The God Who Uses Means, Part 2

My last post took a quick look at God’s providential use of means in the life of Israel during the wilderness wandering and in our lives each day over against idleness in the name of ‘faith.’  My point there was that we mustn’t use faith as an excuse for inaction when God has clearly provided means by which to accomplish his promises.  On the contrary, in faith, we utilize these plain, ordinary means God has graciously given us instead of expecting (or dare I say demanding) God to respond through some extraordinary means.

Is this a real shift in thinking for us?  For many of us it is not.  For some, however, especially in the Word-Faith movement, this might be a huge shift in understanding.  While I appreciate their openness to God’s extraordinary means, i.e. miracles, there is much in the movement that is deeply troubling–from the pragmatic problem of expecting  God to heal by miracle in lieu of seeking medical care to the theological problem of turning God into a jinn/genie at our beck and call.  While God certainly can and does use extraordinary means, they are just that, extra-ordinary.

Back to my focus…more from Luther on God’s use of means, plain and ordinary, to accomplish his will:

We aren’t supposed to question if God in his unchangeable wisdom is willing to help us and give us what we need.  Instead, we should say with conviction, “I believe that God will take care of me, but I don’t know his plan.  I don’t know exactly how he’s going to fulfill his promise.”

So we must take advantage of the opportunities we have at hand.  We have to earn our money through hard work and diligence.  In order to stay alive, we have to have milk, food, clothes, and so on.  This means we have to cultivate the fields and harvest the crops.  Providing for ourselves is a God-given responsibility.  We can’t use God’s promise to take care of us as an excuse for not working diligently.  That would be wrong.  God doesn’t want us to be lazy and idle.  He tells us in Genesis, “By the sweat of your brow you will ear your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken” (Gen 3.19).  He also says of the ground, “It will produce thorns and thistles for you” (v.18).

The Lord is saying, “I promise that I will take care of you and give you food.  But to the best of your ability, I want you to take advantage of the opportunities I have made available to you.  Otherwise, you will be testing me.  However, if you are in need and have nothing available to you, at that time I will take care of you and give yo food in a miraculous way.  But keep this in mind: if any opportunities aren’t available to you, don’t forget that I am the one who gave them to you so that you would be able to take care of yourselves.”
(from Faith Alone: A Daily Devotional / LW 7:219)

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Book Review: Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century by Hank Hanegraaff

Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is an extensive update and revision of Hank Hanegraaff’s classic, first published nearly twenty years ago.  In it, he examines and scrutinizes the theology, practice, and teachings of some of the most popular “Word of Faith” (or simply “Faith”) preachers and teachers so prominent in American Evangelicalism today.  As in the initial version of Christianity in Crisis, Hanegraaff contrasts the teachings of the Faith movement with those of the historic, Christian faith to show the great disconnect between the two.  Using the acronym FLAWS, he examines deficiencies in this movement’s beliefs in the areas of faith, the nature of God, the understanding of the atonement, the fixation on health/wealth, and the theology of sickness/suffering.  After focusing on the negative aspects of these teachers and preachers, Hanegraaff offers several chapters of teaching on the “basics” of the faith in the areas of prayer, the Bible, the nature of the church, basic apologetics, and the theological non-negotiables of historic Christianity.  As is characteristic of Hanegraaff’s other works, he provides countless endnotes (nearly 75 pages) and a lengthy bibliography documenting the teachings of those under scrutiny, eliminating any serious accusation that he is taking these individuals out of context.

Hanegraaff’s lively writing style makes Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century an enjoyable read.  While he is to be considered an ardent defender of the faith, he is neither slanderous nor mean-spirited as he writes.  Two aspects of this book stand out and make it shine, in my opinion.  First, Hanegraaff is quick to separate the Word of Faith/Faith movement from Charismatic Christianity.  While the two are often lumped together by those in non-Charismatic circles, he points out the clear distinction between them in order to eliminate confusion for those who may erroneously believe or assume they are one-and-the-same.  Perhaps the most valuable portion of this book is the chapter titled, “Cast of Characters.”  In this chapter, Hanegraaff examines the false teachings of many prominent Faith teachers/preachers, including: Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, John Hagee, Rod Parsley, Paula White, and many others.  His lucid writing style clearly communicates what these individuals teach as well as pointing out the problems associated with their teachings.

Regardless of whether or not one is familiar with the original edition of this work, Christianity in Crisis: 21st Century is sure to make a valuable addition to the library of any Christian seeking discernment in the midst of the sometimes-confusing landscape of American Christianity.