iBooks Publish Announcement: God’s Acts of Providence

I have published my third eBook on iBooks.  If you have an iOS device then you can use this link to access.  If you do not use an iOS device, a PDF version can be found on my blog using this link.

image001

God’s Acts of Providence

The Christian doctrines associated with God’s providential acts have fallen so out of favor that their rehabilitation seems unlikely.  And yet if these doctrines are found to be true then there is no alternative but to make the attempt.  I am here seeking to reintroduce providential doctrine through examination of its practical working out in the lives of frail human flesh and blood.  By so doing they can be transformed from stiff, abstract concepts into humane, living precepts through which we can grow more deeply in love with the Triune God.  We can also begin to recapture the Christian confidence that no matter the darkness our great God is yet in control, working out His plan to ultimately redeem this fallen world.  And that God has chosen in sovereign mercy to incorporate our lives and associated wills into this great work of redemption.

Full Preface

The Christian doctrines associated with God’s providential acts have fallen so out of favor that their rehabilitation seems unlikely.  And yet if these doctrines are found to be true then there is no alternative but to make the attempt.  As I believe that they are indeed true, this work seeks to rediscover and reinstate these doctrines within Christian belief.

However, it will be difficult to deliver a compelling case if no account is taken as to just why these doctrines have fallen into disfavor.  The reason assumed by many orthodox Reformed believers is that they so bruise human pride that they fall onto deaf ears.  While there is great truth in this explanation it falls far short of completeness.

A second, and equally debilitating problem is the way that Reformed theologians have discussed these doctrines.  Far too often there is such an overwhelming emphasis placed on God’s sovereignty that we frail humans seem to disappear.  Christian believers are thus abandoned to figure out for themselves how they fit into God’s providential economy.  And, particularly in this case, the lack of clear, compelling theological guidance leaves believers vulnerable to the siren song of works-based salvation theology.

Finally, there is a temptation towards pride for those who have accepted the orthodox Reformed doctrinal positions.  That being, they come to believe that their minority status is a consequence of their intellectual achievement of having discerned God’s truth in Scripture.  Yes, the temptation of pride is universal.  However, for the orthodox Reformed it is particularly discrediting.  This is because the central consequences for humans who have been saved only by God’s mercy are humility and thankfulness.  So, when Christians see the exact opposite the result is usually rejection.

How then to rediscover and explain God’s acts of providence?  The only authoritative resource from which to work is God’s Word.  However, to simply reexamine the relevant Bible verses in isolation would surely be a superfluous exercise.

But there is another way.  If God’s providential engagement is true, then we would expect to find evidence of its operation deeply embedded throughout all Scripture.  That is, although there are indeed many passages that explicitly teach providential doctrines, they should also be revealed by God’s character as He engages with the world in general, and human beings in particular.

I have found this to be true, and here am seeking to reintroduce providential doctrine through detailed, sustained examination of its practical working out in the lives of frail human flesh and blood.  Although there are dozens of compelling cases I have chosen three:

  1. Abraham and Sarah (The Chief End of Man)
  2. The birth of Christ’s Church (The Church Invisible)
  3. The creation of the Apostle Paul (Effectual Calling)

Clearly much of the material in these stories is not directly related to providence.  However, the providential engagement of God undergirds the narratives and regularly breaks out into clear view.

By this means I contend that the argument can be advanced inoculated from the temptations previously discussed.  For example it is virtually impossible to lose sight of the human side of these engagements when the protagonists are so deeply, humanely and intimately treated.  Nor are we likely to fall into elitism when confronted with the harsh realities and heroic faith exhibited by these humble servants of God.

But the primary advantage is the opportunity to observe these admittedly difficult doctrines being weaved into the lives of real people.  By so doing they can be transformed from stiff, abstract concepts into humane, living precepts through which we can grow more deeply in love with the Triune God.  We can also begin to recapture the Christian confidence that no matter the darkness or danger our great God is yet in control, working out His plan to ultimately redeem this fallen world.  And that God has chosen in sovereign mercy to incorporate our lives and associated wills into this great work of redemption.

