Category Archives: Theology

Love and Wrath—Pt. 4

For the sake of review, let me catch us up from the previous posts. I’m attempting to show that the way you see God’s attributes is a direct reflection of your doctrine of God and how you understand the Trinity. The theology of Jonathan Edwards helps us, especially in the area of God’s attributes. As seen in the last post, Edwards argued that the beauty and harmony of God is seen in his love and wrath—and not only in these two, but the totality of who He is. In today’s Christian culture, over emphasizing, or wrongly emphasizing God’s love to the detriment of His other attributes is prevalent and I believe that we must reorient our focus because if we take away or redefine number of God’s attributes, at what point are we trading the God of Christianity with some other false, lesser God?

God’s End Goal

So, we have seen  Edwards’ Trinitarianism and that he saw the beauty and harmony of God in that He is both loving and just. Now we turn to see how Edward’s believed God displayed his attributes and why. Edwards begins with the love of God as His motive for His creative act. He writes, “When God considers of making anything for himself, he presents himself before himself and views himself as his end.” When Edwards used the term “end,” he could mean chief, ultimate, or subordinate end. However, when God is spoken of as acting toward “His end,” he always has what is chief, ultimate, and unsubordinated in mind. This aspect of his theology is crucial in understanding the “love and wrath” question for two reasons. First, he emphasizes that God’s act in creating and redeeming is rooted in the inter-Trinitarian divine love. God’s chief end is the magnification of His own name. God delights first and foremost in Himself and his attributes, which means that no subordinate end can overwhelm His chief end. Second, because God is concerned with His own glory as His chief end, the happiness of His creatures cannot be His chief end. God is love; it does not necessarily follow that because He is love He must redeem all, or else He is not love. God’s love for the redeemed, as well as His wrath towards sinners, work harmoniously towards God’s chief end, which is His glory and the presentation of His essence and attributes. The creation of man, God’s condescension, and redemptive work was not chiefly, or ultimately aimed at the happiness of the creature, but was God’s delight in displaying His essence and attributes.

Edwards anticipated the objection that accompanies this line of reasoning, which is, “How can God chiefly seek His own good and not be a divine egotist?” First, God delights in what is supremely valuable and because there is nothing more valuable than Himself, He must first seek Himself. Second, for God to delight first in Himself is not contrary to human happiness, because He is the creature’s happiness. It was according to God’s good pleasure that motivated Him to create, condescend, and redeem, but it was also for the good of His creatures as a subordinate end. It is God’s regard and love for Himself that drives His communication of Himself, which results in benefits for creatures.

Love Demands Wrath

It is clear that Edwards believed that God’s Trinitarian divine love is what motivated Him to seek the good of His creatures. However, it is the same love that provokes God’s wrath. God cannot, on account of His chief end and value, seek the happiness of creatures at the expense of His glory. The happiness of creatures is not God’s chief end, but rather it is the praise of His excellency. Edwards believed that God seeks to exercise all of His attributes for an attribute cannot be praised unless it is exercised. Therefore, he believed that the Holy Trinity decreed the law in eternity past in order that God’s justice might be served in the giving and execution of it. The presence of a law reveals a certain demand for justice, for if there were no need for justice, there would be no law. Edwards defended God’s justification in the eternal punishment of sinners by stating that men are guilty of infinite evil in multiple ways. First, men are guilty of infinite evil by despising the infinite word and law of God. Creatures have an obligation to love that which is lovely, but have failed and have committed heinous evil by means of rejecting God’s law. Second, men are guilty of infinite evil in their rejection of God’s love. As previously mentioned, God’s love is not His attempt at some sort of emotional connection with man, but is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. So, to reject God’s love is to reject the gift of the Holy Spirit, which was purchased by the blood of Christ. To reject the gift is to reject the purchaser, and to reject the purchaser is to reject the one who sent Him. For Edwards, it is impossible to reject God’s love without also rejecting His essence and excellency. Third, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of others. Edwards taught that God was justified in the eternal punishment of the wicked because one person’s unbelief can negatively influence and hinder the belief of another who follows their example of unbelief.  Unbelief was not simply a matter of opinion or taste, but Edwards perceived it as reckless and leading others astray. Finally, men are guilty of infinite evil in their treatment of self. Here he asks, “Is God obliged to give you eternal happiness when you care not about your happiness or His glory?” Edwards believed that men have condemned themselves on their fool’s errand to find happiness for their soul in something other than the excellency of God.

The condemnation of man is not simply the sum of poor decision-making throughout life, but an utter rejection of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Man is ultimately condemned because he hates God and has failed to recognize Him as supremely valuable. The Holy Trinity simply cannot allow this sort of blatant rejection to exist in the created system. For God to dispense mercy even to those who reject Him would not be compatible with His chief end, nor would it be loving. First, it would not be loving toward the Son. The inter-Trinitarian love of God motivates His wrath toward wicked men because to reject the Son is to the reject the Father who sent the Son. The Son is the Father’s eternal object of love who perfectly loves and obeys the Father’s will. Were God to dismiss justice would in a sense be an act of approval towards those who have rejected the Son. Second, it would not be loving toward His people. Edwards believed that the atonement of Christ secured a people who were set apart for God’s glory, meaning they had received the person and benefits of Christ by faith. He taught that wrath toward the wicked is necessary for the happiness of God’s people, which appears to be a reference to God destroying all the enemies of Christ and His bride. This is related to God’s chief end, which is first and foremost, the glory of His name, and, secondly, the happiness of His creatures. For Edwards, in order for the faithful to receive the happiness that results from the glory of God, the wicked must be cut off and crushed as enemies of Christ. Thus, the love of God is not incompatible with divine wrath, but demands it. Edwards perceived these two seemingly estranged attributes as working together in harmony in order that all of God’s attributes might be praised and His chief end pursued.

