SUFFERING AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD – John Piper and Justin Taylor, Ed (2006)

The only one who has taught me more about the sovereignty of God than John Piper is Jonathan Edwards.  Dr. Piper does not disappoint in this edited work.  The chapters are compiled in a series of transcripts from the 2005 Desiring God Conference, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  This review serves as a summary of some noteworthy chapters.

Piper’s opening chapter unfolds ten aspects of God’s sovereignty over suffering and Satan’s role in it.  He points the reader to the eternal and infinite God; a God who stands in sharp contrast to the finite and contingent creature.  The insight that Piper offers in this chapter are simply breathtaking.

Dr. Mark Talbot pens one of the most helpful and beneficial chapters on compatibalism to date.  The doctrine affirms that God ordains everything that comes to pass and also affirms that agents make free, responsible choices.  God never does evil, but he does in fact ordain or decree evil.  Talbot’s explanations are philosophically and theologically satisfying and are expressed with warm pastoral concern.  Pretty good work for a philosophy professor!  Dr. Talbot’s chapter is worth the price of the book.

Steve Saint poignantly describes the murder of his father, Nate Saint and shares his personal pain as a child and the events that God used to soften his heart and make him usable vessel in God’s kingdom.

There are so many rich nuggets in this volume.  Read it and be prepared for the difficult days ahead. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God is a welcome addition to students taking the Veritas course, Mending the Achilles Heel: A Biblical Response to the Problem of Evil.

4.5 stars

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THE ENCHIRIDION – Aurelius Augustine (420 A.D.)

The Enchiridion (a book that contains key information on a particular subject), by Aurelius Augustine is a handbook of Christian doctrine that provides brief answers to Laurentius, one of Augustine’s friends.  The book is divided into three sections, the first of which is a brief exposition of the Apostles’ Creed.  The second part contains a basic exposition of the Lord’s Prayer.  The third part focuses on the Gospel.

Augustine begins by acknowledging the request of Laurentius, namely, a handbook with answers to the big questions of life.  The author articulates a few of these questions: “What ought to be man’s chief end in life; what he ought, in view of the various heresies, chiefly to avoid; to what extent religion is supported by reason; what there is in reason that lends no support to faith, when faith stands alone; what is the starting point, what the goal, of religion …”  Augustine maintains that his disciple can know the answers to all of the above questions, so long as he thoroughly knows the “proper objects of faith, hope, and love.”

Augustine boils down a piece of essential knowledge that is required for all who follow Christ, namely, that the goodness of the Creator created all things.  It is refreshing to hear the simplicity of Augustine’s message regarding origins; a message that comes almost 1,500 years before the scandalous musings of Charles Darwin: “It is enough for the Christian to believe that the only cause of all created things, whether heavenly or earthly, whether visible or invisible, is the goodness of the Creator, the one true God; and that nothing exists but Himself that does not derive its existence from Him; and that He is the Trinity – to wit, the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Son begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the same Father, but one and the same Spirit of Father and Son.”

Augustine wrestles with the problem of evil and holds that evil is the absence of good.  In other words, it is possible for evil to exist in a universe that was originally created as good.  Or to put it another way, evil is dependent upon goodness.  He writes, “There can be no evil where there is no good; and an evil man is an evil good.”

Augustine maintains the God, who is omnipotent is a good God, even when he permits evil: “Although, therefore, evil, in so far as it is evil as good exists, is a good.  For if it were not a good that evil should exist, its existence would not be permitted by the omnipotent Good, who without doubt can as easily refuse to permit what He does not wish, as bring about what He does wish.”

The author addresses the nature of free grace and responds to the Pelagianism that was corrupting the church in the fifth century (and continues to poison many contemporary churches): “Men are not saved by good works, nor by the free determination of their own will, but by the grace of God through faith … So when man by his own free will sinned, then sin being victorious over him, the freedom of his will was lost.”

Thoughtful readers will graciously pass by Augustine’s erroneous promotion of paedo-baptism; they will refuse to “throw the baby out with the bathwater!”  Draining the bathwater would preclude the reader from profiting from Augustine’s theological insight.  These insights include but are not limited to:

1) The importance of building a strong and biblical doctrinal foundation.

2) The importance of exercising discernment with professors of Christianity.

3) The importance of personal discipleship.

4) The importance of developing a Christian worldview, especially in regards to the Creator-creature distinction.

5) The folly of free will apart from grace and the liberty that new creatures receive in Christ.

6) The sinfulness of sin, the bondage and slavery of unregenerate man, and the necessity of a Redeemer.

Read the thermometer in our postmodern climate.  It nearly always reads, “trivial,” “banal,”  “superficial,” or “amusement.”  Augustine’s Enchiridion provides a much needed shot of meaty mercury! Read it with an open Bible and a pen in hand.

Tolle Lege!

SPECTACULAR SINS – John Piper (2009)

Spectacular Sins is a breath of fresh air in a world that embraces the deistic notion that God has “left the building” and let the earthlings fend for themselves.  The opposite error of fatalism, where an impersonal force controls everything capriciously is also rejected.

Piper strives to answer four key questions:

1. Why does God want us to know his sovereignty over sin?

2. Why does God not restrain sin more often?

3. How can we have faith and joy during the severity of the last days?

4. How Christ is glorified in a world of sin?

The author navigates the so-called problem of evil by making an appeal to the sovereigny of God and rooting the reader in his all-wise purposes.  Piper ingeniously answers the questions above by illustrating how God uses sin through various examples such as the Fall of Man, the tower of Babel, Judas’ betrayal of Christ, and the crucifixion of Christ.

Piper argues,  “If you embrace the biblical truth that God ordains spectacular sins for the  global glory of his Son, without God in any way becoming unholy or unrighteous or sinful in that act, then you will not shrink back from the cross of Christ as a work of God.”

Spectacular Sins is one of the four required texts for the upcoming Veritas Class, “Mending the Achilles Heel” because it honestly answers one of the most thorny questions in Christian thought, namely, the problem of evil.

Read this book slowly and prayerfully.  Let it encourage you during difficult days.  Know that every sin is under God’s sovereign control and will somehow advance his kingdom purposes in his time and for his glory alone!

Five stars