Creation: The Theater of God’s Glory

Can the Christian faith offer a richer, deeper account of the natural world than its pagan or atheist rivals? The importance of the question is obvious. Both the credibility and utility of the Christian faith can legitimately be called into question if it fails to offer a better account of reality than its rivals.

Christian theology offers a distinct angle of gaze, a way of seeing things which both discloses the true identity of nature and mandates certain ways of behaving toward it and within it. Theology enables us to see the fullness of reality, the world as it really is or could be. For contrary to what most thinkers of the Enlightenment believed, nature is not an autonomous, self-defined entity; rather, it is something that is always interpreted, whether consciously or unconsciously, from a theoretical standpoint.

…Christians see the natural world through a theological prism. In the eighteenth century many Christians chose to interpret nature through a lens that was deist, rather than trinitarian. God was seen as the creator of nature, whose involvement with the natural realm ceased thereafter. This encouraged the emergence of a functional atheism, in that God was, to all intents and purposes, thought of as being absent from the world. Yet during the twentieth century, through the influence of theologians such as Karl Barth and Karl Rahner, there has been a rediscovery of the coherence and explanatory power of a specifically trinitarian vision of God.

…If God created the natural world, does it not bear the divine imprint? Is not one of the implications of a trinitarian doctrine of creation that the natural world displays in some sense the marks of its Creator? {Which leads the author to point to Psalm 19:1.}

Israel already knew about its God, and did not need to look at the natural world for proof of God’s existence. Yet it saw God’s glory reflected in the creation. To use John Calvin’s phrase, the natural world is to be recognized as the ‘theater of the glory of God.’ God’s glory is stamped on the world by the act of creation; this is supplemented by the mighty acts by which God chose to redeem the world, which take place within this same theater of nature.

PassionateIntellectbookTaken from Chapter 5, “The Theater of the Glory of God”, in Alister McGrath’s book The Passionate Intellect: Christian Faith and the Discipleship of the Mind (IVP, 2010), a book I picked for review a few years ago and have picked up again to continue reading.

While not agreeing with all that McGrath posits, I like his “apologetics” approach to the subjects treated in this book. He makes you think, and he makes you think about defending the Christian faith intellectually and rationally (of course, also by faith in God’s revelation of truth in the Bible alone), in the face of unbelief’s ridicule of our faith.

The title is still available for review if someone would like to do so.

Wielding the Sword for Our Fellow Soldiers

Tonight our monthly discussion groups from Faith PRC met, and our group gathered at our home to discuss Chapter 10 of the book Spiritual Warfare: A Biblical and Balanced Perspective by Rob Ventura and Brian Borgman (Reformation Heritage, 2014). This chapter treats Eph.6:17, where we Christian soldiers are charged, “And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It is that “Sword of the Spirit” which is the subject of the chapter that we discussed.

In the course of explaining this defensive and offensive weapon, the authors lay down six (6) principles for “wielding the sword” properly. Among those principles is this important one, one we admitted that we often neglect:​

“3. Wield the sword of the Spirit to strengthen our fellow soldiers.

We do not fight this battle in some kind of individual, Rambo-style combat. As we mentioned in chapter 4, we are in this war alongside our fellow believers. We need to strengthen and encourage each other (1 Thess. 5:11). The powers of darkness are not only assaulting me, they are assaulting my brothers and sisters. Satan is working hard to tear down God’s people, drawing them away from the faith, weakening them through his lies. How we need to speak truth to each other in love (Eph. 4:15)! We not only wield the sword of Spirit against the enemy, but we also wield it as we help each other, especially in the context of the community of believers in the local church. Paul reminds the Roman Christians, “Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14). A timely word from the Word may be exactly what our brothers or sisters need to help them stand firm in their evil day.”

So, what can you and I do this week to “strengthen and encourage” one another in our spiritual battles? What Word of God do you have for your fellow saint?

What Do You Know About Athanasius? M. Haykin/Crossway

At the beginning of this week (January 7, 2018) Crossway publishers had a post by author Michael Haykin on the great church father Athanasius (c.296-298 to 373).

Athanasius-statueBy Giovanni Dall’Orto – Own work, Attribution, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4639224

Haykin has written a book published by Crossway titled Rediscovering the Church Fathers and his online article “10 Things You Should Know About Athanasius” is based on his chapter on this important church father.

