Book Review: A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper

Title: A Sweet & Bitter Providence: Sex, Race and the Sovereignty of God
Author: John Piper
Publisher: Crossway Books

With it’s themes of sex, romance, culture and the unseen hand of God, the Old Testament book of Ruth is perhaps one of the most gripping short stories ever written—one with a great deal to teach us.

That’s why I was so glad to read A Sweet & Bitter Providence by John Piper as he illustrates how the story of Naomi, Ruth & Boaz teaches us to suffer well for the glory of God, recognizing that all things occur according to His sovereign rule.

God Reigns—But Do We See It?

Piper begins with the “bitter” providence of God in Naomi’s life. Seeking to find respite from the famine that has struck Israel, Her husband, Elimelech, moves Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon & Chilion, to Moab. There, instead of finding relief, the family finds only despair. Elimelech dies, her sons marry two Moabite women and die as well, childless. Naomi sees that “the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). Of this, Piper writes,

I would take Naomi’s theology any day over the sentimental views of God that permeate so many churches today. Endless excuses are made for God’s sovereignty. Naomi is unshaken and sure about three things: God exists, God is sovereign, and God has afflicted her. (pp. 37-38)

Piper wants readers to catch a larger vision of God, one that the Bible itself displays. A God who is much bigger than He appears based on what we hear in many sermons and read in a lot of books. He is real. He is sovereign and, yes, He has afflicted her. But all of these things happen not because He is capricious and mean, but because He is using them to further His plans for the salvation of the world. [Read more…]

Around the Interweb (01/10)

John Piper: A Sweet and Bitter Providence

John Piper’s got a new book, A Sweet and Bitter Providence. About the book:

The timeless themes of sex, racial tension, and God’s perplexing and perfect plans are as much a part of our human experience today as they were for Ruth and Boaz over three thousand years ago.

In A Sweet and Bitter Providence, the book of Ruth comes alive as a story of how God uses the most dangerous and tenuous circumstances to accomplish his wise and gracious purposes.

Here’s the trailer:

Read the book as a PDF or order a copy online


In other news

Christianity Today interviews Brit Hume, the former news anchor who appealed to Tiger Woods to turn to Christianity.

Kevin DeYoung on writing: part one | part two | part three

Bob Kauflin offers some reflections on turning 55


In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Marva J. Dawn’s In the Beginning, God

“Perhaps I’ll be like Peter in his bravado…” Steve Timmis on giving up our lives for the gospel

The Perfect Worshipper, a few thoughts on Psalm 15

D.A. Carson on what the Church in America needs

An inspiring excerpt from C.H. Spurgeon’s All of Grace

J.I. Packer: A Fallacious View of Providence

packer-providence

The twin suppositions which liberal critics make—that, on the one hand, divine control of the writers would exclude the free exercise of their natural powers, while on the other hand, divine accommodation to the free exercise of their natural powers would exclude complete control of what they wrote—are really two forms of the same mistake.

They are two ways of denying that the Bible can be both a fully human and fully divine composition. And this denial rest (as all errors in theology ultimately do) on a false doctrine of God; here particularly, of His providence. For it assumes that God and man stand in such a relation to each other that they cannot both be free agents in the same action. If man acts freely (i.e., voluntarily and spontaneously), God does not, and vice versa. The two freedoms are mutually exclusive.

But the affinities of this idea are with Deism, not Christian Theism. It is Deism which depicts God as the passive onlooker rather than the active governor of His world, and which assures us that the guarantee of human freedom lies in the fact that men’s actions are not under God’s control. But the Bible teaches rather that the freedom of God, who works in and through His creatures, leading them to act according to their nature, is itself the foundation and guarantee of the freedom of  their action.

It is therefore a great mistake to think that the freedom of the biblical writers can be vindicated only by denying full divine control over them; and the prevalence of this mistake should be ascribed to the insidious substitution of deistic for theistic ideas about God’s relation to the world which as been, perhaps the most damaging effect of modern science on theology.

When the critics of Evangelicalism take it for granted that Evangelicals, since they believe in complete control, must hold the ‘dictation’ theory, while they themselves, since they recognize accommodation, are bound to hold that in Scripture false and misleading words of men are mixed up with the pure word of God, they merely show how unbiblical their idea of providence ahs become.

The cure for such fallacious reasonings is to grasp the biblical idea of God’s concursive operation in, with and through the free working of man’s own mind.

J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, pp. 81-82

Sunday Shorts (08/30)

Collision Available for Pre-order

From the website:

COLLISION carves a new path in documentary film-making as it pits leading atheist, political journalist and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens against fellow author, satirist and evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange blows over the question: “Is Christianity Good for the World?”. The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry. COLLISION is directed by prolific independent filmmaker Darren Doane (Van Morrison: To Be Born Again, The Battle For L.A., Godmoney).

COLLISIONwill be released on October 27, 2009.  It will be available on DVD and will premiere at theaters in New York and Los Angeles.  The DVD is available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Andy Naselli: Do We Have Free Will?

