“Preparation for Ministry”: An Effective Little Book

My wife purchased several books for me for Christmas. I love books! No matter what the occasion, if one were to ask me, “What can I get you?” My reply is always, “Books!” But I also like specific books. I thoroughly enjoy theological books, church history, but also practical books. I received several books on youth ministry and communication, but along with these practical works Hannah gave me the book titled, “Preparation for Ministry”. It is written by Allan Harman, a pastor and professor. 

First Thoughts

My first thoughts regarding the work is that it would be more substantial. The actual work only covers 43 pages, but to my surprise the conciseness turned out to be a strength. More on that to come.

My second thought is that, because it is written from a Reformed tradition, that it would be incredibly strict concerning its applicational thoughts to ministry. Again, the book greatly surprised me.

The third thought I had when perusing the table of contents was that more than half the book was focused on sermon preparation and an address by B B Warfield. While I am still sightly disappointed with the length, the benefits of the appendixes are worth purchasing the book.

A Brief Breakdown of the Strengths

As I promised, the conciseness of the book turned out to be a great strength. As a minister (praise God!), a seminary graduate, and a lover of knowledge, I tend to enjoy rich and challenging theological works. If a book has a bibliography of 15-20 pages, then I get excited! So when I received the book and saw the size of it, I was disappointed. However, upon reading the work I was pleasantly shocked that the length did not impugn upon the content. Rather, it fortified it. Granted, this is not (nor does it claim to be) a work of thorough scholarship. It is a book concerned with “a call to ministry, theological training, and entry into pastoral work.” (vii) The length makes it an excellent tool to pass on to young people dealing with the question of a call to ministry. Additionally, it makes for a great tool for small groups to discuss, especially in the presence of a current minister.

Another strength that comes from this work is that is weds intellectual study with spiritual vitality. The address by Warfield entitled, “The Religious Life of Theological Students” wonderfully incorporates both the need for personal piety and the blessings and necessity of communal life. I have heard from individuals that books are not needed, we simply need the Bible. And while I do not mean to undermine the Scriptures, this is foolish thinking. Warfield’s comments are amazing: “Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. ‘What!’, is the appropriate response, ‘than ten hours over your books, on your knees?’ Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God?” (95) Harman does a great job of wedding the two as well in chapter five.

And one final strength, which is also personal for me, is the emphasis Harman places on the minister’s family. In his chapter “Staying Fresh” Harman writes, “Your first priority has to be your own family, who need fatherly care and attention. Nothing can substitute for this, for if you cannot care for your family, how can you care for the church of God? (I Tim. 3:5)” (38) I know of several ministers who have ruined their families and ministries because they neglected their families. For him to include this in a work designed for young people, it is priceless advice.

Final Thoughts

I have to conlude, predominantly because I don’t want to rewrite the book, but also because it would be worth your time and money to purchase and read it yourself. I would like to, however, address one of my comments regarding the predominat Reformed overtones of the work. A brief glance at his references and it is easily seem that his Reformed background comes into play. But the surprise was that the work itself would avail to backgrounds of several persuasions, and since it is a work for the Church (notice the capital ‘c’), it can and should be applied to all within Christ’s body. So, preacher friends, get this book! Keep a couple of extra copies for those young people who may have a spark of God’s call in their lives. Church member, check it out! This book gives a brief glimpse into the life of your minister. It will enable you to pray for fervently and effectually for him, and speaking on behalf of ministers, we need your prayers. 

Evaluating Malphurs…

*The below article was a post on evaluating Aubrey Malphurs’ book Advanced Strategic Planning. It has been left in its unaltered state, but covers Malphurs’ contribution to a specific aspect of strategic planning, that of researching the church and the community. I hope it may be helpful to my fellow ministers and seminarians.


