claim of omnipotence.  I clearly cannot choose the wine in front of you.
 
But does all this mean that God is the author of evil after all?  To quote Jonathan Edwards, “If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”  But it cannot be denied that at the very least God makes the choice to allow the evil to occur, having at all times the power to stop it.  It is under His sovereign control, and He lets it happen.  (More on the implications of this allowance in a minute.)
 
Now in my experience, many restorationists will not be comfortable with this “allowance” business, and will insist that God doesn’t proactively allow sin at all, but yet does work His sovereign will in spite of it.  Now in addressing this it’s important that we keep our eye on the ball: God foresees moral evil, and God controls moral evil, as we’ve already established.  This means that if God doesn’t want the evil to be there, He has the opportunity and ability to avoid it.  He could head it off at the pass, so to speak.  Given this, God not avoiding evil is a choice, such that not avoiding evil is exactly the same as choosing to allow evil.  There isn’t any way around this.  In the Bible, God repeatedly accomplishes His eternal purposes through both natural and moral evil, and His involvement in it cannot be described as reluctant or forced.  
 
But allowance is not the same thing as ordination, right?  Can’t we say God allows evil to occur without saying that He ordains it?  Not if we believe in creation ex nihilo.  God is not the sovereign over a world that was handed to Him.  he wasn’t appointed to His post by somebody else.  God, who has always been, determined to create this world from nothing.  Nor was it a surprise to Him what He’d get when the egg-timer dinged.  God knows and has always known everything. 
 
So now imagine, if we can presume to oversimplify the thing, a snapshot in the thoughts of God.  He desires to create the world, and He prepares to speak it into existence, having in mind of course the exact nature of the thing He intends to create.  “But wait,” He realizes, “I foresee evil in this scenario.”  What does He do?  Does He scrap that draft and formulate a new one?  He certainly could, but as we know very well He did not in our case.  And the point I’m trying to make from this foolish thought experiment is this: God knew evil would occur before He created the evildoers. He could have chosen to alter the creation, to tweak it a bit, maybe add a little something over here just so, way back when the lump of clay was still soft and moist in His hand.  But He did not.  God had all the options available to Him, and out of them all He chose to make this world, knowing everything about it.  Now the restorationist can talk all day long about allowance vs ordination, but at the end of the day, creation ex nihilo makes everything fall into the category of foreordained.

Hand on the Wheel

August 27, 2008

We’re discussing the presence of evil in a world presided over by a good God. In the previous post I made the assertion that a man cannot account for this while maintaining both the fundamental pillars of restoration theology and the biblical attributes of God. I want to explore this in detail here.

Staying with the hypothetical scenario in the previous post, a drunk driver blows through a red light and t-bones another car, killing the baby girl in the back seat. Now several things must be observed by us on the front side, especially these two: First, evil has actually occurred. The man in question had been drinking to the point of irresponsible excess, which is clearly sinful; he was driving while drunk, which is against the law, and this willful disobedience compounds his sin; and these sinful acts directly caused the death of another human being, which is murder by God’s standards; and, looking at it from Mamma’s point of view, an innocent child has been killed, a family has been devastated, etc. Evil has occurred, and on that point there should be agreement all around. And second, God was somewhere when this evil occurred. God is not a concept, He is a being. The incarnation is real, the resurrection is real, we’re not Gnostics, and we’re not atheists — God was somewhere when this evil occurred. The question before us now is where was He.

Now if we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is omnipresent, then we must answer by saying that God was right in the middle of it. He wasn’t a distant bystander, a sideline hand-wringer, a horrified spectator in the nosebleed cheap-seats — no, He was right there. This means He wasn’t just in the car with the little girl (like the sappy evangelical platitudes remind us), He was also in the other car sitting next to the drunk. And a half hour earlier He was both at the bar and in the garage watching Mamma buckle her baby into the car seat. That’s what omnipresent means.

If we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is also omniscient, then we must also conclude that God knew what was going to happen before it happened. As He watched the two cars leave the respective driveways, the rest of the evening was already known to Him. There was no mystery there, from God’s point of view. He knew this would happen.

Before we account for God’s omnipotence, let me turn aside into an anecdotal cul de sac. In one of my wife’s classes at the aforementioned Christian college, the professor was discussing the problem of evil, and in order to defend God against liability He used an illustration that went something like this. Imagine you’re standing on a street corner, and you see two cars approaching the intersection. You can see that, based on their speed and orientation, they will collide in the intersection. You can see this ahead of time, and in this way your situation roughly mimics God’s foreknowledge; yet, you cannot be held responsible for the cars colliding. Likewise, the argument goes, God cannot be held responsible for evil, even though He knows exactly how and when it is going to happen.

But this illustration is fatally flawed for one fundamental reason: it completely fails to take into account the omnipotence of God. As my wife pointed out to her professor, the person standing on the corner is free from liability in spite of foreknowledge precisely because he did not set the cars in motion, and anyway he has no power to stop the cars once they’ve started. Yet we can hardly say that about God, so the professor’s argument doesn’t work.

