“Where is Your God Now?” (Or, That Brief Horrible Moment When We All Thought Justin Bieber Was Robin) #CaPC

“Where is your God now?” accused one of my friends. “I’d have to rethink the problem of evil and God’s goodness, if it were true” said another. I, who usually am not thrown off in situations of theological doubt in the face of pain, stood there, silent, unable to muster up a response in the face of such pointless evil.

What horror could throw my friends and I into such deep, existential and theological instability? This:

102332-bieber-robin-hoak-screenshot-from-instagramIn case you weren’t aware, over the weekend Justin Bieber threw up pic on Instagram and Twitter, of himself holding a copy of what appears to be a personalized script of Zach Snyder’s upcoming Superman/Batman movie. He hashtagged it ‘robin’ sending the world into a tailspin of insanity and fear. 

Read the rest of my ordeal and post-horror reflections over at Christ and Pop Culture.

Calvin Explains Chalcedonian Christology in Two Paragraphs

chalcedonAfter much controversy and struggle in the Church, the Council of Chalcedon (451 AD) put out a formal definition on person of Christ, regarding his full divinity, humanity, and the union of the two natures. While not exhausting the depth and beauty of the person of Christ, it lays down important boundaries within which theologians must stay if they are to properly teach the glory of the Son who took on flesh for our salvation.

Chalcedon has stood as the bulwark of orthodox-catholic Christology across traditions for a millenia and a half, and yet, while lengthy expositions of it are available, it still takes some time digging to find a good, clean summary explanation of what the Definition actually says. That’s why I was pleased to find this passage in Calvin’s comments on John 1:14, “and the Speech* (Word) became flesh, and dwelt among us”, in which he briefly and clearly expounds the scriptural truth that Chalcedon teaches:

The plain meaning therefore is, that the Speech begotten by God before all ages, and who always dwelt with the Father, was made man. On this article there are two things chiefly to be observed. The first is, that two natures were so united in one Person in Christ, that one and the same Christ is true God and true man. The second is, that the unity of person does not hinder the two natures from remaining distinct, so that his Divinity retains all that is peculiar to itself, and his humanity holds separately whatever belongs to it. And, therefore as Satan has made a variety of foolish attempts to overturn sound doctrine by heretics, he has always brought forward one or another of these two errors; either that he was the Son of God and the Son of man in so confused a manner, that neither his Divinity remained entire, nor did he wear the true nature of man; or that he was clothed with flesh, so as to be as it were double, and to have two separate persons. Thus Nestorius expressly acknowledged both natures, but imagined two Christs, one who was God, and another who was man. Eutyches, on the other hand, while he acknowledged that the one Christ is the Son of God and the Son of man, left him neither of the two natures, but imagined that they were mingled together. And in the present day, Servetus and the Anabaptists invent a Christ who is confusedly compounded of two natures, as if he were a Divine man. In words, indeed, he acknowledges that Christ is God; but if you admit his raving imaginations, the Divinity is at one time changed into human nature, and at another time, the nature of man is swallowed up by the Divinity.

The Evangelist says what is well adapted to refute both of these blasphemies. When he tells us that the Speech was made flesh, we clearly infer from this the unity of his Person; for it is impossible that he who is now a man could be any other than he who was always the true God, since it is said that God was made man. On the other hand, since he distinctly gives to the man Christ the name of the Speech, it follows that Christ, when he became man, did not cease to be what he formerly was, and that no change took place in that eternal essence of God which was clothed with flesh. In short, the Son of God began to be man in such a manner that he still continues to be that eternal Speech who had no beginning of time.

Commentary on John 1:14

The whole section is worth review as Calvin deftly comments on controversies both ancient and contemporary to his own day. Indeed, as challenges and confusions about just who Jesus is continue into our own, students and disciples of the Word would benefit from listening into the disputes of another age. While they’re framed in different ways, they are often-times structurally similar such that hearing the answer discussed in a context less immediate and personally-charged for us, can cast a clearer light for our own days.

