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Objections to the Potter

We have all probably encountered objections to the doctrine of Divine sovereignty that show a genuine lack of understanding – not in a mean or callous fashion, but that simply don’t understand how God’s freedom works. Most of those objections will be prefaced with “but it doesn’t make sense!” These might even be accompanied with tears, or with all the signs of genuine incomprehension. We don’t serve these churchgoers well by giving them a good lambasting. It’s all well and good when a militant Arminian, out to “take down” Calvinism is in view, or when an arrogant atheist places us in his sights – but when it comes to those inside the church, to who we are accountable as teachers, or within our own family – those to whom we have bonds of affection, it doesn’t behoove us to go nuclear – or to act like a cage-stager on a rampage.

Gentleness is something we often forget. Do we forget that before talking about casting down fortresses, destroying speculations – Paul urges his readers by the gentleness of Christ to take heed? Do we forget that we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” with all humility and gentleness? Before the injunction to Timothy to “fight the good fight”, he is enjoined to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.” We are all about being wise, yes? Then, do as James says – “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom.” You don’t need to be a pushover – but you don’t need to be a jerk, either. Sometimes people struggle to understand. Gently correct, guide, and teach. Even with our opponents we are to be gentle in correction – with the hope of repentance foremost in our minds. (2 Tim 2:25) That’s probably just an intro, though.

So, what about when someone just doesn’t understand the relationship between God, freedom, and evil? When the Confessions say that God is not the author of evil, but “common sense” (whatever that is) tells you “well, He has to be! I don’t want Him to be, but I don’t understand how that can’t be true!” Common sense is a bit of an urban legend. There’s a kernel of truth to it, in one sense. We are all created in the image of God, and in Him we all live, move, and have our being. We have minds, we live in His world, and we have to deal with His creation on His terms. Still, those of us who have taken a few more trips around the sun than some know that “common sense” is neither common, nor as sensical as we sometimes imagine, when we’re younger. People have discussed the relationship between God, freedom, and evil for a very long time. Yes, there are solid answers to be found, but we often forget, especially in this faux-literate age, that what people read is very, very rarely suitable for training them how to think. What to think – possibly – but how to think? We expect the schools to teach them that – but they don’t. Those of us who teach in the church need to recall that God uses means – and that “being transformed by the renewing of your mind” also involves means – and training in righteousness. Where does that training in righteousness primarily take place? In the home, and at our churches. If we don’t take the time to do so in either place, we cripple those for whom we will have to give an account.

With all that being said, what is the answer? In one sense, it is complicated. It isn’t a simplistic notion, or a simplistic answer – because it requires a variety of categories to be properly understood, and placed in the proper context. It requires a systematic theology. On the other hand, with the proper categories in place, and understood – it actually *is* simple – but only in a sense. Simply, when asked “is God the author of sin?,” the answer is “No.” The whyfores of that are what makes it complicated. When asked “does man have free will” – we can answer “yes and no” – in two different senses. Yes, man is free to do precisely what he desires – but those desires are enslaved to his nature – which means he isn’t free! What helped me, however, is asking the corollary to that – “Is God free?” Yes, of course He is. When the follow-up question “is God free to sin?” is asked, that often clarifies matters – because then you have to define sin. It’s where we have to define things, and be precise, that clarity begins.

When you ask “is God free to sin?”, you have to ask several things: “what is sin?”, “what is freedom?” and “what (and who) is God?” The answers to those questions should, if you do so carefully and precisely, bring you directly to the correct answer. Freedom in English, has a few meanings – primary is this:

The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

One Greek term for “freedom” is ἐλευθερία (eleutheria) – derived from ἐλεύθερος. It has the connotation of “one who is not a slave”, or, on the other hand, “free, exempt, unrestrained, not bound by an obligation”.

Secondarily, the English term is defined as follows:

the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.

Thus, we can see that “freedom” has a duality of meaning, in either language. It can mean “without restraint” – but it can also mean “not a slave.” When we speak of being a “slave to sin”, we refer to the latter – but someone who is a “slave to sin” will also be doing precisely as he desires – because what is enslaved are those desires.

What is sin? Sin, at bottom, is “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” Etymologically, it typically carries the connotation of “falling short” or “missing the mark” – which speaks to the nature of the thing itself. What I mean by that is that sin is a lack – something which is lacking, or missing, in comparison to perfection or completion. Any shot at a target which misses the bullseye is lacking, in comparison to the perfect shot.

The question of “Who is God?” is an enormous one – but if we take it in a limited sense, and contextually, we can answer from our Confession, and note that God is a) “most holy” and b) “most free”, c) “abundant in goodness”, d) “infinite in being and perfection”. God is holy – set apart. God is without constraint – limitless. God is good – and, we are also told, has a “most righteous” will. God is infinitely perfect. Since God is these things, he cannot be “like us” – sinful. He cannot be limited by the chains of slavery to sin. Those chains are, indeed, limitations.

