Saturday, August 27, 2011

God's Sovereignty over the Church's Destiny

This post by John Piper at Desiring God, deals with the issue of how the Christian should view the sovereignty of God - especially as it applies to evangelism & missions, history & the end times, and uncertainty or risk in general.

A summary:

  • It is impossible for God take ‘risks’ since He is absolutely sovereign and knows the outcome of all his activity. Instead, He makes ‘sacrifices’ that will certainly result in the ultimate good and delight of His church, in the glory of Christ.
  • Any ‘risks’ we take of losing the smaller pleasures of this life (including the gift of life itself on this earth), are actually ‘sacrifices’ that we know will work for the cause of ultimate good. There is no real 'risk' for the Christian.
  • Some people see whole history of the church from the First to the Second Coming of Christ, as resting ultimately and without any certainty upon the individual decisions that men make – especially that of the first disciples after Pentecost – with a real and frightening 'risk' of failure and defeat.
  • This view is false to Scripture, built on false philosophical presuppositions, damaging to the mission of Christ in the world, and belittling to the glory of God. God can't and doesn't take 'risks'.

Read the post for more details :)

I know John Piper’s views on things reasonably well, so I can say I agree with everything he’s trying to say. However, I wish he had emphasised two (potentially balancing) points, which I know he believes:

  • First, there is a very real sense that certain wills and decisions of man ARE NECESSARY for history to occur as it has, and also for Christ’s purposes to prevail in the future. It DOES rest upon the decisions of man, which spring from within himself (i.e. not robotically or coerced – we do it because we actually have decided to do it).
  • However, if man’s decisions are necessary steps, it does NOT mean they are ultimate or foundational or self-determining steps, or that there is a possibility of them not occuring. They are merely links in the chain of God’s sovereignty – the whole chain is necessary, but there is NO possibility that it will not form.
  • Following on from that, the paradox that God is sovereign and yet we are responsible can be defined more precisely as this: God can pre-determine human decisions, and yet they can still spring from within humanity without coercion and with personal volition.

  • Secondly, this paradox – while being a paradox we may never understand fully – is able to be understood more and more as it is contemplated and pursued! I know this from personal experience, from the experience of others far wiser than myself, and from drawing analogies from science.
  • For example, science has occasionally had to switch its whole understanding of certain aspects of the world to something completely foreign – Copernican astronomy, Newtonian physics, special and general relativity, genetics and microbiology, quantum physics, atomic chemistry, etc. People have always struggled to understand things which seem to contradict our experience or current understanding, despite the truth of these ideas. Yet those who commit themselves to understanding such models can reach a level of understanding where it actually DOES work in the mind (at least to a greater degree than before).
  • I think the same can be said of the sovereignty of God and human ‘free will’. Just because it is a paradox which may not be completely understood, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pursue understanding of it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Education

I really like this post by Joe Rigney at Desiring God, about C.S. Lewis’ view of education, and life in general.


  1. Objective realities exist. We should aim to know these realities.
  2. Objective values about objective realities exist. We should aim to know these values.
  3. These objective realities and values merit specific emotional responses. We should aim to respond appropriately to these realities and values.
  4. Education should aim to help others fulfil these three steps as well.

I agree 100% with the first three points. And I think I agree with number four, at least partly – it is a laudable aim to help others reach this in a general sense.

However, the methods used in such ‘education’ could encroach into the ethical controversies underpinning the conflict between socialsm and capitalism. It is certainly possible to breach human autonomy. And since our perception of how to pursue this must have at least some subjectivity to it – it is also possible to cause harm and pervert justice.

Even if we focus purely on maximising this ideal ‘educated’ state in humanity (ignoring these other ethical dimensions), this subjectivity easily has the potential to thwart our very aim. From an evangelism point of view, our pursuit of helping others see and respond appropriately to the truth of Christ, has the potential to drive people in the opposite direction by our imperfect (or imperfectly applied) methods of ‘education’.