Of course, the point of all this is not mere doctrinal correctness, but the life of doxology that follows. Christ is not properly worshipped and glorified, unless his magnificent person is properly taught and displayed according to Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria 

*Calvin follows Erasmus in rendering the word ‘logos‘ as ‘Speech’ instead of ‘Word’. For his explanation, see his comments here.

Christian Guy, Stop Trying to Date Yourself

So there have been a couple of good articles on dating out recently, one of which was my buddy Brad Williams’ over at Christ and Pop Culture. He knows what it is to be a weird Christian guy who doesn’t have commitment issues, but courage issues, so out of pity, he offered up a few tips and a little hope to guys convinced they’ll always be alone. It was hilarious, wise, and pretty popular. Go read it right now, if you want.

Now, in the comments on Facebook, another friend (who shall remain nameless) playfully joked something along the lines of “But where am I going to find a girl who is into: a, b, c, d, e, and f quirky particular interests that I have.” To which I responded, “The point isn’t to date yourself, ______.” Again, we were joking, but it got me thinking, “How many guys do I know that are single because they’re so busy trying to date themselves, they won’t date the girls around them?”

(Before I go on to describe what I’m talking about, hear me loud and clear on this: I am not saying that if you’re a single Christian male, you must be doing this. If you comment and complain that your situation is different, and that’s not the people you know, and so forth, I’ll nod my head in agreement and say, “Good, I’m glad. I wasn’t talking to you.”)

You with a wig on.

You with a wig on.

In my time as a twenty-something male, hanging out with twenty-something males, and pastoring them, I’ve noticed that a number of them are convinced they need to find a female version of themselves to date and that anything else is “settling” or won’t work. In their minds, dating is this project where you attempt to find your long-lost second self who shares all of your habits, quirks, taste in movies, and political views.

This is nonsense and should be dropped immediately.

Obviously, I get the desire to have a person who understands all of your loves and joys, the things that stir your imagination, and so forth. Marriage is, at least, a type of friendship. And friendships are based around common or shared joys and commitments. At some point, though, finding someone you can be friends with crosses over into finding someone you could confuse yourself with.

If I had to lay down a principle here, I’d say this: some overlap is good; total overlap is unnecessary and maybe weird. What you need is someone who is okay with you being you on the personality stuff, and willing to encourage you to stop being a sinner when you need it.

I’ll take my own marriage as an example, mostly because it’s the one I know best at this point. Beyond Jesus Christ, McKenna and I share enough things in common to make life enjoyable. There is a certain overlap in movie tastes (although we frequently watch things by ourselves that the other doesn’t want to), and music (she doesn’t like country and will listen to certain metal with me), food tastes, etc. What’s more, I know that she would never forced me to sleep in the dirt or climb a big rock, or something similarly horrible. We also have a shared sense of humor, which is important.

That said, she is by no means a theology nerd, which is probably my greatest passion and hobby in life. I mean, she knows the faith and will let me babble on about whatever I’m reading about, but she’s not pulling the latest text in trinitarian theology off the shelf to discuss with me. I on the other hand, will listen to her talk about the things she writes on for her beauty blog, used to watch ‘Project Runway’ with her when we had normal TV, and have learned the names of some important designers, but I don’t sit there looking up previews for the Fall or Spring line-up like she will. I’m a morning person, she’s a night owl. I could watch comic-book movies for days, and she likes art house films where everybody dies and is unhappy at the end. I could go on for days here, but we are very different people in many ways.

The great thing is that we’re okay with that. McKenna is happy to let me babble at her about theology, and I’m happy to let her babble about beauty stuff at me,  but neither of us expects the other to be as interested as the other in those things. I mean, marriage changes you and so over time we’ve become more interested in each other’s hobbies. At the same time, we’ve become more comfortable acknowledging our differences and it’s been healthy.

