The Perfect Knowledge of God

jeremy-thomas-98201.jpgOmniscience is a word that describes the reality that God knows everything—everything past, present, and future; everything in heaven or on earth; everything real and everything potential. Everything. But more than just having an encyclopedic knowledge of his creation—which God does—Scripture shows how God’s universal knowledge brings particular blessing and judgment to the world, to those people whom he knows particularly as his own.

One place where God’s knowledge is seen is an instance in Genesis 18, where the Lord reveals his future plans to Abraham. The key verses are Genesis 18:16–21:

Then the men set out from there, and they looked down toward Sodom. And Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17 The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.” 20 Then the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, 21 I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.”

From these six verses, we learn four truths about God’s perfect knowledge and how the Lord who knows everything relates to his creation. Continue reading

Seeing the Trinity by Re-Reading Isaiah 61

dawid-sobolewski-271380In his excellent book on the Trinity, Fred Sanders makes a number of key observations related to seeing (and not seeing) the Trinity in the Old Testament. (This subject takes up the whole of chapter 8 in The Triune God).

  1. A biblical formulation of the Trinity triuneshould not begin with the Old Testament. Because the doctrine is revealed in the historical events of the Incarnation and Pentecost, not the propositions of the text, we must begin with the events recorded in the New Testament, not the hints contained in the Old. Sanders rightly corrects strictly chronological approaches to the Trinity: “The root idea of revelation is not verbal announcement but the unveiling or disclosing of something that has been present, though concealed. . . . The triunity of God was revealed when the persons of the Trinity became present among us in a new way, showing up in person and becoming the object of our human observation” (40).
  2. With the full revelation of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we can look backwards to see “adumbrations” of the Trinity in the Old Testament. As Sanders notes, “The doctrine of the Trinity did not arise and cannot stand without the Old Testament, but the Old Testament’s usefulness for Trinitarianism is retrospective and dependent on the light provided by the fullness of revelation” (212).
  3. In this way, the doctrine of the Trinity is a ‘mystery’ in the biblical sense. In the New Testament, mysterion speaks of those realities that were once hidden, but are now revealed. The Trinity fits well into this biblical category: “God did not yet reveal his triunity until the fullness of time had come. The Trinity is a mystery in the biblical sense: always true, once concealed, now revealed” (210).
  4. More specifically, trinitarian exegesis in the Old Testament is prosoponic (from the Greek word for person). Prosoponic or “prosopological exegesis is a technical expression, but an important one for discussions about the Trinity. It simply means reading the Old Testament in light of the New, where the persons (prosopon) are distinguished in the Old Testament text. “Having met Christ and the Spirit [in the Incarnation and Pentecost], we can look for them in the Old Testament in a way we could not have without having met them in person” (227).
  5. Prosoponic exegesis requires rereading. “What is required for doctrinal interpretation of the Old Testament is a hermeneutical framework that acknowledge the complex structures of the revelation, and an approach to reading the documents that precede and follow the revelation. The key hermeneutical category for this kind of interpretation is rereading” (215, emphasis mine). In rereading, we gain new understanding, insight not available on a first reading. In this way, readers do not add meaning to the text, but instead see the text in the fullness of later revelation. A good example of this is reading Genesis 1 in light of John 1, Colossians 1, and Hebrews 1.

From hermeneutical commitments like these, Sanders helps us get our bearings on reading the Old Testament. In fact, his chapter on reading the Old Testament retrospectively is one of the best I’ve read on grasping the theological unity and eschatological development of the Bible. For these reasons, I would highly recommend his book, especially if you struggle to see how grammatical-historical exegesis relates to the whole Bible. Continue reading

The Arm of the Lord: From Moses to Isaiah to Christ

robert-nyman-442994In the Bible, the “arm of the Lord” is a vivid image of God’s saving power. But is it more than that? In Isaiah 59:16 and 63:5, the prophet tells how God will save his people by his own arm. In context, this builds on an important theme in Isaiah 40–66. But it also amplifies the promise of the messiah. Indeed, as we study “the arm of the Lord” across the Bible, I believe we begin to see how the “arm of the Lord” leads to the Son of God, who as Hebrews 10:5 says, citing Psalm 40, has received a body prepared by God.

Indeed, by better understanding the origin, development, and goal of this phrase (“the arm of the Lord”), we will gain greater insight into God’s Word and the work he planned for Christ to accomplish—namely the salvation of a people from all nations. Even more, we learn something about how the anthropomorphisms of the Old Testament are intended to direct us toward God in Christ.

So to organize our thoughts, lets consider the arm of the Lord in eight steps. Continue reading

Why Divine Sovereignty Secures Human Responsibility: A Theological Reading of Exodus

clayIt is often argued that God’s absolute sovereignty disables or demotivates human responsibility. But I contend it is just the opposite: a biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty secures and strengthens human responsibility. In fact, the more we see how God’s sovereign actions work in human history, the more reason we have to trust God and move out in faith.

