Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God – Brian Zahnd

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COMMENDING JONATHAN EDWARDS

I will never forget a very special evening with a small group of Christ-followers at the McLean home.  My good friend, Don suggested that we read Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God by Jonathan Edwards in one sitting – on our knees.  And so a group of middle-aged adults gathered in Don’s living room alongside several children (whose knees were much more nimble) – and we read Edward’s classic sermon – on our knees.  It is a moment I will not soon forget.  We were humbled.  We were drawn into the very presence of God.  And like the 18th-century congregation in Enfield – we were cut to the quick.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God is not only one of the most well-known sermons in American history; it is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached on American soil.  In one sermon, the Puritan divine highlights both the awesome wrath of a holy God and the matchless grace and tenderhearted love of Jesus Christ.

The sermon is derived from Deuteronomy 32:35 – “Their foot shall slide in due time.”  The doctrine that Edwards sets forth is simple: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Edwards concludes with a strong application which is meant to awaken sinners and flee from the wrath of God.  Current readers (along with the original Enfield congregation) are faced with a momentous decision as Edwards warns them to the sobering reality of God’s wrath: “There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up.”

Readers are challenged to take advantage of “the door of mercy wide open” which beckons them to receive the grace of God in Christ. The concluding words of the sermon leave sinners with an important decision; the most important decision they will ever make: “Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.  The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation.  Let every one fly out of Sodom: “Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed.”

CONDEMNING JONATHAN EDWARDS

The congregation in Enfield was humbled and mercifully drawn to the Savior as literally, thousands have since been Edwards first preached his sermon on July 8, 1741. But not everyone is eager to receive the biblical message that Edwards preaches. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God has received a fair amount of criticism over the years.  It has been and continues to be maligned and caricatured.  Often found on a list of required reading for college English courses, the sermon is mocked for its candid language and scary images.  Many readers simply cannot stomach the God that Edwards presents or submit to the God that Edwards loves and serves.

Brian Zahnd’s new book, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News is the latest thunderbolt against the Edwardsean vision of God. Zahnd argues that Edwards depicts God as a “sadistic juvenile dangling spiders over a fire.”1 He likens Edwards’s vision of hell to “the Almighty’s eternal Auschwitz.”2 And Edwards’s vision of God is compared to a “sadistic monster.”3

Zahnd’s work is a best-selling release in the Christology category on Amazon. It has been highly touted by well-known authors. And it has received rave reviews on Amazon as readers are drawn to a softer version of God and a worldview which is miles away from Reformed theology. But does this popular book stand up to the scrutiny of Scripture? Does Mr. Zahnd’s critique of Reformed stalwarts like Jonathan Edwards and John Calvin have any merit? At least four major concerns surface in Mr. Zahnd’s book.

CONCERNS WITH SINNERS IN THE HANDS OF A LOVING GOD
The Portrait of God

The first concern is regarding the portrait of God. Readers will quickly discover that the portrait of God in this book is painted with a different kind of brush which renders an altogether different portrayal of God. What we find is a God utterly devoid of wrath. To be fair, Mr. Zahnd affirms the existence of God’s wrath and divine anger in Scripture but maintains these biblical realities are only metaphors, none of which are designed to be taken literally. And “liberalizing a divine metaphor,” according to Zahnd “always leads to error. We easily acknowledge that God is not literally a rock and not literally a hen, but we have tended to literalize the metaphor of divine anger.”4 But Zahnd confuses anthropomorphic language that attributes body parts to God or compares him to a rock or a hen or an eagle with the reality of God’s wrath. Instead of affirming the plain teaching of Scripture, Zahnd simply says, “God is not wrath.”5

Once the author dispenses with any literal notion of God’s wrath, he is able to make the following sweeping statement about God’s character: “The revelation that God’s single disposition toward sinners remains one of unconditional love does not mean we are exempt from the consequences of going against the grain of love. When we live against the grain of love we suffer the cards of self-inflicted suffering. This is the ‘wrath of God.’”6

So instead of facing God’s all-consuming wrath, unrepentant sinners are merely enduring a season of “self-inflicted suffering.” Time does not permit a detailed examination of the myriad of passages that point to God’s wrath. But notice, for example, a holy God’s response to sin in Psalm 5:5-7.

For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

R.C. Sproul helps dismantle the idea that God loves all sinners unconditionally:

I can think of no more pernicious lie to destroy people’s souls than this, which some preachers are spreading around the world: God loves you unconditionally. No, he does not. If we do not meet the conditions that he established for us in creation, then God will send us to hell forever. That is what the Bible says, even though the culture does not. He requires perfect obedience. Unless that condition is met, none of us will ever step inside the courts of heaven. Unless the terms of the covenant of creation are kept perfectly, we will rendezvous in hell, where we justly belong because of our disobedience.7

God’s response to sin in Psalm 5:5-7 may sound severe to the typical postmodern ear. But the Scriptural reality of God’s wrath stands. Despite the overwhelming biblical evidence, though, Zahnd categorically rejects the wrath of God. He argues, “You have nothing to fear from God. God is not mad at you. God is never going to be mad at you.”8

“The true biblical test of any theology,” writes Stephen Wellum, “is whether it accounts for all of the biblical data.”9 While a few select passages that concern God’s wrath are selected from the Old Testament in Zahand’s work (and ultimately explained away as “metaphors”), the New Testament reality of God’s wrath is simply set aside. Passages such as Matthew 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 1:18-19; 2:5; 5:9 and Colossians 3:6 are strangely missing. One wonders how 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10 would be explained in a book that discounts the wrath of God:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed because our testimony to you was believed.

