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

How the Doctrine of the Trinity Cultivates Church Unity (1 Corinthians 1–2)

 

paulHere is a long-form piece that came from our recent sermon series on 1 Corinthians. While many commentaries do not recognize the trinitarian nature of 1 Corinthians 1–2, Paul highlights doctrines related to each member of the trinity in order foster unity in the church at Corinth. May the Lord grant doctrinal unity to his church, as its members tether themselves to his triune gospel of grace.

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What do you do when a church begins to fight? What do you say when members of the church begin to take sides and misrepresent the other? Where do you turn? What truth(s) do you recall? How do you bring peace to a divided church?

Sadly, many faithful followers of Christ find themselves in churches divided by various doctrines and competing practices. In one church I served controversy broke out concerning the doctrines of election, regeneration and faith, and the extent of the atonement. Or at least, those “doctrines of grace” appeared to be the problem. From my vantage point, those problems were merely used to protect a deeper, darker problem—the baleful commitment for various groups in the church to maintain control over what their church.

Commitment to self-interest in the church is all too common. It appears in modern churches who fracture over various worship styles, and it appears in ancient churches who sought to identify themselves with certain charismatic leaders. It appears on the pages of church history and it is found in Scripture itself, especially in the book of 1 Corinthians. 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

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

Holding Fast to the Truth

truthLast week The Gospel Coalition posted a blog I wrote on the nature of truth. I argued that truth is inspired by God, incarnate in Christ, and progressively revealed by the Spirit as the Triune God effects redemption throughout the ages.

Here’s its summary:

Without coincidence, true truth is triune truth: it’s decreed by God (the Father), personified in God (the Son), and effected by God (the Spirit). Contrary to popular belief, truth isn’t based on personal feeling, self-understanding, or a contemporary situation. It’s based on God’s revelation, centered in the gospel, and revealed by the transforming work of the Spirit.

Unlike the mood of our age, truth isn’t something we can create, discover, or deny. Like the innocent man Pilate sentenced to death, truth has a way of coming back to life.

May we, like Jesus, make the good confession and hold fast to the truth.

You can read the whole thing here: Holding Fast to the Truth.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Three Perichoretic Persons

trinityA few weeks ago I began a three part series on the Trinity. The first post affirmed God’s oneness. The second began to explicate how the one God is three persons. Today, I finish my series by looking at how the one God in three persons lives and moves in the world he created.

In Perfect Motion: How the Father, Son, and Spirit Work in the World

Because God created the world outside himself, creation is not a part of God. Yet, God in his omnipresence is present to bless, or curse, or to sustain his creation. In all places, at all times, and without diffusion of his deity or fluctuation of his power, God is active in the world.

However, as a triune God, each member of the Trinity performs a unique but unified role in creation. Together Father, Son, and Spirit created the universe; they preserve the cosmos; and they effect salvation for all the ones whom the Father gave the Son before the foundation of the world (see John 17). In short, their external activities are as harmonious, congruent, and seamless as their internal essence. Continue reading

The Doctrine of the Trinity: Three Distinct Persons

Trinity_3Over the weekend I presented the first part of a ‘bare-bones’ outline of the Trinity. In short order, I argued that the doctrine can be sub-divided into two basic assertions, which each require a healthy dose of explaining.  The first proposition is God is one God. The second proposition is God is three Persons. Under those headings I added the following points.

God is One God

  1. The Father is God.
  2. The Son is God.
  3. The Holy Spirit is God.
  4. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are Uncreated, Co-Eternal, Inseparable, and Perfectly Equal in Essence.

God is Three Persons

  1. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
  2. The Father Sends the Son and the Spirit.
  3. The Son is Sent by the Father, and Sends the Spirit.
  4. The Spirit is One Sent by Father and Son.
  5. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit works together to create the cosmos, sustain life, and redeem the church.
  6. God’s visible actions in history reveals his invisible triune nature.

Because of the difference in classification (God and persons) there is no logical inconsistency between saying God is ‘one’ and God is ‘three.’ Still, there is natural difficulty (not too mention the effect of sin on our thinking) in trying to understand how God is one and three. On the one hand, natural man cannot grasp an infinite God—even with God’s inspired word. On the other hand, God’s revelation under the guidance of the Holy Spirit guides Christians to a true but incomplete knowledge of him.

