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Category Archives: Theology Proper (The Study of God)

Theology Proper is the theological study of the Doctrine of God.

“Discerning God’s Will” by R.C. Sproul

THE THREE ‘WILLS” OF GOD

“It is the will of God.”

How easily these words fall from the lips or flow from the pen. How difficult it is to penetrate exactly what they mean. Few concepts in theology generate more confusion than the will of God.

One problem we face is rooted in the multifaceted way in which the term “will” functions in biblical expressions. The Bible uses the expression “will of God” in various ways. We encounter two different Greek words in the New Testament (boulē and thēlema), both of which are capable of several nuances. They encompass such ideas as the counsel of God, the plan of God, the decrees of God, the disposition or attitude of God, as well as other nuances. Further distinctions in historical theology add to the labyrinth of meanings attached to the simple formula “the will of God.”

Augustine once remarked, “In some sense, God wills everything that happens.” The immediate question raised by this comment is, In what sense? How does God “will” the presence of evil and suffering? Is He the immediate cause of evil? Does He do evil? God forbid. Yet evil is a part of His creation. If He is sovereign over the whole of His creation, we must face the conundrum, How is evil related to the divine will?

Questions like this one make distinctions necessary—sometimes fine distinctions, even technical distinctions—with respect to will of God. Some of those distinctions made by theologians include the following:

(1) The Decretive Will of God

This is sometimes described as the sovereign efficacious will, by which God brings to pass whatever He pleases by His divine decree. An example of this may be seen in God’s work of creation. When God said, “Let there be light,” He issued a divine imperative. He exercised His sovereign efficacious will. It was impossible for the light not to appear. It appeared by the sheer necessity of consequence. That is, the decretive will can have no other effect, no other consequence than what God sovereignly commands. He did not request the light to shine. Nor did He coax, cajole, or woo it into existence. It was a matter of the authority and power vainly sought by the king of Siam when he said to Anna (to no avail), “So let it be said; so let it be done.” No creature enjoys this power of will. No man’s will is that efficacious. Men issue decrees and then hope they will bring about their desired effects. God alone can decree with the necessity of consequence.

(2) The Preceptive Will of God

The preceptive will of God relates to the revealed commandments of God’s published law. When God commands us not to steal, this “decree” does not carry with it the immediate necessity of consequence. Where it was not possible for the light to refuse to shine in creation, it is possible for us to refuse to obey this command. In a word, we steal.

We must be careful not to make too much of this distinction. We must not be lulled into thinking that the preceptive will of God is divorced from His decretive will. It is not as though the preceptive will has no effect or no necessity of consequence. We may have the power to disobey the precept. We do not have the power to disobey it with impunity. Nor can we annul it by our disregard. His law remains intact whether we obey it or disobey it. Even this law cannot ultimately be frustrated. There will come a time when no one will steal. The sinner in hell will be forcibly restrained from stealing. The saint in heaven, in the glorified state of perfected sanctification, will be totally disinclined to theft.

In one sense the preceptive will is part of the decretive will. God sovereignly and efficaciously decrees that His law be established. It is established and nothing can disestablish it. His law exists as surely as the light by which we read it.

Yet we still observe the acute difference between the light’s obedience to God’s creative decree and our disobedience to God’s moral, preceptive decree. How do we account for this?

A common way to resolve this conundrum is by appeal to a distinction between the sovereign will of God and His permissive will.

(3) The Permissive Will of God

The distinction between the sovereign will of God and the permissive will of God is fraught with peril, and it tends to generate untold confusion.

In ordinary language the term permission suggests some sort of positive sanction. To say that God “allows” or “permits” evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He grants approval to it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.

What is usually meant by divine permission is that God simply lets it happen. That is, He does not directly intervene to prevent its happening. Here is where grave danger lurks. Some theologies view this drama as if God were impotent to do anything about human sin. This view makes man sovereign, not God. God is reduced to the roll of spectator or cheerleader, by which God’s exercise in providence is that of a helpless Father who having done all He can do, must now sit back and simply hope for the best. He permits what He cannot help but permit because He has no sovereign power over it. This ghastly view is not merely a defective view of theism; it is unvarnished atheism.

Obviously the motive behind this specious theology is virtuous. It is fueled by a desire to exonerate God from any culpability for the presence of evil in the world. I am sure God is pleased by the sentiment but repulsed by a theory that would strip Him of His very deity. Calvin said of this:

“Hence the distinction was devised between doing and permitting because to many this difficulty seemed inexplicable, that Satan and all the impious are so under God’s hand and power that He directs their malice to whatever end seems good to Him, and uses their wicked deeds to carry out His judgments. And perhaps the moderation of those whom the appearance of absurdity alarms would be excusable, except that they wrongly try to clear God’s justice of every sinister mark by upholding a falsehood” (Institutes I.xviii.1).

