Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Toward a Greater Good Theodicy - Part One

My next several posts will deal with the issue of Theodicy - God's relation to evil. It is my hope that this first post will allow us to understand some of the different approaches that people take when dealing with this issue, and allow us to define some terms that are important to this discussion.

In volume one of his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge draws from the entirety of scripture to make these three assertions about God. First, that the sovereignty of God is universal, it extends over all his creatures from the highest to the lowest. Second, that this sovereignty is absolute. There is no limit to be placed upon His authority, God does as He sees fit. Third, God’s sovereignty is immutable. It cannot be ignored or rejected, it binds all of creation, as physical laws bind the physical universe. Here, Hodge explains that God is divinely omnipotent, a view that is shared with millions of orthodox Christians around the world. Equally, it is widely accepted that God is also infinitely good. Hodge argues for this by examining God’s benevolence and mercy towards fallen man.

In themselves, these two views of God are easy to accept, but this acceptance becomes much more difficult when they intersect with the reality of evil. C. S. Lewis calls this the "problem of pain" suggesting that the presence of evil supports the notion that God lacks either goodness, omnipotence, or both. Theodicy attempts to solve the problem of pain by reconciling God’s omnipotence and goodness with the reality of evil.

There are four main approaches to theodicy. There is Illusionism, which seeks to redefine the classical definitions of good and evil, pain and pleasure. There is also Finitism, which seeks to redefine our conception of God, arguing that God is either not totally omniscient, or totally good. Stemming from Finitism is Dualism, or the belief that there are both good and evil forces at work in the world, locked in a battle for superiority. And finally there is the Instrumental view, or Greater Good Theodicy, which sees evil as a means to an unforseen, better end.

Illusionism is a blanket term that encompasses the various systems of belief that view pain and evil as a construct of the mind and not an external reality. The Illusionist view is very prominent in pantheistic circles, and was advanced by the philosopher Benedict Spinoza. To advance his theodicy, Spinoza drew from the classical Rabbinic theodicy of Maimonides and Gersonides, who argued that while God is perfectly good and powerful, there really is no evil. Today, Illusionism can be found among those who have been influenced by an Eastern Worldview as evidenced by the teachings of Aurobindo, an Indian sage who believes that pain is a matter of perspective as opposed to a matter of fact. Illusionism has also been embraced by Christian Science, who argues that evil has no reality but is instead a false illusion of the material sense. Within the Christian community, shadows of Illusionism can be found in the Augustinian tradition. I am hesitant to place Augustine in the Illusionist camp as his theodicy defies categorization, however, the main tenet of his theodicy is Illusionist in nature. Augustine argued against the existence of evil based on the fact that God is good, and the fact that God declared all of creation good. Therefore, Augustine concluded that what we perceive as evil is nothing more than the absence of goodness, much in the way that darkness is nothing more than the absence of light.

The second approach to theodicy is finitism, which argues that God is not capable of preventing evil, either because He is not totally omniscient or because He is not totally good. The most recent and well known attack on God’s omniscience is found in the theology of Open Theism. In his book Most Moved Mover, Clark Pinnock argues that God voluntarily limited himself for what he calls a "logic of love theodicy." In his theodicy, Pinnock argues that man was created for the purpose of creating loving relationships. These relationships required freedom, and thus the risk that man would choose evil over good. Furthermore, Pinnock argues that his logic of love theodicy is superior to the theodicies of classical Christianity as it absolves God of guilt, and explains certain evils that originate independent of human action. God’s goodness has been questioned in recent years by many Jewish thinkers who attempt to understand God’s apparent apathy in the face of the Holocaust. Norman Geisler refers to this as a "Sadist Theodicy" because it advocates the notion that God enjoys human suffering, and points to authors such as Elie Wiesel who is unwilling to exonerate God from all responsibility of this genocide. Proponents of the Sadist Theory argue that their ability to turn to God and trust Him was destroyed by their radical suffering.

