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Marc Roby: We are continuing our break from studying theology to look at some current topics of great importance from a Christian perspective. In our session last week, we began a discussion about how Marxist ideologies have become so prevalent in our culture today. We looked at Angela Davis, a 60’s radical who became a professor in the University of California as an example. She spoke about decades of work, by herself and others, coming to fruition in all of the riots we see happening in our country today. 

Dr. Spencer, you pointed out that she was a student of Herbert Marcuse, a member of the so-called Frankfurt school, which developed critical theory. I had asked you to tell us what critical theory is, and you began with a digression to talk about the Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. He developed the idea that the bourgeoisie use their cultural narrative – in other words, their history and system of values – as a tool of oppression. Therefore, whenever a worker adopts the so-called hegemonic narrative, he is participating in his own oppression. Are you now ready to define what critical theory is?

Dr. Spencer: Yes. Let me begin, somewhat surprisingly, by quoting the first sentence of the Wikipedia article on critical theory. It says, “Critical theory is a social philosophy pertaining to the reflective assessment and critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures.” That is a good short definition. And it makes clear that the theory is Marxist in its origin. 

Remember that Marx viewed all of human history in terms of the conflict between oppressors and oppressed. In other words, in terms of a power structure. Marx, of course, was focused on economic systems, but critical theory broadens the scope of his focus on conflict to include any type of human interaction. The different movements spawned by this broadening of Marx’s ideas are sometimes referred to as neo-Marxist. And note that the definition says the purpose of critical theory is to “reveal and challenge” these power structures.

Marc Roby: In other words, question authority!

Dr. Spencer: That’s it exactly. So, critical theory criticizes, if you will, every authority structure because it views every power structure as inherently oppressive or exploitive. Which immediately puts it at odds with a Christian worldview. The fifth commandment tells us, as we read in Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” And, as we have discussed before, the Bible tells us that God has given us three realms of delegated authority in this life; the family, the church and the state. We are not just called to honor our parents, we are also commanded to honor authority in the church and the state.

Marc Roby: And, of course, the classic verse about obeying church leaders is Hebrews 13:17, where we read, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Dr. Spencer: And it is important to notice that that verse says those in authority must give an account, which means, of course, an account to God. He is the ultimate source of all authority and anyone in a position of delegated authority will have to answer to God for how they have used it. Authority is supposed to be used for the benefit of those who are under that authority.

Marc Roby: And that biblical view obviously contradicts the idea that all authority is exploitive or oppressive.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. Although, because human beings are sinners, it is, in fact, common to see authority abused. But it does not follow that authority is inherently wrong. The problem is sin.

Marc Roby: Alright. And with regard to the civil government, the classic verse is Romans 13:1 where the apostle Paul wrote, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” And the context is clearly here, civil government.

Dr. Spencer: And you can also look, for example, at 1 Peter 2:13-14, where we are commanded, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.”

We have discussed authority in these three realms at length before, so I don’t want to repeat that now. My present point is simply that while there are strict limits imposed on authority, properly administered authority is good. It is ordained by God for the good of those who are under that authority. It is simply unbiblical, and I would add empirically untrue, to say that all authority is oppressive or exploitive.

Marc Roby: Yes, that certainly makes sense.

Dr. Spencer: There is one more very important point that I want to make about critical theory before we move on.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: If it were true that our cultural narrative is nothing more than a tool of oppression and it can be rationally opposed in its totality, then it would necessarily follow that there is no absolute truth.  

Marc Roby: I’m not sure that conclusion is obvious. 

Dr. Spencer: No, it isn’t obvious at all, you have to think it through. Any cultural narrative is going to contain statements that purport to be factual, in other words, they claim to be true. So, for example, the statement that honoring your mother and father is good and will lead to blessing. Or that marriage should be a life-long commitment between one man and one woman. 

Now, if these statements are mere cultural norms and there can be other, equally true, cultural norms that contradict these, then there is no absolute truth. Truth would, in that case, just be a cultural convention, which is what both critical theory and postmodernism irrationally believe.