Hopefully the next post will provide some closure and tie up Edwards argument. Check back then!

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Love and Wrath – Part 3

Yesterday’s post gave a brief look at Jonathan Edwards’ Trinitarianism. I encourage you to read his Discourse on the Trinity, or any work of his for that matter. His writings are saturated with his theology of the Trinity. It’s awesome. Edwards basically states three truths that lay the foundation for how he will ultimately think about the love and wrath question: 1) God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself, 2) God’s thoughts rest first upon Himself, and 3) God’s love is first shared within Himself. These things make God seem like he is self-obsessed or selfish, but when viewed as an inner-Trinitarian operation, it becomes clear that, for Edwards, God is the author and the first recipient of His love. But, let’s look a little further into how Edwards viewed the attributes of God.

Divine Excellency

Even though Edwards was steeped in the Reformed tradition, he parted ways on some points, such as divine simplicity. The doctrine of divine simplicity is one way that the Western and Reformed traditions answer the question of the compatibility of God’s attributes, such as His love and wrath. Essentially, God is “simple,” meaning that it is impossible to make Him into a composition of parts, nor can there be any distinction between His being and His attributes. Therefore, all of God’s attributes are God. Thus, when these traditions speak of God as loving, they mean that He is love, and when they speak of Him as just, they mean that He is justice. In addition, simplicity states that when God acts, He does so in accordance with all of His attributes. So, we can’t look at an act of God and say, “Oh, here He is loving,” and at another act and say, “Here He is being just.” God is both loving and just in all of his actions.

For more on this topic see the work God Without Parts by James Dolezal. Click here for a review of this work by my friend Nathaniel Claiborne. His blog is excellent by the way.

But, Edwards had difficulty reconciling multiplicity (The Father, His idea, and His love) with simplicity, so he brought an aesthetic approach to understanding God’s attributes and being. He did not totally dismiss divine simplicity, but redefined it and put his own spin on it. Edwards focused on the beauty of a relational ontology among the three persons who work in harmony, both in their being and in their attributes. In other words, where the West sought to focus on the unity of God, Edwards appears to have stood with the Eastern Orthodox Church, focusing on the three persons. Where the West chose to focus on the unity and simplicity of God, the East emphasized the plurality and distinct persons of the Godhead. Despite the emphasis on the distinct divine persons, Edwards remained orthodox in his thoughts regarding the homoousia (God’s unity of essence). For him, it displayed the excellency of God that He was radically diverse in persons, yet harmonious in essence.This principle also carries over to the divine attributes, as each of them, whether love or wrath, worked in harmony. Again, Edwards did not look to divine simplicity in order to see the harmony of seemingly disjointed attributes, but to the beauty of the divine essence.

“These attributes being thus united in the divine nature and not interfering one with another is what is a great part of their glory: God’s awful and terrible attributes, and his mild and gentle attributes. They reflect glory one on the other; and ‘tis the glory of God that those attributes should always be exercised and expressed in a consistence and harmony one with the other (WJE, Sermons and Discourses 1703-1733, 159).”

Edwards’ Trinitarian theology is described as the “supreme harmony of all,” as the persons of the Godhead are distinct, yet fully bound and united in their shared essence and love. Likewise, the divine attributes are in absolute harmony, though they may seem incompatible because they are united in the beauty and harmony of the divine essence.

So here is another piece of the love and wrath puzzle as Edwards saw it. Tomorrow will focus on God’s end goal as described in Edwards’ work, The End For Which God Created The World. In the end, hopefully this will all come together. In hindsight I probably should have tried to summarize this a little better, but you know what they say about hindsight.

If you’re interesting in looking more into Edwards’ Trinitarianism, the book above by Plantiga-Pauw really helped me out. Just click the image for more info.
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Love and Wrath – Part II

In the last post I introduced the framework for a way to go about thinking on God’s love and wrath by using the theology of Jonathan Edwards. How exactly do these seemingly contradictory attributes fit together? Christians have long confessed, “God is love,” that He defines love and exudes love to His creatures. First John repeats this phrase twice and emphasizes the overwhelming reality that the Creator God is not passive towards creation, but is actively engaged. However, as J.I. Packer has pointed out, the attribute far more ascribed to God in the Scriptures is His holiness, and because of that He is just, seeking retribution for those who have despised Him. But we must think about this: throughout the history of the church there have  been those who have questioned the compatibility of love and wrath, which at times has resulted in a misguided over-emphasis on one of these attributes at the expense of the other. For the most part, the fault comes by way of an over emphasis on God’s love, leading to a rejection of eternal judgment based on the belief that an all-loving, all-powerful God would not, and could not condemn any man or woman for eternity, much less a multitude of people. Here is where I have heard countless straw-man arguments that say something like, “For any person to suffer eternally in hell would necessitate a failure on God’s part, which would lead to the reality that God is either not all-loving, or not all-powerful.” Edwards has a way of answering this question, but we have to begin at his theological starting point—the beauty (or harmony) of God.

To get a handle on what Edwards meant when he talked about God’s beauty, we must start with the baseline Christian belief that God is Trinity. For Edwards the Trinity is like the wind in the sails of his theological ship. It dictates your view of creation, salvation, Jesus Christ, and how the attributes of God fit together. In his Discourse on the Trinity, Edwards lays the groundwork for how he understands the divine nature and how the Triune God exercises all of the divine attributes in perfect harmony, rather than exalting one at the expense of the other.

1. God is infinitely happy in the enjoyment of Himself

God rejoices, loves, enjoys, and is satisfied in His own “essence and perfections.” In other words, God stands alone as His own ultimate end and He is in no way in need of creatures to fulfill or gratify Him. He is eternally at rest. The uppermost of God’s affections and the object of His thoughts can be none other than Himself.