So, if we examine this question, we find the answer lies in the question itself. If “sin” is a lack of perfection – a transgression of God’s own law – and is slavery – then God, by being God, cannot be subject to sin, and “free” thereby. “To sin” is the opposite of freedom – so “free to sin” is an oxymoron – the question is self-refuting.

The “bigger” question to follow, though, is this: “How can we be said to be free, if God ordains all things whatsoever that come to pass?” The Confession once again answers this question.

God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass;

LBCF III.1

We usually grasp that intellectually. What is often harder to grasp is how, given that to be the case, the following is also true:

yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree.

LBCF III.1

We can grasp that others believe this – it is often harder to grasp (and hold!) that belief ourselves – especially on an emotional level. Many never grasp it – and instead turn to poor alternatives that give a more superficially acceptable answer – and that causes even more issues. This doesn’t mean it is impossible to grasp – it just means that it is difficult. Most things worth understanding are difficult.

There are several avenues of argument to which we have recourse, at this point. There is the argument from the nature of man and the nature of God. There is the argument from first and second causes. There is the argument from prescriptive and descriptive will. There is, further, the argument from purpose. Lastly, there is the argument from mystery.

Argument from Mystery

Many simply resort to the last – and there is a point at which all argument, when it relates to the infinite God, has to rest there. After a certain point, we just don’t know, and will either have to await further insight, in sanctification, into what Scripture already reveals – or wait until we see Him face to face, and understand all clearly. It really is okay if we just don’t understand, but trust God in faithful obedience. We might come to understand more – and it’s perfectly acceptable to do this in lieu of speculation. I do think, however, that there is a bit of ground to travel before we have to resort to mystery simpliciter.

Argument from Natures

The nature of man, as created, was very good. Man was free to act as he willed, and his will remained un-enslaved. Man, however, chose to be less than he was initially. When he first sinned, he chose slavery to sin. While this corresponds to the nature of finite man, it cannot correspond to the nature of the infinite God. There is no attribute of God which allows God to be less than He is. God cannot be less transcendent, less simple, less righteous, less infinite, less powerful, less wise, etc – and sin doesn’t affect merely parts of a person – but the entirety of a person. As such, God being sinful, or the author of sin, is impossible, in every respect. It is possible, however, and actual, in the case of man, who is finite, and who is not simple, but composed of parts. All of man’s parts are affected by sin, while none of God, who is One, and not composed of parts, can be.

Bavinck has some interesting insight for us, as to what is the nature of man’s first fall, and the subsequent change of his nature thereby. We often view the “knowledge of good and evil” as if it is “additional” information. What it actually is, is a corruption of information by an illegitimate categorization.

“In Genesis 3, the issue is not primarily the content of the knowledge that humans would appropriate by disobedience but the manner in which they would obtain it. The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own. The issue in Genesis is indeed whether humanity will want to develop in dependence on God, whether it will want to have dominion over the earth and seek its salvation in submission to God’s commandment; or whether, violating that commandment and withdrawing from God’s authority and law, it will want to stand on its own feet, go its own way, and try its own “luck.” When humanity fell, it got what it wanted; it made itself like God, “knowing good and evil” by its own insight and judgment. Genesis 3:22 is in dead earnest. This emancipation from God, however, did not lead and cannot lead to true happiness. For that reason, God by the probationary command forbade this drive to freedom, this thirst for independence. But humanity voluntarily and deliberately opted for its own way, thereby failing the test.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Chris

That “freedom” the serpent promises is enslavement. Independence is chains, and self-rule is self-abasement.

Argument from First and Second Causes

“For the man who honestly and soberly reflects on these things, there can be no doubt that the will of God is the chief and principal cause of all things.”

Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, 177.

“But of all the things which happen, the first cause is to be understood to be His will, because He so governs the natures created by Him, as to determine all the counsels and the actions of men to the end decreed by Him.”

Calvin, Ibid, 17

Calvin, rightly, distinguishes (and defines) the “first cause” as the will of God. What is often trickier, however, is the definition of “second cause.” God indeed determines all the counsels and actions of men – but does so by means of second causes.

“The question of God’s will in relation to sin is vexing. Those who speak of God’s permission with respect to sin rightly seek to avoid making him the author of sin. However, because this formulation risks denying God’s full sovereignty, Reformed theology, following Augustine, was never satisfied with the idea of permission. At the risk of using “hard sayings,” Reformed theologians insist that while God does not sin or cause sin, sin is yet not outside his will. In addition, God created human beings holy and without sin; sin’s origin is in the will of the rational creature.

Bavinck, The Origin of Sin, Reformed Dogmatics – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ

What else is interesting is that this doesn’t try to “soften” the blow by affirming one bit less than God’s sovereignty over all things whatsoever. What it does do, however, is place the onus for sin squarely in the camp of those capable of it. To be less, one must be capable of less. Only the finite can be less than they should be. To be the author, one must have the capability for it. God does not.

As Edwards puts it:

“If by ‘the author of sin,’ be meant the sinner, the agent, or the actor of sin, or the doer of a wicked thing . . . it would be a reproach and blasphemy, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin.”

