Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Did Jesus Exist? Michael Kruger's Response to Valerie Tarico

Michael J. Kruger, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, has recently written a brief, yet excellent, response to an article by Valerie Tarico posted at RawStory website and entitled Here Are 5 Reasons to Suspect Jesus Never Existed. Michael's response is entitled Did Jesus Even Exist? Responding to 5 Objections Raised by @rawstory, and here is the conclusion to that article:
In the end, Tarico has provided few reasons to think we should doubt the existence of Jesus. On the contrary, each of her suggested reasons, when explored more fully, reveal that we actually have very solid reasons to believe in the existence of Jesus.
In short, the scholarly consensus on this matter exists for a reason. Scholars may disagree about a great many things regarding Jesus. But his existence is not one of them.
I recommend reading the article. It isn't very long, and it is definitely worth it.

By the way, Michael has also written one of my favorite books on the canonicity of the New Testament entitled Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books. I highly recommend it!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Luke 2:8-20 – Jesus Christ Is God's Gift to Us (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: If your family is like my family, you all enjoy giving and receiving presents at Christmas time. I really see no problem with celebrating Jesus' birth by enjoying giving to others as a way to emulate His love and to “remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:35). However, we must always be careful not to forget what we should really be celebrating at Christmas, which is the marvelous Gift that God has given us in sending His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Apostle John tells us:
NKJ John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
With this in mind – and in order to help focus our attention upon the true “reason for the season” today – I would like to point out five blessings or characteristics of the great Gift that Jesus is to all of us from our loving Father in Heaven.

I. Jesus is a Gift that Casts Out Fear

Let's read verse 8 through the first part of  verse 10 once more:
NKJ Luke 2:8-10a Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid ...”
After telling us that the shepherds were “greatly afraid,” the very first words the angels said the to them were, “Do not be afraid.” I think John Piper has done a good job helping us grasp the significance of these words when he said:
It's a natural thing for a sinner to fear. The more guilt we have, the more things we fear: fear of being found out for some little deceit, fear that some ache we have is God's judgment, fear of dying and meeting the holy God face to face. But even though it's natural, God sends Jesus with the word: Fear not! Hebrews 2:14 says: Jesus became man 'that through death He might destroy him who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death have been held in lifelong bondage.' Doesn't this last phrase imply something tremendously liberating for our daily life? If the worst fear – fear of death – has been taken away through the death of Christ, then surely God does not want us to fear the lesser things in life. (A Big God for Little People)
What is it you are fearing this morning? Is it fear of facing an old hurt from a family member that you will have to see again this Christmas? Is it fear of not knowing how you will pay all the bills? Is it fear that you may lose your job? How about fear that you will fail at some endeavor, like starting a new job, or taking a test at school, or having to speak in front of some group at work? Or maybe you fear that you will disappoint others? Or, more importantly, maybe you fear God's judgment due to some besetting sin in your life?

Whatever it is that you may be fearing in your life, remember that God's perfect love casts out fear! (1 John 4:18). This Christmas let us remember the words of Jesus:
NKJ Matthew 6:25-30 Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
Or as the Apostle Peter reminds us:
NKJ 1 Peter 5:6-7 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7 casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
Or let us say with faith this Christmas season:
NKJ Psalm 27:1 The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid.
Let the words of the angels to the shepherds be a reminder to you this morning that our Lord Jesus delivers us from our fears. In fact, He delivers us from the greatest fear of all – fear of death and the judgment of God.

II. Jesus is a Gift that Brings Joy

Let's read verse 10 again:
NKJ Luke 2:10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.”
The second thing that the angels said to the shepherds was, “behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” and this should be a reminder to us today of the joy we have in Jesus Christ our Lord.

I have seen over the years that for many Christians the Christmas season is not a time of joy at all, usually because it reminds them of lost loved ones or of broken or strained relationships with family members. This is especially true for those who may have come from broken or abusive homes. There are some who even become quite depressed at this time of year! In fact, I can testify to my own struggle with this over the years. Perhaps there are some of you, too, who struggle in this way.

On the other hand, there are those who have gotten so caught up in Christmas as a season to celebrate shopping and materialism that they have turned it into one big stress-filled hassle. They have truly lost sight of the real reason Christians choose to celebrate this holiday, which is God's gift of salvation through His Son Jesus Christ. They have thoroughly forgotten that it is about good tidings of great joy! But Jesus greatly desires that we have joy from Him that springs from His great love for us. Remember that He said:
NKJ John 15:8-11 By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. 9 As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.
The fullness of joy that Jesus brings can also sustain us through the most difficult of times. Remember what the Apostle James wrote:
NKJ James 1:2-5 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
Remember also what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians:
NKJ Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Perhaps there are some here today who simply need to pray with David this Christmas season:
NKJ Psalm 51:12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
After all, Christmas is about God's generosity, not ours!

