Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Here Comes the Son

It was certainly a 'long,cold, lonely winter'. Sub zero temperatures for weeks on end. The chilling news of mounting Covid deaths. But now we're well into spring. The trees are in blossom. Bluebells carpet local woodlands. The days are warmer and evenings lighter. Last time I checked the UK had the lowest Covid infection rates in the G7. Here comes the sun. Brighter times are ahead. 

In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe C. S. Lewis depicts Narnia under the rule of the White Witch, where it was 'always winter and never Christmas'. Then suddenly the ice begins to melt. Aslan is on the move. In The Chronicles of Narnia the majestic lion is depicted as a Christ-figure. Aslan was willing to die in the place of the traitor, Edmund Pevensey. He then rose again to lead the rebellion against the White Witch’s reign of terror.

 C. S. Lewis was drawing on the Bible’s teaching that humanity lies under the wintry reign of sin and death. In the end we all succumb to the tyranny of the grave, whether paupers or princes. But the ice is thawing and new life is springing forth. Here comes the Son. Of Jesus it was written:          

“the sunrise shall visit us from on high
 to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death, 
 to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

*For May edition of local magazines/newspapers. 

Friday, April 02, 2021

'And they crucified him’

Crucifixion was a form of execution reserved for the lowest of the low. Roman citizens were exempt from the cross. It was a cruel, degrading death. Nailing a common criminal to a cross sent out a powerful message, ‘This is what you get if you mess with Rome.’ Yet that is not how we tend to view crosses today. If you see a vehicle hurtling towards you with a cross emblazoned on the side, you breathe a sigh of relief. You have fallen ill and here is an ambulance with paramedics inside to care for you and make sure you get proper treatment.

Countless thousands of people were crucified during the period of the Roman Empire. Yet it took the death of one man by crucifixion to transform the meaning of the cross. That was Jesus Christ. Viewed in one way, he was a victim of the ancient equivalent of ‘cancel culture’. His teaching upset the leaders of the Jewish people. They wanted Jesus silenced. Dead men don’t speak, so the religious authorities pressurised the Roman governor Pontius Pilate into condemning Jesus to death by crucifixion. Pilate knew that Jesus was an innocent man, but he had him crucified anyway.

Another brutal display of Roman power. Yet Jesus knew full well how he was going to die on that first Good Friday. He made no attempt to evade arrest, or to argue his case before those who sat in judgement upon him. He willingly gave himself to the death of the cross because he knew that was the only way to break the power of sin. Sin is defiance of God’s throne that cries to high heaven for justice to be done. Even in our culture where many believe that right and wrong are ‘all relative’ we can sometimes be shocked by the horror of sin; the atrocities of totalitarian regimes, the murder of a young woman on the streets of our capital city.

Jesus came to lay down his life for the sins of the world so that we may be forgiven and be put right with God. Thus understood, the cross of Jesus was the greatest act of love the world has ever seen. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Behold your God: In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Previously we saw that God is one. He is unique as the one true and living God. He is a unity; a simple, undivided Spirit. But in the one God are three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We may tend to think that the doctrine of the Trinity is only something that needs to bother the heads of pastors and advanced students of theology. That is not the case. Jesus commanded that new disciples are to be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19) Already in the baptismal formula we are being confronted with the fact that our God is one -  ‘name’ is singular and three, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. How do we make sense of that? Thankfully, we are not the first generation of believers to address that question in a spirit of faith seeking understanding. The first four centuries of church history were dominated by controversies about the Trinity. The stakes were high. At issue were fundamentals of the faith such as the knowledge of God, the salvation of God, who are the people of God and the worship of God.

The Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament, but the mystery is more fully revealed in New Testament era, where the missions of the Son and Holy Spirit take centre stage. Jesus is included in divine identity, John 1:1-3, 1 Corinthians 8:6. The Holy Spirit is constantly mentioned in the same breath as the Father and the Son, Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor 13:14. The mystery of the Trinity is not irrational, or totally baffling.  It is a mystery in the biblical sense of truth hidden in God until he was pleased to reveal it, Colossians 1:24-27. 