Calvin locates the scurrilous untruth in the faulty distinction between willing and permitting:

“It seems absurd to them for man, who will soon be punished for his blindness, to be blinded by God’s will and command. Therefore they escape by the shift that this is done only with God’s permission, not also by His will; but He, openly declaring that He is the doer, repudiates that evasion. However, that men can accomplish nothing … except what He has already decreed with Himself and determines by His secret direction, is proved by innumerable and clear testimonies” (Ibid.).

Calvin goes on to enumerate several passages that support his thesis, looking to Job, Satan and the Sabeans, the role of Pilate and Judas in the execution of Christ, the role of Absalom in Jewish history, etc.

The key phrase is this: “Therefore they escape by the shift that this is done only with God’s permission, not also by His will.”

Here the operative word is only. If we are in any just way to speak of God’s permissive will, we must be careful to notice not only the word permissive but also the word will. Whatever God “permits” He sovereignly and efficaciously wills to permit. If I have a choice to sin or not sin, God also has a choice in the matter. He always has the ability and the authority to stop me from exercising my will. He has absolute power to restrain me. He can vaporize me instantly if it is His pleasure. Or He can keep me on a long leash and let me do my worst. He will only permit me to do my worst if my worst coincides with His perfect providential plan.

In the treachery perpetrated by Joseph’s brothers, it was said, “You meant it for evil; God meant it for good.” God’s good will was served through the bad will of Joseph’s brothers. This does not mean that since they were only doing the will of God the acts of the brothers were virtues in disguise. Their acts are judged together with their intentions, and they were rightly judged by God to be evil. That God brings good out of evil only underscores the power and the excellence of His sovereign decretive will.

We sometimes get at this same problem by distinguishing between God’s active will and His passive will. Again we face difficulties. When God is “passive,” He is, in a sense, actively passive. I do not mean to speak nonsense but merely to show that God is never totally passive. When He seems to be passive, He is actively choosing not to intercede directly.

Augustine addressed the problem this way: “Man sometimes with a good will wishes something which God does not will, as when a good son wishes his father to live, while God wishes him to die. Again it may happen that man with a bad will wishes what God wills righteously, as when a bad son wishes his father to die, and God also wills it.… For the things which God rightly wills, He accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men.”

About the Author: Dr. R.C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Work of ChristThe Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe; The Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL. The article above was adapted from Ligonier Ministries Tabletalk magazine – August, 1993.

 

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Dr. Daniel L. Akin Answers The Question: Why Does Theology Matter?

Why Theology Matters
An Interview with Daniel L. Akin
President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, North CarolinaThis summer, Broadman & Holman released a new textbook on theology entitled A Theology for the Church. The book was edited by Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and it has contributions from some of the best known names in Southern Baptist life in the field of theology. This is the first compendium of theological topics produced by Broadman & Holman and written by Southern Baptists in more than fifty years. What follows is an interview between SBC LIFE and Dr. Akin. SBC LIFE wanted to know why Dr. Akin and the contributors to this book believe theology is important for the church and why it is especially crucial at this particular juncture in Southern Baptist life.SBC LIFE Why do you feel it is necessary for churches to focus on theology?

Akin Theology enables God’s people to think correctly and live rightly. What we do always flows from what we believe, and a sound theology helps us think clearly, rightly, and, most importantly, biblically about God.

SBC LIFE What difference does theology really make? Is it not enough that we worship the Lord with our hearts and enjoy warm and affirming fellowship?

Akin It is important that we love God with our heart, but it is also imperative that we love the Lord with our mind as well. Most of the time, Southern Baptists do a good job of loving God with their heart. However, I am not sure that we always do a good job at loving God with our mind. Peter reminds us to set apart the Messiah as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). Jesus instructed us in Matthew 22:37, that you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Theology is one means whereby we love God with our minds.

SBC LIFE How would you respond to those who suggest that studying theology tends to reduce God in the Christian life to an “ivory tower” academic exercise?

Akin Studying theology can certainly run that risk, but we do not have to fall into this trap. That is why Jesus challenges us to love the Lord both with our heart and with our mind. I am convinced that the best theology is done within the context of a passion for the Great Commission. I often tell our students that the model in this area is the Apostle Paul who was both the great missionary and the great theologian. When you wed solid theology to a commitment to the Great Commission, you will bring a balance to your theology that will be healthy and fruitful. We must remember that the best missionaries are capable theologians, and the best theologians are passionate missionaries. The two must never be separated. This is imperative for the future of our convention of churches.

