God’s Providence: Reformed Theology Conference Lectures

June 14, 2018 4 comments

Regarding the doctrine of Providence, here are two interesting conference series from ReformedResources (Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals),

  • Ian Hamilton and Alistair Begg, six sessions (three each), from the 2014 Princeton Regional Conference on Reformed Theology (full MP3 download set )

God’s Providence Defined  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence in the Lives of His Servants (I. Hamilton)
God’s Providence in the Death of Jesus Christ  (A. Begg)
God’s Providence and Our Worship (I. Hamilton)
Providence Personal Reflections (A. Begg)
Making Sense of the Mysteries of Providence  (I. Hamilton)

and —

The Meaning of Providence
The Means of Providence
The Dilemma of Providence
The Mystery of Providence
The Protection of Providence

The Scottish contribution (Hamilton and Begg) (reference this post, also with an interview link ) is less formal and easier to listen to, for a general audience.  The lectures are interesting (my first listen to these speakers) as a good base; I especially found the 4th one, which connects God’s Providence to our worship, particularly interesting as a topic for further exploration.  Here, Hamilton brought out the reason to include the Psalms in our worship (not a case for exclusive Psalmody, but a balance to include the Psalms):  worship should include the ‘minor note’ so predominant in the Psalms, along with the positive, praising and thankful ‘major note’.  Hamilton also noted a good response to the argument put forth by those who put excessive emphasis on the New Testament — why we should include the Psalms as applicable today in our New Testament age.  Paul, writing to the Romans (Romans 8:36) – in our New Testament age – directly quotes from Psalm 44:22, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’  Thus the Psalms are still applicable to New Testament Christians.

From my recent reading elsewhere, David Powlison (in ‘Speaking Truth in Love’) also referenced the point about the ‘minor key’ versus ‘major key’.

Consider the Psalms, the book of talking with God.  About ninety psalms are “minor key.”  Intercessions regarding sin and suffering predominate—always in light of God revealing his mercies, power, and kingdom.  In about one-third of these, the battle with personal sin and guilt appears.  Often there are requests that God make us wiser: “Teach me”; “Give me understanding”; “Revive me.”  In many more psalms, you see requests to change circumstances: deliver me from evildoers; be my refuge and fortress; destroy your enemies.  These are always tied to requests that God arrive with kingdom glory and power.  God reveals himself by making these bad things and bad people go away!  Then there are the sixty or so “major key” psalms.  These emphasize the joy and praise that mark God’s kingdom reign revealed.

In the 5th lecture, Personal Reflections, Alistair Begg shared much of his personal life experiences including the providence of God that brought him to pastor a church in Cleveland, Ohio.  As just a personal observation from these lectures, I note Begg’s frequent use of humor; at times the ‘laugh-track’ audience response seemed too frequent and distracting, recalling to my mind a post from David Murray (another Scottish Reformed speaker)– this link at Banner of Truth, Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture.  Some preachers naturally like to use more humor than do others, but for my preference the laughter was too frequent at times, though the overall messages were good.

On that more serious note, the second set of lectures linked above, the five from the Westminster Confession conference series, provides the serious, doctrinal look–The Comfort of the Church: God’s Most Wise and Holy Providence.  It takes a while to get used to this style of listening; these are plenary lectures, formal papers presented (read aloud) by each speaker, seminary professors at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The lectures are rich with references to the Westminster definitions along with many scripture references, on several aspects of providence.  (Note:  The papers from this conference can be accessed in print, the full set here.)  The fourth one, The Mystery of Providence, by C.J. Williams, includes an interesting presentation in typology.  Common “types of Christ” include Joseph and King David, but another Old Testament character I had not considered as a type of Christ, is Job.  Williams expands on the correspondences between Job and Christ:  original great esteem by God, then extreme suffering and humiliation, followed by great exaltation beyond the original condition.  Williams has since published a book, with foreword by Richard Gamble (another of the speakers in this conference set), on the Job/Christ type:  The Shadow of Christ in the Book of Job.

These two series are both good ones about the great doctrine of God’s Providence, covering the many aspects of God’s Providence from the doctrinal understanding as well as personal experience of Providence in our lives.

