Who is This Babe Lying in a Manger?

Who is this babe lying in a manger? Mark Lowry famously quipped, “Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man? Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand? Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.”[1] Who is this most celebrated baby? Why all the fuss? This child was special in many ways. In fact, the Child is in fact God come to earth. How do we know this and why is this still controversial?

            I have confronted a few people who still hold to the idea that the divinity of Christ was a concept developed by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century AD.[2] Such an idea is not rooted in history but a false assumption based upon the edict of the Nicene Council in 325 AD to condemn the ideas of Arius and uphold the ideas of Athanasius.[3] Constantine simply ordered that the church solve the Arian controversy as it was causing great ecclesiastical problems which could cause societal fragmentation.

Arius taught that Jesus was merely a human person and the eternal God. His greatest concern “was the premise that God is an undifferentiated whole. On this basis he argued that the Logos or Son is a creature and therefore must have had a beginning.”[4] Thus, Arius held that Jesus held a position higher than humanity, but lower than God the Father.

Athanasius argued that Jesus was fully divine in all aspects. Athanasius stated that “The Word was made man in order that we might be made divine.”[5] By “made divine,” Athanasius was noting the relationship that humanity held with the divine, being elevated to the level of eternity and perfected in God’s sinlessness. Based upon the Scriptures, the Council declared,

But to those who say, Once he was not, or he was not before his generation, or he came to be out of nothing, or who assert that he, the Son of God, is of a different hypostasis or ousia, or that he is a creature, or changeable, or mutable, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.[6]

But what basis did the Council use to uphold Athanasius’ teaching and condemn Arius’? They used the Scriptures and the teachings of the early church. How do we know this Babe lying in a manger was in fact divine?

The Divine Nature of The Babe Lying in a Manger was Prophesied.

            I recently delivered a message on Zechariah 12. I noticed something that stood out to me that had not in my previous readings. The chapter begins with the words “Thus declares the LORD, who stretched out the heavens and founded the earth and formed the spirit of man within him…” (Zechariah 12:1b).[7] Throughout the chapter, first-person language is employed indicating that the speaker is referencing himself. God is the speaker and later says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn” (Zechariah 12:10). Remember, God is speaking and he uses first-person language. Thus, God is claiming that he would come to earth and would be pierced for the transgressions of mankind. John the apostle understands this prophecy to have been fulfilled in Christ when, after referring to Christ’s crucifixion, he writes, “And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37). Again in Revelation, this prophecy is referenced when Christ returns, stating, “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen” (Revelation 1:7). Another element of Jesus’ divine nature is seen in addition to prophecy.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Professed.

Jesus himself understood himself to be divine. Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who had access to the Ancient of Days[8] (see Daniel 7:10) in Mark 8:38. Again, the “I am” of Jesus indicates the knowledge that he was in fact God come in the flesh.[9] Several other passages could be offered, but space does not allow such treatment.

John the apostle clearly understood Jesus to be co-eternal with the Father when he denotes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). As C. S. Lewis notes,

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[10]

Jesus understood himself to be the Son of God as he claimed a divine status. But Jesus not only claimed to be divine, he demonstrated his divine nature in another fashion.

The Divine Nature of the Babe Lying in a Manger was Proven.

One of the coolest things about Jesus is the fact that he did not just say something about himself, he proved it. Jesus would prove his divine nature by the miracles that he performed (e.g., Mark 2:1-12). He proved his divine nature by casting out demons by his mere word (e.g., Luke 8:26-39). He proved his divine nature by performing supernatural works over nature (e.g., Luke 8:22-25). Jesus proved his divine nature by raising the dead (e.g., John 11:38-44). Finally, Jesus’ divine nature was proven by his own resurrection from the dead (Matthew 28; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24; and John 20:1-21:25).

Conclusion

This Christmas, we celebrate a most marvelous birth. It is the birth of Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of Almighty God. How amazing the incarnation truly is! Ponder about the amazing nature of this event. Mary would give birth to the One who gave her life. Mary would bring forth the One who would save her soul. The most powerful Being in all the universe would humble himself to be born in a humble manger.

While we often stress ourselves trying to find the perfect gift for our loved ones, it is helpful to understand that the greatest gift has already been given. The perfect gift was, is, and forever will be Jesus. This Child, as Paul notes,

who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess  that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

May we continue to remember, as the cliché goes, that Jesus truly is the reason for this celebratory season.

© December 19, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, Mary Did You Know, 1991.

[2] Constantine converted to Christianity. After his conversion, Constantine allowed the free exercise of Christian worship in the Roman Empire beginning in the 4th century.

[3] Saint Nicolas is said to have attended this conference. Nicolas is linked with the popular Santa Claus figure. Saint Nicolas was an ardent defender of orthodox Christianity. It is said that Nicolas smacked Arius due to his heretical concepts.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Grand Rapids; Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1994), 248.

[5] Athanasius, De Incarnatione 54, in Early Christian Fathers, Henry Bettenson, ed. and trans. (New York: Oxford, 1969), 293.

[6] “The Creed of Nicea,” in The Creeds of the Churches, 3rd ed, John H. Leith, ed (Atlanta: John Knox, 1982), 31.

[7] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2007).

[8] That is, God.

[9] See John 4:26; 6:20, 35, 48, 51; 8:12, 18, 24, 28, 58; 9:5; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 13:19; 14:6; 15:1; 18:5-6.

[10] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: MacMillian, 1943, 1952), 41.

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The Mystery of Christ’s Incarnation

The Gospel of John opens with these words: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1-3, 14).[1] Incomprehensible! Often at Christmas time, we are lost in the imagery of a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. One may picture angels overhead with Mary and Joseph seated near the Child, surrounding by shepherds, wisemen,[2] and onlooking animals. But does one contemplate the great complexity of it all? John notes that the eternal Word, the Logos,[3] came to earth and became a human being. God became one of us. How does one understand this complex doctrine? Early in Christian history, two schools sought to develop and understanding on how it was that God came to earth. One developed in Alexandria, Egypt, a center of high intellectualism and which housed one of the largest libraries in human history—known as the Alexandrian school. Another developed in Antioch located in Asia Minor (around modern Turkey)—known as the Antiochene school.

The Alexandrian School of Understanding

The Alexandrian school was home to some powerful Christian thinkers including the great apologist Justin Martyr. Athanasius, the man who defeated the ancient Arian heresy,[4] came from this school of thought as well as Cyril of Alexandria and others. The Alexandrian school “focused sharply on the significance of Christ as savior.”[5] As such, the Alexandrian school focused on the divine nature of Christ and emphasized the divine Logos as He assumed a human nature. Cyril of Alexandria notes,

 “In declaring that the Word was made to ‘be incarnate’ and ‘made human,’ we do not assert that there was any change in the nature of the Word when it became flesh, or that it was transformed into an entire human being, consisting of soul and body; but we say that the Word, in an indescribable and inconceivable manner, united personally to himself flesh endowed with a rational soul, and thus became a human being and was called the Son of man. And this was not by a mere act of the will or favor, nor simply adopting a role or taking to himself a person.”[6]

Apollinarius of Laodicea (c. 310-390) took the Alexandrian understanding of the Logos assuming flesh to the point where he claimed that a human mind and soul were replaced with a divine mind and soul. The Apollinarian school thus devalued the human aspect of Christ, a concept that would be challenged by many Alexandrians and especially the Antiochenes.

The Antiochene School of Understanding

Whereas the Alexandrians focused on the salvific aspect of Christ, the Antiochene school focused on the moral aspects of Christ.[7] The Antiochene school focused on the wholeness of Christ being both divine and human. Unfortunately, like Apollinarius would for the Alexandrian school, a man name Nestorius (c. 386-451) would stretch the Antiochene understanding to the limits of heresy. Nestorius would argue that Christ held two natures: one human and one divine. Yet, Nestorius’ view led to the belief that Christ has two parts to Himself. However, a solution to this enigma would come from the Antiochene school.

The Hypostatic Union

The Antiochene school found a solution to the two natures of Christ in the term “hypostatic union.” That is, the union of the “divine and human natures in Christ—rests in the will of God.”[8] As Theodore of Mopsuestia would denote,

“The distinction between the natures does not annul the exact conjunction, nor does the exact conjunction destroy the distinction between the natures, but the natures remain in their respective existence while separated, and the conjunction remains intact because the one who was assumed is united in honor and glory with the one who assumed, according to the will of the one who assumed him…In this same way here [i.e., in the incarnation] they are two by nature and one by conjunction because the adoration offered to the one who has been assumed is not divided from that offered to the one who assumed him.”[9]

Thus, the solution is found by acknowledging that Christ was both divine and human, compiled into one person—Jesus of Nazareth. The Word became flesh. Therefore, one finds both the divine Word and a human persona in one being.

Conclusion

What mystery! What wonder! The babe lying in a manger was none other than God Himself! God joined the human drama. He became one of us so that He could point us back to Him. I read a story of a farmer who returned from his children’s Christmas program. He could not understand why God came to earth, or even why He would desire to do so. After he tucked his kids in bed, he checked on his animals in the barn on this cold, snowy night. Clomping through the snow and opening the doors to the barn, he heard faint chirping. He looked to find four little birds flopping in the snow. They could not yet fly and the cold snow was freezing them.

The farmer grabbed a broom, sweeping them towards the barn. The more he swept, the more frightened the little birds became. He tried to coax them inside with his voice, yet they could not comprehend his wisdom. He attempted to scoop them in his hands, only to find that the birds would flop back out. The birds were inches away from safety. The barn’s warmth would provide them shelter and warmth for the winter. Then the thought penetrated his mind, leaving him breathless with the insight of the incarnation for which he had long been longing: if he could become one of the birds, he could fix the broken relationship the birds had with the farmer. He could tell them that the farmer meant them no harm. He could lead the birds to safety, saving their lives—if only he could become a bird.

God did just that for all humanity. He lived among us, so that we could live with Him. He would eventually suffer for us, so that we could rejoice. He would die, so that we could live. What mystery! What amazing mystery! And what amazing love!

© December 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes:

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] This is an erroneous depiction as the wise men did not appear at the time of Christ’s birth, but rather appeared a few months to a couple of years after the birth of Christ.

[3] The Greek term translated “Word.” The Logos is a complex concept as it depicts the personification of divine wisdom. It was understood as the aspect of God that developed the universe.

[4] Arianism is comparable to the modern Jehovah Witness movement as it denied the divine nature of Christ.