Here’s the thing: happy, God-glorifying couples come in all shapes and sizes. Some seem like two peas in a pod. Others look outwardly like they’re worlds apart. Others are kind of a blended middle. While I’d suggest a certain amount of overlap of interests for a healthy friendship, don’t get caught in the trap of passing by a great girl simply because she won’t play video games with you, or whatever sine qua non you’ve chosen as your must-have quality. Try to find a girl who shares the main thing with you (Jesus), is okay with you being you, and then everything from there is gravy.

Soli Deo Gloria

P.S. Since writing this, it’s become clear that this is not simply a male phenomenon. Ladies, obviously, feel free to rework the grammar and apply this to yourselves.

Genesis 1: Meet the Author (The Story Notes)

My church has begun a church-wide, across all departments, study through The Story, a chronological, abridged edition of the Bible that takes you through the story of Scripture from Genesis to the end of Acts in 31, novel-like chapters. That’s what I’ll be teaching through with my college student for the next 9 months or so. It’s a fun project that’s challenging me to deal with narrative sections, teach large chunks at a clip, and point my kids to Christ throughout the whole redemptive-historical storyline of the text.

That said, it seemed worth it to start posting my notes for these talks on a regular basis. It might happen every week, or not, depending on how helpful I think it is, or time constraints. My one request is that you remember these are pretty rough notes and I’m teaching my students, not a broader audience.

Well, with that intro out of the way, here’s Genesis 1.

God-creating-creatures-by-RText: Genesis 1:1-2:3

Alright,  I’d like to have some nice fluffy intro, but there is so much to say here and  I can’t, which I hate so I’ll just start in. Note right off the bat, this is a beautifully-structured passage. Read it out loud like we just did and you notice it is a carefully constructed, poetic, balanced presentation whose structure has been arranged, measured, and given a rhythm and weight to it. This is not strictly Hebrew poetry, but it’s not just prose either. You’ll notice the repetition of key words and phrases over and over again with minor variations here.

There is a careful structure here built around sevens, which I wish I could go into in detail here, but let me ask you, which word stood out the most in that passage? What dominated it? There’s a lot of repetition and rhythm, but what was the center, the core, the heart of the passage?

“God”, right? I don’t know if any of you counted, but the word “God” is repeated 35 times, a multiple of 7, the number of perfection in Scripture. So, if you weren’t sure what the passage was about, very clearly, right out the gate, you see that, while there’s a lot going on, and we’ll get to some of it, at the center of the passage. and actually, the beginning and the end, stands God.

I make this point bluntly at the beginning because we’re going through the Story of the Bible and one thing you have to get clear if you’re going to understand it is just who the main character is and what is he like. If you think Gollum is the main character of LOTR you will be quite confused and disappointed at the ending, and well, throughout the novels. Or, if you understand that Frodo is the main character, but are under the impression that he is a wizard instead of a hobbit, you’ll be confused as to why he doesn’t magic himself out of certain situations. In the same way, if you miss that God is at the center of the story, and exactly what kind of God you’re dealing with, you’ll be rather confused as you read along.

So, it matters to know that this passage, and indeed, the series as a whole, is about God. This is what we’re trying to get out of this series: a knowledge of who God is, and really of God himself. Now, this passage presents to us a bit about who God is, by showing us the big thing that God ‘does’ to get the whole story going. And it tells us some key things about him that I just want us to start off with:

1. There is one God, ruler of all. – Against the ‘gods’ of the pagans and the polytheistic world, the Hebrew Scriptures testify to one God, sovereign ruler of all. In the Ancient Near East, the dominant creation myth had two gods fighting (Marduk and Tiamat), with Marduk coming out on top, killing Tiamat and creating the world out of her dead body, and human slaves out of her blood, with a pantheon of support gods behind him. In opposition to this, Genesis gives us a picture of a single God who simply commands things into existence. There is no cosmic battle, or fight, but the simple ordering of King God’s world. The stars, the moon, the sun that your neighbors worship? Those are lamps and clocks that Yahweh hung up in the sky. He is incomparable and unique. There is nothing and no one like him.

