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Archive for November, 2009

Self-pity is, for me, like a low-level virus, a background throb, a sapping sickness.  It heavies my bones and fizzies my blood.

But the other day I gained instant relief.  I was reading Psalm 103 in the King James version.  Verse 13 says:

Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear Him.

Could this be true?  Does the LORD Himself pity me?  Yes.  With fatherly affection and concern.  I provoke the heart-felt pity of the living God.

You might think this would confirm my dreadful indulgence.  After all, heaven seems to agree with my self-obsession.  Actually no.  He pities the fool who pities himself.  In spite of my wallowing, the LORD’s pity is a great ‘nonetheless.’

A father whose child cries only for attention may still choose to pick up the boy, spin him round and kiss him.  He is not caving into the child’s manipulation.  Instead He is loving from his own free grace.  And the boy is weaned from self by the love of another.

In the same way our Father in heaven reaches down in His Son to self-pitying wretches.  And He lifts us up, not to confirm our self-centredness but to replace it.  Now that heaven pities me, I simply have no need.  What could my own self-preoccupation add to the divine pre-occupation of the LORD, who sets His affections on me?

And so this verse brought a tremendous release.  Just as the LORD’s love frees us from self-love, His service frees us from self-service, so His pity frees us from self-pity.

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The meaning of Eid al-Adha

from The Big Picture (see also many other fascinating photos)

Yesterday marked the beginning of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim festival commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son.  Muslims believe it was Ishmael who was nearly sacrificed.  But Genesis 22 is clear that Isaac, the child of promise, was the one to be sacrificed.   And he, the child of promise, was the one who Abraham received back from the dead.

The action took place on a mountain in the region of Moriah (Gen 22:2).  Mount Moriah was where the temple would later be built (2 Chron 3:1).  And so as they ascend this hill the father carries the tools of judgement – the fire and knife.  The son carries the wood.  He asks his father about the sacrifice.  “God Himself will provide the lamb” says Abraham.

On this occasion the Angel of the LORD intercepts the judgement. (v11ff)  He does so from heaven which is very odd for Him – usually He is more hands-on in His interactions.  But one day He would come in Person to this mountain.  And on that day He would intercept the judgement of the whole world.  He would be the Child of promise, the Seed of Abraham and the Lamb of sacrifice.  And on that day the Father would not spare His own Son but give Him up for us all.  (Rom 8:32).

In Genesis 22, a ram is provided as a substitute for Isaac (v13).  But of course, Abraham had prophesied that a lamb would be provided (v8).  And this prophecy was believed and proclaimed throughout the generations:

Abraham called that place “The LORD Will Provide”.  And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

The true substitutionary sacrifice, the true promised Son, the true Seed of Abraham would die as a Lamb on that mountain in the region of Jerusalem.

Islam celebrates father Abraham, Ishmael and the sacrifice that saved him.  But this is not the true Eid – the true sacrifice.  All of this points to the true Father who did not spare His Son.  To the true Child of Promise who was willing to lay down His life and to the true Sacrifice that was provided for all.

Here’s Mike Reeves explaining it in 10 minutes – an excerpt from a longer talk. (Thanks to Dave Bish for editing).

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Happy Friday

from Doug Wilson

from Dan Hames

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Here’s Mike Reeves speaking at a student evangelistic event this week.  Sound quality is not great but it is well worth listening to!

It’s called “How Atheists Are Right.”  Mike’s arguing that the new atheism rightly rejects the solitary dictator in the sky.   Christopher Hitchens regularly complains that theism is totalitarianism.  The theist God is with you 24-7, cannot be escaped and can even convict you of thought crime – the very definition of a totalitarian regime.

But, as Mike says, traditional Christianity has always stood against the solitary dictator in the sky. Instead, when we say God we mean a fundamentally different being.  We believe in a God who is other-centred love.  And as John Lennox put to Christopher Hitchens in a recent debate – My wife is with me morning and evening but I don’t call my marriage a totalitarian regime!  (Or words to that effect.)

Anyway – for Thawed-out Thursday I thought I’d defrost (and slightly revise) an old post originally called ‘So what?‘.  It discusses the way in which the atheism of the west is linked to the trinitarian theology of the west (or lack of it).

Wherever the inter-Personal nature of God is minimized the ‘dictator in the sky’ is enthroned.  And in those circumstances atheism recommends itself very persuasively.  But really the solution is to return to a robustly trinitarian theology.  In his talk, Mike does this very winsomely.

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A friend of mine is at Bible college and has been set an essay on trinitarian theology and the difference between east and west.  He asked me to clarify the difference between an eastern and a western approach to the trinity and then to answer the crucial question:  So what!!