[5] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277.

[6] Cyril of Alexandria, Second Letter to Nestorious IV, 3-5.

[7] See McGrath, 278.

[8] McGrath, 279.

[9] Theodore of Mopsuestia, “Catechetical Homily,” 8.13-14, Woodbrooke Studies: Christian Documents in Syriac, Arabic, and Garshuni, Alphose Mingana, trans (Cambridge, UK: Heffer, 1933), 89-90.

Christian Ethics are Derived from Christian Theology

An atheist Christian minister. That sounds like an oxymoron of illogical cohesion. Could an atheist serve as a Christian minister? According to the United Church of Canada and the Reverend Gretta Vosper, the answer is, yes. Gretta Vosper came out of the closet at her church. She came out of the closet, not as a homosexual, but rather as an atheist! Instead of firing her, the church embraced her as their Christian atheist minister. Vosper recounts,

“My congregation belongs to The United Church of Canada, probably the most progressive Christian denomination in the world. It ordained women over seventy years ago and has been ordaining openly LGBTQ leaders for decades. But theologically it remains in the closet about the human construction of religion and all its trapping. I couldn’t stay in that closet.
I came out as an atheist in 2001. After I spontaneously preached a sermon in which I completely deconstructed the idea of a god named God, rather than fire me, the congregation chose to step out on an unmarked path. With them, I’ve laboured, lamented, lost, and loved. It’s hard road but a worthy one with no finish line in sight.”[1]

gretta-smile-for-jean-960x1440_c

How does this work? According to Vosper, she holds to the ethical standards of Christianity but dismisses the idea of a supernatural, intervening God. Thus, she holds that Christianity provides supreme ethical standards, but little things like God, heaven, hell, salvation, sin, human value in God’s eyes, the resurrection, miracles, and eternity are simply defined as “archaic ideas and the prejudices trapped within them [should be] traded for contemporary knowledge and understanding.”[2] I hope you can see the sarcasm behind the previous statement. Such issues are not minor. Rather, they constitute the core fundamentals of the faith. Can one separate Christian ethics and Christian theology? I say, no. Christian theology formulates Christian ethics in at least three areas.[3]

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human value.

Why did Jesus place so much emphasis on right living in the Sermon on the Mount? It was because the Father had placed so much value on humanity. Human beings are made imagio dei (i.e., the image of God). From the opening moments of Scripture, human value is emphasized. Human value is shown to be placed in the divine value attributed to humans due to their being made in God’s image. God “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).

Thus, while Vosper is to be commended for placing high value on the lives of her fellow human beings, her value is void without God. Life holds no value without God. The so-called “archaic view of God” is actually the glue that holds together her presuppositions of human life. Therefore, without the Christian fundamentals, Vosper’s ethics fall apart.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human standards.

Why should a person desire to treat others ethically in the first place? If there is no God, then why does it matter how I treat another person? It may be nice to be nice. But sometimes I don’t feel so nice. I may have the tag “reverend” before my name, but I do not always feel so reverential. Why not run those Sunday drivers off the road when they are driving 20 miles under the speed limit? Why not plow through a gaggle of cyclists when they refuse to get out of the way? Why do we have to act nice?

The reason humans have standards is because of the knowledge of a supreme authority governing the universe. Atheism falls short. While atheists can be good moral people without God, their reasons for acting moral do not stand. In stark contrast, Christian theism demonstrates that there is a God who has provided a moral standard upon all humanity. This God has eyes that “are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Let me illustrate this point further.

This past Thanksgiving, our family met together for a wonderful meal. My sister and two cousins all have young toddlers about the same age. My son is about 7-years older than his younger cousins. We watched as the toddlers interacted with one another for the first time. The kids would sometimes take a toy away from another. The moms and dads said, “No! You cannot do that. It is not polite.” For the toddlers, they were being taught the proper dos and don’ts of playtime etiquette. Why? It was because they had a higher authority governing them—that is, my sister, cousins, and their spouses. Likewise, ethics without a higher governing authority collapses. Thereby, Vosper’s atheistic Christianity flounders without the fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.

Christian ethics are formulated in divinely placed human eternity.

One of the great losses of Vosper’s atheist Christianity is the loss of hope found in eternity. How would she counsel someone who had lost a loved one? Would she say, “Well, they are not experiencing the great nothingness that comes from death. You don’t have to worry. You’ll never see them again.” What type of comfort is that, especially if they loved the person they lost?

Ethical standards carry over into eternity. God has given each person the opportunity to respond to the gospel message. A person’s decision to follow Christ or to deny Him follows through for all time. In a similar fashion, a person’s work on earth follows them also. But wait! Aren’t a person’s sins forgiven never to be remembered to any further extent? Yes and no. In one sense, a person’s sins are forgiven and washed away. Their sins will not keep them from God’s eternity. Nevertheless, the apostle Paul teaches in what is called the Judgment Seat of Christ. That is to say, every believer will be judged according to what they have done while in the body of Christ. Paul explains,

Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

What will a person’s rewards mean in eternity? I don’t really know. They mean something as indicated by Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. Those without Christ will be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). The unbeliever’s work will be gauged as well. The difference is that they will not have anything to atone for their sinful behaviors.

Vosper’s ethical standards mean nothing without an eternal standard. Why should people treat others nicely? Vosper’s atheistic Christianity would claim, “Because it is the nice thing to do.” Classical Christianity would exclaim, “Because there is a higher standard than yourself and you will be held accountable for what you do.” Again, Vosper’s worldview collapses as the foundations that uphold her outlook have been removed.

Conclusion

On November 17th, 2016, I delivered a message entitled “Signs of a False Shepherd” from Zechariah chapters 10 and 11. While I considered leaving the topic for another one, I cannot seem to leave the discussion just yet due to the infiltration of so many false teachers in our time. Simon Peter noted, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).[4] Craig Keener, in his commentary on the text, quips, “In earlier Scripture, false prophets spoke from their own imaginations rather than from divine inspiration…they often comforted people in their sin rather than speaking God’s true warning of divine judgment.”[5] Thus false prophets such as Gretta Vosper promote false doctrine in three ways.

  1. False prophets elevate opinions over truth.
  2. False prophets deny the existence of absolute truth.
  3. False prophets promote what’s popular over what’s true.

Much more could be said about this issue. Perhaps, we will address this issue in further detail here at BellatorChristi.com. Suffice to say for now, false prophets remove the foundations of the hope within them in order to be popular with society or to uphold one’s progressive stances. True prophets uphold the truth in order to be faithful to the God of all eternity.

© November 28, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 Notes

[1] Gretta Vosper, “About,” GrettaVosper.ca. http://www.grettavosper.ca/about/, retrieved November 28, 2016.

[2] Ibid.

[3] This list is certainly not exhaustive.

[4] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[5] Craig S. Keener, “2 Peter,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2191.

4 Views on How God Interacts with Creation

Theologians often ponder the distinct attributes of God. God is known to be spirit, omniscient, omnipotent, omnisapient, omnibenevolent, and omnipresent. Creation is finite, holds no knowledge in and of itself, is limited in power, without wisdom, holds no sense of morality,[1] and is limited to space and time. How does an all-powerful, perfect, Creator engage with a limited, imperfect, creation? I have been reading Alister McGrath’s stellar work entitled Christian Theology: An Introduction[2] and noticed four particular theories as to how God interacts with the world. I will present the four theories and will then provide which best represents the Christian tradition in the conclusion.

Deism: A Laissez-faire God.

Deism is a concept that reached its zenith of popularity in the 18th century. Deists accept the existence of God, as well as God’s involvement with the early stages of creation. However, deists do not think that God continues to involve Himself with creation. The God of deism winds up creation like a top and spins it, allowing creation to naturally spin itself out with no intervention. In deism, miracles would seem frivolous if not invalid. McGrath quips, “The Deist position can be summarized very succinctly as follows. God created the world in a rational and ordered manner, which reflected God’s own rational nature, and endowed it with the ability to develop and function without the need for any continuing divine presence or interference.”[3] That is, God developed the world, but is currently “hands-off,” or holds a laissez-faire mentality. The second position allows for more involvement by God.

Thomism: The Prime-Moving God.

Thomism is a concept developed by medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Aquinas made the distinction between primary and secondary causes. That is, necessary and contingent actions. Aquinas held that God was the Prime Mover.[4] And from the Prime Mover, creation came to be. Furthermore, God’s actions resulted in secondary actions. Often, as McGrath notes, Aquinas held that “God can act indirectly, through secondary causes.”[5] Therefore, God is completely hands on, however God can serve as an indirect cause through the scope of natural law—that is, cause and effect. God is transcendently causing thing to happen, but those causes result in natural secondary actions within the space-time continuum.

This type of philosophical understanding is especially helpful in understanding how God (who can do no evil) can allow evil in a good world, but use that evil to bring out the greater good. More could be said of this concept. Suffice to say for now, this theory views God as a hands-on God, but resulting in hands-off reactions (however, the hands-off reactions are perfectly within the control of God—unlike the deist understanding). That is to say, God is a prime-moving God.

Process Theology: A Persuasive, Changing God.

Of the four theories presented by McGrath, the process theory is perhaps the most confusing. In the process theory, God is not transcendent,[6] but rather completely immanent.[7] Process theology is attributed to Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).[8] In this scheme, the universe is seen as dynamic, always changing. God acts as a persuasive agent without forcing a natural or moral agent. McGrath explains,

“Process thought argues that God cannot force nature to obey the divine will or purpose for it. God can only attempt to influence the process from within, by persuasion and attraction. Each entity enjoys a degree of freedom and creativity, which God cannot override.”[9]

The process viewpoint is so distinct from the normal understanding of divine action that McGrath notes “the God of process thought seems to bear little relation to the God described in the Old or New Testament.”[10]

While process theology is quite controversial, it is enjoined with another theory called occasionalism. This viewpoint is quite different from process theories. The next section will address occasionalism.

Occasionalism: A Dictator God.

The final theory is not covered in great detail by McGrath, but is given as a side note—that is, a bit of an afterthought. For that reason, one would tend to think that the theory is quite controversial. Islamic writer Al-Ghazali (1058-1111) presented the view often termed “occasionalism.” Al-Ghazali did not accept the existence of any natural cause. If a fire burned a forest, the fire was not responsible for burning each individual leaf, rather God was. McGrath uses the example of lightning striking the ground, causing a fire.[11] Al-Ghazali would not attribute the fire to lightning, but as a direct act of God. Thus, God does not indirectly cause anything but directly causes everything. So, which of these theories work best with the theistic Christian worldview?

