It is an interesting phenomenon, especially in western post-enlightenment, modernist thinking that we hate paradoxes. People have been so conditioned to abhor logical contradictions that when it comes to pondering the mysteries of an infinite God, contradictions cannot be accepted. This hatred of paradoxes goes far to explain why many good, well meaning followers of Jesus ‘got it wrong’ when explaining some of the difficult concepts in Christianity.
Children are taught from a young age that there are certain laws of nature (also called laws of logic) which cannot be broken. These children are not taught logic explicitly but the worldview in which they are raised does not allow for paradoxes. While I agree that most of life does not defy the laws of logic, I would assert that God being who He is has the ability to go against well understood natural laws. I will discuss these laws of logic briefly then attempt to support my statement that God can and has broken some of these laws.
The 3 laws of logic (a brief summary)
The 3 laws of logic are: the law of identity, the law of non-contradiction, and the law of excluded middle. The Law of Identity, simply stated is: P is P. This seems an obvious statement therefore due to its nature is confusing but all this means is that a statement is, and is NOT something else. The second law, the Law of Non-contradiction, asserts that it is not possible for something to be and not-be at the same time in the same place. For example, it cannot be raining and not raining at the same time in the same place. The third law (that of the Law of excluded middle) states simply that one has either P or not P, there is no 3rd option. In the example of it raining outside this says it is either raining or not raining, there is no other option for that statement. These three laws hold true for the universe at all times and in all places (except when it comes to God).
So what’s the point of discussing laws of logic when talking about God? I brought up the ideas of the laws of logic in an attempt to have us understand what the phrase, ‘it does not make sense’ really means. When someone says that an concept makes no sense what they are saying often is that the idea being pondered does not fit into their worldview which denies allowances for contradictions. Having said this little bit about logic and how our minds work when it comes to contradictions, I would like to make the assertion that much of Christianity does not make sense, thus is illogical, yet true nonetheless. God has and does defy the laws of logic and sometimes ‘God just does not make sense’.
Does the biblical view of the Triune God make sense?
When pondering some of the basic doctrines that are unique to Christianity, we must come to the conclusion they are biblical, even though they are illogical. One of the fundamental teachings in both the New and Old Testaments is that there is one and only one true God. Genesis 1:1 states “in the beginning God . . .” stressing to readers the monotheistic religion of Judaism (and later Christianity). Deuteronomy 6:4, known as the Shema, states positively “the Lord is one”. Yet there are hints in the Old Testament and explicit statements in the New Testament asserting there is more to the unity of God, there is a triunity. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus says, “therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Christians use these 2 verses and many, many others to show the equality of God the Father, Jesus (God the Son), and (God) the Holy Spirit. If they are equal then they are all God, however, there can only be one God so the doctrine of the Trinity does not make logical sense. Nevertheless for one to be dogmatic on the ‘Oneness’ of God while rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit is unbiblical. The Bible teaches there is One God, yet Three persons are ascribed with divine attributes.
Arius got it wrong, but his way does make sense
A bishop (pastor) of a Christian church in Alexandria, Egypt around AD 300 (his name was Arius) thought he had solved the difficult doctrine of ‘how to better understand the person of Jesus and the assertions that Jesus is God.’ Arius said God is one and therefore Jesus must be a created being (albeit the highest of all created beings). To Arius’s mind and worldview Jesus could not be fully God or there would exist 2 God, which is contradictory to the teachings of the Holy Bible. Arius is quoted as saying, ‘there was a time when Jesus was not’, which would mean He is not eternal, ergo not God. This was logical to Arius and his many followers, however it is unbiblical. In the New Testament we have many, many accounts of Jesus accepting worship that is only fit for God. Arius attempted to put forth a doctrine that was ‘logical’ to him. At the Council of Nicaea in AD 325 3ooish bishops gathered to discuss the idea of the relationship between God the Father and God the Son (Jesus). Their conclusion would later be refined into what is called the Nicene Creed, which states, concerning Jesus,
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
As you can read they were very intentional and specific on the wording as to not confuse the statement. The orthodox view of Jesus would forever include this understanding of His person.
