doctrine of God

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Sunday Quote!- Can Randomness have Purpose?

3vce-mrEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Can Randomness have Purpose?

The concept of chance or randomness and its relation to God’s purpose and sovereignty is one which is very interesting to me. It has applications all kinds of direct theological applications. While reading Three Views on Creation and Evolution, I came upon an application related to the origins debate within Christianity. Howard J. Van Till, who was writing in support of theistic evolutionism, considered the possibility that God could have purpose even through the process of evolution:

While we’re on the issue of purpose, let’s look briefly at a common misunderstanding–that randomness rules out purpose. It is often claimed that randomness [which]… prevail[s] in the fundamental processes and events of biotic evolution rules out the possibility… [of] any preestablished purpose… Suppose there were a perfectly honest gambling casino in which no game was rigged–every[thing]… was authentically random. Does that rule out the possibility that the outcome of the casino operation cannot possibly be the expression of some preestablished purchase? Clearly not. In fact, the operators of the casino depend on that very randomness in their computation of the payout rates to insure that they will have gained a handsome profit… (168, cited below).

Apart from the strangely worded question he asked, Van Till’s point is that there may be purpose even with randomness: a truly random casino can still be oriented toward the purpose of making money. Thus, Van Till reasons, God could have done the same thing with the entirety of creation.

Now, I think this is an interesting claim, and I also think there is some plausibility to it. However, there does seem to be a significant disanalogy as well: the casino operators don’t care about the outcome of the random games, because their overall outcome is to have monetary gain. Presumably, however, God would care about the outcome of the randomness. Just having any creatures come from evolutionary processes would not seem to fit God’s plan as established in Genesis (creation, fall, redemption, consummation). Instead, there would have to be creatures capable of participating in that plan. Of course, Van Till might simply reply by saying that God would have known the outcome ahead of time and so that’s not at issue (or some similar response).

What do you think of the notion that chance or randomness may have purpose? If not, why not? If so, do you think this may be applied to evolution as Van Till does? What other applications do you think this may have?

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)

Source

Howard J. Van Till, “The Fully Gifted Creation: ‘Theistic Evolution'” in Three Views on Creation and Evolution edited by J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999).

SDG.

Book Review: “Chance and the Sovereignty of God” by Vern Poythress

Chance_comps.inddWhen I saw the title  Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events, I pounced on the opportunity to review it. This is a topic I’ve been considering for doctoral work so I was extremely excited to dive in.

The book starts off well, with discussions on the nature of chance and exploration of the biblical material for anything dealing with seemingly random events. Poythress ably shows that the Bible clearly presents God as in control of all these events. Numerous verses suggest that God is in control over “all” events, while verses which explicitly mention seemingly random or chance occurrences also attribute such events to divine knowledge and control. Poythress’ look into these topics is detailed and broad. He addresses the weather, random events like the toss of a die, human free choices, the life and death of the smallest creature or plant, and even gambling! These things are all argued to be ultimately, biblically under the sovereignty of God.

Another area the book excels in is the discussion of chance in rival worldviews. Any view which denies the centrality of God is one which suppresses the knowledge of God (Romans 1). Poythress notes that this means that “chance” may become a God-substitute. Chance is seen as being not only the explanation of events but their actual cause:

People are implying that [Chance] has the power to bring about events… The word chance first gets associated with events that we as humans cannot predict or explain… Then, in a second step… [Chance] becomes a label that we offer as the new explanation for the unpredictable event… We say “Chance brought it about”… (Kindle Location 1707)

Chance as an explanation, Poythress argues, is ultimately empty. For chance is substituted to become whatever we cannot predict or explain, and is then used itself as the explanation. I found Poythress’ comments here interesting and very insightful. His application of this concept to other worldviews later in the book makes it worth the read for these sections alone.

One difficulty with the book is the question of audience. At times, the discussion of probability theory becomes complex and very scholarly, but the earlier sections of the book speak broadly and with words that seem aimed more at a general readership. This mixture of technical and general writing makes it hard to pinpoint the audience. Who is supposed to read this book? What is it supposed to be used for?