SBC LIFE Many people believe that theology is a discipline best left to seminary professors and the seminary classroom. They would say that pastors and their churches are better served to be about Kingdom priorities of spreading the Gospel and not getting distracted by all of this “heady” material. How would you respond to that?

Akin The title of this book explains what we believe is the case. Theology is a discipline for the church, not just the academy. Indeed, it is primarily a task for the church. The fact of the matter is that defining the Gospel is inherently a theological task. You cannot define the Gospel without doing theology. You cannot define the Kingdom of God without doing theology. You can’t really even define the Great Commission without doing theology. In other words, we do theology whether we realize it or not. Therefore, we are either going to do theology well or we are going to do theology poorly. Pastors need to set the standard in this area by emphasizing and modeling the importance of good theology for their people.

Further, I believe pastors need to regain a renewed understanding of what it means to be a pastor/theologian and to challenge their people likewise to grow in the discipline of studying theology. Reading popular Christian works is fine and good, but it is certainly not enough. Just as a child (and adults for that matter!) needs to have a balanced diet to grow and stay healthy, we also need to take in spiritual food from various sources to ensure that we have a balanced diet. I am personally convinced, as are all the contributors of this theology, that our people are far more interested in, and capable of, thinking theologically than many of us believe. My experience has been when people are challenged to study theology, they respond in a wonderful manner. This has especially been true in what I have seen in teaching high school and college students over the last decade. Let’s raise the theological bar and see what happens! I think the response will be awesome to behold.

SBC LIFE So you believe a pastor could take this work, A Theology for the Church, and lead his people through a study of it over an extended period of time with great fruit resulting.

Akin Absolutely! I know of a Southern Baptist church in which the pastor began five years ago working through a basic systematic theology textbook with ten men. This past year there were 480 men and women who met weekly to study theology! I am convinced more than ever that there is a deep hunger in Southern Baptist churches for a steady diet of good, sound, biblical theology. I also believe that the need has never been greater. It is the prayer of all the contributors of this work that this book might bring about something of a revival and renaissance of the study of theology within the Southern Baptist Convention. Given so much of the conversation and controversy recently in our Convention over the Baptist Faith and Message, I believe the need is self evident.

SBC LIFE Theologians are sometimes viewed as being out of touch with the churches. Further, sometimes they can even come across as being almost “papal,” speaking down to the common people in the pew concerning what they should believe and how they should think. How would you respond to someone who raises this concern, as well as to those who even hold that the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers would argue against the validity of theological instruction?

Akin That is a really good question. I would begin by saying that we as Southern Baptists affirm wholeheartedly the doctrine of the Priesthood of Believers. We also believe that this doctrine is primarily one of accountability and responsibility which fits perfectly into the study of theology. We are responsible to hold one another accountable in defending the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

It is also the case that God raises up men in the body of Christ to be pastor/teachers to lead us and to help us in thinking biblically and theologically. Some of these men find their place of service in our seminaries and colleges. However, even these men are accountable within and to the churches.

There is no place for a Baptist pope or ecclesiastical magisterium in Southern Baptist life. There is also no place for sloppy and unbiblical thinking either. I can say this. Southern Baptist seminaries are not interested in being theological peeping-toms nor are we interested in conducting theological witch hunts. Rather, we honor all those that God raises up who have the ability to help us think well theologically, and we also recognize that every believer in the body of Christ is responsible to be a capable and competent theologian. Therefore, when a Baptist church, and for that matter a convention, is functioning as it ought, there is a wonderful and healthy accountability that exists between the academy and the local church. Our six Southern Baptist seminaries serve the churches. We are accountable to the churches. We recognize that we will do a better job because of that accountability and responsibility. It is not something that we wish to negate or run from. Rather, it is something we gladly embrace. We are partners in service to King Jesus.

SBC LIFE In looking at the list of contributors, it is clear that there is a broad spectrum of representation among the authors. Some are known for being Calvinistic in their theology, while others are not. Was that intentional and did it present any problems?