Rediscovering the Church Fathers

So, what do you know about Athanasius? Do you remember the oft-used expression “Athanasius contra mundum” for his stand against the Arians and for the full deity of Jesus Christ? If you need a reminder of how important this early father is, then Haykin’s post will help.

Here are the last 5 things Haykin gives about him (find the other five at the link above):

6. He was exiled five times.
This was the first of five exiles, four of which were for his defense of the deity of Christ against Arianism. The two longest, from 339–346 and 356–361, were in Rome and the Egyptian desert respectively. It was because of these exiles that the saying “Athanasius contra mundum” (Athanasius against the world) was coined

7. He chose his words carefully.
It is noteworthy that Athanasius did not frequently use the term “of one being” (homoousios)—found in the Nicene Creed to set forth the deity of Christ, specifically in him being of “one being with the Father”—until the 350s. Up until then, Athanasius had used other statements and images drawn from Scripture in his defense of the divinity of Jesus.

8. He wrote the first treatise defending the full deity of the Holy Spirit in 358–359.
His close friend Serapion of Thmuis, a town in the Nile Delta, told him about the Binitarianism of certain individuals in his church who confessed Christ as fully God but argued that the Holy Spirit was to be included among the angelic beings. Athanasius’s three letters to Serapion were the first of a number of important defenses of the Spirit’s deity written over the next thirty-five years or so.

9. He wrote a best-selling biography.
Athanasius’s biography of the Egyptian monk Antony, written not long after the monk’s death in 356, was a “bestseller” in Christian antiquity and played a key role in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo in 386. Among the things that Athanasius related about Antony was his phenomenal memorization of the entire Bible. It is most likely the case that Athanasius had also memorized most of the Scriptures.

10. One of his letters contains the earliest complete list of New Testament books we’ve ever found.
Athanasius’s Easter Letter of 367 contains the first known list of the books of the New Testament that corresponds exactly to the modern listing of the New Testament canon. Along with the Old Testament, Athanasius declared such books to be the “fountains of salvation, that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness.”

Living orderly and peacefully in “the great sea of Christian communion” – M.Horton

Increasingly, we prefer to lynch fellow shepherds via social media than to submit to each other and address concerns face to face in private or in church courts – doing everything ‘decently and in good order’ (1 Cor 14:40). Our soul is too noble, our insight too keen, and our vision too soaring to be confined within the boundaries of a communion. Some will not bend their opinions to the common consent of the church; others will not limit what they think everyone should believe to that common confession. Some abandon the church altogether, while others make their own little corner in it for a private club.

When we leave the great sea of Christian communion to colonize our own rivers and shorelines, the party we lead becomes captive to our own narrow interpretations, view, and plans. Timothy was accountable to a council of elders to help keep him on track. Yet accountability is something that people, especially in my generation and younger, find difficult to accept in concrete terms.

Jesus did not establish a movement, tribe, or a school, but a church. Whether our divisive ambition is determined by extraordinary ministers, scholars, or movements, it is completely out of step with ‘the pattern of the sound words’ that is help humbly and guarded as a ‘good deposit’ (see 2 Tim 1:13-14) that we all embrace because it is taught explicitly by the prophets and apostles as the ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from the next chapter I recently read in Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). This was chapter 6 – “Practicing what we preach: no more super-apostles” and the quotation is found on p.113.

Though addressed primarily to pastors and church leaders, the principle driven home here is for all of us in the office of believer too. We are truly safe and at peace when we submit ourselves to Christ’s proper rule and order in the church. All of us as believers live best when we abide in the “great sea of Christian communion” and refuse to “colonize our own rivers and shorelines.”

Theological Humility – K. Kapic on St. Augustine

Humility reminds us that there is One far greater than us. We love and acknowledge this Lord who surpasses us in every way. Humility also bears in mind our finitude and fallenness. Our finitude constantly reminds us of our dependence on others and of the incompleteness of our theological constructions. Theological error develops not simply out of our sin but also because there are limits to our attempts at cognitive harmony. We cannot fathom how all things work together; every time we believe our accounts are exhaustive, we inevitably discover just how much we do not know or all that we have misunderstood. No divine reality can be flatly reduced to words, concepts, images or narratives. God is never less than these, but he is more than them. The reality of God always exceeds our expressions and our understanding of them. [pp.73-74]

And as a concrete example of this humility, the author points us to the great church father Augustine:

While Augustine is commonly considered the father of Western orthodox Christianity, he never saw his own conclusions as indisputable. In response to a letter that questioned ideas from one of his books, Augustine distinguished his own thoughts from those of Scripture’s binding authority. He described his theology as a work in progress, and he believed that since the goal was truthful reflection on God, he should constantly be open to revision. …It is the subtlety of ‘self-love’ that hardens us, keeping us wanting others to be wrong and preventing our spiritual development.

