Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Erickson describes two types of evil: natural evil that does not involve human willing or acting and moral evil that does involve the choice and action of free moral agents. The problem of evil, as Dr. Mitchell points out in the video lecture for lesson 19, has keep many a person from believing in God. Before discussing three common solutions to the problem of evil, Erickson warns his readers not to set our expectations to high in attempting to deal with the problem of evil in the world. Sound advice!
Three solutions to the problem of evil are offered along with Erickson’s response to each. I will offer a brief description of each and an evaluation of Erickson’s response.
Finitism: Rejection of Omnipotence – put simply, one way to solve the problem of evil is to deny the idea that God is omnipotent. This idea takes a number of forms including:
· Dualism – the notion that there are two principles in the universe: God and the power of evil. The most clear-cut case of this idea is found in the ancient Iranian religion (Zoroaster) which Ahura Mazda represents good and Ahriman represents evil with the universe serving as their battle ground. Here this view is that God would overcome evil if He could but is unable to do so. There is a sort of dualism in Christianity though not in the same sense previously described. In Christianity God is supremely good and Satan is evil though Satan is a fallen creature that will ultimately be excluded from the universe.
· Personalism – Erickson states that Brightman developed the idea of God as a personal consciousness of eternal duration though Elwell states Brightman was a pupil of Borden Parker Browne who was the progenitor and most influential exponent of this movement. Either way, most forms of personalism adopt nontraditional theism.
· Surd Evil – the view that there are intrinsic goods which are good in and of themselves and there are also instrumental goods which may be the means to to good but which may also become an instrument of evil. An excellent example of this provided by Erickson is that of the train carrying a saintly person and a group of criminals to the same city. Unlike other things that can serve good when used by God, surd evil is not expressible in terms of good no matter what God does. This effectively limits the power of God.
In responding to the rejection of God’s omnipotence, Erickson rightly points out that this is really no solution at all. Finitism offers an explanation for evil but provides no hope that evil will be overcome since God has been battling evil for eternity. There is no comfort to be drawn from this view. In fact, I see little reason to oppose evil in the first place. If God has been battling evil unsuccessfully for eternity, what hope does man have to stand against evil?
Modification of the Concept of God’s Goodness – the notion is that we need to understand goodness in a different sense than we usually do. Here, the staunch Calvinist Gordon H. Clark insists that God causes all things including human acts. Clark also insists that human will is not free will. God’s will is described as having two distinctions: preceptive will meaning what ought to be done and decretive will meaning that God has willed something and it will be done. Clark says without hesitation that God is in fact the cause of sin as He is the ultimate cause of everything. He is careful to point out that God does not actually commit sin and is not responsible for sin.
Erickson responds in several ways. First, he rightly points out that in this scheme the meaning of God is good loses all meaning. Secondly, Erickson challenges Clark’s basic assertion that God is not bound by His own nature and either God’s decretive will or preceptive will is arbitrary. Finally, the idea that God cannot be responsible because there is no other higher than God to hold Him accountable meaning that accountability determines morality. Erickson states that this view comes very close to the position that right and wrong are a matter of expediency. I agree though I do believe that Erickson could have taken a stronger stand against Clark’s position.
Denial of Evil – found in various forms of pantheism, this solution suggests the reality of evil be rejected eliminating the need to explain how it can coexist with God. A less complex version of this view is offered by Christian Science in declaring that evil is an illusion, a trick of the senses and that God is actually everything. Under this view, disease and death are illusions. The solution to sickness is right belief.
In response, Erickson immediately points out several flaws in this solution to evil. First, while the existence of evil is no longer a problem, the illusion of evil most certainly is and that illusion is as large a problem as the one they ignore. Second, how to explain the illusion. Third, why do all Christian Scientists succumb to disease and/or old age and die?
Erickson’s responses to each of the three common solutions are succinct and provide an overview of the most common solutions offered for the problem of evil. I would have liked to see him go deeper in this area though as this is something that most everyone in ministry will have to attempt to explain sooner or later. The fact that there are many passages of Scripture that God indirectly brought about some kind of evil such as the story of Joseph in Genesis (37:4,5,8, 11, 20, 28) where his brother sold him into slavery. Later, Joseph tells his brothers that God used their evil act for good (Gen 45:5; 50:20). There is the story of the exodus from Egypt where God repeatedly says he will harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21; 7:3) long before Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Ex. 8:15). There are passages concerning the sin of David (2 Sam. 12:11-12; 12:15-18) and what of Job (1:12, 15, 17, 19)? Further discussion about these and so many other passages of Scripture would be helpful.
For now at least, it will have to be enough to lean on Isaiah 55:8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. (KJV)
 Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 437-38.
 Ibid, 439.
 Ibid, 440.
 Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 357.
 Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 440.
 Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 909.
 Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 440-41.
 Dr. Mitchell describes Clark as an “ultra Calvinist” in his views calling him “more Calvinist than Calvin” in the video lecture for lesson 19.
 Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 442-43.
 Ibid, 444.
 Ibid, 445.
 Ibid, 446.
 Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 322-31.
Monday, December 27, 2010
Is man free or is God sovereign? My answer is yes! For me, this continues to be one of the great mysteries of God. Of course God is sovereign and knows all. However, evil does exist in the world. In order for man to have free will, the possibility of evil must exist though we know God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).
This is a question I have pondered for many, many years. Both Augustine and Pelagius believed in the free will of man though both understood it differently. For Augustine, man was free to sin or not to sin PRIOR to the fall. After the fall, man’s freedom was limited to differing choices that all include sin. In fact, the only choices unavailable to man are not to sin and acceptance of grace. From the fall, man inherits not only the tendency to sin but the inability to choose God. Salvation was something man could not achieve on his own and was only due to the grace of God. Augustine saw mankind in possession of free agency but unable to change our choices and motives aside from the irresistible grace of God. This unmerited grace for those predestined to receive it also empowered the elect to righteousness. Without God’s grace, salvation is not possible much less holiness.
Pelagius strongly disagreed with Augustine’s view of original sin and the free will of man. For Pelagius, the view declared by Augustine demanded more of man than he could render unto God. Pelagius believed that man had the unique privilege of accomplishing the divine will by choice. There is no such thing as original sin nor is there anything in human nature that forces man to sin. It is completely within man’s ability to choose not to sin and therefore achieve holiness. When Pelagius refers to grace, he usually means man’s free will. Grace is simply an external aid provided by God.
 González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity Vol 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation. (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1984), 214-15..
 Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 123.
 Hodge, Charles. Systematic Theology. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 152.
 González, 215.
 Elwell, 897-98.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Adams points out students of the Bible should remember that the Bible we read today is not its original form. The books contained in the Bible were written in Aramaic, Hebrew, and Greek. What Christians today refer to as the Old Testament was formed by the Jews, likely about 400 years before the Incarnation. The New Testament began to take shape after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This process took several hundred years to complete. The chapter and verse subdivisions, the descriptive chapter headings and the use of italics did not exist in the original. These came later, probably in the thirteenth century by either Archbishop Langton or Cardinal Hug. In the sixteenth century, Robert Stephens made the divisions into verses that have been passed down to us to this day.
González states that when early Christians spoke of Scripture, what they were referring to was the Hebrew Scriptures, usually the Septuagint. It was also the custom of the early Christians to read from the Gospels and epistles, especially those written by Paul. Since there was no approved list, different Gospels and epistles were read in different churches.
During the second century, there were threats to Christianity from Gnostics in general and from Marcion in particular. The Gnostics had as their primary concern salvation. Believing that all matter is evil, or at best unreal, Gnostics final goal was to liberate the spirit from the body and the material world. Early church leaders strongly opposed the Gnostics as their reinterpretation of critical Christian doctrines such as creation, incarnation, and resurrection were incompatible with orthodox Christianity.
Marcion knew Christianity from an early age but his dislike of Judaism and the material world molded his understanding of Christianity into a faith that was decidedly against that material world and anti-Jewish. The church in Rome came to see the doctrines being taught by Marcion as contradicting a number of key points of Christian doctrine and began to oppose him. Marcion went on to found his own church that would last for several centuries.
Like the Gnostics, Marcion believed that the world was evil. Unlike them, he believed that God and Father of Jesus was different and above Jehovah, the Hebrew God. As such, Marcion set the Hebrew Scriptures aside believing it was inappropriate to use the words of an inferior god in church. Marcion issued his own list of Scripture which consisted of an abbreviated Gospel of Luke and edited versions of ten Pauline epistles though he excluded the Pastorals. It was the reaction to Marcion and his list of “approved” Scripture that lead to the formulation of the New Testament. Though these events took place in the middle of the second century, it was not until the ecumenical council in Carthage in 397 A.D. that the first undisputed decision on the New Testament canon was reached.
Friday, December 17, 2010
Pipes, Jerry F,, and Victor Lee. Family to Family: Leaving A Lasting Legacy. Alpharetta, GA: North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, 1999.
Dr. Jerry Pipes is on staff with the North American Mission Board leading the Prayer and Spiritual Awakening Team. Dr. Pipes is also president of Jerry Pipes Productions. Dr. Pipes has traveled the globe speaking to millions of people in conferences, crusades and assemblies. He has authored four books and produced numerous booklets and training processes with over 18 million copies in print. Dr. Pipes and his wife, Debra, have two children and live in the metro Atlanta area.
