"So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man."
Friday, December 24, 2021
Christmas theology according to the Westminster and Baptist 1689 Confessions
Monday, December 13, 2021
Christmas as planned
As we know from last year, Christmas doesn’t always go according to plan. With infection rates on the up the government reimposed Covid restrictions. Plans for festive reunions with family and friends had to be shelved. Hopefully that won’t happen again this time.*
Hopefully. The pandemic has certainly reminded us that our best laid plans may be disrupted. We are only human after all. None of us knows what challenges the future may bring. But the first Christmas happened exactly according to plan.
According to the Bible that plan was revealed almost as soon as the first human beings had sinned against God by defying his command. The Lord promised that a deliverer would come to break the power of sin and death. The fulfilment of that promise is the golden thread that runs through the Bible’s story.
God promised Abraham that one of his descendants would bring the blessings of salvation to all peoples. The Lord told King David that from his royal family line would come a king who would bring hope to the world. Then, in the fulness of time God sent his Son the Lord Jesus. He came as one of us, born of Mary. His birthplace was Bethlehem, the City of David. Just as the ancient prophets foretold.
All went exactly according to plan. As Jesus grew up he knew that God’s plan meant he was going to have to lay down his life and then rise from the dead to break the power of sin and death. And so he did. By faith in Jesus we can know forgiveness of sin and the hope of everlasting life. Nothing can separate the believer from God’s love in the Lord Jesus. You can be sure of that because while our plans often fail, God’s never will.
*For local parish magazines, deadline mid-November, before the discovery of the Omicron variant
Wednesday, November 10, 2021
Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams
Friday, October 22, 2021
The Way of Forgiveness
‘Unforgiveable’. That might well be our reaction to the cruel murder of the MP David Amess. By all accounts he was a decent and honourable man who sought to do his best by the Southend constituents he was elected to serve. The culprit will no doubt face justice. Questions will be asked about the effectiveness of the deradicalisation programme, Prevent. All right and good. Yet the MP’s grief-shattered family called not for recriminations, but asked that “people to set aside their differences and show kindness”.
Kindness and forgiveness seem to be in short supply these days. England cricketer Ollie Robinson was suspended for foolish tweets he posted when a teenager, for which he sincerely apologised when they came to light. Universities used to style themselves as champions of free speech where students would go to have their ideas challenged. Not so much these days. Students at the University of Sussex demanded that Professor Kathleen Stock be sacked from her post. Her questioning of transgender ideology was deemed beyond the pale. The professor has been subjected to such angry intimidation that she now needs bodyguards to escort her to lectures. Social media has only amplified tensions, with 'Twitter mobs' piling on people whose views are regarded as 'problematic'.
Politely ‘agreeing to disagree’ is no longer enough. Step out of line and you might find yourself ‘cancelled’, with little hope of redemption. But who of us is perfect in thought, word and deed? The Christian faith reminds us that we are all sinners. Every one of us falls far short of God’s perfect standard of righteousness and truth. That is why we need forgiveness. The wonderful thing is that God has provided the way of forgiveness through his Son, Jesus. He was ‘cancelled’, condemned to death by crucifixion. There on the cross Jesus died for the sins of the world. All who believe in him are forgiven and put right with God. Jesus taught his followers to pray, ‘Father, forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.’
As a society we desperately need to recover the idea that the lost can be found and the guilty forgiven. The cross of Jesus is a good place to start.
*Edited versions in various local publications for November: Trinity Magazine Dilton Marsh, News & Views West Lavington, Market Lavington & Easterton Church & Community News, and White Horse News Westbury.
Tuesday, July 20, 2021
Letter to Robert Jenrick objecting to Westbury Waste Incinerator Plant
Secretary of State
Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government
2 Marsham Street,
We are writing to object to the granting of planning approval for the Waste Incinerator plant at Northacre Industrial Estate, Westbury by the Strategic Planning Panel of Wiltshire Council in June 2021. This was despite over 2000 objections made by local residents, as well as opposition from Westbury Town Council and seventeen other neighbouring town and parish councils.
