Many of the pagan religions had a concept of a supreme creator-god, the one who brought the world into existence, but, for one reason or another, was no longer actively involved in his creation. Even the Greek gods and goddesses who dwelt on Mt. Olympus were basically alienated from man and very rarely became involved with him. Aristotle's Unmoved Mover was totally uninterested in, and indifferent to, affairs on this earthly plane. Epicurus' gods dwelt in undisturbed bliss in the alleged void between the universes, without thought of human affairs, eating, drinking, and speaking Greek.
17th and 18th century Deism, although not classified as pagan, is the classic example of the world's inclination toward the idea of an absentee God or gods. According to Deists, the Creator set the universe into motion and endowed it with everything necessary (i.e., natural laws) for it to continue indefinitely. As such, the world is the perfect perpetual motion machine. Since creation, the God of the Deists has not interfered with the natural laws He set in motion at the beginning. In describing Deism, R. H. Tawney wrote: ...God has been thrust into the frigid altitudes of infinite space. There is a limited monarchy in heaven, as well as on earth. Providence was the spectator of the curious machine which it had constructed and set in motion, but the operation of which it was neither able nor willing to control... (The Acquisitive Society, 1924, p. 13).
Thomas The Age of Reason Paine, Thomas Nature and Nature's God Jefferson, and Benjamin God helps those who help themselves Franklin, to mention just three of our Founding Fathers, fully imbibed the Deistic concept of God. Although religion was important to these men, it was, unfortunately, the rationalistic religion of nature. It was Paine who said, My own mind is my church. Franklin went a step further and advocated a public religion that would promote good citizenship and morality, but would not meddle in affairs confined solely to the realm of reason (e.g., science and politics).
These ideas reflected the views of Voltaire, who said: The only book that should be read is the great book of nature. The sole religion is to worship God and to be an honorable man. This pure and everlasting religion cannot possibly produce harm (From Andre Maurois' introduction to Candide, 1959, p. 6). Thomas Jefferson's Nature and Nature's God, mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, was, contrary to what some have thought, a reflection of Deist, not Christian, conceptsconcepts which, once divorced from any idea of a Creator, would eventually develop into the secular humanism so prevalent in modern-day America.
The Deistic world view developed, in part, because of Newtonian physics, which at the time was a fairly new scientific theory. Newton's theory made it easy to think of the world as a great machine (viz., a clock) pre-set to run with amazing regularity. This new way of thinking played right into the hands of the Deists. In his description of Deism, Augustus H. Strong said, God builds a house, shuts himself out, locks the door, and then ties his own hands in order to make sure of never using the key (Systematic Theology, 3 volumes in 1, 1907, p. 15).
What this meant was that, according to Deists, reason alone (i.e., reason unaided by special or supernatural revelation) would provide the ultimate solution to every problem. Unaided by any outside influence, man was the answer to his own problem. Eventually, this kind of thinking would come to be reflected in Humanist Manifestos I and II, which said, No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.
This clock-work universe was a powerful influence in the development of American culture. Because we came to believe that nature is totally self-contained, we learned the necessity of being self-sufficient. As Americans who had, quite ironically, learned from our Puritan forefathers the necessity of hard work, we hunkered down and learned the lesson of self-sufficiency well. Supposing that the only two elements that keep the world going are natural law and human reason, we came to believe that man can attack and overcome by education and technical means, and good will, all the evils of life (E. Graham Waring, editor, Deism and Natural Religion, p. xiii).
Understandably, Calvinism, the then prevalent Christian way of thinking, suffered immensely under this new way of thinking. The Calvinistic idea that man had absolutely nothing to do with his own salvation made little sense to the frontiersman, who knew only too well that his temporal salvation was in his own hands (William Warren Sweet, Religion in the Development of American Culture: 1765-1840, preface).
This new paradigm served us well. Realizing our own potential, and knowing our need to save ourselves, we pursued the improvment of our predicament with a passion that has yet to be surpassed. We improved our knowledge of our surroundings and discovered cures for diseases that had plagued mankind down through the centuries. Collectively and individually, we improved our lot. We invented machines that helped us grow in industrial might. Having conquered the work-a-day world, we then turned our attention to home and leisure and created gadgets that made life so much more comfortable than it had been before.
