Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Seek To Have An Interest In God’s Love

In our current sermon series on the Old Testament book of Hosea we are discovering that God’s love is like a diamond with multiple facets of beauty and glory. In fact, the more we discover about God’s love the more we should be left breathless by it.
There is, however, a question that each of us should ask in response to Hosea: Who experiences God’s love?  The answer to that is given clearly by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:39. We experience God’s love “in Christ Jesus”.  In other words, those united to Christ through faith experience the full, rich, saving love of God. Those who are not united to Christ do not (John 3:36).

In his classic book, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, And Roots, the 19th century British pastor,  J. C. Ryle, offers helpful counsel to all who would desire to know God’s love.  Because of the seriousness of this topic, I will quote him at length.

“I entreat you not to stifle conscience by vague hopes of God’s mercy, while your heart cleaves to the world. I implore you not to drown convictions by childish fancies about God’s love, while your daily ways and habits show plainly that ‘the love of the Father is not in you.’ There is mercy in God, like a river—but it is for the [repentant] believer in Christ Jesus. There is a love in God towards sinners which is unspeakable and unsearchable—but it is for those who ‘hear Christ’s voice and follow Him.’ Seek to have an interest in that love. Break off every known sin; come out boldly from the world; cry mightily to God in prayer; cast yourself wholly and unreservedly on the Lord Jesus for time and eternity; lay aside every weight. Cling to nothing, however dear, which interferes with your soul’s salvation; give up everything, however precious, which comes between you and heaven.

“This old shipwrecked world is fast sinking beneath your feet: the one thing needful is to have a place in the lifeboat and get safe to shore. Give diligence to make your calling and election sure. Whatever happens to your house and property, see that you make sure of heaven. Oh, better a million times be laughed at and thought extreme in this world than go down to hell….”

So, as Pastor Ryle wrote, make it your desire to “seek to have an interest in that love.”

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why The Unusual Preaching?

Many of the people who attend the Minden Evangelical Free Church have some church background and in that experience you are accustomed to pastors preaching on different topics each week that are not related to the previous week. In some cases you may have been in congregations where the pastor followed a lectionary that assigned different passages and topics each week to fit with the calendar of the church year. Others of you may be have known pastors to preach a series of sermons on a topic. These are the most common approaches to preaching.

If you have been attending our Sunday services any time at all you have discovered I spend most of my time preaching verse by verse through sections of a Bible book or through an entire book of the Bible, a manner often called expository preaching. I have a very strong conviction that most preaching should be of this type. Here are a number of reasons that stand behind my conviction.

1. Expository preaching, as the label suggests, has as its goal, to expose what the text of the Bible says, rather than reading in what we want it to say or reading it in some general way that acknowledges the main theme, but then shapes it according to a preacher’s personal thoughts or preferences. This type of preaching demonstrates to the congregation that the pastor works to remain true to what God says in the Bible, rather than espousing his own thoughts. In other words, such an approach can give added confidence the congregation is hearing a word from God and not merely from man.

2. God gave the Bible to us in books, so to understand each book of the Bible as it was given is to grasp Scripture in the same form God inspired it. There should be something in this method that comes closer to the message God originally intended for us in each book. This is not to suggest that topical preaching (if done with great care and flowing out of diligent and careful study) has no place. After all, Jesus, Paul, and most every other preacher recorded in the Bible preached topical sermons. It does, however, honor the form in which the Bible was inspired. It also is the method of preaching that best serves preaching’s ultimate goal, which is to uncover what the text of the Bible says to us.

3. Expository preaching provides a good model to the congregation for how to read or study through a book of the Bible. It demonstrates what kinds of questions to ask, how to study words, how to understand the flow-of-thought. Similarly, it lays a foundation for a congregation to understand a book of the Bible with greater detail as they read through it after the pastor has preached on it. Such preaching is some of the best preparation a congregation can go through for their own devotions and for family devotions.