I believe this statement gives a precise description of the ‘begottenness’ of Jesus. I believe Arius was not intentionally unbiblical, he just wanted to ‘wrap his mind around’ these ideas and his aforementioned statement was the best way for him to understand a very complex (yet ESSENTIAL) doctrine.
So what’s the point?????
Here’s the point of my discussion: Christianity is full of things we just cannot fully comprehend and may not make sense, WE JUST NEED TO EMBRACE THE MYSTERY and do our best to understand it as biblically as possible. I had a seminary professor once (shout out to Dr. Albert George “Joe” Crawford (who I refer to often as Albertus Magnus)) who said one thing in relationship to mysteries of God that has always stuck with me. Dr. Crawford said we as followers of Jesus are to say all the Bible says about any certain topic, no more and no less. And we are to leave the rest up to calling it a mystery that we will never fully understand. We are to be comfortable in living with the tension that exists concerning these issues.
Please give me your input and comments.
Question: Who are some of the people from your past that have made a lasting impression on your thinking. I would love to read a brief description of the person and the ‘words of wisdom’.
One of my readers read a post on the history of the Baptists where I commented on the Anabaptists. That reader suggested I research a man named David Joris who was a reformer (Anabaptist) in the Netherlands, so here it is.
The Impact of the Protestant Reformation in Europe
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenberg, the dissatisfaction with the Roman Catholic Church spread like a wildfire throughout Europe. There seemed to be ‘reformations’ popping up in all of the European populace. Lengthy postings could be made (even books have been written) on the impact of the Reformation on France and England and Ireland and Spain and Denmark and the rest. People all over were encountering and then embracing much of the theology of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Menno Simons. The Protestant Reformation truly was a game changer. People thought one way about life (especially the church and eternal life) in the late 1400’s and by the late 1500’s they were thinking in a totally new and different way. There was not a people group that was untouched by the ‘rebellion’ of the Reformation. One group I would like to write a little bit on today is the Reformation in the Netherlands and especially an Anabaptist bishop named David Joris.
One of the Anabaptist bishops
David Joris was born in Flanders, Belgium around 1501. He was an accomplished glass painter (some of his paintings still can be seen today). While travelling around in the Netherlands he came in contact with the ideas of Martin Luther. After listening to stories about the Anabaptists being martyred for their faith (and so being impressed with their dedication to Jesus), in 1533 he was baptized into the Anabaptist Church. He became so passionate about his beliefs that one day during a gathering of Roman Catholics he adamantly, verbally opposed them. For this action and rejection of Catholic theology Joris was arrested and for punishment they used a steel ball to bore a hole in his tongue to stop him from preaching and teaching ‘heresy’.
People started listening and following Joris he became an Anabaptist bishop in the city of Delft, Netherlands. He was regarded by many of his followers (and himself) to be prophet from God. William R. Estep in his book The Anabaptist Story says Joris was an extreme inspirationalist, which means he claimed that the Bible was inadequate and therefore needed to be added to by his own ‘inspired’ writings. For this extreme belief he was disowned by the biblical Anabaptists in 1536. He was later condemned as a heretic in Delft in 1544 and therefore fled for his life. Eventually he settled in Basel, Switzerland under an assumed name, that of Johann Van Brugge. He apparently kept his radical ideas to himself after this time for he died in 1556 and it took the people of the town 3 years to figure out that Johan Van Brugge was in reality David Joris. So hated was he that once they figured out his true identity they dug up Johann’s body and burned it publicly.
This David Joris was an interesting person who due to his contributions to Anabaptist history in the Netherlands deserves to be studied and examined more closely.
The 3 bullets for David Joris
Here are my 3 takeaways after studying David Joris:
He had an unbelievable passion for preaching what he considered the truth of Christianity.
He was one of the names in Anabaptist history to be remembered for his contributions to Anabaptists in the Netherlands.
He was labeled a heretic by other Anabaptists who judged the idea of him being the ‘next David’ (after King David, and Jesus) and preaching his prophesies to be unbiblical.