The most influential aspect of the reading requirements for the class for the author of this post was the questions to ask about the church congregation as well as the community. The first step Malphurs suggest accomplishing is that of understanding the church’s boundaries. He recommends understanding how many members live within twenty minutes as this will indicate 40% of your membership. (Malphurs, 2013: 179-180)

The next beneficial aspect of this that the author found most helpful is that of the specific questions. Malphurs breaks it down into community questions (Malphurs, 2013:181-184) and congregation questions. (Malphurs, 2013: 184-186) This information is incredibly beneficial as it provides a better understanding of the community to be reached as well as the members who will do the reaching. Gary McIntosh, a church growth guru, writes, “Often well-intentioned churches make mistakes that keep them from experiencing biblical church growth, and one of the major mistakes is to fail to do adequate research to understand the people they are seeking to reach with the Gospel.” (McIntosh, 2003: 136-137) McIntosh really aptly describes the problems of most churches’ evangelistic efforts. The research aspect is a necessary aspect of planning for outreach, and Malphurs provides the church with a good head start for questions. Of course other information could be added or subtracted, depending on the specific outreach plans of the church. However, the questions offered by Malphurs also produces excellent results for a focused effort of evangelism.

Besides reaching the community the church’s function is to teach and make disciples. This involves the members of one’s church and their own spiritual growth and development. Unfortunately many churches fail to adequately train and raise up volunteers and so the few that do contribute often experience burn out. (Marshall and Payne, 2009:13-14) Understanding who makes up the congregation will enable the leadership to focus on training specific people with regards to their own unique and diverse backgrounds and cultural influences. In order to be more effective in the outreach of the community it is necessary to build up the people within the church. Marshall and Payne describe this, writing, “If we want our strategy to be people-focused, we should concentrated on training, which increases the number and effectiveness of gospel communicators (i.e. people who can speak the good news both in personal conversations and in public settings).” (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 19) Thus, understanding who is in one’s church will enable the church leadership team to more effectively train the individual members.  Marshall and Payne offer a chart that enables leadership to plug members into sections to determine the spiritual maturity of each one. (Marshall and Payne, 2009: 110) With the understanding that this list is a general idea rather than specific information, the leadership team can take the information garnished through the research and then handpick one another for more specific development.

The combination of understanding the community and the congregation will enable the church to make disciples and thus fulfill the Great Commission. Malphurs’ contributions to this area of church theology and practice will prove, in the estimation of this author, to be of unrivaled benefit for generations to come.

Gary L. McIntosh, Biblical Church Growth: How You Can Work with God to Build a Faithful Church (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2003)

Aubrey Malphurs, Advanced Strategic Planning: A 21st Century Model for Church and Ministry Leaders (Grand Rapids, Bakerbooks: 2013)

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne, The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything (Kingsford, Matthias Media: 2009)

Apologetics and Christian Ministry



In a book published in 2009, authors Ken Ham and Britt Beemer attempt to raise awareness to the increasing “epidemic” of young adults leaving the church.[1] In a study conducted by Barna, it was observed that 61% of young adults “had ben churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged.”[2] Though there are many reasons for these droves of individuals leaving the church, there are many related to an apologetical nature. That is, it relates to the defense of the faith, a reasoning of the faith.[3] One of the greatest needs for Christian education (as this relates directly to the ages of those leaving the Church) is for an apologetic defense of why Christianity is the truth. Dr. Markos sums this up when he writes

Following in the tradition of Socrates and Peter, the modern Christian apologist neither apologizes for his beliefs nor relies solely on emotion when confronting those who consider his divine calling to be false or fanatical, delusional or dangerous. Instead he presents—boldly but not harshly—a defense of Christianity that squares with reason, logic, and human experience.[4]

            The problem today within Christian education is that ministers and educators have failed to teach the next generation the truth of the truth. By this it is meant the provable aspects of the Christian faith. Continuing on with the results of the study, Ham and Beemer note, “39.8% first had doubts [of the Christian faith] in middle school, 43.7% first had their doubts in high school, and 10.6% had their first doubts during college.”[5] Combining to the two percentages of middle and high school, one is left with a shocking total. Almost half of students in high school have doubts about their faith. And more than a third in middle school have doubts. These figures are stunning, and it sheds a light on a glaring problem in Christian schools, churches, and youth groups. 