Conclusion

There are a few considerations that must be addressed before offering a verdict. What does the Bible say of God’s attributes? What does the Bible say of creation? What does the Bible say of God’s work? The following observations are made.

God is immutable, independent, and omnipresent. Much can be said (and has been said here at BellatorChristi.com) of God’s attributes. The Bible makes it clear that God is immutable and independent of creation. God, speaking through the prophet Malachi, says, “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6).[12] In Acts, it is noted that “God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). God is also shown to be omnipresent as God says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away” (Jeremiah 23:23-24)?

From the noted attributes given above, process theology is deemed inadequate, and even possibly unbiblical. God is not manipulated by creation (while I do think that God feels emotions). Nevertheless, process theology is eliminated from possibility due to the attributes of God.

God is the Creator of all things and has established systems of operation. Nehemiah notes concerning God that “You are the LORD, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6). In the book of Job, God responds to Job saying, “Do you know the ordinances of the heavens? Can you establish their rule on the earth” (Job 38:33)? Throughout God’s message, several systems are noted, demonstrating that God not only created all things, but developed systems of natural operation.

From what we can see Scripturally-speaking as it relates to the creation of all things and the order of operation of natural processes, occasionalism is void. God creates all and knows all. Certainly! But, God has given nature certain laws and functions as ordained from the halls of heaven.

God’s work within creation. If you have been taking notes, you will note that only two systems remain: Deism and Thomism. To answer which of the two find biblical precedence, one will need to discover whether God currently acts in creation. This is not difficult to answer. As one will find countless miracles throughout the Bible, it is appropriately deemed that God certainly does work in creation. Through Christ, God brought about healing to the blinded eyes, sound to the deafened ears, and life to the death-filled soul. Thus, deism is also proverbially knocked out of the competition.

So which of the four theories work? Only Thomism is a viable option. However, it should be noted that God operates more often than what was noted in McGrath’s book. God is functionally working within creation. I believe that God feels emotions and obviously hears prayers. Therefore, one should not take the Thomistic theory to extreme ends. Nevertheless, Thomism is the clear winner as it pertains to God’s operation within creation.

 

© November 21, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Speaking of creation, not the creatures within creation.

[2] This book comes highly recommended by the Ph.D. theological department at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 212.

[4] Especially pertinent in Aquinas’ 5 ways, see the Summa Theologica.

[5] McGrath, 213.

[6] That is, beyond the scope of creation.

[7] That is, within creation.

[8] McGrath, 214.

[9] Ibid., 215.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 213.

[12] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Twas the Night Before Elections

 “Twas the night before elections,

And all through the blackness;

Not a Christian was stirring,

Not even a Baptist.”

Well, that may not hold the luster of the classic story “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” but it does illustrate the great anxiety that many Christians hold as we enter into this year’s Presidential election. As many have noted, there is a lot riding on this year’s election as the balance of the Supreme Court weighs in the balance. Many have postulated that America could look quite different depending on who is in office. Perhaps that is true. Throughout this year, pundits on both sides of the aisle have argued that their candidate is best. Vitriolic argumentations have been given to the point that political discussions become aggressive, if not violent, if one does not support the other person’s candidate. But for the Christian, certain truths should be remembered that will help one cope no matter how the elections turn out.

God is sovereign and can use any circumstance for His glory.

God is not a Republican nor a Democrat. A person makes a mistake by claiming otherwise. God is far higher than any political party. Certainly, this year’s election cycle has demonstrated that both parties hold major flaws. Some political pundits claim that both the Democratic and GOP parties may be on the verge of collapse. Perhaps. Nevertheless, God is sovereign. This means that God knows all, sees all, and can do all according to His divine character. God cannot do evil because He has a holy nature. Nevertheless, God can use any circumstance for His glory. But, since God is holy, why would He allow evil to take place? It seems that God would allow evil to take place if it leads to a greater good.

I have had times in my life where I wanted something to happen. I thought things would be so nice if things would go according to my way. However, I later come to find that God allowed me to go through certain difficulties to save me from greater harm. Had I been given my way, things would have become much more disastrous for me in the end. God allowed His Son to die on a cross to permit the salvation of all who would receive Christ’s atoning work. In even the most evil moment of history, God used the circumstance to bring glory. He will do the same regardless of how the election ends.

God is bringing an ultimate end that extends past the election.

There’s a lot of talk these days of people giving money to allow for certain causes. Undoubtedly, evil is abundant in our time. But since the dawning of mankind and his fall, evil has plagued the human race. For those living during the days of the American Civil War, I am certain that many thought that there was no way that humanity could survive. In the sixties, shows, such as the Twilight Zone, imagined nuclear disaster and devastation across the world. Such notions are still plausible today. Despite what has, what is, and what will occur; despite who elected and how; God is bringing an ultimate end that extends past this election. In John’s Apocalypse, the angel said to John, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and holy still be holy” (Revelation 22:11).[1] The angel is not promoting evil. Rather, he is saying that in the end, God will bring all things to an ultimate end. After the text, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:12-13). God’s work extends past the coming election.

We must trust God even if He does not answer the way we expect.

In the book of Daniel, we are introduced to three Hebrew men known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were told to bow down before a large idol by King Nebuchadnezzar. They refused. The king, then, warned them that they would be thrown into the furnace if they did not bow to worship his idol. Their response was incredible. They said, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O kin. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). Can we say the same? It may be that God answers your prayers concerning this election. But what it God doesn’t? Will you still love Him? Will you still serve Him? God’s ways are not our ways. His insight is far greater than ours. Thus, we must decide to follow God no matter who is elected.

Conclusion

While many may worry about the 2016 election and while there has been much written about this particular election, the Christian need not worry. God is greater than the 2016 election. God is greater than any of the candidates and the gospel transcends any of the political platforms. God will not be bribed. God cannot be bought. No matter what happens, God is in control. So don’t put your trust in the elephant or the donkey, rather place your trust in the Lamb of God who is the Lion of the tribe of Judah. So our poem should read,

“Twas the night before elections,

and despite the political cesspit,

the Christian found in Christ,

a sovereign and glorious respite.”

© November 7, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

Demons: Their Identity and Demise

Halloween is upon us. For this week’s entry to Bellator Christi, I decided to discuss a group of beings that are often veiled in mystery and fear. Those beings are demons. Hollywood often presents demons as being entities that are nearly impossible to combat. Recently, interesting figures have been presented in music videos and films that finds parallels to some of the demonic entities found in the Bible. This article is all about demons as we ask: who are demons; how do they operate; and what is their fate? Are demons creatures to be feared? How do we combat them? Hopefully, this article will provide some answers.

Who are Demons?

Demons are angelic beings. Therefore, they are spiritual creatures. Demons are former angels who have fallen for the lies of Satan. While the Scriptures do not provide a lot of information pertaining to their fall, they are noted in Revelation 12 as being deceived by Satan, depicted as a great red dragon (Rev. 12:3), who sweeps “down a third of the stars of heaven [angels] and cast them to earth” (Revelation 12:4).[1] To my surprise, I discovered that Scripture depicts a few categories of demons.[2]

Sedim

One category of demons are mentioned in Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37. In Deuteronomy, Moses notes that the people had “sacrificed to demons that were no gods, to gods they had never known” (Deuteronomy 32:17) and that they were “unmindful of the Rock that bore you” (Deuteronomy 32:18). The psalmist notes that they “sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (Psalm 106:36-37). These demons, in Hebrew, are called the Sedim (Sed, singular).

Se’irim.

The Se’irim are goat-like demons. Leviticus 17:7 states that “they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices to goat demons, after whom they whore. This shall be a statute forever for them throughout their generations.” The Se’irim are also referenced in 2 Chronicles 11:15 as goat idols. The Se’irim bear a striking resemblance to the Church of Satan’s statue Mephisto, which has been erected in several locations in the continental United States.

satanstatue_1437931159040_22035430_ver1-0_640_480
Statue of Mephisto from the Church of Satan. Notice the goat-like features.

Lilith

Some see the “night bird” (Heb. “Lilith”) of Isaiah 34:14 as a category of demon. If so, Lilith is a female demon associated with unclean animals and desolate places.

Azazel

Some see another demon known as the Azazel noted in Leviticus 16:8, 10, 26. A lot was cast by Aaron, one for Yahweh and one for Azazel (a demon). The demon Azazel represented impurity and uncleanness. The lot that fell on the goat for Yahweh was presented as a sacrifice for God. The lot that fell on the goat representing Azazel was cast into the wilderness in representation of the separation of sin from the people. In a sense, the demon was cast into the goat and cast away from the people of God. As noted in footnote 2, there is a lot of speculation concerning this demonic entity.

Evil spirits

On several occasions, evil spirits were sent to torment individuals (1 Sam. 16:15-16; 18:10). This is especially true of King Saul.

Beelzebub

Beelzebub is noted as a prince of demons, but lower than Satan. He is often associated as the lord of the flies. Beelzebub is noted in 2 Kings 1:2-3 and 6. Ahaziah inquired of Beelzebub whether he should live instead of appealing to God. Jesus is accused by His opponents for casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub (Mark 3:22).

How do Demons Operate?

Demons are opposed to the working of God. They manifest themselves in various ways throughout the Scriptures. They bring the inability to speak (Matt. 9:32; 12:22); the inability to hear (Mark 9:25); the inability to see (Matt. 12:22; John 10:21); convulsions (Mark 1:26; 9:26); amazing, nearly superhuman strength to the individual they possess (Mark 5:4); and destructive habits and behaviors (Matt. 17:15). They can also bring diseases to individuals. While there are natural occurrences of the previously noted attributes, demonic presences can add or amplify those patterns.

What is the Fate of Demons?

As fearsome as demons are, it must be remembered that they are powerless compared to God. Jesus cast out demons on several occasions, even by simply issuing a command (e.g., Mark 1:25). So, how does one combat demonic presences? Quite simple, demons are defeated by faith in Christ Jesus. If a person has the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit-filled individual can be annoyed by demons, but they cannot be possessed. They may be afflicted, but not overtaken. It is also important for an individual to equip themselves with the spiritual armor of God (Eph. 6:10-20).

A person needs to remember that the final outcome for demons is defeat. God will be victorious as “the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). All of the demonic powers will be destroyed.