Now first of all I’ll lay out some broad brush-strokes.  Here’s a crude but still useful way of discussing our theological method.  As Theodore De Regnon has famously put it:  In the west theologians begin with the One and work towards the Three.  In the east, theologians begin with the Three and work towards the One.

Now that might be completely false historically.  My point is not to defend this as a reading of the theological traditions.  I’m just wanting to use these definitions of ‘east’ and ‘west’ as labels to help the discussion along.  But let’s make sure we understand the proposition first.

De Regnon is saying that typically, the west begins with the One God and then tries to figure where Three-ness fits in.  The east begins with the Three Persons and then figures out how the Three are One.

Now… once again, this is a sweeping generalisation but when I use the labels ‘western’ or ‘eastern’ to describe the approach to trinitarian theology, that’s what I’m talking about.  And I grant that in what follows I am caricaturing positions.  No theologian in the ‘west’ is as bad as I’m saying.  But plenty, plenty, plenty, of your average western Church-goers are far worse.  Far worse!

And I’m not wanting to get into an argument about whether ‘Augustine was a lot more nuanced/ Cappodocian/ economy-driven, etc, etc’.   For the sake of argument, let me grant every ‘yes, but…’ which an Augustine supporter may wish to raise about Augustine’s own theology.  But let’s step back and examine a trend in western Christianity that bears the stamp of his influence.  And let’s admit that if Augustine doesn’t fit the caricature, there are millions descended from him who do.

I should also say that there are basic things about eastern trinitarianism with which I disagree.  But on the simple point of our theological method I believe we should begin with the Three and discuss God’s Oneness in that light.

And here’s why.

If you’re eastern you say: “I’ve met this guy Jesus and He introduces me to His Father and sends His Spirit.”  And then, having met the Three Persons in the gospel, you ask, ‘What kind of one-ness do these three Persons share?’  And because you think in this way you can conclude: “These three Persons are one because they are united in love.”

So you go to John 17 and you see Jesus saying He wants His followers to be one the same way He and the Father are one.  And then you say “Aha!  The one-ness of the church is loving unity, therefore it stands to reason that the one-ness of Father and Son is loving unity.”  And then you remember 1 John 4 and you say with joy: How is God one?  God is love!  God is a loving community of Three Persons.

And this means that the greatest thing in all reality is love (because God is love).  And it means that reality is relational.  And it means that loving community among disinct people is very important.  One-ness for the east is a loving union of particular Persons who don’t lose their individuality.  Father, Son and Spirit are all different Persons – they are not one because they are identical.

So, using these rough labels, the eastern approach can say: God is three distinct but totally united Persons loving one another.  Let me flesh out three implications of this:

1) It means that difference, distinction, community, relationship, mutuality, reciprocity and LOVE are all at the very very centre of who God is.  God’s identity is not primarily a collection of attributes but a community of love.

2) Because even the Father, Son and Spirit find their identity in relationships we see that relationship is at the heart of personal identity.  God is who He is because He is love.  God is who He is because of the relationships of Father, Son and Spirit.  Therefore I am who I am because of the relationships I share in.

3) Community is hugely important.  Even in God, different voices are not silenced by one dominant ruler.  Instead different voices contribute to a one-ness that’s all about distinct persons working together in love.

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On the other hand (using these crude generalisations) the west begins by saying: “we know that God is one.  We know that this one God has all sorts of attributes that go with the ‘Creator’ job description. So God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, impassible, immutable etc etc.”  Then the west says, “Ok we’ve got the one God, but now in the gospel we meet these three Persons.  So how can the three Persons qualify as this one God?”

The west figures that since the one God is defined by these attributes then the way these Three are One is by sharing in all these same attributes.  And so they map these attributes identically onto the three Persons.  In this way the distinctions between Persons gets lost.  Every difference is blurred into the one God who is defined not by relationships but by attributes (i.e. He’s big and clever).  Three implications of this:

1) God’s identity is primarily a collection of attributes – attributes that are about His distance from creation, His difference to us.

2) If God is who He is because of His attributes – personal identity is essentially about attributes (about being big and clever).  Therefore I am who I am because of how big and clever I am.

3) Community is not really that important – there’s only one voice and will that counts.  Distinctions and difference will get bull-dozed before the all-important one.

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Ok, now that I’ve laid it out like this, hopefully you can see some of the ‘so what’ significance??

