Saturday, March 4, 2017

The Enlightenment and the Church

For the past several months my wife and I have been watching a series on the history of the church produced by Ligonier Ministries. The presenter, Robert Godfrey, is a teaching fellow at the Ligonier School and a church historian. The programs have been extremely informative and the presenter’s wit and humor give the episodes added appeal.
On a recent episode, Dr. Godfrey discussed the Enlightenment and the effect it had on the church. As the 17th century dawned, people began to rethink the so-called Divine Right of Kings. This was the idea that the king in any sovereign nation had been appointed by God and thus had the authority of God and could not be challenged. The age of reason, however, began to push such ideas against the rationality that the proponents of reason believed was the sole hope of mankind. To the rationalists, who for the most part were Deists in their theological thinking, God was simply a far off individual who was little concerned with the affairs of men. Furthermore, man was the sum of all things. It was man, not God, who determined the course of life and a good life itself became the ultimate reward for good living.
As I listened to the presenter make these points, I could not but think about how such thinking has infected Christianity at large. What began in the Reformation as the rediscovery of the scriptural teaching that God is sovereign in all things, including salvation, had by the 17th century begun to be challenged by the synergistically minded. These were those who had rethought the idea of God’s sovereignty over all things and who eventually formulated the thought that, although God is sovereign in most things, he has “sovereignly” decided to allow man to have the ultimate say in his salvation. In essence, when it comes to salvation, man is indeed the sum of all things.
In “The Reform Doctrine of Predestination,” Lorraine Boetner makes an essential point that is all too often forgotten today. And that is that nature and history shows us that when it comes to the knowledge of the gospel, God has chosen to place some people in favorable situations and has left others in the dark, so to speak. In other words, think of those of us who live in western lands. We have a tremendous access to the gospel, whether from word of mouth or the amazing array of electronic and printed materials that have proliferated in our age. Others, however, have little if any access to such a plethora of materials. Think of some of the lands in Africa and Asia where the typical rural dweller has likely never heard the gospel and will likely never hear it before their death.
What then are we to make of that if God is not the one that determines who he saves? I find it rather dumbfounding that man, through some strange reasoning process, concludes that if salvation is left up to God very few people will be saved. That is one of the charges that is most often levied against those of us who believe that God is the one who saves. “But if you leave it up to God, then very few people will be saved.” How can anyone conclude that man is in a position to save himself in a better way than God can? We are told in Revelation that there will be a multitude that cannot be numbered praising God in heaven.
In the final analysis, we do not only ascribe to God the sole authority and freedom to save because it is in the scriptures, but because, as David found out, leaving it to God is the only way to guarantee that the many will be saved. It should be clear to anyone paying attention that man corrupts anything he touches and if it is up to him to save himself, then he will never come to Christ of his own free will. Thank God that it is he and he alone that elects us and saves us. In that, we can rest assured.

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