God’s Sovereignty in Our Suffering


*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.

The Purposes of God

The Purposes of God

R.C. Sproul sitting in green chair

by R.C. Sproul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Tim Keller preaching image

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

I keep reading articles and books about New York. This week I read that whereas New York has to compete with Los Angeles as media capital of the world, has to compete with Tokyo as financial capital of the world, has to compete with London as theater capital of the world, and has to compete with Paris as fashion capital of the world, there is one area where there is no competition.

The article said New York is the power capital of the world, not just because it’s the only city that competes in all those categories, but because this is the place where people who want power and where the people who have power come to live. When I looked up the word power in the dictionary, I found all the dictionaries say the same thing. Power is the ability to act, the ability to do. This week again I saw an interesting quote that said people do not come to New York City to think or to reflect; they come to do.

In fact, when I read the interviews of famous people around here and I listen to what they’re saying, the interviewers are basically trying to find what makes you tick. When it comes down to it, though there are hundreds of different answers, I think you can reduce them. Basically the people are saying, “Do you know what makes me tick? Power. Why do I build this skyscraper? Why do I throw this party? Why do I hold this concert? I want to show you what I can do. Look what I can do. Look at the power I have. Look how I count.”

Paul here talks about power that makes all the power of New York combined look like a pop gun, a power that makes all of the power of New York comparatively look like a soggy paper airplane. It says here in verse 19 (and this is what the passage is about) God has “incomparably great power.” That’s a great phrase. Great power in Greek is completely understandable in English. Did you know that? The word greatness is the word megethos, and the word power is the word dunameōs. So what you have there is the megaton dynamite of God. It’s a great phrase, and everybody knows what it’s talking about. It doesn’t need translation. It talks about the megaton dynamite of God.

The real kicker word is the word incomparably. If you have an older translation, it might say, “The exceeding power of God.” The word incomparably is a good word. What Paul is saying is, “It can’t be compared.” Ordinarily the way in which we would measure or try to describe power is we try to describe it by comparing it to something else you know. So you can say, “A hurricane has one thousandth of the power of a nuclear warhead. A nuclear warhead has one millionth of the power of an explosion on the surface of the sun. The sun has one billionth of the power of an exploding supernova.”

How do we describe the power of God? Do we say, “His power is the power of 100 supernovas, a million supernovas, or a billion billion?” Paul is saying here, “No, no, no. God is not at the top of a scale. God has never been on the scale, so he is not even off the scale. He utterly transcends scales.” The reason for that we’re told again and again in the Psalms. The Psalms tell us, “… power belongs to God.” Now look at that. Look and wonder. “… power belongs to God” means not that God has more power than anything or anyone else, but that anyone or anything that has even an atom of power has it because God has delegated it to him. God has all the power.

Now this is an extremely practical teaching. How could Jesus Christ look Pilate right in the eye with calmness and with serenity when he knew Pilate was about to tear him apart and he had the power? Did he have the power? That’s what Pilate was saying: “I have the power to crush you.” Jesus looks at him calmly, not flippantly, because he knew Pilate had power. What did he say? Where did he get his calmness? He said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Jesus says, “I know you have power. I respect that power, but you don’t have one atom more of it than what has been given to you.” All power belongs to him. That’s what we’re being told here. It’s incomparably great power.

Take a look at all the big power brokers of the world. I don’t mean the ones even now. Look at Alexander the Great, absolute monarch of all the Western world. Look at all the Caesars. Look at Hitler. Look at the incredibly wealthy people we’ve had in the history of the world. Do they really have power? Can they really determine the course of events in the world? It says here, “Jesus Christ is above every title.” Isaiah 40: “He brings the rulers to nothing.” Now that’s power. That’s power.

Friends, my question to you here is … Do you believe that? Now most of you have backgrounds where you have heard this. I think many of you probably do. If your background is Jewish, if your background is Roman Catholic, if your background is Protestant, you’ve heard this. That’s not what Paul is praying for here. Do you see what Paul is praying for? He is saying, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope … the riches … and his incomparably great power.”

You might know about this power, but do you know it the way Jesus knew it? Do you grasp it? Has it sunk in? Do you act on it? Does it affect the way in which you deal with powerful people? Does it affect the way in which you deal with your fears? Has it radically changed your priorities?

Even further, is it flowing through you? Because it says here in verse 19, “… his incomparably great power for us who believe.” For us. It’s the little Greek word eis, which means through or within. Paul means here that the power of God can come through us. You can thrill under it. It can surge through you, and you can become effective, because that’s what power is: the ability to act, the ability to bring about effect, the ability to bring about impact. Now the question is … Do you know this and not just know about it? That’s a pretty good question. Could you look at Pilate in the eye like Jesus did?

If you’re going to know it, you need to take a look at the passage. The passage tells you a lot, but it tells you three things we’re going to look at tonight. Those three things are first of all this is resurrection power. Secondly, it tells us this is headship power. It only comes to people through the headship of Jesus. Thirdly, it’s power that only comes to people born again by the Spirit. It’s resurrection power, it’s headship power, and it’s spiritual power. I’ll explain that as we go along. Let’s roll.

1. Resurrection power

Paul says, “Let me tell you about the incomparably great power of God. This is the power he used to do what? To raise Jesus Christ from the dead and seat him at the right hand above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Now why does Paul use that illustration? After all, why didn’t he say, “This is the great power God used to put the planets in orbit?” Now that’s pretty powerful. “This is the power God used to scatter the stars across the heavens.” That’s pretty powerful.

No, he goes to the resurrection of Jesus, and here’s why. Of all the powers you can find in the world, there is no power like death. Why does a hurricane have power at all? Why do we say a hurricane is powerful? Because it has some of the power of death. It can kill. Mankind can harness some of the power of creation. We can split the atom. We can do all that, but we will always die.

Don’t you realize, therefore, death is the main power that is arrayed against us? The Bible calls it the last enemy. If you could lick that power, the power of death, don’t you realize there would be no other power that would be a match for you? If you could lick the power of death … do you want a sunny vacation? You could go to the sun and camp out there for the weekend. If you licked that, there would be no other power.

That’s exactly what God did. He snapped the power of death. In Acts 2, Peter says, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” It was impossible. That’s why Paul can say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” That is a taunt, and that is incredible. That’s absolutely incredible that someone can taunt death. There are all kinds of other things which are very, very powerful. A supernova is nothing like death.

This is a letter from a young Lutheran German minister who was put to death in a Nazi death camp. This letter was published after the war. He is not famous. You’ve never heard of him. His name is Hermann. This is what he wrote to his parents the day he died. Listen to this.

When this letter comes into your hands I shall no longer be among the living. The thing that has occupied our thoughts constantly for many months … is now about to happen. If you ask me what state I am in I can only answer: I am, first, in a joyous mood and, second, filled with a great anticipation. ‘God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ What consolation, what marvelous strength emanates from Christ. I am amazed. In Christ I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in him more firmly than ever.

My parents, look up the following passages: 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 14:8. Look anywhere you want in the Bible, and everywhere I find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can really happen to a child of God? Of what indeed should I be afraid? Everything that till now I have done, struggled for, and accomplished, has at bottom been directed to this one goal, whose barrier I shall penetrate today. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him.”

For me, believing will become seeing; hope will become possession, and I shall forever share in Him who is love. Should I not, then, be filled with anticipation? What is it all going to be like? The things that up to this time I have been permitted to preach about, I shall now see. There will be no more secrets nor tormenting puzzles. Today is the great day … From the very beginning I have put everything into the hands of God, and now he demands this end of me. Good. His will be done. And so, until we meet again above, in the presence of the Father of light. Your joyful, Hermann.