Stemming from the finitism approach is dualism, the belief that there are both good and evil forces in the world struggling with each other for superiority over the created order. This approach had its most mature voice in the Manichean philosophers. The Manichean system postulated the existence of two eternal and equally powerful gods, one of them good (light), and one of them evil (darkness). The Manicheans believed that these two gods work against each other in the lives of men, causing goodness and evil. Unfortunately, a less refined dualistic system has found its way into many of our churches, where laypersons have begun to view Satan as God’s evil foil, struggling against God in an epic, ongoing battle for mankind.

The final approach to theodicy is the Instrumental view, or Greater Good Theodicy. This system argues that evil is allowed into creation to serve as a means to an unforseen greater good. This view has dominated classical theodicy and is presently held by the vast majority of evangelical Christians today. In this system, evil remains evil in the traditional sense, but it is understood as a necessary force in creation as the universe is better with it than without it. Examples of this can be seen in the animal world where one animal kills and eats another. While this may be evil in some sense, it is also very necessary as it contributes to the continuation of the created order, which rests upon this process.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Brother's Keeper

In July of 2006, my younger brother James was diagnosed with a lung infection. He was given antibiotics and sent home. Before long, that infection spread to other parts of his body, and a week or so later, at the age of 21, my brother James died of sepsis.
As I sat at his funeral, I thought about his life - a life that might not have been. My brother James, born with Down Syndrome, was one that some would consider a "throw away" baby. Someone who would never contribute to society, and would be too much trouble for our family, and as such should be aborted. I was only 5 when James was born, so I don’t know whether or not my parents had that discussion. But I do know one thing for sure, in James’ case, life won out.
Unfortunately, in many cases life does not win out. In fact, over the past several years the numbers of children born with Down Syndrome has decreased dramatically. Not because Down Syndrome is now treatable, but rather because it can be diagnosed sooner, giving parents the opportunity (some would say duty) to abort the child. As an example of this, in 1997, roughly 90 percent of children prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome were aborted, resulting in nearly 50,000 deaths.
This is but one example of the eugenics styled abortions in the U.S. Proponents for abortion rights argue that abortion must be kept "safe and legal" in the U.S. to protect women who have become impregnated through rape or incest, or whose lives are threatened due to complications. However, Planned Parenthood’s own records show that these reasons represent a small number of abortions (roughly 2%). All other abortions are done for reasons of personal preference (can’t afford another child, another child will interefere with career plans, etc), which basically amounts to using abortion as an after the fact form of birth control.
On this day in 1973, the Supreme Court handed down its ruling on the case of Roe vs. Wade, since that time, about one third of my generation has been lost. We now live in a culture of death where people are valued differently than others based solely on their "desirability." It is my prayer that we all see this injustice, and work to see it ended.

Friday, January 19, 2007

What is Biblical Evangelism?

First, let me offer a great apology for the lateness of this post. This week has been quite hectic with the ice storms, rolling blackouts, and a wife who ended her maternity leave - leaving me with 2 weeks worth of "daddy days" with my son, which I have enjoyed very much.
Over the past several weeks I have thrown myself into reading several books, and today I would like to share an insight with you from one of the books that I am reading now. It is "The Soul Winner" by C.H. Spurgeon, and in the first chapter, Spurgeon asks the question, "what is it to win a soul?" He begins by showing us what soul winning is not. From his examples, I would wager that he found himself facing the same "madness of methods" that we face today. May his insights guide us today.

Soul winning is not transfer growth.

"We do not regard it to be soul-winning to steal members out of churches already established, and train them to utter our peculiar Shibboleth: we aim rather at bringing souls to Christ than at making converts to our synagogue. There are sheep-stealers abroad… There is such a thing as selfishness in our eagerness for the aggrandizement of our own party; and from this evil spirit may grace deliver us! The increase of the kingdom is more to be desired than the growth of a clan. We would do a great deal to make a Paedobaptist brother into a Baptist, for we value our Lord's ordinances; we would labor earnestly to raise a believer in salvation by free-will into a believer in salvation by grace, for we long to see all religious teaching built upon the solid rock of truth, and not upon the sand of imagination; but, at the same time, our grand object is not the revision of opinions, but the regeneration of natures. We would bring men to Christ, and not to our own peculiar views of Christianity. Our first care must be that the sheep should be gathered to the great Shepherd; there will be time enough afterwards to secure them for our various folds."

