Dr. Peter Jones is the founder of truthXchange, a ministry that equips the Christian community in general and its leaders in particular to recognize and effectively respond to the rising tide of neopaganism. Dr. Jones is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and serves on the executive committee of the World Reformed Fellowship.
My subject is two-ism and the doctrine of God and I’ll have much to say, but I want to put our subject in the larger context. Why this conference on the subject of the beauty of two?
The message of one-ism and two-ism, a simple and some say simplistic, is an attempt to understand Romans 1:25, which gives you two possibilities, either you worship the Creator or you worship creation. But at the same time as we’re trying to talk this way, some on a “progressive” track are also using this language of one and two, but in the exact opposite way.
They talk about the hermeneutic of one—this brilliant way of thinking that solves all our problems if all is one. On the other hand, two is a false doctrine that must be deconstructed—we must get to this unity of one-ism. So we have this face-off, using the same language, that are totally opposed—one calls white black, and black white—using the same terminology. IF those who are opposing Christianity are using this terminology in the totally opposite way, then I believe we are absolutely right to use this language in a correct manner.
Our subject this week is totally subversive to our culture. We’re not engaged in a culture ware, we’re involved in a spiritual war… and I believe not since the days of the early church when the believers had to hide in the catacombs has Two-ism been under so great an attack. At all levels of human existence, this idea of the binary is under attack. There’s a great commitment to the destruction of the binary. Philip Goldberg’s book, American Veda, seeks to prove that America has become Hindu. He compares the change in the way we think about spirituality and calls it the latest great awakening—comparable to the great awakening of the 18th century. The spirituality of the day is that of Advaita—”not two.” You see this in much of the spirituality of the day, including the spirituality in some of Christianity. We (the church) try not to understand the culture not through this understanding of one-ism and two-ism, but seeing the culture as a positive; the one-ist culture for some is giving the agenda to the church. But this is totally confused—you’re either with Jesus or against him. You either worship the Creator or the creation.
As I’ve been writing on this idea of One-ism and Two-ism, and seeing how this language is being picked up by those opposing us, it seems that what we’re doing this week is really important.
O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:1-9)
That Psalm in repeating that structure at the beginning and the end leaves little to the imagination. If you want a simple way of understanding how to carry the doctrine of God with you, remember these two simple prepositions—”in” and “above”. If you can capture that, you have the biblical doctrine of God. In those two prepositions, you see that God’s name is written into the creation and the history of his people and yet his glory is above all the heavens.
This notion of above is absolutely essential to our understanding of God’s nature—what can we say about God who is above, and what can we say about the God who is in?
1. I take above to mean radical transcendence. God is transcendent above the heavens as Creator. Genesis 1:1 presents God as before all, so that everything that exists after is created. It’s such a wonderfully satisfying truth to understand that our understanding of God makes so much sense when we talk about God in that transcendent way. This notion of God tells us that there are two very different kinds of being and it will always be that way. So this notion that we will become gods doesn’t work–it depends on not having a beginning. We won’t discover that we are divine beings, because we continue to be created. We won’t be slapping ourselves on the back and congratulating you for all that you do. God is the transcendent Creator.
We need to recapture this way of talking about God among ourselves; in our desire to be cool we’ve reduced God to our level. And we’ve lost the majesty of the God who is transcendentally other than what we are and like whom we can never be. Doesn’t this view of God take your breath away? The God who is so above all matter? This statement about God reveals a God who is life-giving. It makes us realize that from him alone comes life.
In the phrase, “God above,” God is revealed as unique. Pantheism and polytheism could not create the coherent work of the cosmos. They say the camel is a horse produced by a committee. The idea that these many gods could produce the created order boggles the mind. Thus the Lord presents himself as unique. “I am the Lord and there is none other.” If God is unique, God is unique relative to all others—that’s why we’re obliged to speak about God’s incommunicable attributes. And all this means is that there are some things about God you don’t have—and you can’t have because you’re not God.
In speaking of this idea of transcendence, we have to speak of Islam, which appears to present a radical transcendence. But I believe in spite of the appearances, that this is a false transcendence, which draws Islam toward pagan one-ism. Of course, in the classic pagan one-ism of Hinduism, there is no transcendence. In One-ist paganism, there is no need for a transcendent creator because we are all creators. But this is a constant theme that there is no transcendence. But this is not the biblical view. The biblical view is radical distinction—that God created ex nihilo (from nothing).
2. Psalm 8 also has us think about God not simply as transcendent, but also immanent. He has revealed his glory, his name is majestic IN all the earth. So we have to see God as both transcendent and immanent. And that’s the amazing thing about the biblical doctrine of God that you won’t find in any other religion; it’s not one or the other, it’s both. And as humans, we need both. We need a God who is above and beyond us, but we also need one who is not far from us. We see the glory of God in the things that have been made—including human beings made in his image. God reveals himself in the things he’s made. His name tag on creation reveals his wonder.
We know that it’s not good for man to be alone , but it’s also not good for God to be alone. And this is the problem that Islam faces—where God is seen as a singularity. This is where the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. The problem in Islam is that there is no point of contact between God and man. How do you know God if there’s no point of contact? Allah cannot be known in any meaningful way… I’m not a great scholar of Islam, but it seems to me that the doctrine of God creates massive problems. In the Hadith Kuzi, which Muslims declare to be the word of God, he essentially admits to needing humans. Islam is trapped between deism and pantheism. Sufis realize the problem and have denied that the creation has any true existence and any sense of transcendence is lost.
Finally, because this God’s name is “in” this creation, we can describe him as “love.” This is again where the doctrine of the Trinity is important. An impersonal, solitary God cannot love. If God is dependent upon his creatures to love, then he is not God. But love is about the Trinity first. This is not just theory. All evangelicals are Trinitarian because they’ve put their faith in the gospel and (citing Fred Sanders’ The Deep Things of God) “the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel.”
This biblical message is a jewel worth dying for. There’s nothing like it in history. Not culture war, but spirit war. Proclaiming, honoring the truth of the Trinitarian transcendent Lord—that is what I challenge you with. We find a new way of speaking in an old way of this jewel that we find nowhere else in history. In closing, let us declare together and echo the words of the psalmist: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.”
For another take, see Chris Poblete’s notes on this session at truthXchange.com