2. God’s thoughts primarily rest upon Himself

because God’s thoughts are primarily and ultimately upon Himself, it stands to reason that the thoughts that God has about Himself are perfect, and results in an actual, identical image of Himself. This is Edwards understanding of Jesus as the divine Logos, the word, reason, and thought of God that is perfect to the extent that there is a duplicity of persons. In His eternal thinking upon Himself, the Father begets the Son. So, when Edwards describes God being eternally satisfied and happy within Himself, he is not describing simple self-love, but love that is given and received in the duplicity of persons in the Godhead.

3. God’s love is first shared within Himself

from the satisfaction, happiness, and love that exists between the duplicity of persons, the Father and the Son, arises a pure and divine energy that embodies the love of God in a third person, the Holy Spirit. So, being eternally generated from the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is, for all intents and purposes, the very love that is shared between them. This, of course, has major implications for the life of the believer because Christians are commanded to love God and love their neighbor. Edwards recognizes that this command is impossible without the very love of God indwelling and compelling the believer to carry out this role. Thus, when Christians are told that the Holy Spirit indwells them, it is the love of God that has been put within them. For Edwards, there is no distinction between the love of God and the third person of the Trinity. Essentially, God’s dwelling in Christians and His love within us is the same thing. Edwards sums up his view of the Trinity this way:

And this I suppose to be that blessed Trinity that we read of in the holy Scriptures. The Father is the Deity subsisting in the prime, unoriginated and most absolute manner, or the Deity in its direct existence. The Son is the Deity generated by God’s understanding, or having an idea of himself, and subsisting in that idea. The Holy Ghost is the Deity subsisting in act, or the divine essence flowing out and breathed forth, in God’s infinite love to and delight in himself. And I believe the whole divine essence does truly and distinctly subsist both in the divine idea and divine love, and that therefore each of them are properly distinct persons (WJE, Trinity, 131).

Edwards makes it abundantly clear that love is intricately infused into the divine communion of the Father, His idea (Son), and His love (Holy Spirit). The belief that God is love is not lost on Edwards, but it is actually the framework upon which he builds his entire theology. The very idea that God is love necessitates an eternal object. God is the only eternal object, thus, God must be the originator and object of His love. However, this is not to be categorized as self-infatuation or selfishness, but mutual self-giving that occurs within the perfect unity of the three persons of the Trinity.

So there is a little bit of an intro into how Edwards saw the Trinity—as he originator and original recipient of divine love. Tomorrow I will dive in a little deeper into how he saw the divine attributes working together in harmony. This is where his view on seemingly opposed attributes will become a little more clear. I will look at his view of divine simplicity, which is one of the most interesting and confusing aspects of doctrine that I have encountered. It should be fun… or painful. I guess it could be painfully fun—for me at least.

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Love and Wrath

Jonathan Edwards is one of my heroes in the faith. He was one of the great revivalist preachers and apologists during the First Great Awakening, an immense movement of God in Colonial America that pervaded multiple aspects of colonial life. It brought a renewed emphasis on righteous living, religious devotion, and even served as a bridge between the cultural division between blacks and whites.[i] More importantly, the First Great Awakening was a revival whereby thousands of people were converted and there was a renewed prominence given to the nature and character of God.

Today, Edwards is often polarized as a “Hell, fire, and brimstone” preacher because of sermons such as, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and “The Justifice of God in the Damnation of Sinners.” (I’ve written briefly elsewhere about Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. You can read it here) However, it is unfair to caricature Edwards as such a man without allowing him the opportunity to speak for himself. These sermons do not exist in a vacuum and it is important to be familiar with Edwards the man in order to fairly assess his theology.

Edwards: The Man (1703-1758)

Timothy Edwards fathered eleven children, and only one boy, Jonathan. From his early childhood, his father, who was a Congregational pastor in their hometown of Windsor, Connecticut, trained him for the pastrate.[ii] Even as a boy, Jonathan took an interest in spiritual things, often secluding himself from other children his age in order to spend time in prayer. I read one story that said when Edwards was nine years old he built a fort. This is common behavior for a boy—I built forts too. However, Edwards’ fort was specifically built for prayer.

At the age of fifteen, Edwards became a student at Yale (1717) and under the leadership of Rector Timothy Cutler, he was forced to grapple with his Calvinist roots on an intellectual level.[iii] He had grown to believe in the sovereignty of God, but it brought him great distress. He wrestled deeply with divine sovereignty, man’s inability to be righteous, and human accountability to live righteously. In other words, Edwards could not understand how God could be good, yet condemn his creatures when they were not able to exercise faith on their own.[iv]

These were not simply theological musings of a slightly interested man, but, on the contrary, Edwards viewed the answers to these questions as determining all manner of life, for it appears that he believed the content of one’s theology determines worldview and lifestyle. All theological training aside, Edwards believed the answers to his questions would determine the direction and fate of his own soul. It was not until a few years later that he had a conversion experience, which revolved around the overwhelming glory and beauty of God.[v] Rather than hell, wrath, and fury, the glory and beauty of God became the major themes in his theology. When he was able to reconcile his discomfort with the beauty of God he finally experienced comfort in his soul. The beauty and excellency of God brought a metaphysical shift (a reinterpretation of reality), which allowed Edwards to view God’s attributes as working in harmony—especially seemingly contrary attributes such as love and wrath.

So, while it appears that he was a preacher who had a certain affinity for preaching the wrath of God and the destruction of the wicked, Edwards spent much more time depicting the beauty and excellency of the Triune God.[vi] This foundational reality ultimately led Edwards to his answer regarding the love and wrath of God.

