Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

PARADOX FILES, Vol. 6 - C.J. Mahaney

This time it's C.J. Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries who wins the T-shirt (actually, I gave him an "iron on" version). What follows is an excerpt from his extremely helpful little booklet entitled, Sovereign Grace and the Glorious Mystery of Election (Click here for a free PDF download of the book).

Like many others, C.J. offers a perfect example of the THEOparadox concept: God is great, we're not, God knows the secret things, we don't, so trust Him.

C.J. has had a major impact on me - not just theologically, but practically. He emphasizes a Gospel-centered life, serving others, receiving observations and criticisms from those around us, persistently fighting against indwelling sin, and exalting Christ above all. These happen to be the areas where I have needed the most help (based on the observations of those around me), so C.J.'s ministry was literally a God-send.

Here's the excerpt:


Out of Our Depth
Election, of course, is a doctrine issuing from the deep end of the theological pool. As soon as we encounter it, we must all acknowledge that we are in way over our heads. This is a place of mystery, a place that spawns a hundred questions, all of them variations on a single question: “How do I reconcile divine sovereignty with human responsibility?” On the topic of theological mystery, I find this quote from J. Rodman Williams most helpful:

“Because all Christian doctrines relate to God who is ultimately beyond our comprehension, there will inevitably be some element of mystery, or transcendence, that cannot be reduced to human understanding. Nonetheless, within these limits the theological effort must be carried on.”

Indeed, God has announced the following non-negotiable arrangement: “The secret things belong to the Lord and the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever” (Deut 29:29). As one who loves secrets, my pride does not respond well to such a declaration. So, partly as an aid to my humility, God has allowed me to live near Washington, DC. Here, among the members of the church I am privileged to serve, are a number of people who must be rather secretive about the details of their government-related jobs. Sometimes, when talking with one or another of them, my pride and self-importance rises up, and I begin to crave a little insider access. Why don’t they share some cool stuff with me? Can’t they trust me? Can’t they make an exception for their pastor? To their credit, they never satisfy my prideful craving. Usually they don’t even admit they know any secrets. I can behave the same way with God. I implore him to explain some theological mystery, arrogantly assuming that my brain would not be microwaved by exposure to such divine illumination. But in his goodness, wisdom, and mercy, he doesn’t tell me any secrets, either.
How comfortable are you with the secret things of God?…with the difficult to understand?…the paradox?…the apparent contradiction? Are you at peace in the deep end of the pool?

In Scripture, God has asserted both divine sovereignty and human responsibility, without seeking to harmonize them completely. But they are certainly harmonized in his infinite wisdom, and that should be enough for us. John Calvin offers wise counsel on this matter:

The subject of predestination, which in itself is attended by considerable difficulty, is rendered very perplexed, and hence perilous, by human curiosity, which cannot be restrained from wandering into forbidden paths…Those secrets of his will which he has seen fit to manifest, are revealed in his Word—revealed in so far as he knew to be conducive to our interest and welfare.…Let it, therefore, be our first principle that to desire any other knowledge of predestination than that which is expounded by the Word of God, is no less infatuated than to walk where there is no path, or to seek light in darkness.…The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of teaching to cease wishing to be wise.

I believe that Christian maturity includes an increasing comfort with divine mystery and a growing trust in God, so that we can say with David, “O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great or too marvelous for me” (Ps 131:1). As one grows in Christ, there won’t be less mystery. But there ought to be more humility, that we may be more at rest in the presence of divine mystery. May it be great enough and marvelous enough for us to know that the doctrine of election is sound and reliable, representing the clear teaching of Scripture.



  1. "I implore him to explain some theological mystery, arrogantly assuming that my brain would not be microwaved by exposure to such divine illumination."

    Hahaha classic C.J. I love that guy! He discussed one of the aspects of predestination that OUGHT to be highlighted more often: The doctrine itself is so high and mysterious it OUGHT to humble us and lead us to a place of immense comfort. "I believe that Christian maturity includes an increasing comfort with divine mystery and a growing trust in God..." Nicely said.

  2. Chris,

    You highlighted some of the lines that struck me most forcefully. It is a testament to the pervasiveness of sin that we can take a doctrine that OUGHT to humble us and use it as yet another means to inflate our pride. On the other hand, it is a testimony to the power of GOD that men like C.J. Mahaney are calling us to bow before the mysterious ways of an incomprehensible God.

    And it's really cool the way he calls Calvin himself as a witness against the dangers of human curiosity. Maybe I should give John Calvin a t-shirt, too ...


Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.