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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by beginning to examine the providence of God. Dr. Spencer, how would you like to begin?

Dr. Spencer: I’d like to begin by examining the back of a one-dollar bill.

Marc Roby: Well, that’s an unusual way to begin.

Dr. Spencer: But there is an important point to make by doing so. If you look at the back of a United States dollar bill, you will notice an unfinished pyramid on the left side. The pyramid has the first thirteen layers finished, which represent the original thirteen states and the bottom layer has the date 1776 written on it in Roman numerals in honor of our Declaration of Independence. The fact that the pyramid is unfinished represents the potential for growth. If you look above the pyramid you will see an eye floating above it. This eye is called the eye of Providence and represents God. It is enclosed in a triangle, which is a symbol for the Trinity and it has rays of light emanating from it, which represent the glory of God. Finally, there are two mottos written in Latin. The one above the pyramid says Annuit cœptis, and means that Providence, or God, has approved our undertakings. In other words, it expresses the idea that God approved of the founding of this country. Our founding fathers were declaring independence from England, but not independence from God. The motto below the pyramid says Novus ordo seclorum, which means a “new order of the ages”. [1]

Marc Roby: I’m quite sure that very few Americans know this, even though they all use dollar bills regularly.

Dr. Spencer: I’m confident you’re right about people not knowing, I’m less confident that everyone actually uses paper money regularly. But the important point I want to make is that when our country was founded, the idea of God’s providence was common. Many of our most prominent founding fathers were not born-again Christians as is sometimes claimed, but most of them did believe in God and most also believed in the idea of providence.[2] One can certainly debate exactly what some of them meant by providence, but there was a common notion that events in this world were governed in some way by an intelligent, powerful and good God.

Marc Roby: And that view continued to be the norm for quite some time.

Dr. Spencer: It certainly did. If you look at letters to and from soldiers in the Civil War for example, they often speak about Providence. For example, one father of a soldier in the Confederate army wrote the following to his son when he first joined the army; “War is a tremendous scourge which Providence sometimes uses to chastise proud and wicked nations.”[3] And I should point out that the word Providence in that sentence is capitalized, it was being used as a name for God.

Marc Roby: That reminds me Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. He famously quoted Matthew 18:7, where Jesus tells us, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” [4] And then Lincoln said that “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove; and that He gives to both north and south this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”[5]

Dr. Spencer: That is a marvelous quote. It would be so wonderful to hear a modern president speak that way. Lincoln was acknowledging that God was in control of the Civil War and that it might very well be his judgment for the evil of slavery. In other words, he was aware of a Sovereign God who providentially rules and judges the affairs of men. And I should point out that at the end, when he said that “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether”, he was quoting from Psalm 19:9 in the King James Version.

We could give many more examples, but my previous statement is true; it was the common view from the founding of this country up through most of the 19th century that events in this world were governed by an intelligent, powerful and benevolent God.

Marc Roby: Which is very different from the common modern view that the world is ruled by chance.

Dr. Spencer: And modern is not always right or better! Chance is a useful word, but we need to be careful how we use it and how we think about it. There is, in the final analysis, no such thing as a chance event. We are told in Proverbs 16:33 that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

Marc Roby: And, of course, casting a lot was the Old Testament equivalent of rolling the dice or flipping a coin.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. God knows, and in fact controls, how the dice will roll or the coin will flip. There are no accidents or chance events in God’s universe. We need to be careful about our thinking and even about the expressions we use. They reflect and affect our thinking far more than we might realize. For example, if someone is in a bad car accident and walks away from it uninjured, we might be tempted to say they were very lucky, or very fortunate. But what is luck? And what is fortune?

Marc Roby: My Webster’s dictionary says that luck is “the things that happen to a person because of chance.” And it defines fortune as “something that happens by chance.”[6]

Dr. Spencer: Which, of course, begs the question, what is chance?

Marc Roby: Well, if we look in Webster’s again, we find that it says chance is “the way that events happen when they are not planned or controlled by people.”[7]

Dr. Spencer: I like that definition a lot. Notice that it is a negative definition, by which I mean it doesn’t really say what chance is, it says what chance is not. To say that something “happens by chance” means that it was not planned or controlled by people. It does not mean that it was not planned or controlled at all. In other words, you can’t give a positive definition of chance, you can’t really tell me what it is, because it is nothing. It is a word that expresses our ignorance about, or inability to control, the cause of something. If someone walks away from a bad car accident uninjured, the real reason is that God chose that outcome.

Marc Roby: And that brings us back to the providence of God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. The Westminster Shorter Catechism gives us a good, biblical definition of providence in the answer to Question 11, which says that “God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.”

Marc Roby: I love that short definition. But I think a lot of modern Christians don’t believe that God controls any of the details of life, let alone all of them. They somehow think of God as only being interested in the big issues, not the details.

Dr. Spencer: That is, without doubt, the most common view today. But it is illogical and unbiblical. To see that it is illogical, you only need to realize that God cannot control or guarantee the big things if the little things, the details of life, are somehow outside of his control or notice. We cannot trust any of God’s promises if there is any detail of creation that is outside of his control. Let me illustrate that by an example.

Marc Roby: Okay, please do.

Dr. Spencer: On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger blew up, killing all seven people on board. The cause of the catastrophe was a small rubber O-ring on the solid rocket booster that didn’t seal properly because of the cold temperature at launch time. This illustrates how a tiny detail can govern a major catastrophe. I could give many more examples, but I think everyone knows this to be true if they think about it for a few minutes.

Marc Roby: And yet, you often hear Christians say things that imply some details of life are simply too small for God to bother with. For example, they may say something like, “God is too busy with important matters to worry about whether I buy this car or that car.”

Dr. Spencer: You do hear that kind of view being expressed, but it is, again, profoundly wrong. In the case of which car we buy, there are all kinds of things that might matter. For example, can I afford both of them? Is one of them far more practical for my needs? If so, why do I want the other one? Is it because it strokes my ego?

Marc Roby: Are you suggesting that I shouldn’t by that new Ferrari I was looking at?

Dr. Spencer: We can talk about that later. But, seriously, I’m not saying we always have to buy the most economical thing that will meet our needs, I don’t believe that is true. But God cares about our motives and reasons for the decisions we make, not just the decisions themselves.

I like what Charles Hodge wrote in answer to this objection. He wrote that “The common objection to the doctrine of a universal providence, founded on the idea that it is incompatible with the dignity and majesty of the divine Being to suppose that He concerns himself about trifles, assumes that God is a limited being; that because we can attend to only one thing at a time, it must be so with God. The more exalted are our conceptions of the divine Being, the less shall we be troubled with difficulties of this kind.”[8]

Marc Roby: That gets right to the heart of the matter. If we have any understanding of the infinite wisdom, knowledge and power of God, we will realize that he is not limited like we are. He doesn’t need to neglect details in order to focus on the more important matters.

Dr. Spencer: No, he doesn’t. And, as I illustrated earlier, the details can be extremely important. It is simply illogical to think that God can, for example, bring about his plan of salvation if he can’t control the details. Look at the crucifixion of Christ as the most important example. God provided us with numerous prophecies in the Old Testament about this most important event in human history. It is utterly inconceivable that he could have brought it to pass in fulfillment of those prophecies if any of the details were outside of his control.

Marc Roby: Yes, that is obvious when you think about it. Major events depend on a myriad of small details. I think we’ve shown that this view is illogical, but you said it is also unbiblical. We already quoted Proverbs 16:33 about the lot that is cast being determined by God. What other Scriptures would you cite to back up your statement?

Dr. Spencer: The first one I would cite is from Exodus Chapter 21, where Moses is giving the people specific laws and regulations after having just told them the Ten Commandments in Chapter 20. As a part of these detailed laws God deals with the difference between killing a man deliberately or accidentally.

Marc Roby: Which is sometimes difficult to discern if there are no witnesses.

Dr. Spencer: In fact, it can be impossible to discern. And God allows for that fact in a way that illustrates his great wisdom. In Exodus 21:12-13 we read that “Anyone who strikes a man and kills him shall surely be put to death. However, if he does not do it intentionally, but God lets it happen, he is to flee to a place I will designate.”

Notice two things in this statement: First, if a man kills someone unintentionally, it is because God let it happen. There are no accidents, God is in control of every detail. That is the main thing I want to illustrate for now. But we can also take a very brief digression to point out God’s wisdom in dealing with this situation. And so, the second thing we note is that the man is to flee to a place that God will designate.