In the coming days I hope to show how Edwards’ answer serves as an example of how our understanding of the inner workings of God’s attributes, specifically His love and wrath, ultimately reflects our Doctrine of God.


[i] Mark A. Noll, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 91.

[ii] John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory: With Complete Text of The End For Which God Created the World, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1998, 51.

[iii] George M. Marsden, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 18-19.

[iv] Ibid., 18-19.

[v] Justo L. Gonzalez, A History of Christian Thought: From the Protestant Reformation to the Twentieth Century, vol. III, Revised ed. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1975), 317.

[vi] Noll, 95-96.

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Christian Cliches

“God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”

I have often thought about this saying and I think the intention behind it is pure. I think we say and hear this so often because we want to be a community who emphasizes the overwhelming goodness, faithfulness, and grace of God. However, like many cliches, I do not know if they are helpful when all is said and done because I think the tendency can be some sort of attempt to remove sin from us and place it outside of ourselves so that when we sin, we claim it as uncharacteristic of us. However, sin is not just something that we simply partake in, it is naturally who we are at the core. Paul clearly states this in the first several chapters of Romans. He states that men have failed to honor God (1:21), they have suppressed the truth of who He is, and they have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (1:23). For this, Paul says the wrath of God is on them (2:6-9).

In addition, if sin truly is something that is outside of us and rather than something we are, then why does Isaiah respond this way when he is confronted with the holiness of God: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Is. 6:5)” Isaiah never claims that his sin is simply something he does, but instead recognizes that he is ruined.

Then there are passages such as these that we must wrestle with:

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evil doers.” Psalm 5:4, 5

“The Lord tests the righteous but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Psalm 11:5

“But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.” Psalm 55:23

Now the tendency might be for us to say, “Come on now, this is talking about really wicked people. The type of people who murder, rape, and commit horrible atrocious acts. However, apart from Christ, everyone is in league with the worst type of sinner. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, I am a child and slave of Satan and God’s wrath rests on me just as it does on any other wicked person.

My point in bringing this up is not so I can correct people when they use the phrase, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” I have no interest in being a theological nit pick. However, if we so quickly dismiss God’s hate toward us as evil doers, then we miss out on a truly beautiful aspect of the Gospel. John Calvin, citing St. Augustine, describes this in The Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“God’s love,” says [Augustine], “is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created, that we also might be his sons along with his only-begotten Son—before we became anything at all. The fact that we were reconciled through Christ’s death must not be understood as if his Son reconciled us to him that he might now begin to love those whom he hated. Rather, we have already been reconciled to him who loves us, with whom we were enemies on account of sin. The apostle will testify whether I am speaking truth: ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ [Rom 5:8]. Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness and not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made (Book 2, Ch. 16, Sec. 4).”

Does God hate sin? Yes. Does God hate sinners? Yes. Does God love sinners? Yes! Do not so quickly dismiss the hatred of God toward the sinner because in his hatred we see the depth of His love. Only at the cross could God’s hatred for us and love for us meet.”He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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Arminianism Shmarminianism

I was digging through my Complete Works of John Owen v. 10 today and found a very interesting work by him called A Display of Arminianism where it is his aim to show why Arminianism is silly, inconsistent, and not Christian. The great thing about John Owen, whether you agree or disagree with him, is that is unbelievably thorough in his analysis and treatment of views contrary to his. When he sat down to write, he did so as if the souls of men were on the line.

Owen explains the reason for his work in the preface:

The fates of our church having of late devolved the government thereof into the hands of men tainted with this poison, Arminianism became backed with the powerful arguments of praise and preferment, and quickly prevailed to beat poor naked Truth into a corner. It is high time, then, for all the lovers of the old ways to oppose this innovation, prevailing by such unworthy means, before our breach grow great like the sea, and there be none to heal it.

If it is not clear by this that Owen despises Arminianism, then that will become clear shortly. What strikes me is Owen’s lack of political correctness and “respect” for opposing views. He simply calls the view a poison to the church. A note of clarification is necessary here because like there are differing views within Calvinism[1], there are also different views within Arminianism. The strand of Arminianism that Owen is dealing with is something along the lines of the mutated baby of Classical Arminiamism[2] and Rationalism[3]. It was Arminianism with a very strong Pelagian[4] aftertaste. To be clear, Owen would oppose any form of Arminianism, however the predominant strand of Arminianism in his day was heavily influenced by Rationalism. In his work, Owen introduces his case against Arminianism:

The soul of man, by reason of the corruption of nature, is not only darkened with a mist of ignorance, whereby he is disenabled for the comprehending of divine truth, but is also armed with prejudice and opposition against some parts thereof, which are either most above or most contrary to some false principles which he hath framed unto himself. As a desire of self-sufficiency was the first cause of this infirmity, so a conceit thereof is that wherewith he still languisheth; nothing doth he more contend for than an independency of any supreme power, which might either help, hinder, or control him in his actions… Never did any men more eagerly endeavor the erecting of this Babel than the Arminians, the modern blinded patrons of human self-sufficiency…

From here on out I am only going to outline what Owen says about what Arminianists believe and what they deny.  Hopefully this will spur you on to read what he has to say.

1)  To exempt themselves from God’ jurisdiction,—to free themselves from the supreme dominion of his all-ruling providence…[so] to have an absolute independent power in all their actions.

1) They deny the eternity and unchangeableness of God’s decrees

2) They question the prescience or foreknowledge of God

3) They depose the all-governing providence of this King of nations, denying its effectual power in turning the hearts of men

4) They deny the irresistibly and uncontrollable power of God’s will, affirming that oftentimes he seriously wills and intends what he cannot accomplish

2)  To clear human nature from the heavy imputation of being sinful, corrupted, wise to do evil but unable to do good; and so to vindicate unto themselves a power and ability of doing all that good which God can justly require to be done by them in the state wherein they area proud Luciferian endeavor!

