Sovereignty of God

To the Valley and Beyond

I am fast approaching two major milestones. First, I will shortly celebrate my seventieth birthday and three weeks later, our church will celebrate its forty-fifth anniversary. Since, in God’s good providence, I have pastored the church from the beginning, the church’s milestone is also the completion of my forty-five years as pastor of Beacon Baptist Church. Both of these celebrations are remarkable tokens of God’s kindness. I frankly did not expect to reach either one, but unless something unexpected intervenes, I will soon be looking at these milestones in the rear view mirror of life. God is so good!

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God Is Faithful, but Is He Consistent?

I enjoy playing vintage hymns with my concertina. It is a pleasure to hear songs that, in some cases, I haven’t sung in decades, hymns you may never have heard, like, “Let the Lower Lights Be Burning,” “The Old Fashioned Way,” and “He the Pearly Gates Will Open.”

But there is one hymn with a few lyrics that trouble me, namely, “It Is No Secret What God Can Do.” Although the premise of the hymn is fine (God’s work is renown), one statement ruins it for me: “what He’s done for others, He’ll do for you.”

That statement, in my mind, reflects a misjudgment many Christians make: equating God’s faithfulness with consistency and predictability. Put simply, God does not treat each one of us alike, and we never know what He is going to do next.

God’s faithfulness and His hesed (faithful, steadfast love) indeed do endure forever, as Psalm 136 reminds us time and time again. The Bible often uses repetition to emphasize a key truth, and God’s faithfulness is one of those emphases.

Western thinking is based upon a system of logic developed by the Greek philosophers. The ancient Hebrews, however, thought in terms of principles they could hang onto (like Proverbs), with stories and mental pictures central to their thinking.

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How Biblical is Molinism? (Part 2)

Reposted from Analogical Thoughts, with permission. Read Part 1.

In this short series I’m considering the question: How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? In the first post I summarized how I plan to approach the question, before looking at two biblical teachings which Molinism seeks to accommodate: (1) comprehensive divine providence and (2) God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. I concluded that while the Bible does indeed affirm (1) and (2), and Molinism is consistent with the Bible on those points, Augustinianism also affirms those points. So Molinism holds no advantage over Augustinianism with respect to (1) and (2). I then added:

If we want to show that Molinism has better biblical support than Augustinianism (or vice versa) then we need to find some proposition p which is affirmed by Molinism and denied by Augustinianism (or vice versa) such that p enjoys positive biblical support (i.e., there are biblical texts which, on the most natural and defensible interpretation, and without begging philosophical questions, assert or imply p).

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How Biblical is Molinism? (Part 1)

Jacobus Arminius

Reposted from Analogical Thoughts, with permission.

Molinism is a theory that purports to reconcile a robust doctrine of divine providence and foreknowledge with a libertarian view of free will by appealing to the notion of divine middle knowledge: God’s eternal knowledge of the so-called counterfactuals of creaturely freedom, that is, contingent truths about what possible creatures would freely choose if they were created by God and placed in particular circumstances.

Molinism is most often criticized on theological or philosophical grounds, mainly because it’s most often championed on the basis of its supposed theological and philosophical virtues. And there’s nothing wrong with that; I’ve objected to Molinism on theological and philosophical grounds myself. (So it must be okay, right?) Nevertheless, for the Christian who takes the Bible to be the Word of God and the final authority in theological matters, the preeminent question ought to be: How well is Molinism supported by the Bible? (I don’t propose to defend the underlying methodological principle at this time; I’m simply going to take it for granted.)

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Breaking the Hinge in the Free-Will vs. Sovereignty Debate

One simple premise undergirds the ideas that either humanity has free volition or that God is sovereign, and that ultimately the two concepts are mutually exclusive. That premise is the hinge upon which the argument turns, favoring either human freedom or Divine sovereignty. Montague Brown illustrates the premise with the following statement:

“The issue of free choice also plays a critical role in that other vexed philosophical puzzle—the problem of evil. For if we do not have free choice, we are not to be blamed or praised for our actions; rather, it is all God’s doing. God becomes responsible for moral evil, either by causing it Himself or by punishing us who are not responsible for it.”1

We can formalize Brown’s statement as follows:

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Why Do Bad Things Happen?

Job's Tormentors. Engraving, William Blake, 1793

You recall how the story goes—God and Satan are having a discussion about a man named Job. He was a man of great character whom God had given much wealth and blessing. God commends Job, and Satan accuses Job, betting that Job would deny God if God would simply allow difficulty in Job’s life (1:7-12). God allows Satan to test Job, and Job loses all of his wealth, most of his family, and his health.

Job is, of course, unaware that he is being tested, and is deeply frustrated by his change of fortune. He feels that he has done nothing to deserve these tragedies, and he speaks out—essentially proclaiming his innocence and the unfairness of the situation. Thankfully, Job has three friends who come to the rescue. They all have the same message: this could only be happening to Job if he had done something wrong. They understood that God would not allow such things to happen to an innocent person.

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Sovereignty of God & Human Responsibility: Nehemiah & the Daniel 9 Prophecy

Daniel 9:24-27 is a monumental passage, emblematic of God’s sovereignty over human events. It provides the chronological skeletal system of Biblical prophecy, recording Gabriel’s revelation to Daniel in around 516 B.C., of a 490-year timeline for Israel’s future: “for Jerusalem, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy” (9:24). The clock begins its countdown with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem” (9:25).

The certainty of the timeline is non-negotiable and inalterable. The seventy sevens had been decreed or determined, as the Hebrew term nichetaka (decreed, determined) is in the niphal perfect, which typically indicates a passive (niphal) and completed (perfect) action. The timeline had already been determined. Daniel would be able to “know and discern” (9:25a) the timing from a particular point in history—a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

When we examine the Biblical literature, we find only one decree regarding the rebuilding of the temple. There was a decree to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4,5:17), but that did not match Gabriel’s description of the decree to rebuild the city itself. For the decree matching the Daniel 9 description, we look to Nehemiah 2.

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