Is God the Author of Evil?

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An Answer to God and The Problem of Evil

I form the light, and create darkness:

I make peace, and create evil:

I the Lord do all these things. ~ Isaiah 45:7 (KJV)

I form the light and create darkness,

I make peace and create calamity;

I, the Lord, do all these things.’ ~ Isaiah 45:7 (NKJV)

The One forming light and creating darkness,

Causing well-being and creating calamity;

I am the Lord who does all these. ~ Isaiah 45:7 (NASB95)

*Question Answered By Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe

What’s the Problem? According to this verse God “creates good and evil” (KJV, cf. Jeremiah 18:11 and Lamentations 3:38; Amos 3:6). But many other Scriptures inform us that God is not evil (1 John 1:5), cannot even look approvingly on evil (Habakkuk 1:13), and cannot even be tempted by evil (James 1:13).

What’s the Solution? The Bible is clear that God is morally perfect (cf. Deuteronomy 32:4; Matthew 5:48), and it is impossible for Him to sin (Hebrews 6:18). At the same time, His absolute justice demands that He punish sin. This judgment takes both temporal and eternal forms (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:11-15). In its temporal form, the execution of God’s justice is sometimes called “evil” because it seems  to be evil to those undergoing it (cf. Hebrews 12:11). However, the Hebrew word for evil (ra) used here does not always mean moral evil. Indeed, the context indicates that it should be translated, as the NKJV and other modern translations do, as “calamity.” Thus, God is properly said to be the author of “evil” in this sense, but not in the moral sense—at least not directly.

Further, there is an indirect sense in which God is the author of moral evil. God created moral beings with free choice, and free choice is the origin of moral evil in the universe. So, ultimately God is responsible for making moral creatures who are responsible for moral evil. God made evil possible by creating free creatures, but the free creatures made evil actual. Of course, the possibility of evil (i.e., free choice) is itself a good thing.

So, God created only good things, one of which was the power of free choice, and moral creatures produced the evil. However, God is the author of a moral universe and in this indirect and ultimate sense is the author of the possibility of evil. Of course, God only permitted evil, but does not promote it, and He will ultimately produce good through it (cf. Genesis 50:20; Revelation 21-22)

The relation of God and evil can be summarized this way:

GOD IS NOT THE AUTHOR OF EVIL GOD IS THE AUTHOR OF EVIL
In the sense of sin In the sense of calamity
Moral evil Non-moral evil
Perversity Plagues
Directly Indirectly
Actuality of evil Possibility of evil

*Article adapted from The Big Book of Bible Difficulties by Norman L. Geisler and Thomas Howe. Grand Rapids, MI., Baker, 2008.

God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering

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*Sovereignty, Suffering, and Open Theism

By Thomas R. Schreiner

Intense suffering provokes questions about God’s sovereignty and love. When we suffer deeply, we ask the question, “Why?” Why does God allow such pain in the lives of his children, and why is the world wracked with so much misery? Christians have asked these questions for centuries, and philosophers and theologians have reflected on these matters, attempting to provide answers to what is often called “the problem of evil.” I do not want to minimize in the least the importance of such answers, and some of our contributors in this issue help us in this regard. At the outset, however, I do want to point to the crucified Christ. Whatever solution we suggest for the problem of evil (and thinking rightly on this matter is of vital importance), we need to remind ourselves that we worship one who suffered, died, and was buried. We do not know a Savior who is untouched by human misery, who gazes at us from afar and did not share our plight. We worship one who shared our infirmities and weakness (though he was without sin), so that he sympathizes “with our weaknesses” and our temptations (Heb 4:15). He voluntarily took our sin and suffering upon himself, so that we can be free from sin and suffering in the world to come. The crucifixion of God’s Christ demonstrates to us God’s love and mercy in a suffering world.

James Montgomery Boice, who was once the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when diagnosed with liver cancer (and who died within a few months of his diagnosis) reminded the congregation of God’s sovereignty in the situation, rejecting the idea that God was not in control. But he said that what struck him even more powerfully is the goodness of God. God is sovereign and he loves us. God is in control and he has a tender and ardent love for his children.

Christians have always taught that God foresees what his people will suffer, and that he is sovereign over this world. Recently, however, “open theism” has called this truth into question. Open theists argue that God does not and cannot know the future free will decisions of human beings. If he did, they claim, then human beings would not be truly free. In their view, human beings cannot be free if God knows in advance what we will choose to do. They see another advantage in their paradigm, namely, God is not responsible for the suffering we experience, for he did not know or ordain that it would occur. It is fair to say that open theists think that one of the great advantages of this new paradigm is that it solves the problem of evil.

Some of our readers, perhaps, have not even heard of open theism. If so, they might be surprised to learn that “evangelical” scholars are promulgating it and urging its acceptance. Remarkably enough, even Christianity Today in an editorial (“God vs. God,” Christianity Today, February 7, 2000, 34-35) urged both open theists and their traditional evangelical opponents to study the scriptures carefully before criticizing the other side. What is astonishing about this is not that Christianity Today urged both sides to study the Bible. We all, of course, agree with that injunction. What is surprising is that the editorial begins by speaking very negatively of the classical view of God (ironically quoting Pascal, who had a very strong view of divine sovereignty as a Jansenist!) and a very positive estimation of the benefits of open theism. Indeed, despite some closing words about the importance of church history, we are given the impression that both open theism and classical theology are equally plausible. The bulk of the editorial is written as if there were no context for such a study, as if we do not already have twenty centuries of careful Christian reflection upon the scriptures, as if Christians have not studied issues pertaining to the very questions posed for centuries. It is instructive that no branch of Christendom, whether Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant, has ever embraced open theism.