A.W. Tozer was deeply concerned about views concerning God that failed to match the teaching of Scripture. He writes, “It is my opinion that the Christian conception of God current in these middle years of the twentieth century is so decadent as to be utterly beneath the dignity of the Most High God and actually to constitute for professed believers something amounting to a moral calamity.”10 The pattern that Tozer identified in those days continues in our day, even among people who bear the name of Christ. That pattern is repeated in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God.

The Prescription for Forgiveness

Like many other popular pastors and teachers, Zahnd repudiates penal substitutionary atonement. Influenced by Jürgen Moltmann’s, Crucified God, the author makes these general assertions:

  • “The cross is many things, but it is not a quid pro quo to mollify an angry God.”11
  • “Yes, it was a murder that God knew would happen – because of our addiction to sin and violence – but God’s foreknowledge of this killing doesn’t mean that it was God’s will for Jesus to be murdered.”12
  • “The cross is not a picture of payment; the cross is a picture of forgiveness. Good Friday is not about divine wrath; Good Friday is about divine love.”13
  • “The cross is not the place where God vents his wrath on Jesus. The cross is the place where human fear and anger are absorbed into God’s eternal love and recycled into the saving mercy of Christ.”14

All these statements are clear indications that the author rejects penal substitutionary atonement. Zahnd echoes the rantings of Steve Chalke who has likened penal substitution to “cosmic child abuse.” Zahnd writes, “The cross is not where God finds a whipping boy to vent his rage upon; the cross is where God saves the world through self-sacrificing love. The only thing God will call justice is setting the world right, not punishing an innocent substitute for the petty sake of appeasement.”15

Zahnd agrees with the conclusion of Tony Jones’ book, Did God Kill Jesus? Both writers agree and emphatically declare that God did not kill Jesus. Zahnd continues, “Among the many problems with Calvin’s theory of the cross is that it turns God into a petty tyrant and a moral monster. Punishing the innocent in order to forgive the guilty is monstrous logic, atrocious theology, and a gross distortion of the idea of justice.”16 Zahnd continues, “A theory of the cross that says it was God who desired the torture and murder of Jesus on Good Friday turns the Father of Jesus into a cruel and sadistic monster. It’s salvation by divine sadism.” 17

What are we to make of these revealing statements which ridicule penal substitutionary atonement? To begin with, anyone who compares God to a “sadistic monster” should rethink their strategy and repent. The reality is this: “Penal substitution,” writes Roger Nicole, is the vital center of the atonement, the linchpin without which everything else loses its foundation.”18 Emil Brunner cuts through the theological fog and offers this timely advice: “… He who understands the Cross aright – this is the opinion of the Reformers – understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ.”19

Zahnd maintains that God knew about the cross but never “willed” the horrific events of the cross. However, two passages in the book of Acts show the sovereignty of God in salvation and demonstrate God’s involvement in the cross from start to finish:

Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:22–23, ESV).

for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place (Acts 4:27–28, ESV).

Affirming the love and mercy of God at the cross but discounting his wrath is wrongheaded, dangerous, and unbiblical. R.C. Sproul laments, “A god who is all love, all grace, all mercy, no sovereignty, no justice, no holiness, and no wrath is an idol.”

Finally, the reckless abandonment of penal substitutionary atonement undercuts the gospel of Jesus Christ. Penal substitutionary atonement is not an invention of Calvin – it is the plain teaching of Scripture. Christ bore the penalty for our sins. Christ was the substitute for every sinner that would ever believe.

We deserved wrath – yet Jesus stands in as our substitute (Heb. 9:26). We were the enemies of God and separated from him because of our sin – yet Jesus reconciled us to God (Isa. 59:2; Col. 1:20-22; 2 Cor. 5:18-19). We were slaves to sin, yet Jesus was our redeemer (John 8:34, 36; Mark 10:45; Col. 1:13; Eph. 1:7). We deserved the wrath of God – yet Jesus was our propitiation (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10) and satisfied the righteous demands of the law by absorbing the white-hot wrath of the Father.

We have an unshakable hope because we are saved from the wrath of God and saved through the Son of God. These realities give rise to a new way of living. These realities spark new motivation. These truths propel us into the future and enable us to live our lives to the glory of God!

The Paltry Nature of Scripture

The problems in Zahnd’s book intensify when one considers his view of Scripture. To be clear, the author claims to have a high view of Scripture. However, his view must be clarified:

When I point out that the Bible is the penultimate word of God that points us to the ultimate Word of God who is Jesus, I do so as a person with a high view of Scripture and a lifelong commitment to the Bible. When we speak of the Word of God, Christians should think of Jesus first and the Bible second. It’s Jesus who is the true Word of God, not the Bible.20

Earlier, in an attempt to strip the Bible from any kind of wrath, Zahnd writes emphatically, “The Bible is not the perfect revelation of God; Jesus is.” This convenient hermeneutic allows the author to bypass any form of divine wrath and bears a strange resemblance to the neo-orthodox notion that the Bible is not the Word of God; rather it contains the word of God.

