Monday, November 28, 2011

Some thoughts on the attributes of God

You may have noticed that I've done a few brief posts on the attributes of God over the last week or so. Here are some thoughts on the theological study of  the divine attributes. 

First, I'm not sure that "attributes" is the best possible word to describe the characteristics of God's being. Louis Berkhof argued that "perfections" might be a better term. The language of divine "attributes" suggests that it is we who attribute certain qualities to God. That leaves us wide open to Feurbach's allegation that theology is merely the projection of human thoughts concerning the divine. In  reality however,  theology is an attempt  to reflect on who and what God is according to his self-revelation in Holy Scripture. 

Second, the distinction between God's communicable and incommunicable attributes (or perfections) cannot be easily maintained. What might be regarded as communicable properties, such as love and truth are properly incommunicable in their totality. God is infinite and eternal love and truth and we are but finite creatures. On the other hand, some of the supposedly incommunicable attributes such as omnipresence are capable of communication when shorn of their infinite and eternal aspects. The omnipresent God communicated presence to his creation - time and space

Third, the divine perfections should not first of all be considered in terms of God's relationship to the created order. God is not omniscient primarily because he knows all about the world he planned and made. Rather it is that in his infinite knowledge God plumbs the depths of his own being, and his omniscience is expressed in the full and complete knowledge that each person of the Trinity has of himself, and the other persons of the Godhead. 

Fourth, the doctrine of the Trinity should not be tagged onto the end of a study of the attributes of God, almost as an afterthought. God is not love first and foremost because he loves us, but because of the loving union and communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Similarly, the divine omnipresence is not primarily to be defined in relation to the creation, that in his being God fills all things. Rather, it is that the persons of the Trinity dwell in the same divine space, each indwelling the other in loving communicative action (see here).

Fifth, the divine perfections primarily concern who God is in himself in the splendour of his being and in the fullness of the intertrinitarian relations. But the study of what are traditionally called the attributes of God should not be abstracted from the drama of redemption. The one Lord God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit disclosed his perfections in all their dazzling glory when Christ offered himself to God through the eternal Spirit to save us from sin, Hebrews 9:14, John 8:28, 12:32, 17:1-2, 4-5, 1 John 4:8-10. By the communicative action of the Triune Lord we have been incorporated in the theo-drama of redeeming grace. Prayerful reflection on the perfections of God will enable us to play our roles in the drama of redemption with greater faithfulness and authenticity. Knowing God better should move us to worship him more adoringly, serve him more sacrificially, and bear witness to the gospel with greater boldness and compassion, Daniel 11:32, Colossians 1:9-10.  

Friday, November 25, 2011

Light up Westbury

An edited version of an article for this week's White Horse News & December's News & Views

Hey. I know that this is the “churchy” bit of the paper that you usually skip, but hang on a minute. “I’m not interested in religion.” You might object. Nor me. What I’m interested in is finding light in this dark world. With the bleak economic situation, the news filled with stories of death and destruction, things are pretty gloomy at the moment. Not to mention the added layer of gloom that comes with the clocks going back to the long dark age of GMT.

Will someone please switch on the lights! Speaking of which, this tonight marks the grand switching on of Westbury’s Christmas Lights. Hundreds of people, old and young will excitedly gather in the High Street. Hot drinks and mince pies will be served, maybe even candyfloss. Father Christmas will come to town. And then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, LIGHT. The once darkened streets of Westbury will suddenly be bathed in the warm glow of the town’s Christmas illuminations.

At this time of year people also make the effort to light up their homes. For some this means a displaying simple Christmas candle arch that flickers away in the front window. Others go for more elaborate displays, covering their houses with the brightly lit icicles, reindeer, snow men, and, of course, Father Christmas. Nice. But I’d hate to have to pay their electricity bill!

It’s no coincidence that Christmas is associated with light. Christians believe that with the coming of Jesus the light of God’s love dawned in our dark world. His birth was predicted in these words, “the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79).