Conclusion

This Halloween, one will be inundated with horror films that depict demons as irresistible beings of evil. Films like Poltergeist capture the imagination and present demonic entities as fearsome beings. Rest assured, demons are fearsome and they are powerful. But their power ceases before the awesome presence of Christ. More fearsome than the demons is the One who has flames of fire, who will ride upon a white horse bringing judgment to the world. Who is this white horseman? It is Christ Jesus Himself. Before Him, all the world will bow the knee and confess with the tongue. Christ—the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace—holds authority over all. If you are afflicted by the forces of the demonic realm, turn to Jesus.

For more information, see Joe Cathey, “Demonic Possession,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Chad Brand, Charles Draper, et. al., eds (Nashville: B&H, 2003), 412.

 christ-riding-white-horse

© October 31, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001, 2011).

[2] It must be noted that some scholars debate whether these categories truly reference demonic beings. However, I lean towards the idea that they do, especially considering other passages that reference goats and spirit beings being demonic in nature.

ROSES Smell Better than a TULIP

I have never been a connoisseur when it comes to flowers. In fact, on one Valentine’s Day, I sought to be a good husband and bought my wife some flowers. The store where I purchased them had a great deal. So, again thinking that I was being a good husband, I bought what I thought were roses. Unfortunately, it turned out that the flowers were tulips, explaining why the store had such a great deal on the flowers. My wife and I had a good laugh over my blunder. While the tulips were nice, roses would have been much better.

Theologians like acronyms. Calvinists from the time of the Synod of Dort have contrived an acronym explaining the core concepts of Calvinism. The acronym is TULIP. TULIP stands for the following:

Total depravity: Man[1] is incapable of saving himself and is paralyzed by a sin nature.

Unconditional election: God has elected to save some and allows others to be condemned.

Limited atonement: Christ only died for the elect and not for the world.

Irresistible grace: Man does not have the ability to respond to the grace of God by himself. He needs the Holy Spirit to help him respond.

Perseverance of the saints: The elect will persevere in their faith.

The acronym holds problems with many texts of the Bible. For instance, the Bible notes that a person can resist the Spirit of God, even to the point of quenching the Spirit of God (Acts 7:51; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In addition, there are several passages that indicate that God wishes to save all even though not all will be saved (2 Peter 3:19; Ezekiel 18:23). Also, the Bible presents the idea of a degree of human free will, something that otherwise makes the law of God seem somewhat bizarre.

Molinists, Congruists, Arminians, and even some Calvinists have adopted a better acronym to describe the truths of the Bible. Kenneth Keathley, in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, provides an acronym first presented by Timothy George.[2] The acronym is ROSES. It is interesting that George is a Calvinist and Keathley a Molinist and they both agree that ROSES is much preferable to TULIP. This brings to mind, what does the acronym ROSES indicate? ROSES represents the following:

Radical depravity: This takes the place of total depravity, the T of TULIP. Radical depravity, as Keathley notes, “more correctly emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and renders us incapable of saving ourselves or even of wanting to be saved.”[3] Radical depravity allows for libertarian viewpoints, especially soft libertarianism as argued by Keathley, as it “contends that interaction between character and free choice is a two-way street, providing for a better model of human responsibility.”[4] The varying ideas of determinism and libertarianism will be discussed in a future article.

Overcoming grace: This doctrine takes the place of irresistible grace, the I of TULIP. Overcoming grace is the idea that God’s continual calling overcomes the wicked nature of a person to allow a free response. Keathley presents an “ambulatory model”[5] which recognizes two fundamental principles: the monergistic grace of God (that is, God is the only worker in salvation); and grace is resistible (that is, God offers grace to all, but the difference is the rebellion of the unbeliever as contrasted with the reception of the believer).[6]

Sovereign election: Sovereign election takes the place of unconditional election, the U of TULIP. This doctrine affirms that God desires the salvation of all, but provides it for a few. This is possible to the three modes of knowledge that God holds: natural knowledge, which indicates God’s knowledge of all necessary truths; God’s free knowledge, which refers to those things which will occur in the future; and God’s middle knowledge, which represents God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances. Sovereign election upholds both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind.

Eternal life: The doctrine of eternal life replaces the P (perseverance of the saints) of TULIP. Instead of claiming that the elect will be saved and persevere, eternal life emphasizes that believers are transformed by the grace of God and are given a faith that will remain. The former leaves one in a constant state of flux, whereas the latter provides assurance as indicated when fruits of the Spirit and the internal witness of the Spirit are observed.

Singular redemption: The last doctrine, singular redemption, replaces the L (limited atonement) of TULIP. Simply put, singular redemption holds that Christ’s death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for the elect, those who would respond to the Spirit’s call.

ROSES is a much better acronym for the truths of Scripture than is TULIP. As noted earlier, Timothy George, the innovator of the acronym, was himself a Calvinist. The acronym provides the ability to naturally accept the two fundamental truths provided in Scripture in that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. Thus, of the array of flowery acronyms, I much prefer the smell of ROSES to that of a TULIP.

© October 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

George, Timothy. Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response. Nashville: Lifeway, 2000.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Notes

[1] The terms “man” and “he” are used in this article to describe individuals of both sexes.

[2] Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response (Nashville: Lifeway, 2000), 71-83; referenced by Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 2.

[3] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 3.

[4] Ibid., 64.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 105.

Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi

In our last post, I introduced you to a section of the Bible known as the Minor Prophets, also known as The Twelve.[1] We discussed the difference between the Major and Minor Prophets, while noting the great importance that the Minor Prophets have. The first entry also discussed the Minor Prophets Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Amos, Jonah, and Micah. This post will look into the lives of Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi.

Nahum

Little is known about Nahum outside of the fact that he was an “Elkoshite” (Nahum 1:1).[2] Elkosh is thought by some to be around modern day Mosul, Iraq. However, the more likely identification of Elkosh is in Galilee around the Capernaum area. Even if Nahum was from Capernaum, it is apparent that he lived in Judea at the time of his writing.[3] Nahum writes to Israel during the difficult days of Assyrian oppression. Israel had allowed syncretism to sway them away from the foundations of their trust in God. While God had allowed the Assyrian take over, many Israelis began to wonder if God had completely forsaken them. Does God still love us? Nahum would answer their inquiries. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “To the suffering remnant, there was little question that God would and did punish his own covenant people,”[4] but through Nahum God would show that He would also bring other nations into judgment also. Judgment would not last forever for God’s people on earth. The people of God would be elevated and robed in righteousness. Due to the fall of Assyria to Babylon, Nahum must be dated some time before 612 B.C.[5]

Habakkuk

Habakkuk is a unique prophet in that he does not speak for God, but rather speaks to God for the people. Habakkuk is dated around the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah to the hands of the Babylonians. Jerusalem was overtaken and the people were taken into exile in 586 B.C. Thus, Habakkuk must have prophesied sometime between 626 and 590 B.C. The book of Habakkuk is quite interesting. The prophet asks God, “How long, LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?…Therefore the law is paralyzed and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted” (Habakkuk 1:2, 4). God answers by saying that He is “raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own” (Habakkuk 1:6). Habakkuk replies, “Lord, we’re bad, granted; but they’re worse!” God replies that He is going to judge every person and every nation for his/her actions. God says, “The LORD is in his holy temple, let all the earth be silent before him” (Habakkuk 2:20). Habakkuk provides an interesting and unique answer to the theodicy issue. That is, why does a loving and powerful God allow evil on the earth? The answer in part is due to free will. The people chose to rebel against God. Yet on the same token, God is in control. Thus, all evil will be ultimately judged by the sovereign power of God Almighty.

Zephaniah

Zephaniah prophesies after the time of the wicked kings Manasseh and Amon. King Josiah would bring reform to the land. However, it was during this time of reform (640-609 B.C.) that Zephaniah would warn the people of impending judgment. Josiah befriended enemy nations for hope of assistance. Josiah would trust in politics over the power of God which would later prove problematic. Zephaniah’s primary focus is on a time called the “Day of the LORD.” Zephaniah used the phrase more than any other prophet. The Day of the LORD would be a time of great judgment. However, God would provide shelter and hope for those who were faithful to Him. Zephaniah looked ahead to a time where God would glorify Israel for the remnant of the faithful. Zephaniah, speaking for God, says, “On that day they will say to Jerusalem, ‘Do not fear, Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The LORD your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:16-17).

Haggai

The prophet Haggai is a post-exilic prophet (see the section Zechariah for more details on the post-exilic period). The exiles returned to Jerusalem around 538 B.C., thus many commentators feel that Haggai prophesies around 520 B.C.[6] Haggai is the contemporary of Zechariah. Both the prophets appeal to the exiles to take up the task of rebuilding the temple despite the opposition they face by their adversaries. Haggai’s key theme is simply put in the opening chapter, “‘Go up into the mountains and bring down the timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,’ says the LORD” (Haggai 1:8).

Zechariah

The book of Zechariah holds tremendous importance to the New Testament Church. Zechariah is second only to Isaiah in being the most quoted Old Testament prophet by the New Testament writers. Jesus quoted Zechariah quite often (e.g. Matthew 26:31). Zechariah is different than most of the prophets in that he lived in what scholars call the post-exilic time. The post-exile refers to a period of time when Persia released the Jews from bondage and allowed them to return to Israel after having been in exile for 70 years. While Babylon was responsible for exiling the Jewish people, Persia had conquered Babylonia and was responsible for their release. Zechariah, serving as a prophetic priest, prophesies as the temple failed to be built 16 years prior. The first attempt had been squelched by Jewish enemies who convinced the Persian authorities that the Jews would become a threat if the temple were to be rebuilt. However, God taught the people through Zechariah that the temple would be finished if they trusted God and continued to do what they were called to do. Four years later, the temple was finished. Zechariah prophesied in Jerusalem from August 29th, 520 B.C. to 480 B.C.[7]  This writer agrees with Barker and Kohlenberger that “Zechariah is probably the most Messianic, apocalyptic, and eschatological of all the OT books.”[8] It is for this reason that one could call Zechariah the Old Testament Book of Revelation. Zechariah sees a time when God’s Messiah would redeem all people who trust in Him. He also seeks to encourage the people by reminding them that God ultimately holds victory over all their enemies. It is quite interesting and appropriate that Zechariah’s name means “Yahweh remembers.”

