Archive for July, 2007

The Wrath of God: Why It’s a Good Thing

July 17, 2007

I rejoice in the wrath of God.  I know that sounds strange, but careful thought reveals that there can be no other appropriate response for the Christian.  The wrath of God has been downplayed, denied, and deleted from Christian theology in many circles for a few hundred years now, but the biblical testimony to its reality will not go away.  C. H. Dodd, the famous New Testament scholar, persuaded many that the wrath of God according to Scripture is not a personal, divine response to sin but rather an impersonal process of cause and effect, whereby sin leads to some kind of punishment by natural means and not by any willed decision of God.  In this scheme, wrath has become a quasi-divine being in its own right, a mechanism put in place by God but not personally overseen by God, almost as though God has become Dr. Frankenstein, unable to control the monster he made.  While Dodd has done well to demonstrate that the God of Scripture is very different from the capricious gods of paganism, he has in the process created a sub-Christian understanding of God himself by denying that wrath is his personal response to sin.

I do not believe that wrath is an essential attribute of God.  In other words, God could still be God without ever being wrathful.  There are many possible worlds where God has no wrath.  One is a world where God never creates anything and, therefore, never confronts the problem of sin.  God did not have to create anything at all, and had he chosen not to, then there would have been no occasion for him to display wrath, for within the eternal fellowship of the Trinity there never would have been sin.  Another possible world where God has no wrath is one in which God does create moral agents, but these moral agents never sin.  Again, there would be no wrath in such a situation, and God would still be God.

So, while wrath is not an essential attribute of God (meaning he can be God without it), holiness is.  God cannot be God if he is not holy.  There is no possible world in which God is not holy, for holiness is of the essence of his Godness.  I hope the argument is clear so far.

Now, we must see how wrath and holiness are related to each other.  Wrath is an expression of God’s holiness with respect to sin.  God responds to sin in wrath because he is holy, and as a holy God, he abhors sin and must oppose it.  If God did not respond to sin in wrath, then that would compromise his holiness, and that would mean that all distinctions between good and evil have broken down and there is no ultimate hope for justice in the universe.  But God is necessarily holy.  If he is necessarily holy, then he is necessarily wrathful in a world where sin exists.  God does not have to show wrath in order to be God, but this can only apply in a world without sin.  In all possible worlds in which sin exists, God must show wrath.  This does not compromise the freedom of God, for what I am actually saying (through the heuristic device of possible worlds) is that God must always act in concrete situations in accordance with his holy character.  God’s wrath is his holiness with respect to evil.  Where evil exists, there must be wrath, or there is no holiness.  And this is a world where evil clearly exists.  Therefore, I rejoice in the wrath of God because it represents one aspect of his holiness in this world, without which he would not be holy, he would not be good, and he would not be just.  And if God is not holy, good, and just, then he is not God; he is not worthy of worship. 

Of course, the next thing to consider is the fact that I am a sinner, and therefore I justly fall under the wrath of God.  And this is where the cross comes in as the full display of the wrath of God against my sin, so that, in being saved, I am actually saved from God and for God.  Paul explicitly says that our salvation in Christ is from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9).  I rejoice in this salvation; I rejoice in the wonders of God’s grace.  But I will not belittle his holiness by pretending that my salvation has been accomplished by a laxity on the part of God with respect to his wrath.  God does not compromise his holiness; he does not compromise his wrath.  He has satisfied it fully for all of his people in the death of his Son.  To say otherwise is to compromise God’s holiness and to belittle the accomplishment of Christ on the cross. 

So I rejoice to preach God’s love and grace, and I rejoice to preach his wrath–not because I want any of my hearers to suffer it for eternity, but because I want to proclaim before all that God and evil don’t mix.         

On Science and Faith

July 10, 2007

How old is the earth?  I don’t know, but I am inclined to believe, based on biblical revelation, that it is less than 10,000 years old.  People like me, known as “young earth creationists,” are widely considered mindless, naive rednecks whose scientific viewpoints derive from the poisoned Kool-Aid that Jerry Falwell gave us (may he rest in peace).  Don’t bother us with the facts; we already have our minds made up.  But is it really that simple?

Scientific evidence does not interpret itself.  It must be interpreted.  The interpretation one gives to scientific data will inevitably be colored by the framework of preunderstanding that one brings to it.  This doesn’t mean that we can never know anything as true; it does mean, however, that if we begin with the wrong framework, we are likely to skew the evidence and come to the wrong conclusions.  This means, then, that all science rests on philosophical and theological conclusions.  Science is not a neutral discipline where you can check your presuppositions at the door.  Without presuppositions about the nature of humanity (especially humanity’s observational powers and their correspondence, or lack thereof, to the world as it actually is), science would be impossible.  A scientist can look at a rock and judge that it is 200 million years old, but before he can make that judgment, he must assume that his eyes have not deceived him about the nature of reality.  A truly postmodern scientist would never say, “This rock is 200 million years old.”  He would say, rather, “From my perspective, this rock is 200 million years old.”  And then I could turn around and say, “From my perspective, this rock is negative 100 years old (meaning it does not exist yet),” and as far as he is concerned, he cannot go outside of himself to rise above these two claims and arbitrate between them.  The real truth (if it exists at all) is not accessible to us, from a postmodern perspective (and that’s why you don’t see card-carrying postmoderns becoming scientists; they more often become literary critics, philosophers, or [!] pastors and theologians [!]).  Science rests on philosophical and theological presuppositions.

