Saturday, 30 August 2008

God's sovereignty and glory

Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God's glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God's glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

I don't think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God's omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don't think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God's sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don't think any have been created specifically for destruction. Neither are we created for redemption; rather for fellowship. Because of Adam's choice we become estranged. God's grace gives us a possible path back. Those who continually reject God's drawing are handed over to destruction. They become unredeemable* objects of wrath whom God prepares for destruction based on our rejection of him.

It is theoretically possible that every person could choose God.

God does seek his own glory, but the Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation. Why? Because if we choose obedience and become objects of mercy, God gains even more glory.

God is glorified when he destroys the wicked.

God is glorified more when he shows mercy to the repentant wicked.

What of Romans 9?
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called,...
It is not that God creates beings solely so they can be destroyed and they have no choice to escape that destination. Rather they have insisted on wickedness, they have rejected God's offer of mercy, therefore they are prepared for destruction. Given they are not redeemable, God uses them to maximise his glory in the view of the vessels of God's mercy. God uses a bad situation for good.

If Calvinism was correct about God's sovereignty then he would maximise his glory by saving everyone. That would bring him more glory than damning some.

*We are children of wrath because we are fallen (Ephesians 2:3). If we reject God to the point we are not redeemable then we are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

Friday, 29 August 2008

Mark Driscoll interviews Wayne Grudem

I enjoy Wayne Grudem's writing. Recently Pastor Mark Driscoll meet Grudem and asked him about which doctrines he thought Christian leaders should study in their preparation for the future. Grudem's initial response was Scripture and authority.
[Grudem] said that he sees authority as a pervasive problem in our culture. As we talked, it became clear that what he meant is that people profess to be Christians yet refuse to submit to God’s authority, including Scripture, and people God has ordained to be in loving authority, such as godly parents and pastors.
Grudem is also praying about writing further books and on which topics. The options being ethics, global poverty, and government. These are important issues and if God has given Grudem significant insight into these subjects then some good books may be forthcoming. He desires prayer for wisdom about whether to write them and in which order.

He has previously written a well regarded systematic theology and much material on gender roles in Christendom. Several of his books are free for download:

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Printing solar panels

Nanosolar have invented solar panels that are produced by printing ink onto them.
Printing is a simple, fast, and robust coating process that in particular eliminates the need for expensive high-vacuum chambers and the kinds of high-vacuum based deposition techniques from industries where there’s a lot more $/sqm available for competitive manufacturing cost.
The article mentions a new milestone in production output (1 gigawatt per year) and the possibility of increasing printing speed.

Meanwhile, Australian PhD student Nicole Kuepper has won an award for developing solar cells that can be produced at low temperature and with cheap materials such as aluminium and nail polish (query acetone). She has developed
a revolutionary solar cell that can be manufactured at low temperatures using everyday items like a pizza oven, nail polish and an inkjet printer.
Solar power is becoming increasingly viable. Cheap solar is around the corner.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Free will and determinism, a parallel in literature?

I have argued that God does not ordain evil and raised the question: How can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin, yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life?

Some have claimed that there is a parallel in fiction. The author is parallel to God and the characters are parallel to created persons.

The problem with this analogy is that it is back to front. Fictional characters are not real. They are constructs of the author that do not exist in reality. They have no will of their own. If a character is murdered in a novel we don’t think of book author as evil, even though the murder solely originated in the mind of the author, because no one actually dies. We think of the fictional murderer as evil because we carry the fictional back over to reality. Book characters are not truly evil, they are fictional. But their behaviour as it corresponds to reality is recognised as evil.

The book analogy fails because we have been created with choice. We can murder or not murder (characters do not have this choice). It may be argued that this response is begging the question and the counter claim put forward that the book analogy is exact, we do not have a choice. If we have no choice then none of our actions are sinful. We are all doing the will of our creator. We are neither righteous nor evil.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

If God sends evil spirits does he cause evil?

In response to my post, "Does God ordain evil" Michael asks if I care to comment on 3 passages. Presumably he thinks these contradict my proposal.

Firstly I would say that there are some passages of Scripture that may appear to favour 1 view over another. If this is the case then much consideration should be given to that view. However Scripture is a unified whole, and an alternative interpretation of a passage that is both valid and more in line with other Scripture is to be preferred.

The passages Michael mentions are:
And God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem, and the leaders of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech, (Judges 9)
Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him. And Saul's servants said to him, "Behold now, a harmful spirit from God is tormenting you. Let our lord now command your servants who are before you to seek out a man who is skillful in playing the lyre, and when the harmful spirit from God is upon you, he will play it, and you will be well." (1 Samuel 16)
And Micaiah said, "Therefore hear the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing beside him on his right hand and on his left; and the LORD said, 'Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the LORD, saying, 'I will entice him.' And the LORD said to him, 'By what means?' And he said, 'I will go out, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And he said, 'You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go out and do so.' Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has declared disaster for you." (1 Kings 22)
Michael could have also suggested this verse,
I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45 KJV)
There are at least 3 issues that are relevant here.

