The Power and Will of God

A summary of John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 16

God is powerful and no one can resist Him.
Gen 18:14; Luke 1:38; Mark 14:36.

GOd can't do illogical, immoral, changeable or God-denying things.  These don't imply lack of power.  Some inability is admirable.
Omnipotence is hard to define.  He can do what Scripture describes Him doing, and more, according to His attributes.  ["God can do all things except immoral, illogical, changeable or God-denying things" seems helpful to me.]
Omnipotence edifies - this characteristic of God drives us to worship, as God acts beyond our expectations.  Sarah gives birth, and Mary; exodus; resurrection.
Omnipotence is often found in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).  Power of God shown in the cross (1 Cor 1:23-25) and in preaching (Rom 1:16).

The will of God is what He decides, what He wants to happen.
God's antecedent will (He generally values things as good) is distinguished from His consequent will (He chooses to enact some of those things).  This can't place God's choices within time, though, nor make His consequent will to save us dependent on our choice to repent and believe.
God's decretive will (He foreordains all that comes to pass) is distinguished from His preceptive will (He values certain morals or states of affairs that men can resist and flout).
So God's will is complex, though not dual or schizophrenic.  Scripture speaks of His will both decretally (Matt 11:26; Gen 50:20) and preceptively (Ezek 18:23; 2 Peter 3:9; Ex 20).
Can God really want all to be saved, though it doesn't happen?  Yes.  Many passages point to this - Deut 5:29; Matt 23:37; 2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4.
We shouldn't try to choose God's decrees or precepts as His REAL will.

What about God's will for my life?  This gets too subjective, usually, and people usually discern it through emotions or feelings - a bad idea.  That doesn't mean we cannot discern the will of God for us in a given situation.  We must look to Scripture first, then use wisdom by the Holy Spirit to apply the Word to us.  Often more than one option before us is legitimate Scripturally, but weighing the pros and cons may reveal that we can glorify and obey God better in one option than in another.

A third category of God's will, besides decree and precept, may be useful for this, His vocational will (what He's calling us to do), but this is really part of His preceptive will applied to each person.

These categories fit in Frame's standard tri-perspectival triangle (normative at top, situational at bottom left, existential at bottom right).
God's preceptive will is normative.
God's decretal will is situational (He puts us in circumstances to learn certain things)
God's vocational will is existential


Review: Peter Pan

Peter Pan
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Peter Pan refuses to grow up and refuses his or any mother.
On the surface this is just a lark, to extol the glories of childhood, when you are "innocent, gay and heartless." But heartless, there's the rub. Heartless meaning you have no loyalty to parents or friends, it's just all about your adventure. This causes Wendy grief, and she does grow up in the end. Contrary to popular opinion, the author doesn't put this across as a tragedy. It isn't as though NO ONE should grow up.

Interesting to me was the mother theme. Everyone longs for one, but when you're in Neverland playing make believe, there can be no real mother. A child's play and a mother are mutually exclusive. Peter denies he ever had a mother, and scorns them to the lost boys. But even pirates long for their mother. Fathers and nurses are interchangeable and secondary, but mother is the anchor.

Another theme is appearances. Hook and Mr. Darling are parallels, both craving approval and to be seen in good form. But Hook holds on to it selfishly to his death, while Mr. Darling humbles himself, giving up the chase for reputation, and is thus exalted (in a fashion).

Besides this, there isn't much of redeeming value here. It's a decent story and it doesn't carry a lot of worldview freight. Not every story has to. Neither is there much damaging to the truth, here. Kids DO have an impulse to fly away and have adventures apart from their parents. But nature also says they need their parents.

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Review: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Awful, yet artistic.

A play from the 1950's. I thought it would be interesting to read it while preparing an advent sermon on our waiting for Christ to come.

I gave it 1 star for its worldview, and an extra one for the ways he asserts ideas through simple and entertaining story. The ideas are all wrong, but they are the ideas our world has largely come to believe, so it's an important book to read.

The wrong ideas:
Life is uncertain.
We are bored with it, resigned to it, sick of it, afraid of it.
God(ot) keeps saying he will show up, but he doesn't. We wait.
There's no meaning. We are born and die and the world turns.
If God doesn't show up, suicide is really the only option. We can't go on like this. We've tried everything to save ourselves. He is our only hope.