4. This approach to preaching provides greater variety of topics, as well as forces the pastor to deal with topics he may not choose to take up if he were not going through the book. What this results in is a better understanding of the entire counsel of God in Scripture.

5. As a pastor studies Bible books verse by verse it forces him to wrestle thoroughly with an entire book and to discover the inspired author’s flow of thought as the latter gives wise counsel, direction, correction, encouragement, and the like to his first readers. Such disciplined study forms a very solid biblical foundation for a pastor’s counseling ministry, as well as for his understanding of the entire Bible. This is why thoughtful, careful expository preachers often make for good counselors.

6. Expository preaching gives a preacher the boldness to address a controversial topic since it is what comes next in the text. It helps to know he did not personally have to choose the topic, but is simply being faithful to what God inspired the biblical author to write next. Similarly, it can put a congregation at ease as they hear such a topic addressed that it is not the “hobby horse” of the pastor or something he has chosen to preach on merely to hit the congregation over the head. Again, they know it was simply the next topic in the text to cover.

7. Finally, verse by verse expository preaching tends to force the preacher and the congregation to dig deeper in the text. The result is the discovery of greater nuggets of truth, as well as more nourishing spiritual food.

All in all, though expository preaching has fallen on hard times among many evangelicals recently, I strongly believe it is the most beneficial manner of preaching for any congregation. It has a long, rich heritage, one that has often been at the heart of the strongest churches and the deepest, most lasting works of God. May our sovereign God be pleased to move among us through the verse by verse teaching of his Word!  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Problem Of Evil

      In the July 1st sermon on Hosea 1:2-11 we talked about how God can demonstrate his love through hardships. Behind this sermon stands a perennial problem that plagues many people and leads a significant number away from belief in God. I am talking about the problem of evil. The problem of evil is this: If God is all-powerful, it seems he would be able to prevent the presence of evil in the world and, at the same time, if God is all-good, it seems he would want to do so. Since evil does exist in the world, then many conclude either that God lacks one or both of these attributes or that he does not exist.

How have Christians usually answered this problem?  In one of two ways.

(1) First, many have suggested that if man is truly to love God, then he must have a kind of freedom wherein his decision to love is has very little or no influence from God behind it. (Some, not all, of those who hold this view also go on to argue that the decision to love God cannot be determined.) Since God had to take a hands-off approach to man, he had to allow man to make absolutely free choices (a view of freedom known as Libertarian Freewill) and this resulted in evil. Based upon this understanding, the problem of evil is dealt with since that God purposefully limited his power in order to create the best of all possible worlds—one in which man is free in the libertarian sense. So, the proponent of this view disagrees with the first part of the statement of the problem of evil as classically stated—that if God is all-powerful, he could prevent evil. A greater good (the achievement of true love) propelled him to limit his power (or one might say that it is logically impossible to cause or strongly influence man to love God truly).

(2) Second, many have suggested that God ordained to allow evil for the purposes of displaying the glory of his grace and mercy in a fuller sense than if he had not. Yet, God did this in such a way that he does not render men mere robots and in a way he is not morally responsible for, he is not the author of sin. In this understanding man still has freedom, yet it is a freedom that allows for God’s absolute sovereignty and power, his strong influence upon those who come to love him, and also for determined free outcomes. This view of freedom is known as compatibilistic freedom since it views absolute sovereignty and man’s freedom (and responsibility) as compatible.  With this view of the problem of evil, the second part of the problem, as classically stated, is rejected—namely that a good God would always prevent evil or that he would not allow it. A greater good (the magnification of the glory of God) is behind God’s decree that evil is present in the world.

      I believe very strongly that the Bible teaches view #2 as the answer to the problem of evil and that view #1 brings with it many problems that need to be avoided.

      Recently, I wrote a response to a friend of mine on this topic. This pastor holds to the libertarian view of man’s freedom and so answers the problem of evil in accordance with view one above. This friend had shared a paper of his with me from a class and desired my response.

