Is God the Author of Sin?

stormIs God the author of sin?

This question has been asked often in the history of Christian doctrine. Some theologians, ostensibly embarrassed by God’s absolute sovereignty and what that means for sin deny his total control of the universe.  For instance, open theist Gregory Boyd writes,

Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed. (God at War:The Bible and Spiritual Conflict53)

By contrast, others like Augustine of Hippo (5th C.), John Calvin of Geneva (16th C.), and Jonathan Edwards of New England (18th C.) have affirmed that God who never does evil still permits, decrees, and even employs evil so that his larger purposes of grace and glory might be accomplished.  On this Edwards says in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will,

If by Author of Sin, be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin. . . . But if, by Author of Sin, is meant the permitter, or not a hinder to Sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is ment, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense) it is not reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.” (p. 246).

Rightly, God is not evil and thus in his creative agency cannot do evil. Yet, in his divine sovereignty over time and space, he can “permit,” “ordain,” and even “author” sin in a way analogous to the way Shakespeare blamelessly authored the death of Macbeth. An author is not morally culpable for writing into their script the acts of evil men—whether fictitious (as in the case of Shakespeare) or real (as in the case of our Triune God). Therefore, since God did declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9–10), he wrote into the Script—what theologians call “his will of decree”—a world created inestimably good, ruined by sin, restored by his Son. Continue reading

What Does Revival Look Like?

fireWhen the First Great Awakening occurred in the 1730s and 1740s, Americans experienced a great outpouring of the Spirit of God. Many cried out in terror from a deep awareness of their sins. Many more wept for joy as they experienced genuine forgiveness and the power of the Spirit giving them new life.

Concurrent with these works of God, many false professions were also reported. While the Spirit “awoke” many from their spiritual tombs, Satan also manifested himself as an angel of light by deceiving many into believing they had experienced God when, in fact, they had not (cf. 2 Cor 11:14). As pastors of the era observed, many reported having heavenly visions while others heard God speak sweet words to them. Yet, what made these experiences prove false was the way that such people showed no corresponding change in behavior (i.e., holiness towards God and love towards others), nor was there explicit trust in Christ’s death and resurrection.

What does revival look like?

This was the question being asked in that era. And today, we ask it from another angle: How would we know revival if it came? Would it merely increase religiosity in our culture? Would it mean less crime, better families, or improved race relations? Or is there something more Christ-centered, even cross-centered, that must be seen? These are vital questions when considering revival and perhaps the best answer can be found from the Great Awakening itself. Continue reading

Aesthetics 101: Learning to Look for the Beauty of Christ

Last week, I guest-posted (I guess that’s a word) on Trevin Wax’s blog, a meditation from Revelation 19 on “The Greatest Love Story Ever Told.”  It was one of a couple meditations that came out of a series of sermons I preached last year on the subject of beauty–namely beauty as it is found in the Bible.

Today, I will begin to add to that post.  Looking at the subject of aesthetics, I will consider its place in the Bible, and in the days ahead I will post a few reflections on beauty and its essential place in the Christians’ life.  Then, after considering the need for aesthetics, I will offer a few reflections on how the beauty of the incarnation and hell (yes, the beauty of hell) can move us towards greater love and holiness.

Whether aesthetics is a subject that is familiar or foreign, I hope you will consider with me the idea of beauty as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ–who is indeed, the most beautiful one of all.

Aesthetics 101

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul concludes his six-fold admonition to right thinking by saying, “if there is anything excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things” (4:8).  As someone who had seen firsthand the glories of heaven (2 Cor 12:1-3), Paul spoke with a unique knowledge of beauty, truth, and goodness.  Indeed, as a herald of the gospel, he was at great pains to proclaim the beauty of Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2:2) and to see the beauty of Christ formed in the believers whom he betrothed to Christ (2 Cor 11:2).

In a way, Paul was an aesthete (i. e. a person who has a highly developed appreciation for beauty).  Now, that sounds really esoteric and unnecessary for the Christian life.  But I want to argue that seeing God’s beauty in the Word and the world is essential for Christian discipleship and spiritual growth.

