Systematic Theology 9: The Existence of God

How do we know that God exists?

This week see’s us start part 2 of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology. So far we’ve covered The Doctrines of the Word of God. And now, we are looking at the Doctrines of God.

My mentor once told me, systematic theology studies are usually divided over what to look at first. God or the Bible. It’s a bit like the chicken and the egg. Theology is, by definition, the study of God. So intuitively we may assume the Doctrine of God should be studied first. However, since Systematic Theology is our knowledge about God as defined by the whole of scripture, it is important that we establish what Scripture claims for itself first.

In short, it doesn’t really matter, and there is a lot of overlap.

Reading chapter 9, felt a little like re-visiting my RE classes back in secondary school.

Wayne Grudem outlines four main approaches to believing God’s existence.

1) Our inner sense of God (which is intensified by the Holy Spirit for Christians, and alluded to in Scripture – see Romans 1:19,21,25)

2) The Evidence of God in Scripture and Nature (we are told the heavens declare God’s glory, that the seasons of fruitfulness demonstrate His mercy – see Acts 14:17 & Psalm 19:1)

3) The Traditional proofs – these were covered for most students in Religious Studies classes at school. A quick google search will find good elaborations on them. (Sorry I don’t have time now to re-hash them!) They included the Comological Argument (First Cause), Teleological Argument (Intelligent Design), Ontological Argument (The “Greatest” thing must be real in order to be the “greatest”) and the Moral Argument (see point 1).

Interestingly, Grudem concedes that these traditional arguments are true whether we are convinced by them or not. But that, they themselves, cannot bring to saving faith the lost. This is because of the Doctrine of the Sufficiency and Necessity of Scripture.

4) Finally, we are told that only God can overcome our sin (which blinds us) and enable us to be persuaded by His existence. 1 Corinthians 1:21 reminds us that human wisdom is inadequate, we are dependent on Him to bring us life.

Please see my notes below:

Genesis 4:1-26 Part 2: Faith is Demonstrated

Genesis 4 includes the story of Cain and Abel, the man who killed his brother. But there is a lot more going on in this passage than meets the eye. For starters, it is where we first start to really see the beginnings of faith in the human race.

Yes, Adam and Eve were supposed to have faith in God’s commands and goodness back in the garden. But they didn’t. We also saw a little of Adam’s faith in the previous chapter when he named his wife Eve, in response to the Promise of God [See: Where do we go from here?].

But in chapter 4, faith is beginning to spring up all over the place:

Eve’s Faith

It is so encouraging to see that Adam and Eve were not “lost causes”. They had learnt, over time, to turn back to God. In fact, they raised their children to follow God, even though they themselves had disobeyed Him.

As Chapter 4 opens, and closes, the faith of Eve is very much on display in the birth of her sons.

“With the help of the LORD I have brought forth a man…God has granted me another child in the place of Abel” (vv 1 & 25)

I believe that one of the reasons she thanks God for both Cain and Seth, is because she believes that through one of these children God will provide the Promised One (3:15).

Abel’s Faith

There are many explanations for why Abel’s offering was accepted whilst Cain’s wasn’t. One of the most convincing ones is rooted in Hebrews 11:4: “By faith Abel brought a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings.”

His offering was accepted because of his faith. A faith that still speaks today! (Heb 11:4b)

Cain’s Lack of Faith

Another reason to explain why Cain’s offering was not accepted was because of his lack of faith. We assume this because of the despair that emerges when his offering isn’t accepted.

When we fall short of God’s standards, It is faith that moves us to turn back to God. If however, we don’t live by faith, falling short will result in despair. We will groan that we are not good enough and not valuable to God. (In fact we are not good enough). But faith allows us to put our trust in God and receive His righteousness.

Cain’s lack of faith is seen his response to having his sacrifice rejected. But it is also seen in what happens next. When God punishes him for murdering his brother, Cain again falls into despair. “My punishment is more than I can bear”.

Even despite this, God continues to lavish grace and protection on Cain.

Then later on, we see Cain trying to make a name for himself by building a city (v17). One commentator noted the continuous verb, “Cain was then building a city”. And said that this mirrors the life of someone trying to earn salvation, rather than receiving it by faith.

