Problem of EvilSeveral weeks ago, I began a series of posts by outlining some foundational biblical teaching about God’s decree. We examined numerous passages of Scripture that speak of God’s decree as eternal, unconditional, unchangeable, and exhaustive. As a result, we concluded that God is properly said to be the ultimate cause of all things. As the Westminster Confession states, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF, 3.1).

Whenever you say something like that in a theological discussion, immediately the question is raised: How can God be the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass—even actions and events that are evil and sinful, things which God Himself prescribes against—and yet not be rightly charged with unrighteousness. Perhaps the most common answer to that question is an appeal to the notion of divine “permission.” In other words, though God is ultimately in control, He doesn’t ordain evil; He merely allows it. In a second post, I demonstrated why such a solution is unsatisfactory, both theologically and biblically. After considering a number of passages that don’t shy away from attributing to God a very active role in the bringing about of evil events, we concluded with John Frame: “God does bring about sinful human actions. To deny this, or to charge God with wickedness on account of it, is not open to a Bible-believing Christian. Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless” (Doctrine of God). That post demonstrated that Scripture plainly teaches both (a) that God is unquestionably righteous and (b) that He indeed ordains sinful events and actions. And if that’s what Scripture teaches (and it is), it is not our place to sit in judgment upon and question the consistency of those declarations. That only breeds the worst of biblical and theological mischief. To argue that God is unrighteous for ordaining evil is to sit in judgment upon both the Word of God and the Judge of all the world. Instead, it falls to us to receive both propositions as true on the authority of God’s infallible and inerrant Word.

But is there any way to understand how it can be that God is not the chargeable cause of sin, even though He ordains that it be? There is a way for the worshiper of God to ask that question submissively, not because we demand that God give an account of His understanding of justice that satisfies our sensibilities, but simply because we desire to know Him and worship Him for what He has revealed of Himself. And there is a way to answer that question that remains faithful to sound biblical interpretation and theological reflection.

The answer that Scripture seems to give can be boiled down to two propositions. First, though God is the ultimate cause of all things—even evil—He is never the proximate, or efficient, cause of evil. Second, Scripture regards only the efficient cause of evil as the chargeable or blameworthy party. Let’s look to a sample of texts that bears this out.

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I love evangelism. It’s constantly on my mind. It is impossible to see a human and not think about where they will spend eternity. It brings joy to my heart when people tell me about their gospel conversations. I love watching evangelistic encounters on YouTube and seeing the way that others do evangelism. It is because of all these things that when I see someone misrepresent Christ that my heart is troubled. The Gospel message is already Angry Preacheroffensive enough.

And because of all these reasons I haven’t been this disgusted by something I’ve seen done by “street preachers” since I got to see Westboro Baptist face to face. In a video entitled “Street Preacher Invades Starbucks” (I don’t recommend watching it since it is filled with profanity) a group of men “invade” a Starbucks and then start following and screaming “repent” to a few pedestrians. As the scene got more intense, a lady said some words that should have stopped them in their tracks.

I would rather go to hell than be with you!

Instead of being proud of this encounter, to the point of posting it as an example of proper evangelism on YouTube, they should have been ashamed.

“I would rather go to Hell than be with you”, are not some words that I ever want someone to say to me. And although Westboro and heretical “street preachers” are extreme examples, I think we are all tempted to sin during evangelistic encounters.  So here are some marks of an evangelist who seeks to represent his Savior in a way that would please Him.

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It’s easy to be drained of joy these days. All you have to do is exist.

But for God’s people, there is joy that is to be regularly had. One of the preeminent places for that is in a biblical local church. None of us would dare say that any local church is thoroughly utopian. Even so, it is a place where joys are to be uniquely experienced.