Indeed, I am grateful to Trevin for letting me scribble some thoughts on the subject of aesthetics, and to share them with you.  For indeed, it was a book review on Erasing Hellthat Trevin wrote about a year ago that sowed the first seed in my thinking about the subject of beauty and its importance—make that, its necessity—in the Christian life.

A Journey into the Beautiful

I am a novice when it comes to art, literature, and most things that fall under the subject of aesthetics.  I have not taken a class on it.  I have read very little on the subject.  So, I am sure that in what I have to say on the subject will make plain my naïve understanding.  However, as a pastor, the subject of beauty is weekly occupation.  Here is what I mean.

Called to herald the sufferings and glories of Christ every Lord’s Day and every day in between, I have found that preaching the gospel means more than simply explaining concepts like justification, sanctification, and grace.  Of course, Christ-centered exposition must never divert from such biblical theology.  However, the call to preach and teach God’s word must go further. Indeed, stewards of the gospel must explain the whole counsel of Scripture, but they must also exalt beauty of these gospel truths.  This is why aesthetics is a necessary discipline for Christian preachers and parishioners.

And truly, I am grateful to Trevin for helping me see this.  Here is what he said a year ago, that grabbed my attention:

 What is needed is a response that takes into consideration the beauty of Truth. We’ve got the truth portion down when it comes to propositions. What is needed is a beautiful and compelling portrait of Truth – the Person. God is inherently beautiful, but many times, we don’t do well at drawing out the inherent beauty of Truth with a capital T.

Trevin makes the probing observation, “We struggle in the area of aesthetics, and I’m not sure why.”  Then, he comes back and challenges those who defend the truth by means of propositions to consider other artistic tools to depict the beauty of God’s capital T truth.

The problem with the responses to Love Wins is that, while we are experts at critiquing Bell’s vision of God, we aren’t stepping up with a more compelling portrait of God’s magnificence. We are scribbling down our thoughts under Bell’s chalk drawing instead of taking up the paint brush and creating something that reflects the beauty of biblical truth.

I am grateful for Trevin awakening me from my aesthetic slumber, and so as I have preached, blogged, and counseled in the last year, I have sought not only to diagram sentences but to communicate the beauties of God and his gospel.

One last attribution.  I was greatly helped in the months leading up to preaching on the beauty of God in creation and redemption  by the excellent little book on the subject of beauty by my friend Owen Strachan and his doctoral supervisor, Doug Sweeney.  Their book, Jonathan Edwards on Beauty, is full of Edwards own aesthetic reflections, and is well worth the read.

Over the next few posts, I will try to share a few biblical meditations on some of the things I found in Scripture that stirred my heart, and I hope they will stir your as well.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (4.30.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.  

BIBLE

The Case for Adam and Eve. In case you haven’t noticed, the historicity of Adam is once again under attack.  Groups like BioLogos and books like The Evolution of Adam (both of which are led or authored by Peter Enns) have recalled the question of Adam’s historical reality. Since evolution is still a topic promoted in schools and assumed in the media, this is an important discussion.  Thankfully, scholars like C. John Collins have given compelling evidence–biblical and otherwise–to help us see how Adam’s historicity is possible and why it matters.  In this interview, Professor Collins answers some important questions.  See also his recent book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?

The Whole Bible For Our Whole Lives. Our Presbyterian brother, Stephen Um interviews Richard Lints, asking him to discuss how biblical theology helps us read the Bible.  For me, reading Lints book,  The Fabric of Theology, was revolutionary.  He introduced me to the idea of reading each passage of Scripture in light of the textual, epochal, and canonical horizons.  In other words, he gave me terminology (which he got from Edmund Clowney) to describe how each text fits into the larger network of texts, chapters, books, and testaments known as the Bible. Every week, when I preach, I am looking to see the “micro-context” (trees) and the “macro-context” (the forest).  Why? Because men like Richard Lints showed me how to read the Bible as one unified story.  I encourage you to listen in on their six minute conversation.