“Jesus is greater than the Bible,” according to Zahnd. Indeed, “Jesus is the Savior of all that is to be saved … including the Bible. Jesus saves the Bible from itself! Jesus shows us how to read the Bible and not be harmed by it.”21 This unwarranted pitting of the Bible against Christ is a subtle move that opens a Pandora’s box which only invites doctrinal error and confusion. It is an unnecessary hermeneutical hurdle that trips the unsuspecting and ultimately undermines the authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Paul clearly affirms that Scripture is “breathed out” by God (2 Tim. 3:16).

We believe, however, that the Bible is God’s absolute truth for all people, at all times; it is our final authority for discerning truth. And we reject any clever hermeneutical hurdles that minimize doctrinal propositions, even realities that make us uncomfortable.

The Preoccupation with Mystical Experience

The final concern in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God makes sense of the previous unsettling theological problems, namely, a preoccupation with mystical experience. Listen to the author as he explains the pathway that led him away from the biblical vision of God: “But it wasn’t primarily reading theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri Nouwen, and Stanley Hauerwas that led me away from an angry-God theology; it was mostly mystical experiences in prayer …”22 Zahnd continues, “… But having learned to sit with Jesus in contemplative prayer, I have discovered by my own experience (emphasis mine) that what John said is true: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. God is the eternal life of self-giving love. There is no darkness. No anger. No violence. No retribution. Only love.”23

But do we come to understand the purposes, plans, and attributes of God through contemplative prayer? Certainly not! There are only two clear routes to knowing God. First, we come to a knowledge of God through general revelation (Ps. 19:1-4). General revelation will not lead people to a saving knowledge of Christ but it makes them sufficiently accountable to God (Rom. 1:19-20).

Second, we come to a knowledge of God through special revelation. We know God through the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3). We come to know him by becoming familiar with his attributes. Thomas Watson says, “God’s glory lies chiefly in his attributes, which are the several beams by which the divine nature shines forth.”24

And we come to know God through the Scriptures. It is the Bible that reveals an accurate portrait of God for us. One must never make human experience the starting point in theology. “To do so,” Louis Berkhof warns, “drags God to man’s level. It stresses God’s immanence at the expense of his transcendence. The final result is God made in the image of man.”25 This is exactly what emerges in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God. Whenever experiences trumps Scripture, the inevitable result is theological error.

HOW SHALL WE THINK ABOUT GOD?

A false representation of God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is simply unacceptable. Yet, false views of the living God continue to be proclaimed and variations of the gospel continue to be propagated. A.W. Pink lamented, “How vastly different is the God of Scripture from the ‘god’ of the average pulpit!”26

I offer three important principles that will help shape the Christian mind and enable readers to approach God with reverence and worship him in a way that is consistent with Scripture.

1. Always distinguish between the Creator and the creature

Tozer writes, “To think of the creature and Creator alike in essential being is to rob God of most of His attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature. It is, for instance, to rob Him of His infinitude: there cannot be two unlimited substances in the universe. It is to take away His sovereignty: there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe, for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.”27

2. Banish idolatrous thoughts of God

Tozer adds, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.”28 We must strive to worship God rightly and maintain steadfast allegiance to his Word, which is our reliable guide for determining his plans, purposes, and attributes. For “among the sins to which the human heart is prone, hardly any other is more hateful to God than idolatry, for idolatry is at bottom a libel on His character. The idolatrous heart assumes that God is other than He is – in itself a monstrous sin …”29

3. Commit to thinking biblically about God

Steven Lawson offers a fitting challenge that every person needs to hear: “I believe that the greatest issue facing the church in any century is a proper understanding of who God is. What is needed in the contemporary church today is a steady diet of the attributes and perfections of God. It is our high theology that produces high doxology … Until there is a right knowledge of God, there will never be the right knowledge of self, nor the proper remedy applied to our own inners lives.”30

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God will no doubt attract the attention of many people. It will be received by people who are unwilling to submit to the biblical portrait of God. My desire is not to be argumentative or divisive but to invite Brian Zahnd to reconsider his assertions concerning God. For Zahnd’s views lead the unsuspecting down a path that rejects a biblical portrait of God and repudiates penal substitutionary atonement. Such views lead readers on a trajectory that will, in the final analysis, lead to a spiritual wasteland. These views are bolstered by other popular writers. But truth is not a matter of majority rule – Truth is determined by God and his infallible Word.

CONCLUSION

God is still angry with sinners. His wrath is being revealed from heaven against ungodly people (Rom. 1:18). And the wrath of God will be unleashed on every person who refused to turn from sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ: “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts” (Ps. 8:12-13).