Akin You are accurate in your observation. I believe the contributors to this volume represent the best thinkers in Southern Baptist life. And it is true that the contributors are not lock step in all of their theological positions. However, and I think that this is crucially important at this particular time in our history, each of these men is a confessional Baptist committed to evangelical theology and theBaptist Faith and Message. We are in 100 percent agreement on the essentials of the faith, as well as those distinctives that mark and identify us as Baptists. There may be differing views on the number of points of Calvinism, plurality of elders versus a single pastor, or a particular perspective on eschatology. Yet, we are united in what constitutes historic orthodox Christianity, and we are united in the distinctive marks of what constitutes a Baptist. I think A Theology for the Churchmodels well what could be a consensus for Southern Baptists in terms of confessional theology. At least that is a hope that I believe the Lord has placed deep within my heart.

SBC LIFE Is there anything else you would add to our interview?

Akin I would simply want to challenge pastors to take the lead in helping their people once again become good students of theology. I would challenge them to start a study group focusing on theology. Use this book and see what God does. I think many will be pleasantly surprised. I think they will also discover that they will cultivate better listeners of their preaching as well as a cohort of fellow followers of Jesus Christ who will come along side of them to ensure that their people are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, but instead they are growing up in Christ to a mature man who is capable of rightly dividing the Word of Truth and holding in trust the wonderful mysteries of the Christian faith.

Original Source: http://www.sbclife.net/Articles/2007/09/sla7

 

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What is True Wellness? by John Dunlop, MD

What Is True Wellness?

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This is a guest post by Dr. John Dunlop. He is the author of Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.  Article adapted from: http://www.crossway.org/blog/2014/09/what-is-true-wellness/


Will I Be Well at Age 95?

Henry came to his appointment huffing and puffing using his walker to get down the hall. I, as his physician, shook his hand and asked, “How is it going my friend?” Smiling he gave me a strong handshake and said, “Praise the Lord, I’m well, thank you!”

As pleased as I was to hear his response, it caught me just a bit off guard. I was 65; he was 95! I found myself wanting to feel just as well in 30 years. All kinds of questions began to pop into my mind:

Can we truly be well at 95, even when short of breath and using our walkers?

Will I be able to say I’m well if I am still on earth at that age?

What can I do now to increase the chance of being well in thirty years?

The Concept of Shalom

The ancient Hebrews contribute to our understanding of wellness by their use of the word shalom. Whereas shalom is often loosely translated as “peace,” the true meaning is far more extensive. At root, shalom means “totality.” It is the sense of wholeness we have when every part of our lives is in a profound harmony and unity within ourselves, with those around us, and with God. Shalom leads to wellness.

Where do we find the integrating principle that brings all of our lives together? Once again the ancient Jews had the correct answer. The famous Shema of Israel says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5). We are to be a people of one God. This must be more than something we recite for we need to have him as our single focus and see all other areas of life brought together in him. We are to love him with all of our hearts, souls, and might.

Our love for God is well illustrated in the Scriptures:

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise You. (Psalm 63:1-3)

We learn to love God with all of our beings and then find in him our fulfillment and greatest joy. In God we find what we need to be satisfied. We experience shalom through shema and that sets us on the way to true wellness.

All to the Glory of God

And yet while loving God and loving other people are wonderful—and may help us reach our ultimate purpose—they are not that ultimate purpose in themselves. To attain that ultimate goal we must go one level deeper.

Our overriding purpose in life should be to glorify God. We bring God glory in three distinct ways.

First, he is glorified in our own spirits as we find greater joy and fulfillment in him.

Second, others may give him glory as a result of something we do for them that reflects God’s love and goodness.

Third, God is glorified in his own being through our worship as we declare how much we treasure him. The apostle Paul speaks of Christians as being “the aroma of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). It is difficult to understand fully but in some way we remind God of the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus, and in that he is greatly pleased.

Living with a passion for God and his glory will have the following results:

(1) It will free us from worry and anxiety as we will be less focused on ourselves

(2) We will function out of a sense of fullness, not emptiness

(3) It will energize us and ignite us with passion

(4) We will fulfill our true purpose, find our niche, feel at home, and be content

(5) We will do things with eternal impact

(6) We will experience wellness in its truest sense

6 Areas of Wellness

In order to have this unified focus on God and his glory in our lives we must carefully review each area of our lives to see what changes are needed. These areas include:

(1) Physical: Are we being good stewards of the bodies he has entrusted to us? This includes eating well, controlling our weight, exercising, getting proper rest, and taking advantage of the good medical care available to us.

(2) Mental: As age approaches it is increasingly important to keep using and sharpening our minds. Dementia may intervene but even that offers opportunities for God to be glorified.

(3) Social: Relationships are more important as we get older and we need to ensure that we’re making the best of them. It’s critical that we choose a living situation where we will not be isolated but can continue to build close friendships while strengthening our family relationships.