I don’t know. I hope I could write a letter like that. What kind of power can enable a human being to laugh in the face of death? When Paul says, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” that’s mockery. That is scorn. That’s humor. That’s incredible. That’s why Paul picks out the resurrection.

Here’s the weird part, and here’s the staggering part. He is trying to show us that the power that is working eis (in us, through us), that’s surging through us if we have Jesus Christ as our Savior, is this resurrection power. What Paul is saying is, “This is the way you measure it. The resurrection is the unit by which you can measure the power in us.” That is incredible.

A unit of measurement is important. If I say, “Do you know how much this book weighs?” and you say, “How much?” and I say, “It weighs five,” that doesn’t help you much, does it? You say, “I want to know what your terms of measurement are. Do you mean five ounces? Do you mean five tons? Wow. Do you mean five pounds?” You have to know what the unit of measurement is.

Paul is saying right here, “This is the unit. This is the only way you can measure it. Death-breaking resurrection power, the same stuff that raised Jesus from the dead when death itself, with all of its fury and all of its power and all of its inevitable strength, tried to bind Jesus up. He broke the bands of death like a thread. That’s what’s in your life now. It’s the only way to measure it.”

That means the things of death in your life, the decay, the destructive emotions and habits, the addictions, the confusions, the brokenness … Even though the power of death is gradually being broken so sometimes it’s here, sometimes it’s greater, and sometimes it’s less, eventually the power of the resurrection will be ascendant in your life.” Will be ascendant in your life.

Why do you think Paul can write the whole Philippian church and he can say, “[I am sure] that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus?” How can he be so sure about that? A lot of you aren’t sure at all about that, are you? You say, “I know God began a good work in me, but I have screwed up so badly. I don’t have the confidence God will ever bring it to completion.”

Do you know why? Do you know why Paul is sure and why you’re not? Because Paul knows the power of God, the incomparably great power of God, and you don’t. At least you’re not thinking it out. You might know about it, but you don’t know it. Do you rejoice in that? Do you understand that? Do you realize that’s what’s in you? Death-breaking power?

2. Headship power

Verse 22: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” If you look carefully you’ll see something very interesting. Jesus is said here to be a head over the world and over the church. It says here he is ruling over everything. He is head over all things for us. So there is a sense in which he is directing everything for us. Yet this verse also tells us we are part of his body. It’s talking about the very important Pauline teaching that Jesus is the head and we are part of his body, the church.

So we see here two kinds of power. There’s a power God exercises for us by ordering everything in the world for us, and there’s a power God exercises in us. There’s an external kind of power, and there’s an internal kind. There’s a power he operates in the world, and there’s a power he operates in us. Look at those. They’re both kinds of headship.

First of all, do you see what it says? Let’s drink this one in. “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church …” This is nothing less than Romans 8:28, that great promise, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” All things work together for good. This is saying if you belong to him, everything that happens out there is happening is for you.

Now it’s very seldom we can see how that works. Occasionally God pulls the curtain back and we get a glimpse of him. I remember when I first came to my first church in Virginia. It was a little Presbyterian church that was struggling, and they were so happy to get a pastor. I was so desperate that I took the church. They were just amazed they got a pastor. Of course there were just one or two desperate enough people to take it.

I remember one day getting up, trying to explain this passage, and saying to them, “Listen, friends, do you know why I’m here? I’m glad I’m here. You’re glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here. It has worked out beautifully. It’s because at the very end of my seminary career I decided to become a Presbyterian. That’s why I could go to a Presbyterian church. Do you know why I decided to be Presbyterian?

Because I fell under the influence of a particular teacher my last semester at seminary. Do you know why I fell under that man’s influence? He came from England after having tremendous visa problems (and probably wasn’t going to get there until the following year). At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape. He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut? The dean of my seminary was on his knees praying about how we were going to get this guy over here when Mike Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, walked in and asked him what he was praying for. Mike Ford was a student at the seminary at that time.

Do you know why Mike Ford was able to cut the red tape? Because his father was the president. Do you know why his father was the president? Because Nixon had resigned. Do you know why Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. Do you know why there was a Watergate scandal? Because one day a guard noticed in the Watergate building a particular door ajar that should have been closed.

Who knows why? Maybe that day he took a drink at the water fountain he shouldn’t have, and he just happened to notice it.” I looked at my people, and I said, “What am I doing here? Watergate was for you. Watergate was for me.” Occasionally God rips aside the veil, and you begin to see this very fact: All things happen for you. All things. Everything is knit together.

Christianity is a unique religion. The Bible tells us the way in which God operates is utterly different than what either Western religions or Eastern religions say. Just give me a minute about this. That’s all. Western religions in general have said, “You are in charge of your own destiny. You make your choices. If they’re good choices you ascend; if they’re bad choices you descend.” The people who really like that approach to life say, “Yeah. I get where I get because of my choices.” The successful, famous, and well-off people have always believed that, and of course poor people have always been uptight about that.

Have any of you been reading the New York Times magazine recently? There was an interesting article about Oprah Winfrey a few weeks ago. She said, “I got up there because I made the right choices. I got in touch with who I was.” Just this week there have already been letters saying, “She is giving us the impression that those of us who haven’t come to the top just weren’t as wonderful and as in touch with ourselves as she was.”

The people who have always hit that free will stuff and said, “Yeah, it’s all a matter of free will,” are always the ones on the top. The people who are underneath realize an awful lot of it seems to be breaks, an awful lot of it seems to be who you know, where you were, where you born, who your parents were and all that, and they get irked at that theory of why some people are on the top and some people are on the bottom.

Eastern religions have always been very fatalistic. They’ve always had a tendency to say, “Look. There is this great thing called fate. Nobody can do anything about it. All your choices are for naught because where you go is just determined by the faceless fate.” Christianity will have neither of those things.

Christianity says, “The answer to what Oprah Winfrey is talking about, the answer to what the Eastern religions are talking about, the thing that liberates and brings it all together is the incomparably great power of God.” God is so great that he works out a plan, a plan to work everything out for your good if you belong to him, and his glory, which takes into consideration your choices, and still works his plan out infallibly.

Jacob lied to his father, Isaac, and wanted his birthright. He cheated his older brother out of it. Because he cheated, because he lied, he had to flee from his family. Was he guilty? Yes. Did he experience pain in his life because of that choice? Yes. Was he punished for it? Yes. But because he sinned he went and found his wife, Rachel, through whom the Messiah came. Was it all right then that he sinned?

No, but don’t you see because Jacob sinned, though God held him responsible for that choice, did that put him on an eternal plan B? Did he say, “I’ve ruined it from now on because of this sin. God will never give me the best?” My friends, no. When he sinned he went into the best for him. God is far greater than your stupid choices.

Peter says in Acts 2:23 to the people he is talking to, “[Jesus Christ] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death …” Now wait a minute. You’re wicked for putting him to death, and yet it was all purposed by God. How could they both be? Because we don’t have a mechanistic, impersonal universe; we have a God who’s infinitely wise and incomparably powerful, who is able to work all things together for you.

Now my friends, don’t you see? Yeah, you can scratch your head a little bit and say, “I don’t see how it all connects,” but this liberates, because if I really thought it was all a matter of my choices, that all of my destiny, everything that happened depended on my good choices, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I’d be afraid. “Which side of the bed should I get up out of?” The guard who found the Watergate door open … That was just because maybe he was 10 seconds later that day or something. I’d be scared to death. If I thought it was all fate, why get out of bed? If I feel like killing and maiming and raping, why not do that? Who cares?