Faith passed on: Adam and Eve to Abel, to Seth, to society

And yet Adam and Eve continue to have faith in God. And once they give birth to Seth they teach him too to lean on God. And so chapter 4 ends with the hope-filled phrase: “At that time people began to call on the name of the LORD” (v26)

One of the mysterious things about faith is that we can pass it on. This is how commands like the Great Commission are possible. We can go and make disciples of all nations because of our example and teaching of faith.

This is why Paul urges Timothy, ‘do not let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to all the believers in speech, conduct, faith, love and purity’.

Yes, God does distribute a measure of faith to each of us (Rom 12:3), but we can go and model and encourage others to walk in faith. This is what we see Adam and Eve doing, and later Seth.

May we too seek to model faith well.

Genesis 3:1-24 Part 5: Where do we go from here?

Along the way, studying these passages and writing these posts I came across the following image of Adam and Eve walking out the garden, arms draped over each other’s shoulders, shame covering their face. And I imagined, what it must have been like for the two of them to leave Eden. What regret they must have felt, what embarrassment and what despair.

This post is an attempt to explore those moments, what position they were in as they left the garden. Their feelings and the various opportunities afforded them by God’s grace.

How far we have fallen

Undoubtedly, Adam and Eve would have reflected on their fall. How far they had strayed from the original. They were supposed to rule over and subdue creation, including the wild animals. And now the very ground they walk groans beneath their feet.

They were supposed to carry their heads high, with dignity and proudly bearing the image and likeness of God to creation. Now they seek to hide themselves and cover it all.

What once was a relationship characterised by love, protection, honour and intimacy. [See Vision for marriage]. Is now one characterised by hiding, blame and fear of allowing the other to see. A relationship of domination, tyranny, and abuse.

Where once, they had walked with God in the cool of the breeze. They now hide from Him. They leave His presence. They are estranged! Estranged from God, for each other, from creation and from themselves.

And were their work before had Preistly connotations, tending, guarding, keeping the garden of God’s Temple. It is now a frustrated, broken, endeavour, filled with futility, disappointment and despair!

Oh how much there is to regret with sin. How far it reaches to devastate and destroy. How severe it’s consequences. May the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, move each of us to consider the cost of our sin. May we repent.

Opportunity to respond to Grace

And yet, all hope was not lost. We have seen that God’s response to their sin remembered mercy. And so Adam and Eve, although cast from God’s presence, exiled from the Garden, were still given the opportunity to respond to His grace.

Through confession rather than blaming. It is so tempting when we sin and fail to blame others, those nearby and those far off, society or families. The first step to receiving God’s grace is acknowledging and confessing our sin.

Then we must choose to receive God’s Grace. Both the spiritual blessings appointed to us, the promised blessing of the saviour to come, and the physical blessings of provision with food and clothes. May we not be too proud to receive God’s free grace, purchased for us by the Promised One.

Furthermore, the opportunities to continue sinning have not ended with the forbidden fruit. In fact they have multiplied. Adam and Eve can now, with the knowledge of good and evil, lie, steal, cheat, hurt and even kill one another. They can choose God’s way or become subject to sin which still lies crouching at the door (See Gen 4)!

Adam and Eve along with their family now to come have the opportunity to respond with faith to the Promise. In the midst of God’s curse, He also proclaimed the gospel. That someone would come, descended from the woman, would suffer and would conquer sin.

Fortunately, we see glimpses of the faith of mankind in it’s early stages in this chapter. Does Adam not name his wife, after the Promise? By naming her Eve, he demonstrates faith that she will produce a seed – eventually the promised Seed. Does Eve not in Chapter 4, demonstrate her faith in the promise by praising God for the birth of her three sons! Does Abel not continue with the family decision towards faith by offering God a pleasing sacrifice? Do a portion of the children not demonstrate faith when they start calling on the name of the Lord? (But all this to come!)

In short they, like us, have the opportunity to receive God’s grace through faith in the Promise.

Finally, as Christians, and inheritors of the Promised One! We have the choice to meet again with God in the cool of the day, with worship, with rejoicing, and intimacy!!!