(4) Financial: Are our finances worry-free? Rarely can we increase our resources but we can often limit our expenses. We must be good stewards of the resources God has given us, saving to meet our future needs, and leaving room to be generous.

(5) Spiritual: Our later years offer rich opportunities for spiritual growth and service. Some of the fruit of the Spirit like patience and gentleness may be late bloomers. All believers, no matter their age, are given spiritual gifts through which they can help others. Our abilities may change over the years but there will always be need for prayer and encouragement for others.

(6) Emotional: Are we learning to be content? That must exist in three tenses: we must be comfortable with the past, satisfied in the present, and confident of the future. As age advances depression is all too common and we must learn to effectively deal with that.

Once we get to Henry’s age it’s unreasonable to think that we will continue to be totally well in each of these areas. But, if we review each of them and carefully take stock of where we are now,we can make some corrections that will maximize the chance of true wellness as our lives progress.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).


John Dunlop (MD, Johns Hopkins University) practices medicine in Zion, Illinois, and serves as an adjunct professor at Trinity International University. He is board certified in geriatrics, holds a master’s degree in bioethics, and is a fellow of the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity. Dunlop is the author of Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician and Wellness to the Glory of God: Living Well after 40 with Joy and Contentment in All of Life. Both published by Crossway Books.

 

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Jonathan Edwards: Why Did God Create The World?

The theological riches of the Puritans’ writings are often hid from modern readers because of the archaic language. As Ben Stevens says in his introduction to Why God Created the World: A Jonathan Edwards Adaption, Edwards’s “tone and grammatical acrobatics make the original text nearly impossible to read.”

In his new book, Stevens reworks the tone and style of Edward’s brilliant work, Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1765). Stevens’s efforts have resulted in making a daunting and difficult text accessible for a general audience.

We’re pleased to provide an excerpt from chapter two of the book that provides “first steps toward an answer” to the question, “Why did God create world?”

Let’s begin by considering the implications of what Christians already agree on about God’s personality. That will greatly reduce the scope of the things we need to consider, and given the size of this topic, that reduction would be a relief. Christians from across the spectrum agree on a surprising number of things on this point, but let me list the two that I think help us zero in on an answer.

First, we agree that God is glorious and happy, independent of any external circumstances. His glory and happiness are eternal, and he doesn’t live in fear that someone will steal or wound his joy. Second, we agree that the universe receives everything from God’s hand and consequently has nothing to give back to him that he didn’t already have before creation.

These are not radical Christian convictions, but they go a long way toward eliminating many popular suggestions about why God created the world. I would summarize their implications like this: If God does not need, and cannot receive, anything new from something he creates, then he must not have created in order to fill a need he had.

With one stroke this point wipes out much of what the world’s pagan religions have thought about their gods for millennia. But at the same time, it raises another question: If God didn’t create because of a need he had, then what prompted him to create at all? I think the most logical conclusion is that if creation does not arise to fulfill some need that God has, then it must arise because of the way it promotes something he values.

This short set of considerations has already carried us most of the way to our answer. Let’s take a final step by thinking about what makes things valuable. I think that piece will complete the puzzle.

Value

As I explained in the last chapter, some things have value because of the way they serve a greater purpose. We might say they have a preliminary value. In this case, however, we are talking about things that are inherently valuable, things that God valued before there was any creation. Broadly speaking, we might say we’re looking for things that are, in and of themselves, good, true, and beautiful.

With this point in mind, ask yourself the question: What existed before the creation of the world that was good, true, and beautiful? I believe you will see that everything that existed before the creation of the world, which was good, true, and beautiful . . . was God. If there is a God who created the universe as we know it, then that means there was also a time when everything we love, which inspires us, and which gives us goose bumps, was all simply an aspect of his personality.

Life as we experience it now doesn’t force us to recognize this point. A man can experience love, for example, whether he believes in or acknowledges God at all. But this is a result of creation. It’s a result of the fact that God has diffused himself throughout human experience. There was a time before the creation of the world when the distinction would have been invalid, a time in which the thing we have come to know as love was literally embodied entirely in one (triune) being.

Creation must have arisen because of the way it accomplishes something God values. God values things like goodness, truth, and beauty. And yet those words are simply labels we have come up with to describe things that were, before creation, all him. So I think we are logical to conclude that if God could have created the universe to expand and increase himself—and, implicitly, all the things that we have come to know in the abstract as goodness, truth, and beauty—then that best explains the logic behind his decision to create a universe in the first place.