A “second cause” can be defined as Robert Shaw does here:

“Since all things were known to God from the beginning of the world, and come to pass according to the immutable counsel of his will, it necessarily follows that, in respect of the foreknowledge and decree of God, all things come to pass infallibly. But, by his providence, he orders them to fall out according to the nature of second causes. Every part of the material world has an immediate dependence on the will and power of God, in respect of every motion and operation, as well as in respect of continued existence; but he governs the material world by certain physical laws,—commonly called the laws of nature, and in Scripture the ordinances of Heaven,—and agreeably to these laws, so far as relates to second causes, certain effects uniformly and necessarily follow certain causes. The providence of God is also concerned about the volitions and actions of intelligent creatures; but his providential influence is not destructive of their rational liberty, for they are under no compulsion, but act freely; and all the liberty which can belong to rational creatures is that of acting according to their inclinations. Though there is no event contingent with respect to God, ‘who declareth the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things which are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure;’ yet many events are contingent or accidental with regard to us, and also with respect to second causes.”

Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith

In other words, second causes are those things which follow by necessary consequence – in the material world – in creation. They are not identical to the infinite will of God, but necessarily occur within creation as a result of the exercise of His will. The particular thing about sin, however, is that, along with Augustine, we confess that “all sin is voluntary.” All sin is a defect in righteousness, not something in and of itself, which exists and survives independently of righteousness. Will is necessary for sin to be defective in its righteousness. Since God’s will is infinite, eternal, simple, and unchanging, the only will in which sin can be said to exist is in that of rational creatures, as only such creatures can be said to have a will which is either more or less righteous, instead of infinitely so – thus, we can also pair this argument with the Argument from Natures above.

Argument from Prescriptive and Descriptive Will

“The decretive will of God concerns his purposes, and relates to the futurition of events. The preceptive will relates to the rule of duty for his rational creatures. He decrees whatever he purposes to effect or to permit. He prescribes, according to his own will, what his creatures should do, or abstain from doing. The decretive and preceptive will of God can never be in conflict. God never decrees to do, or to cause others to do, what He forbids. He may, as we see He does, decree to permit what He forbids. He permits men to sin, although sin is forbidden. This is more scholastically expressed by the theologians by saying, A positive decretive will cannot consist with a negative preceptive will; i. e., God cannot decree to make men sin. But a negative decretive will may consist with an affirmative preceptive will; e. g., God may command men to repent and believe, and yet, for wise reasons, abstain from giving them repentance.”

Charles Hodge, The Will of God, Systematic Theology

As we have already seen, we don’t see “permission” as bare permission. When God decrees something – ordains what comes to pass – this is not the same as decreeing what men should do. This is, in my estimation, the weakest argument, however. It tends to rely heavily on a distinction between “allow” and “command” – which, considered properly, is fine, as far as it goes – but it doesn’t explain. If it helps you, that’s fine – but it is not a distinction on which I rely overmuch.

The Argument from Purpose

This argument is primarily exegetical – and as such, perhaps the strongest. It seeks to answer why sin is in the world. To sum this argument up, we should make three statements. 1) Sin showcases God’s glory in His Justice toward sin and sinners 2) Sin is the backdrop against which righteousness is most evident 3) Christ’s substitutionary death is only substitutionary if man is not righteous.

Genesis 50 has one of the strongest examples we can make. Joseph’s brothers are called before him, after the death of their father, Israel. The brothers were understandably afraid, because they had sold Joseph into slavery – after contemplating simply murdering him.

They send Joseph a message, after speaking amongst themselves:

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

Genesis 50:16-17

When they stand before him, Joseph immediately assures them:

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?

Genesis 50:19

What he says next is the kicker, however.

“’As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

Genesis 50:20-21

Note several things about this passage. Why does Joseph weep? First, they had lived with the consequences of their actions for many years now. Second, they still showed very little understanding of the God their father claimed that they served. They knew even less of their brother.

Joseph’s response is a masterpiece of compassionate theology. He does not excuse their action, or the consequences of it. What he does is explain about God – and that while their intentions were evil, God’s were not. He forgives them, promises his own protection to them, and to their families, and speaks kindly to them.

They meant evil toward Joseph. This is not in any way diminished by Joseph’s response. His initial answer underscores that they are responsible to God for their actions, despite the fact that Joseph has no intention of judging them for those actions. Joseph is not in God’s place. The very fact that they are standing before him does nothing but underscore the fact that without their actions, a) they would not be standing before Joseph now at his mercy b) they wouldn’t even be alive to stand before Joseph now at his mercy. Joseph’s response underscores something else, however. While their intentions were for evil – God’s intentions were for good. God turned a heinous evil into an indescribable good. It doesn’t make their evil any less evil. It doesn’t excuse his brothers. It doesn’t excuse Potiphar’s wife, or the injustice of his imprisonment, which provided him an opportunity to come before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. It doesn’t even excuse his father for letting those sons of his run wild and commit all the heinous acts that hardened them to the point that they were willing to kill their own brother, and the best they could manage was to “merely” sell him into slavery, and convince their elderly father that he had been killed by beasts, to cover up their crime. Their purpose was to get rid of their insufferable, righteous younger brother who told them they would bow to him, as his vision from God attested. Bowing in front of him now was not their intention – but it was God’s. God brought them out of the wilderness alive – as a result of their own actions – but not in accordance with their own intentions. God’s purposes, as Scripture repeatedly attests, are always good – and even evil can be suborned to God’s good purposes – contrary to the intentions of those who commit those evils.

