Foreword Howard Marshall
Professor Emeritus of New Testament, University of Aberdeen, Scotland
We are sometimes given the impression that the only viable meta-framework for evangelical biblical theology is an Augustinian-Calvinist one in which everything that happens is predestined by God as the total sovereign over the universe; a rigid determinism controls everything. The Bible is then interpreted in accordance with this presupposition. Such an approach is not free from difficulties, especially in regard to the doctrine of God as a being who predestines some to salvation and others to condemnation in what appears to us to be an arbitrary fashion but is due to his unfathomable purpose. Other possible frameworks are rejected by the dominant school of theology.
Yet there is a strong alternative which is less well-known. A detailed exposition and defence of it was published by Paul Marston and Roger Forster in 1973, but has not been well-known in this country. It has now been thoroughly updated in the light of contemporary biblical study to provide an exposition of the biblical understanding of human history in the light of God’s purposes and a critique of the weaknesses of the Calvinist alternative. There is a basis here for an understanding of God that is more satisfying and true to Scripture. It deserves careful attention by those who struggle with the problems of the dominant approach and are looking for a better way. Upholders of the Augustinian-Calvinist approach need to reconsider their position in view of the cogent criticisms of it that are offered here.
It may well be that there are areas in this book where there are tensions between different understandings of God and evil that would tempt readers to dismiss the whole approach. But, whatever our school of theology, there are always going to be tensions as finite human minds attempt to understand the ways of God, and the problem is to locate correctly where the real tensions exist. To ascribe all our difficulties to the incomprehensibility of God may be the wrong approach; it may be better to identify the source of our problems in the incomprehensibility of evil and thus to be able to develop a doctrine of God that is freed from the moral difficulties that many of us find in the alternative picture.
I am delighted to see Paul and Roger’s careful, clearly and simply written contribution to this area of biblical exegesis and systematic theology revised and updated to serve a new generation of readers and warmly welcome its publication.
Foreword by Greg Boyd
Senior Pastor, Woodland Hills Church, Maplewood, MN, USA
Many who know me as a passionate defender of human free will and the open nature of the future may find this hard to believe, but for several years while attending seminary, I embraced five-point Calvinism. My reasons were entirely exegetical. The Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 along with their interpretation of other biblical passages dealing with ‘predestination,’ ‘election’ and ‘providence’ struck me as stronger than any Arminian interpretation I could find. Even when I believed it, however, I have to honestly confess that I never really liked it, despite my sincere attempts to feel otherwise. I was never able to sincerely join my fellow Calvinists as they proclaimed the ‘glory’, ‘beauty’ and ‘justice’ of a God who damned people to suffer eternally for committing the sins he predestined them to commit. Nor was I ever able to sincerely join the chorus of those who expressed ‘joy’ over being one of God’s elect, all the while acknowledging that my adorable newborn child may very well have been created for the purpose of ‘glorifying God’ by suffering his wrath for all eternity.
As I learned from Jonathan Edwards and other Calvinists that one ‘sign of election’ is that a person sincerely sees the ‘glory,’ ‘beauty’ and ‘justice’ of this all-controlling portrait of God and sincerely finds ‘joy’ in their election, I began to wonder if I was truly one of God’s elect – despite the fact that I at this time truly believed this view to be true. This in turn led me to question why God would predestine someone like myself to believe Calvinism to be true and yet withhold from me the accompanying grace to sincerely see the beauty of this truth. What kind of God would create a person to be tormented in this fashion? Yet, over time I came to see that this is more or less what the God of Calvinism does to every non-elect person. He decrees that they eternally long for what he himself decrees they can never have, and according to most Calvinists, he does this with the vast majority of humans throughout history! And if you don’t see this as ‘glorious,’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘just,’ then it simply means you (and I) aren’t one of his ‘elect’. As a result of this line of thinking, I found that, throughout the three to four years I embraced Calvinism, I was increasingly revolted by, and damned by, the very belief system that I, on strictly exegetical grounds, believed to be true.
Fortunately for me, I eventually encountered several biblical and theology works by Arminians that offered interpretations of the crucial Calvinistic passages that struck me as more persuasive than what the Calvinists had offered me. And among the works that exercised the most powerful influence on me at this time was the book that you are presently reading and that I now have the great honor of writing a Foreword for: God’s Strategy in Human History. For me – and I have firsthand knowledge that I am far from alone in having this experience – reading Marston’s and Forster’s masterful work was like finally acquiring the picture for a puzzle you’ve been unsuccessfully trying to piece together for several years without knowing what picture you were trying to construct. In fact, while the several pieces that Calvinism had helped me put together pointed in the direction of what Marston and Forster boldly call ‘a monster deity’, once God’s Strategy in Human History helped me get the true big-picture the pieces were meant to form, I discovered that all the pieces, properly placed together, present a God of breathtaking beauty who has a beautiful plan for humanity and his creation.