1.       In the Name

'Father'. God is disclosed as Father not first and foremost because he is in some sense the universal Father of his human image bearers, or even that he is the Father of believers, his adopted children. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Spirit is the Spirit 'of God'. He did not become Father at some point. He is the eternal Father of the eternal Son and the eternal Spirit. We speak of the Son as eternally generated by the Father, and of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. The named three persons are one God. 

2.       God sending and sent                  

The Father ever loved his Son and gave him life in himself, even as the Father has life in himself, John 5:26. His Spirit is the Spirit of life (Romans 8:2). The eternal relations between Father, Son and Holy Spirit are reflected in the missions of the persons of the Trinity. The Father sent the Son into the world, rather than the other way around, 1 John 4:14. The Holy Spirit was sent by the Father in the name of the Son, John 14:26. He is the ‘Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit of Christ’ (Romans 8:9). Each person is concerned for the glory of the other, John 17:1, (from eternity vs. 5), Phil 2:11, John 16:14-15. Because our God is a God who communicates life, love and glory in himself, he is also a God who was pleased to communicate life and love and reveal his glory in creating the universe. Above all that includes creating human beings in his image. Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). We are made in his image (Genesis 1:26) to share in the life, love and glory of the Trinity, John 17:22-23.

Although there is an order in the persons of the Trinity, there is no hierarchy of being so that the Father is God in a superior sense to the Son or Holy Spirit. The three are fully God, of the same being as the Father. How else can we do justice to New Testament depiction of Jesus and the Spirit? The divine Name Yahweh Deuteronomy 6:4 is accorded to Jesus, John 8:58. The Spirit is the 'Spirit of Yahweh', active in creation (Genesis 1:2) and exercising Lordship (1 Corinthians 12:11).

It is wrong to say that the Son eternally submitted his will to that of the Father in the decree that he would be sent into the world. Will is a property of God’s being, not the persons. All three persons were party to the plan of salvation in which Son would come to save us in the power of the Holy Spirit, Ephesians 1:4, 9. If it is true to say, that the Father gave the Son for us, Romans 8:32, then we may also say that Son freely gave himself for us, Galatians 2:20. Father and Son are one in being and will, John 10:30.

3.       Salvation is of the triune Lord

In creation, providence and redemption God does all things by his Son and through his Spirit to his glory. Because they share one being, the three always act in concert. Only the Son became man, but he became man on being sent into the world by the Father and by the power of the Spirit in his virginal conception. Consider the miracles Jesus performed, which are jointly ascribed to all three persons of the Trinity as they share the one divine being, John 5:19-20, 14:8-11, Matthew 12:28. Consider the cross of Jesus, Hebrews 9:14 and his resurrection from the dead, Romans 8:11. 

The doctrine of the Trinity helps answer some fundamental questions:

How can we know God? John 1:18, 14:7, 14:16-17, 25. 

How can we be saved by God? Salvation is trinitarian in structure, Ephesians 1:3-14, Romans 8:1-17, Galatians 4:4-7, 1 Peter 1:1-3. Only the divine Son could atone for sin, only the divine Spirit could give us new life and communicate love of God to hearts, Romans 5:5, 8.

Who are the people God? We are 'baptised into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’. Baptism signifies that we are brought into union with God in Christ by the Spirit. Matthew 28:19. The triune God showers his gifts upon the church, where unity in diversity thrives, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, Ephesians 4:4-6, 7-8. 

How may we worship God? Ephesians 2:13. In our communion with God, particular communion with one person always involves the other two. The worship of heaven is trinitarian, Revelation 4 & 5. The Second London Baptist Confession 1689 states. “which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him.” Let us worship our adorable Trinity. 

Creeds and Confessions

We believe in one God,
      the Father almighty,
      maker of heaven and earth,
      of all things visible and invisible.

 And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
      the only Son of God,
      begotten from the Father before all ages,
           God from God,
           Light from Light,
           true God from true God,
      begotten, not made;
      of the same essence as the Father.
      Through him all things were made.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the Lord, the giver of life.
      He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
      and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

      We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

From the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) with additions by the Council of Constantinople (A.D. 381)

In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided: the Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son; all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on Him. 