      Below I have included my response to this friend. My desire is that it serves not only as a model for how to engage in theological discussion among Christian friends who disagree, but also that it will serve to give support for my approach to this all-important problem of evil.

      I have changed the name of my friend. In this post I have called him “Todd”.

      Todd, I am very excited to see your treatment of the problem of evil (hereafter P.O.E.) because in it you are wrestling with two very important biblical foundations:  God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Anytime anyone does this, I find it encouraging. This is especially so with you since I know you have such a passion for God, as well as a desire to see people trust Jesus Christ as savior. What is more, you have applied your keen intellect to a very serious, disciplined approach to defending the faith and helping answer people’s questions. So, I commend you wholeheartedly, not only for your overall work, but also for a well-written paper.
      Because I believe you desire me to respond to your paper, I offer the following as part of a familial discussion on this very difficult topic. As you will see, there is agreement with you on more major points than disagreement. Nevertheless, there is some disagreement on some points. I will try to explain my disagreement with you at those points in such a way that will benefit both of us.  I am looking forward to the future dialogue.

My Understanding Of Your Position
      In this section I want to set forth in two syllogisms (along with some additional text) what I understand your argument to be. Once I have done that I will then proceed to explain the points at which I differ from you with the hope that we can sharpen each other.
      I will begin by setting forth what I believe to be the most basic argument in your paper. I will call this Syllogism #1:
1: God exists.
2: The God who exists is good and he is all-powerful.
3: Evil cannot exist if the God who exists is both good and he is all-powerful in an unqualified sense.
4: Therefore, since evil does exist, God cannot be both good and absolutely all-powerful in an unqualified sense.

      In this first part of your argument it seems to me that you conclude the way to take care of the problem is to be more precise in our definition of the omnipotence of God. You conclude: “I do not believe God can do ALL things! …Can God make a circle with four corners?  Can God make a ‘married bachelor?’ Can God create a rock that is so big that even He can’t lift it? Can God sin?  The answer to all the above is a resounding, ‘No!’”  So, if I understand you accurately, you are saying God can do all things he desires, that are not self-contradictory, and that do not violate his attributes (a very classic and good way of defining omnipotence).
      Next, you present what appears to be a foundational principle that true love is only possible between two persons who freely choose to enter into that loving relationship together. You write, “Moreover, it is logically impossible for someone to make someone else do something freely” and this applies to making someone love another (which by definition must be done freely). As such, though God desires people to love him, He cannot make people love him, which necessitated him to create in such a way people have libertarian freewill (hereafter LFW). [For the purpose of our readers LFW is that view of freewill that states a choice is free only if there is very little or no constraint or causation upon the person. Some who hold to LFW also argue that the decision cannot be determined.] Because of this LFW, people chose to sin and continue to choose to sin, which is at the bottom of the presence of evil in the world. So, it seems that evil exists since God made the best of all possible worlds—a world in which people can love him, which necessitates LFW and which results in evil.
      To put this in a syllogism would look something like this (Syllogism #2):
1: God created the best of all possible worlds.
2: This best world God created is one in which sentient beings can love him.
3: Love demands LFW.
4. LFW demands God limit himself and not coerce people to love him.
5: Such LFW has led to the presence of evil.
6: Therefore, evil can exist in the world without calling into question God’s goodness, his power, or even his existence.

      Todd, once you move into the discussion of what evil proves and the existence of objective moral values (pp. 6-10) I am in agreement with what you say. So, I will confine my response to your first five plus pages and then also your assessment on pages 10-11.