This is not to say that we have arrived theologically, that everything the church has agreed on historically is true, or that every new idea should be jettisoned from the outset. But a responsible editorial on the matter should say that the burden of proof is strongly against a theological position that has been rejected for all of church history by every segment of the Christian church. The Reformers believed that the scriptures were the final authority, but they often cited church fathers to demonstrate that their theology was not wholly new. When I read an editorial like this, I wonder if some segments of evangelical Christianity are rootless, lacking any sense of the teaching of the church through the ages. We should study our Bibles, realizing that our ancestors were imperfect and may need correction. And yet we do not dismiss lightly the wisdom of those who preceded us, lest we be guilty of what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”

Some openness theologians claim to be radical biblical literalists, contending that traditional evangelicals have failed to interpret the scriptures in accord with its most likely meaning. Hence, open theists insist that when scripture says, “God repents,” the text means exactly what it says. God really and truly changes his mind. This claim should be examined seriously since we are summoned to review our hermeneutical approach. The biblical strength of their view, however, is exaggerated. The hermeneutical method of open theists would be more convincing if they were consistent. Open theists should argue, if they were consistent, that God does not know the present either. After all, God asks Adam, “Where are you?” (Gen 3:8). A radical biblical literalist would say, “God must not know where Adam is since he asks the question.” Further, the Lord had to go down to Sodom and Gomorrah to know what was happening in those cities according to Genesis 18:20-21. As radical biblical literalists, open theists should say God did not know the present state of affairs in Sodom and Gomorrah since he needed to travel there to discover what was going on. If they respond by saying, “Many other verses teach us that God is omniscient and that he knows the present perfectly,” then I reply, “That is the same answer we give to the verses they cited to prove that God does not know the future.” I conclude, therefore, that the Christianity Today editorial is wrong on another score. The biblical support for open theism is not remarkably strong. On the contrary, they can only advance their cause by being hermeneutically inconsistent. We do not need to begin at ground zero to determine the plausibility of this new hypothesis. Nevertheless, the debate will continue. I am confident that forthcoming work, such as Bruce Ware’s anticipated book on the topic from Crossway, will demonstrate that open theism’s hermeneutic, biblical exegesis, and theology are faulty.

Why is this new movement dangerous and harmful? It is pernicious precisely because it removes the sovereignty of God from suffering. We may not understand why we are suffering, and we know that the pain in this world is staggering. Nonetheless, we do not surrender what the scriptures teach. Our God is good and he is sovereign. Our God cares and he is in control. Our God loves and he reigns. Our Father works everything for good to those who love him and who are called according to his gracious purpose (Rom 8:28). The judge of all the earth always does what is right (Gen 18:25). Our trust in him and love for him will not be increased if we surrender his lordship and kingship. Such an option may be tempting to some, but it is unbiblical and pastorally irresponsible.

About the author: Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner is the James Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He holds an MDiv and ThM from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary and a PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary. He has published a number of articles and book reviews in scholarly journals, as well as many great books.

An Encouraging Sermon by John Piper on Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles

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“Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles; Tomorrow’s Mercies for Tomorrow’s Troubles.”

A Sermon By Dr. John Piper

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” ~ Matthew 6:34

“The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

Sometimes I have reinforced a sermon by following it up with a STAR article (The STAR is Bethlehem Baptist’s weekly newsletter). Today I want to reinforce a STAR article with a following sermon. The STAR article last week was called, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles; Tomorrow’s Mercies for Tomorrow’s Troubles.” There were several points. One was this: 

(1) Every day God appoints a measure of pleasure and pain for that day—like the old Swedish hymn says:

He whose heart is kind beyond all measure,

Gives unto each day what he deems best—

Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,

Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Kind beyond all measure, the Lord gives pain and pleasure to each day as he deems best. We don’t always agree enthusiastically with what God deems best for us. It is hard for us to feel that he is kind beyond all measure when he gives us pain. Causing pain is not generally equated with showing kindness, especially if God’s measure for one day is a lot more than another day. But it’s true, as we will see more fully in a moment. God gives each day his wise and loving measure of pain and pleasure. That was the first point of the STAR article.

(2) The second was that there is fresh mercy from God for each day’s appointed pain. 

Today’s mercies are not designed to carry tomorrow’s burdens. There will be mercies tomorrow for that. Today’s mercies are for today’s burdens. But tomorrow? What about tomorrow? What will become of our children? Will they believe? Or will they forsake the way of righteousness? What will become of our health? Will we go blind or deaf or lose our memories? Who will take care of us? Will we spend the last 10 years of our lives out-living all our friends and family, abandoned, slumped over in a wheel chair at a rural nursing home? What will become of our marriages? Will we ever trust again? Will we laugh and play and pray and talk in peace? Will we be there for the children? Will we be there for each other? Will it be sad and strained and dissatisfying for 30 or 40 more years? What will it be like tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow? What will become of our church? What will tomorrow bring? Or Wednesday? Or next Sunday? Or a year from now? Or ten years from now? Will we be together? Will we be winning the lost, and standing for righteousness, and delivering the oppressed, and sending more and more missionaries to the unreached peoples, and resting in the care of 17 district elders, and worshiping with white-hot zeal for the glory and grace of our great God? What about tomorrow? Will we have the strength to live tomorrow when it comes? And to live it well and wisely and even joyfully, no matter what God’s measure of pain and pleasure?

The point of the STAR article was that the strength to live tomorrow will be given tomorrow, not today. And it will be given. Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.

I can’t express how important I believe this is for the living of the Christian life—for children, for teenagers, for college students and young adults in the work world, for middle-aged people facing major life changes, for older people with tremendous uncertainties before them, for single people and married people. It’s important because of how natural and strong is the impulse in our hearts to want to feel sufficient today for tomorrow’s challenges. We don’t like it when the gauge reads “empty” at the end of the day, and we have to go to sleep— if we can—not feeling the power for tomorrow’s troubles.

The Christian’s Secret of Dealing with Trouble

There is a secret to the Christian life here that I want you to get a handle on. If you don’t—if you go on desperately needing to feel today the strength for tomorrow, then it seems to me that either you will cave in under the pressure of excessive anxieties, or you will find a worldly strategy for developing immense ego strength and persuade yourself that you really are sufficient for tomorrow’s troubles. Neither of those is God’s way. God’s way is summed up in two passages of scripture. One is Matthew 6:34, “Do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (The other text is Lamentations 3:22-23. See below.)