Marc Roby: And, further, God would be a liar, because he says that those statements are true.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. We again see that this whole Marxist ideological framework is radically opposed to biblical Christianity. There is no such thing as a Christian Marxist. Let me say that again differently to make it absolutely clear, because this is an important point. If you are a Christian, you must be opposed to Marxism and all neo-Marxist ideologies because Marxism is opposed to Christianity. You cannot support the enemies of your Lord and Savior. The psalmist declared in Psalm 139:21-22, “Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD, and abhor those who rise up against you? I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies.”

Marc Roby: Those verses probably need some explaining. I’m sure at least some of our listeners immediately thought to themselves, “Now wait a minute, Jesus Christ told us, in Matthew 5:44, to love our enemies. So how can it be good to hate them?”

Dr. Spencer: Well, that is a great question. And the best answer I’ve ever seen was given by the great 19th-century English theologian and preacher Charles Spurgeon. In his famous work, the Treasury of David, he wrote the following about Verse 21: “To love all men with benevolence is our duty; but to love any wicked man with complacency would be a crime. To hate a man for his own sake, or for any evil done to us, would be wrong; but to hate a man because he is the foe of all goodness and the enemy of all righteousness, is nothing more nor less than an obligation.” 

Marc Roby: There is a lot packed into that short statement.

Dr. Spencer: I agree, so let me explain it further. We are to want what is best for all men, including our enemies, which of course ultimately means that we are to share the gospel and pray for their salvation; that is to love all men with benevolence. But we cannot love anyone with complacence. If someone has made himself an enemy of God by opposing God and his righteous Word, he is to be our enemy and we are to hate him. Now, to be clear, this is not a hatred that would delight in seeing harm come to him, that would be vengeful sin; we are still to love him with benevolence, meaning that we want to see him saved. But it is hatred in the sense that we oppose him with all our might and would see it as perfectly just if God chose to destroy him. God tells us in Deuteronomy 32:35, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” These two senses are not contradictory, so with the proper meaning attached to the terms, we can simultaneously love and hate someone.

Marc Roby: That is a great explanation of how to reconcile the paradox of being commanded both to love our enemies and to hate those who hate and oppose God. And that verse from Deuteronomy is a frightening statement about God’s judgment, which we all truly deserve.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. We have all sinned, but, praise God, we can repent, trust in Christ and be saved. But if we have truly done that, then Jesus Christ is our Lord. His enemies are our enemies. We cannot join with them in opposing him, and to join in any Marxist or neo-Marxist ideology is to oppose Christ. And critical theory, or perhaps we should say theories because it comes in many flavors, is absolutely and irreconcilably opposed to Christ. 

Marc Roby: Now you said last week that Angela Davis is a great example of how these theories have become so common. As a student of Marcuse, she put the idea of the long march through the institutions into practice. She became a professor and then used that position to influence many people.

Dr. Spencer: And it is very instructive to see how it is that these far-left ideologies have taken over the universities in this country. And they absolutely have done so, there can be no doubt about that. One recent study found that the ratio of registered democrats to republicans in top universities is greater than eleven to one, and in some fields it is much higher. That is obviously only one indication of the left-leaning nature of academia, but there are many others. 

My own experience as a professor for 25 years certainly bears this out. I was in the college of engineering, which doesn’t lean as far to the left as the college of letters and science, but it was still overwhelmingly left. And when I served on campus-wide committees with colleagues from other colleges, I was frequently shocked at how far left almost all of them were. If you held a conservative view on just about anything, you would be well advised to keep it quiet.

Marc Roby: And I thought the far-left prided itself on being tolerant and inclusive.

Dr. Spencer: Ah, but they attach a very different meaning to those terms. Marcuse dealt with this in a way that is instructive of how the far-left abuses language and is often the exact opposite of what they claim to be. According to Roger Kimball, “Marcuse came up with several names for the idea that freedom is a form of tyranny. The most famous was ‘repressive tolerance’ … He even offered a simple formula for distinguishing between, on the one hand, the ‘repressive tolerance’ that expresses itself in such phenomena as freedom of assembly and free speech and, on the other, the ‘liberating tolerance’ he recommends. ‘Liberating tolerance,’ he wrote, ‘would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left.’”