What importance should these negative outcomes have in our thinking? Are there any guiding principles we can use to protect ourselves from them, or form the opposite danger of avoiding appropriate 'education'?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Church as 'Missional Communities'

This post by Jeff Vanderstelt (posting at Desiring God) describes ‘missional communities’ in terms of their four essential characteristics – family, missionaries, servants, disciples.

Some people think this is what ‘church’ is meant to be. I personally really like the ideas presented here, and agree to an extent that this is what ‘church’ is meant to be. But I think we should be really careful if we say that...

Firstly we need to define ‘church’. The Bible uses the word ‘church’ to refer to a group of people in a particular city, not to any particular building or activity or event. So the question of what ‘church’ is meant to be is basically asking what a ‘Christian community’ is meant to be. Which makes it a very broad question with broad answers. Essentially, to see Christ, to delight in what we see, and to express what we see in words and actions.

Perhaps it would be more helpful to ask ‘what is church meant to be, that is distinct from private Christian life’. Why did God ask us to be a community of believers rather than lone rangers? Somehow Christ can only fully be expressed in the complex contexts of a community where individuals have different strengths and weaknesses. And as we see Christ more fully in such a community, we delight in this and become more like Christ – we mature in the faith, and thus express Christ more fully ourselves. Discipleship/missions happen as we and others (Christians and non-Christians) are brought into this community Christ-expressing atmosphere and are exposed to the image of Christ. And this Christ-expression and discipleship can happen all of the almost infinite number of contexts that arise in community life.

Which brings me to my second caution: obviously there are contexts that ‘church’ is meant to encompass (at least some of the time) that aren’t directly mentioned in this post and may not arise so naturally in a community – like communion, worship, etc… But I think these could easily be incorporated into this model. In fact, a community that worships and has communion together will more effectively display Christ to those who interact with or within that community.

Finally, any critical analysis of 'church' has the danger of encouraging sin - offense, pride, self-righteousness, legalism, dissatisfaction, selfishness, gossip, disunity, bitterness, fear, etc... These are generally considered bad ;) We have to walk a fine line between having a constructive vision for 'church' that we apply in ways that build the body of Christ and honor God, and having a destructive vision that we apply in ways that destroy the body and dishonor God.

I really appreciate the way this view can expand our view of church and missions to include, essentially, all of life – as it is lived out in community with a gospel intent and the support of other believers. We’ve probably all heard something similar before, but for some reason this particular description makes it seem much more practical and down to earth – and also a lot more faith-filled and exciting and God-glorifying – than many other ways I’ve heard it described… a much needed view I think. God help us joyfully, humbly, and constructively pursue your vision for Church in the power and leading and grace of Your Spirit!

Anyway, what do y’all think?

Monday, August 1, 2011

The problem of 'mercy'

This post by John Piper at Desiring God is good.

I've heard other people rephrase the 'problem of suffering' like this before - the real perplexity of the universe is that God shows mercy.

Any thoughts on this perplexity? And is it really something we should focus on?

Why Does the Truth of Hell Rise to Watershed Significance?

August 1, 2011 | by: John Piper | Category: Commentary

“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

“Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!” (Revelation 15:3).

“My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lamentations 3:48).

If God is not bound to save anyone from hell, he is not bound to save anyone from suffering. If God would be just to sentence all of us to hell because of sin, then he is just when any of us experience suffering that is less than hell on earth. If all of us deserve hell, that is the main “problem of evil,” not cancer and tsunamis. Compared to hell, the horrors (unspeakable horrors) of this world are short and moderate.

If that sounds like an overstatement to you, it’s not because God hasn’t seen your suffering, but, perhaps, because you haven’t seen God’s hell.

This is one of the main reasons why the biblical teaching on hell rises from time to time as a watershed doctrine. Included in the truth of God’s justice in throwing people into hell (“throw” is the biblical word), are implications for God’s justice in all suffering.

One implication: None of us ever experience suffering more severe than we deserve. If we are not in hell at this moment, we are experiencing massive mercy.

Loud love is calling us from heaven. O that we may have ears to hear:

“Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4–5)

Instead embrace Christ as your God-given substitute:

“Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Christ endured hell for all who own him as their Life.