Here are a few joys we get to experience by immersing ourselves in God’s kind of a local church:

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October 6, 2015

The Simplified Guide

by Jesse Johnson

I recently came across two principles that, when put together, show the spiritual difficulty that we often have in dealing with Christian gray areas. Before I share the principles, let me tell you about where I read them:

David Hazelton is a well-regarded attorney in the DC area. He wrote a book, The Simplified Guide to Paul’s Letters to the Churches, that systematizes all of Paul’s instructions to local churches in his Epistles. What makes this book so fascinating to me is that it reads almost like a legal brief—and I mean that as a compliment. Over the past few years I’ve developed a hobby of reading briefs filed with the US Supreme Court. A good brief asks the right questions, then answers the questions by assimilating the conclusions from many different cases, and then presents the desired conclusion in light of all of the evidence.   Continue Reading…

cold feetLarry King is getting cold feet about dying. The iconic interviewer has a reputation that is larger than life, but is fixated on his own death.

In the New York Times article titled, “Larry King prepares for final cancellation,” Mark Liebovich reported that King told the journalist he was avoiding death by taking four human growth hormone pills every day, but that in case of death, has arranged to have his whole body put on ice pending the discovery for a cure for whatever killed him.

Cryonics is the process of dropping a human body’s temperature to -200F. The idea is to wait until the remedy for your disease is perfected and then they basically pop you into the microwave, thaw you out, and cure the revenant you…until you contract the next incurable, life threatening woe, whereupon I suppose you would hop back in the freezer and repeat the cycle.

In theory, if you avoided fatal accidents you could conceivably live happily ever after by dint of intermittent jaunts in the freezer. There are only a few problems that still need to be ironed out…

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By now we’ve all heard of Chris Harper Mercer, the man who killed ten people on the campus of Umpqua Community College.

Can you imagine the despair in the room? Put yourself in the shoes of the students in that classroom as they watched their teacher drop. As the gunman shouted to the Christians to make themselves known! What would you do?

As a College minister I can’t help but be deeply affected by it. Tragedy has struck yet another college campus. Just yesterday I talked with several students on their way to class, and asked them if they were to die tonight gun-pointed-at-you-in-your-face-aim-aimedwhat would they say to God. Words like these are not scare tactics. We all are literally on the verge of eternity.

So many people are using this situation as a political tool. Some are calling for stricter gun control. Some say that the man specifically targeted the school because it was a gun-free zone. Others are blaming anti-depression medication as they say that all of the major shootings in the last few years came from kids who grew up taking drugs. It’s obvious that the world is confused, is without direction, and is jumping to conclusions. As Christians we know that the only place to get the answers is the Scripture. I wish I could visit Oregon and spend a few days praying with students and bringing them the hope that they need.  We need to pray for the Church in Oregon to wisely know how deal with this situation. Here are some truths that we know when tragedy strikes.

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While I’ve been overwhelmed with the positive response about last week’s article, “Why Evangelicals and Roman Catholics Cannot Be Together,” some seem to not quite grasp the reason for it. After all, they say that they have neighbors or family members who really love Jesus, who attend a Roman Catholic Church. While I have spoken to many Catholics and have yet to meet one who can explain the Gospel, I am sure that at least in America there has to be some believers who Sunday after Sunday are attending RCC’s. If you are one of these people, here are four reasons you need to leave today. Or if you know someone whom you believe to be born again, here are four reasons you need to encourage them to leave.

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October 1, 2015

Gaining the Kingdom

by Jesse Johnson

I’m preparing to preach 2 Samuel to my congregation, and I’m breaking it up into two sections. This year I’ll preach from 2 Samuel 1-14, and next year I’ll finish the book (dv). This is my letter to the congregation introducing 2 Samuel 1-14:

Gaining kingdomDavid’s life was truly one of hardship. For forty years he ran for his life by running from Saul. Now with Saul dead, the kingdom is his and he gladly received it. Although he fled from Israel’s king, he never fled from being the king of Israel. But securing the crown did not secure his safety. In fact, the trials he experienced as king (2 Samuel) far-and-away exceeded all of those he had while hiding in caves (1 Samuel).

