Simplicity, Scholasticism, and the Triunity of God

Article by by Mike Riccardi (original source here with helpful comment thread). Questions such as these are answered:

1. Why should I bother myself with learning about metaphysics?
2. Does the incarnation “interrupt” the simplicity of God? And relatedly, does the Son remain incarnate forever?
3. Does a denial of simplicity go hand in hand with holding to a doctrine of the eternal functional subordination of the Son to the Father, that topic that was vigorously debated last summer?
4. What about Scott Oliphint’s notion of “covenantal properties” in God?
5. How does the difference between a classical versus presuppositional view of epistemology bear on this discussion?

All That Is In God

Warning – Scholastic Theological Material Ahead… it could easily make your brain hurt. It is posted in order to reference the current discussion taking place.

James E. Dolezal is Assistant Professor of Theology in the School of Divinity at Cairn University, Langhorne, Pennsylvania. He has written a new book entitled: All That Is in God (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017). http://www.heritagebooks.org/products/all-that-is-in-god-dolezal.html

Product Description – Unknown to many, increasing numbers of conservative evangelicals are denying basic tenets of classical Christian teaching about God, with departures occurring even among those of the Calvinistic persuasion. James E. Dolezal’s All That Is in God provides an exposition of the historic Christian position while engaging with these contemporary deviations. His convincing critique of the newer position he styles “theistic mutualism” is philosophically robust, systematically nuanced, and biblically based. It demonstrates the need to maintain the traditional viewpoint, particularly on divine simplicity, and spotlights the unfortunate implications for other important Christian doctrines—such as divine eternality and the Trinity—if it were to be abandoned. Arguing carefully and cogently that “all that is in God is God Himself,” the work is sure to stimulate debate on the issue in years to come.

John Frame has objected strenuously to many of the things written in this book:

Scholasticism for Evangelicals: Thoughts on All That Is In God by James Dolezal

Frame’s article here needs to be read for the rest of this to make any sense.

Others are now writing, and it seems clear that Frame is not on the side of orthodoxy.

Mark Jones: https://calvinistinternational.com/2017/11/27/reviewing-frames-review-of-dolezal/

Mike Riccardi (on facebook) writes:

So, I’ve been writing out a long response, which, as I was tending to the screaming kids, my phone ate. I’ll do my best to reproduce it.

1. It’s an extremely serious, as well as facile and naive, charge to say that anyone who holds to the historic Christian doctrine of divine simplicity is either (a) uncritically imbibing Aquinas, or, since there is a host of theologians and thinkers who embraced divine simplicity before Aquinas, (b) are uncritically imbibing Aristotle. Before you continue to parrot the objection that simplicity is simply Thomistic or Aristotelian, I would challenge you to demonstrate that Augustine, Athanasius, and the Cappadocian Fathers (all of whom were significant formulators and defenders of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and who explicitly employed the traditional doctrine of simplicity to maintain and defend Trinitarianism from heretical opposition) — I would challenge you to demonstrate that those men were either literarily or philosphically *dependent* on Aristotle for their thinking. That case simply can’t be made. They may have used categories that overlapped with certain of Aristotle’s (or other philosopher’s) ideas, but that doesn’t make the Trinity Aristotelian!

2. What bugs me about the contemporary evangelical / theistic mutualist/mutablist hunt for the Scholastic boogeyman (that is, to suppose that identifying an idea as “scholastic” or “Thomistic” or “Aristotelian” is sufficient refutation of that idea; it’s not; just because Thomas or Aristotle taught something doesn’t make it automatically unbiblical) is that we all stand on the shoulders of the so-called “scholastics” any time we use language like “person” and “essence” or “nature” to speak about the Trinity — or, to use an example that is more close to home for you, Scott, any time we use language like efficient or proximate cause to describe biblical compatibilism. The fathers didn’t wholesale imbibe the metaphysics of Greek philosophy, but they certainly spoke in those categories — ousia, phusis, hupostasis (and persona, substantia, essentia in the Latin fathers), etc. Again, there was significant revision of those metaphysical categories to reflect biblical truth (even using nonbiblical words like homoousios!), but there wasn’t this fear that to even use the same categories that the philosophers used would be a necessary subjugation of biblical authority to philosophy. Similarly, whenever we use the formula of proximate and efficient causation, we could be legitimately charged with employing an “Aristotelian” theory of causation. But simply because Aristotle might have helpfully observed that there are different kinds of causes and different levels of causation, it doesn’t mean that those categories are off limits when we see those concepts emerging from Scripture as well (e.g., in Acts 2:23). That brings me to #3. Continue reading

