Monthly Archives: May 2013

Some Older Books Promoting Open Theism

This week I’m going to consider four books on open theism by writers of previous generations, two by L. D. McCabe and two by Gordon C. Olson.

L. D. McCabe

Lorenzo Dow McCabe (1812-1897), a professor of mathematics and of philosophy at Ohio Wesleyan University, wrote The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy (Revival Theology Promotion, North St. Paul, MN, 1987; originally published by Cranston & Stowe, Cincinnati, 1887; copyright, 1878) and Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity (Revival Theology Promotion, North St. Paul, MN, 1988; originally published by Phillips & Hunt, New York, 1882; copyright, 1882). Although they, especially the former, deserve the accolades given to them by many contemporary open theists as seminal works in open theism, I don’t recommend them as a good place to start one’s exploration of open theism because of their length and of their numerous quotations from and references to the views of individuals unknown to today’s readers.

The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy presents in 30 chapters McCabe’s position “that universal prescience is incompatible with human freedom; that there can be no tenable system of doctrine or of moral philosophy based upon that doctrine; but that the whole Christian system may be made consistent, defensible, and satisfactory by the denial of it; and that all the doctrines and prophecies of Scripture are plainly reconcilable with such denial” (p. 11). He opens by stating why he undertook the work (Chapter I). Then he explains how what we now call open theism works (Chapters II – IX), demonstrates that the traditional view of God’s absolute foreknowledge is inadequate (Chapters X – XVIII), and details some of its harmful effects on Christian doctrine and practice (Chapters XIX – XXVIII). He closes by reiterating that the denial of God’s absolute foreknowledge is tenable and explaining eloquently why he questions prescience and embraces its negative (Chapters XXIX- XXX).

In Divine Nescience of Future Contingencies a Necessity, McCabe devotes a chapter to each of the following reasons for divine nescience or ignorance of future contingencies being a necessity: in the necessity of things, in the nature of things, in order to escape the dreaded system of necessity, to the divine perfections, to safeguard the wisdom and candor of the Holy Ghost, to escape the crushing system of pantheism, to give validity to our hopes and pains, to the impression that ought to be made on the mind of a probationer for eternity, to an interpretation of the holy Scriptures, to an explanation of the utility of prayers, to the construction of a satisfactory theodicy, to a universal atonement, for the logical and final settlement of the doctrine of endless punishment, to the harmonizing of the Calvinian and Arminian schools of theology, and because of the reality of time.

Gordon C. Olson

Gordon C. Olson (1907-1989), tractor design engineer and moral government teacher, wrote The Foreknowledge of God (The Bible Research Corporation, Arlington Heights, Illinois; copyright, 1941) and The Omniscience of the Godhead (The Bible Research Corporation, Arlington Heights, Illinois; copyright, 1972). Facebook contains a fan page for him started by Jesse Morrell of Open Air Outreach.

In the preface to The Foreknowledge of God Olson acknowledges his indebtedness to McCabe’s The Foreknowledge of God and Cognate Themes in Theology and Philosophy. The Foreknowledge of God contains five sections: Foreknowledge to the Calvinist, Foreknowledge to the Arminian, Is a Denial of Absolute Divine Foreknowledge Tenable?, Objections Commonly Raised to the Denial of Absolute Foreknowledge, and Concluding Remarks. In the third section Olson presents six reasons for denying divine foreknowledge of all future contingencies, and in the fourth section he responds to four objections to the denial of absolute divine foreknowledge. The Foreknowledge of God also contains lists and charts of Bible passages supporting and denying the foreknowledge of God. Although it predates the rise of contemporary open theism, I consider The Foreknowledge of God a good place to start one’s exploration of the view.

On the other hand, I consider The Omniscience of the Godhead to be a place to reinforce what one knows about open theism rather than to start one’s study of it. The bulk of it presents Scriptural evidence for the openness of God in four sections: that the Godhead lived in time and experienced its passage; that the Godhead experienced grief and disappointment because of man’s sin and persistent rebellion, suggesting the Godhead’s existence in time; that “repent” and its derivatives are used to describe the actions of God some 33 times in the Old Testament; and that other accounts of Divine actions and reactions indicate that future decisions of moral beings and the Godhead were not known beforehand. These sections are preceded by a section describing how speculative philosophy complicated the early church’s simple understanding of God’s existence and of man’s free will and are followed by six short sections, most just references to other writings by Olson.

In my next post I’ll consider some books promoting open theism by a leading contemporary open theist, Gregory A. Boyd.