How about Assyria? Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom, and was, by any objective standard, an evil empire. Yet in Isa. 10, they are said to be the rod of God’s anger. Even more interestingly – a woe is pronounced on them – for their actions in being the rod of God’s anger!

Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hands is My indignation,

I send it against a godless nation
And commission it against the people of My fury
To capture booty and to seize plunder,
And to trample them down like mud in the streets.

Yet it does not so intend,
Nor does it plan so in its heart,
But rather it is its purpose to destroy
And to cut off many nations.

Isaiah 10:5-7

See, Assyria is being used as the instrument of God’s punishment – but it has no intention of being used as such. Assyria will, in turn, be judged and punished – as we see in the same chapter, in verses 12-17.

“So it will be that when the Lord has completed all His work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, [He will say,] “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the pomp of his haughtiness.” For he has said, “By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did [this,] For I have understanding; And I removed the boundaries of the peoples And plundered their treasures, And like a mighty man I brought down [their] inhabitants, And my hand reached to the riches of the peoples like a nest, And as one gathers abandoned eggs, I gathered all the earth; And there was not one that flapped its wing or opened [its] beak or chirped.” Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? [That would be] like a club wielding those who lift it, [Or] like a rod lifting [him who] is not wood. Therefore the Lord, the GOD of hosts, will send a wasting disease among his stout warriors; And under his glory a fire will be kindled like a burning flame. And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, And it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day.”

Isaiah 10:12-17

When the Lord has completed His work in Mount Zion and Jerusalem, He will punish the Assyrians for their intentions. He will first afflict the King’s warriors – but then He will “burn and devour his thorns and briars in a single day.” What day is that?

1 And it came to pass, when king Hezekiah heard [it], that he rent his clothes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the LORD. 2 And he sent Eliakim, who [was] over the household, and Shebna the scribe, and the elders of the priests covered with sackcloth, unto Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz. 3 And they said unto him, Thus saith Hezekiah, This day [is] a day of trouble, and of rebuke, and of blasphemy: for the children are come to the birth, and [there is] not strength to bring forth. 4 It may be the LORD thy God will hear the words of Rabshakeh, whom the king of Assyria his master hath sent to reproach the living God, and will reprove the words which the LORD thy God hath heard: wherefore lift up [thy] prayer for the remnant that is left. 5 So the servants of king Hezekiah came to Isaiah. 6 And Isaiah said unto them, Thus shall ye say unto your master, Thus saith the LORD, Be not afraid of the words that thou hast heard, wherewith the servants of the king of Assyria have blasphemed me. 7 Behold, I will send a blast upon him, and he shall hear a rumour, and return to his own land; and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land. 8 So Rabshakeh returned, and found the king of Assyria warring against Libnah: for he had heard that he was departed from Lachish. 9 And he heard say concerning Tirhakah king of Ethiopia, He is come forth to make war with thee. And when he heard [it], he sent messengers to Hezekiah, saying, 10 Thus shall ye speak to Hezekiah king of Judah, saying, Let not thy God, in whom thou trustest, deceive thee, saying, Jerusalem shall not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria. 11 Behold, thou hast heard what the kings of Assyria have done to all lands by destroying them utterly; and shalt thou be delivered? 12 Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, [as] Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph, and the children of Eden which [were] in Telassar? 13 Where [is] the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah? 14 And Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up unto the house of the LORD, and spread it before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed unto the LORD, saying, 16 O LORD of hosts, God of Israel, that dwellest [between] the cherubims, thou [art] the God, [even] thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth: thou hast made heaven and earth. 17 Incline thine ear, O LORD, and hear; open thine eyes, O LORD, and see: and hear all the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent to reproach the living God. 18 Of a truth, LORD, the kings of Assyria have laid waste all the nations, and their countries, 19 And have cast their gods into the fire: for they [were] no gods, but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone: therefore they have destroyed them. 20 Now therefore, O LORD our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou [art] the LORD, [even] thou only. 21 Then Isaiah the son of Amoz sent unto Hezekiah, saying, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Whereas thou hast prayed to me against Sennacherib king of Assyria: 22 This [is] the word which the LORD hath spoken concerning him; The virgin, the daughter of Zion, hath despised thee, [and] laughed thee to scorn; the daughter of Jerusalem hath shaken her head at thee. 23 Whom hast thou reproached and blasphemed? and against whom hast thou exalted [thy] voice, and lifted up thine eyes on high? [even] against the Holy One of Israel. 24 By thy servants hast thou reproached the Lord, and hast said, By the multitude of my chariots am I come up to the height of the mountains, to the sides of Lebanon; and I will cut down the tall cedars thereof, [and] the choice fir trees thereof: and I will enter into the height of his border, [and] the forest of his Carmel. 25 I have digged, and drunk water; and with the sole of my feet have I dried up all the rivers of the besieged places. 26 Hast thou not heard long ago, [how] I have done it; [and] of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass, that thou shouldest be to lay waste defenced cities [into] ruinous heaps. 27 Therefore their inhabitants [were] of small power, they were dismayed and confounded: they were [as] the grass of the field, and [as] the green herb, [as] the grass on the housetops, and [as corn] blasted before it be grown up. 28 But I know thy abode, and thy going out, and thy coming in, and thy rage against me. 29 Because thy rage against me, and thy tumult, is come up into mine ears, therefore will I put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest. 30 And this [shall be] a sign unto thee, Ye shall eat [this] year such as groweth of itself; and the second year that which springeth of the same: and in the third year sow ye, and reap, and plant vineyards, and eat the fruit thereof. 31 And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: 32 For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of mount Zion: the zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this. 33 Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the king of Assyria, He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shields, nor cast a bank against it. 34 By the way that he came, by the same shall he return, and shall not come into this city, saith the LORD. 35 For I will defend this city to save it for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake. 36 Then the angel of the LORD went forth, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians a hundred and fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they [were] all dead corpses. 37 So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed, and went and returned, and dwelt at Nineveh. 38 And it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that Adrammelech and Sharezer his sons smote him with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Armenia: and Esarhaddon his son reigned in his stead.