By the way those famous people, when you see them interviewed, go one side or the other. They either say, “It was because I was so brilliant and I made the right choices,” or they’ll say, “I was destined for greatness.” Neither of those is a Christian understanding. Neither of those takes into consideration the incomparably great power of God. Fear gnaws those people because if it was because of your great choices, you ought to always be scared. What if you can’t keep it up? If you’ve made it as a great comic, you ought to be always gnawed with fear because what if tomorrow you can’t think of any more good jokes?

On the other hand, if you think it’s just destiny, you would be always gnawed with fear because what happens if fate just turns you away? “Is it me or is it impersonal fate?” It’s the incomparably great power of God, and that power is bent on your joy and benefit. “All things work together for good …” That gives us responsibility, but man does that give us security. Do you know the power of God? Do you not just know about it? Do you build your life on it? Do you draw your strength from it? That’s what Paul is talking about here. Do you see he is head over all things for the church? Do you have that?

There is another kind of headship: We are his body. That is something amazing. This image is my head, my body. I know it’s not a really good example, but it’s the one I have in hand. The head relates to the body, first of all in the sense of authority. Of course your body does what your head tells you. If it doesn’t it’s a disease. It’s a pathology. But that’s not all headship means.

Headship doesn’t just mean authority; it also means intimacy, because the body and the head participate in the same life. A head is not sewn on to the body nor a body sewn on to a head. It’s not stapled together, but it’s combined by living tissue. Now this gets to the essence of what a Christian is. I don’t know what you think the essence of a Christian is. I’ll tell you what it’s not. Some people say, “The essence of being a Christian is being American or European or Western.”

There are international people who come here all the time to study, and they come to church. Why? Because they’re studying American culture. They say, “Well I come from a Muslim land,” or, “I come from a Hindu land, and you’re in a Christian land. So if I want to understand your culture, I have to understand your religion,” because they see Christianity as being an aspect of culture. Not at all. Christianity can be the heart of any culture, but Christianity is not simply a sociological phenomenon.

Some people think the essence of Christianity is to believe the truth. Of course that is a big part of being a Christian, but there are plenty of people who are orthodox in their doctrine all for the wrong reasons. I know plenty of people who were taught good theology and doctrine as children. They grew up, and the reason I believe they adhere to that doctrine is because of nostalgia. It reminds them of a time when they were cared for. They think of their parents, and so they just feel good listening to the words come out. “I believe in the Ten Commandments. I believe in the Sermon on the Mount. I believe in the Bible.” There is no power in the person’s life.

Some people say, “Being a Christian is following the ideals of Christ.” That’s part of it too, but none of these things get at the essence of what it means to be a Christian. It’s silly to say, “A Christian is someone who follows Jesus’ example or who believes Jesus’ words,” as to say, “A doctor is somebody who wears a white coat.” Now it’s true that a lot of doctors wear white coats, but that’s not the definition of a doctor because there are a lot of other people who wear white coats besides doctors. It’s an incidental thing.

The essence of being a Christian is you’re in the body. I’ll put it another way. There was an old Scotsman named Scougal who wrote a book 200 years ago titled The Life of God in the Soul of Man. That is the essence of being a Christian. The essence of Christianity is the life of God, the power of God, the nature of God, has actually come into your life.

It says in 2 Peter 1:4, “[We are made] partakers of the divine nature …” Now that’s incredible. That means the lifeblood of God comes in. That’s the reason the Bible sometimes talks about Christians being people who are reborn, regenerated, living. The lifeblood, the life-substance of God comes into our lives so we’re renewed. It’s so stupid to do what some people do, and that is to talk about two kinds of Christians. You have the kind who believe and they follow the teachings of Christ, and then there are the “born again” variety. The “born again” variety is the intense types who insist on an emotional experience.

My friends, the Bible says you’re not a Christian at all unless he is your head. That means his life has come into you so his heart now beats through your heart so you feel what he feels, you love what he loves, and you hate what he hates. His mind penetrates your mind so you see what he sees with clarity. His character comes in so you begin to act like him. He is your head. The power comes through. That’s the only kind of Christian there is, and that’s the essence of it: the life of God in the soul of man.

That’s the reason why you have this incredible word right here: “… which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Do you know what that is? Fullness is the word pleroma. The best way I can do this quickly is to tell you fullness means we are his glory. One of the best ways to translate it is to say, “He comes into his own through us.” When you say, “A ballplayer has come into his own,” what you mean is his talent was always there, but now everybody sees it. He has come into his own. What this is saying is Jesus Christ is glorified by revealing who he is through us. That is a remarkable statement. That’s scary.

Here’s the best illustration I can give you. When your children do something that is praiseworthy (if you haven’t had children, you have no idea), it astonishes you how good you feel about yourself. It’s totally irrational, but you feel, “Hey, it makes me feel great. They’re beautiful. I feel beautiful.” When your children do something shameful, you’re so cast down because if your children are ugly, it says to the world, “He is ugly.” If your children are beautiful, it says to the world, “He is beautiful.” There is that link. “They’re my fullness.”

This claim is both exciting and also scary. It means, on the one hand, God can reproduce Jesus’ glory in you, breath of Spirit, infectious joy. Nobility and love can happen in you. It also means the way in which you act tells the world what Jesus looks like. He chooses for it to be like that. That means when you’re ugly you’re saying to the world, “This is what Jesus is like.” Let me underline something … let me even say it loud. To the extent that you grasp this truth, you will receive power not to sin. Do you hear it? I have to get your attention. I know it’s late here. To the extent that you understand that and grasp that truth, you receive power not to sin. Fullness.

Paul says, “I don’t want you to just know about this; I want you to know it.” Do you know how you know something? You work it in two ways. Number one, you work it in by thinking it out, living in a holy consciousness of it, praying over it, and reflecting it until your heart gets big with it.

I’ll tell you another way in which you know something is you step out and act on it. Philippians 2 says, “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” What that means is don’t sit here and say, “I’ll do it as soon as I feel the power surge.” It says, “Work out, for God is at work.” It says, “Go do it. Step out. The power comes in the doing. Don’t wait to feel the power. The power comes in the obedience.”

In Romans and in Hebrews when Abraham was told by God to offer Isaac up, we’re told Abraham looked and he was persuaded that God had the power to raise Isaac up from the dead. So he gave glory to God, and he did not stagger at the Word of God. Now what do you think Abraham did there? Do you feel like Abraham got up that morning ready to sacrifice his son and said, “Ah, I just feel the power of God surging through me. I can’t wait to get up there and see what God is going to do in the mountain?” No. What he did was he thought about it.

This is what you have to do. There is no excuse here. Don’t you dare go away saying, “Look, this is a lot of great talk, but frankly I know about the power of God. It’s all abstract, but I don’t know this kind of power in my life. I guess I’ll just have to wait around until the bolt hits.” No. We’re told Abraham got up and he was persuaded. He thought it out. He saw how God’s power bore on his situation, and he acted on it.

Do you think he felt good? It wasn’t until he got to the mountain. When he got up there, he was about to sacrifice Isaac, God showed him the provision, and he gave him the ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac, they named that place The Lord Will Provide. What is that? Jehovah-jireh. In the mouth of the Lord it will be revealed. You won’t find the power until you get to the mountain. You have to be willing to go. You have to be willing to act. Stretch, act.

If you do, you’ll know an honor you’ve never known before. You’ll see growth you’ve never known before. This is the power of God in you, and it has his holiness in you. I don’t care how bad your problems are. I don’t care how bad your habits are. This life that comes in is potent. It’s omnipotent. It’s like acid. Acid must turn whatever it touches into its own image. The holy life of God must overcome the distorted and the evil parts of you.