Let me tell you what I think that text does not mean. It does not mean: Make no preparations for tomorrow’s needs. If you’re a farmer, the thought about tomorrow’s empty silos should cause you to sow your field with corn months before you need the corn. Almost everything that is worth doing requires some forethought, planning, and preparation. Jesus said, “Which of you desiring to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” (Luke 14:28). The point of Matthew 6:34 is not—don’t make wise preparations. The point is—don’t bring the troubles and uncertainties of carrying out those preparations tomorrow into today. “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

What does Jesus mean by “enough”? Or as the old Authorized Version says, “Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” What does he mean by “sufficient”? He means that your sovereign heavenly Father, who is kind and wise beyond all measure, lov- ingly gives unto each day what he deems best, including both its pain and pleasure. Each day’s troubles are “enough”—they are “sufficient”—because God determines their limit. God decides what is enough and what is sufficient (cf. 1 Cor 10:13).

You can know some of the pressures that are coming tomorrow. And part of your job may be to make some preparations for them. Those preparations are part of today’s “sufficient” trouble. But how those preparations will turn out tomorrow, and whether you feel strong enough today to do your part tomorrow—that is not something God wants you to carry today. Those are tomorrow’s burdens. God does not give mercies today for bearing tomorrow’s burdens.

For example, we on the staff must now plan and design worship services ahead of time. It’s like the farmer: we know that if there is going to be a harvest of corporate worship on Sunday, there needs to be some plowing, sowing, and watering earlier in the week. That’s OK. Jesus wants us to do that.

But what about the questions that start to arise from the flesh: How will it go on Sunday? Will the people be there? Will God meet us? Will it be real and deep and earnest and life-changing and soul-winning and Christ-exalting? Will the people be disappointed? With these questions we can cross the line from faithful preparation to unfaithful anxiety. We cross over from dealing with today’s sufficient burden (preparation) and begin to borrow tomorrow’s troubles (how will it be received?). And that is spiritually very dangerous because today’s mercies are given by God for today’s burdens not tomorrow’s.

Or the danger can happen another way. Not only can we start to fret about how our preparations will turn out, but we can start to fret over whether we will have the resources to handle all the preparations after this. What about Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday and Easter and then April and May and June and July and August? Will the spiritual resources be there? That too can be a crossing over the line between faithful planning and unfaithful anxiety. The strength to plan worship for July 10, will be given on July 5th and 6th. And probably not before.

Now where in scripture do I get this confidence that God not only gives the trouble to each day that is sufficient for that day, but also the mercies which are tailor-made to carry that day’s trouble? I get it from (among other places) Lamentations 3:22-23, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.”

It’s the phrase “they are new every morning” that gives me this great confidence that each day’s mercies—each day’s kindnesses—are given specifically for that day. Ponder that with me. Let it sink in. “His mercies . . . are new every morning.”

Why are they new every morning? Why does God do it that way? It’s not because yesterday’s mercies were bad or weak. It’s because they were yesterday’s. Yesterday’s mercies were for yesterday’s burdens. Today’s mercies are for today’s burdens. They are new every morning. They are like the manna in the wilderness: you can’t keep it overnight. Enough comes for each day. You live on God day by day, or you don’t live on God.

The Swedish hymn gets it right again. The second verse says, “Every day the Lord himself is near me, With a special mercy for each hour.” A special mercy for each hour. The mercy to carry you through this hour is given in this hour. This truth will save your life again and again, if you grasp it and live it. Because how many times in life do we come to the end of our resources and say. “There isn’t anything in here anymore. I am depleted. One more straw and this camel’s back will break.” And we despair that tomorrow will just be rolled on to today’s depleted condition. And at that moment we desperately need this truth: God will not expect you to carry one more straw with these present mercies. When the next straw is added the mercies will be new.

So we must not compound today’s load with fretting over tomorrow’s. We must not doubt God and say, “I have no more strength; so tomorrow will be impossible to live.” That’s not true. You will not be asked to live tomorrow on today’s strength. What you need today is not tomorrow’s strength, but today’s faith that tomorrow’s mercies will be new and will be enough.

And there’s something different between the experience of faith for tomorrow’s power, and the actual experience of that power itself. Faith stands on the promise of God and waits and hopes in weakness and peace. And, of course, that waiting and hoping is part of today’s mercy. Part of today’s mercy is the ability to trust that there will be sufficient mercy for tomorrow. And we trust in that because God promises it in Lamentations 3:23 (cf. Phil 4:19; 2 Cor 9:8-11).

But in spite of all the peace that faith can bring about today, it is not yet tomorrow’s mercy or tomorrow’s power. There’s a difference. And that’s why there is such a battle that goes on. We want the feeling of adequacy today for what we will have to go through tomorrow. But God says, “Trust me. I will give it to you when you need it.”

Let me illustrate what I am saying by the following story. In 1931 a missionary named John Vinson was working in North China. An army of bandits swooped down on his village looting, burning, and killing. They took 150 Chinese and Vinson captive. When the government troops pursued, the bandits offered Vinson his freedom if he would write a letter to the commanding officer of the government troops asking him to withdraw.

Vinson said, “Will you let the Chinese prisoners go free?” “Certainly not” was the reply. “Then I refuse to go free,” he said. That night the bandits tried to flee, taking Vinson with them. Many bandits were killed, and many of the captives escaped. Vinson could not run because of a recent surgery. A little Chinese girl later reported that a bandit pointed a gun at Vinson’s head and said, “I’m going to kill you. Aren’t you afraid?”

Now at this point how do you feel? Are you projecting yourself into Vinson’s place? If so, do you feel rising within you the power to respond with great serenity and to die with peace? The point of what I have been saying is this: you don’t have to feel that right now. What God wants from you now as you sit there is not the strength to die that death. That is not today’s trouble for you. It may be tomorrow’s. What God calls you to now is not to have the power to do what Vinson did, but to have the trust in God that when your time comes he will give what you need.

Vinson looked up and said, “No, I am not afraid. If you kill me, I will go straight to God.” Which he did (This story is taken from The Elizabeth Elliot Newsletter, March/April 1994).

Today’s mercies for today’s troubles; tomorrow’s mercies for tomorrow’s troubles. “As your days so shall your strength be” (Deut 33:25). Don’t be anxious about tomorrow. The troubles and the mercies are appointed day by day.

*This sermon as well as all of John Piper’s sermons are available at desiringgod.org 

R.C. Sproul’s What Is The Trinity?

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What The Triune God Isn’t and What He Is

Book Reviewed by Dr. David P. Craig

If you were asked to clearly define what it means that God is Triune could you do it? In this short book (60 pages) Sproul helps you to understand the biblical doctrine that God is one in essence and three in person. In his inimitable style Sproul gives a lucid  and cogent defense of the Trinity as articulated in key passages of Scripture and as has been defended in the great early Church Council’s of Nicea and Chalcedon.

