» Doctrine of God

Is the Allah of Islam the Father of Jesus?

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, Doctrine of God, islam | 1 Comment

The question is rarely phrased this way (largely because anyone who’s read the Quran – Muslims especially – will tell you, Of course not. Allah emphatically denies it!). But people are again discussing the issue of whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God. So here are some thoughts I shared over at Between Two Worlds a few years ago on this post.

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? If you pay attention to what both religions are saying it turns out to be incredibly offensive to say Yes – given how insistent both religions are about their respective theological claims.

Here are some points in no particular order:

1) Let’s let Allah define himself:

“He does not beget nor is he begotten.” (Sura 112)

The Quran defines the god of Islam explicitly as not the God of the Bible. Let’s respect Muslims enough to let them define who their god is. He is not the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We honour their faith by speaking of Allah as another god – that is how Allah defines himself. From our perspective we cannot speak of Allah as anything other than an idol – anything else fails to take Muslim faith on its own terms.

2) Can anyone really imagine the prophets addressing the Edomites, Philistines etc saying ‘Yahweh is very much like Baal/Molech/Asherah’? Never!

The question for the nations is not ‘Do you believe in God?’ But ‘What god do you believe in?’ Whether you’re evangelizing in north Africa or north America “God” cannot be assumed.  In fact “God” is the least obvious word in our evangelistic encounters.  How on earth do we get to a position where people make it the point of commonality!

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At this point a commenter replied that the ‘Baal’ analogies do not work because Allah is thought to be ‘the transcendent Creator’ and not simply a power within the world.  He claimed that a Muslim convert would have to repent of many beliefs but not his belief in ‘God as infinite transcendent Creator.’

To this I replied…

3) We don’t say “Baal is called ‘Lord’ and receives worship therefore no convert from Baalism needs to repent of their notions of Lorship or worship.”  Of course they will have to repent of all of this.  So then why would anyone claim that a belief in the ‘infinite transcendent Creator’ is of a different order?  Fundamentally I see this as committing two errors.  It is to say…

A) ‘Transcendent Creator’ is more foundational to God’s being than His triunity.

B) The Muslim means roughly the same as the Christian when speaking of the ‘Transcendent Creator’

I strongly disagree with both.

A) i) If God is transcendent Creator you’ve made Him dependent on creation.

A) ii) It is a position that leads to Arianism. Athanasius complained that Arius’ error was to conceive of God as Unoriginate and then to consider trinity. On this trajectory he could never affirm the homo-ousios of One whose being was ‘ek tes ousia tw patri‘ (out of the being of the Father). Similarly if your conversation with a Muslim begins with some ‘bedrock’ notion of transcendence before introducing them to Jesus it will necessarily mean introducing them to one who is less than the transcendent one. You’ll have shot yourself in the foot from the very beginning. Let’s not define Jesus out of full deity before we’ve even begun. We therefore must not begin on the Arian trajectory of affirming transcendent Creator first – Jesus will not come out very well from such a starting point!

B) Only the God who exists as Himself in relations of otherness can actually have a relationship with creation in which we can know Him as transcendent. ‘Transcendent Creator’ is dependent on trinity (not the other way around). The Muslim account of transcendence is completely confused (as is every unitarian account). Allah is a prisoner of his ‘transcendence’ – by definition cut off from any relationship with it (whether transcendent or immanent).

‘Transcendent Creator’ is neither the foundational nor a shared understanding of the living God. And it’s not desirable that it should be.

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At this point my interlocutor (rightly) suspected I was denying the possiblity of true philosophical reflection on divinity apart from Christian revelation.  He claimed I was being overly Barthian. I replied with these points…

4) In terms of theological method, “Christ alone” is not a Barthian novelty!  It’s difficult to think of a more crucial verse in the history of the church for theological method than Matthew 11:27: “No-one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.”

