Friday, February 29, 2008

Sermon Applications 2/24/08

Lord willing, these are the applications I will make on Sunday and I will post them on Friday. This week I have expanded my thoughts in a three part series.

Sunday's Text was:

1 John 4:13-15 13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14 We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.

Here are the applications:
A. Come before God in prayer boldly. You have eternal life, God has made you His child. He delights in hearing requests from His children. Pray. Praying does make a difference, not because there is power in what we do but because we come before a prayer hearing God.

James 5:16-18 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.

God used the prayers of one righteous man, one person redeemed by God. God used these prayers to fulfill His sovereign plan. He had promised in the book of Deut. that when Israel walked away, He would punish them with drought and then He would bring relief. But God carried out this promise and plan using the means of Elijah.

Consider where your prayers can be effective: (1) praying for the salvation of a loved one; (2) praying for spiritual growth in your children; (3) praying for the spiritual growth and health of our church; (4) praying for the spread of the gospel to all nations or even all corners of America.

In all these things, God has a sovereign plan He will fill without fail. And yet God appoints and desires that faithful saints like you and I, those who are righteous through faith in Christ should pray. Pray boldly. Strictly speaking: prayer does not make a difference but it is the God to whom we pray who makes the difference.

B. Acknowledge God’s will in your prayers.

1. In your prayers, be careful to ask for God’s will to be done.

2. Acknowledge that God may answer your prayer differently than you see fit.

3. Specifically make God’s glory the most important part of how he answers your request.

4. No matter how godly we might be, our will is not going to be answered: Consider Jesus.
Mark 14:36 36 And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will."

C. Do not use ‘God’s will’ as an excuse for approaching God in confidence.

1. Do not hide your lack of a desire to see God do what is best behind the phrase ‘God’s will’. Do not use it as a cop out. We rob this phrase of the emboldening power that it has: God does what is right all the time. God does not fail to carry out His will. He does what is best. What I am saying is that sometimes we use “if it is God’s will” to sound pious but we do not mean it. We just do not want to be disappointed. This is selfish. The idea of praying to God’s will is suppose to humble us and make us say “God is God and He really knows what is best.”

2. We should be praying that God will change our hearts… ‘please do this Lord, but help me to trust you to work out your perfect will.’ We are to see that God does what is right.

D. Delight yourself in prayer and bold requests. Delight in asking for those things which only God can do.

E. Realize that unanswered prayer is not really unanswered but answered different than we want. Change your desires. Do not see unanswered prayer as God’s failure. It really does take faith in the Son of God to say: “I know there is a God who hears my prayers even when I do not get the answer I want.” But this kind of faith in God is supposed to make us bolder, we go again to the throne saying, “Oh God do this, yet not what I will but what you will.” Consider how Jesus could ask this in all confidence to our prayer hearing God.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Is 'if it's God's will' a cop out? Part 3

It is tough to explain to a non-Christian: “well I know there is a God because He answers prayer; but when He doesn’t well that’s because it is not God’s will.” The non-Christian will say there is no proof that God answers prayer. They will balk: ‘when you get what you want it is an answer to prayer, when you don’t get it you don’t disbelieve in God you just say ‘this wasn’t his will’. Who is this God with a will? You have made him up to explain the random chance of life when things go your way “prayer, prayer” you exclaim; when they don’t “God’s will, God’s will”’.

Answered prayer is not "emprical proof" that can be evaluated from a neutral stand point. You either answer the question from the position of being a believer or from the position of being an unbeliever. NEITHER POSITION IS OBJECTIVE. No one simply looks at it and says 'God did not answer these six prayers the way I asked, here are three cases were he did perhaps answer, but I have more unanswered prayer than answered. Therefore God does not exist."

You either start with the gospel and are able to explain both answers and non-answers to prayer or you start with a rejection of God. If you start with a rejection of God, no amount of "evidence" will ever convince you. Indeed, you will supress the truth of God in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff). You will take every instance where you see clearly the power and might of God, either in answered prayer, unanswered prayer, creation and God's providence and you will explain it away: that was fate or luck (for the positive) or God was silent, He was not there, He didn't answer (for the negative).

The problem is you have decided to make yourself judge and jury of God. You have stepped up to the Almighty and said "Let me present my case". "Oh God, if you are real, which you probably aren't, you had better meet my demands, jump through my hoops... DO WHAT I TELL YOU AND THEN I WILL BELIEVE IN YOU."

What kind of god is that? God is never at our beck and call. Indeed, we would do well to read Job 38-42. Job is faulted for failing to justify God, for failing to say "God has done what is right." When the Christ says "if it is God's will", He is really justifying God. God is more powerful than any of us, you cannot fathom or compete with His wisdom. He did not consult you when He created, why should He consult with you and be made captive to your demands.

The non-Christian reasons about prayer from their non-Christian standard. Of course, they will think "If it is God's will" is a weak plea of the feeble minded. Such arrogance. You would not demand a lion to do what you tell it. You do not command the ocean to obey you. Who has ever stood before the moon and said, "Obey me."? Of course, not, these are not gods by any means, but the point is that we have no power over such things. How dare we stand and claim to have power over God: 'do this and I will believe."

The Christian starts by acknowledging the Lordship of Christ proclaimed by His resurrection. We acknowledge that God has set a day when He will judge all things (Acts 17:30-31). But he has been patient and merciful. Yet history will run its course, indeed up to this point it has moved forward as God saw fit. He appointed the nations and their boundaries, he ordained the rise and the fall of nations (Acts 17:24-26). He has declared the end from the beginning and moves history to the counself of His will and the purpose of His plan (Isa. 40-55).

The Christian is not weak in the sense of being 'out of their mind'. In fact, the Christian recognizes true power and bows before true greatness. If you were to stand before a six foot five man with arms the size of your waste, you would not say "I can take him," indeed you would make peace. You would submit. How much more should we respond to one whose being is above our own?

