It’s once again that time of year where Christians take time to figure out what Bible reading program we are going to do. I’d like to offer some suggestions and let you know which one I’m going to be using this year.
Several years ago, I used NavPress’s Discipleship Journal plan and found it helpful when I got really busy. This plan involves four daily readings (the year starts with Genesis, Psalms, Matthew, and Acts), but it’s only 25 days each month—which leaves some margin for missing here and there when life gets busy.
This is the classic plan, designed by Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813–1843), the well-remembered Scottish minister who died before his 30th birthday. The plan has readings for every day of the year and will take you once through the Old Testament and twice through the Psalms and the New Testament. (Don Carson’s daily devotionals called For the Love of God are based on the M’Cheyne plan.)
ESV Study Bible
Like the Discipleship Journal plan, the ESV Study Bible plan has you reading in four places: 1) Psalms and wisdom lit, 2) Pentateuch and Israel’s history, 3) Chronicles and prophets, and 4) Gospels and epistles.
In 2012 I’ll once again be using Professor Grant Horner’s Bible reading plan. Read more about the plan by downloading the pdf at: http://www.4shared.com/file/84820158/92ad7a9e/professor_grant_horners_bible_reading_system.html?err=no-sess
The general gist of Professor Horner’s system is that one will read one chapter from each of the ten lists that he has. For example in one day you will read from Matthew, Genesis, Romans, and so on. One will read ten chapters a day. I encourage you to check out Professor Horner’s Bible reading plan, and let me know what you think of this or any other plans in the comments.
Question: What Bible reading plan do you use? Have you committed to reading through the Bible in 2012?
Explanation of Hebrews 6:20
Jesus has entered the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf. He has gone there as forerunner, a designation found only here in the New Testament but which appears in a variety of athletic and military contexts of the Hellenistic world. In Hebrews, where the term is employed figuratively, the notion of precedence prevails over that of speed. As forerunner Jesus did not simply ‘run on ahead’. Rather he is the ‘precursor’ of believers, the first in a series that follows after him. He has opened up the way behind the curtain (10:19-22) which had been in place until the present time (9:9). He entered the heavenly sanctuary to obtain cleansing for His people (9:12) to represent them in the presence of God (9:24), and to enable them to enter into heaven (10:19-22). Like the earlier title ‘pioneer’, forerunner evokes the image of the movement on the path to heavenly glory (2:10) that believers are called upon to tread following in Christ’s footsteps. Accordingly, this statement in 6:20 explains why hope is able to enter the heavenly sanctuary.
Further, Jesus’ entry into the heavenly sanctuary is as His people’s eternal high priest in the order of Melchizedek, an expression that provides a further basis for the assurance of hope mentioned in v.19. Accordingly, Christians can approach God with confidence since Jesus the heavenly high priest has offered the perfect sacrifice and sits at the right hand of God (4:14-16; 10:19-22) Thus, Christians can go where Jesus has gone, to the world to come, the Sabbath rest and the heavenly country, the ultimate hope of God’s people throughout the ages.
Apart from the passing reference ‘to the world of Christ’ in 6:1, this is the first explicit mention of Jesus since 5:10. It was at this point that the author of Hebrews broke off his exposition of the high priesthood ‘after the order of Melchizedek’ so as to turn again to exhortation, and thus to warn and encourage his listeners (5:11-6:20) In a striking but carefully crafted parallel this paraphrase of Psalm 110:4 signals that the so called ‘digression’ of 5:11-6:20 is ending. The author has addressed his hearers by reproof, warning, and encouragement so that they will give their full attention to what he is about to say in chapter 7 regarding the Son as a superior high priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Jesus came into the world to become His people’s Savior, to blaze a trial through the barrier of sin by His perfect life and atoning death. He then went up into heaven to reign as the high priest— not a temporary priest like the Levites in Israel, but a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. The point is that Christ will never be replaced in His heavenly mission for His people. He will never fail and never die.
Jesus came to earth to live and die for His people, and when He returned to heaven, it also was for the sake of His people, to affix the anchor of their hope “sure and steadfast” in the inner sanctum of Heaven itself. In the great promises of God, secured in Christ, Christians have a cable of salvation that nothing can break or destroy, so that they can be certain of arriving safe in the harbor of Heaven.
Francis Chan once noted that:
We are not all we were made to be when everything in our lives and churches can be explained apart from the work and presence of the Spirit of God….shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not?
There certainly should be.
It’s important to remember that God the Holy Spirit is not some apathetic entity who just floats in the sky. The Holy Spirit actually resides in us and helps us throughout our Christian pilgrimage in a very immanent and personal way.
Let’s go through a few examples in Scripture.
…the Personal Comforter for fellowship:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever“
…the Personal Companion to know:
“even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.”
…the Personal Teacher to instruct:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
…the Personal Witness to testify:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
…the Personal Ambassador to represent:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
…the Personal Reprover to convict:
“And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:”
…the Personal Guide and Revealer to direct and unfold:
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.“
…the Personal Declarer of the supremacy of Jesus Christ.
“He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
*this list is adapted from the notes of F.E. Marsh
So many times I fall into the trap of thinking that preaching or leading worship are both so super-spiritual that they are of more worth than any other way of serving. Pride becomes my master and sets the course for my ambitions. My over-joyful reaction at being asked to lead a small group quickly turns to dispassion when asked to be a parking monitor. Christ taught and modeled that a servant was more than being seen as a leader.
Biblical servanthood is a vital and meaningful part of being a Christian; leadership isn’t. An overwhelming majority of Christians will never lead anything. That is ok, God designed it that way. Somehow, we have allowed the culture to creep in and define preeminent value on leadership. When did we drop our guard?
We are inundated with leadership material almost to point of obsession. Browse a Christian book web site or bookstore and just notice how many books there are for leaders and on leadership. There are books on keys to leadership, how to be a leader, studies on both current and historical leaders. Next, notice how many books there are on servanthood that is not tied to leadership. Hard to find, aren’t they?
We are all taught to aspire to be in leadership; as if merely being a servant is somehow beneath us. Servanthood has been either forgotten or hijacked by an obsession with leadership. I have nothing against leadership – it is a relevant topic, we should all study. But the problem is when servanthood is eclipsed and made subservient to leadership. We are so consumed with being leaders that we never study how to just serve. Instead, we rightly incorporate serving into leadership, but falsely emphasize the role of leadership.