The first is that God is able to use wicked men (or wicked beings) for his own purposes. Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem were both deceptive. They had made wicked choices. That God allows or even sends an evil spirit to them is not saying that God willed the spirit reject him in the earlier celestial rebellion. There is no indication that demons are able to be redeemed but that does not prevent God from using them in his dealings with men. Similar could be said for the situations involving Saul and Zedekiah (whom Micaiah rebuked).

The second issue is that Scripture attributes to God things that he allows (presumably when they accord with his desires) even if the instigator is other than God. Because God has the power to do or prevent anything he is rightly seen as sovereign. This means that we can appeal to God in our situation. We can ask God why we are in some situation even if God did not cause the situation. This is because God has the power to prevent it. This does not necessarily make our appeal valid, but we can make this appeal. Satan oppressed Job, but could only do so with God's permission, and Job's response to his wife was,
"Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2)
Likewise when David held a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles attributes this to Satan but 2 Samuel mentions that God intended on judging Israel for their sin. Satan has intentions for evil against the nation of Israel just as he had against Job. In this situation it suited the purposes God otherwise had—judgment on Israel—and thus God allowed Satan to act out Satan's intentions.

Thus far the assumption is that the evil spirit in these passages was an unclean spirit, ie. demon. This is the case with Satan and a case could be made for the evil and lying spirits in the 3 passages Michael quoted. This, however, is not a given, which leads us to the third issue: what does "evil" mean?

In the Judges passage "evil" is the word ra' (07451), as is the word "harmful" in the Samuel passage. Lying is sheqer (08267) in the Kings passage. "Evil" in Isaiah and Job above is also the word ra'.

The problem with the word "evil" is that as an English word it has moral connotations. "Evil" means a negative event though we also associate "evil" with causation by a wicked agent. Compare the word "bad" in English which means a negative event but may not necessarily imply anything about the cause. Here are the definitions of ra' when used as an adjective:

1) bad, evil
1a) bad, disagreeable, malignant
1b) bad, unpleasant, evil (giving pain, unhappiness, misery)
1c) evil, displeasing
1d) bad (of its kind - land, water, etc)
1e) bad (of value)
1f) worse than, worst (comparison)
1g) sad, unhappy
1h) evil (hurtful)
1i) bad, unkind (vicious in disposition)
1j) bad, evil, wicked (ethically)
1j1) in general, of persons, of thoughts
1j2) deeds, actions

So the question is what ra' both means and implies in Hebrew. It can mean wickedness (1j above). Does it usually imply immoral causation? How much of its meaning is contextual compared to intrinsic? Note, for example, that the translation of Isaiah I quoted was the King James Version. Modern versions, including the literal New American Standard, use the term "disaster". The modern versions give the word a negative meaning without the associated implication of a wicked agent.

I don't know Hebrew to judge the appropriateness of this translation and I am reliant on translators. We do know that it is largely context that determines meaning. It is also likely that the Hebrews (at least during some stages in history) were okay with figurative and hyperbolic language; more so it seems than modern Westerners. Compare Rachel was loved but Leah hated, ie. less loved compared to Rachel (Genesis 29).

This could mean that the phrase "evil spirit" was not giving us information on whether we are dealing with the angelic or demonic. Rather the descriptor "evil" concerns the mission of the spirit: one causes confusion or harm. The New English Translation opts for this translation in the Judges passage:
God sent a spirit to stir up hostility between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem. He made the leaders of Shechem disloyal to Abimelech. (Judges 9)
Is it possible that the phrase "lying spirit" is a similar example? A spirit that deceives those who have rejected the truth; compare 2 Thessalonians 2.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Does God ordain evil?

God may will certain events. These events may involve sinful actions of men. Some have suggested that because God ordains these events then God is ordaining evil.

God does not desire evil nor ordain evil. When addressing the actions of God there are some subtle issues that need to be kept in mind.

Firstly, there are actions that God does that are not intrinsically sin despite the fact that man doing the same action would be sin. This is not arbitrary, this is because the action does not apply to God. Take killing as an example. God can kill but God cannot murder. This is because he created us and owns us. He is the author of life and can remove it at will. However man can murder. But not all killing is murder. So a man executing a criminal is carrying out God’s command for justice and neither the man nor God are sinning.

Let us suppose that God wills that a particular evil man should die. God could:
  1. kill him directly;
  2. command a ruler to execute him (judgment from a judge for his sin);
  3. command a man/ army to kill him (compare David); or
  4. allow a murderer to kill him.
In all but the last situation neither God nor the killer is sinning. In the last case the man is sinning but God is using it for his purposes. Note that in the last example God is not commanding the murderer to murder. Rather the would-be-murderer is to resist sin. In resisting murder (sin) he is obeying God. This is the best course he should take. Resisting sin in this situation does not thwart God’s will. God can still see to the execution of the evil man he wishes dead. The will of God here is that a person be put to death. It is not God's will that a man commits murder.