To this let’s add John 1:18; 14:6 and Colossians 1:15. To this let’s add the continual Scriptural witness that we are blind, dead, enemies of God unable to know Him apart from His Word to us.  (e.g. Ps 14:2; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:21).  These plain and central truths cannot be evaded by crying ‘Barthian’!

5) Nicea’s “The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” was a deliberate and crucial choice of order. Triunity precedes creation. Of course it does – unless we want to define God as dependent upon creation.

6) Even Jews who have the Scriptures do not know the Father if they reject the Son. (cf ALL OF JOHN’S GOSPEL!)

7) To go over a previous point – there are tremendous Arian dangers of considering ‘Creator’ more foundational than trinity. Once you have assured your Muslim friend that she really does know God and that the God she knows is definitionally the infinite, transcendent Creator, do you really think you’ve helped her towards faith in Jesus of Nazareth? Have you not just given her every reason to reject divine honours (thus defined) being attributed to Christ. Won’t she simply thank you for confirming her own doctrine of God which by definition precludes Jesus from being anything more than a prophet??

Athanasius rightly said ‘the only system of thought into which Jesus Christ will fit is the one in which He is the starting point.’

The Rock upon which we build is nothing and no-one else but Christ.  Let’s be clearer on this whether we’re evangelizing Muslims or our friends in the pub.  They do not know God and besides – why would we want to confirm for them a sterile, non-relational doctrine of God in the first place?  Let’s tell them, ‘The god you had thought existed was not God – let me tell you about the living God who is unlike anything you’ve imagined.  His name is Jesus. Here is a God you can truly believe in!’

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God in the Old Testament

Posted on by Glen in covenant continuity, Doctrine of God | 3 Comments

ChristOldTestament

A repost from 2011

I’ve had many discussions under the title of “Christ in the Old Testament.”  But perhaps the issues would be seen more clearly if we labelled the debate: “God in the Old Testament.”

And actually, the fact that those two titles sound quite different tells you everything you need to know about the Christlessness of much of our God-talk.

We (and I include myself here in my knee-jerk western deism) imagine that there’s a bed-rock deity called “God” who is obviously the God spoken of in Genesis.  And then we discuss whether the Patriarchs also knew this shadowy figure called Messiah.  And we debate how Messianic certain discrete verses are, and to what degree the author was aware, and to what degree the first audience was cognisant of specific promises and appearances, etc, etc.  But we almost never challenge that view of “God” which we all signed off on in the beginning!

Thus, from the outset, God is defined as – essentially – ‘the God of monotheism’ (broadly conceived) and Christ is defined as a nuance to a more foundational divine reality.  Then we spend all our time debating how clear the nuance was!

But what if, from the beginning, Elohim wasn’t the god of Aristotle!  It’s a shocking thought I know, but let’s run with it.  What if He makes all things by His Spirit and Word and says “Let us”?  And what if this is not something that needs to be kept in check by a hermeneutic that expects only the omnibeing?  And what if the LORD God stoops down and breathes into Adam’s nostrils and what if, under the name “Voice of the LORD”, He walks in the garden in the cool of the day and encounters the couple as a divine Person.

How much clearer Adam saw God than us!  Without the “benefit” of our western theistic presuppositions, he sees the “very God from very God.”  He doesn’t think in that exact language, but he certainly doesn’t think in unitarian categories either. To think of “the Son” as something extra to his simple belief in “God” betrays disturbing assumptions about who we think “God” is.

Who is this “God” for whom the Son is an addendum?  Why begin the Scriptures with that “God”?  And if the primary truths about God are unitarian, is our own faith primarily unitarian, just with a Jesus nuance?

The question is deeper than “Christ in the Old Testament.”  In fact, it’s deeper than “God in the Old Testament.”  It’s the question of God.  Which explains why the issue can get quite heated at times.  But also why it’s so crucial.