Biblical Servanthood is a requirement for every Christian – whether or not they will ever lead anything. In fact, most Christians will never be in any type of leadership. Leadership is not even a requirement for living the Christian life. We need leaders who will guide and help us keep the Gospel central to our lives. But as Christians, we are not called primarily to be leaders; we are called first to be followers and therefore servants of Christ. Leadership is neither the fulfillment nor the goal of Christian service. As Jesus explains to his disciples in Mark 10:42-45, “And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”
Jesus takes the disciples to account as they continued to argue over who would be the greatest in heaven. He defined greatness by servanthood and humility. He revealed that things are different in heaven. Here on earth, great rulers lord their greatness over others and people serve them, but in heaven the great ones are those who have served others.
The writer of Psalm 84 states that even being a doorman in the house of God is greater than anything here on earth. In verses 10-12, he implies that whatever fame or riches this world has to offer, nothing begins to compare with the reward of being but the lowliest servant in God’s house. How can the writer say that one day serving God is better than a thousand days elsewhere? How can he write that being a doorkeeper for the house of God is a job desirable above all others? He can say these things because he clearly recognizes the holiness and majesty of God who “bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly”
Serving is so much tied up into what it means to be a Christian that many of the writers of the New Testament describe themselves as “Servants of the Lord” at the beginning of their epistles. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 4:1, he wanted to be known not as a powerful speaker, as a wise man, or as anything else other than as a servant of Christ.
By performing the littlest task desiring to bring honor to God, we glorify the King of the Universe who has bestowed untold favor and honor through salvation by the work of His Son Jesus Christ. That is worth more in the end than everything here on earth we could imagine. Whether we are a leader or a follower it is about the God we serve, not the position we serve in.
If we are saved by faith alone and not by works (Romans 3), then being in leadership has no bearing on one’s justification before God. It is our hearts that matter, not titles or laundry lists of acts of servanthood. For as James writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6. Whether we are playing an instrument, greeting at the front door, or changing someone else’s baby’s diaper, all of it is noble in the sight of God if we are worshiping Him. Martin Luther writes, “For Holy Scripture makes no distinction between them, except that those who are now boastfully called popes, bishops, and lords, it calls ministers, servants, and stewards, who are to serve the rest in the ministry of the word, for teaching the faith of Christ and the liberty of believers. For though it is true that we are all equally priests, yet we cannot, nor, if we could, ought we all to, minister and teach publicly.”[i]
During his earthly ministry, Jesus used himself as an example of this heavenly view of greatness. Even though he was fully God, he himself showed his greatness by serving through his ministry whether that was healing the sick, bringing dead back to life, feeding the hungry, or providing the safety of his disciple in a storm. However, Christ showed his true greatness in his ultimate act of service; atoning for our sin by dying on a cross. The Gospel – and not some requirement for leadership – should ultimately drive our service to others. Christ wants and deserves our worship not our leadership.
So ask yourself “Has my desire to lead hi-jacked my desire worship Christ?”
[i] Martin Luther, Concerning Christian Liberty
According to Roger Olsen, the “Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil and innocent suffering… [He] is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil” (Olsen, 84). But is this assessment fair to the Calvinist position or consistent with Scripture? Olsen, a professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University would say yes. But I’m not so sure.
At the outset of this review I wish to make mention of three things that will help you to understand how I am reviewing this book. First, I will not be engaging everything Olsen has written in this book. If I did this the review would have been much longer. Second, the focus of this review is on chapter four and more specifically to Olsen’s teaching on the God of Calvinism being a “moral monster.” Finally, the goal of this review is to respond to this serious charge leveled by Dr. Olsen by examining whether he is faithful or unfaithful to the teaching of the Word of God. Before we get into the review its important for you the reader to get an idea of the argument Dr. Olsen makes in Against Calvinism.
In Against Calvinism Olsen writes not to attack Calvinism but to critique several aspects of Reformed theology (Olsen, 13). In this book Olsen is standing up and saying “No!” to what he calls “Egregious statements about God’s sovereignty often made by Calvinists” (Olsen, 23). He explains that taken “to their logical conclusion, that even hell and all who will suffer there eternally are foreordained by God, God is thereby rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst” (Olsen, 23).
One of Olsen’s main’s points that he makes in this book is that the “Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil and innocent suffering (such as the children of the Holocaust) and thereby impugns the integrity of God’s character as good and loving. The God of Calvinism is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil. Whatever objections Sproul and others may raise, the Calvinist account of God’s sovereignty is divine determinism” (Olsen, 84).
At the heart of all of Dr. Olsen’s objections about Calvinism in Against Calvinism and the focus of this review is the following statement that, “The high Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose and determining power blatantly contradicts Scripture passages that reveal “God is love” (1 John 4:8), takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32), wants everyone to be saved (Ezek. 18:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) and “never tempts anyone” (James 1:13, Olsen, 99).
In his opinion, “what is missing in bookstores today is a book demonstrating why high Calvinism is not biblically, theologically, or logically tenable” (Olsen, 101). Olsen intends to show that “extreme Calvinism” which he labels “radical” is flawed biblically and logically” (Olsen, 24).
While he clearly demonstrates an understanding of Calvin, Edwards, Piper, and Sproul the heart of his complaint in Against Calvinism is that “high Calvinism is not biblically, theologically, or logically tenable” (Olsen, 101). Throughout this book Olsen claims that the “God of Calvinism is a moral monster.” Does Calvinism actually teach that “God is a moral monster?” More importantly than this question since Calvinists affirm Sola Scriptura and seek to be faithful men and women of the Word of God, “Does Scripture teach the position Calvinists espouse?”
At the outset of this review, I wish to lay out all my cards on the table by stating that I disagree with Dr. Olsen that Calvinism teaches that “God is a moral monster.” In this review, I intend to demonstrate that at the root his argument is faulty, because he never engages the context of Scripture or offers any meaningful exegesis of the Word of God, but rather repeatedly appeals to man’s words about God than God’s Word itself. After going over Olsen’s argument I will then move to explain what the Scriptures teach regarding sin, evil and suffering so that readers can have a good fuller grasp of what the Word of God and Calvinists teach regarding these issues.