            There is an explanation, though painful it may be for Christians to hear, that will help in understanding the reason behind the problem and the necessary changes to reverse it. One of the questions asked of this group of people was, “Did you often attend Sunday school?”[6] 61% answered in the affirmative, and from this several interesting facts were gathered.[7] Several of these relate to the reasoning of the faith. For example, they are “more likely not to believe that all the accounts/stories in the Bible are true/accurate”.[8] Along the same lines they are “more likely to doubt the Bible because it was written by men” and “more likely to doubt the Bible because it was not translated correctly.”[9] This should be incredibly surprising, and Ham and Beemer note their surprise when they write, “This was our most stunning and disconcerting result of the entire survey.”[10]

            There are several effects to note regarding the failures in churches and schools. Perhaps the primary reason is that teachers and ministers are failing to teach the logical cohesion, historically reliability, and factual trustworthiness of biblical truth. Dr. Markos presents a well-stated summary of this when he writes, “As a direct result of this shift, the traditional doctrinal claims of Christianity have been removed from the realm of objective truth and deposited in that of subjective feeling, causing an artificial rupture to form between empirical ‘facts’ and spiritual ‘values’.”[11] So the youth in churches and Christian schools have been trained and taught to distinguish between facts and the Bible.

            Another problem that has arisen is “an image problem”.[12] This was another study conducted by Barna and Kinnaman. In this research the authors find “outsiders’ most common reaction to the faith: they think Christians no longer represent what Jesus had in mind, that Christianity in our society is not what it was meant to be.”[13]Christianity has fallen into ill-repute. For reasons that span the scope of the current discussion, the total of those aspects will not be examined in their fullest. However, several facts will aid in the understanding of the failure of the church and Christian school and will enable a progression to be made.

            Unfortunately, 49% of those interviewed had a bad impression of evangelical Christians.[14] One of the reasons for this is, as they note, “Evangelicals were often thought to be Christians who are political activists.”[15]Another reason is the way evangelicals conduct themselves.[16]

            Perhaps the most eye-opening aspect of their study was the three common perceptions of Christianity. These are “anti-homosexual,” “judgmental,” and “hypocritical”.[17]The authors spend the remainder of the book developing these ideas and others in order to illustrate that a character development progress is necessary for Christianity. The reason this is important, and its relationship to the current discussion, is that the same age group surveyed in Ham and Beemer’s study is the same group in Kinnaman and Lyons’. This is, again, shocking information. This means that Christian educators have not only failed to present the facts of Christianity and their relation to the sciences, it also means that they have failed to represent it as authentic faith in Jesus Christ. Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”[18] This quote represents the world’s view of Christianity, and the young people of today do not want to be associated with such a Christianity. 




            The Church is not without hope. Although the situation is dire, and should be treated as a life or death situation, it is not unchangeable. In both of the studies conducted by the four authors solutions are offered. The first problem presented is that of unbelief. While the middle school and high school teenagers attended church (61%) they failed to believe basic facts about the Bible. There is one solution, and one solution only: teach the validity of those beliefs. Here is where apologetics comes into the scene, like a knight in shining armor. It does not replace the truth, but is the truth personified. As Augustine once quipped, “Truth is like a lion. You don’t have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself.”[19] However, in the current culture it is important to provide the reasons why Christians believe what they believe. Dr. Markos adequately describes the failure, “The faithful guarded their religious space and left the academy, the public schools, the arts, the media, and the government to all under the sway of secular humanism. In a sense they ‘cut a deal’: leave us our faith and we will cede reason to you.”[20] So Christians, both ministers and educators, have been perfectly happy to allow those entities to have reason while keeping faith. This has led, at least in part, to the departure of students ranging from the 6th grade to the 12th grade. Douglas Groothius offers a solution, one that will enable many of those students fleeing the church to say because of the truth, writing, 

The antidote to this conundrum is to defend Christianity’s core claims rationally in order to show that Christianity is indeed objectively true. But more than this, apologetics needs to demonstrate that Christian truth is winsome because it explains who we are and how we can flourish as creatures in this life and beyond, if we are reconciled to our Creator.[21]

            Both problems, the failure to teach the truthfulness as well as the failure to represent Christ are found in Groothius’ solution. Youth ministers and Christian educators must learn from his suggestions and implement them in their ministry and education. The problems will be addressed in the order they were examined.

