Archive - September, 2008

Ligonier West Coast Conference – R.C. Sproul – II

The last message of the conference was given by Dr. R.C. Sproul. He began by announcing a pop quiz. We were each to privately answer the question: What is the Gospel? [That happened to also be the title of Dr. Sproul’s message.] He read to us from Romans 1, culminating in verses 16-17. Then R.C. took us over to Galatians 1:6ff. Paul was “set apart” (vs. 15) unto the gospel of God. The gospel is a message that is authored and owned by God.
THREE USES OF THE WORD GOSPEL
How should we understand the word “gospel”. There are three uses:
1. The word “gospel” is used to describe a literary genre. (As in the “four gospels” in the New Testament.)
2. A word to describe the kingdom of God in its present state. “The gospel (the good news” of the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God has come in the first Advent of Christ. This is what John the Baptist announced, necessitating that the Jews of that day repent and be baptized. John noted that the kingdom of God is “at hand.” The “ax is laid at the root of the tree.” One more chop and it is going down. Then he saw Jesus coming to be baptized and identified Him: “He must increase, and I must decrease.” Jesus tells people about the characteristics of the kingdom of God. (Even though in another sense, God has been King since eternity past.)
We sometimes pay little attention to the Ascension. But that was a kingly coronation. It was good for the disciples that Jesus left. Jesus is reigning right now. He bears invisible witness in the lives of His people.
But we see in the New Testament that this “gospel of the kingdom” is now the “gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The gospel has an objective content at its inner core with a subjective element around that inner core.
3. The gospel is the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ. We do not want to denigrate personal testimony, but our personal testimony is not the gospel. The gospel includes the affirmation that Jesus is the Christ. Part of the gospel is the good news of a mediator who has come on our behalf. But not only are we excited about this God-man who has come, we recognize that He was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4). No gospel without resurrection. The gospel is about who Jesus is and what Jesus did. We have to tell people who Jesus is (in His person) and what Jesus did (in His work).
THE POWER OF GOD IS IN THE GOSPEL OF GOD
Sadly, we often look for power everywhere but where God has placed it. We look for it in elaborate programs. But we are powerless to bring others to faith. We can generate professions of faith, but these do not guarantee the possession of faith. Only God can generate conversions.
And the good news is that in spite of the fact that although we are unable to live up to God’s standards, we can receive the righteousness of Christ by faith. This simple, clear message, unfortunately, has been altered and “enhance” in every generation over the last few hundred years. It went totally into eclipse in the Middle Ages.
CONCLUSION
Paul is rightly consternated over the fact that the Galatians were wandering away from the path God has delineated. Paul was not seeking to please man. If he was, he would not be a servant of Christ. Don’t ever turn the good news into bad news, because it is God’s gospel.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Ligon Duncan – II

THREE REASONS TO BE INFORMED ABOUT POSTMODERNISM
The topic of Dr. Duncan’s second message was Should the Church Embrace Postmodernism? Dr. Duncan gave us three reasons why we should study postmodernism (though he noted the church ought not to embrace it).
1. It is pervasive in our culture today. We need to know what is out there.
2. If someone truly embraces the tenants of postmodernism, it makes it more difficult to hear the claims of Christ that are being addressed in the gospel. For believers that dabble in the ethos of postmodernism, it weakens their discipleship at critical points.
3. Many church leaders today believe that in order to speak into a postmodern milieu, the church needs to itself embrace aspects of postmodernism.

DEFINING POSTMODERNISM

One of the main features of postmodernism is a commitment to a relativistic stance toward truth claims. Something can be true for you, but not for me. Truth is socially constructed. As Christians, we have to be careful to note that we have a message that is both true and relevant.