1) They deny that doctrine of predestination whereby God is affirmed to have chosen certain men before the foundation of the world… for this doctrine would make the special grace of God to be the sole cause of all the good that is in the elect

2) They deny original sin and its demerit.

3) They will claim that if you charge our human nature with repugnancy to the law of God, they will maintain that it was also in Adam when he was first created, and so comes from God himself. (In other words, it is God’s fault that we are in our corrupted state).

4) They deny the efficacy of the merit of the death of Christ.

5) They grant some to have salvation apart from Christ.

6) Having thus robbed God, Christ, and his grace, they adorn their idol free-will with many glorious properties no way due unto it.

7) They do not only claim to their new-made deity a saving power, but also affirm that he is very active and operative in the great work of saving our souls.

 


[1] Simply defined as a theological system that is centered around the Sovereignty of God. Basic tenants: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints (TULIP)

[2] Developed mainly as a response to Calvinism. Where as Calvinists see predestination as an unconditional action of GOd in electing individuals to salvation, Arminianism teaches that predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge in seeing whether an individual would freely accept of reject Christ.

[3]  A reliance on reason, rather than revelation (Scripture) for the establishment of Truth.

[4]  Taught by British monk Pelagius (354-415) who emphasized human effort and merit as the means of salvation, thus divine grace was unnecessary (Strongly opposed by Augustine).

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Interesting and Irritating III

Dr. Joe Gibbs shares The Tragedy of Bioethics on the Western Seminary ThM website. I don’t pretend to understand it all, but it is encouraging to see godly men looking at their discipline Christocentrically.

When we approach people whose stories have taken a catastrophic turn and we wield only the calculus of good and evil, our bioethics is left lifeless, empty, and tragic.  According to Wernow, to address tragedy we must turn to mystery, to “Mystery-revealed:” Christ, in whom is Life.  The question we ask as Christians doing bioethics is not just, “What is good?” but “How do I bring eternal life into this tragedy?  How do I bring the mystery of Life into the abyss?”

A friend of mine (JT English) turned my attention to the following video and I think you will agree it is irritating.

I have to admit, seeing little Kanon open his Veggie Tales Bible made me laugh, but overall I think this is pretty sad.

A recent finding of mine, SAET (The Society of Advancement of Ecclesial Theology) has an excellent blog and Jason Hood writes about Love having a Context.

After citing Leviticus 19:18—So there it is. If I don’t reprove my neighbor, I myself will be guilty of lack of love. This requirement is obviously not a blank check to get “all up in others’ business,” even if the command requires an approach to community that would make most contemporary people comfortable. Gal 6:1 applies here: it’s when sin clearly arises that action is required.

It is shocking how many people I have heard abstain from the Lord’s Table because of their understanding 1 Corinthians 11:28, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Luke Stamps has contributed a post to The Gospel Coalition blog on this topic entitled It’s meant for Sinners.

Taking our cue from 1 Corinthians 11:28, we rightly wish to “examine” ourselves so that we do not take the Supper in an “unworthy manner.” But we distort this passage if we begin to think that it calls for worthy recipients, rather than worthy participation, at the Lord’s Table. Some might be so trained to think of the Supper as an occasion for introspection that they dread the meal… Surely something is amiss when believers in need of grace are hesitant to receive the sanctifying grace of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. Examination is good. But being overly introspective is counter-productive, because it diverts us from the very gospel of grace that is displayed before us at the Lord’s Table.

Finally, Squidoo.com offers their take on the the Top 10 Movie Characters from 1960-Present. First they list 100 characters and then narrow them down to 10. My major problem with this list is the Val Kilmer’s portrayal of Doc Holiday in Tombstone didn’t even make the 100 list! Who would you add?

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Same Song

Reading the Old Testament through the lens of Jesus Christ continues to blow my mind. Seeing Jesus in the OT is often deemed unwise because it is reading something into the text that is not there. However, when you begin to investigate the New Testament and all the claims that Jesus makes about Himself, you do not have to read him into anything—you simply recognize that He is there.

I recently listened to a sermon by Tim Keller called Getting Out (You can watch it here. Where he parallels the life of the Christian with that of an Israelite during the Exodus. His point is that the Israelites were “getting out.” God delivered them and they got out of slavery and oppression. In Matthew 2:15 it says speaking of Christ, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  This verse is a quotation of Hosea 11:1, which refers to the Exodus. The son in Hosea is the nation of Israel. However, Matthew attaches a completely different meaning to Hosea. He is claiming that Jesus is the true Israel, the true son. The point is in Christ we are experiencing the true, perfect “getting out.”

Keller shares a piece about how an Israelite would describe himself:

Think about it. Think about what an Israelite would say coming out of Egypt. Here’s what they would say. If you were to say, ‘who are you?’ They would answer, ‘I was in a foreign land, under the sentence of death, in bondage, but I took shelter under the blood of the lamb. And our mediator led us out and we crossed over. Now we are on our way to the promised land, but we’re not there yet. But he’s given us his law to make us a community and he’s given us the tabernacle because you have to live by grace and forgiveness. And his presence is in our midst and He will stay with us until we get home.’

Shocking. The church joins with the saints of old to sing the song of the redeemed!

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Early Christian Spirituality Pt. III

The previous posts have dealt with the underlying assumptions that drove the actions and overall worldview of the early Christians. You can read Parts 1 and 2 here.