One of the most helpful sections in this book is when Sproul explains what the Trinity is, by explaining what it isn’t. He gives a brief history of the different early heresies with reference to the early teachings of the church in trying to articulate a unified understanding of the doctrine of God – His character, nature, and essence. He explains and shows the weaknesses of all the major early heresies with reference to a misunderstanding of the Trinity: Adoptionism, Monarchianism, Modalism, Monarchianistic Modalism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism, and Dynamic Monarchianism.

I highly recommend this book on the Trinity as a good place to start in trying to comprehend the biblical doctrine of how God can be one in essence and three in person. Don’t let the shortness of this book turn you away. Sproul is always deep, clear, biblical, theologically precise, and easy to understand. You are sure to learn something new and practical to help you in your walk with Jesus.

Do Christians, Muslims, and Jews Worship the Same God? Four Views

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A THOUGHT PROVOKING EXPLORATION ON THE DOCTRINE OF GOD

Book Review By Dr. David P. Craig  

If the latest world religions statistics are accurate the questions and answers that are raised, debated, and defended in this book are of monumental significance. In this “Counterpoints” book (a growing series of books on important topics by Zondervan Publishing in Grand Rapids, MI.) four views are defended and debated by five top notch theologian/philosophers.

The first two views promote the idea that Muslims, Jews, and Christians do indeed worship the same God. In the first essay of this book Wm. Andrew Schwartz (professor of process and comparative theology at Claremont School of Theology) and John Cobb, Jr., (professor emeritus at Claremont School of Theology) give several reasons for why they believe that these three major religions worship the same God by defending what they call the “Religious Pluralistic View.” Some of their main points in defense of their argument our as follows:

(1) Theology is not static. Theology is not uniform. Neither are the world’s traditions. In other words (as they are process theologians) they say that it is impossible to nail down any theological absolutes – because of the continual changes in God and in our studying, knowing, and worship of Him.

(2) The Fallacy of the Perfect Dictionary and Problem of Sameness. In addition to recognizing the complexity of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian identity, we should take note of the same ambiguity surrounding the words worship, same, and God. In other words the author’s suggest that it is impossible to agree upon the exactness of what or who God is when there is no perfect definition to be agreed upon. They write, “We should assume that YHWH of Judaism, Allah of Islam, and the God of Christianity are different ways of referring to one and the same divine ultimate…So, in one sense ‘same’ can imply no difference, and in another sense it can incorporate difference.” 

(3) They articulate that from a historical perspective all three religions worship the God of Abraham.

(4) Schwartz and Cobb also argue that all three religions worship a “Loving Creator” – what they call “The Divine Character Argument.” They affirm that in all three religions it is agreed upon that (a) God is One; (b) God is knowledgeable and relational; (c) God is loving and merciful; (d) God is creator; and (e) God is mysterious. They conclude in this section: “we find that parallel descriptions of God across the traditions greatly strengthen the likelihood that the God described and revered in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism is one in the same—the one and only loving and merciful Creator who knows our innermost beings.”

(5) Schwartz and Cobb defend the Ontological Argument – that there is only one being we call God. Here’s there summation of this reality, “If we begin with this declaration, the question as to whether all three worship the same God is strange indeed. After all, what would it mean for them to worship different Gods if there is only one God? From an ontological perspective, if there is, in fact, only one God available to worship, then it is reasonable to conclude that Muslims, Christians, and Jews worship the same God—that is, the only God…If there is only one God, then, for Christians, Muslims, and Jews to worship some God is to worship the same God.”

(6) The Singular Ultimate Reality. Scwartz and Cobb say that all three religions worship the same ultimate reality that they all call “God.” 

(7) Lastly, Schwartz and Cobb write that if Muslims, Jews, and Christians were to agree that we worship the same God it would result in the following: (a) A more peaceful world; (b) Generosity and humility; (c) Mutual transformation; and the (d) Importance of dialogue.

As with most of the Counterpoint books each essay is then responded to by the other essay writers, followed by a rejoinder in response to the other essayists critiques. I have to say that I thought the essayists in the first view wrote well and used some good analogies and arguments and yet I found their argument unpersuasive for two primary reasons: (1) I think their own view of “God” was defective and lacking. It was the equivalent of describing an object in only one dimension – when in reality God is multi-faceted. (2) It articulated a relativistic approach to truth and reality. In honing in on the “sameness” of beliefs of the three religions they left out the multiplicity of “differences” and contradictions of the three religions – which the final two essayists brought into play so very well.

The second view (essay) is presented by Francis Beckwith (professor of philosophy at Baylor University) and is entitled: “All Worship The Same God: Referring to the Same God View.” Beckwith bases his whole essay on a fictional group of students who are atheists and then who ultimately become a Jew, Muslim, and Christian for different reasons based on believing more or less the same things about God: “He is the absolute, uncaused, perfect, rational, unchanging, self-subsistent, eternal creator and sustainer of all that which receives its being from another…He who is metaphysically ultimate and has underived existence.”

Beckwith proceeds to give some historical and biblical points of agreement between the three religions and concludes: “because Christianity, Judaism, and Islam get the divine nature right (based on his definition of God above)—the absolute underived unconditional source of all contingent existence—their disagreements over the Trinity and the incarnation are appropriately viewed as contrary beliefs about the same God to which each faith refers…I am arguing that because there can only in principle be one God——the absolute underived unconditional source of all contingent existence—and because the theologies of each of these faith conditions refer to that one God, it stands to reason that they all worship the same God, even though they disagree about aspects of that God as a result of what each believes is special revelation.” In the final analysis Beckwith concludes his essay: “in recognizing that the three distinct religious traditions refer to the same God one is not contending that they share the same faith.”

Between the first two essays I would be more inclined to say that Beckwith’s was more logical and less abstract – yet still found that he made the same mistake as Schwartz and Cobb. He emphasized that which was similar in the beliefs of the three religions and minimized their radical differences. His last sentence was very telling: “the three distinct religious traditions refer to the same God one is not contending that they share the same faith.” However, those differences in faith most definitely point to a very different God – especially the “God” of Muslims and that of Jews and Christians – which we find defended in the last two essays.