Isaiah 37:1-38

Assyria destroyed the Northern Kingdom, as God decreed – but when they came against the South, and against Jerusalem, they were destroyed – by the Angel of the Lord, no less – and the woe came to pass, recorded by the same prophet. The same kingdom which, by its own intentions, came to devour and destroy, was used as a punishment for Israel’s unfaithfulness, and wiped out the Northern Kingdom. However, as a judgement on its arrogance, God Himself destroyed the great army of Sennacherib outside the walls of Jerusalem – and he was murdered by his own sons upon his return. They meant it for evil – but God meant it for good.

Lastly, there is the case of the crucifixion itself. Acts records a prayer, presumably by Peter or John, which says the following:

27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, 30 while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”

Act 4:27-30

In this prayer, we are told that the Father predestined the crucifixion – as well as all the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, the other Gentiles, as well as the peoples of Israel. The most heinous act in the history of the world – the murder of the Messiah – was committed exactly as God predestined it to be. Every single one of the parties named meant it for evil. God meant it for good – to bring many out alive, with a deliberate nod to the foreshadowing of Joseph. Rome’s conquest of Israel brought about the conditions that made the crucifixion – a Roman practice – possible. What they meant for evil, God meant for good – and the greatest good in the history of the world was brought about by the commission of the greatest evil in its history. Man’s purposes are brought to naught by the purposes of God. The Savior rose from the grave, conquering death and sin – because death and sin were decreed by God. Israel was judged. Rome was judged. Herod was judged – and all of them received their woes in full measure – as Christ prophesied they would. Nonetheless, God brought good out of their evil – and it shone all the more brightly against their evil. We can only go so far with this explanation of why evil happens – but isn’t that far enough to go on with? We can finish up with Romans’ explanation of this same issue.

16 So then it [does] not [depend] on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? 22 What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And [He did so] to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 [even] us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. 25 As He says also in Hosea, “I WILL CALL THOSE WHO WERE NOT MY PEOPLE, ‘MY PEOPLE,’ AND HER WHO WAS NOT BELOVED, ‘BELOVED.'” 26 “AND IT SHALL BE THAT IN THE PLACE WHERE IT WAS SAID TO THEM, ‘YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE,’ THERE THEY SHALL BE CALLED SONS OF THE LIVING GOD.”

Rom 9:16-26

Wellum’s faculty address at SBTS

Apparently, this address didn’t pass muster in SBC politics. Since I’m not SBC, here it is. I think it’s pretty good, myself 😉

“What does the Extent of the Atonement have to do with Baptist Ecclesiology: an Experience of Doing Theology.”

In case anyone was wondering, I got it last week from another blog that posted it. That blogger is SBC, I’m not. So there you go.

Evidence that Evidentialism Fails

All one needs to do to demonstrate the title of this post is true is to examine the Caner Scandal. Ergun Caner’s defenders have consistently refused to examine the evidence of Ergun Caner’s multiplicitous prevarications – and instead have attacked those criticizing Dr. Caner. See, evidentialism is all about presenting “brute facts”, “objectively” from a putatively “neutral” standpoint. There are many problems with this. First, no one is neutral. Second, there are no brute facts. Third, there is no objectivity from any position save that of a worldview based soundly in Christian theology.

Here’s where evidentialism goes off the rails. They assume that man can reason properly, absent God’s regenerative grace. Based on that, they assume that given “facts”, in this universal reasoning ability, you can come to the correct conclusion if the case is reasoned well. Third, they “cut down” the whole of Christian theology, and argue from “bare theism”.