From Fullness

Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, pastoral theology | 5 Comments

imageThus says the Lord God, It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name.. . . And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name. . . . And the nations will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 36:22-2332)

If God’s glory is His grace (and it is), then what does it mean for God to act for the sake of His own name or glory. Obviously we’re not talking here of the self-absorbed omni-god of philosophy. We’re talking about the Father who has always found His life and identity in pouring out His very Spirit to His Son. We’re talking about the God who, in eternity, has determined to be the adopting-by-grace-God. What does it mean for this God to act for His own sake, His own name, His own glory?

I’ve used this illustration often, but I think it’s instructive… A friend of mine was approaching a set of doors and heard high-heels behind him. He stopped to open the door for the woman behind him. As she passed through she shot him a glare: “I hope you’re not opening the door because I’m a lady.” With enviable quick thinking he replied, “No, I’m opening the door because I’m a gentleman.”  Boom!

Not for your sake, not for your sake am I acting, but for the sake of my holy name. Not because you are a Damsel in distress, but because I am a Gentleman. I do not act because you have forced my hand, twisted my arm, or tugged at my heart strings. I act from my own determination to be chivalrous.

That’s what it means for God to act for His own sake. Not at all that God is self-centred. On the contrary God is so gloriously self-giving that He refuses to have His gracious salvation construed as merely a response to our plight. It’s not that He’s a sucker for a sinner. It’s not that He can’t help Himself when He sees our need and so sighs and embarks on a saving mission. It’s not because we’re a lady, it’s cos He’s a Gentleman.

God acts from fullness. That’s pretty much the heart of what it means that God acts for His own sake. He is a Fountain brimming over, not a Water Tank to be drawn down.

Therefore what is godliness? It is all about acting from fullness.  Before God we are empty (cf the first 4 beatitudes – poor, mourning, meek, hungry). Before the world we are poured out (cf the last 4 beatitudes – showing mercy, purity, peace and righteousness). From fullness we flow out to the world.

When I get the time I’ll write about how this dynamic plays out in church life, in family life, in loving our neighbours, in reaching the world. But for now I hope it’s obvious that ‘God acting for His own sake’ is not a special dispensation to be selfish which God reserves for Himself. It’s not about His own self-regard which is ok for Him but not ok for us. Actually, we should follow God in acting for the sake of our holy name because such actions are not demonstrations of self-regard but of the kind of self-giving that comes from fullness.

 

 

 

Behind Closed Doors – On Porn and God

Posted on by Glen in apologetics, culture, Doctrine of God, pornography | 3 Comments

OscarHow does porn impact a young girl who discovers her father’s stash?  Michelle VanLoon writes about it in My Father The Porn Addict.  This sentence struck me more than any other:

Porn taught me that the single most important thing to grown-ups was this mysterious world of fantasy, pain, and animalistic impulses too powerful to ignore.

Porn peddles a lie that becomes “the single most important thing” for those who buy into it.  Actually it peddles many lies, but here’s a prominent one: Porn tells us that love, respect and mutual honour are window dressing.  Behind closed doors it’s “fantasy, pain and animalistic impulses.”

Loving commitment and kindness are like mating calls.  The real business is mating.  People might talk about relationships and fidelity, actually it’s about glands and groans.  On the surface it’s love and trust, underneath it’s power and gratification.  And that’s what’s basic, primal, bubbling away.

To believe the lie is to feed it, to participate in it, to grow connected to it and then to see the world through its lens.  Porn sacramentally reinforces the worshipper in that creed and the cycle spirals down.

When a Christian is embroiled in this other religion, what happens when they are told to ‘clean up their private world’?  It will likely be heard as the demand to ‘put a lid on what’s real.’  Renouncing porn will be like agreeing to deny the truth, simply because the truth is too dangerous or shameful or powerful to acknowledge or indulge.  And so the determined porn-denier will commit to living in the unreality of kindness, mutual service and self-control.  All the while power and gratification throb away in heart and mind.