The third essay by Gerald R. McDermott (Chair of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School) is called “Jews and Christians Worship The Same God: Shared Revelation View.” I found this essay to be the most profound and interesting of the four. 

McDermott straight away emphasizes the differences of beliefs related to the character and nature of God between Muslims and Jews/Christians:

(1) The first thing that must be said is that the love for God is never commanded by the Qur’an and rarely even mentioned. McDermott writes, “Daud Rahbar and other scholars agree that the Qur’an mentions love for God, it never commands it. Instead of love, fear of God is commanded by the Qur’an…Rahbar argued that the central theme of the Qur’an is God’s justice, and its most common exhortation is to ‘guard yourselves fearfully against God’s wrath.’” On the other hand the emphasis in the Bible is that God is love. According to both Sufi and non-Sufi Muslims, God does not have unconditional love for humans generally. God’s love is conditional, expressed only toward those who do righteous deeds.

(2) Another huge difference is the contrast of love for one’s neighbor in the Qur’an and what the Bible consistently teaches. The first is that the Qur’an contains repeated admonitions to Muslim believers not to make friends with non-Muslims (3:118). Whereas the greatest commandment in the Bible is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31). God models love for us in the Bible especially in the greatest act of history where the second person of the Trinity is sent by the Father to model the ultimate act of love – to be punished for our sin in exchange for His righteousness “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” ~ 1 John 4:10

(3) At the heart of the dispute between Muslims and Christians in particular is the deity of Jesus Christ. The triune nature of God helps us understand the essence of God as One and yet the distinction of God in His persons. McDermott writes, “the works of the triune God are not divided [among the persons] is helpful. It reminds us that the Father’s works are not to be divided from the Son’s. The Son helps identify the character of the Father, for the Father’s character is revealed by the Son: ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9). If the Son told his disciples that God loved the world (John 3:16), that they should love God with all their hearts (Matt. 22:37), and that they should love everyone including their enemies (Matt. 5:44), we can infer that the Father has said and commanded the same. This Father is clearly different, then, from Allah of the Qur’an.” 

(4) McDermott then goes on to talk about the Jewishness of Jesus and Paul. With reference to Jesus he writes, “In sum, Jesus was not rejecting the Judaism of his day but illustrating its inner meaning. Therefore the Gospels do not support the notion that Christians worshiping Jesus as the Son of God are worshiping a God different from the God of biblical Judaism.” In respect to Paul he writes, “In one respect, Paul was even more Jewish than Jesus: he took a more positive approach to Pharisees than we see in the Gospels. He proudly presented himself as a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). 

(5) Christianity is not a new religion but the continuation or fulfillment of Judaism. The whole Old Testament. McDermott states, “I have tried to show that Jesus and Paul did not think they were starting a new religion to replace the Judaism they grew up with. They did indeed teach that the Messiah had finally come in Jesus, and that for that reason the Judaism of the first century had reached an epochal moment when the greatest promises had begun to be fulfilled.” 

Continuing in this vein he writes, “Judaism was finding its inner meaning and great climax because the perfect Israelite [Jesus] had appeared as the embodiment of the Law and of Israel herself. But this does not mean that Judaism was being replaced by another religion of a fundamentally different character, it means instead that the God of Israel was bringing the people of Israel to their promised apogee when their messiah was revealed as the Son of God, the meaning of all they had ever known. Rather than opposing Jewish law, Jesus and Paul observed it, even as they testified that Jesus was its living embodiment.”

In the final part of the essay McDermott talks about how some rabbi’s and Jewish traditions allow for the possibilities of the distinct doctrines related to God as revealed in the New Testament: the incarnation, resurrection, and Trinity. He concludes, “The God of Israel had long been known to be one being with internal differentiation. Hence the early church could claim that it was worshiping the God of Israel, but with new clarity about the identities within that differentiation….”

He closes his provocative essay in this manner, “Yet Paul regarded even those Jews who differed on Jesus but worshiped the God of Israel as having a zeal for the same God but ‘without knowledge’ (Rom. 10:2). They needed to hear and receive the gospel (Rom. 1:16), but they were worshipping the same God…

While the God of Israel is the Father of Jesus Christ and shares the same being and character as Jesus, Allah does not. YHWH forgives and saves through sacrifice as prescribed by Torah, and then through the perfect Sacrifice that was foreshadowed in the sacrifices of Torah. He shows in both Testaments that his people should forgive and love their enemies. He is Father to his people, love in his essence. This is true of the God revealed in both Testaments. None of this character can be found in Allah. While Christians and Jews share all (for Jews) or the vast majority (for Christians) of their scriptures, Christians and Muslims share none. For all these reasons, we must say that Christians do not worship the same God designated by Allah, but that Christians worship the same God as those Jews who regard the Old Testament as the Word of God.”

McDermott has written a very thought provoking and provocative essay. I am inclined to say that I agree with most of what he has written – In essence he is saying that those who are completed Jews – Messianic Jews – like the Apostle Paul, indeed worship the exact same God. Jews who have yet to believe in God as revealed in the New Testament via the explicit teachings of the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and Triune nature of God have the genesis of these teachings in the Old Testament but need the New Testament to complete the Painting or Puzzle that centers on the Person and Work of Jesus as divine and thus worthy of worship.

I think the most logical, theologically precise, biblically based and philosophically cogent view is the final essay presented by Jerry L. Walls (professor of philosophy at Houston Baptist University). The view Walls espouses is entitled: “None Worship The Same God: Different Conceptions View.” 

Walls grapples with the following questions: (a) Do Muslims and Christians refer to the same God? (b) Is it necessary for Muslims and Christians to refer to the same God in order to worship the same God? (c) Do Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe essentially the same thing about God? (d) If they do not, are these differences of belief about God necessarily reflected in essentially different forms and expressions of worship? (e) Can Jews and Muslims be saved even if they are not worshiping the same God as Christians?

(1) Walls first of all makes a powerful case that if Christianity is true, there had been a reference shift in the Muslim use of “God” from God to fiction. He writes, “just as the name Santa Clause originated with a historical character (Saint Nicholas) and underwent a radical reference shift to a fictional character, in a similar way ‘Allah’ underwent a profound reference shift in Islam to the point that ‘Allah’ no longer referred to God, but rather to fiction, which is to say it refers to nothing at all.” 

