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.

The Pastor Who Became the Grinch

Christmas is a time of celebration. It is a time set aside each December to celebrate the birth of Christ. Christmas is supposed to be a joyous occasion, filled with showing good will to one’s neighbor. However, such was not the case in a mall in Amarillo, Texas. Pastor Dave Grisham, originally from Panama City, Florida, took it upon himself to tell a group of kids, standing in line to see Santa Claus in an Amarillo, Texas mall, that Santa Claus does not exist. He was noted as saying, as quoted by the Drudge Report, “Parents, y’all need to stop lying to your children and telling them that Santa Claus is real, when in fact, he’s not.” Grisham went on to say, “When you substitute the lies of Santa Claus in heart of your child for the truth of Jesus Christ, you are bearing false witness against God.” Eventually, Grisham was silenced by a group of fathers who told him that he needed to stop and leave. Being in Texas, Grisham is lucky that is all he got from the angry dads.

grisham-texas
Grisham at an Amarillo, Texas mall before his obnoxious stunt.

Grisham is known for his confrontational tactics with his style of evangelism. He operates a ministry called Last Frontier Ministries. In Grisham’s eyes, he thought he was doing something right. I am sure that in his mind, he thought, “Hey, I’m telling these kids about Jesus. What could be wrong with that?” However, Grisham did far more harm than good. Not only did he make national headlines (perhaps the intention of his tirade), he portrayed Christians as a bunch of nagging, obnoxious, party poopers, who cannot allow children enjoy some innocent fun. In essence, Grisham turned the Nativity (the reason for the Christmas season) into the proverbial Grinch.

Some readers will say, “Yeah, but he did tell the children about Jesus. That can’t be bad, can it?” Others will argue, “Christmas has become too commercialized. Isn’t that what Grisham confronted?” Point taken. However, it must be noted that it is not only important what is said, it is equally important how something is presented. Tactless, confrontational evangelism defeats the purpose it sets out to accomplish.

Aristotle noted that there are three important tasks in communication: logos (the logic behind what is presented), ethos (the ethical and authoritative nature of the speaker), and pathos (the emotional appeal meant to persuade the audience). Grisham arguably teetered around the logos aspect of his presentation. Yet, he completely missed the ethos and pathos aspects. That is why both the Christian and secular communities are frustrated with Grisham.

Simon Peter notes in 1 Peter 3:15, a text that notes the importance of apologetics, that one should “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV, emphasis mine). Gentleness and respect! Grisham failed to display gentleness and respect, especially to the little children.

Remember, we can be right about an issue and wrong in our presentation. When that occurs, we are not persuasive. Rather, we become obnoxious. That is what happened with Grisham. May we (and he) learn from his mistakes. Jesus is the focus of our Christmas celebration. Celebrate Him! But don’t turn Him into the Grinch. To our friends in Amarillo, Texas, on behalf of the majority of the Christian community, you have our apologies. Amarillo, have a wonderful Christmas!

Click here to see the video, courtesy of the Drudge Report. http://drudgetoday.com/v2/r?n=0&s=18&c=1&pn=Anonymous&u=http://www.theamericanmirror.com/video-pastor-heckles-kids-tx-mall-no-santa/

(c) December 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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.

5 Views Pertaining to the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus

This may seem like an odd topic to be discussing nearing the Christmas season. However, every major Christian holiday is coupled with drawn-out attacks pertaining to the historicity of the event being celebrated. The resurrection of Christ takes center stage in this regard. How do people view the historicity of the events within the pages of the Bible?

I have been reading a fantastic work by Alister McGrath called Christian Theology. On pages 309 through 313, McGrath discusses 5 ways that people during the past few centuries have evaluated the historicity of the miraculous biblical claims. The resurrection of Christ is the pivotal miracle as it most relates to the viability of Christianity.

