CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

A review of God’s Judgments. By Steven Keillor.

Jul 19, 2007

IVP, 2007.

This is a thought-provoking book, one which is sure to provoke a bit of controversy. Steven Keillor is an American historian, who also happens to be a Christian. He argues that a primary way of understanding Christianity is to see it as an interpretation of history. The Judaeo-Christian religion is indeed grounded in history.

Jews and Christians worship a God who acts, and who is very much involved in the affairs of this world. As such, they reject deism, the idea that God initially created the world but has had nothing to do with it thereafter. No, the Biblical God is one intimately involved in this world, and in human history.

And part of this involvement is the judgment of God. This judgment, which can be understood in part as a sifting process, is a double-edged sword. There is not only judgment of unbelievers, but of believers as well. It is often a testing process, one that allows us either to come nearer to God, or to get further away from him.

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God's Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith by Steven J. Keillor Amazon logo

And this sifting happens to nations, not just individuals. This is quite clear in the Old Testament. The question is, are nations still judged by God in New Testament times? Keillor believes God still does judge nations today, even though there is relative silence about this in the New Testament.

Such questions especially came to the fore after September 11. Was God judging the US?, many asked after that tragic event. Keillor rejects any simple yes or no answer to that difficult question, and he rejects many of the explanations offered by those on the left, the centre and the right. But he does allow for the possibility that God was somehow involved in that fateful Tuesday morning.

Keillor tries to deal with these current situations by first examining what the Bible has to say about judgment. That God is judge is clear, in both Testaments. And Yahweh certainly was judge of the nations in the Hebrew Bible.

Of course modern man is squeamish about the idea of judgment. The Enlightenment did give us deism, and many are unwilling to believe that God – if he exists – is even remotely concerned about the affairs of men. But the Biblical picture is a far cry from this view.

God is overwhelmingly concerned about us and our activities, and is involved in what happens on planet earth. But New Testament believers may still ask if God is the same as Yahweh in terms of judgment. Keillor argues – rightly, I feel – that God has not changed between the Testaments, and is equally a just, holy and judging God, as he is loving and merciful, throughout all of Scripture.

When Jesus was on the scene, his life and teachings constantly brought separation and division to his hearers. Sifting, or judgment, in other words, was the inevitable result of confronting Christ and his claims. As Jesus said in John 9:39, “For judgment I have come into this world”.

Says Keillor, “From beginning to end, Jesus’ life and teachings involved a sifting-out based on responses to him”. And he experienced the judgment of God on the cross, when he suffered for our sins. Moreover, one day he will come back as judge of the entire world. Thus judgment is part and parcel of the life and work of Christ.

After seeking to make the case that God may well still judge nations today, Keillor offers two test cases: the 1814 burning of Washington, and the American Civil War. He notes that many people living during these events did see God’s hand of judgment at work. For example, Lincoln was convinced that the Civil War was God’s judgment on the evils of slavery, although he saw both sides as sharing in the guilt.

In all this Keillor rightly recognises that unlike Old Testament times, we have no clear prophetic word from God on the events of the day, so great caution must be exercised here. What Keillor is mainly trying to establish is that God is actively involved in this world, and has not become an absentee landlord in the New Testament dispensation.

This is an intriguing book. One may not agree with every detail found here. But it seems that the general theme of the book is heading in the right direction. And Keillor is quite right to begin his book with a quote from Os Guinness: “The cross of Jesus runs crosswise to all our human ways of thinking. A rediscovery of the hard and the unpopular themes of the gospel will therefore be such a rediscovery of the whole gospel that the result may lead to reformation and revival”.

We certainly have shrunk away from proclaiming the whole counsel of God, and his holiness and justice must be maintained as adamantly as his love and grace. Anything less is a distortion and truncation of the Biblical record. Thus Keillor is to be commended for getting us to think more carefully about who God is, and how we are to understand his current dealings with planet earth and its inhabitants.

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8 Responses to A review of God’s Judgments. By Steven Keillor.