III.  Jesus is a Gift that Brings Peace

Let's read again verses 11-14:
NKJ Luke 2:11-14 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Our focus here will on on the words of the angels in verse 14, which the New King James Version translates, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” However, this verse is better translated in several of the other modern versions. For example:
ESV Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!
NAU Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.
NIV Luke 2:14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.
In other words, God's gift of His Son Jesus brings peace to believers, for it is only believers with whom He is pleased, for “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). And the peace that Jesus brings to believers is a peace that the world cannot offer! Remember Jesus' promise:
NKJ John 14:27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
This peace is for any who put their faith in Christ as Savior and Lord and, as Paul teaches us, it can be accessed through prayer whenever we feel it waning due to our lack of faith:
NKJ Philippians 4:6-7 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Such peace can be known even in the midst of our greatest trials, in which we might be tempted to be very anxious and worried. It is a peace that every true believer has known. Even though it cannot fully be explained, since it “surpasses all understanding,” it may be experienced anew by each one of us if we trust in Christ as Paul tells us to do.

IV.  Jesus is a Gift that Leads Us to Worship

Let's read again verses 15-20:
NKJ Luke 2:15-20 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Here we will focus our attention on verse 20, where we see that the shepherds are an example to all of us of the heartfelt worship that Jesus should engender in us. We are told that the “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.” And, if they were led to worship God at the announcement of the birth of our Lord, how much more should we be led to worship by the knowledge of His sinless life, His atoning death, His glorious resurrection, and His sovereignty over all the universe as He reigns at His Father's right hand! How can our hearts not be filled with an even greater desire to praise Him as we remember His birth, since we know so much more fully what this means for our salvation!

V. Jesus is a Gift to be Shared with Others

Let's back up in the text a few verses and read verses 17-18 again:

NKJ Luke 2:17-18 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

Again the shepherds serve as an example for us. Not only do they demonstrate hearts properly brimming with praise, but they also show us that those who are filled with a desire to worship the Lord will be filled with a desire to share the good news about His saving work with others. Thomas Constable does a good job of describing the significance of the fact that God first announced this good news to shepherds, who in turn told others:
Shepherds were socially looked  down upon in Jesus' day. Their work made them ceremonially unclean, and they had a reputation for being untrustworthy. Thus God first sent the gospel to the lowly. Luke had a special interest in the lower elements of society. David, of course, had been a shepherd, but God had elevated him to be the ruler of His people (2 Sam. 7:8). Jesus' career would follow the pattern of his ancestor generally. Throughout the Old Testament God used shepherds as symbols of those who cared for His people (Ps. 23:1; Isa. 40:11;  Jer. 23:1-4; et al.). Consequently these shepherds represent all people of lowly origin and reputation who receive the gospel by God's grace and proclaim it joyfully to others. (Notes on Luke, e-sword)
This means that each of us can rest assured that we can be used of God to share the Gospel. In fact, perhaps we can all best celebrate this Christmas season by resolving to renew our efforts to tell others about Christ. The Lord Jesus Himself has certainly commanded us to do so:
NKJ Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
But not only can we ask the Lord to renew our zeal for sharing the Gospel with others in obedience to His commands, we can also pray that He will send even more witnesses into the lives of those we know … as well as to the rest of the world. Remember His command to His disciples that they should pray for God to send laborers into the harvest:
NKJ Matthew 9:37-38 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. 38 Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Surely we, too, should be moved to tell others about our Lord Jesus and to pray for more laborers for the harvest!

Conclusion: Well, I hope today we have all been reminded about what Christmas really means, and I hope we have all been strengthened in our faith, looking to the Lord as the one who  casts out fear, who brings great joy and peace that passes understanding, and who calls us to worship Him and tell others of the salvation He offers in Christ. I will remind you once again that the meaning of Christmas may perhaps best be summed up with these well known words from John's Gospel:
NKJ John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Friday, December 18, 2015

1 Samuel 15:22-23 – To Obey is Better Than Sacrifice (Teaching Outline)

Note: Begin reading the passage at verse 1 in order to grasp the immediate context.

Introduction: A mother is said to have once told this story about her little boy:
My son, Michael, was four years old the night I found him sobbing uncontrollably in the hallway. Concerned, I knelt next to him and drew him close.
“What's the matter, sweetheart? Are you hurt?” He shook his head and turned to me, but I was unprepared for his response.
“Daddy said a bad word to me!” he sobbed. I almost laughed out loud. I had known my husband 12 years and had rarely heard him raise his voice. But Michael had heard him say something, and I was curious enough to want to know what it was.
“Honey, what bad word did Daddy say?” And seeing a chance for sympathy, my sensitive four-year-old stopped crying and blurted out – “Obey!”
I never think of that incident now without asking my Heavenly Father to keep me from believing, as my son did, that 'obey' is a bad word. (2000+ Bible Illustrations, e-Sword)
Today we will take a look at a grown man who seemed to view obey as a bad word, and that man is King Saul. We will focus our attention on verses 22-23 of our text, in which Samuel confronts Saul for having disobeyed God. We will examine the text under three headings: 1) Samuel's rhetorical question, 2) Samuel's rebuke, and 3) the reasons for Samuel's rebuke.