Another problem I saw in the book is the lack of thorough argumentation for many points. No complaint of this nature may be lodged against the book’s discussion of probability theory, which is well fleshed-out. But on God’s relation to probability theory and how that relates back to sovereignty, there are often only a few sentences at a time to make a claim about the nature of the interrelationship. For example, throughout Section IV on “Probability and Mathematics,” there are lengthy discussions of probability theory with passages on how it relates back to God seemingly tacked on throughout. Near the beginning of this section, one sample is representative:

Both of these [mathematical] principles [discussed above] have their foundations in God… The separations within this world have their ultimate foundation in the distinction among the persons of the Trinity… The unity and diversity in outcomes rest… on the original pattern of unity and diversity in God. God has caused the creation to reflect his glory and wisdom. (Kindle Location 3346)

Poythress does make some earlier references to this argument, but it just never seems to be fully established and surely a statement about mathematical separations for probability in the world being a reflection of distinction among persons in the Trinity may cause some skepticism. It is a point which begs for more argumentation than was dedicated to it here. Where Poythress does address it (Chapter 11), we find more detail to the arguments, but even more questions left unanswered. For example, granting that God is revealed in all things which are made, why think that a sequence of flipping coins is explicitly a revelation of the Trinity instead of simply a revelation of God’s imbuing the universe with order and regularity so that seemingly random events are possible? But Poythress takes it as the former–a revelation of the Trinity–without so much as a comment on alternative possibilities.

Perhaps more problematic is that Poythress never seems to tackle the broader implications of his biblical argumentation. Yes, he put much work into showing God is sovereign over the weather, chance events, free will, and the like. But I kept thinking, “And now what?” What does it mean to say God is in control over natural disasters? What does it mean to say that the roll of dice I make in a game of Risk, for example, is controlled by God? What are the implications of the biblical data Poythress has set before me? Topics like these are taken up at points, only to be quickly set aside by a paragraph or even just a sentence or two.

Overall, Chance and the Sovereignty of God is an interesting look at an oft-neglected topic, but its scope is too broad and its argumentation at times too vague to be helpful. On biblical issues Poythress has offered much to consider. His outline of probability theory is helpful but technical. What I found after reading the book is that I continued to hope for a more detailed discussion on how sovereignty would interlink with chance. Yes, the book makes it plain that God has sovereignty over seemingly random events, but exactly how does that work? What does that mean for everyday life? At times these topics are taken up, only to be set down after but a few sentences. At times helpful and stunningly insightful, at other times frustratingly vague and broad, it’s a book that will leave you longing for more.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Source

Vern Poythress, Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014).

Disclaimer: I received a review copy of the book through Crossway. I was not obligated by the publisher to give any specific type of feedback whatsoever.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

“Love Wins” by Rob Bell- A Brief Review and Study Guide

love-winsI have spent a great deal of time evaluating Rob Bell’s controversial work, Love Wins. Here, I present a brief overview of my conclusions, as well as providing a study guide. I hope this will be useful to those interested in reading the book or who lead/participate in a group that are reading the book.

General Review

Over the past several weeks, I have gone through Love Wins chapter by chapter. There have been several positive themes found throughout the book. Of these, the ones most important are the notion that we often trivialize the message of the Bible into “getting in” to heaven and the argument that we cannot turn Jesus into a slogan or the cross into a symbol for whatever we like.

Bell has rightly brought the focus onto eschatology, something which is often ignored or avoided in modern settings.

Yet throughout my reviews of the book (see links at the end), I have noted numerous errors found therein. First, Bell makes errors regarding historical theology. He makes claims about the history of the church which are falsified upon closer examination. Second, his interpretive method is very problematic, as he will often take merely a single part of a verse (sometimes two words completely torn from their context!) in order to make an entire argument about how all of Scripture needs to be interpreted through his chosen phrase [see the review of Chapter 2 and search for “enter life” for a thorough analysis of this]. Third, his exegesis is problematic in still other ways. For example, he will often cite a single verse as an argument for a theological position, even though his argument is contradicted in the very next verse or in the same paragraph. Fourth, he fails to present his arguments. Instead, he chooses to simply ask leading questions. Although this is not problematic in itself, it is clear that this style is intended to lead people into the conclusions Bell wants without any critical analysis. If Bell merely stated his arguments, I suspect people would be more skeptical of his conclusions. Fifth, Bell’s method of argument, when he makes arguments, is often confused. For example, he will ask whether a phrase is found in the Bible in order to refute it. But of course, Bell’s entire thesis “love wins” is a phrase not found in the Bible.

