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Archive for August, 2011

D.A. Carson has written a timely article entitled “Generational Conflict in Ministry.”  See if the first paragraph catches your attention:

“About five years after the Berlin wall came down and the communist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe had mostly fallen or been transmuted into something rather different, I had the privilege of speaking at a conference for pastors in one of those formerly eastern-bloc countries. The numbers were not large. Most interesting was the way this group of men reflected a natural breakdown. They were clearly divided into two groups. The older group—say, over forty or forty-five—had served their small congregations under the former communist government. Few of them had been allowed to pursue any tertiary education, let alone formal theological training. Most of them had served in considerable poverty, learning to trust God for the food they and their families needed to survive. Some had been incarcerated for the sake of the gospel; all had been harassed. The men in the younger group—say, under forty or so—without exception were university graduates. Several had pursued formal theological education; two or three were beginning their doctorates. They were interested in ideas and in the rapidly evolving cultural developments taking place in their country now that their media were a good deal freer. Quite a number were engaged in university evangelism and wanted to talk about postmodern epistemology.”

[For the rest click Here]

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It is a raw, emotionally tearing book, and even though it has been years since I last read it, certain sections have stayed with me.  I am referring to Elie Wiesel’s book, Night.  As a survivor of the Holocaust (I am told that Wiesel is in the photo above), Mr. Wiesel speaks to the absolute evil that destroyed his faith in God.  In one of the more chilling moments, he said,

“Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.

Never shall I forget that smoke.

Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.

Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith forever.

Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.

Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.

Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live as long as God Himself.

Never.”

Suffering is a profoundly challenging subject, and over the course of several years, I’ve shared with you many different lectures exploring the issue.  Many of these have fallen short, and I have griped plenty enough about them.  Today I want to offer what I think is the best explanation to the problem of evil; an answer, that when you get right down to it, explains why it is so.  It doesn’t grapple with the branches on the tree, but it goes right to the very root system itself, the ultimate bedrock, or the place where we can dig no further.

The answer is given in the space of about ten minutes in a message by John Piper.  It occurs at about the 30-35 minute mark.  The message is called “The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell.”  You can also find the entire theme unpacked, but without the crucial quote, in “The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God.”  Both are excellent.

The answer won’t answer all your questions, in fact, it will raise many more.  But I do believe that it is the answer.

For the first, go here: Link

For the second, go here: Link

For another excellent message I recently had the pleasure of hearing, check out Dr. Mark Garcia’s, “I Believe in Monsters: God, Horrendous Evils, and the Christian Faith.”  It is a carefully crafted gem.  http://reformedforum.org/rfs8/

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In a recent debate over the five points of Calvinism, Dr. Fernandez said the following:

“Another problem for Calvinism: No one held the Calvinist view of predestination until Augustine.  If the apostles taught Calvinism, then they apparently didn’t consider it important enough to convey this doctrine to their successors.  Until Augustine embraced unconditional predestination in about 380 AD, we know of no church father who was a Calvinist.”

This isn’t the first time I’ve heard an Arminian make this claim.  And I don’t suppose it will be the last.  Regardless, what should we make of the statement?  Is it true?  Was there not one poor Calvinist running around Macedonia or Italy in the days before Augustine, the first *gasp* Calvinist?

The frustrating thing about this claim is the manner in which it is framed.  If anyone has read through the apostolic fathers, for example, they’ll know that they simply weren’t concerned with expounding the doctrines of sovereign grace, or nearly any other doctrine for that matter!  They wrote letters, not systematic theologies.  They were dealing with false teachers and persecution.  They were trying to survive.  And since the early false teachers weren’t distant cousins of a guy by the name of Pelagius, the issue wasn’t a matter of great concern.  So no, the apostolic fathers weren’t running around with tulips for bookmarks.

That being said, what did they say?  During one my reads through the apostolic fathers, I marked every location that touched on the sovereignty of God, at least in an overt way.  If I have missed one, please let me know.  I likewise kept an eye out for “Arminian” proof texts.  But in all honesty, I’m not aware of any distinctly Arminian statements.  Again, if someone thinks otherwise, please let me know.  At the end of the day, I think you’ll find that while the apostolic fathers didn’t articulate a robust view of the doctrine of unconditional election (either for or against!), they nevertheless held to a very high view of the sovereignty of God, which, of course, provides the necessary substructure for the doctrine.

Want to see what I found?  The following quotes are taken from “The Apostolic Fathers,” second edition, edited and revised by Michael W. Holmes.

1 Clement

1 Clement 0.0, “The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ…”

A potentially (it’s a LONG stretch) synergistic statement, 7.5, “Let us review all the generations in turn, and learn that from generation to generation the Master has given an opportunity for repentance to those who desire to turn to him.”

21.9, “For he is the searcher of thoughts and desires; his breath is in us, and when he so desires, he will take it away.”

27.4-5, “By his majestic word he established the universe, and by a word he can destroy it. “Who will say to him, ‘What have you done?’ Or who will resist the might of his strength?”  He will do all things when he will and as he wills, and none of those things decreed by him will fail.”

Ignatius to the Ephesians

0.0, “Ignatius… to the church at Ephesus in Asia, blessed with greatness through the fullness of God the Father, predestined before the ages for lasting and unchangeable glory forever, united and elect through genuine suffering by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ our God…”

To the Smyrnaeans

4.1b, “But I am guarding you in advance against wild beasts in human form- men whom you must not only not welcome but, if possible, not even meet.  Nevertheless, do pray for them, if somehow they might repent, difficult though it may be.  But Jesus Christ, our true life, has power over this.”

The Didache

3.10, “Accept as good the things that happen to you, knowing that nothing transpires apart from God.”

Barnabas

(This isn’t a copy error) 19.6b, “Accept as good the things that happen to you, knowing that nothing transpires apart from God.”

The Epistle to Diognetus

5.4, [speaking of Christians] “But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food…”

9.1, “So then, having already planned everything in his mind together with his Child, he permitted us during the former time to be carried away by undisciplined impulses as we desired, led astray by pleasures and lusts, not at all because he took delight in our sins, but because he was patient; not because he approved of that former season of unrighteousness, but because he was creating the present season of righteousness, in order that we who in the former time were convicted by our own deeds as unworthy and, having clearly demonstrated our inability to enter the kingdom of God on our own, might be enabled to do so by God’s power.”

[There are several statements to effect of our needing to persevere in order to obtain the promises, but I won’t reproduce them here.  Any Calvinist worth his salt believes that every Christian must continue in the faith.]

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