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Archive for April, 2012

Disciplines

At the Cor Deo Conference on Saturday (mp3s to follow) there was a great question on Bible reading.  It was addressed to Ron and he both answered at the time and has written some more thoughts here.  I thought I’d add my two-pence, because, well, that’s what I do.  Whether invited to or not.

The question of disciplines arises whenever you emphasize God’s approach to us in Christ, over and above our approach to Him.  Well then, people ask, what place does our devotional life have?

I attempted to answer that with the preface to my own devotional, but let me put it another way.

On Saturday I spoke of the difference between a medieval system of salvation and the gospel announcement of Christ as Saviour.  Bible reading happens in both paradigms.  But in the system, it’s a rung on the ladder.  In the announcement paradigm, it’s a revelation.

Here’s the thing – when I haven’t read my Bible for a while and/or when I’m in a bit of a spiritual slump, the devil plays a brilliant trick on me.  He adopts the voice of an earnest religious devotee and says “Ah Glen, what a pity you’re so far from God.  But not to worry” he says, masquerading as a spiritual adviser, “two weeks of solid Bible reading and you’ll be back on top of your game.”  Ug, I think.  And so I slide deeper into my spiritual sulk.

The system paradigm just doesn’t get me reading.  But what if I realize the gospel?  What if I tell myself, “Closeness to God does not lie on the other side of two weeks hard graft!  Closeness to God is IN JESUS.  And that’s where I am.  Let’s pick up this gracious word and be reminded.”

If I’m believing in the system, I might open the Bible but only to receive a lecture, or a to-do list.  More often I’ll leave it closed.

If I realize I’ve already arrived, you never know, I might just open the Bible, eager to receive Christ!

 

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God is Good

“I’m afraid it’s going to be expensive,” said my car mechanic.

I started to smile, realising I was in the middle of a mini-miracle.  “How much?” I asked, knowing exactly what he’d say.  And he said it.  To the pound.  He said it exactly.

Read Emma’s post for more…

:)

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Both Jesus and Paul warned us about wolves in the strongest possible terms.  Christ is the Great Shepherd and His  church is His flock.  But wolves will come to attack the flock.  These wolves are false teachers.

What do you think false teachers teach?  What is so savage about these wolves? What do they preach that threatens the flock so greatly??

When Paul had been in Ephesus 3 years he left the leaders of the church with this charge:

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

32 ‘Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul was clearly very worried about wolves, coming in to destroy the flock.  Sheep have no defences against wolves.  Wolves are savage with sheep.  And these wolves – some of them – will arise from the Ephesian church.  Isn’t that scary?  It scared Paul.  For three years he never stopped warning them, night and day with tears.

Now, what do you imagine these wolves to be teaching?  In what ways are these people going to savagely destroy the church that Paul had planted?

Now, the truth is, we don’t know.  But what’s fascinating is how we naturally think of wolves.  What kinds of teaching do we think will tear a church apart?

When I hear people accused of being wolves these days, usually it’s because they’re soft on sin, lax on the law.  People who won’t teach good biblical principles, something like that.  What does Paul mean?

Well notice the one protection he offers to this vulnerable flock in verse 32: “The word of God’s grace”, that’s what will build them up.  He’s been teaching them the word of this grace and his parting words are for the Ephesians to be committed to the word of God’s grace.  With the wolves coming, that’s what they need to know.

Because the wolves which seem to concern Paul most in his letters aren’t so much those who are soft on sin or lax on law.  Actually the wolves are the very ones so keen to teach “biblical principles for living” and to bring the flock under the law.

There are different kinds of wolves, it’s true.  But when Jesus mentions wolves, it’s in the context of Pharisaism.  And the false teachers who seem to cause Paul the most sleepless nights are the legalists – those earnest preachers with their Bibles open, urging you to godliness by bringing you under the law.  They are, most consistently, the savage wolves who Paul has in his sights.

Is that what you thought of, when you thought of wolves?

READ MORE HERE

SERMON AUDIO

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Happy Friday

We all need a sense of drama…

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Here’s an article from a few years ago but it’s never appeared on the blog.  It was on my old website as an introduction to some of the themes of Christ the Truth…

You cannot begin your theology without your doctrine of God – all else is because God is.  Everything exists by virtue of Him, out of Him, for Him, and in relationship with Him.  Whatever you say about Him has ramifications for all of reality.  Misunderstand God and you misunderstand everything.

Ok, but where do you begin your doctrine of God?

This section is all about maintaining what Athanasius considered to be the most crucial point in his disagreements with the heretic Arius:

“Therefore 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.”

To put this another way, we ought first to consider God as Trinity before we consider Him as Creator.

The issue can be seen in sharp relief when we understand exactly what Arius believed.  He wrote this in his Letter to Alexander of Alexandria:

‘Our faith, from our ancestors, which we have learned also from you is this.  We know one God – alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning… who begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom he made the ages and everything.’

Arius moves from ‘uncreated Creator’ to God’s Begetting-Begotten relationships with great ease and one wonders how many Christians, even Christian ministers, would today spot this as the grave heresy it most certainly is.

The problem here is that the being of God is defined in advance of a consideration of the only-begotten Son. And so, from the outset, Christ has been defined out of full deity!  There is no way you could confess Jesus as ‘fully God’ once the definition of God is stated as ‘alone unbegotten.’ The Father and the Son cannot be, for Arius, of one being.  They are of different orders of being – the Father defined as on one plane (the unbegotten plane), the Son is on another (the begotten (and, for Arius, created) plane).

No matter how much Arius protested that the Father and the Son were of ‘like being’ he had actually placed them on opposite sides of the line which he had drawn to separate God from everything else.  For Arius the Unoriginate-originate distinction was the ultimate demarcation of full deity from all else.  And the Son was on the other side of that line.