            Christian educators and youth ministers, as well as parents, must present the factual evidence for the faith. While it is truth that “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” it does not mean blind faith, without any care or concern for facts.[22] One interesting point to keep in mind is brought out by Vanhetloo, when he writes, “A basic distinction to have clear concerning faith is the contrast between faith as a faculty of man’s makeup (corresponding somewhat to intellectual and emotional aspects) and faith asacceptance and trust (involving the whole of man, intellect, emotion, and will). It is the contrast of achieving or accepting.”[23]

            These leaders in the school and church must take this mindset and begin to make changes in their ministries and class rooms. Concerning the trustworthiness of the Scriptures, Dr. Markos writes, “One of the essential components of ‘mere’ Christianity is a belief that the Bible is divinely inspired and wholly trustworthy and holds authority in the church and in the life of the believer.”[24] Rather than attempting to prove the inerrancy or plenary inspiration, Dr. Markos, and Christian educators and ministers alike, should “show the Bible to be reliable in its account of Jewish and Christian history.”[25] Why is this important? Why should the youth minister or Christian educator attempt to prove the reliability of the Bible? Remember, in Ham and Beemer’s study, 61% of those who regularly attended Sunday school did not believe the Bible to be accurate (the historical aspect).[26]That is more than half of those who regularly attend Sunday school. So proving the reliability would be incredibly beneficial to their faith. Groothius notes the importance of edifying the faith of the believer through apologetics, writing, “But apologetics is offered not only in response to the doubts and denials of non-Christians. It also fortifies believers in their faith whether they are wrestling with doubts and questions or simply seeking a deeper grounding for their biblical beliefs.”[27]

            So Dr. Markos spends an entire chapter presenting evidence that provides the believer with factual truth. He spends several pages developing the historical reliability of the Bible. Interestingly he writes, “Despite continued media and academic claims that the Bible is historically suspect, the fact remains that every phase of Jewish history—from the patriarchs to the exodus to the conquest of Canaan to the united and divided Kingdoms of David and his heirs to the exile and return—has yield artifacts and extrabibical texts that square with the biblical accounts.”[28] Fulfilled prophecy and the reliability of textual transmission also point to the factual basis of the Bible. Markos also develops the historicity of Jesus, which serves as another beam on the foundation of the reliability of the Word of God.

            Moving from the presentation of truth, what about the representation of Christ? Why do so many non-believers have such a low view of Christianity? And why are so many young people leaving the church? The reasons have already been noted. However, what can the Church and Christian schools do to change this perception? As with the presentation of truth and Ham and Beemer’s suggestions, Kinnaman and Lyons offer several suggestions to help with the “’emotional appeal’ (subjective attractiveness)”.[29] But for the sake of time and space, only a few will be briefly mentioned.

            To begin with, the main objective would be “changing the perception.”[30] If the world perceives Christians as being anti-homosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical, it is necessary to change this. The authors give a sobering thought when they write, “When it comes to our interaction with outsiders, we have to realize that our relationships, our interactions with people, comprise the picture of Jesus that people retain.”[31] So it would be sinful, to say the least, to not change those perceptions. Jesus dealt with sin, and this can no honest Christian deny. However, He dealt with sin entirely different than Christians today. This can be done in a variety of ways, and while Kinnaman and Lyons offer several suggestions, the focus for this topic is to teach the younger generation the importance of living theChristian life.[32]