Let me tease it out by discussing the three implications:

Regarding 1):  In the west, God has been defined as a collection of attributes that place Him at an infinite distance from us.  Now if you go out on the streets and talk to people about whether they’re religious, basically (keeping eastern influences out of this) people will say either they do or they don’t believe in a distant, uni-personal God who is approximately the ‘omni-being’ of philosophy.  Whether they believe in “God” or don’t believe in “God”, the “God” they’re talking about is the collection of attributes which the western theologian began with before they examined the gospel!

The god that our western culture has either embraced or rejected is not the God of the gospel!  Instead the “god” of the pub discussion is pretty much the “one God” that the western theologian began with.  And if the bloke in the pub rejects that god – I don’t blame him!!  And if Christopher Hitchens rejects that god – we don’t blame him, right?  Because that’s not a god who is obviously related to Jesus of Nazareth (or His Spirit or the Father He called ‘Abba’).  And therefore its not a god who appears to be particularly interested in us – its not a god revealed in gospel love but in philosophical speculation.

Now the cultures shaped by the western church have been shaped by this doctrine of God.  When they accepted “God” it was this “God” they accepted.  When they rejected him, it was this “God” they rejected.

Atheism has basically been the rejection of this god.  People have decided they don’t want a distant omni-being over against them and proclaimed his non-existence.  And what people like Colin Gunton have asked is, “Would the west have rejected “God” so thoroughly if the “God” they were presented with by the western church was the community of committed love revealed in Jesus?”  The answer still might be yes, but at least we’ll be discussing the true God when we evangelise!

Regarding 2): The question of personal identity.  Well if we go with the west (as I’ve been defining it), my identity is all about my attributes.  I need to build up a CV of my big-ness and clever-ness.  That will define me.  But if I go with the east then my identity is about my relationships.  I am who I am because fundamentally I’m in Christ (and what’s more I’m a son, a brother, a husband, etc). When I take this seriously, my western status-anxiety can be relieved in a second.  I find liberation from the western drive to prove myself and forge an identity for myself.  I am given identity in the relationships I have (primarily my relationship with Christ).

Think also of the abortion debate. What is it that defines whether this foetus has personal identity?  Ask a westerner and they’ll instinctively answer you in terms of attributes: “This foetus can/can’t do X, Y, and Z therefore the foetus can/can’t be aborted.”  But what if the foetus is a person not because of its attributes but because it already stands in relationships of love?

Regarding 3): The point about community.  Here’s a quote from the website: (http://www.christthetruth.org.uk/threepersonsunited.htm)

“…what can we learn about relationships and community from The Relationship? In gender relations, in multi-ethnic society, in equal opportunities policies, in the church, in our families – we are constantly confronted by people who have real and important differences and yet people who ought to be treated with equal respect and dignity. How do we appreciate the differences and uphold the equality? If we treat all in exactly the same way, are we not ignoring the valuable distinctives? This ‘melting pot’ approach falls foul of oppression-by-assimilation. The incumbent majority always wins out at the cost of the minorities – they either become like the majority or they die. Do we, therefore, treat specific parties differently in an attempt to give them a leg-up? When this happens stereo-types can be re-enforced by ‘special treatment’ and work against the value of equality. Furthermore: who defines the appropriate yard-stick of “success” in a culture? Perhaps it is better to abandon the idea of community altogether and accept along with Margaret Thatcher that there is “no such thing as society.”

“Well what can the Trinity teach us? At the heart of reality lies a Community of different but equal Persons who have their own identities constituted by their mutual interdependence. They work together as One. There definitely is such a thing as society. Person-hood can never be considered individualistically but is made up of relationships on which we depend. Within The Community, the Persons freely submit to one another in roles of subordination while never losing their equal status. They do submit to differences in treatment and in function – but they maintain a definite equality of being and uphold one another in bonds of unconditional love. Here is a Community on which to model our own.”

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I think Mike’s talk is the most brilliant example of how this approach pays off in evangelism.  Do listen to it.

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I love this sermon.  And I love Radiohead.

The full 30 minute sermon is here.  It’s in my all-time top 3.

Don’t forget other classic Blackham sermons here.

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Here’s a selection of talks I’ve given in evangelistic settings

The Greatest Story Ever Told: Luke 15

Audio  Video  Text

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Jesus Calling

Audio  Video  Text

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Does God exist? And if so, how does He fit with science?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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What happens when you die?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Why is there so much suffering?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Why doesn’t God accept everyone? (Why is there a hell?)

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Does God even exist?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Aren’t all religions basically the same?

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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How can you believe when religions cause so many wars?

Audio  Text

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Why bother with Christianity (as opposed to other religions)?

Audio  Text

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The True Myth (The Gospel as the Archetypal Myth that entered History)

Sex / Love / God

Luke 15 – Lost and Found

1 Corinthians 13 – Wedding Sermon

Jesus: Commander, Host, Doctor: Luke 5

Comedy and Christianity – can they mix?