Particular Practices

Perhaps there is yet another way to describe Christian spirituality that sums these up and gives a foundation as we enter to discuss particular practices in early Christianity. This of course would be none other than the concept of imitation. In every early Christian practice there was a statement of faith being made that hinged on their aim to be imitators of Jesus Christ. The second part of this paper will focus on those various aspects of life and worship in the early church and special attention will be given to how those practices played into their attempt to imitate Christ.

Baptismal Catechesis

The early spread of Christianity as portrayed to by the book of Acts is one of ethnic, gender, and diverse religious backgrounds. Once persecution struck the church in Acts chapter eight, the church was scattered to different parts of the world and the Gospel began to take root among the Gentiles, may of which were polytheists. It would be absurd to assume that Gentiles were fully initiated into the church without first being instructed in the beliefs and practices of Christianity.[1] Their background would have likely been pagan, so to fully initiate a pagan into church would be damaging to the body because the former pagan would still retain some former presuppositions. The same can be said for Jewish converts because becoming Christian would mean that they had to deny some Jewish presuppositions and take on a new Christian metaphysic. Therefore, Christian catechesis was intended to teach the convert how a Christian ought to think and act. It would have been a deconstruction of former thoughts, while simultaneously reconstructing Christian thoughts. Part of this deconstruction involved exorcism and a renouncement of Satan. This exorcism was not what is typically thought of today, specifically demon possession, but referred to the bondage and slavery of those who are in sin. Cyril of Jerusalem claimed that without exorcism, salvation was not possible because the soul could not be cleansed. However, through catechism and exorcism, the convert was set on fire and purified by the Spirit as gold is by the goldsmith.[2]

Furthermore, Early Christian catechesis did not only exist to construct a certain theology, but also to explain the Christian sacraments. What was about to take place in Baptism and its significance would likely not have been known, nor would Holy Communion communicate the Gospel to the untrained. This catechesis served as an explanation of these “mysteries,” their significance, and the role that imitation played in them.

The question of when this baptismal catechesis took place is not simple to pin down. There simply is no evidence to support a standardized time for catechesis. Some churches instructed their people prior to baptism while others catechized them post baptism. For example, Egyptian churches instructed new converts to fast for forty days in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the wilderness as they received instruction and were joined in fasting by the remainder of the community. The end of that fast was the preferred time for baptism of the catechumens as they were thoroughly tested before fully initiated.[3] The consistent factor is that baptismal catechesis was vital in early Christian spirituality for the explanation and preservation of the faith.

Baptism as Initiation

The origin of baptism can be traced to several different traditions, some of which are not distinctively Christian. The Jews, and the Jewish sect known as the Essenes practiced baptism as a repeated ritual of purification.[4] However, for Christianity, baptism is approached in a completely different way, not as a repetitious purification ritual, but as initiation into the body of Christ. The majority of contemporary American FCE tends to view baptism as an outward sign of an inward commitment. While this is not necessarily wrong, it does seem to be an incomplete understanding when set against the view of early Christian spirituality. There were certain benefits that a full member of the body of Christ enjoyed that a non-believer, or non-initiated believer did not enjoy, namely the Eucharist.[5] FCE membership seems to center around whether or not a person is allowed to vote on church matters, not whether or not they get to participate in Holy Communion.

The Role of the Community

            Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of baptism in early Christian spirituality was its communal nature. In contemporary American Christianity, baptism is often viewed as the individual’s statement of faith to the church body, yet the church body does not respond with a statement of faithfulness to the convert. The Didache alludes to the communal nature of baptism, saying, “And before the baptism let the one baptizing and the one who is to be baptized fast, as well as any others who are able.”[6] This seems to indicate that the community to which a convert was being baptized played a central role in the baptism itself. They were not simply spectators or bystanders, but active participants as they celebrated and welcomed the new sheep into the fold.

Imitation

            As for what exactly happens when a person is baptized, a full consensus regarding the theology of baptism is missing in early Christian spirituality. However, what we do have is a rich view of numerous things that transpire upon baptism. Baptism was thought to be an imitation, or reenactment of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan river. In those moments of baptism when Jesus arose from the water, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended and the Father proclaimed, “ This is my one dear Son; in him I take great delight (Matt 4:17).” So also when the Christian is baptized the Father speaks to him as his adopted child.[7] Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of baptism as imitation in this way, “O strange and inconceivable thing! We did not really die, we were not really buried, we were not really crucified and raised again, but our imitation was but in a figure, while our salvation is in reality.”[8] In other words, to the early Christian baptism was imitation and a signet of the believer’s union with Christ.

The Water

One of the great metaphors for baptism in the Holy Scriptures can be found in Exodus 14 and Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea. Upon seeing the enemy approaching the people of Israel were afraid, but Moses charged them saying, “Do not fear! Stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord that he will provide for you today.” Then God did a great saving act through Moses, he parted the Red Sea and the people of Israel passed through on dry ground. Not only did they pass through, but also the enemies of Israel were swallowed up by the water. Therefore, is it fair to say that God saved Israel by means of the water? Cyril claims that baptism is “a ransom to the captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption.”[9] What is missing from early baptismal literature is the strong emphasis on the connection of baptism to Romans 6.[10] While this connection could be drawn from such quotations as that of the previous quote by Cyril, mimicking Christ’s burial and triumph was not the central focus, rather new life. The early Christian placed emphasis on the water because it symbolized the Holy Spirit. The water represented life and refreshment, not death. The Didache gives further insight to the nature of early Christian baptism:

Now concerning baptism, baptize as follows: after you have reviewed all these things, baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in running water. But if you have no running water, then baptize in some other water, and if you are not able to baptize in cold water, then do so in warm. But if you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of Father and Son and Holy Spirit.[11]

Now what seems to be the case is not the method by which a person is baptized, but the proclamation of the Triune God and the water. The Didache first commands that baptism is to be distinctively Trinitarian. This is one of the two non-negotiable aspects of baptism. The second is the use of water. It does not indicate a strict “immersion only” baptism, but leaves room for variation because access to pools of water were likely difficult in the Middle East. The emphasis is on the water—it was preferable that it be living, or moving water to portray the living and moving Holy Spirit. In addition, the water was to be cold if possible to symbolize the refreshing nature of the Spirit and his affects on those whom He indwells. It was this indwelling Spirit that moved in the person being baptized, refreshing them and giving them new life that was the emphasis of early Christian baptism, not primarily the method. In John 3 Jesus tells Nicodemus that in order to have eternal life one must be born of water and the Spirit, or born again. This passage drove the early Christian’s understanding of baptism because Jesus equates the water with the Spirit and the necessity of rebirth.

