Book Review: Making Sense of the Trinity

making-sense-trinity

The Trinity.

It’s one of the most confusing doctrines in all the Christian faith.

But it’s also among the most crucial.

In Making Sense of the Trinity, Millard Erickson shows readers the relevance of this doctrine, as he answers three crucial questions:

  1. Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?
  2. Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense?
  3. Does the doctrine of the Trinity make any difference?

Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?

This is an important question, perhaps the most important.  As Erickson writes in the opening pages, if “this strange-appearing doctrine is taught in the Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, we must accept it, or at least take it very seriously. If, on the other hand, the Bible does not assert such a teaching we may not be required to believe it… There is no virtue in continuing to hold such a difficult doctrine of the trinity if it is not actually taught in the Bible” (p. 17-18).

Erickson lays out the biblical foundation of the doctrine, showing where the doctrine is implicitly taught within the Old and New Testament, looking at support for the unity of God, the deity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (all of whom are referred to in multiple passages as God), and the three-in-oneness of God. And honestly, there’s a lot there. As you look at the Baptismal formula, Jesus repeatedly identifying himself as God by implication throughout the gospel of John and a host of other passages, we’re lead to the inevitable conclusion that the doctrine is, in fact, biblical. Erickson writes,

We may say, then, that when the whole text of Scripture is taken seriously, the doctrine of the Trinity emerges. It teaches clearly that God is one and is unique, that he is the only God that is true and exists. It teaches, either directly or indirectly, that there are three persons who are fully divine, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And it also teaches, indirectly and by implication, that these three are one (p. 42).

Does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense?

With a biblical foundation in place, Erickson asks does the doctrine of the Trinity make sense? Must we, as he puts it, “choose between our Christian commitment and our rationality” in order to believe it? [Read more...]

What Man Intends for Evil, God Intends for Good: Pastor AJ Hamilton

[vodpod id=Groupvideo.3705030&w=425&h=350&fv=]

This isn’t the post I’d planned to write today, but after watching this video, I couldn’t not share this story—Pastor AJ Hamilton’s powerful testimony.

Watch the video above or read the transcript that follows:

I’m AJ Hamilton, I’ve been a pastor here for about three years. And whenever I’m asked what my testimony is, I find I have to tell it in the context of my parents’ testimony. And so I’ll tell you about my mom. I didn’t make it through the first one very well, so I doubt I’ll do it on this one too. [Read more...]

Experiencing a Miracle

miracle

Last weekend during the service at Harvest, we studied Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana in John 2:1-11. As we studied the passage, we came to an important question:

What is a miracle?

A miracle is a wonder, a movement of God, which no person can do and no person can explain or understand, which reveal, affirm and point to Jesus so that those who witness it would believe in the source of the miracle.

Biblically, every miracle performed by Jesus or by the Apostles throughout the New Testament affirms Jesus’ teaching and reveals Jesus’ identity as God—and comes with the impetus to worship Him accordingly. To believe in Him as God.

Have you ever experienced a miracle?

I have; a few times, actually. Some have been wonderful, others painful; but all have confirmed the truth that Jesus is God.

He wasn’t a liar. He wasn’t a lunatic. He is the Lord (to paraphrase C.S. Lewis). And while I’ve written to some degree about a the miraculous experiences we’ve had over the past year, there’s one thing that immediately comes to mind when I think of miracles; perhaps the greatest miracle that any human can experience:

Salvation [Read more...]

God likes Leaders and Preaching

define-church

Yesterday I started working on a definition of the church. After working through a popular passage that’s gained a popular understanding as being about fellowship, we came to the following partial definition:

A church is a community of disciples who practice church discipline, guided by the teaching of Scripture, under the authority of Jesus Christ.

Because it’s incomplete, let’s take a look at another couple aspects that will flesh out this definition:

Leadership and Preaching.

Leadership is not popular—and yet a lot of people kind of want to be one. A great many of us (including yours truly) have authority issues… unless we’re the folks in authority. There are also other folks who simply refuse to submit to any authority whatsoever; who want a “flat” church where ever opinion is equally valid and valuable and no one can really hold you accountable for any sin.

But did you know God really likes leaders? He likes authority in His Church, shepherding His people into holiness.

And He gave them to us as a gift.