DESCRIBING POSTMODERNISM

Let’s try to understand postmodernism in contrast to modernism. Modernism believes in rational, scientific, and logical means for knowing the world. Postmodernism is skeptical about these three means for knowing. Modernism is optimistic that we can understand the world around us. Postmodernism is pessimistic about such a large-scale endeavor. For modernism, there is absolute truth that can be determined by rational inquiry. But for postmodernists, truth is socially constructed. For modernists, humans are physical machines; spirituality is not real. Postmodernists see this as incomplete: they are very open to spirituality (as long as there are no absolute truth claims). For modernists, humans are progressing through science and reason. For postmodernism, progress is a way to justify the domination of European culture over other cultures. It is a tool for exploitation. In modernism, history is a narrative of what happened (from a point of view and ideological vantage point). In postmodernism, history is all a power-play to present the interpretation of one group for their own purposes.
SEVEN CHARACTERISTICS OF POSTMODERNISM
Postmodernism is an ethos and a mood as much as it is a worldview. It tends to be a reaction to a worldview. Or a taking of a worldview to a logical extreme. Jim Sire gives us seven helpful points for understanding postmodernism. These can be found in his chapter The Vanished Horizon in the latest copy of his book The Universe Next Door.
1. The first question that postmodernism addresses is not “what is out there” (ontology) nor “how do we know what is and exists” (epistemology). Rather, it asks how language functions to construct meaning. Truth is a social construct.
[Sidebar: Deconstructionism is an outgrowth of this. Postmodernists think that texts do not inherently have meaning (authorial intention), but rather that in our interaction with texts, we derive at “the meaning.” Because, for them, seeking to know the truth about a text is a power game. Being able to define terms is about gaining and asserting power over others.]
2. The death of truth. Truth is forever hidden from us; we can only tell stories.
3. Stories give communities their cohesive character.
Some say “We like postmodernism because of its emphasis on stories.” But in response, was there ever a time when people did not like stories? Liking stories is not postmodern, it is human. What is different is that postmodernism says “It is about the story; it does not matter if the story is factually and historically correct.” Historic Christianity says, “Oh no, if the story is not true, then it is not helpful.” But postmodernists resist “meta-narratives” (large explanations for stories, or over-arching truth claims). In light of this, we need to remember that we believe Christianity not because it is likable (though it is), but because it is true.
4. Language is power. (I define things, and use them against you.)
5. There is a death of self. Existentialism is a step toward postmodernism.
6. Postmodernism is about being good without God. Being good has to do with morality, which is a social construct. They are unable to make any firm truth claims. (Rejoinder: But what about Germany in WWII days?)
7. Postmodernism is constantly in flux.
WAYS THAT POSTMODERNISM, IF EMBRACED, WOULD IMPACT CHRISTIANITY
1. Would assert that all religions boil down to the same thing (since we cannot make absolute truth claims, all theologies must be alike).
2. All truths are relative. [Many young people are reluctant to believe that Jesus is the only way of salvation for everyone.]
[See Chris Chrisman Goes to College: And Faces the Challenges of Relativism, Individualism and Pluralism by James Sire — an excellent book which explores how today’s college students are faced with postmodernism in college, both in the classroom and in their relationships.]
3. All religious systems followed sincerely will lead to the same end.
4. No religious assertions can claim to be absolutely true. All are subject to revision.
5 . Making truth claims are about attempts to impose our assertions are others.
6. Religious truths are important only in so far as they help everyone to live in harmony. If you hold some idea to be true that preferentially favors one group over others, watch out. For example, if you think that homosexuality is immoral, that is divisive and unhelpful.
I CORINTHIANS 1
Notice that I Corinthians 1 is set in a multicultural setting (Jews and Greeks). One group wanted signs and thought a crucified Messiah was weak. The other group wanted wisdom and through a crucified Savior was foolish. But Paul proclaimed Christ as the power and the wisdom of God. We need to remember that we do not get our marching orders from the culture. We should want to understand our culture, but we need to speak the truth to our culture.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Q&A Session II

DOES RESPONSIBILITY EQUAL ABILITY?
One asked: “How can man be responsible to believe in Jesus Christ if he is not able to do so?”
The response was that man is unable to believe in Christ, but he is responsible for that inability. The command that people repent and believe remains. Dr. Duncan referred us to Martin Luther’s The Bondage of The Will. Also, see the objection that Paul anticipates in Romans 9.
CAN CALVINISTS AND ARMINIANS FELLOWSHIP IN A LOCAL CHURCH?
Another asked how we can maintain fellowship with Arminians in a local church setting. Dr. Duncan responded that we ought to adorn our doctrine with love and grace, but we ought not to equivocate on what we believe. Dr. Sproul noted that historically the Calvinism-Arminianism debate has been understood as an “intramural” debate–a debate among fellow Christians. But extreme forms (like open theism) preclude fellowship. If someone wants to join a Calvinistic church and wants to simultaneously spread the word that Calvinists are “heratics”, that person will disturb the peace of that church. Such a situation should be avoided. But many Arminians, Dr. Sproul noted, are well-intentioned in their attempts to reconcile human volition and divine sovereignty.

CLASSICAL APOLOGETICS UNPOPULAR AMONG REFORMED CHRISTIANS?

