Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Take on Healthcare and Statism

“The conflict between Rome and the [early] Church is really a microcosm of a larger struggle that both predates the first century and has lasted to our day. It is the story of men and their quest to be like God that is as old as the pre-cosmic warfare between God and the devil. In the temporal realm the struggle takes shape in the form of earthly potentates that claim all dominion in heaven and in the earth. The Empire is said to be the source of salvation and the government to be the great protector and provider of its people. It can deliver because the Emperor is God. But herein lies the challenge to the Church. Because the Emperor is said to be God, there must be no others. Kyrios Christus must bow to Kyrios Caesar, or else. The history of Rome . . . demonstrates that autocratic rulers and their bureaucracies that reject the God of the Bible become utopian in outlook. What they require is not merely the right to rule, but unlimited power and jurisdiction in the lives of their people . . . . The messianic nature of godless government creates conditions whereby it is virtually impossible for Christians to stay out of politics.” (John Barber, The Road from Eden, pp. 27–28)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Can God Do Anthing?

In the nominalistic tradition of William of Ockham (1288-1348) we encounter a fine distinction between potentia absoluta (God's absolute power) and potentia ordinata (God's ordinary power). The distinction is complex. Simply put, God's absolute power suggests that God can do whatever he wants, even what he has not willed; even what he does not chose to do. In its extreme form this idea has given rise to the old question in theology, “Can God make a stone he himself cannot lift?” 

By God's ordinate power we refer to God’s power to do things he chooses to do. God's ordinate power suggests that God has in some sense limited his absolute power; he restricts it so he is sure to manage the world and to remain faithful to his promises. After all, if God's absolute power is totally absolute with no restrictions, he might change his mind and do something "absolutely" wacky (no pun intended). He just might condemn the Virgin Mary and save Judas!

For the sake of argument let us assume the principle that God has purposely limited himself and his covenant promises to his attribute of faithfulness. How do we keep God from becoming a servant to his own attribute of faithfulness under the structure of this theology? If the potentia absoluta is limited by the potentia ordinata, then who made this choice? God. But when did God make this choice? Was there ever a time when the power of God was total? It had to be for God to be in a position to choose to make his absolute power limited by his ordinate power. But if at some unknown time God did so freely chose to limit his absolute power to his ordinate power and potentia ordinata represents what we mean by saying “God can manage all things” then who or what manages the management?

There are serious points here. Has God, in order to make certain that he remains faithful to his choices purposefully handcuffed himself to the armchair of his ordinate power? And why did God believe this necessary? Does he not trust himself? If not, then what does this say about his faithfulness even under the constraint of his ordinate power? Moreover, were we to assume that God acts only from the limitations set by his ordinate power are we at last willing to say that nothing God does appears contradictory to us? And most importantly, what is a self-limited God? How do we call this God “Lord” in the purest sense? Theologically, it is impossible to escape the free reign of God’s absolute power. As John M. Frame states, “Scripture teaches that God’s power is not exhausted in history, that God is able to do many things that he does not choose to do.” (John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God. 523). 

On the other hand, Frame consents to God’s ordinate power, BUT only insofar as it is taken to mean that for God to be consistent within himself he must be consistent with his creatures and with his plan. In other words, if all of nature were a jigsaw puzzle, God is always putting it together. But the pieces of the puzzle are not contingent on the fact that they are made by the events and thoughts of others, but the pieces of the puzzle are manufactured by him. So God freely limits himself by what he knows about Bill’s thoughts, but God foreordained Bill’s thoughts and therefore God’s own response in time to his thoughts. So if Frame were to use the nominalistic language of ordinate power it would not be in accord with the idea that makes God’s actions consequent to contingency. Rather, he would keep the language within the structure of God’s immutability and abiding plan. So on potentia ordinata he says, “God cannot simply do anything. He cannot do something that contradicts his nature . . . he cannot include one thing in his plan that contradicts another” (Ibid., 149).

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

God Still Provides

What did Abraham say to Isaac after their computer crashed? "God will provide the RAM."

The brief bit of levity is intended for a serious point. If Jehovah Jireh provided the lamb in the thicket to spare Isaac, and provided far more: his only begotten Son to spare us from the calamity of our sins, then what is God not willing to provide those who love him and walk in his kingdom power? What worry controls your heart this day? Are you afraid that you will run out of time before God acts on your prayer? As in the case of the original Abraham and Isaac, God always waits til the last second to intervene. He tests us that way. But he is always faithful never to test us beyond what we are able to endure (1 Cor. 10:13).

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bill Maher is Not a Sinner

Bill Maher, a standup comedian, talk show host, political commentator and atheist, and who set out to mock God in his movie, Religulous, said during an interview on cable TV last night, "I'm not a sinner." That would put him in rather rare company, along with the only person who truly never sinned, Jesus Christ. But of course Maher prefers not to be in the company of Jesus Christ. So it would appear that Maher has backed himself into a corner. Is he sinless like Jesus or not? If not, then perhaps he should embrace Jesus' teaching that the heart is full of sin (Mark 7:21-23), a problem which only faith on Christ can cure (John 14:6). But if he is just like Jesus; he is sinless, then maybe he can perform the miracle MSNBC needs to bring its ratings up to those of FOX.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

God's Sovereignty and the Joy of the Lord

A leading theme of Philippians is joy. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord” (Phil. 3:1. See also 4:4). In 3:1-11, the cross and the resurrection of Jesus has made it possible for Paul to experience joy in three areas of his redemption: self-denial, justification, and sanctification. 

He finds joy in the denial of his linage, nationality, pedigree, education, and social status in order that he might embrace Christ. His practice of Judaism could only produce a “blameless” life (Phil. 3:6; a life in which no man can point the finger at you and find fault), while knowing “Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8) has produced a righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 

He has joy in justification for he recognizes that despite his unfitness for heaven due to his sin, the Lord has fulfilled the requirements of the Law, including its curse; all of which is credited to Paul on the basis of faith, which itself is a gift of God (Phil. 3:9). 

And he has joy in sanctification. For he acknowledges that just as he is wretched before God in his justification, dependent upon him for grace, so also he is wretched before God in his sanctification, dependent also upon him for grace. So it is not difficult for Paul to live the Christian life. Nay, it is impossible! Just as it is impossible to cause one’s own spiritual rebirth, it is impossible to cause one’s own sanctification leading to holiness. It is all by grace. Where I am going to get the strength to overcome sin, to live fully for Christ, to find the courage for evangelism? The answer is not to resolve to try harder.  To do so is to set up one’s own competition and no one who is in a ring fighting an opponent has time for joy. It the knowledge that the Lord has accomplished our justification, and is sovereignly accomplishing even our sanctification, that prompts our joy in him. 

In what specific context does Paul know the joy of the Lord? In suffering (Phil. 3:10)!  But if all Paul knows is the “fellowship of his suffering,” then there is no basis for joy. For without the historical fact of the resurrection we are of all men most to be pitied. Rather it is only in light of the power of the resurrection that the fellowship of his sufferings is not merely bearable, but a springboard for joy. The knowledge that the Lord is in control of human history helps us say that “momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (1 Cor. 4:17).