Interesting that this last point is actually true. How depressing to believe it, and also believe God isn't coming.

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Review: True and False Worship

True and False Worship
True and False Worship by John Knox

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Knox rails against the Roman Mass.

All worship invented by man is idolatry.
The mass is invented by man.
Thus, the mass is idolatry.

I found as I read this that I am not a strict regulative principle of worship (RPW) guy, like Knox is. I disagree with the first premise above. To have an advent wreath, piano, organ or hymns in worship are not idolatry, as they would be if we affirmed premise one in the strict RPW sense, as Knox teaches it.

The problem isn't doing something the Bible doesn't mention, but doing something that contradicts any Biblical principle (which the Mass does - I agree with Knox, but not how he gets there on this point).

He then asserts that any worship involving a wicked opinion is an abomination. The wicked opinion here is the teaching that doing mass merits favor with God automatically. Here Knox shines, pointing to Hebrews 10, etc., that only the death of Jesus forgives sins. In the Lord's Supper we acknowledge that we owe God; the Roman mass gets God to owe us.

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Review: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert

The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert
The Ecclesiastical History of the English People/The Greater Chronicle/Letter to Egbert by Bede

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bede was a monk in England and wrote this history in 731. Several themes are prominent, the last two being positive while the rest are more critiques.

1. Bringing the church in the British Isles under Roman customs. Bede was obsessed with the proper celebration of Easter, by the Roman calendar. Some see this positively as a zeal for church unity. It often appeared to me more pursuing a hegemony of the Roman bishop.

2. The power of miracles and relics to prove the faith. Missionaries to a new land would ask for relics from Rome to put in newly built churches (251). A couple times a devout and dead king would be invoked for aid (195). Many miracles connected to relics are related as an apologetic for the Christian faith that converts many.

3. Merit and works earning favor. Self-denying practices like fasting are used to atone for past offenses (161). One would live as a stranger to the world in the monastery, to attain heaven more easily.

4. Asceticism and gnosticism. The body is only a hindrance to spiritual life. Many acts of self-flagellation are lauded as worthy of imitation. At death “his holy soul was released from the prison house of the body” (177).

5. Bringing kings under the rule of Christ. Many letters from popes to the English kings call them "my son." Quite the audacity to write to a king you've never met, far away, and call him your son! Maybe it was a bit overdone, but it is right to seek to convert rulers and have them come under the yoke of Christ themselves (Psalm 2:10-12).

6. Teaching and preaching. Bede often castigates the Irish for their Easter observance, but commends them for their diligence and persistence in sending missionaries to Britain. Right beside the need for relics in the church, he places the need for good teaching. His letter to Egbert at the end of this edition movingly exhorts him to go out and teach the common man, rebukes lazy priests for not doing so, and commends translation of Scripture into the native language. On his deathbed he said, “My soul longs to see Christ my King in all His beauty” (302).

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Strolling the Links

I was delighted to open my Samaritan Ministries newsletter and find the feature article by Doug Wilson on how to celebrate Advent and Christmas well.  The message is getting out!

Randy Booth contrasts boys and men, and how to raise boys to be men.

Related to that is this gem from Josh Gibbs' article over at Circe:
"The wise man will naturally change to meet the responsibilities of every stage of life, though the wise man will not live in such a way that radical change will be required of him in the future. The wise high school student does not say, “When I go to college, I will have to play fewer video games.” The wise college student does not, “When I get married, I will have to drink less.” The wise husband does not say, “When I have children, I’ll need to spend more time around the house.” Ask a room full of high school sophomores, “How many of you have told yourself that you’re going to have to pray and read your Bible more after you leave your parent’s house?” and they’ll all grin sheepishly. Of course, the devil is fond of promises to pursue virtue tomorrow. The student who practices not-praying and not-reading a Bible every day for eighteen years is a genuine pro at it by the time they leave for college and it’s hard to quit doing something you’re good at."

Christmas audio short stories
"When I give in and let my kids have screen time, they are inevitably crankier. But listening to audio stories seems to have a positive effect, stimulating their imagination and play."


Review: One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are
One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Somewhat helpful.
Great Thanksgiving reading.

