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Sovereignty // Kyle Welstad

This post is a part of the Sovereignty of God Blog Series going on throughout the months of July and August. You can read about the series and see a schedule of the posts here. You can subscribe to all the posts here.

Today’s post is from Kyle Welstad. Kyle is the Associate Pastor at Salem First Free Methodist and is attending George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon in pursuit of his M. Div. Kyle and I both went to George Fox University for our undergrad degrees and I knew Kyle because he led worship for chapel my freshman year. We even worked together as janitors for 5 months where we’d discuss everything from sports to theology.

Christ etched

“I believe in God, the Father almighty.” These are the opening words of the Nicene Creed. The Bible along with ancient statements of faith inform us that belief in an “almighty” or sovereign God is an essential part of the Christian faith. But, what does it mean to say that “God is Sovereign?” The theology involved in the sovereignty of God is complex and fills volumes of books. It is therefore difficult to distill something, which can be so involved and complicated, into something which can grip people’s hearts and provide opportunity for real change in their lives. For example, recently, a member of our congregation who was a 40 year old mother of two passed away unexpectedly. The question becomes how do I explain to her two sons (one a second grader and one a fourth grader) that God is still in control and that he loves them in spite of this terrible tragedy.

For the rest of this short submission I would like to address, very generally, what I consider to be a good outlook on the sovereignty of God.  (As a way of qualification keep in mind I am heavily influenced by Wesleyan Theology and will be operating with certain theological presuppositions.)  I’ve come into contact with many people who struggle with the tension of a God who is  good in nature and world which includes human suffering. It’s the classic problem of pain argument. Many of these people operate under what I consider to be a lower view of God’s sovereignty.  In other words, the idea that for God to be God he must be in control of every detail. That is to say he is the cause of everything. Theologically speaking this term is known as, “omnicausality” (now you can sound smart in your small groups!). This understanding of how God works in the world comes with its own set of issues and questions, which I will not get into here.

Rather, I think it is better to understand that God is not the cause of everything, for God cannot be logically impossible. An example of this would be to say that God is the source of all that is good, and that God is the source of all that is evil. This is simply not true. God’s sovereignty does not mean that he is the direct or sole cause of all that happens; rather he is Lord over all that happens. (This is what I would consider a higher view of God’s sovereignty) In other words, God is capable of dealing with all circumstances, and nothing can ultimately defeat or thwart his plan for his people. This is a simple yet profound distinction which has had significant impact in my ministry and can help even two little boys dealing with the passing of their beloved mother.

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  • http://seth.heasley.net/blog Seth

    It’s funny, because I’ve seen the “high” and “low” views reversed in the writings of those who take what you call the “low” view (which I also hold). I look at it this way: God is the king who is sovereign over a kingdom, but he does not meticulously control the actions of all his subjects. That doesn’t change the fact that he is in charge, though. It’s an imperfect analogy, of course.

    • http://kylewelstad.wordpress.com/ Kyle Welstad

      Seth,

      Thanks for your response. We seem to be on the same page while using different language. Your description of God’s sovereignty, “God is the king who is sovereign over a kingdom, but he does not meticulously control the actions of all his subjects. That doesn’t change the fact that he is in charge, though,” is exactly what I was describing by what I call the “high” view of God’s sovereignty. In other words, no matter what happens, or no matter the “actions of all his subjects” God is still in control and still God. That is a high view of God’s sovereignty!

      • http://seth.heasley.net/blog Seth

        Kyle, I completely agree with you, I just question the language. If I google “high view of God’s sovereignty,” I get a whole bunch of links apparently espousing the meticulous control idea, or what you term the “low view.”

        Perhaps you could point me to further reading where I’d find the distinction the way you presented it. It’s probably a limitation of my own studies.

        • http://kylewelstad.wordpress.com/ Kyle Welstad

          Seth,

          Sure thing! One great resource is a two volume work by Donald Bloesch titled Essentials of Evangelical Theology. A second great book, one which Oxford uses at a text book, is by Alister McGrath titled “Christian Theology: An Introduction.” Finally the concepts as I’ve conceptualized them as “High” and “Low” comes from a particular professor I’ve had. I hadn’t thought about googling those as you did to see how they are generally understood. But isn’t it just like theologians to try and re-conceptualize normal understandings of things. Haha!!

        • http://seth.heasley.net/blog Seth

          Seems we’ve hit the reply depth floor. Bummer. It totally *is* just like theologians to do that. And it’s just like debaters to make the other side seem to be putting God down in some way.

          Thanks for the resource recommendations. Might have to grab one or both.

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

    Kyle-

    We’re buddies so I won’t pick on you too hard :)

    My one question is this. It seems like you would say that God has complete foreknowledge. So how can you explain that if God knows everything that he would then not ordain it to be so? Are there specific verses you rely on that show God knowing something but not causing it?

    • http://kylewelstad.wordpress.com/ Kyle Welstad

      Tyler,

      Thanks for your restrain!! However, your question is a good one, and it does lead into some complicated theological issues. I would say this, while I affirm the reality of God’s foreknowledge and also his sovereignty over all events in time and space, I do not hold to a rigid foreordination that excludes the free movement of history. Nothing happens, to be sure, apart from God’s sanction, but this is not to say that God expressly wills everything that happens. Karl Barth says, there are some things that happen that God does not will and that have their reality precisely in God’s negation instead of his affirmation (that’s a complicated statement sorry). So I’m saying that God sovereignty means an overarching providence that sustains the world in its sin and misery but which is not the direct cause of its sin and misery. In other words, God’s foreknowledge doesn’t necessitate foreordination.

      Here are some of the normal verses on the sovereignty of God: (Is 40:8; Ps. 89:34, 102:25-27, 147:5; James 1:17; Job 23:13; Mic 7:19,20; Mal 3:6; 2 Tim 2:13) Again, I want to stress my theological underpinnings (see reference in blog). Thanks for a great question Tyler (Even though I know my answer is likely to bring about more questions)! I don’t think we can ever figure this stuff out completely. As Christian mystics have been reminding us for thousands of years we ought to celebrate the mystery in God and his nature too!

      • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler

        Thanks Kyle. I know we come from 2 different camps and I’ve always appreciated that we’ve been able to have rich discussions even though we have different perspectives.

        • http://kylewelstad.wordpress.com/ Kyle Welstad

          Thanks Tyler, I agree. I’ve so appreciated our discussions, they have always been both rich and fun. Thanks for letting me be a part of this.

  • http://heromama.org karenzach

    I subscribe to the view of God being Lord over our lives but not micromanaging them. Like a good tribal chief, he makes the rules but leaves it up to us to figure out our interactions with one another, in light of those guidelines.

    The thing you should not say to those kids, is the thing that was said at MJ’s funeral; “God needed him more than we do.”

    What a crock of BS that pithy little lie is, and not just because it was MJ but it’s a trite phrase that we’ve adopted that when considered makes absolutely no sense, especially to a grieving child.

    I know.

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  • http://www.shapingthespace.net David

    Great discussion. I am of exactly the same view Kyle…this statement summed it up nicely for me “In other words, God’s foreknowledge doesn’t necessitate foreordination. ”

    I think what I enjoy most about this discussion though, is that we can come with our theological understanding and not be narrow-minded about ours being right or whatever. Some things are rightfully mysteries, and it’s good for us to discuss (“rightfully dividing the word of truth”, “let us reason together”) without it degenerating into arguments that can’t be definitively decided. That doesn’t benefit the Kingdom at all.

    All of which is making me want to listen to Derek Webb’s new album again :)

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