If God wills a person to kill the evil man then he is not a murderer, he is acting as God’s agent of judgment (example 3) and is not sinning. God can command a person with the authority of the sword to put him to death. That person is doing God’s will and is not sinning.

If God desires something, how can God will a man to do an action and God be without sin yet the man be with sin despite being obedient to God’s intention in his life? Of course God can use evil men, but God does not intend for any man to be evil, he intends for them to repent. In our example God is not intending for the murderer to murder, he intends for the evil man to be put to death. That God does not prevent a murder and uses it for his goal does not make him the author of evil nor does it make murder God’s intention. The best option is for the (potential) murderer to repent of his intended actions and let God carry out his intentions on the life of the person another way. God can know the plans of a wicked man to murder said person. It is God’s will that the man be put to death. It is not God’s will that the person murder him.

That God knows murders will happen does not mean he approves.

Secondly, God does not necessarily ordain things that he uses. God can bring good out of evil, even greater good than had the evil not happened. This does not mean that God desires that the evil happens.

One cannot observe consequences of God working through the actions of evil men and assume that God’s activity equals his approval.

Take teaching truth as an example. False doctrine tests us. Responding to false doctrine may aid us in understanding true doctrine better. God may also use false teaching to purify his people. But better no false teaching than some false teaching. Spreading falsehood means judgment for both those who teach it and those who follow it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Death of a daughter

I only became aware of this recently. Steven Curtis Chapman, Christian singer, lost his daughter in a car accident in May. Extremely sad. Steven and his wife Mary Beth talked about their loss on Good Morning America.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Toronto blessing or deception?

This is not recent news though it is the first I have heard of it. I could not find the original source.* It has been placed on the Discernment Ministries website.

Paul Gowdy was apparently a pastor at Scarborough Vineyard Church in Toronto and his church had connections to Toronto Airport Vineyard Church, the location of the Toronto blessing.

In hindsight, Gowdy does not seem to think that much of what went on was of God.
Today I would call it a mixed curse concluding that any individual good that came from this experience is far outweighed by much harm and satanic deception. I suppose that therein has been my dilemma. I have tried to live my life in the fear of the Lord and Jesus told us that the unforgivable sin was the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Attributing to Satan what was in fact a work of God. If pressed as to whether or not the Toronto blessing is all God or all Devil I will still be hedgy, but I am convinced that Satan has used this experience to blind people to the historical doctrines of God, to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, to failing to test and discern the spirits and failing to test prophecy.
My theology is decidedly charismatic and I do not think Scripture gives any reason to subscribe to cessationism. Even so, I can be somewhat sceptical of claims people make about God talking to them. The desire to experience God seems to encourage people to mistake emotion and counterfeit for the real thing. Unfortunately the presence of counterfeit leads others to dismiss charismatic claims wholesale. Others may quench the Spirit because he moves in ways that make them uncomfortable.

We should desire God move in power. We cannot limit the Holy Spirit to our expectations. Yet it is legitimate to test the spirits; Scripture is meant to aid us in knowing God and rejecting counterfeit. I am no expert on moves of God but reading some revival material and Scripture it seems that:
  • People should be repentant of sin;
  • People should become more Christ-like;
  • God's revelation through people will not contradict his word; and
  • Holy Spirit manifestations will be Christ honouring.
Gowdy's analysis and confession is well worth a read.

*I would appreciate any confirmatory material or websites.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

A father's goodness

Nearly 2 weeks ago evangelist Greg Laurie lost his son who was involved in a car accident. His recent column about his son is worth a read. In between talking of his own grief and his son's ministry Greg shares an insightful method of teaching his son about the goodness of a father, and hence the goodness of God.
There is a story I have often told about a time I took Topher shopping for Star Wars figures in the late '70s. I had told him to pick out one he wanted. He thought about it a long time and finally decided on one of the small figurines from the bottom shelf, which as I recall, was the Han Solo one.

Meanwhile, I had been looking three shelves up at Solo's spacecraft, the Millennium Falcon. I said, "Well, why don't we get this to go with your new figure?"

His little eyes lit up. "Dad! Thank you!" And he gave me a big hug.

We would come home from the toy store with some big new prize like this, and sometimes my wife would roll her eyes, because we really couldn't afford it. But then Topher and I would run upstairs to his room, plop on the floor, open up the toys and play with them together.

Looking back now, I don't regret any of it. Nor does my wife.

After a while, Christopher learned that when we were in a toy store and I asked him what he wanted, his best bet was to say, "You choose, Dad!" And I would always get him something better than he would have chosen for himself.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Random quote

You cannot find out what Napoleon did at the battle of Austerlitz by asking him to come and fight it again in a laboratory with the same combatants, the same terrain, the same weather, and in the same age. You have to go to the records. We have not, in fact, proved that science excludes miracles: we have only proved that the question of miracles, like innumerable other questions, excludes laboratory treatment.

C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock


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