            Another suggestion is to answer questions asked by the youth. They want to know why it is okay to kill witches in the Old Testament but not in the New Testament. An entire appendix in Groothius’ volume on apologetics deals with answering the objects and questions of the “the divinely ordained genocide.”[33] The genocide of the Canaanites has left a black mark on Christianity, and the failure of Christians to provide honest, biblical answers to questions has left an increasingly dark view. While focusing solely on the issue of genocide, the application of the statement made by Stan Gundry encapsulates the failure of Christianity to wrestle with difficult topics in a Christ-honoring way, “How could the God of the Bible command such an indiscriminate slaughter of an entire people, especially since in the New Testament Jesus commands us to love and to pray for our enemies? Our tendency is often to push this question into the backs of our minds and allow it to sit there, unresolved.”[34]




            After examining one of the greatest issues facing the Church and Christian schools, and looking at suggestions to address and change those issues, the youth minister and Christian educator are often left on their own to develop a practical execution of said suggestions. The purpose of this section is to provide the Christian educator, and the youth minister specifically, with ways to teach the young people of the Church and students in Christian schools the factual basis of Christianity as well as the biblical representation of the same.

            These are solely the suggestion of the author, with the experiences and education that the Lord has provided in his life. It is hoped that this will help the youth minister as well as the Christian educator, and that many of the young people passing through the pews of the Church and halls of the school with remain active in a healthy church.

            To begin with, the youth minister must understand the problems that are affecting his youth group. As such, this will require avid reading and studying concerning those issues. Reading books such as Unchristian and Already Gone will aid him in this understanding. But reading a couple of books will not provide enough. Additional research from institutions such as Barna Group© and the Christian Research Institute© will greatly aid as well. But perhaps the most needful method of research is building relationships with the students. They must be able to ask questions, understand the complexities and apparent contradictions, and work through the difficult passages. But they must do this with the youth minister’s help. Left to their own they may stumble across a heretical doctrine or leader, and their newfound place will be much worse than before. The poor representation of Christ is also another thing the leadership of the Church and school must face. The world’s understanding, particularly that of western society, of Christianity is rather poor and low. But the youth in churches will see the inconsistencies and eventually leave, frustrated at the hypocritical atmosphere and ungodly relationship it has with the world. 

            Understanding the problems is only half of the battle. Fixing the problem is the other half. And this is where takes hard work, ingenuity, and grace. However, a few options exist that should provide the building blocks to begin a reform within the Church and School.

            How the youth minister should implement this is two-fold: first, a series can be held covering the topics of an apologetical nature. A series can be conducted on the reliability of the Bible. It could be several weeks long. One beneficial aspect would be to have a conversational feel to the presentation, where the encouragement of questions and answers would be given. This way, the curiosity of the student is satisfied while aiding in the understanding and memorizing of the student. Hosting these type of series and events will only serve to develop and strengthen those doubts into a rational faith. 

            But there is another method of addressing these apologetical issues this: simply allow questions to be asked. While it is encouraged during those times of intense study, it should also be encouraged on a day to day basis. There is absolutely no reason why a student cannot ask a question regarding the Bible. These questions, no matter how silly or misunderstood, should be answered. An atmosphere where questions are discouraged is an atmosphere where creativity and curiosity will die. Not only that, it will also be left barren as students will desire to be at a place where faith has died as well. That is how serious the matter is.

            Suggestions for topics to cover are: the reliability of the Bible, the historicity of Jesus, the transmission and translation process, the Canaanite genocide, the accuracy of the Gospels, the ontological arguments for God, teleological arguments for God, cosmological arguments for God, intelligent design, and so on.[35] These topics could be dealt with on a week by week basis or a retreat could be held.

            A second way of implement these times is to incorporate it in normal times of preaching and teaching. This should and could be done naturally. For example, if a youth minister is beginning a series on the gospel of Matthew, he can begin with an examination of the historical reliability of the account. And then as he progresses through the account he could focus on issues related to that and draw them out. More time could be given to developing the idea of fulfilled prophecies and how that should strengthen the faith of the students. In casual conversations and periods of discipleship, time should be given to teach the reliability of the Bible, and other issues related to the topic of apologetics. 

            With these two methods of implementation, the issues facing the presenting of truth will address themselves. No longer will the American Church take for granted the religious upbringing and moral uprightness of the individual in society. These methods will greatly aid the youth minister to minimize the loss of students in churches.

