Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Origin of Man

This Christmas my older daughter, Allison, gave my son, Robert, Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and The Case for a Creator. My family’s being about to begin Chapter 21, “The Creation of Man,” in our reading of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) and my not having read The Case for a Creator, I borrowed and read Robert’s copy of it. As a result, I decided to include with our reading of Chapter 21 a section of Chapter 15, “Creation,” that we’d omitted when we read that chapter in our family reading. In the past few days my family and I began reading Chapter 21 and read the section of Chapter 15. In the next few days we’ll finish reading Chapter 21. I’ll share from our reading in this and next week’s posts, in this post considering the Biblical doctrine of creation and the Darwinian theory of evolution and in my next post considering what it means for man to be created in the image of God.

The five posts that I made on Chapter 15 from November 9 to 19 provide background to this post. In the first two of the posts I considered the Biblical doctrine of creation under the headings “Creation Out of Nothing by the Triune God” and “The Purpose and Quality of Creation.” The other three posts concern “Creation and Modern Science” in three parts. Of particular relevance to this post is the list of objections made by Grudem to theistic evolution–the theory that although God may have created matter, the simplest form of life, and man, He used evolution to allow other forms of life to develop–that I cited in “Creation and Modern Science – Part 1.” Grudem follows the sixth objection, “There are many scientific problems with the theory of evolution,” with a consideration of some of those problems in the section which we omitted when we read Chapter 15 in our family reading, “Notes on the Darwinian Theory of Evolution.

Grudem opens the section by summarizing the Darwinian theory of evolution, devotes the bulk of the section to presenting six challenges to the theory made by Philip E. Johnson, and closes the section by identifying some destructive influences of the theory (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pages 279-287). Besides sharing from our family reading of the section, I’ll share a little from The Case for a Creator (Lee Strobel, The Case for a Creator, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2004).

Modern Darwinian Evolutionary Theory

Life began when a mix of chemical elements spontaneously produced a very simple life form. This life form reproduced itself. Eventually there were some changes or mutations in the cells produced. These mutations led to the development of more complex life forms. Many of these perished, but those better suited to their environment survived and multiplied. Eventually more and more mutations developed into more and more varieties of living things. Thus all the complex life forms on earth developed from the original very simple life form through mutation and natural selection.

Challenges to Darwinian Evolutionary Theory

book 7Philip E. Johnson presents these six challenges to modern Darwinian evolutionary theory in a book called Darwin on Trial (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1991):
1. The amount of variation produced in over a hundred years of experimental breeding of various kinds of animals and plants has been extremely limited.
2. Since almost any characteristic can be argued to be either an advantage or a disadvantage, we can’t really know which characteristics have enabled certain animals to survive.
3. The numerous, complex mutations required to produce a complex organ could not have occurred in tiny mutations accumulating over thousands of generations because the individual parts of the organ are useless unless the entire organ is functioning.
4. Darwin was unable to find any fossils to fill in the gaps between distinct kinds of animals, and the subsequent 150 years of archaeological activity have failed to find a convincing example of a transitional type.
5. Although the molecular structures of living organisms show relationships, the Darwinian assumption that relationships imply common ancestry hasn’t been proven. The similarities can equally be taken as evidence of a common designer.
6. The production of even the simplest organism capable of independent life could not result from random mixing of chemicals. It requires intelligent design and craftsmanship so complex that no scientific laboratory has been able to do it.

If you don’t understand my statement of any of Johnson’s challenges, please ask about it in a Reply to this post and I’ll try to explain it. However, please note that I don’t have Johnson’s Darwin on Trial and so my explanation will be dependent on Grudem’s summary of the challenge.

Destructive Influences of Darwinian Evolutionary Theory

Grudem identifies these destructive influences of Darwinian evolutionary theory:
– If human life is simply the result of random occurrences rather than being created by and responsible to God, then we are of no real importance in the universe.
– If all of life can be explained by evolutionary theory and there is no God who created us, then there is no supreme Judge to hold us morally accountable and there are no moral absolutes in life.
– If human beings are continually evolving for the better, then the wisdom of earlier generations (including religious beliefs) is not likely as valuable as modern thought.

