One Week After The Election …

And We’re Still O.k.

Post-Obama Election Reflections on God’s Goodness to His People


 Reed DePace, Pastor, 1st Presbyterian Church of Montgomery, AL

 

[I’ve been surprised at how many Christians were troubled by Barack Obama’s election. This is an abbreviated version of a longer article I wrote for our congregation addressing this topic. So as not to take up too much of Lane’s space I’m posting here the main arguments, leaving the particular applications out. You can find the full article here.]


 

           Monday, November 3, 2008; my email inbox was filled with dire warnings of the results if Senator Barack Obama was elected President. An imminent collapse into Marxism, open persecution of those who disagree with Senator Obama, riots even if he won; all these scenarios (and more) were sure to follow Senator Obama’s election to the Presidency of the most powerful nation in history.

           So here I sit one week after the election, and … well I’m still here doing what I was doing before the election of President-elect Obama. No one has taken away any of my freedoms, or the freedoms of anyone I know. The economy is still a mess, and yet we haven’t descended into a Marxist nightmare, nor are masses of Americans starving. There were no riots, no armed insurrections, and no rebellion of military units, none of the kinds of responses that so often mark contentious elections in other nations.

          Why? Why is it that not only are things the same immediately after President-elect Obama’s election as before it, as well why does it look like the election of Mr. Obama is not going to prove to be the demise of the United States, and the Church in it, that so many Christians are afraid it will be?

           I suggest that we need to consider the election of President-elect Obama through the corrective lens of the doctrine of God’s Providence[*]:

 

God[†] —the great Creator of all things— upholds1, directs, disposes, and governs all creatures, actions, and things2, from the greatest even to the least3.

 

He exercises this most wise and holy providence4, according to His infallible foreknowledge5, and the free and unchangeable counsel of His own will6, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy7.

 

          To reference just one of the biblical passages noted here, consider a rather startling one, one that reflects on circumstances even worse than the underlying fears many of us struggle with in Mr. Obama’s election: [Peter, in his sermon on Pentecost, addressing the gathering Jews, said]

 

this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. ~ Acts 2:23

 

          Note what God says: men made their choice to crucify Christ, AND it was only because God sovereignly ordained beforehand that they would so choose that they did so! This is Providence at its most startling. God plans for His own Son’s death and then so directs, disposes, and governs all things that men freely fulfill His will.

          If Providence is so with the most significant event in the history of mankind, what must we conclude about the election of Mr. Obama? Must we not acknowledge that God heard the prayers of all His people, and to those of us who prayed Mr. Obama would not be our new president, God said, “no.” God, who loves his children said no. Hmmm …

          Now, I guess one could wander off at this point, like the child who goes off to sulk and wonder in increasing fear whether or not his father really does love him. But I’d prefer to act like the child who trusts his father enough to pester him with a few, “why Father, why?” If with me, you choose the latter, you will soon discover another startling truth about God’s Providence[‡]:

 

As, in general, the providence of God reaches to all creatures; so in a very special way, it cares for His Church and disposes all things for its good8.

 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28

 

          Note this: God’s Providence does not rule over everything aimlessly. Even more, God’s Providence does not rule over some things for the sake of His children. God’s Providence rules over all things – everything happens the way it does because God intends to use everything that happens to bless His children. This particularly applies to the election of Mr. Obama:

 

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities [including President-elect Obama]. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. … for he [President-elect Obama] is God’s servant for your good. … ~ Romans 13:1-4

 

          Note the italicized section. Do you believe God has placed Mr. Obama in authority over you, for your good? This is God’s promise to His children. And of course, when we think about it, we are not so surprised. …

          Let’s conclude here by remembering that God’s children are called to walk by faith, not by sight (2Co 5:7).

          From sight, from the way things ordinarily work in this world of ours, we may have some justification in expecting that Mr. Obama’s election will produce harm. Yet remember that by sight we are seeing things the way they are in a world caught in the grip of a curse relentlessly bent on the world’s destruction!

