Trinity

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

The End of the Serpent’s Sting

There is a venomous snake in the garden. While the great Messiah and his disciples enter the garden, a certain snake-like figure named Judas knows precisely where the faithful are. He enters the garden knowing that this was a place of constant fellowship and peace. But Judas is not a man of peace and his fellowship with the Messiah has been broken. He is now a man at war and his loyalty is with the darkness.

In the Garden of Eden, the Great Serpent entered the garden to bring about chaos; to tempt the first Adam. Indeed he was successful. The first Adam failed in his loyalty to Yahweh, being deceived by the serpent in the garden, and thus, thrusting all mankind into a state of sin and misery. Now in John 18, the New Serpent enters the garden. He is possessed by the same devil that possessed the serpent in Genesis. It is this precise battle that is unfolding before us in this text. The question is: “Who owns the garden?”

Does Judas with his new found commitment to darkness and evil own the garden or does Jesus own the garden? As the text reveals to us we see that Judas, the son of perdition, seems to have the upper hand in this sacred dispute. In verse 12 we read:

So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him.

Jesus is arrested and bound. They take him out of the garden bound like a defeated enemy. Now, in every conceivable scenario, this would be the historical determination that Jesus has lost. But if the Messiah is to bring this unshakable and unmovable kingdom with his coming, then how does this binding, this apparent defeat in the garden connect with this glorious kingdom? The answer to this question is: paradoxically. The coming of the kingdom is paradoxical. The kingdom does not come in the way and in the expression that many expected.

Now if the kingdom of God comes paradoxically, in a way unknown to the first century, then there may be a different way of understanding this garden scene. In this text, Jesus is not being bound because of defeat; he is being bound because of victory. Jesus’ arrest is his release. His arrest is not his binding, it may appear to be, but it is ultimately the binding of the evil one, the father of lies, Satan himself. This is why the gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus is the One who bound the strong man. He is the One who arrested the Serpent and dragged him out of the garden. Jesus owns the garden, not Judas or His master, Satan.

This arrest and this binding of Jesus in the garden is not a plan gone awry, it is exactly what has been planned. In one sense, this arrest is the cosmic Trinitarian conspiracy against the kingdoms of this world. When evil leaders and governments think they have the Son of Man trapped, he fools them. As Psalm 2 says, “God laughs at their plans.” The conspiracy of the cross is that the cross is Christ’s sword to defeat evil. But the serpent does not know this. He is virtually blinded to the Messianic plan and nothing will stop Jesus from conquering evil and bringing in a new world, a new creation. The garden belongs to him, because the garden is where his people gather, and eat, and fellowship. The garden is the sacred space, the place of peace. Make no mistake, we are a warring people, but we war against the enemies of Messiah. In the garden, the King, Master, and Messiah says, “the gates of hell shall not prevail. Death dies once and for all and victory will come and we will celebrate it this Sunday. Today, though we fast, it is only a prelude to our coming feast. Jesus’ death marks the end of the serpent’s sting of death.

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

Kuyperian Press was founded to provide works that are accessible to the layman in the parish. In this new work, Dr. Gregg Strawbridge provides a wonderful summary of the case for infant baptism in the Bible.

What makes this booklet different?

Strawbridge has provided various charts and biblical connections making the case that the Bible’s promise to the children of the covenant has not been forgotten in the New Testament.

“In this little book, Gregg Strawbridge provides a clear, concise and compelling case for infant baptism. He anticipates the important questions, provides succinct answers, and thereby adds a highly valuable resource to the current conversation.”

–          John G. Crawford, Author of Baptism is Not Enough

 

Audio Version of the “Acknowledgements” to the Trinitarian Father

Audio Version of the “Acknowledgements” to the Trinitarian Father

I have intended for some time now to record my little book on fatherhood. If there is sufficient interest I may continue with the entire project. Here is the preface to the book.

The Athanasian Creed, Brief Thoughts

The Athanasian Creed, Brief Thoughts

The Athanasian Creed is known for its very thorough Trinitarian statement. But the Creed also contains a high Christology. “The Athanasian Creed is usually divided into two sections: lines 1–28 addressing the doctrine of the Trinity, and lines 29–44 addressing the doctrine of Christology.” a The Creed was early attributed to St. Athanasius, but that attribution has since the 17th century been disputed. It is widely accepted now that Athanasius did not pen the Creed, though the Creed reflects much of Athanasius’ Nicene theology.

The Creed begins with these perilous words:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

This harsh expectation for salvation implies, according to Philip Schaff, a precise knowledge of doctrine in order to be saved. Schaff was critical of this language and there have been others who have shared this criticism. For instance, here is a short description from the Creed:

The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal.

This, according to some historians, would place too great a demand on the laity. Some have seen this to be a strict demand that cannot be met, except for those grounded in historical Christianity. Indeed there is some truth to this skepticism. A modern look at our landscape would conclude that not only do evangelicals speak very little about the Trinity from the pulpit, but have little knowledge that such a Creed even exists.

My own reading of the Athanasian Creed and its history is more in line with Greg Uttinger who stated:

The Creed, of course, does not require every Christian to fully understand the complexities and implications of Trinitarian orthodoxy. Yes, an ignorant believer may speak in, say, Sabellian terms because he has not been taught better. He may in his ignorance compare the Trinity to an egg or a tree. The Creed is not addressing such ignorance; it is addressing outright rejection of the truth by those who have every reason to know better. b

As Trinity Sunday approaches, let us not be those who speak in ignorance, but those who confess this Creed and live out this Trinitarian faith.

 

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Athanasian_Creed  (back)
  2. http://chalcedon.edu/research/articles/the-theology-of-the-ancient-creeds-part-4-the-athanasian-creed/  (back)
How Helpful Are Analogies of the Trinity?

How Helpful Are Analogies of the Trinity?

All analogies fall short. They can be enormously helpful at times, but sometimes we need to simply acknowledge that analogies are always limited. They help communicate profound truths in simple terms, but they may at times take us a bit too far and actually undo the intention of the analogy itself. a This is what happens when evangelicals use a variety of analogies to explain the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity, Michael Bird, explains, “is not an esoteric doctrine forged in an unholy marriage of Greek metaphysical speculation and dodgy biblical interpretation.” b Our experience of God is not unitarian or tritheistic, but can only be true if it is Trinitarian. So, a biblical expression of the Trinity is essential.

We live in a day where Trinitarian religion in all its historical beauty has been lost in a sea of trivial statements about God. God, Three and One and One and Three, has become merely a side note in theological pursuit. As one pastor recently told me, “We do not need to talk about the Trinity to our people. It is too complex for them.” The Trinity is arguably the central doctrine that differentiates the Christian faith from other religious traditions like Islam and Judaism. Modern attempts to reconcile these traditions to the Christian faith is ultimately impossible. God is Three and One. He is Oneness and Community. Ancient heresies like Modalism, which teach that each person of the Trinity is merely a “mode of God’s activity as opposed to a distinct and independent person” is by and large the position of Oneness Pentecostals. Yet, most evangelicals view them as just another branch of the orthodox Church.

The nature of the Father, Son, and Spirit have never been more detached from the work of doing theology in our day. As a result of this neglect, modern Christians have attempted to re-energize the idea of the “forgotten Trinity” by providing analogies. These analogies are meant as simple illustrations. They attempt to do with simplicity what the Early Church sought to do with tremendous care and heavy qualifications.

Though the popular illustrations add a little more clarity, they end up confusing the Trinity with other heresies.  S. Michael Houdmann offers a few examples:

The egg (or apple) fails in that the shell, white, and yolk are parts of the egg, not the egg in themselves, just as the skin, flesh, and seeds of the apple are parts of it, not the apple itself. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not parts of God; each of them is God. The water illustration is somewhat better, but it still fails to adequately describe the Trinity. Liquid, vapor, and ice are forms of water. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forms of God, each of them is God.

Some have attributed these analogies to St. Patrick of Ireland. c The supposed bad analogies of Patrick was put into a comical conversation between St. Patrick and two simple men inquiring about the Trinity:

To put it simply, “The problem with using analogies to explain the Holy Trinity is that you always end up confessing some ancient heresy.”

I have found that analogies of the Trinity are a normal reaction from Christians who find themselves defensive about a complicated doctrine. But Christians ought not be defensive about such a lovely description of our God. God is not meant to be intricately analyzed like an ancient fossil, but to be adored. Any explanation of His Nature ought to be done carefully and with the qualifications the Bible provides. d God is. And that is where we must start. In the words of Fred Sanders:

Trinitarianism is the encompassing framework within which all Christian thought takes place and within which Christian confession finds its grounding presuppositions. e

The Trinity is the necessary paradigm for all thinking. It is the beginning and the end of human thought.  The Trinity is mysterious, because God is infinitely powerful and beyond human reasoning. In the end, we ought to catechize, biblicize those under our care with great care when we speak of who God is. In a nutshell, we can affirm the following essential elements concerning our Triune God:

First, the unity of one God in three persons.

Second, the eternity of the three persons.

Third, the shared and equal deity of the three persons.

Fourth, the shared and equal essence of the three persons.

Fifth, the Trinity includes distinction in roles and relationships within the Godhead.

Finally, the Trinity will always be an ineffable mystery.

In the end, the Trinity ought to lead us to worship as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6. And in that worship, we ought to imitate the seraphim who continually sing, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

  1. For a history of “analogy,” see this  (back)
  2. Bird, Michael. Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction, pg. 92  (back)
  3. This claim is debated: http://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/17724/did-saint-patrick-actually-explain-the-trinity-using-a-shamrock  (back)
  4. Analogies like Marriage and community are actually helpful ways to begin to understand the divine Trinity  (back)
  5. Quoted in Bird’s Evangelical Theology, pg. 124  (back)
Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Counseling and the Work of the Spirit

Theology is deeply intimate. Michael Bird excellently summarizes theology as “speaking about God while in the very presence of God. We are intimately engaged with the subject of our study.” a This theological intimacy builds a certain type of worshiper. This worshiper, then, is aware of the nature of his relationships and his relationality with the Triune God. The theological enterprise, which has largely become a rarely pursued journey by the common parishioner, has fallen into the hands of arm-chair theologians. Instead of finding theology an intimate quest, they see it as an academic exercise to be exercised at a fair distance from the subject of their study. They have academized theology.

But theology, properly understood, is a project of the people of God for the sake of the world. Undoubtedly there is room for academic expertise, but this expertise will not  bear fruit unapplied. And part of this distaste for theology has come from the official divorce between theology and counseling. Simply put, we have abandoned the Holy Spirit while pursuing theology. In doing so, we have broken the Trinitarian commitment to knowledge and life. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker. He puts together man and God. He does this by providing in man a need for the divine. The Spirit’s work in us is to make us into needy beings who can only find fulfillment in a giving God. Jesus’ works on earth were all practically aimed at restoring flesh-beings to a more fulfilling humanity, even to the point of restoring a man to life (Jn. 11).

Counseling is necessary in theology. It is the Spirit-side of theology in the Triniarian diagram. The Spirit is the comforter, and our advocate. When others abuse us, the Spirit is the One who reminds us that our sanity comes from the Father, and though we have been painfully beaten to the point of mental breakdowns, the Spirit says that our sanity is from above and no one can take it away.

John Frame was right when he asserted that Christians understand the distinctness of the Father and the Son, but they view the Spirit “as a kind of impersonal force or power associated with God.” b This un-trinitarian tendency c has infected the theological enterprise. Though most evangelicals are careful to avoid sounding like Mormons, they still practically approach theology as a Spirit-less process. Of course, orthodoxy has always affirmed that there is no conflict in the Trinity. There is mutual glorification among the persons of the Trinity. d But practically, our orthopraxis contradicts our orthodoxy. Though Jesus is promised to be a “wonderful counselor” (Isa. 7), the Spirit is promised to be an abiding counselor; the one sent by the Son to abide in every Christian ( Jn. 14:26).

In large measure due to the misunderstanding of the trinitarian nature, the Spirit has been left out of the counseling room. He is not called nor petitioned to. But the Third Person of the Trinity is the key to the theological intimacy we must all seek. Paul writes:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

This transformation/transfiguration comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Counseling stresses the Spirit dependency counselees must have in order to be transformed from glory into glory. The work of theology, Frame stresses, “is not simply to repeat the language of Scripture, but to apply the language of Scripture to our thought and life.” e The Spirit applies theology that changes for He is the source of change.

The type of intimacy I am advocating in counseling is the intimacy that communicates the need of the Spirit and the application of truth to all of life. If only truth is stressed f you lose the relationality of the Spirit of God, but when truth is joined with a conspicuous dependence on the Spirit, then true change from glory to glory begins to take place. Theology must be an intimate pursuit, for in it we discover the Spirit of God who provides true fellowship with the Father and the Son. g

  1. An Evangelical Theology, Bird.  (back)
  2. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Christian Belief, 477  (back)
  3. cult-like  (back)
  4. see Frame, 480  (back)
  5. Frame, 482  (back)
  6. certain counseling paradigms operate strictly from this premise  (back)
  7. II Corinthians 13:14  (back)
Trinitarian Basics

Trinitarian Basics

It matters what you believe. Sometimes we need to get back to basics to get a good grasp of Christian thinking. After all, thinking Christianly is a real challenge to the modern evangelical population. So, where do we start? What should a new Christian learn about? I propose a simple overview of Trinitarian theology. My own pastoral labors have been immensely helped by seeing the world and my parish through Trinitarian eyes. A result of this interest, is my little booklet The Trinitarian Father soon to be published by Covenant Media. Also, my podcast Trinity Talk.

Here is a simple definition from James Jordan to get the ball rolling:

God’s Oneness is not the same as His Threeness, but God is every bit as much One as He is Three, and every bit as much Three as He is One. Consistent Christians, therefore, are not Tri-theists (three gods), nor are they pure Mono-theists (one God); rather, they are Trinitarian.

This remarkable God insists in relating to his people through His Son, by the power of His Spirit. He is Personal and Transcendent. His acts are known in all the earth; His glory among all nations. This God is Triune.

Recommended Books for new Christians on the Trinity:

Trinity and Reality: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Ralph Smith

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves

The Forgotten Trinity by James White

The One and the Many by R.J. Rushdoony

 

 

Imitative Theology

We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).

My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.

Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.

Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.

The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.