Combating Independence Day Anxieties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Combat Independence Day anxieties by acknowledging future victory.

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

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

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

© July 3, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

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

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

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

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

Can a Loving, Powerful God Exist With a World that is so Evil?

One of the greatest objections to theistic religions, especially Christianity, is the inherent problem of evil. The question is asked, “How could a loving, powerful God allow evil to exist?” Some would answer that God is loving, but not really all-powerful. Thus, such a person would answer that God loves, but is unable to stop evil from occurring. However, this cannot be an accurate biblical answer as the Bible proclaims God as an omnipotent God. Job said to God, “I know that You can do anything and no plan of Yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2). In Revelation, God says “I am the Alpha and Omega…the One who is, who was, and who is coming, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8). Others would claim that God is powerful, but unloving; unconcerned with the woes of humanity. But biblically, such a theory could not be supported. God is said to be the embodiment of love. John writes in 1 John 4:8, “θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν.”[1] Love is an attribute of God. Thus, God is concerned about humanity because it is in His nature to love. So how does one find a working answer to this problem? It is believed that an answer is found in the story of Joseph. Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery. What was a horrible act was turned on its head in the end. Joseph was elevated to a high position in Egypt and eventually helped save his family. Joseph said to his brothers, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Genesis 50:19-20). In this writer’s opinion, three fundamental positions are presented from Joseph’s statement. It will be the intent of this article to argue that God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence are compatible in a world of evil if God works evil things for good. In order to accomplish this, the article will examine the foreknowledge of God, God’s permissive will in allowing free evil acts, and the sovereign control of God in order to work things for good.

God Knows All That Would Happen

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of God to fathom is God’s involvement in time. It is agreed with William Lane Craig that “given the reality of tense and temporal becoming, the most plausible construal of divine eternity is that God is timeless without creation and temporal since creation.”[2] Yet, one would still wonder whether God is completely temporal at this moment since God is both transcendent and immanent in creation. Nonetheless, God holds knowledge of things that will take place with certainty. For instance, God said to Jeremiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). Paul presents the same idea in Romans when he posits concerning Jacob and Esau that “though her sons had not been born yet or done anything good or bad, so that God’s purpose according to election might stand—not from works but from the One who calls—she was told: The older will serve the younger” (Romans 9:11-12). These passages demonstrate that God had perfect knowledge of what was to come. If this is true, then is able to work things for a certain end. Therefore, it is completely reasonable to posit that God is a transcendent, omniscient entity that knows all things past, present, and future. With the case of Joseph, God knew all the events that would take place in order to bring about a certain end.

God Allowed Sin to Take Place but Did not Initiate the Sin

Being that God possesses foreknowledge of individuals and events, God knows the evil that would take place. However, God does not personally perform acts of evil because God is holy. Feinberg is correct when postulating that “God didn’t create us with an inclination toward sin, but even Adam in ideal surroundings and circumstances sinned.”[3] The reason that Adam chose to sin is because of the free will that God granted to Adam. Theologically, free will is an area of debate. How much freedom does the human actually possess? Yet, most, if not all, theological systems would at least concede that humans have the responsibility to make decisions, whether good or bad. God would know that such decisions were to be made before they were made. This freedom to make decisions comes with consequences. Jerry Walls states that “When God created beings with free will, he created the possibility of hell.[4] Even with this human freedom, God has sovereign control. The psalmist writes, “Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, Lord” (Psalm 139:4). Thus even a person’s free decisions are under the sovereign knowledge of God. If so, then nothing occurs beyond the power and knowledge of God. Evil may occur, but it is not directly brought forth by God.

God Works so that the Evil Brings Forth a Greater Good

Paul concisely posits that “all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul’s beautiful theological treatise demonstrates that while evil may transpire, God is working all things towards a greater good. Joseph’s story is an example of God’s ability to transform horrible events into great blessings. Perhaps the greatest example of this concept is found in the death of Christ. Christ death brought about the salvation of countless individuals. Therefore, a loving, powerful God may have reasons for allowing evil to exist.

Jesus Tempted

Conclusion

This article has demonstrated that it is possible for a loving, powerful God to coexist with the allowance of evil in the world. Like Joseph realized, modern Christians need to understand that bad things that occur individually and/or corporately do not prove that God does not exist. Neither do bad things indicate the lack of love that God holds for an individual. Rather, one should understand that God may allow bad things to transpire to bring forth a greater good. The Christian leader need not avoid the problem of evil. In fact, when the Christian leader and theologian rightly handle the problem of evil, many Christians will be blessed in knowing that the bad things that they face may have good purposes in the end. In addition, the believer can also take comfort in knowing that one day this loving, powerful God will vanquish evil and quarantine it for eternity.

Note: This work represents the academic work of Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this article have been submitted to the author’s university. Any attempt to improperly use the information found within this article for academic papers without proper citation may result in charges of plagiarism.

 Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009.

Craig, William Lane. Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 241).

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

Holmes, Michael W. The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition. Lexham Press, 2010.

Walls, Jerry L. “How Could God Create Hell.” In God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. Edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Michael W. Holmes, The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (Lexham Press, 2010), 1 John 4:8.