The Enlightenment View: The Resurrection as a Non-event

First, there is the view held by individuals in the days of the Enlightenment.[1] Individuals during the days of the Enlightenment, as least those accepting the popular claims of the time, viewed history with great skepticism, especially if that historical event is rooted in the miraculous. David Hume claimed that any miraculous event was impossible to prove and impossible to believe because the event did not represent what was the normal operation. Anything that operated beyond the scope of those things that are normally observed could not be proven, and, therefore, could not be accepted as fact.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was more lenient than Hume concerning miracles. However, he still did not view the miraculous as something that could be demonstrated as history. Lessing noted,

 “I do not for one moment deny that Christ performed miracles. But since the truth of these miracles has completely ceased to be demonstrable by miracles happening in the present, they are not more than reports of miracles…I deny that they could and should bind me to have even the smallest faith in the other teachings of Jesus.”[2]

Thus, Lessing, like Hume, did not accept the miraculous as a historical event due to Lessing’s belief that miracles did not continue to occur. Thereby demonstrating that miracles hold no legitimate claim to history, Lessing felt that faith in the teachings of Christ was invalid. Lessing and the views of those in the days of the Enlightenment were extreme. A less critical view was held by Strauss.

The View of David F. Strauss: The Resurrection as a Mythical Event

David Friedrich Strauss, in his work Life of Jesus, notes the “central importance [of the resurrection] to the Christian faith.”[3] However, due to the Enlightenment criticism of the miraculous, the resurrection is best seen as a myth according to Strauss. Strauss believed that the resurrection was the result of the disciples’ “social conditioning and cultural outlook”[4] more than a recollection of a real, historical event. Thus, while Strauss accepted that the disciples believed in some form of resurrection, the idea was more an allegory than an event found in reality. Strauss’ views would be picked up and expanded by a man who served as a predecessor to the modern, liberal Christian outlook—Rudolf Bultmann.

The View of Rudolf Bultmann: The Resurrection as a Mental Event

Bultmann, like Strauss before him, believed that miracles were impossible to accept in a scientific age. Miracles were not acceptable to modern, scientific minds according to Bultmann. Unfortunately, many accept Bultmann’s cynical prognosis. Because of this, Bultmann thought that the church must de-mythologize the Bible to keep Christianity relevant for modern minds. Otherwise, Christianity would fade away in the halls of history. So what does Bultmann do with the resurrection, the pivotal event of the Christian faith?

Bultmann accepted the resurrection as a “mythical event, pure and simple.”[5] Bultmann denotes,

“The real Easter faith is faith in the word of preaching which brings illumination. If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord, since it was this faith which led to the apostolic preaching. The resurrection itself is not an event of past history.”[6]

In other words, Bultmann believed that the resurrection of Christ was not the literal bodily revivification that orthodox Christians accept. Rather, Bultmann thought that the resurrection of Christ was the continuation of the Christian message after Christ’s death. Taking Bultmann’s concept to its end, the body of Jesus still lay in a tomb. However, the message of the Christ continued. For Bultmann, that was the resurrection. Luckily, Bultmann’s beliefs did not represent all of Christianity. Karl Barth would legitimize the resurrection event where Bultmann and Strauss did not.

The View of Karl Barth: The Resurrection as a Faith Event

Karl Barth was amazed at the writings of Bultmann. Barth accepted the resurrection as a historical event. He emphasized the importance of an empty tomb, especially later in life. However, Barth did not place a lot of emphasis on the historicity of the resurrection event. Rather, he focused on the faith in the event which he thought was the emphasis of the early disciples. Barth did not so much question the historicity of the resurrection as much as he questioned the historical enterprise. Could anything be accurately demonstrated as historical? As McGrath notes, “Barth is left in what initially seems to be a highly vulnerable position. Concerned to defend the resurrection as an act in public history against Bultmann’s subjectivist approach, he is not prepared to allow that history to be critically studied.”[7] Another individual would take the historicity of the resurrection to another level—Wolfhart Pannenberg.

The View of Wolfhart Pannenberg: The Resurrection a Historical Event

Wolfhart Pannenberg accepted both the historicity of the resurrection event and the historicity of the events described in the Bible. Faith only makes sense if it is rooted in reality. Pannenberg writes,

“History is the most comprehensive horizon of Christian theology. All theological questions and answers have meaning only within the framework of the history which God has with humanity, and through humanity with the whole creation, directed towards a future which is hidden to the world, but which has already been revealed in Jesus Christ.”[8]

For Pannenberg, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historical event. Because it was a historical event, it is open to the scrutinies of historical research. Therefore, the historian researching the resurrection event should approach the event without preconceived biases against the miraculous. The historian must be neutral. So which of these approaches best works with the miraculous events of Christ and Scripture in general?

