Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bible Doctrine (2)

[Note: I am not a theologian! These notes are probably more beneficial to me than they are to you. If I have made a mistake, then please add a comment.]

God is sovereign in creation, revelation, redemption and final judgement.

God's providence is one of the most mysterious subjects that it is possible to study. From our perspective it can seem impossible to reconcile the following truths:

  1. God is totally sovereign
  2. We are totally responsible

Grudem defines three areas in which God is sovereign: preservation, concurrence and government.


This is probably the simplest (and least controversial) concept of providence to understand. Jesus, having created the universe, continues to sustain ("The Son is ... sustaining all things by his powerful word" Hebrews 1:3) and uphold it constantly ("for by him all things were created ... he is before all things, and in him all things hold together" Colossians 1:16-17).

God's preservation applies not only to the universe as a whole, but to everything created within it. The basis of civilisation and science is that objects retain their properties, and the laws of physics do not alter. We also, as his people, are sustained by his word, whether we are Jews ("The Lord made a covenant with Abram and said "To your descendents I give this land"" Genesis 15:18) or Gentiles (""I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep"" John 10:11).


This is the concept that "God co-operates with created things in every action, directing their disctinctive properties to cause them to act as they do" (Grudem, p.143). God brings all things about to fulfil His will and add to His glory. By "all things" Grudem refers to a host of creation, from inanimate objects, through plants and animals, to humans. For brevity I'll not go into detail on most of these, but skip to humans.

We work every day to earn a salary, and yet pray for God to "give us today our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). Why is this? Do we not have to work? Do we not have to pray? No on both counts! God works in an invisible way, yet far more powerfully than we do. He, therefore, is the primary cause of any action. Yet we, the creation, act in ways consisten with our natural properties: if we don't eat then we go hungry, so we earn money to buy food.

Our direction and movement are ordained by God: "a man's steps are ordered by the Lord" (Proverbs 20:24). Whether or not we pass an exam or get a job promotion is similarly the doing of God, and our natural and spiritual gifts, of course, are given by God: "What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" (1 Corinthians 4:7) In receiving it, though, we have a responsibility to use it. Our actions are significant and responsible, and God will hold us accountable for how we live - so we can't let ourselves off the hook because "God causes everything"!

If God causes "all things" to happen, does that include evil? Clearly, as God is totally good, He cannot perform evil - that would be contrary to His nature ("For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you" Psalm 86:5). In terms of concurrence, we have learned that God and Man are fully responsible for their actions and both cause events to occur. This can be seen in Exodus, where Pharoah hardens his heart, and God also hardens his heart. If God and Man are both fully responsible, then both can cause Pharoah's heart to be hardened. Pharoah was punished for his sin, and God was glorified by causing His will to be done.

God can righteously bring about evil events; He uses all things for His glory, including evil. The supreme example of this is Jesus' death by crucifixion. Judas betrayed Jesus to death, the Jewish authorities and Romans arrested him, the mob called for his death, and the soldiers crucified him. All were fully responsible for what they did. Yet without those actions we could not be forgiven! God not only glorifies Himself (although that would be a perfect reason for Him to do anything) but brings about our good as well ("Herod and Pontius Pilate ... [did what] ... your plan had predestined to take place" Acts 4:27).

Having said this, it is important to remember that God never does evil, and is never to blame for evil. The blame for evil is on the responsible creature (Grudem, p.150). Even if we object that we cannot resist God's will, we must accept that we willingly choose to do evil, and even if we are tempted, we do not resist the temptation. God's righteousness demands that He punishes evil according to His perfect justice. Does it make sense? Well... not exactly. This is the most mind-bending piece of theology to understand, in my opinion. Anyone who understands this is probably already dead and in heaven!


God providentially directs all things to happen according to His purpose ("For from him and through him and to him are all things" Romans 11:36). He is supremely powerful to ensure that this happens (""I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted"" Job 42:2). As a result we can be confident that "in all things God works together for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28). Praise God!


So... theology is not about male bonding, or head knowledge. What does it mean? Well, if God is sovereign, then we can trust that whatever happens is ultimately good. Yet we must take responsibility for everything we do. In prayer, recognising the truth of both God's sovereignty and our responsibility means that we should be fervent and passionate prayers. In evangelism, we must pray all the more that God would convict people of their sin, but not fall into the trap of thinking that we don't have to worry about what we do.


As a brief note, there are approximately four positions that Christians hold with regards to providence. I have been espousing a Calvinist point of view, which seeks to hold (1) God's sovereignty and (2) human responsibility in balance, without necessarily understanding how they fit together. The other evangelical position is Arminianism, which leans more towards (2) than (1). Grudem lists a lot of objections to this position, but I won't go into them. The other two positions, open theism and hyper-Calvinism, are way out on the spectrum of (2) and (1) respectively. There isn't much Biblical basis for either.



Cat said...

Is this systamatic theology or bible doctrine by Wayne Grudem?

Chris Hillcoat said...

Cat, I'm using Bible Doctrine for my references, but Systematic Theology is pretty similar (only a bit more hardcore).

Cat said...

Cool! Im reading that now - its really good!