Blogging the Institutes | 1.13.7 | The Son is God

The Son is God

Before I go any further, I want to prove that the Son and Holy Spirit are God. Afterwards, we’ll see how they differ from one another. When Scripture talks about the Word of God, it is silly to believe that it like a fleeting voice which evaporates into thin air. God’s Word comes from Himself as He communicated to the patriarchs and all the prophecies. Wisdom was always with God. And it was through this wisdom that all the oracles and prophecies came from. The prophets spoke through the power of Christ’s Spirit, just like the apostles did (1 Peter 1:11). Although Christ was not yet manifested in the world, we understand that the Word was begotten by the Father from all eternity. If the Spirit, who used the prophets as His mouthpieces, belonged to the Word, then the inference is irresistible: the Word was truly God.

This is shown clearly by Moses in his account of creation. The Word is the agent of creation. Why does he narrate that God, in creating each part of the world, says, “Let there be this!” and “Let there be that!” except to show that the unsearchable glory of God might shine forth in His image! I know that heretics will try to avoid believing this by arguing that the Word was only used to “order” and “command” creation. But the apostles are better teachers when they tell us that the worlds were created by the Son and He sustains all things by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). We see in this verse that the term “word” is used to refer to the Son’s command, who Himself is the essential and eternal Word of the Father. The Word used His word to create!

No one can doubt Solomon’s teaching about wisdom. He introduces Wisdom as begotten from God, present at the creation of the world and all of God’s works (Proverbs 8:22-31). It would be foolish to imagine that God used a temporary command when He was executing His fixed and eternal plan. Jesus is talking about this ongoing “command” when He says, “My Father is working until now, and so am I” (John 5:17). Jesus affirms that He has been working with the Father from the beginning of time. Jesus clearly explains what Moses implied in the creation account. God spoke in such a way as to use the Word in creation so that both He and the Word could be seen as the agents of creation. The apostle John gives us the clearest explanation. The Word, which was with God and also God Himself, made all things together with the Father. John shows that the Word is truly God. Yet the Word also has some distinction from the Father. But he also shows how God spokes the world into existence. Just as all revelations from heaven are called “the Word of God,” so the highest title must be given to the capital-W “Word,” who is the source of all revelation about God. Since the Word never changes, He is forever one and the same with God, and is God.

We All Believe

All knowing begins with what Michael Polanyi calls a “fiduciary framework.” (fiduciary = pertaining to fides, “involving trust”): an interpretive framework that one takes initially on faith until it proves itself by yielding a harvest of understanding…If Polanyi is right, Christian theology is no worse of than modern science. Everyone has to have faith in something to get the knowing process started…A good case could be made for making Scripture the Christians’ default fiduciary framework, the source and norm of theological knowledge and wisdom.

Kevin Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel, p. 100

Blogging the Institutes | 1.13.6 | The Father is NOT the Son and vice versa

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

The Father is NOT the Son and vice versa

Let’s stop talking about mere labels and talk about what they actually mean. When I use the term “person” I mean this: a subsistence within the divine essence. This subsistence, while related to the other two, is distinguished from them by certains properties which aren’t shared by the others. Let’s be clear: the term “subsistence” is different than “essence.” For example, if the “Word” was identical to God in every way, then John would have not said that He was always “with” God (John 1:1). Yet, when John immediately adds that the “Word was God,” he draws our attention back to their shared essence (“God-ness”). But notice the unity and distinction in the passage. The Word is God and shares in the same “essence” as the Father. But the Word is distinct from God in some way: the way of person or “subsistence.”

So each person in the Trinity is related to the others but also each one has its one distinction properties. When the term “God” is used, it can rightly be applied to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. But when the Father is compared to the Son, the particular properties of each person distinguishes one from the other. The Father is NOT the Son. Each person (Father, Son, Spirit) carries with itself its own properties which are not part of the other persons. Whatever properties are solely possessed by the Father can be transferred to the Son. I have no objections to adopting Tertullian’s definition, if it is properly understood: “There is a certain arrangement or economy within God , which does not affect the unit of essence.”

Blogging the Institutes | 1.13.5 | Different Terms; Same Truth

“Blogging the Institutes” is my on-going attempt to paraphrase John Calvin’s work, the Institutes of the Christian Religion. You can find out more about the series in the Introduction. For all the posts in this series, check out the Master List

Different Terms; Same Truth

If the various theological terms that have been coined over the years were not invented rashly, then we need to be careful not to hastily discard them. I actually wish that some of the terms could be buried if everyone agreed that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, and that the Son is not the Father, and the Spirit is not the Son. I don’t want to argue over terms. The church fathers were consistent in writing about the truth, but they weren’t always consistent in the terms they used. The terms used by the various ecumenical councils and defended by Hilary are somewhat strange! St. Augustine’s views are extravagant sometimes! How different are the Greeks and the Latins!