In Meditations on God’s Providence I will explicitly discuss doctrine.  My hope is that this meditation will be organically supported by the previous three examinations of the relationships between God and His chosen people.

Only the reader can judge the extent of my success.  However, even though I will surely fall far short of the mark, it’s my hope that others with greater knowledge and skill will recognize an alternative strategy by which core Christian doctrines can be reintroduced, explained and integrated into Christian life.

Make no mistake, the need for this work is great and growing.

Advertisements

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you and yours a blessed time of giving thanks to our Great God!

Screenshot-2016-11-23-at-9.48.29-PMPresident Abraham Lincoln proclaims a Day of Thanksgiving to God Almighty.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Amen.

Stinging Satire from the Babylon Bee (2)

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 8.19.23 PMThat’s Not Funny! Hmm…Maybe it Is.

While I was reading one of their “articles” my eye caught this link (see image on right).  Given that my blog is centered on orthodox Reformed theology the “article’s” content hit a bit too close to home for comfort.  To my shock and dismay I initially responded in a manner reminiscent of radical Feminists: flukeR1“That’s not funny!”  But then I thought a bit more and concluded that yes, there are indeed Calvinists who get way too wrapped up in their sense of holding a superior theology.  Heck, chances are that I’ve made people feel that way!

I also recalled a very sobering book titled: Predestination: The American Career of a Contentious Doctrine by Peter J. Thuesen.  It tells the story of how Reformed theologians discredited each other and the doctrine they claimed to love by delving into unknowable details of how it actually works in God’s mind.  Although they all claimed to be Calvinists, they all managed to overlook or ignore his wise advice on this difficult doctrine.

First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of His glory. The secrets of His will which He determined to reveal to us, He discovers in His word; and these are all that He foresaw would concern us or conduce to our advantage.

So, yes, we can take ourselves far too seriously.  It’s not that I doubt that Reformed theology is the closest thing I know to Biblical truth.  Rather, I can’t forget how I am also caught up in the fallen human condition, thus being capable of folly and failure just like everyone else.  One aspect of that humility is recognizing in our critics important aspects of truth, and in our mockers the same, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

Screen Shot 2018-11-10 at 8.46.53 PMIt turns out that the Bee can also make good fun at the expense of Calvinism’s opponent, Arminianism.  The content is hilarious:

Carter calls the bridge a compassionate act of mercy on his part, freely offering everyone the chance to cross the bridge, if they can just muster up enough faith to step on the gas and launch themselves the remaining few hundred feet over the valley.

“We couldn’t go all the way across—that would be violating your free will, not giving you the chance to garner enough faith to cross on your own merits,” he said.

But the final punch line sticks it to us Calvinists again.

A competing Calvinist contractor also opened a bridge downstream: one that crosses the entire river, but isn’t open to the public.

That’s funny!

I’m currently working on an ebook titled God’s Acts of Providence to be published early next year.  It’s a serious and (I hope) compelling explanation and defense of Reformed Theology in the general area of Predestination.  It’s possible that as my finger hovers above the “publish” button I’ll break into a cold sweat wondering if the Bees will notice and respond.  If so, only my utter confidence in God’s providential purposes will give me the strength to press.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (8)

sorrow-humilityWhat is the Church to Do?

As I have noted the Christian Church cannot exist above the fray of secular politics.  However, neither can it allow itself to become a captive of any human ideology or political movement.  Tremendous damage has been done by supposed Christian leaders who have come to see the church as a vehicle through which favored secular policies can be pursued.  This danger cuts all ways, from Progressive to Conservative and all other ideological categories.

And yet there will be occasions in which a particular secular group’s position is superior to another’s from the Biblical Christian perspective.  However, it will never be the case that a secular political group’s policy prescriptions will always be the closest to Biblical Christianity.  Since I am currently in a denomination dominated by Progressive politics I have previously explained the absurdity of such an outcome as follows.

What is the likelihood that two organizations, the first driven by the passions and practicalities of contemporary human ideology / politics, and, the second built on Scriptures written by dozens of authors from approximately 1500 B.C. to 100 A.D. concerning the eternal, loving and just God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — would uniformly arrive at virtually identical moral conclusions and policy prescriptions?