  • Bill, spot on!
    Indeed in our church one of our mid-week Bible Studies has been studying Joel, which says a great deal about God’s judgement.
    Too much of the modern/post-modern worldview issues in deliberate attempts to separate actions from consequences, thus hoping to avoid judgement – both from a (denied) external authority (God) and from fellow human(ist)s.
    John Angelico

  • A thought provoking subject indeed. I often wonder about the same questions myself. Re 9:11, I don’t know if that was an example of God’s judgment, but I do notice in the Old Testament that when God wanted to punish a disobedient Israel, He sometimes raised up a heathen nation and used them as an instrument of judgment.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Thanks Ewan
    Yes, Isaiah 10 would be a classic example of this, with Assyria judging Israel, only to in turn be judged by Yahweh. And Habakkuk complains about how Babylon is used as a judge of Israel (1:12).
    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • I believe God’s judgment is inevitable. We will all be judged at the day of Judgement. God said of Moses’s generation “They shall never enter my rest”. Jesus said that the men of Nineveh would rise up and condemn the generation Jesus was speaking to. If they will be judged, how will we be judged, we who have access to a personal copy of the Bible in its entirety. We who know about the importance of Christianity in our nation’s heritage, we know about many blessings God brings to our lives. We know that he has moved people to taken stand and through this God has achieved great things that are seemingly impossible. The story about William Wilberforce campaigning against slavery shown in the soon to be released film Amazing Grace is one such example of what God has done over in England.

    We have so much knowledge available, so much more than ever before, there is so much medical treatment available and advanced technology and yet our nation is becoming more and more ungodly. The people of our nation will be judged. Whether he punishes us by humbling our nation on this earth is another question that only God knows the answer to.

    It may be of interest to you Ewan that someone who I believe is a great man of faith, David Wilkerson an American preacher (famous for a book called ‘The Cross and the Switchblade’) who I have seen once while he was visiting Australia, believes in the potential for God to judge and humble America. You only have to look at his messages freely available online such as his message on 9/11 called “The Towers have fallen, but we missed the message” to see he believes very strongly that 9/11 was a warning to America.

    Matthew Mulvaney

  • Thanks Matthew. I remember reading the Wilkerson message that you mention. Whatever one believes about the 9/11 incident, it would certainly be appropriate for the church to see it as a wake-up call.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria.

  • Matthew Mulvaney, I hope Australia gets Amazing Grace soon. From this review, it seems very well worth seeing by all.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Hi Bill,

    I find it a little disturbing, when we pick out events such as the 9/11 event, and then suggest ( sometimes blatantly!) that this could have been the judgement of God, it’s so easy to be an armchair expert, and pretend to understand what God judge’s and what he doesn’t. Job, had a heap of so called experts who thought they understood God. And as Christians, (if the truth be known) I suspect that a lot of us would like to see the ‘wrath of God’ unleashed. When you bandy this idea about God’s judgment just make sure that you are not speaking to someone who has lost somebody in the 9/11 event. There is something clinical and a little self-indulgent about this sort of speculation (I remember when this stuff was said about aids!!). What would you say to all the Christians that lost relatives in this event; sorry! God’s love didn’t include you that day! Maybe we should look again at the 1 Cor: 13 definition, I don’t see anything in here that would permit this response. Furthermore this God doesn’t look all that different to the god of the Koran. I do believe in judgement, it’s not something I like to think about to be honest, my hope is that somehow people can something of Christ in me, and I will leave the other stuff up to God.

    Bob Garbett

  • Thanks Bob

    But with all due respect, it seems that you are being, well, judgmental here. You seem upset that either I or the author of this book would even raise the issue of judgment. And you quite wrongly imply that the author and/or I said 9/11 was the judgment of God. But both my review and the book itself make it quite clear that we really don’t know. It may have been his judgment. Then again, it may not have been. That is all we have been saying. So why are you so agitated about this?

    I guess you answer this question when you state that judgement is “not something I like to think about”. Yes that much is plain. But that then becomes an issue for you to deal with, because the Bible from start to finish is full of talk about God’s judgment. And Jesus himself spoke much of this theme. If you are uncomfortable with the very notion of judgment, does that mean that you are uncomfortable with Jesus and God themselves, since they are the ones who make the case for it?

    And I trust you realise that 1 Cor. 13 is not the entire revelation of God, but just one part of it. Both the love of God and the judgement of God have to be fully affirmed, simultaneoully, just as Scripture does. We must, as Paul declares, preach the whole counsel of God, not just those bits that we agree with.

    So maybe the real problem may have to do more with your unwillingness to face the issue than our willingness to raise it in the first place. What do you think? Do we just ignore the clear biblical teachings on this, or do we try to grapple with them, as unpleasant as they may at times seem? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this.

    Regards, Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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