Voskamp helpfully connects the spiritual with mundane housekeeping. Start a running list of 1000 things you’re thankful for, and you will inevitably find yourself thanking God for small things. Trivial things that stop being trivial. We see them anew as gifts from God. Not being a woman I wouldn’t know so well, but I get the sense that Voskamp touches the burden of a mother and housewife and ably lifts it from the heart, replacing it with God’s gift, grace and tender touch.

The prose is beautiful and near poetry at times. Other times you feel she is trying too hard, literarily. I never caught on to her style and form of writing, but don’t really see that as a fault.

Here’s a summary:
1 – Awful things happen. We would write the story of life differently. But God is writing it and we need to accept that.
2 – Thanksgiving leads to joy.
3 – We learn gratitude by naming gifts God gives – list 1000!
4 - When we give thanks, we live more fully in the moment. Hurry and harry hinder spiritually.
5. Everything is grace from God, for He can transfigure anything into gift. (Romans 8:28). So give thanks for everything.
6. Looking and beholding is loving. We want to see God.
7. Giving thanks cleans the glass so we can see God more clearly.
8. Giving thanks builds trust in God. It is safe to trust him. He has shown His trustworthiness at the cross. Our fears and anxiety fade when we give thanks.
9. To receive joy one must receive gifts humbly which means giving thanks.
10. Thanking God helps us serve others selflessly, to be a blessing.
11. Communing with God is our highest goal and joy.

There were two possible problems with her message.
She seems to imply that our salvation is up to our thankfulness. That our experience of God is up to us. She never comes right out and says this. But neither does she say that God gives a heart of thankfulness in the first place. It’s kind of implied that it’s up to you, which can be a further burden.

The last chapter is about communion and intimacy with God. Friends warned me about this chapter! It could have done without the first sentence about making love to God. At a couple other points she gets close to the edge of indiscretion, but overall it was okay. The potential problems are anchored with lots of Scripture about the mystical union between Christ and the Church, abiding in God, in Christ, quotes from Calvin, etc. We DO need to appreciate this aspect of our redeemed creatureliness before God, but the teacher needs to tread carefully!

For a more critical review, see here.

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Hearing Critics of Family Integration

I recently listened to a Christ the Center podcast on the Family Integrated Church (FIC) movement, interviewing Sam Waldron.  Here’s a synopsis of assertions made.  I basically agree, and I pastor a church registered on the FIC website!

  • No biblical mandate can be found for homeschooling or for forbidding a nursery at church.  FIC has too much wooden-ness and rigidity on these issues.
  • To say ONLY a parent can or should teach their child lacks appreciation for gifts God has given in the church.
  • Is the Church a "family of families"? Voddie Baucham doesn’t see this as a good way to say it.  It’s trying to be covenantal without the theology.  It doesn’t reflect rightly the jurisdiction between church and family.  The church then loses jurisdiction over wives and children.  This is a hyper-family focus, and ignores singles.
  • We need to distinguish between speakers and leaders of a movement, and those who are leading churches that identify as FIC.
  • FIC bypasses the church and looks to Abraham and Job as our pattern of family life. It downplays or ignores the history of Israel, the New Covenant, and the pastoral epistles as more normative for life together as God’s people.  [Not sure about this one - there are helpful applications in the family, looking at Abraham and Job!]
  • FIC is in danger of holding a messianic view of the family. As if homeschooling and family integration at church are our hope to recover godliness in our souls and families and churches and nation.  Waldron: I have seen this in my own heart. Be careful where you put your trust.  These things are not the gospel; some of FIC’s principles are good applications of the Gospel.
  • FIC Critics are not anti-family.

Ferguson and Our Own Fear of Man - Strolling the links

"Moments before his death, Michael Brown had violently robbed a man in a store. A man doing the best he could to make a living. Minutes later, Brown reaped what he sowed, and was gunned down in the street. That is the sad truth."

Tim Challies’ last article in his productivity blog series is on dealing with interruptions.

We tend toward either pride or fear of man, in our sinful hearts.  Pride will make us too RIGID in our schedules while fear of man will makes us too MALLEABLE.


The God of All Knowledge

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 15

Knowledge is more than just propositions.  Knowing God is most important for us.
All our knowledge is learning about God and His world, thinking His thoughts after Him.

God knows all His creation in an owning and covenantal way, as our Lord (Amos 3:2; Isa. 40:12-14). He knows our sins, thoughts, desires.