Perfect Priorities

At first this may all sound very odd, but I am simply suggesting that God makes the same connection that we make in the course of properly setting our values and priorities. For example, we value things like paintings. But we would never value a single painting more than the artist who painted it. In fact we value the artist more because he is the source of such great beauty. Setting his value higher actually acknowledges the value of any one of his individual paintings. And Christians would want to take the last logical step and affirm that God, who first had the idea to make artists, should have an even higher place in our priorities for the same reason: that he is the source of artists.

The idea I want to propose is that the logic that leads us to value God more than anything else . . . must also lead God himself to value God more than anything else. He must, or at least ought to, come to the same conclusion about the importance and value of his role that we do: that he should have the greatest priority because his existence and work lead to the existence and work of all other good.

Let me take this a step further. We believe that God is good, not just because he’s divine, but because he makes perfect judgments, and because he faithfully evaluates and appraises whatever he sees. In contrast to the often haphazard way humans put one thing before another, God uses accurate weights and measures. So, although it seems strange at first, we put God’s judgment into question if we assume that he doesn’t accurately esteem the most valuable entity imaginable: himself.

Conclusion

I recognize that in some ways, the thesis I have offered here raises as many questions as it answers. But we still have plenty of time to fill in the gaps and think through the implications. For now, I believe it is logical to conclude that:

1. God created not out of a need he had but because of the way creation accomplished something he valued.

2. God ought to value himself and his attributes more than anything.

3. Creation must have resulted from the way God saw the value of expanding himself: his goodness, truth, beauty, and all the things that are a part of him.

That is my theory in its most essential form. What it means, whether it is true, and whether we can know it’s true—that’s where we’re headed next.

* * * * *

Excerpt taken from Why God Created the World by Ben Stevens. Copyright © 2014. A NavPress resource published in alliance with Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Ben Stevens (MDiv, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) works for Greater Europe Mission in Berlin, Germany. Keep up with him on Twitter and at www.benstevens.de.

 

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Sinclair Ferguson on “Considering the Glory of God”

Consider the Glory of God

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By Sinclair Ferguson

John Newton (1725–1807) is best known today for his great hymns (including “Amazing Grace” and “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken”). But in his own day, he was perhaps more highly prized as a letter writer — “the great director of souls through the post,” as someone described him. Such was the value of his correspondence that he published several volumes of his letters (including one of his letters to his wife, which called forth the comment by one reviewer, his friend Richard Cecil, that wives would be in raptures reading such love letters while “we [husbands] may suffer loss of esteem for not writing them such gallant letters”).

In several of his letters, he comments on the subject of controversy. He had a distaste for it. (It would be an unhappy thing to have a “taste” for it, would it not?) He also had a sense of being unfitted for it. He remarked that it was “not only unpleasing to my taste, but really above my reach.” But lack of experience is not necessarily an obstacle to one’s ability to give biblical counsel. Newton constantly sought to give such counsel. (Did he not encourage William Wilberforce in the great public controversy of slave trading?) In a day when only a paltry number of Anglican ministers were evangelical, he was particularly conscious that Calvinists, being much in the minority, might feel pressed into controversy too frequently.

It is surely for this reason that one of his chief concerns was that if we are to engage in controversy, our perspective needs to be dominated by the issue of the glory of God. “If we act in a wrong spirit,” he writes, “we shall bring little glory to God.” The first question of The Westminster Shorter Catechism is relevant here as everywhere: How do I speak, write, or act in situations of controversy so that God may be most glorified?

This is the principle. But it needs to be particularized. Newton realized that sometimes we engage in controversy professedly “for the glory of God” but are blind to the ways in which our own motives impact and play out in our speech and actions. The rubric “for the glory of God” must transform how Christians respond to controversy.

For the glory of God” does not call for a monolithic response to every controversy. Circumstances alter cases. We do not cast pearls before swine.

Here are three illustrations of controversy. In the first, silence is the appropriate God-glorifying reaction; in the second, confrontation; and in the third, patience. Why such different responses?

KEEP SILENCE

Isaiah 36 vividly describes how Sennacherib of Assyria attacked Judah. The Rabshakeh (an Assyrian officer) sought to stir up controversy. He spoke, as Hezekiah recognized, “to mock the living God” (Isa. 37:17). But the leaders followed their king’s counsel: “They were silent and answered him not a word” (36:21). The end of the story? God vindicated their response. The angel of the Lord struck down 185,000 Assyrians. Sennacherib retreated.

Would it not have been bolder, more “faithful,” to engage in verbal controversy in defense of the Lord? Why silence? For three reasons:

1. FIGHTING WORDS would not have defended the Lord’s glory here. At such times, we look to the Lord to defend His own glory and not give it to another.