Near the end of his life Augustine put together a book titled “Retractions,” in which he looked at his own voluminous writings and revised countless claims he made earlier in his life. This was a sign of strength rather than weakness in Augustine’s approach. Anyone who stands at the end of his days and claims never to have changed his mind should not be praised for unwillingness to compromise but rather pitied for naïve pride [pp.72-73].

little-book-theologians-kapicTaken from chapter 7, “Humility and Repentance” in Kelly Kapic’s A Little Book for New Theologians: Why and How to Study Theology (IVP Academic, 2012), pp.64-70.

Living in the Fear of our God and Father – January “Tabletalk”

TT-Jan-2018In the past week I began to use the new issue of Tabletalk (January 2018), the daily devotionals (going through the gospel of John this year), and today I started reading the articles. This issue is built around the theme of “Fearing God.”

Editor Burk Parsons introduces this theme with his article “The Fear of the Lord,” including these closing thoughts:

If we know the Lord, we fear the Lord, because He has put the fear of Himself into our hearts (Jer. 32:40). As Christians, we don’t have a servile, cowering, slave-like fear of the Lord. Rather, we have a filial, reverential, humble fear of the Lord. The gospel is the difference between being afraid of God and fearing God. It’s only when we come to fear the Lord that the Lord tells us to fear not. For when we know the love of God in Christ, the Spirit casts out all fear and instills in us love and adoration, that we might work out our salvation with fear and trembling and worship the Lord, coram Deo, before His face, with reverence and awe.

One of the featured articles I read today was for the “Pastor’s Perspective” column, one by Rev. John Sartelle, titled “Worship and the Fear of God.” He ended his fine piece with these words, fitting as we end the Lord’s Day and strive to walk as children of our heavenly Father in the week ahead:

The Apostle John had been as close as anyone to Jesus. He walked the roads and hills of Galilee with Him. They had spent long hours together conversing over meals. John was at the cross at Calvary, where Jesus committed to him the care of His mother. Yet, after His return to glory, when He revealed Himself to this faithful Apostle on the island of Patmos, what did John do? John says, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead” (Rev. 1:17).

There is a tension here. God the Father is our Father through the rebirth. He has told us to address Him as “Father,” a close intimate family title. Jesus is our elder brother. Therefore, there is a genuine closeness to God, a relationship. However, God is also God—glorious, majestic, holy, just, omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, transcendent. We never experience Him apart from those attributes. We have the privilege of addressing Him as Father, and there is the reality of a family relationship, but that relationship does not change the truth that we are creatures and He is the Creator. To be in His throne room with the great seraphim and romp around the throne as loving children is not a familial privilege—it is insolence to the Almighty. You never see that picture in Scripture. In that throne room, love must always be joined with reverence.

We must continually ask ourselves as ministers, officers, and members of His church, what does our worship say about our God to those who observe? Maybe the world’s lack of any fear of God has rubbed off on us more than our fear of God has rubbed off on them.

Trying to Understand the World without Reference to God and His Glory: “a pathetically parochial point of view” – J. Piper

…We live in such a pervasively secular culture that the air we breathe is godless. God is not part of the social consciousness. Christians, sad to say, absorb this. It combines with our own self-exalting bent, and we find ourselves slow to see the obvious – that God is a million times more important than man, and his glory is the ultimate meaning of all things.

The world thinks that because we can put a man on the moon and cure diseases and build skyscrapers and establish universities, therefore we can understand things without reference to God. But this is a pathetically parochial point of view. It is parochial because it assumes that the material universe is large and God is small. It is parochial because it thinks that being able to do things with matter, while being blind to God, is brilliant. But in fact, a moment’s reflection, in the bracing air of biblical God-centeredness, reminds us that when God is taken into account, the material universe is ‘an infinitely small part of universal existence.’

Those are the staggering words of Jonathan Edwards. To be impressed with the material universe and not be impressed with God is like being amazed at Buck Hill in Minnesota and bored at the Rockies of Colorado. If God wore a coat with pockets, he would carry the universe in one of them like a peanut. To ponder the meaning of that peanut, without reference to God’s majesty, is the work of a fool.