2. He is the Creator, not the creation. – God made stuff, he is not the stuff. Unlike some strands of modern New Age thought that says that God is the universe, we see that God made the universe. It all bears his mark, but he is not contained within it. Which is why he knows it inside out and is all-powerful over it. He made time and space so he is not contained by time and space. There is no limit to him. He is present to us here and now, but is not limited to here and now.  Something else that flows from this, is that the stuff is HIS stuff. All of it. Also, the stuff is good because he made it. The world is not something to be scared of, but enjoyed as his creation. (Next week we will talk about the fall and how things go bad.)

3. God is a Speaking, Communicating God – How does God make the world? God creates all things by speaking it into existence. He is, essentially, a communicator even in the way he creates. He ‘makes common’ the quality of existence to things that don’t exist yet. This also means that he is a God who can make himself known to us. We get skeptical about this nowadays because of our smallness, and our sinfulness, which is real. We start to doubt that we could ever really know what God is like, especially since so many people have different ideas about God. All we have are guesses.

Now, that sounds humble enough at first, but it denies what we see here in the text: that if God is a God who can effectively bring the world into existence through his words, so he can make himself known to us through his words. No, we can’t figure him out on our own, but God can make himself known to us.  And, in fact, part of our being made in his Image means that we can understand him when he does (apart from sin.)

4. God is Triune – This one is really the most important and undergirds and is revealed in the others. The sovereign King God who alone exists and is not creation but speaks it into existence has revealed himself as the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To see this, we only get hints here in the text (The Spirit, hovering) but if you turn to John 1:1, you read “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. (John 1:1-3, ESV)”

We see that the one God who is before all things and made all things, made it through his Word and Spirit. The fact that the world was made through the Spirit and By the Word, means that they are not the world–they are eternal God alongside the Father. See, from all of eternity, God has been Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, delighting in perfect community. This tells you something about why God created: he didn’t need us. He was perfect and complete, full of joy, love, and endless life. He was not lonely or needy. He did not make us to amuse himself or because eh needed help with things. His life is perfect apart from us. He created the world with a good purpose, though, to share himself with us.

5. God is a God of purpose and that Purpose is to Dwell With Us – To dwell with us. God created all things with a rhythm, a pattern, a meaning, an order (6 days). We saw that earlier. What I didn’t go into yet, was the two-part structure of the first 6 days of Creation. See, if you pay attention closely, you’ll see that what God does in the passage is first, create creation kingdoms (Light & Darkness, Waters & Skies, Land), and then, the next three days he creates creation kings who ‘rule’ or keep the areas (Sun & moon, Fish & birds, animals & Humans.).

More importantly, what we have to see is that the picture we’re getting is of God the King, constructing a palace, a Temple to dwell in and ‘rest’ on the ‘Sabbath’ of creation as the Creator King.  This is what anybody in the ancient Near East would have heard. At the end of those stories, the king god would always set up shop in their palace-temple and begin their rule. Here, we see the Creator King has finished establishing his kingdom and setting up his sub-rulers and so now he will dwell in his palace-temple. In this case, the whole world. (For more on this, see here.)

The idea is to dwell in the Temple of Creation with his creations. This is, in fact, why he creates us. The idea is that he wants to dwell with us to share himself with us and bless us. For us to enjoy him, know him, and enjoy the world that he made in the way that he intended us to.

That said, we are not the point of this text. We’re important. We come at the crown, we’re significant, more so than the rest of the creation, but let’s be honest, we’re still not the point. God is. We exist for God, by God, to God, in God’s Image. He makes all things and provides all things for us, but we are his. We are supporting characters.