Walls continues, “As someone who thinks Christianity is true, I am inclined to think there has in fact been a reference shift in the case of Islam but not of Christianity. That is, the dossier for ‘Allah’ includes claims that are so radically at odds with core Christian truth claims that a reference shift has occurred such that ‘Allah’ does not refer to God. Since Christians and Muslims do not even refer to the same God, they do not worship the same God.”

(2) Walls second major point is that “Sameness of Reference Is Not Enough for Sameness of Worship.” He demonstrates this principle in the idolatrous worship of the golden calf and the breaking of the first two commandments from Exodus 20. The point is that to worship a false god – or anything that is not true of God – is idolatry. Only Yahweh is “the one to be praised and worshiped for this signal act of salvation [God’s love revealed in delivering the Israelites from slavery as depicted yearly in the Passover], but Yahweh must never be confused with a golden calf. To worship him and to honor him for this act of salvation requires refraining from even the making of idols, let alone confusing them with Yahweh or bowing down to them and worshiping them.”

(3) The New Testament revelation of God is a game changer. In the New Testament Walls writes, “The God of the Old Testament has revealed to us in the New Testament revelation that he has an eternal Son who was incarnate in Jesus, and who provided salvation on our behalf through his death and resurrection. Indeed, this is God’s supreme act of love on our behalf. Walls continues, “Starting with the resurrection of Jesus and ending with the Trinity, Jews and Muslims deny all distinctively Christian revelation about God. The hard fact of the matter is that the fundamental claims of these three religions  are simply logically incompatible, and they cannot all be true. At least two of these religions are profoundly mistaken in what they believe about God and what he requires of us in terms of obedience and worship.”

(4) In the fourth major point of Walls’ essay he states this, “It is noteworthy that the most ecumenically central act of Christian worship, namely, the sacrament of communion, is a celebration of the death of Christ for our salvation and a looking forward to his return.”

(5) Walls goes on to show biblically how impossible it is to worship God unless you are fully worshiping who He is: the Triune God of the New Testament. He explains, “The radically different beliefs that Jews, Christians, and Muslims have about God do entail essentially different forms and expressions of worship. Stressing this point is imperative. It is precisely the fact that these different expressions of worship are praised on radically different beliefs about who God is and how he has revealed himself most clearly that lead us to conclude that Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not worship the same God.”

(6) I will quote Walls at length on his final argument which is very persuasive: “New Testament worship requires that all worshipers of the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament humbly acknowledge that he has an eternal Son who was incarnate in Jesus, and that Jesus provided salvation in our behalf through his death and resurrection, and they offer grateful praise for this when properly informed of these truths…

The notion that our response to the incarnate Son is decisive for determining whether we truly know and worship God is major theme of the Gospel and Epistles of John…While it is true that the God who is the Father of Jesus is the same God who called Abraham and spoke to Moses, and that those who worship both the Father and Son are worshiping the same God who spoke to Abraham and Moses, it is no less true that those who refuse to believe and worship Jesus are not worshiping the God who called Abraham and revealed himself to Moses. The coming of Jesus has radically altered the terms of what is required to worship and obey the God of Abraham. This is the same point Paul makes in Romans 9-11, where he draws a distinction between ethnic and true Israel. The chief issue is that ethnic Israel has stumbled over the stumbling stone, which is Christ. It is highly significant that in the context of Romans 9:33, Paul is quoting passages from the Old Testament in reference to Yahweh himself and applying them to Christ. So, to reject Christ is to reject Yahweh!

(7) Walls finishes his essay with a formal agreement and then goes on to defend his formal argument. Here is the formal argument he presents:

  1. No properly informed worshiper who consciously rejects the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus is a worshiper of the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament.
  2. All properly informed Jews and Muslims consciously reject the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus.
  3. No properly informed Jews and Muslims are worshipers of the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament.
  4. If no properly informed Jews and Muslims worship the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament, no properly informed Jews and Muslims worship the same God as those who worship the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament.
  5. No properly informed Jews and Muslims worship the same God as those who worship the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament.
  6. All properly informed Christians worship the God who is fully revealed only in the New Testament.
  7. No properly informed Jews and Muslims worship the same God as those who worship the God whom properly informed Christians worship.

In the final analysis one’s salvation hinges on the narrow door and the narrow way that is through Jesus. As Peter preached in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Or as the Apostle shared with the Christians in Corinth, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6); or as Jesus himself said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The only way to really know the God who has made Himself known is to believe the REAL God as He revealed Himself from Genesis to Revelation. 

I highly recommend this book as a thought provoking and deep study in the doctrine of God. No matter where you are coming from in your world view, this book will challenge you, make you think, and hopefully help you make a life changing decision leading you into accepting the truth that can change your life both now and for eternity.

ISLAM & CHRISTIANITY – “Tawhid or the Trinity?” 

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ISLAM & CHRISTIANITY – “Tawhid or the Trinity?” 

Do Christians and Muslims Worship the Same God?

Outlined By Dr. David P. Craig

Tawhid (Pronounced Taa Heed) – The “god” of Islam

(1) Muslims and Christians agree there is one God but disagree as to His name, nature, and attributes.

(2) The god of Islam is Allah, meaning “the god” in Arabic. In the days of Islam’s founder, Muhammad, this meant that of all the tribal gods worshiped on the Arabian Peninsula, Allah was the only true deity.

(3) Key to the Islamic concept of God is the doctrine of tawhid, or absolute oneness. It’s more than strict monotheism. Tawhid celebrates Allah as singular, indivisible, and monolithic.

(4) Muslims insist that Allah has no “partners.” To ascribe partners to Allah – for example, to say that Jesus is the Son of God, or that God exists as a Trinity – is to commit the unpardonable sin of shirk, which damns a soul to hell.

(5) The Qur’an makes it clear that Allah stands apart from his creation and does not engage in personal relationships. For example, Surah 17:111 reads: “Praise be to Allah, who begets no son, and has no partner in (His) dominion …”

(6) The Qur’an instructs its readers to reject any notion that God exists as more than one person. It wrongly implies that Christians worship a Trinity consisting of God, Jesus, and Mary (Surah 4:171; 5:73, 116).