From the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith, 1689. Chapter 2:3

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Are we there yet?

Remember when you were a kid, setting off on  a family holiday? Your poor dad had barely driven his car a few miles down the road before you found yourself asking, ‘Are we there yet?’ ‘Not yet son/daughter’ he would reply wearily, knowing that the same question would be asked on repeat until the sea eventually came into view. And when you grew up and had children, they did to you what you once did to your mum and dad. Where do kids learn that, do grandparents teach them as a small act of revenge?  

When you can’t wait for something to happen time seems to tick by extra slowly. ‘A watched kettle never boils’ so they say. I’m not sure that the presence of an observer actually affects the rate at which water boils in an electric kettle. But the saying makes perfect sense if you’re gasping for a cuppa.

I’m sure we’re all waiting for lockdown to finish and the various Covid measures to be eased, so we can go back to doing the things we enjoy; seeing family and friends, eating out, holidays, etc. The PM will has revealed the government’s 'Road Map' for easing  restrictions, but its a long and winding road hedged about by many caveats. Like little kids we want to know, ‘Are we there yet?’

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s the need for patience, or, on occasion how little patience we possess. In Psalm 40 David sings, ‘I waited patiently for the Lord: he inclined to me and heard my cry.’ The psalmist acknowledges that it was the Lord who saved him and placed his sinking feet on solid ground. The presence and grace of the Lord are always worth waiting for, pandemic, or not. As we wait on him he relieves our weariness and renews our strength. Isaiah promises us,

they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.

Hurry up and wait for what's worth waiting for. We may not be ‘there yet’ in terms of the pandemic, but wait on the Lord and he will strengthen your heart.  

* For March editions of  News & Views and Trinity parish magazines

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Behold your God: ‘The Lord your God is One’

Geoff Thomas once said that in our Evangelical circles we talk a lot about worship, but not so much about God whom we worship. If we are not worshipping the God who has revealed himself in the pages of Holy Scripture, however poetic our hymns, however fervent our praises, we are worshipping an idol. If our God not God of gospel, we have no good news to tell the world.

Deuteronomy 6:4 was Israel’s most basic confession of faith, the Shema. ‘Yahweh your Elohim, Yahweh is one. The God of Israel is the Creator of the universe, Genesis 1 and Israel’s Covenant Lord, Genesis 15, Exodus 3:1-12, 6:1-8. When Israel was on the verge of Promised Land Moses taught them the Great Confession, coupled with the Great Commandment, Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:36-38.  

1.       God alone

What are we saying as we stand with Israel and confess, ‘The Lord your God is one’? He is one because he is the only God. This statement underlines the most important distinction that must be made between God and all other things: only God is God, Isaiah 40:25, 28a, 43:10-11, 45:22. Everything else in creation had a beginning. He is eternal. Everything else is subject to change. He remains the same. Everything else is located in the dimensions of space. The heaven of heavens cannot contain God. He is everywhere present in the fullness of his being. All other things are finite and imperfect. God alone is infinite and perfect. He is the One than whom none greater cannot be thought, known or imagined, Matthew 5:48. The Lord you God is not simply one because he is the best of many. He stands alone as one of a kind. For he alone is God and there is none like him, Psalm 96:5.

How then can we know him? He is the infinite Creator and we his creatures. Our knowledge of him cannot be the same as his knowledge of himself. God knows himself fully. We only known him partially. In fact, we can only know him if he is pleased to reveal himself to us. He has done that in world that he made, the sense of God he has inscribed on our hearts, the word he has written, the Son he sent and Spirit he poured out. Romans 1:18-23, Mat 11:27, 1 Cor 2:10-12.

2.       Only God

In confessing ‘Lord your God is one’ we speak not only of the uniqueness of God, but his essential unity. God is pure Spirit without body or parts, John 4:24. When the Bible speaks of God in bodily terms, saying he has hands, eyes, ears, etc, we need to remember that his self-revelation in Scripture is accommodated to our capacity. Divine self-revelation is analogical, speaking to us of God in terms that are an analogy of our everyday experiences.