The natural answer for most people would likely be “pretty much zero.”  That is, the differences in both the sources and deliberative processes are so vast that it would be absurdly unlikely.  And yet, this is the very absurdity upon which most mainline Protestant denominations are built.

That is, we are supposed to accept that the uniform agreement between a human political movement (i.e., Progressive Leftism) and mainline Christian denominations is a natural and credible outcome.  But, it is actually an incredible outcome, and one that any committed Christian, regardless of their personal political beliefs should find troubling.  Note well that it would be equally incredible and troubling if a Christian denomination uniformly agreed with Conservatism, Libertarianism, or any other secular human movement.

So, what then is the Church to do?  My recommendation is to focus first and foremost on the mission that Jesus Christ gave it — that being to preach the Gospel of grace and repentance to a fallen world.  The Church is in the primary business of seeking out and saving the lost.

A key component of that mission is to preach and teach the Gospel truth as revealed in the entire Bible.  That preaching and teaching should be based on the authority of Scripture, not under the authority of a preselected human ideology.   Sometimes one ideological position may appear closer to the Bible than another.  In other cases no human ideology will be anywhere close to what God’s Word teaches.

pride-v-humility-e-t-bensonThe Church must prayerfully seek to teach the Biblical truth and then let the chips fall where they may.  You can count on the church members to discuss and debate how, if at all, this teaching aligns with a given political position.  Different members will draw different conclusions.

The point is to equip all members to deliberate on their secular political responsibilities through the application of sound Christian theology and morality.  This should not be seen as a means of delivering a uniform political outcome.  However, neither can it be acceptable to remain silent when an influential political position clearly violates Christian morality.

In the end we must place our trust in God’s providential action.  We will each reason and draw conclusions.  Those conclusions will differ in scope, content and force across individuals.  If we seek to maintain a Republic consisting of free citizens then our only option is to create a space in which people of very different perspectives can discuss and debate in a humane manner.

If we understand ourselves to all be subject to the power of sin, all to be capable of error, all to be in need of a Savior, then it will be easier to find the humility to seek together towards Truth that lies only within the Mind of our God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  Romans 12:3

 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18

Amen.

The Christian Church in Revolutionary Times (7)

jesus_before_pilateJesus Christ on Politics (3)

Another indisputable political incident occurs when Jesus is brought before the Roman governor, Pilate.  The politics played between the Jewish leaders and Pilate is overt.  The Jewish leaders need Pilate’s authority to execute Jesus, so they seek to  influence Pilate to achieve this end.

As we will see, though the charges against Jesus are secular (i.e., treason), He refuses this frame of reference.  Regardless, Pilate had to make his decision within the constraints of power politics as they existed at that time and place.  It’s impossible to know if Pilate sensed the enormous spiritual forces at play within this event.  Other Gospel accounts appear to suggest that he did (see Luke 23:13-25).  In any case, it wasn’t Pilate who was in control, but rather the inexorable, omnipotent providential acts of God.  Following is the encounter as described in John 18:28-40 (NIV).

28 Then the Jewish leaders took Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness they did not enter the palace, because they wanted to be able to eat the Passover.29 So Pilate came out to them and asked, “What charges are you bringing against this man?”

30 “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.”

This is an odd reply.  It’s as if they don’t want to state their charge against Jesus.

31 Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.”

“But we have no right to execute anyone,” they objected. 32 This took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die.

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

Clearly the charge against Christ was the treasonous claim to be the king of the Jews, which was a direct rejection of Roman rule.

34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”

Jesus doesn’t answer the question.

35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.

Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

Note that throughout the entire discussion Jesus hasn’t directly answered Pilate’s question.  The reason why has to do with the issue of “Truth.”  Jesus was accused of claiming to be the “king of the Jews.”  He was not.  Rather, He was claiming to be (and in reality is) the savior of all mankind — Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free.  Thus He could not in truth accept the charge.

However, Jesus also refused to explicitly reject the charge, because this was the worldly means by which the spiritual end of atoning for our sins would be achieved.  Jesus didn’t want to be acquitted.  After all, Jesus Christ is the Second Person in the Trinitarian Godhead, and, God had determined this event before the creation of the world.

