Posts Tagged ‘Doctrine of God’
I have spent some time pondering what is the most difficult Christian doctrine. For some it would be hell. For others it would be end times. Others would debate perhaps election and predestination or God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Others would say that it is the hypostatic union in the Person of the Lord Jesus.
For me, the most difficult doctrine is the Trinity. It’s not that I am going to confess here that I am abandoning this doctrine. I am not. I affirm along with 2000 years of Christian history that the Bible teaches the Trinity. I affirm this truth but that doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with it.
Theopedia defines the Trinity as follows:
The Trinity is the Christian doctrine that deals with and describes the nature of God. The doctrine asserts the following:
There is one and only one God.
God eternally exists in three distinct persons.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc.
I affirm that there is but one God (Deut. 4:39; 6:4; 32:39; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 17:20; Psalm 83:18; 86:10; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:18; Mark 12:29; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5) yet I affirm that the Father is God (Psalm 68:5; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Matthew 6:9; 7:11; Romans 8:15; 1 Peter 1:17). I affirm that the Son is God (John 1:1, 14, 18; 10:30; 12:45; 16:15; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 1:3; Revelation 19:16). Even the Father bore witness to the divinity of the Son (Matthew 3:17; 17:5; John 8:18; 1 John 5:9). I also affirm the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20; John 14:26; Acts 5:3-4; 7:51; Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit can be sinned against (Isaiah 63:10; Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29) and He can depart from people (Genesis 6:3; 1 Samuel 16:14; Psalm 51:11). This does not happen to a mist or a force but to a Person. Further, the Spirit speaks (Acts 13:2) and He forbids to speak (Acts 16:6).
I could go on and on giving you Scripture after Scripture that affirms the full deity of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. I affirm the Trinity.
But my mind still can’t grasp this God. I love that. You see the cults bring God down to their level. The Jehovah’s Witnesses can explain their god to me. They can give me verse after verse to prove their belief in their god, their belief in Jesus as Michael the archangel, their belief that the “faithful” will inherit the earth and only 144,000 will be sealed in eternity (and those alone are “born again”) and so forth. They have no mystery to their god. Their god can be understood and explained.
Not so with Yahweh. I can’t explain how the Trinity can be understood. I have heard all the analogies to try to explain Him. I have heard the egg analogy. I have heard the water analogy. I have heard the trichotomy analogy from humanity. I have seen the Trinity involved in the work of redemption. I have read how our own salvation experience demonstrates the Trinity (and it does!).
Yet I still don’t fully grasp the Trinity. There are passages that make me ponder this such as the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17) where all three persons of the Trinity are present but separate. There are the passages of Jesus such as John 17:3 or passages that speak of His role as our redeemer and subjection before the Father which will end (1 Corinthians 15:26-28). I read in Revelation 4:2 that there is one on the throne. And yet in the book of Revelation we read that the Lamb is there (Revelation 7:10; 21:22-23). We also read that the Holy Spirit is there (Revelation 22:17).
I am not doubting the Word of God here at all. I am affirming what I read. I love God. I love that He is a mystery to me. I love that I can’t put my finite mind around His infiniteness. I love that He is bigger than I am. I suppose that even in eternity I will always wonder about this God, about His rule and reign. I will though fall down and worship Him and declare that He alone is God and that there is no other god (or gods). All of humanity will declare this same truth (Philippians 2:5-11). We must all stand before the judgment seat of God Almighty (Hebrews 9:27-28). I praise the Lord that He has saved me by His grace and that I stand before Him even now forgiven and bound for glory.
I do know that when we reject the doctrine of the Trinity, this leads to many unanswered questions and to troubling ends. Typically the Lord Jesus takes the biggest hit. He is rejected as God and this leads to people not praising Him nor worshiping Him nor declaring how we can read about His preexistence, His miracles, His virgin birth, His authority, His sinlessness, His vicarious atonement, His resurrection, His ascension and His role as our high priest and yet deny His full deity. The Holy Spirit likewise is reduced to a force (in JW theology) or a strange mist. Passage after passage must be explained away in the New Testament regarding the Trinity such as the baptism of Jesus, Jesus speaking about the Father and also His affirmation of His equality with the Father, the role Jesus plays now in heaven or even in our salvation.