3. Spiritual power

Friends, this power belongs to those who do what I said, but also it belongs only to people who are born again by the Spirit. Let me just read you verses 15 and 16. Paul says, “… since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus … I have not stopped giving thanks for you … I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation …”

Do you see he doesn’t pray for them and he is not praying for you until he heard about their faith in Jesus Christ? Don’t you see this is only for people with faith in Jesus? What does that mean? It’s nothing mysterious. Some churches teach if you want to be right with God you need Jesus and the sacraments. Some say you need Jesus and good works. Some say you need Jesus and my course on how to be filled with God. Paul says, “It’s faith in Jesus. A Christian is somebody who says, ‘Jesus is my all. The reason I belong to God is because of what Jesus did for me and nothing else.’ If that’s your condition, this is available. It’s available.”

Not one of his promises will fall to the ground because of this power. His promises are so strange. They say, “I’ll give you the bright morning star. All things work out together for good to them who love God. Anyone who gives up lands and family and riches on earth, I’ll give you land and family and riches here and in the world to come, eternal life.” All these promises are incredible, and frankly I don’t know what the heck they mean. But who cares? We’ll never find out what they mean until we trust. The reason they look so strange to us is because we’re sitting back and waiting. Do you know the incomparably great power of God?

*Sermon delivered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on July 9, 1989.


In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

Dr. R.C. Sproul Answers The Question: “Why Don’t We Know God?”


In order to speak to the question, “Why don’t we know God?” we must first grant that we do, in a sense, know God. So we can hardly speak to the question, “Why don’t we?” without making the kind of distinction that Dr. Packer makes. Dr. Packer distinguishes between the different ways in which we may know God. He speaks of the distinction between notitia and cognitio, that is, the difference between an intellectual awareness or mental apprehension of something and a more profound or deep relational knowledge of someone or something.

Obviously, the Bible uses the verb “to know” in at least these two ways and perhaps even more widely. There are different levels, degrees, or ways in which we can know things and persons. That is why the Scriptures say on some occasions that men do not know God, that men are in darkness concerning God, yet on other occasions that men do know God. Unless the Bible is speaking with a forked tongue, or unless we violate radically the Reformed principle of the coherency of Scripture, we have to conclude that the Bible is speaking from different perspectives about different kinds of knowledge. Perhaps we can circumvent the dilemma by making these distinctions. But one thing is certain: no one knows God at the depth to which it is possible to know God. And that is the question with which we must wrestle: Why do we not know God as intimately, deeply, personally and comprehensively as it is possible for us to know him?

Willful Ignorance

The answer to that question does not require an extended dissertation. The reason that we do not know God as intimately, deeply, personally, and comprehensively as we possibly could is because we do not want to know God intimately, deeply and comprehensively. Moreover, even though we may be redeemed, even though we may be “the elite of the elect,” there still remains within us the residual elements of our fallenness. Our natures have been regenerated, but the sin that dwells within us has not been eradicated and will not be, this side of glory. So as long as there remains any disposition within us to sin there is a propensity toward ignorance of the things of God. I would like to focus our attention on a detailed analysis of why men do not know God to the degree that it is possible to know him. The basis for this analysis is the first chapter of Romans, beginning at verse 18.

In the part of the prologue that is found in verses 16, 17 and 18, Paul maintains that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. Then we find the thematic statement of the Epistle: “For therein [that is, ‘in the gospel’] is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” This is the topic sentence for the whole Epistle: the righteousness of God is revealed through faith. So, in a word, Paul is concerned with revelation. But notice, he begins in verse 18, not with the revelation of God’s mercy, grace, or justification, but with the revelation of God’s wrath: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”

What we find here, as always in Scripture, is that God’s wrath is never arbitrary, capricious, irrational or demonic, but that it is always a response to something evil. God’s wrath is revealed against unrighteousness and ungodliness. It is not a wrath revealed against righteousness, godliness or piety, but against unrighteousness and ungodliness. Unrighteousness and ungodliness are general terms—wide-sweeping, wide-encompassing descriptive terms. But we must not stop here, for Paul moves from the general to the particular. He does not leave us to wonder about what particular form of unrighteousness, what specific kind of ungodliness is provoking the wrath of God. Rather, Paul names the child. He mentions it in the second clause of the sentence: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [that is, ‘suppress’] the truth in unrighteousness.” The specific provocation of God’s wrath is human suppression of truth.

If you go to different translations of the Bible, you will find a wide variety of English phrases used to translate the last part of verse 18. The old King James Version says, “who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Some translations say, “hindering the truth.” One translator has preferred to say “repress the truth.”

Let us go back to the old King James Version: “holding the truth in unrighteousness.” That whole phrase seems a bit archaic, does it not? How does one hold truth? Truth is an abstract thing; truth is not quantitative. How can we use tactile, empirical terms to describe truth? We do not hold truth; we hold a wristwatch, or we hold onto something. But there are different ways to hold things. If I hold a wristwatch, that is one kind of holding. If I hold onto a lectern, that is another kind of holding. If I hold my wife, hopefully that is an altogether different kind of holding. What kind of holding does the apostle have in mind here? Well, notice that we can hold something up, or we can hold something down. The verb used here literally means “to hold down, to incarcerate, to hold back,” and it suggests the notion that one must use force to repress a counterforce. The way I like to think of “holding down” is of a giant spring compressed to its point of highest tension. In order to hold that spring in place, one must exert all kinds of counterpressure to keep it compressed; otherwise it will spring up by its own tension and perhaps even injure the one who is seeking to hold it back.

So why is Paul using this verb with respect to truth? He is talking about the human effort that brings the wrath of God upon man. It is man’s active, positive resistance to God’s truth.

Sufficient Revelation

The reason that God is angry is further elucidated in verse 19, where Paul says, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it unto them.” If Paul had merely said, “What could have been known about God was available to man,” that would have been reason enough for God to reveal his wrath against those who did not avail themselves of a divinely given opportunity to know him. That in itself would have been a serious sin against our Creator. But Paul is not simply saying: God has made knowledge of himself available to men and men have never made use of this opportunity. No, he is saying that the knowledge of God which he has revealed to all men has been made plain, not obscure, and that mankind has rejected it.

Let me comment on that with an illustration from the academic world. There are different ways in which you can bring students to a state of knowledge. You can say to them, “Look, we have a course in the Doctrine of God. I am the professor in this course, but I am not going to teach you anything; I am simply going to moderate the course. Each student is responsible to lecture. If you want to know about the Doctrine of God, just go to the library and find those books that have something to say about the Doctrine of God and then come in and give your paper.” That is one way I could do it. Or I could say, “Look, I want you to do heavy research about the Doctrine of God. So I am going to take all the books in the library that deal with the Doctrine of God and put them together in one place on the reserve shelf. I am going to make it easy for you to discover this information.” In other words, I would be facilitating the student’s efforts to learn something about the Doctrine of God. Or, finally, I could go even further. I could put those books on the reserve shelf, and then I could take the student by the hand, march him over to the library, show him where the reserve shelf is, take each book off the shelf, open it up to the first page, and say to him, “Listen to this,” and start to read it.

I think that Paul is getting at something like this last illustration. God does not just make the knowledge available. He shows himself to us, as the apostle says. How thoroughly that knowledge has been received remains a question. But one thing is certain: God has revealed himself to all men with sufficient clarity and with sufficient content as to render men inexcusable. He has presented himself with enough clarity, with enough revelation, to remove the cry of ignorance as a justifying reason for a person’s rejection of him.