Colossians 1 – Which God don’t you believe in?

Isaiah 50 – Easter Sermon

Luke 22-23

Trinity and Islam (John 1)

How not to lead a trivial life (a talk at a pub quiz): Colossians 3:4

You must be born again: John 3

Thirsty for more?: John 4

What is faith?: John 4:43-54

Carols Service:  Isaiah 9

Why the Cross?:  Matthew 26:36-46

Who is God? (an evangelistic talk on the Trinity):  Galatians 4

Come and eat with Jesus:  Mark 1:40-2:17

Right with God:  Romans 3:21-26

Satisfaction in Jesus (a mission talk):  John 4

Some Christianity Explored talks (a course based in Mark’s Gospel).

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Here’s some talks I’ve given on evangelistic strategy:

Outgoing – A 12 Week Evangelism Training Course

321Go – A 6 Week Evangelism Training Course (different to Outgoing)

Mission: Medieval and Modern A Cor Deo Seminar

Evangelism Seminars for CEC Leeds

Adoption and Evangelism (Transformission Seminar)

5 Devotional Talks on Luke 8

Bringing People to God:  1 Peter

Doing Mission Together:  1 Peter 2:9-12

Doing Mission at Table:  Luke 14:1-24

All things to all people to save some:  1 Corinthians 9

The Word that grows the Kingdom: Mark 4:1-34

Threefold Word part 1Threefold Word part 2

Five Seminars on the Word of Christ

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Worship is all of life right?  Romans 12:1 right?

Well ok.  But try telling your spouse, “We don’t need to set aside special time for each other, marriage is all of life.’

No, no, no.  Church is date-night.  (My Sunday night sermon).

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I spoke every other week on Christianity Explored (an evangelistic course based in Mark’s Gospel).

Here are the odd weeks then.  The text is slightly different and I’d say better than the audio.  I often departed from my script to save time.

CE 1 – Introduction – Christianity is Christ. (Text)  (Audio)

CE 3 – Why did Jesus come?  – The problem of sin. (Text)  (Audio)

CE 5 – Grace. (Text)  (Audio)

CE 7 – What is a Christian? (Text)  (Audio)

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With week 5 the text has some extra stuff on our marriage union to Christ.

With week 7 the text has some extra stuff about how ‘taking up our cross’ is not payback for the way Christ had to take up His! It’s the very essence of our liberation.

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A few on the course have prayed to receive Jesus this week.  Please pray that they would know His presence and protection as they take their first steps with Christ.

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Close your eyes.

Imagine yourself kneeling at the side of Christ’s throne, head on His chest, His arm around your shoulder.

Christ is speaking.  He’s addressing His Father.

And this is what He’s saying: Psalm 119.

Listen in. This really is the one thing you must do.  Listen.

Add your Amens and your Thankyous as He speaks.

Find a verse or phrase to hide in your heart for today.

Pray the Lord’s prayer.

Stand up and walk into your day.

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Happy Friday

I’ve been remiss in my Happy Friday offerings of late.  So here – have two.

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Brant Hansen draws our attention to the latest development in Wii-ship.  (Codepoke will be thrilled I’m sure).

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And Ben Myers toys with an e-mail scammer.  Very funny.

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You might think I have it in for John Piper.  You’d be wrong.

I once spotted the great man at the back of All Souls (he’d come to hear John Stott preach).  I came bounding up to him after the service intending to tell him that I’d quoted him in my sermon that morning.  But for some reason I decided that this would be proud – as though I was bragging about being a preacher.  (I know that’s nuts.  But not as nuts as what happened next).  Having rejected my opening gambit mid-bound, I found myself in front of him with nothing to say.  And what did I blurt out?   I can’t quite remember it exactly but it was something very close to “I’m a big fan.”

Can you imagine a less Piper-esque line??  He didn’t know what to say.  Which made two of us.  The whole embarassing situation was only resolved when my wife, God bless her, held out her hand and asked him about his trip.

If you ever catch me shaking my head ruefully and tutting, chances are these 90 seconds are running through my head.

Anyway, I love John Piper.  I’ll never forget a mission trip to central New South Wales in early 2002.  I’d just read Desiring God and the idea of a happy God and that my satisfaction in Him was the way to glorify Him – it was truly liberating.  And I remember being inspired to greater service by my enlarged appetite for joy.  In 40 degree heat, I spent my time carrying around trays of ice-cold water for everyone and beaming at the thought of my reward (Matt 10:42).