Conclusion

Bultmann and Strauss are children of the Enlightenment. The views of the Enlightenment, Strauss, and Bultmann all find themselves in some form of a Humean philosophical presupposition (that is, the idea that miracles cannot occur because they are aberrations to the norm—stemming from secular humanist David Hume). However, just because something does not ordinarily occur does not indicate that the event could never occur.

For instance, the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in over 100 years. People derived from the Cubs post-season performance that they would never win another World Series. Their presupposition was based upon the ordinary workings of the Chicago Cubs. Enter the 2016 Cubs team. The 2016 Cubs team defeated the Cleveland Indians in the 2016 World Series! Was their win a historical event? Absolutely! Had it normally happened? No.

Bultmann, Strauss, and the thinkers of the Enlightenment think either that God does not exist (e.g., Hume) or that God does not interact with the world in miraculous means (implied by Bultmann and Strauss). Therefore, their ideology is rooted in an anti-supernatural bias. For the record, Craig S. Keener has written a 2-volume work titled Miracles which reveals various modern day miracles performed in the name of Jesus. While miracles are not the norm, such an investigation divulges that they are not as uncommon as Humean thinkers suppose.

Karl Barth accepts the resurrection as a historical event. However, he exposes a critical weakness in his argument when claiming that such things cannot be demonstrated historically. Did the event truly happen? If so, then it stands to reason that the event actually occurred within space and time. If the event took place within space and time, then the event is historical. If the event is historical, then it can be historically scrutinized. Such an argument reveals the weakness in Barth’s view and the strength of Pannenberg’s.

I also take issue with Barth’s idea that the disciples only pleaded for faith in Christian adherents rather than acceptance of things taking place in history. Throughout the OT, one finds reminders of God’s deliverance of the people from the hands of Egypt. In addition, one finds reminders of the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Paul argues that “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).[9] Paul directed the attention of the Corinthians back to the reality of Christ’s historical resurrection. Much more could be said, but I have far extended the length of most of my articles. So, let us conclude by saying that Christ’s resurrection is a historical event. Therefore, it should be possible to examine the resurrection from a historical perspective. The same is true for most miracles in the Bible.

 

© December 5, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] The Enlightenment is a period lasting from the 17th and 18th century found mainly in Europe. The period focused on importance of human reason, claiming that human reason could explain all things. Miracles and the sort were viewed with great skepticism. David Hume, the great secular humanist, lived in this period.

[2] Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Uber den Beweis des Geistes und der Kraft,” in Gotthold Ephraim Lessings samtlichen Scrhriften, vol. 13, Karl Lachmann, ed (Berlin: Goschen’sche Verlagshandlung, 1897), 4-8, 20.

[3] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 5th ed (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackburn, 2011), 310.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Rudolf Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in Basic Questions in Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm, trans (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

[6] Ibid.

[7] McGrath, 312.

[8] Wolfhart Pannenberg, “Redemptive Event and History,” in Basic Questions of Theology, vol. 1, George Kehm (London: SCM Press, 1970), 15.

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

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).

Reasons Why One Should Accept the Traditional Authorship of the Gospels

The Four Gospels are the primary documents that describe the life and teachings of Jesus. Traditionally since the earliest times of the church, the Evangelists[1] have been ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Modern critical scholarship has been more critical of the traditional authors. Many scholars will claim either that the Gospels were pieced together by various writers, or that the writings were pseudonymous but given the names of the Four Evangelists to propel their apostolic authority.

Despite the cynicism of critical scholarship, good reasons exist to hold to the traditional view of authorship for the four canonical Gospels (that is, that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Four Evangelists). This article will provide five such reasons.

 Internal Evidence of Authorship.