And here’s the Problem – We tend to forget all of this. We tend to put ourselves at the center of the story, time and time again. We’ll talk about that next week in more detail when we come to the story of Adam and Eve and the fall. Still, we tend to put ourselves at the center of the story which screws with our ability to see the story for what it is. All of the problems we encounter become our problems to solve. All of the blessings in our life are our gifts to ourselves. All the purpose we have is whatever we’ve chosen for us. All of the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, etc. is now on us or for us and to us, and the whole thing starts to lose it’s shape.

The biggest tragedy of all is that when we put ourselves at the center, we lose our ability to see GOD for who he is. It’s like losing the north star at sea, or forgetting who you’re married to, or losing equilibrium and living your life off-balance. When you lose sight of God, your life starts to lose shape.

In the Beginning –  This is what Jesus came to do: to put God back at the center of the story for us.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side,he has made him known.(John 1:9-11, 14, 18 ESV)

This God makes himself known, not just in general, but in one way. It’s not just ‘god’ but the God of Jesus Christ. He is the one through whom God made the world. And what we see here in John is that his purposes for Creation are reaffirmed through the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son. He came to the world he made, and although we denied him, he decided to dwell with his creation that he made.

I don’t know what you needed to hear tonight. Maybe you needed to be reminded that you don’t set the grid for your life? That you are not the one setting the agenda? Maybe you needed to remember that God is bigger than your problems? Maybe you need to remember that the God who made all things can re-create the broken pieces? Maybe you need to be reminded that God’s purpose in Christ is to dwell with you? Or maybe, just maybe, you just need to take this time to worship, praise and adore something greater than yourself.

Listen to the Spirit speaking of the Son who points us to the Father, says in his written Word. Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

“You Didn’t Talk About….” (Or, It’s Just a Blog Post)

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Sometimes people want an encyclopedia instead of a post.

Theologians and ethicists will point out that sins can be grouped into a couple of types: sins of commission and sins of omission. In the first, the sin is active–I did something wrong that I shouldn’t have (ie. punched somebody in the face). In the second, I failed to do something that I should have (ie. I failed to speak up on behalf of a slandered friend.) Of course, usually you can frame any action in a passive or active form and mess with the whole idea, but, we’ll leave that to the side for a moment.

Why go into this? Well, because sins of omission are of the most common types that bloggers and online authors are accused of committing:

“You didn’t address…”

“What you left out…”

“Why didn’t you say…?”

“Your problem is that you don’t talk about…”

It’s easy to find these or a half-dozen other variants in the comment section of any semi-controversial or persuasive article; I know I’ve had more than a few along those lines and left some myself. Often-times they’re quite on point. Authors will forget, leave out, ignore, or deny key issues in the discussion, which makes the discussion weaker and skews the whole argument. When it happens it ought to be addressed and dealt with.

That said, it bears considering, especially in online forums, that there are structural limitations to the format. Unless your name is Alastair Roberts and you write posts that ought to constitute chapters in very large reference books, a blog post, with a word limit and a limited of scope and focus, simply can’t address every issue that may be tangentially connected to it. Nor should it have to.

For instance, a buddy of mine wrote a post the other day criticizing a very popular line of thought in Evangelical dating wisdom about what constitutes male ‘intentionality.’ He wrote it to specifically address one article on the subject and provide a corrective. Now while a great deal of healthy discussion ensued, a number of people proceeded to criticize him for failing to address a whole host of points connected to the issue. One even said it was a failure because he didn’t first articulate a comprehensive theology of dating from which to address the point.

Really? Really? So your complaint is that this was a post instead of a book? Cool.

And this is where I get to the point of this mini-rant on blogging hermeneutics: you can’t say everything in every post all the time. It’s simply impossible.  When you’re reading stuff online, don’t assume that just because an author doesn’t mention a point, they don’t believe it.

