Thursday, June 16, 2016

Equality in humility: some thoughts on the Son's submission to the Father

I have no intention of weighing in on the 'Eternal Relations of Submission and Authority' controversy triggered by US-based Brit-Brat Packers Carl Trueman and Liam Golhiger. You can catch up on that by reading Owen Strachan's thoughts here and those of John Stevens here. But familiarising myself with some of the arguments has got me thinking. 

I have to say that I prefer 'submission' to 'subordination' when it comes to the Son's relationship to the Father. The latter is expressive of attitude, the former suggests (albeit unintendedly) inferiority of being. There is no order of being in the one God. Concerning his deity the Son is of the same essence as the Father. Concerning his person he is of the Father. The persons are not interchangeable and the economic Trinity truly communicates the ontological Trinity. It was reflective of the order of persons in the Trinity that the Father sent the Son into the world and that the Spirit proceeded from the Father through the Son. 

Herman Bavink says as much, having made the point that in the economy of redemption;  'The Father came without being sent, the Son came having been sent by the Father, and the Holy Spirit only came because he was sent by both the Father and the Son.' Bavinck then posits,
But this "being sent" in time is a reflection of the imminent relations of the three persons in the divine being and is grounded in generation and spiration. The incarnation of the Word has its archetype in the generation of the Son, and the outpouring of the Spirit is a weak analogy of the procession from the Father and the Son. The church fathers, accordingly, derived the eternal and imminent relations existing between the persons from the relations that were manifest before the human eye in time. (Reformed Dogmatics: God and Creation Volume 2, Baker Academic, 2006, p. 320-321). 
Were this not the case, the economic Trinity would fail to communicate and truly reveal the ontological Trinity, thus driving a wedge between 'God in himself' and 'God for us'. Granted that 'God for us' does not reveal 'God in himself' without remainder, the God who is for us in Christ and by the Spirit is the true self-disclosure of the being and persons of the immortal and invisible God. 

The fact that there is an order of persons in the Trinity which is reflected in the economy of redemption in no way should be taken to imply superiority on the part of the Father, or the inferiority of the Son and Spirit. This order of relations in no way undermines the co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the divine being, which is wholly possessed by each person. 

That said, the Son possessed his equality with God not as something to be grasped at all costs. He was willing to become less than what he was - as man - without ceasing to be what he was - as God. The attitude of the Son towards the Father was that of loving, obedient and humble submission, just as the Holy Spirit submitted to being sent into the world not to display his own glory, but that of the Son. This attitude of humble submission was not an act of self-abnegation for the Son, but self-expression; a true revelation of the heart of God. The divine identity of Jesus was disclosed most clearly as he was lifted up to bear our sins on the Cross, John 8:28, 12:32-33, 17:4. As Robert Leatham reasons, 
The point is that when we have to do with Jesus Christ we have to do with God. His presence in the world is identical with the existence of the humiliated, obedient, and lowly man, Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, the humiliation, lowliness, and obedience of Christ are essential in our conception of God." (The Holy Trinity, In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship, P&R, 2004, p. 397). 
Equality and humility are not mutually contradictory in divine or human relationships. The marriage relation described in Ephesians 5:22-33 is one example of this. Loving authority is not tyranny and loving submission is not servility. Philippians 2:5-11 describes the Son's pre-incarnate as well as incarnate attitude of loving humility, obedience and submission to the Father. That mind should also be in us, even when, perhaps especially when we engage in theological controversy with our brothers in the gospel.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Long to Reign Over Us

This weekend the nation will be celebrating the ‘official’ 90th birthday of Her Majesty the Queen. Elizabeth II has been Queen for 64 years, making her this country’s longest serving monarch. She has made no secret of her Christian faith, which often comes to the fore in her Christmas messages. Her faith has inspired her to serve country and Commonwealth with remarkable consistency of character, “I know just how much I rely on my faith to guide me through the good times and the bad. Each day is a new beginning. I know that the only way to live my life is to try and do what is right, to take the long view, to give of my best in all that the day brings, and to put my trust in God... I draw strength from the message of hope in the Christian gospel.”

Speaking in 2012, our Queen commended the Servant King, “God sent his only Son ‘to serve, not to be served’. He restored love and service to the centre of our lives in the person of Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ followers had been jostling for position, arguing amongst themselves as to who would be the greatest in the kingdom of God. The Lord told them that their attitude left something to be desired. In his kingdom greatness would not be measured in worldly status, but service, “whoever desires to be great among you, let him be your servant.”

Jesus himself exemplified that servant mindset, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life a ransom for many.” He came not to get, but to give. Jesus was willing to give his own life to pay the price of sin that we may receive the gift of God’s forgiveness through faith in him.

