Saturday, May 12, 2018

New Book on the Gospel of Inclusion Takes On Former Pentecostal Bishop

 The Gospel of Inclusion, known by other names such as “inclusion,” “inclusivism,” “universalism,” “universal reconciliation,” or “ultimate reconciliation,” is nothing new in church history. Certain church fathers endorsed the view, and the early church ultimately took a turn in its theology where the fire of Hell was viewed as “purgatorial” or “transformative” in nature (out of which, the doctrines of Purgatory and Annihilation were born).

Today, however, the Gospel of Inclusion, universalism by another name, is making inroads into the church once more. Pastor D.M. Richardson, Founder of internet-connected The Essential Church, has taken up the mantle to respond to this controversial doctrine. In her work, Doctrinal Deception: Responding to Carlton Pearson’s The Gospel of Inclusion, Richardson tackles certain claims made by the Bishop that are contrary to sound doctrine. Pearson makes claims such as 1) the idea of a personal God or Jesus as one’s personal Savior is foreign to Scripture, 2) one can be saved yet “not know it,” 3) The idea of original sin is unscriptural, 4) and the idea of Hell as a place of eternal torment is “a divine torture chamber” whose God has “an anger management problem.”

Pearson also says that all religions and beliefs are equally valid manifestations of God and that the true God can’t be fully known in any one faith. Not even atheist Bertrand Russell agreed with Pearson (and Russell was a staunch atheist with little regard for Christianity). Pearson was disowned by his Pentecostal denomination when he started preaching from the pulpit that “everyone goes through Hell, but nobody goes to Hell.”

Richardson’s new book is part of a two-book series that seeks to provide a biblically faithful and theologically robust Christian response to Pearson’s decade-old book, The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self. The fourth-generation, Classical Pentecostal preacher and Bishop has emerged again in the news in recent days due to a new biographical movie about him at Netflix titled “Come Sunday.” The movie arrived on Netflix last month.

Though this is Richardson’s first book on the Gospel of Inclusion, The Essential Church Founder and Pastor is no stranger to the false doctrine. While attending seminary for her Master of Divinity degree in Christian Apologetics, she studied the doctrine under the Seminary’s Dean of the Faculty, Dr. Kenneth Keathley, author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Keathley mentored Richardson in her subsequent post-graduate, Master of Theology degree, where she concentrated in the area of Theology of Religions while studying the historical Filioque Controversy.

The Filioque Controversy is a historical church debate that engages the Trinity to answer questions about the procession of the Holy Spirit (“Does the Spirit proceed from the Father, or the Father and the Son?”). Filioque is a Latin term, meaning “and the Son.”

Book 1 of Doctrinal Deception is on sale at Amazon in both digital (Kindle) and paperback versions for $9.99 (Kindle) and $20 (paperback). Book 2 of Doctrinal Deception will arrive on Amazon next week. In it, Richardson answers deeper theological questions pertaining to the Doctrine of Reconciliation and whether or not the appropriation of the atonement is automatic.

To pick up your copy of Doctrinal Deception, head on over to Amazon by way of the orange "Doctrinal Deception" link below.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

New Book on Perseverance and Apostasy

Let me say first, how grateful to the Lord I am to be able to share this news with you all. I'm thankful to return to the blog and see some small growth (some growth is often better than none at all), so thank you for your love, support, and prayers. There are so many blogs in the blogosphere today with so much to say that I often think my labor of love here leaves much to be desired. But the Lord has a unique way of taking what we think is nothing and transforming it for His glory. And that's what the Lord has done here at The Center for Theological Studies. And I'm blessed to share this blog with each of you, that you have joined me for the biblical ride of a lifetime. 

Today, I'm back to share some news that has me beaming inside and out: by the Lord's grace, I have published a book. Titled Short-Sighted Faith: Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS) and the Doctrine of Perseverance, the book is devoted to examining OSAS as a doctrine and showing why it is unbiblical. Yes, (gasp), I disagree with the notion of Once Saved, Always Saved. If you've been keeping afloat of the blog, I often critique Calvinist theologians and their claims because of my view that Scripture is against them. They can't explain multiple passages in Scripture, which makes me distrust their conclusions. So, prepare to see in this book the results of my 9 years of leisure pursuit of Calvinism, Arminianism, and a few years of Molinism. 