Olsen states that the explanations offered by Calvinists contradict 1 John 4:8, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 (Olsen, 99). The question is, “Does Olsen’s explanation of 1 John 4:8, 1 Timothy 2:4 an 2 Peter 3:9 do justice to those texts or damage to those texts?” In other words, “Does Olsen’s explanation of those passages supported by the passage themselves, or is he imposing his theological categories upon 1 John 4:8, 1 Timothy 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9?”
Before we go any further let us remember what Olsen is claiming. Olsen is claiming that, “The high Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose and determining power blatantly contradicts Scripture passages that reveal “God is love” (1 John 4:8), takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32), wants everyone to be saved (Ezek. 18:32; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) and never tempts anyone” (James 1:13, Olsen, 99). Let us now turn to Ezek 18:32, 1 John 4:7-8, 1 Tim. 2:4, and 2 Peter 3:9 to see if Scripture itself supports Dr. Olsen’s assertions regarding Calvinism.
Dr. Olsen interprets Ezekiel 18:32 to mean that God “takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and wants everyone to be saved” (Olsen, 99). Ezek 18:32, “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.” The death of his saints is precious to God (Psalm 116:15). By contrast, he has no such pleasure when a person dies without repentance. While God is sovereign in salvation, man is responsible for his own sin. Turn and live is a call to repent and avoid physical and eternal death. Ezekiel was a preacher of repentance and of God’s offer of mercy to the penitent. Furthermore the context of this verse is about judgment. Repentance in the context of this passage is not being urged on Jerusalem for the preceding chapters affirm that its destruction is already assured. Rather, the exiles are pressed to repent and take responsible for their sin. Thus the appeal it to make yourselves a new heart and spirit, in contrast to 11:19 and 36:26, are a gift of God. The restatement of God’s displeasure in anyone’s death (18:32) is the basis of the final entreaty to turn and live. This passage does not support the teaching of Dr. Olsen that God desires everyone to be saved and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked because the context is about God judging Jerusalem and its destruction is sure. Therefore this passage has nothing to teach about whether God desires everyone to be saved or whether God takes pleasure or displeasure in the death of the wicked.
1 John 4:7-8 and 1 Timothy 2:4
Dr. Olsen states that the “high Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose and determining power blatantly contradicts Scripture passages that reveal “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 1 Tim. 2:4, Olsen, 99).
1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” These two verses and the following two are among the most treasured in the entire epistle of 1st John. These passages speak of love that originates in God and describes the believer as a person who loves and knows God. By contrast, the unbeliever does not love God because he does not know God.
Olsen teaches that the Calvinist view contradicts 1 John 4:8 that God is love but even the context of 1 John 4:8 does not support this interpretation. John the author of this epistle makes it clear that everyone who loves God has been born of God and knows God. This is the distinctive mark of the believer. The person who is born of God is a window through which the love of God shines into the world. The believer expresses his love to his fellow man by doing for his neighbor what he himself wishes that others do for him. In short he shows his love by obeying the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). His love for others is genuinely unselfish (Five times in 1st John the apostle states to love God is to keep His commandments).
John with the phrase whoever does not love does not know God compares the believer with the unbeliever and observes that when love is absent knowledge of God is nonexistent. Olsen teaches that Calvinists contradict the Scripture passages that reveal God is love but even John distinguishes between the love God has for His children, and His children are to have towards others, and the unbeliever who has no love for God (God hates the unbeliever; Psalm 5:5 and 11:5). The person who fails to commune with God in prayer and neglects to read the Bible cannot be the instrument through which God demonstrates His divine power. The unbeliever has not even begun to know God. Without knowledge of God, there is no love. Love and knowledge of God are the two sides of the same coin.
At the heart of all God is John teaches is the fact that God is love. Olsen is partly right when he quotes God is love but by not engaging the Scriptures and then proof-texting Scripture to support his position Olsen does damage to his entire argument since his argument revolves around whether the “Calvinist doctrine of God’s sovereignty including evil as part of God’s plan, purpose, and determining power blatantly contradicts 1 John 4:8, Ezek 18:32, 1 Tim. 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9″ (Olsen, 99). The main problem with Olsen’s comments on 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 are that the word all does not always mean all individuals in either Greek or English usage, so there is no compelling reason to conclude that the all in verses 4 and 6 in 1 Timothy refers to every single person.[i]
2 Peter 3:9
Peter addressed his epistle “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). This is important to note because it helps signify who the “all” is in 2 Peter 3:9. The all Peter in 2 Peter 3:9 does not refer to “all” in the sense of everyone coming to repentance. This is not what the context or the passage teaches. The reason for Christ’s delay in Christ’s coming and the attendant judgments is not because He is slow to keep His promise, or because He wants to judge more of the wicked, or because He is impotent in the face of wickedness. God delays in His coming because He is patient and desires the time for His people to repent. In the Gospel God stretches out His hand to all without difference, but lays hold of only of those, to lead them to Himself, whom He has chosen before the foundation of the world.[ii]
Dr. James Montgomery Boice believed that 2 Peter 3:9 is not talking about the salvation of all men, but only of the elect. He continues explaining that the delay of Christ’s intention is not out of indifference to man but rather as a result of God wanting to bring to repentance those whom he has determined would be saved.[iii]
When examining this verse, Puritan theologian John Owen asks, “Who are these of whom the apostle speaks?” Owen then goes to explain that such as had received “great and precious promises,” chap. 1:4, whom he calls “beloved” (chap. 3:1); whom he opposeth to the “scoffers” of the “last days,” verse 3; to whom the Lord hath respect in the disposal of these days; who are said to be “elect” (Matthew 24:22). Owen bringing his argument into focus states that those who argue that because God would have none to perish but that all of them to come to repentance, therefore he hath the same will and mind towards all and everyone in the world (Even those to whom he never makes known his will, nor ever calls to repentance, if they never once hear of his way of salvation), comes not only short of extreme madness and folly.[iv]
Further Examination of Olsen
One of the questions we began with as we explored Olsen’s biblical exegesis is, “Does Olsen’s explanation of 1 John 4:8, 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9 do justice or damage to those texts, or is he imposing his theological categories upon those texts?” As I have shown above, I believe that Dr. Olsen does not understand the texts he uses in order to refute Calvinism. Furthermore, I believe that Olsen engages in proof-texting which doesn’t substantiate his arguments. By not engaging the text of Scripture Dr. Olsen does not help to prove his argument. It’s now important to turn to discuss what the Bible actually teaches about sin, evil and suffering.