Queen Elizabeth II has ruled over this land for many generations. Long may she continue to do so. But one day her reign will end, as is the way with all earthly rulers. The kingdom of Jesus will endure for ever and those who follow the Servant King can look forward to eternity in his presence. That is the message of hope in the Christian gospel. 

* For News & Views, West Lavington Parish Magazine 

Friday, June 10, 2016


And to think I once believed that Tenby is the most beautiful place on earth. That was before we visited Venice. Tenby has its attractions, mind you. Castle walls, brightly coloured houses, endless sandy beaches, sunbeam-dancing sea etc. But Venice. St Mark's Square at night. A piazza to knock the spots off the prettiest town in Pembrokeshire. 

Our hotel was on the mainland, so we accessed the Island City by tram. On arrival Wednesday evening we had a meal and then headed for the fabled St Mark's Square by foot. That was a mistake. The place is a maze of identical-looking houses, church buildings and pasta restaurants. Signs pointing to St. Mark's Square never seemed to get us anywhere. We happened upon a Vaporetta (water bus) stop, hopped on board and soon found our intended destination.

Wow. the Basilica and subtly illuminated piazza were an amazing sight. OK, you couldn't buy a stick of rock, or candyfloss like in Tenby, but wow. 

On Thursday, our  only full day in Venice we visited the Doge's Palace, St Mark's Basilica, and a couple of the smaller islands. In the evening we had a Gondola ride, which was amazingly atmospheric after the dark. 

Reading up on the city I discovered that it is founded upon wooden piles, driven deep into the compacted clay that sits beneath the grand buildings and splendid piazzas. Venice is slowly sinking back into the lagoon at a rate of 2mm per year. The grandest of cities, a dazzling achievement of Western culture has feet of clay. 

Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God's power,
hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.

Sunday, June 05, 2016


As a schoolboy I was fascinated by the Greeks and Romans, their history and literature. Classical Studies was one of the few subjects at which I did reasonably well at O Level. Reading Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Triumph and Tragedy of the Roman Republic reignited my interest in ancient Rome. Sarah and I had long wanted to visit the 'Eternal City' and decided that we would do so for a 25th anniversary treat. 

Among the highlights of our brief stay were visits to the Forum and Palitine Hill, centre of old Roman political life, the Colosseum and the wonderfully preserved Pantheon. Rome really is a beautiful city. Its classical heritage is etched on every Baroque building, replete with Corinthian columns and elaborate architectural detail.   

It is often said that while Rome conquered Greece militarily, that Greece conquered Rome culturally. I could add to that by observing that while Rome conquered Britain militarily, it seems that English speaking pop music has now conquered Rome culturally. While Sarah and I were eating pizza in the Pantheon piazza we were serenaded by an electric guitar player filling the air with the sounds of Hey Jude by the Beatles, One and With or Without You by U2, and various other well known English language songs. It was Stereophonics and Oasis at our hotel. Didn't know whether to feel proud or slightly sad that about the reverse cultural imperialism that we witnessed. What would old Cato have thought, I wonder? On hearing of this affront to Roman dominance would he have pronounced the earth-shattering words in the Forum, 'Cwmavon must fall!' and sent his legions to flatten the place?

We visited St Peter's Basillica on the Monday evening. You can't but be impressed by the architectural grandeur of the place and almost overwhelmed by its artistic splendor. Shining marble, rich paintings, almost life-like sculptures of various popes and biblical figures. But it's a far cry from the Christianity of the New Testament; a simple, mariganlised people who preached a crucified Saviour. If church architecture is expressive of theology, then Rome's buildings proclaim a theology of glory rather than a theology of the cross, Her proud Basilicas project power and bid us, 'Behold my works, ye mighty and despair!' Church buildings should be simple, unadorned meeting places where the people of God gather to hear nothing but 'Jesus Christ and him crucified'. A meeting house is a place for hearing the word proclaimed rather than enticing the eye to see the invisible realities of the gospel. It should not draw attention to the achievements of the church, but house a congregation who are directed by the preached word to 'Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!' 

Some quirky things. On Tuesday, our whole day in Rome, we were hindered in our journey from the hotel where we were staying to the city centre because the Metro drivers were on strike. That meant all the would-be Metro passengers had to squeeze onto overcrowded buses. A fellow-traveler got so irate at the failure of the bus doors to open at his stop that he yanked them apart, breaking them. The driver promptly threw us off the bus, leaving us to make our way as best we could. We got there in the end. When visiting the Pantheon, we bumped into an ex member of staff at the school where I'm a governor. How strange is that? The only trouble with Rome (apart from striking Metro drivers) is the hordes of selfie-snapping tourists cluttering up the place. Like, er, us. 

Anyway, we really enjoyed it. A very special holiday. Venice next.