God is not a man that He should lie

Dr. James White writes:

I was just perusing some comments about the debate that took place in South Africa between Jonathan McLatchie and Yusuf Ismail on the Trinity in the Old Testament. Now I wasn’t able to watch it live, and might be able to slip it into the “riding queue” for next week (I do have at least one mega long ride planned), but I wanted to comment on this statement from Ijaz Ahmad, as it caught my attention:

There were quite a few fronts that the Christian side simply did not show up for, which had they been demonstrated would have been better than merely reading off as many quotes as was possible. Take for example the argument by Jonathan that Br. Yusuf’s use of Numbers 23:19 was incorrect because it was not about the character of God, but of man, foregoing that as a Trinitarian he believes that the Person of Christ was both man and God, therefore if it did speak of the Trinity (in this case the Trinitarian Person of Jesus), then he should have not denied that it referred to the character of God, unless Jonathan himself denies that the Person Of Jesus was not a divine actor with two natures. The interesting thing here is that if Jonathan does believe that God inspired the Old Testament (in whatever form), then shouldn’t God have known He would appear as a man at some point and therefore the verse’s relevance would apply then? This seems to have gone over Jonathan’s head altogether.

I have never found the use of Numbers 23:19 by Islamic apologists to be a weighty objection, but one founded more upon ignorance of the subject than upon deep reflection. Christians use this text in responding to Mormons frequently, and for good reason:
“He came to him, and behold, he was standing beside his burnt offering, and the leaders of Moab with him. And Balak said to him, “What has the LORD spoken?” Then he took up his discourse and said,
“Arise, O Balak, and hear;
Give ear to me, O son of Zippor!
“God is not a man, that He should lie,
Nor a son of man, that He should repent;
Has He said, and will He not do it?
Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
“Behold, I have received a command to bless;
When He has blessed, then I cannot revoke it.”
(Numbers 23:17–20 NASB)

The text comes from Balaam’s encounter with Balak and the matter of cursing or blessing the people of Israel. The issue is, obviously, the irreversibility of Yahweh’s promise to bless Israel as His covenant people in giving to them the Promised Land. Verse 19, the beginning of the word given to Balaam by Yahweh, states a basic reality: God is God. God is not human. God is the creator of humanity. This seems obvious, but Balak is undoubtedly outside the covenant community and in need of basic instruction in truth. The emphasis in pointing to the otherness of God’s nature in contrast to man is that God’s promises and blessings are not fickle, as is the case with man. Hence, immediately upon stating that God is not a man, we have “that He should lie.” Lying, being dishonest in His promises, is in the realm of fallen creatureliness; it is not something to be found in the realm of the Divine Creator. Using standard Hebrew parallelism (this is a poetic section), the same truth is restated, this time with the statement “that He should repent.”

The term used here, nacham, (the auto-correct on my computer attempted to change that to “nachos”), is deeper than the Western concept of “repent” as in “change one’s mind,” but often includes within it the idea of regret at one’s actions, or at least regret at the results of past events. In any case, the point is made plain by the rest of the verse—God has said He will bless Israel, and He will “do it” and will “make it good.” God’s revelation to Balaam cannot be changed no matter how much Balak may wish it to be so. God will not be bought off by the king’s money.

So, it is rather obvious, on any basic reading of the text in its context, that these words refer to God’s faithfulness to His promises, similar to the words of Psalm 12:6-7, for example. They are, in fact, relevant to Mormonism, which, in its orthodox historical teachings (given the nature of Mormon epistemology, all of this could change tomorrow), denies the ontological distinction between God and man. Hence, the foundation of the distinction upon which God’s word to Balaam rests, is denied in LDS theology. So, Numbers 23:19 is relevant to Mormonism, for in that religion, God and man are the same species, ontologically identical (being separated only by progression in time and status).