Check out Ephesians 4:11-14: [Read more...]

Sunday Shorts (09/20)

The Gospel-Driven Life 45% off at WTS Books

gospelDLWTS Books is offering Michael Horton’s The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World at 45% off for the next week and a half. The Gospel-Driven Life is a sequel to Horton’s previous book, Christless Christianity.

From the Publisher’s Description:

In his well-received Christless Christianity Michael Horton offered a prophetic wake-up call for a self-centered American church. With The Gospel-Driven Life he turns from the crisis to the solutions, offering his recommendations for a new reformation in the faith, practice, and witness of contemporary Christianity. This insightful book will guide readers in reorienting their faith and the church’s purpose toward the good news of the gospel. The first six chapters explore that breaking news from heaven, while the rest of the book focuses on the kind of community that the gospel generates and the surprising ways in which God is at work in the world. Here is fresh news for Christians who are burned out on hype and are looking for hope.

You can also read sample pages here.

HT: JT

Darryl Dash Reviews Bruce Wilkinson’s Latest

Darryl Dash, pastor of Richview Baptist Church, posted a review of Bruce Wilkinson’s (The Prayer of Jabez guy) latest book, You Were Born for This: 7 Keys to a Life of Predictable Miracles. From Darryl’s review:

It trivializes miracles. One definition of a miracle – from someone who believes that miracles take place today – is this: “A miracle is a less common kind of God’s activity in which he arouses people’s awe and wonder and bears witness to himself.” Even in Scripture, miracles are not everyday occurrences, and they are more than what Wilkinson describes in this book.

Read the rest at Darryl’s blog.

HT: Z

How Not to Argue for God’s Existence

Kevin DeYoung offers some commentary on a recent Wall Street Journal article titled Man vs. God, wherein Richard Dawkins argues against the existence of God and Karen Armstrong argues for it.

Anyway, the real disappointment is Armstrong’s “defense” of the existence of God. As an orthodox Christian (or orthodox believer of almost any faith) you know you are in trouble when Armstrong’s first line is this: “Richard Dawkins has been right all along, of course—at least in one important respect. Evolution has indeed dealt a blow to the idea of a benign creator, literally conceived.” It only gets worse from there. Armstrong argues that we should really go back to an earlier pre-enlightenment time when “Jewish, Christian, and Muslim thinkers understood that what we call ‘God’ is merely a symbol that points beyond itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited by means of spiritual exercises and a compassionate lifestyle that enable us to cultivate new capacities of mind and heart.” Armstrong’s “God” bears no resemblance to the Christian God. He (She? It?) is merely a symbol, an analogy like Tao, Brahman, or Nirvana, to describe the ultimate reality that lay beyond the reach of words.

Armstrong’s religion is not new. She is an advocate of an ahistorical, therapeutic religion that disavows a personal, knowable, objectively real Creator God to whom we must give account. In decrying the baleful effects of scientific rationality on religion, she ends up repeating the same tropes that have been standard fare among liberals since the Enlightenment: the Bible can’t be taken literally; religion is about myth not fact; there is no revelation from God, just man’s attempts to make sense of life’s imponderables.

It’s a great piece. Read the rest at Kevin’s blog.


In Case You Missed It

Religion-SavesThis week I published a series reviewing Religion Saves & Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll:

Religion Saves: Introduction

Religion Saves: Birth Control, Sexual Sin & Dating

Religion Saves: Predestination, Grace, and Faith & Works

Religion Saves: Humor, The Emerging Church and The Regulative Principle

Religion Saves: For Your Consideration

There’s a lot of great material in this book, and I did my best to be objective and thorough in my review. I hope you find it profitable and maybe pick up the book yourself.

Book Review: Fearless

Title: Fearless
Author:Max Lucado
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Can you imagine a life without fear?

That’s the question posed by Max Lucado’s latest, Fearless.

It was with some trepidation that I dug into Fearless. The last time I read one of his books, it was painfully squishy—big on feelings, light on content. And I honestly expected another squishy book about how we’re all snowflakes and God loves us with a love not unlike sappy teen romance  (this does show up—once—when Lucado writes about how “[God] can’t stop thinking about you!” in chapter 2).