Sproul acknowledged that presuppositional apologetics is the majority report, but he is not sure why. Presuppositional apologetics is “easier” and requires “less thought”, since it allows us to simply tell the non-Christian that he has the “wrong presuppositions” (and that he needs to start with the presupposition that God exists, etc.). Both Ligon Duncan and R.C. Sproul hold to classical apologetics view (as did Hodge, Warfield, and many others).
DOUBLE PREDESTINATION
Sproul rejected the “equal ultimacy” view (whereby God symmetrically acts in the lives of both the elect and the reprobate–actively softening the elect and actively hardening the reprobate). Rather, God positively (actively) intervenes in the life of the elect. However, he leaves the reprobate (passively) to their own devices. Double predestination is asymmetrical. He does not create fresh evil in the hearts of the reprobate. They are already sinful and heading away from God. They need no assistance in doing so.
EVANGELISM
A woman noted that as an Arminian evangelizing was easier and simpler. Now, as a Calvinist, she feels that she has a ton to say to a non-Christian, and she doesn’t know how to condense it into a brief word.
Dr. Sproul responded that in a brief period of time we can talk to people about the holiness of God, and (hence) our unholiness, and (hence) our manifest need for a Savior. Also, the apostles in Acts give us a great model for evangelism. John MacArthur spoke of the thief on the cross, the only person to whom Jesus granted assurance of salvation. That man, in a relatively short period of time acknowledged Jesus was going to outlive the crucifixion, enter a kingdom, and that he was going to face judgment. He had a lot of sound theology. John suggested we first go after the sin issue and then the offer of forgiveness in Christ. Evangelistically, we should look for those in whom God is doing a work of conviction regarding sin, righteousness, and judgment.
DEALING WITH MORMONS
Go after the works issue (salvation by works — at least to the “highest levels of heaven”), go after the polytheism issue. They are anything but Christians. Duncan noted that they “play it both ways”: they teach that evangelical Christians have corrupt teaching and that they (Mormons) alone have the “true teaching,” but then they turn around and want to give every appearance of being just like evangelicals.

SAVED THROUGH CHILD-BEARING? (I TIM 2:15)

Dr. MacArthur noted that women are “saved” from any stigma that comes from society in their (God-honoring) decision to invest in the lives of their young children.

LIMITED ATONEMENT

The issue is what was God’s intention in sending His son to die for sinners? Was God’s desire to make salvation possible for everyone, but guaranteed for nobody? Or was it to guarantee the salvation of the elect? So the death of Christ is sufficient for every person to be saved, but it is efficient (effective) for the salvation of the elect [and the latter was God’s intention].
John pointed to the verse “Savior of all, especially those who believe.” God is a Savior at heart. He grants common grace for the non-Christian. He preserves lives. He tells Adam “on the day you eat, you shall surely die” — but then allows Adam to live 900 years. [If “savior” is eternal in this verse, then you have universalism in the first half of the verse, and you cannot explain the second.]
BIRTH CONTROL
Is it OK? Sproul noted that some forms of birth control are abortive, and these are not OK. Beyond that, Sproul noted that he (personally) is concerned with a pro-birth control mentality which says “children are a burden, we do not welcome them.” So he is uncomfortable with its widespread use (even in its conception-prevention forms). John noted that when God gave women a cycle whereby they can only conceive children at certain times each month, He was granting us a measure of control over how many children to have. And it is a decision that couples need to make together before the Lord.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – John MacArthur – II

After singing six verses of The Church’s One Foundation, Dr. John MacArthur gave a message on the question Is Jesus the Only Way? John noted that, in our day, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ is not an obvious truth for many professing evangelicals. When he began his ministry, John had not anticipated such an attack on the gospel from within the church itself.
Today, an ambiguous gospel is being promoted by many. But we cannot get this issue wrong without eternal consequences. True Christians have always believed that unless you hear and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ you cannot be saved.