It is not a 'cop-out' to pray 'If it is God's will,' indeed it recognizing our proper place. It is being whom we are created to be. In the end, this attitude alone will align us into the proper order of things. This attitude alone, along with the whole Christian position, will explain the mysteries of the world... why some days things 'go my way' and other days they do not. It is this attitude alone that allows us to cope and stand under the realities of a chaotic world.

Indeed, the only thing keeping the atheist and agnostic from collapsing is the sheer power of the will. Sheer determinism. It may last for a time, it may callous one to the realities of pain and suffering, it may give one a sort of stoic quality about life and death... but there is one thing it cannot do: it cannot stop death. One will come to the end of your days, and no matter how bravely you face them you will find you are only deluding yourself, you cannot stop the course of time, you cannot ward off death. Death will not be a friend that goes on the journey and calls us home. Death is a painful reality from which there is no escape.

How much greater is it to know the one who works all things according to the counself of His will, and on day that will includes the defeat of deat and the swallowing of the grave. It is not a cop out to say "if it is God's will" in fact, it is a cop out not to acknowledge the will of God.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Is 'if it's God's will' a cop out? Part 2

So is "if it is God's will" just a cop out? Do we use it to rationalize the unanswered prayer? Does this keep us from believing that "we have the request". Some people will so abuse the passages that speak of faith and prayer that unanswered prayer always comes from a lack of faith. Try explaining that one to Jesus, I doubt he lacked faith:

Mark 14:36 36 And He was saying, "Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will."

How should with think of "having a request" if it is only ever "God's will"? Can we really ask for an answer or is it just a pipe dream. 1 John may help us here.

1 John 5:14-15 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

Specifically on verse 15 the "we know that we have the request," we must still read it in context. This verse is still under the condition that it is ‘according to His will’. But we should not fear the will of God. I know sometimes in my life I use the line “if its your will” as sort of a cop out—then if I don’t get it I have “an out”. Non-Christians accuse us of this all the time as I mentioned.

If it was not for God sending His Son to die and rise again from the dead and if it was not for our faith in the Son of God—the non-Christian would appear to be right. But you an I believe in a God who works all things according to His will. James tells us that we should make all our plans with the caveat ‘if the Lord wills’ (James 4:15). So also we should pray. But we should have a confidence in God: God does what is right. He works all things for the glory of His name. We should pray with such a boldness and confidence that God hears the prayers of His children, he looks upon us favorably and he will act in our best interest to bring the most glory to Himself.

We do not have to pray with a despondence ‘Que Sera Sera ‘whatever will be, will be’. We can pray with a passion and a fervency because we know we have eternal life and we are going into God’s very presence. God always works all things according to the counsel of His will.
Ephesians 1:11 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will,
I submit my will before God and bring the requests—that is boldness. It is not charging God: “do what I command,” instead it is like a child coming before parent. Nothing upset me more when Lily demands things of me, when she acts like a parent instead of child. Usually it happens at breakfast, “Daddy give me this, Daddy give me that.” Maybe I am just tired, but she demands rather than entreats. She has had to relearn “will you please…” all over at the breakfast table.

There is a boldness that comes, a confidence, know that we can go before God an ask: “Abba, Father, please hear me, consider this request I bring…” God delights in such prayers, just as a Father delight in a child asking for help.
Luke 11:9-13 9 "So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 "For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 "Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 "Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
My delight as a child of God should be to entreat God. But I must always have the perspective that God answers prayer according to His will. True Godliness combines a zeal and boldness for prayer and in the same moment a readiness to submit to God's good pleasing and perfect will. True godliness does not pray "Que Sera, Sera", but approaches God with confidence. It is not despondant when God does not answer the way we want. "It is not God's will" is not a cop out but the heart of the worshipper: My God has done what is right, AMEN.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Is 'if it's God's will' a cop out? Part 1

I've been think about this since the sermon I prepared on Sunday: Do I use the phrase "If it is God's will" in my prayers as a cop out?

What do I mean? Well first, I am not denying that God has a will that extends to all things. Here, here and here.

Second, I am not denying that we are commanded to pray that way. In fact, we are only ever supposed to talk about the future with the provision: "if the Lord wills."

James 4:13-15 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that."

1 John 5:14-15 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

Mark 14:36 And he said, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

Romans 1:10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.

1 Corinthians 4:19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power.

My question for myself has been, do I use the phrase, "If the Lord wills" or "Dear God, only if it is your will" because I really desire the Lord's will or because I want to have a reason for not feeling downhearted when I don't get what I want?

Sometimes, we can feel pretty self-confident. And so we think that the Lord is obligated to answer our requests. Read some of the following verses:

Mark 11:24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

We know this is not our experience. We do not get "whatever" we ask for. In fact, we have to let Scripture interpret Scripture. So we know God grants it if it is according to his will, 1 John 5:14-15. We also know that God does not grant our request when we ask with bad motives.

James 4:2-3 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

There is another category though that I wish to deal with: Do I keep from boldly asking God for something in prayer because I am afraid the answer will be "no" and so I use the cop out: "well it wasn't the Lord's will." Am I denying that basic fact that the prayer of the righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16-18)?

Here is my conclusion on the matter. Yes, sometimes we do use "if it is God's will" as a cop out. It comes from a lack of faith. It is a gospel issue. It is in these moments that I really do not believe God's answer is the best answer. I do not believe that God's will is really better than my own will. It is possible to say the right words, "If it is God's will" but say them for the wrong reason: my own selfishnesss and desire not to be disappointed.

It is disappointing when you pray for healing and it doesn't come. It is disappointing when we pray for salvation of someone and they die before believing. It is horrendous. But am I will to submit my heart to God and say: "The Lord does what it right"?