          This may be the only way the unbeliever can perceive things, but not so the children of God. Scripture makes it explicitly clear, there can be no debate, that the election of Mr. Obama is a blessing from the hands of a heavenly Father Who only knows how to give His children even more than they can think to ask (Eph 3:20).

          Do you believe this? In spite of any struggles you may have had in contemplating Mr. Obama’s election, do you believe God loves you in Christ? When all the debates and disagreements are over, do you believe God cannot lie?  

          If so, I urge you, take your concerns, your doubts, and your fears, and take them to your Father and lay them before Him. Pray for your unbelief. Pray God will change your frustrations with Mr. Obama’s election into rejoicing. Pray for President-elect Obama, his conversion and his success in ruling in righteousness.

          In Mr. Obama’s election, the children of God have a great opportunity laid before them. There are no reasons to be discouraged, no call for fear. Our Father is sovereign, He does love us, and He has specifically promised that President-elect Obama is His blessing for us. Please, let us not be like children who doubt their father’s love. Instead, let us with joy pursue God’s promise to bless us in President-elect Obama.

 


 [*] Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, Great Commission Publications, 1993; chapter , paragraph 1.

[†] Scripture references for superscripted numbers: 1-Neh 9:6; Ps 145:14-16, Heb 1:3. 2-Dan 4:34-35; Ps 135:6; Ac 2:23; 17:25-28; Job 38:1-41:34. 3-Mt 10:29-31; see 6:26-32. 4-Pr 15:3; 2Ch 16:9. Ps 104:24; 145:17. 5-Ac 15:18; Isa 42:9; Ezk 11:5. 6-Eph 1:11; Ps 33:10-11. 7-Isa 63:14; Eph 3:10; Rom 9:17; Gn 45:7; Ps 145:7.

[‡] WCF, chapter 5, paragraph 7.

 

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The Enlightenment and the Fragmentation of Theology

The Enlightenment is responsible, I believe, for the fragmentation of theology into the various disciplines that now view each other with suspicion. I have never seen a good systematics professor feel threatened by exegesis or biblical theology. Quite to the contrary, the professors I had in seminary spent half to two-thirds of their time in exegesis. On the other hand, I wish I had a dollar for every single time I’ve seen in a commentary, “That’s a systematic category, and we can’t talk about that.” If you believed most exegetes today, systematic theology has no place at all in the theological curriculum. Richard Gaffin, however, said it best: “Biblical theology follows the plot line of the Bible, whereas systematic theology is a plot analysis.” But this wedge between biblical theology and systematic theology (of which exegetes seem to me to be utterly unaware: witness the blatant open theism of John Goldingay in his OT theology and in his commentaries, about which no one seems to be commenting) is part of a far larger fragmentation of theology that started with Schleiermacher’s Enlightenment-influenced Kurze Darstellung (translated here), wherein he parceled out theology into various disciplines. Schleiermacher’s work precipitated the great German theological encyclopedias of such men as Hagenbach, Rosenkranz, Rothe, von Hoffmann, Heinrici, Räbiger, as well as the English works of Schaff and Cave.

The problem with this whole system (Hagenbach’s system of division into exegetical, systematic, historical, and practical was much more influential than Schleiermacher’s own of philosophical, historical, and practical, and wound up being decisive in the formation of university faculties, and, later, when the universities banned objective theology in favor of religion, seminaries) is that increasingly different methodologies start competing instead of complementing each other.

What is vitally important for theologians today to recover is the generalist theologian. This was a comment made by Carl Trueman at a talk he gave a year and a half ago at the PCA General Assembly. That is what sparked me to do research into this fascinating area (the interdependence of the various disciplines) that is practically abandoned. The only modern works are by Ebeling, Pannenburg, Farley, and Muller, and the most recent one (Muller) is now showing some signs of age. It is past time for a more recent treatment. There is an historical treatment now of the German university system that has a fairly decent discussion of the theological encyclopedia. However, there is nothing modern in the way of a complete systematic treatment of the subject.

My post here is an expansion of a comment I made over on Biblical Theology.