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Posts Tagged ‘attributes of God’


The final view of sanctification addressed in Christian Spirituality is that of the contemplatives. The Church has a long history with contemplatives, or mystics, that transcends geography and denominations. Some well-known names were contemplatives: Bernard of Clairvoux, St. John of the Cross, Teresa Avila, Thomas Merton and more. In my younger days as a Christian I read Brother Lawrence and The Great Cloud of Unknowing. How does E. Glenn Hinson describe contemplative Christianity?

Contemplatives try to balance the inner and outer life. They usually assert that being will result in doing (which is a far more biblical idea than doing will result in being). They do spend most of their time addressing the inner life: being. Its focus is on communicating, communing and contemplating with God internally. Like Wesleyian sanctification the focus is on one’s love for God. Instead of gaining this thru a second blessing, one pursues it, so to speak, through a series of activities that leads one thru the stages of increasing communion with God. I’m trying to do this justice on its own terms.

“Contemplation has to do with this loving attentiveness to God.”

In contemplation there is an assumption that God is immanent in the created order. He is inescapably near to us. There is no disputing this, the question is “how is He near?”.

In Hinson’s description, there is a “naturalness” to this pursuit of the Divine Lover. He does not clarify and it can sound awfully Pelagian to many ears. Since contemplatives typically eschew theological distinctions, lots of things are vague enough to be misunderstood. Or properly understood.

At the very best, it is typically Arminian. God is a gentleman who never knocks our door down but respects the freedom He gave us. There is a resistibleness to this “grace.” Let me clarify: in Reformed Theology God does not violate the will of the creature, but in regeneration changes the character/nature of the creature so the person’s will is changed. We cannot thwart God’s purposes and plan. In most contemplative theology we, not God, are in the driver’s seat.

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In this barren wasteland of books on the Trinity there are only a few oases out there. If you believe Michael Reeves, and I suspect you should, this is thanks to Schleiermacher who basically treated the Trinity as extraneous to Christianity. In Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith he treats the Trinity as the hub upon which all of Christianity turns. That is part of what makes this particular volume on the Trinity unique. He explicitly states and develops this as a steady drumbeat in the book.

“For God is triune, and it is as triune that he is so good and desireable.”

In part, the book is an apologetic for Christianity in general and the Trinity in particular. He spends some time examining what happens if you don’t have a Trinity, what does that mean about God. To put it simply, God is not love. He is wanting a creation, if he wants a creation that serves him. But if God is love, and there are more than 3 persons in this eternal community of love we understand creation (and redemption) as an overflow of the love they have for one another. This sets Christianity into a different light, a greater light.

“Before he ever created, before he ever ruled the world, before anything else, this God was a Father loving his Son.”

For instance, love is the motive for the mission of God. I am currently reading a book on that subject and the author of this otherwise good book seems to neglect this as the reason. He’s not seeing the mission as the Father sending the Son to adopt more children, but more a Creator wanting to be obeyed. This focus on God as loving community helps to clear the air of many misconceptions and present a more winsome Christianity.

“He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation.”

For instance, in the last chapter he explores how this focus influences how we view various attributes of God. God’s holiness, for instance, is that he is separate from us in that he loves. In Leviticus 19, he reminds us, that the call to be holy, or perfect, as he is is surrounded by the command to love your neighbor as yourself and explanations of what that looks like (caring for the poor, for instance). So our holiness is not to be mere obedience. Our holiness is to be a love that reaches out to others as God has reached out to us in order to meet the needs of others. Oh, there is obedience but as Jesus said in John’s Gospel this is because love Him who first loved us.

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The same caveat exist for as for my post on Scripture.  This is meant to summarize the doctrine found in the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Chapter II: Of God, and The Holy Trinity

20. List some incommunicable attributes of God. List some communicable attributes of God. Distinguish between the two. Omniscience & omnipotence.  Goodness & love.  Incommunicable attributes are those God does not share with his creatures.  He shares communicable attributes with us, and we are guilty of sin in as much as we do not manifest these attributes.

21. Distinguish between the Transcendence and Immanence of God.  Transcendence is God apart and above creation.  He is not to be confused with creation, and he is sovereign over creation.  Immanence describes God’s involvement in creation, how He draws near to accomplish His purposes in creation.

22. How many persons are there in the Godhead? 3

23. What is meant that the Son is “eternally begotten”? What is being preserved by this statement?  The Son has no beginning but has always been God the Son.  It preserves his unique personhood and divinity.