What I got instead was a book that actually provides the answer to overcoming our biggest fears: Jesus. Over the course of 14 chapters, Lucado emphatically states that it’s only when we take our eyes off of Christ that fear overcomes us, and it’s only as we focus on Him that we have the ability to overcome fear.

I was impressed by Lucado’s boldness in the final two chapters.  He (rightly) names someone as a false prophet, and he gives a great definition of false teacher: One who fails to direct his or her listeners to Jesus, maximizing the role of humanity at His expense.

That’s a huge deal, and a much needed reminder for all of us today to be, in his words, “doctrinally diligent” (p. 155).

He also boldly asserts that there is one healthy terror that we need: The Fear of the Lord. Many of us lack this, and instead have created a god-of-our-own-imagining, who won’t call us out for our sin, who will only pat our heads and tell us things will be okay, but has no power. Instead, we need to embrace the God of the Bible, our fears are less powerful. Because “[w]hen Christ is great, our fears are not” (p. 169).

Bravo, sir.

So, the real question: Would I recommend Fearless?

Particularly on the strength of the final two chapters, I would. It’s a book that, ultimately, directs people to Christ as the true answer to overcoming fear. It’s not a perfect book (none of our books are, after all), but it’s one that I believe many will find profitable.

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Sunday Shorts (08/30)

Collision Available for Pre-order

From the website:

COLLISION carves a new path in documentary film-making as it pits leading atheist, political journalist and bestselling author Christopher Hitchens against fellow author, satirist and evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange blows over the question: “Is Christianity Good for the World?”. The two contrarians laugh, confide and argue, in public and in private, as they journey through three cities. And the film captures it all. The result is a magnetic conflict, a character-driven narrative that sparkles cinematically with a perfect match of arresting personalities and intellectual rivalry. COLLISION is directed by prolific independent filmmaker Darren Doane (Van Morrison: To Be Born Again, The Battle For L.A., Godmoney).

COLLISIONwill be released on October 27, 2009.  It will be available on DVD and will premiere at theaters in New York and Los Angeles.  The DVD is available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

Andy Naselli: Do We Have Free Will?

Over at Reformation 21, Andy Naselli addresses the question of free will:

Non-Christians and Christians alike often give the same answer to difficult questions like these: Why did God allow sin in the first place? Why does God save some people and not others? Why does God send people to hell? Why can living like a Christian be so frustrating? The immediate solution often suggested is simple: “free will.” To many people, it’s a satisfying answer: “Oh, that makes sense. Yeah, God does x because he has to preserve my free will. Yeah, OK. Next question.” I’d like to suggest that we re-think this important issue.

This is an article that requires a few minutes, so don’t skim when you read it.

HT: Challies

Unpacking Forgiveness

Also at Reformation 21, Chris Brauns unpacks forgiveness:

I’ve been thinking recently about something television star Kelsey Grammer said.  It’s not because I saw a rerun of Cheers. Unfortunately, the context is tragic. Grammer has me thinking about well intentioned people who end up “packing unforgiveness.”  Where deep wounds are concerned, there are those who try and do what they believe faith requires.  Yet, they end up hurting all the more.

Read the full article.

In cased you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

God and the Weather: Intrepreting Providence Addressing God’s sovereign control over nature in light of the recent tornado in Minneapolis—how do we interpret providence?

Everyday Theology: Just Listen to Your Heart Should we really listen to our hearts when all they do is lead us into sin?

Cultivating Thankfulness How God’s sovereign rule leads us to be thankful in all circumstances

Trusting God Reviewing Jerry Bridges’ book responding to the question, “Can I trust God?”

Book Review: Trusting God

Trusting-GodTitle: Trusting God
Author: Jerry Bridges
Publisher: NavPress

Can I trust God?

This question plagues many of us, particularly in times of great difficulty. When it seems like our world is falling apart, it often feels impossible to believe that an all-powerful and all-good God is in control. But just because we can’t see Him at work, doesn’t mean He’s not.

This is what motivated Jerry Bridges to write Trusting God. What Bridges reminds us of in this very dense text is that God is completely sovereign—over circumstances, nations, nature, and even people—infinitely wise, and supremely loving. And because these things are true, we can trust Him fully as He works out all things for our good through His providence. More than that, it’s only because He is sovereign that we can trust Him at all! Because none can frustrate His plans, they will surely come to pass. And were His plans able to be thwarted, He would not be trustworthy at all, and we would have no reason to hope.