Malachi

The last of the Minor Prophets also serves as the last book of the Old Testament. It is the book of Malachi. Malachi, which means “My Messenger,” most likely prophesied between 515 through 458 B.C. This would have been between the completion of the temple and the ministry of Ezra in Jerusalem. Israel would face another period of social and moral decline after the temple was completed. Ezra and Nehemiah would help correct this issue. Malachi calls out the people on several issues. The people were guilty of breaking the covenant through blemished sacrifices (Malachi 1:6-14), through a lackluster attention to marriage (Malachi 2:10-16), through injustice (Malachi 2:17-3:5), and by withholding their tithes and offerings (Malachi 3:6-12). It is in Malachi that one learns about the forerunner to the Messiah. Malachi writes, “‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare he way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the LORD” (Malachi 3:1).

The Minor Prophets were fantastic and bold preachers for the Lord. They all met distinct difficulties in getting their message across. All of them faced perilous times. Some may have even been martyred.[9] But through it all, the Minor Prophets remained true to the task that God had called them to accomplish. They trusted more in God Almighty than in the political powers of the day. I think the Minor Prophets poignantly direct our attention to what really matters: faithfulness and trust in God rather than trust in government and manmade traditions.

Look for a future article addressing the main themes of the Minor Prophets coming soon.

Minor Prophets Cartoon.png
From get.Bible. 

 

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Walton, John H., and Craig S. Keener. The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016.

 

© September 27, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Because there are 12 Minor Prophets.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1529, fn 1.1.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1482.

[5] Just for clarification: 612 B.C. is the date that Babylon conquered Assyria.

[6] Walton and Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, 1548.

[7] This writer holds to the unity of Zechariah as a prophetic work. Some commentators feel that two Zechariahs are responsible for the content of the book. But, this writer feels no reason to accept such a claim as the book holds literary unity.

[8] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1515.

[9] Jewish tradition holds that Zechariah was killed.

Who Were the “Minor Prophets”? Part One: Hosea-Micah

One of the most misunderstood sections of Scripture is the unit of the Old Testament known as the “Minor Prophets.” When a person speaks about their favorite texts of the Bible, one rarely hears Zechariah, Habakkuk, Amos, or Zephaniah mentioned. It is really a tragedy that such is the case because the twelve books that comprise the section termed the “Minor Prophets” holds significant value for the believer. But one may ask, “Who are the Minor Prophets and what segment of Scripture does one reference”?

The Minor Prophets consist of twelve prophets in the Bible beginning with Hosea and ending with Malachi (which also ends the segment Christians call the “Old Testament”). The minor prophets include: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These books are called “Minor” in contrast to the “Major Prophets” (which include Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel) due to the size of the writings, and thus do not address the prophets’ importance. The Minor Prophets were every bit as important as the Major ones. Since there are twelve Minor Prophets, many scholars address them simply as “The Twelve.” Some evidence suggests that since the Minor Prophets were significantly smaller than the Major Prophets, some compiled the writings of the Twelve onto one scroll to save space.

Some people have difficulty relating to the Minor Prophets. Part of the problem relates to a lack of knowledge as to who the Minor Prophets were and what their message was about. What was the message of the Minor Prophets and who were these individuals? In a future blog, we will address the message of the Twelve. But for now, let’s look at who these prophets were. It is important to note that by the time of the Minor Prophets that the kingdom of Israel had split into two sections. Rehoboam was king of the United Kingdom of Israel. He had succeeded his father Solomon. In 932 B.C., the Northern section of Israel led by Jeroboam rebelled and pulled away from Rehoboam’s reign due to Rehoboam’s heavy taxation (1 Kings 12:1ff). They established what was called the Northern Kingdom of Israel selecting Jeroboam as their ruler. The Northern Kingdom is sometimes simply called “Israel” during this time period. The Southern Kingdom, the area that was continued to be ruled by Rehoboam, is often called “Judea.” Bethel and Ai served as the border which divided the two kingdoms. Samaria was the capital of Israel and Jerusalem was the capital of Judea.

720px-kingdoms_of_israel_and_judah_map_830-svg[1]

Hosea

Hosea was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Sometimes he mentions Judah, however the main focus of his message is to Israel. Hosea had a long ministry dating from 753 to 715 B.C.[2] Hosea completed his ministry and prophecy before the time that Assyria invaded Israel. Hosea is best known for his message of love and compassion. God told Hosea to marry Gomer, a woman who was quite promiscuous (Hosea 1:2). Gomer’s infidelity against Hosea symbolized the peoples’ infidelity against God due to their idolatry. Hosea continued to love Gomer and eventually took her back. Hosea’s love for Gomer represented the continued love that God held for the rebellious people. Anyone who thinks that the prophets were only “gloom and doom” needs to take a serious look at the message of Hosea.

Joel

Little is known about the prophet Joel outside of the fact that he was the “son of Pethuel” (Joel 1:1).[3] Joel prophesied to the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the days of Uzziah, a time “of unparalleled prosperity.”[4] Thus, Joel most likely prophesied sometime around 792-740B.C.). Joel demonstrates that natural disasters can serve as God’s judgment, but primarily demonstrates that God is a “God of grace and mercy (Joel 2:13, 17), of love and patience (2:13), and of justice and righteousness (1:15; 2:23; 3:1-8).”[5] Joel is best known for his prophecy pertaining to God pouring out His Spirit upon all flesh (Joel 2:28-31).

Amos

Amos is quite the interesting prophet. Many prophets were professional prophets who spoke before the king’s court and had paid positions. Amos, however, is not one of those prophets. If there was ever a “country prophet,” Amos was one. Amos was a tenderer of sycamore figs in Tekoa. Tekoa was around 10 miles south of Jerusalem. So, Amos was a Judean prophet preaching to Israel. Amos was a brave and bold man, going so far as to call the elite women of the time the “cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria” (Amos 4:1). A person is brave in any time to say something like that to a woman! Amos is known for his confrontation with Amaziah. Amaziah was a professional prophet who wanted to preach a message that the people would like. Amos was called to preach a message that the people needed to hear. Such a contrast is noted in modern times also. Amos preached his message around 760-750B.C. Amos’ message was one of repentance, calling people back to their first love. Amos condemned actions that demonstrated hatred towards God and towards fellow humanity. Israel was guilty of syncretism (the practice of blending their beliefs with others). Amos called them back to the truth. Amos is a man needed in modern times as much as he was in Israel.

Obadiah

Obadiah is one of those difficult prophets to date, mainly because nothing much is known about him. Obadiah pronounces judgment against Edom. Edom was an area around Mount Seir located southeast of the Dead Sea. Many feel that Obadiah prophesied, although greatly debated, around the destruction that came to Edom by Nebuchadnezzar around 586 B.C. Obadiah shows that God rules from on high. Political and national entities are subject to change, but God is over all. As Barker and Kohlenberger note, “The dual thrust of 1:1 indicates two levels at which human history moves. The Lord is the ultimate mover, but there is also an international political alliance, motivated only by callous self-seeking.”[6]

Jonah

Jonah is perhaps the most popular of the Twelve. Jonah was the son of Amittai (Jonah 1:1) from the area of Gath Hepher in Galilee.[7] Jonah was called by God to preach a message of repentance to Nineveh in Assyria. Assyria was an enemy of Israel. To say that Jonah was hesitant to preach to Nineveh is an understatement. Jonah rebelled against the calling of God, eventually landing in the belly of a “huge fish” (Jonah 1:17). Jonah was spit out of the fish (Jonah 2:10). Jonah, then, travelled to Nineveh and preached a message of repentance. To Jonah’s surprise, Nineveh listened! They were spared, albeit temporarily, from God’s judgment. Jonah presents a message of God’s love for all people. God is willing to forgive even when we are not.[8]

Micah

Micah produced a theologically rich prophecy in the 8th century B.C. Micah notes that he is from Moresheth (Micah 1:1) which was approximately six miles northeast of Lachish, twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem. Micah prophesied sometime before 722 to the end of the 8th century. Micah prophesied primarily against Judah, warning of the threat of judgment. Micah, as noted earlier, is a theologically rich work. Micah emphasizes God’s sovereignty over all nation (Micah 4:11-13), God’s immutability (Micah 7:18-20), on the remnant (Micah 4:11-13), divine redemption, and the messianic kingdom.

In the next article, we will examine the remainder of the Twelve. Be sure to look for the article “Who Were the ‘Minor Prophets’? Part Two: Nahum-Malachi.”

© September 26, 2016. Brian Chilton

Sources Cited

Barker, Kenneth L., and John R. Kohlenberger, III. Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament. Abridged Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wikipedia Commons. Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg: FinnWikiNoderivative work: Richardprins (talk) – Oldtidens_Israel_&_Judea.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10872389.

[2] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1407.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all quoted Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[4] Barker and Kohlenberger, EBC, 1426.

[5] Ibid., 1427.

[6] Ibid., 1455.

[7] Ibid., 1460.

[8] Scholars debate the historicity of Jonah. Is Jonah an allegory or is it historical? In my opinion, since Jesus referenced Jonah as historical (Matthew 12:38-41), then one should remain open to the historical nature of the book. While it is improbable that a person could survive being consumed by a large fish, it is not impossible. God is master even over the fish, so it is indeed possible that God could have accomplished those things attributed to Him in the book.

Does Divine Omniscience Hinder Human Freedom?

A friend and I recently discussed the impact of divine omniscience as it pertains to human freedom. Omniscience is the term used to describe the complete knowledge of God. The critical question of God’s omniscience in theological circles is whether divine omniscience hinders a person’s choice to choose x or y. If God knows with certainty that person A will choose x and person B will choose y, do persons A and B really have the freedom to choose? I argue that God’s knowledge does not impede human freedom. I would like to present four reasons why divine omniscience does not hinder human freedom.

The “Could, Would, Will” omniscient knowledge of God.

In his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, Kenneth Keathley argues that divine omniscience includes what he calls the “‘could,’ ‘would,’ and ‘will’”[1] knowledge. “Could knowledge” represents God’s natural knowledge; that is, that “God knows all possibilities.”[2] God knows all the possibilities that could take place. “Would knowledge” is more popularly known as God’s middle knowledge. Middle knowledge is a concept that is accepted in Molinist and Congruist perspectives.[3] In other words, “God knows which possibilities are feasible.”[4] Put another way, God knows what free creatures would do when placed in certain situations. Finally, “will knowledge” is God’s free knowledge in that “God exhaustively knows all things.”[5] Thus, if God knows with certainty what could happen in the potentials of the created world, and God knows the things that will happen from His knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances, then there is no reason to believe that God’s knowledge would impede human freedom in any way. Now God may place people in certain circumstances to bring about a certain reaction. But even in doing so, the free creature would still have the freedom to choose x from y.