THEOLOGY

The Old Testament and Providence. Kevin DeYoung provides a helpful overview of God’s purposeful providence in the history of Old Testament Israel.  It is a lengthy read, but one that is filled with strong biblical insights.

Jonathan Edwards of Typology. Douglas Wilson (pastor, theologian, author, and all-around literati) and Joe Rigney (Bethlehem College and Seminary) sit down to discuss Jonathan Edwards.  In this video they discuss his spiritual and sometimes speculative view of the two books of God–Scripture and Nature.

Take a look.

FAMILY, LIFE, & MINISTRY

Know Your Evangelicals. Joe Carter has begun to give short bios on evangelicals that every gospel-loving Christian should know.  In the first week, he has highlighted prison minister Charles Colson, cultural warrior Francis Schaeffer, and slave emancipator William Wilberforce.  Another, short book that provides similar information is Warren Wiersbe’s 50 People Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Spiritual Giants of the Faith.

Speaking the Gospel in an Age of Intolerance.  Ron Brown, assistant football coach at Nebraska, has come under fire for his opposition to a recent ammendment to a local ordinance in Omaha, Nebraska.  As the city seeks to add a clause protecting homosexuals, Brown stood up and spoke against it.  He has received great criticism for his stance and may face censure by his employer.  His public witness is bold, but his rationale is what makes the story so important.  As a bondslave to Christ, he wants to be found faithful to his master, and more than seeing homosexuals become heterosexual; he wants unbelievers to trust in Christ. He states,

It is not all about seeing homosexuals become hetereosexuals. This is not the message of the gospel. The gospel is about all types of sinners (like me) who are unbelievers becoming believers. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not discriminatory, it is all inclusive: we are all sinners. I am pretty consistent in talking to all types of people about Christ. This is the thing that encourages me in this whole thing: the gospel of Christ is being presented. God will forgive people. He will give a clean-slate to all who turn from sin and trust in Jesus.

May we all be so bold.

Responsibly Submitting to God’s Sovereignty

I was not convinced of God’s “exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty” (to borrow Bruce Ware’s phrase) until September 11, 2001.  I had been wrestling with the matter all summer.  Conversations piled up.  Readings on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility proliferated.  I had entered the summer as an ignorant open theist, had been confronted by a number of friends who argued from the whole counsel of Scripture for God’s unerring and unswerving sovereignty, and by the fall I was theoretically convinced of God’s perfect control of the world (cf Psalm 115:3; 135:6; Job 42:2; Isaiah 46:9-11; Daniel 4:34-35; Ephesians 1:10; Revelations 4:11).

But to turn theory into embrace took something more.  It took two terrorist planes slamming into New York’s Twin Towers to convince my heart of the matter that “God Reigns,” and that I am not in control of my life, any more than I can control the events in NYC.

Thinking back on that infamous day, I will never forget walking up the stairs into my dorm.  I had spent the morning glued to the television watching the horror unfold in New York.  Ascending the steps, I remember telling a friend, “Unless God is totally sovereign, I do not know how to make sense of that act of terror.”

I don’t know why in that moment, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart the conviction of God’s sovereignty, but I can mark it to that day, that God, in his sovereign grace, invaded my heart with a love for his divine control. I submitted to his sovereignty.

Such a reaction to the claims of God’s sovereignty are not uncommon.  Many Christians I have spoken to have articulated a similar journey–from arguing against God’s sovereignty to embracing it as one of their greatest comforts.

Marking his own journey towards sovereign submission, Jonathan Edwards writes:

From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty…. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God….

But never could I give an account, how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections.

And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, in respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense…. I have often since had not only a conviction but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so (Jonathan Edwards, “Personal Narrative,” in Jonathan Edwards: Representative Selections, ed. C. H. Faust and T. H. Johnson [New York: Hill & Wang, 1962], 58–9; quoted in John Piper, Desiring God [Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2003], 38).

I suspect that anyone who arrives at delighting in God’s sovereignty, did not do so naturally.  It was aided by the Spirit of God and prompted his Word, a revelation that is filled with inescapable claims of God’s complete control.