Sin, Evil and Suffering
People often ask, “Why does God allow evil and suffering?” Christians must avoid presumption concerning the causes of evil and suffering because this question remains a deeply mystery. Attempting to explain why there is evil in a world made by a good God is called theodicy (justifying the ways of God).
First God has a morally adequate-but not yet fully revealed, reason-for allowing evil and suffering. The Lord assures His people that his decrees and actions are righteous and holy. The Scriptures are replete in declaring God’s moral perfection and His dealings with mankind just. The patriarch Abraham declares in Genesis 18:25, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And the Psalmist proclaims in Psalm 89:14, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.” Dr. Greg Bahnsen considered one of the greatest apologists in church history said, “While God has a morally justifiable reason for all he does, as the sovereign ruler of the universe the Lord seldom chooses to explain himself to his creatures.”[vi]
Nor is God, in his decisions, subject to the critique of finite and imperfect human beings. Even if God were to explain in detail his ultimate purposes to human beings, there is no realistic reason to think that mere creatures could fully understand his majestic ways. God’s classic discussion with Job concerning the problem of evil and suffering subsequently reveals God’s inscrutable wisdom and Job’s limited comprehension of the Creator’s purpose in creation and redemption (Job 38:1-11; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36).
Secondly, God’s sovereignty and glory will be displayed by his ultimate prevailing over evil. The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” All of God’s great works (creation and redemption) are intended to display God’s sovereignty and glory. However, God’s final prevailing over evil and sin will all the more exhibit His splendor and dominion.
This prevailing has already begun with the life, death, and resurrection of the divine, Messiah, Jesus Christ. God’s plan to deal with evil is prepared for in creation but executed in redemption. Satan and his forces are already defeated foes with Christ’s first coming as Savior (Hebrews 2:14-15), and all evil and human sin will forever be vanquished at Christ’s second coming as Judge and King (Revelation 21). After these cataclysmic eschatological events, the Lord will bring forth the new creation, forever free from evil and its consequences.
Revelation 21:1-3 speaks of God’s creating a new Heaven and a new Earth along with the Holy City- the New Jerusalem. At that glorious time, all sin, suffering and sorrow will be forever eliminated. God will have eradicated the problem of evil. The apostle John provides a prophetic glimpse of this glorious eternal age to come in the book of Revelation, when he states, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Thirdly, God allows evil and suffering because of the greater good that results from it. According to Scripture, the greater good for humanity came out of the greatest acts of evil. Jesus Christ, none other than God in human flesh, came to reveal God’s love to humanity. Though he as perfectly holy and blameless, he was rejected by both the religious and political authorities, falsely accused, convicted, and subsequently beaten and executed as a common criminal. Jesus suffered the agony of Roman capital punishment- crucifixion. However, God had planned this incredible miscarriage of justice from all eternity (Acts 2:22-23). Out of this horrible incident of malice and agony came divine redemption for sinners. God brought the greatest good out of the greatest evil.
Augustine’s words explain this the best, “For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among his works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.”[vii]
God’s Purposes for Evil and Suffering
While Christians should be cautious about claiming to identify God’s purposes behind specific incidents of injustice and suffering, the Bible does reveal insight into how God uses evil and suffering for God. First, God may use evil and suffering to get an unbeliever’s attention and ultimately draw the person to Himself (Zech. 13:7-9; Luke 13:1-5; John 9). Christian apologist Walter Martin used to say that “some people will not look up to the Lord until they lay flat on their back.” Evil and suffering can shock people out of their lives of diversion and indifference to spiritual things, and even sometimes out of their false sense of control. In this way problems may be used by God’s grace to bring a person to faith. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently put it: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”[viii]
Secondly, God may use evil and suffering to build the moral and spiritual character of His people or to express fatherly discipline (Rom. 5:3; Heb. 10:35; 12:4-11). Courage is forged only through facing one’s fears; just as steel must be refined by fire. For faith to grow, it often has to be tested by fire. God expresses more concern for his children than their comfort. Therefore God uses evil and suffering to facilitate the believers’ moral and spiritual maturity. The apostle Paul, who endured much evil and suffering, explains the casual relationship between suffering and character, “But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Rom. 5:3).
A loving earthly father disciplines his children, though unpleasant at the time, discipline is crucial to a child’s growth as a responsible person. God similarly allows evil and suffering to bring about discipline in the life of his children. As the writer of Hebrews declares: “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons” (Hebrews 12:7). The assuring guarantee for the Christian, however, is that God does not allow evil and suffering to come into a believer’s life without producing a greater good for that person. The Apostle Paul set forth that divine promise in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” However, facing evil and suffering is never easy, even if a person knows that God is ultimately in control. In conclusion today there are some practical things Christians can keep in mind during difficult times.
Three critical comforts can help Christians when confronted with evil and suffering. First, believers can know they never suffer alone. God is acquainted with suffering for God has suffered in Christ. Jesus came into the world as a man, suffering with human beings and for them. God Himself entered into the painful, ugly mix of evil. Of all the world’s religions, only Christianity reveals the God who suffers with humanity and for humanity! His suffering in earthly life and relationships- and on the cross- can transform his people’s experience of suffering.
Even now Jesus serves as the great High Priest interceding for believers during their trials and difficulties. Jesus is not aloof or indifferent to human anguish, for he suffered as a man. The author of Hebrews describes Christ’s role as a sympathetic High Priest in Hebrews 4:14-16 which says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Second, God calls His children to live a life of faith (confidence and trust) in the goodness and sovereignty of God despite the presence of evil and suffering. Scripture points to the powerful examples of Abraham, Moses, Job, and Paul. In the words of a familiar song, believers don’t know what the future holds, but they do know who holds the future. Faith is trusting in the character of God when circumstances are painful and confusing. Christians can trust God in the midst of suffering because they are aware of his character and promises.
The Apostle Paul assures the church through asking and answering a probing question, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35, 37).
Third, evil and suffering go beyond a logical or philosophical problem-they are deeply personal and human problems. When people face suffering they need comfort and reassurance. Christians can and should confront evil and suffering in a powerfully practical way by comforting those afflicted by evil and by easing the suffering of the people around them.
