Puritan Gems

Monday, August 31, 2009

Elements Of Reformed Worship #1

The Call To Worship

"Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100:1-5)

"It is a throne of grace that God in Christ is represented to us upon; but yet it is a throne still whereon majesty and glory do reside, and God is always to be considered by us as on a throne." – John Owen

Man, due to his deformed nature, tends to worldliness and carnality, so much so that even the redeemed must be called by God to worship Him in a way that is acceptable and pleasing to Him. Thus the reading of Scripture, such as the Psalm above, serves to call God's people to Reformed, Biblical worship. It is no accident that those churches which stray away from Reformed worship tend to be man-pleasers in their worship, even to the point of using entertainment as a church growth gimmick, never considering that worship belongs to God, and He alone has the right to determine how he is to be worshiped.

When one considers that God, the Sovereign Creator of the Universe, has called us into His presence, a certain awe and reverence is bound to overtake us. When sinful man stands in the presence of a righteous and omnipotent God, what else may be our response other than "Woe is me, for I am undone". (Isaiah 6:5). In such a presence, there is no room for jugglers, clowns, silly skits, rock concerts, or whatever other irreverent items that are included in modern "worship". For the God who demands our worship tells us that we may not do these things (Deut. 12:32).

Needless to say, much of what is done today in the "presence of the Lord" has little to do with God's presence. Many churches have reduced their worship to mere "celebration" services, never giving thought to their own sinfulness or to God's holiness. While the Christian should rejoice at his redemption, he must be mindful of the fact that God's throne of grace is still a throne, and an almighty and sovereign Judge sits upon that throne.

"You must never come into God’s presence but as a poor worm, and if there is any difference that is made between you and others in outward respects, it is nothing to you. When you are in the presence of God, you are as a base, vile worm though you are a prince or an emperor." (Jeremiah Burroughs - Gospel Worship, Soli Deo Gloria, p. 137)

The call to worship, being God's call, is not merely an invitation, but an authoritative commandment. The call is a universal call, going out to all people every sabbath, and there is no excuse for not heeding the call. The beauty of God's call to worship is that He calls us, as he did Adam and Eve, despite or fear and unworthiness. May we give attention to the importance of God's call to worship Him, and do so with reverence and awe.

Recommended Reading: With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship by Hart and Muether

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Problem of Evil Answered


One of the oldest, and still most popular, arguments against the Christian God is the so-called problem of evil. Dr. Walter Kaufmann, who tragically lost family members in the Holocaust, refers to the problem of evil as his strongest argument against Christianity, a "complete refutation of popular theism". H. J. McCloskey, in a 1960 Philosophical Quarterly article, wrote that "Evil is a problem, for the theist, in that a contradiction is involved in the fact of evil on the one hand and belief in the omnipotence and omniscience of God on the other."

Perhaps the original problem of evil argument was attributed Epicurus by Lactantius (See Lactantius - A Treatise on the Anger of God; Chap. XIII. - Of the Advantage and Use of the World and of the Seasons; AD 260-330). Although it is debatable if Lactantius chose the correct philosopher, it is clear that the "problem of evil" argument existed very early in Christendom. The Apostle Paul, in some rhetorical measure, dealt with the problem of evil in regards to the doctrine of unconditional election (Romans 9:14 - See Jay Adams' answer below).

The problem of evil is presented as a logical problem in regards to an omnipotent and omnibenevolent Deity. With a few variations, the arguments is stated as such:

P1: If God were omnipotent, He would be able to prevent all evil.
P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would want to prevent all evil.
P3: Evil exists.
Conclusion: There is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

The Atheist's Problem of Evil

While the problem is presented as an obstacle to Christianity, it must be pointed out that it presents two huge (and I would say, insurmountable) challenges to atheism. The first is the premise P3: Evil exists. The entire argument is based on the idea the evil is an objective reality. However, such a reality cannot be accounted for in an atheistic worldview. A judgment of "evil exists" requires an absolute moral standard, an objective "right and wrong" that goes well beyond simply subjectivism and "conventional wisdom". But how can a moral absolute come into existence in a materialistic universe? In an atheistic world, complete with its "survival of he fittest" ontology, there may be things that are painful, tragic, and grate against our sensibilities. However, such a worldview logically leads to genetic determinism, thus no grounds for proclaiming that evil exists. Yet, aside from Stoics who deny the existence of evil, every man has an innate and inescapable knowledge of evil, because they "by nature do what the law requires" (Romans 2:14), proving their knowledge of the one true God. And even if variable "secular" ethical theories could provide an objective moral standard, there is no grounds for demanding any life form to subject themselves to that standard. Materialism cannot produce morality, and "is" cannot justify "ought". C.S. Lewis explains this problem by looking back on his days as an atheist:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies." (C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity - Touchstone: New York, 1980 p.45-46)

The second obstacle is that the problem of evil argument presupposes, not just a god, but the one and True Christian God. To suppose any other deity would eliminate evil as being a problem. From a standpoint of "general theism" (whatever form it may take), there are many logical reasons why evil may exist. There could be an evil god, who loves to do evil things. There could be an irrational god, who cannot tell the difference between good and evil. There could be a weak god, who is unable to prevent evil.

So we must concluded that, if the problem of evil is a valid problem, then atheism is refuted, and the Christian God is presupposed a priori. Nonetheless, the Christian is commanded by His Lord to answer the problem (1 Peter 3:15), though the problem itself is proof of the unbeliever's suppressed knowledge of God (Romans 1:18).

