If God is sovereign, why does evil exist?

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If God is sovereign, why does evil exist?

February 14, 2022 -

In this episode, Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison discuss God’s sovereignty, some basics in philosophy and logic, human agency, Reformed theology, and John Calvin.

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Show notes: 

Dr. Mark Turman and Dr. Jim Denison start by revealing future plans for the podcast to being accepting questions from our audience and bring in more guest speakers.

They introduce the problem of evil and ask, “How can God be sovereign, loving, and allow evil?” Jim establishes that sovereignty means God is Lord and king over every area of life. God’s sovereignty shouldn’t mean that we think of ourselves as automatons or robots. Some theologians believe our free will isn’t real; it’s only an illusion. Or, on the other side, some affirm that God’s sovereignty is limited by our freedom. The middle ground is that we have free agency because God allows us to, which is the position Jim takes. Since we’re limited beings, sometimes truths appear contradictory, when in fact they’re not, and this is the case in regards to God’s sovereignty and human free will.

At this point, Mark and Jim take a turn to give a brief overview of the Reformation and what Reformed theology entails. They discuss Calvin’s systematic theology in his work titled The Institutes of Christian Religion, its brilliance, and its shortcomings. Jim explains his own view in depth regarding the acronym for Calvinist beliefs “TULIP,” describing himself as a “three-and-a-half pointer.”

While these issues are important and warrant discussion, there remains a mystery in the relationship we have with Christ and God’s nature. In the midst of evangelism and debates on Reformed theology, we must remember to be first and foremost humble.

P.S. Jim’s most pivotal book to date, The Coming Tsunami, is now available on Kindle, hardcover, and Audible.

Resources and further reading:

About the hosts 

Jim Denison, PhD, is the CEO of Denison Ministries and the author of The Daily Article. He received his PhD in philosophy and Master’s in Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dr. Mark Turman is the Executive Director of Denison Forum. He received his DMin from Truett at Baylor and previously served as lead pastor of Crosspoint Church.


Transcribed by Otter.ai

Mark Turman 

Welcome to the Denison Forum Podcast. I’m Dr. Mark Turman, Executive Director of the Denison forum here with Dr. Jim Dennison. Again. How are you?


Jim Denison  00:08

I am well today, sir, how are you?


Mark Turman  00:09

Great looking forward to another conversation, we always have a good time chasing out different topics. It’s kind of a big deal for us right now. This podcast will release just a few days after the launch of your book that we’ve been talking about that actually gave birth to this podcast, the coming tsunami, why Christians are labeled intolerant, irrelevant, oppressive and dangerous and how we can turn the tide, you have a little sense of release, that the date of release of the book is now come and that the book is available to people. Does that feel good to you? Well, it


Jim Denison  00:46

does. In that sense, it does. Because this has been such a process, not just for me. But for all of those who are part of this from editorial to layout to all of the production of the team of people, a very large team, very, very large team, I actually finished the book some months ago, and then it’s been their work to get from here to there, all the publicity all that’s been underneath as Mark, we have a remarkable team of professionals here. And I’m just glad to be one of them,


Mark Turman  01:08

we really do. And if you’re if you’re interested in the book, you can get it several different ways. The coming tsunami is available at Amazon and all of the other major book distributors, you can also order it and find out more information through the website, the coming tsunami calm. It’s also available in audible form. I’m a big audible book, participant, I’m an audible lead learner, I just comprehend things better by hearing them by them by reading them. And so if you’re like me in that way, you can get the book. In an audible version. I told you that yesterday, the narrator is Michael Beck, who’s done some work with John Grisham novels. And so we have a really, really good narrator for the book, lots of different ways to get it and also wanted to just say to our audience that in upcoming episodes of the Denison Forum Podcast, we’re going to have guests, we’re working on having some of those opportunities in a few weeks, you and I will get to have a conversation with Ken Starr judge star with our partners at Dallas Baptist University. Looking forward to that in late February. We’re also looking for other guests to be a part of this experience with us. We’re also going to do a q&a time kind of an ask Jim experience. And I know you like to have that opportunity. So if you


Jim Denison  02:27

have longest we don’t call it stump the chump is what has been called. And I’m sure in the kindest, most gracious


Mark Turman  02:33

in the most gracious way. Exactly, at least among your friends. So called for so called friends. Exactly. We’ll we’ll try not to let that happen. That’s the advantage of of a pre recorded rather than a live event. You can kind of work with that from an editorial standpoint, you don’t my friends out That’s right, exactly. But if you have a question that you’re wondering about, we would love to have you submit that through Denison forum.org There’s a place for you to email us and if you have a question that you’d like Jim to respond to on our podcast, please submit that we’ll grab those and and answer as many of them as we can maybe an entire episode just the question and answers or drop them in periodically, as we do other topics. This morning, I wanted to talk with you a little bit, get some thoughts that go really have their roots all the way back to my college level entry class in philosophy.


