Just finished reading John Piper’s The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23. It was excellent but not for the faint of heart. His study pays close attention to the Greek text, the Old Testament background, and the New Testament cultural mileu. His central thesis – worked out more popularly in his books like Desiring God – is that God’s chief end is the exaltation of His character and Name in all the universe. Even as the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, this too is God’s chief end – exalting His Name in all the universe. And His determination to exalt His Name in all the earth is good news for His people.
Some quotations from Piper:
“Therefore these prophetic writings… impress upon the careful reader of the Old Testament that all God’s saving deeds spring ultimately from his loyalty to his own name…. the righteousness of God consists most basically in God’s unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory. Thus if God ever abandoned this commitment and no longer sought in all things the magnifying of his own glory, then there indeed would be unrighteousness with God.
“…the righteousness of man in relation to God is (reflecting God’s righteousness) to love the honor of God’s name, to esteem above all things God’s glory (especially as it has been mercifully experienced in his saving deeds), and, finally, to do only those things which accord with this love and esteem. Thus human actions may be described as righteous not because they conform to an ‘ideal ethical norm’ (like impartial distributive justice, though this may often be righteous), but rather because they are fitting expressions of man’s complete allegiance to maintain the honor of God’s name and display his glory.” (p. 119)
“Thus God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or, to put it more precisely still, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God.” (p. 121)
“For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamout to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God more lowly than his creation. It is not so much that he would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter. But for God thus to deny the infinite value of his glory, to act persistently as if the disgrace of his holy name were a matter of indifference to him–this is the heart of unrighteousness. Thus if God is to be righteous he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. He must magnify the divine glory man thought to deny him.” (148)
I finished reading Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse. Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology at Regent University. I appreciated his distinction between attraction, orientation, and identity. Attraction is a base level sexual temptation that certain folks experience more than others for members of the same sex. Orientation is attraction that seems to be persistent. Identity is when someone chooses to label themselves as homosexual. I think that these distinctions are helpful; he is articulating James 1:13-15 but in a way that is at times confusing. James would be willing to acknowledge that certain of our desires are sinful and that these desires move us to practice sin. So sin is more than mere behavior – it reaches to our desires. Yarhouse seems to want to say that our “attractions” are never sinful in themselves; he places the label of sin almost exclusively on our behavior and I’m not convinced that’s biblical. Nevertheless, it is true that being tempted is not the same as sinning – Jesus was tempted and yet without sin. So I’m not completely throwing out his distinctions because I think there is a kernel of truth there. Yarhouse is a psychologist and so speaks for that community; as a pastor I’m much more interested in what Scripture has to say and on that I find him less than fully satisfying. Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? is more helpful and makes some of the same distinctions.
I appreciated his emphasis on reaching people who struggle with same-sex attraction – and reaching them as “our people.” I think that this is an area where I could certainly grow. At the same time, I simply don’t agree with his approach to some specific cases; for instance, if my child were to choose homosexuality, I would not “respect” that choice. I think that is the wrong framework within which to process the decision. I guess I’ll “respect” him to the extent of holding him accountable for his choice and urging the church to hold him accountable; but I won’t “respect” him in the sense of saying, “I recognize that’s a legitimate choice to make.” May it never be!
So while there were some good an helpful distinctions and the book was very charitable, there are times where I think his allegiance to psychology is more apparent than to Scripture.
For the last seven or so weeks our family has incorporated the video series Dispatches from the Front by Dr. Tim Keesee into our Saturday evening Sabbath meal ritual. I simply cannot say enough about this video series. Get it; watch it; be blessed; be encouraged; be challenged; be prepared to cheer and to cry and to contemplate. Dr. Keesee is with Frontline Missions International and the video series travels to a number of “frontline” mission fields, following the journeys of courageous men and women who are taking the Gospel to hard to reach places. As expected, the videos give a great vision for missions; but I also found myself challenged to think about the mission field outside my door. There are currently 7 videos available here. Our whole family is grieved that we’re done with the set and praying for more.
On Sunday, I preached on the Image of God. One of the observations I made, building on Genesis 9:6, is that because human beings are made in the Image of God, we respect them by taking their choices seriously. The man who murders his neighbor, who rapes a woman, who kidnaps a child is still himself made in the image of God and worthy of respect – the respect that says, “You are a human being who chose to commit a criminal act. We will treat you in accordance with your decision. We will not excuse your action by claiming that you were the victim of your childhood or your mistreatment or your biological composition. We will show you respect and execute you.”
C.S. Lewis with his typical genius develops this observation in his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Human Punishment.” This essay is available in the book God in the Dock or online here. Lewis demonstrates the inhumanity of the supposed “humanitarian” theory of punishment which objects to capital punishment in particular and the concept of a person’s “just due” in general; he effectively obliterates the foundation of the entire penitentiary system.