Is there some favorite person or event in Church history of yours that you would like me to research and write about? Leave me a comment and let me know.
Which person to highlight in contemporary Christianity (2017 America)
There are so many well known Christian leaders and thinkers these days it is difficult to decide on which one to highlight. As I always do I take some time to ponder the people or events about whom I would like to write. Many names came to mind, but then I thought I wanted to focus on someone who is around right now (AD 2017). Even with this I thought of several people who are seen (some I agree with their theology, some I do not) as thought-provoking individuals in Christendom: John Piper, John MacArthur, Nancy Pearcy, Dallas Willard (although he died just a few years ago), Timothy Keller, N. T. Wright, Max Lucado, Rob Bell, Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Billy Graham, Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, and many others.
So the question is: who do you pick? I decided that I would write and emphasize Dr. Timothy Keller.
A short biography of Timothy Keller
Dr. Keller was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1950. He earned his BA from Bucknell University, MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Seminary, and his DMin from Westminster Seminary in Pennsylvania. In his years at Bucknell he became acquainted with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, through which Keller became a Christian. He is interested in urban ministries (sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian) in the urban areas of large cities. He and his wife founded Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan in 1989. Their church has grown into an attendance of 5,000 people per week. It is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, which is reformed in its theology. Dr. Keller is very well known for his pastor’s approach to issues as well as his emphasis on Christian apologetics. He is the author of several books, among them being: The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism; Jesus the King; Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering.
I have not read all of Keller’s books (actually I only read one: The Reason for God, and I own the one on Pain and Suffering but have not read it yet) and was truly impressed with his approach to the topics. His paradigm is from the perspective of a pastor. I have read many books and articles discussing some of the major ‘apologetics’ issues, such as the existence of God or the problem of evil, with most of them coming from an academic perspective. Keller is as academic as most, but uses simple language to express complex issues. I very much appreciate his pastoral handling of these difficult, yet extremely important subjects.
My 3 bullets for Tim Keller:
He writes and preaches about deep theological issues from a pastor’s heart and perspective
His time of influence is 2017, so he is dealing with issues current for our time (such as same sex union and suffering)
He approach is to address contemporary subjects in a thoughtful and simplistic way, in order for the person who is not schooled in Christian scholarship to understand and ponder.
Please let me know what you think of Tim Keller. Who is a significant Christian to you about whom you would like others to know??
It’s Thanksgiving Day 2016 and this is what I am thankful for
As I pondered what to write in this blog I kept coming back to Thanksgiving and what I am thankful for. I also did a little research on some respected men from church history to see what they thanked God for. There are so many things for which to be thankful if I stopped to write them all down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the list and explanations of all the things for which I am thankful (I tried to paraphrase John 21:25). But the point is there are so many things I take for granted every day for which I should be thankful, it seems an insurmountable task to list them all.
Sort of keeping up on the theme of 3 bullet Thursday on this Thanksgiving
I simply decided to tell 3 things for which I am thankful then give you a link to read a short article on a Thanksgiving Day sermon from Jonathan Edwards. Here are the 3 things for which I am thankful: Faith, Family, and Friends (although those of you who know me could add a 4th, which would be Food, but that’s another blog post).
My faith is extremely important to me. I tried to thank God daily not only for His love, mercy, and grace but specifically the love that sent His Son to die a horrible death to deal with my sins. I spend some time every day pondering the mysteries of Christianity. I attempt to filter all of my life through the lens of God and His world.
My family is another thing that I am thankful for. I grew up with a Christian mom and dad who tried to instill in me the importance of seeking after and living for the God of the universe. Also have brothers and a sister with whom God has blessed me. I enjoy their fellowship and interaction. My wife is the most wonderful woman on the planet for me. She keeps me grounded and gives unconditional love. My 2 children are a blessing who have taught me much about myself and my shortcomings.
My friends are a Godsend that I do not take lightly. Each of them shows me something to which I should and can aspire: whether it be more study of the Bible, or more passion for family, or more compassion for the needy. I cherish the times spent in conversation and dialogue.