Finally, Bell’s entire argument, once finally revealed, is found to be based around the notion that “God is love.” That’s it. He essentially creates a doctrine of God around just that notion, then defines it in human terms of a parent-child relationship, and then concludes that everyone will eventually be saved because God is love. This is a horribly deficient doctrine of God which does not take into account the whole of Biblical teaching about God. Unfortunately, because this is Bell’s central thesis, it seems the book falls apart upon closer examination.

Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book. Although it gives a few positive points, the major errors found throughout the text weigh against the usefulness of the book for study. I would recommend, however, that leaders in the church do read the book, as it has been so immensely popular that they are bound to run into it. I hope that my reviews and study guide [below] will be helpful for those who wish to engage with the book critically.

Study Guide Questions

General Questions

Let me be clear: I think these questions must be asked in any study of this book.

These questions are intended to be asked after each chapter or at the end of the book:

1) What arguments does Rob Bell present in this chapter? Are they valid? Were any arguments presented?

2) What questions does Bell ask that you feel are hardest to answer? Why? What answers did he provide?

3) Look up a passage Bell interprets. Read it in context. Do you think that Bell’s interpretation of this passage is correct? Why/why not?

Questions for Preface and Chapter 1

1) Do you feel comfortable talking about hell? Why/why not?

2) Can we know that a specific person is in hell?

3) What problems do you see in our culture’s understanding of hell?

4) If a word or phrase isn’t in the Bible, does that mean it is not biblical? Is “Love Wins” a phrase found in the Bible?

Resource: I review the preface and chapter 1.

Questions for Chapter 2

1) What do you think of when you envision heaven? Why do you imagine this? Can you support this imagery with the Biblical text?

2) Look up Matthew 19:16-30 and read it. What do you think of Bell’s focus on “enter life” as the thrust of this passage?

3) Consider popular cultural pictures of heaven or of heavenly imagery (Angels in the Outfield; All Dogs Go to Heaven; etc.). What do you think of these images? Are they grounded on Biblical truth?

4) Bell wrote: “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts now. It’s not about a life that begins at death; it’s about experiencing the kind of life now that can endure and survive even death” (59). What do you think of this quote? What does it say about what we do for salvation? Do we live in such a way as to usher in our survival of death?

Resource: I review Chapter 2.

Questions for Chapter 3

1) What do you think Bell means by “there are all kinds of hells” (79)? Do you see this in the Biblical text he cites (Luke 16:19-31)?

2) Read Luke 16:19-31. What do you think of Bell’s analysis of the meaning of this parable? Why do you think this?

3) Bell argued that Jesus’ teachings weren’t about right belief but rather about love of neighbor (82). How does this tie into the theme of salvation by grace through faith?

4) Read Matthew 10:5-15. Does the text imply there is still hope for Sodom and Gomorrah, as Bell argues (84-85)?

Resource: I review Chapter 3.

Questions for Chapter 4

1) Read Bell’s statements about the greatness of God on p. 97-98. Why do you think he chooses to focus the discussion on God’s greatness rather than on specific texts? What textual support does Bell use to support this passage?

2) Bell claims there have been a number of views about the salvation of people throughout church history. Does a plurality of views make any view valid? BonusDuring the Civil War era, Christians on either side argued the Bible supported or condemned slavery, respectively. Does this mean a valid interpretation of the Bible is that it justifies slavery?

3) Bonus points: Look up the church fathers Bell cites to support the notion that his view has been at “the center” of Christian orthodoxy. Do these church fathers really support that view? Consider the following from Augustine (The City of God Book XXI, Chapter 17):

Origen was even more indulgent; for he believed that even the devil himself and his angels, after suffering those more severe and prolonged pains which their sins deserved, should be delivered from their torments, and associated with the holy angels. But the Church, not without reason, condemned him for this and other errors…

Resource: I review Chapter 4.

Questions for Chapter 5

1) What do you think of when you picture the image of a cross? How have you used/worn/displayed crosses in your life? Do your answers to these questions reflect the glory and misery of the cross?

