Christian Word Games

Pastors face a temptation of preaching to the specks. Every pastor knows certain things that will rattle the cages and rally the troops. They are cards kept up the sleeve to be pulled out when an “amen!” or “‘atta boy” are needed. I tried to avoid those when I was pastoring. When the text I was preaching did mention the speck I tried to draw attention to the beam. Getting to the point: when the Bible spoke against homosexuality, I also tried to remind them what else was included in such a prohibition. And what was to be embraced in its stead.

Conservative Christians have done much to muzzle and belittle the authority of God’s word. On The Gospel Coalition Thomas Kidd has written that Christians “be charitable to those in the church (and outside the church) with whom we disagree on [the] most contentious topic [of the 6 days of creation].” The article follows what has become the standard conservative evangelical argument for not taking the days of Genesis 1 literally. Geology, silence of Scripture, no uniform church tradition, etc. all give reason to allow that the days of Genesis 1 are not 24 hour days.

No doubt, the same website will sooner or later post or link to an article about homosexuality and/or marriage and/or gender issues and quote Genesis 1:27 and 2:24:

 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The argument will made having already surrendered any linguistic, logical, or exegetical high ground. If “there was evening and there was morning, the first day…there was evening and there was morning, the second day…there was evening and there was morning, the third day…there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day…there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day…there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day…” does not mean 6 24-hour days, how can you dogmatically argue that “male” and “female” refer to a human born with certain X and Y chromosomes?

If we have already surrendered the meaning of words to each other; on what grounds can we fight for their meaning against unbelievers?

John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God Sermon 11 The Father and Son share one Glory One Power

Though considered the 11th sermon in the series, this sermon is in some ways a first even though it was second. Confused yet? It appears that this sermon was the second sermon that John Chrysostom preached in Constantinople after his appointment as bishop. After an introduction in which he encourages his hearers and alludes to some elements of his first sermon in Constantinople, the preacher delves into the subject matter rather conversationally (1-7).[1]

Would it be better to base argument on the Old Testament or the New? Chrysostom astutely observed that it would be better to start with the Old Testament. He reasons that using the Old Testament allows him to confront a greater number of heretics (8). In many ways his reasoning still applies today. Non-Christians are not going to be surprised if the New Testament speaks of the glory of Jesus. No one is surprised to find Ipads in an Apple store. But if the glory of Christ can be demonstrated from the Old Testament, it is an even more impressive argument apologetically speaking.

Chrysostom begins at the beginning with the statement “Let us make man in our own image” (12-13). By saying “Let us” the Father demonstrates that the Son is an equal part in the work of creation. The Father has no counselor: Scripture makes this clear. But to show the glory of the Son, Scripture calls him Wonderful Counselor. No man knows the mind of the Lord. No one knows the Father except the Son. The Father creates man in counsel with the Son.

Together they make man in the image of God.

…when God said: “Let us make man,” he did not add: “According to your image which is less than mine.” Nor did he say: “According to my image which is greater than yours. What did God say? “According to our image and likeness.” And by speaking in this way, he showed that there is a single image of the Father and the Son. (23-24)

Chrysostom supports this assertion of equal power and glory with some careful exegesis. He notes to sit on a throne demonstrates power and glory, while to stand at a throne demonstrates the mark of a subordinate waiting for orders (25). So the Old Testament several times makes mention of the myriad of hosts attending the throne.[2] The Son is not one of these countless ministers to the Lord. The Son is seated with the Father, sharing in one glory.

Chrysostom concludes in his customary fashion: a pastoral exhortation. The preacher encourages his hearers not to forsake the assembly. Church[3] is where believers are fed by the word of the Lord (30). The gathering of the church is to be valued above all earthly treasure, there is nothing more valuable (31-33). The mere attendance is an encouragement to believers and a shame to the enemies of the cross (33-37). The habit of gathering serves to encourage other believers to faithfulness. When Christians see other members of the church lax in their attendance it is discouraging to them and might lead them to stop attending as well. Perhaps the most important thing to remember is what the church is: the body of Christ. As its head, Christ is always present when his church gathers. But where is his body?

Therefore, do not let the head to be allowed to set foot in this sacred place without its body, let not the body be seen without its head, but let whole human beings come in, head and body… (39)

[1] All paragraph references refer to those in Paul W. Harkins, St John Chrysostom On the Incomprehensible Nature of God (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984).

[2] Dan. 7:9-10; Is. 6:1-2; 1 Kings 22:19

[3] By “church” I mean the gathered assembly of believers to worship the Lord and edify one another.