Neither is God is comprised of parts. In anything that is made of parts some components are more essential than others. A functioning car needs a chassis, engine, wheels and so on. Other things like upholstery, or a glove compartment are nice to have, but not essential.  Similarly, some body parts more essential than others. I could live without a limb, but not without my brain or heart. As God is a perfect being, nothing in him can be less than absolutely essential. If anything in God was ‘nice to have’, but he could do without it, that thing would be ungodlike. All that is in God is God, Exodus 34:6-8, 1 John 1:5, 4:16. The divine attributes are not detachable 'parts' of God, but properties of his perfect, infinite, unchanging, eternal being.                 

Because he is a simple unity, God is never conflicted, with his love pulling him one way and his justice another. He always acts lovingly and justly. We sing, ‘His love is as great as his power, an knows neither measure or end’. God is absolutely sovereign. But he cannot will anything evil. God’s will is not separable from his goodness, or righteousness, Ephesians 1:4-5. God’s will cannot be detached from his power, which means his will always prevails, Ephesians 1:11. The simplicity of God means we can  trust him totally. We need never fear that his raw power will crush us, for his power is good. We need never fear that his will won’t be carried out, for with Almighty God nothing is impossible. So we can sing, Lamentation 3:22-24.

3.       God not alone

God alone is God and only God, yet God is not alone in the sense that he is solitary. In the one God are more than one; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Does that mean there are 3 parts to God? No three persons, each of whom is fully God. It is not that the Father has the main chunk of God and the Son and the Spirit have what’s left between them. God cannot be chunked up in that way.  Son is of the same divine being as the Father, as is the Holy Spirit.

What distinguishes the three is not that one has more of the divine being than the others, but that the Son is eternally generated by the Father, and that the Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. That the one God is also three was revealed above all when the Father sent his Son into the world at the incarnation of Christ and the Father and Son poured out the Holy Spirt at Pentecost. This was hinted at in Old Testament, but the mystery was disclosed more fully in New Testament era: Matthew 3:13-17, Acts 2:33.                    

Deuteronomy 6:4: our God is supreme in being and mighty in his works as Creator and Lord. In Paul's version of the Shema Jesus included in divine identity, 1 Corinthians 8:6. As is the Spirit, who is often mentioned in t he same breath as the Father and Son, Mat 28:19-20, 2 Cor 13:18.

    4. One God in faith, worship & witness 

Faith - in God alone we trust, Psalm 62:5-8

Worship – Love the Lord your God, who loved you in Christ and has poured his love into your heart by the Holy Spirit Deut 6:5, Romans 5:8, 5. Theology must lead to doxology, 1 Timothy 6:15-16.

Witness - this is the God we proclaim. He is not a bigged-up version of ourselves. We cannot domesticate God, or cut down to size. He is the God of the gospel, Rom 1:1-5, 16-17, 3:21-22, 24-26. 

Behold your God: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is one'. 

Monday, March 01, 2021

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) - A Personal Appreciation

40 years ago today, on March 1st 1981 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones passed into eternity. It is somehow fitting that the great Welsh preached entered into glory on "St David's Day", the National Day of Wales. I never knew "the Doctor". Not once did I hear him preach. He died some years before I was converted. But Lloyd-Jones, through his books and example has had a formative influence on my life.

The Church in which I was converted during the mid 1980's had a growing Pentecostal and Charismatic element. Our young people were encouraged to meet with a neighbouring Pentecostal Young People's Fellowship. I was in my late teens at the time and had a growing interest in the work of the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts. My home Church hosted a book evening. I spotted a book by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on the baptism and gifts of the Spirit entitled Prove All Things. I had not heard of the author, but the subject matter grabbed me. Before I became a Christian, I was not at all interested in books, leaving school at 16 with few qualifications. But as a new believer I found I had an insatiable desire to know more about the Christian faith. 