Just to give some details about the work, the price of the book is $9.99 for the Kindle Edition. For those wondering about a paperback version, that too, is available. Since August is my birthday month (I turn 33, Lord willing, on August 21st), I am running a special sale on the paperback version of my new book. Between today, August 1st, and the end of the month, August 31st, those who purchase the book can expect a price tag of $10.00 for the paperback copy. Now, the change to the paperback price have yet to take effect, so don't be surprised if you can't purchase it at that price today. Give the changes 3 days or so to take effect, and feel free to check in at Amazon sooner (you might see it appear within 12 hours or so). 

As always, I'd like to give honor to the Lord and His Son, Jesus Christ, who have made this all possible. I consider myself to be a servant of the Lord, doing what I believe to be the work of God in going and making disciples. Some of us evangelize the world by preaching on foreign soil; others do it by writing books that travel worldwide. I have been blessed to do the latter, and I pray that Christ is exalted and that you, my readership, will be edified and inspired to continue running the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, as Hebrews 12:1-2 says. 

This book is the first of, Lord willing, many to come. It has been my dream to write and publish since I could remember, and I pray that my love for the work of God shines through. 

And, as for the question pressing on everyone's minds, "Did I enjoy the process?," well, let's just say that when I finished editing the manuscript, my spirit said, "I want to do it all over again."

God bless. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

False Professions and The Danger of Prooftexting: "I Never Knew You" And The Parable of the Five Wise and Five Foolish Virgins

To my readers, let me first say that I'm thankful the Lord has let our paths cross once more. I've been busy in the work of the Lord, as I'm sure you have, and am back to indulge the Word of the Lord with you. 

I noticed this morning that I had a copy of R.C. Sproul's booklet titled "Can I Lose My Salvation?," a booklet that tackles some interesting passages that I've studied at length regarding the doctrines of salvation and apostasy (yes, if you read 1 Timothy 4, the Doctrine of Apostasy, Falling Away, or The Great Divorce (to use a familiar title from C.S. Lewis's book that bears the same name). 

I've only been able to read the beginning so far, but what I've read already troubles me because it proceeds down a path that so many believers tread down. And I think the interpretation made is short-sighted and does not do justice to the whole counsel of God. 

R.C. Sproul mentions passages such as Hebrews 6, 1 Corinthians 10:14, 1 Timothy 1:18-20, and 1 Corinthians 9:27, but eventually goes on to argue that these warnings, as serious as they may be, are not suggesting that genuine believers can fall; rather, these are designed to wake up false believers who have professed Christ but do not possess Him: 

"While some will return after a serious fall, some will not, because they never actually had faith. They made a false profession of faith; they did not possess what they professed" (R.C. Sproul, Can I Lose My Salvation? (Crucial Questions) Book No. 22. Reformation Trust Publishing, August 2015, page 15).

In the end, though, Sproul appeals to 1 John 2:19 and Matthew 7:21-23 to state his belief that the issue is false professions of faith and not genuine ones that go awry due to what Hebrews says is an issue of hardening one's heart against the deceitfulness of sin (see Hebrews 3:13). 

Let's examine Matthew 7. Jesus has just taught about false prophets and that their fruit, whether or not their sayings come true, will tell you the true nature of the prophet (whether he or she is genuine and has the Spirit of God or is a devil and lacks the Spirit of God). "So then, you will know them by their fruits," Jesus says in Matthew 7:20, NASB). 

In verse 21, Jesus begins with the statement that "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter" (v. 21). In verse 22, those who are rejected come and tell the Lord of the things they've done: prophesied, cast out demons, and performed miracles, all actions that appear to make these persons saved. And yet, Jesus tells them "I never knew you" in verse 23, which says that they were never saved to begin with. 

Yes, Sproul and I agree here: these individuals, though doing some amazing miracles in the name of Jesus, were never saved. Try to wrap your head around the fact that these persons performed miracles by the Spirit of God but were never saved. Some things in Scripture are mysteries, but I fear that a system called Calvinism and its adherents claim the word "mystery" for many teachings that are biblically faithful but challenge their own interpretations of Scripture. 

But Sproul claims that genuine believers cannot fall away from Christ because of Matthew 7. The only problem with this is that one must consult the words of Jesus as a whole, in every place possible, to arrive at a conclusion either way. True, he can't tackle every verse in his book, but he's too quick to dismiss truths in passages like Hebrews 6 by saying, in essence, that Matthew 7:21-23 cancels out the concept of genuine believers falling away and apostatizing from the faith. 