Jim Denison  03:30

That was a year or two ago, a few years ago, dinosaurs still roaming the earth. Yes, Planet cooling all of that exactly. The


Mark Turman  03:37

wheel had just come along, which is what I wrote play to the professor Aristotle, one of those guys. But I had since a call to ministry and had been guided in how do you prepare for that really had no clue didn’t know what a seminary was, didn’t know how to spell the word seminary, still not sure about what it is. And so I was preparing in an undergraduate sense. I ended up at a wonderful small Baptist College here in the middle of Texas called Howard Payne University, great school. And I went there again, not knowing anything about the school literally registered and was accepted and never been on the campus. But I was greatly influenced not only by what I sense to be the Spirit of God guiding me, but he was guiding me through the community of the church through my student pastor that was very instrumental. He had been, he was a student and alumni of Howard Payne. Through several are friends who also felt called to ministry and they were going and so just felt drawn there in several different ways, but landed in this philosophy class that was being taught by a professor named Dr. Clyde majors who was in his latter years as a professor. There’s there but when, in his introductory to philosophy, he said we’re going to start with things like this went to the board, drew a triangle on the board. And in one point of the triangle wrote, God is all powerful. Second point of the triangle, God is all loving. And in the third part wrote, evil exists. And that began my introduction to philosophy lead, you didn’t start with a difficult problem, right? Not, I immediately knew I was way underwater. And, and way over my head as it were. But we began to try to understand and work with and, and learn about those kinds of questions. You’ve said to me before, philosophy asked questions and theology answers them. So I want to have that kind of conversation with you today. And as it as it relates to this big, big topic of God’s sovereignty, and how we are to think about that, understand that, how that will help us. If if the realities that you have talked about in the coming tsunami continue to increase, it’s not a question of, if they’re going to happen someday, they’re already happening in significant ways already. But if that continues and increases, how do we need to understand our lives in the context of God’s sovereignty? When I think about it, Jim, I, I think about God’s sovereignty. Sometimes it’s comforting to me, in the sense of, hey, God’s got this. And no matter what’s going on, no matter how chaotic or scary the world may be, or how it may be, for me personally, I can sit back and rest in those scriptures that talk about the the power, the knowledge, the love of God and have this sense of well, he’s got this I don’t know, how, when or where, but he’s gonna figure it out. Sometimes it’s really troubling. How could God let this happen? I think about the families in the church that I used to pastor who lost children, and to think about how could that happen? What about children that are suffering in hospitals with things like cancer? How are children in poverty all over? How how can a sovereign God let things like that and other forms of suffering happen? And then there’s this big sense of just being confused or challenged about the idea of God’s sovereignty? So where do you want to start?


Jim Denison  07:25

Well, first of all, I’m glad we’re having the conversation, that you couldn’t have a more foundational discussion if we’re thinking about how Christian faith intersects daily life than this. At the end of the day, God is sovereign or is not. If he sovereign, what does that mean that He’s sovereign, the Bible says God’s a King, Jesus began His ministry by announcing repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And the kind of kingdom he had in mind was not the kind of symbolic sort of thing we see in the UK and other places. He’s talking about the kind of Roman Empire King, where the Caesar The King is the ruler of all that is an actively involved King on every dimension of life at every dimension of every day. Caesar wasn’t just Caesar when you’re at the temple. He wasn’t just Caesar when you were burning a pinch of incense to a bust of Caesar and saying Caesar is Lord. Caesar is Caesar of the roads. He’s Caesar of the armies he Caesar of every moment of every day, when Jesus has that allusion in the Sermon on the Mount, if someone makes you carry us pack one mile carry at two, that was what was happening to the Jews as a Roman soldier, going down the road sees a Jewish person walking along, makes him carry his pack one mile in the wrong direction as far as the Jewish person is concerned, more than anything just to remind him we’re in charge and you’re not and and


Mark Turman  08:34

invokes probably the name of Caesar and the doing other backup.