24. Support from Scripture the full deity of Christ. John 1, Philippians 2

25. Does the Holy Spirit proceed from both the Father and the Son? Why is this teaching important? What does it safeguard against?  Yes.  It is important because Jesus teaches it in His High Priestly prayer (John 17).  It was one of the matters of controversy between the Eastern and Western Church prior to the Great Schism.  It maintains the eternal fellowship of the Godhead and the equality of the Son with the Father.

26. Do you believe in the deity of the Holy Spirit? On what basis?  Yes.  In Hebrews “God said” and “the Spirit said” are used interchangeably.  Jesus calls Him “another Counselor”, placing Him on equal footing.  In His instruction on baptism (Mt. 28) Jesus says “the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” indicating their unity. 

27. Support from Scripture the full deity of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit was present and active in creation (Gen. 1), the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead (Rom. 1), Jesus performed his earthly ministry in the power of the Spirit (Luke), and the Spirit works in our salvation (1 Peter 1).  Acts 5 says they lied to God, then in a parallel statement that they lied to the Spirit.

28. What works are assigned to the Holy Spirit in Scripture?  Creation, giving of prophecy, sustaining the ministry of Christ, regeneration, granting of spiritual gifts, sanctification, bearing witness that we are sons of God, leading us into obedience, bringing us into the Father’s presence in prayer.

29. What is the difference between the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and in the New Testament?  The ministry of the Spirit, apart from regeneration and illumination of the Scriptures,  was primarily related to the offices of prophet, priest and king.  Now all Christians enjoy the ministry of the Spirit.

30. What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit and when does it occur?  It is the initial & permanent indwelling of the Spirit which occurs at conversion.

31. What is the filling of the Holy Spirit and when does it occur?  The filling of the Spirit refers to our submission to the influence of the Spirit by faith. 

32. What are the evidences of being baptized with the Holy Spirit? Of being filled with the Spirit?  The evidences of being baptized with the Spirit are faith and repentance (Acts 2).  As we mature, the Spirit also bears the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Galatians 5).  The evidences of being filled with the Spirit are worship, gratitude and submission to proper authorities in the Lord (Eph. 5).

33. What is your view of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? In His sovereignty, the Father gives each Christian spiritual gifts for the building up of the Body.  The sign gifts have ceased.

34. Are you personally committed to the doctrine of the trinity?  Yes.

35. What does it mean for God to be “without passions” (II.1)?  God is not subject to fleeting emotions such as man.

36. Describe the work of each member of the trinity in the economy of salvation.  The Father elects some to salvation, the Son purchases their redemption thru his Incarnation, Identification, active obedience, passive obedience, resurrection and ascension.  The Spirit applies the redemption that Christ has purchased to those the Father elected.

37. Do tongues have any place in the church today? How would you describe the modern day phenomenon?  I don’t see a place for tongues in the church today.  I think they are a learned behavior, therefore a counterfeit- not a spiritual gift.

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(This is the 2nd in a series on Open Theism)

 

The Curse of Open Theism

Genuine human freedom would be a morally neutral will.  I could freely choose from any number of options without any outside interference.  That identical set of circumstances may produce any number of choices. 

I say genuine human freedom is a myth because they fail to account for, or minimize, depravity and its effects on human freedom.  They ignore the Bible’s assessment that we are slaves to sin and enemies of God.  God’s Word declares that we do not possess genuine human freedom.  Their theological system is built to protect a philosophical idea we do not find in Scripture.

Jonathan Edwards called the will “the mind choosing”.  We choose, freely, according to our character.  Unfortunately, we are sinners.  We make our choices on the basis of our impure motives, desires and longings.  We are not morally neutral!

However, this assumption of genuine human freedom affects how Open Theists interpret some key Bible passages.  In Genesis 28 they believe that God actually learned that Abraham feared Him.  They use a “face value” model of interpretation.  They claim God had to learn this piece of information about Abraham by testing him.  This despite the fact they still claim God has full knowledge of the past and present.  If God has full knowledge of the present, He would have known that Abraham feared Him.  If we have genuine human freedom, this test is irrelevant.  God cannot base any of His future actions on Abraham’s fear and faithfulness because God does not know if Abraham will continue to fear God and be faithful in the future.  Tested again, Abraham could choose differently.