Marc Roby: Which we are told in Numbers 35 are certain cities, designated as cities of refuge.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. God provided places to which a person could flee to ensure that that person is given a fair trial, rather than being dealt with as a murderer without any due process. A specific example is given in Deuteronomy 19 of two men working in the forest cutting wood and the head of one man’s axe comes off and kills the other man. That man can flee to a city of refuge rather than being put to death as a murderer[9]. But, and here is were God’s wisdom is manifest; as you noted, if there are no witnesses, it can be very difficult to determine exactly what happened. There may be other evidence, but there will be cases where we simply can’t be sure if the man is guilty or not. So, in Numbers 35:25 the people were told that if the accused man is not found guilty, he shall not be put to death, but he also doesn’t go completely free, he must stay in the city of refuge until the death of the current high priest.

Marc Roby: In other words, there was punishment of a sort even if the man was found to not be guilty of murder.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. And I think that is a marvelous display of God’s wisdom. It means it was not possible for a man to murder someone, make it look like an accident, and not be punished at all. But it also made sure that if the killing were accidental, the man was not treated as a murderer, but he would still receive some punishment so that people would be careful. We are responsible if someone else is injured or killed due to our negligence, even if we didn’t intend to harm that person.

Marc Roby: That does illustrate God’s wisdom. But, as you noted, for our purpose today, the main point was that there are no accidents. It only happened because God let it happen. What other evidence can you give to support the statement that it is unbiblical to think that there are any details outside of God’s control?

Dr. Spencer: In Matthew 10:29 we read that Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” Now a sparrow falling to the ground is not exactly a major world event, but Jesus tells us it cannot happen apart from the will of God.

In addition, in the next verse, Matthew 10:30, Jesus goes on to say, “And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Now, this does not say that God determines the number of hairs, so one could argue it only illustrates his perfect and exhaustive knowledge, but it certainly illustrates that there is no detail too small for God to pay attention to.

Marc Roby: The number of hairs on our heads is about as trivial a detail as I can think of. But it depends on whose head you’re looking at, the number of hairs on some heads is far more trivial than others.

Dr. Spencer: That’s very true, but let’s be kind. There are many other passages we could cite as well, but I think this is a good place to end for today. So, let me remind our listeners that we encourage them to email questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org.

Marc Roby: You took the words right out of my mouth. I look forward to continuing this discussion next time.

[1] E.g., see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Seal_of_the_United_States

[2] They have been called deists by many, but the most common view is that deists cannot believe in providence (e.g., on page 270 of his Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem states the common view of the God of Deism as a watchmaker who makes and winds the clock and then steps back and lets it run). The World Union of Deists however says that some deists do believe in providence (see http://www.deism.com/deism_defined.htm). While this question may be interesting, I chose not to discuss it because it is of little value, it is really an issue of definitions. It is clear from their writings that many of our founding fathers believed in Providence, although it is unclear precisely what some of them meant by that term. Whatever they meant however, it is incompatible with their writings to equate it to the modern idea of chance or fate.

[3] J. William Jones, Christ in the Camp; The True Story of the Great Revival During the War Between the States, Sprinkle Publications, 1986, pg. 30

[4] 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.™.

[5] https://cdn.loc.gov/service/mss/mal/436/4361300/4361300.pdf (you can even view Lincoln’s handwritten original [see pages 6 & 8, the backs of the pages are also shown] here: https://www.loc.gov/resource/mal.4361300/?sp=8&r=-0.184,0.113,1.299,0.645,0)

[6] Merriam-Webster dictionary app for Android phone, Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2019

[7] Ibid

[8] Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, Vol. 1, pg. 583

[9] Deut 19:5

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s communicable attribute of truthfulness.

Dr. Spencer, at the end of our previous session you made a shift that I didn’t notice at the time. We had been talking about moral laws and the idea that if God doesn’t exist, might, in a human sense, does make right. You then said that “at the end of the day truth really does depend on power because it depends on authority.” So, you switched from talking about what is right, to talking about what is true. Can you explain that shift?

Dr. Spencer: I did make a jump there in order to get to the conclusion before we ran out of time and, in hindsight, the jump was too large. So, let’s go back and fill in the blanks so to speak to make it clear how I got to that conclusion.

Marc Roby: OK, please do.

Dr. Spencer: We had finished briefly discussing different theories of truth and had then pointed out that our worldview has a pervasive influence on what we believe to be true. It is therefore, extremely important that our worldview be correct. But, our worldview is not something most of us consciously develop or even think about, so you had asked for an example of how we can test whether or not our own worldview is true.