Simply put, I affirm the Trinity though I do not fully understand it and yet to reject it would lead to more problems than affirming it. I am fully monotheistic while rejecting strict monotheism (like Islam for example). However, to reject the Trinity would only lead to modalism (oneness Pentecostals) or Arianism (Jehovah’s Witness again). Therefore, I praise this God whom I cannot grasp and I trust the Word of God that affirms that there is one God and three persons in the one Godhead or as I say to my sons, “One What and three Who’s.”
ON THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD WHICH COME TO BE CONSIDERED UNDER HIS WILL AND, FIRST, ON THOSE WHICH HAVE AN ANALOGY TO THE AFFECTIONS OR PASSIONS IN RATIONAL CREATURES
I. Those attributes of God ought to be considered, which are either properly or figuratively attributed to him in the Scriptures, according to a certain analogy of the affections and virtues in rational creatures.
II. Those divine attributes which have the analogy of affections, may be referred to two principal kinds, so that the first class may contain those affections which are simply conversant about good or evil, and which may be denominated primitive affections; and the second may comprehend those which are exercised about good and evil in reference to their absence or presence, and which may be called affections derived from the primitive.
III. The primitive affections are love, (the opposite to which is hatred,) and goodness; and with these are connected grace, benignity and mercy. Love is prior to goodness towards the object, which is God himself; goodness is prior to love towards that object which is some other than God.
IV. Love is an affection of union in God, whose objects are not only God himself and the good of justice, but also the creature, imitating or related to God either according to likeness, or only according to impress, and the felicity of the creature. But this affection is borne onwards either to enjoy and to have, or to do good; the former is called “the love of complacency;” the latter, “the love of friendship,” which falls into goodness, God loves himself with complacency in the perfection of His own nature, wherefore he likewise enjoys himself. He also loves himself with the love of complacency in his effects produced externally; both in acts and works, which are specimens and evident, infallible indications of that perfection. Wherefore he may be said, in some degree, likewise to enjoy these acts and works. Even the justice or righteousness performed by the creature, is pleasing to him; wherefore his affection is extended to secure it.
V. Hatred is an affection of separation in God, whose many object is injustice or unrighteousness; and the secondary, the misery of the creature. The former is from “the love of complacency;” the latter, from “the love of friendship.” But since God properly loves himself and the good of justice, and by the same impulse holds iniquity in detestation; and since he secondarily loves the creature and his blessedness, and in that impulse hates the misery of the creature, that is, he wills it to be taken away from the creature; hence, it comes to pass, that he hates the creature who perseveres in unrighteousness, and he loves his misery.
VI. Hatred, however, is not collateral to love, but necessarily flowing from it; since love neither does nor can tend towards all those things which become objects to the understanding of God. It belongs to him, therefore, in the first act, and must be placed in him prior to any existence of a thing worthy of hatred, which existence being laid down, the act of hatred arises from it by a natural necessity, not by liberty of the will.
VII. But since love does not perfectly fill the whole will of God, it has goodness united with it; which also is an affection in God of communicating his good. Its first object externally is nothing; and this is so necessarily first, that, when it is removed, no communication can be made externally. Its act is creation. Its second object is the creature as a creature; and its act is called conservation, or sustentation, as if it was a continuance of creation. Its third object is the creature performing his duty according to the command of God; and its act is the elevation to a more worthy and felicitous condition, that is, the communication of a greater good than that which the creature obtained by creation. Both these advances of goodness may also be appropriately denominated “benignity,” or “kindness.” Its fourth object is the creature not performing his duty, or sinful, and on this account liable to misery according to the just judgment of God; and its act is a deliverance from sin through the remission and the mortification of sin. And this progress of goodness is denominated mercy, which is an affection for giving succour to a man in misery, sin presenting no obstacle.
VIII. Grace is a certain adjunct of goodness and love, by which is signified that God is affected to communicate his own good and to love the creatures, not through merit or of debt, not by any cause impelling from without, nor that something may be added to God himself, but that it may be well with him on whom the good is bestowed and who is beloved, which may also receive the name of “liberality.” According to this, God is said to be “rich in goodness, mercy,” &c.