In actuality, though, Sproul would be wrong, terribly, terribly wrong. Matthew 7:21-23 does exist, and its truth is genuine: there are some who will "fake salvation" and are never of the Lord's people though they may assemble in church and go through the rituals of saved persons (they may even deceive genuine believers). However, where I disagree with Sproul is that Matthew 7 cannot be used to refer to all believers who fall away because, if it does, then it contradicts other passages of Scripture such as the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25:1-13.  

In Matthew 25, there are five wise and five foolish virgins. Five virgins have oil in flasks to accompany their lamps but five are foolish and bring their lamps (with oil in them) but do not bring along an additional flask to refill their lamps. Both the wise and foolish virgins sleep, waiting for the Bridegroom. At midnight, the cry goes out to go meet the bridegroom for the marriage feast, but only five are ready. 

The five foolish virgins, those whose oil has depleted from their lamps, ask the wise virgins for some of their oil. This is where we see the wisdom of the Wise Virgins: they tell the Foolish to "go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves" (Matt. 25:9). While the Foolish are buying oil, the Wise have gone to the chamber to meet the bridegroom and the door is shut. The Foolish come in late, but the Bridegroom refuses to open up to them. 

Yes, this shorthanded version of the parable is not meant to dishonor it but to conserve space and time for the point of emphasis. What is the emphasis? That this Parable tells us, to first be brief and then descriptive, that there are those who have the expectation of heaven but will not reach final salvation because they live their lives in Christ unprepared. Simply put, one can be a believer and end up on the outside of glory looking in.

Let's examine what I mean. First, let's remember that these are virgins and that the parable pertains to "the kingdom of heaven" (25:1). Virgins are pure, spotless, and undefiled, so it can't be said that these persons are unbelievers. They are wearing white, a symbol of purity, that they've been "washed" and cleansed from their former sins, and are part of the Lord's people (John 13:8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Revelation 7:14).

Next, the five foolish virgins, who were cleansed, saved, and had an expectation of heaven (that comes to all who confess and believe) missed the marriage feast because they were unprepared. The oil was running out of their lamps and they did not have additional oil with which to refill their lamps (v.8). When these five foolish virgins, who had their lamps and had expected to meet Christ, came to the door after it had been shut, they cried for the Lord to open to them but He did not. He says "I do not know you" (Matt. 25:12), not "I never knew you," as the Lord had said to some in Matthew 7:23. The Lord's words that "I do not know you" is present tense; unlike the word "never," it does not assume that the Lord never knew the foolish virgins.

I hope you're starting to see the problem with Sproul's interpretation: it overlooks the fact that some individuals were never saved and are never joined to Christ, but others can be joined to Christ and fall away from faith because of sin. Sproul can explain Jesus' words in Matthew 7, but how can one explain away the virgins, the spotless bride of Christ, that miss heaven in Matthew 25? 

John 15: Are there branches that were never joined to the Vine?

Perhaps Sproul would say that these individuals were never joined to Christ in the first place because, if they were, they would have been prepared. Well, this is problematic because, if we take Sproul at his word, Jesus made claims that were merely hypothetical and not true. First, Matthew 25 is problematic for Matthew 7's "I never knew you" being applied to all who Jesus will turn away in the end. Sure, it applies to some, but R.C. Sproul's desire to use Matthew 7's response as a blanket claim for all unbelievers in the end is a hermeneutical stretch. 

Let's examine John 15. We can understand that Jesus stresses the importance of bearing fruit in the Christian life: "I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing" (v.5); "My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (v.8). These two verses tell us that the Christian life is about bearing fruit, that we glorify the Father when we bear fruit. 

And yet, John 15 poses problems for Sproul's claim that those who do not bear fruit were never saved. Here's what Jesus says that disagrees with Sproul's claim: 

"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away" (John 15:2a). 

"If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned" (John 15:6). 

These verses are problematic for Sproul's claim that there are only true believers and fake believers; rather, there are not two but three types of individuals: 1) those who believe and bear fruit, 2) those who believe but do not bear fruit, and 3) those who never believed and thus, never bore any fruit. Remember, those who are in Jesus but do not bear fruit are branches severed from the vine that dry up and are tossed in the fire. What the Lord is saying here is that these temporary believers will experience eternal punishment and torment in Hell. However, their end does not negate their faith at the first or prove that their confession was inauthentic. 