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Spurgeon on the Christian Life (2018 Release)

May 31, 2018 2 comments

The topic of Charles Spurgeon — books published by him, and about him — continues to hold great interest, from the renewed interest begun in the second half of the 20th century and increased especially in our day via the Internet.  The distant future (from Spurgeon’s day) has arrived, and it has vindicated Spurgeon:

I am quite willing to be eaten by dogs for the next fifty years,” Spurgeon said, “but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series includes an offering, published this spring (2018), about Spurgeon’s theology:  Spurgeon on the Christian Life: Alive in Christ — a book I received from a free book giveaway (from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; Meet the Puritans blog).  With a series preface by Stephen J. Nichols and Justin Taylor, this book considers Spurgeon as a theologian.  True, Spurgeon is known best as a preacher, with great evangelistic zeal and pastoral concern; he never wrote a systematic theology, and shunned speculation and peripheral matters.  Yet for all that, his many writings cover theology in its many aspects and its relevance and application to Christian living.

… Spurgeon was, quite self-consciously, a theologian.  Avid in his biblical, theological, and linguistic study, he believed that every preacher should be a theologian, because it is only robust and meaty theology that has nutritional value to feed and grow robust Christians and robust churches. … That combination of concerns, for theological depth with plainness of speech, made Spurgeon a preeminently pastorally minded theologian.  He wanted to be both faithful to God and understood by people.  That, surely, is a healthy and Christlike perspective for any theologian.

After a basic overview of Spurgeon’s character and personality (biographies have already been done on Spurgeon’s life), the focus soon comes to actual points of theology (on the Christian life), and Spurgeon’s views are described with numerous quotes from him, making this book also a great source for Spurgeon quotes on various doctrinal topics.    Spurgeon’s theology is presented in three parts: Christ the Center (the Bible; Puritanism, Calvinism; Preaching), the New Birth, and the New Life.  These sections include chapters on topics including the new birth and baptism, sin and grace, the Holy Spirit and sanctification, prayer, pilgrim army (the Christian as a soldier), suffering and depression, and final glory.

Much of the material was already familiar to me, from my ongoing chronological reading through Spurgeon’s sermons over the last several years (starting in volume 1, 1855, and now I’m currently in the 1868 volume) – presented in summary fashion rather than a complete exhaustive concordance of everything Spurgeon said on every topic.  Spurgeon’s textual preaching style is also well described.

Among the interesting points brought out — from previous sermons I had come across Spurgeon’s variation on trichotomy: that the believer has a soul, spirit and body, contrasted with the unbeliever having only two parts, soul and body.  Spurgeon on the Christian Life adds that Spurgeon’s view here, a unique one, is similar (probably unintentionally so) to that of Irenaeus of Lyon; Michael Reeves also briefly deals with the actual theology, noting the problem with Spurgeon’s idea here:

Yet, in order to underline human inability and God’s grace, he [Spurgeon] also developed a more peculiar opinion with greater similarities (almost certainly wholly unintended) to the theology of Irenaeus of Lyons.  As Spurgeon saw it, man naturally consists only of a body and soul, but when he is regenerated, there is created in him a third and wholly new nature: the spirit.  This is a higher nature, beyond anything in creation; it is a supernatural, heavenly, and immortal nature… Such a spiritual nature must be the gift of God.  Yet is this redemption?… To be sure, we gain more in Christ than ever we lost in Adam, but Spurgeon seems to overstate his case here, temporarily losing something of the restorative and reconciliatory aspects of salvation.

I especially appreciated the chapter on Spurgeon and “Suffering and Depression,” a feature of Spurgeon that has often been observed and discussed (reference, for example, this recent post and also this post).  This chapter includes a good summary of Spurgeon’s personal suffering, his seeking to understand theologically the reasons for his suffering —  along with explanation of the reasons for suffering, replete with many excellent Spurgeon quotes about suffering, including this selection (from sermon #692):

In your most depressed seasons you are to get joy and peace through believing. “Ah!” says one, “but suppose you have fallen into some great sin—what then?” Why then the more reason that you should cast yourself upon Him. Do you think Jesus Christ is only for little sinners? Is He a doctor who only heals finger-aches? Beloved, it is not faith to trust Christ when I have no sin, but it is true faith when I am foul, and black, and filthy; when during the day I have tripped up and fallen, and done serious damage to my joy and peace—to go back again to that dear fountain and say, “Lord, I never loved washing as much before as I do tonight, for today I have made a fool of myself; I have said and done what I ought not to have done, and I am ashamed and full of confusion, but I believe Christ can save me, even me, and by His grace I will rest in Him still.