IX. The affections which spring from these, and which are exercised about good or evil as each is present or absent, are considered as having an analogy either in those things which are in the concupiscible part of our souls, or in that which is irascible.
X. In the concupiscible part are, first, desire and that which is opposed to it; secondly, joy and grief.
(1.) Desire is an affection of obtaining the works of righteousness from rational creatures, and of bestowing a remunerative reward, as well as of inflicting punishment if they be contumacious. To this is opposed the affection according to which God execrates the works of unrighteousness, and the omission of a remuneration. (2.). Joy is an affection from the presence of a thing that is suitable or agreeable — such as the fruition of himself, the obedience of the creature, the communication of his own goodness, and the destruction of His rebels and enemies. Grief, which is opposed to it, arises from the disobedience and the misery of the creature, and in the occasion thus given by his people for blaspheming the name of God among the gentiles. To this, repentance has some affinity; which is nothing more than a change of the thing willed or done, on account of the act of a rational creature, or, rather, a desire for such change.
XI. In the irascible part are hope and its opposite, despair, confidence and anger, also fear, which is affirmatively opposed to hope.
(1.) Hope is an earnest expectation of a good, due from the creature, and performable by the grace of God. It cannot easily be reconciled with the certain foreknowledge of God.
(2.) Despair arises from the pertinacious wickedness of the creature, opposing himself to the grace of God, and resisting the Holy Spirit.
(3.) Confidence is that by which God with great animation prosecutes a desired good, and repels an evil that is hated.
(4.) Anger is an affection of depulsion in God, through the punishment of the creature that has transgressed his law, by which he inflicts on the creature the evil of misery for his unrighteousness, and takes the vengeance which is due to him, as an indication of his love towards justice, and of his hatred to sin. When this affection is vehement, it is called “fury.”
(5.) Fear is from an impending evil to which God is averse.
XII. Of the second class of these derivative affections, (See Thesis 11) some belong to God per se, as they simply contain in themselves perfection; others, which seem to have something of imperfection, are attributed to him after the manner of the feelings of men, on account of some effects which he produces analogous to the effects of the creatures, yet without any passion, as he is simple and immutable and without any disorder and repugnance to right reason. But we subject the use and exercise of the first class of those affections (See Thesis 10) to the infinite wisdom of God, whose property it is to prefix to each of them its object, means, end and circumstances, and to decree to which, in preference to the rest, is to be conceded the province of acting.
Just today I saw a Calvinist blogger who posted a piece against Arminianism. His chief argument: Calvinism exalts God while Arminianism exalts Man. He is convinced from reading John Owen that Arminianism is nothing more than idolatry. He is also convinced that Arminianism is all about Mankind first and foremost. Whereas his Calvinism exalts God and destroys man’s pride (so he reasons).
In reality, Arminius had much to say about the Lordship or Dominion of God. From his writings it is clear that Arminius wanted to praise God above all else. He wants to exalt the love of God along with the holiness of God. How could God lovingly reconcile people while not ignoring sin nor His justice in regard to sin. For Arminius, the answer was clear: Jesus Christ was the embodiment of both the love of God and the holiness of God.
To show you that Arminius sought to exalt the Lordship of God, read the following remarks from his Works on the subject.
ON THE LORDSHIP OR DOMINION OF GOD
I. Through creation, dominion over all things which have been created by himself, belongs to the Creator. It is, therefore, primary, being dependent on no other dominion or on that of no other person; and it is, on this account, chief because there is none greater; and it is absolute, because it is over the entire creature, according to the whole, and according to all and each of its parts, and to all the relations which subsist between the Creator and the creature. It is, consequently, perpetual, that is, so long as the creature itself exists.
II. But the dominion of God is the right of the Creator, and his power over the creatures; according to which he has them as his own property, and can command and use them, and do about them, whatever the relation of creation and the equity which rests upon it, permit.