Combatting the lie will take more than a resolve to label pornography as ‘harmful’ or ‘bad.’  We need to know that it’s also ‘untrue.’  And why is it untrue?  Let’s cut to the chase:  God is as He is towards us.  God is not different ‘behind closed doors.’  He does not display sacrificial love as window dressing.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne (Revelation 7:17).    Push through to the deepest depths of God and you will find a faithful marital love that gives itself for the other.  His gracious gospel offers are not mating calls to woo us while back at home He’s all about power and gratification.  No!  He is love ‘all the way down.’

Not every god will help you to conquer porn.  There are many gods who are power and gratification pure and simple.  And there are many Christian doctrines of God that offer a split-personality God – sacrificial in public, selfish in private.

But just imagine… what if, actually, the primeval passions that determine us are intimate, committed, self-denying deferrals to the other?  What if it’s respect and mutual love that are really bubbling away underneath?  What if it’s serving the other that drives this world, not using.  What if giving and not getting is ultimate?

And I don’t just mean, Let’s escape mystically into some godly sphere where that love stuff is true.  I don’t mean, Let’s affirm these religious truths (all the while knowing that ‘the real world aint like that.’)  No, let’s fling wide those doors that we’re always closing because we imagine that darkness rules the roost.  Let’s declare that Jesus really is Lord.  This really is Christ’s universe.  Light really is this world’s driving force, not darkness.   And all that other stuff is parasitic, corrupted, ugly, unnatural, ephemeral and passing away.

The lie of pornography will be unmasked and the bedrooms of Christians, both single and married, will be revolutionized when we see God aright.  Behind closed doors there’s not a throbbing, coercive power too dangerous to name.  The primal urge is not grunting but grace.

The Image of the Invisible Omnibeing?

Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, evangelism | 1 Comment

christ-the-redeemerA repost

The average Christian testimony goes something like this:  I’d always believed in God and then I came to see that Jesus was this god-I-always-believed-in.

Average Christian evangelism really hopes that people believe in “God”.  We are relieved to hear that a person believes in “God.”  Phew, we think, that’s half the job done!

If they don’t believe in “God” we draw a deep breath and rummage around for some arguments to convince them of “God”:

  • There’s order in the world, there must be an Orderer.
  • Everything is caused, there must be a Cause at the top of the chain.
  • There’s morality – there must be a Moral Lawgiver.
  • You have a sense of something more, there must be Something more.

And we argue towards some kind of OmniBeing.  You know the omnis – maybe you learnt them in religious studies at school.  God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous, ambidextrous, double-joined, tri-focal, etc, etc, etc.

And if our arguments are clever enough, maybe they’ll agree to our philosophy.  Hallelujah, they believe in the Omnibeing!  This is surely a step in the right direction, we imagine.

After all, didn’t Elijah use similar tactics on the Baal worshippers.  I don’t have my bible to hand but I seem to remember some very powerful arguments on Mount Carmel.  All that stuff about “Yahweh is a bit like Baal.  But bigger.  And less despotic.”  Brilliant stuff.

Well, now that we’ve used philosophical theism as a stepping stone to Jesus, we come to the business end of proceedings:  it’s time to unveil Jesus Himself.  And so we hand over a Gospel to our unbeliever and try to convince them that Jesus is the Omnibeing made flesh.

The unbeliever goes away and reads the Gospel.  And what do they find?  A laughing, crying, shouting, serving, healing, loving Human Sacrifice.  And the non-Christian says – “Wow, that stuff’s interesting.  But it doesn’t sound like the Omnibeing.”

At this stage we must remain firm.  It would be easy to sell out the OmniBeing. But no. We must be faithful to our bedrock theism, right? So here’s how we proceed:

— “Hmm, tricky” we say, “all that passionate, self-sacrificial blood and suffering – that’s just on the surface.  That’s not the real God-stuff. That’s His human nature.  But don’t worry, deep down Jesus is really the Omnibeing.”