It was foreboding that the news of Saul’s death came to David from the lips of a liar. He ascended the throne based on a lie, and things went down hill from there. His generals lied to him, his sons lied to him, and by the end of 2 Samuel even the Devil had lied to him.

Becoming the king did not give David the rest that God promised those in his kingdom (cf. Psalm 95:11).  Continue Reading…

September 30, 2015

Arminianism & Its Hazards

by Eric Davis

calvins flowerChances are you’ve discussed it lately. Who chose whom? God? Man? Both? Whose will and choice triggers salvation? Man’s? God’s? Both? It’s a common occurrence to spar over Calvinism (the doctrines of God’s sovereign grace) vs. Arminianism.

This post could not possibly address all the issues. Instead, it will take a brief look at some of Arminianism’s consequences. But first, a quick reminder of common Arminian teaching.

Arminianism typically holds that God elects individuals to salvation based on his foreknowledge of their personal worthiness. It’s claimed that God’s election means that he chose those whom he foresaw would trust in Christ for salvation prior to them doing so. God chose those whom he foreknew would choose him. Humanity, therefore, is fallen, but not incapable of seeking God. Though sinful, man is still able to arouse his will so as to choose God savingly. Some reject election, arguing that it is incompatible with human freedom and responsibility, thus rendering things like evangelism, prayer, and discipleship unnecessary. It follows, then, that many argue that one is able to lose their salvation.

arminian flower

Arminianism has had its propagators over the years. Jacob Arminius, of course. Later, John Wesley wrote, “I reject the blasphemy clearly contained in the horrible decree of predestination…I would sooner be a Turk, a Deist, yea an atheist, than I could believe this” (Cited in Demarest, The Cross and Salvation, 102). About 100 years later, Charles Finney held that there are essentially two types of people; the savable and the unsavable. God chose those who inherently possessed the ability by their freedom to choose God and be saved. Some contemporary proponents include F. Leroy Forlines and Roger Olson, to name a few.

Wherever we might find ourselves theologically, there are a number of hazards for consideration which are consequent of Arminian teaching:

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Papacy02Anyone paying attention to the news last week could not have missed Pope Francis’s historic visit to the United States. Perhaps the most alarming aspect of his visit was the way in which some evangelical leaders enthusiastically embraced him. Today’s article addresses one of the many reasons why evangelicals should neither endorse nor applaud the office of the papacy.

The Popularity of the Papacy

Francis is unarguably one of the most popular popes in recent memory. That popularity has been fueled, largely, by his unexpected message of tolerance toward those who have historically been condemned by the Catholic Church.

In last few months, Francis has even shocked many Catholics with statements he has made about homosexuality, divorce, abortion, capitalism, climate change, and how he views of people in non-Catholic religions. Some of his comments have been so surprising, in fact, that it leads one to wonder about the continuing validity of the rhetorical question: “Is the Pope Catholic?” With Francis, it’s getting harder and harder to say for sure.

In spite of all of that, the pope has never been more popular. Type the words “pope Francis souvenirs” into Google and over 1.8 million results show up. There are Pope Francis bobble heads, coffee mugs, commemorative buttons, key chains, wall art, collectible stamps, prayer cards, throw pillows, and a whole lot more.

Incredibly, the pope’s popularity has even spilled over into some Protestant circlesenticing a number of evangelical leaders to embrace him as a brother in Christ, rather than to reject him as a false teacher. In the words of one well-known television preacher, regarding Francis: “I love the fact that’s he’s made the Church more inclusive. Not trying to make it smaller, but to try to make it larger—to take everybody in. So, that just resonates with me.”

But the fact of the matter is that the popularity of this pope or any other pope represents the tragic reality that there are more than a billion people today caught in the clutches of a false religious system. The Roman Catholic church is not the true church. It is an apostate movement that has undermined the gospel by elevating the traditions of men above the Word of God.

[Note: This article continues on the Preachers and Preaching blog.] Click here to Continue reading . . .