The Case for a Creator

book 8In The Case for a Creator, Lee Strobel reports on his interviews with some leading Christian scientists about the Darwinian theory of evolution. Like Johnson (and Grudem), he concludes that the theory has no credible explanation of how life originated and that there is insufficient evidence for macro-evolution (the kind of evolution described in “Modern Darwinian Evolutionary Theory” above; micro-evolution consists of small developments within a species).

Strobel then argues that the following scientific disciplines point toward the existence of an intelligent designer (God):
– Cosmology. Whatever begins to exist has a cause (universally accepted). The universe had a beginning (generally agreed on). Therefore the universe has a cause.
– Physics. There are more than thirty (according to one expert) physical or cosmological parameters that require precise calibration in order to produce a universe that can sustain life. Chance cannot reasonably account for them. The simplest and most obvious solution is God.
– Astronomy. Numerous factors make our solar system and our location in the universe just right for a habitable environment, suggesting that it was created for man to live in.
– Biochemistry. The complexity of molecules in organisms are unlikely to have been built piece-by-piece through evolution because they have to be fully present in order to function, and thus they point to a transcendent creator.
– Biological Information. No hypothesis has come close to explaining how the information contained by our DNA got there. The presence of such coding implies an intelligent source.
– Consciousness. Consciousness is our introspection, sensations, thoughts, emotions, desires, beliefs, and free choices that make us alive and aware. Current scientific findings support the view that it is a separate entity from our brain with a supernatural origin. (Strobel, The Case for a Creator, pages 279-283)
If you don’t understand my statement of any of Strobel’s arguments, please ask about it in a Reply to this post and I’ll try to explain it.

My reading of Robert’s copy of The Case for a Creator impressed me sufficiently to order a copy to join Strobel’s The Case for Faith and The Case for Christ in my personal library.

My Systematic Theology Books

Yesterday’s being Boxing Day the Life group that my wife and I attend didn’t have a meeting. Thus instead of sharing with you from it, I’ll present an updated version of my September 30 “My Systematic Theology Books” post. It contains two additional books and is arranged alphabetically instead of chronologically.

Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Volumes 19-20 of Great Books of the Western World. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952. Aquinas (1224-74) was the greatest philosopher and theologian of the medieval church. He wrote The Summa Theologica in 1267-73. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII declared it official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Berkhof (1873-1957) was a president and teacher at Calvin Seminary. <i>Systematic Theology</i> was the favourite systematic theology book of Dr. Ratz, the dean of Eastern Pentecostal Bible College when I attended it. Grudem (see below) describes Berkhof’s Systematic Theology as “probably the most useful one-volume systematic theology available from any theological perspective.”

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes 20-21 of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia, Westminster, 1960. Calvin (1509-64) was the greatest theologian of the Reformation. He wrote the original version of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 and revised it several times. The LCC version was translated from the 1559 version collated with earlier versions.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Erickson (1932- ) is currently Distinguished Professor of Theology at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. The first edition of Christian Theology was published in three volumes in 1983-85. It excels in interacting with contemporary theological thought.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. Grudem (1948- ) became Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in 2001 after teaching for twenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has a website at www.waynegrudem.com. His Systematic Theology is my most useful all-round systematic theology book and my family and I are reading it in our family Bible reading time.

Horton, Stanley M. Editor. Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1994. Horton (1916- ) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Bible and Theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective was written by twenty teachers of Bible and theology in the seminary and colleges of the Assemblies of God.

Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907. Strong (1836-1921) was a president and professor of theology at Rochester Theological Seminary. <i>Systematic Theology</i> was first published in 1886 and revised and enlarged in 1906. It was widely used by Baptists until replaced by Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (see above).

Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Thiessen (1883–1947) was a former chairman of the faculty at Wheaton College. The first edition of Lectures in Systematic Theology was published in 1949. It was the textbook for systematic theology at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College when I attended it. Grudem categorizes it as Dispensational.

Williams, J. Rodman. Renewal Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996. Williams (1918-2008) was a teacher at Regent University. A website dedicated to him is at www.rodmanwilliams.com. Renewal Theology was published in three volumes in 1988-92. It was the first systematic theology published from a charismatic perspective. Besides appreciating its Pentecostal/charismatic orientation, I like its pastoral style and its extensive footnotes, particularly those on the Greek text. Despite its being Calvinistic, it would be my favourite systematic theology book if it weren’t for its also being amillenial.