Soul winning does not come from inflating numbers on the church’s rolls.

"In the next place, we do not consider soul-winning to be accomplished by hurriedly inscribing more names upon our church-roll, in order to show a good increase at the end of the year. This is easily done, and there are brethren who use great pains, not to say arts, to effect it… By all means let us bring true converts into the church, for it is a part of our work to teach them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded them; but still, this is to be done to disciples, and not to mere professors; and if care be not used, we may do more harm than good at this point. To introduce unconverted persons to the church, is to weaken and degrade it; and therefore an apparent gain may be a real loss."

Creating excitement is not soul winning.

"Nor is it soul-winning, dear friends, merely to create excitement. Excitement will accompany every great movement… Do not aim at sensation and "effect." Flowing tears and streaming eyes, sobs and outcries, crowded after-meetings and all kinds of confusions may occur, and may be borne with as concomitants of genuine feeling; but pray do not plan their production.
It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over… The utmost zeal for Christ is consistent with common sense and reason: raving, ranting, and fanaticism are products of another zeal which is not according to knowledge. We would prepare men for the chamber of communion, and not for the padded room at Bedlam."

So…what is soul winning you might ask?

"What is the real winning of a soul for God? So far as this is done by instrumentality, what are the processes by which a soul is led to God and to salvation? I take it that one of its main operations consists in instructing a man that lee may know the truth of God. Instruction by the gospel is the commencement of all real work upon men's minds. "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world." Teaching begins the work, and crowns it, too."

Thank you Mr. Spurgeon for your words which are both timely and timeless. May they continue to instruct us.

All quotes for this post were taken from;
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon. The Soul Winner. Eerdmans Publishing (Grand Rapids, MI), 1963.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I believe that the best definition of Inerrancy has come from Paige Patterson who writes that: "By inerrancy, we mean that the scriptures, in the autographs, contain no error in the fields it discusses, philosophically, historically, scientifically, spiritually, and theologically."

Sadly, there are many within our churches who would deny the inerrancy of the bible, usually based upon one of the following arguments (or one of their derivatives). I will try to quickly address them here.

1 – The Bible does not claim inerrancy, nor is the term found in the Bible. Instead modern scholars have forced this term upon the Bible.

First, the Bible does claim to be inerrant.

2 Peter 1:16-21 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, "This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased "-- 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Second, the fact that the bible does not use the specific word "inerrant" to describe itself is not relevant. The term trinity is also not found in the Bible, but we know that it is true because it is used to describe a theology based on a wide sample of scripture.
Equally, the term inerrancy is also true because it too is used to describe a theology based on a wide sample of scripture.

2 – Inerrancy cannot be proven because we do not possess the original autographs.
This too is not a valid argument against the doctrine of inerrancy.

Think of it this way.

Sitting in the Smithsonian, there is a one of a kind artifact. It is just a simple metal rod. That metal rod is exactly one foot long. In fact, for the United States, that metal bar is the official measure of a foot. Now, what would happen if say, a janitor accidentally threw this bar out with the trash? Could we never again know what a foot was?

Not at all.

That’s because we could go to the local hardware store, buy a yardstick, a surveyor’s measure, a grade school ruler, compare them together, and we will come up with a foot.
It is true that we do not have the original autographs. We do however have literally millions of copies and fragments, some of which date to just a few years after the originals were written. Through diligent study of these sources, we can know that the current published scholarly texts of the Hebrew OT & the Greek NT are essentially the same as the original manuscripts.