So, in the interest of better, future blog I’d like to quixotically suggest a few questions that readers can ask themselves as they read and comment:

  • “What is the author’s argument? What are they trying to accomplish?” In this way, when you see that someone is dealing with an issue related to the cross, it’s not necessarily the case that they’re ignoring the resurrection–it’s simply that this isn’t the point of the discussion.
  • “Does the neglect of this topic, or verse, or fact, necessarily mean the person doesn’t believe it?” Again, maybe they just didn’t have time to address it given their stated purpose and word-limit.
  • “Is this really a bad article, or did I just want a different one altogether?” Consider whether your problem is that the author left something out, or whether you just thought they should have written a different article. Often-times the article is fine for what it’s trying to do, but you really think an entirely different article should have been written. If so, it’s fine to say that.

We could probably think of other questions and angles on the issue, but these are probably a good start.

Soli Deo Gloria

Three Reasons Not to Buy Your Kid a Brightly Colored iPhone (Sorry kids) #CaPC

iphone colorAlong with the new iPhone 5s,  Apple released another iPhone, the 5c, that will feature plastic backings making them a lot more affordable and accessible to a broader audience. As cool as that is for some of us, a lot of parents who’ve been playing the ‘we can’t afford it’ card with their kids in order to keep them at bay, will be out one more excuse to put off buying their youngsters a smart-phone.

So what are parents supposed to do? Do you get the kid an iPhone? You’re kind of apprehensive because it’s been such an adult thing, but, I mean, all of their friends have them. They feel excluded. Also, the colors are pretty. It’s kind of the way the world works now, and you know, you had a Gameboy when you were a kid and you turned out fine. Plus, they’ve got to have a phone so you can get a hold of them. I mean, why not? What’s really standing in your way?

Watch me ruin kids’ days by telling their parents not to buy these things over at Christ and Pop Culture.

Sorry About That, Here’s The Real Post (The Lord Giveth and Taketh Away–Via Twitter)

twitterI accidentally posted a ‘post’ that wasn’t a post, but a tentative post idea (and title.) I note those down quickly at time just so that I don’t forget them. Sometimes I write them, sometimes I don’t. In any case, this time I was using my wordpress app and didn’t shift the settings to ‘draft’ instead of ‘publish’, so a bunch of you got a fake post. Sorry about that. My bad.

While I’m here though, I figured I’d simply write the post anyways. It’s really just a fragment of an idea:

I was thinking about my friend Sean, this morning. He’s one of my best friends, like a brother to me really. We’ve been theology and church nerd friends for years now, geeking out over Kevin Vanhoozer and G.K. Beale books, arguing over ecclesiological issues over pints, and just generally trying to encourage each other in the faith. Among all my friend-brothers in Christ, he’s kind of been unique in that way in my life the last few years.

A few months ago I had the privilege of being in his wedding and then watching him head off to Chicago with his new bride. I was excited for him and sad at the same time because I knew that while we’d always be friends and brothers, he wasn’t just a 10 minute drive away anymore. He’s also been out of internet for a while so that was tough too. It’s been hard to find guys to just sit around and talk theology with like I would with Sean.

Now, thankfully, he’s got his internet back and we’ve been able to resume some contact. Looking forward to more of that. That said, I’ve realized that in the meantime, this whole year of writing and social media has been a surprise blessing in this area. It struck me this morning as I twitter-met (yes, I guess that’s a thing) another smart theology dude, that God’s been really providing a lot of weird, but wonderful online community in this way.

For a couple of years I’ve had a few, random theology nerd buddies online I’ve sparred, encouraged, and prayed with so I knew this was possible. But then I joined Christ and Pop Culture team, met an entire community there that has challenged, encouraged me, and with whom I actually feel quite close (except for Randy–he’s the worst.) Then weirdly enough I started meeting some really interesting, godly people on Twitter. People with whom I’ve been able to follow up, ask questions, joke with, pray for, and again, be really encouraged by.

