15 March 2011

Evangelicalism's Deistic Response to the Catastrophe in Japan

 I’m used to disagreeing with Chuck Colson, but today really shocked me. I’ve long believed that many Evangelicals are in fact Deists, that is they don’t really believe in Providence. They don’t believe that God is actively governing the affairs of this world. The practical implications of this cannot be overstated.

Many of them think that God sort of lets the world be, and intervenes from time to time. Some go even further and would believe that God actually keeps adjusting the details of His plan to keep it compatible with the choices that people make. The overall plan stays the same, but it’s as if God has to keep compensating for our actions.

It’s no surprise that Open Theism has taken root and become quite popular. For those unfamiliar this is the quite rational idea that God doesn’t actually know the future as a certainty. He reacts to our actions. It’s really just a logical conclusion of the aforementioned position.

It’s a rational response; it just happens to reject what the Bible teaches concerning God’s government of the universe.

Once again the Bible presents us with a Dynamic, a two sided truth that must be held in dialectical tension. The Bible clearly teaches that we are responsible for our actions. We have wills, and on one level they’re free, but the Bible also informs us that due to sin, our wills are in bondage. When unregenerate we always choose the evil. Even when we do something ‘good’ we do it for the wrong motives…not to please God and elevate His name, more often than not to feel good about ourselves or bring glory to our own names. There is none that doeth good, no not one.

We have a will, and despite its bondage, it may still be referred to as free…just free enough to be held responsible for our sinful actions.

But the Bible also teaches that everything is according to God’s will. There is not a single atom that’s outside of his control. He governs everything and at all times.

Are these reconcilable? Not by using conventional logic.

You end up with either Libertarian Free Will….open theism.

Or you end up with Fatalism….closer to Scripture but not quite right either.

If we embrace Revelation as truth, then we can accept the supra- or extra- logical premise:

The Bible teaches that God predestines our free choices.

This is not reconcilable using tradition Aristotelian logic. Open Theists unapologetically confine their reasoning to the here and now, the empirically observable and verifiable. And here’s the bad part, they subject their doctrine of God to this criteria. So they end up with a god who is not the God of the Bible, but one much more to their liking.

Even many fallen men and false religions have acknowledged that for God to be God He must rule over all. If he is All-powerful Sovereign and Eternal, then in some sense our actions are part of His plan. But too many of these religions have viewed our plight as subject to fate. God is cruel and capricious, we are but his playthings.

While this is more correct then the other extreme, it’s not quite the picture the Bible gives us either. The Bible shows that God predestines and yet we are responsible.

Predestination is not given to us to make it the center piece of a systematic theology, a logical grid by which we understand everything. This is a logical and rational thing to do…it’s just not how the Scriptures treat these matters.

It’s meant to drive us to our knees, shrink our pride and yet at the same time grant us a trembling comfort….we receive no glory, it is all God.

And yet, mystery of mysteries, we must act, we must do, we must strive and fight and work.

God uses Means….including His people. And he is greatly glorified by using weak, pathetic, and rebellious losers like us to accomplish his purposes.

Read Isaiah 10. Assyria was his servant, the rod of His anger. Their destructive rampage was part of His plan.

But because of their pride, He would punish them.

This is Romans 9 in action. Our notions of fairness would make us cry out …Why have you made me thus? For who can resist his will?

Assyria could say…how can you judge us? We were just doing what you wanted?

Paul shuts that down. Who are you oh man?…….

It’s a question we cannot ask….practically speaking it can’t be answered. Neither is it the task of the theologian to reconcile this mystery. So what do we do?

If we believe in Jesus Christ, we submit to His Word, period.

Assyria, Judas, Hitler….all part of God’s plan,

And yet all wicked and responsible for their actions.

Can we be outside of God’s will?

The answer is a dialectic……Yes and No.

Yes, we can be outside of his revealed will. He tells us, don’t sin. Don’t kill or steal.

When we do those things we’re outside of His will.

But at the same time, all is according to His plan. Even when I sin, it’s part of His plan, but I am responsible. Nothing, not a single atom is outside of His decretive will.

We need to tremble a bit before this Mighty God. We don’t deserve anything and we are dependent on Him. That should either make us sick with fear or make us rejoice with trembling.

Providence has sometimes been described as a miracle in slow motion. Normally we think of a miracle as an event in which the normal way in which the universe runs, the laws that God has given are suspended. So in that sense Providence is not a miracle, but whether we live our normal day to day lives interacting with the God established laws of nature or we experience something miraculous where the normative laws are suspended…either way God is in control.

