Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Problem of Evil: Three Views

With the recent spate of evil rearing its ugly head, it strikes me that now would be a good time to discuss the problem of evil in the world.  There are essentially 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.[1]  Regrettably the problem of evil has kept many from coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.  Before discussing three common solutions to the problem of evil, Erickson warns his readers not to set our expectations too high in attempting to deal with the problem of evil in the world.[2]  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.[3]  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.[4]  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.[5]

·        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.[6]
·        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.[7]  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.[8]  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[9] 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.[10] 
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.[11]  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.[12]  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?[13]

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)?[14]  Further discussion about these and so many other passages of Scripture would be helpful.

For now this will have to be sufficient.  I am hoping a discussion here at the blog will follow!

[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 437-38.
[2] Ibid, 439.
[3] Ibid, 440.
[4] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 357.
[5] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 440.
[6] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 909.
[7] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 440-41.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Dr. Mitchell describes Clark as an “ultra Calvinist” in his views calling him “more Calvinist than Calvin” in the video lecture for lesson 19. 
[10] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 442-43.
[11] Ibid, 444.
[12] Ibid, 445.
[13] Ibid, 446.
[14] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 322-31.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Necessity of the Gift of Administration

In the secular world, I have been a part of management for many years.  My undergraduate degree is in management and several years before making a call to ministry known at Macland Baptist Church and beginning seminary I earned an MBA.  It goes without saying that I am a believer in the need of administration in the business world.  Organizations need administrative systems in order to carry out their missions.  The church is certainly not a business but it is an organization in need of direction to accomplish the tasks which we have been called to carry out.  As such, I am very much in favor of administration in the church.

God appoints leaders and expects them to be effective.[1]  Fortunately, those leaders are not alone in their task.  We clearly see in Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 that of the people who make up the body of Christ also have spiritual gifts.[2]  We are to use those gifts to edify the body (Eph. 4:1-15). 

Administration seeks to lead a church to understand its purpose and then fulfill that purpose.  Administration is a helper and a servant to the body.[3]  There are financial matters to be attended to.  There are plans for discipleship and the various other ministries of the local church to attend to and those serving in administration work to ensure each ministry have the guidance and leadership it richly deserves.

Administration is a ministry (1 Cor. 12:28) to which some are called.  It is also an area of ministry that some who are ill prepared too often find themselves.  If you have experienced this then you know firsthand how challenging that situation can become.  When the wrong people are in the wrong places the ministry of the church, at best, is inefficient.  Poor administration can be a source of frustration, friction, and division in the local church.  Unfortunately, many leaders prefer to avoid conflict rather than speak the truth in love when matters of administration are being discussed.  What say you?

[1] Welch, Robert H. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 2.
[2] Ibid, 13-14.
[3] Tidwell, Charles A. Church Administration. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1985), 57.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ezra, Nehemiah and a Brief Bit of History

Like many, I was unaware of how interrelated the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are.  In fact, until my time in seminary, I was blissfully unaware of the relationship of Ezra, Nehemiah, the Apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Esdras, and the Vulgate books of 1 – 4 Esdras.  I find it especially interesting that Ezra and Nehemiah were actually a single work until their separation until the Fifteenth century[1].  I cannot help but wonder how folks in small churches around our great nation would react when presented with such facts.  That question and the deeper relationships of the previously mentioned documents are certainly of tremendous interest though well beyond the scope of the current blog.

With a more thorough understanding of the historical background, Nehemiah takes on a fuller meaning for me.  For instance, I had not considered the circumstances surrounding Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem (Neh 2:1-9) though the study with a new perspective was enlightening.   Chapter 6 takes on an especially new significance to me.  To say that the enemies of Nehemiah were unaware of the power of God should go without saying.  It is interesting though that they were unaware of the relationship Nehemiah enjoyed with King Artaxerxes.
It is my view that this period should also be viewed in the larger context of history.  Artaxerxes had a practice of funding the enemies of Greece (Athens specifically).  I mention that specific instance to make the point that Jerusalem was a very small part of a much larger kingdom.  My fresh understanding of this leads me to believe that while Artaxerxes’ fondness for Nehemiah was obvious, his granting Nehemiah’s request was little more than a favor for a favored friend.  From the perspective of Artaxerxes, it was likely nothing more than a footnote in the day-to-day administration of his kingdom.  From the perspective of the Jews of the day and believers today, it is proof positive that God was involved in influencing the affairs of men and of His chosen people.