PAUL REGARDED JEWS AS LOST APART FROM FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST

John had us open to Romans 10. John wants to show us this morning what the Bible says about any other path of “salvation.” In Rom 10:1, Paul notes that his prayer and longing for ethnic Israel is that they be “saved.” Such language assumes that they were not, presently, saved. Yet some today (e.g., John Hagee) have the audacity to say that Jews in our day can be saved in some other way than faith in Jesus Christ. But Jesus himself viewed the nation of Israel as apostate–even though they read and taught from the Old Testament. They had a “zeal for God but not according to knowledge.”
The Jews thought God was less righteous than He really was, and that they were more righteous than they really were, so “being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (Rom. 10:2). But the only way we will ever be righteous is through the One who satisfied the law perfectly. And this righteousness is available for everyone who believes.
Later in Romans 10 Paul makes clear that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be heard if it is to be believed, and must be believed if one is to be saved. This “ambiguous” gospel today is an assault on those who gave their lives for the true gospel. Was all this loss of life unnecessary? A waste? Ironically, in this day when we have greater means than ever to spread the gospel all over the world, in many circles we have less interest in doing that because we think that people are going to be OK even without hearing the gospel. This is an embarrassment. But it is being defended by various theologies. Such as:
NATURAL THEOLOGY
Man can discover the existence, nature, and attributes of God by human reason. Human reason can understand cause-effect, and will ultimately trace things back to their source. (All this is true, from Romans 1). But then they go further and say that man can understand enough about God to come to Him and be saved without special revelation.
An example of inclusivism being rampant in our day is the Roman Catholic Church. The Pope recently taught that people can be saved by living good lives, regardless of whether they profess Christ and join the Catholic Church. In addition, Dr. MacArthur quoted from an interview between Billy Graham and Robert Schuller in which these men discussed “members of the body of Christ who are outside the church and have never heard of Jesus Christ….they respond to the light they have and live a very different life than those around them.”
Sometimes this kind of thinking is called “wider mercy.” We are to look to other religions to find out “what God is is doing there.” We should “humbly” recognize that God “got to them before we did.” But this is preposterous in light of the clear teaching of Scripture (e.g., John 14:6, Acts 4:12). Yet some today (e.g., Clark Pinnock) teach that the majority of the world is saved through other means (e.g., Hindus saved within Hinduism). Others teach that God looks upon them as having lived “in an Old Testament era,” and then saves them apart from Christ.
ROMANS 1
Yes, man can know certain things about God (e.g., His power) from general revelation, but this knowledge is insufficient to save–it is only sufficient to damn. What man does with this knowledge (because he is dead in sin, Eph. 2:1) is suppress it in unrighteousness. The information is enough to damn (be “without excuse”, Rom. 1:20). John noted that the most foundational issue in a biblical understanding of man and God is this: Apart from God, man is totally incapable of being saved or moving toward God.
Where do they wind up, suppressing the knowledge of God? This is the story of history: pursuing their own passions, living for various idolatries rather than the true God. This is where “natural theology” leads us. People do not follow the “light they have” (though they do have some light) to “more and more light”. Rather, they move toward darkness.
I CORINTHIANS 1
I Corinthians 1 notes that even when presented with the message of the cross finds it to be “foolishness”. So apart from special revelation, man cannot move toward God. And then when informed of the one way of salvation, he finds it foolishness—except those whom God is saving. Paul says “line up all the great folks.” Note: Did they come to God by their wisdom. MacArthur recommended the book Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky (P.S.) by Paul M. Johnson, which chronicles the wisdom of these leading thinkers (both in the ancient and the recent past), who were nevertheless most vile.
I Corinthians 1 shows that the only ones who can believe are those whom God calls–those who are chosen. We are saved first to last by God. Why is it this way? So that nobody can boast. It is God’s proclaimed word reaching in and penetrating the heart of particular sinners.
I CORINTHIANS 2
Natural men cannot understand the things of God, because they are spiritually discerned. You must come to Christ for salvation, but you cannot do so without God opening your heart.
ACTS 17 (AND A FEW OTHER TEXTS)
John read from the account of Paul’s sermon on the Areopagus, where he noted that they were very religious. Toward the end of his recorded statement, Paul notes: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” So Paul told the Athenians that they must repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 10, we see that people offer to idols are in fact offered to demons. Demonic activity is behind all false religions. Muslims and Hindus worship demons. They are not doing “the best they can to worship God.” See also II Corinthians 10:3-5, Psalm 106:37, Deuteronomy 32:21ff.
In closing, John went to II Thessalonians 1:7-8. Those who do not know or obey God are to receive “flaming fire.” John shared that it breaks his heart that we undercut missionary endeavor in our day with inclusivist teaching stemming from natural theology.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Photos – Day 1

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Photos courtesy Lukas VanDyke.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – R.C. Sproul – I