And I loved (and still love) quotes like this from the opening of chapter 4:

Disinterested benevolence toward God is evil.  If you come to God dutifully offering Him the reward of your fellowship instead of thirsting after the reward of His fellowship, then you exalt yourself above God as His benefactor and belittle Him as a needy beneficiary – and that is evil.

In 2003 I ran a discussion group on Desiring God and enthusiastically recommended it.  But with one significant caveat.  Chapter 1!  I didn’t like chapter 1.  I lacked a lot of the vocabulary to articulate what I didn’t like, but I didn’t like it.  And neither did anyone else in the discussion group.

Chapter 1 sets out the foundation for Christian Hedonism – the happiness of God.  But the happiness of God is defined explicitly in terms of His self-centredness.  “The chief end of God is to glorify Himself.”  And this God-talk was not really trinitarian.  In fact, talk of God pre-eminently loving Himself came before talk of how the Father loves the Son.  First His happiness is spoken of as the glory of His unrestrained sovereignty, the magnification of His own divine perfections etc.  Then Piper turns to say “one of the best ways to think about” God’s self-glorification is to think about the Father-Son relationship.  Why?  Because the Son is the Father’s Image, therefore loving the Son is a way of God loving Himself.

Do you see the logic?  First it is asserted that God loves Himself – and this is supported largely on philosophical grounds (i.e. God’s the best, He’d be unrighteous to value anything higher than what’s best, ergo He must be supremely interested in Self).  Then he turns to Trinity and says, “See?  God loves His Image – He’s a self-lover.”

But if we begin with Trinity then the Father’s love for the Son reveals not a self-centredness but an other-centredness.   God is happy not because He is self-absorbed (no-one – not even God is happy in self-absorption!).  God is happy because He is other-centred.  There is an over-flowing life of mutual self-giving in the triune relations.  That is the happiness of God.  And that is what we are invited into.

So once we’ve made that correction I am happy to call myself a Christian Hedonist.  (How could a hedonist be other than happy to be so!?).  I continue to see problems in Piper’s doctrine of God and I still want to challenge the ‘glory’ which he speaks of.  But I’ve very much valued his teaching on hedonism.  And I think it can be strengthened (not weakened) by the insistence that happiness is found – from Top to bottom – in self-giving love.

Anyway, if you want to see how I ran the Desiring God discussion group – the handouts are here.  Session 1 is where I diverge from the book.

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Here’s the John Piper quote I’ve been discussing:

And so the biblical mindset starts with the assumption that God is the center of reality. All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things. He has goals that fit with his nature and perfect character. Then the biblical mindset moves out from this center and interprets the world, with God and his rights and goals as the measure of all things.  (Source)

In my last post on this I raised the following kinds of issues about that first sentence:

  • Of course ‘God’ is central – theo-centrism is inescapable. The big question is ‘which theos? which God?’
  • Our all-consuming passion to be centred on God says nothing about whether God’s ultimate passion is to be consumed with Himself.
  • To map our ‘should’s onto God commits an anthropocentrism every bit as dangerous as the person who thinks God should exist for their sake.
  • God-centredness must be our response to Him – but there is no ‘must’ about His own Self-regard!
  • Therefore theocentrism is indeed our theological method – but it’s not necessarily our doctrine of God.
  • To determine our doctrine of God we need to look to His revelation of Himself. (John’s gospel might help here).

And it’s with those issues in mind that we turn to the second sentence.  Piper says “All thinking starts with the assumption that God has basic rights as the Creator of all things.”

His self-confessed starting point is God the Creator.  Those who’ve been following Peter Leithart’s recent posts on Athanasius might be hearing alarm bells.

Athanasius identified Arius’s problem at precisely this point.  He said:

“It is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.”

Arius began with God the Creator.  At the centre of his thinking was a God who was defined by creation (and defined in opposition to it).  Now at the heart of Arius’s problem is that this definition of deity begins by excluding Christ from full membership!  If “God = unoriginate” then the Son (whose origin is the Father) must be less than fully divine.  Arius will never get to a proper christology, because he has not begun with a proper christology.  We must begin defining God’s being as a life that includes the Son as ‘God from God’.  Only that will allow us to make sense of Christ.  But also – only that will help us to make sense of creation.

One of Athanasius’s arguments was that Arianism makes Christ dependent on creation and not the other way around.  God – who, remember, is definitionally and down to His bootstraps (so to speak) in opposition to creation – needs a mediator in order to create.  An Arian account of transcendence will not allow God to interact with creation and so Christ is the first creature who is made precisely so that God can create.  Christ is an exalted but nonetheless created mediator for the messy job of making icky matter.  Do you see – for Arius, Christ is dependent on creation.  It is God’s desire for creation that causes Christ.