The words of Jonathan Edwards were true on July 8, 1741. And Edwards’ words remain true today: “The bow of God’s wrath is bent and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart and strains the bow; and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.”31

But Edwards was never content to leave his hearers without hope. He was always eager to draw the attention of people to the saving grace and mercy that flows freely from the cross: “God has magnified his free grace towards you, and not to others; because he has chosen you, and it pleased him to set his love upon you. O! what cause is here for praise! What obligations you are under to bless the Lord who hath dealt bountifully with you, and magnify his holy name! What cause for you to praise God in humility, to walk humbly before him.”32

The lament of A.W. Tozer gives us pause and instructs us in a day which is fraught with theological error: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”33 May be bow low in humility before this great and awesome God. May we delight in him and affirm each attribute that the Scriptures reveal. May our minds be ignited with zeal for his name. May our hearts be filled with joy as we contemplate his majesty. May our lips proclaim his goodness and his glory. And may our hands and feet be mobilized to share the saving message of the gospel for the joy of the nations!

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

  1. Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God (Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017), 3.
  2. Ibid, 5.
  3. Ibid, 11-12.
  4. Ibid, 17.
  5. Ibid, 202.
  6. Ibid, 18.
  7. R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith – Volume One: The Triune God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2006), 216-217.
  8. Ibid, 19.
  9. Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017), 228.
  10. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1961), 2.
  11. Brian Zahnd, Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, 82.
  12. Ibid, 84.
  13. Ibid, 86.
  14. Ibid, 115.
  15. Ibid, 86.
  16. Ibid, 101.
  17. Ibid, 102.
  18. Roger Nicole, Cited in Stephen Wellum, Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior  (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017), 194.
  19. Emil Brunner, Cited in Ibid, 195.
  20. Ibid, 50.
  21. Ibid, 57.
  22. Ibid, 204.
  23. Ibid, 205.
  24. Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, reprint 1692), 55.
  25. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939), 54.
  26. A.W. Pink, The Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1975), 11.
  27. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 8.
  28. Ibid, 3.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Steven J. Lawson, Expositor: A Conversation on Preaching – Preaching the Pastoral Epistles (May/June 2015), 39.
  31. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2 Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), 9.
  32. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1, The Justice of God in the Damnation of Sinners, ed. Edward Hickman (Carlisle: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1834), 679.
  33. A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (Lincoln: Back to the Bible, 1961), 1.

The Happiness of God – Part 3

person walking on snowfield near mountain range

God is eternally happy. Over the past few days, we have been learning about the reality of God’s happiness and the reasons for God’s happiness. We conclude this brief study by focusing on our response to this happy God.

The Response to our Happy God

I’m convinced that one of the biggest reasons that many followers of Christ are unhappy is that they fail to realize and embrace the biblical reality of God’s eternal happiness. Notice, then, four key responses to our happy God.

We model after God by striving for happiness

George Müller was a happy and contented Christian man. He impacted the city of London in unprecedented ways. He said:

Above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord … It is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself.1

There is no need, therefore, to choose between happiness and holiness. We need to forever ditch this notion that has been popularized in the church and Christian circles. “If you keep my commandments, says Jesus, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11, ESV).

When you live a holy life, you will experience firsthand what it means to be a happy person when you find your happiness in Christ (Ps. 37:4). John Piper adds, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” If we are called by God to reflect his glory, then it follows that we should be the happiest people on the planet. When we fail to be happy Christians, we misrepresent the God who is infinitely happy!

We have the privilege of joining in the same happiness that God enjoys

Moses asks God an important question that helps us understand the inner-workings of God: Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18–19, ESV).

Daniel Fuller adds, “God’s glory consists in his goodness, that is, that he alone is both able and disposed to bring people made in his image, into the ultimate happiness of sharing with in his delight in his glory.”2

We find happiness by delighting in God and the gospel of his Son

When we consider what God has delivered us from, the sin that Christ has saved us from and the inheritance that is our in Christ, we will overflow with gratitude and happiness. “Our eternal joy will flourish,” writes Tony Reinke, “when we are the objects of God’s sovereign grace.”3

Randy Alcorn beautifully describes this blessing in his book, Happiness”4

  • Happy are those who believe in Jesus.
  • Happy are those facing trials for Jesus’ sake.
  • Happy are those who see and hear Jesus for who he is.
  • Happy are those who serve God faithfully.
  • Happy are those who trust God’s promises.
  • Happy are those who obey God’s Word.
  • Happy are those who help and serve others.
  • Happy are those who have been forgiven by the Lord.
  • Happy are those who see unhappiness as a warning sign.
  • Happy are those who are prepared for Christ’s return.
  • Happy are those who will spend eternity with God.
  • Happy are those who are also holy.

Conclusion

To the extent that we fail to find our happiness in God, we fail to glorify him. “Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things …” (Deut. 28:47, ESV). Indeed, the joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10).

The Scriptures are packed with commands to rest in and find our joy in our sovereign LORD:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” (I Chron. 16:31).

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Ps. 32:11).

Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise benefits the upright (Ps. 33:1).

Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult! (Ps. 64:10).

Oh, come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! (Ps. 95:1).

Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God (Rom. 5:2).

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To writes the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you (Phil. 3:1).