Calvinists say God foreknows and foreordains everything.
Arminians say God foreknows all but does not foreordain things.
Socinians say God does not foreknow the future, since He doesn't foreordain it.
The open theists of today are in the Socinian category.

Prophecy in Scripture shows that God knows the future.
Many prophecies involve human decisions, which God also must know.

For a human choice to be free, it need not be unpredictable.

Scriptures that seem to show God as ignorant are His judgment beginning (Gen 3:9; 11:5; 18:21), or anthropomorphic appearance, or His testing of us (Gen 22:12; Deut 13:3).  When He remembers, He keeps promises.  It isn't that He calls to mind things He forgot.

God knows not only what is actually true, but also what is possible.  Some argue for a middle knowledge that allows God to know possible free human choices.  He creates a world such that people necessarily make the free choices God ordains.   This is incoherent.  Choices cannot be both free and determined by the world God makes.  No, there is no difference between God knowing all possible worlds, and God knowing the possible choices people could make.

Wisdom is also an attribute of God.  Proverbs 8:22 says God got wisdom when He started to create.  It refers to righteousness, the skill of godly living, the way of salvation.  Christ is the wisdom of God, and He calls out an invitation like wisdom does (Prov 9:1-4; Matt 11:28-30).

God has thoughts and a will that are rational and logical, though He is not bound by fallible human systems of logic.  Several doctrines in Scripture don't seem reconcilable to logic (problem of evil, Trinity), but we should keep trying instead of declaring them beyond us.  Many "problem texts" can be resolved through further study of Scripture.


Time for Clergy to Boycott the Courthouse?

So, some conservative Catholics who I generally respect are advocating pastors no longer act as agents of the state in signing marriage licenses.  Why?  The state they say has so re-defined marriage out of biblical norms that performing marriages would bear an unclear witness to biblical truth.

This is a misguided over-reaction to a real cultural shift occurring.

I am not tainted or being unclear in my testimony to Christ to marry a man and woman and sign a marriage license as a state witness.  If I am forced to not "discriminate" and to marry a same-sex couple, I AM marring my witness.

Marriage does not belong to the church, as Rome believes.  Neither does it "belong" to the state, as most evangelicals seem to think.  Then again, this doesn't mean the church and state are mere agents at a requested wedding.  Both church and state can and should refuse to marry (or divorce), if either is applied for on unbiblical grounds.

There is GREAT confusion on this point, judging by comments I read on Facebook.  "The state should never have been involved in marriage in the first place."  Wrong!  That's an easy out taking the libertarian road.  (Hint: we don't want to be fully libertarian, which would mean the state being neutral on or fine with abortion and other moral wrongs.)

The state must be involved in marriage for legal and property reasons.  There is no need for two separate ceremonies, unless the church's criteria and the state's criteria are contradictory.  Even with a total cultural win for same-sex marriage (which we don't quite have yet), those criteria are not contradictory.  They just aren't the same, anymore.  There may come a day when the state will require all those authorized to perform marriages as its agent not to discriminate and perform a same-sex marriage if requested.  THEN I will stop acting as an agent of the state in performing marriages.

This marriage pledge sets too high a bar of purity to be engaged with the state.  It's another indicator that the church is not coping well with moving into cultural exile in the West - a time more like the first century church than the 17th century.

Gene Veith has a decent and short response, here.


Strolling the Links

Wives at home
This broadens the perspective on women who aren’t employed for pay outside the home.

Want to watch a bowling ball and feather fall at the same speed?
There's a lot of dramatic build-up.  To save time, the two tests are at 1:25 and 2:50.

This touches a nerve for me: insecure moms are relying too much on internet data for parenting, medical and nutritional counsel.  We have cut ourselves off from true community in Christ (read, the Church) and it’s all we have left – a very poor substitute.


Review: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

The Expulsive Power of a New Affection
The Expulsive Power of a New Affection by Thomas Chalmers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The only effective way to fight sin and love of the world is with a greater love for a greater object: God Himself. Bare self-denial will not do it, since the heart naturally desires. As nature abhors a vacuum, the heart abhors nothing to desire and will grab lesser things if not enamored with the best things.

The older writing style - long sentences and less-known words - will keep many from reading it, sadly, I fear. Yet its shorter length (sermon) may help. I'm pretty sure this is online for free.