Marc Roby: That is an amazing example of how to pervert language. According to his definition, you can be “tolerant” by only tolerating those views you agree with. 

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is pretty amazing. Kimball goes on to say that “The usual name for this sort of attitude, of course, is intolerance, but no doubt it would be terribly intolerant to insist on such a repressive if elementary point.” 

Marc Roby: I like that. We need to point out when people make completely ridiculous statements.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But now I’d like to give just one example of how the far-left has taken over the university system. It comes from a very eye-opening and downright scary book written in 2006 by David Horowitz, called The Professors. In his introduction he talks about visiting the University of Delaware in 2001 and asking a senior member of the history department, who was the only conservative in the department, how that imbalance came about. The professor related how he had not been allowed to sit on a search committee since 1985, even though he had been chair of the committee in that year and they had hired a Marxist, which tells you that he didn’t apply any kind of ideological litmus test during the hiring process. But many people on the left are not only willing to apply a litmus test, they think it is their duty. People like Angela Davis.

Marc Roby: In other words, you’re saying they won’t hire even a qualified candidate if the person is conservative?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. This professor went on to tell Horowitz that in the very same year they were speaking, which was 2001, his department had an opening for someone in Asian history. The best qualified candidate was a man from Stanford, but he didn’t get the job. Wondering why, this professor went and talked to the chair of the search committee, who told him, “Oh, you’re absolutely right. He was far and away the most qualified candidate and we had a terrific interview about his area of expertise. But then we went to lunch and he let out that he was for school vouchers. And that killed it.”

Marc Roby: OK, what in the world does your view of school vouchers have to do with teaching Asian history?

Dr. Spencer: Well, obviously, not a thing in the world. But to a dedicated member of the far-left, it is a sign of someone having a conservative attitude and, therefore, the candidate is unqualified to teach at the university because he won’t join in your program of indoctrinating the students into your far-left, Marxist ideologies.  

Marc Roby: That’s ridiculous.

Dr. Spencer: Quite literally so. But it is also common. That is how faculties came to be nearly 100% far left in the space of one generation. I could give you many examples of how extreme some faculty members are, but one will suffice. 

After the terrorist attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, Ward Churchill, a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado in Boulder, published an essay entitled Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, in which he said the following about the people who died in the World Trade Center: “If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I’d really be interested in hearing about it.”  

Marc Roby: That’s unbelievable. He actually equated the civilian employees working in the World Trade Center to Adolf Eichmann, one of the Nazi officers in charge of the holocaust? 

Dr. Spencer: It is completely irrational, not to mention wicked. And the rest of the essay is just as bad or, possibly, worse. You wonder what world this man inhabits. It certainly isn’t the world of reality. He twists and distorts absolutely everything. His comments on World War II make it sound like the United States was the aggressor and that we launched unprovoked attacks on the peace-loving countries of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. And yet, I must again point out that his views, while admittedly extreme, are not that extreme in academia. If you want to read about a lot of other perhaps slightly less frightening individuals, read Horowitz’s book.

Marc Roby: What kinds of comments were made on the UC campus here in Davis after the attacks of 9/11?

Dr. Spencer: I would say the most common view by far in the college of letters and science was to be wringing your hands and thinking, “oh my, we are such bad people, what do we need to do to change so that people won’t hate us so much.” People literally seemed to think that the attacks were justified.

Marc Roby: That’s a little hard to stomach.

Dr. Spencer: But it illustrates how far left the campus environment is from the rest of the country. My own campus, the University of California here in Davis, also has a faculty member, Professor Joshua Clover, who is a professor of English, who has openly advocated the killing of police for a number of years. As just one example, in a 2015 interview with SFWeekly magazine, he said, “People think that cops need to be reformed. They need to be killed.”