Response To Syllogism #1
      As you probably assume, I am in virtually complete agreement with your first syllogism. I do, however, want to address one implication present in most Christian answers to the P.O.E, namely, that if God is good, he would not be the direct cause of evil. In fact, I believe virtually all Christians would agree on this. Yet, the question then emerges, for what purpose did God allow evil? You have answered that question, as represented in Syllogism #2, by saying, in essence, there was a divine contingent necessity. In other words, contingent upon the realities that God determined to create and he determined to create sentient beings who could love him (this demanding LFW), then the possibility for evil was necessary since such sentient beings (angels and men) were created capable of LFW.
      Now, I believe you would also argue that the ultimate purpose for God creating was for His glory. I believe you would say that glory is carried out to its fullest extent by sentient beings who freely love (in the LFW sense) God, which also means that some sentient beings turn their back on God.
      Now, it seems to me that this or something like it would be the understanding of the person holding to the LFW answer to the P.O.E. regarding the purpose of creation and the allowance of evil. If I am correct in this, the conclusion is that even though God allowed evil and even though God created a world knowing evil would enter it, he is not morally responsible for it, since he is not the near cause of sin and he also allowed evil for good and moral purposes—namely his glory and man’s benefit.
      Now, my understanding of the interplay of God’s purpose in creation and the allowance of evil is similar, but also slightly different. I agree that God’s ultimate purpose for creation was his glory (Ps. 8:5-6; Is. 43:7; Rom. 11:36). Yet, I believe the biblical answer to why God allowed sin was so that the riches of his glory, namely his mercy, could be shown to a greater degree in the light of sin (Rom. 9:22-23). This appears to be Paul’s meaning in this text and it is given in the context of an epistle that clarifies that no man can stand before God someday in judgment and accuse him of injustice (Rom. 1:18ff.), man is morally responsible for his sin and for truly rejecting God—not as a robot, but a free agent (Rom. 1:18-23), and also no one who desires to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior will be turned away (Rom. 10:13-17). I take all this to mean that God’s driving force in the allowance that man would sin is his glory through the display of his mercy and power rather than the preservation of LFW.[1] I will defend this in greater detail below. For now I simply want to show that though the two views differ slightly, one point is the same. We each say that God is not morally responsible for evil, even though he allowed it—and this because he allowed it for morally good purposes and also he is not the near cause of it.[2]
      I believe what I have just established is important since sometimes it is alleged that those who hold to compatibilistic freewill (hereafter CFW) and God’s absolute sovereignty (as opposed to general sovereignty) somehow make God morally responsible for sin. The reality is that neither side truly makes God morally responsible for sin, even though both sides similarly say he allowed near causes (sentient beings) to bring about sin for morally good purposes.

Response To Syllogism #2:
      As you probably anticipated, the bulk of my response will be found underneath this syllogism.
      The heart of my response is pointed at premise #3:  “Love demands LFW”. My understanding of LFW is this: Some argue freedom or freewill is present when a person always has more than one choice to make and can truly go more than one direction with that decision up until the time she actually makes the decision (i.e. it has an uncertain outcome). What is more, virtually all adherents of LFW require that little or no coercion can take place, lest freedom be lost. Throughout your paper you talk about love not being true love if one is “made” or “forced” to love against their will.
      I have several problems with this line of reasoning.

1. Classic Calvinists or Compatibilists Do Not Assert God Makes, Forces, Or Coerces Love Upon Unwilling People.

      What is asserted instead is that God works on the will so that the person desires to trust in Christ and to love him (Phil. 2:13). Such is a change of the heart from the inside out (Jeremiah 31:31-34) that comes about as God lovingly allures people to him so that they will love him (Hosea 2:14-15) and desire to do his will (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-6). Such a work of God is necessary since left to himself the sinner is spiritually dead and incapable of seeing his need for Christ, not much less trusting in him (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3).
      “Irresistible grace” is not a matter of God making anyone come to him who does not want to. It is a matter of taking people who do not want to come to him and working in them such that they see Christ as glorious and they see their need for the gospel (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:6).[3]

2. The Bible Appears To Define Freedom As Truly Wanting To Do Something (CFW), Rather Than Defining It As the Absence Of Influence Or The Presence Of Uncertain Outcome (LFW).