Marc Roby: Yes, I recall that.

Dr. Spencer: And I responded by saying that we can test whether some of the fundamental tenets of our worldview are true or not. Our worldview comprises a set of beliefs about the world we live in, things we believe to be true. And those beliefs can be examined by realizing that we can draw conclusions based on them, in other words things that should be true if the underlying beliefs are true, and then we can check those conclusions to see if they’re right. And I gave the example that if an atheistic worldview is correct, then there can be no absolute morality.

Marc Roby: And I think we established that conclusion reasonably well.

Dr. Spencer: I do too, although I may want to come back to that topic later. But, getting back to our example, if an atheist believes in absolute morality, and in my experience most do, even if they won’t say so, his worldview is inconsistent. I argued that absolute morality only exists because God has the authority and power to establish and enforce moral law. But I skipped over making the connection that God’s authority and power do not end with his being able to establish the moral law. In fact, he has the authority and power to determine everything that exists in this universe and is absolute sovereign over everything that happens in the universe, so that whatever he thinks is true, is necessarily true.

Marc Roby: And that is what is meant by saying that truth is, ultimately, a person, it is God.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s right. Of course, truth is also a property of a statement, but ultimately, a statement is true if it corresponds to what God thinks is true. Wayne Grudem, in his Systematic Theology, defines God’s attribute of truthfulness this way: “God’s truthfulness means that he is the true God, and that all his knowledge and words are both true and the final standard of truth.”[1]

Marc Roby: Grudem uses the word “true” in two different ways in that definition, doesn’t he? To say that God is “the true God” is a different usage of the word than to say that his words are true.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right. John Frame, in his book The Doctrine of God, discusses three different meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible.[2] And all three meanings are important because God is truth in all three senses of the term. The first of these three meanings is called the metaphysical.

Marc Roby: Metaphysics refers to the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental causes and nature of things.

Dr. Spencer: Mm-Hmm. In talking about the truth as being a person last time, we quoted what is perhaps the most famous verse in this regard, John 14:6, in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” [3] Jesus was using the word truth in its metaphysical sense there. We sometimes use the word that way in our normal speech as well. For example, you might hear someone be described as a true outdoorsman. Which means that the person corresponds to the ideal picture of what an outdoorsman should be.

Marc Roby: Of course, my picture of an ideal outdoorsman might be different than yours.

Dr. Spencer: That is certainly possible. And that brings up an interesting point relating to the truthfulness of God. In John 17:3, the great high priestly prayer of Jesus, he is praying to his Father in heaven and says, “this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” When Jesus says the Father is “the only true God” he is using the term in its metaphysical sense, but we have to deal with the same question you raised; whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God? Many people throughout history have rejected the true God because the God of the Bible doesn’t fit their personal idea of what God should be like. For example, many reject God because in their view he shouldn’t allow any suffering in this world.

Marc Roby: In fact, many people at the time of Jesus rejected him because they were looking for a political Messiah who would deliver them from their bondage to the Romans.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that’s true. In fact, Jesus spoke about the fact that people rejected him for not living up to their expectations for the Messiah. In Luke 7:31-35 he says, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other: ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Jesus was making the point that the people who rejected John for being too ascetic and Jesus for not upholding the Jewish traditions of the time were just like children who were upset with others who wouldn’t join in one game by dancing, or in another one by crying. But, we don’t get to choose the game! God is sovereign, not us.

Marc Roby: And, as Jesus said, “wisdom is proved right by all her children.”

Dr. Spencer: Precisely. And what he meant was that the fruit produced by the ministry of John the Baptist, which was serious repentance, and the fruit produced by Jesus’ own ministry, which was salvation for sinners, would prove them to be true. And so, when people today refuse to accept the God of the Bible because the God they want would never allow suffering into this world, or would never send people to hell, they are being just like the Jews of Jesus’ day. Therefore, we must again ask, in the high priestly prayer of John 17, when Jesus said that the Father is “the only true God”, whose idea of the true God must the Father conform to in order to be the true God?