He has been given multiple opportunities to apologize or recant or soften his statements and has doubled down on his repugnant views every time. The university declared that it can’t discipline him because his views are protected by the First Amendment, although the chancellor did say that his views are “offensive and abhorrent”, which is good, but they went no further.

Marc Roby: That’s very disappointing.

Dr. Spencer: I’ve been disappointed with the University of California many times. They also now have an ideological litmus test that all faculty applicants must pass. They, of course, deny that this is the purpose. But every candidate for a faculty position has to present a “Statement of Contributions to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” in his package. This simply provides the university with a way of throwing out faculty applicants who don’t agree with its commitment to these far-left neo-Marxist ideologies, independent of how good the person is in his or her field of expertise. And faculty members now have to supply a similar statement every time they go up for a promotion.

Marc Roby: In other words, the university has set a tone that clearly indicates that conformity to its far-left ideologies is more important that excellence in your field.

Dr. Spencer: Well, they would, of course, very strongly deny that. But it is hard to conclude otherwise when you look at how the system works. To be fair, these rules are applied differently in different departments and colleges, but even when they are not considered the most important thing, they are still part of constant barrage of left-wing ideas which are presented not as ideas for your consideration, but as statements of fact. For example, it is common to require faculty members on search committees to go through implicit bias training and other similar things that are based on completely false premises. These are not optional.

Marc Roby: And, of course, this kind of indoctrination doesn’t stop with the universities.

Dr. Spencer: No, unfortunately, it does not. In fact, the education departments are among the most radically left of all departments, and they are responsible for training our K-12 teachers and most of the people who work in the education area in government, overseeing the curricula for example. These extreme far-left neo-Marxist ideas have been pushed for well over 30 years. In 1990, Roger Kimball wrote that “It is no secret that the academic study of the humanities in this country is in a state of crisis. Proponents of deconstruction, feminist studies, and other politically motivated challenges to the traditional tenets of humanistic study have by now become the dominant voice in the humanities departments of many of our best colleges and universities.”

Marc Roby: And now these views have filtered down into the K-12 system.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. A friend of mine who teaches in the public schools and who wants to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, wrote that “What the children are exposed to is sickening. I would not recommend that anyone send their kids to public schools. Even ‘good’ teachers and administrators are often at best small islands in a sea of foolishness, falsehood, and filth.”

Marc Roby: That’s a strong statement. But then again, there have been a number of troubling things in the news lately. For example, three years ago there was a report about kindergartners in our area being taught from a book affirming transgender ideas. 

Dr. Spencer: And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The nonsense about students being allowed to use locker rooms and bathrooms that agree with their “gender identity” rather than their biological sex and many other things like that are all completely crazy. But they all stem from the same source, a rejection of our culture. And, ultimately, a rejection of God. As we saw at the beginning of this session, critical theory is anti-authority, which is, ultimately, anti-God. 

The real motivating influence and power behind this movement is Satan. As Whittaker Chambers noted, when Satan tempted Eve by saying “you shall be like God”, he created the second oldest religion. It is a religion that is, at its core, anti-God. That is why it opposes the biblical truth that God created man male and female. That is why it opposes the family. That is why it opposes individual responsibility and accountability. That is why it opposes truth, and so on.

Marc Roby: I’m sure there is a lot more for us to discuss, but it will have to wait for next time. For now, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We will do our best to answer you.

 

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of goodness. Dr. Spencer, last session was a theodicy, which is a defense of the goodness and omnipotence of God given the fact that evil exists. But there is a related question we did not discuss that I suspect a number of our listeners may be wondering about, which is this, “How did evil first enter into creation?” In Genesis 1:31 we read that when God finished his work of creating, there was no evil present because, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” [1]

Dr. Spencer: Well, not only was all that God created very good, but this is also a very good question. It is also one of the hardest questions you could ask. The Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about the origin of sin, but as we consider the topic we must carefully guard against a couple of very serious errors, as Wayne Grudem points out in his Systematic Theology.[2]

Marc Roby: What errors are those?