      In Philemon Paul seeks to convince Philemon to receive the slave Onesimus as a beloved brother rather than merely a slave. The apostle writes that “for love’s sake” (9) he wants Philemon to take these actions and not “by compulsion but of your own free will” (14). Though Paul is seeking to influence Philemon strongly, he does not want Philemon to carry out his request in a way that is forced, but in a way that he truly wants to do it, yet it is part of his obedience (21). It is true that this Christian brother certainly could refuse Paul. Because of this, perhaps the sense of “your own free will” might be that he do it free of influence and in such a way he might or might not do it. Yet, I believe it is far more likely that Paul’s point is that he truly desires Philemon to want do this. It is a similar argument that Paul makes to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 8-9 where he exhorts them strongly to carry through on their promise to give toward helping poor believers in Jerusalem, yet he wants them to respond as cheerful givers who really want to do it—and this because God can provide for and enable them to do this, all to his glory (2 Cor. 9:6-15). So, very strong influence in Scripture is not contrary to freedom.
      What is more, a certain or determined end is not contrary to free love for God. Regardless of how one defines election (conditional or unconditional), the outcome is certain (Rom. 8:29-30). Yet, such persons are defined as those who love God (8:28). What this means is that freedom or free love cannot necessarily be defined as the ability to choose more than one option with no certain outcome.
      Additionally, free love of God is not inconsistent with a very strong influence by God that brings a certain outcome. The ultimate certain outcome for the saint is glorification (Rom. 8:30), which includes moral perfection, i.e. it is certain that throughout the age-to-come one will not sin (Heb. 12:23; Rev. 21:27). This means that free love of God cannot be defined biblically as the lack of strong influence. This glorification is wholly the work of God upon the saint (Rom. 8:28).

3. Our Own Experience Demonstrates The Weakness Of The LFW Position And The Strength Of The CFW Position

      In my estimation one of the weaknesses of those who hold to the necessity of LFW for a choice or act of love to be free is that it does not match with our experience. I would not make this argument without having made the first two points. What the Bible presents as to how God works in a person to save or grow them by changing their heart and will and thereby rendering a certain outcome—and yet the person believes, repents, and loves God freely—matches experiences we have in life. Consider some examples.
      I had a biology professor during my undergraduate days from India. One day in class he surprised us by telling the story of how his marriage to his wife was arranged by their two sets of parents. It was decided by parents, not him (or his wife-to-be), whom he would marry. He admitted he did not know or love her at first. Nevertheless, over the course of time, they learned to love each other. Here is a certain outcome (an arranged marriage) with a great amount of influence by the parents, yet the end result is a free love by the CFW definition—namely, they now want to live together and they deeply love each other because their hearts, their wills were changed.
      I can tell a similar story of my son and his early martial arts days as opposed to his later martial arts days or his study skills ten years ago versus now. As Jeff progressed in martial arts and as he progressed through his school career, his heart and will changed such that he wanted to do martial arts and he now wants to study. Many adults who had parents engage in similar activity of providing very strong influence to change their will during their childhood or youth years (at times not giving them a choice) would now say that very parental approach was a sign of love.  
      Another example would be a hiker lost in the Rockies for five days without food and water. Once he is found, is it certain that he will accept the canteen of water offered to him by the rescue workers? If he is conscious and unless something else is wrong (e.g. for some reason he thinks the canteen poison), it is certain he will freely and without coercion drink even though the outcome is certain and his choice is heavily influenced by antecedent events.
      I could multiply examples to show that decisions with certain outcomes, heavy influence, and even minimized choices can be free because we want to do them. Of course, you could counter with examples out of each category where it did not work out the same way (arranged marriages, for example, that did not end in love). Yet, my point is not that such circumstances always end in free choices, but that often they do. In other words, as the Bible appears to teach over and over, divinely-decreed, certain outcomes can at one and the same time be truly free actions on the part of the sentient beings.
      Since this is the case, we should be able to hold to CFW when it comes to God’s saving and sanctifying work, as well as his governance of the affairs of men, as I believe Scripture demands.
      Yet, you might ask, “In addition to what you have just asserted, Tom, what other reason would lead you to espouse CFW over LFW? This brings me to my fourth reason for denying the LFW position.