Where was God when the earthquake shook Japan and the tsunami overwhelmed it?

He was shaking the earth and sending the waves.

If we understand sin, then we know full well that we all deserve to die in a tsunami, an earthquake, a 9/11, an Auschwitz.

The fact that we don’t is a daily mercy. If we’re not thankful, then we’re judged for despising His benevolence.

This may sound kind of cold. I don’t mean to be. I weep for the people of Japan. It’s heartrending. But I can find comfort because God was in the waves, not because I have to pretend He wasn’t. The latter represents the thinking of many if not most Evangelicals.

The following Colson post demonstrates that he thinks this way. He like many Evangelicals is practically speaking…a Deist. Read on. As usual my responses are interspersed.

It's Not 'Why?' It's 'What Now?'

In the Wake of the Tsunami

By: Chuck Colson
Published: March 15, 2011 12:00 AM

Of all the questions being asked in the wake of the Japanese tsunami, one was entirely predictable. But it’s the wrong one to ask.

Several days after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, we are just now beginning to understand the scope of the devastation -- the loss of life, the annihilation of entire communities, and even more ominously, the threat of meltdowns at Japanese nuclear facilities. Predictably, seismologists and nuclear engineers are all over the airwaves explaining what happened and what might happen next -- and we should be grateful for their input.

And just as predictably, but far less welcome, the chattering atheist class is once again mocking those of us who believe in God. Why would our so-called good God permit such a catastrophe? Sigh. It’s amazing how much time some people spend railing against a God they don’t believe exists.

Well, for those of us who assume He exists, let’s take a look at what happened. The biblical worldview teaches that God created the heavens and the earth and that the physical creation, reflecting its rational creator, behaves according to observable laws. As a result of observing these laws and principles, we know much about plate tectonics and how earthquakes occur. And we know that they are a result of natural processes. We also know that we human beings are made in God’s image, blessed with reason and with certain creative gifts which we can use in this world we’ve been placed in.


This is astonishing. While God certainly governs through Laws as a normative Means….that’s the visible, the normal administration that we on this earth…lost and saved….live by.

But as Christians, we know something more. We know that while we build our house following the normative means of physics, we also know that when the cyclone or tornado flattens it…that was God’s will. God may use the Means…the tornado or whatever, but again as a Christian I understand a little more than just natural forces. I understand the Rule of Providence.

The unbeliever doesn’t understand this and makes dumb references to Mother Nature, chance, or something else.

Deism was intriguing to many during the Enlightenment because it offered an opportunity to explain abstract laws….laws of nature, as well as explain a general source for ethics. Believing in God you could explain why things work as they do and discern some basics of right and wrong. But Deists did not believe that God was intervening in day to day affairs. He wasn’t actively shaping history…he had left men to their own devices under the protection of his laws. There was little room for special revelation in the Deist universe…things like the Bible. Colson obviously professes to believe the Bible, so he’s not a classical Deist in that sense, but the way he’s reading it….pure Deism.

Generally speaking, Deists make okay neighbours. They can even run countries that aren’t bad to live in.

But their theology is incompatible with what the Bible teaches concerning God.


Now, will we be able one day to stop earthquakes? No. That’s the ultimate hubris to think that we humans can rearrange the God-created order on such a scale. But as rational beings made in God’s image, we can learn how to better detect earthquakes, how to respond to them, and how to build buildings better able to withstand them.

We know as well that as rational beings created in God’s image, we enjoy free will. It’s essential to our being human. With that free will we knowingly build cities on already-known fault lines. We also build homes in hurricane zones. I live in one. Lots of farmers farm in the Midwest, knowing it is tornado alley. But that’s their livelihood, and that’s what they do. They take that risk.


Yes, we make use of the laws of nature to formulate tools and technology. As Christians we look to God to discern what technology we should pursue and to consider the moral implications of what we do.

Free will. Well, this is interesting, because he makes it clear he’s shaping his whole thought in terms of the normative…the horizontal, time and space. Man is left to his own devices. Logically worked out, something he seems keen to do…you end up with Open Theism.

One of the blessings of the Bible is that we’re not left with just the realm of nature, time and space. Colson stops there.

He doesn’t address the reciprocal…the fact that we as Christians know quite a bit more. The Invisible, the Eternal are revealed to us. We don’t know the particulars of God’s plan, but we know that whatever occurs here is according to His Will.