The speaker this evening was Dr. R.C. Sproul. Dr. Sproul is respected worldwide for his ability to help Christians provide the reasons for what and why they believe. In addition to his duties as the founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, Dr. Sproul can also be heard daily on the radio and Internet program Renewing Your Mind. He also serves as the senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and he has authored over sixty books including Now, That’s a Good Question!, Defending Your Faith, and Truths We Confess.
The title of Dr. Sproul’s message is If God is Sovereign, How Can Man be Free? Dr. Sproul read from Genesis 50:15ff. He then walked us through the story of Joseph’s faithfulness in the midst of various trials whereby he was treated unjustly first by his brothers, then by Potipher’s wife, then by a fellow prisoner.
MAN FREELY CHOOSES EVIL, GOD PURPOSELY USES IT FOR GOOD
As his brothers beg for forgiveness (possibly motivated by a fear of punishment), they acknowledge that their actions toward Joseph were evil. Joseph asks them the question, “Am I in the place of God?” Joseph acknowledges that his brothers’ intentions were evil. But he also recognizes that God was intimately involved in the evil that He experienced at the hands of his brothers. Joseph recognizes that even the treachery his brothers committed would be used by God for the good of those who love Him. Nevertheless, the acts committed were themselves evil. Evil behavior. Evil intentionality. But over and above the human intentionality, God was purposefully at work to bring about good.
Why do we call the day on which the most egregious act of injustice was committed “good Friday”? Because of God’s intentionality.
Sproul noted that were it not for Joseph’s coat of many colors–which pushed his brothers over the edge, prompting them to sell him into slavery–there would be no Potiphar, if no Potiphar, then no Potiphar’s wife, and no going to jail, and no getting elevated to Pharoah’s right hand man. But God is involved at every stage in this chain of events.
Inevitably, the question of God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom comes up. But it is not that hard if we remember: What is the difference between human beings and a Supreme being? One is Supreme. God is a volitional Being. He has a divine faculty whereby He makes decisions, undergoes choices. We humans are also volitional beings; our Creator has endowed us with a faculty of choosing. We have the ability to make choices.
There was a leading philosopher named Edmund Husserl (1859-1938). There was a big question in his day on the issue of “personalism”. What is it that makes we humans “persons”? The answer Husserl submitted is that we have the ability to make choices. One of his disciples became a leading atheistic thinker: John Paul Sarte.
HUMAN FREEDOM OR HUMAN AUTONOMY?
Sarte argued that human freedom meant God could not be real. But Sarte’s conception of freedom was autonomy. And unless you were free in the sense of autonomy, you could not be free. What does autonomy mean? Well, “auto” means self. And “mobile” is something that moves. So “auto” means self and “nomos” means law. So “autonomy” means, literally, “self law” or “self rule”. So Sarte’s idea was this: To be truly free we must have automony. We must have no accountability to anyone outside of us.
A true antimony (impossibility) would be reconciling God’s sovereignty and man’s autonomy. Those two are truly mutually contradictory. Human autonomy is the illegitimate, illicit reach of dependent creatures who want to elevate themselves to the level of God. In reality, God is free, His creatures are free – but in the Scriptures we see that God is freer than humans. If we say “God’s freedom is limited by human freedom,” we’re actually making humans sovereign.
THE DOCTRINE OF CONCURRENCE
We talk about the doctrine of concurrence at this point. Joseph’s brothers, in selling Joseph into slavery, did exactly what they wanted to do. Nobody forced them to do it. That said, we never limit God’s freedom. God can always thwart human designs. Though we choose according to our desires, our very actions are made under God (with the enabling that God grants us). God’s freedom is always larger. We are never autonomous.
On a moral plane, we are born into this world as slaves of sin. We are not morally able to do that which is truly good. We will act according with our desires, and in the manner that is according to our strongest inclination. And even when our desires are evil, God will work through them to bring about good.
You may have heard: “God saves everyone that He possibly can. He does the best He can, but He will never violate your will.” The problem is that before God invaded our hearts, we were slaves of sin. In regeneration, God elevates our wills.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – Q&A Session – I

