The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 1

James 1:17: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” [παρ ᾧ οὐκ ἔνι παραλλαγὴ ἢ τροπῆς ἀποσκίασμα, par hō ouk eni parallagē ē tropēs aposkiasma]

During my younger days, I used to dabble in linguistic philosophy (obviously in an amateurish way) and German historical criticism of the Bible. However, the forays into these avant garde trends left me with a sense of spiritual desiccation. It was in the midst of theological ennui that I stumbled on Abraham Heschel’s seminal work, The Prophets. I was swept by the spiritual and fervent vitality that flows through Heschel’s powerful and passionate prose.

However, Heschel’s exposition of the prophet’s teaching of the pathos of God both excited and troubled me. It is exhilarating to realize that God has a stake in the human situation. This is a stunning contrast to the god of the Greeks. For example, Aristotle taught that God is entirely self-centred. “It would be out of question for men to attempt personal intercourse with Him…those are wrong who think that there can be a friendship towards God. For (a) God could not return our love, and (b) we could not in any case be said to love God…He does not know this world and no Divine plan is fulfilled in this world. [Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy. Vol.1 pt.2 Greece and Rome (Double Day Image Book, 1962), pp. 59-61]

In contrast, the pathos of the God of the biblical prophet assures us that God intimately and passionately cares about human welfare. This assurance will certainly generate hope for believers who find themselves feeling hopeless as they are psychologically crushed in the midst of dire situations. Continue reading “The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 1”

The Atonement in Isaiah 53

Classical Evangelicalism has always affirmed that the power of the gospel lies in the proclamation that Christ died for the ungodly and made atonement for their sins. “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins…But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 9:22; 10:12-14) The truth that underlies this proclamation is encapsulated in the phrase, “the penal substitutionary death of Christ.”

However, this glorious truth has been challenged by some modern theologians who deny that Christ’s death is a penal substitutionary sacrifice for sin. Similarly, the teaching of Christ’s atonement becomes distorted when some Charismatics claim that partaking the Lord’s Supper brings physical healing because of the blood of Christ shed on the cross.

You are invited to read the careful reading of Isaiah 53 (the locus classical of the doctrine of penal substitutionary death of Christ in the Old Testament) written by Dr. Leong Tien Fock. It will help you gain a better understanding and a grateful appreciation of the glory of Christ’s atonement. Continue reading “The Atonement in Isaiah 53”

Daniel Prophesied Christ’s Death 500 Years (Seventy-Sevens) Before It Happened

Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens
Guest writer: Dr. Leong Tien Fock

[The Book of Daniel prophesied that the Messiah will be killed during the time of the Roman Empire. The prophecy was fulfilled 500 years later when Jesus Christ was crucified by the Romans]

The Book of Daniel, written by about 530 BC, laid out in advance the historical time-frame within which the Messiah would come. Through dreams given to Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2) as well as to Daniel (Daniel 7 and 8), God revealed that the Babylonian Empire (Dan. 2:38) would be subsequently replaced by the Medo-Persian Empire (Dan. 8:20; cf. Dan. 5:28), the Greek Empire (Dan. 8:21), and an unnamed fourth kingdom, which we know from history to be the Roman Empire (for a thorough defense that the fourth empire is the Roman Empire, see Young 1977: 275-94).

It is specifically revealed that the Kingdom of God would come during the fourth kingdom to replace all earthly kingdoms (Dan. 2:44-45). And this would happen when “one like a Son of Man” is given “dominion … and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations and languages should serve Him” and whose “dominion is an everlasting dominion” and whose “kingdom is one which shall not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13-14). In other words, the Messiah would come during the Roman Empire…

Continue reading “Daniel Prophesied Christ’s Death 500 Years (Seventy-Sevens) Before It Happened”

Did Adam and Eve Live Recently? William Lane Craig + Joshua Swamidass

This is a most stimulating & instructive discussion between Joshua Swamidass and William Craig that tries to integrate the latest scientific and paleoanthropology findings, biblical hermeneutics, philosophical and theological anthropology.

Some challenging questions that arise from the discussion include the following:

1) What criteria would a scientific-theological model of human origins need to fulfill before it can be accepted as scientifically plausible and hermeneutically consistent with divinely revealed scripture? Continue reading “Did Adam and Eve Live Recently? William Lane Craig + Joshua Swamidass”

Holy Saturday and the Spirituality of Waiting

In general, the tradition of Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter) is not observed among the independent churches. Yes, Good Friday ends in tragedy. But thank God, there is great rejoicing on Easter Sunday. But how is Good Friday connected to Easter Sunday if we have no idea about what is happening on the day between them? The unexplained hiatus creates a sense of awkwardness.

I strongly recommend Alan Lewis’ profound book, Between the Cros and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday (Eerdmans, 2001) which I found stimulating and helpful when I preached on Holy Saturday in a series of Easter sermons in 2014. Continue reading “Holy Saturday and the Spirituality of Waiting”

Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)

The doctrine of the providence of God assures believers that the Lord is sovereign over the circumstances of their lives. Indeed, “The Church is His special care and charge. He rules the world for its good, as a head consulting the welfare of the body.” (John Flavel)

Meditation on God’s providence will foster both gratitude and fortitude in believers. Flavel in his classic book, The Mystery of Providence demonstrates how the Reformed doctrine of providence provides practical advice on how believers may grow in sanctification and enjoy the peace of God through times of affliction (excerpts given below).