I could not be more delighted that Marston and Forster decided to offer us this 3rd, updated and revised edition of this important work. So far as I can see, the timing could not be more perfect! The religion of Christendom with its vision of the ‘church triumphant’ is on its way out! This is the religion that came about when Eusebius, Augustine and other church fathers unwisely accepted from the emperor Constantine the power of the sword, thereby embracing as a divine gift the very kind of power that Jesus had renounced as a temptation from Satan (Luke 4:5-7)! This religion has been dying a slow death for several centuries, and – God be praised! – all indications are that, despite a recent resurgence of very vocal and aggressive defenders, it’s demise is drawing nigh.
This militant version of Christianity exchanged the image of Jesus as the humble crucified Savior for the image of Jesus as a conquering Caesar, thereby transforming the conception of God’s power from the power of self-sacrificial love revealed on the cross into the controlling power of a tyrant’s decree and the coercive power of his enforcing sword. The Augustinian/Calvinistic portrait of God unilaterally determining by divine decree all that comes to pass, whether good or evil, is simply the quintessential expression of the Caesar-looking God of this dying religion.
While some bemoan the death of this religion, I see it as a cause for celebrating! For out of the rubble of this decaying religion is rising, all around the world, a new generation of kingdom revolutionaries who are catching the vision that the true God and the true kingdom look like the crucified Messiah, not a reigning Caesar! Freed from the blinding shackles of the old, triumphalist, sword-wielding religion of Christendom, these rising revolutionaries are grasping the profound biblical truth that God’s ‘glory’ is about the radiance of his other-oriented, self-sacrificial love that was revealed on Calvary, not about the twisted, human-made ‘glory’ of a narcissistic, self-absorbed, deity who only loves himself. So too, these rising revolutionaries are seeing the profound biblical truth that the true God is a confident, self-assured God who shares power while loving all people, not a petty, insecure god who monopolizes power to control people. And this new tribe of kingdom people is increasingly receiving the revelation that the true God calls on and empowers the Church to manifest his loving character by sacrificially serving the world, not to manifest the power of a warrior god by trying to conquer the world.
The 1st edition of God’s Strategy in Human History helped plant the seeds for this beautiful, rising revolution, but I believe this new and expanded edition will begin to reap the harvest. My sense is that there is far more openness to the profound, biblical concepts that are so clearly, and so thoroughly, communicated in this work than there was 40 years ago when the 1st edition appeared. In the two volumes of the revised edition of this masterpiece, kingdom people will find a clear, thoroughly biblical theology that removes the many layers of unnecessary, human-made contradictions – illegitimately passed off as ‘mysteries’ – that have plagued the theology of Christendom for centuries. And in this work, kingdom people will find a coherent and compelling presentation of the ‘big picture’ that finally makes sense of all the individual pieces they have found in Scripture and/or perhaps inherited from the Church.
Most important, in this work followers of the Lamb will find – as I myself found more than 30 years ago – that this ‘big picture’ is not a portrait of an ugly, tyrannical god that one must confess out of fear to be altogether ‘glorious,’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘just: they will rather find a portrait of God whom their heart can’t help but see as actually altogether ‘glorious,’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘just’.
My prayer – and I know it’s the prayer of Marston and Forster as well – is that this new, updated edition of God’s Strategy in Human History will reap the full harvest of the magnificent kingdom seeds that were planted with the previous editions. Lord bless this work and all who read it!
‘This riposte to strong predestinarian theology deserves to be widely read and discussed’William K Kay Professor of Pentecostal Studies, University of Chester
‘Wow, what a relief! To read a serious work that takes Scripture at its face value without cramming it into pre-conceived constructs is a delight; especially around the critically important matter of the human/God relationship in the context of our freedom within His will. The authors’ insistence that genuine relationship requires mutual dependency is one of those obvious realities that fits the story of Scripture yet is often strangely ignored or twisted by those intent on a systematic consistency to a particular doctrinal position.Bishop David Roller Free Methodist Church of North America
‘With a generous, non-combative spirit, Marston and Forster, pursue the subject across the history of God’s interaction with us. An uplifting, satisfying walk through the Scriptural content.’