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Some Contemporary Books Promoting Open Theism

book 1The January 9, 1995, issue of Christianity Today> carried an article, “Has God Been Held Hostage by Philosophy?”, in which four scholars reacted to a recently published book, The Openness of God (InterVarsity Press, 1994), which proposed that God limited His control over the present and His knowledge of the future when He created beings with a free will. Since I’d reached the same conclusion when I was doing a study of the attributes of God with California State University Dominguez Hills in 1984, I purchased The Openness of God and some of the books that appeared in the next few years supporting or opposing the view set forth in it. Here I’ll summarize The Openness of God and a book on open theism by each of its five contributors.

The Openness of God

The Openness of God contains five chapters, each by a different author. In “Biblical Support for a New Perspective,” Richard Rice explores the Scriptural evidence for the openness of God and takes into account passages that seem to call it into question. In “Historical Considerations,” John Sanders argues that traditional theology interprets the Bible differently than The Openness of God does because of the influence of Greek philosophy on it. In “Systematic Theology,” Clark Pinnock portrays God as not only the creator of and ruler over the world but also as a loving parent who limits Himself to interact with us. In “A Philosophical Perspective,” William Hasker shows that the openness view is rationally superior to other ways of understanding God and His knowledge and action in the world. In “Practical Implications,” David Bassinger considers the practical implications of the openness of God on petitionary prayer, divine guidance, the problem of evil, social responsibility, and evangelistic responsibility.

Although the view had been expressed previously, The Openness of God was the first major attempt to bring it into the evangelical theological arena. It succeeded, being voted one of Christianity Today‘s 1995 Books of the Year and sparking widespread and vigorous discussion and over the next few years the production of several books supporting or opposing the view expressed in it. And, despite the overlapping of material that occurs in it because of its fivefold coverage of the view, I think that it’s still a good place to start one’s exploration of the view. Other good places to start are, arranged in order of publication, Gordon C. Olson’s The Foreknowledge of God to be summarized in my May 31 post, Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will summarized below, and Gregory A. Boyd’s God of the Possible to be summarized in my June 7 post.

Basinger – The Case for Freewill Theism

David Basinger’s The Case for Freewill Theism (Downers Grove, Ill., 1996) contains five chapters. “Basic Freewill Theism” distinguishes freewill theism (another name for open theism) from process theism and classical theism. The other four chapters consider the relationship between freewill theism and God’s knowledge, God’s goodness, evil, and petitionary prayer. As its subtitle A Philosophical Assessment indicates, The Case for Freewill Theism is philosophical. Thus I don’t think that it would be a good place to start one’s exploration of open theism. On a personal note, I disagree with Basinger’s conclusion in chapter 2 that freewill theists can affirm that God possesses foreknowledge (“knowledge of what will actually happen…including what humans will freely do”) or middle knowledge (knowledge of “what would happen in every possible situation, including what every possible free creature would do in every possible situation in which the creature could find itself”) as well as present knowledge (knowledge of “everything that is [or has been] actual and…what follows deterministically from it”). I think that they can only affirm that He has present knowledge and foreknowldge of what He has foreordained.

Hasker – God, Time, and Knowledge

Because I’m still working through William Hasker’s God, Time, and Knowledge (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989), I won’t summarize and comment on it here other than to observe that its being a volume in an academic series (Cornell Studies on the Philosophy of Religion) make it an unsuitable place to start one’s exploration of open theism. If any reader would like a summary of it, let me know in a comment on this post or by e-mail and I’ll provide it here or in a response to the comment or e-mail.

Pinnock – Most Moved Mover

Clark H. Pinnock’s Most Moved Mover (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 2001) contains a lengthy introduction and four chapters. “Introduction” describes the open view of God, the sources of controversy over it, and the writer’s approach to theological method. “The Scriptural Foundation” argues that the open view of God is at least as Biblical as its competition. “Overcoming a Pagan Inheritance” demonstrates that the conventional doctrine of God has origins in Greek thought thought as well as in the Bible and suggests some modifications that are needed in it on the basis of the Biblical picture of God. “The Metaphysics of Love” appeals for theology to be not only Biblical but also in a form that will be intellectually compelling to the contemporary generation. “The Existential Fit” shows that “besides being Biblical and coherent, the open view of God is adequate for the demands of life and relevant to concrete situations.” Although I enjoyed and benefited from reading Most Moved Mover, I don’t recommend it a place to start one’s exploration of open theism because it seems to have been written more as an apology for open theism to its evangelical opponents than as a primer in open theism.