Assured Results

Paul goes onto say that when men refuse to honor God and refuse to acknowledge him even though they know he is there, their thinking becomes “foolish” and their minds “darkened.” Have you ever read the works of David Hume? Have you ever read the works of Jean-Paul Sartre? These men are great thinkers. David Hume, I think, is one of the most formidable opponents that the Christian faith has ever had to wrestle with. How can men who have clearly and blatantly denied the existence of God be so scholarly, so knowledgeable, and manifest such high gifts of intelligence? The answer is in this text. Once a man refuses to acknowledge what he knows to be true he can go on to construct magnificent systems of philosophy. He can manifest gifts of intellectual acumen and brilliance. But if he is consistent, if his starting point in the procedure involves an obstinate rejection of what he knows to be true, his system can end only in futility. Imagine the scientist who starts his scientific endeavor by denying what he knows to be the basic facts. The only way such a scientist can arrive at any kind of truth is by a happy inconsistency, by compounding his errors to such a degree that possibly he will be fortunate enough to stumble onto some truth.

The pagan adds insult to injury, Paul continues, for not only does he begin his systematic approach by refusing to acknowledge what he knows to be true and thereby working continuously with a darkened mind but, having done this, he tells the world that he is wise. Paul says, “ … professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” Sinful man, after he repudiates what he knows to be true, then has the audacity to say to God and to the world, “I am a wise man.” But God says that the wisdom of sinful man is foolishness!

In the Scriptures the designation “fool” is not primarily an intellectual evaluation. When God says that a man is a fool, he is not saying that he is dull-witted. He is not saying that he has a low I.Q. or that he is a poor student. The term “fool” is a judgment of man’s character. It is more of a moral evaluation than an intellectual one. It is the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.”

Foolishness is in many of the catalogues of serious sins in the New Testament, along with adultery and murder and things like that. Foolishness is a moral refusal to deal honestly with truth.

Undefined Anxiety

We notice next that men’s foolishness of compounded. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged “the glory of the incorruptible God” for images resembling mortal man, birds, animals or reptiles. Therefore, “God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”

What happens after the truth is held down, after the truth is repressed? Is there a vacuum? No! Immediately an exchange takes place. Substitution occurs.

It is valuable to talk about this in contemporary psychological terms. Johannes Spavink, the Dutch scholar, finds in this text a statement about man’s psychological prejudice. Spavink asks: Why do men repress or suppress things? He says that knowledge which is most likely to be suppressed is knowledge which comes to us in the framework of the traumatic. We try to push down knowledge that frightens us or is unpleasant. We have a kind of psychocybernetic system with which we screen from our conscious mind those things which are unpleasant. But the question I ask you in modern psychological terms is this: Is the memory of a threatening or traumatic experience destroyed by our repression? I do not know of any psychologist or biochemist who would say that those memory notions or images are destroyed. Rather, we bury them or push them down.

So, our present state of consciousness is dark, but the knowledge has not been destroyed. For example, let us say that I have repressed negative feelings about my mother. I am not even conscious of these feelings. But I begin to have undefined anxiety. I begin to worry, and I do not know why I am worried. When I begin to experience restlessness I go to a psychologist to help me work through my anxiety state.

The doctor says, “What’s the matter?”

I say, “I have anxiety.”

“Why do you have anxiety?”

“I don’t know. That’s why I came to see you. I’m worried, and I don’t know why I’m worried. Help me to find out.”

The doctor begins to probe my inner man to see where the injury is and how I can be brought again to health and wholeness. As he goes through my medical history he does not pay attention simply to the words I say. He is also carefully observant of my mannerisms, my gestures, and every kind of symbolic activity with which I am communicating my deepest feelings. Eventually in our discussions he notices that every time he asks me about my mother, or every time I say something about my mother, I twitch my shoulder. So he thinks, “Every time Sproul says something about his mother he has this awful twitch.” He asks, “Do you have any kind of bad feelings about your mother?”

“My mother?” (Twitch) I ask in astonishment. “I don’t feel anything bad about my mother!” (Twitch)

But he knows that somewhere in the past I have had a bad experience with my mother, and he knows that this knowledge has not been destroyed but that it is only exchanged for the gesture. In this way it is (perhaps) still a problem but not quite as threatening as the original experience. In the same way, most people do not say simply, “There is no God”; rather they create a new God, one who is less threatening, less terrifying, less of a problem.

Let me illustrate this. A few years ago I was watching the David Frost show, and he was interviewing Madalyn Murray O’Hair. They began discussing whether or not there is a God, and David Frost suddenly became a great champion of the Christian faith, defending it against O’Hair. The discussion got so out of hand that Frost became angry and decided to determine the controversy by a show of hands. He turned to the studio audience and asked, “How many of you believe in some kind of supreme being, some kind of higher power, something greater than yourselves?” Almost everybody in the audience raised his hand.

I waited breathlessly to see what Madalyn Murray O’Hair would say to that kind of response. She said, “Well, what do you expect from the masses who come to this studio? What do they know? Give them time to catch up with modern knowledge, and this myth will disappear.” That is the tack she took. I thought that if she had been clever she would have said, “Just a minute, Mr. Frost. Let me pose the question.” Then, turning to the audience, she would say something like this. “I know that some of you believe in something higher than yourself, some higher power, some faceless, nameless, contextless, unknown god who makes no claims on your existence, who never stands in judgment over your morality, who does not demand the sacrifice of your life. Anybody can believe in that kind of god. But do you believe in Yahweh, the Lord God of Israel, who thunders from Sinai, ‘You will have no other gods before me’? Do you believe in a god who demands obedience to his perfect law and who calls men to repentance? How many of you believe in a god who makes absolute demands upon your life?” What do you suppose the vote would have been like?

The “Supreme Being,” the “Ground of Being,” “Ultimate Concern”—all these titles are nonthreatening. They have no substance. They represent our most sophisticated efforts at idolatry, in which we exchange the truth of God for a lie, a nonthreatening lie. They speak of a God who never judges us, who never calls us to repentance, a cosmic grandfather who says, “Boys will be boys.” That is the kind of God we have, not only in the secular world but in our churches.

The Immutable God

When I was writing the book Psychology of Atheism, I worked through three great attributes of God: holiness, sovereignty, and omniscience. But then I remembered a sermon I had read years before by Jonathan Edwards entitled, “Man Naturally God’s Enemy.” I wondered what Edwards had to say about why men hate God. So I went back to read that sermon. At the beginning Edwards said, “There are four things about God that make men hate him.” I thought, “Four things? What did I miss?” And I wondered if Edwards had found the same things I had found.

He said, “The first thing that terrifies man is God’s holiness.”

I said, “Aha! I got one right!”

Then he said, “The second thing man hates about God is his omniscience.” By this time my opinion of Edwards as a scholar was rising.

He went on, “The third thing that men hate about God is his sovereignty.” I could hardly believe that I had put my finger on the same things. But what was the fourth one? What had I missed?

I turned the page and read, “Perhaps you are wondering what the fourth one is?” Edwards had stolen the words right out of my mouth. Then I read: “The fourth thing about God that men hate is his immutability.” Immutability? Why would that be so threatening? Why should that bother us? Edwards explained. “Man faces this dilemma: Not only does he know and know clearly that God is holy and omniscient and sovereign, but he knows that God will always be holy, he will always be omniscient, he will always be sovereign. And there is nothing we can possibly do to make him less holy, less omniscient, or less sovereign. These attributes are not open to negotiation. We cannot find God involved in a process of change whereby he can enter into certain mutations to compromise with us.”

From age to age, the hound of heaven brings his light into a world of darkness; but men love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.

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 Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Essential Truths Of The Christian Faith;  Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe;  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 the chapter entitled “Why We Do Not Know God” from the book: Our Sovereign God: Addresses Presented to the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, 1974-1976. James M. Boice, ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977.

Dr. James M. Boice on “Whatever Happened To God?”