A Few Favourite Christmas Stories

Merry Christmas!

Over the years I’ve enjoyed many Christmas stories in books and on television. In this post I’m going to share with you my favourites of those told in books that I and my family have.

“The Gift of the Magi”

I’m sure that most of you are familiar with the first story that I’m going to share with you, O. Henry’s classic “The Gift of the Magi.” O. Henry is the pen name of William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), an American short story writer whose stories are still read throughout the world. “The Gift of the Magi,” written in 1905, appears in many collections, including one which I have, The Book of Virtues, edited by William J. Bennett (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993).

O. Henry is noted for his use of surprise endings, and “The Gift of the Magi” contains the best known of them. It features the love of a poor, young couple for each other. They have two prize possessions, Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s and Della’s beautiful long brown hair. Della sells her hair to get money to buy a chain for Jim’s watch. Arriving home, Jim stares at Della with a strange look on his face. Finally he embraces her and gives her his Christmas gift for her, a beautiful set of combs that she had long desired. She hugs the combs to herself and then shows Jim his gift and asks for his watch so that she can see how it looks on him. Smiling he tells her that he’d sold the watch to get money to buy the combs.

O. Henry concludes: “The Magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas gifts. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. Of all who give and received gifts, such as they are the wisest. Everywhere they are the wisest. They are the magi.”

“The Present That Betsy Wanted” and “Christmas Star”

In 2002 the older of my two daughters, Allison, gave my other two children, Robert and Shekinah, the Eddie and Betsy series by Carolyn Haywood (1898-1990). Although a senior, I enjoyed rereading both series because Betsy’s and Billy’s adventures reminded me of my own childhood days. One of the volumes in the Betsy series, Merry Christmas from Betsy (New York: Morrow, 1970) contains several Christmas stories from earlier Betsy books, including the two from the second volume in the series, Betsy and Billy (New York: Morrow, 1941), which I’ll summarize here.

The stories in Betsy and Billy took place when Betsy was in second grade. One day in December Betsy’s mother took her to the city to see Christmas toys and buy Christmas presents. While she was in a big department store, Betsy met a Santa Claus, who asked her what she wanted for Christmas. She told him that she wanted a baby sister and a bicycle and that if she couldn’t have both she wanted the baby sister.

On Christmas morning Betsy’s father took her to her mother’s room and led her to a corner of the room. There was the bassinet that had once been Betsy’s. In it was a tiny baby, sound asleep, whom Betsy’s father told her was a baby sister. As she looked at the baby, she heard voices singing “silent Night.” She tiptoed to her mother’s bed and, when her mother opened her eyes, said, “Thank you for my present. Do you hear ‘Holy Night,’ Mother?” Her mother replied, “Yes, darling. Holy Night.”

After she saw her baby sister Betsy went downstairs with her father. She looked at the things under the Christmas tree and opened her stocking. There was no bicycle, but Betsy didn’t mind, guessing that a bicycle and a baby sister would have been too much. Late in the afternoon the doorbell rang. There was a delivery man with a shiny two-wheel bicycle for Betsy. “Oh, Father.” she said, “a baby sister and a bike, both! It’s wonderful!”

That evening Betsy say on her father’s lap and he read her a book that she’d been given for Christmas. After a while she looked at the Christmas tree from bottom to top. The star at the top seemed to twinkle at her. “Father, ” she cried, I know what I’m going to name the baby…Star.” “Star!” said her father. “Let’s go tell Mother.”

“Mr. Edwards Meets Santa Claus”

In 2005 Allison gave Robert and Shekinah four volumes of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957) about Laura’s experiences growing up in the American Midwest in pioneer days. The stories show the importance of hard work and family love. Each of the four volumes that Robert and Shekinah have tells a story of how the family spent one of their Christmases. I’ll summarize here the one contained in the second volume of the series, Little House on the Prairie (New York: HarperCollins, 1935).

Day after day it rained and Laura and her sister, Mary, were anxious that Santa Claus wouldn’t find them because of the gray skies and lack of snow. Then about noon the day before Christmas the sky cleared, raising their hopes. But when Ma (their mother) opened the door they heard the creek roaring and knew that they’d have no Christmas because Santa Claus couldn’t cross the roaring creek. They tried not to mind too much, Ma’s telling them that they were lucky little girls to have a good house to live in, a warm fire to sit beside, and a fat turkey for their Christmas dinner. But still they weren’t happy.

In the early morning as they lay in bed they heard someone at the door. When Pa (their father) opened it, they saw that it was the bachelor neighbour who’d been asked to eat dinner with them, Mr. Edwards. He told Pa that he’d swum the creek to get there because Pa’s little ones had to have a Christmas. He continued, “No creek could stop me, after I fetched them their gifts from Independence.”

On hearing that, Laura sat up in bed and asked Mr. Edwards if he’d seen Santa Claus. On being told that he had, Laura and Mary peppered him with questions, “Where? When? What did he look like? What did he say? Did he really give you something for us?” Mr. Edwards told them how he’d met Santa Claus in Independence and how Santa Claus had asked him to take Laura and Mary’s gifts to them because he wouldn’t be able to cross the creek.

While Mr. Edwards was telling Laura and Mary about his meeting Santa Claus, Ma had been filling their stockings, which were hanging at the fireplace, with the gifts that he’d brought. Now she told them they could look. In the stockings each of them found a glittering new cup, two long sticks of red and white peppermint candy, a little heart-shaped cake, and a shining bright new penny. They were too excited to eat much breakfast.

However shortly after came Christmas dinner: the turkey, sweet potatoes brought from town by Mr. Edwards, bread made from the last of the white flour, and stewed dried blackberries and little cakes. Then while Pa, Ma, and Ma sat by the fire and talked about past Christmases, “Mary and Laura looked at their beautiful cakes and played with their pennies and drank their water out of their new cups. And little by little they licked and sucked their sticks of candy, till each stick was sharp-pointed on one end. That was a happy Christmas.”

The Original and Greatest Christmas Story

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, into Judaea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known unto us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:1-20, ESV)

Thus Luke records the birth of Jesus about two thousand years ago. Actually God the Son, Jesus lived among us for just over thirty years and then allowed himself to be crucified to pay the cost required for us to receive the greatest gift possible, eternal life. My Christmas wish for you is that if you haven’t yet accepted that gift you’ll do so this Christmas. Merry Christmas!

Satan and Demons

How are you fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How are you cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
“I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will make myself like the Most High.”
But you will be brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the Pit.

Although this passage (Isaiah 14:12-15, ESV; all Biblical quotations are from the ESV) is addressed to the king of Babylon, it seems too strong to refer to just a human king. Thus many take it as being also addressed to an angel who sometime before the fall of humans led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. We know the angel as Satan and at least some of his followers as demons.

My family and I have just finished reading Chapter 20, “Satan and Demons,” of Wayne Gruden’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our family Bible-reading time. Here I’ll share some of what we learned from our reading and of what I learned from other sources in preparing for our family reading. I’ll consider the origin and nature, the activity of, and the relationship to us of Satan and demons, and I’ll suggest some benefits of studying about good and evil angels. For a list of the other sources which I consulted, see the bibliography for my December 17 post on angels.

The Origin and Nature of Satan and Demons

In my August 9 post on Satan I quoted from two other passages which suggest the fall of Satan and his followers, Ezekiel 28:11-19 and Revelation 12:3-4. Grudem also refers to the following passages:
– “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
– “And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains until the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6).

However these passages refer to fallen angels who are confined, whereas the Bible, especially the Gospels, shows Satan and demons as active in the world. Grudem suggests that they have Hell, rather than Heaven, as their home but are able to range from there to affect people and events in the world.

Being angels, Satan and demons fit the description which I gave of angels in my last post except that they work against instead of for God. Thus they are “spiritual beings created by God” without physical bodies, “personal beings who can be interacted with,” and “moral creatures who can be characterized as good or evil.” Like angels “they have superhuman knowledge but are not omniscient” and “have superhuman power but are not omnipotent.” Grudem suggests that since sin has a weakening and destructive influence, Satan and demons have less power and knowledge than they originally had.

The Activity of Satan and Demons

As I observed above, sometime before the fall of humans Satan led a rebellion against God, bringing sin into God’s creation. Genesis 3:1-5, 14-15 describes his temptation of Eve to disobey God and his punishment by God for tempting her. Since then his activity has been to tempt us to sin. Thus Grudem says, “The devil’s characteristic has been to originate sin and tempt others to sin” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, page 415).

Augustus Hopkins Strong describes these activities of demons:
1. They oppose God and strive to defeat his will.
2. They hinder man’s temporal and eternal welfare,–sometimes by exercising a certain control over natural phenomena, but more commonly by subjecting man’s soul to temptation. Possession of man’s being, either physical or spiritual, by demons, is also recognized in Scripture.
3. Yet, in spite of themselves, they execute God’s plans of punishing the ungodly, of chastening the good, and of illustrating the nature and fate of moral evil.
(Augustus Hopkins Strong, Systematic Theology (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907), pages 454-459.
I haven’t given Biblical examples of demons’ performing these activities because there are so many of them. If anybody reading this post wants examples, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll give some.

Our Relationship to Satan and Demons

The bulk of Grudem’s chapter on Satan and demons is about our relationship to demons. Here I’ll summarize the main points that he makes:
– Demons are active in the world today. Our still being in the church age, there’s no reason to think that there is any less demonic activity in the world today than there was at the time of the New Testament.
– Not all evil and sin is from Satan and demons, but some is. If there is a continued pattern of sin in a Christian’s life, the primary responsibility rests in his or her choices to continue that pattern. However if the Christian has struggled for some time to overcome the sin, he or she may also consider whether a demonic attack or influence could be contributing to it.
– Whether a Christian can be “demon possessed” depends on how the term is defined. If it is defined as the Christian’s being completely dominated by a demon so that he or she has no power left to choose to obey God, then the answer is “No” (“For sin will have no dominion over you,” Romans 6:14). However is it is defined as a Christian’s being under attack or influence by demons, then the answer is “Yes” (“A thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger from Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited,” 2 Corinthians 12:7).
– Demonic influences can be recognized by the affected person’s exhibiting odd and often violent behaviour (as in Mark 1:23-24) or making blatantly false doctrinal statements (as in 1 Corinthians 12:3) and/or by a subjective sense of their presence. 1 Corinthians 12:10 notes that some Christians are given “the ability to distinguish between spirits,” and Grudem suggests that all Christians have something similar to but not as developed as that gift.
– Jesus gives all believers authority to rebuke demons and command them to leave. The basis for our authority over them is the work of Christ on the cross and we exercise it as children in God’s family. In actual practice we may simply command, in the name of Jesus and possibly with a quotation from the Bible (as Jesus did when tempted by Satan), the demon to leave. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
– Grudem suggests several other considerations that a person should take into account in ministering to other people whom he or she suspects are under demonic attack or influence. If anybody reading this post would like to know what he suggests, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll summarize his suggestions.
– We should expect the gospel to come in power to triumph over the works of the devil. After all, “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Benefits of Studying Angels, Good and Evil

In my last post I shared a list of practical uses of the doctrine of angels given by Strong. It was actually a list of uses of the doctrine of good angels, and he also gives a list of uses of the doctrine of evil angels. However, instead of sharing that list here, I’ll share the benefits suggested by Millard J. Erickson of studying all angels, good and evil.
1. It comforts and encourages us to realize that angels are available to help us. Grudem illustrates this benefit by referring to the relief that Elisha’s servant must have felt on seeing the army of angels that surrounded the city of Dothan when it was under attack by the Syrians (2 Kings 6:17).
2. The angels’ praise of and service to God gives us an example of how we should act towards God.
3. Some angels’ yielding to temptation and falling reminds us of the need for us to be careful. Grudem quotes 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
4. Knowledge about evil angels alerts us to how dangerous they can be and gives us insights into how they work.
5. We receive confidence from knowing that, although they are powerful, there are limits to what Satan and demons can do. We can resist him successfully with the help of God, and his ultimate defeat is certain.
(Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013), pages 419-420.

Common Explanations Given for Evil and Suffering

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Eight attended, and we studied the section “What Common Explanations are Given for Evil and Suffering?” of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2010). The study was preceded by singing and prayer and was followed by a time of fellowship that included a snack besides singing and prayer.

We began the study by reading Alcorn’s comments on what he says are the five most common explanations given for evil and suffering other than the Biblical one:
1. There is no evil and suffering.
2. There is no God.
3. God has limited goodness.
4. God has limited power.
5. God has limited knowledge.

