The excerpt below is not a Babylon Bee article. [Babylon Bee is a satirical Christian online spoof publication). My response to the title of the article, “Theologian says God not in control”, is that if a theologian says God is not in control, he is not a theologian. Also, if God is not in control, He is not God.
And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17)
Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21).
Below is an excerpt from the aforementioned article, then my thoughts follow. The article is based on a new book, Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God, written by long-term professor E. Frank Tupper. Tupper was one of the founding faculty members of the School of Divinity at the Baptist educational institution of Wake Forest, also had taught for many years prior to that in Southern Theological Seminary. He has been teaching for 42 years. He has also been privately struggling with the concept of God’s providence and sovereignty since 1965, when his father died. He later struggled with it again, when his wife Betty was fatally diagnosed with cancer.
Tupper’s study and experience led him to reject platitudes on suffering such as “God is in control” or “everything happens for a reason.” “I do not believe that God is in control of everything that happens in our world,” he said. “Indeed, I would argue that God controls very, very little of what happens in our world.” Tupper said part of his own struggle has been understanding why God does not act in human life today with the same kind of power and purpose as the mighty acts described in Scripture. “Why does God not act today the way the biblical traditions present God to us, particularly in the New Testament?” he asked. “Why does God not act? Because the resources are not available to God to act.”
In an interview with the Homebrewed Christian Tripp Fuller, regarding Tupper’s same book about providence, Tupper said that there have been two historic responses to God’s Providence,
The 2 leading lines for interpreting Providence was ‘well, we do not understand why this has happened’ or, ‘In some sense this is the will of God and we must accept it.’ I rejected both those ideas. Betty Tupper’s experience of suffering with cancer and dying, and the enormous impact it had on my family gave me the courage to say, “I’m going to write and interpret providence in a way that is consistent with my understanding and my faith and I will accept the opposition and the challenges that I’ll experience.” HomeBrewed Christianity podcast
In his book Scandalous Providence, Tupper categorically rejects the classic verse on Providence, Romans 8:28, that all things work together for the good of those who love God. Tupper says,
No. [Romans 8:28] does not mean: Paul does not mean that God predetermines everything that happens. Not everything that occurs is the design and intention of God.
The main leading line throughout history for the faithful believers in interpreting God’s providence is to, ahem, trust Him. Esther did. The entire book of Esther is an object lesson in trusting His promises when circumstances on the ground clearly are going in the opposite direction. Also, Job. Job trusted God through it all, even when his own wife said he should curse God and die. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego trusted His promise despite the threat of imminent death. They were providentially delivered, though the men acknowledged that God’s control was such that He might not choose to deliver them. God chose not to deliver Tupper’s father nor his wife, but that does not mean He isn’t in control. However, to Tupper, it does.
What Tupper is really saying here about providence and trust is that, ‘I had an experience that I did not like, therefore I will reinterpret the God of the Bible according to my own desires and understandings, based on my own experiences and not the promises of God as revealed in scripture.’
You can read about Tupper’s book on many different websites. It’s actually not a new book, but a massively updated version of an older one he’d written. As I said, he has been struggling with trusting God through difficult circumstances for a long time.
For this next section of the essay I want to offer insights on two important topics that Tupper’s interpretation of Providence raises. These are issues you should know about because they are so pervasive and because his influence as Seminary professor and molder of young minds is so strong.
1. Open Theism (in Arminian context)
2. Narrative Theology (morphing to to personal experiences)
Open Theism is the thesis that, because God loves us and desires that we freely choose to reciprocate His love, He has made His knowledge of, and plans for, the future conditional upon our actions. [Ed note- more extreme version-]Though omniscient, God does not know what we will freely do in the future.
Classic Arminian, free will theology is basically Open Theism. We choose God, He reacts. The logical conclusion of a theology where we can choose to overcome our own thoroughly depraved heart (Genesis 6:5) by our own decision and not God’s supernatural ordination, is a theology where God is not in control. The first casualty in Arminian/Open Theism is the sovereignty of God. And if God is not Sovereign, the doctrine of Providence falls, too.
Speaking of narratives, it’s popular today to use the fact of Jesus’ storytelling through parables to excuse what is known as narrative theology.
Here is the definition of narrative theology, a wonky theology to begin with, before Tupper further corrupted it by showing his readers how to create a theology based on experience:
Narrative theology was a late 20th century theological development which supported the idea that the Church’s use of the Bible should focus on a narrative presentation of the faith, rather than on the development of a systematic theology. The Christian faith is thus also to be interpreted by the Christian community, and not by outside scholars or explorers. Narrative theology is typically done by those known as post-liberals.
Tupper’s book relies on narratives within the Bible to offer laypeople access to theology, which he calls “lay theology”. He says he uses narrative theology as a mechanism to communicate the fundamental concerns of scripture to the lay people. As with any mechanism, satan will use it and bring it forward even from its good foundations to foundations made from darkness and poison. So it is with narrative theology. In Tupper’s book, he strays from the straightforward interpretation of parables, (theology) to using parables as an excuse to narrate Jesus’ story, (a liberal stance) to using people’s stories as a narrative to explain Jesus. (a ridiculous stance, but inevitable if adopting narrative theology.)
As with any doctrinal error, there comes a point where its profound error becomes its fatal flaw. If we interpret evil through the lens of our own experiences and worse, construct a narrative to explain it, the skewed vision of who God is becomes fatally wounding.
Why am I going on about what may seem to you to be an obscure theologian, (but isn’t) who in no way impacts your life? Because I want you to understand something. This man has been teaching generations of young people the “truths” of God for 42 years. His journey away from the sovereignty and goodness of God’s toleration of evil means Tupper has also led impressionable youths away from it too. Many seminaries and Christian colleges today are bastions of doubt and unfaith. And I’m talking about the Professors.
God is in control of everything. Solomon says this in Proverbs 16:33,
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
This means that, we can throw the dice and we can use that as a basis for deduction, but God who sovereign over all things, even controls the roll of the dice. (Alistair Begg)
Here are some resources to help understand God’s sovereignty even in tolerating evil, death, and tragedy.
The Truth about Evil
How can a good and powerful God tolerate all the evil in the world?
In Tupper’s interview with the Homebrewed Christian, Tupper mentioned about God being love (so why does He accept evil and hate in the world…). The verse from 1 John 4:8 which says in its second part that God is love, is explained in this 90-second video from the WWUTT Pastor, Gabe Hughes.
From Ligonier, we find a list of essays dealing with the question Is God in Control?
When pain, suffering, and natural disasters occur, how can we know that God is really in control? Is He really sovereign over all things, including evil?
GotQuestions on narrative theology: Narrative theology is the idea that Christian theology’s use of the Bible should focus on a narrative representation of the faith rather than the development of a set of propositions reasoned from the Scriptures themselves or what is commonly called a “systematic theology.”