So, by refusing to explicitly accept or reject the charge against Him Jesus was upholding the Truth while ensuring that His plan for salvation would proceed.

38 “What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

WhatIsTruth885x339

Here we may see in this sophisticated Roman politician a sort of proto-postmodernism.  There is no way to know if Pilate asked this question honestly, ironically or contemptuously.  Regardless, Pilate was taking the position that the “Truth” is something uncertain, and therefore, up for grabs  in this world.

there-is-no-truth-there-is-only-perception-6Almost two-thousand years later the real postmodernists would take the logical next step.  When postmodern Christians confront Christ today, their response has to do with truth, but it is not in the form of a question.

With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. 39 But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”

40 They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

That which had been predestined to come to pass had no option other than to occur.

The “politics” in which Jesus Christ engaged were infinite, eternal and providential in nature.  But this fact doesn’t disconnect our Christian lives from secular, political responsibilities.  Rather, it enlightens, informs and guides our deliberations as we navigate the challenges of this fallen world.  But this guidance can only be Christian if we acknowledge that there is an ultimate, unchangeable Truth and that it exists only in the Triune Christian God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This statement in no way denies that wisdom can be found outside of Christian sources. Nor does it denigrate the individual worth of any human being.  All it does is to acknowledge that we are Christians because Jesus Christ is indeed our Lord and Savior.

The Death of Beauty (7)

Celebrating Past Beauty (5)

ww2-146-lPaul Ramsey Article (2)

Make no mistake, Mr. Ramsey had a partisan position with regard to participation in World War II — he was for it.  However, the means by which he pressed his point of view could hardly be more different than those used by today’s Progressive Christians.  For, nowhere in Mr. Ramsey’s article will you find accusations of mental illness in his opponents manifested as a “phobia.”  Nor will you find dark intimations of evil motives due to some sort of “ism.”  Finally, you will not find all of the talking points for his secular political position cobbled together with a throwaway reference to Jesus in order to claim that the piece is Christian.

What you will find is a profound meditation on the nature of the human condition in general and sin in particular.  Along the way he will acknowledge truth and error on both sides of the debate.  But the essential fact here is that Mr. Ramsey seeks to convince those in disagreement or on the fence by the quality of his arguments.  That is, he treats those not or not yet on his side as moral and intellectual equals.

By his own words Mr. Ramsey is in disagreement with “Liberal Protestantism”  on the issue at hand.  His opponents apparently were scandalized by the fact that prosecution of the war required people to engage in unrighteous acts.  Of this there can be no dispute, and Mr. Ramsey does not attempt to do so.  Rather, he points out that by so completely focusing on sin as “unrepentant unrighteousness” they fall prey to the less obvious but far more dangerous and destructive sin of “unrepentant righteousness.”

34+Then+Jesus+said,+Father,+forgive+them,+for+they+do+not+know+what+they+do.+Luke+23-34+(NKJV)The departure point for this argument is Christ’s words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23: 34).  For, this greatest sin (perhaps excepting the “unforgivable sin”) was done entirely by people who believed that their motives were righteous.  For the Jewish leaders they were stopping a false Messiah.  For the Romans they were maintaining peace.  Mr. Ramsey’s point is that Christ’s words were not only applicable to that specific case, but are true in general.  Here is the key excerpt.

Do we not here recog­nize that sin and responsibility may vary inversely, rather than directly, with consciousness, so that greater sincerity actually means greater sin? Our own responsible and sinful implication in social institu­tions must already extend far out beyond the range of our conscious participation, else on what grounds do we make ourselves more consciously sinful by making ourselves more sensitive to the grinding, impersonal results of our common life? And when we are stabbed sharply awake to evil results that have followed from one of our actions, which we certainly did not “intend that way,” should this not give us pause, and bring the reflection that it is not just in this case that we sin not knowing what we do.

Mr. Ramsey’s point is not that, because sin consists of “unrepentant righteousness” then there is no need to be concerned about “unrepentant unrighteousness.”  Rather, it is to argue that by making an idol of our righteousness we can end up participating in greater sinfulness.