Keeping our creatureliness and Godward-dependence in mind as we approach this doctrine, this outline aims to help us put some of the pieces together.  Since, I’ve already laid out a defense of God as one God, the  next step is to pick up the second proposition—God is three persons—and  consider the first four points. Continue reading

The Doctrine of the Trinity: God is One God

TrinityThere is nothing bare-bones about the Trinity. But sometimes when introducing this doctrine it helps to give a brief, ‘bare-bones’ outline to help young believers or novice theologians understand the parameters of orthodox belief about Scripture’s deepest mystery.

With such an intention, let me lay out a bare-bones doctrine of the Trinity. In its shortest and most incomplete delineation, the Christians doctrine affirms two things: (1) God is One God and (2) God is Three Persons. This denies modalism (one god in three forms) and tritheism (three gods), and gets on the way to a right view of the doctrine. Continue reading

Acts: On Mission with the Triune God

[This is the most recent “Feeding on the Word” article for our church newsletter].

In most Bibles, Luke’s second book is entitled, “The Acts of the Apostles.”  However, as many commentators have noted, a more accurate title would be “The Acts of the Holy Spirit” because it is the Spirit who is responsible for convicting, converting, and creating the church. Yet, even this title is insufficient, because it tempts us to think that the Father and Son are absent. Thus, a better title might be, “The Acts of the Triune God Through the Church of Jesus Christ.”  While lengthy, such a title rightly emphasizes God’s work in and through the early church.

With this trinitarian framework in mind, lets consider how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in Acts to convert sinners and create the church.

Continue reading

Getting to Know Friedrich Schleiermacher (4): The Church, Eschatology, and the Trinity

Yesterday, we looked at Schleiermacher’s theology of God, Sin, Redemption, and the person of Christ. Today, we will examine his views on the church, eschatology, and the Trinity.

The Church

The last section of his systematic theology is on the church.  This breaks down into three sections—the origin, existence, and perfection of the church.  On the churches origin, he speaks of election and the Holy Spirit.  Concerning election, Schleiermacher vacillates.  On one hand, from the vantage point of the decree (which he speaks about but doesn’t really fit his system) God is the causal agent of all things in the world and thus he causes the election of those in the church, but on the other, as the one who knows all things, he elects based on future knowledge. Schleiermacher seems confused on this matter, and this is one the stress points of his system.  Concerning the Holy Spirit, Schleiermacher denies any deity to the Holy Spirit; instead, the spirit is the common spirit of the church.  The shared experience and feeling of Christ unites the church, and thus there is this universal spirit.

On the existence and practice of the church, Schleiermacher lays out six aspects of practice that are organized with the three offices of Christ.  So the church focuses on the Word of God and preaching as a means of the prophetic office; the church performs baptism and the Lord’s Supper in conjunction with Christ’s priestly office; and the church is invited to pray in the Lord’s name and exercise the keys of the kingdom in conjunction with Christ’s royal office.  In all of these, Schleiermacher reformulates doctrine.  So for instance, communion is not an ordinance laid down by Jesus, it is man’s demonstration of need for grace and the expression of his Godward dependence.  Likewise, prayer for Schleiermacher is not to a God who is outside of space and time; rather, prayer is the inward longing for God and his kingdom to be exercised in the world.

Eschatology

Finally, on the perfection of the church, there is no true doctrine.  It is only an idea.  Since doctrines are those things which church communities experience and record, there has not yet been an experience of a perfect church, and thus what the historical theologians have described as eschatology are merely conjectures.  He renames these doctrines “articles” and offers very scant evidence for them.  Instead, with great agnosticism, he states that we cannot know for sure what the resurrection, intermediate state, and the final judgment will be like.  In the end, he qualifies the doctrine of heaven and hell, to insist that in some way, all men will be reconciled and perfected.  In this, his view of election and universalism are similar to Karl Barth, who is one of Schleiermacher’s greatest critics.

The Trinity: An Appendix

Finally, in an appendix, Schleiermacher relegates the doctrine of the Trinity.   Its position there shows Schleiermacher’s connection with church history—it would be impossible to be a Christian theologian and not talk about this central doctrine.  And yet, because of his Kantian presupposition, he decides that the Trinity is neither practical, nor knowable.  And thus should be mentioned but not greatly used.

While, all these features of Schleiermacher’s theology mentioned above and over the last few days require a great deal more consideration, it is a start.  Tomorrow, we will look at how we should evaluate this theological giant whose shadow still looms until today.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss