Category Archives: Topic-Specific

The Holiness of God

What is the holiness of God? How is it best defined? I’ve heard lots of different definitions, but here’s an excerpt from one of John Piper’s messages on how to define God’s holiness.

“Here is how I conceive of the holiness of God. God is so separate, so above, and distinct from all else — all that is not God — that he is self-existent and self-sustaining and self-sufficient. And thus he is infinitely complete and full and perfect in himself. Since God is separate from, transcendent above, all that is not God, he was not brought into existence by anything outside God. He is self-existent. And he depends on nothing for his ongoing existence and so is self-sustaining. And therefore he is utterly self-sufficient. Complete, full, perfect.

“And the Bible makes plain that this self-existing, self-sustaining, self-sufficient God exists as three divine persons in one divine essence. And thus the Father knows and loves the Son perfectly, completely, infinitely. And the Son knows and loves the Father perfectly, completely, infinitely. And the Holy Spirit is the perfect, complete, infinite expression of the Father’s and the Son’s knowledge and love of each other. And this perfect Trinitarian fellowship is essential to the fullness and perfection and completeness of God. There is no lack, no deficiency, no need. Only perfect fullness and completeness and self-sufficiency.

But Something’s Missing

“This is the holiness of God. His transcendent completeness and self-sufficiency. But there is a missing dimension in that description of holiness. Because God is utterly unique and self-existent, there is nothing besides God except what God wills to create. Therefore, God is absolute value. He is absolute worth. His transcendent completeness makes him infinitely valuable. Of infinite worth. It’s necessary to introduce this dimension of holiness into the definition because the Bible presents God’s holiness in terms of morality as well as terms of transcendence. Holiness is not just otherness. It is good and pure and right.

“Introducing God’s infinite worth helps us conceive of God’s holiness in moral categories. Before creation, there were no standards of goodness and righteousness outside of God that could be used to say, God is good or right according to these standards. All there was was God. So, when there is only God, how do you define good? How can there be holiness with a moral dimension, and not just a transcendent one?

God’s Beautiful Harmony

“My answer is this: The moral dimension of God’s holiness is that every affection, every thought, and every act of God is consistent with the infinite worth of his transcendent fullness. In other words, I am defining holiness not only as the infinite worth of God’s transcendent fullness, but also as the harmony that exists between the worth of that transcendent fullness and all God’s affections, thoughts, and acts. That harmony is the beauty of holiness.

“In sum, then, God is transcendent in his self-existent completeness; and is, therefore, of infinite worth; and there is perfect harmony between the worth of his transcendent completeness and all his affections, thoughts, and acts. This is God’s holiness. Or to shorten it even more: His holiness is his transcendent fullness, his worth, and the beautiful harmony of all his acts with that worth.”

 

Full message here.

The Church

Analyze and respond to the statement, “I don’t need to go to church. I can worship God wherever I am.” –Anonymous

Analyze and respond to the following statement, “I commune best with God when I am out in nature. I don’t need organized religion to feel close to God.”

These are the NCFCA and Stoa topics, respectively, that deal most directly with the doctrine of the Church. While there are multiple ways to approach these topics, the following outline is how I would recommend dealing with them. By establishing the necessity and centrality of the church to the Christian life, you demonstrate that yes, we do need to go to church, and yes, we do need “organized” religion insofar as it refers to the church.

 

Sample Outline:

Anyone who wants to know God must go to church…

1. Because of Who God is

If you only commune with God through nature, then you only know God as Creator. But what about God as Savior, Father, King, Friend, Helper? The list of God’s attributes goes on and on. Just knowing God through nature is not enough to save. Creation is general revelation, but we need special revelation as well. That is found through His word and through Christ.

When believers come together, God is present among them in a special way because of their common bond. I also haven’t heard a tree give a sermon recently. Special revelation is not found in nature.

2. Because of who we are

We are sinners! Left to ourselves, we invariably fall into “irreverent, silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7). The local church is a community of believers that should hold each other accountable. “Lone Ranger” Christians get killed–we all need a Tonto (or several) who will knock some sense into us when we are blindly cherishing our sin.

3. Because of what the church is

The church is Christ’s bride, His beloved. Ephesians 5:25-27 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Each local church is a manifestation of the worldwide church. Christ loved the church, so we should too.

Also, the church provides teaching to help believers grow in their knowledge of God and relationship with Him. Unless you have a doctorate in theology (or even if you do), you can always learn something new (or just re-learn it–we’re forgetful) listening to a pastor who has spent many hours studying.

Summary: We need to know God in more aspects than Creator, we need accountability, and we should love the Church because Christ loved it and because it’s where we are taught about God.

Trinitarian Analogies

“God as a Trinity can be compared to H2O. H2O can take the form of ice, water, or water vapor, but all three forms are water. In the same way, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but all three are God.”