4. There Are Many Other Biblical Reasons For Holding To CFW Over LFW.
      Here I will try merely to set forth bullet points since this paper is already becoming quite lengthy. If there is need for further exposition I can do that in a follow-up communication.
·         The Bible asserts that God is absolutely sovereign, not merely generally sovereign. In other words, he does not merely set forth the general direction of the world or decide the main things, but leave the details up for grabs. He works all things in accordance with the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), including the very sustaining of the universe (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3), and even those things that are evil (Gen. 50:20; Hab. 1:6; Acts 2:23)—and all of this without being the author of sin (James 1:13). This sovereignty is so absolute he can even control the amount of temptation or testing that can come our way (1 Cor. 10:13). Such absolute sovereignty necessitates a CFW view of freedom.
·         The Bible asserts the bondage of the will and the total inability of the sinner when it comes to seeing the need for Christ and trusting in him (Jer. 17:9; 1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:1-3). This demands that God must radically change the person so they desire to trust Christ and love him. Without such a work, there is no salvation (John 3:1-8; Titus 3:5-6).
·         The Bible asserts that God ordained the current situation, namely that sin blinds us and we cannot figure out salvation ourselves and that salvation must happen through the humbling proclamation of the humbling gospel (1 Cor. 1:21) and this all that he might be glorified (1 Cor. 1:31). Did man truly sin and rebel against God in a free way? Yes. Yet, did God determine in eternity-past this would take place so that his glory could be magnified to an even greater degree?  Yes.

      So, however, we “tie together God’s sovereignty and man’s freedom, I believe we must be tying together absolutel sovereignty and a freedom that allows for certain outcomes and great influence, namely CFW.
      As I wrap up my thoughts about Syllogism #2, Todd, I will merely say that given what I have written to this point it should be fairly clear I disagree with premises 4 and 5.

Reasons The Above Differences Matter:
      Todd, as I bring this paper to a close I want to state briefly why I believe it is important that we hold to the absolute sovereignty view of God and also the CFW view of man’s freedom. After all, you and I are in agreement on so much. Yet, why do I believe the points at which we disagree are important?

