Archives For Theology

A Caricature of God.

Erik Raymond —  November 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

When you open up the newspaper you often are greeted with a humorous picture in the editorial section. The sketch, called a caricature, is a picture of a person in which certain striking characteristics are exaggerated in order to create a reaction.

The pictures are often comical. We have seen the common ones where President Obama’s ears, teeth, and chin are ridiculously large while his eyes and his shoulders are proportionally very small. It’s amusing and accepted.

However, people often draw caricatures of God. This is neither amusing nor should it be accepted.

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This quote by Spurgeon was brought to my attention this week by a dear brother. It was especially helpful in considering the immutability of God (the fact that he does not change) even in light of the incarnation of Christ.

“All creatures change. Man, especially as to his body, is always undergoing revolution. Very probably there is not a single particle in my body which was in it a few years ago. This frame has been worn away by activity, its atoms have been removed by friction, fresh particles of matter have in the mean time constantly accrued to my body, and so it has been replenished; but its substance is altered.

The fabric of which this world is made is ever passing away; like a stream of water, drops are running away and others are following after, keeping the river still full, but always changing in its elements.

But God is perpetually the same. He is not composed of any substance or material, but is spirit—pure, essential, and ethereal spirit—and therefore he is immutable. He remains everlastingly the same. There are no furrows on his eternal brow. No age hath palsied him; no years have marked him with the mementoes of their flight; he sees ages pass, but with him it is ever now. He is the great I AM—the Great Unchangeable.

Mark you, his essence did not undergo a change when it became united with the manhood. When Christ in past years did gird himself with mortal clay, the essence of his divinity was not changed; flesh did not become God, nor did God become flesh by a real actual change of nature; the two were united in hypostatical union, but the Godhead was still the same. It was the same when he was a babe in the manger, as it was when he stretched the curtains of heaven; it was the same God that hung upon the cross, and whose blood flowed down in a purple river, the self-same God that holds the world upon his everlasting shoulders, and bears in his hands the keys of death and hell.

He never has been changed in his essence, not even by his incarnation; he remains everlastingly, eternally, the one unchanging God, the Father of lights, with whom there is no variableness, neither the shadow of a change.” –Charles Spurgeon, The Immutability of God

When you read the news lately it seems like we are caught up in a playground battle of “one-upping”. Like kids swapping tales by the swings, news agencies pushing out stories that say, “Oh, yeah, have you heard about…?”

Each day we read of new developments in this moral revolution in America. Then we read of a story in Houston that is frankly so insane that it sounds like it was made up by a kid under the monkey bars.

The city of Houston passed the now infamous “bathroom bill”. Among other things, this allows people to use the restroom of their choice, based upon their own self-chosen gender identity. This means that men who say that they are women can walk into the ladies’ room and vice-versa.

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shutterstock_171636374It is common today to hear people say, “God loves us unconditionally.” It is also common to watch people bristle when people say, “God elects us unconditionally.”

When people say that God loves us unconditionally they usually mean something like, “After conversion God loves you no matter what. Isn’t that great?”

In one sense this is true, God’s love for his people is not based upon what they do or do not do. But this does not mean that God loves us unconditionally. If God loves anyone he loves them conditionally.

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When we are afflicted by the devastating trials of this life it can feel like we are being held underwater. It’s tough to hear, hard to breathe, and frightening. We panic. We get anxious. This is understandable. Life in this broken world is filled with heart-shredding trials that leg-sweep us surprisingly.

In the midst of this it is very important to remember to focus on what we know and not what we do not know. The common question is “why?” This is something we know in part but not in full. In the context of the big picture we understand that the answer to the “why” question is that we live in a post Genesis 3 world. However, the specific nuanced answer to “why” is unknown. We don’t know precisely “why.”

But we do know who God is and how he acts. This is tremendously comforting. In fact, when Job was laid low by trial he never received the answer to the “why” question but he did get a lengthy exposition of the “who.” It may seem like a theological copout but if you are spending time “under-water” in the midst of the waves of the trial then you need something objective, you need to clasp ahold of a dock.

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In my monthly article for Ligonier I wrote about God’s sovereignty. Often people see such high theological concepts as stuffy and impractical. In this article, however, I provide a recent snapshot from our church family that shows it is far more than this. The gist of the article is this: When God’s sovereignty is believed by somebody it is perceived by everybody.

Here is the link to the full article.

I’m really enjoying Michael Horton’s new Systematic Theology, Pilgrim Theology. A few guys at the church are going through it together and really benefiting from the simplicity and clarity that Horton offers. In his chapter on the Scripture he contrasts the Reformation and Roman Catholic understanding of Authority and Scripture…

The churches of the Reformation do not deny the ongoing authority of the church in its representative assemblies, but the key difference is this: whereas the Roman Catholic Church combines Scripture and tradition as one source of magisterial (i.e., ruling) authority, we confess that this belongs to Scripture alone, with tradition as ministerial (i.e., serving). Just as courts interpret the constitution, church courts interpret Scripture. This is why churches from the Reformation affirm the ecumenical creeds and subscribe to confessions and catechisms as communally valid interpretations of God’s Word. Yet again, it must be emphasized that this authority does not arise from the church. It arises from the canon that the church seeks faithfully to interpret in dependence on the Spirit.