May we Worship

Praise be to Jesus! For when I hear God walking – I don’t have to hide, but I can plead God’s mercy, earned by Christ and know that I am forgiven and restored. That the fruit of the tree of life is available to me! The Cherubim’s flaming swords has been lowered and I may enter the garden again!

This is the gospel! Such good news!

The curse is reversed, death is defeated and the garden is open to those who receive the Promised One

Identification with Christ

One of the things I feel being lead into at the moment, in my walking with God, is the theme of identification with Christ. I feel I have only scratched the surface and so this post won’t do justice to the work I think God wants to do in me.

It was a couple of weeks back when I started reading New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton. In it he talks about ‘contemplation’ as this mysterious state where it is no longer ‘I’ who live but Christ who lives in me.

My heart throbbed upon reading that.

I’m only a couple of chapters into Merton’s book and still have a lot to learn (it’s one of my slow reflective reads).

And then I was on a walk recently, listening to an audiobook by Watchman Nee ‘The Spiritual Man’. Which had been recommended by a man whose walk with God captivated me in my teenage years. He’d recommended this book to me years back, and I’ve tried on multiple occasions to read the book. And I never made it through the first third.

Not finishing a book is really really weird for me! I usually read over 52 books each year. Most books I start, even if they’re really bad, I finish! And yet, it’s been at least five years since I was recommended the ‘Spiritual Man’. I’d bought myself the paperback, and failed to finish several times, got the audiobook and failed to finish.

But here I am, in a season of my life where I feel God is nudging me towards praying about this theme. To experience and know-deeply, the truth that my ‘self’ is hidden in Christ. And I (almost) randomly put this audiobook on, to accompany my walk one day. It ‘picks up where I left off’ and… BAM!

He’s talking about it too! Living by the Spirit and not by the flesh. Living by the regenerated, new nature and not by the ‘soulish’ intellect, emotions and volition.

It makes me think that God’s been preparing me for this season to teach me something new. Maybe it will sink in this time.

I’m a little nervous, it feels like I’ve got some ‘dying to self’ to do. And I’m scared. What will I have to give up. What will I have to lose. Can I really go on without looking back?

My hope is that God who has started this work in me will lead me through it. I remind myself that my God is good, He cares for me and loves me. Where He asks me to die, I must trust that He will raise renewed.

Anyway, here’s a slightly less coherent blog post than usual. Just what’s going on in my walk with God.

Systematic Theology 6: The Four Characteristics of Scripture (2) Clarity

One of the reasons we are studying Systematic Theology is because it helps to equip us to carry out the Great Commission; it helps us to make disciples. When Jesus says ‘make disciples’ there are three aspects to this: going, baptising and teaching. This is relevant because in order to teach a subject, it is important to have a good overview of the topic. But not just an overview, but an understanding of how all the parts fit together. Studying Systematic Theology is great at helping us with this!

In this week’s post we’re continuing our appreciation of the four characteristics of Scripture by looking at The Bible’s – Clarity.

‘The Clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it’.

Notice how carefully crafted this sentence is. We are able to understand the teaching of the Bible IF we read it seeking God’s help and with a willingness to follow.

This is something the Bible claims for itself. When it says that even children (Deut 6:6-7) and the ‘simple’ (Ps 19:7) will be able to understand it. Furthermore when Jesus is criticising the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, He never blames the Old Testament for being unclear, instead He simply says: “have you not read”?

It is true however, that the Bible can have complicated and confusing parts. Even Peter says as much about the letters written by Paul (2 Peter 1:20). But this verse also reminds us that we should attempt to carry out interpretation in the context of the Church.

The Doctrine of the Clarity of Scripture is significant for believers because it encourages us that: we are not too foolish or stupid to read scripture and understand it sufficiently. I think this is so important. As I know many Christians who would not feel entirely confident opening the Bible, reading it, and expecting to understand it. The Clarity of Scripture tells us, that if we are genuine in our desire to obey Scripture, and we truly seek God’s help, it is very possible!

Notice that the qualities for understanding scripture are not, educational/intellectual but rather moral and spiritual (1 Cor 2:14).

