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

Common Grace: How God Blessed the Nations in the Age of Abraham

rainbowGod’s covenant with Noah is often described as the covenant of common grace, and rightly so. In the wake of God’s judgment on the earth, the heart of humanity remains unchanged (cp. Gen. 6:5 and 8:21), yet for God to bring redemption to the world, some measure of preservation must be granted. Therefore, with strong covenantal language—berith occurs 7 times (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) in Genesis 9—God promises to uphold creation: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22).

These promises to Noah envelope all creation and articulate God’s common grace—his universal beneficence towards a world filled with sin. In other words, common grace is common because it encompasses all humanity universally, not because it is mundane. Common grace is distinct from saving grace in that the former does not atone for sins or grant eternal life. Rather, it grants “grace” to the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45) and provides a historical context for saving grace to operate.

That being said, common grace is not equally apportioned. It is not like the periodic table, where every element possesses the same atomic weight. Rather, common grace is specific in that it often depends upon the saving grace given to God’s chosen people. In other words, just as common grace is promised through the Noahic covenant, so common grace continues to be mediated through other covenantal mediators. In Scripture, the first instance of this is Abraham.
Continue reading

Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

nahum05Getting Into Nahum, or Finding Comfort in the Lord of Wrath (Nahum 1:1–8)

This week we began our second of three series out of the Minor Prophets, better known as the Book of the Twelve. After considering God’s grace in the book of Jonah, we began to consider the complementary aspect of his holy justice from the book of Nahum. In two more weeks, we’ll finish our study of the Minor Prophets by looking at Haggai.

As for Nahum, it serves as Part 2 inf God’s message to the city of Nineveh. Whereas the book of Jonah is Part 1, a message of God’s grace inviting repentance; Nahum returns to that city to show the wrath of God when a people return to their evil ways. In this message, we looked both at how to read Nahum in the context of the Twelve and how Nahum’s record of God’s judgment on Nineveh serves as a word of comfort to people who seek refuge in the Lord.

You can listen to this sermon online. Discussion questions are below, as well as further resources for additional study. Continue reading

Where Grace and Justice Meet: A Canonical Reading of Exodus 34:6–7

guido-jansen-400639-unsplash.jpgThe Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
— Exodus 34:6–7 —

Exodus 34:6–7 is one of the most important passages in the Bible. It’s also one of the more problematic. For how can God be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and quick to forgive but also unwilling to forgive the guilty (“who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children . . .”)? Doesn’t God’s self-revelation contain, at its heart, a significant contradiction?

Some have thought so, even solving the dilemma by debating the compositional history of Exodus 34, or denying its literary unity (see Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known155). But for those who read Exodus as God’s inspired Word, such critical workarounds don’t work. Thus, we must consider how God’s mercy and justice are not two opposing attributes that bring conflict into God’s character. Instead, they are two aspects of God’s undivided holy nature, which reveal themselves perfectly in God’s relationship with his creation.

On this subject Ross Blackburn has been helpful as he reads Exodus 34 in light of the whole canon, with special attention to Exodus 20:5–6. Following Blackburn’s canonical exegesis, we can press deeper into the nature of God’s holy character and then work forward in redemptive history to see how Exodus 34:6–7 informs God’s mercy and justice in places like Jonah 3–4 and Nahum 1, where Exodus 34 is in both books but in different ways towards the people of Nineveh.  Continue reading

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

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

Hearing the Voice of God: Ten Axioms About God’s Authorship of Scripture

bible“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”
– Proverbs 1:7 –

“The fear of the Author is the beginning of literary understanding”
– Kevin Vanhoozer[1]

This morning, I have the privilege of beginning a series of “studies” on hermeneutics and biblical interpretation among the men at my church. The title I’ve chosen is “Toward Doxology and Discipleship: Presuppositions and Principles for a Trinitarian Reading of Scripture.”

Influenced by the work of Kevin Vanhoozer, my aim is to lay out three presuppositions in the next three months concerning the three horizons of communications—author, text, and recipient(s). By taking a trinitarian approach—where we see the Father as speaker, the Son as the content of Scripture, and the Spirit as the One who enables people  to rightly receive understand God’s speech—can are ready to rightly read Scripture.

Only after this triad of communicative presuppositions, can we employ biblical principles that cohere with God’s inspired Word.  That’s the goal of the next three studies, where I hope to outline the three horizons of the biblical text to show how every interpreter of of the Bible must do justice to the textual, covenantal, and canonical horizons (so Edmund Clowney, Richard Lints, etc.). Only by reading texts with respect to grammar and history, covenantal or epochal placement in the Bible, and the final revelation of Christ in God’s canon can we fully appreciated all Scripture has to say to us, indeed what God is speaking to us even today (see Hebrews 3:7).

If you are interested, I’ve included my notes for this week and listed below my ten concluding “axioms” that show the cash value of starting with the doctrine of God, and more specifically why bringing his Authorship to the forefront is imperative for good hermeneutics. If hermeneutics is “your thing,” or if it is not, I’d love your feedback. Continue reading

A Severe Mercy: Rediscovering the Holiness of God

ok
Note then the kindness and severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen,
but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness.
— Romans 11:22 —

When God created Adam and Eve, he endowed them with a holy calling to worship Him. In fact, made for God’s glory, it was the chief design of humanity to worship and serve the Creator—not only in holy assembly but in every human endeavor (cf. Col 3:17, 23).

Sadly, this original design was lost when the first couple rebelled against God (Gen 3:1–6). Seeking to be like God, they spurned their Creator. As Paul puts it, “For although they knew God, they did no honor him as God or give thanks to him, . . . Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” of created things (Rom 1:21–23).

The Idolatry of Self

In context, Paul is speaking about Gentiles, but indeed, he is using the backdrop of the Garden to explain the source of humanity’s sin. In a word, sin finds its source in idolatry (cf. Jer 2:13). Human hearts are compelled to worship, but after Eden, the Adam’s offspring worship what their hands can make, what their minds can imagine. Even the most avowed atheist cannot stop worshiping—even if he only worships himself. 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