For each explanation one of the other members of the group read Alcorn’s comment and I explained any terms in it which I thought might be unfamiliar to someone in the group and I read any part of Alcorn’s longer comment on the explanation in his book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Books, 2009) which I thought would be interesting and/or illuminating to the group. We also had some discussion of the explanation.

After we’d done the above, I asked the members of the group which of the five explanations they considered most credible. Three of them suggested the explanation that God has limited power. Personally I think that the explanation that God has limited knowledge is the most credible (after all, I started this blog to explain open theism, which Alcorn claims believes that “God has limited knowledge”), but I didn’t indicate my preference to the group.

One of the group then read Alcorn’s summary of the explanation which the Bible gives for evil and suffering: “God is all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing; he hates evil and will ultimately punish evildoers and remove evil and suffering after accomplishing a greater, eternal good” (booklet, page 27). I’d planned to read Alcorn’s lengthy argument for the explanation if time permitted. However we’d already reached the time at which we’d hoped to start our time of fellowship, and so I didn’t read it.

I closed the study by explaining that the next section in the booklet considers explanations 3, 4, and 5 in more detail and the claim that the evil and suffering in the world indicate that God is limited in love. I asked the group to read what Alcorn says about “Is God’s power limited?” (the group’s having considered “God has limited power” to be the most credible of the five explanations) and “Is God’s love limited?” for our next meeting (on January 2, 2014).

Angels

Angels, from the realms of glory,
Wing your flight o’er all the earth;
Ye who sang creation’s story,
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth:
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!
(James Montgomery (1771-1854)

This verse of the familiar Christmas carol “Angels From the Realms of Glory” is drawn from Luke’s account of angels announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds watching over their sheep at night (Luke 2:8-14) and illustrates one activity of angels, bringing God’s messages to people.

My family and I have just finished reading Chapter 19, “Angels,” of Wayne Gruden’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994) in our family Bible-reading time. Here I’ll share some of what we learned from our reading and of what I learned from other sources in preparing for our family reading. I’ll consider the nature and work of angels, our relationship to them, and practical uses of the doctrine of angels.

The Nature of Angels

Angels are spiritual beings created by God to serve as attendants and messengers for Him. Since they are spirits (Hebrews 1:14), they don’t have physical bodies (Luke 24:39). Therefore they can’t be seen by us unless they take on a bodily form so that we can see them or God gives us a special ability to see them (see Numbers 22:31 and 2 Kings 6:17).

Like humans, angels are personal beings who can be interacted with and moral creatures who can be characterized as good or evil. They have superhuman knowledge but are not omniscient, both being suggested or indicated by Jesus in Matthew 24:36, “But concerning that day and hour [the day of his return] no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only” (ESV; all Bible passages quoted are from the ESV). Similarly they have superhuman power but are not omnipotent, both being illustrated in the account of Satan’s testing of Job in Job 1-2. Their travelling from one place to another, as in Daniel 10:12-14, shows that they are not omnipresent.

The Bible refers to three other types of heavenly beings–cherubim, seraphim, and “living creatures.” Cherubim are referred to in several places between Genesis 3:24 and Hebrews 9:5; seraphim in Isaiah 6:2-7; and “living creatures” in Ezekiel 1: 5-25 and Revelation 4:6-8. It is uncertain whether they are special types of angels or are heavenly beings distinct from angels. In Ezekiel 10:15, 20-22 the “living creatures” of Ezekiel 1 seem to be identified as cherubim and so they may not be distinct from them.

The Bible indicates that there are an amazingly large number of angels; for example, Revelation 5:11 describes them as numbering “myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands.” The Bible also indicates that there is rank and order among them, Michael’s being called an archangel in Jude 9. The only angel besides Michael who is given a name in the Bible is Gabriel, who carried messages from God to Daniel (Daniel 8:16; 9:21) and to Zechariah and Mary (Luke 1:19, 26-27). Some speculate that he is also an archangel.

Some passages in the Old Testament refer to “the angel of the Lord” in a way that suggests that he is God Himself in human form. For example, “Then the angel of God said to me in a dream, ‘Jacob…I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar and made a vow to me'” (Genesis 31:11, 13) and “The angel of the LORD appeared to him [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush…and he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'” (Exodus 3:2, 6). However there are also passages where God and the angel of the Lord are distinguished. For example, God speaks to the angel of the Lord in 2 Samuel 24:16 and the angel of the Lord speaks to God in Zechariah 1:12. The three main theories of who the angel of the Lord is are: (1) an angel with a special commission, (2) God Himself temporarily visible in human form, and (3) Jesus Christ, making a preincarnate appearance.