2) How have you pictured the “Gospel”? Is it just a way to “get to” heaven?

Resource: I review Chapter 5.

Questions for Chapter 6

1) How have you used the label “Christian” or the name “Jesus” in your life?

2) Read John 12:47-50 and compare to Bell’s notion that God is not about judgment. How do Bell’s assertions read in light of the context of the single verse he cites (i.e. “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.” [48])? Does Bell deal with this context?

3) Did Jesus come to overthrow religion? Read Matthew 5:17-18. How does this passage line up with Bell’s notion that Jesus was a- or even anti- religious?

ResourceI review Chapter 6

Questions for Chapter 7 and 8

1) Rob Bell focuses upon the notion that God is love. What else does the Bible tell us God is? Does Bell discuss these other attributes? What do these other attributes us tell us about God? (BonusCheck out 2 Thessalonians 1:6; Psalm 5; Isaiah 46:9-10; or use a concordance to look up various attributes of God.)

2) Bell’s focus in this chapter is on God as love. How does God respond to sin? Consider Psalm 5:4-6:

For you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness;
with you, evil people are not welcome.
 The arrogant cannot stand
in your presence.
You hate all who do wrong;
you destroy those who tell lies.
The bloodthirsty and deceitful
you, Lord, detest. (Psalm 5:4-6)

3) Bell writes that sins are “irrelevant” (187). Did Jesus come to die for sins? Does this mean they are irrelevant?

4) Bell seems to argue that there are more chances after death. What does the Bible say about this? (Consider Hebrews 9:27.)

Resource: I review chapters 7 and 8.

Links

Like this page on Facebook: J.W. Wartick – “Always Have a Reason”

The book: Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1– I discuss the preface and chapter 1 of Love Wins.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 6– I review chapter 6.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapters 7 and 8– I review the final chapters of the book.

Be sure to check out other book reviews. (Scroll down for more)

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Preface and Chapter 1

love-winsI know I am late to this party. It has taken me a while to get around to reading Love Wins by Rob Bell. There are many other looks at Love Wins available online, both critical and positive. What do I hope to offer here? I will analyze Rob Bell’s arguments in three primary ways: in light of historical theology, in light of methodology, and in light of analytic theology. I believe this will offer a thorough look at several of Bell’s claims. I hope to offer as even-handed an analysis as possible.

Rob Bell’s argument will be examined for historical accuracy and philosophical rigor. Furthermore, I will examine how Rob Bell makes his argument, because method is often one of the primary ways that people err in their theology. I begin with an analysis of the Preface and Chapter 1. I am hoping to release one post a week as I analyze this text. I will post each section with an outline of the arguments followed by my analysis.

Before I begin, one more note on this analysis: I have not read the book yet. My reason for  this is I want to have it fresh in my mind as I do the analysis instead of coming to the text with a preconceived notion of what I remember it saying. Thus, these analyses will be based on a reading of the book chapter by chapter. I will end with an overall  review once I wrap up the book. See the end of the post for links to other chapters.

Preface- “Millions of Us”

Outline

Rob Bell begins his book with a fairly simple statement “I believe that Jesus’s story is first and foremost about the love of God for every single one of us” (vii). Bell asserts that “Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories… it’s time to reclaim it” (vii-viii). He points out that some teachings about Jesus have caused people to stumble, and that others do not discuss the issue of hell for various reasons.

Analysis

Bell is to be commended for taking on an issue that many are afraid to discuss. It is true that some people and even churches will not delve into the topic of hell. It is important to talk about this doctrine, as it has been part of Christian teaching from the beginning.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bell has already made a methodological mistake. He implored readers to “please understand that nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me. I haven’t come up with a radical new teaching… That’s the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith. It’s a deep, wide, diverse stream that’s been flowing for thousands of years…” (x-xi).

There are actually two errors here. First, simple diversity on a topic doesn’t somehow automatically validate all positions. Just because there was diversity about the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t mean that the Arian position is somehow a valid theological perspective. Thus, it seems that Bell’s point here is moot. Diversity does not mean validity.