Jim Denison  08:38

What how do you how to say Jesus is Lord was a direct rebuke of the statement Caesar is lord Caesar curry versus Shay’s who Korea. And so in Jesus day to say, I’m the king, is to say I am the Lord of the realm. I am the ruler, I am the Master, what you do in private, as well as public Monday, as well as Sunday, every dimension of your life, we in our culture of May God a hobby, we’ve separated Sunday from Monday, and we have minimized the sovereignty of God in a way that is so limiting his ability to use bless guide and empower us. A painter can only change the canvas he can touch of a physician can only heal the body, he can touch. And so by compartmentalizing our lives away from God’s sovereignty, we’re missing so much of what the Sovereign God wants to do in and through us. So I’m so glad we’re starting there because it’s such a foundational conversation.


Mark Turman  09:29

So in that sense, sovereignty and the kingship of God, the kingship of Jesus does not at the same time, turn us into robots whose decisions whose thoughts whose choices don’t matter, those that that element of being made in the image of God is significant if if you part of the challenge I have when thinking about sovereignty is is if if God is sovereign over all things, and ultimately all things serve His purposes, then does that just turn me and us into a bunch of robots who’s no matter what we decide, ultimately, God is going to contravene that if necessary. Because he is sovereign, and it’s all going to be what he wanted to be wanted it to be anyway.


Jim Denison  10:21

Well, that’s the logical answer to the question, right? You know, I’ve got a sovereign, how can we be free? And there are folk, as you know, in theological work, who would go to that extreme, I’ve actually had discussions with theologians who believe that human freewill is only apparent not real, that we have a sense of freedom. But it’s almost like the matrix, where you’re experiencing what you think is freedom, but you’re really plugged into the matrix and you just don’t know it. It’s kind of the thought, and we can’t know it and we can’t know it. That’s the logical noncontradictory answer to the question, How can God be sovereign and we’d be free. The other extreme of that would be a hyper Calvinistic position, if you want to think of it in those kinds of terms. If you want to go to a hyper Armenian position to go to the other side, you would say that God has got sovereignty is limited by our freedom in a way that I think is unbiblical as well. So the middle ground here for me, is to believe that when scripture says, whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life, that we do have free agency, when the Bible says God is not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance, and yet not all come to repentance, some perish, the Bible is very clear about that. And so to me, the middle position here is God is so sovereign, he can allow us freedom and honor that freedom. It’s no denial of a sovereignty, if he has given us freedom that he honors and allows the consequence of, if my kids can steal the car keys from me, I’m not sovereign, if I give them the car keys, and they wrecked the car. It’s not a denial of my sovereignty, because I chose to honor the freedom that I’ve in that sense given them, and that to me is the middle ground. God is sovereign and we are free. Now if that bothers those hearing us today that you’d rather be nor more noncontradictory than that, you’ve got a problem with Trinity is God three or one, you’ve got a problem with incarnation as Jesus fully divine or fully human. You’ve got a problem with Scripture is a divinely inspired to humanly written, one of my introductory theologian, professors at Southwestern seminary 40 years ago, made the point that stays with me to this day, every significant Doctrine of the Faith is a balance. Some would call it an antenna me where you’re accepting apparently contradictory truths as both true, because in my finite, fallen mind, I cannot comprehend the nature of an existing, an infinite God. And so the best I can do is to say whether it’s trinity or incarnation, or sovereignty and freedom, I’m going to hold in balance, God is sovereign, and I am free. But to say it again, it’s no denial of his sovereignty, if he chooses to give us freedom, and chooses to honor that freedom. And that to me, is how the two come together. Would it be? Would it be


Mark Turman  12:51

right in that gym to say that, that in some way, God is choosing to limit himself That’s right, to to create this room for our freedom and for a kind of freedom that is actual authentic? And that does have not only earthly consequences implication, but it has eternal consequence and implication,


Jim Denison  13:14

absolutely. He created us to worship Him. We all know that the first commandment is to love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love your neighbors yourself. Well, worship requires a choice. Robots don’t worship. automatons can’t worship there has to be a choice there to love, whether it’s God or neighbor, or your spouse, or whomever. And so God creating us in His image and his likeness, for personal intimacy with Him had to create us with freedom, he then must honor or it’s not free. If for instance, we are living in a world where let’s say I’m on some diet, low carb diet or some such as that an order a pizza, and the guy comes to the door and what he offers me is yogurt. Well, my freedom was apparent but not real. If there can’t be consequence of freedom, I’m not truly free. I happened to be in Cuba during the Bush Gore election. The hanging chads the whole night.