The last chapter, “Final Glory,” touches on Spurgeon’s eschatological views, correctly noting that Spurgeon held to historic premillennialism and that he did not value the time spent on speculative matters of prophecy.  Here I would only add, from my observations of actual Spurgeon sermons, that Spurgeon did not consider premillennialism itself to be a matter of speculation.  It was his frequent practice (within the textual style sermon) to first speak to the literal, plain meaning of a text before turning aside to his own exploration of the words of a text.  So here, too, Spurgeon’s sermon introductions — to texts such as Revelation 20, and Old Testament prophecies about the regathering of national Israel — included very strong affirmations of his beliefs: a future millennial age, Christ’s premillennial return, and a regathering of national, ethnic Israel, to be saved at the time of Christ’s return.

Spurgeon on the Christian Life is another great addition to the collection of material about Charles Spurgeon, a good reference for quotes from Spurgeon as well as to showcase Spurgeon’s theology on Christian living.

For Still Our Ancient Foe: Binary Thinking Vs Paganism

May 11, 2018 5 comments

The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals hosted a recent conference, the 2017 Quakertown Conference on Reformed Theology — held Nov. 17-18 in Quakertown, PA: For Still Our Ancient Foe.  The conference included seven lectures from four speakers: Kent Hughes, Tom Nettles, Peter Jones and Dennis Cahill.

Among the lectures on the theme that references Martin Luther’s classic hymn, I found the two lectures from Dr. Peter Jones particularly interesting: Exposing the Lies of Our Ancient Foe and How Did We Get Here, and Where is the Culture Going? These lectures pertained to the same subject, Jones’ observations about American religion over the last several decades, with focus (from the lecture titles) on exposing the Current Lies of Our Ancient Foe, and where is the Church (the professing Church) going?

Jones’ insights on American culture, in contrast with the America he first knew in 1964 (he was friends with John Lennon in high school, and came over to America the same year, though not with the Beatles) and yet as a direct result of the 1960s sexual revolution, are spot-on.  Beyond my previous understanding of Romans 1, Jones well explains the two types of religion in the world:  not the common saying of ‘works salvation versus grace’, but a more philosophical (yet true) contrast between “one” and  “two.”  All religion comes down to one of these two:  those who worship the creation (paganism, one-ism) in contrast with those who worship the creator as distinct from the creation (biblical, two-ism); a contrast between binary and non-binary thinking.

Jones references many authors and books, noting the early trends in the 1970s and the cultural shift from modernism/secularism to eastern spirituality.  An author in the 1970s predicted that atheist secularism would give way to the gods of Greek and Roman mythology; instead of Greek and Roman, the trend actually went to Indian Hinduism.  In our now ‘post-secular’ society, the ‘New Age’ promoted in the 1980s and early 1990s has come into its own, including the pagan focus on merging and reducing everything to “one,” blurring the distinctions that truly exist between God (the Creator) and us (the created).  The leaders of the 1960s sexual revolution concluded that between the two “extremes” of theism and atheism, the “true” middle-ground is pantheism.

I had some previous familiarity with the ‘New Age,’ from the books about it in the Christian bookstore in the early 1990s as well as the pop culture references such as Star Wars and other movies promoting pantheism, such as the book/movie “Secret Garden.”  What is new (to me), brought out by Peter Jones, is the connection between pantheist paganism and homosexuality and transgenderism.  The “Age of Aquarius,” popularized in the late 1960s catchy tune from the Fifth Dimension was also the ‘age of androgyny;’ here reference June Singer’s 1977 book, Androgyny: Toward A New Theory of Sexuality, which describes androgyny as the sacrament of oneism (paganism).  Additional research shows that all ancient, animist religions of the world – Mayan and Aztecs, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Canaan, and elsewhere – feature an androgynous (homosexual) leader.

In the Reformation and Puritan era, the big question was, ‘how can I be saved’?  Today, the big question is ‘Who am I’ – our human identity.  Homosexuality and transgenderism says our identity is whatever we make it to be, something fluid and changeable; an identity that removes distinctions to merge with ‘the one.’  Yet our biblical identity includes heterosexuality and gender distinctions – which show the Creator-creation distinction as well as the relationship of Christ to His people.  We affirm “two,” the Creator God apart from us.  Trinitarian understanding also comes from affirming Creator/creation distinctions.  Our God is not a single entity (monad), that is incomplete without us; before creation ever existed, He was complete: Father, Son and Spirit.  The impersonal gods of non-Christian monotheist religions (such as Islam), do not have the concept of love and relationships.