Much confusion exists between fatalism and biblical predestination. In the former, the world is mechanistic and impersonal, God will do what he is going to do, end of story; in the latter, God in his love is at work to bring all things together for his glory and his people’s good. To be sure, God is going to do what he wants (see Psalm 115:3; 135:6), but this is good news, not bad.

When understood according to God’s Word, God’s meticulous and exhaustive sovereignty is not a reason for despair or distrust. Rather, as we will see from Exodus, God’s predestined and pre-communicated control of events is the very foundation needed to walk in humble obedience to God and his commands.

Promise and Fulfillment in Exodus Evidences the Sovereignty of God

All of Scripture follows the pattern of promise and fulfillment. Since the Fall, God has made one promise after another. He has bound these promises in covenants. And he has bound himself to fulfilling his covenanted word (see Hebrews 6:13–20). We see this is large ways, as the protoevangelion in Genesis 3:15 directs all of redemptive history until all the subsequent promises of redemptive history are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). And we see this in smaller ways, like God’s promise to Sarai that this time next year she will have a son (see Genesis 18). From Luke’s perspective, all that was ever promised by God has been fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:32–33). Hence, human faithfulness is undergirded by God’s faithfulness, which is to say human responsibility stands upon the sure, sovereign word of God.

In Exodus, a book that introduces the way God brings salvation to his people,  we can see how God’s promises are fulfilled, and how his sovereignty is more than helpful for human responsibility—it is necessary. More than five times, we find in Exodus Moses making the connection that what God said he would do, he has done. And thus, his people are meant to find confidence in Yahweh because of this, which in turn leads to greater trust and obedience. Let me mention each promise-fulfillment in Exodus, draw a couple points of application along the way, and show why God’s absolute sovereignty is good news for our faithful obedience to him. Continue reading

Augustine on the Trinity: Jesus Christ ‘In the Form of God’ and ‘In the Form of a Servant’

trinityYou heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.
— John 14:28 —

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
— Philippians 2:6–7 —

In his excellent treatise on the trinity, De TrinitateAugustine of Hippo masterfully explains the various ways in which Scripture speaks of Jesus—sometimes in the form of God, sometimes in the form of a servant. In the following quote, he reflects on the way in which John 14:28  and Philippians 2:6, at first glance, appear to make the Son look less than the Father—a doctrinal heresy known as subordinationism.

In his explanation, Augustine reminds us all that Scripture when speaking about the God-man Jesus Christ will of necessity sometimes speak of him as lesser than he is. This is not to deny his status as co-equal (of one essence) with the Father. It is to recognize the limitations of finite language, and to help disciples of Christ to worship God in all of his triune glory and grace.

I encourage you to read the following quotation slowly—it comes from Book 1, section 14 of De Trinitate. Ponder it. Look up the verses (in italicizes). Read it again. And marvel at the God who is three in one, the God who became man when the Son of God took on the form of a servant. Continue reading

Is God the Author of Sin?

stormIs God the author of sin?

This question has been asked often in the history of Christian doctrine. Some theologians, ostensibly embarrassed by God’s absolute sovereignty and what that means for sin deny his total control of the universe.  For instance, open theist Gregory Boyd writes,

Jesus nor his disciples seemed to understand God’s absolute power as absolute control. They prayed for God’s will to be done on earth, but this assumes that they understand that God’s will was not yet being done on earth (Mt. 6:10). Hence neither Jesus nor his disciples assumed that there had to be a divine purpose behind all events in history. Rather, they understood the cosmos to be populated by a myriad of free agents, some human, some angelic, and many of them evil. The manner in which events unfold in history was understood to be as much a factor of what these agents individually and collectively will as it was a matter of what God himself willed. (God at War:The Bible and Spiritual Conflict53)

By contrast, others like Augustine of Hippo (5th C.), John Calvin of Geneva (16th C.), and Jonathan Edwards of New England (18th C.) have affirmed that God who never does evil still permits, decrees, and even employs evil so that his larger purposes of grace and glory might be accomplished.  On this Edwards says in his treatise on The Freedom of the Will,

If by Author of Sin, be meant the Sinner, the Agent, or the Actor of Sin, or the Doer of a wicked thing; so it would be a reproach, to suppose God to be the author of sin. In this sense, I utterly deny God to be the author of sin. . . . But if, by Author of Sin, is meant the permitter, or not a hinder to Sin; and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such a manner, for wise, holy and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin, if it be permitted or not hindered, will most certainly and infallibly follow: I say, if this be all that is ment, by being the Author of Sin, I do not deny that God is the Author Sin, (though I dislike and reject the phrase, as that which by use and custom is apt to carry another sense) it is not reproach for the Most High to be thus the Author of Sin.” (p. 246).