Mark Turman  14:00

Oh, yeah. One of the Yeah, we thought it was gonna be the most interesting election of our lives, but


Jim Denison  14:06

turned out his turn turned down. Maybe it wasn’t but back in the day, it certainly was it. When I went to bed that night, as I recall, Gore was president when he woke up Bush was president. It took weeks to figure out which was which. And the Cubans. Oddly enough, I was in Cuba, watching all of this. And they were of course, making fun of American elections and how screwed up and messed up they all work. And they were saying, you know, we have elections down here. And we’re good at elections here. They even offered to come monitor our elections for us just this kind of tongue in cheek, I run out sort of and they do they have elections in Cuba, they just only have one


Mark Turman  14:35

candidate. They all they always know from start to finish how it’s going to end. It’s amazing


Jim Denison  14:39

how it turns out that way. So they can say they have free and fair elections. And they do. They have elections at which you are urged to vote there just only one name on the ballot. We would say that’s not what we mean by election. We don’t mean by freedom that you think you have freedom, but God is going to constantly move the consequence of your decision. If that’s the case. Your freedom is only apparent not real. And that’s not what God created us to have a relationship with him on the basis.


Mark Turman  15:06

So you brought up an interesting word by your story, the word election as it relates to sovereignty. In our part of the evangelical world. We we have seen in the last at least couple of decades, the rise of a more, I wouldn’t necessarily say aggressive, aggressive, but the rise of a focus on Reformed theology. So for our audience, kind of take us back to the what you would call the definition of Reformed theology in the context of sovereignty, how you view that how you may agree and or disagree to that idea how it relates to election. So just sum all that up in about two and a half


Jim Denison  15:55

minutes, I’ll do the best I can. If we were in the seminary, we take a semester to do what we’ll do in about five minutes here. That’s because we’re really smart, really smart people. Exactly. And they won’t let us give tests. You know, Hey, Dad, but I used to love giving tests. So so now we’re back into the Reformation era, you’ve got this Catholic church, Catholic Church for 1000 years have been the authority of Western culture. You’ve got this reformation, starting with Martin Luther, the 95 theses, all that, well, Luther is not a really systematic thinker, brilliant thinker, but not so systematic. John Calvin, John Calvin out of the French, who was a he was an attorney before he became a Christian, not that attorneys can’t be Christians, it just that was a sequence, right brings up kind of a systematization, to this Lutheran sort of reformation move, and you have to organize around something’s got to be a hub to the spokes of the wheel, he chooses sovereignty, as the hub into which the spokes will fit. And as Institute’s that moves forward into five or six different editions. Let


Mark Turman  16:48

me pause you for just saying it. So in one sense, would it be correct to say there wasn’t a reformation there were multiple reputable resume reformation going on in Germany, that’s where Luther is considered to be the tip of the spear. But there’s also this going on in Geneva where that’s right. With Calvin, there is a Swiss reformation singly, and then there’s an English version of this and there is all the way. I don’t, I wouldn’t get my dates, right, if I started saying them all the way to John Knox. And so there’s, there’s, there’s not just one reformation, there’s multiple reformations are simultaneously going on. And these reformers, particularly the ones we just mentioned, they are aware of each other. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are directly or deeply collaborating with each other.


Jim Denison  17:39

That’s right. Yeah, they’re not in a day where they can share each other’s Facebook posts, right. So it’s just really hard to get that kind of


Mark Turman  17:44

client can send emails with their most recent thinking, going back and forth. No, tragically


Jim Denison  17:48

  1. And they have overlap. For instance, Lutheran Zwingli, had debates about the Lord’s Supper and what it meant and what the elements meant that sort of thing. But you’ve got radical reformation, magisterial reformation different ways of doing this. Well, Calvin in Geneva is the one that brings forward this systematic approach to thinking about reformation theology, as an attorneys mind typically would do exactly so and kind of an Aristotelian noncontradiction, inside all of that. So it uses sovereignty, as the doctrine around which to organize the various strata of reforming reformation thinking, and this eventually gets to be known as reformed, thinking even within the Reformation, as opposed to the free church tradition, you might think of various other ways in which this could be done, gets some ways different even from the Lutheran expression of this in the so called reformed, and certainly very different from the English reformation. And the way in which the 39th articles gets developed all that, well, inside all of this over time, eventually, you get to I think, 1648, it was the Synod of Dort, if I’m not mistaken. And this kind of coalification of Calvin’s ideas into what’s known as the tulip are the five points of Calvinism. Now these Express Calvin in ways that even Calvin didn’t himself, actually, you could say, Calvinism went further than Calvin did.