But the text is, rather obviously, irrelevant to the doctrine of the Trinity, and I will have to candidly admit that when I see Muslims using this text I know that their knowledge of the doctrine is, well, less than robust.

The historic doctrine of the Trinity does not teach that God’s nature is that of a man. God has eternally been God. God has never ceased to be God, and cannot by definition do so. In the Incarnation God did not cease to be God, God’s nature did not become human, etc. As I explained fairly clearly in the context of knowledgable Islamic objection in my debate with Abdullah Kunde in 2011, we believe the Second Person of the Trinity voluntarily took on a perfect human nature in the Incarnation. The Second Person did not cease being fully God, fully eternal, etc. There was no inter-mixture of the natures so that the divine became semi-human or the human became semi-divine. Two natures, one Person, “the Lord of glory” Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh without ceasing to be the Word. The essential, eternal, unchanging nature of God did not change in the Incarnation anymore than when the Triune God brought the universe into existence. The Incarnation was a divine act in time.

The point being this: there is nothing in the statement “God is not a man” that is in any possibly logical sense relevant to the future action of the Second Person of the Trinity in taking on a human nature so as to accomplish the prophesied redemption of God’s people (Isaiah 9:5-6). God’s nature is that of God, not man—always has been, always will be. The Incarnation did not change that. Further, the point of the statement is focused upon the fallenness of man resulting in the unreliability of his promises and actions—which likewise would be irrelevant to the sinless Son when in the flesh. So any serious reflection upon the Trinity would reveal that the citation of Numbers 23:19 is errant on the part of Islamic apologists.

Now, I would likewise like to comment that I have been rather clear over the years in stating that I do not believe the Trinity is a specifically Old Testament revelation. While there are prophetic glimpses of this truth, I agree with Warfield that its primary revelation is found between the Testaments, specifically in the Incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. Hence, the New Testament becomes the record of this historical revelation, not the actual ground of that revelation. That is, the NT reveals the Trinity simply because it is written in light of the historical action of the Triune God that preceded it. I have addressed this in my book, The Forgotten Trinity, and you can read an excellent discussion of these issues in Warfield’s classic work, available on line here.

The Continental Divide of Theology

This excerpt is adapted from Foundations of Grace by Steven J. Lawson.

Through the western regions of North America, there runs an imaginary geographic line that determines the flow of streams into oceans. It is known as the Continental Divide. Ultimately, precipitation falling on the east side of this great divide will flow into the Atlantic Ocean. Likewise, water falling on the western slopes of this line will surge in the opposite direction until it finally empties into the Pacific Ocean. Needless to say, a vast continent separates these immense bodies of water.

It is seemingly far-fetched to ponder that a raindrop falling atop a mountain in Colorado will flow to the Pacific, while another drop, falling but a short distance away, will flow into the Atlantic. Nevertheless, once the water pours down on a particular side of this great divide, its path is determined and its direction is unchangeable.

Geography is not the only place we find a great divide. There is a high ground that runs through church history as well—a Continental Divide of theology. This great divide of doctrine separates two distinctly different streams of thought that flow in opposite directions. To be specific, this determinative high ground is one’s theology of God, man, and salvation. This is the highest of all thought, and it divides all doctrine into two schools.

Historically, these two ways of thinking about God and His saving grace have been called by various names. Some have identified them as Augustinianism and Pelagianism. Others have named them Calvinism and Arminianism. Still others have defined them as Reformed and Catholic, while others have used the terms predestination and free will. But by whatever name, these streams are determined by the Continental Divide of theology.

This metaphorical divide differs from the geographical Continental Divide in one key respect. Whereas streams flowing west and east of the Rocky Mountains descend gradually to the plains and lowlands where they meet the oceans, the terrain on the two sides of the doctrinal divide is quite different. On one side we find solid highlands of truth. On the other side there are precipitous slopes of half-truths and full error.

Over the centuries, seasons of reformation and revival in the church have come when the sovereign grace of God has been openly proclaimed and clearly taught. When a high view of God has been infused into the hearts and minds of God’s people, the church has sat on the elevated plateaus of transcendent truth. This lofty ground is Calvinism—the high ground for the church. The lofty truths of divine sovereignty provide the greatest and grandest view of God. The doctrines of grace serve to elevate the entire life of the church.