            But what about the representation of the Christian faith? How can a youth minister change the perceptions of an entire nation? This is a more difficult endeavor, but one not less important. Understandably, this will take time. As it took more than a generation to create this impression of Christianity, it will take more than a generation to address the issue and reform the view. 

            Teaching the students how to act in relation to the world is a task that is most vital to the youth minister. The truth should never be compromised, but it can be told and shared in such a way as to minimize resistance to it. If people resist the truth it should be on the grounds of the truth, not in the messenger. Students should learn how to disagree agreeably. They must learn that Christianity is not a political party, not homophobic, and not judgmental. The appearance of perfection must be abolished, as people must know that Christians are imperfect, and that hypocrisy is a curse for every man. If the youth minister can ingrain this into his students, he will be successful.

            Changing the views one has is extremely difficult, but if the youth minister and students desire to bring people into a right relationship with God, if they desire to be a part of something that goes beyond their own wickedness and shortcomings, then they will begin to teach these things to one another and then exemplify them out in the world.




            Apologetics, both the “rational legitimacy (objective truth) and emotional appeal (subjective attractiveness)” must be taught in the Church and the school.[36] If youth ministers and Christian educators fail to do so, the church in America will fall.








“Quotations.” Diggerfortruth. March 2, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2015.https://diggerfortruth.wordpress.com/inspiring-quotations/.


Cowles, C. S., Eugene H. Merrill, Daniel L. Gard, and Tremper Longman III. Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide. Edited by C.S. Cowles. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.


Gandhi, Mahatma. “A Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.” Goodreads. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/22155-i-like-your-christ-i-do-not-like-your-christians.


Groothuis, Douglas R. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic ;, 2011.


Ham, Ken, and C. Britt Beemer. Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It. Green Forest, Ark.: Master Books, 2009.


Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity– and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007.


Markos, Louis. Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010.


Vanhetloo, Warren. “Fact or Faith?” Central Bible Quarterly 1, no. 3 (1958): 27-30. Accessed May 16, 2015.http://www.galaxie.com/.


[1] Ken Ham, and C. Britt Beemer, Already Gone: Why Your Kids Will Quit Church and What You Can Do to Stop It (Green Forest, Ark.: Master Books, 2009), 19.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Louis Markos, Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 17-18.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ham and Beemer, 32.

[6] Ibid., 38.

[7] For the full list, see Ham and Beemer, 39.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 40.

[11] Markos, 22.

[12] David Kinnaman,, and Gabe Lyons, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity– and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2007), 9.

[13] Kinnaman and Lyons, 13.

[14] Ibid., 23. The ages ranged from 16-29. These are primarily the ages being discussed in this paper.

[15] Ibid., 23-24.

[16] Kinnaman and Lyons write, “What they react negatively to is our “swagger,” how we go about things and the sense of self-importance we project.” Ibid., 24.

[17] Ibid., 25.

[18] Mahatma Gandhi, “A Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.” Goodreads. Accessed March 16, 2015. http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/22155-i-like-your-christ-i-do-not-like-your-christians.

[19] “Quotations.” Diggerfortruth. March 2, 2012. Accessed March 16, 2015.https://diggerfortruth.wordpress.com/inspiring-quotations/.

[20] Markos, 22-23.

[21] Douglas R. Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic ;, 2011), 25.

[22] Hebrews 11.6 (ESV, 2001)

[23] Vanhetloo, Warren. “Fact or Faith?” Central Bible Quarterly 1, no. 3 (1958): 27-30. Accessed May 16, 2015http://www.galaxie.com/.

[24] Markos, 145.

[25] Ibid., 146.

[26] Ham and Beemer, 38-39.

[27] Groothius, 25.

[28] Markos, 148.

[29] Groothius, 25.

[30] Kinnaman and Lyons, 204.

[31] Ibid., 207.

[32] Ibid., 204-211.

[33] Groothius, Appendix 2, 662-676.

[34] C. S. Cowles, Eugene H. Merrill, Daniel L. Gard, and Tremper Longman III, Show Them No Mercy: Four Views on God and Canaanite Genocide (Edited by C.S. Cowles. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 7.