The Work of Angels

In his Christian Theology Millard J. Erickson (see Bibliography below) describes these five activities of angels:
1. They continually praise and glorify God.
2. The reveal and communicate God’s message to humans.
3. They minister to believers.
4. They execute judgment on the enemies of God.
5. They will be involved in the second coming.
I haven’t given Biblical examples of angels’ performing these activities because there are so many of them. If anybody reading this post wants examples, ask in a Reply to this post and I’ll give some.

Some people think that each person or at least each believer has an individual guardian angel. Support for this idea is found in Matthew 18:10, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones [children or believers]. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is heaven,” and Acts 12:15, “She [the servant girl who answered the door and recognized Peter’s voice after he was freed from prison by an angel] kept insisting that it was so [that Peter was at the gate], and they kept saying, ‘It is his angel!'” However the “little ones” angels could be angels assigned to watch over them as a group, and the reply to the servant girl just points to a belief of those gathered in the house. Thus the evidence is insufficient to demonstrate that each person or each believer has a guardian angel.

Our Relationship to Angels

I enjoyed watching the Touched by an Angel series when it originally appeared and still occasionally watch repeat showings of episodes from it on VISION TV. It shows angels serving God by ministering to us in our daily lives. The Bible indicates the same thing in such passages as Psalms 91:11-12, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in your ways. On their hands they will bera you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone,” and Hebrews 13:2, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” We should be aware of and thankful to God for angels’ participating in our daily lives.

However the Bible also gives cautions regarding our relationship to angels. Grudem elaborates on these two cautions:
– Beware of receiving false doctrine from angels. Paul warns the Galatians, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
– Do not worship, pray to, or seek angels. God is the only one whom we should worship or pray to.

Practical Uses of the Doctrine of Angels

In his Systematic Theology Augustus Hopkins Strong (see Bibliography below) lists these uses of the doctrine of angels:
1. It gives us an increased appreciation of God’s greatness to think of the multitude of unfallen beings who executed His purposes before we appeared.
2. It strengthens our faith in God to know that beings of such high rank are appointed to minister to us.
3. It teaches us humility that beings with knowledge and power so much greater than ours gladly perform services on our behalf.
4. It helps us in our struggle against sin to know that angels are near, observing our wrong doing if we fail and sustaining us if we resist temptation.
5. It enlarges our conception of the possibilities of our future existence to think of how angels praise and serve God unceasingly in Heaven.

Bibliography

Most of my Bible dictionaries/encyclopedias and systematic theology textbooks have good articles/chapters on the topics of this and my next post, good angels (this post) and evil angels (next week’s post). Before beginning my study of angels, I browsed all of those articles/chapters and selected a few to read carefully and to consult in our family reading of Chapters 19 and 20 of Grudem’s Systematic Theology and in my preparing the two posts here on angels. These are the ones which I selected:
– Baker, Carolyn Denise, and Frank D. Macchia. “Created Spirit Beings.” Systematic Theology. Edited by Stanley M. Horton. Springfield, Missouri: Gospel Publishing House, 1994. Pages 179-213.
– Erickson, Millard J. “God’s Special Agents: Angels.” Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2013. Pages 403-420.
– Strong, Augustus Hopkins. “Good and Evil Angels.” Systematic Theology. Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1907. Pages 443-464.
– Thiessen, Henry Clarence. “Angelology.” Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Pages 133-148.

What Causes Natural Disasters?

Yesterday evening Leonora and I attended the weekly meeting of the Life group hosted by Roland and Sherry Loder. Eight attended, and we worked through the following discussion sheet on the section of Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? booklet called “What Causes Natural Disasters?”. The discussion was preceded and followed by singing and prayer. Everyone seemed to enjoy both the discussion and the singing.