“God as a Trinity can be compared to a man who is a father, a son, and a husband. He plays three different roles but is still one individual. In the same way, God can be three Persons but still only one God.”

“God as a Trinity can be compared to a book. A book has height, width, and depth, but it is still one book. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but still one God.”

“God as a Trinity can be compared to an egg. An egg has three parts–shell, yolk, and albumen–yet is still one egg. God is three Persons yet is still one God.”

“God as a Trinity can be compared to a three-leaf clover. The three leaves of the clover together make up one clover. The three Persons of God together make up only one God.”

We’ve probably all heard one or more of these analogies before. If you’ve ever spoken on the Trinity in an Apologetics round, you’ve probably used some of them yourself. If so, you may not like my next sentence–sorry. If you’ve ever used any of these analogies, you have unwittingly been promoting a heretical view of the Trinity. Ouch. I like these analogies and have unknowingly used some myself, but they nonetheless espouse an incorrect view of what God is like.

The first two analogies bring the error of modalism. This doctrine states that there is one God who manifests Himself to us in different forms. This denies that the members of the Trinity are distinct persons, and thus is heresy. Regarding the first analogy, Pastor Tim Challies says, “Water is never in all three forms at the same time. In the Trinity, God is always and at all times each Person.” He goes on to say about the second analogy, “Father, son and husband describe functions or roles of one person. In the Trinity, God is three distinct persons rather than one person in three modes or roles.”

Pastor Mark Driscoll says, “That’s Modalism. The Father was not born of a virgin. The Father did not die on a cross. The Son did. Modalism says that the Father became Jesus and the Father became the Spirit. The Trinity says they’re distinct. They work together. The Father sent the Son. The Son died and rose. And the Spirit was sent to indwell and regenerate us. They’re all working together, but again, the Father was not born of Mary. The Father did not grow up as a Galilean peasant. The Father did not die on a cross. The Father did not walk away from the tomb. That was the Son.”

The last two analogies fall into the error of polytheism. This heresy is more well known: it says there there are multiple gods. A book may have height, width, and depth, but we cannot say that a book’s height is a book, or that a book’s width is a book, or that a book’s depth is a book. However, we can say that God the Father is God, God the Son is God, and God the Holy Spirit is God. One dimension of a book is not fully a book, but each Person of God is fully God. Thus, this analogy does not accurately represent the Trinity. The same applies to the egg analogy: none of the three parts of the egg can be said to be fully an egg. Regarding the clover analogy, Pastor Challies says, “Each leaf is only part of the clover and cannot be said to be the whole clover. In the Trinity, each person is fully God.”

If none of the above analogies can be used without promoting a subtle heresy, what analogies can be used? Sadly, I have yet to find an analogy that explains the Trinity both accurately and simply. This paper shares a few analogies, but they are very complicated and, in my opinion, not suitable for use in an Apologetics round.

My personal recommendation is to explain the image that comes up if you search “Trinity” on Google Images (not posted here due to copyright). This is the historical way of picturing the Trinity. If you explain that there is one God, that God is three Persons, and that each person is fully God, then you have accurately described the Trinity. No, it’s not anywhere as easy to picture as an analogy–but it is theologically accurate. And in Apologetics, theological accuracy should be our primary concern.

 

P.S. I would highly recommend reading the infographic from Pastor Challies I referenced above. It was incredibly helpful to me in refining my understanding of the Trinity.

P.P.S. If you have an analogy that you believe does not espouse any heretical pitfalls, please leave it in the comments below! I would love to have a theologically accurate analogy, but at this point I’m not sure one exists.

Criticizing the Bible

Theologians sometimes criticize the Bible. And that’s a good thing.

When we hear the word “criticize”, our brains naturally associate it with words such as “demean”, “condemn”, and “denounce”. But Biblical criticism is better compared to what a theater critic, food critic, or movie critic does: evaluates what is set before it. There are two branches of Biblical criticism, each of which evaluates a specific aspect of the Bible.

Higher (historical) criticism is a branch of literary criticism that investigates the origins of ancient text in order to understand “the world behind the text”. It endeavors to establish the authorship, date, and place of composition of the original text.

Lower (textual) criticism is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts. Ancient scribes sometimes made errors or alterations when copying manuscripts by hand. Given multiple copies of a manuscript, but not the original document, the textual critic seeks to reconstruct the original text as closely as possible. So, lower criticism is the discipline and study of the actual wording of the Bible; a quest for textual purity and understanding.

But who cares!? Why does it matter?

Both higher and lower criticism help us to understand the Bible better. Historical criticism allows us to comprehend the situation that the author and original recipients were in while textual criticism deals with ascertaining the meaning of the Bible’s text. That’s very significant!

Criticizing the Bible is not the unforgivable sin — in fact, it can be incredibly beneficial.

Peanuts Criticism

How not to criticize the Bible.

Recommended Reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_criticism

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Textual_criticism

http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_hcri.htm