To regard Scripture as the church’s constitution is to directly counter the Roman Catholic claim that the church is the mother of Scripture…

The canon, as the constitution of the church, is what constitutes a people as this people, under this government, in this body. Of course, the Reformers and their heirs never doubted that the church came before the completed canon of Scripture in history. However, they insisted that it is the word that always creates the church.

(Note: this book remains on sale for Kindle at $7.99 or Hardback)

ordinary pastorrecommended booksOne of the benefits of being a pastor who blogs is that I often are able to recommend helpful resources to people. Over the last few years I have wanted to put together a reference list for people who were looking for good books. I am thankful that I now have it published on this site.

In the header at the top of the page is a menu “Recommended Reading” under that section there are several sub-lists:

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These two quotes on the knowledge of God provoke worship and joy.

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God’s Knowledge Brings Worship

The knowledge of God is not only perfect in kind, but also in its inclusiveness. It is called omniscience, because it is all-comprehensive.

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The Omniscience of God

This morning in our men’s theology class we highlighted this quote concerning God’s omnipresence and omniscience from Herman Bavinck. It is one of those quotes that Velcro’s itself to you.

When you wish to do something evil, you retire from the public into your house where no enemy may see you; from those places of your house which are open and visible to the eyes of men you remove yourself into your room; even in your room you fear some witness from another quarter; you retire into your heart, there you meditate: he is more inward than your heart.

Wherever, therefore, you shall have fled, there is he.

From yourself, whither will you flee? Will you not follow yourself wherever you shall flee? But since there is One more inward even than yourself, there is no place where you may flee from God angry but to God reconciled. There is no place at all whither you may flee. Will you flee from him? Flee unto him.

–Herman Bavinck, The Doctrine of God

A necessary reminder this morning:

Teach us, O God, that nothing is necessary to Thee. Were anything necessary to Thee that thing would be the measure of Thine imperfection: and how could we worship one who is imperfect? If nothing is necessary to Thee, then no one is necessary, and if no one, then not we. Thou dost seek us though Thou does not need us. We seek Thee because we need Thee, for in Thee we live and move and have our being. Amen.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy)

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:33-36 ESV)

This past weekend Dr Bruce Ware, professor at Southern Seminary, was at Omaha Bible Church teaching on the Majesty of God. In addition to being a terrific writer Ware is also a tremendously gifted preacher/teacher. The sermon titles themselves below are edifying.

Beholding the God of  Merciful Holiness (Isaiah 6)
Bruce Ware on Isaiah 6

Beholding the God of Redemptive-Covenantal Love (Isaiah 43)
Bruce Ware on Isaiah 43

Beholding the God of Sovereign Supremacy (Isaiah 45)
Audio not yet available.

Additional info:
Dr Ware’s bio at Southern
Dr Ware’s books

When I became a Christian I realized that not only did I have to catch up on my biblical knowledge but that I needed to learn to speak and understand the local evangelical tongue.

I have never been shy about asking questions so this was (and remains) a healthy exercise.

One particular phrase that gets tossed around quite a bit is this:

I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.

As I learned this is a phrase to communicate the fact that one has become a Christian. As I thought about this more and more I have concluded that it is probably not the best way to communicate this truth.

What’s the big deal? Am I just nit-picking? I don’t think so. I think it’s important.

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One of the great challenges for me is trying to learn from history. I have such a propensity to hunker down into my current circumstances. Theologically speaking this is not helpful. In truth, many of the current debates or controversies have already been encountered by faithful forebears in church history.

Therefore, it is good to learn theological truth as well as the way in which other Christians have worked through these issues in history. As a pastor we have used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology as a text to introduce men to the theological truth. Now, I am thankful, that Gregg Allison has published a Historical Theology that functions as a companion to Grudem’s very helpful work.

Allison provides the historical narrative to how these various doctrines have been understood and worked out throughout church history. And it helpfully corrolates with Wayne Grudem’s topical study.

If you have studied historical theology before you can no doubt see how helpful this is. Allison’s arrangement of the historical theology is topical not chronological. This makes things much easier for me to keep straight. It is also a great auxilary to a study in systematic theology.

Gregg Allison sat down with The Gospel Coalition for this interview. I thought it was helpful.

Discounted copies of Historical Theology are available at Amazon and Westminster Books.