— “Really?” says the enquirer, “Cos all that Jesus-stuff is very attract…”

— …”No, no, it’s a gloss.  Nothing to see here.  The OmniBeing rules!”

And we pray that the non-Christian agrees.  For if they do, then surely we have brought them to see that Jesus is Lord.  Right?

Wrong.  This is not the conversion of an unbeliever to Christ.  This is the conversion of Jesus to the Omnibeing.  And we’ve taken people away from the real God – the Father who Jesus actually reveals.

You see Colossians 1:15 turns our natural assumptions on their head. We reckon that God is obvious and Jesus is not. We survey the religious beliefs of the land and we’re told that most people believe in God, but they’re not sure about Jesus. (People tick the “Belief in God” box but they’re uncertain of Jesus – maybe He’s a prophet or a myth, etc). But the bottom line is, most of the world thinks God is obvious but Jesus is obscure. Colossians 1:15 says the exact opposite:

The Son is the Image of the invisible God.

God is the invisible One. He is the unknown entity. But the Son is His Image. Jesus is the One on display. Therefore evangelism is not about working from the invisible to the visible. It’s starting with the Image and then inferring what God is like.

As Lord Byron said “If God isn’t like Jesus Christ, he ought to be.” That’s the direction of travel – from Christ to the Father who He reveals.

In evangelism we often use the phrase “Jesus is God.” But when we say that we don’t mean that “Jesus (weirdly enough) is the god you’d always believed in.” Instead we proclaim “Jesus (yes, that’s right, Jesus the One who bled for sinners!) He reveals the true God – a God so good you never dared imagine Him!”

Trinitarian Theology? Or Speed Dating at the Pantheon?

Posted on by Glen in Doctrine of God, mediation of Christ, trinity | 3 Comments

christ-the-redeemer

Here’s a statement I commonly hear:

Well yes it’s important to be Christ-centred, but let’s not forget God…

Ever hear that one? I actually hear Christians say this. I know, crazy right?

Well sometimes they remember to sound a little more Christian. So they say:

Don’t forget the Spirit…

Or…

Let’s honour all three Persons of the Trinity, not just the Son…

There can be an intuitive appeal to such statements. After all there are three Persons in God, not just one. And the Son does not keep Himself to Himself. He leads us to His Father and grants us His Spirit. The Persons are other-centred, so let’s not focus on the Son to the exclusion of Father and Spirit. But… if we actually focus on the Christ, the Son of the Father, we cannot we exclude the Father and Spirit. True Christ-focus is trinitarian and – this is equally true – trinitarian theology is Christ-focused.

This is the truth we need to hold onto: Christ is not merely one of the Three – He’s the Way to know them. Christ is Mediator.

When we lose this truth we begin to imagine that ‘being trinitarian’ means balancing our respect for the Persons, as though the trinitarian worshipper stands before a loose association of deities, ensuring equal devotion. That sounds more like speed-dating at the Pantheon. Do we really imagine ourselves to be outside the Three, making sure we spend equal time at the feet of Each?  Have we forgotten that we are in the Son?  And nowhere else. Have we forgotten that the Father and the Spirit are in the Son?  And nowhere else.

The Father is known as ‘He Who makes the Son, Son.’  The Spirit is known as ‘He Who makes the Christ, Christ.’  On the other hand a theologian making a plea for equal time for the Persons… once they turn their gaze from the Son, how are they going to view the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ?

And if we imagine ourselves circulating around the trinity, where do we think we stand? Are we, somehow, a fourth individual at the heart of the Holy Huddle.  Well the Shack might put me there and some Christian art might put me there, (and that might be an improvement on unitarianism), but that’s not really where I am.  I’m in Jesus participating in His Sonship and Anointing.  This is my only access to the life of the trinity.  The trinitarian theologian must be Christ-focused. And being Christ-focused is the way of trinitarian theology.

