Archive | February, 2011

Did I Just Breathe in Some God?

Kids are often the best instigators of theological thought. I am becoming more and more convinced that if those who are called to teach the Bible and theological truths are not making it a consistent habit to prioritize the education of kids, they may quickly get lost in a sea of irrelevant thinking that has no connection to the real world. Kids have a way of grounding us. I remember one time when my sister, Kristie, was eight-years-old. My mother sat on her bed telling us about Jesus’ return. “Jesus could return at any time,” my mother said. Suddenly, Kristie jumped off the bed and ran out of the room as fast as lightning. My mother called her back and asked why she was running. Kristie responded, “I’m going to get my shoes!”

Just the other day, I was talking to Zach, my three year old, about God. He asked me where God was. I am always at a bit of a loss with that question when kids ask it. When my daughter Katelynn was his age and asked the same question, I told her that he was right here with us. “In this room?” She said, “Yep,” I told her. She then ran and hid. She thought Jesus was a ghost walking around in our house. Zach asks, “Where is God. I don’t see him.” I told him, “I don’t know. Where do you think he is? “Up in the sky,” he responded. I said, “God is everywhere. No matter where you go, you cannot get away from him.” For a three year old, that is about the best I can do right now. But we need to be careful. Technically speaking, the “God is everywhere” response can be very misleading.

My associate, Tim Kimberley, executive director of Credo House Ministries, was recounting how a professor of ours in seminary, Dr. Jeffery Bingham, chair of the theological studies department at Dallas Theological Seminary, used to have fun with the notion that God is everywhere. While speaking about it in class, he would pause, take a deep breath, and say, “Wait, did I just breathe in some God?”

Transcendence

When we talk about the essence of God, we are talking about a God that does not have a relationship to time, space, and matter. In other words, God created everything (time, space, and matter) out of nothing and does not share in its physical attributes. This is such an important statement that it bears repeating: God created everything (time, space, and matter) out of nothing and does not share in its physical attributes. The theological term for this is “Transcendence.”

The dictionary defines transcendence as “Having continuous existence outside the created world.” Good, but not quite as much as we need. God does not really have an extension in space. One cannot measure the breadth of his stature. In his trinitarian essence, he has no height, weight, color, or gait to his walk. Being transcendent is another aspect of God’s “holiness.” To be “holy” means “to be set apart,” “to be different.” God is not only morally holy, but he is also ontologically holy. In other words, his very being—his essence, his ontos—is separate, distinct, and beyond us. This means that in a very real sense, we will never “see” God with our eyes. Notice what Paul says here:

1 Timothy 6:16
[God] who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (NAS)

I love this verse. Notice that he dwells (or has his place of existence) in a light that is unapproachable (apositon; a negation of positon, meaning “to come before” or “approach”). And if that were not enough to convince us of the utter transcendent holiness of God’s nature, Paul goes on to say that no one has seen or can (dunatai; “has the ability”) see him. I have heard people say that the Western Evangelical concept of God and his transcendence are not found in the Bible, but are left overs from distorted Greek thought. Someone forgot to tell Paul!

I know that some of you are disappointed since you don’t think you will be able to see God. While it is true that we won’t ever see his essence, we do see real manifestations of him in his relational presence. Continue Reading →

Top Ten Books (Sam Storms)

Michael and Tim have given you their ultimate Top Ten list, so now it’s my turn.

1) Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Multnomah Press), by John Piper.

On a number of occasions I have commented on how powerfully this book has affected my life and thinking. The concept of Christian Hedonism can be reduced to three principles: First, the chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever. Second, the God of the Bible takes greater delight in meeting needs than in making demands. Third, God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. No Christian should be permitted to depart this life without having read Piper. Newsflash! The 25th anniversary edition of Desiring God has just been released in hardback. Get it!

2) The Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God (Multnomah Press), by John Piper. In this sequel to Desiring God, John sets forth another revolutionary thesis: “The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever.” If you are interested in what ultimately pleases God, Piper will give you the answer.

3) Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards. The reason I didn’t list a particular publisher is that the Affections has been released in countless editions by a multitude of publishers over the past 300 years. The best (and most expensive) edition is undoubtedly the one from Yale University Press. If Edwards’ prose (and the price of the book) is a bit too much for you, you may want to start out by reading my book, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections, published by Crossway in 2007.

4) Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster Press, 2 vols.), by John Calvin. Calvin’s writings were probably more influential in giving broad shape to my theology than anyone else. The Institutes are both profound and practical, both substantive and spiritual. Don’t be put off by what others may have told you about Calvin. These volumes are more than meat . . . they are filet mignon!

5) Most everything written by J. I. Packer, in particular Knowing God (IVP). Packer has often confessed he is still surprised that this book became as popular as it did. It isn’t flashy or flamboyant, but it is most assuredly worth your time and effort.