The relationship of omniscient knowledge to future actions.

If one grants that God holds could, would, and will knowledge, some would still argue, “But now if God knows with certainty what will happen, doesn’t that still imply that a person could not have chosen differently?” This view is called theological fatalism. Is it true? Not really. The person is given an opportunity to choose and willfully does so. Knowledge holds no bearing on a person’s choice. For instance, given the model provided by Keathley, picture someone you know who is quite the hot-head. And suppose that this hot-head really steams up over liberalism. Now suppose that a hyper-liberal approaches this conservative hot-head (and by the way, the roles could easily be reversed) and tries to coerce the conservative hot-head to accept hyper-liberal philosophies. You know the result of the encounter. The hot-head will blow up and lose his cool. Did your knowledge of his reaction impede the freely chosen response by hot-head in this story? No! Knowledge is just that—knowledge. Thus, God, even given His placement of events in a person’s life to lead one to salvation, does not hinder a person’s free will by the certain knowledge of future events that will transpire.

The intimacy of omniscient knowledge.

The debate between Calvinists and Arminians often revolves around the issue of how God chooses whom to save. The Calvinist will say that God elected to save some and reject others due to God’s own will. The Arminian will say that God chose whom to save because He foreknew what people would do in advance. But why couldn’t the answer involve both? Thomists, Molinists,[6] and Congruists hold that God’s election involves His intimate knowledge of individuals. For instance, evangelical Thomist Norman Geisler notes that “whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what He foreknows. Nor can what He foreknows be based on what He fore-chose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God. Thus, our moral actions are truly free, and God determined that they would be such.”[7] God’s election is greatly based on His intimate knowledge of individuals. For instance, God told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).[8] God knew Jeremiah intimately before Jeremiah’s birth. This, however, does not mean that Jeremiah did not have a free will. Consider the issue with Pharaoh. Yahweh tells Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21). But how did God harden the heart of Pharaoh? This question is answered in chapter 8 of Exodus. God had brought forth a plague of frogs. Pharaoh had asked that God would take away the frogs. Yahweh did just that. He provided His grace to Pharaoh and the people of Egypt. But what did Pharaoh do? One reads that “when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:15). Did Pharaoh have the opportunity to choose differently than he did? Yes. Did Yahweh know what Pharaoh would choose when He provided grace unto him? Yes!!! So, did God’s knowledge hinder Pharaoh’s freedom to choose? No, not at all. God’s omniscience as it pertains to election is based on His intimate knowledge of each individual.

The sovereign nature of omniscient knowledge.

Due to the fact that God is beyond the scope of time and creation, God is sovereign over all things. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), thus if God promises to bring about a certain thing, it is certain that the promised thing will come about. However, God has given individuals the freedom to choose how to live and how to respond to His grace. If God can be trusted in what He says about future things, then one must accept God’s complete and thorough knowledge of the past, present, and future. Yet, this knowledge does not demerit the ability of free creatures to choose. If God is sovereign, then He must know what would take place when mixing two parts hydrogen with one-part water—the creation of water. God would know what would need to take place for live to be able to exist. Thus, it should not trouble anyone to think that God would hold absolute knowledge of a person’s future choices. It is because of this thorough knowledge that we can trust in God’s amazing sovereignty while holding to a view of human freedom.

Conclusion

As this article has sought to demonstrate, there need not be a conflict in holding God’s sovereignty along with a healthy view of human freedom. Thomas Aquinas felt that if there were no freedom of the human will, then laws and morality made little sense.[9] I concur. Too often people think that the theologian must choose between divine sovereignty and human freedom—an either/or paradigm. Yet, when one considers the potential “could, would, will” knowledge of God; the relationship of God to future actions and outcomes; the intimate nature of divine omniscience; and the sovereign nature of omniscience; then the theologian can rest in the choice of a both/and scenario. God is sovereign AND people have freedom. Theologically speaking—it’s the best of possible worlds (pun intended).

Sources Cited

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica: Complete Edition. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Catholic Way Publishing, 2014.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Third Edition. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Copyright, 9/19/2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 17.

[2] Ibid.

[3] It is here that Congruism parts ways with classical Thomism. Congruism accepts effectual grace which also differs from classical Molinism. Congruism is best seen as the middle path between Molinism and Thomism.

[4] Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty, 17.

[5] Ibid.

[6] There are differences of opinions in the Molinist camp concerning this issue.

[7] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will, 3rd ed (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 145-146.

[8] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[9] See Thomas Aquinas, “Of Free Will (Four Articles),” Summa Theologica, Kindle.

Who was the “Angel of the Lord”?

Throughout the Old Testament, one finds an intriguing figure who is known as the Angel of the Lord (Hebrew, “mal’ak YHWH). The Angel of the Lord is not to be confused with an angel of God. There is a difference. The Angel of the Lord is given an extremely high status as he speaks for God. He appears at critical junctures, providing advice and giving stern warnings. But who is this mysterious figure? Is the Angel of the Lord an archangel like Gabriel? Is the Angel of the Lord the same as Michael the archangel? Or is he someone else? In this article, we will examine some of the Old Testament passages involving the Angel of the Lord. These passages provide necessary clues to the Angel’s identity.

Distinct from Yahweh[1] (Zechariah’s Night Visions).

On February 15th, 519 BC, the prophet Zechariah was given eight night visions. Through these night visions, God provided profound truths to the prophet pertaining to salvation, the promise of blessing, and judgment against opposition. The Angel of the Lord holds a profound role in these night visions. In the first night vision, the Angel of the Lord speaks to Yahweh, saying, “O LORD of hosts, how long will you have no mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, against which you have been angry these seventy years” (Zechariah 1:12)?[2] What is most notable in this passage is that the Angel of the Lord, while of utmost importance, is shown to be distinct from Yahweh. So is the Angel of the Lord simply a messenger of God? Not so fast. Consider Genesis 16:7 and following.

Identified with Yahweh (Genesis 16:7-12).

In Genesis 16, one finds the culmination of a series of problems between Sarah and Hagar. Sarah was the mother of Isaac and Hagar was the mother of Ishmael. Sarah (then Sarai) had irreconcilable differences with Hagar, an Egyptian servant. Sarah sent Hagar away with her son Ishmael (who was the son of Abraham). Yes, this was an ancient series of Days of our Lives. Nevertheless, Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and promised to take care of her and Ishmael. He also promised to make a great nation from Ishmael’s descendants. After the Angel spoke with her, Hagar replied to the Angel, “You are a God of seeing…Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13). The place was named Beer-lahai-roi, which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” This is not the only time the Angel of the Lord is identified with God. For instance, the Angel of the Lord says to Joshua the high priest who wore excrement smeared vestments (representing the sin of the people), “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The Angel forgave the sins of Joshua and the people, something only God could do. Thus, the Angel of the Lord is divine.

Visible Manifestation of Yahweh (Exodus 3:1-6).

The Angel of the Lord is divine, yet separate from Yahweh Himself, as identified earlier. The Angel of the Lord often appears to humanity as a divine manifestation of God’s presence. For instance, Moses encountered the Angel of the Lord in the burning bush. Exodus notes that “the angel of the LORD appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed…God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!”… “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God” (Exodus 3:2-4, 6). The Angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham offering comfort and a stern warning to Lot to leave the area of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14). So how are we to understand the Angel of the Lord? There is an interesting parallel between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself.

Jesus’ Association with the Angel of the Lord (John 1).

The apostle John, in his gospel, provides an interesting prologue, popular to many. John notes that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:1-3). John teaches that Jesus was the Word, thus Jesus is shown possess an eternal nature. It is quite interesting that Jesus, defending the resurrection, argued by noting God’s response to Moses, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ He is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Jesus’ statement is especially interesting as it is the Word of God, spoken by the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is an eternal person, not identical to Yahweh, but identified with, or even as, Yahweh. Jesus is noted to be the same. So what does all this mean as it concerns the Angel of the Lord?

Conclusion

From examining the evidence, the Angel of the Lord cannot be considered an ordinary angel. The Angel of the Lord cannot be accepted as an archangel, either. The Angel of the Lord is a separate entity from Yahweh, yet he is closely identified with Yahweh. The Angel of the Lord is by all intent and purposes a visible manifestation of Yahweh to human beings. Now when one considers that Jesus is acknowledged as an eternal person who is separate from the Heavenly Father, yet closely aligned with the Father and, like the Angel of the Lord, holds a divine essence, it appears that one can hold a necessary link between the Angel of the Lord and Jesus Himself. Therefore, this article holds that the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus as He existed before the incarnation. Individuals are mistaken when they hold that Christ is not present in the Old Testament. In fact, the presence of the Messiah may be more evident than one supposes if the Angel of the Lord is identifiable with the pre-incarnate Jesus. Much more could be said about this issue. But for now, suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord is no ordinary character.

 

© September 12, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Yahweh is the personal name for God the Father.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

A Review of “God and Time: Four Views”

Ganssle, Gregory E., ed. God & Time: Four Views. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2001. $24.00. 247 pages. Contributors: Paul Helm, Alan G. Padgett, William Lane Craig, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.

Of the issues in theology, God’s relationship to time has become one of the most complex. How does God relate to time? This question is coupled with two theories of time. A-theory (or the process theory) holds that time moves from one point to another in a unidirectional line. The B-theory of time (or the stasis theory) holds that time essentially stands still. B-theorists holds that the process of time is an allusion and time itself is rather static, or unmovable. I readily admit that I have had the book God & Time: Four Views on my shelf for quite some time and have anticipated the time when I could read it as this topic has become interesting to me. Recently, I was able to accomplish that task. Gregory Ganssle edits the book God & Time: Four Views. (Note: it is essential that the reader reads through Ganssle’s introduction. Ganssle provides a necessary background for the complex issues that lie ahead.) The book has four contributors, all holding different perspectives about how God relates to time.