Happy are those who believe the gospel. Spurgeon reminds us of this great reality:

The Gospel is like wine which makes us glad. Let a man turly know the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he will be a happy man! And the deeper he drinks into the spirit of Christ, the more happy will he become! … He made the world, studied the happiness of His creatures. You cannot help thinking, as you see everything around you, that God has diligently, with the most strict attention, sought ways of pleasing man. He has not just given us our absolute necessities, He has given us more – the flowers … the stars … the hill and the valley – all these things were intended not merely because we needed them, but because God would show us how He loved us and how anxious He was that we should be happy! Now, it is not likely that the God who made a happy world would send a miserable salvation! He who is a happy Creator will be a happy Redeemer.5

Where do we receive our joy? From our God who is a happy Sovereign. Where do we rest and find refuge? From our God who is a happy Sovereign. Where do we turn to for the most satisfying relationship, one that can never be severed? From our God who is a happy Sovereign. Where do we turn to for freedom and forgiveness from all our sins? From our God who is a happy Sovereign.

““Everything hangs on the unbounded joy in the triune God from all eternity. This is the source of God’s absolute self-sufficiency as a happy Sovereign. And every true act of free grace in redemptive history depends on it.”6 May we cling to and trust in our God who is eternally happy.

  1. George Müller, cited in Randy Alcorn, Happiness, 225.
  2. Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible.
  3. Tony Reinke, The Joy Project (Minneapolis: Desiring God, 2015), 8.
  4. Randy Alcorn, Happiness, 203-208.
  5. C.H. Spurgeon, cited in Randy Alcorn, Happiness, 119.
  6. John PIper, The Pleasures of God, 35.

The Happiness of God – Part 1

The Happiness of God – Part 2

The Happiness of God – Part 2

snow covered brown wooden house near trees

Jonathan Edwards helps us comprehend the reality of God’s happiness: “It is of infinite importance … to know what kind of being God is. For he is … the only fountain of our true happiness …”1 Notice, then, several reasons for God’s happiness.

The Reasons for God’s Happiness

God finds happiness in himself

The primary reason for God’s happiness is this: he is God. We find a God in Scripture whose greatest delight is in – himself! So we begin with the doctrine of the Trinity which helps us understand the supreme happiness among the members of the godhead. C.S. Lewis argues, “The words ‘God is love’ have no real meaning unless God contains at least two Persons. Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person then before the world was made, he was not love.”2 Daniel Fuller adds, “God’s love is primarily to Himself … and his infinite delight is in Himself, in the Father and the Son (and the Spirit) delighting in each other … The happiness of the Deity, as all other true happiness, consists in love and society.”3 God has from all eternity been happy in the marvelous fellowship of the Trinity!

God finds happiness in creation

“May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works” (Ps. 104:31, ESV). God rejoices in his creation because it is a reflection of his glory.

God finds happiness in his Son

In his high priestly prayer, Jesus prays, “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:24–26, ESV).

God finds happiness in the Son because the Son reflects the glory of the Father (Heb. 1:3). “The infinite happiness of the Father consist in the enjoyment of his Son, writes Jonathan Edwards.4

God finds happiness in his people

Listen how the Old Testament zeroes in on God’s happiness in his people:

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you (Isaiah 62:5, ESV).

The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV).

God finds happiness in people, not only because he created them but because, like his creation and like his Son, his people are a reflection of his glory!

God finds happiness in the prayers of his people

Proverbs 15:8 says, “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.”

Let us marvel at our great God who delight to hear the prayers of his people.

  1. Jonathan Edwards, cited in Randy Alcorn, Happiness (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 111-112.
  2. C.S. Lewis, cited in Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 121.
  3. Daniel Fuller, The Unity of the Bible, 122.
  4. Jonathan Edwards, cited in John Piper, The Pleasures of God, 31.

The Happiness of God – Part 1

The Happiness of God – Part 1

golden hour photography of sky above ocean

In the film, Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell is criticized for his desire to train for the Olympic games. In the midst of their discussion, his sister Jennie essentially accuses Liddell of having a problem with idolatry. Liddell utters these words that prove to be the best line in the movie:

God made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure.

To view God as happy has a bearing on our worship; it affects our evangelism; it affects the way we approach Scripture. Indeed, it affects our Christian worldview. Randy Alcorn adds, “I believe it’s vital that we not leave our children and future generations of Christians to figure out for themselves that God is happy. Most never will.”1 Instead of making assumptions about God, we want to see what the Scriptures say about him. Over and over again, we learn that God is a happy God!

Over the next two weeks, we will come face-to-face with this glorious reality, the happiness of God.

The Reality of God’s Happiness

In 1 Timothy 1, Paul issues a warning against false teachers and those who teach contrary to sound doctrine; doctrine that is “in accord with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God …” (v. 11).

A great part of God’s glory is his happiness. It was inconceivable to the apostle Paul that God could be denied infinite joy and still be all glorious. To be infinitely glorious was to be infinitely – happy. He used the phrase, ‘the glory of the happy God’ because it is a glorious thing for God to be as happy as he is. God’s glory consist such in the fact that he is happy beyond our wildest imagination.2

“It is of infinite importance … to know what kind of being God is. For he is … the only fountain of our true happiness,” writes Jonathan Edwards.”3 Paul refers to “the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11). The same verse could be rendered, “the good news of the glory of the happy God.” The term blessed indicates “supreme happiness.”4 “The gospel … is the gospel of happiness,” writes Spurgeon. It is called, “the glorious gospel of the blessed God.’ A more correct translation would be ‘the happy God.’ Well, then, adorn the gospel by being happy.”5

The Greek term markáprios is translated as “blessed” or “happy.” G. Campbell Morgan adds, “I wish we were brave enough to write in our Bibles, ‘happy’ instead of ‘blessed’ for that is the right translation.”6 Simply put, the Bible shouts the happiness of God – but we are slow in embracing this important reality. Many people struggle with viewing God as happy because they have not been taught properly.