The very heart of the gospel is threatened here.  With Arius we have a fundamental disjunction between who Jesus is and who the Father is.  When Jesus claims in John 10, ‘I and the Father are one’ this is meant to reassure His hearers that what they hear Him saying and what they see Him doing are the very words and works of God.  To see and lay hold of Jesus is to see and lay hold of the Father.  For Arius to drive a wedge between this one-ness means that 1) Christ’s revelation is not actually the revelation of God and 2) Christ’s salvation is not actually the salvation of God.  To see and hear and trust Jesus is still to be short of seeing, hearing and trusting God.  We are, ultimately, left in the dark – for revelation and for salvation.

And all this, according to Athanasius, is because Arius has named God from His works rather than naming Him from His Son. That is, he has begun with God as Creator and not with God as Trinity.  And that means that Arius has a fundamentally different God from Athanasius.

To show this, imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1)  Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is a simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator, do you agree?’ Athanasius says ‘Agreed’.  Then Arius says ‘And you believe that Jesus is not only of ‘like substance’ but ‘the same substance’ with this God who is defined as a ‘simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator???’  Athanasius’s head begins to hurt…

Scenario 2) Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is a simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator, do you agree?’  Athanasius says ‘No!  We do not define God from His works, calling Him Maker and then try to map those same, philosophically derived attributes onto Jesus (and the Spirit) to produce ‘a Trinity’!!  Arius, you and I do not simply disagree about the identity of Jesus.  We fundamentally disagree about God.  You begin with uncreated Creator and therefore can never come to understand Jesus.  Because you do not begin with Jesus you simply cannot know the first thing about God.”

Thus Athanasian trinitarianism – orthodox Nicene trinitarianism – is not, finally, about seeking to secure the deity of the Son (Arius believed Jesus was divine).  It was even more about ensuring a Christian doctrine of God.  Agreement on the deity of the Son is not actually a later stage in the argument about God.  We do not first agree on some kind of God and then introduce His Son.  Any concept of the one God that does not from the outset include the mutual relations of Father-Son, begetting-begotten etc, bears no relation to the living God.  It is Arian.  Heresy.

Thus we return to Athanasius’ plea: do not begin from God’s works and call Him Maker.  Begin with His Son and call Him Father!

The council of Nicea followed Athanasius’ advice:

‘We believe in one God, The Father Almighty, Maker…’

Before there was a world, there was God.  And this God was, is and ever shall be the Father pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.  Before we seek to know God in any other way we must understand Him as He is in, with and for Himself, that is, in His triune relationships.

If you don’t follow this method, here are 12 disastrous implications:

1)     You will never get to a Nicene trinity – you must deny ‘God from God’ – a begotten deity. 

2)     You will make God both dependent on creation and shut out from it (i.e. “Creator” needs a creation, but is defined in opposition to it).

3)     You will therefore never actually know God.

4)     Faith then becomes, not a laying hold of God, but of intermediary pledges from the unknown God.

5)     Assurance becomes impossible – the hidden and unreachable God determines all.

6)     Salvation becomes not a participation in God but a status conferred external to Him.

7)     Apologetics becomes the invitation to non-Christians to also name God from His works.

8)     Proclaiming Christ entails the impossible task of squeezing Jesus into a pre-formed deistic doctrine of God.  

9)     Christology will become the riddle of fitting the uncaused cause (“deity”) with a very conditioned Jesus (“humanity”) – i.e. you’ll tend towards Nestorianism.

10)  You will define God’s Glory in terms of self-sufficiency – making Him the most self-absorbed Being in the universe rather than the most self-giving.

 11)  Christ crucified then becomes a bridge to God’s glory rather than the very expression of it. (A theology of glory rather than theology of the cross).

12)  You will consider “Glorifying God” to mean ‘what we give to Him’ – our worship etc (works!) – rather than receiving His life given to us (faith!).

And all because we haven’t begun with Jesus – our God from God.

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Jesus:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:46-48)

The life of God is a life of loving that which is other than God.  Pagans love in a conditional way.  Pagans simply value what is valuable.  God’s perfection is like light shining into darkness – it goes beyond itself to bless that which is other.  Divine perfection is about creating value, by valuing the unworthy.

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Luther:

[The theologian of glory] learns from Aristotle that the object of the will is the good and the good is worthy to be loved, while the evil, on the other hand, is worthy of hate….

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…

[Yet] rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive… This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.  (Heidelberg Disputation)

The philosopher’s god is just like pagans – responding to value.  The God of the Cross flows forth, bestowing value.

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Piper:

[God] loves His glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment’s reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory…

…If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry. (Desiring God, p42, 47)

Nope.  If He really is a “Source” then turning outside Himself to the other would be the very expression of His deity.

Piper defends the self-absorbed God on the grounds that our rules don’t apply to God.  It’s wrong for us to seek ourselves, it’s only right for God to seek himself.  The trouble is Piper has already applied our rules to God at the decisive point.  He has defined God’s glory the way the pagans do (valuing what is valuable).

But that is the point at which “our rules don’t apply”.  Our love responds to value. His cruciform love (“love to the loveless shown”) creates value.  God differs from us not in displaying a justified self-absorption.  He differs from us in that He alone is truly self-giving!  His grace is His divine glory.

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At which point, surely Piper is on the wrong side of Luther’s “theology of glory / theology of the cross” divide?

 

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Come and join RON FROSTPETER MEAD and myself as we speak about the triune God, His outgoing life of mission and the gracious proclamation of Christ.  It’s COR DEO, so you know it’s good.

Tell your friends!

Details here

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