None of this is really a jaw-dropping revelation. It reads like an Onion article headline: ‘Man discovers it’s possible to make friends online.’ Sure, this isn’t the local church community and it’s not a replacement for those friends with whom you live life, week to week, side by side, at work, or Bible study, or whatever. That said, it’s still remarkable to reflect on the way that God can use any medium, even those with a 140-character per note cap, to connect, grow, knit together, and encourage his people.

Soli Deo Gloria

‘Substance’? ‘Hypostasis’? But Those Words are Un-Biblical!

MostHolyTrinityStudying church doctrine can be a challenging endeavor for many of us, even those of us with a deep knowledge of Scripture and a desire to grow deeper in the faith. One issue that comes up frequently for students of a more Biblicist bent is: why all of those goofy, non-biblical words?

I mean, if you’re not familiar with, say, trinitarian theology you end up with all kinds of Greek and Latin words like ‘substance’ or ‘hypostasis’, ‘persona’, and later on, ‘perichoresis’, and so forth. They start to make sense once you’ve read someone explain them about 20 times. Thing is, though, most of those words don’t show up in our translations of the Bible, and when they’re there, they seem to be used in different ways. Or, heck, the word ‘trinity’ doesn’t show up at all. Shouldn’t we be ‘biblical’ in the way that we speak and think of God? How can we do so with terminology taken from surrounding Greek and Latin philosophy and thought?

Calvin tells us that he wrote the Institutes partially so that he wouldn’t have to go into extended doctrinal discussions in his commentaries. Welp, that didn’t really slow him down from writing 4 or 5 pages on John 1:1, expositing the text and defending it from various heretics old (Sabellian, Arian), and new (Servetus.) In the middle of this fascinating discussion, he touches on the issue of non-biblical language.

Now, conservative Reformer that he is, not given to excess or speculation, you might think he would want to do away with all of this jargony mess. Thankfully, he was smarter than that:

I have already remarked that we ought to be sober in thinking, and modest in speaking, about such high mysteries. And yet the ancient writers of the Church were excusable, when, finding that they could not in any other way maintain sound and pure doctrine in opposition to the perplexed and ambiguous phraseology of the heretics, they were compelled to invent some words, which after all had no other meaning than what is taught in the Scriptures. They said that there are three Hypostases, or Subsistences, or Persons, in the one and simple essence of God. The word; ὑπόστασις (Hypostasis) occurs in this sense in Hebrews 1:3, to which corresponds the Latin word Substantia, (substance) as it is employed by Hilary. The Persons (τὰ πρόσωπα) were called by them distinct properties in God, which present themselves to the view of our minds; as Gregory Nazianzen says, “I cannot think of the One (God) without having the Three (Persons) shining around me.”

–Commentary on John 1:1

He points out what Fathers like Athanasius and Augustine had before him: heretics can use ‘Biblical’ language too and use it in ‘ambiguous’, ‘perplexed’, and non-Biblical ways. For that reason, the Fathers were compelled to take language and deploy new words in order to save the meaning of the Biblical record. These were new words used to say more clearly in a foggy and confused time, what Scripture was saying. They did not do this at random or haphazardly. Nor did were they careless to leave undefined, or distinguish the sense in which they used the term from other possible senses.

I think it was N.T. Wright who somewhere used Copernicus as an analogy: say Copernicus had never given a term to his system at which the sun was the center of the universe instead of the earth, and 200 years later someone came along and dubbed it ‘heliocentric.’ Have they misrepresented Copernicus by using that new term that he did not? By no means. They simply gave it a new name in order to keep it clear. In the same way, the Fathers of the Church, guided by the Spirit, in conformity with the Word, developed ways of speaking that preserve and protect the content of Scripture even when not directly drawn from it.

This is the truth that Calvin recognizes and calls us to appreciate here. For that, thoughtful students and spiritual descendants ought to be humbly grateful: both for the work of early teachers like the Fathers, as well as for faithful preservers of the tradition like Calvin.