Dr. Spencer: The first one is the error of blaming God for sin. Deuteronomy 32:4 tells us, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” And in James 1:13 we are told that “God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone”. In light of these Scriptures, and many others, it would be absolute blasphemy to think that God is the author of sin.

Marc Roby: Yes, I agree, which is why the presence of sin is so puzzling. What is the second error we need to guard against?

Dr. Spencer: It is to think that God was not able to prevent sin. In other words, to think there is some equally powerful evil force at work in creation.

Marc Roby: Sort of the like the dark side of “the force” in the Star Wars movies.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would be sort of like that if it existed, which of course it does not. God is absolutely sovereign over all creation, which includes Satan and his demons and everything else, and God is completely good.

As we discussed last time, God allowed sin to enter into his creation because it allowed him to more fully demonstrate his multifaceted glory. But the key word in that sentence is “allowed”. God was not the creator of sin, but he is absolutely sovereign over sin. He could have prevented it and he is able to prevent every single instance of sin that has ever occurred or ever will occur.

Marc Roby: That is a difficult notion to accept given some of the truly evil things that have been done throughout history. It is frightening to think, for example, that God allowed the Holocaust.

Dr. Spencer: I agree completely, which is why we have to think very carefully and biblically or we will get into trouble. If God were not absolutely sovereign over everything that happens in this universe, we could never trust that he would be able to make his promises come true. In addition, his promises would then be lies and he would be a liar. These are absolutely unthinkable heresies. The only answer I can give, which comes from the Bible as we discussed last time, is that God allowed sin into creation for his own greater glory. But that does not mean that he is responsible for it, or that he approves of it in any way, or that he cannot control it.

Marc Roby: Which is, again, why something like the Holocaust is so hard to reconcile with God’s goodness.

Dr. Spencer: It is. But, as we labored to show last time, you need to realize that God’s purpose in creation is the manifestation of his own glory and that there is an eternal reality that awaits all people and all angels. In that eternity there will be no injustice. Everyone will be treated either with perfect justice, or perfect mercy. In light of this eternal reality, a Christian’s troubles here are easy to deal with – even the most severe troubles we can imagine. Which is why the apostle Paul wrote, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

Marc Roby: That’s an amazing verse on two accounts. First, that Paul could call our troubles “light and momentary” given some of the terrible troubles he himself experienced. And secondly, it is amazing to consider what our eternal glory will be like if it far outweighs any possible trouble in this life.

Dr. Spencer: It is hard to imagine, but it is true. We again have to reckon with the fact that eternity is infinitely longer than this life. Let me give an analogy to help us grasp this truth.

Marc Roby: Yes, please do.

Dr. Spencer: Think of someone who gets cancer when he is 10 years old and he is told by the doctor that he will certainly die within a year if it isn’t treated. But if he undergoes radiation and chemo-therapy for six months it can most likely be cured.

Marc Roby: That is a very unpleasant thing to consider, especially in somebody so young.

Dr. Spencer: I chose that age deliberately, as you’ll see. Now let’s further suppose that this young boy goes through the treatments. That will be an extremely miserable six months. But let’s further assume that the treatments are successful and he goes on to live a healthy life and die at the ripe old age of 95. That is 85 years past the date when he was told he had cancer, and 84½ of those years were healthy and happy. The six months of misery amounts to less than 0.6% of those 85 years. I think we would all agree that it was worth it in the end.

Marc Roby: Yes, I have to agree with that statement.

Dr. Spencer: OK, so now think about eternity. Even if God calls me to be one of those who suffer for Christ in this life, it doesn’t matter if I suffer for 1 year or 100 years, it is literally zero percent of the time I will spend in heaven.

Marc Roby: I see your point. And, of course, suffering can also produce beneficial results in this life.

Dr. Spencer: Yes it can. I think we have all experienced or heard about a situation where some painful trial produced a good harvest in terms of either leading someone to saving faith, or driving someone away from some besetting sin, or in just making them a better person. God also frequently uses troubles to cause his people to stop trusting in themselves and this world and to look to him in humility and prayer.