So, absolutely, let us never forget the Father or Spirit.  We must get to know the Persons in all their distinct glory and grace. But they are not outside of the Christ, the Son of God. And – here’s some good news – neither are you!

How to be trinitarian

Posted on by glenscriv in Doctrine of God, preaching, trinity | 3 Comments

grunewald_crucifixion

Adapted from an earlier post

I’m all for trinity.  Trinity this and trinity that.  Clicking on my trinity tag is like typing Google into Google – you may just BREAK THE INTERNET.

But here’s the thing – “The Trinity” does not reveal God.  Jesus reveals God (might I add, by the Spirit).  That’s the trinity.  But “The Trinity” is not the image of the invisible God.  “The Trinity” is not the Mediator between a Distant-Power-God and today’s agnostic enquirer.  Rublev’s is not the Icon of the unseen LORD – Jesus is.

Today Christians are awaking more and more to the wonder of trinity and that’s very exciting.  Without trinity there is no gospel.  There is no other God but Jesus with His Father and Spirit.  And, in Jesus, we participate in that divine nature.  These truths need shouting from the rooftops.

But… in our excitement to lift up the wonder of the intra-trinitarian life, there is a danger.  The danger is that Jesus might not be the Way in to “God is love.”  Instead natural theology provides the in. The argument runs something like this: “We all know that love is lovely, well wouldn’t it be nice if God was love in just the way we all understand love….”  See the danger?

A million Facebook profiles speak of “Love” as ultimate.  But 1 John 4 has in mind a very particular kind of love when it describes the love that God is (1 John 4:8-10).  The love which God is shows up in propitiatory sacrifice.  Christ crucified is the Image of God.  He shows us the poured-out-life of eternity.  Trinitarian love is cruciform love.

This means we don’t have to be amazing orators, waxing lyrical about perichoresis and such.  In order to be trinitarian, here’s all we need to do:  We need to point to the Jesus of Scripture.  We don’t need to paint verbal Rublevs so much as paint Jesus in biblical colours.  We just need to hold Him up in His true identity: He is the Christ, the Son of God.

If you want to be trinitarian, obsess yourself with Jesus.

In or out or In on out? [repost]

Posted on by glenscriv in Doctrine of God, evangelism | Leave a comment

Evangelicals believe in conversion.  It’s absolutely foundational.  The human race is either in or out.  We’re born out.  We need to come in through Christ.

But then, what are we coming in to?  Because if you only think in terms of “in or out” then it might start to sound like the Christian community is the safe-house and the world is going to hell.  And the church says: “Bring em in, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.”  It’s us against the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the safe-house.

This sounds like the conservative Christian picture.  But it’s missing a key element.  God.

You see God is out-going.  The Father is a Sender – of His Son and Spirit.  We need to be in.  But we need to be in on the One who is ever going out.  Therefore, with Christ, the church says: “Get on out there, reach into the world in order to bless.”  It’s us for the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the outsider.

We must, by all means, believe in conversion.  But let’s understand what we are converted to.  We want people in, but we want them in on radical out-going-ness.

So it’s not so much in or out, it’s in on out.

There is no one like you [repost]

Posted on by glenscriv in Doctrine of God | 6 Comments

In Australia I heard a worship song that was new for me:  “There is no-one like you.”

Not the Dave Crowder one.  This one is, almost note-for-note, sung to the tune of “What if God was one of us.”  To the point where the urge to sing “…just a slob like one of us” became almost unbearable.

Do you struggle with other songs like this?  I find it difficult not to break out with “Go West” on the rare occasions we sing “Give thanks“.  Other examples?

But actually “There is no-one like you” and “What if God was one of us” is an interesting juxtaposition.  And quite a biblical one.

Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

What is it that sets the living God apart from every other deity conceived by the imagination of man?  This God works while we wait.  That’s the difference.

Every other god waits while we work.  But this God works while we wait.  “His own Arm works salvation for Him” (Isaiah 59:16).  The Arm of the LORD (Isaiah 52:10) who is the Servant of the LORD (v13; 53:1) – He achieves our redemption for us.