 Within the four Gospels, one will find internal evidence of authorship. That is, the Gospels give clues who the writers were within the text itself. For instance, Matthew was a tax collector who was called by Jesus while sitting in the tax collector’s booth. The First Gospel notes that “As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at a tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he rose and followed him” (Matthew 9:9).[2] Matthew’s Gospel goes into more detail on his calling (Matthew is called Levi in the other Gospels). Additionally, the Gospel provides a great deal of monetary details. Even if Matthew did borrow material from Mark’s Gospel (which would make sense since Mark obtained his information from Simon Peter), there is no reason to deny Matthean authorship to the First Gospel.

Mark’s Gospel, who wrote down the words of Simon Peter, provides internal evidence that one who closely knew Simon Peter wrote the Second Gospel. Peter’s life experiences with Jesus is the prime focus of the Second Gospel.

Luke writes a detailed biography of Jesus in the Third Gospel. Luke was not an eyewitness as admitted in the opening verses of the Gospel. The detail and level of complexity in the Greek validates that a highly-educated man wrote the Third Gospel. Luke was a physician. Thus, it stands to reason that Luke was the author of the Third Gospel.

The Fourth Gospel provides great internal evidence that John the apostle wrote (or at least dictated to another) the text. Strewn throughout the text, one will find the beloved disciple passages. The Fourth Gospel indicates that the author was an apostle (1:14; 2:11; 19:35), one of the Twelve Disciples (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:20), and John the son of Zebedee is associated as the beloved disciple who accompanies Peter (13:23-24; 18:15-16; 20:2-9; 21:2-23). The evidence is so strong for Johannine authorship that I feel like I am taking crazy pills when someone denies that John wrote the Fourth Gospel.

External Evidence of Authorship.

External evidence for traditional authorship is quite strong. The early church unanimously accepted traditional authorship for the Four Gospels. Matthew is accredited with the First Gospel by Papias, bishop of Hieropolis (c. A.D. 120) and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (c. A.D. 175). John Mark is accredited with the Second Gospel, Luke is credited with the Third, and John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Papias and preserved by Eusebius of Caesarea (A.D. 260-340).[3] In addition, John is ascribed with the Fourth Gospel by Irenaeus in his work Against Heresies.[4] The church unanimously accepted Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as the authors. If one is to claim otherwise, there should be a great deal of evidence.[5] No such evidence exists outside of modern skepticism.

Expense of Documents.

 Interestingly enough, documents the size of the Gospels were quite expensive in antiquity. John Walton and Craig Keener note the following:

  “Writing material was expensive; for example, a copy of the Gospel of Mark may have required the equivalent early twenty-first-century buying power of $1000-$2000 U.S…Works as large as these were major literary undertakings, requiring so much papyrus that in terms of early twenty-first century buying power the larger Gospels may have been worth thousands of dollars of U.S. dollars…Normally in antiquity readers knew who produced such major works, whether by information on the outside of the scroll or by knowledge circulated only by word of mouth. In a work this size [speaking of the Gospels, mine], authorship would be one of the last details forgotten.”[6]

If Mark is noted to have cost around $2000, then larger works like Matthew, Luke/Acts, and John were probably around $4000 (Luke and Acts could have been $6000 a piece). This would have been a major undertaking. No one is going to forget the writers of the Gospels in the early church, especially if the early leaders request the works. It should be rightfully assumed that the church must have raised the funds in order to have the canonical Gospels written.

Early Manuscript Attestation.

 It has been noted that nearly all early manuscripts would have the authors name written on the first page or the exterior of the text (see footnote #6). Thus, the authors’ names would have followed the text. There are reasons to believe that the names were associated with early manuscripts. Thus, here is another reason to hold to traditional authorship.

Oddity of the Four Writers.

 It seems somewhat bizarre that if the early church were going to make up four writers for the Gospels that the four writers that we were given were chosen. John the apostle would make sense as he was one of the inner circle disciples. Yet, John did not hold the prominence of a Simon Peter or James. Even more bizarre is the choice of Mark. Mark is an odd choice as he does not appear in the Gospel story, except for a possible odd inclusion in Mark 14:51-52. If John Mark had nothing to do with the Gospel and only served as an amanuensis, why not attribute the Gospel to Peter? The acknowledgement of Mark verifies the early church’s focus on getting the information correct.