Jesus came to break the power of sin and death by his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. To follow him is to walk in the light. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Banner of Truth prodigal returns

Some time ago I stopped subscribing to the print edition of the Banner of Truth magazine and fled to the far country of a Banner mag free life. However, just recently I came to myself and humbly asked the Banner of Truth if they would have me back. They didn't drape a costly robe around my shoulders, give me a ring, a new pair of sandals and kill the fatted calf, but they did the next best thing. They signed me up for a two year electronic subscription to the Banner of Truth. Shortly afterwards I received an email with a PDF copy of the mag attached. It was good to be back home in Banner land. 

Amongst other treasures, November's edition features an excellent article by Michel Reeves on Goodwin, Sibbes and the Love of Christ and carries excerpts from the writings of Ted Donnelley, whose retirement from pastoral ministry is announced in the magazine. I have been privileged to sit under Ted Donnelley's ministry (that's him on the left) on a number of occasions. His preaching never failed to inform my mind, move my heart and stir me up in the service of the King. 

Don't let any Pharasaical older brothers spoil the party by saying that they never stopped subscribing to the magazine, even when Walter Chantry was editor. Simply rejoice that I who was once lost to the Banner of Truth have now been found. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The immutability of God

In the immutability of his being God is eternally true to himself in the infinite glory of his holy love, both in the intertrinitarian relations of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in his relationship with the creature. His steadfast love never fails.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The omniscience of God

The omniscience of God is expressed in his exhaustive knowledge of his own being and the infinite knowledge that each person of the Trinity has of himself and of the other persons of the godhead. In his eternal and infinite knowledge of all things the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit knows whatever comes to pass in time and space because he determined whatever comes to pass in the world he created according to the purpose of his own will. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Themelios November 2011

The latest issue of The Gospel Coalition's online theological journal, Themelios is out now. From Don Carson's editorial on Spiritual Disciplines,
People think of themselves as "spiritual" because they have certain aesthetic sensibilities, or because they feel some kind of mystical connection with nature, or because they espouse some highly privatized version of one of any number of religions (but "religion" tends to be a word with negative connotations while "spirituality" has positive overtones). Under the terms of the new covenant, however, the only "spiritual" person is the person who has the Holy Spirit, poured out on individuals in regeneration. 
Lots of other good stuff too, but sadly Carl Trueman's regular 'Minority Report' column is no more. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The immensity of God

The immensity of God is the triune Lord in the plenitude of his being, in which Father, Son and Holy Spirit occupy the same divine space, each indwelling the other in loving communicative action. In the immensity of his being the Lord God, unconstrained by the restrictions of created space, is freely present to sustain, guide and redeem the universe he made for his own glory. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On not buying any more books...for a while...a possible exception

Back in September I made a public resolution not to buy any more books until I have made good progress on my "unread books" pile. Since then I've finished Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart (reviewed here) and Bread of Heaven, Eifion Evans' biography of William Williams (I would post a review, but the good folks at Affinity have asked me to hold off until it is first published in the autumn edition of Foundations - still not out). I've also completed The Future of Justification by John Piper, which I read in the freebie PDF version - see here. I've just started on Tom Wright's response to Piper, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision. When I'm done I hope to post a double review covering Piper and Wright's dialogue on justification by faith. I've read as far as Chapter 3 of another Piper title, Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions, which is very good. Also, I'm now into Volume 3 of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics. Yesterday, waiting while my wife had a physiotherapy session, I read a decent chunk - most of chapter 17, TB/GB, of Tony Blair's The Journey, which I've had on the go for a while in fits and starts. 

But I'm seriously tempted to break my resolution by ordering Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Life and Legacy of 'the Doctor', edited by Andrew Atherstone and David Ceri Jones. See David Ceri's blog for the low down.