When we think of the utter uniqueness of God, where do our thoughts take us?  When we conceive of the transcendent glory of God, what do we imagine? And how biblical are those conceptions?

From “There is no one like you” so often we take a left and descend a flight of stairs to “God is just really, really, completely and utterly different.”  Ok, but then we cross a barbed wire fence and enter a haunted wood… “He’s so totally other, we can’t even begin to relate.”  And we continue wandering down such darkened paths with the especially religious among us revelling in the murk.

People take a similar journey when discussing concepts of “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence.”

Ah yes, now we’re talking about the real Godness of God.

Indeed.  But if God really is so different then it won’t be obvious what that Godness consists in will it?  Or don’t you believe in His difference after all?!

You can’t just take some bog-standard definition of deity, pump it full of steroids, and then call that “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence”.  You’ll have to study how this utterly different God shows Himself to be utterly different.

And – surprise, surprise – even His difference turns out to be different to how we’d imagined it.  His difference is not in some alien detachment but in intimate engagement. His glory is not His self-obsession but self-giving.  His holiness is not His shut-off-ness but His committed devotion.  His transcendence does not keep Him from us, it’s a transcendent love that moves heaven to earth to save.

There is no-one like this God.  The God who comes as one of us.  Just a Slob like one of us.  Just a Stranger on the bus, come to bring us all Home.

That’s what makes Him really different.

A Fountain Inclined to Overflow

Posted on by glenscriv in Doctrine of God, trinity | 4 Comments

fountainLet me think out loud for a minute.

Jesus is the Radiance of God’s Glory (Hebrews 1:3). He is not a second Light shining as brightly as the Father. And He is not simply the object of the Father’s shining. He is the Father’s Shining.

Similarly, Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father (John 1:1). He is not a second Word, as vocal as the Father. He is not simply the hearer of God’s Word. He is the Father’s communicative expression – a Voice crying out.

In other words, God is outgoing. And eternally so. The triune God flows outwards even before creation. Creation becomes the in-time expression of the Trinity’s eternal life.

But, you might ask the question, Doesn’t this make God dependent on creation? Since He shines out, perhaps creation is necessary as the thing (even the darkness) to be illuminated. Since He speaks out, perhaps creation is necessary as an audience for the Word.  Have we made creation necessary to the expression of God’s eternal nature?

Well before I attempt a half-answer to that, let’s realise that there are problems on the other side of this question. You see if the triune God is not eternally radiant then what He reveals in, through and to His creation is something different to His eternal being. If God is self-contained pre-creation then He could A) remain self-contained (and true to His eternal triune life) or B) be over-flowing (and different to His eternal triune life). But if we want a God who is truly revealed then we need a God who is always expressing Himself – an eternal Word. Once we grant this, there is good news.  For if the Father has always shone outwards in Christ then when I receive that shining I’m receiving the eternal God in His eternal nature. Jesus then truly reveals, not obscures, God.

Ok, so it’s important to hold onto the outgoing-ness of God. But how do we speak of it without making creation necessary to God?

Well Jonathan Edwards in his unpublished essay on the trinity speaks of this eternal outgoing-ness like this:

[God’s pleasure]… is a pleasure in diffusing and communicating to, rather than in receiving from, the creature.

Here Edwards is affirming the primordially gracious character of the Trinity. God is Giver. And forever has been. To the person who objects that this makes God dependent upon a recipient, Edwards makes this wonderful point:

Surely, it is no argument of [neediness] in God that he is inclined to communicate of his infinite fullness. It is no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain, that it is inclined to overflow

The Fountain of Life does not become something He’s not in creation. Rather He is truly Himself in it. Creation does not fulfil a need in God, not at all. But it does express a super-abundance. It shows us a life-giving grace to the Father which goes all the way down and all the way back.

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