Marc Roby: Well, I would assume that, since Jesus is the one praying, it would be his idea of the true God that he has in mind.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree with you. But Grudem points out an interesting and unavoidable circularity here. He says, correctly, “that it is God himself who has the only perfect idea of what the true God should be like. And he himself is the true God because in his being and character he perfectly conforms to his own idea of what the true God should be. In addition, he has implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.”[4]

Marc Roby: And, I might add, he has also revealed to us in his Word what it means to be the true God. I am thinking, for example, of places like Isaiah 41:22-23, where God mocks the idols of the people saying, “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods.”

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is a good passage. According to God, a true God should be able to tell us what the future holds.

In addition, the Bible tells us that a true God should also be the one who created all things. Over and over again in the Old Testament God reminds his people that he is the one who created the heavens and the earth. For example, in Isaiah 45:18 we read, “For this is what the LORD says— he who created the heavens, he is God; he who fashioned and made the earth, he founded it; he did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited— he says: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’”

Marc Roby: There is only one Creator, and he alone is the true and living God.

Dr. Spencer: And, as Grudem pointed out, God “implanted in our minds a reflection of his own idea of what the true God must be, and this enables us to recognize him as God.” So, when God points out that he alone is the Creator, the Lord of history, the Savior of his people, and the Judge of all, it resonates with our inner sense of what it means to be God and, if we have been born again, we recognize it as true.

So, when we read that God is the true God, the metaphysical use of the term truth here means that we recognize God, as he reveals himself to us in his Word, to correspond in his fundamental nature, to what it means to be God. But we also see that he is the one who defines what it means to be God, so we need to jettison any unbiblical notions of God from our thinking. There is no external standard to which God must conform. He is the standard.

Marc Roby: I think we all need to meditate for a while on God’s description of what the true God should be and his revelation of himself as that true God.

Dr. Spencer: These ideas definitely warrant some careful thought. And let me add one more quick point related to the metaphysical meaning of truth. In John 1:17 the apostle says that “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John Murray makes an important point about this verse in his book Principles of Conduct. He wrote that “We should bear in mind that ‘the true’ in the usage of John is not so much the true in contrast with the false, or the real in contrast with the fictitious. It is the absolute as contrasted with the relative, the ultimate as contrasted with the derived, the eternal as contrasted with the temporal, the permanent as contrasted with the temporary, the complete in contrast with the partial, the substantial in contrast with the shadowy. … What John is contrasting here is the partial, incomplete character of the Mosaic dispensation with the completeness and fulness of the revelation of grace and truth in Jesus Christ.”[5]

Marc Roby: That statement gives us even more to meditate on. In the meantime, you said that Frame lists three meanings of the word truth as it is used in the Bible. What is the second meaning?

Dr. Spencer: The second is epistemological, or propositional truth, which is, as Frame points out, “a property of language, rather than reality.”[6] In other words, if I say that I was born in California, the proposition is either true or false. That is the predominant sense in which we were using the term in our last session when we discussed theories of truth. A statement is true if it corresponds to reality as far as that can be determined, and if it is also consistent with all other statements we know to be true.

Marc Roby: And God is also truth in this propositional sense. For example, we are told in Hebrews 6:18 that “it is impossible for God to lie”.

Dr. Spencer: We also read in 1 Samuel 15:29 that “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind”. That is why Grudem’s definition says, “all his knowledge and words are” true. And this is the point I was making last time. Since God is the Creator and the sovereign Lord of history, he controls this universe both in terms of its underlying nature and in terms of what happens to it over time. Therefore, whatever God thinks is true, is necessarily true as we have said. Grudem says, “since God knows all things infinitely well, we can say that the standard of true knowledge is conformity to God’s knowledge. If we think the same thing God thinks about anything in the universe, we are thinking truthfully about it.”[7]

Marc Roby: In other words, God is not only true, he is the standard of truth. Grudem’s definition also says that God’s knowledge and words are “the final standard of truth.”

Dr. Spencer: And Grudem explains that statement further. He says that “God’s words are not simply true in the sense that they conform to some standard of truthfulness outside of God. Rather, they are truth itself; they are the final standard and definition of truth.”

Marc Roby: We talked about ultimate standards of truth way back in Session 4 and you pointed out that there really are only two possibilities; either human reason or divine revelation.

Dr. Spencer: Those are the only two options. But we also pointed out that even though human reason is not the ultimate standard of truth for a Christian, it is necessary. It is a gift from God and without it we can’t understand his revelation to us. But, we must use our reason in a subservient role. It cannot stand in judgment over God’s revelation, it must be used to understand that revelation correctly.