But the exact opposite is the case for the trinitarian.  It is the Father’s eternal love for Christ that causes the universe.  There is a love for the Other in eternity that is spread abroad in creation.  Here we see that creation is grace.  There is not a needy Creator standing behind the world whose ultimate goal is to ‘get what’s coming to Him’.  Rather at the back of the universe is a God who is already overflowing as a Fountain of love.

If we begin with Father, Son and Spirit rather than ‘Creator’ it becomes clear that before and behind creation is fullness not emptiness – offer not demand.  Creation is a product of, and a testimony to, an inherent out-going-ness.  There are no depths to God’s eternal being that are deeper than this ‘spreading goodness’ (as Richard Sibbes would say, see Ron Frost’s excellent blog).  Whatever needs we might dare to speak of in God (and if we’re trinitarians we must speak of a Dependent God) we must be equally clear that such needs are met by the dynamic reciprocity of the Persons in their mutual in-dwelling.  In these triune relations it’s God who meets God’s needs.  It’s God who upholds and satisfies God’s rights.  Or in other words – all that the Father demands, the Son accomplishes in the power of the Spirit.  It is this out-going and other-centred life that pre-dates, causes and shapes creation.

Therefore the principle of creation is the other-centredness of the Father, Son and Spirit.  When we begin with trinity we see that creation is ultimately testimony to what God is pleased to give, not what God demands to get.

And this is where I’d disagree with the way Piper sets things up.  He begins with God the Creator who has rights.  And this is a crucial decision.

I’m not suggesting for a second that he’s Arian or anything of the sort.  But I am saying that Athanasius has shown us a better starting point and set us on a better trajectory.  If we head out in error by just a degree, the divergence down the track can be considerable.

When Piper begins with ‘rights-bearing Creator’, His glory will be readily identified with getting His rights.  And then, once we bring to bear the utterly Scriptural notion of God ‘acting for His own glory’, what do we have?  We have God doing all things for the sake of getting. What is ultimate to God is, apparently, His desire to maintain His rights.

What do we want to say in response?  Well – for one thing glory as revealed by Christ and Him crucified is radically different to this.  At the cross we see that glory is not about what God ‘gets’ as much as what He gives.  And this is really where our different starting points have brought us.  Beginning with ‘Trinity’ and ‘grace’ will get you to this cross-shaped definition of glory.  Beginning with ‘Creator’ and ‘rights’ sets you off in a different direction.  Getting to the cross from here will take a grand cross-country detour and something will get distorted somewhere.

Now, let me be clear, God indeed acts for the sake of His own glory.  In fact He does all things for the sake of His own glory.  That’s totally biblical and it’s not at issue.  The issue is – what is this glory?  And I’m saying it’s God’s utter self-giving.  As CS Lewis says, “Self-giving is absolute reality.”  So when God does things for His own glory – He’s declaring that what moves Him from the depths of His being is a radical and blood-earnest other-centredness.  It’s not that we get the grace and God gets the glory.  It’s that God’s grace is His glory.

Craig, a regular commenter here, gave an excellent illustration recently.  He said he was once walking down a corridor ahead of a woman.  He stopped and held the door open for her.  She scowled and said “I hope you’re not holding the door open because I’m a lady!”  He said, brilliantly, ‘No, I’m holding it open because I’m a gentleman.’

That’s what I’m talking about!  When the LORD insists that He’s acting for His own glory, He’s declaring to the world that He’s not responding to our worth or lack of it.  Instead He’s acting according to His own loving purposes.   He loves us because He loves us.  He’s a Gentleman!  That’s why He creates, that’s why He redeems.  It’s His very nature to be out-going, self-effacing, sacrificial, other-centred.  That is His glory.

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[I]n self-giving, if anywhere, we touch a rhythm of all creation and of all being. For the Eternal Word gives Himself in mortal sacrifice; and that not only on Calvary. For when He was crucified on Calvary He did that in the wild weather of His outlying provinces what He had done at home in glory and gladness. From before the foundation of the world, Christ surrenders begotten Deity back to begetting Deity, in obedience. And as the Son glorifies the Father, so also the Father glorifies the Son. …From the highest to the lowest, self exists to be abdicated and, by that abdication, becomes the more truly self, to be thereupon yet the more abdicated, and so forever. This is not a… law which we can escape… What is outside the system of self-giving is… simply and solely Hell… that fierce imprisonment in the self… Self-giving is absolute reality.

C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain, ch 10, p157
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Read it and weep.
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I know I still have a couple of posts on the Piper quote to write.  I’ll get to that…

Have you noticed the recent addition to my sidebar?  You can read some recommended posts I’ve found helpful or at least provocative.