What was God to do?May 14, 2014 in Atheism, Book Reviews, Church History, Creation, Cross of Christ, Eschatology, Human Condition, King Jesus, Quotations, Trinity, Word of God
I’m doing sermon prep on the Image of God and recalled this glorious passage from Athanasius:
What was God to do in the face of this dehumanising of mankind, this universal hiding of the knowledge of Himself by the wiles of evil spirits? Was He to keep silence before so great a wrong and let men go on being thus deceived and kept in ignorance of Himself? If so, what was the use of having made them in His own image originally? It would surely have been better for them always to have been brutes, rather than to revert to that condition when once they had shared the nature of the Word. Again, things being as they were, what was the use of their ever having had the knowledge of God? Surely it would have been better for God never to have bestowed it, than that men should subsequently be found unworthy to receive it. Similarly, what possible profit could it be to God Himself, who made men, if when made they did not worship Him, but regarded others as their makers? This would be tantamount to His having made them for others and not for Himself. Even an earthly king, though he is only a man, does not allow lands that he has colonised to pass into other hands or to desert to other rules, but sends letters and friends and even visits them himself to recall them to their allegiance, rather than allow his work to be undone. How much more, then, will God be patient and painstaking with His creatures, that they be not led astray from Him to the service of those that are not, and that all the more because such error means for them sheer ruin, and because it is not right that those who had once shared His Image should be destroyed.
What, then, was God to do? What else could He possibly do, being God, but renew His image in mankind, so that through it men might once more come to know Him? And how could this be done save by the coming of the very Image Himself, our Saviour Jesus Christ? Men could not have done it, for they are only made after the Image; nor could angels have done it, for they are not the images of God. The Word of God came in His own Person, because it was He alone, the Image of the Father, Who could recreate man made after the Image.
In order to effect this re-creation, however, He had first to do away with death and corruption. Therefore He assumed a human body, in order that in it death might once for all be destroyed, and that men might be renewed according to the Image. The Image of the Father only was sufficient for this need.
Athanasius, On the Incarnation, Trans. Anonymous. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1977) 40-41.
I just finished reading Sam Allberry’s recent book Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction. Allberry is a single pastor in the UK and has struggled against same-sex attraction throughout most of his life. The book is a store of biblical wisdom, compassionate counsel, and clear thinking.
He writes in the beginning that he refuses to identify himself as “gay” and instead emphasizes that he is someone who experiences same-sex attraction. “Describing myself like this is a way for me to recognize that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.” This is a crucial observation and one which all of us need to remember in our increasingly sex-saturated society. Christ defines us not our sexual drives.
Allberry does an excellent job explaining the meaning of repentance. “Repentance means turning around, to change course. The implication is pretty clear and a little uncomfortable: we’re not heading in the right direction.” He goes on to remind us that Jesus calls all of us to take up our cross and deny ourselves (Mk 8:34). And this has direct relevance for the title of his book, Is God anti-gay? Allberry answers: “No. But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves. He’s anti that guy, whatever that guy looks like in each of our lives. But because he is bigger than us, better than us, and able to do these things in ways we would struggle to, God loves that guy too. Loves him enough to carry his burden, take his place, clean him up, make him whole, and unite him for ever to himself.”
Allberry surveys the biblical teaching on sexuality in general before discussing homosexuality in particular. He writes, “Sexuality is a little like a post-it note. The first time you use it, it sticks well. But when it is reapplied too many times, it loses its capacity to stick to anything. We are simply not designed for multiple sexual relationships.”
Thereafter he gives a helpful survey of various passages that address homosexuality directly, answers potential objections, and then goes on to discuss ways individual Christians and the Church can assist those tempted by same-sex attraction – both within and without the Christian community. I would highly recommend his book.
This last Sunday I quoted from the book On the Trinity by the early church father Novatian (c. 200-258). The passage discusses the inability of we finite beings to either comprehend or explain God fully. Here is the quotation in full – this is an updated translation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5:
Therefore, the mind of man cannot fully comprehend God in His being and nature, nor can our tongues adequately express the wonder of His majesty. For when conceiving and speaking of His majesty, all eloquence is mute and all mind impoverished. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that if it could, then He would be smaller than the human mind that conceived Him. He is greater, moreover, than all speech, nor can He be fully declared; for if He could, then He would be less than the speech which encompassed and contained Him. For whatever can be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever can be declared must be less than Himself …For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the brightness of the rays prevents us from gazing upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavors more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. What could you possibly say then that would be worthy of Him? He is more sublime than all sublimity, higher than all heights, deeper than all depth, clearer than all light, brighter than all brilliance, more splendid than all splendor, stronger than all strength, mightier than all might, more beautiful than all beauty, truer than all truth, more enduring than all endurance, greater than all majesty, more powerful than all power, richer than all riches, wiser than all wisdom, kinder than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all mercy. Every kind of virtue must of necessity be less than He, who is the God and source of all virtue.
“God effects and expects a moral distinction between His people and the world. And when the world starts to flood into the church (in the form of unconverted professors of faith), this line starts to blur. The church is in the world the way a ship is in the ocean, and that is the way it should be. But bad things start happening when the ocean gets into the ship.”
Douglas Wilson, Against the Church, p. 96