Luke is an oddity also. For one thing, Luke was not an eyewitness to the events of Jesus’ life. So, why have Luke as the author if one is merely passing authority onward? Second, it is possible that Luke could have been a Gentile, or at least half-Gentile. If this were the case, it makes it even more bizarre that the church would invent Luke as the writer of the Third Gospel.

Lastly, Matthew is an extremely bizarre choice. “Wait!,” one may postulate, “wasn’t Matthew one of the apostles? Would that not make his claim all the more probable if the church were to invent an author?” Not really. Matthew was a tax-collector. Tax-collectors were hated in ancient times. Tax-collectors were considered the lowest of the low. In other words, they are loved as much now as they were back then. Tax-collectors were notoriously known for charging far more than what the government required so that they could pocket the additional revenue. Furthermore, Matthew is a fairly obscure disciple. He is not one of the inner circle disciples.[7] If the church were to invent an author for the First Gospel, why not accredit it with James or Andrew? Why Matthew, an obscure disciple with a former hated occupation?

Conclusion

The early claim that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the Evangelists only make sense if in fact they were the writers of the Four Gospels. It is possible that Matthew, Luke, and John dictated their Gospels to appointed disciples (particularly John). Well and good. But that does not demerit the claim that they were the authors. If a person is going to dismiss early testimony to the authorship of the Gospels, that person had better possess strong reasons to overturn such a claim. While critical scholars have every right to believe as they wish, the data does not support their claim. This article has demonstrated five strong reasons to hold to the traditional authorship of the Four Gospels. While I appreciate the works of critical scholarship, the data strongly supports the claims of the early church. Until it can be proven otherwise, this writer will continue to adhere to the testimony of the early church as it pertains to the identity of the four canonical Evangelists.

 

© November 14, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Notes

[1] That is, the authors of the Four Gospels.

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

[3] See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.15.1-2; 3.39.14-16.

[4] See Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.1.2.

[5] To the degree of evidence needed to overturn a touchdown in the NFL.

[6] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, “Introduction to the Gospels and Acts,” NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1603.

[7] That being Peter, James, John, and perhaps Andrew.

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.

Is 1 Peter 3:15 Accurately Used as an Apologetic Text?

Often at BellatorChristi.com, I receive comments to which I try to respond as quickly as possible. This past weekend was no exception. For most comments, the responses I attempt to leave suffice for the question or comment presented. However, this weekend a commenter left a response that baffled me to my core. He challenged apologists in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a call to do apologetics. At face value, it has always appeared to me that 1 Peter 3:15 was an apologetic text. For heaven’s sake, if Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and other heavy hitters in the apologetics world used this text in support for the use of Christian apologetics, one would assume that the text holds some merit. Nevertheless, I have learned never to assume anything. Thus, I pose this question on today’s blog; are apologists using 1 Peter 3:15 contextually accurate as a call to do Christian apologetics?

While I was somewhat anxious scrutinizing the use of the text—does anyone really want to say that the entire apologetics world is wrong—my anxieties were quickly dispelled when reading the text of 1 Peter 3:15 in its appropriate context. I found quite speedily that the text has been used appropriately much to the chagrin of my opposing critic. Why? When one determines the meaning of a text in relation to the context of the passage, one needs to look at the text in relation to the message of the book it is in; the surrounding chapters, and the context of the statement itself. Before beginning the process, let’s first see what the text in question states. Peter writes, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).[1]

Context of the book argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

What is the message of 1 Peter as it pertains to 1 Peter 3:15? The apostle Simon Peter writes this letter to the provinces in Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1-2) during the 60s.[2] For the Christians in the area, the 60s were a time of great hostility. Not only did Jewish groups ostracize the early believers, the Roman imperial government was in the process of turning up the heat on them as they were thought to be “‘atheists’ (for rejecting the gods), ‘cannibals’ (for eating Jesus’ ‘body’ and drinking his ‘blood’) and incestuous (for statements like ‘I love you, brother’ or ‘I love you, sister’).”[3] Obviously, any casual student of the Bible, much more a serious one, will know that these accusations were ungrounded and rooted in a false understanding of the Christian faith. Thus, the ancient Christian would need to hold a good apologetic in order to defend his or her faith against the false indictments posed against them in popular society, both eccelesiastically (Jewish opposition in the synagogue) and governmentally (Roman opposition in the courts). Therefore, 1 Peter 3:15 holds an apologetic thrust when held against the context of the book. But what about 1 Peter chapter 3? Is it apologetic-oriented?

