"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hypostasis: How do we speak of the individual Persons in the Trinity?

As Westerners, we are good at talking about the unity of God. Western thinkers, however, have always had trouble speaking about the three Persons of the Trinity distinctively. In fact, we may even find Eastern ways of describing the Trinity strange and even bordering on Polytheism/Tritheism. Below is a popular depiction of the Trinity, derived from a place few modern Christians would think to look for such an image, Genesis 18:1-8.

When we see three, we become uncomfortable. To be sure, there are those who call themselves Christians who deny the three. They are Unitarians and Oneness Pentecostals. Though if one does not confess the three-ness of God, the rest of the Christian traditions will warn you not only that you are out of sync with 2000 years of Christian understanding, but your very salvation may be in question as the Athanasian Creed ends with this warning:

"This is the catholic faith. One cannot be saved without believing this firmly and faithfully."

How do we think of these Persons individually? What is different when I think of the Father than the Son, or the Son than the Spirit, or the Spirit than the Father? To be sure, not only is this a potential problem, but one that occurs regularly in worship and the life of the Christian mind. A friend of mine told me a story before of being in a church during worship singing "You are my King." The song is explicitly about the death and resurrection of the Son. The second time through the song, the worship leader shouted out: "Now sing it to the Father!" My friend's jaw dropped and he internally screamed, "NO!" The Father did not die for our sins. The Father is not the "Sonfather" of Sabellius and Modalism. Yet, when Christians get mentally lazy they fall back into Modalism. The previous story illustrates one way in which we must distinguish the Persons of the Trinity.


As we looked at the Nicene Creed, we notice that we confess that the Father is "Maker of Heaven and Earth." The Father is identified as the Initiator of Creation (Gen 1:1, 1 Cor 8:6).

In describing the actions of the Son, we find in the creed a biblical and nearly unknown function of the Son: "by whom all things are made." We may think that the Early Church was speculating here, perhaps on some theory of the "Word" as Christ's title and God "spoke" and creation happened. But, when we look at 1 Cor 8:6, we see the same language. In fact, we see the Son's role in sustaining all creation as it is through the Son "through whom we exist." Second of the Son, we see his role in Redemption, as the one who "came down" and took our sins for us, became sin for us. This is not spoken of the Father or the Spirit, but of the Son distinctly.

The Holy Spirit we see given the credit for inpiration of the prophets in Acts 28:25. We also see the credit for conversion given to the Holy Spirit in 1 Cor 2:11-14.

Yet, this is not the only means by which we can speak distinctively of the Persons of the Trinity. More important than the Persons' relation to us (though their relation to us is more interesting to self-interested humans) is Their relationship to each other.


Within the creed, all the Persons are defined by their relation to the Father, largely due to the fact that this is how Scripture defines Their relations. Again, our favorite, theology-packed verse, tells us that the Son is begotten of Father (John 3:16), as we have explored what that meant in the previous post. Of the Spirit, we are told the Spirit proceeds from Father (John 15:26). One may ask what the difference between begotten and proceeding are in meaning. The answer most pleasing, that I have found, is the difference between εδωκεν and εκπορευεται. In other words, we don't really know. This leaves us with the Father, of Whom we may say that he is not begotten or proceeding.

The relations between the persons are deeper and worthy of much more space than I have given them. To see how the "Father loves the Son" and what that means has filled the works of Jonathan Edwards and was of more interest to the early church than the few vaporous thoughts we allow it today.

For more on the relationships and roles, my brother has recommended Bruce Ware. I have heard Ware speak and he is insightful and at the same time easy to follow, which should encourage us to look into his book: Father Son and Holy Spirit for more on this topic.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RIP - William F. Buckley, Jr.

How can God be one, AND more than one?

This post is an outline for the material I taught a few weeks ago in a "mid-week" class I am team-teaching with Jay Bennett, a pastoral intern at my church (PCPC).

God is One

We see in Scripture that the most fundamental confession of Israel in the Old Testament is "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." (Deut 6:4) The language and confession is repeated as the most basic declaration of faith in 1Kings 8:60 and Isa 45:5-6 .

Then, in the New Testament, we see three names, that seem to be distinct, called God.
1) God the Father such as in 1 Cor 1:3
2) Jesus (also called the Son or Word) in places such as John 20:28, or John 1:1-14
3) The Holy Spirit in places such as Acts 5:3-4

How is it then, that God is one, and these three are God? The Early Church stuggled with this question, with many answers being posited by men such as Arius, Apollonarius, Sabellius and Athanasius. How do we speak of these three? How do we speak of this one?