 First, Paul Helm (J. I. Packer Professor of Theology at Regent College, Vancouver, B.C.) argues for the divine timeless eternity view. That is, God is absolutely timeless and exists beyond the scope of space-time. Helm holds a version of the B-theory of time, although it could be said that there is a combination of A-theory and B-theory in his viewpoint. While Helm offers one of the most traditional views (and perhaps most biblical), Helm seems to one one hand argue that the universe is co-eternal with God, while on the other hand holding that the universe is a special creation of God coming into existence at a particular point. Elements of Helm’s argument were quite persuasive. However, I was left somewhat confused and bewildered at his explanation. It seemed that Helm argued for a beginningless, beginning for all of creation as Helm did not seem to hold to creation ex nihilo, which is quite odd.

Next, Alan G. Padgett (Professor of Systematic Theology, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN.) argues for the relative timelessness view. Padgett holds the A-theory of time. He argues that God is timeless and remains timeless despite creation. God, thus, operates in a sequence of events in eternity. Yet, God operates in time taking part of the sequential aspect of space-time. Overall, Padgett offered a compelling argument. I was left, however, unsatisfied with his argument of divine foreknowledge. Padgett argues that God knows the future. But since the future has not happened, it seemed that Padgett accepted some limitation in divine foreknowledge. (Note: I may have misunderstood Padgett in this regard.)

William Lane Craig (Research Professor, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, La Mirada, CA) holds what is called timelessness and omnitemporality view. William Lane Craig, one of the greatest Christian philosophers and apologists of our time, holds the view that God was timeless before creation began, but then became temporal (in time) when creation came into being. I was not surprised by Craig’s argument. I previously read Craig’s work Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time. My major qualm with Craig’s view is that the theologian is left accepting divine immanence without transcendence. Christian theologians have accepted for the vast majority of church history the duality of God’s transcendence and immanence. In fact, theism tends to rest upon such understanding. God is not time. God is not creation. God is outside the realm of both. Plus, since God created time, this view seems to limit God by the scope of His creation, something problematic when it comes to divine omniscience and omnipotence. Therefore, while I greatly respect William Lane Craig and his work, I hold reservations with his views pertaining to God and time.

Finally, Nicholas Wolterstorff (Noah Porter Professor of Philosophy, Yale Divinity School, New Haven, CT) argues the unqualified divine temporality view. Wolterstorff holds that God has always been temporal, acting in time. While God is everlasting, God acts in a sequential mode. Creation takes part in that sequence of time. However, many physicists accept that time is a created thing, coming into being when the universe first started. Of all the views presented, I was least satisfied with Wolterstorff’s view.

I had waited for some time to read this book. Unfortunately, I was left largely dissatisfied. Some contributors were far better than others. It’s interesting that Thomas Aquinas was used to prove nearly all of the four viewpoints. From my reading of Aquinas, I feel he would accept Helm and Padgett’s viewpoints more than any other. Nevertheless, this reader was left wondering if there could not be a fifth view. It seems that one could posit a view where God is outside the scope of time and able to see all points of created space-time (like Helm’s argument), but operated in a sequential modus operandi (as found in Padgett’s viewpoint), and related to creation (as found in Craig and Wolterstorff’s cases). While some views seemed more reasonable than others, none seemed to capture the classic theological viewpoint that I had hoped for.

I give this book three out of four stars. I think the book is an important work. One will find, though, that the book is not an easy read. Those who have not had exposure to philosophy and the God and time debate will struggle with this read. I would suggest reading up on the issues of God and time before engaging this work. Be sure to thoroughly read Ganssle’s introduction also as it will help immensely.

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Copyright, September 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Is God’s Jealousy a Negative Attribute?

The Bible attributes several attributes to God. Many of the more popular attributes are God’s love, holiness, and grace. Any serious theologian will know the four core “omni” attributes: omniscience (all-knowing), omnipotence (all-powerful), omnipresence (all-presence), and omnibenevolence (all-loving). While these attributes are all positive, many critics pinpoint another attribute of God as being greatly problematic: God’s jealousy.

Critics charge that jealousy is a bad trait to hold. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins claims that God breaks “into a monumental rage whenever his chosen people flirted with a rival god.”[1] Paul Copan notes that “Oprah Winfrey said that she was turned off to the Christian faith when she heard a preacher affirm that God is jealous.”[2] Jealousy is condemned for the human being. One of the Ten Commandments states that a person should not “covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).[3] Thus, jealousy seems to be a negative trait. But wait! Doesn’t the Bible claim that God is jealous? It does.

The Bible states at least 13 times that God is jealous for His people. For instance, Moses notes that “the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deuteronomy 4:24). Later in Deuteronomy, God says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation” (Deuteronomy 32:21).

What do we make of this? Jealousy seems to be a negative trait. The Bible presents God as jealous. Therefore, it would seem that God holds negative traits. One is left with three options: 1) One could claim that God holds negative attributes meaning that He is not completely perfect; 2) One could claim that the Bible is erred in its presentation of God; 3) One could claim that our understanding of God’s jealousy could be misunderstood.

The first option demerits the Bible’s presentation of God as valid. If God exists, then God must be a maximally great Being. If the God of the Bible is not a maximally great Being, then the God of the Bible is not really the God of the universe at all.

The second option devalues the Bible, the Word of God. The New Testament writers extracted their understanding of God from the Old Testament. Therefore, if the Old Testament is erred in its presentation of God, then that would carry over into the New Testament. This causes a serious problem for the believer. If we cannot accept the presentation of God in the Bible, then can we accept the God of the Bible?

The third option is best. Our understanding of God’s jealousy must be defined. There must be some misunderstanding that we hold as it pertains to the idea of divine jealousy. In fact, the third option is the only real valid option on the table. When one honestly evaluates God’s jealousy, the person comes to the understanding that God’s jealousy is actually rooted in love. Thus, God’s jealousy becomes a positive trait for three reasons.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive as it relates to God’s passion.

God has a passion for His people. Let’s go back to the passage in Deuteronomy. We all know that Scripture is often taken out of context. Placing Deuteronomy 4:24 in context, one will find that Moses was addressing the issue of the peoples’ covenant with God. God had already blessed the people immensely. God brought them out of slavery. God was about to bring them to a special place prepared for them. God was going to build a great nation out of them. However, the people kept cheating on God. God poured out His love to the nation. He was eventually going to bring the Chosen Messiah, the Savior of the world, in their midst. But they kept cheating on God. Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:23, “Take care, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God, which he made with you.”

The marriage analogy is often used to describe God’s jealous passion for His people. Paul Copan rightly notes that “A wife who doesn’t get jealous and angry when another woman is flirting with her husband isn’t really all that committed to the marriage relationship. A marriage without the potential for jealousy when an intruder threatens isn’t much of a marriage.”[4] God had a passion for His people. While Dawkins may think that God’s jealousy is a negative attribute due to the peoples’ “flirting with other gods,” it should be remembered that idolatry is adultery against God.[5] Thus, God’s jealousy is rooted in His love.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to God’s purpose.

God’s jealousy is also rooted in His purpose. Wayne Grudem defines God’s jealousy by “God continually seeks to protect his own honor.”[6] Critics may charge, “See! God only concerns Himself with His own glory and elevated role. This means that God is not humble.” But not so fast. Let’s put this in perspective.

Human jealousy is wrong because one covets something that he/she holds no claim in holding. It is wrong for me to covet my neighbor’s car because I hold no claim to the car. In like manner, human pride is bad because it elevates a person’s position higher than what the person possesses. I can think all day that I am the President of the United States. I can walk around like a peacock telling everyone about my successful presidency. The reality is, however, that I am not the President and will most likely never be. But what if someone who holds the office claims to be President? Right now, the President of the United States of America is Barack Obama. Regardless of your thoughts of him and his presidency, let’s ask: is it wrong for Obama to claim to be President? Is it wrong for him to demand respect for his position? Is it wrong for him to do presidential things? No. Why? It is because he is the President. Is it, therefore, wrong for God to call Himself God and to expect to be treated like God? No. Why? It is because He is God. Paul Copan rightly notes, “Is God proud? No, he has a realistic view of himself, not a false or exaggerated one. God, by definition, is the greatest conceivable being, which makes him worthy of worship.”[7]

Simply put: it is not wrong for God to be jealous over His purpose and glory. Such purpose and glory belongs to God and God alone.

God’s jealousy over His people is positive because it relates to the human protection.

I am a big brother. My sister is about 7-years-younger than I. Big brothers normally have a protective instinct. I most certainly do. My sister is a loving, free-spirited woman who always sees the good. I, in contrast, see the world the way it really is. My son is much like my sister. I find that my protective juices flow overtime being a parent. Without guidance, it would be easy for my son to take the wrong path as the first shiny, attractive thing gets his attention. As a parent, it is my job to help keep him on the right track. I have a jealous love for my son because I want what’s best for him.

God’s jealousy works in much the same way. God’s jealous love is actually for the benefit, not the detriment, of human protection. God is omniscient. That means that God knows all things. God is also omnisapient, meaning that God possesses all wisdom. Going back to Copan, he notes, “God seeks to protect his creatures from profound self-harm. We can deeply damage ourselves by running after gods made in our own image. God’s jealousy is other-centered.”[8] I agree wholeheartedly with Copan’s assessment. God’s jealousy is actually for the greater human good.

Conclusion

God’s jealousy is not the same as human jealousy. The difference primarily lies in authority. It is wrong for people to be jealous over something that someone else holds because they hold no true claim to such thing. God, in contrast, having the greatest, supreme authority and power is completely justified in being jealous over His people. His jealousy is actually rooted in His love, purpose, and even human protection. Thus, God’s jealousy is not a negative attribute. It is actually a gloriously positive one.

© August 22, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

[1] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 243.

[2] Paul Copan, Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2011), 34.

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[4] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 35.

[5] See the book of Hosea for a full treatment of this analogy.

[6] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 205.

[7] Copan, Is God a Moral Monster?, 28.

[8] Ibid., 40.

Combating Independence Day Anxieties

On Monday, July 4th, 2016, Americans will celebrate the 240th annual Independence Day. On July 4th, 1776, the United States declared its independence from England. Americans will gather in various locations to watch fireworks and cook outdoors to celebrate their freedoms. However, this Independence Day is marked by various anxieties. Americans have watched many of their cherished freedoms diminish at the altar of political correctness. Many are uncertain about what lies ahead for their beloved nation which has served as a bastion of freedom for 240 years. Bible-believing Christians comprise many who hold such concerns. How is it possible to truly relish in Independence Day with such anxieties tormenting us? I would like to suggest four ways to combat anxiety on Independence Day.