Mark Turman  18:59

Really. Okay, so. So the advent of the tulip is not solely his work. No,


Jim Denison  19:05

that’s exactly right. And there are various editions of the, of the institute’s that he wrote as well, that kind of more progressively moved toward what you think of as a tool. But you can’t just pull up the institutes and find the to lip in the index. It’s more a way that reformed thinkers tried to kind of synergize and summarize their thinking. And as is always the case, when you try to summarize a complex subject, simply kind of like we are now I guess, you have to leave a lot out, right? So nonetheless, the five points of the two lip T is total depravity, which isn’t to say that all people are always evil all the time. It means that sin affects every part of our lives. Now, that’s in contradistinction to Thomas of Aquino, Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic tradition that would say the mind is not as fallen as the body. They wouldn’t say it that way. But in Thomas, I understand my understanding reaches its limits, and then I will believe, well, we’re gonna come along and say no, the mind is fallen. total depravity affects every dimension of our lives would be what


Mark Turman  19:59

the Turn of the apostle Paul, nothing in my flesh is good. That’s right


Jim Denison  20:03

Romans seven, you know in the struggle inside that you is unconditional divine election, the idea that God chooses in a sense and there’s nothing we can do to earn it. We can’t, on some level, earn a relationship with God through the sacraments, through obedience to the dictums of the church,


Mark Turman  20:19

none of that or any kind of OB, or any kind of action on our backs,


Jim Denison  20:23

right, we must be saved by God’s grace, not by our works is essentially what this is, l was limited atonement, which can mean Christ died only for those who would eventually choose him. Or it can mean that His elect that His Atonement is only operative, for those who choose him, we’ll come back to that two ways of doing it. I irresistible grace, that those whom God wishes and chooses to receive this grace will irresistibly received this grace because God is sovereign, because it is irresistible. It is irresistible from a sovereign God. And that’s expression to God’s sovereignty, how can God be sovereign and at the end of the day, anyone refuse his invitation into His kingdom. And then p is the perseverance of the saints, those who have trusted in Him, those that have made Christ their Lord become children of God, and will always be children of God can’t lose their salvation, which again, would be different than the Armenian expression of all that, right. So that’s what the two lip five points typically is meant to is understood to mean. And a five point Calvinist would be a person who accepts all five of those statements. Now, finally, to answer your question about my own position, and this, I would be at a three and a half point Calvinist, I certainly believe t total depravity is correct, right. I believe unconditional divine election is correct. For by grace, are you saved and that not of yourselves, it’s a gift of God Not of works, lest any man should boast? If by limited atonement, you mean that the effect of the Atonement is limited to Christians? I agree. Otherwise, you’re a Universalist. Right? Christ died for everybody. So everybody goes to heaven, whether they know it or not. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine for polio, that keeps you from polio, whether you’ve heard of Jonas Salk or not, that would be what’s called Christian universalism. Now, what they usually mean by that well, is that the Atonement is limited to those who would be chosen by God for the elect, I don’t believe that,


Mark Turman  22:11

which would be into the fourth part of the tool. That’s right. The third and the fourth part. That’s right. I do not believe in irresistible grace. That’s where the half part of your agreement comes in,


Jim Denison  22:21

is on the L. That’s right. Depends on what you do with L. I can do that or not. I can’t do irresistible grace for all sorts of biblical reasons we can talk about back to your earlier question, Is God sovereign? Are we free, and my belief is God is sovereign, He’s given us freedom, he chooses to honor even if that freedom means that I choose against him for all of eternity. So I can’t do irresistible grace.


Mark Turman  22:41

And in the story of the rich young ruler, who has a station with Jesus, and if my scripture memory is correct here is the only person who basically turns down Jesus his offer and walks away, at least in a personal one on one conversation and, and about the only experience of conversation that we see of Jesus being an evangelist, where you, I don’t know if you’d want to say it this way, you say that Jesus failed as an evangelist in this conversation. But it’s not really his failure. It’s the young rulers failure. That’s right. But it also, there’s an indication of Jesus’s grief and sadness about this apparently, highly successful, intelligent man walking away from the reality of both his need for grace and his inability to do anything to access it, it could only be something he would receive not something that he would, if you try to earn grace, you’ve cancelled out the very definition of grace. Exactly. And so the the idea that grace is irresistible in that sense, and either universal or irresistible to those who have been selected or elected, really starts to become problematic. In my, in my full reading of Scripture, understanding scripture, that really becomes a problem.