This is very good news for all of us, as it greatly encourages us to cultivate a spirit of gratitude and a desire to look for where He is working, in all our circumstances—both good and bad.

One note for readers: Sometimes Bridges’ writing… drags. I’ve experienced this with every book of his I’ve read to date. The content is wonderful, but I find myself having to (usually) read in fits and starts. This is may actually be a blessing in disguise, as it gives me time to reflect on what I’ve read, so maybe it’s not a bad thing.

Trusting God is without question a book that is extremely beneficial for all looking to better understand how God’s providential rule over creation, and how that affects our lives. Read slowly and savor.

Purchase your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

God and the Weather: Interpreting Providence

providence

Because I’d not had the opportunity prior to embarking on 15 hours of travelling (I’m now basking in a cozy hotel room in Weybridge, Surrey, UK), I thought I’d offer some of my own thoughts on the issues surrounding the recent controversial statements made by Pastor John Piper about the Tornado that struck the Minneapolis Convention Center.

There are a few things that we can say unequivocally:

  1. God is sovereign over all things—Nations, governments, circumstances, people and even the weather. Absolutely nothing happens on this earth without either His direct intervention or His permission, be it good or bad. This is the (admittedly oversimplified) doctrine of Providence. The books of Ruth and Esther are specifically about God’s providential (unseen) hand. Psalm 147:8, 16-18, Job 37:3, 6, 10-13, Jeremiah 10:13, and Amos 4:7 all speak to His sovereign rule over nature.
  2.  

  3. Because God is indeed sovereign over all things, there is no such thing as a “random event,”according to Scripture. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and a create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things,” says the Lord in Isaiah 45:7 (see also Lamentations 3:38 and Ecclesiastes 7:14). There are only events we understand and events we do not. However, while we may not understand the purpose of an event, God most certainly does (see Deut. 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”) But we have to remember that God permits all things for the good of all who love Him (see Rom. 8:28).
  4.  

  5. All sin is unacceptable in the eyes of a holy God. Murder, lying, blasphemy, pride and sexual sin (including, but not limited to, fornication, adultery and homosexual practice) are all equally wrong in the eyes of God. And all who fail to repent will stand to give an account before God for their sins. This is what Jesus was warning of in Luke 13:1-5—Disastrous events in this world foreshadow the judgement that is to come, and unless we repent, we too will fall in that judgement. That’s a big deal, gang!

That’s what we can say.

Here is what we cannot:

We cannot offer a definitive interpretation of a providential act of God, like the recent tornado. To do so goes further than we are permitted by Scripture. We can offer what we think may have been the reason, and I believe that was Piper’s intention.

Further, there are some who would call it a random act. And with all due respect, there is no Scriptural support for such an idea whatsoever. To do so is nothing short of a denial of God’s sovereignty, which, if taken away, removes our reason for trusting Him. Because we know that He is in control of all things, for the good of His people, we can trust Him.

God knows why He, in His providence, sent the tornado to Minneapolis. And He knows why He also sent one to Vaughan, Ontario the next night.

But we do not know the specific reason with certainty, but we do know that this tornado was sent for “the good of those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

John Piper: The Tornado, the Lutherans and Homsexuality

UPDATE (08/25): For my thoughts on interpreting providence, read God & The Weather.


Central Lutheran's broken steeple

Wednesday, a tornado touched down in Minneapolis, Minnesota, much to the surprise of everyone (including weather forecasters). The tornado directly hit the convention center and the Central Lutheran Church at the exact time that delegates of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America were debating the acceptance of openly practicing homosexuals into the pastoral ministry of the church.

The next day, John Piper offered some possible insights into this occurrence in a post titled The Tornado, the Lutherans, and Homosexuality. This post has caused a lot of controversy over the last few days, but there are a couple of very relevant pieces we need to look at. In his original post, Piper writes:

I saw the fast-moving, misshapen, unusually-wide funnel over downtown Minneapolis from Seven Corners. I said to Kevin Dau, “That looks serious.”