Before God, unrepentant unrighteousness and unrepentant righteousness come to the same thing; and an indication that they are judged alike by God is the fact that in history they come in time to the same thing, namely, cruelty. This is the Cross in History from which also, in the light of the Cross of Christ, we learn that man’s deepest sin lies in an unrepentant righteousness that knows not the sin for which it is responsible.

How then, if we must admit that we sin both in our unrighteousness and righteousness, can we avoid becoming incapable of any act or thought lest we thereby sin?  Mr. Ramsey’s answers are:

More fundamental than sorrow for our past sins is a repentant faith which in acting nevertheless waits for the Lord to complete by His Divine Provi­dence the goodness of our finite actions, and which still trusts Him when in His Divine Judgment our action is thwarted and rejected. If we are to be truly forgiven, truly the Father must forgive us.

and:

By the action of God in history, the sinfulness of human actions is judged and corrected, and the goodness of human action saved and incorporated in the Divine Will. Since our judgment about what is good is always infected by our sinful righteous­ness, the act of God in history always has, in rela­tion even to the best of us, an aspect of “otherness,” of being beyond the good and evil of our own mixed, self-defensive human judgments. When we do think we know the will of God for our time, our wills are strengthened, either to do or not to do, by a course of events utterly beyond our control. After each event we must always confess that we have been acted upon more than we have acted, that we have been changed more than we have changed anything, and that the ideals with which we began have not been realized in reality so much as they have been transformed to accord more with reality. By grace are we saved!

Nazi-Capture-Jews-WW2Although Mr. Ramsey’s prose does not achieve the heights of beauty discovered by Mr. Lincoln and Rev. Edwards, it yet is beautiful.  Its beauty lives in the lovely, humble and trusting manner in which he connects our fallen lives on this earth with the judgement and grace found only in God.  And, he meets a great human need by helping those brave but conflicted souls who found themselves called to oppose great evil to bear that terrible responsibility within the context of their Christian faith.


 

The Death of Beauty (4)

Celebrating Past Beauty (2)

lincoln-2nd-inaug

Abraham Lincoln delivering the Second Inaugural Address

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (March 4, 1865)

It is astounding that what I consider to be the most beautiful non-Scriptural theological prose ever written was composed by a politician rather than a theologian.  This Second Inaugural Address may have been delivered on a political occasion, but it utterly transcends the dross of politics.  Rather, at its core, this is a profound theological meditation on the causes and meaning of a truly cataclysmic event in the life of our Nation — the Civil War in which well over 600,000 lives were sacrificed to settle the question of slavery once and for all.

The speech itself is exceedingly short, consisting of only 698 words.  The first 359 words serve as a preamble for the theological meditation of only 339 words.  For the sake of brevity I excerpt only the theological meditation.

… Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.” If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Thinking back to the components of beauty for theological prose, what could be a deeper point of human need than that of the millions of lives that had been (and that were still being while the speech was given) scared by this most terrible war in U.S. history?  And, from whom were words of explanation and purpose more needed than that man whose election as President had set into motion that very war?  By bowing humbly to that terrible need Abraham Lincoln was able to compose a theological meditation of terrible beauty.

Although the Civil War still raged at the time of this speech the outcome was no longer in doubt.  In fact, only 36 days later General Lee surrendered to General Grant at Appomattox Court House.  So, Lincoln’s primary purpose was to begin the process of healing for a nation that had suffered a grievous, perhaps even mortal wound.  But how could such a goal be pursued given the disunity and hatred of total war?

While living in Washington D.C. Lincoln and his family attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.  It is certain that there he would have experienced teaching aligned with the Westminster Confessions.  Thus, as the reelected President pondered his impossible task the theological framework upon which he would draw stressed God’s sovereignty and providential purposes in history.