Henry Scougal brings us back to reality:

It should delight us beyond all expression, to consider that the beloved of our souls is infinitely happy in himself (emphasis mine), and that all his enemies can not shake or unsettle his throne, ‘that our God is in the heavens, and doth whatsoever he pleaseth.’

Oh, that we would delight in the happiness of God. May this glorious reality embolden us and enable our hands and feet for the tasks before us and may we receive strength from the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

  1. Randy Alcorn, Happiness (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 110.
  2. John Piper, The Pleasures of God (Portland: Multnomah Press, 1991), 23.
  3. Jonathan Edwards, cited in Randy Alcorn, Happiness (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 111-112.
  4. Robert Jameison, cited in Ibid.
  5. C.H. Spurgeon, cited in Ibid, 127.
  6. G. Campbell Morgan, cited in Ibid, 218.

The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer – Andy Naselli

Andrew David Naselli, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2020), 157 pp.

The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer is the most recent offering in Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series. Andy Naselli takes readers on a short and illuminating tour of Scripture and reveals the main features of God’s plan in redemptive history. In one sentence, Naselli skillfully summarizes the main theme of the book:

The serpent defeated Adam under a tree (“the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” – Gen. 2.17), and the new and greater Adam defeats the serpent on a tree – a cross for executing criminals.”

Like each of the other books in this tour of biblical theology, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer offers a short and readable treatment in a key theological area. The theological message of the book is clear and precise: “The Lamb will consummate his kingdom for God’s glory by slaying the dragon and saving his bride.” Or in the words of Joe Rigney, “Kill the dragon, get the girl.”

Naselli demonstrates how the central theme of the book relates to the everyday lives of God’s people. He offers six practical ways to live in light of the biblical plot line:

  1. Don’t imitate the poisonous serpent
  2. Beware of the serpent as the deceiving snake and devouring dragon
  3. Fight the serpent as the deceiving snake and devouring dragon
  4. Exult in the serpent slayer
  5. Enjoy good serpent-stories as echoes of the greatest story
  6. Trust the serpent slayer

In the end, The Serpent and the Serpent Slayer is an uplifting book that will help and encourage the people of God. It, along with the other works in the Short Studies in Biblical Theology is highly recommended.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought – Vern Poythress

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Logic is one of the last things one would expect to hear about in a church. I have found that some Christians even have an aversion to logic – a statement which interestingly enough is not very logical! We should be thankful to men like Very Poythress who share their gifts with the church as well as the academy. One such gift is his latest book, Logic: A God-Centered Approach to the Foundation of Western Thought.

The first thing readers will notice about this work is volume. It weighs in at over 700 pages which includes a large appendix that supplement the fine work that Poythress presents.

The author organizes his book into three parts, namely – Elementary Logic, Aspects of Propositional Logic, and Enriching Logic. Readers familiar with the discipline of logic will be very familiar with the terminology that is included in the table of contents. At first glance, the book seems to have much in common with a standard textbook on logic. But the real beauty of the book is found in the relationship of logic to God. Poythress rightly shows the logic comes directly from the hand of God. Indeed, he is “the source for logic.” The other demonstrates the rationality of logic and the personal nature of logic: “Logic in this sense is an aspect of the mind of God. All God’s attributes will therefore be manifested in the real laws of logic, in distinction from our human approximations to them.”

Poythress captures the essence of presuppositional apologetics and appears to pick up where Van Til left off: “We can praise God for what he has given us in our logic and our ability to reason.” Yet, sinners suppress the truth of God’s existence. “Everywhere we are confronted with the reality of God – and everywhere we flee from this reality.”

Logic helps us discern between truth and error. Logic on its own can not tell us what is true. But it will serve as a powerful aid in the discerning process. This work by Vern Poythress is a powerful anti-venom in a toxic world that is on a death-march away from logic. Sometimes people just don’t make any sense!

The Great Cholesterol Myth – Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra (2012)

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 ME:“Doc, I cycle 100 miles a week, burn at least 10,000 calories a week, take fish oil, and I’m eating better.  I even take advantage of “nature’s broom” by eating oatmeal almost every day.  However, my cholesterol just won’t drop.

DOCTOR: “Because of family history and genetics, you simply won’t be able to lower your cholesterol without a statin.”

So for the several years, I’ve taken a well-known statin and the results have been favorable.  However, Drs. Jonny Bowden and Stephen Sinatra disagree with the notion that lowering cholesterol prevents heart disease.  Their book, The Great Cholesterol Myth contains an argument that pumps feverishly through the arteries of this book: The real causes of heart disease include four key factors, namely – inflammation, oxidation, sugar, and stress.  The authors contend the real tragedy is the fixation with cholesterol which has produced an industry that boasts over $30 billion a year in the statin market.  In a shocking statement, both authors maintain, “Cholesterol does not cause heart disease.”