The question before us is as follows: did Jesus state a mere hypothetical when He spoke of "every branch in Me that does not bear fruit"? If Sproul is right, then no such branches exist in Christ that don't bear fruit. And yet, Scripture says that these branches "He takes away" (John 15:2), meaning that Christ severs them from the Vine (Himself, as He states in verse 1). These branches, the ones that don't bear fruit, are "thrown away...and dry up" (v.6). 

But, Sproul has said that there are no such branches in Christ. It appears as though, to protect his belief in the Doctrine of Eternal Security, he has had to part ways with alternative verses in the New Testament and only "prooftext" with two passages that lean heavily in his favor. Proper hermeneutics, however, requires us to make the most of not only the passages that agree with us, but those that don't - and Sproul's approach of the subject in these few pages I've read doesn't make much of anything out of the severe verses. Sproul simply says that "these verses pertain to those who were never saved." 

If Jesus's words are to be believed, then there are those "in Me," in Jesus, that will not bear fruit. There are branches in Jesus that are connected to Him by faith that will bear fruit, but there are branches that will not bear fruit. Those who do not bear fruit in the Christian life are severed from the Vine (which seems to imply that these branches are disowned by the Vine, Jesus, and the farmer, the Father) and no longer can bear fruit. If the branch, the believer, were never saved to begin with, there would be no expectation of the branch bearing fruit. To believe the position we've discussed here, that all who fall away from the faith have false professions, means that we must believe the exact opposite of Jesus' teaching.

As I've iterated before, sure, there are those who are never saved, who masquerade as genuine Christians. But not everyone is masquerading as nothing more than a fake believer in disguise. Why would Jesus mandate branches to bear fruit if they're not in Him and lack the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies believers so that they produce the fruit of the Spirit?

Take care, and be blessed, until next time.

Friday, February 10, 2017

In My Absence

I am honored once more to return to The Center for Theological Studies (CTS), a blog that I cherish, a blog that I love and always desire to spend more time writing for than the demands of work life and family life will allow. At any rate, praise the Lord for His goodness, and thank God I have this small time tonight to return to CTS to update my readership.

I have been away from my blog for some time, but I've had a lot to keep me occupied (both good and bad, unfortunately). My mother died in 2009 from a three-year battle with breast cancer, lung cancer, and brain cancer (the brain cancer took her), and I have been heartbroken in a sense ever since. Despite such a mammoth loss in my life, I've had to soldier on and look to the Lord for comfort, for peace of mind, for my hope. Believers should always look to the Lord for these things, but it's amazing just how much greater the effort you must make to do this when you feel such immense grief that you'd rather walk the floor than sleep at night.

Atop of this, I have had to leave seminary for reasons due to my grandmother's declining health. She has a muscular disease called polymyelitis that progresses and diminishes capacity. The doctors are doing all they can for her (she's having to take chemotherapy medication to slow down the progression of the disease), but she cannot be home alone. At the same time the Lord was calling me to return home to my family, I had suffered a tough year of unemployment due to one lost job after another. That had an impact on my financial abilities, that and the fact that my mother's home just would not sell. It still hasn't sold, though there is a renter and hope that I will eventually be able to move forward from it.

Well, it's been a rough 8 years (mom died 8 years ago on February 3rd), but the Lord has truly been faithful. But I have been away for a long while and realize that, as my journey has taken me to different places, the same can be said of you, my readership. I want you to know that in my absence, the Lord has continued to draw me closer to Him, that I've never stopped loving Him, that I've not abandoned Him, neglected my salvation, or given up on my faith, and that I love His Word as much as I ever did (if not more). I've been in the blogosphere covering mobile technology, but I have also been working as a theological commentary writer. Yep, I've been writing commentary to build a site that I've been hired for. The Christian Bible site is where I put down my commentary on Scripture often.

I wanted to write this to provide some links to recent content that I've published on the Web so that you would know that I'm still writing (vigorously, even). The links below will take you to two lengthy articles that I've written that are published in my name that will provide as much commentary as I could've provided here in my long absence. Take a look and feel free to write back if you have any comments or questions or just want to say "hello."