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Review: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief
The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Not very good.

This series is quite popular, but the first book was not very edifying. Positively, it gets you to hate evil, whether you find it in gods or mortals. The bad guys are really bad. You learn about the Greek gods in an entertaining way. It throws in lots of info about Greek mythology, actually bringing the whole story into modern day New York.

It brings the worldview, too. Gods are just stronger and bigger flawed humans. They fight each other so nothing is for sure in life, with their arbitrary plans always changing. Humans are pawns of the gods.

It's one thing to study this worldview, but another to assume its truth personally while identifying with the main character living it. Maybe helpful in an Ecclesiastes kind of way: experience how chaotic and uncertain life must feel for atheists or polytheistic pagans. No sure anchor.

Nah. Lots of better reading out there.

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The Problem of Evil

John Frame's Systematic Theology, chapter 14

If God is all powerful, He can prevent evil.
If God is good, He wants to prevent evil.
Since evil exists, God is either not all powerful or not good.

This is the problem of evil.

The Bible gives a direct answer to why there is natural evil in the world (earthquakes, floods, etc.) in Romans 8:19-22:  it is because of the entrance of sin.  Moral evil came first, and natural evil is one result of it (Gen 3:17-19).  "God has ordained that the universe resist its human ruler until that ruler stops resisting God."

Since God is sovereign, we can't say He is too weak to prevent evil.  We also know He doesn't take pleasure in evil and that His ways are just.

There are 3 ways to answer the problem:
1. The nature of evil
2. How evil is "good."
3. God's responsibility for evil

1. The nature of evil
One theory is that evil is the lack or privation of being good.  Created-good beings tend toward evil and non-being, and our created-good will falls into evil.  But why can't God prevent such tendency if He is good?  Is there a tendency toward imperfection in the "nature" of created things?  Not necessarily.  And why must we say evil is lack of good and nothing on its own?  Good came before evil, but we don't need to say that evil is nonbeing.  The Bible doesn't use these philosophical categories about sin.  Most important, this doesn't get rid of the problem.  A doughnut maker is still responsible for the hole in the doughnut; God decided what to leave out of His creation, if evil is something "left out."

2. Evil contributes to a greater good.
Look at the bigger picture.  Surgery brings pain, but heals in the long run.  God has a greater purpose in permitting evil than preventing it.  Various greater purposes are suggested: order (God can't suspend gravity for everyone who falls down stairs, we wouldn't know what to expect); maturity (we need discipline and hard knocks to grow up); free will (God wants to let us be free to choose good or evil); revealing more good (compassion and patience would not exist without evil).  God made an orderly world at the beginning with no evil, so that isn't needed.  We'll deal with free will later.  The second option of maturity and God's purpose is the best solution.  "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good" Genesis 50:20.  "All things work together for good for those who love God" Romans 8:28.  The greater good is not our comfort or pleasure, but God's glory.  The cross is the greatest example of God bringing good out of evil.  So this answer is legit.  One lingering question though: how is this not an "end justifies the means" argument?  How is it right for God to use morally questionable ways to get to a good purpose?  Frame's answer to this is unsatisfactory, simply asserting that it may not be questionable when God does it.  I land on 2 Corinthians 4:17: "our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."

3. God's Agency and evil
In some sense God brings evil things to pass, but is not the author of it.  He ordains it but doesn't cause it.  The Reformed confessions all affirm this distinction.  Calling God the more remote cause while Satan, thieves and wind are closer causes of Job's woes may help a little, but you can't totally absolve God of responsibility by this.  Saying God permits evil doesn't help much, because "God's permission is an efficacious permission."  It indicates God ordains sin reluctantly while also hating it.  But permission is a kind of ordination.  A better answer may lie in seeing God as author of a play.  Shakespeare has MacBeth kill Duncan, but Shakespeare should not be punished for murder.  "God is not subject to the ignorant evaluations of his creatures" as we see at the end of Job.  When Romans 9:19-21 comes to the problem of evil, the answer is that God is above us, not at all that He allows us free will.

So God brings a greater good out of allowing evil for now, and He ordains it as an author is not morally responsible for the sin of his character.  We cannot accuse God as He is the potter, the Creator, and we are the clay, His creatures.