God is not a narcisist

Ok – just one more digression before we get back to missions.  This flows on from our discussions about the trinity…

 I’m a bit slow in my travels around the blogosphere so I apologise that this is about a week out of date.  But, Ben Witherington (recently-ish) managed to get 83 comments on a post called “Is God a narcisist?”.  He was reacting against a Piper-ist, Schreiner-ist theology that says “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.” 

Being a good biblical (NT) theologian he made excellent points on the meaning of kabod (Hebrew) and doxa (Greek) and the difference between this and God’s Name (which is about vindicating His reputation).  I’ve skim-read the comments as much as I’m going to but nowhere (as far as I can see) do people discuss the trinity.  This is kind of surprising!

Growing out of our discussion about One-ness and Three-ness, one of the chief conclusions to be drawn is the fact that God ought never to be thought of in anything approaching unitarian terms.  The One-ness of God does not connote a single centre of action or personal consciousness in God.  Yet when a theologian asserts that “God’s chief end is self-glorification” then almost certainly a doctrine of the one God, divorced from trinitarian reciprocity, is in view.  

We ought to ask all such theologians “Which Person of God are you speaking of?”  They surely cannot be referring to the trinitarian life of Father, Son and Spirit – that communion is the essence of self-giving.  God is love.  And they surely cannot be referring to the Father for He has committed all things into His Son’s hands (John 3:35).  They mustn’t be speaking of the Son, He only ever glorifies the Father. (John 4:34).  And they can’t be speaking of the Spirit, He simply takes from what is the Father’s and the Son’s and makes it known (John 16:15).  So what god are they speaking of when they say “His chief end is to glorify Himself”?  Clearly the “God” referred to here is one abstracted from considerations of the trinitarian life.  Yet as my last post was trying to argue – the living God cannot for a second be abstracted from considerations of trinitarian self-giving.  The only God there is is the Trinity!  The One God is precisely the community of sacrificial love between Father, Son and Spirit. (see also The Cruciform God

When the LORD says in Isaiah 42:8, “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.” it is only because He has been glorifying His Servant for the last seven verses – “Here is My Servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen One in Whom I delight; I will put My Spirit on Him and He will bring justice to the nations…” (Isaiah 42:1ff)  The Father glorifies His Son and anoints Him with His Spirit.  Therefore He will not give that glory to another.  This is the very opposite of self-love.  Instead His other-centred glory requires that He be exclusively committed to His Son in holy love. 

God is not a narcisist.  A proper doctrine of the trinity guarantees it.  And wherever God is portrayed as a narcisist you can guarantee that a defective trinity is lurking in the background.

Next time you hear such a theology, ask yourself what doctrine of the trinity is being espoused here?  Has this theologian conceived of God apart from the communion of the Three?  Almost certainly they have – and a selfish God is the outcome.

Two verses from John to finish:

Jesus replied, “If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me.” (John 8:54)

“All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.” (John 16:15)

Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, trinity, Uncategorized

About Glen

I'm a preacher in Eastbourne, married to Emma.

0 Responses to God is not a narcisist

  1. Pete Bowman

    Hi Glen, great blog which I’ll be coming back to in future!

    I tried to read Desiring God two or three years ago, and found it extremely hard work for the exact reason you mention. I only read perhaps 10% of the book, but I couldn’t help thinking “is this really the God of the Bible?” as all kinds of attributes were assigned to him as though he were a solitary being. A short section in the book on God as Trinity seemed positively contradictory to what had gone before, but as soon as the interlude was over, it was back to God-is-alone mode. I have the same problem with much literature currently loved by evangelicals – for example, the currently favoured systematic theology which assigns all kinds of attributes to God before finally mentioning the minor fact that God is Three on something like page 100, as though his majesty, love, power, etc are nothing to do with his nature as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

    Unfortunately, these positions are often held by those who most strongly insist that they are biblically correct, which often makes life very interesting!

    Pete.

  2. glenscriv

    Hi Pete,

    Really glad you dropped by!

    I think many of your concerns are reflected in my last post on “Oneness and Threeness“. Basically people try to claim to be trinitarian by speaking *separately* about Oneness and Threeness. So they consider the One God as some kind of Omni-Being who is conceived prior to or apart from trinitarian inter-play. So the doctrine of the One is basically unitarianism and the doctrine of the Three is trinitarianism. This is, of course, awful! The trinity *is* the One God. One-ness *is* simply the compound unity of the Three. Anyway, check out that post for some pretty rubbish diagrams that set it all out.

    I completely understand your comments on Desiring God. I’m absolutely with you about his doctrine of God. But I do have to admit that, when all is said and done, it was a *very* important book for me. (I once even met John Piper and (lost for words) introduced myself as “a big fan!” (major embarassing pause ensued!)).

    I do love the whole Christian Hedonism stuff and it really cracked open a whole realm of the Christian life for me. But the way Piper argues to it needs serious re-casting in trinitarian terms. (I once ran a book club on ‘Desiring God’ in church and we just skipped over that chapter and I did a session on the trinity being perfectly happy because the Father, Son and Spirit have always enjoyed their mutual relations – *that’s* why God is so happy – *that’s* the foundation for Christian Hedonism!).

    But Piper doesn’t begin with trinity. Basically, as I see it, Piper begins with the Glorious All-Sufficient, Self-Existent God who is the most happy being in existence because He can do whatever He pleases and no-one can stop Him. The doctrine of this happy God is not obviously (at all??) trinitarian. And it leads him towards saying some pretty awful stuff – that God is the most selfish, self-interested, self-worshipping being in existence etc etc – and rightfully so! And the argument always runs something like this: “Well if God worshipped anything other than God He would be an idolater, so He must worship Himself.”

    At that stage you say “What doctrine of God applies to the subject of that sentence??” Clearly a unitarian one!! The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are *not* interested in themselves but in the Others! That Other-centred love *is* who God is. The Son worships the Father in the most self*less* way imaginable. These arguments put forward for the selfish God are extremely philosophical and anti-gospel !!

    In Piper’s ‘The Pleasures of God’ we see a similar starting point. There is the self-worshipping God who underlies Piper’s discussion. *Then* he considers that God’s ‘first’ pleasure is in His Son. But because ‘The One God’ is pre-supposed, God worshipping His Image is a *way* for God to worship Himself! So rather than see the Father’s love of the Son as, first, a love for the Other, Piper sees “”God’s”” love for Himself as primary. Thus, the Father’s love for His Son becomes a *way* of upholding a fundamentally self-loving “”God””.

    Sigh.

    Like I say – I’m a fan of Piper. For his hedonism stuff and for his example as a man and a pastor. But his doctrine of God falls foul of (I think) some pretty serious criticisms. And if you get doctrine of God wrong…. well. Doctrine of God is like the fountain-head, the waters downstream will definitely suffer.

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