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Archive for September, 2011

Of God’s Eternal Decree

In the Exodus account, a book brimming with God’s sovereignty- not least of which includes Paul’s citation of 9:16 in the ninth chapter of Romans- one is nevertheless confronted with a startlingly powerful affirmation of the viability of human volition.  The curious passage reads thus:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.  And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle” (Exodus 13:17-18).

Here we’re confronted authentic human choice; the kind of choice that genuinely affects the outcome of history.  Had the Israelites passed through the land of the Philistines, they would have changed their minds and returned to Egypt, something the Lord didn’t want to happen.  So in light of this volitional reality, God circumvented the problem by steering them in another direction.

Reading this reminds me of the brilliance of the Westminster Confession of Faith, particularly the first point on God’s eternal decree.  With near poetic flare, the Westminster divines carefully, even masterfully, capture the balance between God’s sovereignty and human freedom.  Allow me to quote it:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

Here the sovereignty of God is unabashedly extolled.  God has ordained “whatsoever” comes to pass.  That’s everything.  But note the qualification “yet so.”  Here the Confession goes on to explain how this foreordination works, especially with regard to humans.  Two things are especially highlighted.  They want us to know that (1) human freedom isn’t trampled, and (2) the liberty (freedom) or contingency (what if-ness) of means isn’t ignored or repudiated, but rather established.  Simply put, God sovereignly works through means.

So let us be clear here.  Calvinism upholds both God’s sovereignty and human freedom.  Both are true.  Now how they exactly go together, well, that’s ultimately mysterious.  I like to think of it in terms of a young child trying to understand an algebra problem.  The youngster, having just learned his ABCs and 123s, happily affirms both letters and numbers.  But when presented with the following problem: X+4=7, he cannot imagine how in the world a letter could be a number.  His mind simply cannot wrap itself around the issue.  So it is with God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  The answer to the problem is like the letter X.  The solution is certainly intelligible, but it isn’t intelligible to the child.

If you’re curious what the confession goes on to say, check it out here: Link. (See Chapter III).

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I’ve been working on a book for about a year and a half now.  It’s a biblical theology on the fall of Satan.  I reflect on his awful idea and its implications on the unfolding human drama.  Naturally, I’ve been scouring the internet for audio lectures covering the subject.  To my surprise, little attention has been given to the issue, so far as serious treatments are concerned.  Basically, if someone wants to dig deeper, they’re going to have to look to older, printed works.  And even these are sparse.

Having said that, I recently stumbled upon a lecture by Sinclair Ferguson entitled Christus Victor.  It is a gem of a lecture.  I know of no better treatment of the subject, so far as audio is concerned.  He jams an incredible amount of careful reflection into the space of one hour’s time.

The only place where I might disagree is his understanding of Matthew 16:23.  I am not convinced that Satan was trying to deter Jesus from the cross, knowing that it would crush him.  My reasons are various and nuanced, so this isn’t the place to engage the problem.  But never mind the quibbling.  This is a wonderful lecture, and I heartily recommend it to you.

Difficulty: Moderate to Advanced

Must Listen Factor: For students, pastors, and teachers, I would say that it has a high must listen factor.

Length: One hour and some change.

To Download: Click picture.  This takes you to Westminster Theological Seminary.  You will need to login.  Once logged in, simply search for the title and download accordingly.

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P.S. I’ve received news that the people over at Reformed Audio are looking to make Jonathan Edward’s work A History of the Work of Redemption available for free on audio.  They are currently looking to raise support for the project.  If you’re interested in helping them out, learn more here: Link

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