Slowly, but surely, we developed into the masters of our own destiny. As such, we have become a nation of technological giants. Yes, there are those in other nations who make more money than we do, but no one actually lives better than we do. But in the process of becoming technological giants, we evolved into a nation of moral and intellectual pygmies.
Today, hardly anyone wants to think and know. Instead, we desire to feel and experience. Therefore, that which reinforces our feelings about the rightness of our religion is not doctrine, which demands thinking, but sentiment, which only craves feelings. Even the goal of modern Christianity is not to change the hearer's mind, as much as it is to change his feelings. One such sentiment making the Christian circuit that aptly demonstrates this point is the idea that in order to heal emotionally we must first learn to forgive God for all the hurt we have experienced in our lives. Why? Because a God who is not omnipotent, like an imperfect parent, ought to be forgiven for His shortcommings. From a biblical standpoint, such thinking is obviously wrong. But modern Christendom, which has thrown sound biblical doctrine overboard, no longer cares what people think about Bible doctrine. What it wants to know is how they feel: What do you feel is your problem? What do you feel should be the most important thing in your life? How do you feel about this, that and the other? Such has aptly been called the religion of Dr. Feelgood, and there is no doubt that it is the religion of American Christendom.
This is the philosophical and theological environment in which we currently live. It appears that many of us who are members of Christ's church have not immunized ourselves from such. In fact, some of us have allowed such thinking to affect our minds. Having been taught that the age of miracles is over, some of us feel very comfortable with the materialistic rationalism now so prevalent in our society. Such comfortableness is a serious mistake that reflects a critical misunderstanding of God's Word. Yes, the Bible teaches that the miracles (i.e., signs and wonders) that were so essential to the initial confirmation of God's Word (Mark 16:20; Hebrews 2:3-4) are no longer necessary (cf. 1 Corinthians 13:8-12). Yes, the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25) has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and, therefore, does not need to be continually confirmed or verified by miracles. However, and herein lies the crux of the matter, God, who is, by His very nature, supernatural, is still very much involved in this world (cf. Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:3). Standing above and apart from our experiences (i.e., that which we can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell), there is a supernatural dynamic at work. Unlike the sham gods of heathenism, Jehovah remains both interested and active in His creation.
Therefore, the idea of providence, the concept of a God who is active in His creation, is an important tenent of New Testament Christianity. In fact, the concept is so indigenous to a biblical world view that we have never known a Christian to actually deny it. What we have heard them do, however, is to describe God's providence in such a way as to, in essence, deny it.
For example, I know of brethren who will not pray for the healing of those who have been classified as terminally ill. To do so, they claim, would be asking God to perform a miracle, and God, they are quick to tell us, does not work that way today. When you ask these brethren if they believe in the providence of God, they say, Of course! What, then, do they mean when they say, God's providence? They mean, God working in the natural world through natural means. This, of course, seems to be nothing more than Thomas Jefferson's Nature and Nature's God. Therefore, when one of these brethren speaks of God's providence, while at the same time circumscribing this providence to nature, he is engaged in orthotalksy, whether he realizes it or not.
Teaching what the Bible says about the chastening of the Lord (Hebrews 12:5) meets with a great deal of resistance in many churches today. Why? Because, we are told, God simply does not work that way today. What way? Well, you know, miracles; He no longer works miracles today. So? Well, if He were actually in the business of chastening anyone today, He would be interjecting Himself into the world, which, by definition, would be a supernatural act, something He has said in His Word that He would not be doing in this age. But where in His Word has God ever taught such a doctrine? Unfortunately, it's about this time in the dialog that someone usually begins to get upset.
Actually, the Scriptures say: My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons (Hebrews 12:5-8). In other words, the Bible teaches that the Lord is actively involved in disciplining His children. How He does this, I cannot be sure, but there is nothing in the Bible that teaches me that it must be done only in and through the Word, as many seem to think. Furthermore, anyone who gives lip-service to God's providencein this case, special providencebut denies He is involved in the chastening of His sons, is engaged in orthotalksy.