In Romans 5 Paul says that we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God and then adds, in Verses 3 through 5, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Marc Roby: That verse also fits with Romans 8:28, which says, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Dr. Spencer: It fits with that verse very well. And I can personally testify that I am a better person for having gone through the pain of needing and then having two hip replacements. For example, I am more thankful, less proud and more compassionate toward others.

And our greatest joy in heaven will be contemplating the glory of God, so if our misery in this life helps in any way to make that glory manifest, either directly because we suffer for the name of Christ or just by making us better people, and therefore better witnesses for Christ, just imagine the eternal joy we will receive from knowing that.

Marc Roby: I have to admit that makes it easier to see how sufferings could be considered inconsequential by Paul. Although they may still be terrible to endure in this life.

Dr. Spencer: They can be terrible, and God knows that. All suffering, ultimately, is the result of sin. And God is not pleased that sin exists. In fact, in Ezekiel 33:11 we read that God commanded the prophet, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” This verse, and others, tell us clearly that God does not take pleasure in the fact that sin must be punished. But because he is infinitely holy and just, it must still be punished. God cannot act contrary to his own perfect nature. So, I’m going to borrow a phrase from John Murray and say that allowing sin was a “consequent absolute necessity” for God.[3]

Marc Roby: I think that phrase from Murray needs some explanation.

Dr. Spencer: What I mean is that allowing sin into his creation, while certainly not something that in itself brings any pleasure to God, was absolutely necessary as a consequence of his having decided to create anything. Because God is perfect, his creation is perfect. And that means that the purpose for that creation is the best possible purpose, which we have noted is the manifestation of his glory. And the full manifestation of his glory must include his holiness and just wrath in addition to his love and mercy. Now I’m drawing a deduction at this point, rather than stating something that Scripture tells us clearly, so I could be wrong. But if sin did not have to exist to accomplish God’s perfect purpose, I don’t believe he would have allowed it since sin, in itself, something that God hates.

Marc Roby: I am going to meditate on that thought for a while.

Dr. Spencer: And I hope our listeners do as well. The more we think about God and what he has done and his revelation to us in his Word, the more we see how our own views have to change. That is why Paul commanded us in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Paul isn’t suggesting that we are able to “test” God’s will in terms of passing judgment on it, that would imply that we are greater than God, which is patently absurd. But he means that to the extent our thinking is transformed we will be able to “test and approve” because we will have come into conformity with God’s perfect will.

Marc Roby: And, of course, being conformed to the likeness of Christ, who is God, is the purpose for which we were predestined, called, justified and will be glorified as Paul wrote in Romans 8:29-30. And that conformity will certainly include our thinking.

Dr. Spencer: And our understanding of what is good, since God is the ultimate standard for what is good.

Marc Roby: I can see you’re trying to get us back on our topic, which isn’t a bad idea. But my question about the origin of sin still stands. You’ve argued, and I think successfully, that we need to avoid the ditches on both sides of the road; that is, the ditch on one side of thinking that God created sin and the ditch on the other side of thinking that he’s not able to prevent it. But you haven’t yet addressed how it came into this world, which was originally declared to be “very good”.

Dr. Spencer: Well, as I said at the outset, that is an extremely difficult question, and God has not chosen to reveal much of the answer. God has told us that the original creation was very good, as you just noted, so we know that there wasn’t any sin present in the beginning. God has also told us about Satan coming and tempting Eve, and through her Adam, to get them to sin. We can conclude from that passage that Satan himself had already become sinful. So, there was a fall of Satan and his demons that occurred before the fall of man. Grudem has a good discussion of this in his Systematic Theology.[4] And there are also some passages in Scripture that speak about Satan’s fall.

Marc Roby: The first one I think of is 2 Peter 2:4, where we are told that “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment”.

Dr. Spencer: Another New Testament reference is Jude 6, which says, “the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”

These two verses tell us clearly that there were angels who sinned and that God judged them. The fact that they are in dungeons, or darkness and chains, does not mean that they have no influence on this world, but rather that God has absolute control over them.

Marc Roby: And a good example of that is seen in Job 1:6-12, where we read of Satan receiving permission from God to test Job.