Rice – God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will

Richard Rice’s God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1985; revised version of The Openness of God, 1980) contains nine chapters. “The Conventional View of God” and “The Open View of God” examine the conventional and open views of God. The other seven chapters consider the relationship between the openness of God and creation, evil, the future, providence, prophecy, predestination, and personal religion. The back cover of God’s Foreknowledge & Man’s Free Will observes: ‘With strong theological background and sound biblical scholarship, Dr. Rice presents his viewpoint in convincing and easily understood style.” I agree. On a personal note, I disagree with Rice’s identifying man’s being in the “image of God” with man’s having a “position of creative sovereignty over the world” in chapter 3. I understand it to refer to man’s personality.

Sanders – The God Who Risks

John Sanders’ The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press, 1998) contains nine chapters. “Introduction” introduces the idea of God as a risk taker. “The Nature of the Task” considers methodological matters, in particular defending the author’s taking seriously the metaphorical language used in the Bible about God. (I’d suggest skipping the chapter in one’s first reading of the book.) “Old Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” and “New Testament Materials for a Relational View of Providence Involving Risk” discuss numerous texts to demonstrate that the risk model of providence enjoys Biblical support. “Divine Relationality in the Christian Tradition” argues that the model is consistent with the major themes of Western theology. “Risk and the Divine Character” explores philosophically certain attributes of God in relation to the idea of His being a risk taker. “The Nature of Divine Sovereignty” compares the two basic models of divine sovereignty, specific and general. “Applications to the Christian Life” explores the two models in light of various aspects of the Christian life—salvation and grace, evil, prayer, and divine guidance. “Conclusion” summarizes the book and the risk model of providence. Although my current favourite of the books that I have on open theism, I don’t recommend it as a place to start one’s exploration of open theism because of its length.

In my next post, I’m going to consider four books promoting open theism by writers of previous generations, L. D. McCabe and Roger C. Olson.

Prayer

This is the last in a series of three posts on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage that the Life group that I’m a member of is studying. In the passage Paul portrays the Christian life as warfare against Satan using resources supplied to us by the Lord. In this post I’ll consider the final three verses,in which Paul encourages us to pray as well as putting on the armour of God to stand against Satan and his forces. The post consists of two parts: comments on the passage and the questions on it that the Life group will discuss.

18 [P]raying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

I’ve quoted the passage from the English Standard Version. The Biblical quotations below are also from it.

Comments on Ephesians 6:18-20

In preparation for leading our Life group’s study of Ephesians 6:18-20, I reread Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2006) besides consulting my commentaries on Ephesians. In its opening chapter Yancey confesses, “I write about prayer as a pilgrim, not an expert.” Similarly I’ll be leading the study (and making this post) as someone wanting to learn more about prayer and to improve my prayer life rather than as an expert on prayer.

Having warned the Ephesians about the need to stand against the schemes of the devil and encouraged them to put on the armour of God to make that stand, Paul reminds them of the need to accompany their doing so by “praying … keep[ing] alert.” The importance he places on prayer in resisting Satan is shown by his not identifying it with a piece of armour and by the amount of space (three verses) that he devotes to it.

This praying should be done “at all times in the Spirit.” “At all times” is literally “at every opportunity” and indicates that believers should pray continually because they are always under attack by Satan. “In the Spirit” reminds us that the Holy Spirit indwells all believers (Romans 8:9) and is willing to help them pray as they should (Romans 8:26-27). It doesn’t refer to speaking in tongues since not all believers are expected to speak in tongues (1 Corinthians 12:30).

Moreover it should be done “with all prayer and supplication.” The word translated “prayer” is the comprehensive word for prayer addressed to God, the variety of which is often summed up by the acronym ACTS: adoration, confession, thanksgiving,and supplication. “Supplication” generally refers to specific petitions made to God, the kind of prayer that Paul devotes the rest of the passage to. In other words, believers’ lives should be enveloped by prayer and those prayers should include petitions for help in their struggle against Satan.

“To that end keep alert with all perseverance” is a reminder that the reason why believers need to pray and keep alert is that they are under attack by Satan and that, since his attack is an ongoing one, they must persist in praying and keeping alert. The KJV’s having “watching” instead of “keep alert” reminded me of Jesus’ telling Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mark 14:38).

However believers are not to pray only for themselves. All members of the body of Christ, even its leaders, are under attack by Satan and could benefit from intercession by others on their behalf. Thus Paul adds “making supplication for all the saints, and also for me.” James illustrates the power of our praying for others when he encourages his readers to “pray for one another, that you be healed” (James 5:16).

Paul specifies two things that he wants the Ephesians to pray about for him, the first being “that words may be given to me in opening my mouth … to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.” Regarding “the mystery of the gospel,” Matthew Henry wrote, “Some understand it of that part of that part of the gospel which concerns the calling of the Gentiles, which had hitherto, as a mystery, been concealed. But the whole gospel was a mystery, till made known by divine revelation; and it is the work of Christ’s ministers to publish it.” Commentators still disagree on which it refers to but whichever it does, Paul viewed himself as commissioned by God to proclaim it and asks the Ephesians to pray that God will give him the right words as he proclaims it.

He also asks them to pray “that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.” He may have had in mind his witnessing to his visitors (Acts 28:30-31) or he may have been thinking of the time when he would face his Jewish accusers before the Roman tribunal. Surprisingly he doesn’t ask the Ephesians to pray for his release. After noting this, Albert Barnes observes, “Why he did not we do not know; but perhaps the desire of release did not lie so near his heart as the duty of speaking the gospel with boldness. It may be of much more importance that we perform our duty aright when we are afflicted, or are in trouble, than that we should be released.”

Questions on Ephesians 6:18-20

1. Why do you think that Paul added a command to pray to his encouraging us to put on the armour of God to stand against Satan and his forces?
2. What instructions on how to pray does Paul make in verse 18?
3. What did Paul ask the Ephesians to pray for him?
4. Why do you think Paul asked them to make this prayer for him?

In the Life group we’ll consider question 1 before beginning our study of Ephesians 6:18-20.

Next week I’ll begin a series of five posts updating my November 3 and 10 posts, “Some Books on Open Theism” and “Some Websites and Blogs on Open Theism.”

The Armour of God

This is the second in a series of three posts on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage that the Life group that I’m a member of is studying. In the passage Paul portrays the Christian life as warfare against Satan using resources supplied to us by the Lord. In this post I’ll consider the middle four verses, in which Paul describes the armour of God that in the first four verses he encouraged his readers to put on to stand against Satan and his forces. The post consists of two parts: comments on the passage and the questions on it that the Life group will discuss. (Originally there were to be four posts in the series, but I combined the two on the Christian armour to facilitate scheduling of the Life group’s meetings.)

14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

I’ve quoted the passage from the English Standard Version. The Biblical quotations below are also from it.

Comments on Ephesians 6:14-17

For each item in the armour of God, I’ll note what part of a Roman soldier’s armour it refers to and suggest what part of a Christian’s life it probably represents.

armor of God

1. “having fastened on the belt of truth”
The belt’s being the first item mentioned, it was probably the leather apron which hung under a Roman soldier’s armour like breeches to protect the thighs and to tuck the skirts of a robe in for greater freedom of movement rather than the sword belt or strap that some soldiers wore over the armour.
Since “the belt of truth” alludes to Isaiah 11:5, “Righteousness shall be the belt of [the Messiah’s] waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins,” probably “truth” refers to believers’ doing what is right and being faithful to God.

2. “having put on the breastplate of righteousness”
The breastplate was either a metal plate worn over a soldier’s chest to protect it or a coat of mail (a flexible armour composed of scales or plates) worn to protect the chest and back.
The figure of righteousness as a breastplate comes from Isaiah 59:17, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate,” where it describes how God prepared for going to war against evil. Here it probably refers to believers’ acting righteously in their daily dealings with God and other people, which would involve their practising the “faith and love” that Paul encourages them to put on as a breastplate in 1 Thessalonians 5:8.

3. “as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace”
Roman soldiers wore heavy sandles or shoes with soles made of several layers of leather studded with hobnails enabling them to dig in and stand against the enemy.
The imagery comes from Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet who brings good news, who publishes peace.” However, although that passage refers to the announcing of the gospel of peace, here the idea probably is the appropriating of the gospel of peace so that believers can stand against Satan and his forces. In Ephesians “the gospel of peace” has vertical and horizontal components, peace between God and man and peace between Jew and Gentile.

4. “take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one”
The shield is not the small round one which protected only part of the soldier’s body but the large rectangular one made of wood covered with canvas and leather which protected his whole body. Before battle it was soaked in water, which would help extinguish flaming arrows shot by the enemy.
Taking the shield of faith probably refers to believers’ trusting God to protect them when attacked by Satan with temptation, false teaching, persecution, doubt, or despair.

5. “take the helmet of salvation”
The helmet protected the head and for the Roman soldier was made of bronze and had cheek pieces.
The figure of salvation as a helmet comes from Isaiah 59:17, “He put … a helmet of salvation on his head,” where it describes how God prepared for going to war against evil. Here it probably refers to “the hope of salvation” that Paul encourages believers to put on as a helmet in 1 Thessalonians 5:8, that hope being for salvation in both the present and ultimately at Jesus’ second coming.

6. “take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”
The sword is the only offensive part of the armour mentioned here. The Roman’s soldier’s sword had a short handle and a double-edged blade two feet long and two inches wide and was ideal for close fighting.
“Which is the word of God” identifies “the sword of the Spirit” as words spoken by God and, because of the Greek word used for “word,” probably refers to the proclamation of the Gospel message rather than to the Bible. “Of the Spirit” indicates that the Spirit makes the sword effective.

Questions on Ephesians 6:14-17

1. What did we learn about spiritual warfare in our discussion of Ephesians 6:10-13?
2. What are the six pieces of the Christian armour, and what does each piece mean? [On the sheet that I’ll give to the Life group, I’ll ask them to fill out a chart with columns titled “Piece of Armour” and “What the Piece Means.”]

In the Life group we’ll consider question 1 at the beginning of our study of Ephesians 6:14-17.

In my next post I’ll consider Ephesians 6:18-20, in which Paul encourages prayer.

Christian Warfare

This is the first in a series of four posts on Ephesians 6:10-20, the passage that the Life group that I’m a member of is about to study. In the passage Paul portrays the Christian life as warfare against Satan using resources supplied to us by the Lord. In this post I’ll consider the first four verses, in which Paul describes Satan and his forces and encourages us to put on the armour of God to stand against them. The post consists of two parts: a short exposition of the passage and the questions on it that the Life group will discuss.

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (ESV)

Exposition of Ephesians 6:10-13

Paul opens Ephesians 6:10-20 with “Finally” to show that these are his final thoughts before he ends his letter to the church at Ephesus. The letter contains two parts, chapters 1-3 about how we are redeemed by God and chapters 4-6 about how we as the redeemed should live. The passage can be considered the conclusion to the second part of the letter or, with 6:21-23, to the whole letter.

“Be strong in the Lord” is literally “Be empowered [or strengthened] in the Lord.” “Be empowered” being passive indicates that the power comes from outside rather than from within us. “In the Lord” identifies from whom the power comes, the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest of verse 10, “and in the strength of his might,” explains how we are to be empowered by him.

“Put on the whole armor of God” tells how we can be empowered in the Lord, by putting on armour belonging to and provided by God. Paul describes the armour in Ephesians 6:14-17, which I’ll consider in my next two posts. His description of it may have been influenced by his being in prison guarded by Roman soldiers when he wrote Ephesians.

“That you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” tells why we should put on the armour of God, so that we can withstand Satan’s wily strategies against us. Without the armour of God, we would surely yield to them, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Clothed in it, we can resist them, as Jesus did in the wilderness and as we are encouraged to do in James 4:7, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood” reminds us that our struggle is not against mere human foes but, as Paul goes on to explain, against evil spirit powers. He may have used the word “wrestle” because of the popularity of wrestling in games hosted by Ephesus. It also suggests the face-to-face nature of the struggle.

“But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness” identifies the evil spirit powers. Leaders among the angels who followed Satan in rebelling against God at some time before he appeared in the Garden of Eden (perhaps pointed to in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28), they were defeated by Christ on the cross (Colossians 2:15) but are still able to incite evil.

“Against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” further describes the evil spirit powers already named or refers to the vast host of lower-ranking followers of Satan and identifies their locality. Although they dwell in the heavenly places, they war against us here directly (as in demon possession) or indirectly through various agencies and events.

Thus Paul again encourages us to “take up the whole armor of God” that we may “stand firm.” Biblical scholars disagree on what “the evil day” refers to; some think that it refers both to the whole present age and to the final outbreak of evil before the Lord’s return. “Having done all” suggests that if we have done all that we can do by putting on the armour of God we shall be able to stand against Satan and his forces.

In the words of John of the Golden Mouth (Chrysostom): “Let us then put ourselves in array and wound [the devil], having for our mighty confederate the Lord Jesus Christ, who can both render us impregnable to his snare, and worthy of the good things to come; which God grant that we may all attain, through the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, together with the Holy Ghost, be unto the Father, glory, might, and honor, now and ever, and throughout all ages. Amen.”

Questions on Ephesians 6:10-13

1. What do you think of the idea that there are spiritual forces in the universe that are working against God?
2. According to Ephesians 1:20-21, where is Jesus Christ and what power does he have?
3. What do you think that Paul means by “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”?
4. Who does Paul say in verse 12 that we are at war with?
5. What does Paul tell us in verses 11 and 13 to do to participate in the war against them?
6. What have you learned about spiritual warfare in this passage?

In the Life group we’ll consider question 1 at the beginning of our study of the passage.

In my next two posts I’ll consider Ephesians 6:14-17, in which Paul describes the armour of God.