The great Princeton theologian Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield, writing more than a century ago, perceptively noted, “The world should realize with increased clearness that Evangelicalism stands or falls with Calvinism.” At first glance, this stunning statement may appear to be an exaggeration, even hyperbole. But the more it is weighed, the more one discerns that evangelicalism—that part of the body of Christ that rightly adheres to the inerrancy of Scripture, the total depravity of man, and the sovereignty of God in all aspects of life—always needs the doctrines of sovereign grace to anchor it to the high ground. For without the theological teachings of Reformed truth concerning God’s sovereignty in man’s salvation, the church is weakened and made vulnerable, soon to begin an inevitable decline into baser beliefs, whether she realizes it or not.

Whenever the church becomes increasingly man-centered, she begins the downhill slide, often without recovery, and always to her detriment. Once yielding the high ground of Calvinism, a self-absorbed church puts its full weight onto the slippery slope of Arminianism, resulting in a loss of its foundational stability. Tragically, however, the descent rarely stops there. Historically, man-centered doctrine has served only as a catalyst for an even greater fall.

Rappelling down the slippery slopes of Arminianism, one is soon to find the church sinking deeper and deeper into a murky quagmire of heretical ideas. Such a descent inevitably gives way to liberalism, the utter rejection of the absolute authority of Scripture. From liberalism—given enough time— the church always plunges yet lower into ecumenism, that deadly philosophy that embraces all religions as having some part of the truth. Continuing this downward spiral, the church plummets into universalism, the damning belief that all men eventually will be saved. Yet worse, universalism gives way to agnosticism, a degenerate view that one cannot even know whether there is a God. Finally, the church falls into the deepest abyss—the hellish flames of atheism, the belief that there is no God.

Never has the need been greater for the truths of sovereign grace to be firmly established in the church. Her thinking about God desperately needs to be flowing in the right direction.

As the church thinks, so she worships; and, as the church worships, so she lives, serves, and evangelizes. The church’s right view of God and the outworking of His grace gives shape to everything that is vital and important. The church must recapture her lofty vision of God and, thereby, be anchored to the solid rock of His absolute supremacy in all things. Only then will the church have a God-centered orientation in all matters of ministry. This, I believe, is the desperate need of the hour.

10 Things You Should Know About The Sovereignty of God

Article: 10 Things You Should Know About The Sovereignty of God by Dr. Sam Storms (original source here)

Few things are more controversial among Christians than the sovereignty of God. Is God truly sovereign over everything, including calamity, natural disasters, death, and demons, or is his sovereign control restricted to those things we typically regard as good, such as material blessing, family welfare, personal salvation, and good health? Today we turn our attention to ten things we should all know about God’s sovereignty.

Before we begin, it’s important to distinguish between natural evil, which would include such things as tornadoes, earthquakes, famine (although famine can often be the result of moral evil perpetrated by those who devastate a country through greed or theft), floods, and disease. Is God sovereign over natural evil? Does he exert absolute control over these events in nature, such that he could, if he willed to do so, prevent them from happening or redirect their course and minimize the extent of damage they incur? Yes.

Moral evil has reference to the decisions made by human beings. Does God have sovereignty over the will of man? Can he stir the heart of an unbeliever to do his will? Can he frustrate the will of a person whose determination is to do evil and thereby prevent sin from happening? When a Christian does what is right, to whom should the credit and praise be given? And how is it possible for God to exert sovereignty over all of life without undermining the moral responsibility of men and women? These are the questions that find their answer in Scripture.

(1) Numerous biblical texts explicitly teach that God exerts complete sovereignty and meticulous control over all the so-called forces of “nature.” I encourage you to take time to read Psalms 104; 147:8-9, 14-18; 148:1-12. Also consider Job 9:5-10; 26:7-14; 37:2-24; 38:8-41. Other texts include:

“It is he who made the earth by his power, who established the world by his wisdom; and by his understanding stretched out the heavens. When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth. He makes lightning for the rain, and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses” (Jer. 10:12-13).

“Are there any among the false gods of the nations that can bring rain? Or can the heavens give showers? Are you not he, O Lord our God? We set our hope on you, for you do all these things” (Jer. 14:22).

“I also withheld the rain from you when there were yet three months to the harvest; I would send rain on one city, and send no rain on another city; one field would have rain, and the field on which it did not rain would wither” (Amos 4:7).