After doing some writing on the activity of Satan and his demonic horde, a preacher contacted me about what he thought to be problems with what I had written. His position, which has been widely read in the brotherhood, is that Satan, since his defeat by Jesus Christ, is locked away in prison and has no immediate input into the struggle currently taking place between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. Satan's only influence on the world, according to this brother, is residual. His agents are not demons, but men and women who have been influenced to do evil by the false teachings that have filtered down through the ages. According to this brother, the doctrines of demons, that some were going to fall prey to in the latter times (1 Timothy 4:1), were not doctrines taught by demons; they were, instead, false doctrines about demons, who were, in reality, nothing more than the figments of man's imagination.
Although it is true that Satan has been defeated by our Lord and is, consequently, limited in what he can do, he is still very much a part of the battle raging here on planet Earth. The Bible makes it clear that this defeated enemy is still a formidable foe, who goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). When I asked this brother about this verse, he said it was just a metaphor and was not meant to be taken literally. Acknowledging that the passage was speaking of the Devil metaphorically, I asked him if he thought the metaphor accurately depicted his position that Satan is locked away in a prison somewhere and is unable to have any direct influence on the world in which we live. In reply, he just repeated that the passage was a metaphor and not to be taken literally. To me, it sounded like this brother was saying 1 Peter 5:8 is no longer valid.
In contrast to this, the Bible teaches that we must guard our minds against Satan's onslaughts. It is clear that the Devil can both blind (2 Corinthians 4:4) and corrupt our minds through deception (2 Corinthians 11:3). In opposition to the wisdom that comes from above, the Bible teaches there is the wisdom that comes from belowa wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and devilish (James 3:15). Those exhibiting this kind of wisdom are walking according to the prince of this world (Ephesians 2:2-3). Even when I grant that the immediate cause of much of this is residual, as my esteemed brother correctly teaches, this in no way prevents Satan from being directly (personally) or indirectly (through his angels, demons, evil spirits, or human agents) involved in deluding and blinding mankind to the Truth. And although it is absolutely true that none of this can happen without our cooperation, it does, in fact, happen. How do I know? The Bible tells me so.
This is not all. The Bible teaches that if we do not love the truth, God will permit us to be deluded (2 Thessalonians 7-12). The one who has God's permission to do this deluding is the the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:2). Therefore, we are instructed to put on the whole armor of God so that we will be able to stand against all the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). Incidentally, the very context of Ephesians 6 is, For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (v. 12). This is not just theological fiddle-faddle, as some seem to think. This is, instead, the clear and emphatic teaching of God's Word. This is why the Scriptures instruct us to gird up the loins of [our] mind[s] (1 Peter 1:13). Unfortunately, too many of us think and act like there is no real battle going on today. But make no mistake about itthere is a real battle going on today, and the object of this battle is our minds.
When I asked my brother why the Holy Spirit would have spent so much time warning us about something that could not, according to his belief, happen anyway, he insisted, quite emphatically, that Satan was not able to put ideas into our minds today. When I asked, Why not?, he first argued that it would be a violation of our free wills. So, I pointed out to him that Satan put something into the mind of Judas without violating his free will (John 13:2). He then argued that if Satan were permitted to do this today, then he would be exercising more power than God. How was this?, I asked. Well, he said, God works only in and through the Word today, and if Satan can put things into our minds, then he is exercising more power than God. (Although this quote may not be word for word, it accurately represents the essence of what this brother said.)
I assured my brother that although I understood the Bible to be teaching that no one can be saved apart from his obedience to the gospel, I do not believe it teaches that God is limited to working only in and through the Word, whether it be in conversion, or anywhere else. Well, he said, name something God does today apart from His Word. I then spent a few moments trying to assure him that I did not want to denigrate the Word of God in any sense. Nevertheless, I told him, I believe there is nothing in the Bible that teaches that God's providence (whether general or special) must take place only in and through the Word. In conjunction with this, I pointed out that if wisdom came only in and through the Word, then the command in James 1:5-7 is grossly misleading. In this passage, we are asked to pray for wisdom, which the Lord will then give to those who ask in faith. Contextually, this wisdom is not limited to a study of God's Word, which, I pointed out, does provide wisdom, but encompasses that which is received directly from God in response to our prayers. But, according to my brother, this is simply not so. He contended, unflinchingly, that because we no longer live in the miraculous age, God has limited His actions to the Word. Therefore, he argued, if Satan could directly influence our minds today, then he would definitely be more powerful than God. The conclusion of the matter, as far as theaforementioned brother is concerned, is that God is limited to working only in and through the Word today. Any other conclusion, he believes, leads us into the deluded fallacies of Pentecostalism.
