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?

The Spirit of Power

“Without the Holy Spirit there is no life, no motion, no being, The Spirit is the power supply for all these things. . . The Holy Spirit is the power of life itself.” (R.C. Sproul, The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, 74, 75)

Sproul notes the apostles frequently couple the Spirit with power (Greek- dunamis) in the New Testament. A quick search turned up these results:

  • Luke 1:35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
  • Luke 4:14 And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country.
  • Acts 1:8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
  • Acts 10:38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
  • Romans 1:4 and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,
  • Romans 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
  • Romans 15:19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ;
  • 1 Corinthians 2:4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
  • Galatians 3:5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles [powers] among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—
  • Ephesians 3:16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being,
  • 1 Thessalonians 1:5 because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.
  • Hebrews 2:4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles [powers] and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.

The Holy Spirit is a person of power. If you are lacking vigor and vitality in your spiritual life, you are not walking in the power of the Spirit’s fullness. Your failings demonstrate where you still walk in the flesh.

Otto Weber on the Freedom of God’s Love

God’s love qualifies his freedom as divine, as freedom turned toward the creature, as freedom which incomprehensibly does not consist of the possibility that God could be “different” (he cannot be the devil, he cannot be wicked), but rather of the fact that purely of his own essence, unconditioned by anything else, with no regard to the quality of the object toward which he turns, God is and acts the way he is and acts.

Foundations of Dogmatics 1.408

How Do We Talk About God: Classifying His Attributes

We can only say anything about God because we must say something. One of the most common ways of speaking about God is to discuss his attributes- those truths of God’s existence that He has reveled to us. Generally, God’s attributes are placed into one of two groupings. Some of those groupings (and the men who use them) are:

Incommunicable Communicable Grudem, Berkhof, Bavinck, Shedd
God is great God is good Erickson
Perfections of the Divine Freedom Perfections of the Divine Loving Barth, Weber
Deus absconditus (hidden God) Deus revelatus (Revealed God) Luther
Constitutional Personality Chafer
a se (in Himself) pro nobis (toward us) Photios
ousios (essence) energeia(energy, operations) Palamas
theologia economia  
Absolute/Immanent Relative/Transitive Strong
natural moral  
absolute relative  
original derived  
intransitive transitive  
Light Love 1 John
One For Us Romans

Of course, all such discussion and classifications are carried out in the knowledge of our inadequacy to the task and the very impossibility of it.

“An actual division of the attributes of God is not conceivable. Therefore every ordering has the actual intent of making indivisible (yet distinguishable) factors evident.”  (Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 428)

“…God and his attributes are one. The attributes cannot be considered as so many parts that enter into the composition of God, for God is not, like men, composed of different parts. Neither can they be regarded as something added to the Being of God, though the name, derived from ad and tribuere, might seem to point in that direction, for no addition was ever made to the being o God, who is eternally perfect.” (Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology New Combined Edition, pp. 44-45)

“…the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible. It is evident that no feature of Systematic Theology has occasioned more confusion and disagreement among theologians than has the attempt to order the category of the divine attributes.” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 189)

 

 

 

The Greatest Problem Mankind Will Face in 2014

What is the greatest problem facing mankind in 2014?

Militant Islam?

A nuclear Iran?

Global warming?

Poverty?

AIDS?

Cancer?

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront together and at once, would be nothing compared to the problem of God: The He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.

A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy 

Otto Weber and John Calvin on Roman Hubris (and me on Evangelical Insolence)

According to the Roman Catholic view, Jesus is the Lord in the Church and through the Church, but not over the Church in the sense that he alone defines the word of the Church through the apostolic witness and makes this word secondary to that witness.

Otto Weber, Foundation of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 40

It is easy to simplify things and state that all the differences between Rome and Christianity come down to authority. Nevertheless, all differences must at the very least start there. Until this issue is resolved, there can be no meaningful rapprochement with Rome.  Rome says that what the Church says about the Apostolic witness is more important than the witness itself. Jesus may help and guide the Church in her dogmatic decrees, but her decrees always take precedence over whatever Jesus or the apostles have decreed.

This should not be taken as an assertion that Protestants have it all together. We may have a better creed, but for many it is little more than that: “I believe,” but not “I do.” Sola Scriptura and Regula Fidei are nice slogans to sling around, but they have little bearing on how we relate to God, society, or one another. The arrogance of Roman autonomy is little better than Evangelical insolence.

 …in mysteries of the faith common sense is not our adviser, but with quiet teachableness and the spirit of gentleness (which James commends) we receive the doctrine given from heaven.

John Calvin, Institutes, 4.17.25

On Knowing and Worshiping God; Great Expectations; and False Humility

But someone will say, “If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things?”

So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon him enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry?

I praise and glorify Him that made us; for it is a divine command which says, Let every breath praise the Lord. I am attempting now to glorify the Lord, but not to describe Him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying Him worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 6, 5

To paraphrase a bit of Bohoeffer, there is a costly grace in worshiping God. It is grace that calls us to worship God. But it is costly to worship God.

God is worthy of perfect worship. But the sensitive worshiper knows even man’s best is not worthy of God in his glory. I don’t know how many flocks Abel worshiped the Lord with. Did he have ever occasion to ponder, “Last year’s flock was a little better than this year’s.” In one sense man can never really offer “the” best, but only “his” best.[1] God, in His grace, covers even the purest of our offerings and makes it fit for Him.

I am not sure pure worship is found by the one seeking perfect worship. The one loving worship more than God is not worshiping God. Widow’s mites always have more value than spare doubloons.

But it remains true that “whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” The Lord accepts widow’s mites, not tycoons’. When someone has a suspicion that God might deserve or expect a bit more in corporate worship, it is not the time to revert to Adam’s, “The woman…” or Aaron’s, “You know the people…”

As far as I know, the first and second greatest commands have not switched rankings in the polls.