Jim Denison  24:09

It really does. In my mind, it absolutely does. And I certainly believe with the perseverance of the saints. That’s why I’d be about a three and a half point Calvinist, but back to the irresistible because you’re right, that’s really the tip of the spear. In this conversation. One could say, well, the rich and really clearly wasn’t elected. He’s clearly wasn’t chosen by God for salvation. But at the same time, the text says that Jesus loved him. I mean, literally says that Jesus, looking at him, loved him. And as you say, Jesus was grieved by his decision. So it’s hard to imagine that God loves and is grieved by those people he has chosen never to accept His salvation. He has chosen them for hell. He has chosen them never to be able to never to have the grace to accept Grace if you want to look at it that way. And yet he loves them and is grieved by the decision that they had no ability not to make seems difficult. It’s a place where I think, and this is just my speaking her and I certainly don’t mean to be pejorative by this. But Calvin’s insistence on consistency, his insistence on Aristotelian noncontradiction, his lawyers mind comes to a place where I think he tries to be more systematic than scripture is, there needs to be some mystery here. Because the natural man doesn’t understand the things of God. And because even as we are safe, still, his minds higher than ours, his thoughts are higher than ours, there’s a mystery in sovereignty and freedom that we solve by creating a greater problem than the one we solved.


Mark Turman  25:32

Okay, so come back around to what you said a little bit earlier is this, possibly an expression in Calvin and his and his followers that came to think in ongoing ways with him and even beyond him, they’re, they’re uncomfortable with that need for balance or to live in tension. I can remember when my pastor preached on this years ago, that we were confronted in Scripture with these two opposing ideas, or what looked like opposing ideas to us, but that are clearly both taught, the need for us to choose and respond to grace by faith, and the sovereignty and election of God, that what we must do in our limited capacity is hold them in tension with each other, and, and by faith come to a place of, I don’t know if he would call it comfort, but to come to terms with the mystery of faith, and to live in that way. And, and you and I would perhaps say that those who want to try to work all of this out and to eliminate these these lines of mystery, that’s just somewhere you and I don’t go with them,


Jim Denison  26:46

ultimately, not just on the subject, as we said before, is God three? Or is God one, right? Aristotle makes you choose noncontradiction makes you choose? Is Jesus fully divine or fully human? Now we can go back to all the Christological controversies and the historians and the ascetics and all these ideas. Is Jesus truly human? If he is, how can you be divine? If he’s divine? How can be human? How can I be a table than a person at the same time? We could have the same conversation about Scripture? Is Scripture so fully divine that there’s no human agency there? It just dropped out of heaven. We certainly see different personalities. You see Luke’s Medical language in Luke’s letters. And what you don’t see elsewhere is a dictation theory across scripture, part of its dictated 10 commandments. But is that true of all of Scripture? What about personalities in different languages in the Greek and all of that Hebrew, and so forth. So there’s a balance here, but at backup and make one philosophical observation that’s kind of behind all this. A lot of this goes back to Aristotle’s law of non contradiction. So Aristotle’s father was a doctor Aristotle’s considered the first biologist, he wants to organize all of human knowledge into a system of thinking, he just has that very small ambition of organizing all of human all of you. Well, you got to have some ways to do that. So he doesn’t invent but he codifies the laws of logic, non contradiction, its identity, excluded middle as a non contradiction to the three of non contradictions kind of the central one, that becomes really the test for truth in Western culture, non contradiction, all right. Aristotle, even in his own writings, never applied that beyond physical capacity, and physical discussion. He applied that not to metaphysics, that which goes beyond physics, but only to the physical world itself. You want non contradiction when you’re with your doctor, right? And he says, well, it could be a tumor, it could be a headache. So we’ll just take some aspirin and see, you don’t want that. You want non contradiction. When you’re dealing with automotive science when you’re dealing with physics. That’s where Aristotle meant it, we’ve picked it up and moved it out of even Aristotle’s intention to make it apply to metaphysical reality, where it’s like trying to measure a relationship with a test tube, where you’re asking how much to seven way what color is three, the Jewish mind doesn’t do this to this day. The Jewish mind is intensely practical. It’s not irrational. But it recognizes that a great part of our lives is non rational relationships that can’t be measured in physical terms, that sort of thing. So it’s a category mistake to pick up non contradiction and try to use it to solve sovereignty and freedom. Or God’s nature is three in one, or the nature of scripture or the incarnation of Jesus. I spent three weeks in Turkey some years ago, writing a book on the seven churches revelation, my tour guide, a very brilliant archaeologist in a Muslim, the his great struggle, as we understand talking to Muslims is Trinity. Because they believe we worship three gods, right, he couldn’t get past my claim that God is three and one, because he had to have non contradiction about his theology. That’s what appealed to him about Islam. And my response to my friend was to say, If God is bigger than us, our minds, by definition can’t understand him. And if if my mind can He’s not God,