2. WE BEST DEFEND the Lord’s glory by speaking first to Him about unbelieving men rather than speaking first about Him to unbelieving men. Hence Hezekiah’s prayer: “O Lord our God, save us from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord” (37:20). Alas, not all strong controversialists are strong intercessors.

3. WE CAN MAR the Lord’s glory — as Newton hints — by how we respond to controversy. Man’s insulting God is not reversed by our insulting man.

SPEAK DIRECTLY

A less public, but no less breathtaking, incident took place in the early church.

Imagine the electric atmosphere: Simon Peter had table fellowship with Gentiles. Then “certain men came from James” (Gal. 2:12). Peter separated himself, as did other Jewish Christians, “even Barnabas” (vv. 11–14). How did Paul respond? He “opposed [Peter] to his face” (v. 11).

Paul was surely right. But why was this a God-glorifying response, rather than silence in deference to Peter and Barnabas, avoiding embarrassment and potential division?

1. THE PROTAGONISTS were present and believed the same gospel. Paul did not wait and later “bad mouth” Peter. He did the hard thing. He spoke personally and directly to him. That glorifies God because it follows a biblical pattern (Matt. 18:15James 4:17).

2. THE VERY HEART of the gospel was at stake here (as Paul notes in Gal. 2:15–21).

3. “ORDAINED” MINISTERS of the gospel were involved, not a single, ordinary individual. The deviation of both Peter and Barnabas would lead to the deviation of others and a disastrous disruption of the whole church. God’s glory in the church required direct speech.

RESPOND PATIENTLY

Some years later, Paul encountered a situation that, at first sight, seems similar. There was an ongoing controversy about “diets and days” in the Roman church(es). Some observed special days and refrained from certain foods. It was presumably a controversy between Jewish and Gentile believers (the latter being the majority in the churches after the expulsion of Jews and Jewish Christians from Rome, see Acts 18:1–2). Paul had an eye to God’s glory. How could the two groups in this controversy “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6)?

1. STRIKINGLYTHE “STRONG,” those on “the right side” of the controversy (14:14), are the ones who should refrain from insisting that others adopt their “right” position and practice. The glory of God is best seen when “the strong” welcome “the weak” — because this is what God has done in Christ: “For while we were still weak … Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6).

2. FELLOW BELIEVERS are Christ’s servants, not ours. To demean or despise the weak is to despise the Lord of glory. (Remember Matt. 25:40?)

3. TO INSIST ON exercising one’s “liberty” on a controversial matter (to eat meat, to ignore days, and so on) compromises that very liberty itself. It means we are driven by inner “need” rather than by love. We are focused on self-glory rather than God’s glory. Since “Christ did not please himself” (Rom. 15:3), should we?

These examples are by no means comprehensive. But they illustrate Newton’s point. In all things seek God’s glory — and guard your heart. Christians are always in need of that wise counsel.

Source: May 1, 2012 http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/consider-the-glory-of-god/

 

 

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The Purposes of God

The Purposes of God

R.C. Sproul sitting in green chair

by R.C. Sproul

“Why?” This simple question is loaded with assumptions about what philosophers call “teleology.” Teleology, which comes from the Greek word for “goal” or “end” (telos), is the study of purpose. The “why” questions are purpose questions. We seek the reasons things happen as they do. Why does the rain fall? Why does the earth turn on its axis? Why did you say that?

When we raise the question of purpose, we are concerned with ends, aims, and goals. All these terms suggest intent. They assume meaning rather than meaninglessness. Despite the best attempts of nihilist philosophers to deny that anything has ultimate meaning and significance, the perennial question “Why?” shows that they haven’t been successful. In fact, even the cynic’s glib retort of “Why not?” is a thinly veiled commitment to purpose. To explain why we’re not doing something is to give a reason or purpose for not doing it. Purpose remains in the background. Human beings are creatures committed to purpose. We do things for a reason—with some kind of goal in mind.

Still, there is complexity in this quest for purpose. We distinguish between proximate and remote purposes, the proximate being what is close at hand and the remote referring to the distant and ultimate purpose. To use a sports analogy, the proximate goal for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line is to make a first down. Making a touchdown is the more remote goal. A goal that is even further off for the team is to win the game. Finally, the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl.