So, yes, the portrait of God in the Bible demands that we always read the Bible with the aim of seeing the glory of God. When Paul that ‘from him and through him and to him are all things’ (Rom.11:36), he did not mean ‘all things except the things in the Bible.’ He meant all things. And then he added, ‘To him be glory forever.’ Which means: it is God’s glory to be the beginning, middle, and end of all things. It is his glory to be the alpha and omega of all things – and every letter in between. And therefore his glory belongs to the meaning of all things. And would we not blaspheme to say that this glorious God is anything less than the ultimate meaning of all things?

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Quotation by John Piper, taken from Chapter 5, “Reading [the Bible] to See Supreme Worth and Beauty” in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017), pp.89-90.

Word Wednesday: “Annus, year”

Anno Domini

I have already told you about my late 2017 word-book find – Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classical Origins of English Words (Barnes & Noble, 2000 –  co-authored by Bob Moore and Maxine Moore).

For our first “Word Wednesday” feature of 2018, we return to this dictionary, where we find this appropriate Latin root for the word “year” – annus, along with its common base forms – anni, annu, enni.

This is how the Dictionary lays it out:

An ANNUal event happens once a year, a semiANNUal report is published twice a year; a biENNIal plant such as parsley lives for two years, and a biennial meeting is scheduled to be held every second year. Anything that is perENNIal is supposed to be everlasting, continuous, ongoing, and enduring.

A biANNUal event occurs twice a year (or semiANNUally) or every two years is biENNially), depending on who makes up the schedule.

An ANNIversary is the annual return of the date of an event. A cent is a 100th part of a dollar; hence a centENNIal is a 100th anniversary.

Although a semicentENNIal is a 50th anniversary, a bicentENNIal occurs every two hundred years. The combining form sesqui means one and a half; therefore, a sesquicentENNIal is a 150th anniversary. The Columbus quincentENNIal was celebrated in 1992: 500 years had passed.

As a mill is a 1,000th part of a dollar, so a millENNIum is a period of one thousand years, although the word is often used to mean any lengthy period of time. “Your long absence has seemed like a millennium to me.”

An ANNUity is an annual payment, often made following one’s retirement. Annals are yearly records kept by an annalist or historian. A.D. stands for [you’d better know this one!] ANNO DOMINI, meaning ‘in the year of our Lord,’ and referring to all the years since the birth of Jesus Christ.

And so we have entered A.D. 2018. May our thought and talk, desires and decisions, plans and purposes, actions and anticipations show that we live consciously “in the year of our Lord.”

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 10:06 PM  Leave a Comment  

“…We foolishly imagine that we shall nestle in this world forever.” – J. Calvin

Ps90-12For this final day of 2017, fittingly the last day of rest this year for us God’s pilgrim people, we consider these powerful words of John Calvin on Psalm 90:3-8, as found in his commentary on that passage (Vol.V, Baker, 1979, p.465, or online here).

The design of Moses is to elevate the minds of men to heaven by withdrawing them from their own gross conceptions. And what is the object of Peter? [in 2 Peter 3:8]. As many, because Christ does not hasten his coming according to their desire, cast off the hope of the resurrection through the weariness of long delay, he corrects this preposterous impatience by a very suitable remedy. He perceives men’s faith in the Divine promises fainting and failing, from their thinking that Christ delays his coming too long. Whence does this proceed, but because they grovel upon the earth? Peter therefore appropriately applies these words of Moses to cure this vice. As the indulgence in pleasures to which unbelievers yield themselves is to be traced to this, that having their hearts too much set upon the world, they do not taste the pleasures of a celestial eternity; so impatience proceeds from the same source.

Hence we learn the true use of this doctrine. To what is it owing that we have so great anxiety about our life, that nothing suffices us, and that we are continually molesting ourselves, but because we foolishly imagine that we shall nestle in this world for ever? Again, to what are we to ascribe that extreme fretfulness and impatience, which make our hearts fail in waiting for the coming of Christ, but to their grovelling upon the earth? Let us learn then not to judge according to the understanding of the flesh, but to depend upon the judgment of God; and let us elevate our minds by faith, even to his heavenly throne, from which he declares that this earthly life is nothing.

Christmas Sermon on Luke 2:1-14 – Martin Luther

luther-preaching-in-wittenbergThis sermon was preached the afternoon of Christmas Day 1530 by Martin Luther. His text was the familiar (for us) Luke 2:1-14, and the focus in this particular sermon was vss.10,11.

Here are some excerpts from that gospel message that will instruct and inspire our faith anew (I have slightly edited these quotations for ease of reading – not the words, just the formatting):

This is our theology, which we preach in order that we may understand what the angel wants. Mary bore the child, took it to her breast and nursed it, and the Father in heaven has his Son, lying in the manger and the mother’s lap. Why did God do all this? Why does Mary guard the child as a mother should? And reason answers: in order that we may make an idol of her, that honor may be paid to the mother. Mary becomes all this without her knowledge and consent, and all the songs and glory and honor are addressed to the mother.

And yet the text does not sound forth the honor of the mother, for the angel says, ‘I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:10-11]. I am to accept the child and his birth and forget the mother, as far as this is possible, although her part cannot be forgotten, for where there is a birth there must also be a mother. Nevertheless, we dare not put our faith in the mother but only in the fact that the child was born. And the angel desired that we should see nothing but the child which is born, just as the angels themselves, as though they were blind, saw nothing but the child born of the virgin, and desired that all created things should be as nothing compared with this child, that we should see nothing, be it harps, gold, goods, honor, power, and the like which we would prefer before their message. For if I received even the costliest and the best in the world, it still does not have the name of Savior. And if the Turk [Muslim] were ten times stronger than he is, he could not for one moment save me from my infirmity, to say nothing of the peril of death, and even less from the smallest sin or from death itself. In my sin, my death, I must take leave of all created things. No, sun, moon, stars, all creatures, physicians, emperors, kings, wise men and potentates cannot help me. When I die I shall see nothing but black darkness, and yet that light, ‘To you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:11], remains in my eyes and fills all heaven and earth.

The Savior will help me when all have forsaken me. And when the heavens and the stars and all creatures stare at me with horrible mien, I see nothing in heaven and earth but this child. So great should that light which declares that he is my Savior become in my eyes that I can say: Mary, you did not bear this child for yourself alone. The child is not yours; you did not bring him forth for yourself, but for me, even though you are his mother, even though you held him in your arms and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and picked him up and laid him down. But I have a greater honor than your honor as his mother. For your honor pertains to your motherhood of the body of the child, but my honor is this, that you have my treasure, so that I know none, neither men nor angels, who can help me except this child whom you, O Mary, hold in your arms.

If a man could put out of his mind all that he is and has except this child, and if for him everything – money, goods, power, or honor – fades into darkness and he despises everything on earth compared with this child, so that heaven with its stars and earth with all its power and all its treasures becomes nothing to him, that man would have the true gain and fruit of this message of the angel. And for us the time must come when suddenly all will be darkness and we shall know nothing but this message of the angel: ‘I bring to you good news of great joy; for to you is born this day the Savior’ [Luke 2:10-11]

And another section contains these words:

Take yourself in hand, examine yourself and see whether you are a Christian! If you can sing: The Son, who is proclaimed to be a Lord and Savior, is my Savior; and if you can confirm the message of the angel and say yes to it and believe it in your heart, then your heart will be filled with such assurance and joy and confidence, and you will not worry much about even the costliest and best that this world has to offer. For when I can speak to the virgin from the bottom of my heart and say: O Mary, noble, tender virgin, you have borne a child; this I want more than robes and guldens, yea, more than my body and life; then you are closer to the treasure than everything else in heaven and earth, as Ps. 73 [:25] says, ‘There is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.’

You see how a person rejoices when he receives a robe or ten guldens. But how many are there who shout and jump for joy when they hear the message of the angel: ‘To you is born this day the Savior?’ Indeed, the majority look upon it as a sermon that must be preached, and when they have heard it, consider it a trifling thing, and go away just as they were before. This shows that we have neither the first nor the second faith. We do not believe that the virgin mother bore a son and that he is the Lord and Savior unless, added to this, I believe the second thing, namely, that he is my Savior and Lord.

When I can say: This I accept as my own, because the angel meant it for me, then, if I believe it in my heart, I shall not fail to love the mother Mary, and even more then child, and especially the Father. For, if it is true that the child was born of the virgin and is mine, then I have no angry God and I must know the feel that there is nothing but laughter and joy in the heart of the Father and no sadness in my heart. For, if what the angel says is true, that he is our Lord and Savior, what can sin do against us? ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ [Rom. 8:31]. Greater words than these I cannot speak, nor all the angels and even the Holy Spirit, as is sufficiently testified by the beautiful and devout songs that have been made about it.