III. For the right cannot extend further than is allowed by that cause from which the whole of it arises, and on which it is dependent. For this reason, it is not agreeable to this right of God, either that he delivers up his creature to another who may domineer over such creature, at his arbitrary pleasure, so that he be not compelled to render to God an account of the exercise of his sovereignty, and be able, without any demerit on the part of the creature, to inflict every evil on a creature capable of injury, or, at least, not for any good of this creature; or that he [God] command an act to be done by the creature, for the performance of which he neither has, nor can have, sufficient and necessary powers; or that he employ the creature to introduce sin into the world, that he may, by punishing or by forgiving it, promote his own glory; or, lastly, to do concerning the creature whatever he is able, according to his absolute power, to do concerning him, that is eternally to punish or to afflict him, without [his having committed] sin.
IV. As this is a power over rational creatures, (in reference to whom chiefly we treat on the dominion and power of God,) it may be considered in two views, either as despotic, or as kingly, or patriarchal. The former is that which he employs without any intention of good which may be useful or saving to the creature; that latter is that which he employs when he also intends the good of the creature itself. And this last is used by God through the abundance of his own goodness and sufficiency, until he considers the creature to be unworthy, on account of his perverseness, to have God presiding over him in his kingly and paternal authority.
V. Hence, it is, that, when God is about to command some thing to his rational creature, he does not exact every thing which he justly might do, and he employs persuasions through arguments which have regard to the utility and necessity of those persuasions.
VI. In addition to this, God enters into a contract or covenant with his creature; and he does this for the purpose that the creature may serve him, not so much “of debt,” as from a spontaneous, free and liberal obedience, according to the nature of confederations which consist of stipulations and promises. On this account, God frequently distinguishes his law by the title of a COVENANT.
VII. Yet this condition is always annexed to the confederation, that if man be unmindful of the covenant and a contemner of its pleasant rule, he may always be impelled or governed by that domination which is really lordly, strict and rigid, and into which, he who refuses to obey the other [species of rule], justly falls.
VIII. Hence, arises a two-fold right of God over his rational creature. The First, which belongs to him through creation; the Second, through contract. The former rests on the good which the creature has received from his Creator; the latter rests on the still greater benefit which the creature will receive from God, his preserver, promoter and glorifier.
IX. If the creature happen to sin against this two-fold right, by that very act, he gives to God, his Lord, King and Father, the right of treating him as a sinning creature, and of inflicting on him due punishment; and this is a THIRD right, which rests on the wicked act of the creature against God.
I was amused when I heard a radio program that was debating the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to allow homosexual boys to participate in the BSA while still banning openly gay men from being leaders in the BSA. Some, including the LDS Church, agreed with the BSA move and welcomed boys struggling with same-sex attraction. For others, conservative Boy Scout chapters, this move violates what they believe the BSA should stand for and that is the boys should be “morally upright.” They believe that homosexuality is hardly “morally upright.” The LDS Church, however, responded saying that all boys should be welcomed to participate in BSA but should be taught to not act on their sinful desires for same-sex sex.
What I find humorous is that people see the “god” of the BSA as the God of Christianity. While I would not deny that the BSA have based much of their views on God or people or morality upon the Christian concept of God, they are not one and the same. Simply because the United States has “God” on their money or that the BSA has “God” in their bylaws does nothing to affirm the true God of the Bible. Again, I note that the BSA has secular packs, LDS packs, Methodist packs, and many other charter groups. All of them affirm “God” in their bylaws. The Boy Scouts oath is:
On my honor I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country
and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong,
mentally awake, and morally straight.
While God is mentioned, who is this God? In the BSA that god could be the god of Mormonism or the god of this group or that. God is not defined.
The reality is that the secular god cannot save. The secular god of the Boy Scouts or the god of a business is not always the God of the Bible and often God is left undefined. The God of Scripture is not to be added to among our other pursuits. The God of Scripture demands that we repent and make Him our lives (Luke 14:25-35). The God of Scripture demands that we live lives of holiness and that we hate what He hates and we love what He loves. The God of the Bible does not allow us to follow the dictates of the culture. The God of the Bible demands total worship and adoration. Our entire being is to be consumed by Him (Romans 12:1-2). The God of the Bible is to be our highest passion and desire (Philippians 3:12-14).