Here are the links:

Yes, I realize the Sabbath rule post is bound to be controversial in some respects, but I think it was fitting to make the statements that are made there. I look forward to hearing from you. If you haven't visited the site in a while and have a journey with the Lord of your own that has provided some unique experiences, feel free to let me know in the comments below. You can find me writing over at Bible Knowledge on a regular basis, and I'd love to read a response or two from those of you who keep me in your prayers and think of me often. The Center for Theological Studies is always in my heart and mind, even when I'm away.

I love you all. May the Lord bless you and keep you, make His face to shine upon, be gracious to you, and give you peace.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 4: What Genesis Teaches Us

We’ve spent the last few posts covering divine sovereignty and human responsibility, and how these two elements are essential building blocks for a sound theodicy. In other words, you can’t defend the righteousness of God in a theodicy if you don’t take into account divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

In this post, I’m back to put Genesis chapters 1-3 into perspective for us, as we proceed with our discussion. What can Genesis chapters 1-3 teach us about the concepts of divine sovereignty and human responsibility? How can we appropriate these chapters into a sound theodicy – which then makes its way into a sound theology?

We can learn a few things from Genesis 3 about divine sovereignty and human responsibility:

·      God’s sovereignty remains intact – the Lord, as sovereign, comes to the scene of the sin and punishes all parties involved (Adam, Eve, and the serpent). At the same time, however, He proclaims hope in that, despite the sin and stain upon humanity and creation, the seed of the woman (Jesus) would crush the head of the serpent (Satan), Gen. 3:15. Notice that the Lord refers to “He” when discussing the seed of the woman and the “you” and “your” when referring to the serpent. Scripture tells us that Satan is “that serpent of old” (Rev. 12:9). The seed of the woman refers to Christ, “The God of peace” who will “crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). God’s sovereignty can also be seen through the fact that He expels man and woman from the Garden and places a cherubim angel with a flaming sword to guard the Garden.

·      Man’s responsibility remains intact – despite man’s sin, he must still cultivate the ground, even after he is expelled from the Garden (Gen. 3:17-19, 23). Man does gain the knowledge of good and evil in the encounter, but he must now encounter evil – something that hadn’t happened prior to Genesis 3. All the consequences that occurred in the Fall were bad, and man must now live with these consequences while still having to work the ground, produce childbirth, and live in marriage.

·      Man is the author of Sin – Sin enters the world and stains creation because of man. Although Satan was in the Garden that day, it is not Satan (the serpent) who is blamed for the Fall; rather, the ground is cursed “because of you,” which was God’s response in making Adam responsible for it (Gen. 3:17). In addition, the Lord tells Adam that he disobeyed the divine command: “because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’” (Genesis 3:17) God’s statement to Adam shows that the Lord is absolved of guilt because He forewarned Adam about disobeying Him, and Adam listened to the voice of his wife against the word of God (which makes Adam guilty all on his own).

·      Divine sovereignty comes back in full force, even after human responsibility fails – If Open Theists were right, God would have claimed ignorance after Adam and Eve sin in the Garden. Instead, the Lord tells the serpent that, not only will he crawl on his belly for the rest of his life, but that his head will be crushed by the seed of the woman. We know from progressive revelation that this refers to the cosmic battle of the Lord over Satan and his demons (cf. Luke 10:18; Romans 16:20). In the end, the Lord will rule over all, and He would claim the victory over Satan through His death and resurrection on the cross (Colossians 2:13-15).

·      Death enters the human family – It’s a sad thought indeed, but Adam and Eve’s sin brings death into the human family. The Lord had forewarned Adam of death (“the wages of sin is death,” Paul said in Romans 6:23), but Adam decided to disobey God in the face of the divine warning. The sentence for not just Adam, but all of mankind, is death (Romans 5). I mentioned in the last post that the Lord forewarns of death despite the fact that death didn’t exist with mankind prior to the Fall, but it reminds us that the Lord, while being the Giver of Life in Genesis, always had the power to take life, too.