Dr. Spencer: And in Luke 22:31 Jesus told the apostle Peter that Satan had asked to sift him as wheat. But in the next verse, Luke 22:32, we have that wonderful statement of Jesus “But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Marc Roby: I can only imagine that after Peter had denied Christ three times and then Christ was crucified this statement must have provided great comfort, although I’m sure Peter didn’t understand at that time exactly what Christ meant. In fact, Peter must have felt like his faith had failed.

Dr. Spencer: I agree. But the wonderful thing is that Christ didn’t say “And if you turn back, strengthen your brothers.” He said “when you turn back”. Christ’s prayers are always effectual, and that should provide great comfort to all Christians because in his great high priestly prayer we read, in John 17:15, that Christ prayed to the Father about his people and said, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.”

Marc Roby: That is very comforting indeed.

Dr. Spencer: And that statement, along with Satan having to ask permission to sift Peter and the story of Job, show that God allows Satan and the other fallen angels to operate in this world for a time. In fact, in Ephesians 2:2 Satan is called “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” So, we know that Satan and some other angels fell and are under God’s judgment, that they are allowed to oppose God’s people in this world for a time, but they are completely under God’s authority.

Marc Roby: Which is good news, because Jesus told us, in John 8:44, that Satan was “a murderer from the beginning” and he is “the father of lies” and the New Testament consistently portrays him as the mortal enemy of God’s church. But what about the fall of Satan himself?

Dr. Spencer: There are at least two passages in the Old Testament that many good theologians think refer to Satan’s fall. One is in Isaiah 14, where the prophet is speaking about the King of Babylon, and the other is in Ezekiel 28 where the prophet is speaking about the King of Tyre. In both cases the descriptions of the kings go beyond what could reasonably be said about any human king, so many theologians think that the prophets were weaving together descriptions of the human kings with the fall of Satan from heaven. This weaving together of human and heavenly events that are related in some way is not uncommon, as Wayne Grudem points out.[5]

In any event, these passages, if they do apply to Satan as many think they do, tell us that he became proud and wanted to take his place on the throne of heaven.

Marc Roby: Yes, in other words, he failed to humble himself and take account of the Creator/creature distinction, which we have pointed out numerous times is central to a proper understanding of who we are.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And he used the same temptation that caused him to fall to snare Adam and Eve. Notice what he said to Eve. After contradicting God and saying that she would not surely die if she ate the forbidden fruit, he then said, in Genesis 3:5, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Marc Roby: It’s ironic that he should tell them, “you will be like God” since Adam and Eve had been created in God’s image. So, in one sense, they already were like God, and their listening to Satan actually resulted in that image being terribly distorted.

Dr. Spencer: It is ironic. But it is also clear that Satan was implying they would be like God in some deeper sense than just being made in his image. He may not have been implying that they would become gods themselves, but it was something close to that. Also, as we noted earlier, our final destiny as God’s children is to be conformed to the image of Christ.

John Murray made an interesting observation in this regard. In writing about the sanctification of believers, he wrote that “likeness to God is the ultimate pattern of sanctification. The reason why God himself is the pattern should be obvious: man is made in the image of God and nothing less than the image of God can define the restoration which redemption contemplates. … [but] it must not be thought that likeness to God is absolute. There is a sense in which to aspire after likeness to God is the epitome of iniquity.”[6]

Marc Roby: That is very interesting. So we know that Satan fell from his exalted place because of pride. He rejected the fundamental Creator/creature distinction that we must always keep in mind. I think that provides a reasonable answer to the question I posed at the beginning, but it also raises another one, which we will have to wait for next time to deal with because we are out of time for today.

Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org, and we’ll do our best to respond.

 

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 492

[3] Murray uses this phrase in to speak of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955, pg. 12).

[4] Grudem, op. cit., pp 412-414

[5] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 413 (he cites Ps 45 as an example)

[6] John Murray, Collected Works, Vol. II, Banner of Truth Trust, 1977, Vol. 2, pg. 306

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