A Number Of Other Practical Biblical Doctrines May Be At Stake
      I say “may” because I have known plenty examples of people answering the P.O.E. as you have and yet the following problems have not arisen (or at least not all of them). Yet, I have also known far more (perhaps a majority) where they have arisen.
      First, there can often be far less of an ability to see God’s sovereign purpose in and behind suffering. Because there is a strong desire behind LFW (and the General Sovereignty view that often goes with it) to provide a theodicy in behalf of God, he can be so distanced from the hard, evil, and difficult things of life, that it is very difficult for a person to say about their sufferings the same thing Joseph did:  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Gen. 50:20) I believe one of the callings I have as a pastor is to prepare people for suffering. It appears to me that this task is much more difficult to do with a LFW and/or a General Sovereignty view.
      Second, LFW tends to be more at home with “decisional salvation,” i.e. our salvation is first and foremost a decision we make. Once we make this “decision,” then God gets involved, saves us, and gives us eternal life. Such a view of salvation either diminishes or shortchanges the biblical teaching on Total Depravity and Total Inability (e.g. Rom. 3:9ff.; 1 Cor. 2:14, et. al). It also usually does not hold to the need for God’s gracious and supernatural regeneration/transformation to take place so that one can believe (Matthew 11:25-27; John 3:1-8; 2 Cor. 4:6; Eph. 2:6-10; Col. 2:13; Titus 3:5-6). This often places too much emphasis upon human argumentation and not enough on the need for God’s Spirit to work through God’s Word in response to prayer.
      Third, among most Christians there is a difficulty seeing how the grace of God not only saves, but also transforms (e.g. Titus 2:11-14). I believe part (though not all) of the issue is thinking that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, but then sanctification is kind of our own thing. Additionally, it is not that important to God. “If we want to grow, we get more rewards, but if not, it’s really not that big of a deal,” some conclude. This discounts the reality that the Spirit’s strong influence upon the believer to transform them (Eph. 1:13-14) is such a certain part of true salvation that New Testament assurance is connected, in large part, to the evidence of God’s transforming grace in the life of a person (Mt. 7:21-24; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6-10; James 2:14-16; 2 Peter 1:3-11; I John 2:15-17). This also involves none other than the New Testament principle that the imperative (commands or our ethics) flows out of the indicative (what Christ has done in us). Such a way of viewing sanctification is best supported by a view of God’s love in the believer that includes a very strong divine influence deriving from divine initiative (e.g. Phil. 2:12-13).
      Fourth, you testified to a reality in your paper that I believe can become a potential problem for philosophical theologians of the LFW persuasion, namely, they do not like tension. On the one hand, I see what they mean and agree that too often Christians invoke tension too early and just because they do not want to do their theological homework. I believe we can say far more about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility than is normally done by the average believer. On the other hand, we also must preserve the incomprehensibility of God. This doctrine does not suggest we cannot understand God at all, but that we cannot fully understand him. Such seems to be part of the point of Paul in Romans 11:33-36.  Whether it is God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill or whether it is the relation of the two natures of Jesus Christ, there comes a point in our view of God where the greatest and most capable of theologians ought to be willing to say, “I acknowledge I cannot fully explain the nature or the ways of God.”
We Must Not Lose The War For The Sake Of Winning A Battle
      One of the attractive aspects of holding to LFW and General Sovereignty is that more quickly and up front we “let God off the hook” when it comes to the P.O.E. After all, with CFW and Absolute (or Specific) Sovereignty, we then have to follow up and deal with a number of questions both on the intellectual, as well as the personal/pastoral level. For example, there are hard truths to grapple with when we come to see that God, though not the author of sin, ordained: The existence of Satan, Sin, 9/11, the death of a child, the collapse of the bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, my mom’s Parkinson’s, etc., etc. Certainly, we must exercise care in the communication of such truths (and especially in the timing of such communication). Yet, ultimately I believe the only thing harder than facing these difficult facts is concluding that God does not have a purpose in such hardships because he either could not stop them or has chosen to limit himself.
      We want to make sure we do not have to win people to Christianity with a view of God that we then have to change once they become a Christian. After all, we will win people to the same gospel with which we win them. If the latter is a gospel that puts us in the “driver’s seat” to make a decision and gives us a view of God such that he is not sovereign over and in the specifics of our lives, the gospel they will follow as a Christian may cause them to struggle with trusting God and submitting to him. We must keep in mind that one of the major views of New Covenant salvation found in the Synoptic Gospels is that of the inauguration of the kingdom of God. At the very heart of our knowing God, then, is submitting to him as our King (our absolute Sovereign) and following him as his servants.

We Must Not Lose Our Trust In The Gospel As The Power Of God For Salvation
      I have noticed a tendency among Christians, especially those who lean toward LFW, to conclude that since “God is a loving gentleman and will not force himself upon people,” they conclude that what is necessary is for the herald to help the person to takes steps toward God. Along with this comes a desire often to tweak or change the message, to make it more palatable, so that the lost person is not turned off. I believe truth-be-told, the advocate of LFW has to ask himself, “Have I taken my position so that I can ‘let God off the hook’ and so that some of the offense of the gospel is removed?” If so, this can lead to an approach that will not boldy proclaim the very gospel that is needed for salvation (part of the point of Paul’s argument in 1 Cor. 1:17-2:16).