What can be gleaned from this summary of baptism in early Christian spirituality is that it was the means by which one was identified as a member of the Christian church. This practice was heavily communal and did not simply involve the one being baptized, but also the entire body to which the believer was being baptized. The baptism itself carried significant theological statements; specifically that it was Trinitarian and the celebration of new birth and new life in the Spirit. Contemporary FCE often debates the mode by which one should be baptized (e.g. sprinkling, pouring, immersion), but the early Christian was concerned with what the Spirit was appropriating to the convert by grace, through faith, and through the baptismal waters. Prior to this initiation, the convert did not enjoy the benefit of the Eucharist, to which we now turn.

The Eucharist

If one had to choose a focal point of Contemporary FCE worship based on our practice, the answer would likely be corporate song, and the proclamation of the word. These have come to define the liturgy of most American Evangelical churches, even churches that would declare themselves “non-liturgical.” Liturgy is simply the way in which a church conducts themselves when they meet. Therefore, the category of “non-liturgical simply does not exist for any Christian body.

Origin of the Eucharist

            The Eucharist finds its origin in Judaism in the practice of the Passover meal. The sacred Passover meal was a means of expression for the Jew regarding his relationship to the divine. Meals have always been a means of expressing a relationship between people and in Judaism, the people participated in the Passover as a declaration of God’s acceptance of them and a celebration of their deliverance. [12]

Christianity picks up many of the major themes that are found in the Passover meal. It remains an expression of God’s adoption and acceptance of them, as well as a proclamation and celebration of salvation. Foundationally, the difference is in the assumptions. The Eucharist meal is not the Passover, neither is the Passover the Eucharist. There is a foundational assumption that sets the two apart and that is the Eucharist declares acceptance and salvation by way of the crucifixion and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Center of Worship

 This declaration came to be the centerpiece of early Christian spirituality. After baptism, a convert was fully initiated into the church and enjoyed all of the rites that accompanied that membership. It was at the Lord’s Table that the people of God gathered, not only to remember what Christ had done, but also to observe the “eschatological messianic community here and now.”[13] The final Great Banquet Supper of the Lamb was celebrated not only as a future reality, but also a present celebration. The Eucharist solidified the Christians identity as truly belonging to the community of faith, and like baptism, the Eucharist was communal.[14]

Their presence at this meal was a sign of their reconciliation to God and their membership among the elect to who would one day feast together in God’s kingdom, and the intimate fellowship with one another that they experience around the table was a foretaste, an anticipation, of the union that they would enjoy for ever with God. The whole meal even was thus both a prophetic symbol of the future and also a means of entering into that future in the present.[15]

In addition, The Didache gives instructions for how Christians were to celebrate the Eucharist and in each section, the writer gives the church something to proclaim together.[16] Therefore, the Eucharist was not only communal, but it was also confessional. As the community participated in the Eucharist, it was believed that in the elements of the bread and the wine, they were actually partaking in the body and blood of Christ. In this participation, they were believed to be made into the same body and the same blood with Christ, and in so doing, shared in the divine nature.[17]

Eucharistic Community

      As previously stated the Eucharist defined early Christians—they were a Eucharistic community. As the center of their worship, it was impossible to truly be considered Christian, void of the Eucharist because in it, those who belonged to the community of faith were defined. Therefore, it was impossible for early Christians to read passages such as John 6, which reads, “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him,” and not think of the Eucharist. For them it was the primary identifier in their union with Christ and the rest of the church.

The next post will conclude this series on Early Christian Spirituality and I will do my best to offer a brief comparison of Early Spirituality with the Spirituality that we see in Contemporary American Evangelicalism.


[1] Paul Bradshaw, Early Christian Worship, (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press), 1996, 3.

[2] St. Cyril of Jerusalem,  Lectures on the Christian Sacraments: The Protochatechesis and the Five Mystagogical Chatecheses, Popular Patristics Series, Edited by F.L. Cross, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press), 1977, 45.

[3] Bradshaw, 13.

[4] Ibid., 2.

[5] Paul Meyendorff, Christian Spirituality, 350.

[6]  [6] The Apostolic Fathers, 3rd ed., Edited by Michael W. Holmes, (Grand Rapids: Baker), 2007, 355.

[7]  Ibid., 352.

[8] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, 61.

[9] St. Cyril, 50.

[10] Paul Meyendorff, Christian Spirituality, 352.

[11] The Apostolic Fathers, 355.

[12] Bradshaw, 38.

[13] John D. Zizioulas, Christian Spirituality, 29.

[14] Ibid., 30.

[15] Bradshaw, 40.

[16] The Apostolic Fathers, 359-361.

[17] St. Cyril, 68.

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Christian Spirituality Pt. 2

My intention to post a series on Christian spirituality was pure, and I wanted to do it in consecutive days, but I attended a youth camp in central Texas last week and was unable to post consistently. So eleven days later… let us continue by looking at the foundational assumptions that governed early Christian life and worship. If you would like to read the introduction, you can do so here.