Let’s take the first. Scripture most definitely denies this assertion. Romans 1 tells us that men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”, they “become futile in their speculations” and thus God gives them over – to lusts, to passions, and to a depraved mind. Proverbs repeatedly tells us that the fear of the Lord is the *beginning* of wisdom. Tell me – if you don’t even have the beginning, how can you have any at all? I could go on, but this is going to be short, so I’ll stop there.

Second, no fact is examined apart from your own already-formed conceptions. Until and unless those conceptions, or presuppositions, are addressed, you will go nowhere. Everything a man examines is filtered through the matrix of their presuppositions. There are no “brute” facts, which merely need to be seen to reach the proper conclusion.

Third, the assumption that there is an “objective” viewpoint for unbelievers to look at facts from is absurd. Did not Christ say “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life?” That means there is, definitionally, no other! Does not Paul say, in Colossians, that ALL treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Jesus? This means that all other purported wisdom, purported knowledge, is foolish – it is only “falsely called wisdom”. (1 Ti 6:20)

So, back to our example. When presented with video, audio, legal documents, examples from his own writings – what is the response of Caner’s defenders? I’ve seen a few types of response.
1) Ignore it
2) Spin it
3) Attack the messenger

Now, does this look to you like all you have to do is present the evidence, and they will see the light? If someone doesn’t *want to believe the evidence* – they won’t – and only an act of God will change that desire. After all – isn’t that we’re always saying? Only those drawn by the Father will come. Only those given ears to hear, will hear.

Tim Rogers is claiming that Caner was “exonerated”. Do people who are exonerated get fired as President of a seminary? Peter Lumpkins is claiming that “Ergun Caner did not make up his life testimony.” Tim Guthrie claims that “He is NOT a liar.” Excuse me? On what possible grounds can any of these statements be made? Oh, that’s right – on presuppositional grounds. Faulty presuppositional grounds. If none of the evidence presented, save that which can be refuted (and has also been refuted by Caner’s *Christian* critics, save for one undiscerning soul), is considered valid *a priori*, or has been examined at all, it’s easy to say that. It’s just as easy to say a red light is green – if you’re colorblind.

So, as I said – this situation points out quite clearly what the issue is. It’s NOT evidence. it’s *presuppositions*.

To close with a couple quotes from Dr. Robert Price, a skeptic Dr. White recently debated:

Dr. Price: “if you had your video camera, you’d have picked it up – but nobody did… I don’t know what on earth could prove that Moses divided the Red Sea, save a trip in a time machine… it’s a question of theology, not a historical judgement” – from that recent debate.
Dr. White: (selected) “this issue this evening is not just the skepticism that says we don’t know… if we are not for God having spoken, we are where Dr. Price is this evening…. so, there could not be any evidence from antiquity that could convince you?”
Dr. Price: “no, I can’t see how, given the nature of documents from antiquity”
Dr. White: “Does it not follow that there cannot be anything short of multiply attested recordings of an event to prove it?”
Dr. Price: “”I’m afraid that’d be so.”

Our intrepid defenders, note – are even MORE skeptical than Dr. Price. Even video cannot prove whether something happened, to these folks. I rest my case.

A Good Question.

For all of the Ergun Caner supporters out there:

When you engage in apologetics, do you go to the evidence for the resurrection? That’s a fairly safe bet for most of you.

If you won’t accept evidence that demonstrates Dr. Caner’s falsehoods – how on earth do you expect unbelievers to accept your evidence for the resurrection?

Interesting example of why Theology matters – in apologetics as well as in any other sphere.

For more information: Choosinghats.com

HT: Dale

Apologetics Class Links

Don’t have all the links, files, etc ready yet, but it will be coming, and available here. I’ll update this post when it is.


Week 1
– Introduction and Definitions
Week 2 – The Sufficiency of Scripture
Week 3 – The Reliability of the New Testament Text
Week 4 – “Theology and Apologetics”
Week 5 – “The Myth of Neutrality”
Week 6 – “Common Ground”
Week 7 – “How to Defend the Faith”
Week 8 – “A Biblical Exposition of Acts 17”
Week 9 – “The Law of Eternal Progression – Mormonism”
Weeks 10-14 10: Intro to Islam; 11: Answering The Watchtower; 12: Atheism; 13: Naturalism; 14: Evolution
Week 15 – The Shack
Week 16 – How to Answer Objections

Update: all the files are up, but weeks 15 and 16 have some audio problems I need to fix. Week 15 cut off early, and week 16 has quite a bit of noise.

Church History Class Links

Church History Classes:

Week 1
Week 2
Weeks 3-5
Week 6
Weeks 7-8
Week 9
Weeks 10-11
Week 12

Convicted.

When I was listening to Phil Johnson’s sermon “Marching Orders” earlier, I found myself convicted of something.

I have to confess – the recent controversy swirling around Dr. White and Dr. Caner has caught me up in something I must repent of. It’s something very simple, but not often thought of by those who engage in contention for the faith.