(7) Islam understands these to be three separate gods, and the Qur’an strongly warns Muslims against worshiping anyone but Allah. Here, Muslims and Christians may find some common ground, for Christians both reject the notion of Mary as a god, as well as the idea that three separate gods make up the Trinity.

(8) In No God But One, Nabeel Qureshi points out that the Qur’an clearly denounces polytheism but does not exclude the possibility of Allah existing in tri-unity. Put another way, Qureshi says the Qur’an does not explicitly say Allah cannot exist as one God in three persons, even though Muslims strongly reject the biblical doctrine of the Trinity.

Defining the Trinity

(1) The Christian doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Baptist Faith & Message explains, “The eternal triune God reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being.”

(2) This immediately prompts our Muslim friends to cry foul. “How can one possibly equal three?” they ask. “How can Christians say they worship one God while worshiping three separate persons?” This gives us an opportunity to biblically define the Trinity.

(3) Christians do not worship three gods; that’s polytheism. We do not worship a “freakish-looking, three-headed god,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses accuse us of doing. Nor do we exalt one God who shows up consecutively, not simultaneously, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; that’s modalism.

(4) We worship one God who exists as three distinct, co-equal, co-eternal persons, sharing all the attributes of deity, agreeing completely in will and purpose, and existing eternally in divine, loving relationships with one another.

(5) While it’s challenging to fully grasp the doctrine of the Trinity, it may advance our understanding to distinguish between “person” and “being.” As Nabeel Qureshi explains, “Your being is the quality that makes you what you are, but your person is the quality that makes you who you are.”

(6) If someone asks you who you are, you don’t reply, “I’m a human.” You respond by sharing your name, which identifies you as a person.

(7) When we say God is a Trinity, we are describing the what of God. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are referring to the who of God — His three persons, indivisible in substance and nature, but distinct in identity.

(8) Qureshi continues: “God … is one being, Yahweh, in three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. He’s more than able to exist like that because he is God. If we say God must have only one person, like humans, then we are making God in our image. Who are we to limit God? It is up to God to tell us who he is.”

(9) Why we believe God is Triune is because it’s what the Bible teaches: (1) There is only One God (Rom. 3:30); (2) The Father is God (John 6:27); (3) Jesus is God (John 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 2 Pet. 1:1); (4) The Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:3-5); (5) These three are distinct persons (John 14:16-17). So if there are three distinct persons that are God, but there is only one God, we are naturally led to the doctrine of the Trinity: one God who subsists in three persons (see Matthew 28:19).

(10) While it should be clear that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God, we may have a common point of beginning: We share a belief in one God who is eternal, transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, the Creator and sustainer of all things.

(11) If we begin here, we may then explore the deeper questions: What is God like? How does He reveal Himself, and His will, to people? Is He relational? And, if so, does He desire a relationship with us?

14 CLASSIC ARGUMENTS FOR THE EXISTENCE OF GOD

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(1) The Argument from Motion There is motion (locomotion) in the universe. Something cannot move itself; an external agent or force is required. An infinite regress of forces is meaningless. Hence, there must be a being who is the ultimate source of all motion while not being moved itself. This being is God, the unmoved mover (*a posteriori) ~ Thomas Aquinas
(2) The Cosmological Argument Every effect has a cause. There must be an infinite regress of finite causes. Therefore, there must be an uncaused cause or necessary being. This being is God. (*a posteriori) ~ Thomas Aquinas
(3)The Argument from Possibility and Necessity Things exist in a network of relationships to other things. They can exist only within this network. Therefore, each is a dependent thing. However, an infinite regress of dependencies is contradictory. There must, then, be a being who is absolutely independent, not contingent on anything else. This being is God. (*a posteriori) ~ Thomas Aquinas
(4) The Argument from Perfection It can be observed from the universe that there is a pyramid of beings (e.g., from insects to humans), in an ever-increasing degree of perfection. There must be a final being who is absolutely perfect, the source of all perfection. This being is God. (*a posteriori) ~ Thomas Aquinas
(5) The Teleological Argument – Also Called The Argument from Design There is an observable order or design in the world that cannot be attributed to the object itself (e.g., inanimate objects). This observable order argues for an intelligent being who established this order. This being is God. (*a posteriori) ~ Thomas Aquinas
(6) The Moral or Anthropological Argument All people possess a moral impulse or categorical imperative. Since this morality is not always rewarded in this life, there must be some basis or reason for moral behavior that is beyond this life. This implies the existence of immortality, ultimate judgment, and a God who establishes and supports morality by rewarding good and punishing evil (*a posteriori) ~ Immanuel Kant, C.S. Lewis
(7) The Argument That God Is An Innate Idea All normal human beings are born with the idea of God implanted in the mind , though it is suppressed in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). As the child grows into adulthood, this idea becomes clearer. Critical experience in the course of life may make this idea come alive.  (**a priori) ~ Augustine, John Calvin, Charles Hodge
(8) The Argument from Mysticism Mankind is able to have a direct mystical experience with God resulting in an ecstatic experience. This union with God is so uniquely overpowering that it self-validates the existence of God. (**a priori) ~ Evelyn Underhill
(9) The Argument from Truth All people believe that something is true. If God is the God of truth and the true God, then God is Truth. This Truth (capital T) is the context for all other truth. Therefore, the existence of truth implies the existence of Truth, which implies the existence of God. (**a priori) 
(10) The Ontological Argument Major premise: Mankind has an idea of an infinite and perfect being. Minor premise: Existence is a necessary part of perfection.

Conclusion: An infinite and perfect being exists, since the very concept of perfection requires existence.  (**a priori) ~ Anselm of Canterbury

(11) The Argument From Finitude Humans are aware of their finitude. What makes them aware of this? God is continually impressing humans with God’s infinitude. Therefore the sense of finitude itself is proof that an infinite being, God, exists. (**a priori) ~ Aristotle
(12) The Argument  From Blessed-ness Humans are restless, with a vague longing for blessedness until they rest in God. This longing was given by God. The presence of this longing is an indirect proof of God’s existence. (**a priori) ~ Augustine, Thomas Aquinas
(13) The Argument From Perception Human beings are able to perceive (sense) things. This cannot be caused either by physical events (perception as a mental act) or by human beings themselves. Therefore, the existence of perception implies Gods existence as the only rational explanation for human perceptions. (**a priori) ~ Bishop George Berkeley
(14) The Existential Argument  God proves Himself via the kerygma, which is His declaration of love, forgiveness, and justification of mankind. Those who decide for the kerygma then know God exists. No other evidence is needed. God is not so much proven as He is known, and this occurs existentially, from experiences in life. (**a priori) ~ Auguste Sabatier

*a posteriori = knowledge, thought, statements or arguments that logically follow from, arises after, or are dependent on, sense experience.

