Tertullian on the Problem of Evil and Free Will

This is part of a series of posts that captures the early church views on free will and determinism. The idea for this series was motivated by Calvinist claims that their view was held by the early church.



Tertullian (160-225), a 2nd century theologian lived in North Africa, wrote numerous works explaining and defending Christianity. We explored his views of orthodoxy (or the Rule of Faith) already, in this post we will look at how he approached the problem of evil.

One of his works is The Five Books against Marcion. In Book 2, Tertullian explores the problem of evil because Marcion (the heretic of Pontus) was wrestling with how a good God could be the author of all the evil in the world (i.2).

The problem of evil, as stated by Marcion and presented by Tertullian goes, something like this (ii.5): Continue reading

Reconciling the World to Himself

in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19 NET)

Mosaic of Crucifixion at Kykkos Monastery Christianity rests on the essential truth that Jesus came, suffered, died, was buried, and rose on the third day.  But why did Jesus have to die on the cross? Richard Watson (1781-1833) tackles that question in chapter 20 of the 2nd Volume of his Theological Institutes.

The first thing which strikes every attentive, and, indeed, every cursory reader of the New Testament, must be, that the pardon of our sin, and our entire salvation, is ascribed to the death of Christ. … our salvation is expressly and emphatically connected with that event. … Continue reading

Treat them as Gentiles and Tax Collectors

Most of us have read through the church discipline passages and probably have given them very little thought as to how they might be applied. Unfortunately as an elder of a local church we are forced to wrestle with them not just from a theological perspective but from a very practical sense.

As many readers likely know, Matthew 18:15-20 is the standard passage used to define the church discipline process. The process involves four successive steps:

  1. private meetings between the sinner and the offended party.
  2. discussions between the sinner and the offended party with witnesses to establish whether the alleged sin is occurring.
  3. bringing the matter to the attention of the church is typically when elders start to get involved and has its own set of steps.
    • The elders, similar to step 2, will investigate the matter and determine whether sinful activity is occurring.
    • If the sinful activity is verified the elders will often meet with the person who is sinning to discuss the situation and encourage them to repent.
    • If the person refuses to repent the congregation is informed of the matter, with the goal of aiding in the process of reconciliation. The unrepentant, sinning person is given some additional time to change their actions.
  4. treating the sinner as a Gentile and a tax collector
    • this final step is reserved for people who stubbornly refuse to acknowledge their sin and continue in their sinful activity.

The goal at every step in this process is for there to be an end to the sinful activity and reconciliation between the sinner and offended party. The hope is that this can be done in as few steps as possible.

The Calling of St. Matthew

The Calling of St. Matthew

What did Jesus mean when He said treat them as Gentiles and Tax Collectors? Continue reading

Eating with Sinners

Jesus’ ministry was summed up by the Pharisees in this way (Luke 15:1-2 also Matt 11:19; Luke 7:34).

This man receives sinners and eats with them

Having assessed Jesus’ approach to ministry, the Pharisees also questioned it. Why does Jesus “eat with sinners” (Mark 2:16 NET)?

When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?

As we look back on Jesus’ ministry mission statement and how he dealt with sinners we can end up with a lot of questions too. Who should I eat and hang out with? Where should I hang out with them? What should I tell them about sin? What expectations should be placed on the sinners for there to be a continued close relationship? How long should I hang out with them if they keep sinning? How should we handle sinners in the church?  These are all good questions. And ones that are being hotly debated.

The Last Supper (Da Vinci)Here is how Jesus defended His “eat with sinners” approach to ministry (Mark 2:17 NET):

Continue reading

World Vision, Wesley, and Differing Opinions

Matt Anderson tweeted this as a reminder to all those responding to the World Vision decision to first hire Christians who are in a same-sex marriage and then the reversal of that decision a few days later.

As this was unfolding, a friend of mine, knowing that I have blogged through some of John Wesley’s sermons, asked me what I knew of the relationship between Wesley and Augustus Toplady. Not knowing much I did what anyone would do and fired up “Google”.

[if you are scratching your head at this point the connection between these two events will be clear soon]

Continue reading

Ordaining All that Comes to Pass

DecreeThe Westminster Confession was drafted in 1646 and is one of the Reformed creeds of faith. In this confession (chapter III section 1) it reads:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass

What does it mean for God to ordain all things that come to pass?

That is frustratingly difficult to answer. The word “ordain” carries the meaning of “to decree, “to set (something) that will continue in a certain order”. How God ordains all things is closely related to how one understands God’s sovereignty. There are 4 major models (outlined in this Parchment & Pen post), describing different ways in which God may exercise His sovereignty.

Continue reading

Wesley and Watson examine who is Appointed to Eternal Life (Acts 13:48)

Richard Watson (1781-1833) was an Arminian theologican. In chapter 27 of his Theological Institutes he examines several passages in Scripture that are commonly used to support unconditional election.

Unconditional election asserts that God, before the foundation of the world, made an unchangeable decree in which He chose ‘a set number of people’ out of the entire human race to receive eternal life. These elect, and only these, are given the necessary and irresistible grace that enables the person to believe.

Watson disagreed with this, asserting that the election of individuals to salvation was based on foreseen faith and the unchangeable decree that God would save, through the blood of Christ, whosoever should believe. Continue reading

Joseph: An example of Faith at the Cross of Jesus

A sample of lessons that will be taught on an upcoming trip to Liberia to teach at a Pastor’s Conference with CrossWay

It is Friday around 3pm and Jesus is pronounced dead. The long awaited Messiah who would regather the Jews and restore Israel is hanging on a cross. Didn’t He say He was the King of the Jews? Didn’t He say the kingdom was at hand? Where is the kingdom? How can a dead King reign?

When all of Jesus followers had denied and deserted Him (Mark 14:50, 14:66-72; Matt 26:55-56), and even the women who supported Him were at a distance (Mark 15:40-41;Luke 23:49), an unexpected person comes forward to insure Jesus’ body is properly handled. Continue reading

Applying Wright’s 5 Act Hermeneutic to 1 John

NTWright_JohnWe have been studying the book of 1 John, and I have been catching up on reading Simply Jesus. In doing these two things I thought it would be interesting to re-read through 1 John and apply N.T. Wright’s 5 Act Hermeneutic.

Wright hermeneutic is based on taking the Scriptures as a meta-narrative, laying out its epic story (told in 66 books) in five acts (like a play). This story is about our God who loves His creation and the people in it. In this story there is an enemy, the Accuser who has deceived the people and wreaked havoc on creation. This enemy needs to be defeated. Continue reading

Simply Jesus: Why did Jesus have to die?

It has been awhile since I posted on my readings through Simply Jesus. Part of that has been the fact that life has been full of other activities. And part of that is because in this chapter Wright addresses an incredibly important question (which I wanted to take time to explore).

Why did the Messiah have to die?

Wright spends much of chapter 13 exploring how God surprised everyone in combining the roles of Messiah, servant, and returning God into the same person – Jesus.

This combination was a small step exegetically, but a giant leap theologically … Nobody, so far as we know, had dreamed of combining these ideas in this way before.

Jesus’s vocation to be Israel’s Messiah and his vocation to suffer and die belong intimately together.

Wright then explains that the reason Jesus had to die was to defeat the true enemy – Continue reading