How though could Lincoln invoke the Christian God Whom both citizens of the Union and Confederacy worshiped?  Lincoln courageously raised this conundrum as the starting point of his meditation.  But, although he included a powerful argument in support of the Union, he yet refused to claim that God was on the Union’s side.  For here the Reformed doctrine of sin’s universality allowed him to see that the sources of this terrible conflict encompassed the entire nation.  Thus, although the specific position on slavery had been decided in the Union’s favor, citizens of both sides were reminded that they shared a common responsibility for the existence of the sinful institution of chattel slavery.  Upon this ground the rightness of the Union’s cause might be maintained but without inciting an attitude of destructive moral superiority.

But it is when Lincoln addresses God’s place in the tragedy that beauty reaches its zenith.  How could there but be the most powerful temptation to blame God for this monstrous war?  That is, how could a kind and loving God have allowed so much terror and death to occur?  Here the humility of the created creature finds voice in Lincoln’s use of Psalm 19:9, “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

Rather than demanding that God answer at the dock of human pride, Lincoln humbly submits to the reality that God’s purposes are just even if the consequences are dreadful.  That is, “shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?”  The answer is a resounding no.  Thus, Lincoln rejects the spiritually destructive temptation to blame God for sin while calling all humanity to repentance for their sin.

It is upon these theological foundations that Lincoln calls to “bind up the nation’s wounds” and to pursue “a just and lasting peace.”  It is therefore on our universal need for a Savior that Abraham Lincoln sought to rebuild the United States.  The miraculous fact is that the nation was indeed rebuilt in spite of Lincoln’s assassination by a Confederate sympathizer on April 15, 1865.

Can there be any doubt that Lincoln’s speech, particularly after his sudden death, encouraged the “better angels” of their natures in both the North and South?  These words, so humbly, so humanely, so worshiply composed and delivered set in motion the events by which a nation riven by hatred could yet be reconciled.  Had God not taught Lincoln utter humility in the crucible war and the school of Reformed theology this speech would have been very different, and a great nation may have been destroyed rather than reborn.


We once again find ourselves riven by seemingly irreconcilable political differences.  It is a sad commentary on the Christian Church that it no longer seems capable of providing the theological resources necessary for healing and renewal.  Were the Church just another human institution there would be no hope.  But it actually is the Body of Jesus Christ, so we wait with expectant hope for resurrection.

iBooks Publish Announcement

For those of you living in the Windows and/or Android worlds, you can download the PDF version from my blog site here.

Christ and CorneliusChrist and Cornelius

I have published an eBook on iBooks.

Christ and Cornelius: The Biblical Case Against Christian Pacifism

Is Jesus Christ a pacifist?  Many Christians believe this to be the case.  However, unless this position can withstand careful Biblical scrutiny it cannot be considered true.  I have subjected this claim to that very standard in this book, and, have found it to be unsupported.  Along the way important issues regarding Biblical interpretation, the person and purpose of Jesus Christ, the application of King David’s life to our own times, the first Gentile convert to Christianity and Western Civilization’s crisis, among others, are discussed.

Christ and Cornelius (4)

Peter and Cornelius

NGC2207+IC2163The Two Worlds Touch (Acts 10:17-23a)

God has providentially intervened in the Gentile and Jewish worlds, setting them on a collision course.  No human being could have possibly foreseen the implications of this act.  No human being was ready within context of their own experience to comprehend just what was occurring.  Only in hindsight can we prejudiced, faltering and foolish humans see a sliver of truth about what God has done.  However, without the revelation of Scripture even that tiny sliver would have been obliterated long ago.

17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon’s house, stood before the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. 19 And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you. 20 Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them.”

The wonder of this narrative is that it pulls back the curtain and allows us mortals to observe God’s providential engagement in human history.  What we see is both beautiful and disturbing.  It’s beauty arises from the Fatherly love that engages with both Cornelius and Peter at their points of human frailty, gently leading each towards their eventual world-changing encounter.  Its disturbance arises from the at first vague, but ultimately explicit, realization that both Peter’s and Cornelius’ destinies were being directly determined by God.  This intricate but ultimately mysterious interplay between our own wills and God’s providential purpose has been previously explored in “God’s Acts of Providence.”

That significance flowed from God to them, as opposed to being sourced within them.  This too is a reproach to our modern, self-centered mind-set. We too often view our end as beginning and ending with our own desires. The notion that our end is by design to be subordinate to anything else, even the L ORD God, flies into the teeth of the radical individualism that under girds so much of our culture’s life.

