The Lord’s Reign: Herman Bavinck on the Scriptural Sense of God’s Transcendence

paige-weber-974172-unsplash.jpgThe Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
— Psalm 103:19 —

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.
— Isaiah 57:15 —

Where is God?

In one sense, God is everywhere (Ps. 139:7–12). In another, God is outside of space and time (1 Kings 8:27). Still, in a third way, Scripture speaks of God as dwelling in heaven, high above his creation (Isa 57:15; cf. Ps. 135:6). Yet, it is important to remember God’s place in heaven is not outside of creation. Rather, it is the created place for the glorious and uncreated God to dwell within creation.

From that divine throne, God rules all creation. And in creation, God reveals himself to us in his world and in his word. Bringing these big and beautiful realities together, Herman Bavinck describes what it means for God to be over and in creation. Doctrinally, these realities are expressed by the terms transcendence and immanence. And in the newly released volume Philosophy of RevelationBavinck has this to say about a scriptural sense of God’s transcendence: Continue reading

Read the Whole Bible as a Whole Bible: Rejecting Critical Source Theory and Reconciling Genesis 1 and 2

alexander-michl-724529-unsplashOne of the great questions about the opening chapters of Genesis is the relationship of the two creation accounts. Are Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 two different accounts? From two different sources? Or is there a rhyme and reason for the repetition and ostensible differences between the six days of creation in Genesis 1 and the formation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2?

Since Julius Wellhausen—a pioneering German scholar in the 19th C who advocated a source theory to the Pentateuch and who fabricated a competition between priests and Levites behind the Bible—there has grown a small cottage industry arguing that the books of Moses and the opening chapters of Genesis have multiple authors. While various “documentary hypotheses” have been put forward, four sources have often been posited. Labeled by the letters E, J, P, D, these four sources are various traditions in Israel—respectively, Elohim, Jehovah, Priestly, and Deuteronomist.

I first encountered this higher-critical approach to the Bible in my liberal arts college—stress on the word liberal. Though I had no way of knowing how to counteract this teaching at the time, I have since seen how reductionistic and unfaithful this approach is to the Bible. In particular, it short-circuits any theological intentions of the original author. In other words, whenever a tension or apparent contradiction is observed, the solution is to attribute contrasts to various sources behind the Bible. Consequently, it denies the need to wrestle with the text and understand the author’s original text.

In this way, it actually diminishes scholarship and the theological glory of the biblical text. That is, it reduces the weight of the full revelation of God. And thus, I happily and unswervingly repudiate the source theory of the Bible. Likewise, I give praise to God for Old Testament scholars who stand against the critical consensus and write for the upbuilding of the church. Continue reading

Somewhere Between History and Fantasy: Read(ing) Genesis 1–11 Theologically

greg-rakozy-38802Few places in Scripture are more important, more debated, or more theologically-rich than Genesis 1–11. As to their importance, they introduce the Bible to God and his purposes in the world; as to debate, they were polemical from the start, as Moses wrote these chapters to combat other creation stories in the ancient Near East; and as to theology, these eleven chapters introduce nearly every doctrine found in the rest of Scripture.

It is to this last point, the theological message of Genesis 1–11, that I want to address. Affirming the historicity of God’s direct creation of mankind on the sixth day, it seems the best way to read these chapters is as a poetical—dare I say, fantastical—introduction of Israel to the God of Creation, who happens to be their covenant Lord.

Thus, as Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen rightly assess, citing the earlier observation of Gerhard von Rad (Genesis: A Commentary, 46): “The creation story is so rich in meaning that ‘it cannot be easily over-interpreted theologically'” (The Drama of Scripture28). Indeed, from the creation of the world to its subsequent recreation after the Flood, the first eleven chapters of Genesis are seminal ground for all that will grow up in the rest of Scripture. For the careful biblical theologian, these chapters are worth a life-long study, and what follows are simply seed-thoughts that can and should be traced back to the beginning.  Continue reading

Six Biblical Evidences for a Covenant in Creation

covenantA few years ago, Crossway Books began a series called Short Studies in Biblical Theology. These books are wonderful introductions to various topics on biblical theology. So far they have included,

Most recently, I read Tom Schreiner’s book on covenant, where in 120 pages he unpacks in plain language the biblical covenants from the covenant in creation to the new covenant in Christ. While the whole book is worth reading, I found his discussion on the first covenant a helpful introduction to God’s with mankind mediated through Adam, what some have called a creation covenant.

Six Evidences for a Covenant in Creation

On this disputed understanding of Genesis 1–2, Tom Schreiner summarizes six reasons for seeing a covenant in creation. While his work does not delve into the technical aspects of the debate, his clear presentation should give the reader a strong biblical case for seeing God’s creation in covenantal terms.

Here is a summarized version of his list with a few reflections on his points. Continue reading

Starting with Adam: Seeing How the Priesthood Begins in Genesis 1–2

gateEarlier this year, The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology published my article on typology. In it I argued for a “covenantal topography,” i.e., a semi-predictable pattern which all biblical types follow as they develop through the covenant history of the Bible. In that article, I focused on the priesthood as an example of how types develop from creation through the patriarchs, the law, and prophets. Ultimately, they culminate in Jesus Christ and by extension apply to those in Christ. At least, that’s the argument I made.

If you are interested in typology and how the Bible fits together, this article (“From Beelines to Plotlines: Typology That Follows the Covenantal Topography of Scripture“) may be worth considering (or critiquing, or I hope considering and improving). For today, I share the first phase of the priesthood, to show how priestly themes begin in Genesis with the creation of Adam as the first royal priest. Continue reading

Don’t Waste Your Blizzard: A Snowy Meditation on God’s Power and Purity

snow“He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?”
— Psalm 147:17 —

10:00am on Saturday: With sixteen inches on the ground and sixteen hours left of Jonas I look outside my window and think: “Who can stand before his cold?”