Brethren, the Scriptures teach that we are engaged in a great spiritual battle against a mighty host of spiritual wickedness. That there are more than a few among us who do not understand this is indicative of the degree to which we have absorbed the spirit of this age. It seems that some of us have become 20th century Sadducees, believing neither in angels nor spirits (Acts 23:8), and knowing neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29).
Yes, Pentecostalism is certainly filled to the brim with deluded fallacies, and there can be no doubt that it embraces a passel of hallucinative fantasies. But as wrong as Pentecostalism is, at least Pentecostals believe in a God who is still actively involved in His creation. That so many of God's people no longer believe that He is so involved is, in my opinion, a grievous error that plagues the modern church, and is a reflection of the teachings of the modified neo-Deists who stand in our pulpits today and preach both an absentee God and a watered down Gospel
Some, no doubt, will be terribly troubled by what I am saying. Others will detect in what I have written an uncouth and impertinent stridency. In fact, one dear brother, who I greatly respect for his work's sake, said I sounded like I had a chip on my shoulder. Well, he may be right about me having a chip on my shoulder. But, I think he may be wrong about just what that chip is. I plead guilty to feeling under tremendous pressure concerning these things. I attribute this to a zeal for the Lord's house (John 2:17), a reverent fear of He Who Is (Proverbs 9:10; Isaiah 8:13), and a genuine love of the Truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Of course, I pray that I am right about this. If I know my own heart, I am not trying to get even with anyone. As I have already said, I believe preaching to be valuable work. Therefore, I am not anti-preacher or anti-preaching. Nevertheless, I am convinced that many Christians today wrongly believe what they believe, not because they have learned it from the Bible, but because they have learned it by listening to the modified neo-Deists in our pulpits. Let me be frank. At issue is not whether the things I am saying are deemed by some to be rude and discordantat issue is this: Is what I am saying the truth?
When a knowledgeable Buddhist is first introduced to Christianity, the first thing that would strike him as novel about Jehovah is not that He is a God of love or that He is a God of self-sacrifice. He would, instead, be struck with the idea that Jehovah is a God who actively participates in the world. As was previously pointed out, many religions and classic philosophies picture a God who is absent from the world rather than active in it. But this is not so when it comes to the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. As Jesus said in John 5:17, My Father has been working until now. In other words, there never has been a time when God was not actively involved in His creation.
Unfortunately, many Christians believe, along with the Deists, that God created the universe, set the natural laws in motion, and now sits back and lets the whole thing run on its own. In fairness to these Christians, and in contrast to the Deists, it ought to be pointed out that they believe the Lord has, on various occasions, interjected Himself into His creation. In other words, they believe the Creator has from time to time acted in, and upon, His creation. Primarily, they believe this participation was for the express purpose of effecting man's redemption. Therefore, they do not believe that God cannot be active in His creation. Instead, they believe that Jehovah is not, by His own choice, at this time, actively involved in the world. I believe I know how and why they have come to these conclusions. I am even sympathetic. Even so, I do not think their conclusions are consistent with the truths taught in the Bible.
The scope of this study does not permit us to enter into a detailed study of the providence of God, or, as I now prefer to call it, the hand of God (1 Peter 5:6). Nevertheless, the nature of this study compels me to mention some things. I do not, for instance, deny the reality of what we call the laws of nature. These laws (e.g., gravity, motion, physics, chemistry, and thermodynamics) are well-established and very much a part of our ordered universe. It seems to me that the actual existence of these laws cannot be intelligently denied. But, when we speak of these laws of nature, are we talking about purely descriptive devices, or are we talking about things that actually explain why things happen? In other words, do the natural laws only describe the way things happen or do they actually explain why things happen the way they do? I believe a correct understanding of natural laws must combine both of these concepts. The next question ought to be: Why should there be such laws in the first place? All of us, I am sure, answer this question the same way: Because God created them! Yes, this is certainly true, and even a Deist could answer this way, but the crucial question is: Is there more to this? I answer by saying, yes, there is, and it is at this point that I begin to part company with my modified neo-Deist brethren.