For further study, here is a list of books mentioned in the conference lectures (many of these are written by unbelievers and apostates; their views described by Peter Jones):

On Church Statements of Faith (and Historic Creeds)

April 27, 2018 9 comments

My appreciation for the Reformed confessions continues to grow, especially from interacting with the anti-creed, anti-confession attitude — and the consequent superficial, shallow and even false teaching — so prevalent in evangelicalism today.

As noted in Brian Borgman’s series (sermon audio here) from 18 years ago, the historic creeds and confessions provide valuable information to the church as Christ’s body, teaching preserved for future generations.  These statements were carefully developed to refute various heresies, and down through the centuries, the next generation of the church learned its doctrine from the wisdom of past ages.  Then, the 19th century American pioneering culture of ‘rugged individualism’ along with the bad part of the Second Great Awakening revival movement (Charles Finney and others) started us down the wrong path: a view that thinks what is new and modern is better than what came before, a view that does not learn from history, and instead proclaims “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible” (originally said by Alexander Campbell of the “Disciples of Christ” group in the early 19th century).

Christians in the 20th century did provide several Christian declarations, often focused on particular causes/issues of our day, such as the 1974 Lausanne Covenant on World Missions, the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, and the 1980s Danvers Statement (Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood).  Then came the controversial, doctrinal compromising ECT and ECT II (Evangelicals and Catholics Together) in the 1990s.  Since 2000 we have seen more of the specific purpose statements such as the Manhattan Declaration  and now the Nashville Statement.  Borgman’s series from 2000 ended the final lesson (about modern day creeds) on a positive note: the Cambridge Declaration of 1996, the origin of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

In response to the increasing anti-creedal attitude prevalent today, Founders.org has provided a few recent articles that make the positive case for why churches should (still) use creeds and confessions, as with these two:

The problem that comes up in churches that do not reference the historic creeds and confessions can be seen when an independent church with a relatively small congregation attempts to come up with its own “statement of faith” — a (supposedly) simple, not complex or lengthy, original document.  In desiring to use their own statements – apart from the careful analysis and wording used by the large assemblies and church councils in years past – and trying to say things briefly in their own words, their resulting statements have a tendency to be incomplete, misleading, and in some cases stating actual error.  (I realize that this is not their intent; they believe that they are trying to be faithful in expressing Christian truth.  It is their method, and the underlying presupposition to not reference historic creeds, that is problematic.)

As an example, a local church’s statement of faith mentions the inerrancy of scripture “in the original writings” – yet is silent on the related issue of scripture in translations, leaving the topic open to be challenged by others.  Since the original writings are not in common use by most of us, the Reformed confessions, as well as the recent Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, felt it was important to address the attributes of scripture in our translations.  From the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, Article X (emphasis added):

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of Biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

The Reformed confessions of a few centuries ago also expressed the point, in language less technical, for the purpose of the edification of the saints.  From the 1689 London Baptist Confession, chapter 1 (Of the Holy Scriptures, paragraph 8):

The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.

More troubling is when a church’s statement of faith includes faulty hermeneutics, with sentences such as since all Scripture points to Christ, the Old Testament should be interpreted through the New Testament.  Such an idea has serious implications:  if the Old Testament cannot be understood on its own, apart from the New Testament, then no one who lived in the Old Testament age, or in the early church before the NT was written — when the Old Testament was their Bible – could possibly have understood God’s word on its own basis, since the ‘key’ to explaining what the Old Testament ‘really means’ did not yet exist.  Consider that the apostle Paul himself taught the truth of Christ and the resurrection by directly quoting from the Old Testament.  What about the believers in the book of Malachi (Malachi 3:16-18), or any of the other believers who lived before the New Testament was written?

Here again, we do not have to look back very far in history, as the Chicago statement also was clear regarding the hermeneutic of how we understand and interpret scripture.  As Article V explains (emphasis added):

We affirm that God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures was progressive.
We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. 

