A Severe Mercy: Rediscovering the Holiness of God

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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

Our Sovereign God

sovereign

Compatibilism is the term of choice for how God’s absolute sovereignty rules in the universe without stripping man’s responsibility to choose and make decisions that have real, live consequences. Like ‘Trinity,’ ‘inerrancy,’ and ‘homoousia,’ compatibilism is not a ‘Bible word,’ but it summarizes what the Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Today, I want to look at a sampling of Scriptures to help explain how the Bible talks about God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. To begin with, it might be helpful to state exactly what compatibilism is. Here is D. A. Carson’s definition from his book on suffering: How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil.

(1) God is absolutely sovereign, but his sovereignty never functions in such a way that human responsibility is curtailed, minimized, or [negated].

(2) Human beings are morally responsible creatures—[we] significantly choose, rebel, obey, believe, defy, make decisions… but this characteristic never functions so as to make God absolutely contingent.­[1]

With this definition in place, lets consider from Scripture how the Bible describes the relationship between God’s exhaustive, meticulous sovereignty and man’s freedom to choose.  Continue reading

How Can We Know an Invisible God?

Colossians 1:15 says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Set in the context of a hymn worshiping Christ for his works of creation, providence, and salvation, Paul reflects on this sublime truth: The invisible God who dwells in unapproachable light has made himself known in the identity of Jesus Christ.

Set at the center of the Christian gospel, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, ties at least three truths about God together. If you are wondering how you can know an invisible God, perhaps this biblical meditation might help. Continue reading

The Ways of Our God: God’s Order (1)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way.  Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.”  For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.

  1. The Living God.  Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history.  According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107).  These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God.  He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT.  One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation.  In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God.  Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
  2. The Lord of Creation.  Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order.  He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer.  Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God).  He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3).  He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history.  Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world. 

    His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87).  The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.

  3. The Lord of History.  Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history.  These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202).  Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04).  Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion).  The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity.  (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
  4. The Adversary.  Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself.  He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable.  He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.  However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist.  Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
  5. The Spirit.  Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296).  However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent.  In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296).  I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today.  Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295).  He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297).  On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.

More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss