Providence is God’s activity in preserving and governing His creation. My family and I have been studying it in our after-breakfast Bible reading time guided by Chapter 16, “Providence,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994). In the chapter Grudem examines three aspects of providence–preservation, concurrence, and government–from a Calvinist perspective and then presents and responds to the major alternative evangelical position, the Arminian view. So far I’ve reported here on our reading of what he says about preservation and concurrence. In this post I’ll report on our reading of what he says about government, applications of the doctrine of God’s providence, and the Arminian position.
This aspect of providence indicates that God has a purpose in everything that He does in the world and that He governs or directs all things so that they accomplish His purposes. Some relevant Bible passages are:
– He does according to his will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?'” (Daniel 4:35, ESV; all Bible passages are quoted from the ESV; the speaker is Nebuchadnezzar).
– “From him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
– “Who [God] works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11).
– “No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and the Lamb will be in it [the new Jerusalem], and his servants will worship him” (Revelation 22:3; the passage points to God’s ultimate purpose).
Applications of the Doctrine of God’s Providence
Realizing that the doctrine of God’s providence may make us think that our actions don’t make much difference, Grudem considers these points about them:
– We are responsible for our actions, as Adam and Eve found when they tried to blame someone else for their disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3)
– Our actions have real results and do affect what happens.
– Prayer is a specific kind of action that brings results. John 16:24, “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full” (Jesus is speaking to the Twelve), and James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask,” make this clear.
– We must act. Joab’s words to David’s army in 2 Samuel 10:12, “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of God, and may the LORD do what seems good to him,” illustrate the combination of vigorous action and trust in Him that God expects of us. Grudem gives more examples on pages 335-36 of his Systematic Theology.
Grudem goes on to make these points:
– Do not be afraid, but trust in God.
– Be thankful for all good things that happen.
– There is no such thing as “luck” or “chance.” Not believing that God foreordains everything, I disagree with him here.
The Arminian Position
Arminians claim that God’s giving us free will means that He doesn’t cause everything that we do. Thus His plan doesn’t include everything that happens. Instead He responds to our actions as they occur in such a way that His purposes are ultimately accomplished in the world.
Grudem presents the arguments put forward by Arminians for their position under these four points:
– The verses cited by Calvinists as examples of God’s providential control are exceptions and do not describe how God ordinarily works.
– The Calvinist view makes God responsible for sin.
– Choices caused by God aren’t real choices.
– The Calvinist view encourages fatalism.
Grudem responds to each of the arguments and then makes some additional objections to the Arminian position. Because of their length, my family and I didn’t read either in our family reading despite my original plan for us to “read everything that Grudem says in the order that he gives it” and thus I won’t share them here. However if anyone reading this article would like to know how Grudem responds to a specific argument, just ask in a comment on this post and I’ll tell you in a reply to your comment.