Context of the surrounding chapters argue for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

The first section of 1 Peter 3 continues the thought begun in 1 Peter 2:11. Peter instructs the churches to live godly lives in the pagan society in which they live. Peter notes that they are to “as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Living in the pagan culture as they were, the Christians were going to have more temptations than they would had they lived in Jerusalem or Capernaum. Peter argues that their very lifestyles were to be an apologetic argument for the faith. Peter notes that the believers were to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). 1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus, as will be examined in the next section. In 1 Peter 4, Peter again picks up the topic of living for God and the reality that the Christian would most likely suffer for their faith (1 Peter 4:12-19).

Context of the pericope argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus from living well in the face of pagan opposition (1 Peter 2:11-3:7) to suffering well in the midst of persecution; a topic picked up again in chapter 4. It is in this pericope that the text in question is found. Peter instructs the believers that in Asia Minor that they can anticipate threats. However, the believers were not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14). Why were they not to fear? They should not fear because they had truth on their side. Peter redirects the believer’s focus to the reason that they were believers in the first place—the truth of Christ. It is here that 1 Peter 3:15-16 is given. The believers could face opposition and give a well-reasoned and rational defense for their faith because of the truthfulness of the faith. However, the believers were to provide the reason (Gk “apologia,” also translated “defense” [ESV]) for their faith but with the previously instructed good behavior and gentleness. Barker and Kohlenberger note that “Christian hope is so real and distinctive that non-Christians are puzzled about it and ask for a ‘reason’ (Gk 3364). The type of questioning could be either official interrogations by the governmental authorities (cf. Ac 25:16; 26:2; 2 Ti 4:16) or informal questioning.”[4] The believers were to have orthodoxy (“right belief”) an orthopraxy (“right conduct”) as part of their apologetic argumentation.

Conclusion

From the three points observed (the context of the book, the surrounding chapters, and the text itself), one can safely say that apologists are correct in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a proof-text for the use of apologetics. Modern Christians find themselves in a similar situation as the recipients of Peter’s first letter in Asia Minor. For our brothers and sisters in places of great persecution, 1 Peter speaks to them to continue to stand strong despite the woes they face. The rewards will be greater in heaven for those who have suffered martyrdom than for those of us who do not have to live with the threat of physical harm. However, for Western Christians, 1 Peter has a lot to say, as well. Western Christians find that pressures against them for holding their Christian faith are increasing at an alarming rate. A society which once adhered to the principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly crumbling into an abysmal moral chaos. Like the believers of old, modern Christians must stand firm, honoring Christ as Lord, being quickly ready to provide a defense (an apologetic) for the hope that one holds. 1 Peter 3:15 strongly advocates the use of Christian apologetics. Modern Christians would do well to listen to Simon Peter’s appeal.

© October 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

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

[2] I am a traditionalist in the sense that I hold to the early church’s understanding of who wrote the New Testament texts. I accept that John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel and the letters attributed to him. I, in turn, accept that Simon Peter wrote the letters that bear his name.

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2177-2178.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, New Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1053.

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.

The Debate on Biblical Authority: Mohler vs. Stanley

Debates are often good. What?!? Yes, I reiterate, debates are good. Disagreements, when handled in a godly, civil fashion, can lead to a furtherance of learning and understanding. No one is perhaps better at debating than Baptists…although some Baptist debates lose their godliness and certainly their civility. In the theological world, a debate has been ensuing between Andy Stanley and Dr. R. Albert (Al) Mohler. Stanley is the son of the great Dr. Charles Stanley (pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta) and is senior pastor of North Point Community Church also in Atlanta. Dr. Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lexington, Kentucky. The debate surrounds the comments made by Stanley in his message “The Bible Told Me So” (see link below). Stanley essentially states that the Bible is not the supreme authority–Christ is. He further goes on to note that if we are to reach individuals in this post-Christian culture, we must appeal to the evidential sources of Christianity and not the Bible alone (Stanley 2016, NorthPoint.org).