Little did I know that this book was to transform my outlook. Most of the Christian literature I had read up to that point was testimony type books, light on doctrine but full of wonderful experiences. But in Prove All Things, I encountered another world. Here was a man who took the text of Scripture seriously and thought deeply about the things of God. The writer was steeped in the works of the great Reformers and Puritans. Lloyd-Jones urged his readers to test all spiritual experiences by the Scriptures. I became disenchanted with the Charismatic Movement and longed for something with more Biblical depth. The writings of "the Doctor" were able to point me in the right direction.

In my early 20's I began to read through Lloyd-Jones' magnificent sermons on the Epistle to the Romans. This was the beginning of my theological education. "The Doctor's" preaching was intellectually demanding, doctrinally profound, thoroughly practical and wonderfully experimental.

When I felt called to the Ministry of the Word, my lay-pastor lent me his copy of Lloyd-Jones' Preaching and Preachers. This book has shaped my view of the pastoral ministry and preaching more than any other. I do not even try to emulate "the Doctor's" preaching style. But I practice the systematic exposition of whole books of the Bible and long that my preaching may be Holy Spirit anointed "logic on fire". When it came to choosing a theological seminary to prepare for the Ministry, I applied to the London Seminary . The seminary was founded by Lloyd-Jones in 1977 and seeks to train men for the Ministry with a strong emphasis on the preaching of the Word of God.

.Let me try to sum up some of the ways that "the Doctor" has influenced my Christian life and ministry:

Reformed Doctrine Lloyd-Jones preached the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit. He proclaimed this deeply Biblical theology of grace that was rediscovered at the Reformation and exemplified by the Puritans and Calvinistic Methodists.

Revival "the Doctor" had a great burden for an outpouring of the Spirit upon the Church. He agreed with Jonathan Edwards, that the Church has grown and developed throughout history as a result of mighty God-given revivals. The need of the hour is not to find "new ways of doing church", important as that may be, but a heaven-sent, Christ glorifying revival.

Unity and Separation I believe that Lloyd-Jones was spot-on in 1966 when he called upon Evangelicals to withdraw from their ecumenically compromised denominations and come together as Bible-believing Christians.

Preaching Mrs Lloyd-Jones said that her husband was "first of all a man of prayer and then an evangelist". Lloyd-Jones is well known for his lengthy sermon series on Romans and Ephesians. What is less well known is that he preached evangelistically every Sunday evening at Westminster Chapel. I believe that sinners and saints alike need to hear the "old old story of Jesus and his love" in all its magnificent depth and richness.

The Value of History "the Doctor" loved Church history. That is one of the things that struck me when I read Prove All Things. The study of Church History and Christian biography is inspirational. We are reminded of what the Lord did in the past with ordinary men and women. Our understanding of the Bible is enriched in communion with the Theological reflection of the past. Familiarity with historical Theology also helps to keep the Church from doctrinal eccentricities and oddities.

The Life of the Mind Lloyd-Jones emphasised the importance of reading, study and scholarship. He helped deliver British Evangelicalism from the shallows of anti-intellectualism. "The Doctor" read widely and deeply. He was abreast of the latest trends in secular and Theological thinking. He was profoundly shaped by the Reformers, Puritans and Jonathan Edwards, but Lloyd-Jones was not their prisoner. He knew that no generation of Christians ever has a monopoly on the Truth. Everything must be tested by Scripture. The life and ministry of this great preacher gave UK Evangelicalism a new Theological depth. How can preaching be "theology on fire", if preachers fail to engage in theological reflection and study?

I commend to you the life and ministry of Martyn-Lloyd Jones. Read Iain Murray's Two Volume Biography, The First Forty Years & The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth Trust). The second volume will give you a bibliography of Lloyd-Jones' publications. Murray has also published a single volume Life of D. M. Lloyd-Jones

* An earlier version of this article was posted on the blog in 2006. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Herman Bavinck, a prophet of the secular age

I'm enjoying reading Bavinck: A Critical Biography by James Eglinton. It is a very fine piece of work. A far superior account of the theologian's life than Ron Gleason's effort. A key theme in the biography is Bavinck's attempt to remain faithful to his Seceder roots, while accommodating himself to the challenges of the modern world. 