I could go on and on and on and on and on, but I won’t
As mentioned earlier I could go on about the innumerable blessings God has given me and then ponder a deeper question, which is Why has he blessed me so much, but I will stop here.
A short description of a Thanksgiving sermon by Jonathan Edwards
As I was researching people from church history and what they said about giving thanks, I came across an article from Christianity Today from several years ago that gives a link to a sermon by Jonathan Edwards on Thanksgiving and then summarized the sermon. I thought this was a very good article so here is the link, enjoy. http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2009/november/edwards-ian-thanksgiving.html
Due to my natural affinity toward theology and scholarship I often neglect discussions of missionaries (unless they are also theologians). For whatever reason I am not drawn to the significance and impact of missionaries throughout the world. So in order to rectify this situation I decided to write about a man now known as ‘the father of modern missions’, William Carey.
A poor cobbler and a poor cobbler
William Carey was born in England northwest of London in 1761. Due to his family’s lower income and a childhood illness he chose to apprentice a shoemaker. He showed very little aptitude for cobbling but as he grew older and married hoped he could do it well enough to pay for food for his family. During his time as a shoemaker he was able to teach himself biblical Greek.
A poor teacher
Carey realized that he had an aptitude for languages, teaching himself Greek, Hebrew, Latin and several other languages. He started a school hoping to inspire students to learn the languages that were so important to himself. It ended up, however, that he did worse at teaching than he did at shoemaking.
A poor pastor
So he changed occupations once again and became a Particular Baptist pastor. He succeeded less with pastoring than with teaching. So William Carey could have been seen (or seen himself) as a failure, but the struggles are not over.
After reading about the exploits of Captain Cook in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii), he had a conviction that the church had an obligation to proclaim the news of Jesus Christ to the unreachable people of the world. Many of his friends tried to discourage him from going on the mission field because they thought ‘if God’s wants the heathen saved he does not need you’. Carey replied, “expect great things from God! Attempt great things for God!” He started a missions agency to send people across the world to share the Gospel, and he went with a doctor friend to India.
A poor missionary?
The journey to India and the subsequent life were very difficult. The doctor partner of Carey’s left the mission early on, taking all the money. Personally Carey had one struggle after another: 2 children died, the doctor took off with their funds, he contracted malaria, and his wife battled depression and had to be restrained. Throughout all of these hard times William Carey said, “I can plod”. He was convinced of his mission for Jesus yet his efforts were not showing much results, but he kept on plodding away and thousands of lives were changed. In India he also helped people in the lowest caste system to get them out of their poverty.
“Seventy-six years after William Carey’s death, more than 1,200 missionaries from 160 mission boards met in Edinburgh, England. By that time, the number of Christian ministers living outside Europe and the Americas had increased more than one thousand percent.” (Christian History Made Easy by Dr. Timothy Jones, page 152).
Father of modern missions – missionary in India
Taught himself several (at least 5) languages – so translated the New Testament into 24 native languages of India
“I can plod” – kept plodding his way spreading the Gospel, in the midst of much struggle and hardship.
Please give me comments and suggestions for topics.
We need to decide some things about our understanding of God, so let’s call a council and decide these issues.
Since humans are finite and God is infinite we just cannot understand all there is to know about God. We also cannot have a complete understanding about what we do know concerning God. For instance, we know God is eternal, but what exactly does it mean for a being to exist and have no beginning or ending. All we humans have ever dealt with are things having a beginning and an ending. There are all kinds of ideas about God that throughout history have needed to be wrestled with in order to be as biblical as possible.
2 rules concerning understanding and expressing a difficult theological issue.
When I was attending seminary way back in the dark ages (the 1990’s), I was given many words of advice when it came to wresting with, understanding, and expressing ideas about God. 2 of these were rules by which I filter all my contemplation: 1. say what the Bible says as clearly as possible, 2. say no more and no less than what the Bible says. It is imperative that one states the issue and the answer clearly and precisely. It is equally important to not say anything the Bible does not say.