Job 42:1-3 Job 42:1 Then Job answered the LORD and said, 2 "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 3 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

We should be saying "if the Lord wills" or "it wasn't God's will". But we should say it not out of despondancy and disappointment, which is all to easy when we focus on our answer. We should be saying it with worship. We should be bold in prayer precisely because God works all things for according to the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11). We should be fervent. We should ask for the salvation of lost souls, not generically but specifically. We should pray for specific requests but with a firm confidence. God does what is best. God does His own will. God acts in such a way to bring glory to His name. There is nothing greater than can be done in all creation, indeed nothing other will come to pass.

In this respect, it is good that I don't get what I want. I should not want to get what I want, unless I ultimately want the glory of God. My chief end is to worship God and enjoy Him for ever. When I come before the Father like a son who wants to see the Father exalted, then I have a basis for asking him my requests. I know what He has done for me in Christ. I know that in my redemption He has brought glory to His name. My prayer should be confident: "If it is your will" not sheepish "oh if it is your will."

It is a labor of submission and my heart doesn't like to submit, but thanks be to God, He has given me His Spirit and put a new heart in there. We still wrestle with the old man, but don't let "if it is your will" be a sheepish cop-out. The phrase "if it is God's will" is not a cop out. It is the Biblical attitude. My plea, and one my own heart must hear, is: do not use the Biblical phrase in an unbiblical manner. Do not use it to disguish your own guilt, fear and unbelief. It is no cover for impiety. If I truly believe the Bible "if it is God's will" emboldens and enlivens my prayer life. I should find no greater joy than seeking the glory of God: Do your will Oh God. It should cause be to bring requests before God with specificity and clarity.

Stephen Smalley says "Prayer is not a battle, but a response; its power consists in lifting our wills to God, not in trying to bring his will down to us." (1,2,3 John, Word Biblical Commentary, p.295).

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I just saw this post: the Star Trek date has been moved. I'm a couple days behind (see this post) but it wasn't J.J. Abrams' idea. Apparently the Star Trek XI release date is moved back to 2009. Here is the interview with J.J. Abrams.

The date was supposed to be Christmas, I was looking forward to trying to get to a first showing maybe with my family since we get together at Christmas. Now we have to wait until May 8, 2009.

Here is another article along with a CNN Article.
Now I have to change my countdown clock. I think one of two things will happen: this will be a good move and it will make Star Trek a real blockbuster and compete with other summer movies. Hopefully it will draw in a lot of non-fans and make a lot of money so that other Star Treks get made.

OR... Star Trek will tank because of other blockbusters being realized. I'm hoping for the former and I think given J.J. Abrams is at the helm along with the well known writers who worked of Transformers and such, it will do well. It might draw in a whole new group of Sci-Fi fans who have in the past snubbed Star Trek as not "Sci-Fi' enough. We shall see.

I wish it was coming sooner rather than later. But if it is quality it is worth the wait.

Here is what Kirk would say to the change:

A few others seemed bothered:

Judgment, Fear and the Christian

A lot of times Christians today will question on the benefit of speaking of the coming judgment. They caricature it as making God mean and nasty. It becomes a sort of Christian "hate speach" to say that God has a judgment. Working through 1 John, I've found these words by Martyn Lloyd-Jones to be both timely and helpful:

The first quote comes from his sermon on 1 John 4:16b-17.

1 John 4:16-17 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 17 In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.

Lloyd-Jones says the following:
"What John would have us see is that if we want to think of that Day of Judgment without fear, if we want to be able to face it with boldness now, and if we want to stand with boldness and not be ashamed at that great morning, we must give added diligence to loving the brethren. For if I dwell in love, then I know before I face Him on His judgment throne that I may look at Him with boldness at the Day of Judgment, because 'as he is, so are we in this world.' If Iknow that I have His nature in me here and now, I shall be able to face Him with boldness when I stand before Him. You see how it works: every action in my life while here on earth is important. John has already been teaching this doctrine in the second chapter of this epistle. He reitererates exactly the same thing when he says, 'And now, little children abide in him; that when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming.'" (Life in Christ, 535).
Keep in mind, in the context, he is speaking to believers who have "in a sense...already passed through judgment" and "Christians will be judged according to the gospel they claim to believe." (534).

Lloyd-Jones' next sermon is on 1 John 4:18.
1 John 4:18 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
He states,
"the natural man--all of us by nature--should fear the Day of Judgment. Or let me put it like this: I say that every one of us should have known at some time or another a fear of that day. I deduce this because 'there is no fear in love,' and 'perfect love casteth out fear'; but until perfect love comes, there is fear. Indeed, it should be there, and I say should because I am ready to accept the face that all do not fear. There are many people who say that they do not fear the Day of Judgment and that they never feared it. They regard it as just a relic of primitive superstitiion, an aspect of biblical teaching which we ought to have shed long ago, something that is utterly inconsistent with the idea of God as a God of love. Indeed, there is a good deal of ridicule and sarcasm with regard to this Day of Judgment. There are people who are not afraid of it because they deliberately and willfully reject it with their minds and refuse to pay attention to it." (Life in Christ, 539).

"Every intelligent man or woman knows something about this fear of the Day of Judgment. What I am speaking of, in other words, is the fear of death, what Shakespeare called our 'exit.' Shakespeare knew a great deal about this fear of God and of judgment, fear of eternity, fear of the uncertainty of it all.

I suggest that this is all quite right, and that there is nothing so superficial as the popular psychologist who tries to get rid of that, to make us like the boy whistling in the dark to persaude himself that he is afraid of nothing although he is really terrified. That is the foolish attempt of many psychologists to get rid of this fundamental thing that is so deep in the whole of human nature and which is based upon sheer intelligence. The fact is that the very thought of eternity itself out to give one pause for thought and to fill one with a sense of alarm and fear, and even of terror itself, because putting it at its very lowest, we can say that we really do not know what is coming, and men cannot prove or demonstrate scientifically that death is the end. What if it is not? Can I prove that it is? I say that is an alarming thought; there is something terrifying about the thought of that unknown 'bourn,' that unknown eternity; and I suggest that nay intelligent person must of necessity know something of this fear of the Day of Judgment."(Life in Christ, 540-1)
So the natural man should have fear of the Day of Judgment, and the Christian should be free from fear. How then, lastly, does the Christian become free? There are two main answers to this. The first is that Christians realise (sic) the love of God that comes to them in Jesus Christ, and the work of Christ for them. John has been elaborating on that from verse 9 in this particular chapter. To quote it once more: 'In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.'