My point in all of this is that the god of the Boy Scouts is not defined. The god of the BSA is the same secular god who is on our money. He is given some acknowledgement but He is not viewed as the sovereign God of the Bible who rules and reigns and who demands repentance. We should be shocked to see the BSA opening themselves to the sins of our culture. Their god cannot save. Their god is their own god that they created. The God of the Bible, however, does not change (Malachi 3:6). What God demanded of His people 2000 years ago, He still demands today. Let us then fear Him and stand in awe of the one true and living God of the Bible.
I have seen a few posts lately from Calvinist blogs about why people reject Calvinism. One Calvinist blogger stated that the real reason that people reject Calvinism is because we are prideful and want credit for our own salvation.
Is that really the case for Arminians such as myself? Do I reject Calvinism because I am prideful and I want to share some glory with Jesus for His saving me on the cross?
The real reason that we Arminians reject Calvinism is the character of God. It is not our pride. It is not our love of free will or any other mockery. It is simply that we find the character of God to be loving and good in the Bible (as Calvinists would agree) and from that we believe that He created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Further, free will flows not from man being prideful or the center of our theology but from our view that God created us with the capacity to be free moral agents who, through His grace, choose to love Him and worship Him. A forced relationship is not a loving relationship. I love my wife dearly and did not force her to love me. I wooed her with my charms and good looks or maybe my money. I wish. It was nothing of that. When I asked her to marry me, she said yes out of her love for me and not because I pushed her or forced her so that she could do nothing. She chose to marry me as I chose to marry her.
This is true of the Church as well. 1 Corinthians 6:20 says that Jesus redeemed us and He bought us with His own blood (Acts 20:28; cf. John 10:11). Paul warned in 2 Corinthians 11:2-4 that he had betrothed the Corinthians to one husband, Christ. Christ is our Savior and Lord and He is our redeemer. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:10). We love Him and follow Him not out of “inward” calls that we could not do otherwise but we follow Him because we love Him and desire to follow Him (John 1:12-13). The very nature of God is seen in John 3:16, that He truly loves the world and desires to save the world through Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 1 John 2:2). We believe that God demonstrates His great love for us with the giving of His Son (Romans 5:8-9). We come into a saving relationship with God through faith in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:22-27; 5:1; 10:13; Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Timothy 4:10). All those who appropriate the work of Christ are His elect. Those who reject Christ are the lost (Mark 16:15-16).
The bottom line is that we reject Calvinism not because of human pride or that we want credit for our salvation. Rather, we reject Calvinism because of the nature of God. The divine determinism of God in Calvinism is a God who not only controls all things but is the cause of all things even sin. If the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty is correct, God renders all things certain for His own glory and purposes including sin. How does this not make God the author of sin when Scripture clearly says that He is not (James 1:12-15)? Furthermore, the divine determinism of God makes man not free at all. Man does what God has predestined him to do whether it be to praise Him (which seems is few in comparison) or to reject Him. As Dr. Roger Olson has stated, in Calvinism, there is not much difference between God and Satan other than Satan wants to kill all while God wants to kill most. No wonder this view of God, as John Wesley said, makes our blood boil.
I love Calvinists. I reject Calvinism. I can love Calvinists while rejecting their theology. God doesn’t save us because we hold to Arminianism or Calvinism. He saves us by His grace. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:10-17 that divisions are not beneficial to the cause of Christ. Divisions break Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-22. Division, according to Romans 16:17 is a sign of rebellion. I would not divide with my Calvinist brother or sister who is passionate for Christ or His kingdom over the issues related to Arminianism and Calvinism. We are saved through faith in Christ alone and not by our theological systems.
College Press publishers has announced that they are printing Dr. Jack Cottrell’s trilogy into one volume entitled, What the Bible Says About God, the Creator, Ruler and Redeemer. If you have not read Dr. Cottrell’s works on the doctrine of God, you are missing a treat. His books are the best Arminian books I have ever read on the doctrine of God. Even Calvinists such as Dr. John Frame recommend reading Jack Cottrell’s books to get an Arminian viewpoint of God.
You can find more information about the upcoming books here.