[2] William Lane Craig, Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 241).

[3] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 790.

[4] Jerry L. Walls, “How Could God Create Hell,” in God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, ed (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 162.

The Theological Problems with Open Theism

The current church finds itself in the midst of what is termed the postmodern era. John S. Feinberg states that the “differences between modern and postmodern epistemology are substantial, and they create major differences of approach to topics such as knowledge, truth, and objectivity.”[1] Dave Griffin says that the postmodern worldview “overcomes the modern worldview through an anti-worldview: it deconstructs or eliminates the ingredients necessary for a worldview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth as correspondence.”[2] Feinberg rightly said that modern theologies tend to either “deify man or humanize God.”[3] A recent theological system, called Open Theism, is an example of a worldview that seeks to demerit God to the level of a human.

sorry_055

Open Theists believe that the “future is ‘open’ not only for us but also for God—’open’ because God has chosen not to control the decisions made by free rational creatures.”[4] While this aspect may not be controversial to some, the real issue is found in that Open Theists “conclude that God’s foreknowledge is limited…God does not know in advance what the outcome of any cooperatively produced effects will be.”[5] Open Theists use a few Old Testament passages to defend their case. First, God is said to have been “sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”[6] While the verse indicates God’s emotional state, it says nothing about God’s decision-making abilities or God’s cognitive abilities. For instance, K. A. Mathews writes,

The tension between these characterizations of God partly lies in the diverse contexts in which “grieve/relent” occurs in the Bible. Genesis 6:6–7 is describing the emotional anguish of God; our verse does not present an abstract statement about God’s decision making. This would be altogether out of place for the intention of the passage, which depicts God as wronged by the presumptuous sin of humanity. Moreover, the parameters of this verse have been dictated by the author’s intention to imitate 5:29 with its distinctive vocabulary and mood. This is shown especially by the subsequent clause, where it describes God’s heart as “filled with pain” (yitʿaṣṣēb). This further echoes the painful consequences of human sin in the garden, where the cognate nouns narrate the “painful toil” the man and woman will endure (3:16–17; 5:29).[7]

Thus, the Open Theist misuses the text to appropriate their views of God’s limited prescience when in fact the text is better associated with God’s personal relationship with humanity.

Jonah

A second passage is used to defend the Open Theist interpretation. In Jonah 3:10, one finds that “God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He has said that He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.”[8] The Open Theist would claim that this text definitely demonstrates that God changes His mind and, thus, does not know future events. However, this is certainly not so. The text does not indicate that God did not know that the Ninevites would repent; only that God changed the direction of their future from that of judgment to that of mercy. But the entire book of Jonah seems to indicate that God knew that this would be their fate from the beginning. Why else would God have gone to such great lengths to make sure that the people heard the message from the prophet Jonah? Therefore, just because God changed the future direction of the people from judgment to mercy does not weigh in on God’s prescience in the least. In fact, that God knew their future and where they were headed indicates that God knew, at least in part, their future destiny. The Ninevites experienced a transfer from judgment to mercy. In fact, Christians also benefit from this God’s decision to transfer them from judgment to mercy.

Illustration not original to the author. All rights reserved to the respected creator.
Illustration not original to the author. All rights reserved to the respected creator.

While the Open Theist manipulates texts to bring forth their beliefs, far more passages of Scripture indicate openly and boldly the prescience, or foreknowledge, of God. For instance, David writes that “there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.”[9] Paul writes even more explicitly that “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be called the firstborn among many brethren.”[10] God told Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”[11] Although many more texts exist that demonstrates God’s foreknowledge, one has a strong case for divine foreknowledge from these three texts alone.

The modern church needs to be taught biblical systematic theology. By understanding the biblical teachings of God’s being, God’s essence, God’s non-moral and moral attributes; the church will not fall for the postmodern ideologies and theologies that currently exist. In fact, the church will grow to appreciate the vastness of God’s knowledge and power. Such knowledge will bring comfort and encouragement when nothing else can, because the biblical church will understand that the future belongs to God.

Note: This article represents the academic work of the author. Its contents have been submitted to a university. Any attempt to improperly use the information in papers, without proper citation, may result in charges of plagiarism.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New King James Version. Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 1982.

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

Griffin, David. “Introduction to SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought.” In Griffin, Beardslee, and Holland. Varities of Postmodern Theology. In John S. Feinberg. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

McCormack, Bruce L. “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism.” In Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives. Edited by Bruce L. McCormack. Grand Rapids, Scotland: Baker, Rutherford House, 2008.

Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

 ____________________________________________________________

Footnotes

[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 96.

[2] David Griffin, “Introduction to SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought,” in Griffin, Beardslee, and Holland, Varities of Postmodern Theology, xii, in John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 95.

[3] Feinberg, 83.

[4] Bruce L. McCormack, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, Bruce L. McCormack, ed (Grand Rapids, Scotland: Baker, Rutherford House, 2008), 190.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Genesis 6:6.

[7] K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 342.

[8] Jonah 3:10.

[9] Psalm 139:4.

[10] Romans 8:28-29.

[11] Jeremiah 1:5.