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An Interview with Vern Poythress

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In this interview, we talk with Vern Poythress, professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary. His newest book is Chance and the Sovereignty of God: A God-Centered Approach to Probability and Random Events.


Why write a book about probability and chance?

I had several reasons. First, everyone has to face unpredictable events in life. We talk about “chance” events. These include both happy events and disasters. Where is God in such things? I wrote the book partly to respond to this practical question, and to give people a biblical basis for dealing with what they find inexplicable. God does not give human beings all the answers. Much remains mysterious. But the Bible does provide a path that deeply ministers to people who have to deal with disasters.

In writing the book I had in mind other questions as well. In an earlier book, Redeeming Science, I focused on the area of scientific law, which concerns the regularities in God’s providential government of the world. I realized in looking back at that book that I had not addressed at any length what we are to think about the unpredictable aspects of the world. I believe we need to think through a distinctively Christian approach to what is not predictable or “irregular.”

Additionally, the idea of chance plays a key role in mainstream thinking about Darwinian evolution. In many people’s thinking, chance becomes a substitute for God. So the issue of what chance is needs addressing. The issue of chance also has broader relevance to science as a whole. Experimental science relies on repeated experiments. But when an experiment is repeated, the results are never exactly the same. Experiments contain what are called “statistical variations,” variations in the details of the data. In analyzing these variations, scientists rely on the theory of probability. So assumptions about chance and probability underly all of science, not just the mainstream account of Darwinism.

Finally, a lot of wonderful insights can be found in the scientific and mathematical treatment of probability. These insights reveal God’s glory, and we can learn to praise God for what he has given us in this area.

How should Christians talk about seemingly “chance” events in light of God’s sovereignty?

The Bible indicates that God is in charge not merely of general patterns in history, but all the details. Jesus says that “even the hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). When we study the Bible carefully, we find that God controls all things, including what seems to be “chance” or “random” events.

However, we must humbly acknowledge that we often do not know God’s purposes. Even at the end of the Book of Job, Job did not receive a detailed explanation about why all the disasters had happened to him. God calls us to trust in him: he can bring good out of evil, just as he did in Joseph’s life (Gen. 50:20) and in the crucifixion of Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:25-28).

In the introduction to your book, you recount a story in which your family was nearly involved in a serious car accident during a road trip. This leads you to pose a challenging question: “If I am ready to acknowledge God’s control when my family escapes an accident, should I also acknowledge that God is in control when someone else suffers from an unpredictable tragedy?” How would you answer?

On the basis of the Bible, we should say that God is in control of all things, even disasters. This is a hard truth for many people. Certainly we should acknowledge the depth of human suffering. The suffering is real and the human struggles are real. We should “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Jesus wept when he came to Mary at the time of Lazarus’s death (John 11:35).

A time of tragedy is typically a time to grieve and sympathize with the grieving (Eccles. 3:4), not offer a doctrinal lesson that may sound unfeeling or detached. At the same time, God’s control gives us hope that he can bring good out of evil. In his faithfulness, God sustains people who cannot see ahead.

You maintain that evolutionary naturalism is a philosophy because “it is a speculation that goes far beyond normal science and scientific evidence.” Can you elaborate on this point?

Evolutionary naturalism is the view that all forms of life came about through merely material processes, with no guiding purpose at any point. But the narrow study of material causes can never legitimately make a pronouncement about God’s involvement or God’s purposes in the processes. And scientific study ought not say that there can be no exceptions, that is, events in which God acts in surprising ways.

Many pronouncements made these days in the name of science use the successes of science and the prestige of science as a platform from which to advocate the principle that there are no purposes and that God is absent. But such pronouncements represent a form of philosophy; the advocates of materialistic philosophy are importing their own assumptions into their interpretation of the scientific data.

I’ve heard that you’re a fan of American football. How should the doctrine of God’s sovereignty impact the way Christians watch football (or any sport)?

Sports and individual games take place according to the sovereign will and plan of God. Because of this, I believe that our enjoyment of them should also take the form of thanksgiving to God. We should also thank him for the details of particular games. We can admire the particular athletic gifts and dedication that God has given to individual athletes and teams.