It was. Serious in more ways than one. A friend who drove down to see the damage wrote,

On a day when no severe weather was predicted or expected…a tornado forms, baffling the weather experts—most saying they’ve never seen anything like it. It happens right in the city. The city: Minneapolis.

The tornado happens on a Wednesday…during the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s national convention in the Minneapolis Convention Center. The convention is using Central Lutheran across the street as its church. The church has set up tents around it’s building for this purpose.

According to the ELCA’s printed convention schedule, at 2 PM on Wednesday, August 19, the 5th session of the convention was to begin. The main item of the session: “Consideration: Proposed Social Statement on Human Sexuality.” The issue is whether practicing homosexuality is a behavior that should disqualify a person from the pastoral ministry.

The eyewitness of the damage continues:

This curious tornado touches down just south of downtown and follows 35W straight towards the city center. It crosses I94. It is now downtown.

The time: 2PM.

The first buildings on the downtown side of I94 are the Minneapolis Convention Center and Central Lutheran. The tornado severely damages the convention center roof, shreds the tents, breaks off the steeple of Central Lutheran, splits what’s left of the steeple in two…and then lifts.

In his post, Piper offers his thoughts on the specific purpose of this providential act of God, with some strong biblical support. [Read more...]

"You Follow Me!"

follow-me

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who had been reclining at table close to him and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”

 John 21:20-22

Have you ever had a moment, even a brief one, where you’re in the middle of a project at work and you start thinking about… someone else. Say a friend at work. You and your friend started around the same time, and he or she is experiencing great success and you’re… well, you’re not. You’re slugging away at your job, just trying to make it through the day, and you can’t help but—just for a second—think, “Man, why does [insert name here] get all the breaks? I’m busting my tail and what do I have to show for it?”

I’ll be honest, I think about this every once in a while. I have some very talented friends, who are very gifted in many areas—including areas of ministry that I gravitate to. And in the past, I’ve found myself feeling really insecure about at least one of these folks, who I really don’t need to feel insecure around.

So I read this passage, and I was struck by the attitude of Peter. [Read more...]

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl


Title:
Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl
Author: N.D. Wilson
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Have you ever tried to use your sense of smell to describe how a fresh bowl of fruit looks?

What about sight to describe the sound of a two-year-old happily playing in her room?

If so, you understand a little more about the challenge N.D. Wilson faced writing Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.

This book is downright peculiar. But it’s peculiar in all the right ways. You see, Wilson’s trying to describe the indescribable: God speaking Creation into being, ex nihilo (out of nothing).

Wilson frequently writes in an almost stream-of-consciousness style that, while can be a bit distracting at times, is quite entertaining. His illustrations are hilariously (and appropriately) absurd. And his pace is quick and lively.

Wilson spends a great deal of time deconstructing the absurdity of the idea that our world, in all of it’s beauty and bizarreness happened on a fluke. A random act of chance. But it’s in its seeming randomness, that we see the complexity and intricacy of how this world has been created. And he finds philosophers arguments to the contrary ridiculous, an excuse to sell more books. And that includes, Nietzsche, who Wilson describes as “the only philosopher to ever make me laugh out loud” (p. 199). High praise indeed. [Read more...]

The Love of God: Audio from St. Paul's United

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more about “The Love of God on Vimeo“, posted with vodpod

 

On August 15, 2009, it was my great privilege to preach at St. Paul’s United Church in Aylmer, Ontario. I am very grateful to my friend and co-worker Peter for the opportunity to share God’s Word with a great group of people.

You can also download an MP3 at the link below to listen to at your leisure.

The Love of God MP3 Audio

I hope you find the audio both profitable and enjoyable.

Update: For those who prefer or require a transcript, the text version follows: [Read more...]

Making assumptions…

Generally speaking, it’s unwise to make assumptions about a person or situation. While on occasion, our assumptions turn out to be correct, they most typically wind up being hurtful or creating an unrealistic expectation.

And about no one is it more critical to not assumptions than God.

Yet, we do it all the time.

When we understate our sin, we make an assumption about God—that being, that He doesn’t really care all that much.

When we do what God commands out of obligation or fear of punishment, we make an assumption about God—that He’s capricious and mean-spirited, looking down on us and just waiting for us to screw up. And when we do, oh, boy…

Reading the parable of the ten minas in Luke 19:12-27 reminded me of this: [Read more...]