Many people living in the Westbury already suffer with chronic health problems. Cancer and lung condition deaths are higher here than across Wiltshire. Poor air quality has been exacerbated by HGVs being diverted from Bath onto the A350 through Westbury.
The incinerator would mean an estimated additional 20,000 truck journeys a year around the town. Smoke belching from the incinerator chimney would make the situation even worse, further damaging the health of Westbury residents.
Arla Foods (Westbury) Ltd are so concerned about the impact of the plant on air quality that they have threatened to close their dairy if the waste incinerator is allowed to go ahead, resulting in the loss of at least 250 jobs.
The incinerator will increase CO2 emissions, flying in the face of the government’s Climate Emergency Commitments. The children and young people of the town deserve better than to have their lives blighted by growing up in the shadow of this environmentally disastrous development.
I understand our local MP The Rt. Hon Dr Andrew Murrison has written to you asking that you ‘call in’ the decision of the Strategic Planning Panel for review. In the light of overwhelming local objections, I would ask that you overturn planning approval for siting a waste incinerator plant in Westbury, where it is certainly not wanted.
Thursday, July 08, 2021
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, by Carl R. Trueman
Thursday, July 01, 2021
Methodism: 'an alien place for conservative evangelicals'
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Subordination? Another Shedd-load of Trinitarian theology
While there is this absolute equality among divine persons in respect to the grade of being to which they belong, and all are alike infinite and uncreated in nature and essence, there is at the same time a kind of subordination among them....As a relation, sonship is subordinate to fatherhood. (p. 301).
Shedd distinguishes his position from Arianism, which teaches subordination of essence as well as person. But he is clear that an element of subordination is intrinsic to the relation between the Father and the Son. Subordination cannot be limited to the Son's mediatorial role, "This... involves condescension and humiliation; but the trinitarian subordination does not. It is no humiliation or condescension for a son to be the son of his father." (p. 302).
This subordination is rooted in the eternal relations of origin according to which the Father is unbegotten, the Son is eternally begotten of the Father and the Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. The external actions of the Trinity are undivided. That is because, "In every external operation of a person, the whole essence operates, because the whole essence is in each person. The operation, consequently, while peculiar to a person, is at the same time essential, that is, is wrought by that one divine essence which is also and alike in the other persons." (p. 304-305). But when it comes to the internal actions, only the Father may be said to beget and only the Father and Son may be said to spirate. Accordingly,
The internal characteristics include the order according to which the Father is immutably the first, the Son immutably the second, the Spirit immutably the third person of the Trinity, and the ground or foundation of this order in certain constitutional and necessary acts in the divine essence. (p. 302).
The view advanced by Shedd is far from the Eternal Relation of Authority and Submission of the Father in relation to the Son that is advocated by some contemporary Evangelical theologians. Unlike them Shedd does not teach that will is an attribute of the persons, rather than the divine essence, and that the Son eternally submitted his will to that of the Father. Neither does Shedd suggest that the Father possesses a personal attribute of authority that the Son does not share. Divine authority is a perfection of God's being, which is possessed wholly and without division by all three persons. The the persons may be distinguished only in terms of the eternal relations of origin and in no other way.
What Shedd does say is that being Son involves subordination to the Father according to the order of persons in the Trinity, "It relates only to the personal characteristics of paternity, filiation, and procession." (p. 303). He does not make this point, but it is commonplace in classic Trinitarian theology to hold that the economic missions of the Trinity reflect the eternal processions. The persons are not interchangeable and so it was fitting that the Son was sent into the world by the Father and that the Holy Spirit was poured out by the Son from the Father. Herman Bavinck spells this out,
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).
