Posts Tagged ‘Theology Proper’

For Christ and His Kingdom

If I were to say that Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in Illinois, became the 16th President of the United States, had a beard, and signed the Emancipation Proclamation and another person said that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation but never became president and a third group said that he was a lawyer in Nebraska, that he signed the Emancipation Proclamation but he was the Emperor of Canada and no Emperor would ever wear a beard, are we all speaking of the same person? We all agree that his name is Lincoln but beyond that the agreement gets rather thin.

In light of the suspension of Dr. Larycia Hawkins from Wheaton College for claiming that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, Miraslov Volf tweeted (amongst other things):


Read On…

An Inescapable Irony

The interesting thing about this comic is that the author expects us to get the joke that the character claims we can not understand. She uses words to explain why communication can’t happen and does it in a visual medium. Let that roll around in your mouth for a moment before you eject it into the spit bucket.

This is post-modernism, or as Tim Keller calls it, late modernism, which I think is more accurate. Post-modernism would imply that we’ve left modernism and moved on to some other idea. We haven’t done that as the practical worship of science shows.

Yet, despite the verbal protests, words have meaning. Communication is possible. Understanding, though imperfect, is achievable because God spoke. He spoke the universe into existence. That universe understood the words of its creator and complied. The very created universe, then, continues to communicate. Day to day pours out speech, night reveals knowledge (Ps. 19:1-2). God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen in what he’s made (Rom. 1:20). God’s words are the universe and they continue to speak.

He made humans in his image and he spoke to them, expecting them to understand and obey. He told Adam, “Any tree but that tree” and Adam understood. God expected Adam to explain that to Eve. She got it a little wrong (Gen. 3:2-3) but she got it.

Even after the fall, God continued to communicate and expect comprehension. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Heb. 1:1-2) He gave us his gospel, the words of life (John 6:68), and told us to speak them throughout the world. He expects people to understand them.

Communication is possible because our communicative God created us to communicate. God has always existed as three distinct persons in one God. He has always had an other to communicate with. Communication is part of who God is and God is reasonable and rational so that which he creates reflects that. And yet, the author of the cartoon above, indeed post-moderns in general, insist that communication is chaos and shaded by personal experience, all the while using God’s gift of words to do it. And they expect us to get it. The irony is inescapable.

You Don’t Have to Pick

Which one do you like better? The cranky God of the Old Testament or mild mannered Jesus of the New Testament? You actually don’t get that choice.

Back in 2008 I attended the Wheaton Theology Conference on Rediscovering the Trinity: Classic Doctrine and Contemporary Ministry. One of the speakers was Edith Humphrey. I just stumbled across my notes from her talk and found this interesting observation.

We often assume that the Old Testament is the era of the Father, the New Testament is the era of the Son, and the church age is the era of the Spirit. Humphrey suggested an alternative. The Old Testament is the era of the Son incognito and the New Testament is the era of the Son revealing the Father by the Spirit. She referred specifically to John 1:18 to support this version.

As I’m preaching through Genesis, I find this to actually be a better description of what is happening. Of course the Father is present and active in the Old Testament but what we’re seeing more of is Jesus there. Pictured and promised but there he is.

To add to the strength of this, consider this from an older post of mine:

So my act of rebellion was to see “the LORD” and read it as “Yahweh” every time. After a bit I got worried that I was just being proud and clever; never a good thing. But then I thought about how the New Testament handles this…

And that’s when it came together. What I was actually doing was what the church had been doing. Seeing “Yahweh” and thinking/saying “Lord” for whatever reason; theological persnickety-ness or honoring God. But in the New Testament “Lord” is applied to Jesus. So when I read in the New Testament “Jesus is Lord” and hear in my head that habit from reading “Lord” in my Old Testament as “Yahweh” I’m actually doing the right thing! Jesus is Yahweh!

What I’m getting at is we read “LORD” and think “God the Father” but in reality we should be thinking “Jesus” since the New Testament applies “Lord” to Jesus. That would mean that the God we see in the Old Testament, the one everyone says is cranky and mean, is actually Jesus. On when he came did he reveal God the Father.

God’s Gender

The other day I stumbled into a Twitter discussion about God and gender. My point was that God, though neither male nor female but spirit, nevertheless reveals himself as male. The other side of the discussion, who stress God’s genderlessness, asked me to back up what I was saying. A very fair request!