If that is the case, then why should it be so surprising that I come to the scientific task with the presupposition that Scripture is the Word of God written and that it is fully and completely trustworthy in all that it affirms?  Why should anyone ask me to lay aside that presupposition when asking scientific questions?  This is where so many people these days reveal their entrenched commitment to the Enlightenment principle of neutral human reason when they enter the debate over Intelligent Design.  “That’s not science,” they say.  “That’s religion.”  The underlying assumption is that true science can only be done if it is abstracted from any theological and philosophical commitments (such as the existence of God).  The problem, however, is that even those who argue this way have their own (unacknowledged) philosophical and theological commitments in place, and their argument basically amounts to this: “True science begins with my presuppositions, not yours.”  But naturalism is every bit as much a religious and philosophical commitment as is Christian theism. 

I am inclined to believe that one of the primary reasons that naturalists believe the universe is billions of years old is that their precommitment to naturalistic evolution requires a framework of billions of years to work at all.  Therefore, the evidence will always be interpreted within this framework.  No evolutionist will ever say, “The earth is less than 10,000 years old,” no matter what the geological data might suggest.  That claim cannot fit with the naturalistic, evolutionary preunderstanding of life to which they are committed from the outset.

I believe evolution is the wrong framework with which to begin.  Maybe I’ll do a whole post on that subject sometime, but for now let me say that I believe it is utterly reasonable, based on revelation, to ascribe the diversity of species to the creative work of God, not to a blind evolutionary process.  Therefore, there is no need to posit billions of years for human life to evolve, and the age of the earth can be decided on other grounds.  But what about geological indications that the earth is, in fact, much older than 10,000 years?  Here we face the issue of what interpretive framework one is using.  If indeed God is the creator, and if creation took place more or less the way Genesis describes it, then we would expect the earth to look much older than it is.  Something we learn from the Scripture is that God’s creative work normally bypasses the lengthy historical processes that would be required to create such outcomes under naturalistic circumstances.  For example, I take it that God created Adam as a full-grown man.  He did not first create a sperm cell, unite it with an egg, and then create some artificial womb in which Adam could gestate for nine months, followed by birth, infancy, childhood, adolescence, and then adulthood.  God skipped over the natural process because his creative work is not subject to naturalistic limitations.  Therefore, while Adam gave every indication of being, say, 25 years old, he was in fact only a few seconds old. 

This does not mean that God has deceived us.  It means that we should approach the scientific task by faith, recognizing the power of God to call into being that which does not exist.  All true science rests on this presupposition.

(Finally!) Elements of a Biblical Eschatology, Part 10

July 7, 2007

Well, I apologize again for the delay.  The summer has been busier than I expected.  I have been trying to learn Latin, working through my reading list for school, pastoring a church, and spending some good quality time with my wife and son.  I hope to get back to a once-a-week post routine now.  Hope you’ll keep checking back in.

Let me wrap up this eschatology discussion by showing how this matters in real life.  What does an “earthy,” yet “apocalyptic” eschatology like “already/not yet” premillennialism have to do with the church in the here and now?  I have three points to make (and these would also apply to an “earthy” form of amillennialism as well, though postmillennialists would make some slight adjustments):

1. The Great Comission (Matthew 28:18-20).  If Christ is reigning now, then the church has been called to spread the good news of his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Evangelism is essentially a royal proclamation about a king who is already on the throne and who offers amnesty to rebels who have opposed him.  The promise of forgiveness is extended to those who repent and bow before him, and they will be welcomed into his kingdom when it comes in its fullness.  If they refuse, then they will be destroyed when the king leads the troops in.  This is not quite the same as “Here’s how to go to heaven when you die” evangelism.  Certainly, evangelism addresses questions of death and heaven, but it must be placed into a comprehensive story about a crucified and risen Messiah who now reigns over the cosmos and will not allow his rebellious creatures to persist in rebellion forever.  Likewise, a robust eschatology (with a robust Christology at its heart) will avoid the “Don’t make Jesus feel bad” kind of evangelism too that one hears so often.  Evangelism, as royal proclamation, is the center of the church’s mission. 

2. The cultural mandate (Gen 1:26-28).  If this creation is good, and God intends to renew (and not abandon) it, then there are certain implications that follow about the development of human culture.  Dispensationalism (of the old variety) tends to view this world as a sinking ship.  The only thing the church can do that is worthwhile is get people into lifeboats by telling them how to get to heaven when they die (or get raptured).  This is a slight caricature, I know, but there is a good bit of truth in it.  An earthy eshcatology will see things very differently and will affirm that, while evangelism is central, many other aspects of life are also worthwhile and can be honoring to God: art, music, politics, business, social action, environmental conservation, technology, etc.  By subduing the earth and creating a better society, Christians anticipate the new creation in the here and now.  Evangelism is central, but it does not have to be a part of absolutely everything the church does. 

3. Apocalyptic expectation.  Christians must live with a sense that the end is imminent.  The Kingdom is at hand.  There is an urgency to our mission, a demand for holiness, a pressing need for fervent prayer and proclamation.  The King could come at any time.  We don’t want to be found idle.