A Strong Call To Reformation in Our Churches By Dr. James Boice

In any discussion of reformation in doctrine one must come to the realization that the real problem of our time is that there is hardly any doctrine at all to reform. So when we talk about reformation we must focus on a recovery of theology, period. Certainly in the liberal churches there is a lack of exposition of Scripture and sound doctrine, and unfortunately, this is rapidly becoming the case in evangelical circles as well.

Now you might ask which doctrines are missing? I argue that primarily what we need is a recovery of the doctrine of God. You have to have some kind of starting point and that’s the point where I think we should begin. People have lost any real sense of the fact that when we come to church we come to worship and learn about God. Years ago I spoke at a conference and my topic was on a number of the attributes of God. Later I got some feedback from a gentleman who was listening to my presentation. He had been in the church for thirty years, and in fact was now an elder, and that was the first time that he ever heard a series of messages on the attributes of God. And after hearing this his friend asked him, ‘Well, whom did you think you were worshiping all that time?’ But he hadn’t really thought about those things and I’m convinced that we have literally thousands of people in our churches today who really seldom, if ever, think about who it is they are worshiping, if they think about God at all.

Now, I think there are some reasons for this. One reason is the terrible impact of television on our culture which has produced a virtually mindless age. Television is not a medium which shares information well, it is primarily an entertainment medium. It puts pictures on the screen onto which people project their own aspirations and desires, and because it works so powerfully and is so pervasive it has the tendency to transform anything it touches into entertainment, and it does it very quickly. One of the most significant books I’ve read in the last few years in terms of what is actually happening to the mind is Neil Postman’s, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show-Business. It’s not that entertainment itself is bad. But television is most damaging when it tries to be serious. So when you put news on TV, you get brief little sound bites encased in slick images, and this is not really information, it is entertainment.

This happens to politics, it happens to education, and according to Postman, it happens to religion. Postman even raises the question of what one loses when one puts religion on television. It is obvious what there is to gain: a mass audience, money. But what do you lose? He argues you lose everything that is important: tradition, creeds, theology, etc. And he says above all, you lose a sense of the transcendent. And what he means is that you lose a sense of the presence of God. When Christians meet together to worship God, whether it is in a cathedral or a simple chapel, typically there will be prayers and open Bibles for the study of God’s Word. There is a sense that God is present in these activities. And you lose that when religion is put on TV. All you have on television is the picture of the star of the show who is the ‘entertainer.’ Postman says God necessarily, in that kind of medium, comes out second banana. And when the preacher becomes the star of the show he begins to think and act as if he is a Hollywood star then you have the kind of tragedies that we’ve seen in the industry. Postman has a very serious comment at this point. He says, ‘Now, I’m not a theologian and maybe I don’t have the right word for it, but I think the word for it is ‘blasphemy.”

All of this would be irrelevant if it were not for the fact that all this has a significant impact on our churches. So just as God is absent from televised religion, there is tremendous pressure to push him out of our church services in favor of a more upbeat entertainment-oriented Sunday morning visit. We do all kinds of things to fill in that vacuum, but as Augustine said, “we are made for God and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.” In my judgment, we have a hollow core at the heart of evangelicalism, and that is the cause of all the restlessness.

 The Sovereignty of God

If we want to recover the doctrine of God we have to recover the attributes of God, and one attribute that is sorely missing in our time is the attribute of God’s sovereignty. What happens in the Christian world if you don’t give attention to the sovereign God? Human sovereignty comes in to take the true God’s place. Idols always replace the true if the true is not kept there. So you have human beings becoming sovereign in their own estimation in a variety of ways.

Theologically: we are the ones who elect God rather than God electing us.

Programmatically: we are the ones who determine what should be done in our worship rather than following the statements of Scripture.

In this sort of business God gets relegated to the sidelines, we really don’t need him. But really, when you think about it, this is secularism.

I think the best illustration of this in the Bible is the story of Nebuchadnezzar when he stood on the roof of his palace in Babylon and he looked over that magnificent city with its famous hanging gardens and he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?’ That is probably the best statement in all of literature of what we call secular humanism, because he is claiming that the world he observed was of him, by him and for his own glory. But the sad thing is that it is not just secular humanism, but is becoming ‘evangelical’ humanism as well. If we’re the ones who conceive of what should be done and we’re the ones who accomplish it by our skills, whatever they may be, often without prayer (because we are not a prayerful people), then I guess the glory should go to ourselves. So we find ourselves right back where Nebuchadnezzar was, right around the time God judged him with insanity. And as I look at the evangelical world I’d say a lot of it is insane. In addition, Nebuchadnezzar was driven out to live with the animals to behave in a bestial way. And when I read the polls that tell me that evangelicals behave virtually no different from their secular counter-parts, and I recognize the bestial manner that the world around us is behaving, I think that maybe the judgment of Nebuchadnezzar has come home to us as well.

Fortunately, Nebuchadnezzar got the message. For his final testimony reads:

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ …Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble. (Dan 4:34-35, 37)

God is not only able to humble them. He does humble them, and perhaps that ought to be a good starting point for renewal in our churches. We evangelicals need it especially.

The Holiness of God

If there is any doctrine that rivals God’s sovereignty in importance it is the holiness of God. But do we have any sense or appreciation of the holiness of God in our churches today? David Wells writes that God’s holiness weighs ‘lightly upon us.’ Why? Holiness involves God’s transcendence. It involves majesty, the authority of sovereign power, stateliness or grandeur. It embraces the idea of God’s sovereign majestic will, a will that is set upon proclaiming himself to be who he truly is: God alone, who will not allow his glory to be diminished by another. Yet we live in an age when everything is exposed, where there are no mysteries and no surprises, where even the most intimate personal secrets of our lives are blurted out over television to entertain the masses. We are contributing to this frivolity when we treat God as our celestial buddy who indulges us in the banalities of our day-to-day lives.

Perhaps the greatest problem of all in regard to our neglect of God’s holiness is that holiness is a standard against which human sin is exposed, which is why in Scripture exposure to God always produces feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment and terror in the worshiper. These are all painful emotions, and we are doing everything possible in our culture to avoid them. One evidence of this is the way we have eliminated sin as a serious category for describing human actions. Karl Menninger asked the question years ago with his classic book, Whatever Became of Sin? He answered his own question by arguing that when we banished God from our cultural landscape we changed sin into crime (because it is now no longer an offense against God but rather an offense against the state) and then we changed crimes into symptoms. Sin is now something that is someone else’s fault. It is caused by my environment, my parents or my genes.

But once again, this is not simply a problem outside the church. We too have bought into today’s therapeutic approach so that we no longer call our many and manifold transgressions sin or confront sin directly, calling for repentance before God. Instead we send our people to counselors to work through why they are acting in an ‘unhealthy’ manner, to find ‘healing.’

David Wells claims that ‘holiness fundamentally defines the character of God.’ But ‘robbed of such a God, worship loses its awe, the truth of his Word loses its ability to compel, obedience loses its virtue, and the church loses its moral authority.’ It is time for the evangelical churches to recover the Bible’s insistence that God is holy above all things and explore what that must mean for our individual and corporate lives. To begin with we need to preach from those great passages of the Bible in which people were exposed to God’s awe-inspiring majesty and holiness. If nothing else, we need to preach the Law without which preaching the Gospel loses its power and eventually even its meaning.

Reformation in Worship

John R. W. Stott has written a book on some essentials of evangelical religion in which he affirms “that true worship is the highest and noblest activity of which man, by the grace of God, is capable.” But that highlights our weakness, namely, that for large segments of the evangelical church, perhaps the majority, true worship is almost non-existent.