Bowden and Sinatra point out that cholesterol is vital for healthy living: “Cholesterol is an essential molecule without which there would be no life, so important that virtually every cell in the body is capable of synthesizing it.”  For over fifty years, the so-called lipid hypothesis has dominated the medical community which essentially states that “saturated fat runs up cholesterol levels, and elevated cholesterol leads to heart disease.”  The hypothesis has never been proved but continues to rule in the hearts and minds of most Americans.

One of the most helpful aspects of The Great Cholesterol Myth is the discussion about the importance of coenzeme Q10 (better known as CoQ10) which serves an important nutrient, a sort of fuel source for the heart.  Statins deplete CoQ10 which may lead to muscle pain, weakness, and fatigue.  Yet none of the doctors that have prescribed a stain in my case have ever mentioned that importance of supplementing with CoQ10.  The authors plead with readers who take statins to immediately begin supplementing their cholesterol lowering drug with  CoQ10 – a minimum of 200 mg daily.

Dr. Sinatra admits that he still prescribes statins on occasion but “almost exclusively to middle-aged men who’ve already had a first heart attack, coronary intervention, or coronary artery disease.”  He argues, “Statin drugs are anti-inflammatory, and their power to reduce inflammation is more much important than their ability to lower cholesterol.  But [and here’s the clincher] we can lower inflammation (and the risk for heart disease) with natural supplements, a better diet, and lifestyle changes such as managing stress.”

The authors reveal a fascinating study that includes five factors that significantly lowered the risk for heart disease:

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Drink alcohol in moderation.

3. Engage in moderate-to-vigorous exercise for at least half an hour a day on average.

4. Maintain a healthy weight (BMI under 25).

5. Eat a wholesome, low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet with plenty of omega-3 fats and fiber.

Notice that lowering cholesterol is painfully absent from the list.  Perhaps this is why, as the authors note, “Cholesterol is a relatively minor player in heart disease and a poor predictor of heart attacks.  More than half of all people who are hospitalized with heart attacks have perfectly normal cholesterol levels.”

The heart of the book explores the real culprit behind heart disease.  The authors dogmatically claim “the true cause of heart disease is inflammation” or as they put it, “acute inflammation hurts, but chronic inflammation kills.”  Second, oxidation is one of the sure signs of inflammation, which leads to a fascinating conclusion, namely – the only time cholesterol becomes troubling is if it’s oxidized (or damaged).  Third, the authors note that “sugar is a far greater danger to your heart than fat ever was.”  They go on to demonstrate that “the number one dietary contributor to heart disease is sugar.”  Finally, stress is included as a major cause of heart disease.

Bowden and Sinatra wonder out loud if statins will become the next medical tragedy – quite comforting to anyone who has relied on statins for years on end!  Side-effects are explored, which is well documented, and side-effects which I have personally experienced.  But the alarming news is that some researchers are warning that statins may contribute to Alzheimers, thinking skills, and memory.  One researcher comments, “Cholesterol changes the shape of the protein to stimulate thinking and memory.”  But the fact that is most often repeated is ability of statins to deplete the body of CoQ10.  “The depletion of CoQ10 is one of the most important negative effects of statins, and the one that is pretty much responsible for a host of common side effects involving muscle pain, weakness, and loss of energy.” To summarize, the authors maintain the risk of using statins outweighs the rewards.

Finally, Bowden and Sinatra explore how supplements can lead to heart health such as vitamins, antioxidants, and omega-3 fats included in wild salmon.  Additionally, they recommend that stain users immediately begin to supplement their diet with CoQ10.  “Just as a gasoline engine can’t work without spark plugs, the human body can’t work without CoQ10.”

I am not ready to pitch my statin until my doctor recommends doing so.  But The Great Cholesterol Myth has got me thinking.  And it has led to some concrete action steps such as implementing CoQ10 into my daily diet.  I’m actually looking forward to my next doctor visit – where my list of questions will be long.  Let’s just say, I’ll be getting my money’s worth that day!

The White Flag Unfurled

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These are troubling times. We live in a day which is marked by theological error and apostasy. Leaders are falling, truth is routinely maligned, and compromise is celebrated. A glance across the cultural milieu reveals an unfurled white flag. The white flag has been hoisted high and a diabolical deal has been struck. This flag reveals a horrifying reality which must be addressed, namely – final surrender in the church.

The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church diagnoses our current condition and offers biblical action steps for marching forward in a way that glorifies God. It is call to faithfulness in age that is characterized by weak knees, passivity, and capitulation. It instills courage in weary Christ-followers who toil in a post-Christian era.

“Here is a passionate call from a pastor’s heart, from a man widely read, who sees with great clarity the difficult situation the church now faces, with opposition without and weakness and compromise within, who believes the battle will be won by the faithful believing and by the courageous teaching and proclaiming of the Word of God.”

DR. PETER JONES, Director, TruthXchange, Author of “The Other Worldview,” Escondido, CA

Order your copy of The White Flag: When Compromise Cripples the Church here!