Second, historic, orthodox faith is not a diverse array of beliefs. The historic Christian faith has been define in universally acknowledged creeds which state what the universal church teaches on various essentials for the Christian faith. In fairness to Bell, he may be using “orthodox” to mean a denominational perspective, wherein the wider spectrum of beliefs is what may be considered “orthodox.”

Chapter 1: “What About the Flat Tire?” 

Outline

Bell starts with a story about a quote from Gandhi, which prompted someone to write “Reality check: He’s in hell.” Bell reacts to this with a series of questions: “Really? Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Somebody knows this? Without a doubt?” (1-2). Elsewhere, he  focuses in on the individual again, asking whether it is true that the Christian message for someone who claimed to be an atheist during life has “no hope” (3).

He goes on to ask: “Has God created millions of people over tens of thousands of years who are going to spend eternity in anguish? Can God do this, or even allow this, and still claim to be a loving God? Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” (2).

After focusing on the case of an individual’s salvation and whether there is an age of accountability, Bell focuses on the nature of salvation. “[W]hat exactly would have to happen… to change [an individual’s] future? Would he have had to perform a specific rite or ritual? Or take a class? Or be baptized? Or join a church? Or have something happen somewhere in his heart?” (5). Bell notes that some hold that one has to say a sinner’s prayer or pray in a specific way in order to get saved.

Bell continues to contemplate what it is to be saved, and points out that some believe that it is about a “personal relationship” but that that phrase is never used in the Bible. He asks why, if it is so central to salvation, would such a phrase not be in the Bible? (10-11). Bell asks whether “going to heaven is dependent on something I do” and then asks “How is any of that grace?” (11).

Then, Bell looks at various Biblical narratives, including the faith of the centurion, the discourse with Nicodemus, Paul’s conversion, and more, providing a constant stream of questions and noting apparently different things said about faith and salvation (12-18).

Analysis

Bell is right to focus on the notion of one’s personal fate. It is indeed impossible to declare with certainty that a specific person is in hell. It is always possible that God called them to faith in Christ before they died, even at the last moment. We should never say with 100% certainty that someone is in hell.

Bell is also correct to raise doubts about various things that people allegedly need to do in order to “get saved.” His critique of such theologies is again based around questions instead of head-on arguments, but even that is enough to poke holes into works-based theologies.

There seems to be a rather major methodological error in Bell’s analysis of a “personal relationship” with God.” His argument against using this notion to discuss salvation is to say that the phrase is not used in the Bible anywhere. As noted in the outline, he asks a number of very pointed questions regarding this and notes that the phrase isn’t in the Bible. But there are other phrases not used in the Bible which are central issues for Christianity, like “Trinity.” A phrase not appearing in the Bible does not automatically mean it isn’t taught by the Bible. Things can be derived from Biblical teaching without having the exact phrase we use to describe that teaching appear in the Bible. Just to hammer this home, let me point out that the phrase “Love Wins” nowhere appears in the Bible. One using Bell’s methodology here might come to the conclusion that his book is unbiblical.

Just as an aside, I found it a bit of a methodological problem that Bell begins the book with a chapter that is almost entirely questions. He promises answers later, but for now it seems like all the reader is left with is a bunch of–make no mistake about it–leading questions. I think that leading questions are appropriate for teaching, but not so much for defense of a position.

Conclusion

So far, we have seen that Bell makes a few methodological errors, each at a central part of his chapter. First, he made the assumption that diversity of views means validity of all. We have seen that such is not the case, diversity of views does not put them all on a level playing field. Second, he argued that because a phrase isn’t in the Bible, it doesn’t seem to be Biblical. We pointed out that this would collapse Bell’s own work  because “love wins” is not found in the Bible. Even if it were, however, we noted that the mere absence of a phrase does not entail its falsehood or unbiblical nature.

However, we have also had several good things to say about Love Wins. In particular, his analysis of works-based systems of salvation was helpful. The fact that Bell is willing to discuss a controversial topic and ask the hard questions is also commendable.

Next week, we’ll analyze Chapter 2, which is about heaven. I look forward to your comments!

Links

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 2– I review chapter 2.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 3– I look at Chapter 3: Hell.

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 4– I look at Chapter 4: Does God Get what God Wants?

Review of “Love Wins” by Rob Bell: Chapter 5– I analyze chapter 5.