The 17th century Reformed confessions (including the WCF, the Savoy Declaration and the 1689 London Baptist Confession) were written by those who saw the importance of doctrine for all of life, those who saw the need to provide detailed answers to the many questions, and to provide instruction to the common people.  The first chapter provided many paragraphs on Scripture , and these hold up very well, to this day, as excellent summaries of the faith, useful for instructing local congregations in Christian truth.  The modern-day attempt to “reinvent the wheel” regarding definition of doctrine manifests the very problem with trying to do so – belief statements lacking in detail and with faulty doctrine.  We would all do well to remember church history, and learn our doctrine — and how to say it clearly and accurately — from those who went before us.

Bible Application from the Patriarchs’ Lives

April 20, 2018 2 comments

It has been well observed that God’s word instructs us in two ways: by precepts, and by illustrations. Sections including the Decalogue, the Proverbs and New Testament epistles emphasize right living by precepts and commands; then we have illustrations of real people’s lives – such as the patriarchs and King David – that show us the good and bad, including the consequences of sin.

The Tabletalk 2007 back-issues (the same calendar year as 2018), going through the lives of the patriarchs, are excellent studies, packed with application regarding Christian living.  I was familiar with some of the more obvious issues — such as the repeated patterns of lying (Abraham and Isaac), parental favoritism (Isaac and Rebekah with Esau and Jacob), and Jacob’s years with Laban, for Jacob to learn some things about his deceitful behavior the hard way – and the general point that the Bible is a divine book, that it does not whitewash the heroes of the faith, it does not hide but tells us the many faults of these men, to show that it is all of God’s grace and not ourselves.

Beyond that, though, Genesis has much more to say about day to day life and the trials and suffering, showing us by way of illustration that it has always been this way for God’s people, and that what we experience is nothing new or unusual (ref. 1 Peter 4:12 and 1 Peter 5:9).

Abraham and Sarah lived, day by day, through 25 years before the promised heir was born.

Isaac and Rebekah clearly did not have a great marriage, one that had broken down in communication by the time of Genesis 27, such that each was doing their own thing.  Along the way, they both experienced the daily grief of Esau’s wives—and this went on for decades, from the time when Esau married them (age 40) to the time of Jacob’s stealing the blessing when they were about age 76-77: life events did not come and go quickly, but they endured this situation for over 35 years.

One of the Tabletalk articles from February 2007 consists of John Calvin’s exposition of Genesis 26:26-35.  In the details of Isaac’s life we see a Bible example of what Spurgeon pointed out in his sermons: when God does not answer our prayers and provide relief in one specific area, He will answer us in some other way (a truth which I have come to know, time and time again, in my own trials):

Here we see on the one side, how God would comfort his servant [Isaac] every way: For it was not only showed him that he should be assured from then on that none should hurt him — seeing the king himself of the country came to seek him — but also he had water given him, which he might enjoy peaceably and quietly as his own. When therefore our Lord shows this great favor towards Isaac, let us know that He does not tempt him above their strength, but always sweetens their afflictions in such sort, that they shall not be, as it were, ever oppressed and quite overthrown. Let us hope, that just as Isaac was upheld, God after He had afflicted him, looked also again unto him to give him some comfort, so likewise must we wait, and then we shall not be disappointed if we rest there. For God knows our frailty, and there is no doubt He will always give us such taste of His mercy and favor that we shall have good cause to bless His name and have no occasion to think the sad thought that we do not know how to comfort ourselves anymore in Him.

Then another Tabletalk article from this same issue defines the law of retaliation, the talion (an eye for an eye, for equivalence of punishment), followed by reference to the specifics of Jacob’s life.  Jacob deceived his father who was blind; later, Jacob was deceived by Laban due to the blindness of night (Genesis 29:21-30, Leah substituted for Rachel).  Jacob deceived his father with a goat skin; his own sons deceived Jacob with the blood of a goat (Genesis 37:31).  Noting the specifics of how God worked out His justice in the life of Jacob, is good application to God’s Providence regarding our own lives, to reflect on the reality of this in our own lives. I can relate the events in Jacob’s life, and the truth of Galatians 6:7, to my own circumstances, to better understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of God’s chastening in the specific events in my own life.

Yet God’s grace and kindness comes through as well, sometimes in very amazing and unexpected ways–in their lives, as well as ours.

But God is rich in mercy as well as justice. By Leah, Jacob’s wife through Laban’s deception, was born Judah, through whom Christ was to come (Gen. 29:35). And by Joseph, who was at last restored to Jacob, God delivered the world from a famine (41:57). So in all of this we see that God is rich in mercy as well as justice. In wisdom He works to accomplish His sovereign ends even through the just punishments He visits upon His errant covenant people for their evil means.