Rightly, God is not evil and thus in his creative agency cannot do evil. Yet, in his divine sovereignty over time and space, he can “permit,” “ordain,” and even “author” sin in a way analogous to the way Shakespeare blamelessly authored the death of Macbeth. An author is not morally culpable for writing into their script the acts of evil men—whether fictitious (as in the case of Shakespeare) or real (as in the case of our Triune God). Therefore, since God did declare the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9–10), he wrote into the Script—what theologians call “his will of decree”—a world created inestimably good, ruined by sin, restored by his Son. Continue reading

Theology is Not Just for Theologians

theology

In other words, The­ol­ogy is prac­ti­cal: espe­cially now.
In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion,
per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God.
But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed.
Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean
that you have no ideas about God [i.e., theology].
It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones —
bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.
— C.S. Lewis —

Theology rightly understood is not a tangential part of Christian faith; it is the source, strength, and substance of vibrant faith. As A. W. Tozer famously said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (Knowledge of the Holy1). This is the core of theology—thinking God’s thoughts after him. And true theology is thinking biblically-informed thoughts about God. Theology is not an academic discipline consisting of esoteric terms, but sound doctrine that gives life and strength to every child of God made alive in Christ.

Sadly, this way of thinking about theology is often missed. Even among pastors, those called to instruct in sound doctrine, there is a sense in which theology is secondary to the real work of the ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, worship services, and church growth are elevated above “theology,” but only because they assume that each discipline and practice of the church is a-theological. In the short run, such doctrinal inattention may not create observable problems, but in the long run it will.

Paul understood this and that is why he writes in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Faithful shepherds and growing sheep follow Paul’s model and give appropriate emphasis to theology as it informs and energizes spiritual life. In fact, close attention to the New Testament shows that wherever the apostles are giving practical instruction, they are doing so from deeply theological wells.

Mark Dever, in the preface of his book on 1 Corinthians (Twelve Challenges Churches Facemakes this very point. Continue reading

Creation, the Trinity, and the Incarnation: What “God with US” says to “ME and God”

 

manger “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).
– Matthew 1:23 –

At Christmas, we remember the Eternal Son of God took on human likeness, so that the people made in his image might be reunited with their Maker. Most often when we consider the birth of Christ, we focus on the historical details—and rightly so. But it is equally appropriate to consider what the Incarnation teaches us about the Trinity and how the Trinity (God’s one-in-threeness) teaches us to reject self-centered individualism in order to live in new covenant community. Continue reading

Marveling at God’s Direction in Our Lives: An Update on the Schrocks

obcThe plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established. . . . 
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:1–3, 9 —

On Wednesday August 26, the elders of Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia (20 miles south of Washington, D.C.) unanimously called me to be the pastor of preaching at their church. Since June I have been in conversation with them about this position. In July Wendy and I had a wonderful visit with the elders. Following that trip, the elders announced my candidacy for the position of teaching elder (pastor of preaching) and for the last 30 days we (the church family and our family) have been prayerfully considering this call.

During this season of prayer, our whole family visited OBC. We loved it. Our kids loved it. And we felt increasingly convinced that God was leading in this process.

In our visit, we were deeply encouraged by the way the Word of God and the gospel was made central in all aspects of the church. We loved meeting the families at OBC and hearing their passion for Christ and work of the ministry in and through the church. I preached twice (on membership and eldership) and got to sit in on a handful of activities during the week. Long story short, we left Northern Virginia on August 17 hopeful and prayerful that we would soon return.

Next week, we will do just that. After six months of seeking the Lord and watching him direct and redirect our steps, we will load up all our earthly belongings and join God’s people in Woodbridge, Virginia.

We are incredibly excited about this move. We praise God for his faithfulness and love and provision during these months of uncertainty (=unemployment). We give thanks to him for all of you who prayed with us, encouraged us, and ministered to us. And we marvel at how he led us to OBC. It’s that story I want to share here—that this marvelous works might be magnified and that you might be encouraged in your own earthly pilgrimage. Continue reading

Theological Triage (pt. 1): Rightly Dividing Truth from Error

TriageTriage.

It is not a word that we often associate with church life, or if we do, the connotation is probably not positive. However, I think the word has great potential for helping us understand and promote unity in the church—local and universal.

In its original context, triage “means the process of sorting victims to determine medical priority in order to increase the number of survivors.”  While the term is usually placed on the battlefield or in the wake of a natural disaster, it also has an important application in the church for knowing how to rightly hold the doctrines we believe.

Applied to biblical doctrines, the term has been labeled by Albert Mohler as “theological triage,” and it basically indicates that we should sort out three different kinds of biblical belief—(1) those that separate Christians from non-Christians, (2) those that separate different churches and denominations, and (3) those that individuals may disagree about but which are overcome by greater unity on more primary matters.

Today, I will consider the first level, and later this week days I will follow up with the second and third levels to help us think about our relationship with other faiths, other churches, and other individuals in our church. Continue reading