I. Samuel's Rhetorical Question

We find Samuel's question in the first part of verse 22:
NKJ  1 Samuel 15:22a Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?”
As we have already seen in our reading of the context, Saul claims to have obeyed the Lord, but he has really only partially obeyed the Lord. He has not killed Agag, the king of Amalek, and he has allowed the people to take spoils that they were not supposed to take. His excuse was that they were going to use some of the captured livestock for sacrifices to the Lord. Thus Saul clearly thought that going through the motions of religious observance would somehow make up for the fact that he had not completely obeyed the Lord.

So, when Samuel asked, “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD?,” he was asking Saul whether he really thought that going through the religious motions of worship could make up for the fact that he had disobeyed what God had commanded him to do.

Application Questions: Before we move any further in the passage, then, perhaps we could each one of us ask ourselves a similar question this morning. For example, do we sometimes think that we can make up for failing to obey God throughout the week by coming to church on Sunday? Do we sometimes think that because we read the Bible on a regular basis we can somehow make up for the fact that we do not really live according to the Bible as we should? Do we sometimes think that sharing the Gospel once in a while will somehow make up for all the missed opportunities the Lord has brought our way? Do we sometimes think that certain acts of obedience are better than others and can thus somehow make up for any lack of obedience in what we might consider to be less important areas? Do we sometimes fall into the same trap as Saul, thinking that somehow partial obedience is just as good as complete obedience, so long as that partial obedience is something that we think is really important?

These are the kinds of things we should think about as we consider Samuel's question. But now let's look at Samuel's answer, in which he drives the point home by way of a rebuke.

II. Samuel's Rebuke

We find Samuel's rebuke in the second part of verse 22:
NKJ  1 Samuel 15:22b Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.
Of course, there can be only one answer to Samuel's question, the answer which he immediately provides, namely that obedience and really listening to God is better than sacrifice. Nothing can substitute for full, heartfelt obedience. Sadly, there are many today who seem to dismiss any need for complete obedience. For example, many professing Christians claim to hold to the doctrine of eternal security, yet they do not see obedience as all that important. They seem to think that, since they have their “fire insurance” – so to speak – they can live as they please and are assured of everlasting life despite their lack of concern for obeying God. As A.W. Tozer has aptly stated, “To escape the error of salvation by works, we have fallen into the opposite error of salvation without obedience” (Paths to Power, p. 51).

But listen to what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Roman Christians:
NKJ  Romans 6:15-19 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! 16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one's slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. 18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
Someone has rightly said, “When Christ takes the burden of guilt off a sinner's shoulders, He places the yoke of obedience upon his neck.” But we must remember that our Lord Jesus' yoke is pleasant:
NKJ  Matthew 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.
We must also remember that, as we follow Jesus in obedience, we gain assurance:
NKJ  1 John 2:3-5 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him.
Obedience really is the very best thing for us, isn't it? And we should allow this to motivate us to obey our Lord Jesus Christ in all that He commands. But Samuel, remember, is rebuking Saul, so he gives some negative reasons for his answer.

III. The Reasons for Samuel's Rebuke

Now we will focus upon the reasons why Samuel says that complete obedience is better than sacrifice. These reasons are found in verse 23. Here it becomes clear that partial obedience – which is really disobedience – is the worst kind of sin! For the source of such sin is 1) rebellion, 2) stubbornness, and 3) rejection of God's Word.

First, disobedience is rebellion against God as the source of wisdom for our lives.

We see this in the first part of verse 23:
NKJ  1 Samuel 15:23a For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft [קֶסֶם, qesemdivination]
The Hebrew word for witchcraft here is qesem, which denotes divination (BDB #8634, BibleWorks) or “prediction, the survey of future events” (HALOT #8435, BibleWorks). Divination could encompass a number of practices, such as seeking to communicate with the dead, the examination of animal entrails, or astrology. Such practices were strictly forbidden by God:
NKJ  Deuteronomy 18:10-12 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft [קֶסֶם, qesem, divination], or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you.
So, Saul's partial obedience was really rebellion against God as the true source of wisdom. Such partial obedience, which does not see complete obedience to God as important, actually rejects God's wisdom and cries, “I know better!” In this way, it is just like divination, which seeks after wisdom in a source other than God.

Sadly, this tendency actually later led to Saul's literal practice of divination – and to his ultimate demise – when he visited the witch of En Dor (1 Sam. 28:3-25). This should serve as a warning to us, since it shows us how easily partial disobedience ultimately leads to complete disobedience.

Second, disobedience is stubbornness toward God that is the same kind of sin as idolatry.

We see this in the second part of verse 23:
NKJ 1 Samuel 15:23b and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. 
John Piper has described this point well:
When God says one thing and we consult the little wizard of our own wisdom and then stubbornly choose to go our own way we are idolaters. We have not only chosen to consult ourselves as an alternative to God, and thus become guilty of divination, but we go beyond that and actually esteem the direction of our own mind over God's direction and become guilty of idolatry. And worst of all, the idol is our own self.
So it stands to reason that God will be displeased with disobedience because at every point it is an attack on his glory.
It puts the fear of man in the place of the fear of God. 
It elevates pleasure in things above pleasure in God. 
It seeks a name for itself instead of a name for God. 
It consults the wisdom of self instead of being satisfied with the will of God. 
And it sets more value on the dictates of self than on the dictates of God and thus attempts to dethrone God by giving allegiance to the idol of the human will. (The Pleasure of God in Obedience)
This is the nature of the sin committed by Saul, and it is the nature of all sin that ignores the commands of the LORD.

Third, disobedience is a rejection of God's Word.

We see this in the third part of verse 23:
NKJ  1 Samuel 15:23c Because you have rejected [מָאַס, mā’as] the word of the LORD, He also has rejected [מָאַס, mā’as] you from being king.
Saul claimed that he really allowed the people to keep the cattle they should have destroyed because he wanted to give them as sacrifices to God. He claimed, therefore, to be interested in worshiping the Lord and bringing Him glory. But Samuel showed him that he could not claim to worship God while at the same time he rejected His Word. And because he rejected God's word and refused to obey it, he was rejected as a servant of God. Any opportunity he had to truly do good for God was therefore lost due to his disobedience.

Application: What about us? Do we have the same tendency as Saul to blind ourselves to the true motives for our disobedience? Do we try to rationalize our disobedience, rather than admit that it amounts to outright rebellion against God? Do we sometimes tell ourselves that partial obedience is good enough, rather than admit that we are just too stubborn and selfish to put God's will first?

Perhaps we would all do well to remember the words of a little poem that is said to be inscribed in the cathedral of Lübeck in Germany:
'Ye call Me Master and obey Me not;
Ye call Me Light and see Me not;
Ye call Me Way and walk Me not;
Ye call Me Life and desire Me not;
Ye call Me Wise and follow Me not;
Ye call Me Fair and love Me not;
Ye call Me Rich and ask Me not;
Ye call Me Eternal and seek Me not;
Ye call Me Gracious and trust Me not;
Ye call Me Noble and serve Me not;
Ye call Me Mighty and honour Me not;
Ye call Me Just and fear Me not;
If I condemn YOU, blame Me not'.
Let each one of us resolve today to obey God more completely and to refuse to rationalize away our disobedience and thus fail to see it for what it really is – an affront to God, a rejection of His loving, sovereign will in favor of our own stubborn, sinful desires.

Let us also remember that we cannot truly worship the LORD apart from heeding his word. We must always look to His word as the source of the wisdom we need to truly serve and worship Him. As the Apostle Paul again teaches us, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Conclusion: As someone once wrote, “One of the reasons people find it hard to be obedient to the commands of Christ, is that they are uncomfortable taking orders from a stranger.”

This really hits the nail on the head, doesn't it? It highlights the fact that when we continually struggle to obey, it is because we have grown distant in our relationship to Christ. But remember what Jesus said:
NKJ  John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.
We can never obey as we should without a close relationship to our Lord Jesus Christ, without the strength of our Lord enabling us. As the Apostle Paul so wonderfully put it:
NKJ  Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

God Bless Little Anton

Anton Delgado is amazing! He is one of the most precious people my wife, Letha, and I know. We had the privilege of staying with his adopted parents, Jason and Vanessa Delgado, a couple years back. We fell in love with his family—and especially with little Anton. It appears that the Lord may be taking Anton home to heaven soon. My heart is breaking, so I thought I would dedicate a post to him as I ask for you to join with my wife and I as we pray for him and his family. 

This is from his Facebook page HelpAnton.
Anton was born in Moscow, Russia on January 16, 2010, it was a surrogate pregnancy and Anton was born as a twin. Once the boys were born it was learned that something was wrong with Anton but his twin brother was fine. His biological parents took his healthy twin home and left his as an orphan. This page was started by some amazing volunteers as a way to find Anton a family and it worked.
In February of 2011 I found Anton's story on my friend Kristy's FB page and knew he was to be our son. After talking to my husband he agreed and we moved forward as fast as we could to being Anton home. God ordained everything so perfectly and we brought Anton home on March 17, 2012 right after Anton turned two. Anton now has a big sister named Kenya who is 8 and a brother Judah who is the exact same age as Anton (they are 4), in fact they were born on the same day, January 16, 2010.
Anton has a very rare genetic condition called Epidermolysis Bullosa or EB for short. Anton is totally missing collagen 7 which is basically the glue that holds his top layer of skin to the second. His top layer of skin is not attached to his body at all so friction causes blisters and a lot of friction causes his skin to come off. It also affects all mucous membranes (from mouth to anus). Anton's type of EB causes a lot of scarring so most of his fingers are fused together and all of his toes are fused together.
EB is an awful disorder to which there is currently no cure. If you want more information on EB or how to find a cure please check out http://debra.org/ or http://irefuseeb.org/.
Although Anton does go through quite a bit of suffering he is the happiest most content person I have ever been around. His smile and adorable personality light up whatever room he is in. He is truly a joy to be around and we are so blessed to call him our son.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Simplicity and Trinity

Note: The following is taken from chapter 20 of the upcoming book The Absurdity of Unbelief, which may be pre-ordered here.

It is true that God is a simple being that is not composed of non-divine parts. For instance, if the attribute of power was not essential to God’s nature, then power would cease to be divine, which would cause God to be dependent on something outside of Himself for Him to be omnipotent. Because God cannot be dependent on anything other than Himself, He cannot be composed of any non-divine parts.
 God’s simplicity implies that His nature consists of His attributes, and His attributes do not exist independently or outside of God. This also implies that each attribute is inseparably necessary and essential to the other attributes of God. That is, it is logically impossible to separate or remove any of the attributes of God without destroying God in the process. Each of God’s attributes properly describe each of the other attributes of God in the same way that they each describe God. Because God is love, God’s love is sovereign, eternal, and omniscient in the same way that God is sovereign, eternal, and omniscient. Finally, this implies that each and every attribute of God (in-and-of-itself) consists of the fullness of God. In this way, God is a simple being without non-divine parts. He is what He is.
God being simple, however, does not mean that He is without any formal differentiations within Himself. [1] Saying that God cannot be a collection of non-divine parts (i.e., parts that are not in-and-of-themselves fully God) is not the same as saying that God cannot subsists in different divine persons that are (in-and-of-themselves) fully God (i.e., autotheos).
For instance, because each of the three persons of the Godhead are (in-and-of-themselves) fully God, formal differentiations and relations are inherent and necessary in God. According to Oliphint, “These personal distinctions and relations are all identical with him; they are not ‘added’ to him from the ‘outside.’”[2] In other words, the differentiations within God are essential to who God is.
Formal differentiations within the Trinity imply that God is not only able to distinguish between things outside Himself but that He is able to distinguish between different things inside Himself. For example, God the Father knows that He is neither the Son nor the Spirit, the Son knows that He is neither the Father nor the Spirit, and the Spirit knows that He is neither the Father nor the Son.[3]
Moreover, the formal differentiations between the three persons of the Trinity are not merely conceptual distinctions within the mind of God; rather, they are an essential part of His ontology. Jay Wesley Richards, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, reminds us that “the Father and the Son could not change places.”[4] Richards went on to elucidate:
There is some fact about the Father that makes him the Father and not the Son, and some fact about the Son that makes him the Son and not the Father, even if we can refer to these separate facts by means of single asymmetrical relation. Moreover, the relation of the Father to the Son is not the same as the relation of the Father to the Spirit. Therefore, if one wishes to retain the trinitarian distinction, one must deny that every essential divine property or relation is strongly equivalent.[5]
Consequently, there can be and there are essential and eternal distinctions within the very being of God.[6] This implies that God’s simplicity must be understood in light of the diversity found in the Trinity.[7] Specifically, God’s simplicity does not cancel out His multiplicity. “To avoid the blank identity of pantheism,” Van Til claimed, “we must insist on an identity that is exhaustively correlative to the differentiations within the Godhead.”[8]
If there were no formal differentiations within God, as with Allah, the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover, and the god behind pantheism, then God would become pure unity without any diversity at all. In fact, as pointed out in the last chapter, non-trinitarian theism, in all of its forms, is reducible to monistic pantheism. 
The Solution for Divine Revelation 
Furthermore, if there are no differentiations within God, then there cannot be any differentiations within the mind of God. Consequently, without God being able to distinguish between His various thoughts and attributes, then, as in monistic pantheism, God would be utterly unknowable even to Himself.
And if God cannot know Himself, what hope do we have of knowing God? If God cannot distinguish His knowledge from any of His acts of power, it would be impossible for Him to reveal Himself to man. For instance, what does it mean to say that God is love if God’s love is identical to God’s omniscience? What would God’s omniscience mean if it was one and the same with God’s hatred? Terms describing God would cease to mean anything if they can mean everything. Thus, if God’s knowledge of Himself was restricted to a single attribute, then our knowledge of Him would be no knowledge at all.[9] Without distinctions within God, says Calvin, “only the bare and empty name of God flits about in our brains, to the exclusion of the true God.”[10]
Commenting on this, the Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield (1851-1921) remarked: “According to Calvin, then, it would seem, there can be no such thing as a monadistic God; the idea of multiformity enters into the very notion of God.”[11] In this, Calvin understood that for God to reveal Himself to man, He must be tripersonal. Only a God whose diversity is equally ultimate with His simplicity is a God that can be known.
Jonathan Edwards also rooted divine revelation in the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Edwards, God is a communicative being. Expounding upon Edwards’ view, William Schweitzer writes: “In asserting that God is a communicative being, Edwards is referring to a logically and temporally prior theology whereby God is inherently communicative ad intra (i.e., internally) among the persons of the Godhead.”[12] That is, although the economic Trinity communicates to man and angles ad extra (i.e., externally), God’s essential communicativeness is not dependent upon man or angels or anything else outside of Himself. This is because, ontologically speaking, the Father communicates to the Son, and the Son and the Father communicate to the Spirit. In this, communication is essential to the very nature of God.
Therefore, the economic Trinity is able to communicate ad extra (i.e., externally) to man, only because the ontological Trinity communicates ad intra (i.e.., internally) with Himself.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love, enjoy, and glorify each other by revealing themselves to one another, communicating to one another, and sharing themselves with one another. And it is only because they are inherently able to communicate and share themselves with each other like this that they are intrinsically able to communicate and share themselves with us, who are made in the image of God.
In other words, divine communication is possible because God is triune. As all three persons of the Godhead are involved in the process of communication: The Father reveals the Son (Matt. 16:17), the Son reveals the Father (John 14:6), and the Spirit reveals the Father and the Son (1 Cor. 1:30). Each person finds pleasure in revealing the glory of the other persons. Hence, we can know God because God is triune – something that could not be said about a monistic deity.

The Solution for Thoughts & Emotions
Also, a multi-personal God is required for a God who can differentiate between His different attributes, thoughts, emotions, and acts. Only a multi-personal God can have a will of decree and a will of command that allows Him to be both impassibly at peace in regard to the grand scheme of things and emotionally grieved in regard to particular sinful acts as they transpire in history. Like a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle that can either be fully constructed into a single picture or broken apart into its individual pieces, God is able to see all of history at one glance and also examine each singular event separately.
When He considers the complete historical picture, He is eternally happy. He is impassibly satisfied with the outworking of His will of decree because all things are working together for His glory as planned. And God is able to examine single pieces of the puzzle, independently from the whole, and be grieved accordingly. He can be angry with those who transgress His will of command because in those temporal moments He ceases to be glorified.
God’s essence does not change, but this does not mean that He does not have particular opinions/judgments about things that do change. The English puritan Stephen Charnock (1628-1680) understood that a display of changing emotions is not only consistent with the immutability of God but is required:
God is not changed, when of loving to any creatures he becomes angry with them, or of angry he becomes appeased…God always acts according to the immutable nature of his holiness, and can no more change in his affections to good and evil, than he can in his essence… Though the same angels were not always loved, yet the same reason that moved him to love them, moved him to hate them. It had argued a change in God if he had loved them always, in whatsoever posture they were towards him.[13]
Consequently, God can be grieved after the fall of man and be appeased by the atoning work of Christ on the cross because He, who controls time, can differentiate between time related events.

The Solution for Relationships
The differentiation within the Trinity is also what allows God to be personal and relational in His nature. God did not have to take on relational properties when He created man; rather, He is eternally and inherently relational. Hence, without any change taking place in His nature, He is capable of personally interacting with those whom He created in His own likeness.