The first Q&A session was held after a short break. A variety of questions were asked. Early on, there were a few questions on intelligent design (ID) and creation. Dr. Sproul pointed out that the metaphysical assumption behind all science is that the universe is knowable. When the scientist wants to rule out intelligence in the origin of the universe, he’s ruling out the possibility for science. Dr. MacArthur said that ID is a “middle ground” for those not satisfied with evolution but also unwilling to embrace the Genesis account. MacArthur encouraged us to embrace the Genesis account.
Someone asked Dr. MacArthur if there is a difference between God “allowing” evil and “willing” evil. Is it passive or active? MacArthur noted that in Rom. 9:22-23, God takes all responsibility for the vessels created for His glory, but He speaks passively of those formed for destruction. [Editorial note: Dr. Sproul also deals with this matter in his excellent book, Chosen By God.]
Dr. MacArthur was asked about his dispensationalism. He noted that “the extent of his dispensationalism” is that he believes there is a future in God’s redemptive plan for ethnic Israel. Someone asked about the extent to which doctrine can divide folks (noting that Dr. MacArthur disagrees with Drs. Duncan and Sproul on several matters). Dr. Sproul noted that a church that doesn’t care about theology is a dead church. Dr. MacArthur noted that his church had a 14-15 page doctrinal statement called “What We Teach” not “What We Believe” (because they don’ t all believe that). John’s point is that he wants to recognize that people are in a process (theologically, in their own discipleship).
Someone asked Dr. Sproul about Soren Kierkegaard. Sproul noted that he, too, enjoyed Kierkegaard, but that we should be careful. Truth is not subjectivity.
Someone asked about God’s wrath: Who is He made at? MacArthur note that God is not angry the way we are angry. God is always angry towards evil and is also always loving. All of His attributes are in operation all the time. His anger is always righteous anger. Dr. Sproul noted that God ordains that evil exists, but that does not make evil good. Rather, the goodness of God is manifest even in the presence of evil.
Someone asked if it was permissible for a terminally ill Christian to withhold medical treatment. Dr. MacArthur said that was fine, since for Christians our true home is heaven. (For a non-Christian, MacArthur added, he would want to extend treatment as long as possible, so as to extend the opportunity for repentance.)
Someone asked how to speak to someone suffering at this very moment. Sproul and MacArthur both answered that the only hope we Christians have in those times is that God is present and that He is orchestrating this suffering to bring about good. If God is not in control, we have no source of hope in a time of suffering.
The last question was about a Christian’s role in culture. Sproul noted that many pray for revival. Revival is a process of rebirth. And reformation, starting from within the church (i.e., among those who have been revived), changes the structures of society, because the Christian faith has implications for economics, for political thought, for aesthetics and for all of life.

Ligonier West Coast Conference – John MacArthur – I

The second session this afternoon was given by Dr. John MacArthur. Dr. MacArthur has served as pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., for nearly forty years, and his teaching is available worldwide on the radio, Internet, and television program Grace to You. Dr. MacArthur provides training to pastors as president of the Master’s College and Seminary as well as through the annual Shepherd’s Conference. His prolific writing ministry includes numerous pamphlets and books such as The Truth War: Fighting for Certainty in an Age of Deception, The Battle for the Beginning, and Hard to Believe: The High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus.
The title of Dr. MacArthur’s message was Why Does God Allow So Much Suffering and Evil? John mentioned that Larry King likes to go back to this question a lot. Many skeptics simply cannot get past this question: How can God be all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good, and yet evil is pervasive in our society?
EVIL EXISTS, AND GOD IS NOT TAKEN BY SURPRISE
But the Bible gives us an answer. It is not “Well, God is off the hook, Adam and Eve did it.” The follow-up to that question would be “Well then, why did God make them that way?” Or what about, “Well, Satan is to blame?” But then a skeptic would ask, “Why did God make angels with the possibility that one of them would fall and take a whole bunch of other ones with him?”