Love Wins Critique– I found this to be a very informative series critiquing the book. For all the posts in the series, check out this post.

Should we condemn Rob Bell?– a pretty excellent response to Bell’s book and whether we should condemn different doctrines. Also check out his video on “Is Love Wins Biblical?

Source

Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: HarperCollins, 2011).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “How My Savior Leads Me” by Terri Stellrecht

It is with great rejoicing that we release our son, Trent Lee Stellrecht, age 12, to our Heavenly Father. Dance before your King, my son (xiii).

“How My Savior Leads Me” by Terri Stellrecht is a beautiful work of theological reflection.

Terri’s son, Trent, passed away at age 12. The first part of the book reflects upon the incident. Everything is set against the background of Terri’s faith. She describes Tren’s life from birth to death, and throughout focuses on the joys of a son and his coming to faith. The reality of sin in the life Trent is acknowledged, even from a young age (10-11). But Trent eventually repented, telling Terri, “I’m not right with God” and repenting, turning to Bible study, and glorying in the Lord (12ff).

But Trent’s life was cut short in a skiing accident. Terri describes the heart-rending scenes. The whole family saw his body, and Terri noted that “There was my son, but it was so clearly not Trent anymore. It was truly just a shell. A beautiful, young, 12-year-old shell of a body… It was so evident that there was no soul left” (32). The family took comfort in the last verses Trent had read, Isaiah 65:17-25, which starts, “See I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” Terri’s description of the funeral and other events surrounding Trent’s death is stirring and easily draws readers in. This is a Christian sister in mourning, and it rends the heart, even as readers rejoice with her that her son is in heaven.

The book continues with several chapters on sovereignty, mourning, and other topics. It concludes with a series of edited blog posts Terri wrote during the period shortly before and after Trent’s death. The blog posts are all worth reading. Readers will delight in Terri’s joy in her son and also weep with her in the times of sorrow. Her exhortations to fellow Christians to “wake up” reflect an intimate knowledge of one’s own standing with God that Christians would do well to remember (132ff).

Theology is found throughout “How My Savior Leads Me.” Terri is consistently affirming of God’s sovereignty.  The book makes it very apparent how comforting a strong view of sovereignty can be in times of mourning. Terri writes, “When we are weak, God is strong/ He empowered us to walk through those church doors, and promised to be with us for it all… We acknowledged God’s goodness in His perfect plan…” (40). Later, she writes, “If God ordained the beginning, the middle, and every detail until the end of Joseph’s life, [see the Joseph narrative Genesis chapters 37-50] then isn’t it easy to conclude that He has ordained every detail in our lives as well?” (59). Clearly, the comfort is found in acknowledging that all things are part of God’s plan.

She turns also to the important question “Why has God ordained all things?” The answer Terri provides, on the basis of Ephesians 1:11-12 and Isaiah 43:7 is that it is for God’s glory to show through all things (59ff). “God’s sovereign hand” is found in suffering (61). It is part of a process of sanctification by which we are made holy (62ff).

Now, within the Christian tradition there are those who definitely do not agree that God “ordained” every detail of Joseph’s life, if the sense of “ordained” is “caused.” Here, this reader’s own philosophy of religion may be peeking through, but it does seem that, at times, “How My Savior Leads Me” is advancing theological determinism. That may indeed be the view Terri holds, but it seems to me that such a position is inconsistent with some other propositions she makes. For example, she clearly does seem to hold that Trent willingly came to the faith after being a willing rebel against God’s will earlier in his life. Further, Terri writes, “In God’s sovereign plan, man had to fall so that the glory of God would be revealed to it’s [sic] fullest” (65, emphasis mine). Now, this assertion is highly contentious and doesn’t receive any argument [there are verses on either side of it, but they are used to support propositions in conjunction with them… the quoted statement has no cited verses]. I realize this is a position most in the various Reformed schools hold, but it does require some kind of argument to support it. Many Christians–myself included–certainly do not agree that man “had to fall” in order to reveal God’s glory. Also, Terri briefly admits chagrin at the female chaplain presented to her at the hospital, noting “How many times… have I gone on about women pastors and what I believe about the churches embracing of a practice and position that the Bible clearly lays out as a man’s role?” (31). Again, no argument is made to support this position. It should be noted that these criticisms mostly come from treating the book as something it’s not. The book itself is a book of mourning and theological reflection; it is not a defense of a position. Readers like me who may disagree with some of Terri’s points, but can still laugh, cry, and jump for joy with Terri as we follow her reflective journey in this book.