Fourth and foremost, the sinfulness of mankind fits the sovereign plan of God for the purposes of His own self-glorification. This point was made clear in Douglas Wilson’s debate with atheists Dan Barker. When being prodded regarding the issue of a fully good and loving God, and, the existence of evil in the creation, Wilson responded that God planned the evil from all eternity as part of His perfect plan for creation. Wilson’s reasoning was sound in that in a world without evil and sin, two of God’s attributes could not have been demonstrated, His mercy and His justice. What this means it that when the problem of evil is viewed in light of God’s demonstration of His attributes and His own self-glorification, the problem is greatly diminished. However, if one hold’s to a theology where man is the pinnacle, where free will must be allowable, even as the expense of God’s freedom, the problem of evil is indeed, problematic.
The historic Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering is found in the example, as well as the identity of Jesus Christ. God came in the flesh to heal His children’s suffering to comfort as well as to teach, and ultimately to destroy the power of evil. The suffering of God in Christ is the solution to the problem of evil for human beings.
In conclusion, the main problem with Olsen’s argument is that nowhere does he engage in meaningful exegesis of the Scripture. By not engaging the Word of God in any meaningful way Olsen doesn’t substantiate the arguments he advances against Calvinism.
Ultimately what Dr. Olsen’s arguments leave me to conclude is that he has issues with the Cross itself where God’s holiness and love met, and where Jesus died in the place of sinners for their sin (Acts 4:27-28). The Cross is the ultimate act of injustice where the sinless God-Man died for sinners to appease the wrath of God. If Calvinism teaches that “God is a moral monster” then surely this position taken to its biblical, theological and logical ending has to result in damage to God’s glory and to the Cross where Jesus bore the sins of world and secured the redemption of the elect.
This book makes broad claims but at the end of the day fails, because it doesn’t support its claims and demonstrate why Calvinists are wrong from the Word of God. This book would be taken seriously by Calvinists if he had engaged the Word of God. Olsen wants his readers to believe that Calvinism is “not biblically, theologically or logically tenable” (Olsen, 101), but by his lack of exegesis he has shown that his alternative to Calvinism is not biblically, theologically or logically tenable. At the end of the day, I cannot recommend reading Against Calvinism because through his poor use of Scripture he substantiates the teaching of Calvinism and doesn’t advance the Calvinist/Arminian debate at all.
Title: Against Calvinism
Authors: Roger Olsen
Publisher: Zondervan (2011)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
[i] Joel Beeke, Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Lake Mary: Reformation Trust, 2008), 93.
[ii] John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus & Philemon trans. William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949, reprint from 1610), 420.
[iii] James Boice, Philip Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel (Illinois, Crossway, 2002), 127.
[iv] John Owen, “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: A Treatise of the Redemption and Reconciliation That is in the blood of Christ,” The Works of John Owen, vol.10, ed William H. Goold, (London: Banner of Truth, 1967), 173-174.).
[v] Quoted in J.I. Packer, introduction to John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1983), note 12.
[vi] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, ed. Robert R. Booth (Texarkana, AR; Covenant Media Foundation, 1996), 170.
[vii] Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, Ch.11, in the Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, vol. 1, d. Whitney J. Oates (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992).
[viii] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 93.
2011 was a year of great growth for Servants of Grace Ministries. We added a number of new people to contribute on the website: Chris Poblete, Nate Palmer, Jared Moore and Aaron Armstrong. I am very excited about the 2012 and the additions we will be adding including: a new and much improved website built by my amazing wife Sarah, a movie/music/television show review led by Jared Moore, a young adults ministry led by Chris Poblete, a theological journal, an improved book review site, a radio show, and much more! 2012 is shaping up to be a very exciting year at Servants of Grace, and we are looking forward to serving you in order to strengthen the local Church and train future leaders to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Here are the top 10 posts from our contributors this year:
#10- Remembering and Living in a Post 9/11 World: The Consequences of Ideas and Worldviews by Dave Jenkins http://www.servantsofgrace.org/2011/09/09/remember-and-living-in-a-post-911-world-the-consequence-of-ideas-and-worldviews/
#9- Book Review Just Do Something Reviewed by Aaron Armstrong: http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/11/13/book-review-just-do-something/
#8- 6 Questions with Matthew Barret an interview conducted by Jared Moore: http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/12/17/6-questions-with-matthew-barrett-about-credo-magazine/
#7- Humility by Chris Poblete http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/12/22/humility/
#6- When you don’t feel like it by Nate Palmer http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/11/09/when-you-don%E2%80%99t-feel-like-it/
#5- Biblical Accountability by Richard Rohlin http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/11/01/biblical-accountability/
#4- Men, sexual sin, purity and the Gospel by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/2011/10/24/men-sexual-sin-purity-and-the-gospel/
#3- Burning the Quran, 9/11 and Islam by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/2010/09/09/burning-the-quran-911-and-islam/
#2- The Decline of Christianity in Europe by Dave Jenkins http://servantsofgrace.org/2010/09/17/the-decline-of-christianity-in-europe/
#1- The Role of Culture in Gospel Communication by Dave Jenkins http://www.servantsofgrace.org/2010/09/24/the-role-of-culture-in-gospel-communication/
Finally as we conclude this year we here at Servants of Grace want to thank you our readers for reading the content we put out day in and day out. We encourage you to leave comments and interact with the content here. If there are issues you would like to see examined on Servants of Grace please let us know! If you have questions you would like to see answered please let us know. We exist to serve you and we are deeply thankful to the Lord Jesus for the many ways that He is using this ministry for His glory to strength His Church and advance the Gospel all around the world.
May the Lord richly bless you and shine His face upon you granting you His peace that passes all understanding and guard your hearts through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In Christ Alone,
The Team at Servants of Grace Ministries
Jesus Christ meets the qualifications to be mediator and high priest to His people. Someone may be qualified for a position without actually having the authority to hold it. Qualification is a prerequisite, but there must be an appointment to the office if the work is to be acceptable and binding. Hebrews 5:4-6 teaches that Jesus is not only qualified to be high priest but that God has also appointed Him to this office.
This matter of appointment is important for two reasons: the first is that it determines the way the office is carried out. Verses 4 and 5 make this point, “And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, ”You are my Son, today I have begotten you” A true priest is not one who has acted to elevate himself in the eyes of men or God. A true priest is motivated solely by a desire to honor God and serve men, without concern for personal advancement.