The first foundational assumption that governed life and worship in the early church was their doctrine of God. The Triune nature of God has long since been a defining characteristic of any distinctively Christian community, which states that there is one God who exists as three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.[1] Making this distinction clear through their life and worship was necessary because of the various heretical positions that arose in the early church in regards to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Gnosticism and Modalism became vibrant heresies during the early spread of Christianity, thus, wanting to show the distinction, early Christian spirituality was centered on the Triune nature of God. The divine essence was believed to be unknowable, thus the spiritual person had to be satisfied with mystery. Basil the Great writes, “we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us and the justness of His judgments; but not His essence.”[2] The Trinitarian nature of God governed the very episcopal structure of the church. For the early Christian, the bishop sat in the place of Christ as His representative to the church and is submissive to the Father in all things just as the Son is submissive in all things.[3] However, the Trinity did not merely govern their governmental structure, but it also depicted the Christian life primarily taking place within community. It was absolutely absurd to think that a Christian could possibly mature into a spiritual person apart from the greater body of Christ. However, because of the context that surrounds contemporary American FCE, Christian spirituality is typically privatized and individualized to such a degree that the full body of Christ has little influence on the maturation of believers. Instead, spirituality is measured by how much time the believer spends reading the Bible and praying.

Within the broader theology of the Doctrine of God is Christology, specifically the Incarnation. Christian spirituality ought to be shaped by the fact that the infinite Son became infant, the immaterial became material, and the non-sensible became sensible. St. Athanasius wrote a small treatise entitled On the Incarnation where he describes Jesus, the God-man as not merely appearing to be human, but human in actuality.

He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which he dwelt.[4]

Athanasius perceived the entrance of the divine logos into the physical realm as affecting the entire human race.[5] As previously stated, one of the primary heresies in early Christianity was Gnosticism. The foundational assumptions of Gnosticism were far removed from orthodox Christianity and simply pealing back a few layers will reveal the vast difference between the two. Gnosticism held to the belief that the Demiurge, a vile and evil god created this physical world. Gnostics viewed the God of the Old Testament as evil and the God of the New Testament, the Father of Jesus as good. The problem is because everything sensible, visible, and physical is bad, Jesus was not truly human but only appeared to be human. Ultimately, Gnostics believed salvation was escape and relief from the physical realm and being returned to the spiritual realm with the Father.  As a result of this faulty view of the physical realm, Gnostic spirituality seems to have revolved around the renunciation of the physical.[6] However, Christians hold to an all-together different set of assumptions. Christians believe that the Father of Jesus Christ and the Creator of the physical realm are one in the same. Therefore, when the Son of God became incarnate, the Triune God was making a statement about the physical; namely, Christ had come to redeem it to the fullness for which it was intended. Thus, Christian spirituality was not opposed to the physical, or in other words, non-sensible, but in light of the incarnation involves the senses. When the infinite Son of God took on a human body, he simultaneously gave the senses a renewed role into the forefront of spirituality. “He became Himself an object for the senses, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things my apprehend the Father through the works which He, the Word of God did in the body.”[7] In light of this we should not view salvation as escape from the physical and we ought not to refrain from appealing to the senses when it comes to the Christian life and spirituality.

Another aspect of Christian worship that flows from Christology is the life of submission to God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God was submissive to the Father in all things. He did not plot out his own course in any fashion but went where the Father sent him and spoke the words that His Father gave Him.[8] This aspect of life and worship seems to be missing in American FCE, and it likely because of the fact that the church is steeped in a democratic society, which claims no authority accept that which is “by the people.” In other words, we acknowledge no authority unless we have set it up. Christ claimed no authority over his own life, rather was in complete submission to His Father, the source. Contemporary spirituality is often concerned with conquering, or dominating certain aspects of life. However, early Christian spirituality was less concerned with rising above things and more concerned with being under things, or better, being dominated. Therefore, the question is not, “How can I rise triumphantly over this sin, hurt, or pain,” but rather, “How dominated, empty, and humiliated can I be by the Triune God?”

Finally in regards to the doctrine of God, spirituality is pneumatological. The third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is often times overlooked in various FCE traditions. The reason seems to be the aforementioned thought that the physical and sensible has no place in spirituality. However, what makes something spiritual is not whether or not it is material or immaterial, but whether or not it has been sanctified by the Spirit. “We can tell the Spirit’s divine nature by examining the Spirit’s activity in the economy of salvation: the Spirit is holy like God and is truly divine, because a creature cannot sanctify others.”[9]In other words, things become spiritual by virtue of the Spirit. Thus far, we have seen the Triune emphasis on Christian spirituality and the underlying assumptions that followed suit, namely, spirituality is communal, sensible, humiliating, and dependent on the Spirit’s work.

The next post will focus on the particular practices of the church and how these foundational assumptions drove their actions—focusing primarily on Catechism, Baptism, and the Eucharist (a.k.a. Communion/Lord’s Supper).


[1]     A more thorough description of orthodox Trinitarianism can be found in the Creed of Nicaea. See Chris Maunder ed. Documents of the Christian Church, (Oxford: Oxford University press), 1999, 27.

[2] Thomas Hopko, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 260.

[3]     John D. Zizioulas, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 32.

[4] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary), 1944. Reprint, 1982, 34.

[5] Charles Kannengiesser, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 64.

[6] Robert Grant, Christian Spirituality, Vol. 16. 25 vols. World Spirituality, Edited by John Meyendorff Bernard McGinn, and Jean Leclercq. (New York: Crossroad), 1985, 45).

[7]  Athanasius, 43.

[8] Cf. Jn 5:19, 30; 7:18; 12:49-50; 14:31

[9] Charles Kannengiesser, Christian Spirituality, 68.