Ultimately, “How My Savior Leads Me” deserves a read by anyone. I must use the word “beauty” to describe much of the book. It is beautiful to see a mother mourning her son while affirming the Lord. It is beautiful to weep with our fellow Christian as they endure suffering. It is beautiful to look ahead, and to marvel at how our savior leads us.

Terri Stellrecht, How My Savior Leads Me (Bloomington, IN: WestBow, 2011).

Disclaimer: I was provided a review copy of this book by the author. My thanks to Terri for the opportunity to review her book.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

A Dilemma for Open Theists

John Sanders writes in his treatise arguing for open theism, The God Who Risks, “Following Plato, Calvin declares that any change in God would imply imperfection in the divine being” (74). He proceeds to argue merely that God does change His mind. The problem is that, in arguing thus, Sanders has perhaps unknowingly presented a powerful dilemma for open theism to solve.

If God literally changes His mind, as Sanders desires to demonstrate, then:

1) If God changes His mind, and this brings about a better state of affairs, then it reveals that God was previously operating under a flawed or imperfect plan. [By implication, there are parts of God’s plan which could use improvement, but which God either chooses not to improve or doesn’t know how to improve.]

or

2) If God’s changing His mind brings about a worse state of affairs, then God has made a mistake, which perfect beings cannot do.

Now an immediate response could be that perhaps neither state of affairs is best. In that case, then, there would be no reason for God to change His mind in the first place and is therefore acting arbitrarily.

A response to this rebuttal may be that the change of mind is not arbitrary, but rather demonstrates God’s responsive, interpersonal nature. By changing His plan, God is responding to prayers and altering the course of history. If that is true, though, we have the first horn of the dilemma: God’s changing His mind is an improvement. And then that would mean God increased in perfection.

One may object with a tu quoque response: “Doesn’t anyone who hold that God becomes incarnate imply that God changes, and therefore wouldn’t they equally be skewered by this dilemma?”

A response to this could be simply that, assuming God has comprehensive foreknowledge, God has planned the incarnation from before the dawn of time, and so there is no changing of the divine plan.

It is interesting to see that Open Theists don’t necessarily hold that the crucifixion was God’s way of bringing about salvation in history. Sanders writes, “Though the incarnation and human suffering and death which would accompany it may have been in God’s plan all along, the cross as the specific means of death may not have been” (102). He concludes this because of his alignment with open theism, and the assertion that, given the free will of those involved, the crucifixion was not predestined (105). Not only that, but Sanders also holds that the suffering and death of Jesus were required by the atonement. Wholly apart from criticizing this theological point of interest, one can see that in this quotation, the open theist is entirely open to the dilemma. Suppose Jesus were to be assassinated, stabbed like Julius Caesar, instead of dying on a cross. Clearly, this wouldn’t suit to fill the prophecies in the Bible which were taken to reference the crucifixion (see Sanders’ discussion 102ff). Thus, it seems that this fulfillment of the divine purpose would have been less perfect than the crucifixion. Perhaps there are ways to improve on the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It seems ludicrous to type such a sentence, but if the crucifixion was unnecessary, it seems at least logically possible that a better way to provide for atonement may have been accomplished.

Finally, one may object that the dilemma could work for any who hold that God created the world. One could adapt the dilemma for the creation of the universe and say that God could have brought about a better world and didn’t (and hence is imperfect). Now there are several ways in which this argument is disanalogous to the dilemma presented above, but one could simply answer it by saying that there are specific reasons for bringing about our world over others’ which are “better” or argue that there seems to be no such thing as a way to measure worlds against each other (for some discussion of this see here).

It seems to me that only versions of theism which imply that God does not know [comprehensively] the future will be susceptible to this dilemma. While some versions of theism hold both that God knows the future and that God changes, these versions will [almost all] fail to be susceptible to the dilemma because they’ll have an account for God’s plan which is unchanging.

SDG.

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The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

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