·      The environment is cursed because of the fall of man – “Cursed is the ground because of you,” the Lord says to Adam in Genesis 3. Adam’s decision to sin affected not only Adam and Eve, but also their descendants (Romans 5:12) as well as creation, including the ground (Romans 8:19-22). In other words, we see the implications of the Lord making Adam and Eve to “rule over the earth”: their sin would result in the curse of all creation, not just themselves and humanity. Adam and Eve could not have foreseen that their sin would impact their children (Cain and Abel), as well as the remainder of humanity. By the time of the Flood, sin had so pervaded humanity that the writer could say “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). In response to the evil, the Lord could say, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth” (Genesis 6:13).

Even Noah’s name was linked to the curse of the ground: “Now he [Lamech] called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will give us rest from our work and from the toil of our hands arising from the ground which the Lord has cursed’” (Gen. 5:29).

When Jesus dies on the cross, Matthew notes that creation responds to the Lord who made it: first, darkness falls upon the land (Matthew 27:45); then, the earth shakes and the rocks split (Matt. 27:51). This was to show that the Lord of creation was dying on the cross and that the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection would have an impact on creation.

These lessons gleaned from Genesis show us that Adam and Eve’s decision to sin had far-reaching impacts that the couple could never have foreseen in Genesis 3. Man’s rule over the earth plunged the earth into the curse when man disobeyed God.

I’ve gone through some basics of divine sovereignty and human responsibility as provided in Genesis, but we’re not done with basic building blocks for a sound theodicy just yet. Next on the list is omniscience, and I’ll start my investigation of this component of a sound theodicy in my next post. Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3-B: Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, Continued

In my last post, I started an examination of Genesis and what the first biblical book tells us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility. We see that, in the beginning, the sovereign Lord who creates the world also makes man and gives him “dominion” or “rule” over the animal kingdom and the earth itself. We know this to be true because of what happens in the Fall.

And the Fall happens to be the background for today’s post: that divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet sin in the narrative. How does the Lord handle sin? What role do Adam and Eve play in the sin committed? You likely know the narrative, but we’ll cover it because it shows us in no uncertain terms that sin doesn’t negate God’s sovereignty (contra Open Theism) nor does it negate man’s responsibility. Even Calvinists struggle to reconcile how their theology posits that evil is foreordained by God while still attributing evil to man.

Yes, I am aware of the “primary” and “secondary causes” language that is philosophical in nature; even Arminius used these terms in his three-volume theology (The Works of Arminius, or simply, Works), but even if you posit man is the primary cause of an evil action, you’re still stuck with God as the secondary cause. Any agent in our world today that “drives the getaway car” from a murder of the scene of a crime is still guilty, even if he or she never even touched the trigger of the gun or the dagger that killed the victim. And, if the Lord never approved of aiding and abetting the wrongdoer, why would He not care about being free of evil Himself? 

God as secondary cause is still not enough to free the Lord of the crime of committing evil. And, if the Lord is the primary agent of a noble action, then He must do so in a way that is non-coercive. The Lord does this in the salvation process, when His Holy Spirit convicts a man of his sin and need for Jesus but does not force the individual in any way to make a choice to either receive or reject the gospel. The same happened in the account of the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-27).

Commands, freedom, and warning

The end of Genesis chapter 2 shows us divine sovereignty and human responsibility in yet another beautiful display of the two concepts. First, we see the Lord, in His sovereignty, gives Adam the responsibility and freedom of naming the animals in the animal kingdom. The Lord creates the animals (sovereignty and divine freedom), and then the Lord allows Adam to name them (again, another display of divine sovereignty). The text even tells us that Adam got free reign over what to name the animals: “and [He] brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19, NASB; cf. Gen. 2:20).

Naming the animals was another responsibility the Lord gave to Adam in creation, along with cultivating the ground and upkeeping it. These were responsibilities, but they were also privileges from the Creator of the universe. Even responsibility is a freedom and a privilege. I need to remember this when I’m paying my bills each month (you know you want to laugh here J)

Adam even gets the unique privilege of naming his companion: “She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2:23). In the same way that the Lord names the sun, moon, stars, and day and night, He now allows man, bearing His image and likeness, to name some of creation himself – the animals and the human female. We find out that Adam names the gender, but he also gives the woman a specific name: Eve (Gen. 3:20), or “Zoe” in the greek (“Zoe,” Grk., means “living”).