The Solution for a Separate Universe
The ontological differentiation between the Father, Son, and Spirit is as vital as God’s oneness. The ontological differentiation within God is vital in keeping the essence of God from becoming conflated with the universe. This is because the equal ultimacy of God not only allows for diversity-in-unity, but it also explains why an immutable God was able to create a distinct universe out of nothing (ex nihilo) at a particular point in time.
Aristotle believed that motion (e.g., the pure motion of the stars) was eternal, for every act of motion within the universe must be caused by a previous act of motion, which must be indefinite. Though motion is infinite, there must be a prime mover to prevent the logical inconsistency of an eternal regression. The solution, according to Aristotle, is that motion is the eternal effect of the eternal Unmoved Mover – making the unmovable God and the forever moving universe coeternal and coessential.
Aristotle was right – motionlessness and motion must both be eternal. There is no way around this. For instance, if motionlessness (i.e., an Unmoved Mover) was not eternal, then we would be left with an eternal regression of causes with no explanation of what or Who set off the first cause. On the other hand, if motion was not eternal, then motion would not be essential to God’s nature. And if motion was not essential to God’s nature, then God would depend upon something outside of Himself to move and act. And if God was immobile and unable to exert acts of volitional power, then He could not have created a temporal universe out of nothing. So, motionlessness and motion must both be eternal.    
But how can both realities be eternal without God and creation being coeternal and coessential? How can an unmovable God create something temporal if creating the universe requires an act of movement within God? How can God be unmovable, yet capable of moving Himself to create? How do we have a God who is above time and space, but is not locked out of time and space? How do we have a God that is immutable to time-bound events, but is also able to carryout time-bound events, such as creating and governing the universe?
The only solution is found in the triune God of the Bible. God is immutable without being restricted to a static and motionless state. This is because God is one in His essence and three in His persons. He is unchanging in His essence (which safeguards us from open theism).[14] However, in this immutable and eternal state of perfection, the Father, as a distinct person, is intrinsically and internally (ad intra) moved to love and glorify the Son, and likewise the Son and the Spirit are moved to love and glorify the Father. They each are incited to share, communicate, give, love, and glorify the other by the infinite worth that they consistently see in the other. They are in an eternal state of interacting and sharing their glory with each other. That is, within the Godhead there is an eternal state of movement (i.e., interaction) between the three persons without any change taking place in the unity of God’s immutable essence.
The word automobile originated from the compound of two French words auto, which means self, and mobile, which means movable. Thus, an automobile is something that moves itself. But truly this cannot be said of man-made vehicles that require a driver and fuel. Vehicles don’t move themselves. Strictly speaking, the word automobile applies only to God. Only the triune God is autonomously self-moving. Unlike Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover, the God of the Bible does not need the universe as a vehicle of movement. God is not dependent on anything outside of Himself. God is not cemented in an immovable state, for He can act, move, create, and do as He pleases.
To think, to love, to share, to communicate, and to act are all intrinsic abilities within a triune God. Because the triune God is not restricted from having acts of motion within Himself, creating and governing a universe that is separate and bound to time is not an impossibility. Creation does not have to be eternal. Although God is not bound by time and space, He is not locked out of time or space either. The God of the Bible is Lord of time and space as He is personally ever-present in all the particular affairs of this world.[15]
In short, because the three persons of the Trinity interact internally (ad intra) with one another, the Godhead was able to create externally (ad extra) a temporal universe out of nothing at a particular moment in time.

The Solution for God and Time
This brings us to one of the most difficult questions of theology: What is God’s relationship to time? If time is the measurement of movement, then God’s relationship with time is unlike our relationship with time.
We are restricted by time because movement exists independent of our own existence. We can’t slow down the rotation of the earth or speed it up. Time ticks at the same rate regardless of how we feel about it. Moreover, movement changes us. We grow from young to old, with our bodies changing along the way. The older we become, the more we realize that our lives are slipping away from us. And there is nothing we can do about it. In short, we are bound to time because our existence is bound to causation or movement outside of our control.
God, on the other hand, is not moved or changed by any external causation or movement. This is because there is no causation or movement outside of God’s control. The causation within a solar system or the falling sand within a hourglass do not move (or even exist) independently from God’s will and power. Because God’s ontological existence stands independent of any external movement, His nature cannot be changed by movement or time. With this in mind, God’s nature is timelessly changeless.
The timeless and immutable nature of God, however, does not mean that God is restricted from moving Himself. Even though God cannot be moved or changed by external causes, He can internally move Himself in accordance with His immutable nature. This is because motion – all motion – occurs directly or indirectly by the power of God who does all things according to His predetermined counsel. As we have seen, God is capable of temporal acts of power (i.e., creating and governing the universe) because movement is inherent within His multi-personal existence.
So then, God’s relationship with time must be understood in light of His triune nature. While God is changeless in the singularity of His immutable nature, the interaction between the plurality of the divine persons is not static. In other words, God can be both timelessly changeless within His unified essence and capable of moving Himself due to the inherent interaction between the three divine persons.
Thus, time, as with movement, is neither something that exists independently of God nor is it something that restricts God. Rather, both time and movement are ultimately controlled by the interaction between the diversity of divine persons as they think and act in accordance with the oneness of their immutable nature.

The Solution for God’s Transcendence and Immanence
A monistic deity, on the other hand, would be completely locked out of time. An atemporal god, such a Allah, has its consequences. The consequence in this case would be that, since a monistic deity cannot display intentional and temporal acts of power, the universe would have to be eternal. That is, seeing that there is a universe, there could not have been a time when there was nothing but God if God was atemporal.
If God is bound by timelessness, where did the universe come from? The only possible answer that retains God as Creator is the notion that the universe has always existed as an eternal emanation flowing from the undifferentiated essence of this Unmoved Mover. As light flows from the sun, the universe has to be timelessly flowing out of God. Ultimately, without the Trinity, God and the universe would be one and the same, as light is made of the same stuff as the sun. Consequently, even though an atemporal god would be wholly other in His unknowable transcendence, He would be one with the universe in His ontological immanence. While this is a blatant contradiction, it is the result of a god who is barred from any temporal movement.
This obvious inconstancy, however, is safely resolved with the God of the Bible. With the Trinity there is a clear Creator/ creature distinction, since God created the universe out of nothing at a particular point in time. God alone existed before the foundation of the world. There was nothing else but God until God (at a particular point in time) freely and intentionally spoke the universe into existence out of nothing.
And because the universe and God do not consist of the same ontological substance, God remains transcendent. But He is also immanent because He is not barred from time as He personally interacts with those whom He has made after His own likeness. This unity and diversity between God and creation is possibly only because there is unity-in-diversity within the Godhead.