For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus [and] with [it] eternal glory. It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Remind [them] of these things, and solemnly charge [them] in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless [and leads] to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. But avoid worldly [and] empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, [men] who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these [things], he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love [and] peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses [and escape] from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Tim 2:10-26, NASB)

So, to explain my repentance, I figure this is a good time to explain why I should, as it will perhaps be helpful to others. First, let’s address the overview of the chapter. Paul is encouraging and instructing his son in the faith, Timothy, in the office of elder/overseer. In this chapter, he gives practical instruction concerning what an elder must do. Now, for full disclosure purposes, I am not an elder. However, I am a teacher, and as such, am held to a higher standard.

In verse 10, Paul gives his own philosophy of ministry – also explicated in Philippians 2 – of service and suffering for the sake of the elect. He endures, because he will reign with Christ – to deny Him is to have Christ deny us. Even if we are faithless – He still remains faithful – for He cannot deny Himself! He charges Timothy to remind his flock of these things, and to remind them not to quarrel over trifling matters. This is useless, and leads to the ruin of the hearers. On the contrary – be diligent – be a workman who is not ashamed. Rightly handle the Word of Truth. Avoid worldly, empty chatter – it spreads like gangrene! However, note that Paul is not afraid to name names, as he does elsewhere, of people who stray from the truth. The firm foundation, however, is of God – and stands still. God is who prepares the appropriate vessels for the appropriate work.

Flee from youthful lusts – but pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace – with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart. Notice here – peace is always with those of God. If you have peace with the world, you’re doing something wrong. But on we go!

Refuse foolish and ignorant speculations – they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bondservant, however, is NOT quarrelsome – not given to quarreling, for the sake of quarreling. But, and this is where we get to where my problem lies:

He must be: kind to all – am I kind to all? No, I’m not – and I repent of that, and ask forgiveness.

able to teach – I pray that I at least fulfill this duty faithfully.

patient when wronged – the ESV renders this as “patiently enduring evil”. Now, what is interesting about this is that I definitely am a violator of this. I am not only impatient with evil, but I rebel at enduring it – for the sake of God, the elect, or anyone else. It means “patient of ills and wrongs, forbearing” – I have been failing miserably at forbearance in this regard. It doesn’t matter what the wrong is – or whether it is directed at another. This ties in with the next consideration.

…with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses [and escape] from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

I am fond of quoting Bahnsen, and Schaeffer – their “humble boldness” and “truth in love” are dear to my heart. I must confess, however, that I am often ungentle in my correction. I nuke when I should use a scalpel, and I use a club when I should be using a careful razor’s edge to shave away the layers of falsity.

I have kept this name to remind myself to do just that – but I’ve failed in my task, and I ask your forgiveness for this fault. Especially, I ask the forgiveness of Mr. Lumpkins. While I do not minimize the depth of his error in the libel in which he has lately engaged, I’m very sorry for not patiently enduring it, and correcting gently. It doesn’t matter how deep the wound that is made is – or how loyal I strive to be to a friend and a dear brother. I am still called to – and held to – the standard of Scripture in dealing with error – and I haven’t met it. I also ask the forgiveness of anyone else whom I’ve lately been ungentle with – or have talked about impatiently out of their hearing. It is not the standard to which I’ve been called.

It’s something I need to work on, and once again, I repent of it.

Week 10, here is a video playlist:

Week 11, you can find the audio here.
Week 12, we used Dr. White’s first debate with Dan Barker, which is under copyright. You may purchase it here. Preview below:

Week 13 can be found here.
Week 14 can be found here.

God forbid.

If the Lord intended that he should, and [he] by his death did, procure pardon of sin and reconciliation with God for all and every one, to be actually enjoyed upon condition that they do believe, then ought this good-will and intention of God, with this purchase in their behalf by Jesus Christ, to be made known to them by the word, that they might believe; “for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Rom. x. 17: for if these things be not made known and revealed to all and every one that is concerned in them, namely, to whom the Lord intends, and for whom he hath procured so great a good, then one of these things will follow; — either, first, That they may be saved without faith in, and the knowledge of, Christ (which they cannot have unless he be revealed to them), which is false, and proved so; or else, secondly, That this good-will of God, and this purchase made by Jesus Christ, is plainly in vain, and frustrate in respect of them, yea, a plain mocking of them, that will neither do them any good to help them out of misery, nor serve the justice of God to leave them inexcusable, for what blame can redound to them for not embracing and well using a benefit which they never heard of in their lives? Doth it become the wisdom of God to send Christ to die for men that they might be saved, and never cause these men to hear of any such thing; and yet to purpose and declare that unless they do hear of it and believe it, they shall never be saved? What wise man would pay a ransom for the delivery of those captives which he is sure shall never come to the knowledge of any such payment made, and so never be the better for it? Is it answerable to the goodness of God, to deal thus with his poor creatures? to hold out towards them all in pretence the most intense love imaginable, beyond all compare and illustration, — as his love in sending his Son is set forth to be, — and yet never let them know of any such thing, but in the end to damn them for not believing it? Is it answerable to the love and kindness of Christ to us, to assign unto him at his death 239such a resolution as this:— “I will now, by the oblation of myself, obtain for all and every one peace and reconciliation with God, redemption and everlasting salvation, eternal glory in the high heavens, even for all those poor, miserable, wretched worms, condemned caitiffs, that every hour ought to expect the sentence of condemnation; and all these shall truly and really be communicated to them if they will believe. But yet, withal, I will so order things that innumerable souls shall never hear one word of all this that I have done for them, never be persuaded to believe, nor have the object of faith that is to be believed proposed to them, whereby they might indeed possibly partake of these things?” Was this the mind and will, this the design and purpose, of our merciful high priest? God forbid. It is all one as if a prince should say and proclaim, that whereas there be a number of captives held in sore bondage in such a place, and he hath a full treasure, he is resolved to redeem them every one, so that every one of them shall come out of prison that will thank him for his good-will, and in the meantime never take care to let these poor captives know his mind and pleasure; and yet be fully assured that unless he effect it himself it will never be done. Would not this be conceived a vain and ostentatious flourish, without any good intent indeed towards the poor captives? Or as if a physician should say that he hath a medicine that will cure all diseases, and he intends to cure the diseases of all, but lets but very few know his mind, or any thing of his medicine; and yet is assured that without his relation and particular information it will be known to very few. And shall he be supposed to desire, intend, or aim at the recovery of all?