“When he summoned a famine on the land and broke all supply of bread . . .” (Psalm 105:16).

Jesus exercised this authority/sovereignty when he rebuked the storm on the Sea of Galilee, provoking this response from his disciples:

“And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. . . . And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:39-41).

Does this mean that God can put a halt to the destructive path of a tornado or redirect its trajectory, or that he can stop the waves of a tsunami? Yes.

(2) God is also sovereign over events that from our limited human point of view appear to be entirely random:
“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD” (Proverbs 16:33).

(3) His sovereignty extends to the affairs of our daily lives and the plans we make for each day:

“A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” (Proverbs 20:24)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. . . . Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).

(4) God is sovereign over both life and death. Many are ready to concede that God is sovereign over the beginning of life but they do not like the idea that God is sovereign over the time and manner of its end. But note the following:

“See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39)

“The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Samuel 12:6)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15). Continue reading

The Father’s Bargain with the Son

by John Flavel

Father: My son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and now lie open to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?

Son: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they shall perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Surety; bring in all thy bills, that I may see what they owe thee; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them; at my hand shalt thou require it. I will rather choose to suffer thy wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.

Father: But, my Son, if thou undertake for them, thou must reckon to pay the last mite, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare thee.

Son: Content, Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to discharge it: and though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverish all my riches, empty all my treasures, (for so indeed it did, 2 Cor. 8: 9. “Though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor”) yet I am content to undertake it.

Flavel: Blush, ungrateful believers, O let shame cover your faces; judge in yourselves now, has Christ deserved that you should stand with him for trifles, that you should shrink at a few petty difficulties, and complain, this is hard, and that is harsh? O if you knew the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in this his wonderful condescension for you, you could not do it.

Is God Simple or Complex?

Persis Lorenti is a member of Grace Baptist Chapel in Hampton, VA where she serves as bookkeeper and deacon of library/resources. She blogs at triedbyfire.blogspot.com and out-of-theordinary.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @triedwfire.

Article: Classic Theism: Is God Simple or Complex? (original source here)

My Sunday school teacher posed this question during class a few years ago. The question surprised me because the answer seemed obvious. If God is so far beyond my comprehension, how could he be simple? Therefore, he must be complex, right? Wrong. The teacher was not referring to whether God was easily understood but rather to the doctrine of divine simplicity.

Simply stated, this doctrine teaches that there “is nothing in God that is not God.” [1] Nothing comprises God. Neither is there anything that lies behind or alongside him that provides the basis for his existence.[2] This is affirmed in the Westminster Confession 2.1 which states that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” The London Baptist Confession (LBC) 2.3 also adds “one God, who is not to be divided by nature or being.”

As a counter example, we learn in biology that all living things are composed of cells, which are made of several components. But in chemistry, we learn that those cellular components are made up of molecules, which in turn are made up of atoms of different elements. For years scientists believed that atoms were the building blocks of matter, but the search is not over. Physicists today are detecting particles smaller than a proton. Thus, we still don’t know what is the fundamental basis of matter. The physical universe also requires something outside of these necessary parts to put them together. But God is not like this. He cannot be subdivided or broken down into his essential building blocks. If that was the case, those parts would account for his being God and take the credit for his God-ness. He would also be dependent upon a maker apart from himself to combine those parts into “God,” but all that is in God is God. He just is.[3]

This may sound rather esoteric and only fit for the seminary classroom, but what about the average believer in the pew? Does simplicity make any difference at all? It does indeed, and here are a few implications of this doctrine.

– Simplicity safeguards our understanding of God. The Trinity is not three Gods (tritheism). Neither is God comprised of 1/3 Father, 1/3 Son, and 1/3 Holy Spirit (partialism). We confess One God in Three Persons. Simplicity is also the foundation of God’s independence and immutability. Complex beings are dependent on their parts and their maker, but as a simple being, God is dependent upon nothing. He will never change because then he would cease to be himself. Change also implies a lack of perfection as though he needed any improvement.[4] Continue reading

How Do We Relate to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

by Michael Horton, adapted from his new book, Rediscovering the Holy Spirit: God’s Perfecting Presence in Creation, Redemption, and Everyday Life.