Let’s look at one example. The Latin church translates the word homoousios as consubstantialis (consubstantial). They meant that the Son and Father were one substance, having substituted the word “substance” or “essence.” Jerome, in his letter to Damasus, claims that it is profane to affirm three substances in God. But in Hilary, he mentions over one hundred times that God is three substances. Jerome is greatly confused by the word Hypostatis! He believes there is something sinister in saying that there are three Hypostases in God. He truly believes that such an expression is not right. He did hate the Eastern bishops, though, so it’s hard to know if he said this because he really believed it or just wanted to make them seem suspect. He asserts that ousia means Hypostatis (substance). But such an assertion is easily refuted by looking at the word’s common use.

Augustine is more moderate. He says that although the term Hypostatis is new to Latin ears, he is tolerant to its usage. Socrates, in his Sixth Book of the Tripartite history, says the term had been improperly applied by the unskillful. Because of his struggle with heretics, Hilary felt he needed to introduce new terms but apologizes for doing so. After he writes about the Father, Son, and Spirit, he admits that all further inquiry into who God is transcends words, the use of our human abilities, and even our minds. In another place, he congratulates the Bishop of France for not writing a new confession of faith but merely receiving the ancient confession of the church. Augustine says something similar: the term had been taken out of the realm of mere human experience and applied to God to try to express something which our minds cannot fully grasp.

The examples of the church father should be warning to us not to criticize right away those who deviate from term which we come up with provided they don’t reject the terms out of pride and also consider that new terms may have been needed to be coined. Mere acceptance of the terms does not necessarily mean somewhat does not follow Arius or Sabellius. Arisu will say, “Christ is God.” But then he will say that the Son was made and had a beginning. He will say that Christ is one with the Father but then whisper that Christ was “made one” with God, just like us albeit with special privileges.  But if you use the term “consubstantial” you will immediately rip off his mask and expose his heresy. Sabellius will say that Father, Son, and Spirit will indicate some distinction within God. If you say that God is three, then he will cry out that you are making three gods! But if you say that there is a, “Trinity of persons in one divine essence,” you will express in one word what Scripture says and shut him up!

If some object to these terms, they will not be able to deny that when “one” is spoken of is means a unity of substance. When “three” is spoken of in one essence, it means the three persons of the Trinity. When the church confesses these truths without equivocating, then we don’t have to dwell long on the terms. But I have learned my lesson over the years that those who claim wrangle over terms usually have some ulterior motive. Therefore, it’s wise to provoke them to object to the terms so we know exactly what we’re dealing with.

An Effective Template for Preaching Christ-Centered Sermons

The “gospel-centered” movement has swept through many churches. This is a good thing. It’s even impacted preaching as many pastors now strive to preach Christ in every message. The bankruptcy of merely preaching a message on how to be a “good” person has been exposed. But when you actually read the Bible, you are confronted with a lot of commands! Even the New Testament contains many sections where believers are exhorted to live a new live in Christ. So how can preach these commands to our churches without resorting to rank legalism?

Read the rest at Rookie Preacher.

 

“The Benedict Option” by Rod Dreher–Reflections

Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option, has been something of a lightning rod (pun intended) in current discussion. Some have taken an enthusiastic liking to it, while others have not been so favorable towards it. Much of the concern seems to cluster around the idea that Dreher is advocating for Christians to withdraw from the wider culture. To some, it sounds like old-school fundamentalism: “Leave the corrupt world behind and only spend time with Christians!”

I think such a reading misses Dreher’s point. Dreher acknowledges that the Benedict Option is really about the church being the church. The church must stop compromising with the world and be a distinctive community: “A church that looks and talks and sounds just like the world has no reason to exist” (121).

Dreher’s strongest points come when he addresses the internal life of the church. He calls for the church to hold the line on sound doctrine and practice. She needs to stop being influenced by the world and reclaim its tradition and heritage. She must grow deeper “roots” to weather the cultural storm.

Reflections on Church and Culture

Dreher goes beyond calling the church to reform herself, however, and expands his discussion to how the church should relate to the wider culture. The church-culture relationship is something which theologians have argued about throughout the history of the church. (Tertullian famously said, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” trying to relate reason and faith). Although there may be some growing consensus in the broader evangelical world,  one position on the church’s cultural engagement will probably never win over the majority of the church. Consequently, Dreher’s ideas will always be open to critique. Two key assumptions drive Dreher’s proposal for cultural engagement.

First, Dreher assumes that “Christendom” is a good thing.

For centuries, western society was upheld by a Christian social “imaginary.”  The church heavily influenced the culture so much so that certain beliefs were woven into the very fabric of daily life. Dreher sees three key beliefs as part of the western Christian social imaginary, especially in medieval Europe:

  • God created the world which order and meaning. All things are signs which point to God
  • Society is grounded on this higher reality
  • The world is infused with spiritual force and reality

Dreher sees these beliefs as good things. He also thinks that Christendom was a good thing. But was it? Even Dreher admits that medieval Europe had significant problems: “Medieval Europe was no Christian utopia. The church was spectacularly corrupt, and the violent exercise of power–at times by the church itself–seemed to rule the world” (25). Yet Dreher sees the social cohesion and integration of the medieval worldview as being worth enduring the difficulties and atrocities perpetuated by the church.