Jesus did not come to earth seeking glory for himself but to do the will of his Father in heaven. “If I glorify myself,” he said, “my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me” (John 8:54). Philip Hughes observes. “In assuming the office of savior and high priest, so far was the Son from exalting and glorifying himself that he accepted it knowing full well that it meant for him the experience of the darkest depth of humiliation, rejection, agony and death.”
The writer of Hebrews has long been discussing the matter of believers’ perseverance. He compares his reader’s situation to Israel’s in the desert, when many fell away through disobedience, unbelief and rebellion. This ought to cause God’s people to ask, “How will I fare in the years ahead? Will I persevere through my own struggles and temptations?”
The answer to these questions, and to need of assurance for Christians, is the appointment of Jesus Christ as high priest. He has already completed the work of dying for sin. He has gone into heaven to offer his sacrificial blood for His people’s sake. There He now sits enthroned as priest who ministers on behalf of His people, praying for them, interceding with the Father, and sending the heavenly manna needed to feed and tend to the faith of God’s people. What good news this is! James Boice sums up the point for us: “The reason the saints will persevere is that Jesus has done everything necessary for their salvation. Since he has made a perfect atonement for their sin and since God has sworn to accept Jesus’ work, the believer can be as certain that he or she will be in heaven as that Jesus himself is there.”
 Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary On The Epistle of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 180.
 James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, v.3 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), 3:902.
Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.
“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.
We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.
He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])
In Hebrews 2:14 the writer says it is “our confession” that Christians must hold fast to. The early church employed theological formulas to express the faithful’s confession, like the Apostle’s Creed. These confessions remind believers that there is true content to their profession of faith. Some people say they are against creeds, but creeds are simply summaries of biblical teaching. The Latin word credo means, “I believe.” It matters what Christians believe– there is content they cannot let go of without letting go of salvation in Christ: things like who Jesus is and what He has done to save His people from their sins.
J.C. Ryle explains: A Religion without doctrine or dogma is a thing which many are fond of talking of in the present day. It sounds very fine at first. It looks very pretty at a distance. But the moment we sit down to examine and consider it, we shall find it a simple impossibility. We might as well talk of a body without bones and sinews. No man will ever be anything or do anything in religion, unless he believes something. No one ever fights earnestly against the world, the flesh and the devil, unless he has engraven on his heart certain great principles which he believes.
The writer of Hebrews goes on to give God’s people a doctrinal reason why they are to persevere. The motivation for God’s people to enter into a life of struggle and strife, holding fast to the confession of the faith is given in Hebrews 4:15, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” The reason behind the believers’ perseverance is the person and work of Jesus Christ, who as the Son of God and the Great High Priest over His people has secured their salvation. Jesus and His saving work are set forth here as the antidote mainly to fear: fear of failure, fear of falling away, and even the fear of drawing near to God that paralyzes so many Christians.
Many Christians struggle in their relationship with God, especially when it comes to prayer. This reason is felt by the writer of Hebrews, and is expressed in what he said in the preceding verse: “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Heb. 4:13).
Anyone with any spiritual awareness is made very uneasy by the thought of God’s searching gaze. Remember the scene in the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve first sinned. In their original state, before they fell into sin, they were “naked and were not ashamed” (Gen. 2:25). With no sin to condemn them, they delighted in the gaze of their loving Creator. After the fall, they hid their shame even from one another, pathetically sewing on fig leaves for garments. Even more they dreaded the presence of God, fleeing and hiding from him as he approached.
This is how many Christians feel in their relationship with God. The thought of His gaze chills their bones. They are willing to do anything but deal with God himself, skulking around the edges of His light rather than drawing near to him. They struggle to pray and seldom do unless forced by circumstances. It is this paralyzing fear that the writer of Hebrews now addresses. Sinners are no longer commanded to keep their distance in fear and trembling, but on the contrary are now invited to draw near, and to do so with confidence.
The reason for this change is the saving work of Jesus Christ who reconciles sinners to God. In particular, two aspects of that work come into view here: He has made propitiation for His people in the heavenly tabernacle, and He now ministers on high with sympathy for His people weaknesses.
When God discovered Adam and Eve’s sin, He punished them by barring them from the garden and cursing them. God then took the initiative in restoring them to fellowship with himself. Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skin and clothed them.” God sacrificed an animal in their place and clothed them with the garment of the innocent substitute He had provided. This is a wonderful picture of what Jesus Christ has done for His people, the Lamb of God who takes away His people’s sin and whose perfect righteousness is imputed to His people.
When the writer of Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the High Priest over His people—and with this passage His priesthood becomes the dominate theme in this letter— what he emphasizes is Christ’s atoning work by dying upon the cross. He sets up a comparison between, on one hand, what Jesus did by dying and rising from the dead and then ascending into Heaven and, on the other, the ceremonial office performed by Israel’s high priest.
Once a year, the high priest entered the inner sanctum of the tabernacle of the tabernacle to make atonement for the sins of the people. First, offering a sacrifice for his own sins and then cleansing himself with water, the high priest—and he alone- one day a year and that day only—entered into the very presence of God. There in the holy of holies he saw the Ark of the Covenant, with the golden angels on top with their upswept wings, gazing down upon the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, God’s law, which the people had broken by their sins. To avoid punishment, the high priest brought blood from the animal sacrifice, which he sprinkled upon the mercy seat; the tray for the blood which interposed between God’s piercing gaze and the tablets of the law. When the blood was offered, God’s wrath was turned away from the people’s sin.
Israel’s priests pointed forward to Jesus, the great high priest. He is great because of his divine nature. He is the Son of God, and his shed blood is sufficient to satisfy God’s wrath forever. He is great because his sacrifice achieved a finished atonement, unlike the ones offered by Aaron, which had to be repeated daily. He is great because he is not a sinful man going into the holy of holies only once a year, and needing to come back again the next. Instead He has gone through the heavens into the true tabernacle, the heavenly throne room of God, and offered his shed blood once-for-all. This is the contrast implicit in verse 14: unlike Aaron, who was denied entry into the Promised Land because of his sin, and unlike the high priests who followed Aaron who were themselves sinners and could not offer the true sacrifice, Jesus has entered the land of rest, heaven itself, and has finished redemption of His people.