As in many other areas of life, God’s control does not undermine human activity or the excitement of a game whose outcome we do not know and whose outcome depends on many individual events that we cannot predict. Additionally, God’s sovereignty does not imply that he morally approves everything that happens (e.g., bad sportsmanship or cheating).

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m currently writing a book entitled, The Miracles of Jesus: Signs of Redemption, and shepherding through to publication A Handbook for Biblical Interpretation.


Vern S. Poythress (PhD, Harvard University; ThD, Stellenbosch University) is professor of New Testament interpretation at Westminster Theological Seminary, where he has taught for over 30 years. In addition to earning six academic degrees, he has written numerous books on biblical interpretation, language, and science, including Redeeming Science, Redeeming Sociology, Logic, and Chance and the Sovereignty of God (excerpt).

 

April 22, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Books,Life & Doctrine,News & Announcements,Q&A,Theology | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »

Taking God At His Word Giveaway

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The Book

Can we trust the Bible completely? Is it sufficient for our complicated lives?

These are important questions that we all wrestle with at some point in our walk with Christ. That’s why Kevin DeYoung wrote Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me.

After reading DeYoung’s new book, David Platt had this to say: “My trust in God’s Word is greater, my submission to God’s Word is deeper, and my love for God’s Word is sweeter as a result of reading this book. I cannot recommend it highly enough.”

Learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and download the free study guide!

The Prizes

As we launch this important new book, we’re giving away some great prizes to encourage you in your reading of God’s Word.

We’ll pick 17 random winners who will each receive one of the following three prize packages:

1. A Kindle Fire HD + 5 Kevin DeYoung e-books: Taking God At His WordCrazy BusyThe Hole in Our HolinessWhy Our Church Switched to the ESV, and What Is the Mission of the Church? (2 winners)

2. A premium goatskin ESV Heirloom Thinline Bible (brown or black) + a print copy of Taking God At His Word (5 winners)

3. The ESVBible.org Gospel Transformation Bible Web App (10 winners)

How to Enter

To enter the drawing, simply tell us what book of the Bible has meant the most to you over the past 6 months in this brief survey by May 4th.

That’s it!

IMPORTANT DETAILS: Only one entry per person. Entry must be received by midnight on May 4, 2014. Must have a valid U. S. mailing address to win.

April 21, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Books,Giveaways & Contests,News & Announcements | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:45 am | Comments Off »

Christ in All of Scripture – Isaiah 11:1-5

 

 

Isaiah 11:1-5

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.”


God never abandoned Israel, promising that amid the apparently destitute land there remained “the holy seed” found in a stump (Isa. 6:13). Coming forth from the line of David (Isa. 11:1), this “root of Jesse” would signal to the nations a new reality (Isa. 11:10).

At Jesus’ baptism, as he rose out of the water, the Spirit descended upon him like a dove, and the Gospel writers appear to connect this event with the messianic expectations of Isaiah (see Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22; cf. Isa. 11:2, 61:1). Here is the true fulfillment of this expectation, as the one conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35) grows in wisdom, understanding, and counsel, so that “his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:3; cf. Heb. 5:7–9). These words provide one of the most profound definitions of “the fear of the Lord” in the Old Testament. We hardly have a modern word equivalent to this Hebrew word for “fear.” The word cannot simply mean “terror,” because God’s people are called to love their Lord—impossible if they only live in terror of him. Many theologians, therefore, substitute words such as “awe” or “reverence” for this Old Testament use of “fear.” Such words help our understanding, but this passage (Isa. 11:2–3) reminds us that Christ will “delight” in the fear of the Lord. So, we are made to understand that the loving regard that the eternal Son has for his Father is the fear of the Lord. This is not merely reverence for divine power but is proper regard for all that God is: just, holy, powerful, wise, loving, compassionate, and merciful.