Let me put this practically. As I contemplate myself standing before God on the Day of Judgment, I know perfectly well I am a sinner. I have offended God and have broken His law and have forgotten Him. I have not love Him with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. I have been guilty of sins against His people and against myself. I am a sinner. How can I stand there? There is only one way in which I can stand, and that is to know and believe that He sent forth His Son to bear my sins in His own body on the tree. Hiding in Chirst--nothing else can give me peace at that point...I have no other hope as I contemplate the holiness of God and the holiness of heaven. My only hope is that there is a cloak of righteousness woven by the Son of God Himself which will cover me, which will cover the darkness of my sins and my sinful life, so that I shall stand clothed and robed and perfected in my Lord and Saviour [sic]. That is the first thing to realise [sic]--the love of God and what He has done for me. Justification by faith only!

The second thing, that which John has been emphasizing right through this passage, is to realise [sic] that I am a partaker in the divine nature and that God Himself has come to dwell in me, and that therefore I am like God. This is the very argument which we had at the end of the previous verse: 'because as he is, so are we in this world.'...

If we are still fearful, we are not made perfect in love; we must always take those two things together. If I do not always take justification and sanctification together, I shall be misleading myself...Divide justification and sanctification at your peril; they are always together, Christ 'is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption' (1 Cor. 1:30). (Life in Christ, 544-46).

Friday, February 22, 2008

Post 7: Chapter 2-Acts 2:23 and Ephesians 1:11


We are continuing through chapter two of Olson’s Getting the Gospel Right. For a complete list of the series see this post.

Acts 2:23

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
Acts 2:23 tou/ton th/ w`risme,nh boulh/ kai. prognw,sei tou/ qeou/ e;kdoton dia. ceiro.j avno,mwn prosph,xantej avnei,late(

On this verse, Olson notes “Peter, while acknowledging the outworking of God’s pre-temporal foreknowledge, placed full responsibility for the crucifixion upon the evil men who did it.” It is certainly true that sinful men are always accountable and responsible for their actions. Men willingly rebel against God. Yet this rebellion is determined by God. If God had not given this to them they would not have crucified Christ.

Luke 22:22 22 For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined [to. w`risme,non], but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!"

John 19:11 11 Jesus answered him, "You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin."

God determines that the Son of Man should be crucified. And the one who betrays Him is held accountable. God grants it to these people to crucify the Son but this is not God delegating and then relinquishing His sovereignty, indeed he is going as it has been determined. The way and manner by which He goes to the Cross has been set and determined by God, including the activity of those who crucify Him.

Acts 2:23 is clear that there is more than mere prescience of these events going on. It is God’s ‘determined will’ (w`risme,nh boulh/). The single article (th/ w`risme,nh boulh/ kai. prognw,sei tou/ qeou) with impersonal nouns means that the relationship between the two impersonal nouns can be: distinct, overlapping, first the subset of the second, second the subset of the first or identical (quite rare) (Wallace, 286). God’s determining will and his foreknowledge are not separate activities. Olson states, “Peter explicitly included God’s prescience in the implementation of his plan.” However, it is not that mere prescience is included but that these things, including the acts of the men to kill him, have come to pass through the determined will of God. Greek Grammarian Dan Wallace notes that the least attested meaning in a construction like this (article + impersonal noun + kai (and) + impersonal article) is the referential identity, i.e. that ‘predetermined plan’ is defined by foreknowledge (Wallace, 288). He states, “The relationship between the two terms here may be one of distinctness or subsumption of one under the other. In the context of Acts 2 and in light of Luke’s Christological argument “from prophecy and pattern,” the most likely option is that provgnwsiV is grounded in the w`risme,nh boulh, (thus “foreknowledge” is part of the “predetermined plan”), for one of the foci of the chapter is on the divine plan in relation to the Messiah’s death and resurrection. Thus, God’s decrees are not based on him simply foreknowing what human beings will do; rather, humanity’s actions are based on God’s foreknowledge and predetermined plan” (Wallace, 288). There would be no foreknowledge if there was not also a fixed plan in the mind of God.

Similarly we should compare the passage in Acts 4:28

Acts 4:27-28 27 "For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

Acts 4:27-28 27 sunh,cqhsan ga.r evpV avlhqei,aj evn th/ po,lei tau,th evpi. to.n a[gion pai/da, sou VIhsou/n o]n e;crisaj( ~Hrw,dhj te kai. Po,ntioj Pila/toj su.n e;qnesin kai. laoi/j VIsrah,l( 28 poih/sai o[sa h` cei,r sou kai. h` boulh, ÎsouÐ prow,risen gene,sqaiÅ

Here we read that Herod and Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel do what God’s hand and His will appointed in advance. The verb “proori,zw” means to appoint, determine or fix in advance. The English equivalent is rightly to “predestine”. Furthermore, the Bible often uses the ‘hand’ of God as metaphor for His power and will accomplishes the intention of God. For example in Exodus, we see the hand of God against the Egyptians (3:20; 7:5; 9:3; 16:3; 32:11; et al). God’s hand brings deliverance (Ps. 20:6; 98:1; 109:27; 118:15,16). These men do what God’s hand and God’s purpose predestined to occur.