The Bible teaches that not only did God create the natural laws, and then set them in motion, but He also keeps them in motion (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3). This means that God's work with reference to the natural laws was not over when He finished creating the universe. Even now, He continues to uphold all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3). That is to say, In Him all things consist, or hold together (Colossians 1:17).
This means that in Him the atomic particles cling to their positions around their nuclei. It means that in Him molecules cohere to form elements. In Him the elements form various substances and bodies. In Him the gravitational pull of the earth causes us to stick to its surface. In Him the planets revolve around the sun. In Him our galaxy holds together as a clump of stars rushing with great speed through the massive expanse of the universe. And what does all this mean? It means that God continues to preserve the whole universe, preventing it from slipping back into non-existence or nothingness. It means that even the most fundamental physical law of the universe, the first law of thermodynamics (i.e., the law of energy conservation) remains in force as a direct result of God's providence. This means the creation is totally and continuously dependent upon the power of God for its existence (i.e., in Him we live, and move, and have our being).
Finally, although Jehovah must never be thought of as the theologian's god of the gaps, it just may be that the quirkiness that seems to be taking place on the sub-atomic level (we're talking quantum physics here), namely, effects without causes, is nothing other than the hand of God supernaturally holding all things together by the word of His power. I am not saying it is, mind you. What I am saying is that it could be. It is certainly not inconsistent with what the Bible teaches concerning God's providential care. (Incidentally, the fact that Colossians 1:17 and Hebrews 1:3 specifically mention God the Son should not be interpreted to mean that the Father and Holy Spirit are no longer involved in the work of providence. On the contrary, these passages simply include the Son in this work and, thereby, serve to affirm His true identity as God.)
In concluding this part of our study, let me restate my position as succinctly as I know how. The God of the Bible is not an absentee God. He is not uninvolved in His creation. He is now, has been in the past, and will continue to be in the future, actively upholding all things by the word of His power. While He has bestowed a degree of autonomy upon His creation, even providing the crowning glory of His creation with free moral agency, He, nevertheless, reserves for Himself the final decision as to whether a particular event occurs or not. Because He is who He is (Exodus 3:14), Jehovah can allow something to happen in association with His natural laws, or He can intervene to prevent it. By manipulating, limiting, or even overriding these laws, He can cause another eventone that would not have normally taken placeto occur instead.
On certain occasions, and for His own purposes, He has even granted this ability to Satan (cf. Job 1:12-19). Among other things, Satan, with God's permission, caused the great wind that destroyed Job's family. In Job 2:7, this arch enemy of all mankind is identified as the one who smote Job. What does all this mean? The ramifications reach far beyond the scope of this study. But of this one thing I am certain: God is the absolute Sovereigni.e., Ruler, King, Authorityover all creation (cf. Daniel 4:32-34; 5:21; Psalm 103:19; 145:1-21; Ephesians 1:20-22; Jude 25). As Sovereign, He retains the right to intervene in and overrule any, or all, of His natural laws.
In truth, one day, all the universeand this includes the laws of naturewill be dissolved by God (2 Peter 3:10-13). That which was brought into existence and is currently maintained by the word of His power shall be demolished by this same power. It is only the Eternal One, the One who was, is, and shall be, who has the capacity to be the Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer of the universe. In all eternity, only He is present. Accordingly, the one and only true God in no way resembles the absentee, do-nothing gods of either heathenism or modern theology. The idea that the laws of nature are so fixed as to leave no room for divine intervention is completely foreign to the pages of the Bible. Therefore, when a Christian claims to believe in the providence of God, but then limits this providence to the natural processes alone, he is genuflecting to the sham gods of orthotalksy.
Go to next section
Go to next section