They all seem to be by Peter Leithart.  How did that happen?  Simple.  He writes far and away the most interesting stuff.  And it makes me wonder what the rest of us are playing at…

Anyway – of particular interest to me recently has been his blogging on Athanasius and especially how we must conceive of the divine attributes in thoroughly Trinitarian ways. (e.g. here or here on ‘the dependent God’)

Athanasius argued that the Son was and is the Wisdom of the Father eternally so, such that the Father without the Son would not be wise.  Athanasius is so sure of this logic that he uses it as an argument against the Arians.  The argument goes like this – The Son is the Wisdom of the Father, the Father has never been without wisdom, therefore the Son is eternal.  Good argument huh?

But do you see the assumptions?  It does not assume that each Person has each attribute ‘in Himself’ considered apart from the Others.  Rather they possess each attribute because they possess each other.

Leithart puts it like this:

Does the Father have wisdom “in Himself”? Yes, because the Wisdom that is the Son dwells in Him  by the Spirit.  Does the Father possess His being “in Himself”?  Yes, because the Son is the fullness of His deity, and the Son indwells Him through the Spirit.  Vice versa: Does the Son have wisdom considered in Himself?  Yes, because what is “in Himself” is the fact that the Father dwells in Him in the Spirit, so that His existence “in Himself” is His existence as the Son indwelt by the Father.

And so on.

This allows us to speak of Father and Son distinctly; it also makes it clear that the Father is not Himself except as He has and is indwelt by His Son, nor is the Son Himself except as He has and is indwelt the Father.

Halden picks up on these thoughts in this stimulating post on Trinity and attributes.

It’s stuff I tried to argue a while back in these two diagrams

Another brilliant Leithart post is here on Gethsemane – Christ crushed that the oil of His anointing Spirit might spread to the world.

And you can’t beat the Old Adam doing what he does best here – offering the gospel in all its beautiful and stark freedom.

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Preached on John 1:1-2 this morning (audio here).

My last two points were this:

Jesus is God-sized

and

God is Jesus-shaped

 

I wonder whether much of our evangelism is aimed at persuading people of point number one.  And I wonder whether that emphasis, if divorced from the second point, is quite dangerous.

Here’s what I mean – when we tell an unbeliever that Jesus is God, this is what they hear:  “You know the god of the pub discussion – the distant, arm-chair deity, uninvolved and uncaring?  That god is who Jesus is!”

“Oh” says the unbeliever.  “Because Jesus looks quite different to that.”

“Yeah, I know” we say.  “But you need to look past all that stuff.  Whatever you see in Jesus that doesn’t look like ‘the god you’ve always believed in’ – that’s just Jesus’ human nature.  No, that’s dispensible.  What you really need to know is that Jesus is God.”

And what’s the result?  Well how many Christian testimonies run something like this…

“I have always believed in some kind of god.  And then I met Jesus.  And the preacher told me that Jesus is the god-I-always-believed-in.”

Do you see what’s happened here?  Some supposed natural knowledge of God is determining a person’s view of Christ and determining it from the outset.

It should be the other way around.  Knowledge of Jesus should revolutionize our view of God. We should tell people not only that Jesus is God-sized, we should tell them that God is entirely Jesus-shaped.

As Archbishop Michael Ramsey once said (riffing on 1 John 1:5): “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”

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I dunno, this isn’t based on anything but a vague gut feeling (yeah, yeah, as opposed to my usually well-researched and even-handed analysis!)  but…

Are we afraid of preaching news that’s too good?

I just wonder whether that ‘honey mouthed’ Puritan preacher, the ‘sweet-dropper’, Richard Sibbes was surrounded by a more bitter fraternity of preachers.  You can imagine them, can’t you.  Consoling one another behind closed doors that their dull and tasteless offerings were the more faithful for it.  “Sibbes is nice, but you can make the good news too good sometimes.  We need to be more measured.”

Now obviously we must preach judgement – I’m all for that. (As was Sibbes).  I intend soon to write some stuff about preaching hell.  But can we manage to preach judgement in such a way that the gospel is magnified?  I hope so.  (Cue enthusiastic comment from TheOldAdam!)

But yeah – it just seems like an unspoken rule among conservative evangelicals that the gospel offer we hold out is allowed to be somewhat encouraging.  We can even make it quite appealing, so long as we guard it around with enough conditions and qualifications.  But I do sense an unspoken fear of really and freely offering Christ in all His life-giving, Spirit-anointing goodness.