Evolution, The End of the World, The Argument of History

In addressing the fact that the world will have an end, Herman Bavinck writes,

One may arbitrarily assume the passage of billions of years in the past or future of the world but cannot picture it concretely as being filled with history. If humanity were to last a billion years, a “textbook” on world history, which gave 10 pages to a century, would comprise no fewer than 200,000 volumes, each volume calculated at 500 pages; or 20,000 volumes if it devoted only one page  to every century; or still 500 volumes if no more than one line was given to each century. And that is how it would be with everything that forms the content of our culture. Humanity is finite, and therefore human civilization cannot be conceived as endless either. Both for the earth and for our race, an infinite period of time is an absurdity, even more palpably so than the foolishness of the millions of years known to us from pagan mythologies. (Reformed Dogmatics, IV, 646)

While Bavinck is looking ahead into the future, I would like to look the opposite direction. Is what we know about the history of our race agreeable with the theory of evolution? Beyond the content itself, is the amount of the content we know about the history of humanity agreeable with the theory of evolution.

Let us momentarily suspend judgment and think within the framework of evolutionary thought. However long “life” has been on this planet, it is obvious that life could not have always recorded its existence. Granting the teachings of evolution, we should not expect libraries of thousands of volumes of books because cells, amino acids, proteins, etc., have shown a lousy ability to keep track of their history. Lower primates have fared no better, and continue to show no inclination at recording their sojourn on this globe. But sometime or another, some hominid life form gained the capability of recording history. Someone, or some-ones, could finally ask and answer the questions “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?”

What are the historical answers to these questions? That is, in the earliest historical records and artifacts we have, how are the questions of origin answered? What do ancient civilizations, extinct and otherwise, say about the beginnings of the human race? What do the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, African, Chinese records say about man’s beginnings?

If evolution is true, why was it not put forth and accepted until some 6-8 thousand years after man’s ability to record his existence? Why didn’t the first neo-Neanderthal note that his parents were idiots and incapable of recorded language? What embarrassment would have prevented the first “people” capable of recording humanity’s history, that their ancestors were unable to do so? If evolution is so scientifically true, why is it so historically new?  Why, so many thousands of years after the fact, were we able to discover evolution when those who were “there” say nothing of it? Where are the historical accounts of large groups of man-like creatures who look like man, in some ways act like man, but yet are not quite man?

Those first people capable had nothing to fear from church or state. There was really nothing to prevent them from telling the truth. It would seem then that there would be plenty of historical support for evolution. Somewhere, someone, sometime, would have been able to say, “Wow, I came from a bunch of idiots incapable of recording thought and event.”

Where would I go to find that?

How To Know and Understand the Trinity

Finally, then, it seems best to me to let the images and the shadows go, as being deceitful and very far short of the truth; and clinging myself to the more reverent conception, and resting upon few words, using the guidance of the Holy Ghost, keeping to the end as my genuine comrade and companion the enlightenment which I have received from him, and passing through this world to persuade all others also to the best of my power to worship Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one Godhead and power. To him belongs all glory and honor and might forever. Amen. (Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Orations, V.33).

A thing may be reasonably proved either by going to the root of the matter and producing a cogent demonstration…or by accepting it and then showing the consequences of the evidence…
The first method of proof is serviceable in dealing with such truths as God’s unity. But the second must be adopted when we would show forth the truth of the Blessed Trinity. We start with acceptance, and then afterwards mat give recommending reasons, not that they sufficiently demonstrate the mystery. (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia.xxxii. 1)

Now over against all those who want to base the doctrine of the Trinity on rational grounds, we must undoubtedly maintain that we owe our knowledge of this doctrine solely to God’s special revelation. Scripture alone is the final ground for the doctrine of the Trinity. (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, II, 329).

The doctrine of the Trinity is presuppositional. That is to say, one cannot demonstrate the necessity or veracity of the doctrine from reason alone. Not only is it a supernatural dogma, it is a supra-natural doctrine, and as such can only be understood as it is supernaturally revealed by God in Scripture.

Gregory, Aquinas, and Bavinck all are saying the same thing: the Trinity is only first and compellingly known through Scripture. Though there are countless analogies, there are none that are adequate. As Gregory writes in the statement immediately preceding the above quote, “In a word, there is nothing which presents a standing point to my mind in these illustrations from which to consider the object which I am trying to represent to myself, unless one may indulgently accept one point of the image while rejecting the rest.” If there were a perfect analogy for the Trinity, the Trinity would not be perfectly unique. The Trinity would not be God.

To know what God wishes you to know about the Trinity, you need not plumb the depths of metaphysics, philosophy, mysticism, etc. God has revealed what you need to know about the Trinity in Scripture. You will never comprehend the Trinity: just as you will never comprehend the Father, or the Son, or the Spirit. But you will apprehend all God wishes you to know by studying the revelation of the Trinity in Scripture. While every text that says something about any of the Persons reveals something about the Trinity, there are multitudes of texts that speak of the Three. Search these texts out. Study them. Acquaint now thyself with God and be at peace.