Victor Lee is the pastor of Young Adults and Families at First Baptist Concord, Knoxville, TN. A professional writer for 22 years, Lee entered vocational ministry in 1995. He contributes regularly to a variety of Christian publications as well as serving as editor. Lee lives in Knoxville, TN with his wife Judy.
Pipes and Lee, in Family to Family: Leaving a Lasting Legacy seeks to provide parents with a framework for passing a lasting Christian legacy to their children. Of course, they do so with a decidedly conservative underpinning one would expect from Southern Baptist ministers and they make no excuses for doing so. Pipes and Lee lay out a plan in six chapters where parents can pass on their faith to their children and reverse the trend of them leaving the church upon turning 18. Beginning with Healthy Families in Chapter One and concluding with sharing the message in Chapter Six, Pipes and Lee provide and outline filled with helpful tips and ideas on how families can grow closer together and reaches their community and the world for Jesus Christ.
Thankfully, Pipes and Lee avoid the temptation to opine at length about the reasons American families are virtual strangers in their homes other than to simple present their observations. Instead, they dedicate the bulk of their book to offering practical steps families can take to first get their own lives back on track and then impact the world around them. At the end of each chapter is a section Pipes and Lee call “Steps to Making it Yours”. Here can be found family readiness questions, family building activities, family applications, and additional resources they suggest to help the family further their growth.
Pipes and Lee set the stage by explaining what an unhealthy family is (p. 5-7). With this familiar image in mind, they go on to explain what God intended the family to be and what that looks like in a modern context (p. 8-9). Pipes and Lee readily acknowledge single parent families while emphasizing that they too are accountable to God in raising a family according to the principles laid out in the Bible (p. 9). This is important as they acknowledge that not all families have both parents in the home although that is certainly preferred. Another principle common throughout the book is the parent/s as the example for Godly living for their children (p. 18).
Chapter Two centers around creating a family mission statement much like those used in corporate America today. This is curious coming from authors who gently fault the business of American family life for the problems in our families. Nevertheless, Pipes and Lee spend twenty pages fleshing out their concept of the family mission statement. At times sounding more corporate than at others, they painstakingly craft their pitch insisting such a statement provides a centerline for families to come back to (p. 25). It is obvious Pipes and Lee believe this to be an important aspect of strengthening the family.
In the third chapter, Pipes and Lee discuss passing on faith in Christ to the next generation. Beginning with children and progressing throughout childhood, Pipes and Lee do a masterful job of instructing their readers on how to lead their children to Christ and how to model their faith for their children (p. 49-50). Wisely, Pipes and Lee also focus on mentoring children providing seven key elements (p. 51-58) before concluding the chapter with a discussion of family worship.
The next two chapters discuss at length evangelism as a family starting first by urging Christian families to get out of their houses and into the world beginning in their own communities. The importance of prayer (p. 103) and recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit (p. 106) are among the basics of evangelism Pipes and Lee cover.
Pipes and Lee set out to provide a help for parents in a modern world that rather successfully strives to occupy nearly every waking moment of our time. Identifying business and selfishness as the root causes for the state of the family today, they offer a solution based on Biblical principles of the family. Though Pipes and Lee do not break any new ground, they certainly accomplish what they set out to offering a book that remains fresh and relevant a decade after it was published. Declaring that adhering to Biblical principles is always in fashion, Pipes and Lee present their arguments logically and support their positions in the most important way possible, with Scripture.
One of the key strengths of Family to Family is the “Steps to Making it Yours” section at the end of each chapter. There are many parenting books available on the market that approaches the material from both a secular and Christian perspective. Few of them go to the lengths that Pipes and Lee have to provide actual Family Readiness Questions that are both helpful and relevant to the material covered. The questions are followed by Family Applications which focuses on prayer.
Then there are the Family Activities that are designed bring the family closer together as they study the book and work through the material. Scripture verses are suggested that can be used to further the Family Application suggestions. Pipes and Lee then provide suggestions for additional resources such as Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life to further assist the family that is truly working through their book attempting to make a difference in their family life.
A weakness in the approach that Pipes and Lee suggest is lies in that the overused mission statement should be adopted by the family. As with the rest of their book, Pipes and Lee articulate their arguments in a clear and logical fashion. With stories from history such as the legacies of Jonathan Edwards and the Jukes, an infamous crime family (p. 24), to more personal stories likes that of Raymond and Christy (p. 25-26) and Henry Blackaby (p. 26-27), Pipes and Lee demonstrate their passion for the importance they place on the idea of families adopting a mission statement. Pipes and Lee shamelessly adopt this corporate mainstay.
While there are certainly business aspects to modern ministry including evangelism, ministry is not a business endeavor. These similarities arise out of necessity for reasons mostly related to the tax code. It is the opinion of this seminarian that treating ministry the same as a for-profit business is a mistake. Bringing business principles and methods from the corporate boardroom into the family’s living room is also a mistake.