Ultimately we have to go back to God.
1. Evil exists. [Only the leaders of Christian Science would deny such things.] Evil exists in a dominating way today. It goes far beyond what we see on the news. It is systemic and pervasive in our world.
A. There is natural evil in the world. This form of evil is impersonal and external (diseases, tidal waves, viruses, volcanic eruptions).
Dr. MacArthur read The Great Influenza: The story of the deadliest pandemic in history by John Barry this summer and was fascinated by the massive spread of death due to this disease.
B. There is moral evil in every human heart. Man is driven by lusts that produce sin and death. Man is evil to the core, leading to all kinds of pain from broken marriages to ruined friendships to wars between nations.
C. There is supernatural evil – demonic evil. Demons are lying spirits, and the whole world lies in their power (I John 5:19). They infest our lives at times, as we learn from Job, Peter and Paul. They promote false religions throughout the world. One of the most dangerous in our day is Mormonism, which is making an all-out effort to pass for a legitimate form of Christianity. But it has more in common with Hinduism than Christianity. The more Mormonism seeks to look benign, the more deadly it is. Our struggle, as Paul said, is “not against flesh and blood.”
D. The eternal evil of hell – a horror to those who will abide there forever.
2. God is real, and He is absolutely sovereign. He created everything, controls everything, and is governing every minute detail in the universe, including the ultimate consummation of our planet by fire (prophesied in Scripture). Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” Those who struggle with the sovereignty of God might consider the intellectual difficulty of God not being sovereign. God is not trying to get “off the hook” on His being sovereign and allowing (and planning) for evil. He is the only Potentate, the Sole Ruler of the universe. [Dr. MacArthur then cited numerous Scriptural passages that show that God takes ultimate ownership for the existence of evil. He takes full responsibility for the existence of evil, and its unfolding in this world.]
Sidebar: Armenians are OK with the existence of evil, nor do they want to deny power, knowledge or goodness to God. However, they don’t want responsibility for evil to fall upon God so they diminish God. They say God either lacks the power to stop evil or He “chooses” to limit His power. Or, He has the power, but He is limited in His knowledge. Evil takes Him by surprise when it happens. [John then briefly described, and severely castigated, process theology. He then humorously debunked open theism.]
3. God wills evil to exist, though He Himself is not its author.
Well, what explanation for this should we use?
A) There “needs” to be a certain amount of evil to “balance out” the good God (yin and yang — for every plus there has to be a minus, that sort of thing). Evil is “just there” — because it has to be there to contrast the good. [Though this answer falls short, there is a sense of truth to this: Evil is a deprivation — a distortion of the good.]
B) You just cannot have a God that takes away our free will. Free will is more important to God than precluding the possibility of evil. [But then you still have to answer why did God make people that could use their free will to do such evil?]
WHY DOES GOD WILL FOR EVIL TO EXIST?
The Westminster Confession reads: “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (Chapter 3, Sect. 1)
God appears infinitely more glorious because of the existence of evil. We praise Him all the more because of what He has done to overcome evil. At the cross, the righteousness of God was displayed in the wrath of God being poured out on Christ. Look at Romans 9:22: “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” God gets glory from His wrath and judgment. But He has also made known His mercy. God is demonstrating the full range of His glory by putting the full spectrum of His attributes on display. God puts His righteousness on display in the way He confronts evil (Rev. 15:3-4). The greatest evil ever perpetrated (the murder of Jesus) was orchestrated by God to accomplish great good (Acts 2:22-24). God answered Job (chap. 38-39) with a survey of His omnipotence and exhaustive knowledge. It is foolish to assume that God has to justify to us His decisions in this regard.