We Want To Preserve A Healthy And Biblical View Of Reason
      Finally, we want to make sure we view reason the way the Bible does. We get a taste of this in 2 Timothy 2:7, where Paul writes: “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” Paul has exhorted Timothy away from fear and toward the bold, Christ-empowered work of the gospel and disciplemaking (1:6-2:6). He wants Timothy to think about what he has just said. This is similar to all the times in Paul’s epistles where he makes some very long, detailed argument and then says, “Therefore….” Paul wants us to reason, he wants us to think, he believes God made us as rational people and this is part of the way we come to know things. At the same time, Paul believes God is necessary to help us in the process. This is the same note Paul strikes elsewhere when he makes it clear that our fully understanding things as they are—especially things related to the gospel and our morality, things we are predisposed against by sin—must come by divine help (1 Cor. 2:14; 2 Cor. 4:6; Col. 1:9, et al). Such an interplay of reason and the need for divine illumination fits with CFW.
      Again, let me emphasize I am not saying all LFW proponents fall prey to a troublesome view toward reason, but there is a tendency to do so, since they tend to minimize Total Depravity and Total Inability, as well as the need for regeneration prior to faith.

In Closing
      Todd, let me sign off by clarifying that in my final section I have addressed tendencies LFW proponents can have. Not all have every tendency. These are merely things to watch out for and that often do derive from the overall theology.
      Finally, let me suggest (if you have not already done this), that you read other philosophical theologians who do not hold to LFW. Some good choices would be John Feinberg[4] and John Frame. Though D. A. Carson is not technically a philosophical theologian, but more primarily an exegete and biblical theologian, he does at times show great awareness of philosophical issues as he writes. His Divine Sovereignty And Human Responsibility is very helpful and very well done.
      I will look forward to our further dialogue.

[1] What is seen on a macrocosmic scale (creation) is also demonstrated on a more microcosmic scale in Jesus’ treatment of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in John 11:5-6. John writes these words after Jesus received the report that Lazarus was ill:  “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard Lazarus was ill, then he remained in the place where he was two days.” (author’s own translation) Here is the point. Because Jesus loved Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, therefore, wanting what is best for them, he waited two more days so that by the time he would get to them Lazarus would have been dead four days already (39). Yet, so that they would see God’s glory in a greater way (11:40), Jesus purposefully allowed Lazarus to die and the sisters to suffer this pain so that God would be glorified in the resurrection and they would see that glory. It seems then that God’s love is shown to the fullest when he makes much of himself, i.e. through glorifying himself in his mercy and power (see Is. 30:18). We also see a similar divine purpose in the blind man healed in John 9 (see 9:3).  Similarly, God ordained to allow sentient beings to sin that his grace, mercy, and love could be displayed to an even greater extent.

[2]I would also propose that the Compatibilistic Free Will response would disagree with premise #3—“Evil cannot exist if the God who exists is both good and he is all-powerful in an unqualified sense.” This assumes that if God could do something about it to prevent evil and did not, he would not be good. Though I will not expound upon it, I do believe this statement is wrong. One example of how it is wrong is found in the previous footnote.
[3] We find a great example once again in the resurrection of Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead four days. As such, he could do nothing connected to physical life. He could not hear a call to come out of the grave, he could not breathe oxygen into his lungs, he could not cause his heart to pump blood, he could not regenerate already dead tissue throughout his body, he could not get up and walk out of the tomb, and he could not open his eyes to see those awaiting him. Clearly, there was no desire in him, nor ability to be resurrected. Yet, Christ spoke life into him and resurrected. Truly, this act by Christ was an act of love, it was for the benefit of Lazarus, but it was not “allowed” by Lazarus. Yet, at the same time, no one would doubt that Lazarus wanted to come out of that tomb, responding to the word of Jesus Christ, once he was reanimated. Such is what God does in regeneration and salvation (Ephesians 2:1-10).
[4] Feinberg’s 800 page doctrine of God titled No One Like Him (Crossway) is extremely good. Almost 200 of the pages deal with sovereignty, man’s freedom, providence, and also the problem of evil. Another good one is The Many Faces Of Evil: Theological Systems And The Problem Of Evil. Feinberg taught in the M.A. in Apologetics program at Liberty the year before I got into it. Then, once I transferred to the M.Div. program at TEDS he was a Systematic Theology prof. there. He is still there.