**a priori = knowledge, thought, statements or arguments that are logically prior to, or arising from a concept or principle that precedes empirical verification, or that occurs independently of experience.

Why Does The Trinity Matter?

THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY: NO CHRISTIANITY WITHOUT IT

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By Kevin DeYoung

If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” More recently, Sinclair Ferguson has reflected on “the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!”

Yet, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, most Christians are poor in their understanding, poorer in their articulation, and poorest of all in seeing any way in which the doctrine matters in real life. One theologian said, tongue in cheek, “The trinity is a matter of five notions or properties, four relations, three persons, two processions, one substance or nature, and no understanding.” All the talk of essence and persons and co-this and co-that seem like theological gobbledy-gook reserved for philosophers and scholars-maybe for thinky bookish types, but certainly not for moms and mechanics and middle-class college students.

So in a few hundred words let me try to explain what the doctrine of the Trinity means, where it is found in the Bible, and why it matters.

First, what does the doctrine mean? The doctrine of the Trinity can be summarized in seven statements. (1) There is only one God. (2) The Father is God. (3) The Son is God. (4) The Holy Spirit is God. (5) The Father is not the Son. (6) The Son is the not the Holy Spirit. (7) The Holy Spirit is not the Father. All of the creedal formulations and theological jargon and philosophical apologetics have to do with safeguarding each one of these statements and doing so without denying any of the other six. When the ancient creeds employ extra-biblical terminology and demand careful theological nuance they do so not to clear up what the Bible leaves cloudy, but to defend, define, and delimit essential biblical propositions. The Athanasian Creed puts it this way: “Now this is the catholic faith: That we worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons, nor dividing their essence. For the person of the Father is a distinct person, the person of the Son is another, and that of the Holy Spirit, still another. But the divinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, their glory equal, their majesty coeternal.”

The two key words here are essence and persons. When you read “essence”, think “Godness.” All three Persons of the Trinity share the same “Godness.” One is not more God than another. None is more essentially divine than the rest. When you read “persons”, think “a particular individual distinct from the others.” Theologians use these terms because they are trying to find a way to express the relationship of three beings that are equally and uniquely God, but not three Gods. That’s why we get the tricky (but learnable) language of essence and persons. We want to be true to the biblical witness that there is an indivisibility and unity of God, even though Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can all be rightly called God. The Persons are not three gods; rather, they dwell in communion with each other as they subsist in the divine nature without being compounded or confused.

Sometimes it’s easier to understand what we believe by stating what we don’t believe.

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects monarchianism which believes in only one person (mono) and maintains that the Son and the Spirit subsists in the divine essence as impersonal attributes not distinct and divine Persons.

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects modalism which believes that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are different names for the same God acting in different roles or manifestations (like the well-intentioned but misguided “water, vapor, ice” analogy).

  • Orthodox Trinitarianism rejects Arianism which denies the full deity of Christ.

  • And finally, orthodox Trinitarianism rejects all forms of tri-theism, which teach that the three members of the Godhead are, to quote a leading Mormon apologist, “three distinct Beings, three separate Gods.”

Second, where is the doctrine of the Trinity found in the Bible? Although the word “Trinity” is famously absent from Scripture, the theology behind the word can be found in a surprising number of verses. For starters there are verses that speak of God’s oneness (Deut. 6:4Isa. 44:61 Tim. 1:17). Then there are the myriad of passages which demonstrate that God is Father (e.g., John 6:27Titus 1:4). Next, we have the scores of texts which prove the deity of Jesus Christ, the Son—passages like John 1 (“the word was God”), John 8:58 (“before Abraham was born, I am”), Col. 2:9(“in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form”), Heb. 1:3 (“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his being”), Tit. 2:13 (“our great God and Savior Jesus Christ”)-not to mention the explicit worship Christ willingly received from his disciples (Luke 24:52John 20:28) and the charges of blasphemy leveled against him for making himself equal with God (Mark 2:7). Then we have similar texts which assume the deity of the Holy Spirit, calling Him an “eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9:14) and using “God” interchangeably with the “Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 3:16 and 1 Cor. 6:19Acts 5:3-4) without a second thought.

The shape of Trinitarian orthodoxy is finally rounded off by texts that hint at the plurality of persons in the Godhead (Gen. 1:1-326Psalm 2:7Dan. 7), texts like 1 Cor. 8:6 which place Jesus Christ as Lord right in the middle of Jewish Shema, and dozens of texts that speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the same breath, equating the three in rank, while assuming distinction of personhood (Matt. 28:19Gal. 4:61 Cor.12:4-61 Peter 1:1-22 Cor. 2:21-2213:14Eph. 1:13-142:1820-223:14-174:4-65:18-206:10-18).

The doctrine of the Trinity, as summarized in the seven statements earlier, is not a philosophical concoction by some over-zealous and over-intelligent early theologians, but one of the central planks of orthodoxy which can shown, explicitly or implicitly, from a multitude of biblical texts.

Third, why does any of this matter? There are lots of reasons, but borrowing from Robert Letham’s work (The Holy Trinity. Philippsburg, N.J.: P & R Publishing, 2004) and in Trinitarian fashion, let me mention just three.

One, the Trinity matters for creation. God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.

Two, the Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement. I’ve heard it said that the two main rivals to a Christian worldview at present are Islam and Postmodernism. Islam emphasizes unity—unity of language, culture, and expression—without allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity—diversity of opinion, belief, and background—without attempting to see things in any kind of meta-unity. Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.

Three, the Trinity matters for relationships. We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.

*Article adapted from the Gospel Coalition blog: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2011/09/28/the-doctrine-of-the-trinity-no-christianity-without-it/

“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.

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