What we meet in the unfolding biblical drama is not merely three “personas” but three concrete persons; not just three roles, but three actors. We encounter the Father as the origin of creation, redemption, and consummation, the Son as the mediator, and the Spirit as the one who brings every work to completion.

There are various ways of formulating this mystery:

1. The Son is the Father’s image; the Spirit is the bond of love between them. Consequently, in every external work of the Godhead the Father is the source, the Son is the mediator, and the Spirit is the consummator. Creation exists from the Father, in the Son, by the power of the Spirit; in the new creation Christ is the head while the Spirit is the one who unites the members to him and renews them according to Christ’s image to the glory of the Father.

2. Or we can say that the Father works for us, the Son works among us, and the Spirit works within us.

3. God’s works, both of creation and new creation, are typically described in Scripture as performed through speech, so we may also say it this way: Just as the Son is the Word of the Father and the Father (or the Father and the Son) breathes out the Spirit, all of the Father’s speech in the Son brings about its intended effect because of the perfecting agency of the Spirit. We hear the voice of the Father, but we behold God himself in the face of Christ. Jesus could even tell Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). But the Spirit is the one who brings about this recognition within us, as Jesus goes on to point out so clearly in the following verses (vv. 15–27). The Trinitarian reference is implied in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God [the Father], who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts [by the Spirit] to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

4. In the covenant of grace, the Father is the promise maker (Heb 6:13), the Son is the promise (2 Cor 1:20), and the Spirit brings about within us the “amen!” of faith (1 Cor 12:13).

5. Athanasius observed that “while the Father is fountain, and the Son is called river, we are said to drink of the Spirit.”

For it is written that “we have all been given to drink of one Spirit” (1 Cor 12:13). But when we are given to drink of the Spirit, we drink of Christ; for “they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:4). . . . But when we are made alive in the Spirit, Christ himself is said to live in us: “I have been crucified with Christ,” it says, “I live, yet it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19–20).

It is not different works but different roles in every work that the divine persons perform. This can be something like a paradigm shift not only in our thinking but in our worship, living, and mission. As we begin to discern the Spirit’s distinctive role across the whole canvas of biblical revelation, we begin to recognize his distinctive role in our own lives.

Again, for emphasis: We will have a very narrow vision of the Spirit’s person and work if we identify him only with specific works (like regeneration and spiritual gifts) instead of recognizing the specific way he works in every divine operation.

In creation, redemption, and the consummation, the Spirit is the life-giver.

Did God Die on the Cross?

sanders__fred_41059966622This is an excerpt from Fred Sander’s essay “Chalcedonian Categories for the Gospel Narrative,” from Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective (B&H Academic, 2007). Fred is a systematic theologian with an emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity. He and his wife Susan have two children, Freddy and Phoebe. They are members of Grace Evangelical Free Church.

God Died on the Cross by Fred Sanders

In the days leading up to Good Friday, I’m going to post a few theological answers to questions I get every year around this time. The answers will be unblushingly doctrinal, so prepare to put your thinking caps on.

This little series isn’t mainly about getting the theology right for its own sake (though I’m strongly inclined to do that, because who wants to get the theology wrong?). It’s mainly to clear a few theological questions out of the way before the Good-Friday-to-Easter church sequence arrives.

My dream is that we could think hard about theology online during the first part of the week, and then have our thoughts in order before we experience the annual remembrance of the death and resurrection of Christ in the last part of the week in church. These posts are intended to clear away some theological confusions that might prevent intelligent participation in the life of the church.

The first one is what it means to say that God died on the cross. My answer is an excerpt from a book I edited about ten years ago:

In one of his hymns, Charles Wesley wrote: “O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me!” This is a bold thing to say, because it claims so much: “God . . . died.” The Bible itself says it that bluntly in a few places, such as Acts 20:28, “God purchased the church with his own blood.” This is how the voice of faith speaks when it confesses what God has done. This is a good Christian sentence. When theologians get hold of stark, paradoxical statements like “God died,” they have an instinct to clarify what is being said. They do not want to remove the shock or the force (that would be very bad theology), but they do want to make sure that the true paradox rather than something else is being communicated. They want to rule out misunderstandings that either take away the shock, or substitute for it the fake shock of logical incoherence. Continue reading