Unlike Shedd, however, theologians in the classic tradition have tended to avoid using the language of 'subordination', which smacks of Arianism. Although as already pointed out, Shedd is careful to distinguish what he calls 'trinitarian subordination' from any idea that the Son's essence is in any way inferior to that of the Father. The Particular Baptist pastor-theologian John Gill (1697-1771) better represents classic Trinitarianism. In his discussion of the doctrine of the Trinity Gill explicitly rules out any notion of subordination when it comes both to the Son's essence and person,
Christ, as all sound divines hold, is αυτοθεος, “God of himself”, and independent of any other, though he is the Son of the Father; and as the distinct personality of the Son of God arises from his relation to his Father as such, so the distinct personality of the Father arises from his relation to his Son as such; hence the distinct personality of the one, is no more dependent, than the distinct personality of the other; and both arise from their mutual relation to each other; and both arise and commence together, and not one before the other; and both are founded in eternal generation. (Gill, John. A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (With Active TOC and Bible Links) . E4 Group. Kindle Edition.)
And he goes on to say,
As to subordination and subjection, and inequality, which it is supposed the Sonship of Christ by generation implies; it may be answered, that Christ in his office-capacity, in which he, as Mediator, is a Servant, and as he is man, and appeared in the form of one; it will be acknowledged, that he is subordinate and subject to the Father; but not as he is the Son of God: and whatever inequality sonship may imply among men, it implies no such thing in the divine nature, among the divine persons; who in it subsist in perfect equality with one another; and in particular, the Scriptures represent the Son of God as equal to his Father, as one who thought it no robbery to be equal with God; being of the same nature, and having the same perfections with him, and that he is equal to him with respect to power and authority; for with respect to power he says, “I and my Father are one”; and they represent him as having the same claim to equal honour, homage, and worship; since all men are “to honour the Son, as they honour the Father”; not as in subordination to him, but as equal with him. (Gill, John. A Complete Body of Doctrinal and Practical Divinity (With Active TOC and Bible Links) . E4 Group. Kindle Edition.)
What Shedd denies Gill affirms, namely that it is only in respect to his 'office capacity... as Mediator' that Christ may be said to be subordinate to the Father. The Son assumed the role of Mediator in eternity. The counsel of redemption was an expression of the one will of God differently appropriated by the three persons so that the Father would send the Son, the Son would be sent by the Father and the Spirit would be sent by the Father and the Son. The economic missions reflected the order of the eternal processions, but the processions do not involve any hint of subordination. The divine persons 'subsist in perfect equality' (Gill). The Son's subordination to the Father was official, not essential, or personal. Although the Son was 'in the form of God', he 'did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped [held onto at all costs], but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-8).
Quotations from Dogmatic Theology Volume I, Klock & Klock 1979 reprint. You can also find a e-copy online, but the pagination is different, here. See p. 5 of the PDF for clickable contents. Also, see here for an article by Michael Haykin on John Gill and His Defence of the Trinity.
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
The Journey to the Mayflower: God’s Outlaws and the Invention of Freedom, by Stephen Tomkins
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Bavinck: A Critical Biography, James Eglinton
Monday, June 14, 2021
On the divine persons: a Shedd-load of Trinitarian theology
The whole undivided divine nature is in each divine person simultaneously and eternally. The modifying of divine nature by eternal generation and spiration does not divide the nature, as temporal generation does, but leaves it whole and entire, so that the substance of the begotten Son and the spirated Spirit is numerically and identically that of the unbegotten and unspirated Father. (p. 278).
Shedd then proceeds to discuss how the three persons relate each to the others. I quote him at length,
Revelation clearly teaches that these personal characteristics are so marked and peculiar that the three divine persons are objective to each other. God the Father and God the Son are so distinct from each other that some actions which can be ascribed to the one cannot be ascribed to the other. The Father "sends" the Son; this act of sending the Son cannot be attributed to the Son. The Father "loves" the Son; this act of loving the Son cannot be ascribed to the Son. An examination of the Scriptures gives the following series of twelve actions and relations of the three trinitarian persons, which prove that they are objective to one another, that one may do or experience something that is personal to himself and is not personal to the others. One divine person … loves another (John 3:35) dwells in another (John 14:10–11) suffers from another (Zech. 13:7) knows another (Matt. 11:27) addresses another (Heb. 1:8) is the way to another (John 14:6) speaks of another (Luke 3:22) glorifies another (John 17:5) confers with another (Gen. 1:26; 11:7) plans with another (Isa. 9:6) sends another (Gen. 16:7; John 14:26) rewards another (Phil. 2:5–11; Heb. 2:9) Here are twelve different actions and relations which demonstrate that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not one and the same person. (p. 279).