How does this advice play into the Council of Nicaea?
Honestly I believe that since the beginning (yes, even with the Apostles) the followers of Jesus did not fully understand who he was and were really lost for precise expressions of his uniqueness. So after the apostles died (the last one was John the Apostle who died around AD 100) the followers of Jesus thought about, debated, and argued about the person of Jesus. One of the most important issues is: is Jesus fully God or just the highest of all created beings? Around the year AD 300 a man named Arius had decided he had the answer to the above stated question. Arius was so tenacious about the biblical teaching that THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD that he was convinced (and convinced a lot of others) that Jesus was the highest of all created beings, yet created nonetheless and therefore not eternal. Arius made this statement about Jesus: ‘The Son of God was a created being, made from nothing; there was a time when he had no existence and he was capable of change and of altering between good and evil’. Arius emphasized the oneness of God to the detriment of the threeness of God. He was not comfortable with the idea that ‘the Father was God, the Son was God, and the Spirit was God, yet there was only one God’.
Emperor Constantine assists in the debate
In AD 325 the Roman Emperor Constantine (no not John Constantine, that’s a TOTALLY different guy) called a council of pastors to meet in the city of Nicaea (in modern day Turkey) to debate the issue of the relationship between the Father and the Son and come to the precise biblical statement.
There is so much that could be said (and probably should be said) about the Council of Nicaea who were the main participants, what they discussed, and the conclusions they came to. But for our purposes let me just state it as simply as I can, the council’s statement which was put into the Nicene Creed: We believe . . .
And in one Lord Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God,
Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made;
of the same essence as the Father.
(this is just a portion of the creed, but the portion that is pertinent to our discussion here).
The conclusion from the majority of the pastors is that Jesus is fully God and not a created being.
Here are the 3 bullets for the Council of Nicaea:
The council was called by Emperor Constantine to produce a definitive statement about the eternality of Jesus.
A man named Arius was condemned by the council to be a heretic because of his unwavering denial of Jesus being of the same essence as the Father
The council’s conclusion is that Jesus was begotten not made and of the same essence as the Father.
Please tell me a story of how you wrestled with this issue and what helps you in understanding the person of Jesus.
I said it would be difficult to post every Thursday
As I wrote in a previous post, I knew it would be difficult to keep up even a short blog post once a week. This is one of the things that I am trying to stay consistent with, but you all know that life gets busy. So bear with me while I struggle through this. So today’s post is late but I will also try to post another one on Thursday.
Augustine of Hippo (bio):
Born in AD 354 in North Africa (modern day Algeria) his father was a pagan member of the Roman government, and mother was a devout Christian. He was a brilliant child so his parents sent him to get a good education to a modern city (Carthage) out of his small town with its limited opportunities. He soon became a teacher of rhetoric (debating) and later one of the lead rhetoricians in the Roman Empire. He had no need of the Bible (it was to pedestrian) but was insatiable in his quest for truth. He also struggled personally with his own sin, evil, and rebellion. He began following Jesus Christ while living in Milan, Italy and listening to a charismatic preacher named Ambrose. After Augustine moved back to his home town to spend the remainder of his life as a monk in contemplation of the things of God, he was coerced into becoming the pastor of a church in Hippo Regius (modern day Annaba, Algeria). He spent the rest of his life pastoring and writing (in his native Latin) and thinking about theology. He wrote about many, many topics, among them: salvation, the church, baptism, sin, the Trinity, the Christian state, sex, time, the sovereignty of God. He debated against many bad philosophies of the day, such as Pelagianism, Manicheism, and the Donatists.
Augustine’s 3 bullet points:
Battled Pelagius whose preached the idea that man has the ability to work toward his own salvation (idea summary is “man is a sinner because he sins”). Augustine fought this preaching by believing, “man sins because he is a sinner”.
Wrote On The Trinity which expressed God as an eternal transcendent, infinite, and perfect triune God.
Wrote The City of God responding to the destruction of Rome in 410 by the Visigoths, emphasizing God’s sovereignty and providence.