Regarding the opening verses of Genesis, Timothy Pierce observes:

These texts introduce humanity to a God who is not only transcendent, but also immanent; a God who is not only powerful, but also personal; and a God who is not only austere, but also relational. The wonder of a God who can overwhelm our categories and yet be a part of our formulations in a meaningful way truly is the starting point of worship. (Enthroned on our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship), pp. 13-14

Robert Edwards, left, Louise Joy Brown (original IVF baby), right, holding her son Cameron, and at center left is her mother, Lesley Brown

Earlier this week the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Robert Edwards. He is one of the principle architects of the controversial In Vitro Fertilzation (IVF) procedure.  Back in 1978 when the first IVF child was going to be born many suspected that there would be some substantial birth defects associate with this new ‘procedure’.

In a recent NY Times editorial Robin Marantz Henig catalogs the public pulse surrounding the baby’s birth:

When Mrs. Brown checked into Oldham General Hospital, outside Manchester, to give birth, she did so under an assumed name. Still, reporters sneaked past security dressed as plumbers and priests in hopes of getting a glimpse of her.

Meanwhile, criticism of the pregnancy grew increasingly extreme. Religious groups denounced the two scientists as madmen who were trying to play God. Medical ethicists declared that in vitro fertilization was the first step on a slippery slope toward aberrations like artificial wombs and baby farms.

The writer then bottles the historic concern over these scientific procedures and brings them to the lab to test them against the data from history. Were these concerns valid? Did people over react?

Well, yes and no.

Doubtless many people have been helped by the developement of IVF. Countless people who previously could not have children have now been able to enjoy a family.

But there is also a valid concern over what has become a mass production of human embryos. The factory-like production of embryos leads to millions of embryos being frozen or worse yet, destroyed. Instead of ‘creating’ an embryo for implant or even adoption agencies are stocking their wharehouses. Sadly, they are too often destroyed or disregarded.

There is also the aspect of separating the natural aspect of sexual union from the process of procreation. I understand that the technology has helped many. However, at the same time it has become something of a preference for those who do not find themselves lining up with the traditional family model (Gay, Lesbian, unmarried, etc.).

Christians should be thinking through these things in light of a biblical worldview. We are not to be people who just jump at technology or scientific advance just because it is available. Man may do a lot of things, but this does not mean that we should do everything. There are some legitimate boundries for us to think through as Christians.

In contrast Marantz Henig writes:

Science fiction is filled with dystopian stories in which the public blindly accepts destructive technologies. But in vitro fertilization offers a more optimistic model. As we continue to develop new ways of improving upon nature, the slope may be slippery, but that’s no reason to avoid taking the first step.

IVF has become so mainstream today that many of us know people who have benefited from the technology. We celebrate the life and goodness of God in giving the life. But at the same time we have to think about the countless embryos that are now frozen or have been destroyed. In my view this is more than slippery; it is disturbing.

This is a great answer to a very tough question. I really appreciate how Dr Carson acknowledges the tension and the difficulty and then works through what has been revealed in the Scripture. Ultimately, his (our) standing place is at the solid footing of Calvary.

“When I don’t have all the answers I return again to the cross. And there I see the God-Man (JESUS) suffering and dying on my behalf. I can worship and trust a God like that.”

How can God allow suffering and evil in the world? (feed readers may have to click thru to the site to watch) from A Passion for Life on Vimeo.

Note: Dr Carson answers the question more exhaustively in his book, How Long O Lord: Reflections on Evil and Suffering (I highly recommend this book!)

(ht: Tim)

The audio is now available from the 2009 Nashville Conference on the Church and Theology.

The speakers were John MacArthur and Bruce Ware.  The theme is compelling: “Above Every Name: Recovering the Transcendence of God in the Church.”

There are several good messages available for download.  Here is the link.

sovereign-lord-jesus.jpg

The Christmas season is obviously a perfect time to marvel afresh at the infinite depth of the Savior’s condescension for and towards rebels. Consider with me the very night of the birth of Jesus in the manger. We read in The Gospel According to Luke:

Luke 2:6-7 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Here we have the ultimate care giver and source of all true comfort being comforted and cared for. Jesus, the sovereign king, was cleaned, cared for and swaddled in a blanket. Forbid it that you or I would go to a hospital to visit a newborn or even see the kids in the church nursery without finding ourselves reminded and marveling at the swaddled Savior as detailed by Luke.

Furthermore, this word used by Luke, (sparganoo) is also used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. The picture here is not of an infant child but of an infant earth. We do however have one commonality, the Lord Jesus, the sovereign creator and savior is in both accounts.

Job 38:8-11 8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, 9 when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, 10 and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, 11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

Here in the relentless divine rebuke of Job we have this wonderful picture of God using clouds as a garment and darkness as a swaddling band. Amazing.

So how far does Jesus stoop for you believer? How deadly is sin that is caused the holy, omnipotent, infinitely glorious Creator to adorn flesh in order that he might re-create you?! Join me in marveling at the infinite condescension of Jesus through his incarnation. The Sovereign arm of creation and providence is the Sovereign arm of redemption. Let us fix our humbled and watery eyes upon this ever-glorious King who rescued us from sin and has given us joy inexpressible through his life, death, and resurrection.