In his book God’s Lesser Glory, Bruce Ware does an excellent job examining these and other passages related to this discussion. He shows that a “face value” method of interpretation would strip God of His present and past knowledge (He had to see if Sodom and Gemorrah were really that bad).  It would also mean that God is not present everywhere at every moment (He had to go to Sodom and Gemorrah!).  They fail to test their interpretation of these passages against the clear teaching of Scripture elsewhere.  We do this because God cannot lie.  As a result, Scripture will not contradict itself.  The clear passages illumine the unclear passages.

So, part of the curse of Open Theism is that it is a slippery slope whereby God’s glory continues to decrease.  The same method of interpretation that robs us of God’s knowledge of the future robs us of other attributes of God.  We end up with a god more like ourselves, and less like the Savior, Redeemer and Defender we need.  They give us a god who could not know the Fall would happen, Jesus would die on the cross, Peter would deny Jesus three times (how’d he even know Peter would be questioned three times), that Hezekiah would live 15 more years (that is a whole lot of possible accidents, injuries, illnesses and possible assassination attempts), much less that you would exist in order to be adopted in Christ.  The Bible, and our faith, begins to unravel.

Bruce Ware also does an excellent job building the biblical case for God’s foreknowledge (in the Calvinistic sense).  In Isaiah 40-48, God declares that what separates Him for the numerous idols the people worshipped is the fact that He does declare the future.  He points to past prophecies that have come true.  He points to past prophecies that are about to come true.  He is specific about many of those.  In order for God to bring His purpose to completion, He must know and control the choices of a vast number of volitional beings.  The mystery is how He can do this “without violating the will of the creature” as the Westminster Confession of Faith asserts.  The claims of Open Theism that God does not know the future do not stand up to the teaching of Scripture.

The curse of Open Theism is not limited to theology proper.  It has a practical outworking in the lives of those who believe it (Bruce Ware is once again extremely helpful).  This is why Paul told Timothy “watch your life and doctrine closely”.  One area of concern is prayer. 

Proponents of Open Theism declare that prayer really matters.  They believe that prayer really matters only if we have genuine human freedom.  In prayer, our relationship with God is built.  We are able to share our feelings and desires.  In their view, foreknowledge would mean that our prayers do not change anything.

In Reformed Theology (summed up in the Westminster Confession of Faith) prayer has two primary purposes (at least).  God has not just ordained what will happen, but also how.  Some the instruments God uses to accomplish His will are the prayers of His people.  Our prayers matter, even in a theological system where God is in complete control. 

Prayer is also related to our adoption as God’s children.  We express our needs, longings and feelings to our Father who expresses His loving involvement with us by responding to our prayers.  One need not accept the views of Open Theism to have a prayer life that matters and builds one’s relationship with God.

Open Theism seems to forget that God knows everything past and present.  Our prayers are significant, in their opinion, because God learns something new.  But He knows what we think, feel and desire.  If God’s knowledge of the future makes prayer useless (as they claim), so would God’s complete knowledge of the present.  We don’t need to pray because God already knows. 

Their own argument backfires (as if the purpose of prayer were to inform God of something).  God will not learn something new which will cause Him to change His mind.  The point would rather seem to be integrity in our relationship with God and ourselves.  God seems to be letting us know our hearts better.  But they insist on using a human model for communication between God and man.  This is part of the same problem we saw before- making God in our image!

Their views once again slight God’s wisdom.  Why does God need our help to make decisions?  He certainly possesses more complete knowledge than we do, is wiser than us, and has much purer motives than us.  To believe that God’s decision making process is incomplete (like mine) without input from others does not make any sense.  It exalts my knowledge and wisdom, and minimizes God’s.  Compare their views with Isaiah 40:13-14.  No one is competent to be God’s counselor.  And God has no need of a counselor.  Open Theism again falls short of God’s glory as revealed in Scripture.

Beyond this, what happens when things turn out to be difficult?  Are we to surmise, as they do, that God was mistaken (since He couldn’t see the future)?  Our disappointment shifts from our circumstances to God’s character.  We depart from Paul’s conviction that God is at work in all our circumstances to make us like Jesus (however painful that might be).  We would be forced to believe that God is a good-hearted bungler who can’t be trusted to protect us.  As a result suffering has little or no meaning in Open Theism.  God’s plan can be ambushed either by Satan or your neighbor.  God’s glory is assaulted by Open Theism once again.  They reject the biblical teaching that God is absolutely in control and that God is absolutely good.  The Bible asserts both, not one at the expense of the other as Openness Theology does.  Once again it fails to measure up to the standard of Scripture.

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