As Genesis 2 shows us here, the “rule over the earth” becomes a bit more fleshed out for us to see exactly what ruling over the earth entailed. By Adam working to cultivate the ground, and naming the animals and his mate, Adam was “taking responsibility” for them. And, despite the Lord’s having created everything, he would make Adam “lord” (lowercase, not capital) of the earth. This will play a large role in the Lord’s punishment to Adam in Genesis 3.

In Genesis 2:16-17, we see that the Lord warns Adam that if he eats from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, “in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” God speaks about death here, something that, from the text alone, doesn’t seem to have ever existed in the creation narrative until the Lord mentions it here. At the same time, however, God is aware of the concept of death – which explains why He gives this warning to Adam and uses death as a punishment to deter Adam from disobeying His command. And the fact that Eve mentions death to the serpent shows that she is aware of how terrible a consequence the couple would endure if they disobeyed God (Genesis 3:3).

The Fall and Its Consequences

We won’t cover the Fall here except to point out the Lord’s warning to Adam in Genesis 2 and the Lord’s response to sin. Adam and Eve believe the serpent’s lie that on the day they ate the fruit, “your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
They eat, and their eyes are opened, and they realize they are naked. Once the Lord enters the Garden, Adam and Eve hide because of the knowledge that they have sinned.

The Lord confronts Adam and Eve about their sin, but starts with the serpent since, “The serpent deceived me and I ate,” Eve said (Gen. 3:13). The Lord tells the serpent that he will be “cursed...more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field. On your belly you will go, and dust you will eat all the days of your life” (Genesis 3:14). In other words, the serpent’s days are numbered and he will be the most humiliated creature on earth.

The woman is sentenced to painful childbirth (“I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth,” Gen. 3:16), but she will still sexually desire her husband – even if it brings more and more children, and multiple painful childbirths. The husband will rule over her as a consequence of her “leading” her husband into sin.

As for the man, Adam, the Lord sentences him to 1) hard, sweaty labor (v.19), 2) physical death – “till you return to the ground” and “to dust you shall return,” Gen. 3:19). The Lord finally announces death for the human family, but notice that he doesn’t institute death for the animal kingdom. He simply tells the serpent about “all the days of his life,” a claim that some could use to make the case that animal death existed prior to the death sentence upon humanity.

Last but not least, the Lord tells Adam that “the ground is cursed because of you,” or, as some translations of Scripture read, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Gen. 3:17). The Lord is even more descriptive of the ground’s curse when He says that “both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you” (v.18).” This statement tells us that the ground’s crop and food will be hard to come by because thistles and thorns (weeds) will also grow on the ground. Adam will now have to work by the sweat of his brow because of the intensity of labor required to bypass the weeds and see that a crop grows to fruition.

In my next post, I will tackle some important lessons we can learn from Genesis 3, and use the lessons learned to propel us into further discussion regarding divine sovereignty, omniscience, human responsibility, and evil. God bless.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Back to the Basics: Building Blocks for a Sound Theodicy, Pt. 3: The Sovereignty of God and Human Responsibility

You will note throughout this mini-series that I intend to use the terms “divine sovereignty” and “the sovereignty of God” interchangeably. If I do use them in this manner throughout my writing, do know that they are excellent equivalents.

I’m back to begin my work on the building blocks for a sound theodicy. First on the list is divine sovereignty, the sovereignty of God. God is sovereign, in control of all things, and the biblical record bears witness to this.

I’m about to provide scriptural proof, but I want you to understand that this series will not attempt to cover every verse in Scripture about the sovereignty of God. Instead, I intend to cover the basics surrounding this topic – from Genesis, the beginning of the biblical history as we’re told. Genesis is the beginning of it all for our revelation from God, so I intend to cover Genesis as it relates to our discussion.

This post covers the idea that God is in control, He’s the Lord of all creation, the God of the universe, and everything He does is out of His own free will. The Lord doesn’t have to do anything outside of 1) exist and 2) remain true to Himself (cf. 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 6:18). Human responsibility is a direct result of the sovereignty and free will of God -- and God's will can't conflict with His sovereignty. 

So, with that said, let’s take a look at God’s power and the divine will. Genesis 1:1 tells us that He created the universe. In Genesis 1:3 the Lord says, “Let there be light,” with the word “let” implying voluntarism. God decides to create the world because He wants to. It seemed right to Him. He was under no impulse to create the world. In every place in chapter 1 where we see “let,” we can rest assured that the Lord creates out of His own free will – with no one or thing forcing Him to do so.