10:00am on Sunday: Unable to gather with our church family, what can I say to my children about the blizzard of 2016? How can I help them know the God of creation and redemption, through this memorable storm? How can we pray for those suffering under its effects?

What follows is a biblical theological long-read on what Scripture says about snow, icy cold, and winter weather, along with a short family devotional for anyone interested.

(No) Snow in the Beginning

In the beginning, there was water but not snow. On the second day God separated the waters in the sky from the waters on the earth (Gen 1:6–8); on the third day he gathered the waters on the earth, forming the dry ground (Gen 1:9–10). In Genesis 2, we learn “mist was going up from the land watering the whole face of the ground” (v. 6) and “a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there is divided and became four rivers” (v. 10). So before Adam sinned (Genesis 3) and God subjected the earth to futility (Romans 8:18–22), the had plenty of water, but no subzero temperatures to create ice crystals and snow squalls. Continue reading

The Doctrine of Creation: A Necessary Part of Our Worship and Evangelism

auroraCould it be that Christ-centered Christians can all too easily forget that the God of the cross is also the God of creation?

Not long ago I was visiting with some church leaders and the topic of transgender persons came up. While a number of good strategies were mentioned about sharing the gospel with them (and all people who sinfully rejected God’s moral norms for their sex lives) there were questions about what is wrong with a man desiring to be a woman, or the reverse. “Which verse does a transgender person violate?” was the question.

The short answer (and this again goes for all persons) is “all of them.” In Adam, all of us are guilty before our maker (Rom 5:12, 18–19). By nature, we are inveterate rebels. We don’t need a verse addressing our specific manifestation of sin, although there are plenty. The whole Bible speaks to the sinful condition of mankind—transgender persons included. Just read Romans 1:18–32 or Albert Mohler’s insightful “Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis.” Sexual morality is far more than keeping all the laws.

But specific answers aside, I think there is a larger need in evangelical churches—namely, the remembrance that we do not worship God as Redeemer only, but also as Creator. In fact, in biblical revelation he is first Creator first, then Redeemer. And even in redemption, the goal is new creation—personal (2 Cor 5:17) and cosmic (Matt 19:28; Revelation 21–22).

In sharing the gospel, we must not forget that sin is not just law-breaking; it is anything that opposes or deviates from God’s created design. But we will only remember this doctrine of creation, if we give ourselves to worship God as Creator.

And for that reason, I offer give you six ways God’s creation should move you to worship and evangelize. Continue reading

What Happened “Before the Foundation of the World”?

worldIn the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth. From nothing, the triune God made everything. Light, land, and lemmings all came from his all-powerful world. Genesis 1 records this marvelous, six-day creation, and the rest of the Bible treats the universe as one that had a beginning.

But what was there before the beginning?

Before the Foundation of the World

While Genesis starts with creation, later revelation explains that God was active before the beginning. John 1, which takes its cues from Moses’ introduction, says that in the beginning the Word already was: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (vv. 1–2). John’s grammar makes it plain that the Son of God, the Word, was already existing when the world was made. And John is not alone, Matthew, Paul, and Peter all reveal an awareness of events transpiring in the mind of God before he spoke light into the darkness.

On Sunday, my sermon considered one of the passages that speaks about what transpired before creation. Titus 1:2 says of eternal life that it was promised before the ages began. With such a phrase, it is worth asking what does the Bible say happened before the foundation of the world? Since the phrase “ before the foundation of the world” occurs five times in the NT, and “before the ages” three times, it will be profitable to list these verses and see what they say. While space doesn’t permit an explanation of each passage, let me simply draw your attention to them. Continue reading

With Calvin in the Theater of God

glory1A few years ago I read through some of  With Calvin in the Theater of God (by John Piper and David Mathis). The book spotlights a reality of Calvin’s theology that has been noticed by many who read him: Calvin was enthralled with the creation of God because in it he perceived the manifold perfections of the God of Creation. Might we all be so observant of God’s glory.

This morning, as I have picked up Calvin’s two volume devotional—what others consider his theological treatise—I was struck by Calvin’s wonder at God’s creation and the way it calls men and women made in his image to see God in his creation. Although the translation below (which is available for free online) is a little more difficult to read than Battles’ translation, it captures the same breathtaking truth: Man is not excused from worshiping God, because all creation testifies to God’s beauty.

Consider Calvin’s Scripture-saturated meditation and drink in the wonder of how God has revealed himself in creation:

Since the perfection of blessedness consists in the knowledge of God, he has been pleased, in order that none might be excluded from the means of obtaining felicity, not only to deposit in our minds that seed of religion of which we have already spoken, but so to manifest his perfections in the whole structure of the universe, and daily place himself in our view, that we cannot open our eyes without being compelled to behold him. Continue reading

The Goodness of Creation (Genesis 1:31)

Genesis 1:31And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

“Sin is a later intrusion into an originally good creation. It is not inherent in the world, and so it can be completely removed when God achieves his purposes in the consummation (Rev. 22:3–5)” (“History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ,” ESV Study Bible’s, p. 2635).

Genesis 1:31 stands at the end of God’s creative work and registers his evaluation of the world. It was not as though God was uncertain that would he made would be good. Rather, when the paint dried on his cosmological temple, he could with supreme satisfaction state: “It is very good.”

Already in Genesis, Elohim had said (six times), “It is good” (vv. 3, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). Now, God’s seventh word confirms the perfection with which our Creator made the world.  This statement, which follows the creation of mankind, is heightened by the modifier “very,” and it indicates that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that with Adam and Eve, the capstone of creation has been put in place (see Psalm 8).  In context, this statement provides four foundational truths. Continue reading