1. Combat Independence Day anxieties by trusting in
God’s sovereignty.

The sovereignty of God is more than a doctrine of a solid systematic theology. God’s sovereignty provides a distinguished trust. When a person acknowledges that God is in control, worries and concerns tend to fade away. Divine sovereignty is tied-in to God’s omnipotence. John S. Feinberg notes that God’s sovereignty means that “God is the ultimate, final, and complete authority over everything and everyone…God’s sovereign will is also free, for nobody forces him to do anything, and whatever he does is in accord with his purposes and wishes” (Feinberg 2001, 294). If we were to understand that God is moving to bring about a certain end in mind, saving as many people that He knows would be saved, then the anxious times we currently experience would lose the power of uncertainty. For nothing is uncertain with God.

2. Combat Independence Day anxieties by remembering the Church’s past redemptions.

If you are like me, then you have a long-term memory problem. By that, I mean to indicate that I often find myself forgetting about the ways that God has moved in my life before this time. I eventually worry about things that God has already delivered me from in the past. A classic example of this behavior is found with the disciples. Jesus had fed 5,000 men along with countless women and children with a few loaves of bread and fish (Matthew 14:13-21, ESV). The sum total of those fed that day probably ranged in excess of 20,000 people!

Interestingly enough, the disciples were met with another instance where their food supply had dwindled. Jesus told the disciples again, just as He had previously, to feed the crowd. The disciples, yet again, said, “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place” (Matthew 15:33, ESV)? I can imagine Jesus saying, “Seriously?!? Are you kidding Me?!?” Well, that would be my response nonetheless. It’s easy for us to forget about how God has moved in the past.

As the modern Church faces restrictions in religious freedoms, it is important to note that the Church has experienced situations like this in the past. In fact, the Church was born in a hostile society where believers comprised the vast minority. God has delivered the Church in uncertain time. Naysayers who claimed that the Church would not make it 100 years from their time have been greatly disappointed countless times over. Voltaire is such an example. Before worrying about your present, remember the Church’s past.

3. Combat Independence Day anxieties by working the present calling.

Many modern Christians are tempted to become calloused and angry over the situations arising. While it is imperative that we stand up for religious freedoms and take our voting responsibilities seriously as Americans, we must not forget the primary calling upon our lives. We are not called to be patriots first, Christians second. Rather, we are called to be Christians first, patriots second. Often believers are tempted to focus more on the things we oppose than the things for which we stand. It must be remembered that the entire law of God can be summarized into two commandments, as Jesus masterfully put it, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40, NLT).

Our first love must be for God and God alone. But in addition to this, we must remember that we are called to love our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? It is the Christian: both conservative and otherwise. It is the Arab and the Jew; the Muslim and Hindu. It is the Buddhist and Sikh. It is the Wiccan, the Atheist, the Agnostic, and Secularist. It is the Republican and the Democrat. It is the Liberal and the Conservative. It is the White person, the Black person, the Asian, and Latino. It is the American, the Canadian, the Russian, and the Mexican. It is those who live like you and those who do not, those who share your values and those who do not. All of the aforementioned individuals are made in the image of God…even if the person mentioned doesn’t realize that fact.

This brings us to the issue of calling. What is the primary calling for the Church united? Jesus has told us from the beginning that our primary calling is to “go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). Does this mean that we still stand for the truth uncompromisingly? Absolutely we do! But one’s stand must never be allowed to waver one’s commitment to love others the way Christ instructed. If we remember to see others through the lens of Christ, then we will be better focused on the task at hand.

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

Beloved, I was reminded of a great truth the other day in my devotions. I came across Paul’s reminder to the Church of Rome where he notes that “what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are…And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:18-19, 28, NLT). Russell D. Moore tells us that a good way to remember the future coming is to walk around in an old graveyard and while doing so, he writes,

“think about what every generation of Christians has held against the threat of sword and guillotine and chemical weaponry. This stillness will one day be interrupted by a shout from the eastern sky, a joyful call with a distinctly northern Galilean accent. And that’s when life gets interesting” (Moore 2014, 721).

Undoubtedly, we live in uncertain days. But the promise that our heavenly Independence Day brings us is that we are redeemed to live a life without worry and anxiety. Our sins have been forgiven. We have a purpose and a high calling upon our lives. So, this Independence Day, instead of mourning the things we have lost as Americans, why not focus on the things we have gained through our risen Lord Jesus?

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Moore, Russell D. “Personal and Cosmic Eschatology.” In A Theology for the Church. Revised Edition. Edited by Daniel L. Akin. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2014.

Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Scripture marked NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2013.

The Order of God’s Decrees

Timing is everything. If I have something that is of a sensitive topic to discuss with my wife (like say the purchase of a new commentary or academic books like those from the amazing Craig Keener), I do not approach my wife when she is in a bad mood. Rather, I wait until she is in a fairly good mood to broker such a deal.[1] My bookcase already runneth over which to me is a sign that I need to get another bookcase to fill with more books. But that is a different topic, so I digress. Nevertheless, the timing of a series of events changes how certain ends come about. If I approached my wife with the idea of a new commentary after she had a bad day at work, chances are likely I will not get the commentary with her blessings. For those who say, “Well, get it anyway;” I would say, “You’re either not married, or not ‘happily’ married.” As the old adage goes, “Happy wife, happy life.” However, if I caught my wife on a good day and explained the value of the commentary, the end result would likely be different.

When it comes to the order of God’s decrees, timing is everything. In the theological world, there are three orders of God’s decrees that are presented: Supralaparianism, Infralapsarianism, and Sublapsarianism. When we mention the word “decree,” think of this as the timing of God’s decision. I decreed to write this article last Thursday, but I decreed to actually write the article on Monday, June 27, 2016. What are these orders and which fits the biblical narrative best?

Supralapsarianism

Supralapsarianism is accepted by what many call hyper-Calvinists or as Norman Geisler calls it “The Extreme Sovereignty View.”[2] Supralapsarianists accept the following order of God’s decrees:

  1. God decrees to save some and condemn others.
  2. God decrees to create both the elect (saved) and the reprobate (condemned).
  3. God decrees to permit the fall of both the elect and the reprobate.
  4. God decrees to permit salvation only for the elect.[3]

In this order, God decides to create both those who would be saved and would not be saved, and decides to only give salvation to those whom He chose to give salvation. In this scheme, the individual has no option but to follow the course that God has previously prepared for them. Such a plan is deterministic, or even perhaps fatalistic.

Infralapsarianism

A modified version of Supralapsarianism is Infralapsarianism. Infralapsarianists seek to soften the hardcore determinism found in Supralapsarianism by offering the following model:

  1. God decrees to create human beings.
  2. God decrees to permit the fall of humanity.
  3. God decrees to save the elect and condemn the rest.
  4. God decrees to provide salvation for the elect.[4]

In this model, God makes the decision to save a particular group of individuals after He decides to allow humanity to fall. Thus, God offers a bit of freedom to humanity. However, after humanity has fallen, God decides to select a few to save.

Sublapsarianism

Sublapsarianism differs from the previous two models presented. Sublapsarianists offer the following model for consideration:

  1. God decrees to create human beings.
  2. God decrees to permit the fall.
  3. God decrees to provide salvation sufficient for all.
  4. God decrees to save some and to condemn others.[5]

In this model, God creates humanity with a desire to save all, but chooses to save only some. Sublapsarianism is the softest of the three versions presented. One must ask, which fits the biblical narrative best?

Which fits the biblical narrative best?

To answer this question, certain biblical passages must be kept in mind. The Bible does not tell us of the particular order that God followed when creating humanity and developing the salvific plan. However, some passages imply a particular narrative. I wish to examine four segments of Scripture.

Exodus 4:21 and 8:15

In the story of the Exodus, God told Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21).[6] How did this hardening take place? Well, the reader is provided the answer later in the book. When God alleviated the plagues and “when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said” (Exodus 8:15). Through this particular passage, we see that God absolutely knows what a particular person will do in certain circumstances. Notice too, it was God’s grace given to Pharaoh persuading him to repentance that led to Pharaoh’s heart-hardening.

Ezekiel 18:23 and 2 Peter 3:9

In Ezekiel 18:23, the LORD proclaims, “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?” One will note that God’s pleasure is not found in the death of anyone, including the wicked. This lends to a similar exegesis of 2 Peter 3:9 where Peter, not speaking of the elect but of all people, proclaims, “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Some have argued that Peter was writing of the elect, but that makes no sense. For such an exposition would imply that the elect could be lost. If 2 Peter 3:9 is understood in the light of Ezekiel 18:23, which to me seems extremely reasonable, then one must acknowledge God’s desire for all people to repent.

Romans 11:11

In Romans 11:11, Paul notes that it was the fall of Israel that allowed the world to come to faith. Paul notes that the trespass of Israel was allowed so that “through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11). This seems to be similar to the allowance of Pharaoh’s heart-hardening to bring forth faith to the people of God.

John 3:16

Perhaps John 3:16 is the most popular verse in the entire Bible. In this verse Jesus says,[8] “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). The passage clearly dictates that the world was in mind with God’s sacrifice. The term cosmos implies the world, or an entirety of the global human race. Such a view is also in mind as Jesus continues in his discourse, saying, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).

We could spend much more time on this issue evaluating other passages of Scripture. However, with the passages already examined, I think we have a good biblical case for sublapsarianism. Millard Erickson notes, “It is the view that God logically decides first to provide salvation, then elects some to receive it. This is essentially the sublapsarian position of theologians like Augustus Strong” [7]. While there are certainly those that disagree, I would say that sublapsarianism allows for the love of God to be fully seen as well as His amazing power and knowledge. An additional question may be asked. Why did God allow for the fall and for some to be condemned in the first place? I think C. S. Lewis says it well, “Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” A world where the fullness of love is possible to be given and received in its initial form, there must be the availability that such love would be rejected. Sublapsarianism seems to answer this well.

© June 27, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes:

[1] And yes, I am exaggerating.

[2] Norman Geisler, Chosen but Free: A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 15.

[3] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 842, 2n.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

[7] Erickson, Christian Theology, 852.

[8] Some hold that the verse is part of a section where John the apostle synthesizes Jesus’ message, rather than holding that the section is part of Jesus’ actual message. The NIV 2011 and NET translators hold this view. I personally feel that the section belongs to the teaching of Jesus. John may have compacted the message of Jesus for simplicity’s sake. Nevertheless, I hold that John 3:16 was part of Jesus’ message to Nicodemus.