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Life Group — If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? (pages 22-24) — December 12, 2013

Our Life group is currently studying the problem of evil and suffering guided by a booklet by Randy Alcorn called If God Is Good Why Do We Hurt? and based on his book If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Multnomah Books, 2009). Here is how the booklet defines the problem of evil and suffering:

If God is good and all-knowing and all-powerful, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Surely he wants to prevent it, knows how to prevent it, and has the ability to prevent it. So why hasn’t he? (booklet, page 13)

This week we’re going to read and discuss a section in the booklet called “What Causes Natural Disasters?” (booklet, pages 22-24). Below is an outline of what we’ll do in the study.

Opening
I’ll read page 84 of the book and we’ll discuss this question, which is adapted from a question asked in the first paragraph of the section in the booklet:
? – How could God allow the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?

God’s and People’s Roles in Natural Disasters
I’ll read from “Natural disasters…” on page 22 to “…against God” on page 24 of the booklet.
I’ll read what Alcorn says in the book (pages 86-89) about these aspects of the topic:
– God is sovereign over all nature.
– <i>Sometimes</i> God uses natural disasters to punish evil.
– Even when Satan is behind natural disasters and diseases, God hasn’t relinquished his world-governing power.
– Some disasters fall on the blameless.
We’ll discuss this question:
? – What are God’s and people’s roles in natural disasters?

Transformations Resulting from Natural Disasters
I’ll read the paragraph beginning “Still” on page 24 of the booklet and, if time permits, pages 89-90 of the book.
I’ll read the paragraph beginning “We” on page 24 of the booklet and, if time permits, page 91 of the book.
We’ll discuss this question:
? – How should we respond to natural disasters?

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Opening

Reports on the devastation and deaths caused by such natural disasters as earthquakes, floods, forest fires, and hurricanes are regular features of the news. A common reaction to them is, “Why did God let it happen?” — a question which suggests that if God is as loving and powerful as the Bible pictures Him to be He would prevent or at least limit the effect of such disasters.

“How could God allow the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines?” – Our discussion of this question brought out most of the ideas expressed by Alcorn in the section. The discussion was personal because those present included my wife, whose family lives in the Philippines, and a lady whose husband and son had recently died in a car accident brought about by slippery roads.

God’s and People’s Roles in Natural Disasters

In my July 26 post, “How Evil and Suffering Are Related,” I noted that Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in the Garden of Eden resulted in suffering by them (and us) and a curse on the natural world. God announced these when He spoke to Adam and Eve on meeting with them after they ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:16-19). Alcorn observes that the curse on the natural world will remain until the day when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20-21; quoted on page 22 of the booklet). The passage’s context identifies that day as when God’s people are glorified (Romans 8:18-23). Note that all quotations of Bible passages in this post are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

Alcorn goes on to observe that our sinful actions and misuse of land sometimes make things worse (booklet, page 23).

He makes these additional observations about God’s and others’ roles in natural disasters in his book (pages 86-89):

– God is sovereign over all nature. For example, Jesus said of Him, “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Thus, although nature may ordinarily follow natural laws and Jesus referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31), God is over them.

– Although God sometimes uses natural disasters to punish evil (Alcock gives several examples on pages 86-87 of the book), usually they are general results of the curse on the natural world and not linked to the sins of those who suffer from them. For example, Jesus said, “Those eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you” (Luke 13:4-5a).

– Satan may sometimes bring about natural disasters. For example, Job 1:13-19 indicates that he was behind the fire from heaven and great wind that brought destruction to Job’s family and livestock. However the preceding verses (Job 1:6-12) bring out that Satan was allowed to do these things only with God’s permission, showing that God remained sovereign.

– Disasters can affect the blameless. Again, this is illustrated by what happened to Job, whom the Bible describes as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1).

“What are God’s and people’s roles in natural disasters?” – Although I hadn’t read to the group what Alcorn said about the topic on pages 86-89 of his book, our discussion brought out most of the ideas contained in them.

Transformations Resulting from Natural Disasters

Next Alcorn observes that transformations may occur in the aftermath of natural disasters–initiating self-examination, bringing out the best in people, and leading to spiritual examination (booklet, page 24).

Alcorn concludes by observing that a world without personal tragedies and natural disasters would produce no heroes and by encouraging readers to help those affected by them (booklet, page 24).

“How should we respond to natural disasters?” – I didn’t read from pages 89-91 of the book and we didn’t discuss the question, our feeling that the two paragraphs on page 24 of the booklet provided a good conclusion to our study.