The most famous Old Testament illustration of the relation between remote and proximate purposes is found in the story of Joseph. At the story’s end, Joseph’s brothers express their fear that he will take revenge on them for all that they had done to him. Joseph’s response shows us a remarkable concurrence at work between proximate and remote purposes. He said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Here, the proximate and the remote seemed to be mutually exclusive. The divine intention was the exact opposite of the human intention. Joseph’s brothers had one goal; God had a different one. The astounding reality here is that the proximate purpose served the remote purpose. This did not absolve the brothers of culpability. Their intent and actions were evil. Yet God deemed it good to let the brothers have their way with Joseph—to a limited extent—that He might achieve His ultimate purpose.

We all experience what seem to be tragic accidents. Some years ago, one of the pastors of Saint Andrew’s Chapel cut his hand severely while working in a cabinet shop. He did not mean to slice his hand; he intended to cut the wood for the cabinet he was working on. Proximately speaking, he had an accident. He asked, “Why did God permit my hand to get cut up?”

The question looks for a final purpose to the accident. It assumes what we know to be true, namely, that God could have prevented the accident. If we deny this, we deny the God who is. If He could not have prevented it, He would not be omnipotent—He would not be God. Moreover, our question “Why?” assumes another truth: that the question has an answer. We know God had a purpose for the accident.

For questions like these, we may not get a full answer in this life. We may never know on this side of glory all of the reasons why a tragedy occurs. Nevertheless, there is an answer to this most important question: “Is God’s purpose in allowing this accident to happen a good one?”

If we know anything about God, we already know the answer to the question. The Lord’s purposes and intentions are always altogether good. There is no hint of arbitrariness or wicked intent in the will of God. The pleasure of His will is always the good pleasure of His will. His pleasure is always good; His will is always good; His intentions are always good.

Paul’s incredible promise that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28) is a statement of teleology. Here, Paul addresses the remote rather than the proximate. Note that he doesn’t say all things are good but that they work together for good—for a final and ultimate goal. The Apostle insists that the proximate must always be seen in light of the remote.

The difficulty we face is that we do not yet possess the full light of the remote. On this side of heaven, we see through a glass darkly. Yet, we are not utterly devoid of light. We know enough about God to know He has a good purpose for all things even when that good purpose eludes us.

God’s good purpose shows us that the appearance of vanity and futility in this world is just that—mere appearance. To trust in God’s good purpose is the essence of godly faith. Thus, no Christian can be an ultimate pessimist. The wickedness and tragedy we daily endure can lead to a proximate pessimism, but not an ultimate one. I am pessimistic about human government and the innate good will of men. I am fully optimistic about divine government and the intrinsic good will of God.

We do not live in a world of chance or chaos. It began with a purpose, it is sustained with a purpose, and it has an ultimate purpose. This is my Father’s world, and His rule is purposeful, not capricious and arbitrary. Purposelessness is a manifest impossibility.

Source: www.ligonier.org (June 1, 2014)

 

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God Reigns

Unknown 2

By Burk Parsons

What is the kingdom of God? It’s a simple question, yet if I were to ask that same question to a hundred theologians I would likely get a hundred different answers. The kingdom of God is not some sort of ancient or obsolete doctrine that no one has ever heard of. Rather, it is something we hear about all the time as a fundamental component of Jesus’ teaching and a primary theme throughout sacred Scripture. Although few would admit it, when most Christians think about the kingdom of God, their minds are strained to conceive of anything beyond some ethereal notion of mustard seeds, lost coins, different soils, and undefined future bliss.

However, when it comes right down to it, the kingdom of God should be more simple to define than just about any other theological term. It’s quite plain really: God reigns. Or, to say it another way: The kingdom of God is the omnipotent rule and sovereign reign of Almighty God over all things, the inauguration of which came with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus and the fullness of which is yet to come.

Nevertheless, while it is important to have a good, biblical answer to the question, what is the kingdom of God? it is just as important to have an honest answer to the question, whose kingdom do you serve? These are the questions that are at the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount: Are you the king of your own kingdom? Are you the self-appointed potentate of your own, private little empire? You may answer with a hearty no, but does your life demonstrate that you are a servant of God or a servant of self? We all certainly want to be part of the kingdom, but most Christians want to serve the kingdom on their own terms.

As divinely appointed citizens of the kingdom of God we are foreigners in the kingdom of this world. We are real characters in the real story of redemptive history in real space and real time who have been summoned to follow the King of kings as servants, saints, and soldiers – coram Deo, before His face, in life and in death. Augustine understood this well: “We want to reach the kingdom of God, but we don’t want to travel by way of death. And yet there stands necessity saying: ‘This way, please.’ Do not hesitate, man, to go this way, when this is the way that God came to you.”

Source: http://www.ligonier.org (December 1, 2007)

 

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