Mark Turman  29:52

exactly. If we would you want to God that you could comprehend and understand exactly with no element of mystery in one Under


Jim Denison  30:00

Mark Twain, the great theologian Mark Twain said, If I could understand every word of the Bible, I wouldn’t believe that God wrote it. There’s truth in that there is now that can be a cop out. That can be just don’t try hard to think about it, do your best to think about it. Get to the place of resolving tension wherever you can, in your faith. But understand if you’re talking about the nature of God Himself, at the end of the day, if my mind could understand and he wouldn’t be God, or I would be God, those your choice


Mark Turman  30:26

and we and we need to stand in awe when I hear things in the Bible, especially as I say, it says, as Isaiah is communicating this His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways are higher than his way we would want it to be that way. Right? I think it was the poet Browning, who said that unless a man’s grant, reach exceed his grasp, what’s a heaven for? Right? And that, yes, there is something in us that God is placed in us as a beautiful gift to constantly pursue understanding to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind. A big part of what Denison forum is all about big reason for this podcast is to help people to think well, about faith and about life in the intersection of our faith with life. But if we need to come to a place where we we are comfortable, not understanding everything, that we live our lives, as Corinthians says, seeing through a glass dimly, but one day face to face one day face to face one day, we will know as as we encounter God in an ultimate sense, but we should not be angered by it, we should not we will at times, perhaps be troubled by it or confused by it. I remember hearing reading a statement by John Claypool, he was a contemporary of Charles Spurgeon. And he said, You know, when I’m reading the Bible, and I’m teaching or preaching on something that is talking about election, or God’s sovereignty, predestination, I take comfort in that. But when I’m reading a passage, or teaching a passage that has to do with my responsibility of response, I take, I take that as a challenge and a responsibility that I need to embrace and hold them together and hold them together. That’s right. And to not see them and not push this to the place of non contradiction, where logic might want to take us, but to let them stand on their own.


Jim Denison  32:34

And at the end of the day, if we don’t do that, we can create the illogical damage that has practical consequences,


Mark Turman  32:39

as you say, we create bigger problems than exact and then the challenge of holding these things in tension.


Jim Denison  32:44

One example of that is the way that some not all by any means. But some reformed thinkers, some even hyper Calvinist have come to the place of denying the necessity of evangelism and missions. God has chosen who the Elector there’s nothing you can do about it. So they’re there for as no reason for you to give your life to share the gospel with them. There’s the story some doubt the reality of it may be a little apocryphal, but when William Carey felt that God was calling him to India, and he was expressing this with a group of Baptist ministers in England, and the man in charge of the meeting, wrapped his gavel and said, young men sit down when God pleases to save the heath and no do it without your help or mind. There’s these hardshell Baptist, as they’re called, that are dying, because they don’t do evangelism. Because in their expression of this conversation, God knows the elect, I don’t, there’s nothing I can do. If they’re not elect, I can’t get them to Christ. If they are, I don’t need to get them to Christ. Now, the other side of that would be the way Spurgeon would do it. He was himself a very committed what we would call five point Calvinist. And his point was, if you’re in the elect, and I share the Gospel, you’ll come to Christ. If you’re not in the elected issue of the gospel, you won’t either way, it’s not my responsibility for the outcome, only for the invitation, which is a great way to do evangelism and be a Calvinist. So I’m not here to say that Calvinism necessarily kills evangelism and missions if you do it the way Spurgeon did, but some have done it in this kind of hardshell sort of deterministic way that really does impede evangelism and missions. Just as one example of how resolving these conflicts can create a greater problem than it solves. It’s been done in Trinitarian thinking, you can get to Modalism. He was God the Father in the Old Testament, God the Son in the New Testament, God, the Spirit now, is the way that you resolve Trinity in Aristotelian terms. Well, if I’m in the spirit, praying to the Father, as the sons praying for me, how does that work? Right? In Modalism, for instance, there have been resolutions of Jesus and incarnation that made him so fully human, that he couldn’t be a divine sacrifice, or so fully divine. He can’t understand the sin for which he’s dying. We want to hold a balance here, don’t we? Right? And again, there’s a mystery in our faith. But Mark, that’s true, not just of our relationship with God. I’ve been married 41 years, and I am so over married. I so out kicked my coverage. But Allah volumous did both of us. But everyday, we would have to admit there’s a mystery in marriage. There’s a mystery in being religious. heated so intimately to another human being whose mind isn’t my mind, whose thoughts are not my thoughts whose thoughts are so much above my thoughts so much of the time, there’s a mystery to this isn’t there? There’s a mystery to all relationships, no relationship can be proven, only experienced. Right? And ultimately, if we’re not willing to live in mystery, we can’t live in relationship.