[1] Lasor, William Sanford, David Allen Hubbard, and Frederic Wm. Bush. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996. (pp. 551)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Made in the Image of God - Three Views

Erickson outlines three views of the image of God; substantive, relational, and functional.  I will briefly discuss each view, offer my own thoughts, and then move on to the relationship of the woman to man.

The substantive view, which has been dominant throughout the history of the church,[1] has several varieties that all share a characteristic within the human makeup.[2] A less common view today is the image of God is part of human bodily makeup.  Erickson states that the Mormons are likely the most prominent advocates for this view as it is in holding with their belief that God has a physical body.  More commonly held is the view that the image of God in man is a spiritual quality.  Attention has been focused on human reason though this focus has isolated a single aspect of human nature for consideration as well as concentrates on only one facet of God’s nature.[3] Included in the differing aspects of substantive views is the agreement that the image of God is a resident quality of humans whether or not they recognize God’s existence and His work.[4]

Those who hold the relational view of the image of God see it as the experiencing of a relationship.[5]  Brunner sees the image of God as the formal and the material.  The formal being that which makes humans different from the animals (e.g. rational, responsible, etc.) and that even as sinners humans possess this part of the image of God.  The material, in Brunner’s view, is the act of response to God’s call (receiving God’s Word). 

Barth, who also held a relational view of the image of God, had three stages in his thinking.  The first view spoke of a unity between God and humans much like that between a mother and a fetus.  The second, which was during a period of controversy with Brunner, denied any connection between God and humans believing that humans were incapable of receiving the Word of God.  Barth’s third view, his most novel, held that the image of God is still present in humans insofar as he is still human.  This view sees both a vertical relationship with God and a horizontal relationship with other humans.[6]

The functional view of the image of God is the idea that the image is not experiencing a relationship with God or something within humans but, rather, is something one does.[7]  This view most frequently mentions the exercise of dominion over the creation and is a human function.  Numerous passages of Scripture are used to support this view (e.g. Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8:5-8, etc.).  God gave dominion over inferior creatures to man and man is showing the image of God when exercising this dominion.
Erickson points out that the substantive and relational views of the image of God are flawed and stem from existentialism.  Both Brunner and Barth believed that God does not reveal Himself objectively in the Bible but in a subjective encounter with Christ.[8]  This and their general slant towards existentialism leaves a cloud over their stated views on the image of God in humans. 

I certainly believe there are aspects of human personality that are in the image of God which allow humans to have relationships with other humans as well as God Himself.  I also believe we were given dominion over the inferior creatures on the earth which we are to tend to responsibly.  What does it mean to be made in the image of God?  I believe it means possessing the ability to have a relationship with Him, understand His commands and obey them, and to show others that they too have the image of God within themselves.

Concerning relationships between women and men, clearly this is a different topic in terms of dominion.  In the creation account we see that men and women have equal status in God’s sight and both were blessed at the time of creation.[9]  We also see that the image of God is universal in all humans, man and woman alike.  This does not mean that men and women do not have different roles but neither man nor woman is placed above the other.  In addition to the creation account, this is affirmed in the New Testament[10] Scriptures and in the approach Jesus took when dealing with women.  More men would do well to remember this!

[1] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998), 520.
[2] Ibid, 521.
[3] Ibid, 521-22.
[4] Ibid, 523.
[5] Ibid, 524.
[6] Ibid, 524-25.
[7] Ibid, 527.
[8] Enns, Paul P. The Moody Handbook of Theology. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1997), 564.
[9] See Genesis 1:26-27; 5:1-2
[10] See Galatians 3:28