Is it just me or does anyone else feel the invisible hand of some well-meaning wowser keeping us in our chairs and urging us not to get too carried away but rather to content ourselves with being ‘challenging, clear, faithful, helpful’ and all that.  Who is that guy?  And what’s the big fear?

Anyway… just a thought I had when I should have been finishing off my sermon.  Must go and make it plainer.

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I am 2. Who are you?

I began blogging two years ago today. Thanks to Bobby who suggested it (please pray for him and the family at the moment as they wait on troubling medical tests).

To mark this momentous occasion, I am blogging this entry from my mobile phone. Get me. Surfing the cutting edge of the information super-highway and such.

By far the most rewarding thing about my blogging experience has been to receive the many many comments you’ve written. Some of you I have known from the real world, some I’ve met here and then face to face, some only via the blog and email. But you’ve all been a tremendous encouragement to keep focussed on Jesus. So thanks!

But it occurs to me that there are those out there who read but never comment. Well here’s your chance to emerge from the shadows. Why not say hello in comments – maybe tell me where you’re from too if you like. Be great to e-greet you.

Don’t be shy now…

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No (good) trinitarian theologian wants to have a fourth thing – a divine substance considered apart from the Three Persons.  But it’s important to be aware that this error (effectively having a quaternity) has two versions.  There is a vulgar quaternity and a more insidious one.

The vulgar one looks like this:

Oneness and Threeness 1

Here is the “shamrock” trinity – three bits growing out of an underlying stuff.  In practice this is, roughly, how many unthinkingly view the trinity.  Such a vulgar quaternity is rightly rejected by theologians.  It can be seen immediately that the ‘Godness of God’ is considered at a completely different level to the three Persons in their roles and relations.  What makes God God is fundamentally impersonal attributes that may be expressed in the Persons but not constituted by their mutual inter-play.  So we can safely reject this version of things.

But I find that many theologians, having rejected the vulgar quaternity, congratulate themselves prematurely.  There is also the insidious quaternity to be dealt with.  There is another way of having a fourth…

Oneness and Threeness 2

Fundamentally this error consists in conceiving of the one God separately to a consideration of the three Persons in communion.  Recently I read a theologian say “God is both one and three – both a person and a community.”  This is an example of the insidious quaternity.  One-ness and Three-ness are laid side by side to uphold a belief in the equal ultimacy of one and three.  Yet the one-ness of God is conceived of as a uni-personal one-ness – that is, it is separately considered to the multi-personal three-ness.  One and Three were not mutually interpreting truths but instead the ‘one God’ is thought of in non-communal (that is, non trinitarian) terms.

This is the approach taken by by so many doctrine of God text books where De Deo Uno (on the One God) is addressed prior to De Deo Trino (on the Trinity).   Yet, unless the two section are integrated at the deepest levels then there is grave danger of a fourth thing – i.e. “God plus Trinity” or “God apart from Trinity.

When this theological method is followed, often (not always but most times) section one unfolds such that the Three Person’d interplay takes no meaningful part in the discussions of the attributes.  Yet, typically, these attributes are asserted to be the virtue by which God is God.  On this view it is still possible to discuss the ‘Godness of God’ without reference to the perichoretic life of the Three.  Here One-ness and Three-ness are considered to be non-competing perspectives on the same God.  This effectively means that it is possible to speak in non-triune terms about the living God.  ‘God’, then, is not the same thing as ‘the Three Persons united in love’.

This is also a quaternity.  Just a more insidious one.

And the only way I can see to avoid this fourth thing is to side with the Cappodocians: God’s being consists without remainder in the Three Person’d perichoresis .

Oneness Threeness 3b

The one-ness of God is not a simple divine essence but the very unity of the Three.  The being of God is not an underlying substance (contra the vulgar quaternity).  But nor is it a separately conceived essence (contra the insidious quaternity). Rather God’s being is the very communion by which the Three are One.

Trinity is not a perspective on the one God.  Rather the only God there is is trinity.  And the only way to conceive of Him is in triune terms.  ‘God’ is ‘Trinity’.  Unless this strict identity is maintained a fourth enters in.

Thus we must never conceive of the one God in any other terms than trinitarian ones.  (Re-write the text-books!).  God’s being is in His communion (to use Zizioulas’s phrase).  His One-ness is in His communion.  And (let’s not forget) His Three-ness is in His communion – the Three are only who they are in this eternal perichoresis.   To put it another way: God is love.

Therefore let’s guard against a ‘fourth’ whenever it threatens.  Let’s reject the vulgar quaternity, but let’s also reject the insidious quaternity.  And if people call us ‘social trinitarians’ let them.  The dangers on the other side are far greater.

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This is a re-working of an older post on One-ness and Three-ness.

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