Olson states, “There is no hint of implication that God forced the will of the Jewish leaders…” No Calvinist says that God forces people’s will. They hold that God predestines and determines all the things that will occur and when man acts according to God’s plan and will, the human being is acting according to his own heart and desires. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith states,

“God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined to good or evil.” (9.1)

The Westminster Confession of Faith demonstrates a consistent compatibilist view of freedom rather than a libertarian view of freedom. The Calvinist position is the fatalism where man is not responsible. It is not determinism where the will is coerced and forced. Calvinist consistently articulate that God uses secondary causes and the actions of men freely rebelling against God to fulfill His plan so that the Son might die for our sins.

Ironically, Olson tries to claim: “It would be no problem for an omniscient God to orchestrate events by His intensive knowledge of each of the players and circumstances” (p.20). Olson does not explain what “intensive knowledge” is. But is seems that Olson conception is that God’s determining and purpose is based upon knowledge of what each player will do. But the Bible teaches not that God has merely orchestrated things but that He has appointed and determined what will happen—both for the player and the circumstances. As we will see, His will governs all things in creation not merely the accomplishment of redemption.

Ephesians 1:11

Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Ephesians 1:11 VEn w- kai. evklhrw,qhmen proorisqe,ntej kata. pro,qesin tou/ ta. pa,nta evnergou/ntoj kata. th.n boulh.n tou/ qelh,matoj auvtou/

This whole section of verses 1-11 focus on the plan and work of the Trinity. God carries out the election of believers in Christ. Before the foundation of the world, he chose us in Christ. He predestined us in love to receive the adoption. But this choice and predestination has been based upon nothing foreseen in us or our potential activity. We are told that this is “according to the purpose of his will” [kata. th.n euvdoki,an tou/ qelh,matoj auvtou/](v.5). “This gives the standard by which God’s actions were accomplished” (Hoehner, 198). His will is the determining factor so that it is “to the praise of His glorious grace” (eivj e;painon do,xhj th/j ca,ritoj auvtou/)—indicating the purpose or goal of God’s exercising of His will. Hoehner summarizes the section well:

“He accomplished this through (diav) his Son Jesus Christ to bring us to (eJiV) God himself. This was done according to (katav) to his pleasure freely operating from his own will. Because he has predestined us, he chose us out of all humanity. These actions are not only the basis of every spiritual blessing but also are the spiritual blessing themselves. It is any wonder that God is to be praised.” (Hoehner, 199)

We find out in vv. 7-9, that we have redemption in him (Christ) and the forgiveness of sins. He has lavished this grace on us making known this mystery of his will “according to His purpose”. Again the revealing of His will to us in redemption is according to His plan. Understanding this mystery of the gospel is part and parcel of our salvation. Then Paul states:

Ephesians 1:10 10 eivj oivkonomi,an tou/ plhrw,matoj tw/n kairw/n( avnakefalaiw,sasqai ta. pa,nta evn tw/ Cristw/( ta. evpi. toi/j ouvranoi/j kai. ta. evpi. th/j gh/j evn auvtw/Å

Ephesians 1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth

“all things” here refers not just to believers but all things in heaven and on earth. To limit it to believer adds a thought to the text that is not explicitly there. 

This is further proven by Paul’s use of “all things” elsewhere:
Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

“All things” does not just refer to people but all things in creation. It has a cosmic scope. It is these “all things” that Christ is the head over:

Ephesians 1:22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,

In fact, we find out that Christ “fills all in all” which echoes the language of 1:10 “to unite all things in him.” We will simple point out that this is not some Platonic notion of incorporation but rather has to do with the glory of God filling all things. “All things” has both a cosmic scope (both heaven and earth) and a temporal scope (for both the ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’). This temporal language in Jewish thought is coextensive with all of human history. So Paul is really talking about everything at any time—and Christ has authority over it.

The article “ta. pa,nta” in verse ten substantizes pantes. In the English we say all things, instead of the literal Greek ‘the all’. This “all” is defined as “things in heaven and on earth”. It could refer to the redeemed but this is unlikely. First, the use in Colosians and Ephesians 1:22 suggest Paul has in view the cosmic scope of God’s redemption.

So when we get to Ephesians 1:11 we read:
Ephesians 1:11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Ephesians 1:11 VEn w- kai. evklhrw,qhmen proorisqe,ntej kata. pro,qesin tou/ ta. pa,nta evnergou/ntoj kata. th.n boulh.n tou/ qelh,matoj auvtou/

It is possible, as Olson notes, that the article might have a demonstrative force, if it does however it is referring to the “all things” mentioned in verse 10. Olson states “This [the demonstrative] would make it clear that the “all things” of 1:11 has to do with ‘all these things’ of the redemptive plan of God just alluded to, not with all human events” (v.21). However, this is arbitrarily inserted based upon Olson’s presupposition and theology that “all things” can only refer to redemptive activity of God. No. The nearest reference that adds the least to Paul’s thought is the “all things” is the same “all things” in verse 10. It really does mean all things not just soteriological events. It is things in heaven and on earth. As we have noted Paul uses all things to have a cosmic scope: it includes everything in every age.

Commenting on the grammar and construction Harold Hoehner puts it this way:
“In the present context tou/ ta. pa,nta evnergou/ntoj is active and transitive with the accusative of the thing referring to God as he takes an active part in all things. The present tense refers to God’s continual activity toward the purpose that he resolved in eternity past. The “all things” (ta. pa,nta) refers to all of God’s providence and must not be restricted to God’s redemptive plan. This coincides with verse 10 where “all things” are described as “those things in heaven and those things on earth.”” (Hoehner, 229)

In short, while Olson appears to be inductive, in reality, his exegesis adds too much to the text. His previously held view that God cannot ordain and decree all things causes him to posit that “all things” in verse 10 must be limited to believers and that the so-called ‘demonstrative’ must refer to redemption. This gives the appearance of using the grammar and being inductive. However, Olson obscures the grammar and tries to hard to prove that “all things” cannot really mean ‘everything’—even though that is how Paul uses it in parallel contexts.