[1] By formal differentiation I mean something more than a conceptual distinction (distinctione rationis, a distinction in thinking) that exists only within our finite minds to help us make sense of an ineffable God that transcends human language.
[2] K. Scott Oliphint, “Simplicity, Trinity, and Incomprehensibility of God” in One God in Three Persons, Ed. Bruce Ware and John Starke (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 230.
[3][3] The Eunomians (i.e., neo-Arians) denied the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity by applying Aristotelian logic to the doctrine of divine simplicity. In gist, they argued that if there are no distinctions within God, then only the Father exists a se (dependent on nothing outside of Himself). Ultimate oneness is reducible to the Father – He alone possesses the simple essence of Divinity. The essence of the Son is generated from the Father and the essence of the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son as they are ontologically and eternally subordinate to the Father, who alone is Almighty God. See Thomas H. McCall “Trinity Doctrine, Plain and Simple” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014), 46.   
[4] Richards, Jay Wesley, The Untamed God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 230.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Scott Oliphint seeks to maintain balance when he reminds us: “An important aspect of this doctrine of God’s simplicity is that these distinctions in God are not thought to exist as real ‘things’ in God. That is, they should not be thought as things at all, so that the Godhead is a composition of ‘things upon thing’” (God with Us, 65). 
[7] For an excellent article on the relationship between divine simplicity and the Trinity see Thomas H. McCall “Trinity Doctrine, Plain and Simple” in Advancing Trinitarian Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014).     
[8] Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 2nd ed., William Edgar (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 273.
[9] B. A. Bosserman explained: “Unitarian theologies . . . succumb to a stultifying sort of mystery where god is identical with, or subject to, an ineffable void, that renders him incapable of speaking altogether, or of speaking with authority. For, nothing can be accurately predicated of a strictly unitary deity, since the multiplicity involved in predication is at odds with his nature. If such a being were to enjoy negative definition as he exists in contrast to the created sphere, it would only demonstrate his dependence on the temporal universe in order to enjoy the sort of differentiation, purpose, and relationship that he lacks in himself” (The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox, 101).
[10] Calvin, Institutes, 1.13.2.
[11] B. B. Warfield, “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Trinity,” Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 5.191.
[12] William M. Schweitzer, God is a Communicative Being: Divine Communicativeness and Harmony in the Theology of Jonathan Edwards (London: T&T Clark, 2012), 17.
[13] Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1:345.
[14] The proponents for open theism, such as Richard Rice, Clark Pinnock, and John Sanders, may say that God is unchanging in His essence, but they undermine their claim by making the diversity of the tripersonal relationship of the Godhead ultimate over the oneness of His unchanging essence. That is, the oneness of God’s essence ends up being at least partially absorbed into the diversity of God’s tripersonal interaction within creation. By elevating the diversity of God over the oneness of God, God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and omniscience no longer remain immutable. God’s knowledge, emotions, and power become  limited to the multiplicity of things taking place outside His being. Rather than being immutably closed, God is open to change. Rather than the Almighty controlling all things, He is more of a powerful demigod. He is able to properly adjust His plans as needed, but remains restricted to the diverse whims and decisions of man. His knowledge is dependent on creation.
The trinitarian God, however, is able to interact with creation in a personal and imminent way because He is inherently able to differentiate between things within Himself and things outside of Himself. Because diversity is essential to His nature, God is able to distinguish between His thoughts, emotions, acts, and time related events. Yet, He remains transcendent and separate from creation because His unity is also equally essential to His nature. Because He is able to differentiate between His will of decree and His will of command, He is able to providently and emotionally interact with creation in a personal way. But, He also knows and sees all things at once. And, ultimately, nothing can cause God to suffer because He knows and controls all things without there being any change within Himself.
In sum, without the diversity of the three persons, God’s simplicity would lead to pantheism. Conversely, without the oneness of God’s essence, the relational properties inherent within the Trinity would lead to open theism. Though from different directions, both pantheism and open theism make God dependent on creation. The equal ultimacy of the oneness and diversity of the Trinity is the only safeguard to keep us from falling on either side of the ditch.        
[15] And according to Michael Reeves, love was “the motive behind creation” (Delighting in the Trinity, 47). For His own glory, God chose to share His love with His people. Or as Jonathan Edwards worded it: “God’s end in the creation of the world consists in these two things, viz. to communicate himself and to glorify himself. God created the world to communicate himself, not to receive anything” (Jonathan Edwards, Approaching the End of God’s Grand Design, 1743-1758, ed. Wilson H. Kimnach. vol. 25 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006., 116 ).