A Theology of Suffering: Mark Talbot Lectures

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

From last fall’s free special from Reformed Resources, a series done a few years ago by Mark Talbot is very helpful, a five-part series on Trusting God When We Suffer.  These lectures look at what suffering is, within the plan of God: a divine, though unsought gift.  Yes, we do not seek suffering – but it is still a gift from God.  So much information is presented, and presented clearly with the challenge for us to really think hard about it, to think through it.

Talbot mentioned a book he was working on, not yet published; this book is apparently still unpublished, but one free book resource from John Piper includes a chapter from Talbot: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.

Talbot responds to apostate agnostic Bart Ehrman, who has claimed that the Bible has nothing to say about the reality of suffering by believers; according to Ehrman, the Bible depicts a loving God who rescues His people and does not allow suffering, but instead provides good and prosperity not only in the life to come, but in this life also.  By contrast, scriptural examples of suffering (many to pick from) include the stories of Naomi (Ruth 1), Job, and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20).  Profound suffering sometimes involves the person coming to have false beliefs about God, such as Jeremiah in chapter 20; in other cases such as Naomi, the person maintains their basic belief in the goodness of God, while seeing no possibility of any further good in their own life.

Suffering includes physical and mental, and sometimes both, as well as many levels and degrees. It is person-relative, such that the particular suffering one person endures, would not necessarily affect another – an adolescent being bullied online versus an adult’s more mature response, for example.  An overall definition of suffering:  from the sufferer’s standpoint, all suffering involves something disrupting his/her life’s pleasantness, to the point where that disruption feels disagreeable enough that he/she wants it to end.  Suffering can be considered on a sliding scale, from minor (such as Talbot’s wife, who dislikes Wagner and Opera, having to listen to it) through more intense, chronic, or other types of suffering.   For scriptural support, Hebrews 12:1-13 deals with this in the abstract, the definition. For experience of it, we can turn to many places in the Bible, including the Psalms – such as Psalm 126, which contrasts positive and negative events.

A solid theology of suffering includes application from the many Bible accounts of actual suffering, “breathing” the promises of God, and a robust understanding of God’s sovereignty over everything – including our next breath, and even our thoughts.  How many times in everyday life do we start to say something and then realize we don’t know the words to express it, or forget what we were about to say?  God is sovereign over our thoughts.  Theological anthropology is another term, the biblical understanding of what it means to be human—and applied to suffering.

Talbot references studies that conclude that most people are happy most of the time – when accounting for all other factors such as age, gender, and economic situation – as long as a few basic physical and social needs are met.  Thus we find that poor people in third world countries are happier than some wealthy, successful people in developed countries.  Again we can return to biblical proof:  Acts 14, Paul’s speech to the people who attempted to offer sacrifices to him and Barnabas (as Hermes and Zeus); verse 17,  “Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

We view life within the bookends of scripture, the first two and the last two chapters of God’s word.  Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22 both describe a time – past and future – of undisturbed peace and pleasantness.  Everything in between these two times will be a mixture of pleasant and painful experiences.

Another area where people get tripped up is in their view of God as our Father.  Viewing this from a bottom-up expansion, of how good human fathers are and thus how much more God is this way, sufferers have trouble with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-11.  Instead we need to see God as Father from a “top-down” view:  God is the starting point, all goodness is in Him; when we happen to see some goodness in human fathers, that is a derivative or shadow of the reality in God.  Further analysis also brings out the reality of even human parenting: children cannot see the future, long-term good of certain things done by their parents – who have long-term goals for their children such as a good education and life-skills.  Mark Talbot as a child could not understand the value of the restriction his mother placed on him, requiring him to read for a certain amount of time every day before going out to play; the child who wants to have the same “popular” shoes as every other kid cannot appreciate the value of a different, higher quality shoe.

This series is very helpful, with a lot of information to think through – and held up to a second round of listening a few weeks later.  For further study of the theology of suffering, the above-mentioned book by John Piper looks interesting.  The Tabletalk issue from April 2007 (the same calendar year as 2018) also featured a study on Grief, with several articles on suffering and grief.  A good quote from one of the articles, ‘From Grief to Glory’:

God will birth His glory in us as we allow ourselves to honestly and passionately face our most terrible losses. To live honestly is to admit the pain and sadness of the loss. There is no reason to live in denial — Jesus did not die on the cross so we can pretend. … We must embrace God and the mystery of His provision and His sovereignty in the midst of our suffering. Through the pain, God is birthing a child who depends upon Him more and knows that He is good even in the most difficult of times.