Past Answers Attempted

There have been many attempts throughout history to answer the logical problem of evil, yet without examining the truth of it's premises. Irenaeus suggested that evil is necessary and useful for men to seek God. Variations consider that evil is necessary for free will to exist (Plantinga). Justin Martyr attributed evil to angels who "transgressed their appointment", but does not explain how this idea is compatible with God's omnipotence. Dionysius echoed the Stoic view that evil does not exist. Augustine suggested that evil was simply an absence of good, but unwittingly denies the omnipresence of God in the process. Various "Best Possible World" Theories have abounded. C.S. Lewis holds to a combination of the "best possible world" and "free will" theories. He suggests that "Perhaps this is not the 'best of all possible' universes, but the only possible one" (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 26). In Lewis's view, evil is a result of a "fixed nature of matter" (pp. 23-25), and is necessary for free will to exist. He writes, "We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment,...But such a world would be one in which all wrong actions would be impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void." (p. 24)

However, The Christian Doctrine of a perfect heaven is a death blow to "free will", necessary evil, or "best possible worlds" arguments. No Christian truly believes that this is the best possible world, for we all look for a better world yet to come, where evil will finally be defeated, and man's "will" shall truly be free of it's sinful nature.

Other theories tend to compromise God's attributes, making Him less than God. Monism holds that God is above good and evil, thus denying God's omnibenevolence. Dualism denies God's sovereignty, teaching that God produces only good, but a separate power (usually Satan) produces evil. Process Theology ("open" theism) flatly denies the omnipotence of God. The unthinkable result is that, in order to satisfy a weak intellect concerning the problem of evil, these poor deluded souls have no rational hope that evil won't eventually triumph in the universe. Those who hold that evil is "necessary" deny the solitariness of God, who does not need "anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything." (Acts 7:24-25). Whatever answer we come up with for the problem of evil, we cannot let that answer make God to be anything less than God.

The Problem of Evil Answered

Lactantius' answer to Epicurus' alleged statement over 1700 years ago was very close to the correct answer.

"For God is able to do whatever He wishes, and there is no weakness or envy in God. He is able, therefore, to take away evils; but He does not wish to do so, and yet He is not on that account envious. For on this account He does not take them away, because He at the same time gives wisdom, as I have shown; and there is more of goodness and pleasure in wisdom than of annoyance in evils. For wisdom causes us even to know God, and by that knowledge to attain to immortality, which is the chief good. Therefore, unless we first know evil, we shall be unable to know good." (Lactantius - A Treatise on the Anger of God; Chap. XIII. - Of the Advantage and Use of the World and of the Seasons.)

Thomas Aquinas expounded this line of thought even further, holding that God is the primary cause of evil (as penalty), but not the secondary cause (as fault) (See Summa Theologica: Question XLVIII - The Distinction of Things in Particular.) Jay Adams was short to the biblical point, Evil exists for God to show his wrath on evildoers and "in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:23). While this is true, (as well as the broad argument that everything, including evil, exists for the glory of God), it doesn't provide a direct answer to the logical problem presented. Using a combination of the arguments above, let us re-examine the premises presented in the problem of evil.

P1: If God were omnipotent, He would be able to prevent all evil.
P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would want to prevent all evil.
P3: Evil exists.
Conclusion: There is no omnipotent, omnibenevolent God.

Premise 1 is sound, God is clearly omnipotent and "he does all that he pleases." (Psalms 115:3). "...he does according to his will among the host 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). These passages can be considered God's job description.

As we saw earlier, Premise 3 poses a problem for atheists, thus is a good starting point for discussion with one who uses this argument. But from the Christian perspective, it is quite obvious that evil does exist. Unbelievers are aware of evil, though they have issues defining it or accounting for it.

The real issue is Premise 2. Does an omnibenevolent God necessarily want to prevent all evil? How does this premise match the God of Scripture?

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." (Isaiah 45:7 KJV)

Therefore Premise 2 is false. The Bible teaches that the omnibenevolent God does not want to prevent evil, but actually creates evil and uses it for His own ends. It will come as no surprise that many Christians are uncomfortable with this rendering, thus many translations substitute "calamity" in place of "evil", as though it really makes any difference (See also Amos 3:6). But why would a omnipotent, omnibenevolent God create evil? Based on the clear teachings of Scripture concerning God's omnipotence and His omnibenevolence, we may propose the following correction to Premise 2:

P2: If God were omnibenevolent, He would have a good purpose behind the evil He creates.

With this corrected premise, the problem of evil ceases to be a problem. The premise is biblical, and solves the logical problem with evil in God's universe. We may conclude that evil exists, therefore there is an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who uses that evil for his own good purposes. We have also established that, without God, there can be no evil, only a material world governed by undesigned chance or blind fate. So it is the atheist worldview that has the real "problem with evil".

One may object to my correction of Premise 2 by asking what precisely is the "good purpose" for evil. That I have no answer for, nor do I need to in order to validate this answer for the problem with evil. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." (Deuteronomy 29:29)

We have clues as to why God sovereignly works in certain evil events. The kidnapping and enslavement of Joseph was a direct act of God (Genesis 45:7), yet while Joseph's brothers meant it for evil, "...God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive...". (Genesis 50:20). The most evil act in history was the death of God's own Son, delivered into the hand of wicked men according to the "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23), for all these did nothing but "what the hand and counsel of God had decreed" (Acts 4:27-28). Yet the good that has come about by the evil act is wondrous indeed, the redemption of poor, deformed sinners, deserving of God's wrath, into adopted sons who have the promise of an inheritance.

We may not know what the ultimate "good" purpose for evil is in God's most wise and determinate counsel, for He has not revealed that to us. However, let not this keep us from the One who has all power and authority, and guarantees "that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." (Romans 8:28)