[35] For a detailed examination of these topics, see Groothius’ work.

[36] Groothius, 25.

God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will- Paradox or Antinomy?

Packer began his chapter on one of the most debated topics in theological history with this statement, “All theological topics contain pitfalls for the unwary, for God’s truth is never quite what man would have expected.”[1] No doubt anyone who reads this would grant that the materials he presents, the logic he uses, and the Scripture he provides are fair and consistent. To begin with, he makes the distinction between paradoxes and antinomies. Unfortunately he has to modify the definition he provides from the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary of antinomy in order to show his meaning.[2] The added “appearance of contradiction” changes the definition entirely. Later on in his book he defines a paradox as “a figure of speech, a play on words. It is a form of statement that seems to unite two opposite ideas, or to deny something by the very terms in which it is asserted.”[3] This idea of a paradox seems to be more adequate in defining the responsibility of man with the sovereignty of God, especially when one considers Packer’s reconstructed definition of antinomy.[4]


Packer continued to change the meaning of words when he wrote concerning paradoxes, “The point of a paradox, however, is that what creates the appearance of contradiction is not the acts, but the words.”[5] As with his change of the definition of antinomy, so his change of this definition of paradox also hinders his ability to rightly describe how God’s sovereignty and man’s free will work together. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines paradox as “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”[6] If one takes this definition, without changing or adding any additional words, it should become apparent at once that the sovereignty of God and free will of man are best defined as a paradox. They are opposite things. In other words, God is truly sovereign. He rules the universe completely by Himself.[7] This is a statement of fact, as Packer wrote, about God’s rule in the universe of man.[8] However, the Scripture makes is equally clear that man has a free will.[9]

These two truths seem to be contradictory, for if God was sovereign (i.e. exercised complete and unequaled control of the universe) then man could not exercise a free will. The same applies for the opposite, if man had a free will (i.e. the ability to make a decision without God causing him to make it) then God would cease to be sovereign. The issue is brought into the state of a paradox when Scripture does in fact teach both.[10]

In conclusion, if one were to redefine the words paradox and antinomy, then would could determine that these two truths are in fact antinomy. However, if one were to follow the normal means of scholarship and research, then paradox is the only choice.[11]

[1] J. I. Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1961), 23.

[2] The definition he provided was, “a contradiction between conclusions which see equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.” Packer, 23.

[3] Packer, 24.

[4] Narry F. Santos does a much better job describing what a paradox is and how a writer of Scripture utilizes this unique form of communication. “A paradox is a statement that departs from accepted opinion (the etymological nuance), or an apparently self-contradictory or absurd statement (the derivational nuance). Thus a “paradox” is an unusual and apparently self-contradictory rhetorical statement or concept that departs dramatically from accepted opinion.” See Santos, Narry F. “The Paradox of Authority and Servanthood in the Gospel of Mark.”Bibliotheca Sacra 154, no. 616 (1997): 452-60.

[5] Packer, 25.

[6] “Paradox.” Merriam-Webster.com. Accessed September 14, 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/paradox.

[7] Packer listed the following verses in support of this biblical truth: Gen. 14.8; 50.20; Prov. 16.9; 21.1; Mt 10.29; Acts 9.27-28; Rom 9.20-21; Eph. 1.11. See Packer, 27.

[8] Packer continued to force his own construction of an antinomy when he wrote, “It is not a figure of speech [referring to God’s sovereignty], but an observed relation between two statements of fact.” Packer, 26.

[9] See Mt 25; Rom 2.1-16; Rev 20.11-13. Packer, 27.

[10] The definition of paradox is “something (such as a situation) that is made up of two opposite things and that seems impossible but is actually true or possible.”[10]

[11] It should be noted, however, that a doctrine of Scripture should be observed in the boundaries set by Scripture itself. Any doctrine can be taken to such an extent that Scripture nor had God ever intended. When theologians do this often times the readers are left with the impression of a contradiction when no such contradiction was ever there.