A God-Sized Gospel

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:3-14

In this passage of Ephesians, Paul shows his readers a picture of the triune God initiating and accomplishing the reconciliation and redemption of His people all for the praise of His infinite glory. It’s one of the most beautiful passages of the entire Bible.

And in the Greek text, it’s one, long, elegant sentence.

It’s the run-on sentence to end all run-on sentences—one that some commentators call a monster!

So what would cause Paul to create a “monster” sentence like this, detailing the story of redemption on such an epic scale? Why would he, in the middle of writing a letter, break out into what almost seems to be a spontaneous fit of praise?

It’s that he has a God-sized gospel. I really appreciated reading Fred Sanders’ insights into this passage in The Deep Things of God. Take a look and ask yourself: Is my gospel too small?

On the basis of Ephesians 1:3-14, nobody can accuse Paul of having a gospel that is too small. There is an abundance here bordering on excessiveness. And Paul’s sentence has that character precisely because, as Scripture breathed out by God, it faithfully corresponds to the character of the reality it points to: a gospel of salvation tha tis the work of the untamable holy Trinity. Like all Scripture, this passage is the word fo God and has within itself the life, activity, and incisiveness we would expect in an almighty speech-act through which God does his work (Heb. 4:12). It is an effective word, and one of its effects here is to snatch its listeners out of their own lives and drop them into Christ. It immediately takes the reader to the heavenlies, to the world of the Spirit, and from that vantage point invites us to join in blessing God for the blessing he blessed us with…

All of us think from our own point of view, starting from a center in ourselves and how things look to us. This is unavoidable, since everyone has to start from where they are. . . . The only way to escape this tendency is to be drawn out of ourselves into the bewilderingly large and complex gospel of God. . . . What we need is the miracle of being able to see our own situation from an infinitely higher point of view. We need to start our thinking from a center in God, not in ourselves. . . . Paul invites us to an ecstatic gospel: the good news of standing outside (ek-stasis) of ourselves. (pp. 101-102)

Book Review: The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders

For many Christians today, the Trinity is a doctrine to which we give almost no thought. While we certainly affirm it as being true, we don’t really know how it makes a difference in our lives.

So it gets easier for us to start thinking that maybe it doesn’t matter. The seeming paradox of God being one, yet three is a huge stumbling block to many people looking at the Christian faith… and maybe it wouldn’t change anything if we just let it go.

Fred Sanders, associate professor of theology at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute, disagrees.

“Deep down it is evangelical Christians who most clearly witness to the fact that the personal salvation we experience is reconciliation with God the Father, carried out through God the Son, in the power of God the Holy Spirit,” he writes (p. 9).

But we’ve lost something as a movement; we’ve settled for a theological and spiritual shallowness, especially in regards to the Trinity. “Our beliefs and practices all presuppose the Trinity, but that presupposition has for too long been left unexpressed . . . and taken for granted rather than celebrated and taught” (p. 11).

That’s why he wrote The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. In this book, Sanders hopes to reawaken an understanding of, and desire to celebrate, the deeply Trinitarian nature of Christianity.

Because the Trinity is so overwhelming in it’s otherness, it’s tempting for us to avoid even attempting to speak to it. But as Sanders writes, “We . . . should not let ourselves be trapped into thinking that everything depends on our ability to articulate the mystery of the triune God” (p. 36).

The reality is we are tacitly (implicitly) Trinitarian in innumerable ways. The Trinity serves as the encompassing framework for our thinking and confession. “It is the deep grammar of all the central Christian affirmations” (p. 48).

This implicit knowledge leads to explicit expression in salvation, spirituality, church life, prayer and Bible study. These are the realms to which Sanders focuses the majority of the book. [Read more...]

He Loved Us Because He Loved Us

At the moment, I’m reading Fred Sanders’ book on the Trinity, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything. It’s a very impressive piece of work and as I’ve been reading, I came across this quote from Susanna Wesley, the mother of John & Charles Wesley:

Let me beseech you to join with me in adoring the infinite and incomprehensible love of God. . . . He is the great God, “The God of the spirits of all flesh,” “the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity,” and created not angels and men because he wanted them, for he is being itself, and as such must necessarily be infinitely happy in the glorious perfections of his nature from everlasting to everlasting; and as he did not create, so neither did he redeem because he needed us; but he loved us because he loved us, he would have mercy because he would have mercy, he would show compassion because he would show compassion.

Susanna Wesley, as quoted in The Deep Things of God, p. 67

It’s easy to wonder if there’s much value in a doctrine like the Trinity—it seems so abstract and we’re not always sure if it has practical value. But the Trinity is at the heart of the gospel and the heart of creation.

God didn’t create us because He didn’t need us. He wasn’t lonely or bored. And God didn’t save us because He needed to save us.

He doesn’t love us because he needs to love us. Instead, “He loved us because he loved us.”

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Ex. 33:19).

The terrifying, awesome, amazing grace of God. And it only makes sense if God is Trinity.

Book Review: God the Holy Trinity

Title: God the Holy Trinity: Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice
Author: Timothy George (editor)
Publisher: Baker Academic

“When I was a student at Harvard Divinity School during the 1970s, one of my teachers published a book entitled God the Problem,” writes Timothy George, contributor and editor of God the Holy Trinity, Reflections on Christian Faith and Practice.

“While reveling in obscurity and complexity may be the delight of some theologians, if there has ever been a genuine ‘problem’ in Christian doctrine, then surely it is how the eternal God can be both One and yet Three at the same time” (p. 9).

Yet, this is exactly what all orthodox Christians confess: that God is both One and Three, who has made Himself known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While this doctrine is confusing and wrapped in mystery, it is essential to the Christian faith. [Read more...]

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...]