What Colson says here could be echoed by any Monotheist or Deist. There’s nothing Christian in his statement. Muslims, Mormons, Jews, even some polytheists wouldn’t object to what he’s saying.

Does he remedy this?


When a hurricane wreaks havoc in my community, do I complain that God allowed this to happen? No. I know that hurricanes are a natural phenomenon that occurs because of climactic changes and shifting winds and temperature gradients -- all of those things which can now be clearly demonstrated to be physical laws of the universe. So I can’t blame anybody.


While we wouldn’t blame God…at least that’s not the way I would put it…to suggest that God was somehow removed from what happened…is to cease to believe in the God of Scripture. This is Deism which practically speaking amounts to a kind of Moral Atheism.

Does Colson think that if we admit God’s plan includes tsunamis and 9/11’s that will make Him evil? Or unattractive?

The lost will not see or understand it UNTIL they grasp sin. That’s the barrier. All the marketing in the world can’t get around that. And whether your marketing is geared toward church-growth or civilizational transformation…you can’t get away from the wall of antithesis between the believer and unbeliever. The wall is sin. The unbeliever doesn’t acknowledge it, at least not rightly.

And hence…this is important….the Biblical doctrine of God is offensive. The message of the Gospel…it’s offensive to them.

Is Colson offended by what the Bible teaches?


But as a Christian, what do I do when disaster strikes? I pray for the victims, console the grieving, and love my neighbor created in God’s image. That is, I get to work and help those in need. And I have no doubt that Christians -- those who follow a God whom the atheists call cruel and inhumane -- will be in the vanguard of helping the hurting in Japan because He has taught us to love one another on this beautifully created, intricately complex, and even sometimes dangerous planet on which we live, and because humans are, after all, the crown of creation.

As the Psalmist writes, “When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him? Yet thou hast made him a little less than God, and dost crown him with glory and honor.”


Wow. Pray, console, love….on what basis? There is no consolation in a god that doesn’t govern the waves and winds. Pray? To whom? For what? Some kind of esoteric comfort? This way of thinking is standing on shifting sand.

Colson’s theology rests on Logic rather than Revelation. When something like this happens he runs into a brick wall. Since the crux of his religion is cultural transformation, he has little use for doctrines he doesn’t deem practical.

So instead of submitting to Scripture, he chooses to ignore what it teaches. I could be wrong, but I’ve heard many who share his mindset dismiss these dynamics, these notions of Providence as impractical. Let’s get to work, he seems to say.

I can’t think of anything more practical in the world. It’s the basis for my work, my hope and consolation. I could never comfort someone if all I believe in was the Deistic god of Chuck Colson and the majority of American Evangelicals. There is a strong strain of crypto- or hidden Deism at work in the American Church.

Even their cultural aspirations…assuming their model for a moment…can hardly be called Christian. They want to make the world safe for Mormons as one put it. Their definition of Christianity is this kind of broad cultural Monotheism.

It’s grand Deism, but it isn’t Christianity.

I will grant there are many people who just can’t reconcile the two sides and so they go with what makes sense. They talk like Deists but act like Christians. But there are many others who think and talk like Deists and their lives clearly reflect it.

Their mentality and lifestyle exhibits no trust in God. They may like the idea of laying up treasures in heaven, but in their hearts they believe in the here and now. They like the idea of God intervening in history, but they live in fear and do everything they possibly can to control the circumstances of their lives and that of their children. Fear of the unknown motivates them…not fear of God. They believe in a semi-chaotic universe, governed by a mixture of harsh natural laws, cruel chance…and maybe just for good measure they’ll pay lip service to a God they’d like to believe in…but their lives show they do not. And certainly when it comes to their reading of the Bible…the God of that book is not one they either know or care much for.

I don’t know what’s in Colson’s heart or anyone else’s, but I do know that someone who sets himself up as some kind of leader or spokesperson for American Evangelicals ought to know better than this. I don’t believe Colson is a Christian for many reasons. This commentary just further solidifies to my mind what he’s all about.

Am I being too harsh in calling him a Deist?

1 comment:

Victoria said...

You re quite right in the Deist implications of Colson's remarks.

It is grievous to me that so many who claim to follow Jesus, look up to this man. He is confused and wrong on many vital points of The Faith.

Much of evenagelicalism, especially of the domionionist flavor, have a non-existent or wrong theology of judgment and sovereignty.