Mohler responds to Stanley’s message with a warning. He claims that another individual sought to do what Stanley is supposedly doing. That person is Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of modern theological liberalism. Schleiermacher, says Mohler, sought to “salvage spiritual and moral value out of Christianity while jettisoning its troublesome doctrinal claims, supernatural structure, and dependence upon the Bible. He was certain that his strategy would ‘save’ Christianity from irrelevance” (Mohler 2016, albertmohler.com).[1] Who is right? Well, without trying to straddle the fence, I do believe that both individuals bring important truths to the table.[2] Mohler and Stanley are correct in at least three areas.

mohler

Mohler is right about the authority of Scripture as it relates to the Christian’s life (2 Timothy 3:16).

If there is a serious problem plaguing the modern church, it is the rise of biblical illiteracy. Biblical illiteracy is not going to be solved by avoiding the Bible. In fact, Christian leaders must engage the Bible even more in their messages and lessons. Quick anecdotes and savvy punchlines will not improve the lack of biblical knowledge in our day. It will take in-depth expository messages to turn the tide. Mohler’s high view of Scripture is justified. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).[3] Paul was addressing the Old Testament Scriptures (also known as the Hebrew Bible). But the New Testament writings would quickly assume the same status. Paul writes to Timothy, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages’” (1 Timothy 5:18). The first quote comes from Deuteronomy 25:4. But the second quote is especially interesting. Paul quotes directly from Jesus as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. Notice that Paul says “For the Scripture says.” Paul elevated the Gospels to the same status as the Hebrew Bible. Peter also elevates the epistles of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15-16 when the aged apostle quips, “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Note here again that the New Testament writings are elevated to the status of Scripture. Thus, Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of Scriptural exposition taking place in many modern churches. It is the Word of God that will bring a change in the lives of believers.

Mohler is right about the inspiration of Scripture as it relates to the final revelation of God (Titus 1:2).

I also share Mohler’s view of Scripture. I hold to the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. The logic makes sense. Paul reminds Titus, “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). God does not lie. It is not that God chooses not to lie. God cannot lie if He is absolutely holy. With this logic in place, it stands to reason that God cannot speak falsehood. Giving that the Bible is the revelation of God, then it only stands to reason that the Bible is true and cannot be false. Thus, a believer should place a high value on the written words given by God. I still remember, and will never forget, the advice given to me when I first entered the ministry. My mentors would say, “If you keep your messages between the covers of Genesis and Revelation, you’re on solid ground. If you go beyond these covers, you’re on your own.” I agree wholeheartedly.

Mohler is right about the safeguard that comes with a high view of Scripture.

I also share Mohler’s concern with the erosion that comes when the safeguard of Scripture is removed. Schleiermacher’s well-intended liberalism, which sought to spare Christianity from the flood of doubt coming its way from the times, led to one Rudolf Bultmann. Bultmann, a German theologian, sought to de-mythologize the Bible by removing all its miraculous content. Bultmann, who was undoubtedly influenced by Humean philosophy,[4] led a movement that would ultimately give rise to such groups as the Jesus Seminar and the like. Liberal theology has led to the doubts of many. Liberal theology has not led to the strengthening nor the salvation of Christianity. In contrast, it has led to many towards atheism and agnosticism. Mohler is right to be concerned with the lack of biblical exposition in modern churches.

While Mohler is right on several points, I find myself in agreement with some of what Stanley says as well. I agree with Stanley on three points.

andy-stanley

Stanley is right about the authority of the Christian tradition as it relates to the final apologetic (1 Corinthians 15:3-9).

Stanley points to the authority of the pre-New Testament traditions and sources. I am surprised that Mohler takes issue with Stanley on this point. The Bible’s authenticity is strengthened by the strong evidence relating to these traditions, creeds, and formulae found in the pages of the New Testament. Perhaps the most important of all these early traditions is that which is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9. Here, Paul relates to the Corinthian church what he had received a few years after Christ arose from the dead. Paul writes, “For what I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:3-7).