Because Jesus is His people’s high priest, God’s people are reconciled to God. This means that Christians can approach Him freely. Christians do not have to hide from Him– they do not have to flee like Adam in the garden, the veil barring them from God’s presence is torn because of the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. Christians may now as the writer of Hebrews so greatly wants God’s people to see, approach boldly into the presence of God that once was barred by man’s sin.
The mercy seat was the place where sinners might approach the holy God in safety and with confidence. This is what God said to Moses in the wilderness: “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.” (Ex. 25:22). This is where believers meet safely and peacefully with the Lord our God, at the place made safe by the blood offered by Jesus the High Priest.
The second aspect of Christ’s priestly ministry is the sympathy he bears for His people in heaven. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is a point the author has made before, and it’s an important one. The Lord that Christians serve, the Savior to whom they look, is not aloof from the trials they experience, but feels them with intimate acquaintance. He is not disinterested or cold to what Christians are going through; He came to earth and took upon man’s human nature precisely so that He might now be able to have fellowship with His people. Therefore, He is eminently able to represent God’s people before the Throne of His heavenly Father, pleading their case, securing their place, and procuring the spiritual resources they need.
That is the reason why Christians must not give up, because Christ is there in heaven bearing human flesh, having endured what His people are going through now– and more- yet without Himself falling into sin. His righteousness represents God’s people before God’s throne and grants them access to the Father; His prayers plead for their sustenance and intercede on behalf of all His people’s needs. “Here am I, and the children God has given me,” Jesus declared upon his arrival in heaven (Heb. 2:13). He has opened the way for all His people, established their place where He is, and now He prays for their spiritual provision and protection to the Father who is certain to receive his every petition.
Jesus explained all this to his disciples in the upper room on the night before of his arrest. They did not fully understand as he spoke of what was to come but they picked up enough to know that he was leaving. Jesus comforted them saying, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3).
Although, there will be hardships and troubles, the writer of Hebrews has assured God’s people of this by comparing their earthly pilgrimage to Israel’s journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Jesus assured his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:18-19). What a great reason this is for hope, and what strength it gives to persevere to God’s people.
The reason why Christians are to persevere is the high-priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. His ministry reconciles God’s people to God and opens Heaven’s chest of grace. This makes possible the great resource of prayer, to which the writer now turns: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16)
To approach the throne of God in prayer on the basis of Christ’s high-priestly ministry is to come to His propitiating sacrifice and present intercession. The language used here in Hebrews 4:16 is striking and clear. By telling God’s people to come before His throne, the author reminds God’s people that it is the place where blood has been offered for His people, the mercy seat where God calls sinners to meet with Him. God’s people are also reminded that it is to a King that they are to come.
In a great sermon on this text, Charles Haddon Spurgeon worked out some of the implications on how Christians are to approach God in prayer. The first is that Christians must come in lowly reverence. If Christians show great respect in the courts of earthly majesty—in the White House, for example or Buckingham Palace– then surely God’s people will come with even greater reverence before the throne of heaven. There is no place for pride or vanity here, and if God’s people could see what really is before them spiritually they would tremble at its awesome majesty. Spurgeon writes, “His throne is a great white throne, unspotted, and clear as crystal. Familiarity there may be, but let it not be unhallowed. Boldness there should be, but let it not be impertinent.”
Secondly, Christians should come to God in prayer with great joy. The reason Christians should come with great joy is because of the favor that has been extended to them is so high a privilege. Instead of judgment, Christians find themselves in a position as favored children– invited to bring their entire request to the King of Heaven.
Finally, Christians should come to God with confidence. Christians come knowing that they will be favorably received, knowing that they can speak freely, and knowing that this is a throne of grace. This is only possibly because of the High Priest who has gone ahead, securing access for His people by his blood and interceding prayers. Many Christians struggle with prayer. They tremble as if the light from God’s throne exposed them in a naked shame, when in fact it reveals the radiant robes that have been draped around them, the righteousness of Christ given to all who trust in him. The key to prayer—to praying often, to praying openly, to praying boldly and freely and with gladness of heart—to know that one is clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, invited to His own saving ministry, purchased by His precious blood, and anticipated by His sympathetic intercession. This is the secret to lively and happy prayer.
It is to the throne of God which people come—it is a throne of grace. This means that when God’s people come, their sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, along with any faults are looked upon with compassion. Stumbling prayers are not criticized, but are received with kindness. Moreover, Jesus’ priestly ministry secures the Holy Spirit’s help. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:26, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” God’s Spirit helps God’s people to pray, and He graciously interprets His people’s prayers in the heart of the Father.
Furthermore, because it is a throne of grace to which God’s people come, God is ready to grant the requests of His people. He is glad to provide for needs, to give strength to persevere through trials to His people. He says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” The writer continues saying, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor. 12:9). One commentator explains, “Man needs mercy for past failure, and grace for present and future work. Mercy is to be ‘taken’ as it is extended to man in his weakness; grace is to be ‘sought’ by man according to his necessity.
God requires His people to persevere in faith through the trials of the Christian life. He gives His people a great reason to press on the saving work of the great High Priest Jesus Christ, who is able to save His people to the uttermost. He has gone ahead of His people to open the doors and unlock the treasures of God’s mercy and grace. Prayer is a great resource God gives His people, one that must not be neglected if one is to grow strong in the faith and persevere through difficulties. Prayer brings one to a throne of power and authority but also a throne of grace to all who are in Christ. Therefore, let God’s people draw near to God with reverence, with joy, with great expectation, and especially with confidence that belongs to sons and daughters of the King of heaven and earth.
Spurgeon provides us a fitting conclusion about the difference God’s grace makes for God’s people:
I could not say to you, “Pray,” not even to you saints, unless it were a throne of grace, much less I could talk of prayer to you sinners; but now I will say this to every sinner here, though he should think himself to be the worst sinner that every lived, cry unto the lord and seek him while he may be found. A throne of grace is a place fitted for you: go to your knees, by simple faith go to your Savior, for he, he it is who is the throne of grace.
 J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Darlington, U.K: Evangelical Press, 1979), 56.
 Philip E. Hughes, A Commentary On The Epistle of Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), 173-174.
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 17:855.
 B.F. Westcott, The Epistle To The Hebrews (London: Macmillan, 1903), 109.
 Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Throne of Grace,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, 63 vols. (Pasadena, Tex.: Pilgrim Publications, 1975), 860).
(This article is an excerpt from The Harry Potter Bible Study: Enjoying God Through the Final Four Harry Potter Movies)
Besides the theologians we have in Scripture, there has not been another theologian as influential in the church as early church father Bishop Augustine of Hippo. Although he wrote extensively, his most important writings were against the Pelagians. This group was named after their main leader Pelagius. He was a British monk known for his piety and strict discipline and was later condemned as a heretic.[i]
Augustine taught all humans born since the Fall possessed sinful natures (original sin) from birth (Gen. 3).[ii] Pelagius, on the other hand, believed all humans were born as innocent beings who later developed a sinful nature by freely choosing sin from the example of other sinful human beings.[iii] In other words, Augustine believed the world is evil because humans are evil, while Pelagius believed humans are evil because the world is evil.
Often in ministry I have observed evangelicals who claim to believe all humans are born sinners (Augustine), and yet live as if their children will be corrupted by outside influences (Pelagius). Parents may profess their children are sinners, but they seek to protect them from a sinful world as if the world is the problem. The problem with our children is not outside influences but is instead their inside influences (Matt. 15:10-11, 17-20). If you and I merely protect our children from external sinful influences, which is impossible in an evil world, we will not address the source of their sin: themselves. Our children are what is wrong with the world; the world is not what is wrong with our children.
Instead of living as if our children “will be” corrupted by the world, we should teach them to handle their own sinful natures in a wicked world. In order to communicate this reality, we must tell our children they are what is wrong with the world. We must teach them they are sinners (Rom. 3:23) in desperate need of a Savior (John 14:6). Apart from His life, death, burial, and resurrection in their stead, there is no hope for them (Rom. 6:23). Christ’s finished work is their only hope for being reconciled to God the Father (Rom. 10:9-11; Col. 1:19-22).
By the time our children are 18 years of age, they should be prepared to live in a wicked world in which they are part of the wickedness. Though some may be saved, they must be prepared to face temptation since they still live in an evil world. We must thoroughly teach them the Scriptures and how to recognize the difference between truth and lies in their surrounding culture. If we believe the world is the problem, we will try to shield them from the world; however, if we believe they are the problem, we will instead teach them how to hide the Word of God in their hearts so they might not sin against God (Ps. 119:11).
Because we cannot separate our children from their sinful natures (Augustine), we must prepare them to handle their sinful natures. We must cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our children, realizing they will always desire wickedness on earth; yet, they must learn to appropriate and cultivate the self-control of God the Holy Spirit, His fruit in their lives (Gal. 5:22-25). One of the biggest problems of children raised by evangelical Christians is they are not prepared to live in this world. Unfortunately, Augustinian parents are practicing the methodology of Pelagians. Our children do not know how to handle temptation whenever they cannot escape it because we have falsely deified our ability to protect our children, thus hindering the cultivation of personal self-control in their lives.
In other words, while trying to protect our children through legalistic boundaries, we have not prepared them to live in this wicked world. Yet temptation will knock on the door unannounced and uninvited (at times welcomed with open arms), and no amount of legalistic boundaries can stop it. If we have not taught our children how to respond to temptation by teaching them how to discern, we doom them for eventual failure.
One way to help our children cultivate discernment in this wicked world is to engage in the media wars with them as a guide. Just as Paul told the Corinthians, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1), we too must say to all of our observers, “Be imitators of my media participation, as I am of Christ.” Allow me to clarify my suggestion to purposely put ungodly behavior in front of your children. I’m not suggesting you expose children to immorality so that they will know what is immoral. We do not want to tempt our children to sin. Rather, I am suggesting parents thoroughly teach children the Scriptures, and then teach them the difference between truth and lies in pop culture, in light of the Scriptures.
All forms of media, regardless of their rating, intended audience, genre, etc., contain truth and lies woven together into an ungodly web. We must teach our children how to untangle this web. One way to teach our children how to separate truth from lies is to show them how to use discernment as they participate in media. In our media-driven world, our children will participate in media, and they will either participate like Christians or like non-Christians. Unfortunately, many evangelical Christians participate in media like non-Christians, simply drinking deeply of all they see and hear without separating truth from lies.
The purpose of media participation is worship. In order to enjoy God through media, Christians must submit to God’s revealed Word in light of Christ’s finished work and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). In other words, Christians must be on their knees in their cultures worshiping God through recognizing His fingerprints in the media produced by God’s fallen image-bearers. In the words of Augustine, Christians must plunder the Egyptians:
For, as the Egyptians had not only the idols and heavy burdens which the people of Israel hated and fled from, but also vessels and ornaments of gold and silver, and garments, which the same people when going out of Egypt appropriated to themselves, designing them for a better use, not doing this on their own authority, but by the command of God, the Egyptians themselves, in their ignorance, providing them with things which they themselves, were not making a good use of [Exod. 3:21-22; Exod. 12:35-36]; in the same way all branches of heathen learning have not only false and superstitious fancies and heavy burdens of unnecessary toil, which every one of us, when going out under the leadership of Christ from the fellowship of the heathen, ought to abhor and avoid; but they contain also liberal instruction which is better adapted to the use of the truth, and some most excellent precepts of morality; and some truths in regard even to the worship of the One God are found among them. Now these are, so to speak, their gold and silver, which they did not create themselves, but dug out of the mines of God’s providence which are everywhere scattered abroad, and are perversely and unlawfully prostituting to the worship of devils. These, therefore, the Christian, when he separates himself in spirit from the miserable fellowship of these men, ought to take away from them, and to devote to their proper use in preaching the gospel. Their garments, also,—that is, human institutions such as are adapted to that intercourse with men which is indispensable in this life,—we must take and turn to a Christian use.[iv]
Evangelical Christians must train themselves and their children to plunder pagan media for the “gold” and “silver” and put them to Christian use.
[i] Justo L. González, The Story of Christianity: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1984), 214.
[ii] Ibid., 214-215.
[iii] Ibid., 215.
[iv] Marcus Dods, ed., The Works of Aurelius Augustine, Bishop of Hippo: A New Translation, Vol. IX – On Christian Doctrine; The Enchiridion; On Catechising; and On Faith and the Creed (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1892), 76.