Boldly Olson asserts, “All uses of this verse as a proof-text for the exhaustive sovereignty of God is crass Scripture twisting” (p. 21). We believe this is flat wrong. We will let the reader judge which exegesis adds the least meaning to the text.


The rest of Olson’s chapter falls into the trap of building a theology at word level. As we have argued, this is not how one does theology. This may appear inductive but it really avoids passages and their contexts that may contain the idea but not the word.

Olson claims that 2 Peter 3:9 is a problem for Calvinists but cites no sources. The Calvinist treatments of the text recognize that God has a preceptive will (see for example Piper; Frame, 534-537; Murray). They do not assume that this must be the notion of a ‘decree’ here (there are two different interpretations of this passage by Calvinists—this doesn’t make the verse “a problem”). Perhaps Olson sees this as a problem because he ties this passage to the legitimacy of the offer of the gospel: “This purpose of God, that all should come to repentance, makes the offer of the gospel a legitimate, bona fide offer” (p.22). To Olson, Calvinism cannot not legitimately offer the gospel to all without distinction (pp. 349-51; 357-59).

Olson also argues that “purpose” does not mean “comprehensive plan”. But again, the issue is that context and usage do not simply lexical meaning. Furthermore, his position really removes the purposing of God based on his will and good pleasure and makes God’s purpose conditional upon the foreseen response of the person. So for example:
2 Timothy 1:9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began,

Olson states, “Whether this is worked out conditionally or unconditionally is not stipulated.” What? What does it mean “not because of works” or ‘on account of works’ but ‘on account of his own purpose and grace’? Clearly the condition is not something that man does (e.g. a work) but the basis is His own purpose and grace. The contrast is not between ‘faith’ and ‘works’ as in Romans 3 and 4. Instead the contrast is between God’s own activity and our activity. He saved us not because of our response and activity but solely because of His purpose and grace. Grace that is conditional is not really grace. Either it is God’s set determined purpose or it is something conditioned in man. Paul chooses the former.

Olson tell us that “the solution to the serious polarization concerning who our God really is and how He relates to humans is found in the mediate view” (p. 23). However, while he has taken a clear stance against Calvinism, he has shown neither where the Arminian stands on these issues, nor how his position is mediate. In fact, his position is essentially a modified Arminianism. One should not pretend to be in the middle when one is truly on this side or that side of an issue. One should not appear moderate particularly when the issue at hand is of such importance, namely the glorious intricacy of God who in His exhaustive plan, He both foreknew and decreed salvation for mankind. For Olson, God works things out and orchestrates things forseeing what man will do and arranging all the pieces accordingly:

“It would be no problem for an omniscient God to orchestrate events by His intensive knowledge of each of the players and circumstances. Indeed, Peter explicitly included God’s prescience in the implementation of His plan (Acts 2:23)…So far there is no hint that this purpose, plan, or counsel of God exhaustively includes every event in the universe, including all the worst eruption of Satan’s and mankind’s evil over the centuries.” (p.20)

“Therefore, there is absolutely no basis for denying the clearly conditional force of both 1 Peter 1:1-2 and Romans 8:28-30, conditioned on what God foreknew about His saints, especially their faith.” (p.272)

“By His omniscient foreknowledge of both eventualities and non-eventual possibilities God orchestrates and arranges those events He chooses without coercing the wills of the moral agents involved. God’s foreknowledge cannot be contingent upon His will.” (p.304)

The plan is not passed upon God’s determining and purpose along but God’s purpose bent and molded to what He sees man will do. On this issue, Olson demonstrates a thoroughgoing an Arminian position.

On the issue of open theism Olson misrepresents the issue. He states, “Both Calvinists and open theists err in making the certainty of the future contingent upon God’s determining it, but with differing outcomes—the Calvinist future being certain; the open theist’s future, partially open and certain. Both views are in error because God’s acts (decrees) [I thought there weren’t any decrees other than the resurrection? P.13,19] must flow from His attributes (omniscience), not the reverse.”

First, open theists also say that if God foreknows what will come to pass, then man does not truly have libertarian free will. In other words, if God foreknows what will happen, then man has to do it (or God wouldn’t have foreknown the event) and man really doesn’t have a choice because he is ‘locked in’ if God foreknows the event and it outcome. Open theists do not make the certainty of the future based upon God’s determining it, rather if the future is certain, then man is not truly free. This is far from Calvinism and Arminianism. It is unfairly misrepresentative and highly generalized to make Calvinism and open theism appear as two sides to the same coin.

Second, to Olson’s comment: “God’s acts (decrees) must flow from His attributes (omniscience), not the reverse.” One ought to ask “why?” How do we know? Where is this proved inductively? He argues that it is a philosophical error to say ‘that God cannot foreknow that which He has not determined’ (p. 23). He quotes Buswell’s “For men to declare that God could not know a free event in the future seems to me sheer dogmaticism” (p.24). But is it not sheer dogmatism to assert boldly “God’s acts (decrees) must flow from His attributes (omniscience), not the reverse.” In other words, why can’t God know something because He has decreed it? I would agree that God does not act contrary to His character but why is omniscience alone the attribute from which His decrees must flow? Why not His omnipotence? If God’s Word calls creation into being, why can it not call the free acts of men into being and determine such free acts according to His own plan? In fact, we should not single out one attribute over another attribute in the Godhead rather we should see that God’s acts flow from the composite whole of His attributes. The Biblical portrait of God is not one who limits certain attributes. He does not restrict His activity of Kingship and sovereignty as if to the limit of the exercise of His omnipotence. Indeed, it is presumptuous to claim to know how God must limit His sovereignty for man to have responsibility for his actions (to echo the quote from Buswell). The question is, Biblically does God do whatever He pleases? Does He take man into account?