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APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE OF PROVIDENCE

How may a Christian discover the will of God and his own duty under dark and doubtful providences?
In order to answer this question we must consider what is meant by the will of God and what by those doubtful providences that make the discovery of His will difficult and what rules are to be observed for ascertaining God’s will for us under such difficult and puzzling providences.

How may a Christian be supported in waiting upon God, while Providence delays the performance of the mercies to him for which he has long prayed and waited?
It is supposed in this case that Providence may linger and delay the performance of those mercies to us that we have long waited and prayed for, and that during that delay and suspense our hearts and hopes may be very low and ready to fail. Continue reading “Finding God’s Peace in Times of Afflictive Providence (Covid-19 Crisis)”

It is Pointless to Lament before the God of Open Theism or to Trust in His Deliverance

The Psalmist who feels overwhelmed by terrible suffering and injustice brings his lament before God not just to calm his fears and frustrations. No, the remedy he seeks is not therapy. It is deliverance. But surely, the fundamental premise that encourages him to come before God is that God is still in full control of the situation? But is God in control?

Calvinism upholds a God who exercises full sovereignty and absolute control not only over personal circumstances, but over world events and history. He is a God who gives real hope and assurance. To be sure, some Christians continue to experience horrific suffering. But at least, the Calvinist believes that God has a good reason to let that happen. God can even turn evil to good in the long run. As such, Joseph could say to his murderous brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Gen. 50:20) Peter told the Jews that God overrode their evil deed of crucifying Jesus to accomplish his plan of salvation. “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:22-23)

For the Calvinist, evil may sometimes seem to prevail but God is in control because he is omniscient. With exhaustive foreknowledge, he is able to exercise meticulous providence. In contrast, opponents of Calvinism like Open Theists cannot enjoy such an assurance because the God of Open Theism is not trustworthy. Open Theism says that we are vulnerable to horrific suffering because God cannot fully protect us. God does not possess exhaustive foreknowledge as he cannot know beforehand how human beings with autonomous, libertarian freedom would choose. This means God himself cannot be sure or decide on the best course of action until the human agent has acted.

God may have an overall plan to maximize the ‘best’ outcome based on educated guesses about the future, but this is not providence as its focus is on the “big picture” rather than the individual welfare. Since he does not have exhaustive foreknowledge, he may even be mistaken. He may be unable to protect your best interest as he may be forced to factor in competing interests of other agents who are not fully in his control. The logical conclusion is that he cannot be a God whom one can absolutely rely on. It would be pointless to bring your lament before him if you cannot be sure of his deliverance. It would be folly to trust in him. In contrast, the Calvinist enjoys firm and unshakeable assurance because his God is absolutely trustworthy.

I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’…I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. (Isa. 46:10-11)

Related Post: The Limited god of Open Theism is Not the Almighty God of the Bible

Coronavirus19 – What is it For?

[A summary of Paul Helm’s article, Coronavirus19 – What is it For? His words in italics]

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐏𝐮𝐛𝐥𝐢𝐜 𝐂𝐚𝐬𝐞
When questioned about the incidents where (1) Pilate killed some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices and (2) eighteen Jews died in an accident when the Tower of Siloam fell on them, Jesus retorted, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you, unless you repent. You will all likewise perish’. (Luke 13: 1-3) These words are offensive to unbelievers.

The references to sin and guilt and repentance will put them off. But a contemporary Jesus – follower, who values Jesus’s words, should he not value these words? But no one, or scarcely one, of his followers today, quotes them, but shuns them. Jesus is silenced. When there are references, to sin, evil and judgment to come, there is a deafening silence. A person who respects Jesus’ words sees the purpose of the Coronavirus plague and other such evils as prompts to reflection and penitence, for Jesus calls all people are called to penitence for their evils even if, outwardly respectable, they convince themselves that they have no such need.

𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐈𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐯𝐢𝐝𝐮𝐚𝐥, 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥 𝐂𝐚𝐬𝐞 Continue reading “Coronavirus19 – What is it For?”

From Lament, to Hope and Action

The fact is that people who survive dire and desperate situations are not those just stay put while waiting for a rational answer. Neither do they just lament and wait for commiseration (romantic sigh of relief), whether from counsellors or from God. Well, unless they come the socially privileged class and therefore never have to fend for themselves all their lives. Not surprisingly, they are at a loss, not knowing what to do. Those who survive are those who refuse to give up. Instead, they overcome the temptation to resign to their fate and do what it takes to survive. Continue reading “From Lament, to Hope and Action”

God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright

The headline of N.T. Wright’s piece published in Time Magazine (29/03/2020) is both shocking and provocative: “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.”

We may summarize NTW’s piece accordingly – There is no explanation, whether rationalist or romantic. We should not rationalize away or spiritualize our suffering especially in times when “the only advice is to wait without hope.” It is better just to grieve or lament. This is because lament reminds us that God himself is the one who grieved and lamented when his people betrayed him. NTW concludes, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.”

Lament without an explanation for suffering without rhyme or reason? Doesn’t this sound like Greek catharsis in the face of cruel and capricious fate? Isn’t this a strange amalgamation of sentimentalism with Roman stoicism? In which case, why lament? Why not just accept our fate? In this regard, maybe the Muslims got it right – just throw up your hands and exclaim “takdir”, and get on with life. Continue reading “God Has Answered our Coronavirus Lament. Contra. N.T. Wright”