So if we’re going to affirm with scripture that God is omnipotent, we must face the fact that God, at the very least, had the power to stop the evil from happening, but chose not to. Chose, you say? Yes, chose. If God is all powerful, this means that when He was omnipresently with the drunk in the car which He omnisciently knew would kill the little girl, He omnipotently had His hand on the wheel. Now just forget about foreordination for a moment — the kicker is that God didn’t turn the wheel, even though He had the power to do so. This is the big white elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about, and when I finally admitted to noticing it, I found myself to be Calvinist.

Of course there are several retorts to this from the restorationist side of the isle (I know, I used to argue them), and I plan to discuss some of them in the next post. For now I’ll leave you with this spoiler. The retorts fall into three categories: 1) Functional denials of the biblical attributes of God, 2) Explicit denials of the basic tenets of restoration theology, 3) Accidental arguments for other elements of Calvinism.

Anabaptist Lite

August 26, 2008

I spent a couple years in a private college near Tampa, Florida — a small Christian college, the theological leanings of which could be roughly described as Anabaptist Lite.  It is influenced heavily (and operated almost exclusively) by heirs of the Restoration Movement (Stone-Campbell Movement) of the 18th and 19th centuries.  I attended this college because I was raised in this kind of church, as were my parents, my wife, her parents, and so on.  I mention this here because there are certain presuppositions that drive restoration theology, and these presuppositions have an impact on how one approaches the problem of evil.  And since I’m personally familiar with them, I’ll discuss them first.
Back in my restorationist days, if you were to ask me to explain how a good God could preside over a universe in which evil occurred, my answer would have been shallow.  Now this shallowness isn’t the fault of restoration theology — I just hadn’t thought through it as far as I should have.  However, what I’ve since discovered is that the only way I could remain restorationist in my thinking while continuing to affirm biblical attributes of God (omniscience, omnipotence, foreknowledge, etc.) was to stay in the shallow end of the good God/evil world question.  And that is a legitimate criticism of restoration theology.   Those who do drift into the deep end either end up denying some of the attributes of God, or abandoning some of the basic pillars of Anabaptist theology.  This is one reason why we have so many open-theists and pseudo-Calvinists running around.

Let me illustrate.  A drunk driver plows through a red light and t-bones a Geo Metro, killing the two-year-old baby girl inside.  Where is God?  Did He notice?  Did He even try to stop it?  What kind of God lets little girls get killed?  These are all valid questions, and they do come up when something like this happens.  But for the purposes of our discussion now, the important question is this: Can the Anabaptist answer these questions in accordance with his fundamental theological presuppositions without denying one or more of the scriptural attributes of God (omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, foreknowledge), and without denying the scriptural doctrine of creation ex nihilo?  I say no, he cannot, and in the next post I intend to show the math.

No Stops

August 25, 2008

I’ve recently encountered the argument that there are no stops between Calvinism and atheism, and I’d like to unpack some of the constituent parts of that here.  Since the argument is really couched in the question of the problem of evil, I’ll start there.  Basically, the problem is this: God is here, and so is evil.  Not really a big deal at this level, but the plot really thickens when we borrow attributes of God from orthodox Christianity and start plugging them into the equation: An omnipotent God is here, and so is evil.  An omniscient God is here, and so is evil.  A sovereign God is here, and so is evil.  
 
If God is all of those things (and He is), and He is also a good God (and He is), then certain questions naturally follow.  Why doesn’t God stop the evil from happening?  In our haste we may find ourselves unwilling to say He doesn’t stop it, and start coming up with thinly veiled ways to suggest that He can’t, although that one requires an artful touch so as to not sound like we’re really denying His omnipotence.  Of course we can’t deny God’s omnipotence, but on the other hand we also cannot have God be the author of evil, because scripture is clear on that as well.  The rabbit hole just goes and goes. 
 
There is of course a scriptural approach to this question.  Now this is not to say that there is an answer exactly, if by “answer” we mean “a schematic diagram of God’s eternal secret decrees.”  After all, that’s not what the bible is for.  It’s not an owners manual for the Creator — it’s much more like an instruction manual for the creation.  And as such scripture is sufficient to teach us how to approach the question, how not to approach it, and how to settle it comfortably into our faithful expectation of the resurrection.  What I’d like to do in the posts to follow is examine some of the more popular approaches to the problem of evil in light of scripture.  As I do this, it will be important to remember that any approach we take to this question will end up falling into one of two categories.  It will either be an eisegetical subordination of scripture to philosophical presuppositions, or else it will be an exegetical subordination of the mind to revelation.  In any case, how we settle the problem of evil has broad and fundamental implications on how we view the nature of God, and this fact cannot be allowed to escape unnoticed.