So then, if Scripture is so easy to understand why does it get misunderstood so much. Why are there still disagreements? Wayne Grudem gives three reasons:

  1. We are still waiting for further events in Salvation History, this is why many Bible-believing Christians today have different views on the end times as an example.) Whilst we have all that we need to know in order to be saved and have eternal life in the Bible, there are events that will need to happen before we ‘know in full’ (1 Cor 13:12).
  2. We have a lack of faith or hardness of heart, the problem may be with us, we are refusing to believe difficult or uncomfortable truths, or to submit to God’s law in our heart.
  3. Church Disagreements produce greater unity in the end, I’d not thought about this before. But Grudem’s optimistic view is actually faith filled in the Clarity of Scripture. When Christians disagree, and can manage the disagreement in a community of love, it produces thought and reasoning and understanding that would not be possible without the disagreement in the first place. As we wrestle with ideas, teachings and commands, and humbly ask each other questions, and present alternative ways of understanding we can discover the truth. In this sense it is so important we read the Scriptures within the context of the Church.

Finally, as a preacher there were two keywords that I learnt from studying this doctrine, a little trivia for myself. #nerdlife 1) Hermeneutics – the study of correct methods of interpretation. 2) Exegesis – the process of interpreting a text of scripture.

Yellow-Brick Road Christianity

The Bible says that the most important command is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Luke 10:27)

I once read a book about this: thinking, loving, doing. A call to holistic Christianity. A challenge to be thinkers, engaged and serious about knowing God. And to be feelers, pulsing with passion for Jesus and His gospel. And to be doers, endeavouring great acts of love for others!

And I agree, it is no good just loving God with our heart, or just our mind, or just our strength – we need all three. I know this and I agree. In fact, growing up I once heard a talk that compared the types of Christians who love God with only some of these ingredients as the people Dorothy encounters on the yellow brick road towards the Wizard of Oz.

The straw man who doesn’t have a brain, the tin man without a heart and the lion without courage. The various pitfalls for Christians loving God like this are obvious!

However, the part that I need to focus on now is not using all three – but using ALL of all three!

You see, as important it as it is that we love God with our heart, mind, strength and soul. As important as all these three components are. It is just as important that we are wholeheartedly loving God.

There isn’t room for lukewarm discipleship, halfhearted obedience or ‘one hand to the plough, one eye back’.

In studying Genesis 3, I came across this quote from one of the commentators:

“The serpent touches us at the one thing in our lives where we would rather God did not trouble us. We will give Him everything else, but we will hold this one part of life to ourselves”.

This may be our ambition, our refusal to forgive, our determination to exercise, eat whatever we want, watch whatever we want. An area of sin we refuse to confess. A possession we refuse to give away. Be aware, this is where satan will aim his temptation.

What do we withhold from God?

https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=holding+nothing+back+tim+hughes

Systematic Theology 3: The Canon of Scripture

Please find below, my notes for Systematic Theology Chapter 3: The Canon of Scripture. This chapter gives a historical account of the formation of the Bible.

It starts with the story of how the Old Testament was constructed, who came up with the idea to write God’s words down. Why it didn’t stop with the 10 commandments and has been expanded into the Law, Prophets, Songs and History books.

It then goes on to explain how the New Testament was compiled, that each author was essentially an apostle (or had close association with one of the apostles), they claim to have been written with the authority of God and remain consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Finally this chapter then examined the various candidates for addition or removal of other books.

Nuanced Initiative

Earlier this week I shared a post about the importance of taking initiative. I would recommend reading it, here. However, over the last couple of days I’ve been thinking a little more about initiative and I wanted to add this nuanced post-script.

Talking about taking the initiative is very empowering, it’s very popular and “go-getter” speech. But there are a few important caveats that we need to remember.

1) Initiative doesn’t negate listening to God

The Bible is filled with stories and characters who were so keen to “take the initiative” that they ignored the process of listening to God. We see the downfall of King Saul begin this way, so keen to take the initiative that he refused to wait for Samuel. We see the Israelites, led by Joshua making a hasty alliance with the Gibeonites without enquiring of the LORD. Even one of Jesus’ disciples took the initiative to “defend” Jesus against the Roman soldiers by slicing off an ear! Not a good idea.

Yes, let us take the initiative, especially in areas where God has led us to move. But let us be quicker to listen to God before we act.