In the early phase of his career Bavinck had championed Calvinism over and against other forms of Christian expression. He assumed that Calvinism would prevail, for it was an essential aspect of the Dutch national character. Things had changed by the the early 1900s. Bavinck now shifted his attention to defending Christianity more broadly against the onslaughts of outright unbelief. The age of Nietzsche in which 'God is dead' called for a different kind of apologetic. 

During Bavinck's lifetime Dutch society had become less distinctively Calvinistic and then less Christian altogether. A new God-free era beckoned. In an address to the Free University, Amsterdam, where Bavinck taught theology entitled Learnedness and Science, he foresaw the dawning of the secular age in which we live. 
If God falls, everything  falls - truth, science, art, nature and history, the state, society, and the family. if there is no God. there is also no idea, no more thought in which things can rest and by which they are knowable.... Everything that we receive from the past is old and outmoded, not only in religion and Christianity, but also morality and art, all the wisdom and civilisation of antiquity. Everything must be reformulated on the basis of modern culture: school and science, marriage and the family, state and society, religion and morality. There is no shortage of reformers [in our day]. (Bavinck, Eglinton, p. 236) 

Is not that a prescient description of our own times? When Christians in the UK campaigned against the redefinition of marriage, arguments based on the Bible or 1000's of years of tradition were swept aside as 'old hat'. Modern society was moving in only one direction and opponents of same-sex marriage were on the 'wrong side of history'. In Bavinck's day, whether women should get the vote was a matter of discussion. Now the very idea of what constitutes a woman is at the centre of the controversy raging around 'trans rights'. Mothers and Fathers are being relabelled, 'gestational parent' and 'non-birthing parent'. Bavinck was right. If God falls, even the basic facts of human biology have no secure place to rest. There is no shortage of 'reformers' in our day too. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Better than back to normal

‘Will this never end?’ we may have asked ourselves as Covid infection rates have spiked, followed by yet another lockdown. Our political masters are beginning to hint that there may be an easing of restrictions by spring time. Millions of those who are most vulnerable to the ravages of Coronavirus have already received their first Covid-19 jab. It is hoped that the over 50s will have had their initial injection by the end of March, all adults by September. At last we now have some light at the end of what’s been a long dark tunnel of a pandemic.

The rapid vaccine roll out is tribute to the scientists who developed the jabs and the health workers who are administering the injections. Our political leaders also deserve credit for buying up large quantities of the vaccines and ensuring they get into people’s arms in double quick time. You can sense the relief and joy of those who have already received their jab. We can begin to look forward to returning to what passed for normal life before the pandemic.

I don’t know about you, but seeing that old life depicted on TV or in films makes me feel rather nostalgic. Relatives and friends meeting up, giving each other a friendly hug. People happily standing close together, rather than avoiding one another like the plague. Crowds enjoying a music concert or sporting event. ‘We used to be able to do that’, you think. Well, hopefully we’ll be able to do that kind of thing again in the not too distant future.

But there is a prospect of something better than ‘back to normal’. Jesus came not simply to wind the clock back to the time before sin and death entered God’s world. He came to bring a new creation. Sin and death will be no more. The glory of God will shine brightly. That’s why the Son of God came into our world to die for our sins on the cross and be raised from the dead. One day he will return to make all things new. Those who believe in Jesus already belong to that new and better world, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”

* For the February editions of Trinity Parish Magazine, Dilton Marsh and News & Views, West Lavington 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God, by Matthew Barrett

Baker Books, 2019, 296 pages, Kindle edition

'Behold your God!' That is the message given to the herald of good news in Isaiah 40:9. But what kind of God should we expect to 'behold'? Is he just like us, but bigger and better? After all, the Bible tells us that we are made in his image (Genesis 1:26). According to classic theism God is a perfect being, 'without body, parts or passions'. But 'perfect being theology' has had a bad press of late. We want a God who can enter into the suffering of wretched humanity, not a remote Being who is sublimely undisturbed by the woe of the world. 