Over at Reformation 21, Andy Naselli addresses the question of free will:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue.

This is an article that requires a few minutes, so don’t skim when you read it.

HT: Challies

Unpacking Forgiveness

Also at Reformation 21, Chris Brauns unpacks forgiveness:

I’ve been thinking recently about something television star Kelsey Grammer said.  It’s not because I saw a rerun of Cheers. Unfortunately, the context is tragic. Grammer has me thinking about well intentioned people who end up “packing unforgiveness.”  Where deep wounds are concerned, there are those who try and do what they believe faith requires.  Yet, they end up hurting all the more.

Read the full article.

In cased you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

God and the Weather: Intrepreting Providence Addressing God’s sovereign control over nature in light of the recent tornado in Minneapolis—how do we interpret providence?

Everyday Theology: Just Listen to Your Heart Should we really listen to our hearts when all they do is lead us into sin?

Cultivating Thankfulness How God’s sovereign rule leads us to be thankful in all circumstances

Trusting God Reviewing Jerry Bridges’ book responding to the question, “Can I trust God?”

Book Review: Trusting God

Trusting-GodTitle: Trusting God
Author: Jerry Bridges
Publisher: NavPress

Can I trust God?

This question plagues many of us, particularly in times of great difficulty. When it seems like our world is falling apart, it often feels impossible to believe that an all-powerful and all-good God is in control. But just because we can’t see Him at work, doesn’t mean He’s not.

This is what motivated Jerry Bridges to write Trusting God. What Bridges reminds us of in this very dense text is that God is completely sovereign—over circumstances, nations, nature, and even people—infinitely wise, and supremely loving. And because these things are true, we can trust Him fully as He works out all things for our good through His providence. More than that, it’s only because He is sovereign that we can trust Him at all! Because none can frustrate His plans, they will surely come to pass. And were His plans able to be thwarted, He would not be trustworthy at all, and we would have no reason to hope.

This is very good news for all of us, as it greatly encourages us to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and a desire to look for where He is working, in all our circumstances—both good and bad.

One note for readers: Sometimes Bridges’ writing… drags. I’ve experienced this with every book of his I’ve read to date. The content is wonderful, but I find myself having to (usually) read in fits and starts. This is may actually be a blessing in disguise, as it gives me time to reflect on what I’ve read, so maybe it’s not a bad thing.

Trusting God is without question a book that is extremely beneficial for all looking to better understand how God’s providential rule over creation, and how that affects our lives. Read slowly and savor.

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

God and the Weather: Interpreting Providence

providence

Because I’d not had the opportunity prior to embarking on 15 hours of travelling (I’m now basking in a cozy hotel room in Weybridge, Surrey, UK), I thought I’d offer some of my own thoughts on the issues surrounding the recent controversial statements made by Pastor John Piper about the Tornado that struck the Minneapolis Convention Center.

There are a few things that we can say unequivocally:

  1. God is sovereign over all things—Nations, governments, circumstances, people and even the weather. Absolutely nothing happens on this earth without either His direct intervention or His permission, be it good or bad. This is the (admittedly oversimplified) doctrine of Providence. The books of Ruth and Esther are specifically about God’s providential (unseen) hand. Psalm 147:8, 16-18, Job 37:3, 6, 10-13, Jeremiah 10:13, and Amos 4:7 all speak to His sovereign rule over nature.
  2.  

  3. Because God is indeed sovereign over all things, there is no such thing as a “random event,”according to Scripture. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and a create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things,” says the Lord in Isaiah 45:7 (see also Lamentations 3:38 and Ecclesiastes 7:14). There are only events we understand and events we do not. However, while we may not understand the purpose of an event, God most certainly does (see Deut. 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”) But we have to remember that God permits all things for the good of all who love Him (see Rom. 8:28).
  4.  

  5. All sin is unacceptable in the eyes of a holy God. Murder, lying, blasphemy, pride and sexual sin (including, but not limited to, fornication, adultery and homosexual practice) are all equally wrong in the eyes of God. And all who fail to repent will stand to give an account before God for their sins. This is what Jesus was warning of in Luke 13:1-5—Disastrous events in this world foreshadow the judgement that is to come, and unless we repent, we too will fall in that judgement. That’s a big deal, gang!

That’s what we can say.

Here is what we cannot:

We cannot offer a definitive interpretation of a providential act of God, like the recent tornado. To do so goes further than we are permitted by Scripture. We can offer what we think may have been the reason, and I believe that was Piper’s intention.

Further, there are some who would call it a random act. And with all due respect, there is no Scriptural support for such an idea whatsoever. To do so is nothing short of a denial of God’s sovereignty, which, if taken away, removes our reason for trusting Him. Because we know that He is in control of all things, for the good of His people, we can trust Him.

God knows why He, in His providence, sent the tornado to Minneapolis. And He knows why He also sent one to Vaughan, Ontario the next night.

But we do not know the specific reason with certainty, but we do know that this tornado was sent for “the good of those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).