2) Initiative doesn’t mean automatic (immediate) success

Just because we act, because we move first, or we move boldly forward, does not mean that we will be successful. (Even if we’ve enquired of God!) This isn’t talked about much, but is so important.

Remember Stephen, who preached the gospel, who did all the right things and was still stoned? Remember Joseph who took initiative to flee from Potipher’s wife – and who was still falsely accused? Remember the early Church, scattered and persecuted? Remember our Lord Jesus, who was without sin, who was crucified?

No, obedience to God, and initiative doesn’t always magically produce “success” (at least how we might define it). In our obedience and initiative, we must take the attitude of the three faithful men who said:

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it…BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know…that we will not bow to the image of gold” [Daniel 3:17-18]

3) Initiative taking in one area, doesn’t mean you can relent in other areas

We all have strengths and weaknesses. It will be easy for us to take initiative in some areas of life, more so than in others. Just because we’ve taken the initiative in exercise, doesn’t mean we don’t have to care about our relationships etc.

Final Thought

I’ll come into land with this thought: God encourages initiative. This is why He selected 12 disciples to lead the Church movement forward. This is why repeatedly throughout scripture God is trusting men and women to co-labour with Him, to be His hands and feet, to represent Him in the world.

Genesis 1:1-2:3 Part 1 God is Active

I’ve been studying Genesis 1:1-2:3 for the last couple of days now and have gleaned lots of eye-opening stuff! It’s still a little odd to be spending so long on one passage without the end goal being a sermon produced. In the past that’s been the only reason I’ve studied the Bible before – to prepare talks for Church. And so it’s refreshing, studying without the emotional cocktail of adrenaline and anticipation lurking in the background.

I’m separating my findings across several posts because 1) you’re in a hurry and 2) I don’t want to rush through typing up my notes. I have a feeling they will be useful to me later down the line.

This chapter (and a bit) of Genesis is very familiar to most people, even people who’ve not read the Bible before. It’s the 7-day creation story, when God makes the universe, the earth along with it’s inhabitants – including humanity. We see God actively creating in this passage.

But God isn’t just creating.

When I was reading I took note of all the things (that I saw) God doing:

God sees, God determines goodness, God makes, God names, God positions, moves, gathers and separates. God blesses, He gives away responsibility and delegates. He provides. God finishes, rests and ‘makes holy’. Oh yes, He also speaks! …It seems that have an active God.

Of all these actions, I chose the three that were most important to me and brought them to God in reflective prayer and then praise.

1) God Positions, Moves, Gathers and Separates

In this story God does a lot of positioning, like an interior designer (of the cosmos!). He separates the waters (into sea and sky), he gathers the sea together and the land. He positions the sun, moon and stars, so that they can determine days, months and seasons. It is like God is orchestrating creation to work, positioning each component to play its part with maximum effectiveness.

The positioning of the cosmos, reminds me that God has deliberately positioned me in life for a purpose, it reminds me of the encouragement Mordecai gives Esther: ‘who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this’ (Esther 4:14).

This act of God also reminds me that God is able to put me in the path of other people, and other people in my path, for His purposes. (A thought particularly encouraging with the work I am doing writing a book at the moment!) A friend of mine once told me how God had used a chance encounter with one of his hero’s (Pete Grieg) to remind him that God is able bring these encounters into our life as easily as anything. God positions.

2) God Blesses

God does a fair amount of blessing in Genesis 1. From blessing plants, animals and humans to “be fruitful and multiply”. And blessing the Sabbath to “make it holy”. It is super interesting to me that God doesn’t do nothing on the Sabbath, on the day of rest, instead He ACTIVELY blesses. That is the kind of God we serve!

I consider the promise in Ephesians, that God ‘has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ’ (Eph 1:3). God delights to bless, and as people made in His likeness we are to bless and be a blessing to the world (Gen 12)! How can we bless our colleagues, local church, family & friends? How can we be a blessing to creation itself? Let us ask these questions.

3) God Finishes

In a world of distractions and novelty, it’s easy to start things without finishing them. Believe me I know this to be true, there are so many projects I’ve started in life that I’ve not finished, or had to restart from the beginning because I gave up halfway through.

Fortunately though, we have a God who finishes what He begins. May I seek to become more like that. May I be encouraged and comforted by the fact that:

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – (Philippians 1:6)