In Genesis 1:26, we see God decides to create man: “Let us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky...” We see that the Triune Godhead, the Trinity, God in three persons, makes man, gives man His image, and then allows him to “rule over...every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (v.26). This “man,” however, refers to both men and women (Gen. 1:27). In verse 28, God says the same thing to them again for emphasis: “rule over...every living thing that moves on the earth.”

God creates the sun, moon, stars, and even vegetation and animal kingdom, but He also has sovereignty over man, too – after all, He creates man and gives Him dominion over the earth. How could a God lacking in sovereignty do that?

When Sovereignty Meets Responsibility: God and Man in Relationship in Creation

What happens when God and man meet in creation? We’ve seen that God creates man in His image, after His likeness, and lets male and female (both genders) rule over the earth as agents made to bear the image of God. Now, however, we’re going to take a look at what happens when God creates man.

If you read works such as Most Moved Mover by Clark Pinnock, or The God Who Risks: A Theology of Divine Providence by John Sanders, you’ll find the statement “God limits His almightiness.” This phrase may seem harmless if one is talking about the fact that God doesn’t treat humans like robots and “order them around.” Unfortunately, Pinnock and Sanders do not refer to this idea when using the phrase “God limits His almightiness”; instead, these authors mean that God chooses to throw off His ability to foreknow man’s choices – thereby throwing off His foreknowledge and omniscience. Now, to be fair to the Open Theist position that these authors advocate, they do say that God does know the “possibilities of choices” you will make; it’s just that He doesn’t know which possibility you’ll choose. In their understanding, then, God foreknew that Adam and Eve could either 1) eat from the fruit or 2) not eat from the fruit, but He didn’t know whether they’d choose #1 or #2.

If God didn’t foreknow their exact choice, however, how could God have chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4)? To choose us in Christ implies that Christ was the only solution to reconcile us back to God; and, if God had a plan to reconcile mankind back to God, then God had to foreknow that man would sin and thus separate himself from God. After all, where there is no separation, there is no need for reconciliation.

What happens after God makes man? We see that man rules over the earth, a derived rule that comes with God’s permission and blessing (Genesis 1:28). Does the free agency of man negate or conflict with God’s sovereignty? Does the divine sovereignty fall in the face of human responsibility? No; in fact, the presence of divine sovereignty is the foundation for human responsibility (Genesis 1:28-30). God tells man in Genesis 1:28-30 that “I have given you every plant...and every tree,” after he tells man and woman to “fill the earth,” “subdue it,” and “rule over” all of the animal and plant kingdoms.

If you read Genesis 1, you’ll be struck by the Lord’s imperatives in verse 28: “be fruitful,” “multiply,” “fill the earth,” “subdue it” (the earth), “and rule over.” Imperatives, as we’ve learned by way of the English language, are commands. And commands only come from a superior – in this case, God. So, the divine sovereignty remains after He creates rational man in that God commands the man to do certain things that He, God, wants him to do (rule over the earth).

A word regarding human responsibility

If we were to stop here, we’d be giving the Calvinists too much room in theology and their theodicy – and declaring them the winner. The problem with the Calvinist is that he or she only sees one side of the coin, that is, the divine perspective (God commanding man). He doesn’t stop much to consider the other side: that is, what God’s commands mean for man. This is where Open Theists and Process Theists would applaud.

What are the implications of God commanding man to do certain things? First off, we know from Genesis that man is not a robot or an automaton: rather, man is able to make choices because God commands. Why would God command man to do anything if man had no say in the matter? Why would God tell man to “rule over the earth” if man could only lift a finger because God lifted it for him?

The sheer fact that God tells man what to do with his freedom lets us know that man is not autonomous, nor an automaton. In Genesis 1:28, as I’ve said, the Lord tells man to “be fruitful,” “multiply,” and “rule over” the earth. In Genesis chapter 2, God places man and woman in the garden “to cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). In other words, man has freedom but, contrary to the views of Open Theists, man’s freedom is not autonomous. First, man has limited freedom in that he can’t be God, he can’t choose not to answer to God (he must answer to God, necessarily so, as the commands illustrate), and he can’t get away with wrongdoing – as Genesis chapter 3 shows us.

For now, this information will suffice. We’ll take a look at divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Genesis chapter 3 in my next post. God bless.