Daniel 4:35 all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

Job 23:13 But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 135:6 Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

Third, the critique of open theism comes back upon Olson, is man really free at the point of acting if God knows the outcome. If God knows that outcome, then that is what has to happen. If God knows Bob will choose A, then is Bob really free to choose ‘not A’? This assume God’s foreknowledge is not bound by time and it is eternal. Even if Bob chooses ‘not A’, then God had to foreknow that is what he would do, so could he have really chosen ‘A’? If God’s purpose and determination is based on what man will do but God’s purposes it in advance of what man will do—then when the man comes to do it, he has to act according to the purpose foreseen by God.

The self-limitation that Olson argues for is exactly what the open theist argues for. God simply self-limits his omniscience and foreknowledge to protect man’s freedom, according to the open theist. Of course, the difference is the Olson believes in God’s foreknowledge and the open theist rejects that God foreknows all things. However, there is the same concept of God’s ‘self-limitation.’ The open theist just holds that God self-limits himself a little more than Olson argues.

God’s delegation of dominion to man (p.24) does not limit and restrict God’s dominion. Nowhere in the Bible is God described as restricting His rule over creation (Ps. 65:9-11; Ps. 104:10-30; 135:6-7; 147:8-9, 15-18).


Nothing is outside the plan and purpose of God. This plan is from all eternity. Not even games of chance are outside of God’s control. His hand is guiding all things forward to His desired end.

Proverbs 16:33 33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
We have completed our review of chapter two.

Frame, John. The Doctrine of God, (Philipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002).

Hoehner, Harold. Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002).

Murray, John “The Free Offer of the Gospel” Collected Works, Volume 4: Studies in Theology (Carlisle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 1982) 113-132.

Piper, John “Are There Two Wills in God?” Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge and Grace (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2000)107-131.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Post 6-The Counsel and Will of God.


We continue to work through chapter two of Olson’s book Getting the Gospel Right. A complete list of posts can be found here.

God’s Counsel

Commenting on Isaiah 46:10 Olson remarks, “In Isaiah 46:10 the establishment of His counsel is linked with the accomplishment of His pleasure. However, there is not a hint that this involves any exhaustive efficacious decree in eternity past such as it held by Calvinists” (p.19).

Here is the text:
Isaiah 46:8-11 8 "Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, 9 remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,' 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

We are told that God “declares the end from the beginning” and “from ancient times not yet done.” God promises to cause His counsel to stand and He will accomplish His purpose. This is effective. God has spoken and it will pass. He has purposed it and so He will do it. Notice also that God accomplishes all His purpose and that this counsel will stand--no aspect of God's purpose and counsel will be thwarted or fail to come to pass. God declares things not yet done--this is a decree. It is his purpose and it will stand. The text is clear that this declare is not merely prescience and an advanced declaration to that end. God does what He has purposed. This end is established from the beginning. The word for beginning is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 ‘in the beginning’. The language ‘beginning’ and ‘from ancient times’ is similarly used in Proverbs 8:23

NAU Proverbs 8:23 "From everlasting I was established, From the beginning, from the earliest times of the earth.
#r<a'-ymed>Q;mi varome
Compare with Isaiah 46:10—“ ~d<Q,miW tyrIx]a; tyviarEme

This language is clearly idiomatic to describe eternity past prior to creation. There is no good reason for not believing that these plans of God are made prior to the creation of the world. Olson himself acknowledges Christ is appointed to save the world before the creation of the world. Are there thought processes in God that are bound by time? It is true that in Isaiah, God reveals His plan in early times and this ground the surety of His Word in the future. But we should not lose sight of the fact that God has purposed these things. It is His intent. There is no hint that this is in response to man. His plans are from old and His Word stands forever. Three more points should cause us to believe these purpose are in eternity past: (1) God is eternal; (2) God’s plan of redemption is before His activity to create; (3) There is no progress in the Godhead that He should develop things in His mind.

This should be read in light of the context of Isaiah:

Isaiah 14:24 The LORD of hosts has sworn: "As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,

Isaiah 25:1 O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you; I will praise your name, for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure.

Isaiah 45:21 Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the LORD? And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me.

Isaiah 48:3 "The former things I declared of old; they went out from my mouth and I announced them; then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.

See also Isaiah 37:26.

God’s Word stands forever, and He declares these things. We should not consider this forever only into the future since forever applies to past events as well.

Isaiah 40:8 The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
God’s Word accomplishes what He has purposed. This is of course the exercise of sovereignty.

Isaiah 55:11 so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Should we not apply this to the passages that describe God as “declaring the end from the beginning”? This is a decree declaring something and then effectively bringing it to pass.

These texts do not portray a God intervening in human affairs as if he simply responds to the activity of man. Rather, long ago, we are told, God had a plan and He carries it through. Why is it that He “implements His general rule over the nations and His plan of redemption”? Because He has a plan and in His sovereignty He brings it to pass. Furthermore, he does not merely implement a general rule over the nations, He establishes their borders, their rise and falling, He thwarts their plans and establishes His own seeing that His plans succeed.

Psalm 33:8-15 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. 10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! 13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds.

Notice that God brings the counsel of nations to nothing and he frustrates people’s plans. In contrast God’s counsel stand forever. This is, of course, eternity past and into eternity future. The notion that God plans things from long ago shows us that God’s plan is not a response to current events. God is not like a kayaker in rive paddle along as the river runs making sure certain rocks are avoided and responding the rapids of the river. Indeed, God has created the river itself and all the things that happen in its flow happened because of his purpose which is from old before the river began. We will discuss this notion of purpose and the relevant soteriological texts as Olson discusses them under election and predestination.

It is difficult to understand how Olson affirms “God has an eternal plan” but a paragraph later rejects “there is not a hint that any of this involves exhaustive efficacious decree in eternity past such as held by the Calvinists.” What is the difference between an eternal plan and an eternal decree? Calvinist Baptist, James P. Boyce defines the decree as: “that just, wise, and holy purpose or plan by which eternally, and within himself, he determines all things whatsoever that come to pass” (Boyce, 115).