But lest we too strongly stress humanity’s subordinate status, the amazing extent to which God apparently bends to accommodate our wills must be accounted. Yes, God’s will is inexorable. But it’s as if it’s inexorable within the context of our free wills.

Isn’t this story precisely that of God’s inexorable providential will intersecting with our one free wills?  I say, yes, without doubt.

21 And Peter went down to the men and said, “I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?” 22 And they said, “Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say.” 23 So he called them in to be his guests.

Note how the people within this story exercise their own wills.  The men sent by Cornelius don’t say that Peter must engage with them because of God’s inexorable command.  No, they rather make the very human case that he who sent them is “an upright and God-fearing man,” that is, someone who Peter should consider to be trustworthy.  

Thus, on one level this is a story about human beings from two separate worlds working out the terms by which they might meet in true fellowship.  However, at the deepest level it is the story of God bringing to pass in time that which He had decreed from eternity.

“and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” (Genesis 22:18)

Once again, I return to “God’s Acts of Providence” for the commentary.

 In the end, we must understand along with Abraham that the human details are not the point. The point is that God in His infinite love, mercy and power has determined to bless all nations. He has also chosen to do so within the context of human will, with all of its frailty, foolishness and fickleness. But He chose to do so before the foundation of the world was laid, deep inside the mystery of His infinite mind. That is, though played out on the stage of history, this is the working out of a predestined plan. Though we may never fully understand we can, no, must worship such a wondrous God.

the-creation-of-man-by-michelangelo

 

King David: Warrior and Poet After God’s Own Heart (19)

praying-israeliteGod’s Promise to David (3)

David’s Prayer: 2 Samuel 7:18-24

What will be King David’s response to this gracious, eternal promise from the LORD God?  Could there be a more clear case for self-congratulation and boasting than had David at this point in time?  After all, the LORD God had purposefully chosen him to be king, and had shown His favor across the years of struggle necessary to reach this point.  And David himself had, through his wisdom and prowess, overcome all his enemies, both internal and external to the nation.

David had participated in banditry and bloody combat, with easily thousands of human deaths either directly or indirectly caused by his actions.  At this point might not a person with this on his conscience be overwhelmingly tempted to respond in self-justification?  That is, to turn God’s blessing to his own purposes, to absolve himself of guilt.

And yet, this is how King David actually did begin his prayerful response.

18 Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said:

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? 19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, Sovereign Lord, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant—and this decree, Sovereign Lord, is for a mere human!

20 “What more can David say to you? For you know your servant, Sovereign Lord. 21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.

22 “How great you are, Sovereign Lord! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. 23 And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself, and to perform great and awesome wonders by driving out nations and their gods from before your people, whom you redeemed from Egypt? 24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever, and you, Lord, have become their God.


I must ask, in this current time of Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (et al.) self-promotion, self-congratulation, self-absorption; can there be anything more foreign than this beginning of King David’s prayer?  No.  For this elect soul, this victor over all adversity and adversaries, this bloodied warrior points always and only away from himself and towards the LORD God.

However, there’s a deeper problem that prevents many contemporary people from giving David an open-minded hearing.  That being David is the exact opposite of everything that they believe to comprise morality.  In the view of many David is a far closer to (if not actually being) a war criminal than to a man after God’s own heart.  Thus, the fact that Holy Scripture lifts up this particular man can actually undermine their confidence.  In the next post I will directly address this difficult issue.

For today let’s, as Christians, be clear on the fundamental point.  Regardless of our own feelings, knowledge and opinions, David’s story is in the Word of God.  We do not judge it, nor does our personal sense of morality supersede it.  God has placed it in His Word for our benefit.  Yes, we should first seek guidance from the Holy Spirit in prayer and then use all of our God-given gifts to properly interpret and apply it to our life and times.  But, we Christians must stand with David, a God-chosen pillar of our faith in saying.

“Who am I, Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?”

Humility, thankfulness, and submission to an external, eternal sovereign LORD God…

30It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 

(1 Corinthians 1:30,31, NIV)