Each person of the Trinity stands in an 'I"-"Thou" relation to the others. Shedd teases out what that means for the divine self-consciousness, "And the three persons are so real and distinct from each other that each possesses a hypostatic or trinitarian consciousness different from that of the others. The second person is conscious that he is the Son and not the Father, when he says, "O Father, glorify me" (John 17:5). The first person is conscious that he is the Father and not the Son, when he says, "You are my Son, this day have I begotten you" (Heb. 1:5). The third person is conscious that he is the Spirit and neither the Father nor the Son, when he says, "Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them" (Acts 13:2)." (p. 282).
But that does not mean that the divine persons are three individual centres of self-consciousness, akin to three human persons having a chat. Shedd is no social Trinitarian. He explains, "These three hypostatic consciousnesses constitute the one self-consciousness of divine essence. By reason of and as the result of these three forms of consciousness, divine essence is self-contemplative, self-cognitive, and self-communing. Though there are three forms of consciousness, there are not three essences or three understandings or three wills in the Godhead because a consciousness is not an essence or an understanding or a will. There is only one essence, having one understanding and one will. But this unity of essence, understanding, and will has three different forms of consciousness: paternal, filial, and spiritual because it has three different forms of subsistence, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit." Shedd draws an analogy between the divine essence in relation to the persons and the divine self-consciousness and the hypostatic/personal consciousnesses, "As the one divine essence is the same thing with the three persons, and not a fourth different thing by itself, so the one divine self-consciousness is the same thing with the three hypostatic consciousnesses and not a fourth different thing by itself." (p. 282-283).
Shedd's handling of the doctrine of the Trinity has relevance for debates within Evangelicalism on the Eternal Relational Submission (ERS) of the Son to the Father. Advocates of ERS sometimes argue that classic Trinitarianism fails to do justice to divine personhood, having little to say beyond the eternal relations of origin. As Shedd makes clear, however, Father, Son and Holy Spirit each stand in an "I"-"Thou" relation to the others. But that does not mean we should attribute an individual will to each person, or posit that each is a distinct centre of self-consciousness. As Shedd rightly underlines, will is an attribute of the divine being and there is only one self-consciousness in God. The theologian's distinction between the personal consciousness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and the singular divine self-consciousness is a useful safeguard against social Trinitarianism. "The three hypostatical [personal] consciousnesses in their combination and unity constitute the one self-consciousness." (p. 283).
You never know what useful stuff may be found lying around in the Shedd. I may rummage around a little more.
Quotations from Dogmatic Theology Volume I, Klock & Klock 1979 reprint. You can also find a e-copy online, but the pagination is different, here. See p. 5 of the PDF for clickable contents.
Friday, June 11, 2021
The pandemic has deprived us of many of the things that fill life with joy. Until recently we were unable to see, let alone hug loved ones who live outside our area. Cinemas, pubs and restaurants were closed. Beauty spots were off limits. Many were furloughed and so deprived of the camaraderie of the workplace and a sense of job satisfaction. Children were unable to meet their friends in school. It’s been tough.
Thankfully, we are now emerging from lockdown and are free to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life once more. A welcome sign of a return to normality was the FA Cup Final featuring Chelsea vs Leicester City, with 21,000 fans in attendance. As is traditional, the hymn ‘Abide with Me’ was sung before kick off. The words seemed to have added poignancy this year,
O Thou who changest not, abide with me
Whether the emergence of new Covid variants will hinder the removal of all remaining restrictions on 21 June remains to be seen. If our chief joy in life is based on circumstances, our happiness will fluctuate wildly as we encounter good times and bad. The hymn is addressed to the Lord Jesus, the source of unchanging joy.
Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead that we may have the hope of everlasting life. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. If our joy is in him, nothing on earth can touch it. Jesus shines through the gloom to point us to the skies. “In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.”
* For June editions of local News & Views and Trinity parish magazines