The Death of Death in the Death of ChristBook III, Chapter 1John Owen

It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts.

Yes, many there are who turn away from a vision of God’s wrath as though they were called to look upon some blotch in the Divine character, or some blot upon the Divine government. But what saith the Scriptures? As we turn to them we find that God has made no attempt to conceal the fact of His wrath. He is not ashamed to make it known that vengeance and fury belong unto Him. His own challenge is, “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me” (Deut. 32:39-41). A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury, and wrath of God, than there are to His love and tenderness. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns against the sinner: Psalm 7:11.

Now the wrath of God is as much a Divine perfection as is His faithfulness, power, or mercy. It must be so, for there is no blemish whatever, not the slightest defect in the character of God; yet there would be if “wrath” were absent from Him! Indifference to sin is a moral blemish, and he who hates it not is a moral leper. How could He who is the Sum of all excellency look with equal satisfaction upon virtue and vice, wisdom and folly? How could He who is infinitely holy disregard sin and refuse to manifest His “severity” (Rom. 9:12) toward it? How could He who delights only in that which is pure and lovely, loathe and hate not that which is impure and vile? The very nature of God makes Hell as real a necessity, as imperatively and eternally requisite as Heaven is. Not only is there no imperfection in God, but there is no perfection in Him that is less perfect than another.

The wrath of God is His eternal detestation of all unrighteousness. It is the displeasure and indignation of Divine equity against evil. It is the holiness of God stirred into activity against sin. It is the moving cause of that just sentence which He passes upon evil-doers. God is angry against sin because it is a rebelling against His authority, a wrong done to His inviolable sovereignty. Insurrectionists against God’s government shall be made to know that God is the Lord. They shall be made to feel how great that Majesty is which they despise, and how dreadful is that threatened wrath which they so little regarded. Not that God’s anger is a malignant and malicious retaliation, inflicting injury for the sake of it, or in return for injury received. No; while God will vindicate His dominion as the Governor of the universe, He will not be vindictive.

That Divine wrath is one of the perfections of God is not only evident from the considerations presented above, but is also clearly established by the express declarations of His own Word. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom. 1:18).

Again; that the wrath of God is a Divine perfection is plainly demonstrated by what we read of in Psalm 95:11, “Unto whom I sware in My wrath.” There are two occasions of God “swearing”: in making promises (Gen. 22:16), and in denouncing threatening (Deut. 1:34). In the former, He swares in mercy to His children; in the latter, He swares to terrify the wicked. An oath is for solemn confirmation: Hebrews 6:16. In Genesis 22:16 God said, “By Myself have I sworn.” In Psalm 89:35 He declares, “Once have I sworn by My holiness.” While in Psalm 95:11 He affirmed, “I swear in My wrath.” Thus the great Jehovah Himself appeals to His “wrath” as a perfection equal to His “holiness”: He swares by the one as much as by the other! Again; as in Christ “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9), and as all the Divine perfections are illustriously displayed by Him (John 1:18), therefore do we read of “the wrath of the Lamb” (Rev. 6:16).

The wrath of God is a perfection of the Divine character upon which we need to frequently meditate. First, that our hearts may be duly impressed by God’s detestation of sin. We are ever prone to regard sin lightly, to gloss over its hideousness, to make excuses for it. But the more we study and ponder God’s abhorrence of sin and His frightful vengeance upon it, the more likely are we to realize its heinousness. Second, to beget a true fear in our souls for God: “Let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:28,29). We cannot serve Him “acceptably” unless there is due “reverence” for His awful Majesty and “godly fear” of His righteous anger, and these are best promoted by frequently calling to mind that “our God is a consuming fire.” Third, to draw out our souls in fervent praise for having delivered us from “the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10).

~ A.W. Pink – The Attributes of God16 – The Wrath of God.

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