There is more to raising a family and passing on the faith of the parents to their children than a brief statement of purpose. There is something to be said for clearly communicating the family’s core values to the next generation. However, once the approaches of the business world enter the family environment, at what point do limits begin to be placed? Perhaps suggesting the use of business practices in the home stems from the growing trend of American churches to emulate the business community.
The suggested use of mission statements notwithstanding, parents and future parents will benefit from reading Family to Family. From providing a very good definition of a healthy family to passing on faith in Christ to the next generation to urging families to reach their communities for Christ, Pipes and Lee provide a workable plan for those who would choose to follow their suggestions.
It should be noted that both Pipes and Lee come from the Southern Baptist tradition. They make no effort to downplay their respective theological backgrounds nor do they do anything to bring attention to it. Readers will immediately realize the authors have written a book from a Christian worldview though Pipes’ and Lee’s writing style is inviting to believers and non-believers alike. Those who enjoy books written from such a position will likely enjoy Family to Family.
The word of God goes out and does not return void (Isaiah 55:11) and Family to Family keeps the word of God at the core of each chapter and concept Pipes and Lee develop. The family that fully embraces the suggestions put forth by Pipes and Lee will very likely be drawn closer together. Those parents should expect to successfully pass their faith on to their children and also have an impact for Christ in their community and beyond. This should not come as a surprise but rather ought to be expected. The focus of the approach suggested by Pipes and Lee is based on sound Biblical principles and prayer. With God clearly at the center of any plan, failure is unlikely.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
The term theology is derived from the Greek words theos (meaning God) and logos (meaning speech or reason). B. B. Warfield’s short definition was simply: “Theology is the science of God and his relationship to man and the world.” Dr. Charles Ryrie states: “Theology simply means thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.” Christian theology is Biblical meaning that it is primarily based on the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. That certainly should not be taken to mean that the Scriptures are not viewed critically. I believe a critical view is very important for good exegesis but that is a topic for another post.
Systematic theology, more fully defined is the discipline that presents a coherent or harmonious view of the entirety of Biblical truth relating the various books to one another rather than simply using individual texts isolated from one another. Systematic theology then applies those truths the lives of people. Systematic theology is contemporary thus prompting the need for each generation to develop its own. Systematic theology can be said to summarize doctrine as it should be understood by present-day Christians. Biblical truth certainly does not change but the application of that truth in a dynamic, changing world is vital.
Systematic theology is but one approach to theology. Others include biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Biblical theology concerns itself with the progressive revelation of God’s word recognizing that God did not reveal Himself all at once but rather over a long period of time through many different people. Biblical theology pays attention to the lives of the writers and how they and those who received their writings understood them in their time. Systematic theology makes use of Biblical theology and often builds on the results.
Historical theology is concerned with what those who studied the Bible in the past thought of the teachings. This can be individually or collectively. Historical theology helps the Bible student of today reach their own understanding of God’s truths by knowing how the contributions and even the mistakes made in the history of the church.
Philosophical theology provides a method of critically analyzing the Biblical text, Christian insights, doctrines, etc. For the Christian, the philosophical theology helps us understand the Bible as it understands itself (no small feat!) and also serves (at times) to aid the theologian in proving the points in his/her particular theology.
 Erickson, MIllard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 22-23.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Saturday, December 04, 2010
My regular readers know I don't hit politics very often but I have a brief rant I need to get out of my system. Please indulge me!
The recent election cycle having just ended, you would think we would be free from the constant barrage from the politicians in the media. Alas, even the holiday season cannot stop the partisanship and jockeying for position in the public consciousness. Christmas is almost upon us and Republicans and Democrats are content to squabble rather publically.
Ladies and gentlemen in the Congress, clearly you did not get the message from the recent election. Please allow me to clarify a few things for you!
We the people are sick of the business as usual approach you have insisted on adhering to for decades. We are tired of you being opposed to an idea simply because it came from a member of the other party. We are tired of gridlock and nothing meaningful getting done. You spend far too much money and yet can’t do the simple math that American families do each month to ensure the bills get paid. This kitchen table math isn’t really complicated. Don’t spend more than you have and don’t borrow money unless you absolutely have to. Politicians at the state and local levels seem to understand this. However, there is a mysterious illness that inflicts those who are elected to the US Congress.
I am eager for the next several election cycles to come. I am hopeful that a trend was started in the 2010 midterms that sees more and more incumbents sent home and replaced with new politicians who are actually listening to the will of the American people. The only way to change the political discourse in Washington DC is to change the people. If we must endure the seemingly endless barrage of political hogwash from our nation’s capital then let us do so with an eye to the next group of career politicians that will be replaced in 23 months!