6) The Presence and the Power: The Significance of the Holy Spirit in the Life and Ministry of Jesus, by Gerald Hawthorne (who passed away in 2010) (initially published by Word, but recently re-released by another publisher; check it out on Amazon.com). I rank this book highly because of the way God used it to awaken me to the reality of how Jesus lived the life he lived and the implications for how I am to live the life I live, namely, in the power of the Spirit. My doctrine of the person and work of Christ was forever changed by what Hawthorne showed me in Scripture. This isn’t easy reading, but it will pay rich dividends for the work you put into it.

7) The Presence of the Future (Zondervan), by George Ladd. This book had the greatest influence on my views of the kingdom of God and the broader issues of eschatology. It is a devastating and irrefutable critique of classical dispensationalism.

8 ) Surprised by the Power of the Spirit (Zondervan), by Jack Deere. Jack’s book is the most thorough refutation of cessationism ever written. Regardless of where you come down on the issue of the nature and validity of spiritual gifts today, you should own and read (often) Jack’s treatment.

9) Chasing the Dragon, by Jackie Pullinger. The fact that this book appears toward the end of my list is no reflection on its value. I am tempted to place it number one, simply for the impact it continues to have on my understanding of what it means to take up your cross and follow Christ. If you have not yet read the life-story of Jackie Pullinger and her experiences in Hong Kong’s Walled City, don’t wait a day longer. It will change you forever.

10) Confessions, by Augustine. This classic by the late fourth, early fifth-century philosopher, theologian, and churchman is a testimony to the marvels of sovereign, saving grace. Most people talk about the so-called “classics” of the Christian faith, but very few read them. Take my word for it and read this one.

Theology Unplugged: Invitation to Calvinism – Part 6

Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they continue their series “An Invitation to Calvinism.”

Summary: During this broadcasts the hosts discuss the second point in the TULIP acronym: Unconditional Election.

Other ways to get TUP:

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

I believe that salvation is a gift of God based upon no work which man may do. Long ago I was convinced of this based upon Ephesians 2:8–9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” I humbly accepted this when I was young, with great wonder at the kindness of God. Another well known verse that helped shape my beliefs was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” In the same vein, I had the short statement of Paul to the Philippian jailor memorized: “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). At that early age, these verses constituted the extent of my understanding of the doctrine of salvation. I would often run them through my mind and ponder their significance. “God is so gracious,” I would say to myself. “He requires nothing for us to be saved. Nothing, that is, but faith.”

Faith alone! The great battle cry of the Reformation. As I grew in my understanding of this salvation, I added many verses and passages to my “soteriological repertoire.” Among the more significant of these were the shocking statements made in Romans 9 and John 6. These verses gave me my first exposure to the doctrines known as “election,” “sovereign grace,” or “Calvinism.” I was again humbled by what these doctrines taught. Not only does God not require anything but faith for salvation, but He is the one who is solely responsible for salvation, having predestined people before the foundation of the world. Wow! As I wondered upon such marvelous yet confusing doctrines, there was a question that continually resurfaced. If God does not require any works for salvation, and if He is in control of the process to such an extent that He predestined all of this to occur, why does He require that one thing? As Bono says in “Though I don’t know why, I know I’ve got to believe.” Why does God require something so seemingly trifle as faith?

Don’t confuse my question. I am not asking if faith is a work. That is a different issue. I am speaking of faith as a requirement. Why, if God has worked everything out to such an extent that He is the one within people who is sovereignly and irresistibly calling them to a new life in Christ, does He initiate His plans with a human response of faith? It just seemed rather trivial to me. Not that I thought faith was unimportant, just as I don’t think that love, hope, or service are unimportant. But I thought that it was a little odd for God to require anything at all.

I accepted it, living with the tension for the time. At this time, my ordo salutis (order of salvation) looked like this:

Of all the components here, the only one before justification that is the responsibility of man is faith/repentance. All of the others are brought about and accomplished solely by God. The final goal is glorification, while the primary instrument of bringing this about is faith. God predestines people before the foundation of the world, and at some point in time He calls them to respond in faith. In response to this faith, God regenerates them and they enter into a justified standing. God accomplishes everything but the final instrumental link—faith. Later I made the discovery that there are other possible models of the ordo salutis and that there is a poswesible solution to my dilemma. Continue Reading →

The Myth of “Abraham’s Bosom”

I remember when I was young, I was taught that there was a place called “Abraham’s Bosom.” The way it was explained to me made perfect sense at the time. You go to heaven if you trust in Christ. You go to hell if you don’t. People go to heaven because Christ’s atonement on the cross paid for their sins. God cannot be in the presence of sin (Hab. 1:13). Therefore, those who are covered by Christ’s death can be in the presence of God. Those who are not, cannot. 

So far so good? But there is a problem: what about all God’s people who came before Christ’s death? What about Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah? According to the theory, they were not yet covered by Christ blood. Conclusion: they, before Christ’s death, were not in the presence of God. They were somewhere else waiting for their sins to be covered.

This “somewhere else” was known as “Abraham’s Bosom.” Think “Protestant Purgatory” or something like that. Abraham’s Bosom existed as a holding tank for God’s people until Christ’s death on the cross. Once the atonement was made, Abraham’s Bosom it was vacated as all its occupants were ushered into God’s presence in heaven.