IVP have kindly agreed to send me a review copy of Engaging with Martyn Lloyd-Jones 

Friday, November 04, 2011

Steve Jobs' final achievement

It's been almost a month since Steve Jobs passed into eternity. So, this post is running a little behind the pack of journos, bloggers and opinionators who have commented on the life and death of Mr. Jobs. But more information on the technocrat has come to light since he died on 5th October. Perhaps, then, some reflections at this point might not be altogether amiss. 

Let me say up front that I'm not a card carrying member of the Steve Jobs fan club.  Sorry about that, but in the interests of full disclosure I should say that I'm writing this on a PC, not a Mac. My mobile is an Android rather than an iPhone. When I download music it's more likely to be from Amazon not iTunes. Sadly I don't posses any form of MP3 player, certainly not an overpriced iPod. Not that I've got anything against Apple heads with their "i" this, that and the other, but I'm simply not one of them. I hope that doesn't invalidate what I got to say on the world of gadgetry's Man in Black.

Jobs' philosophy of life was best summed up in his famous 2005 commencement address to Stamford University graduates. He spoke of the impact that the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer had on his life, forcing him to face up to his own mortality,
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary. 
There is a lot of wisdom in the thought that as we're all going to die we had better get on with living life to the max. The Bible urges us think in that way, Ecclesiastes 9:10. But Jobs is saying more than that. He is commending a kind of "live your dreams and follow your heart" approach to life. That may sound all very find and dandy, but it isn't actually very good advice. What if your dreams are little more than sad delusions? Think of the thousands of people who audition for reality TV shows like the X-Factor. Every one of them believes that they are the Next Big Thing in Pop Music. But their dreams are cruelly shattered by the howls of derision that greet their tuneless rendition of River Deep Mountain High. No amount of dreaming and heart following is going to change the fact that they can't sing. Better that they get on with being a good hairdresser, bricklayer, chartered accountant or whatever, earn their crust and provide for their loved ones as best they can. For most people it's not a case of "living your dreams", but "life's hard and then you die". 

Also, Steve Jobs may have succeeded in living his dreams by producing phones and stuff for Apple, but from reading reviews of his authorised biography, it seems that he was a tryanical bully to work for. Making his dreams a reality involved making his employees lives a nightmare. But that's the trouble isn't it? The "don't listen to anyone else, follow your intuition" approach to life is necessarily inconsiderate of the needs of others. Isn't that just a little bit selfish and inhuman? What does it profit a man if he invents the iPhone and loses his soul?  

Which brings us to Jobs' thoughts on death,
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Yes, we're all going to die. Quite true. But is death really "the single best invention of Life"? Not according to the Bible. Death isn't natures way of clearing out the old to make way for the new. It is the wages of sin. Sin alienates us from God, the giver of life. Death is the last enemy, a merciless foe rather than a kindly friend. Death robs a man of his life and loved ones of a dear relative or friend. After death comes the judgement of God, Hebrews 9:27. 

According to Jobs' sister, Mona Simpson, who witnessed him pass away, "Death didn't happen to Steve, he achieved it". His last words were, “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow”. But sadly, no one "achieves" death. We are its passive victims. I say no one. There is one exception. The death of Jesus was the greatest achievement of love ever witnessed by the world. He willingly laid down his life in order to atone for the sins of his people and save us from death, John 15:13. After achieving atonement for sin in his death, Jesus rose again from the grave, signalling the death of death itself, John 10:17-18. In the light of Jesus' death and resurrection, the believer can taunt death as a defeated foe and live life to the full to the glory of God, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58. Don't follow your heart. It's deceitful above all things (Jeremiah 17:9). Follow Jesus, John 8:12, 11:25-26. 

Thursday, November 03, 2011

A benediction

Grace of Christ
freely granted
at blood-bought price
be with you all.

Love of God
dazzlingly disclosed
in Jesus' cross
overflow your hearts.

Fellowship of the Holy Spirit
extravagantly bestowed
by nail-pierced hands
give you peace.