Top Picks in 2020

2020 was a year of lockdowns, which freed many people to read more. Thankfully, this past year was a great year for books. My selections this year focus on titles that made a direct impact on my life, sparked additional research, and enriched my pastoral ministry.

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1. Gentle and Lowly – Dane Ortlund
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2. Why Social Justice is Not Biblical Justice – Scott David Allen
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3. Live Not by Lies – Rod Dreher
Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents  -     By: Rod Dreher
4. Strangely Bright – Joe Rigney
Strangely Bright
5. The Gathering Storm – Al Mohler
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6. Coronavirus and Christ – John Piper
Coronavirus and Christ by [John Piper]
7. Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape From the Democratic Plantation – Candace Owens
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8. When the Stars Disappear – Mark Talbot
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9. Lead – Paul David Tripp
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10. Finding the Right Hills to Die on – Gavin Ortlund
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Biblical Apologetics: How Shall We Respond to Unbelief?

photo of three person sitting and talkingUnbelief is in the air.  Unbelief is gaining ground in postmodern culture.  Over 100 years ago, the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct of revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.”

The bankrupt philosophy of the so-called four horsemen of atheism continues to gain in popularity.  Why?  Apparently, unbelief is in.  Unbelief is hip.  But the question that is burning a hole in the table for Christians is this: How shall we respond to unbelief?  How shall we who have a heart for lost people answer when they malign the Christian faith and mock the very foundations of historic Christianity?

The apostle Peter instructs believers to respond rightly: “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).  In other words, we must develop the mindset of an apologist (ἀπολογία).  John Frame’s definition of apologetics of helpful: Apologetics is “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope … it is the application of Scripture to unbelief.”  Cornelius Van Til writes, “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”  Tragically, the mandate to engage in apologetics often turns ugly.  Well-meaning Christians have turned apologetics into a nasty slug fest.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Notice six crucial principles of biblical apologetics.

1. Apologetics involves verbal proclamation

Christians are commanded to proclaim the good news.  The Greek word, “proclaim”  (κηρύσσω) means to announce or proclaim; to preach or publish.”  St. Francis of Assisi was on to something when he quipped, “Preach the gospel and if necessary, use words.”  The point: Make sure your life matches the gospel.  However, actions alone cannot convert.  Actions must be backed up with verbal proclamation.  “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17, ESV).  Simply put, the gospel is meant to be published.  The gospel must be proclaimed.  Postmodern gurus and emergent sympathizers may be quick to downplay preaching and promote a “deeds not creeds” mentality.  Jesus disagrees: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to the nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14, ESV).  The first principle of apologetics involves verbal proclamation.

2. Apologetics involves bold proclamation

The New Testament apostles boldly proclaimed the truth.  Paul prayed for an extraordinary boldness (Eph. 6:19).  And Luke made it clear how bold proclamation characterized his ministry: “He lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance” (Acts 28:30-31, ESV).  We too, must boldly proclaim the Word of God without apology.  Now is the time for bold and courageous proclamation.

3. Apologetics involves logical proclamation

Peter argues that we must “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you …” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV)  “Reason” (λόγος) involves a word, an utterance or reasonable speech.  The apostle Paul was quick to reason with the thinkers that flooded the first century marketplace of ideas:

  • “And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures” (Acts 17:2, ESV).
  • “So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17, ESV).
  • “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4, ESV).

We must be able to spell out the gospel message.  We must clearly and logically explain how a holy God created men and women in his image.  These image-bearers fell from God when they sinned which separated them from a holy God.  But God in his mercy, sent Christ – born of a virgin to live a perfect life, obey the law of God and die on the cross.  Christ satisfied  the justice of God and extinguished the wrath of God for every person who would ever believe.  On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead, conquered sin and death, opening the way to a restored relationship with God for anyone who would repent of their sin and turn to Christ alone for forgiveness.  It is our privileged responsibility to proclaim the truth of the gospel in a logically compelling way.

4. Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation

We offer a message of hope!  We offer a message that promises liberation (John 8:36).  It tells  sinners they can be forgiven; that they can be delivered from the penalty and power of sin; and one day they shall be free from the presence of sin (Luke 1:66-67; Acts 5:31; Eph. 1:7; Col. 2:13; Rom. 4:7; 1 Pet. 2:9).  Apologetics involves hopeful proclamation.

5. Apologetics involves faithful proclamation

This message of hope is for everyone.  Therefore, our task is to share this hope with people as we are given opportunity:  “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation'” (Mark 16:15, ESV).  The Great Commission involves faithful proclamation to all peoples (Rev. 5:9).

6. Apologetics involves Christ-centered proclamation

Peter makes it clear: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).  First, we must maintain an attitude of gentleness (πραΰτης), which implies humility or an unpretentious spirit.  It involves a kind answer.  Additionally, we must be respectful (φόβος) as we engage in apologetics, a term that conveys deep admiration for another person.

Our response to unbelief is crucial.  The world is watching.  May our apologetics match the biblical model.  And may we proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a winsome and compelling way.  For in the final analysis, all of God’s elect will hear and believe.

“Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28).