Marc Roby: And that applies to general revelation as well as to the Bible.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it does. We must be careful to never let human reason be the ultimate standard for truth, even when we are doing science. Francis Bacon, often considered the father of empirical science, is famous for his statement about God’s two books; the book of nature and the book of the Bible. But, as Christians, we must place the Bible above nature because it is God’s infallible word to us. We can use our understanding of nature to help understand the Bible correctly, but we can never let what we think we know from nature overrule the Bible. So, for example, the idea that all life emerged from non-life by some natural process is unacceptable because it clearly contradicts the Bible. Of course, as I pointed out in Session 1, I don’t think that idea has much scientific merit either, it is the result of an atheistic worldview.

Marc Roby: Which again points out the importance of our worldview. But, let me bring us back to our topic of God’s truthfulness. You said that Frame discussed three biblical meanings of the word truth and we’ve covered two of them, the metaphysical and the propositional meanings. What then is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third meaning is the ethical. The three meanings are, of course, all related. Frame says that “Metaphysical truth is genuineness; epistemological truth faithfully represents what is genuine; ethical truth is faithfulness in all areas of life.”[8]

So, with regard to metaphysical truth we quoted John 17:3, which called God the Father “the only true God”, and which speaks of his being the genuine article, to use a colloquial expression. Then with regard to epistemological, or propositional, truth you quoted Hebrews 6:18, which says that “it is impossible for God to lie” and that tells us that God faithfully represents what is genuine. Then, finally, ethical truth, as Frame says, is “faithfulness in all areas of life.”

Marc Roby: And ethics refers to the moral rules that govern our behavior.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. And God is ethical truth in at least two ways. First, Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate and, as we are told in John 1:18, makes the Father known to us, walked in perfect obedience to God’s commands. He himself declared in John 8:29 that he always did what pleased the Father. And, secondly, God is ethical truth in the sense that he alone has authority to tell us what is right and what is sin. In other words, he alone has authority to give us the moral rules that govern our behavior. Without God’s authority to do that, we are left with moral relativism and morality must be defined by human reason and is, therefore, changeable.

Marc Roby: Yes, I liked what you said in our previous session; that if someone is a logically consistent atheist, he must agree with the premise that might makes right.

Dr. Spencer: I did say that, yes. And I was deliberately being provocative. I certainly did not mean, for example, that any individual who has sufficient might to take something from another is morally right to do so. But, as I noted, if there is no God, we have a serious problem trying to defend any set of laws as being inherently right.

For example, in 1830 it was legal in some states in this country to own a slave. But now it is illegal everywhere in this country. Was there a change in some underlying law of morality? No, there was a Civil War and the 13th Amendment to our Constitution was passed. Now I certainly hope, and expect, that our listeners will all agree slavery as it existed in this country prior to the 13th Amendment was morally wrong. But there is a very serious question that we should all ask ourselves; namely, “On what basis can we make the statement that slavery is wrong?” What makes us right and the people who were in favor of it in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: That is a question most people would find unsettling to even ask.

Dr. Spencer: I realize that, but it is an important question. We all tend to think that we are morally superior to people we disagree with. And, if we are part of a group that has the power at the moment, we may even feel somewhat smugly justified in feeling that way. But the question stands. Other than the fact that the majority view is in our favor and the north was able to win the Civil War, what makes us right and the people in favor of slavery in 1830 wrong?

Marc Roby: Yes, I see your point, although I’m sure it will make a lot of people uncomfortable.

Dr. Spencer: It does make us uncomfortable. When we find ourselves objecting to the statement that “might makes right”, and even self-proclaimed atheists typically do so, we are implicitly saying that there is some higher authority or standard for right conduct. But where does that standard come from?

Marc Roby: Obviously I would say it comes from God.

Dr. Spencer: Of course. And I would agree. But if someone claims to not believe in God, how can they answer the question?

Marc Roby: I don’t think they can. And we are out of time, so I think we will need to finish this discussion next time. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org; we’d love to hear from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 195

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 475

[3] 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.™.

[4] Grudem, op.cit., pg. 195

[5] John Murray, The Principles of Conduct, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1957, pg. 123

[6] Frame, op. cit., pg. 477

[7] Grudem, op. cit., pg. 195

[8] Frame, op. cit., pg. 478

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