Consider just a few: The Bible speaks of all creation existing under his and being sustained by his powerful word (Job 38-39; Psalm 135:5-7; Acts 17:27-28; Heb 1:1-2), kings and individuals are directed by God’s invisible but omnipotent hand (Prov 16:9; 21:1; Dan 4:34-35), nations, good and evil alike, accomplish his intended,though often unintelligible, purposes (Psalm 33:10-11; Isaiah 10:5ff; Habbakuk 2:1ff), and that every roll of the dice at the river boat bounces as God intends (Prov 16:33).  All things happen according to his will (Eph 1:11).  Even the world’s greatest evil–like September 11–is mysteriously governed by God (Isa 45:7; Lam 3:37-38), in a way preserves God’s absolute innocence and purity (James 1:13) and yet maintains that even the gravest tragedy will be turned for good (Rom 8:28; cf. consider the unlawful murder of Jesus, ordained by God before the foundation of the world, Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 1 Peter 1:19-20).

Even with the testimony of Scripture mounting, embracing God’s sovereignty grates against our fallen condition.  Ingesting the fruit in the garden put within every human being a penchant from liberty apart from God.  Our innocent freedom was traded for bondage to sin (cf Romans 5, 8).  Consequently, our human nature revolts against the idea that we are not sovereign in our own lives.  We long to be God and to suppress the truth (Gen 3:1-6; Romans 1:18ff).

The irony about embracing God’s absolute sovereignty is that it does not make us robots, it makes us more human.  Men raging for their own sovereignty are less than human because they are denying the position God gave them as ‘created beings’ under his rule (cf Gen 1:26-28).  Why is this so hard to accept?  Because the effects of the fall still poisons our hearts and blinds our eyes.  The Bible renews our minds, mends our hearts, and opens our eyes to see the world not from our fallen human condition, but from God’s omniscient position.

Jonathan Edwards was exactly right: Embracing God’s sovereignty is not natural.  It is an act of submission, a denial of self, a willingness to give God back his crown.  Yet, in so doing, mankind is made most like its creator, submitting to his sovereign plan and purpose, one that is unstoppable in turning independent men and women into slaves of righteousness who find their greatest freedom in servile obedience to the King of Glory, the Lord of grace and truth.

May we humble ourselves and embrace God’s sovereignty.  Why?  Because that’s our human responsibility.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Lucifer, a Type of Christ? Michael Haykin answers a puzzling quote from Jonathan Edwards

[This is for Chip Dean who started the whole thing].

On his Church History blog at The Andrew Fuller Center (SBTS), Dr. Michael Haykin has answered a question today concerning Jonathan Edward’s view of Lucifer as a type of Christ in his post “Jonathan Edwards on Christ and Lucifer.”  The question arose from Edwards’ miscellanies “Fall of the Angels,” in “Miscellaneous Observations on Important Theological Subjects,” Chapter XI, of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Hendrickson Publishers, 1998), II, 609). In his biblical reflections Edwards draws parallels between Lucifer before the Fall and Christ in his glorious humanity.  Obviously, this causes orthodox believers to hesitate.  Haykins’ comments are helpful.  After quoting the pertinent sections, he commments:

A close and careful reading of the text reveals simply this: Edwards is arguing that the unfallen Lucifer is a type of glorified humanity of Christ—the chief responsibilities of Lucifer before his fall have now been given to the glorified humanity of Jesus Christ. There is nothing heretical in this, though, in true Edwards style, this is something I had never thought of before. But the latter is of no import, there is so much in Edwards that we lesser minds would never have thought of if we did not read it in Edwards. As a theologian, he was stellar. Is he right: that is another question. Again, Edwards is not exalting Lucifer over our Lord. He is simply arguing that the unfallen Lucifer has typological aspects to his character when it comes to his relationship to the glorified humanity of Christ.

Once again typology seems to be a necessary device to understanding the Bible.  What are your thoughts.  Does Edwards get it right?

Thank you, Dr. Haykin, for taking the time to respond and for helping us better understand Edwards and his biblical theology.  Read the whole thing here; read Edwards entire miscellany on Angels here .

Sola Deo Gloria, dss