A. W. Tozer, a wise pastor and perceptive Bible student, saw the problem nearly fifty years ago. He wrote in 1948, “Thanks to our splendid Bible societies and to other effective agencies for the dissemination of the Word, there are today many millions of people who hold ‘right opinions,’ probably more than ever before in the history of the church. Yet I wonder if there was ever a time when true spiritual worship was at a lower ebb. To great sections of the church the art of worship has been lost entirely, and in its place has come that strange and foreign thing called the ‘program.’ This word has been borrowed from the stage and applied with sad wisdom to the type of public service which now passes for worship among us.”

It is not unusual to read in books dealing with worship that worship is hard to define, but I do not find that actually to be the case. I think it is very easy to define. The problems-and there are many of them-are in different areas.

To worship God is to ascribe to Him supreme worth, for He alone is supremely worthy. Therefore, the first thing to be said about worship is that it is to honor God. Worship also has bearing on the worshiper. It changes him or her, which is the second important thing to be said about it.

William Temple defined worship very well:

“To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,

to feed the mind with the truth of God,

to purge the imagination by the beauty of God,

to open the heart to the love of God,

to devote the will to the purpose of God.”

In defining worship, William Temple also gives us a good description of the true godliness throughout the Christian life.

John H. Armstrong is editor of a journal called Reformation and Revival, and he devoted the 1993 winter issue to worship. In the introduction Armstrong calls what passes for the worship of God today ‘Mc-Worship,’ meaning that worship has been made common, cheap or trivial. What is the problem? Why is so little of that strong worship that characterized past ages seen among us? There are several reasons.

First, ours is a trivial age, and the church has been deeply affected by this pervasive triviality. Ours is not an age for great thoughts or even great actions. Our age has no heroes. It is a technological age, and the ultimate objective of our popular technological culture is entertainment.

I argue that the chief cause of today’s mindlessness is television, as I discussed earlier. Because it is so pervasive-the average American household has the television on more than seven hours a day-it is programming us to think that the chief end of man is to be entertained. How can people whose minds are filled with the brainless babble of the evening sitcoms have anything but trivial thoughts when they come to God’s house on Sundays morning if, in fact, they have thoughts of God at all? How can they appreciate his holiness if their heads are full of the moral muck of the afternoon talk shows? All they can look for in church, if they look for anything, is something to make them feel good for a short while before they go back to the television culture.

Second, ours is a self-absorbed, man-centered age, and the church has become sadly, even treasonously, self-centered. We have seen something like a Copernican revolution. In the past true worship may not have taken place all the time or even often. It may have been crowded out by the ‘program,’ as Tozer maintained it was in his day. But worship was at least understood to be the praise of God and to be something worth aiming at. Today we do not even aim at it, at least not much or in many places.

Pastor R. Kent Hughes, the former Senior Pastor of the College Church in Wheaton, is on target when he says, “The unspoken but increasingly common assumption of today’s Christendom is that worship is primarily for us-to meet our needs. Such worship services are entertainment focused, and the worshipers are uncommitted spectators who are silently grading the performance.”

From this perspective preaching becomes a homiletics of consensus-preaching to felt needs-man’s conscious agenda instead of God’s. Such preaching is always topical and never textual. Biblical information is minimized, and the sermons are short and full of stories. Anything and everything that is suspected of making the marginal attender uncomfortable is removed from the service, whether it be a registration card or a ‘mere’ creed. Taken to the nth degree, this philosophy instills a tragic self-centeredness. That is, everything is judged by how it affects man. This terribly corrupts one’s theology.

As I have been arguing all along, we are oblivious to God. In recent years, as I have traveled around the country speaking in various churches, I have noticed the decreasing presence and in some cases the total absence of service elements that have always been associated with the worship of God. These desperately need to be recovered.

Whatever Happened to Prayer?

It is almost inconceivable to me that something that is called a worship service can be held without any significant prayer, but that is precisely what is happening. I mean really, what do you go to a church service for if it is not to pray? And yet, you can go to evangelical services filled with thousands of people and hear virtually no prayers at all. There is usually a very short prayer at the beginning of the service and another prayer at the time the offering is received. But longer prayers-pastoral prayers-have all but vanished. Whatever happened to the ACTS acrostic in which ‘A’ stands for adoration, ‘C’ for confession of sin, ‘T’ for thanksgiving, and ‘S’ for supplication? Now and then a few supplications are tacked onto the offering prayer, but most all other prayers have been thrown out. How can we say we are worshipping when we do not even pray?

The Reading of the Word

The reading of any substantial portion of the Bible is also vanishing. In the Puritan age ministers regularly read one long chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New Testament in every service. In some services I’ve attended there are no Scripture readings at all, other times it is a reading of only one or two verses. Sometimes it just precedes the sermon and very often it is only a pretext because the sermon has nothing whatsoever to do with the passage. I’m not talking about liberal churches, mind you. I’m talking about the lack of Scripture readings in our evangelical churches. We must again recover the apostle’s command to ‘devote [ourselves] to the public reading of Scripture’ (1Tim. 4:13).

The Exposition of the Word

In this television age of ours, preachers are expected to be charming and entertaining. And so your sermons have to be shortened because people have short attention spans, they are funny if they can be, and you have to eliminate any theological material that would cause people to think, and you most certainly do not bring up negative theological material like sin because that makes people feel uncomfortable. Preachers want to be liked, and in order to be liked today you have to be entertaining. I am reminded of Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees about wanting to be popular, seeing the smiles from the folks in the market place. As our Lord said, ‘They have their reward.’ But for pastors who are looking for more than smiles, and parishioners who are looking for more than to have their ears tickled, our Lord gave a very simple explanation of what the exposition of the Word is really all about. ‘You search the Scriptures thinking that in them you have eternal life: yet these are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). The preaching of God’s Word is about Christ, and him crucified. This central message is food for our souls. But we are settling for junk food.

Confession of Sin

Who confesses sin today-anywhere, not to mention in church as God’s humble, repentant people? It is not happening, because there is so little awareness of both God and sin. Instead of coming to church to admit our transgressions and seek forgiveness, we come to church to be told that we are really all right, we want to be affirmed.


One of the saddest features of contemporary worship is that the great hymns of the church are on the way out. They are not gone entirely, but they are going. And in their place have come trite jingles that have more in common with contemporary advertising ditties than the psalms. Now, not all of them are bad and I would even argue that there is a place for some of them, like when you’re having a fun night with the Jr. High. But what place do they have in serious worship? The problem here is not so much the style of the music, though trite words fit best with trite tunes and harmonies. Rather it is with the content of the songs. The old hymns expressed the theology of the church in profound and perceptive ways and with winsome memorable language. Today’s songs reflect only our shallow or non-existent theology and do almost nothing to elevate one’s thoughts about God.

Worst of all are songs that merely repeat a trite idea, word or phrase over and over again. Songs like this are not worship, though they may give the churchgoer a religious feeling. They are mantras, which belong more in a gathering of New Agers than among the worshipping people of the triune God.

Reformation in The Church

The disaster that has overtaken the church in our day in regard to worship is not going to be cured overnight. But we ought to make a beginning, and one way to begin is to study what Jesus said about worship. He had been traveling with his disciples and had stopped at the well of Sychar while the disciples went into the city to buy food. A woman came to draw water and Jesus got into a discussion with her. As the discussion progressed he touched on her loose moral life, revealing his insight into her way of living, and she tried to change the topic by asking him a religious question. ‘Sir,’ she said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem’ (John 4:20).

Jesus’ answer is the classic biblical statement of what worship is all about: ‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth’ (vv. 21-24). There are several important things about this.