But if  the God we behold is a domesticated deity, cut down to size and shorn of his divine majesty, can we trust him, does he command our highest worship? Of course, the key thing is what God has revealed of himself in the pages of Holy Scripture. Very true. It is the case, however, that our reading of the Bible can be skewed by our 21st century perspective. Our psychological age demands a therapeutic deity who can feel our pain and soothe our troubled minds. That's why it's helpful to listen to the voices of those who have read God's Word in previous centuries. They also were people of their times, but the their insights can at least make us aware of our own biases. 

Matthew Barrett wheels on the 'A Team'. No, not Mr T and the gang, but Augustine of Hippo, Anselm and Thomas Aquinas. Those three theological greats were attentive readers of the Bible and it was from its pages that they understood that God is the perfect being than which none greater can be thought. If he were anything less, he would not be God at all. While the focus here is on the being of God, the theologian does not lose sight of the three persons who share the one divine essence; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

The book's subtitle speaks of the Undomesticated Attributes of God. We domesticate God when we dissolve the fundamental biblical distinction between God our Creator and the creature. As finite creatures we cannot know God as he knows himself. Our knowledge of him is true, yet analogical. The Bible may speak of God in creaturely terms, but that is on account of it being divine revelation accommodated to our capacity. God is pure Spirit. He therefore has no 'hands', 'eyes', or 'nose'. Neither does the sovereign Lord have regrets, or change his mind. If the Scripture's anthropomorphic language is not to be taken literally, neither is its anthropopathic descriptions of God's 'emotions'. All that is in God is God. He is therefore eternal, infinite and immutable in his being and attributes. 

As Barrett explains God's attributes are not the various components that comprise his being, some of which could in theory be detached from him. God is simple and unconflicted. His righteousness does not pull him one way and his mercy another. He is always righteous and merciful. His love is holy love. And that love is not a 'flash in a pan' that can be switched off in response to the sinful rebellion of human beings. That is where God's aseity and impassibility come in. His life and love are self-generated, totally independent of the creature. God does not need us to complete him. He is complete in the fulness of his own being and in the fellowship of the persons of the Trinity. It is precisely because God is not needy or vulnerable that we can trust him to be faithful to his promises and never let us down.

The author describes the way in which his own life was enriched as he was helped to 'behold his God' afresh as  'A Team' enabled him to see divine self-revelation with fresh eyes. While the work is technical in parts and demands attentive reading, Barrett's style is lively and interesting. You'll find references to holidays in beautiful Pembrokeshire, delicious caramel apple pies and baseball games. No Rugby Union illustrations, though, which struck me as a bit odd. I think Barrett is American. More importantly, his treatment of God's being and attributes is thoroughly biblical and full of practical application. You will be filled with wonder and worship.  You will be stirred to renewed faith in God and obedience to his commands. As Daniel says, 'the people who know their God will stand firm and take action'. (Daniel 11:32). 

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Reading list 2021

I have several titles in my Kindle library snapped up at knock down prices which I intend to read this year. I've already made a start on Nothing Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God by Matthew Barret. Very good it is too at £0.49. Sticking with the doctrine of God, I've read the free sample bit of The Son Who Learned Obedience by Glenn Butner, on the eternal submission controversy. A really good taster, which invites purchase of the full download. 

But there's also Trinity Without Hierarchy: Recovering Nicene Orthodoxy in Evangelical Theology edited by Michael F. Bird and Scott Harrower to consider (£2.21). And not forgetting The Triune God (New Studies in Dogmatics) by Fred Saunders (£2.99). Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers by Dane Ortrund comes highly recommended and was going cheap on Kindle (£2.96). 

I had Bavinck: A Critical Biography by James Eglinton as a Christmas gift in glorious shiny hardback. I was disappointed by Ron Gleason's biog of the great Dutch Dogmatician, but Eglington's effort looks to be in a different league. The intro and first chapter alone are rich with insight into the subject's life and times. (I also get an endnote all to myself and a mention in the bibliography. Just saying). 

A family member kindly gave me an Amazon voucher for Christmas. I shall probably use it to invest in The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman. I also have my eye on Deity and Decree by Samuel D, Renihan, having enjoyed his From Shadow to Substance and The Mystery of Christ

That little lot will hopefully keep me busy on the reading front for a bit.