The name “Abraham’s Bosom” came from the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22). Notice, this parable was given before Christ’s atonement. Therefore, people have said that this must be the place, between heaven and hell, that pre-Cross saints went to.

Why there is no such thing as Abraham’s Bosom

As nice and tidy as that might sound theologically and biblically, it does not really work. There is no such place as Abraham’s Bosom.

First, the idea that God cannot be in the presence of sin is untenable.

The passage in Hab. 1:13 simply means that God is too pure to approve sin. It has nothing to do with sin or evil being in God’s presence. Here are some of the reasons:

  • After the fall, we find God walking in the Eden with Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:8).
  • Satan himself can be in God’s presence. In Job 1:6, we see Satan presenting himself before God (see also 1 Chron 18:18-21; Rev. 12:10).
  • Christians, who are still sinners (1 John 1:8), are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Obviously the Holy Spirit must be able to be in the presence of sin.
  • Christ, God incarnate, was in the presence of sin the whole time he walked the earth (John 1:14). He was even carried in the womb of a sinner! Continue Reading →

Dealing with Doubt: Coming Next Tuesday Evening

“Have mercy on some who are doubting.” Jude 1:22

Over the years Reclaiming the Mind/Credo House Ministries has become a place where so many people come who are having significant struggles with their faith. I cannot count the number of people (pastors and lay-people) who I have had contact with personally that are on the brink of losing their faith completely. Whether it be because personal trials where people are wondering if God is really there or engagement with intellectual challenges that come from unbelievers outside the faith, there are so many people who are finding that their Christian faith is hanging by a string.

For this reason, we are exploring the possibility of starting a new arm of our ministry that is focused on dealing with doubt. Think: “doubters anonymous” or “Jude 22”.  Maybe that is not the best name, but you get the idea.

Details:

Tues, March 1 from 8-9pm

Live online on Connect Pro: This will be a private text and voice room that can be accessed by any computer with connection to the internet. Since this is private, the URL will be given out individually.

You will log in anonymously.

I will give a short 15-20 introduction and lesson on doubt (probably just my testimony the first time) and then open it up for some discussion. You can engage in voice or text.

Who is this for?

  • Christians who are currently struggling with doubt about their faith.
  • Christians who have a history of doubt.
  • Those who have grown up in the faith, but are, for the first time, wrestling with the reality of Christianity.
  • Those who are stable in their faith, but have experienced times of serious doubt before.

Who this is NOT for:

Antagonists or atheists who are looking to argue.

Purpose:

Our ultimate purpose is to be here for you during a difficult time in your life. We want to provide a safe place where you can ask questions and express your doubt without being looked down on. We want to facilitate discussion in a community of those who are in the same place spiritually. Most of all, we want to help you (re)establish your faith in Jesus Christ so that you can have confidence.

I, Michael Patton, will be leading this along with Tim Kimberley. I have been there. My heart is with you. Doubt can be a nightmare. It can produce hopelessness, despair, and, even, thoughts of suicide. I am not saying that we are going to have all the answers, but this is something that you don’t have to go through alone.

Please contact me if this is something you want to reserve a spot in. 

How to get involved:

It is simple. Just email me at michaelp [at] thetheologyprogram.com. You identity will be kept confidential. You will receive a URL to get into the room. If you have a microphone, that would be great, but you don’t have to have one (as you may not want your voice to be identified—we understand).

Please pass the word about this.

The Benefit of Many “Teachers” and Why Diversity is Important

(by Lisa Robinson)

I have read John 11 many times and have been immensely ministered by it.  It seems each time I do, there is something fresh to be gleaned in the text.  So as I listened to this radio broadcast the other day whereby the preacher was identifying three reasons why Jesus wept, I got a little stuck on one point – because of sin.   It was through a discourse about the topic on Theologica, that I realized what I had missed as one of the members pointed out to me.  For whatever reason, I was not drawing that out of the text even though it was quite obvious, especially when correlated with the complete witness of scripture.

In reality, this happens to all of us.  There is something we miss.  We will read our Bible and draw out certain conclusions that may or may not be consistent with what is actually being communicated.   We may understand or we may draw erroneous conclusions.  To be sure, whatever conclusions we draw will impact how we think about God and how we live out our faith.

Needless to say, this is why teachers in the body of Christ are important, to help us understand the Bible better in order to live out a fruitful, Christian life.  It is one of the reasons I believe those charged with the pastoring and teaching task should have training that encourages a comprehensive evaluation of the Biblical text accompanied by spiritual maturity and accountability.

But what happens if the teacher is missing something or drawing conclusions that are not consistent with what God is actually communicating through the text?  What happens if that teacher is relying exclusively on teachers that agree with him and dismissing those who don’t?  What happens if the teacher insists that he believes his illumination of the text is correct because of what he believes the Holy Spirit has communicated to him?  What happens if we only listen to one teacher or teachers that teach everything alike? Continue Reading →