Contributing to this “proper regard” are Isaiah’s prophecies of the new world order. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, all who believe in him become a part of this promised new creation. With the coming of this “stump of Jesse” a radical shift in the way of the world is expected: chaos will turn to harmony, fear to laughter, death to life (Isa. 11:6–9). We who are new creatures in Christ joyfully participate in the work of the kingdom that we anticipate (Isa. 11:4–10), seeking reconciliation in Jesus’ name by pursuing peace, justice, creation care, and life-promoting goodness (cf. Deut. 26:13). In part we do this by putting on the full armor of God, first truly worn by Christ (cf. Isa. 11:5) but now given to us by his Spirit. In so doing we wage the battle not against foreign political powers but against “the schemes of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). Echoing the words of Isaiah, we are encouraged to stand, to put on the “belt of truth, and . . . the breastplate of righteousness,” being ready “by the gospel of peace” to hold up “the shield of faith” and the “helmet of salvation,” fighting back with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:13–17).


This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.

 

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Books,ESV,GTB | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:36 am | 0 Comments »

Weekly Specials – 4/21/14

Crossway’s weekly specials are available to members of Crossway Impact. You can also find this week’s featured resources with participating online retailers such as AmazonBarnes & NobleBookshoutChristianbook.comeChristianiBooks (Apple)Vyrso (at each individual retailer’s discretion). Discounted prices available through 4/27/14.


Baptism and the Lord’s Supper

Thabiti M. Anyabwile, J. Ligon Duncan

E-book: $2.99 $0.99

Pastors Thabiti Anyabwile and J. Ligon Duncan have teamed up to outline the Bible’s basic teaching about baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Speaking from different traditions, they bring perspective to the discussion while both observing that baptism and the Lord’s Supper should be fundamentally understood as pointing to something greater.

This new booklet from the Gospel Coalition will bring clarity for those wanting to understand the importance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Buy: E-book

 

Thinking. Loving. Doing.: A Call to Glorify God with Heart and Mind

Edited by John Piper, David Mathis; Contributions by Thabiti M. Anyabwile, Francis Chan, R. Albert Mohler Jr., R. C. Sproul, Rick Warren

E-book: $12.99 $2.99

This volume, built on the 2010 Desiring God National Conference, argues that thinking and the affections of the heart are inseparable. Our emotions fuel our thoughts for God. Likewise, hard thinking about God leads to deeper joy in our relationship with him. And both, in turn, help us focus outward as we express a greater love for others.

“I found this book to be a fascinating, challenging, insightful, practical, and surprisingly personal discussion of how Christians can grow in both knowledge and love.”
Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary

Buy: E-book

 

On the Old Testament

Mark Driscoll

E-book: $7.99 $0.99

Who wrote the Old Testament? How were the Old Testament books chosen as Scripture? Find answers to these questions and more in this concise book. Part of the Re:Lit: A Book You’ll Actually Read series.

“Mark has a gift of taking weighty ideas and expressing them in clear and lively language.”
Bruce A. Ware, Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Buy: E-book

 

On the New Testament

Mark Driscoll

E-book: $7.99 $0.99

Who wrote the New Testament? Is it reliable? Why so many translations? Find answers to these questions and more in this concise book. Part of the Re:Lit: A Book You’ll Actually Read series.

“These books are well worth an hour of your time.”
Craig Groeschel, Senior Pastor, LifeChurch.tv; author, WEIRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working

Buy: E-book

 

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book Deals,Books,Impact Specials,Weekly Specials | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »

The Final Days of Jesus: Sunday, April 5, AD 33

Final_Days_header08In this week’s video series, well-known New Testament scholars explore the background and significance of the history-shaping events that occurred during Jesus’s last week on earth. Designed as a supplement to The Final Days of Jesus, our prayer is that these videos will help deepen your understanding and experience of Holy Week.



The Final Days of Jesus: Resurrection Sunday
from Crossway on Vimeo.

 

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Previous Videos:


The Final Days of Jesus: The Most Important Week of the Most Important Person Who Ever Lived
Andreas J. Köstenberger and Justin Taylor, with Alexander Stewart

Combining a chronological arrangement of the biblical text with insightful commentary, this book serves as a day-by-day guide to Jesus’s final week on earth, complete with a quick-reference glossary and color maps.

Free Downloads:
Excerpt / Study Guide / 40-Day Reading Guide

 

April 20, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Biblical Studies,Books,Jesus Christ,Life & Doctrine,New Testament,The Gospel,Theology,Video | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:30 am | 0 Comments »