All of us will experience loss. We will either withdraw from our loss with creative repressive strategies, or we will embrace our loss with faith in God. God is continually birthing renewed, revitalized, and dependent believers, but the road to hope often navigates through despair.

Hermeneutics: Understanding Genesis (and all of Scripture)

March 22, 2018 4 comments

From the Kindle deals in my 2018 Challies Reading Challenge, Jason Lisle’s Understanding Genesis: How to Analyze, Interpret, and Defend Scripture (currently $2.99) is a great resource for Bible interpretation, with detailed explanations of many different hermeneutical principles and the many textual and logical fallacies.  The first several chapters lay the groundwork, of how we approach any written text to understand it – the genre understanding of various types of literature – along with many examples from English language usage for correct understanding as well as fallacies and logical reasoning errors.  The features of Hebrew poetry are also covered – a topic dealt with in greater depth in books specifically about the poetic OT books, such as Dan Phillips’ God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, yet well summarized here.  Indeed, it is yet another wondrous point in God’s great plan, that Hebrew poetry has features that translate well into other languages:  parallelism of thought, rather than our English meter and rhyme of specific English words.

This book is also a good addition to the genre of Young Earth Creation books, as a good introduction and summary of the issues dealt with in more detail elsewhere.    Lisle applies hermeneutical principles to several errors concerning the early chapters of Genesis: old-earth progressive creation (two of Hugh Ross’ books), theistic evolution, and the Noahic flood as only a local flood (Hugh Ross again).  Several chapters include detailed interaction with the actual words from several Hugh Ross books plus one by a theistic evolution–a fascinating look at the flawed reasoning and ideas that actually border on heresy.

As with other creation science books, science is referenced, though primarily from the logical, reasoning perspective: pointing out the difference between operational, observable and repeatable science and that which is not really science but history: the one-time act of creation that by its very nature is not observable and not repeatable.  Related to this is the two books fallacy referenced in this previous post, that nature itself is a “67th book of the Bible” on the same level of authority as scripture itself.

Another interesting point developed by Lisle – and an area in which he differs from at least some other creation scientists – is the problem with thinking of the earth in terms of “apparent age.”  As he points out, we come up with ideas about age based on relative comparisons.  Due to observations of many people we know, for instance, we can conclude that a particular individual appears to be about 40 years old.  Yet people take such ideas and try to say that the earth “looks old” and “appears to be billions of years old”; yet we have no other planets for any relative comparison, to make such a claim:

People at the wedding in Cana may have assumed that the wine came about in the ordinary way, and probably believed that the wine was well-aged due to its taste. But Jesus did not create the wine with appearance of age. Rather, He made it good. Likewise, God did not create the earth with appearance of age. He made it to work. If people apply unbiblical, naturalistic assumptions to how the earth formed, and then come away thinking it ‘looks’ billions of years old, well, it’s not God’s fault

The hermeneutical principles and fallacies explained are not limited to use for the early chapters of Genesis, but apply to all other doctrinal subjects.  One such example, provided in Appendix B (about propositions and formal fallacies), concerns the error of baptismal regeneration:

Baptismal regenerationists commit the fallacy of denying the antecedent when arguing that water baptism is a requirement for salvation.

  1. If you repent and are baptized, then you are saved (Mark 16:16)

2. It is not that case that you have repented and are baptized (because you have only repented and have not yet been baptized).

3. Therefore, you are not saved.

Similarly, the meaning of words in their context, including general terms in the Bible that can mean many different things, is another area where people err, with superficial and out-of-context understanding.  The word ‘law’ in the Bible has many different meanings, as noted in this previous post; another term is the biblical definition of death, in its context for Genesis 3 and Romans 5.  The biblical definition of death does not include plant life, or anything other than animate (human and animal) life.

Understanding Genesis is an excellent reference for language comprehension / hermeneutics, and a useful guide for how to interpret all scripture.  It includes good application of these concepts to the specific issues of creation and the flood, yet the hermeneutics extend to all of our understanding.