Ligonier Ministries West Coast Conference – Ligon Duncan I

After a packed sanctuary sang For All the Saints, Chris Larson opened with prayer and a reading from I Corinthians. Mr. Larson then introduced the speaker for the first session, Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III. Dr. Duncan is the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Miss., and adjunct professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the president of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and chairman of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Dr. Duncan has written and edited several books including Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, The Westminster Confession into the 21st Century, and Should We Leave Our Churches?: A Biblical Response to Harold Camping.
The topic of Dr. Duncan’s address was Has Science Disproved the Existence of God? — a fascinating topic in light of the recent slew of books for and against atheism. Ligon noted that we need to be able to give an answer for the hope that is in us. Just as there is a greater openness today toward spirituality, antagonism toward the Christian message of Jesus Christ as the only way to God has increased. The leading atheists make the case that religion is downright harmful for society and must be eradicated.
WAYS PEOPLE SPEAK OF SCIENCE “DISPROVING” GOD
It is important that we understand the question: Don’t you think science has disproven the existence of God? The one posing this question could mean that naturalism (or materialism) is in conflict with Christianity. The answer is yes, it is in conflict, and Christianity has the upper hand in that debate. However, people generally have one of three topics on their mind:
1. They may be thinking about Christian origins versus evolution. They may suppose science has proven that God does not exist.
2. They may want to argue that miracles are impossible, and hence Christianity must be false.
3. They may suppose that archeological and astronomical developments seriously challenge the Christian faith. For example, the Bible teaches (so they say) that the sun revolves around the earth, and many religious people once believed such things. Now that we know such scientific ideas are false, we can dispose with Christianity altogether. In addition, people attack the Bible on the issue of inerrancy due to archeological developments. For example, it was common in the 19th century for people to criticize the Old Testament since we lacked archeological evidence for the existence of numerous tribes (such as the Hittites). But since then, we have obtained extensive archeological evidence for the historicity of many of these tribes. [This represents one of the limitations of science in settling ultimate questions. Scientific knowledge, by its very nature, is progressive, so it is always incomplete.]
On the other hand, sometimes the Bible uses telecentric language (e.g., speaking of the “sun rising and setting” — even though it is the earth that rotates). The Bible uses the normal language of human discourse. And miracles? Doesn’t the very claim for miracles undermine Christianity, since we “know” miracles do not occur? In response:
1. Miracles are not meant to be easy to believe.
2. Miracles in the Bible are not intended to occur on a regular basis. They are intended to be out of the ordinary. Those observing them understood that such things were highly unusual (e.g., a virgin giving birth). When Moses recounts the parting of the Red Sea he fully understands that such an event was singularly unique. We cannot walk away from the supernatural core of our faith. Without the miracle of the resurrection, we are without hope. And there is massive evidence that substantiates the Scriptural account of the resurrection. But we have to confront an ideology which assumes that miracles cannot occur. The Bible, by contrast, begins with the assumption of the supernatural in its very first verse (Gen. 1:1).
But sometimes the question is in the form: Hasn’t evolution called into question the claim that God made the heavens and the earth? The answer is no. Every aspect of evolutionary teaching is a description of the mechanism whereby life (in its present form) came to be. But it does not seek to explain or answer the ultimate foundational question of the origin of the universe. If you boil down the theories on the origin of the universe, there are three:
1. There was nothing, and then there was something.
[Problem: If something now exists, we are driven to the conclusion that something always existed.]
2. There has always been something. This impersonal something contained all power and potentiality to create life in all its current forms.
[Problem: Why doesn’t this external existence of “something” not also trouble the modern secularist? This “something” already has some of the properties of God.]
3. There has always been a sovereign, personal God though there has not always been a universe, He brought it into being. (And science cannot disprove this.) Before the universe was here, God was.
INTELLIGENT SCIENTISTS HAVE OFTEN BEEN CHRISTIANS
An objection from sociology is sometimes raised: You cannot be an intelligent, educated scholar and still believe the Bible. The problem with this is that the encyclopedia is filled with scientists who were bright, made important discoveries, and who were Christians. Francis Bacon, Keplar, Pascal, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, and many others.
In the 1920s, 40% of leading scientists believed in the existence of a personal God. These statistics have not changed much in the last seventy years. Unbelieving scientists today generally bring their unbelief to their science. They reject Christianity for non-scientific reasons. Generally, science does not lead people to unbelief.
We are limited by the questions science can ask or answer. The way that we know something depends on what we’re talking about. If we want to know if we have Cheerios, we go check the cabinet. But how do we know that someone is a good friend? Science is not equipped to address that one. Nor is science equipped to answer the question about the origin of the universe.
STANDING FIRM
We must maintain the assertion that God is our Maker (Acts 17:24ff). But the world is not divided between worshipers and non-worshipers. We all worship something. Christians worship the God who made us. Everyone else is worshiping something else. If we look hard enough, we can find what is “at the top” for them (and usually it is themselves).
The nature of God (a spirit) is such that we must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4). You can only get to know a spirit if that spirit wants you to know Him. This God who is spirit is revealed both in His creation and in His word. Romans 1 tells us not only that God speaks through His creation but that His message gets through (“God made it evident to them”). They reject it anyway not due to lack of evidence or rationality but because they are sinners and they want to stay on the throne.

Sovereign Grace Music: The Psalms Album

I have been finding this album to be an immense blessing over the last couple of months. It just may be the best album that Sovereign Grace Music has produced to date. Each of the twelve songs is an articulate reflection on the main theme of a particular psalm. Each song is “vintage” Sovereign Grace Music: Lyrics filled with theological clarity set to generally upbeat musical themes played with excellence and creativity. The twelve songs plumb the depths of Psalms 90, 150, 46, 68, 96, 23, 145, 84, 130, 34, 51, and 32. The last two are penitential psalms, written by David after the Bethsheba events. Psalm 34 is a praise of God’s deliverance (written by David, when his life was saved before Abimelech by the means of David appearing insane).
One of my favorites is Praise the Lord (Psalm 150), which features the refrain “Everything that has breath, praise the Lord”. This song is available as a free download. Others include Glorious and Mighty (on Psalm 96) and The Lord Is (Psalm 23). Both of these songs feature beautiful, slow melodies, which make them ideal for singing along in the car or around the house.
From this link, you can click on the title of any song and read the lyrics. You can also get the guitar chart or purchase the accompaniment for $0.99. From this link, you can hear a pretty long clip of each song on the album. Any song can be purchased for $0.99. The entire album is $12 — with free shipping in the continental United States. A fabulous deal.

“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (Ps. 147:1).

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