Mark Turman  35:19

Yeah, as you I’m glad you brought that up the sense of what people in healthy marriages realize and and kind of stand in all of often what people that desire marriage or experiencing perhaps an unhealthy season of marriage long for is this mysterious oneness. The Bible calls oneness in marriage, where you, you still sense that you are yourself and your spouse is is their own person, but that there’s something that has come between you that has a life of its own? And is this mysterious reality of, of deep connection and intimacy that the Bible describes as oneness that, I believe is only available in the context of a Christian marriage where where the Spirit of God is making that happen? Absolutely. And in the same way happens in our relationship with God. That’s why the Bible says that marriage is something of a window that gives us an understanding, in a way to our relationship with God. Ephesians five is telling us that marriage is not simply for your own personal enjoyment or benefit it is that but it’s actually deeper than that. It’s bigger than that, and becomes this window of Revelation. But it helps us to think well, because as you said, if you if you’re not careful, you can come up with ways of thinking that are damaging and dangerous. In some ways. I, you know, I start thinking this out of my mind, well, if I believe in limited atonement, and irresistible grace, and that that is only for certain individuals, then I might be inclined to pursue? Well, if we start identifying those people who haven’t accepted faith, and that meant, they were never intended by God to be a part of the Kingdom of God, and we could think less of them, we could treat them differently. Because obviously, they’re not in the elect, they’re not in the group. And so that makes us different from them, we would easily get to the thought of being better than them. It’s good point that they were perhaps even created by God for the purpose of destruction


Jim Denison  37:29

called superlab. Syrian predestination.


Mark Turman  37:32

Okay, if you say so.


Jim Denison  37:34

And that is a theological position. Yeah. You know, that it’s by God’s grace that anyone is saved. And so I certainly didn’t earn my salvation. But the same God who chooses grace can choose not, you know, and so in that I hadn’t thought of it till you said it. But there absolutely can be some elitism in this. Well, God clearly loved me enough to create me to be elected and clearly not this person. And so now we’re moving into exactly what the enemy wants us to do as we’re relating to our secular world. And that’s the spirit of elitism, the spirit are better than it’s the opposite of speaking the truth in love, right? It’s the opposite of beggars, helping beggars find bread, it’s the opposite of sharing with humility, paying forward the grace that God has given us, which in all the cultural issues we’ve discussed, is vital. I can’t have a conversation with someone who disagrees about LGBTQ issues. For instance, if I come across as superior than as judging, as condemned Natori, why would they hear me? How could they hear me, we can have that discussion across the board, whether it’s that or another subject, this kind of elitism you’re describing isn’t necessarily part of Calvinism, it’s not necessarily part of Reformed thinking at all. And I can certainly point to other directions and other dimensions of theology that are prone to these issues as well. It’s just for me something to be aware of. Right, something to know because even though I’m not a five point Calvinist, I can still think, because I’m going to heaven, and you’re not. It’s like the poster that my wife once saw that said, God loves you, but he loves me better. You know, there can be that sense that we all have to be aware of, and repenting of, and refusing every day of our lives.


Mark Turman  39:07

So if, if your faith is not marked by a deep sense of humility, and a deep sense of wonder that, as you’ve said several times, God loves each of us as if we it was if we were the only one.


Jim Denison  39:22

And that’s Augustine, I’ll take credit for it. But it’s Augustine, and God loves each of us as if they’re only one of us. And that


Mark Turman  39:27

oughta bring us to such a place of humble gratitude. And this place of all, as we stand in contemplate that God would even allow us to have significant thought and some understanding of his sovereignty. And at the same time, his incredible love for us to give us the opportunity of real choice, not imagined choice, but real choice that matters in terms of loving and responding and relating to him. First, John, we love Him because He first loved us that we have the opportunity to actually experience that and respond to that. And that would be our hope for everyone that comes in contact with us with our ministry with this podcast that they would have a sense that this sovereign in comprehensible amazing God has reached down to us, and He wants us to know Him. John 17 Three has been on my mind for months now. This is eternal life that you know, the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. We hope that that’s true for you. We want to thank you for joining us for this edition of the Denison Forum Podcast. If you’d like to send us a question, please do that by responding through Denison forum.org. Thank you for being a part of this today. We look forward to future conversations.

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