3 – There are errors and/or contradictions in the Bible.
Usually this argument focuses on 3 main ideas

The 2 accounts of creation in Genesis – This is a literary device common when Genesis was written. See Josh McDowell’s Evidence that Demands a Verdict for a complete explanation.

Contradictions – such as what is seen in the account of Sisera’s death (Josh 4), and Deborah’s song of his death (Josh 5). The differences between these accounts are minute, but worth discussing.
Both of these accounts are true. How is this possible? We must take the context of these passages into account. The account of Sisera’s death in Josh. 4 is the forensic, historical account of his death, and should be interpreted accordingly. Deborah’s song is a highly stylized account, poetical account, and should be interpreted accordingly. These two accounts can only be seen as contradictory when they are taken out of context and their respective genres are ignored.

The words of Satan – personally, I like this one. The argument is that the Bible records the words of Satan, words that are deliberate lies, therefore, the Bible does indeed contain lies.
This is a good point; the Bible does not whitewash history. It tells us of Noah’s righteousness, and his drunkenness. It tells us of Abraham’s integrity, and his lies. It tells us of David’s hunger after God and his sin against God. And yes, the Bible does record the words of Satan.
But this does not invalidate the Bible’s inerrancy. The Bible records the words of Satan accurately and perfectly, therefore maintaining the inerrancy of the Bible. While the Bible does perfectly record the words of Satan, it does not attribute truth to them. Quite to the contrary, the Bible goes out of its way to show us that his words are lies.

I realize that this is a very basic discussion of inerrancy. I have tried to do my best, but given the size of the doctrine, there really is no way to cover it in its entirety in one blog posting. But I do hope that this will serve as a primer for our future study.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Please Pray for Dr. Mohler

Dr. Mohler is perhaps one of the finest Christian men I have ever met. As a student at SBTS he was my President, as a Highview Baptist Church member he was my Sunday School teacher. Everyone knows of his intellect, but what struck me the most about him was his humility and love for those around him.
His Sunday School lessons made me a better expositor and his example made me a better pastor. I cannot express how much his ministry has influenced mine.

Which is why I am asking that you all will join me in prayer for his speedy recovery.

I had heard that he was in the hospital due to abdominal pains, but this afternoon he was diagnosed with pulmonary emboli in both lungs. My wife the RN was kind enough to explain to me what that meant – honestly I didn’t understand most of her explanation, but I gathered enough to realize that it is very serious.
According to Dr. Moore on Dr. Mohler’s blogsite, Dr. Mohler is responding well to treatments, but there will still be a way to go.
So again, I ask that you will join me, my family, and my church in prayer for him. Pray for a speedy recovery so that he may return to his ministry of building up a new generation of ministers.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Lookback at '06

As most people do, at the time of the New Year, I look back at the year that just ended in an attempt to evaluate its high points and low points.
When I first started blogging, I did so with mixed emotions. Why another blog? What good would it do? Why should I spend my already limited time on one? In many ways, I am glad that I started to blog, as I have met many interesting people and have had several good, uplifting conversations. In addition to this, this blog has forced me to continue my theological studies, so that I can write a well thought out post and answer my commenters well.
But at the same time, I am a little disappointed. I have found from experience that people really only get interested in a blog if it is controversial – which may explain why so many bloggers out there are turning over every rock in the world hoping that something may crawl out. Honestly, the last thing I want to be remembered for is simply being controversial.

Which now makes me look ahead to 2007. Where will this blog go over the next year?

Again, I have mixed emotions.

In some ways I want to expand the blog to include audio files of my theology lectures, sermons, and thoughts on my daily Bible reading – in addition to my weekly thoughts on theology.

In other ways I want to just leave it as it is. To simply maintain the status quo.

And in some other ways, I just want to delete it and go on with life. The past several weeks I have been away from my computer. I have not written, read, or answered any blogs and life has gone on just fine. If I disappeared from the blogosphere today, I doubt that the world would spin off its axis – or that many would even notice.

I suppose I will just have to wait and see what the year brings with it.

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