The point I raised was that God self-identifies as male by only employing masculine pronouns for himself. When he uses feminine imagery it is always in the form of metaphor “as a…” That is, God never refers to himself as female but rather uses feminine metaphors to describe some of his attributes.

Since the dialogue took place on Twitter, there were limitations and I wasn’t able to address every point my interlocutor raised. There were a few items that I felt I needed to get back to in a longer format because they either came up from more than one source or others following the discussion favorited his points.

First, an observer asserted that Jesus overthrew the patriarchal structures of society of his day. I asked the commentator to explain when he did that and she cited Galatians 3:28 and John 4:24. I’ll leave the Galatians passage alone since John 4 came up again later in the discussion with someone else using it to show that language describing God as spirit is always other than masculine.

I believe that both of the people who offered the verse may misunderstand the nature of gendered nouns. It can be hard for English speakers to get the idea that a noun can be masculine, feminine, or neuter and that has nothing to do with the sex of the thing. It is just the form of the noun. So the fact that “spirit” in John 4:24 is neuter does not overthrow a patriarchal anything. Nor does it mean that we are free to refer to God now as a he, she, or it. It simply means that God is spirit.

So how do you determine the gender of a thing with you’re dealing with verbal and noun genders? You look for other clues such as the pronouns. So let’s look again at John 4:24: “God is spirit, and those who worship him…” It does not say, “God is neuter, and those who worship he/she/it…” There are landmines to avoid on both sides of this discussion here. “God” and “worship” are both masculine. That doesn’t prove that God is a man. The noun ???? (“theos”, God) is a masculine noun and the verb that modifies it, in this case “worship”, must agree in gender. However, the pronoun is masculine and that does mean something. If John was seeking to stress that God is beyond gender here, he could have used a neuter or feminine pronoun but he didn’t. God consistently uses masculine pronouns to refer to himself.

When God wants to stress his care and concern for his people, he sometimes uses feminine metaphors.  For example, in Isaiah 66:13, God says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” There are other verses as well but this is a good example. And still, it makes my point that it is imagery and metaphor, not an equality. For example, no one is arguing that Moses is a female but Numbers 11:11-12 says,

Moses said to the LORD, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers?”

Similarly, when God uses feminine metaphors for himself we have to understand them correctly. We wouldn’t take Moses’ statement here to mean that we can refer to him as “Moses herself” and so we should not take that kind of liberty with God.

The second thing that I wanted to expand on is a warning I received that always taking scriptural language literally risks producing an unscriptural view of God. I think the concern was that my insistence that we refer to God as he has revealed himself could lead to thinking he, is in fact, masculine. I certainly don’t want to make that mistake and so I took the warning seriously. After reflecting on it, I don’t think I’m making that mistake. What he was getting at was warning us away from the mistake of saying, for example, that God has wings because it says so in the Psalms.

This is where I got very frustrated with Twitter as a conversational medium. It would be impossible for me to communicate how I was careful to make that distinction in only 140 characters. So I’m taking to my blog. It will cross-post a link to my Twitter account but I don’t expect anyone from that thread to see it. Still, just to clear my conscience, here goes.

When God uses terms about himself like “Father” and “groom”, at one level he is speaking metaphorically even if he doesn’t say “as a…” Why? Because we know that God’s essential nature is spirit. Also, we can fairly infer that he is beyond human genders because when he created human beings, it says,

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

He didn’t create Adam in his image and then tacked Eve on. Adam and Eve together constitute his image therefore there are masculine and feminine attributes in God. We don’t want to push the masculine language too far and distort who God is.

At the same time, if we are careful to stick to all the Biblical language about God, we’ll avoid that error all together. When we incorporate all of what the Bible says about God, it really, truly places him beyond gender. He just is. We’re divided into two genders, he isn’t.

At the same time though, these metaphors do mean something! God is a Father and a groom and male in some sense. There are things about those roles that illustrate, more than other societal roles, who he is. God wrote those words on purpose and he chose them carefully because that’s the kind of person God is.

To really know who God is, we need to know his Son (John 14:8-9), we need to be filled with his Spirit (1 Cor 2:10), and we need to seek him in his word (1 John 5:11-13). And in these revelations of himself, God chose to show himself using masculine terms and the occasional feminine metaphor. To refer to God as feminine is unbiblical, to refer to him as masculine is following his lead, but to claim he is male or female is an error. He is ultimately neither and both. We worship a really big God.