God calls us to worship him with our best. Pastors should do the work of elevating the congregation’s idea of what our best should and can be: always better, even if it is never good enough.


[1] Thinking musically, if we were really concerned to offer God “the” best, shouldn’t we have come up with a text for the third movement of Dvorak’s Dumky Trio already?

Tertullian: What is the fear of God? How do I know the fear of the Lord?

They say that God is not to be feared; therefore all things are in their view free and unchecked. Where, however is God not feared, except where He is not? Where God is not, there truth also is not. Where there is no truth, then, naturally enough, there is also such a discipline as theirs. But where God is, there exists “the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psalm 111:10; Prov. 1:7) Where the fear of God is, there is seriousness, an honorable and yet thoughtful diligence, as well as an anxious carefulness and a well-considered admission (to the sacred ministry) and a safely-guarded communion, and promotion after good service, and a scrupulous submission (to authority), and a devout attendance, and a modest gait, and a united church, and God in all things.

(Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics, 43)

 

I’ve struggled for quite some time with the explanation I often hear evangelical-types give about the phrase “the fear of the Lord.” “Of course,” we are told, “we do not really fear God, we just have a reverence, or respect for God.” Charmed, I am sure. I always got the feeling that whatever “fear of God” meant, I wasn’t being given a straight answer.

We are proficient at “interpreting” Scripture when it suits us. Rather, when Scripture is against us. Don’t feel like supporting your needy parents? Just say your goods are devoted to the Lord! Who can argue with that? It is not a new problem.

What Tertullian says about the fear of God certainly rings authentic to me. How do I know if a place, a people, is filled with the fear of God?

Is there seriousness?

Is there honorable, thoughtful diligence?

Is there safely guarded communion?

Is there submission?

Devout attention?

Modesty?

Unity?

How would these questions be answered at churches across the land? I fear to even contemplate. What if the answer to these questions is “no”? Then God is not there. Truth is not there.

No fear, no God.

Thank you for good medicine father Tertullian. O for more doctors so careful in their cures.

Graeme Goldsworthy on God’s Attributes

God has been revealing himself within the whole process of biblical history. His character is not presented as a series of abstract ideas, such as holiness, omnipotence, righteousness and so on. Rather, God reveals himself in the midst of his deeds that he himself interprets by his Word. From his activity as creator, judge, covenant-maker and redeemer, we learn the meaning of words like, holy, almighty and righteousness as they apply to God.

(Graeme Goldworthy, According to Plan, 189)

It may seem to be cutting things a little to fine, but the distinction is an important one. God is not defined by his attributes. God defines his attributes.

Perhaps one of the reasons “God is love” is so often misused is because many people wish to define “God” by their (mis)understanding of “love.” God’s word, and God’s actions described and demonstrated in his word, define the true meaning of love.

Authority: The most important thing Graeme Goldsworthy has ever written?

Graeme Goldsworthy is not a name that is well-known by those in the pews, nor even by those in the pulpits. He is better known by those who train the men in the pulpits. He is influential in the renaissance, resurgence, continuation of the field of biblical theology. He emphasizes seeing the Bible as one story and seeing Christ as the point of that story. Which, if you want to be biblical about studying the Bible, is not too bad of an emphasis to have.

I have had his introduction to biblical theology, According to Plan, sitting on my shelf for a couple years. At a recent conference I picked up his successive works, Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics, and Christ-Centered Biblical Theology. Now having four books by the man I thought it might be a good time to get started actually reading them.

So far, the journey has been rewarding. In the third chapter of According to Plan, Goldsworthy offers up a couple paragraphs that I wish every Christian would grapple with:

 Presuppositions, then, are the assumptions we make in order to be able to hold some fact to be true. We cannot go on indefinitely saying, “I know this is true because…” In the end we must come to that which we accept as the final authority. By definition a final authority cannot be proven as an authority on the basis of some higher authority. The highest authority must be self-attesting. Only God is such an authority. [Emphasis mine]
The presuppositions we must make in doing biblical theology are those of Christian theism. The alternative to this is to accept the presuppositions of some form of humanism. Either we work on the basis of a sovereign, self-proving God who speaks to us by a word that we accept as true simply because it is his word, or we work on the basis that man is the final judge of all truth. The Christian position, to be consistent, accepts that the Bible is God’s Word, and that it says what God wants it to say in exactly the way he wants to say it.[1]

If I had the words to express how crucial the above declarations are, I would probably be writing books instead of reading them. The issue of authority is the spring from which a thousand streams flow.

If God is the final authority his Word must be given the same respect because it is the expression of his authority, the declaration of his will. Once a person sees what the Bible says, understands what the Bible says, and proceeds to say, “Yeah but…” he demonstrates that the Bible is not his final authority. The attempt to re-define, re-imagine, or re-interpret the plain statements of Scripture, is simply the rebellion of man against the authority of God. When Scripture is seen as out-of-date or unenlightened, it is simply the exaltation of man’s desires over God’s will.

When a church decides that women can be pastors, against the clear teaching of Scripture, there is really no reason to forbid a homosexual from being a pastor either: other than it would just gross some people out.

When the church decides that Adam and Eve were not really the first humans and that sin and death did not really enter creation through their sin in Eden, then there is really no reason to see Jesus as the Christ promised to deliver men from sin and death.

When the church starts parsing out which parts of the Bible to believe and practice, it is only cutting itself to pieces. If you are going to decide which parts to believe, why believe any of it? I can think of quite a few ways I would rather spend my Sundays.


[1] Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan (Downers Grove: InterVarstiy Press, 2002), 44.