It is at this point where Dreher’s proposal runs into trouble in my estimation. There may have been greater social cohesion within medieval Europe because nations were “Christian,” but at what cost? Great violence? Early death?

When the church adopts the the sexual libertarianism of the contemporary culture, it is compromised. It is no less compromised, however, when it uses violence to enforce its will. The church is defiled when she gets in bed with political power and becomes the religion mandated by the state.

Christianity is a “faith.” One thing faith cannot be is coerced. Faith, although a gift from God, is also an act of the will. Christendom, in my estimation, encourages widespread nominalism: people are “Christians” because they were born into it, not because they were born again by God and exercised true faith in Christ. This is the problem with the Bible Belt! People attend church or even take on the label of “Christian” without having ever been made new by the gospel.

Second, Dreher assumes a sacramental view of life.

According to Dreher, the people of the medieval ages believed that, “All things that existed, even time, [were] sacramental. That is, they believed that God was present everywhere and revealed Himself to us through people, places, and things, through His power flowed” (24). Dreher sees the erosion of a sacramental view of life as sucking out the meaning and significance of life: “The long journey from a medieval world wracked with suffering but pregnant with meaning has delivered to us a place of once unimaginable comfort but emptied of significance and connection” (46).

Is a sacramental view of life true? It is true that the, “Heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). It is true that all people everywhere at all times know God exists, but suppress the truth in unrighteous (Romans 1:18-23). But such verses in Scripture do not support a sacramental worldview.

If God reveals Himself through people, places, and things, it seems that superstition and idolatry can abound. If God truly reveals Himself through things other than Scripture, then those things could be worthy of worship. Medieval Christians would often make pilgrimages to all over Europe just to be in the presence of relics. The Protestant Reformers, especially John Calvin, rightly saw such veneration of objects and icons as idolatry.

If God’s revelation of Himself is untethered from His word, then people can find “signs” in all kinds of things. But God explicitly gives us the proper interpretation of events in His word. Unless we have special revelation, we cannot interpret the course of history or particular events as being “of God.” Of course, God is sovereign. Of course, God is directing history for His own purposes. But that is a long way of being able to properly interpret the events of one’s life as being God’s hand. Why did you get sick last week? Was it because God is punishing you for some sin? Or for some other reason? We will probably never be able to know this side of eternity.

Rather than adopting a sacramental worldview, I think a better construct is to adopt a “typological” worldview. Typology, first and foremost, is a way of interpreting the Scriptures. The Bible speaks of “types” where people, places, and institutions point to Christ. Adam is a famous example (Romans 5:14). Just as Adam was head of the human race and his actions affected all people, so Christ is head of the new humanity and His actions bring justification to all who believe. In this sense, Adam points to Christ.

It’s important to note that in typology, the types are real, historical things. They do not lose their meaning and become obliterated because of the fulfillment in Christ. Types point us to Christ and remind us of aspects of His person and work.

A typological worldview, then, see this world as certainly declaring God’s glory. But it also acknowledges that we need God’s word to give a proper interpretation of the “facts.” As Dreher puts it, in a Reformational view, the meaning of life is “accessible to humans by faith in [God] and His revelation of alone” (28). So although a “table” may remind us of the Lord’s table and the communion we have with Him through faith, a table is not a means of grace and way of coming to know God.

Conclusion

Dreher’s book is definitely worth reading. Although I have focused on some points of critique here, there is so much good in this book. In fact, one of the great positives of this book is that so many people have reacted strongly to it that it forced me to read it for myself and come to my conclusions!

 

How to do Family Worship

As a pastor, I desire to help for all of our church families to be passionate about teaching Jesus to their kids. Seminary professor Don Whitney has written a helpful little book called Family Worship to help guide parents as they teach their children about the Lord. There is no substitute for parents faithfully teaching their children about God in the home.
Below is an example of how we, the Pascarella clan, do family worship:
Notice two things:
First, the video is only 1 minutes and 49 seconds. Although I typically read more of the book, my goal is consistency rather than length (at this point). We strive to do this four nights a week for five minutes a night.
Second, some discipline may be necessary. Kids need to learn to sit still. If you’ve ever been around our son, you know he’s very active! But I believe that it is important for him to learn to be still during the reading of God’s Word. Although he may not fully understand what’s happening right now, hopefully he will begin to understand that when daddy opens up the Bible, something important is happening.
 
The Pattern:  Read, Pray, Sing
 
Read: We read a page to two pages out of the Jesus Storybook Bible 
 
Pray: Our “model” prayer is, “Thank you God for…In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
 
Sing: We sing a song out of the Hymns of Grace hymnal