Theophilus of Antioch: The Greatness of God

Hear me, O man: the form of God is ineffable and inexpressible, since it cannot be seen with merely human eyes. For he is in glory uncontainable, in greatness incomprehensible, in loftiness inconceivable, in strength incomparable, in wisdom unteachable, in goodness inimitable, in beneficence inexpressible.

This quote comes from work To Autolycus (Ad Autolycum) by the second-century apologist Theophilus. According to the Eusebius he became bishop of Antioch 169. Autolycus, was written sometime after the death of Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (March 17, 180) since Theophilus refers to it in the work.

Robert M. Grant, the translator of the edition I have quoted from, is cold toward the literary and rhetorical merits of the work. Yet Theophilus begins his work with the warning, “Fluent speech and euphonious diction produce delight and praise—resulting in empty glory, among wretched men who have a depraved mind.” So it appears that the author was not too concerned to impress others “with words of eloquent wisdom.” Even so, luminaries such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Novatian, Methodius, and Lactantius all thought highly enough of the work to cite it in some of their own.

Grant is accurate in identifying a greater difficulty with Autolycus: “The theology of Theophilus…is the most radically monotheistic to be found among the Greek Christian apologists.” I would not hesitate to replace “radically” with “dangerously.” Statements about the generation of the Logos in II.10 and II.22 seem closer to Arianism than Trinitarian orthodoxy.

So, as with all things written by men, To Autolycus must be read with care.

What do the earthquake and tsunami in Japan teach about God and his existence?

“How could God do this?” “What is God doing?” “Why would God let this happen?” There are all easily conceived questions that have certainly been asked by many in the wake of the earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear peril in Japan. In this post I am not going to endeavor to answer them, but wish to address what such questions reveal about man and the existence of God.

Context is everything. In the mouth of an atheist or agnostic the above questions are meant as indictments. They are not so much questions as they are accusations. How can you believe in all-powerful, all-good deity with things like this going on? Such belief is foolish. Certainly this demonstrates no such “God” exists. But in the mouth of a believer, such questions can be honest inquiry into the purpose of tragedy in the divine providence.

But the ragings of an atheist and the questions of the pious both point to something all men have in common: an innate belief that things are not the way they should be. Such unease is latent in all at all times. Hence, the quiet desperation with which the lives of men are lead. But it swells up and reveals itself in times such as these. Why should this be so?

We understand when we see survivors in Japan distraught. We are not surprised at their grief, their questions, or their doubt. But why should others around the world have a similar reaction? Why should I care so much about an event that will likely have a very negligible impact upon me personally? What has happened in Japan has done nothing to measurably impact my life nor the life of the vast majority of the other 6 billion plus people on the globe. But we all share a common response-though certainly not as deep as those immediately affected-of grief and questioning. Why is this so?

I believe Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck is correct in asserting, “…whether people favor a Christian or a humanistic, a positivistic or a historical-materialistic view of history, they always proceed from the belief that history is not a product of fate or chance but guided by a firm hand toward a definite goal.” And again, “…it is noteworthy that belief in guidance and purpose in history is inerdicably implanted in the human heart and an indispensable component in the philosophy of history.”

The very notion of “tragedy” is a demonstration that things in the earth are not as they should be. This notion implies that all have a concept of the way things should be. Everyone knows innately that such things should not happen. Where would such knowledge come from? Would such knowledge come from a big explosion and billions of years of accidents, mutations, and extinctions? A reasoned evolutionist or materialist should never feel such angst. These things happen. It’s just the law of the jungle.

Such dissonance in the soul is best explained by the very existence of the all-powerful, all-good God these events cause us to question. If there is no such Being, these kinds of events should really cause us no bother at all. If there is no such God, the sudden violent death of thousands of people should not bother me at all, it just means more resources for my consumption and survival.

But when our soul cries out in pain with those who suffer we witness to the truth of God’s revelation. We witness to the truth of Genesis 1-3: that this world is not what it is meant to be. We witness to the truth of Romans 8: that the entire creation groans under the burden of sin. We witness to the hope of Revelation 21: that one day all things will be made new.

The fact that mankind grieves at tragedies like the one Japan has suffered is best explained by belief in what Scripture reveals about God and his creation. That men question God demonstrates he exists. That we mourn tragedy demonstrates its foreignness in God’s plan. This is not what God intended. And man knows it.

Lloyd Jones on our inability to know God completely

Scripture itself, it seems to me—I say it with reverence—does not attempt to give us an adequate conception of the Being of God? Why? Because of the glory of God. Our terms are so inadequate, and our minds are so small and finite, that there is a danger in any attempt at a description of God and His glory. (D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, vol. 1, p. 113)

Exodus 15:11 “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?

1Samuel 2:2 “There is none holy like the LORD; there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.

Psalm 89:6 For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD? Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,

Psalm 113:5-6 Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?

Isaiah 40:18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

Isaiah 40:25 To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.

Isaiah 46:5 “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?

Jer 10:6 There is none like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is great in might.