God is More Than You Think


Not being able to fully understand God is frustrating, but it is ridiculous for us to think we have the right to limit God to something we are capable of comprehending. What a stunted, insignificant god that would be! If my mind is the size of a soda can and God is the size of all the oceans, it would be stupid for me to say He is only the small amount of water I can scoop into my little can. God is so much bigger, so far beyond our time-encased, air/food/sleep-dependant lives. – Francis Chan, Crazy Love

Piper on Edwards on the Trinity

The Trinity in Two Minutes from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Piper perfectly summarizes Edwards conception of the Trinity in two minutes here and that is difficult to do! I think Edwards is correct and if so, it explains why we don’t see the Holy Spirit mentioned sometimes (often?) when the Bible speaks of the Father and the Son. The Spirit may be expressed there in other words.

If you’re interested in reading Edward original thoughts on this to see if Piper is accurate, I did some formatting on Edwards unpublished paper on the Trinity in 2002. It is posted here.

No Imagined Furnishings

[W]e should not fill out our knowledge of the life of the eternally triune God with elaborate, mythological imaginings. This is the perfect place for some realism and restraint in the use of the imagination in theological thinking. We know that God’s life as Father, Son, and Spirit is eternally rich and full, but we do not know its details, and we should not manufacture them. We cannot describe the geography of the happy land of the Trinity. We do no know what kind of music the persons of the Trinity listen to, or what they cook for each other, or who does the dishes, or if they carpool. We do not know if they hold hands and do some kind of liturgical round-dance, as has often been suggested in some of the more purple theological literature. The perfect life of the blessed Trinity is lived above all worlds, including all worlds that we can fill out with imagined furnishings. – Fred Sanders, The Deep Things of God, 82-83

From St. Patrick’s Confession

For there is no other God, nor ever was before, nor shall be hereafter, but God the Father, unbegotten and without beginning, in whom all things began, whose are all things, as we have been taught; and his son Jesus Christ, who manifestly always existed with the Father, before the beginning of time in the spirit with the Father, indescribably begotten before all things, and all things visible and invisible were made by him. He was made man, conquered death and was received into Heaven, to the Father who gave him all power over every name in Heaven and on Earth and in Hell, so that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and God, in whom we believe. And we look to his imminent coming again, the judge of the living and the dead, who will render to each according to his deeds. And he poured out his Holy Spirit on us in abundance, the gift and pledge of immortality, which makes the believers and the obedient into sons of God and co-heirs of Christ who is revealed, and we worship one God in the Trinity of holy name.

Pride Translated Into Praise

As I’ve been reading my Old Testament lately, I’ve been doing a little mental exercise. At first, it was a form or rebellion and then it turned into something better.

When you read in the Old Testament “the LORD” what you’re seeing is God’s covenant name “Yahweh” with the vowel dots for “Adoni” or “Lord”. The Masorite Jews did this in the 12th century when the included the vowel dots in the Hebrew manuscripts because traditionally the Jews would see YHWH and say “Adoni” so as to not violate the Third Commandment, “You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain.” An admirable effort but not really what is intended there. It would easy to never say “Yahweh” and yet profane his name in any other number of ways.

Also, this convention winds up running into some translation issues. For one example (and there are many more) in 1 Kings 2:26 it says “because you carried the ark of the Lord GOD before David…” Literally it is “adoni Yahweh” and here Yahweh is translated as “GOD” because to follow the normal convention, it would read “of the Lord the LORD” which is a bit weird.

So my act of rebellion was to see “the LORD” and read it as “Yahweh” every time. After a bit I got worried that I was just being proud and clever; never a good thing. But then I thought about how the New Testament handles this. There the word “Lord” is used quite often in the context of Yahweh in the Old Testament. It is also used in a more familiar manner such as we might say “sir” today. Then another fashion it is used is as an act of political rebellion when the church affirmed that “Jesus is Lord” instead of Caesar.

And that’s when it came together. What I was actually doing was what the church had been doing. Seeing “Yahweh” and thinking/saying “Lord” for whatever reason; theological persnickety-ness or honoring God. But in the New Testament “Lord” is applied to Jesus. So when I read in the New Testament “Jesus is Lord” and hear in my head that habit from reading “Lord” in my Old Testament as “Yahweh” I’m actually doing the right thing! Jesus is Yahweh! Amazing how God turned my cleverness on its head and brought me to honor him even more through an translation oddity. I love him.