First, there is but one true God, and true worship must be of this true God and none other. This is the point of Jesus saying that the Samaritans did not know whom they were worshipping but that the Jews did, that ‘salvation is from the Jews.’ He meant that the true God is the God who had revealed himself to Israel at Mount Sinai and who established the only acceptable way of worshipping him, which is what much of the Old Testament is about. Other worship is invalid, because it is worship of an imaginary god.

We need to think about this carefully because we live in an age in which everyone’s opinion about anything, especially his or her opinion about God, is thought to be as valid as any other. That is patently impossible. If there is a God, which is basic to any discussion about worship, then God is what he is. That is, he is one thing and not another. So the question is not whether any or all opinions are valid but rather what this one true existing God is like. Who is he? What is his name? What kind of a God is he? Christianity teaches that this one true God has made himself known through creation, at Mount Sinai, through the subsequent history of the Jewish people, and in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. In addition, he has given us a definitive revelation of what he is like and what he requires of us in the Bible. So that is the point at which we start. There is one God, and he has revealed himself to us. That is why there can be no true worship of God without a faithful teaching of the Bible.

Second, the only way this one true God can be truly worshipped is ‘in spirit and in truth.’ Jesus was indicating a change in worship when he said this. Before this time worship was centered in the temple at Jerusalem. Every Jew had to make his way there three times annually for the festivals. What took place in the local synagogues was more like a Bible school class than a worship service. But this has been changed. Jesus has come. He has fulfilled all that the temple worship symbolized. Therefore, until the end of the age worship is not to be by location, either in Jerusalem or Samaria, but in spirit and according to the truth of God.

Worship should not be confused with feelings. It is true that the worship of God will affect us, and one thing it will frequently affect is our emotions. At times tears will fill our eyes as we become aware of God’s great love and grace toward us. Yet it is possible for our eyes to fill with tears and for there still to be no real worship simply because we have not come to a genuine awareness of God and a fuller praise of God’s nature and ways.

True worship occurs only when we actually meet with God and find ourselves praising him for his love, wisdom, beauty, truth, holiness, compassion, mercy, grace, power, and all his other attributes.

Reformation in Life

Surveys of contemporary Christian conduct tell us that most Christians do not act significantly different from non-Christian people. This is not surprising since little contemporary preaching teaches anything that might actually make a difference. But we obviously should be different, at least if we take the Bible seriously. Christians are to be the new humanity, a community of those who “love…God, even to the contempt of self’ as opposed to those who ‘love…self, even to the contempt of God” (Augustine).

Where should we start? The scope of this subject is analogous to that of the reformation of the church in doctrine with which this article began. I asked what doctrines needed to be recovered, and I answered ‘all the major doctrines of all the creeds.’ Here I ask, what areas of Christian life and conduct need to be recovered, and the answer is: all areas of life both for ourselves as individuals and the church. We need the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount and the ethical teaching of the epistles. It is all needed. In short, we need to recover what it means to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and to ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ since ‘all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’ (Matt. 22:37-40). We need to live out our faith, not to obtain grace, but because we have obtained God’s grace in Christ.

To God Alone Be Glory

This article began with God, and it is appropriate that it end with God, too, for a recovery of the sense of the reality, presence, will and glory of God is what it is about. It is significant that Paul’s conclusion to the great doctrinal section of the book of Romans ends with a doxology. The last words are: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rom. 11:36).

Moreover, after the closing application section of the letter, the entire epistle ends similarly: “To the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (Rom. 16:27).

I would argue that the reason the evangelical church is so weak today and why we do not experience renewal, though we talk about our need for it, is that the glory of God has been largely forgotten by the church. We are not likely to see revival again until the truths that exalt and glorify God in salvation are recovered. How can we expect God to move among us until we can again truthfully say, ‘To God alone be the glory’?

The world cannot say this. It is concerned for its own glory instead. Like Nebuchadnezzar, it says, ‘Look at this great Babylon I have built by my power and for my glory.’ Arminians cannot say it. They can say, ‘to God be glory,’ but they cannot say, ‘to God alone be glory,’ since Arminian theology takes some of the glory of God in salvation and gives it to man. Even those in the Reformed camp cannot say it if what they are chiefly trying to do in their ministries is build their own kingdoms and become important people on the religious scene. We will never experience renewal in doctrine, worship and life until we are honestly able to say, ‘to God alone be glory’ in all that we do.

To those who do not know God that is perhaps the most foolish of all statements. But to those who do know God, to those who are being saved, it is not only a right statement, it is a happy, true, inescapable, necessary and highly desirable confession.


Author: *James Montgomery Boice, Th.D., (July 7, 1938 – June 15, 2000) was a Reformed theologian, Bible teacher, and pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia from 1968 until his death. He is heard on The Bible Study Hour radio broadcast and was a well known author and speaker in evangelical and Reformed circles. He also served as Chairman of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy for over ten years and was a founding member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. He is the author of numerous Bible expositions and one of my favorite Systematic Theologies called Foundations of the Christian Faith.

©1996, 1999 Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

Book Review: Making the Best of a Bad Decision by Erwin Lutzer

 Encouragement and Hope For The Journey Ahead

Book Reviewed By David P. Craig

The subtitle of this book is “how to put your regrets behind you, embrace grace, and move toward a better life.” *Lutzer definitely does that, and much more in this very helpful book on how God’s sovereignty plays out in our lives, even when we sin, fail, make mistakes, and blow it every which way. The good news is that God works things out for our good even when we have messed things up pretty bad.

Using biblical examples like David, Moses, Paul, and numerous others, as well as numerous real life examples from his many years as a pastor, Lutzer shows time and time again that we can have a fresh start, a new hope, and be forgiven of our sins. Nothing we have done is too difficult for God to redeem through the shed blood of Christ, and in His sovereign plans.

Specifically, the author addresses bad decisions we have made in marriage, morally, financially, vocationally, and when we have hurt others. He gives biblical counsel for each of these poor decisions (most of us have and will make), and each chapter always has practical steps in how to deal with the past, the present, and gives much hope for the future. In the final two chapters he tackles how we can learn from our past and make wise decisions in the present and future. And lastly, he deals with the most important decision you can ever make – related to where you will spend your eternity.

The book also features a discussion guide for individual or group study. I highly recommend this book – especially for people who have ever said, or are saying things like: “My life is over;” I’ve sinned so much I could never be forgiven;” “I think I married the wrong person;” “I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, there is no way I can ever get out of this mess;” “I can never forgive ___________ for what they did to me;” “How can I ever repay ____________ back for how much I hurt them?” And any other question you have asked when you feel hopeless.

Lutzer’s book is easy to read, thorough, very applicable, and full of helpful biblical wisdom to help you get back on the right track – no matter where you got off! I believe that this book will help a lot of people recover, find redemption, and hope to help make the journey in the future a lot better than the past.

*Since 1980, Erwin W. Lutzer has served as senior pastor of the world-famous Moody Church in Chicago, where he provide leadership to Chicago pastors. Dr. Lutzer earned his B.Th. from Winnipeg Bible College, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, an M.A. in philosophy from Loyola University, an LL.D. from Simon Greenleaf School of Law, and a D.D. from Western Conservative Baptist Seminary.


Dr. Lutzer is a featured radio speaker on the Moody Broadcasting Network and the author of numerous books, including The Vanishing Power of DeathCries from the Cross, the best-selling One Minute Before You Die and Hitler’s Cross, which received the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (EPCA) Gold Medallion Book Award. He speaks both nationally and internationally at Bible conferences and tours and has led tours of the cities of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

Dr. Lutzer and his wife, Rebecca, live in the Chicago area and are the parents of three grown children. (Courtesy of Multnomah Publishers)

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