Soli Deo Gloria 

For more similar thoughts check out:

B.B. Warfield on the ‘Unbiblical’ Doctrine of the Trinity
Vanhoozer and Calvin on the Creeds and Scripture

Billy Corgan, God, and Better Christian Music (CaPC)

In a recent interview Billy Corgan was asked what themes he was exploring musically, now that he’s done with the whole “Here I am, ripping my heart open”-gestalt, and he quickly answered “God”

CORGAN: God. I once did – a big American magazine was doing a thing called, “The Future of Rock”.

RAJPAL: Yes.

CORGAN: And, you know, they asked 50 artists, “What’s the future of rock?” And my answer was, “God”. And they said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, God’s the third rail of -” What is it? “Social security is the third rail of politics in America”. Well, God is the third rail in rock and roll. You’re not supposed to talk about God. Even though most of the world believes in God. It’s sort of like, “Don’t go there”.

After watching the interview I was left with few loosely related thoughts running through my head…which you can read over at Christ and Pop Culture.

The Word of Sauron, The Word of Tolkien, and the Word of God

sauronA long time ago, I used to argue with people on blogs. Wait…yeah, I guess I still do. But the story I’m setting up was a long time ago. One of said blogs I argued on was that of my buddy Mike, an old youth pastor of mine who was going the way of the Bell and McLaren (pre-the really, really lame stuff). He’d post some controversial thought to ‘ask a question’ and I’d be the little gadfly college philosophy student who’d jump in and jostle with him. (Also, this was pre-Reformedish days. I would have laughed in your face if you’d have told me in 6 or 7 years I’d be quoting Calvin.)

In any case, he had raised the issue of Scripture one of those posts. Among other questions he was asking whether ‘all’ of the Bible was the Word of God, or only some of the parts, especially those where Divine Speech is specifically denoted, such as in the Prophets. Are the horrifying narrative sections, or the sections where the thoughts and emotions of the prophets, the psalmists, or the god-hating pagans with speaking parts, are speaking truly God’s Word?

In response to this, I came up with an analogy, on the fly, once again Lord of the Rings-related, to answer how I thought, at a minimum, even those sections could be considered the ‘Word of God.’ Once again, remember this is my 21-year old, still-really-piecing-it-together self:

“One way that I think about the way that the whole Bible is the Word of God, is thinking about it much like I think about The Lord of the Rings being the word of ‘Tolkien.’ It is at least all the Word of God in that he is its Divine Author. (I don’t mean to imply some kind of dictation theory of Scripture. I think its possible to have more than one author of a text at different levels. See Wolterstorff or Vanhoozer on this.) That said, not every word spoken in the text can be taken as his direct ‘word’ revealing his thoughts and desires in normative sense–certainly not those uttered by Sauron or Saruman. But, at the same time, those words are there in the text at Tolkien’s prerogative and are part of the overall “Word” that he speaks through the text and so can be taken as his Word.

In the same way, the words of the pagans in Scriptures are God’s Word in the same way that Sauron’s words are Tolkien’s word. There is a way that Tolkien can show us something about or say something about the nature of evil, through the evil words and actions of Sauron, which Tolkien himself would never do or say. In this way, the words and actions are properly Sauron’s, but they are also Tolkien’s in the context of the larger story he is authoring. In an analogous way God says things through these texts in a way that accounts for and does not reduce the multiple human voices, genres, etc, but also accomplishes his specific purposes in the world through the Text as its over-arching Author. Of course, this is an analogy and it kind of breaks down, but I think captures part of the picture.

A few years on, I’d probably massage a few phrases here and there, but in the main, I still find the analogy useful. God’s authorship of Scripture is a nuanced and layered one. That I affirm the Bible as God’s Word in its totality, does not mean I’m proposing a flat reading of the text, that fails to take into account narrative or genre dynamics. Far from it. In fact, it means I have to take care to read it even more carefully, not brushing past or carelessly dismissing any of God’s words, in order to discern just what exactly the Spirit is communicating through the inspired Word.

Soli Deo Gloria