So, if the plan is eternal, does God bring it to pass? Then it is efficacious. Does God not bring it to pass? Then this is in violation of Scripture where God clear says He accomplishes His plans.

Are there things that fall outside of the plan and purpose of God? Setting aside Ephesians 1:11 for a moment. We are told in Scripture that only if something is the plan of God it will stand, even man’s steps are ordered by God:

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.
For something to stand and come to pass it cannot just be in the mind of man. It has to be the purpose of the Lord.

Proverbs 16:9 The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
A man may have his plan but only God establishes the person’s steps. This means it has to be a part of God’s will for it to come to pass.

Proverbs 21:30 No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the LORD.
No plan that is against the Lord will stand. This means that God has control over wisdom, understanding and counsel that is against Him.

Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way;
Notice that God establishes man’s steps. This means that God’s control over the steps of man determines whether or not they will come to pass.

Jeremiah 10:23 I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps
Man ultimately does not direct His steps. It is God who directs the steps of man. This causes Jeremiah to ask God to correct Him but not with wrath. And then he calls down wrath upon the nations. But this is the sovereign control over all the ways of man. Man does not ultimately direct his own steps apart from the direction of God.

What we begin to see is that all of man’s activities are under the plan, purpose and counsel of God. If God does not want them to come to pass they will not happen. If God wants them to happen, it will happen.

In fact, we are told we should make our plans but acknowledge that they will come to pass only if it is the Lord’s will. If these things are not outside of the Lord’s will (e.g. His purpose or plan), what is outside of the plan?
James 4:13-15 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"- 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."

In passages like Acts 18:21; Rom. 1:10; 15:32; 1 Cor. 4:19 and 16:7, we see Paul taking just this attitude. He acknowledges that His daily activity is subject to the will of God. This will of God did not merely arise at a certain point since God is an eternal person and the Bible tells us that His plans and purposes are from old. We have no biblical warrant to limit this eternal plan, purpose or will to redemption alone.

It is no argument against an eternal will and a divine counsel to say that God often holds out punishment or rewards based upon a human response. This is a natural part of God’s covenant dealings with His people. He can appear to act one way—promising judgment if the people fail to repent, and then not bring that judgment when the people repent. The book of Jonah is a good example of this as well as God’s dealing with Israel during their wilderness wandering. God does not have to reveal His eternal plan in these moments but rather is displaying His moral will. Distinguishing between the concepts of an eternal will where God’s plans cannot be frustrated (see verses we’ve cited) and a moral or perceptive will where man can act contrary to this will helps explain the scope of Biblical texts. For example: does God “will” that someone should commit murder? No. Does God permit events to take place whereby someone murders someone? Yes. And He works this for His glory. Remember passages like Gen. 45:50:20; Isaiah 10 and 14:25-27. Did God consider the behavior of Joseph’s brothers, or the Assyrian as ‘good’ ‘right’ and ‘just’? No in this sense He did not will them. Did God as part of His plan intend to use these things for His purpose at the same time the men intended these things for evil? That is what the text tells us. We find in other passages that God’s will is not merely a part of history but is eternal. John Frame notes:

“God’s plan is eternal (Isa. 37:26; 46:9-10; Matt. 25:34; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4; 3:11; 2 Tim. 1:9). As we shall see, God’s plans can be historical and temporal in the sense that he wills for things to happen at one time rather than another. And sometimes he ordains something to happen temporarily. But the plan by which he ordains these temporary states of affairs is nevertheless eternal. Therefore, his plan is immutable, unchangeable. Although he wills for things to change in history, his plan for such change cannot be changed (Ps. 33:11; Isa. 14:24; 46:10; James 1:17). In our discussion of God’s eternity in chapter 24, we shall see how God does sometimes announce policies conditionally, as when he announces judgment and then withholds it upon repentance (ex. 32:14; Jer. 18:7-10; 26:13; 36:3; Jonah 3:8-10). But the whole course of this interaction is governed by God’s eternal decree. (Frame, 316).

This is not a mere philosophical abstract but is how we reconcile apart contradictions in the text of Scripture itself:
Luke 7:30 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)

Romans 9:19 19 You will say to me then, "Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?"

Job 9:12 Behold, he snatches away; who can turn him back? Who will say to him, 'What are you doing?' 13 "God will not turn back his anger; beneath him bowed the helpers of Rahab. 14 How then can I answer him, choosing my words with him? 15 Though I am in the right, I cannot answer him; I must appeal for mercy to my accuser.

Job 23:13 But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. 14 For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind.

Jeremiah 4:28 28 "For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark; for I have spoken; I have purposed; I have not relented, nor will I turn back."

We will discuss more fully the concepts of predestination, foreknowledge, God’s good pleasure, election and predestination as Olson brings them up in the book. However, for now we should point out that if we were going to mount a full scale defense of God’s decree we would have to incorporate these passages into our treatment. Calvinists go to these texts and they seek to handle them in exegetical detail. One may disagree with their interpretations but one call it a just criticism to suggest that their approach it deductive—the volumes written on these issues since the Reformation alone would be testimony otherwise.

Our contention is that it is inconsistent to hold that there is an eternal plan and then reject that any notion of “there is not a hint that any of this involves exhaustive efficacious decree in eternity past.” This is precisely how the Bible portrays an eternal plan.

It seems that Olson’s anti-Calvinist presuppositions have color his reasoning and handling of the text. He cannot reject the eternal plan of God, particularly as it relates to redemption. However, he is so willing to hold onto an unbiblical notion human autonomy that he rejects the people portrait of God’s sovereignty pervading all areas of human life.

James P. Boyce Abstract of Systematic Theology (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders, 2006).
John Frame, The Doctrine of God, (Philipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002)
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