Easy Chairs & Hard Words – Part 6

by Douglas Wilson 

 We join a conservation in progress; it is between a young theological questioner who grew up in a typical Evangelical church, and an older pastor from a more historical theological tradition.  

 “Look,” I said, “I have heard you mention that many Christians don’t study their Bibles. Were you saying that anyone who disagrees with you on this question of God’s sovereignty hasn’t done his homework?”   

 Pastor Spenser shook his head. “No, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that, in my experience, most of them have not.”   

 “But you would agree that there are fine Bible scholars who differ with you on this?”   

“That depends on what you mean.”   

 “What do you mean?”   

 “There are men who are fine Christians who do not understand this truth. There are men who are fine scholars who differ with it. But when they dispute this truth, in certain key passages, there is an unfortunate lapse of their scholarship.”   

 “May I play the devil’s advocate?”   


“Who are you to say what the correct interpretation is? Isn’t it arrogant of you to say that you are right and all the others are wrong?”   

 “It is not a question of whether I am right. It is a question of whether God revealed this truth in his Word, or not.”   

 “I don’t get your point.”   

 “We must not, as Christians, determine whether or not God has revealed something by how many men acknowledge the revelation. The content of the revelation is determined by the careful and laborious study of the text. It is not determined by counting noses. Not even scholarly noses.”   

 “Are you saying that you cannot make a mistake when you go to the text?”   

 “No, certainly not. I have made many mistakes. But I may only acknowledge my error when someone shows me the mistake from the text.”   

 “Now how does this relate to the question of God’s exhaustive sovereignty?”   

 “I have had many Christians tell me I am wrong about all this predestination business. But only a handful of them have ever endeavored to demonstrate the error I am supposed to be making from the text.”   

 “What do the rest of them do?”   

 “They break down into two basic categories. The first group talks just long enough to establish where the disagreement lies; after that, they avoid any discussion of the issue. Thinking about it discomfits them. The second group will talk about it; indeed, many times they enjoy talking about it. But the authority to which they appeal makes any resolution of the question impossible. Their authority, their court of appeals, is reason, common sense, and armchair philosophy. They will say that reason requires us to acknowledge that we have ‘free will’. Otherwise, how could God blame us? For who resists His will? This group acknowledges the authority of the Bible – on paper – but does not submit to the arbitration of Scripture.”   

 “Why do you think this is?”   

 “I cannot say; I merely see the results of it. Only God sees the heart. I am not competent to say what obstacles may exist in their hearts, although I do not doubt they are there. It is my business to see to it that there is no obstacle to their understanding in my heart.”   

 “What do you mean?”   

“I mean any kind of pride, haughtiness, impatience…whatever. If there is any of this on my part, it may well be used by God to keep fellow Christians from these wonderful truths. In the providence of God, matters are arranged in the church in such a way that it is possible to stumble your brother.”   

 “Can you give me an example of this from Scripture?”   

 “Sure. In 2 Timothy 2:25, it assumes that God is the Giver of repentance. When a man repents, he is the recipient of a gift.”   

 I had looked the passage up. “Well, it sure looks that way.”   

 “Now many Christians deny that repentance is a gift of God. In a discussion with such a person, what do you think the temptation is?”   

 I grinned. “To beat them over the head with this verse?”   

 “Exactly. Now back up and read the previous verse, this verse, and the verse after.”   

 I looked down. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.”   

 I glanced up again. “But isn’t this talking about a debate with a non-Christian?”   

“Yes, it is. And if we ought to correct unbelievers with such humility, what should our demeanor be toward brothers?”   

 “Got it.” I said.   

 “Now notice that the behavior of the one who knows the truth is connected with the possible change of heart of the one listening, if God is gracious and so wills it.”   

 “So how do you tie this in with our discussion? If all this is so clear in the Scriptures, why do Christians deny what you say the Bible teaches?”   

 “I would suggest that the problem is not with those who don’t believe it, but with those who do.”   

 “How so?”   

 “Some Christians deny God’s exhaustive sovereignty, and they live in a manner consistent with that denial. Other Christians affirm it, but then go on to deny it with their lives. The second group has more to answer for.”   

 “You can’t be saying that the church is in this sad condition because this is the way God has willed it?”   

 “Well, yes, I am. If God controls everything, then He certainly controls this.”   

 “But why? That seems so contrary to everything I have ever learned about God and His relationship to the church.”   

 “I don’t know why either. I am not sure a creature could understand why. But I do know that I am not going to water down clear statements of Scripture just because I want to worship a God who meets with my approval!”   

 “Is there any passage of Scripture that teaches that God controls backslidings?”   

 “Yes. Isaiah 63:17. `O Lord, why have You made us stray from Your ways, and hardened our heart from Your fear? Return for Your servants’ sake, the tribes of Your inheritance.’”   

“So you are also saying that the reason so many Christians deny this truth is…”   

“…is that God has willed it. Yes. He has hardened our hearts. And, anticipating the question, it does not lessen our responsibility in the slightest.”   

“Is it wrong to ask why God does this?”   

“No. Isaiah asks why. I believe that when Christians acknowledge that God has done this, and begin tearfully asking why He has done it, we will be on the edge of true revival. True revival is something He gives.”   

I was shaking my head. “I don’t know…”   

Pastor Spenser went on. “The modern evangelical church is drowning in an ocean of theological stupidity. Here and there are handfuls of the `orthodox’ clinging to the wreckage of what was once a great ship. In such a condition, it is impertinent to even be tempted to pride.” 

“But why would God do that to His own ship?”   

“He has done it, and He is God. That is enough. By all that Scripture teaches, His reasons were good, just, and holy. And when we consider the glorious future that is promised for the gospel in the world, we should take courage as we pray for revival. It will be clear to us later.”   

“And in the meantime…?”   

“In the meantime, those Christians who have been given an understanding of this should not puff themselves up. We know that what Job says in Job 42:2 is true. `I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from you.’ But they must also respond to this truth the way Job did in vv. 5-6. `I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.’”   

“How are you applying this?”   

“It is one thing to hear truth, and agree with it. Many have come to believe these things simply because they are attracted to a system which is logically consistent. Or perhaps they are repelled by the shallowness of so much of our preaching and teaching today. Or they are the studious type, and like to read books by the Puritans.”   

Pastor Spenser went on. “But it is quite another thing to be given a vision of the glory of God and to be, like Job, undone by it.”   

“Are you saying it is bad to be studious, or systematic?”   

“No, not at all. Hard study is required by God, as well as to compare carefully one portion of Scripture with another. Over many years, many people have told me that I study too much, but the Holy Spirit convicts me regularly that I study too little.”   

“What are you saying then?”   

“Hard study can be compared to chopping wood, assembling the kindling, and putting all the wood together for the fire. There are churches that have a good idea of where the wood should go, but they have forgotten there is supposed to be a fire.”   

“And others…?”   

“Others, theologically shallow, know there is supposed to be a fire. But they use grass, thorns, paper, and a lot of lighter fluid.”   

“How do you see your work?”   

“I have chopped a lot of good wood – although less than I should have – and I have assembled it. Now I am waiting, and praying to God.”   

“Praying for what?”  Pastor Spenser thought for a moment. 

“Praying for the fire to fall.” 


  This is Part 6 in a series of 6.

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