The Bible does not hold authority because it is the Bible. The Bible holds authority because it is the truth. The believer should not worry. Christianity is an evidential faith. Christianity has been tested and it stands on its own. Why? It is because Christ literally rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection is not a fanciful wish or desire. Christ’s resurrection is reality.

Stanley is right about the primacy of Christ above all else (Colossians 1:15ff).

I also agree with Stanley that we must worship Christ and not the Bible. The reason the Bible is the Word of God is because of God Himself. Thus, the Bible points us to the reality of the triune God. Paul, writing to the church of Colossae, notes that Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:15-16a). While we must place great emphasis on the Bible, we cannot allow the Bible to itself become an idol. Our worship is of the risen Christ Jesus.

Stanley is right about the need to appeal to evidence to reach the current generation.

I also find myself in agreement with Stanley in the need to provide evidence for the post-Christian generation which we are trying to reach. Most people are not going to listen to what we say about the Bible until they know that there are reasons to accept the Bible as an authentic document. Apologetics is necessary to do evangelism in modern times. William Lane Craig has noted on his podcast, Reasonable Faith, that we are amid an exciting time. An apologetic renaissance has begun. This renaissance is not something to fear. Rather, it is something that Christians, including Mohler, should embrace. This website has noted the resistance that the modern church has held against apologetics, which is quite bizarre.

So, what can one draw from this debate? I think the following conclusion can be made:

Mohler is right in his strong view of Scripture and Stanley is right in his strong view on apologetics: therefore, the appropriate view consists of a blending of both.

Let me say, I respect both Al Mohler and Andy Stanley. Both have contributed greatly to the kingdom of God. However, I think Mohler and Stanley are both guilty of accepting an “either/or” mentality when they should accept a “both/and” approach to this issue. Yes, the Christian should preach and teach the truths found in the Bible. I think Stanley is guilty of taking too low a view of Scripture. 

Yes, the Christian should engage the evidences and promote apologetics. I think Mohler has taken too high a view of Scripture, bordering on the level of fideism.[5] Quite honestly, the modern preacher should seek to find a balance between Mohler and Stanley’s view. The Christian leader would do well to wholeheartedly focus on the truths of God’s Word, discipling people in the truths of the Scripture, while also standing ready to provide evidence for the faith one holds (1 Peter 3:15). Theology and apologetics are two sides of the very same coin. Both are necessary. Both should be sought. Both should be accepted.

© October 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

McKnight, Scot. “In the Beginning: The Gospel—Al Mohler vs. Andy Stanley.” Jesus Creed (October 3, 2016). http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2016/10/03/in-the-beginning-the-gospel/?platform=hootsuite.

Mohler, R. Albert. “For the Bible Tells Me So: Biblical Authority Denied…Again.” AlbertMohler.com (September 26, 2016). http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/09/26/bible-tells-biblical-authority-denied/.

Stanley, Andy. “Why ‘the Bible Says So’ Is Not Enough Anymore.” Outreach Magazine (September 30, 2016). http://www.outreachmagazine.com/features/19900-the-bible-says-so.html/3.

Stanley, Andy. “The Bible Told Me So.” North Point.org (August 28, 2016). http://northpoint.org/messages/who-needs-god/the-bible-told-me-so/.

Notes

[1] For full fairness on this topic and the authors involved, the links to all the writings and resources concerning this debate are posted in the “Sources Cited” section of the article.

[2] In full disclosure, I am a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention. Even though Mohler is part of the SBC and Stanley has connections to the SBC, I seek to examine the points of view from both participants in this debate.

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

[4] Humean philosophy comes from the atheist philosopher David Hume who rejected the miraculous and argued that it was impossible for the miraculous to take place. Furthermore, it assumed that it was impossible to prove that a miraculous event took place in history.

[5] Fideism is the view that faith alone is necessary without any evidence whatsoever. In many ways, fideism is a blind faith and ends up committing a circular reasoning fallacy.

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.