The first answer we will look at is the one given by a man named Sabellius. His answer was simple, logical and seemingly true to the Biblical witness. It goes like this:

God is one
The Father is God
The Son is God
Because the Father is the Son

Sabellius would even start calling this Person of God the "Sonfather." It sees one God, with different modes or manifestations. in fact, if we read John 10:30, where Jesus declares "I and the Father are one" this explanation seems to have biblical support. Modalism appealed to some in the Early Church because:

– Preserves equal worth of Son and Father
– Maintains the Fully Deity of the Son

If we are searching for model for this explanation, we may think of water (and in fact, we may shutter to think this may have been how God was explained to us). You see, the Modalist will say, Water can be solid, liquid or gas manifesting itself as an ice cube, a glass of water or steam. Yet, it is all the same water.

Tertullian voiced many of the objections of the other leaders in the church to this teaching, because while Modalism helped explain some things, it also:

– Denies distinction of Father and Son
– Denies the distinct Personhood of Son

The explanation is too simple. If the Son and Father are the same, why does the Son who was on earth, teach us to pray to the Father who is in heaven? Why does the Son pray to the Father in the Garden? How is it that the Son and Father have different roles and actions (John 5:22) if they are the same person?

No, the church could not accept the denial of the division between Son and Father. Other means must be solicited.


Arius was a superb Biblical scholar. He used the technique taught in seminaries across the world: Let the New Testament aid in interpreting the Old Testament. Like a good evangelical, Arius placed his trust in his hermenutic. Finding that Paul had called Christ "the wisdom of God" in the New Testament, Arius knew he had been given the key to understanding the passage about wisdom in the Old Testament in Proverbs 8:12, 22. Here, wisdom personified declares: "The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works." This translation is based on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and while the Hebrew has a meaning closer to "possessed me at the beginning of your works" still this translation persists today in the NIV and NET as alternative readings. Arius also pointed to the very word "begat" as proof that the Son was distinct, but a created being, divine and the greatest of God's creation, but not God.

Apolloniarius also had a theory of "Son as lesser being" teaching that Jesus was "adopted" at his baptism, when the Holy Spirit decended, as God's vehicle, Jesus then was a man who became God or divine. Yet, still not God as the Father is God.

What does it mean that the Son is Deity?

This is a difficult question, especially when facing the language of "begotten." Our favorite verse in America is John 3:16, containing the very word "begotten." Does this word mean? Very early in the history of the Church was the church father Irenaus. The apostle John had as a disciple Polycarp and Polycarp trained Irenaeus in the teaching of John. Irenaeus, even before Arius, taught what John meant by this word as communicating:

“The Father is God, and the Son is God, for whatever is begotten of God is God.”

If a human begets a son, it is human? Does it share the qualities that make the father human? Then if God begets a Son, then the Son is God in the same shared qualities of Deity. One of these qualities is Eternality. The Son himslef makes this claim as to himself in John 8:58. So also to say the Son is begotten of the Father and shares Eternality is to say there is no time in which the Son did not exist. There was never a time when the Son "was not." For the Son is I AM.

This understanding informs the Creed believed by the Church from 325AD to the present: The Nicean Creed in which it is confessed:

"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."

The bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, continued this argument after the Council issued this creed. Athanasius tried to answer: Why is this even important? Athanasius related this back to our salvation. For:

– Man has debt
– Man has no means to pay this debt
– God has means to pay debt
– God has no debt to pay
– Must be paid by a God-man

The denial of the full deity or full humanity of Christ, leaves us dead in our sins and without hope for salvation.


Can we have a model for God? Can we speak of him as exactly like a Father and Son? Can we speak of Him as water? Augustine wrestled with the same problem and asked this rhetorically:

How can we find a model in nature for a God outside of nature (supernatural)?

The answer: We cannot. Yet, we also long to understand the one-ness and three-ness of God. To this end, we have this model from Augustine:

On the one-ness of God, the Early Church tried to answer when Jesus said "I and the Father are one," Jesus is saying they are one...what?

The word they settled on was "Ousia." This is translated as Substance or Essence. This is defined as Traits of Deity that are shared by Father, Son and Spirit, such as
• Eternality
• Power
• Worth

As for the "Three-ness" of God, the word commonly used was that God is three in hypostasis. This is commonly translated as "Person." Basil simply defined hypostasis as “That which is spoken of distinctly." So:

Ousia - the common traits of God
Hypostasis - that which is spoken of distinctly

Another way to think of it is:

Ousia = What
Hypostasis = Who

We can see this simply defined in the Westminster Confession of our Church:

"In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and
eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of
none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the
Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. "

And even more importantly in the Nicean Creed, the creed of our common Christianity, confessed by Reformed, Lutherans, Methodists, Anglicans, confessional Baptists, Catholics and Orthodox everywhere:

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

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.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father [and the Son.] With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
If you are interested in more on this, my highest recommendation is for T.F. Torrence's "The Trinitarian Faith."


Friday, February 22, 2008

Tradition Quiz

Whoohoo! I'm in the right church! (at least according to this quiz). My quiz results are below. And, yep, the rest of the top four (Anglican, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox) are my favorite traditions to learn from. I am a little purturbed that it called me 6% Anabaptist and 31% non-Calvinist (heretical) Fundamentalist Baptist. I suppose it shows I have more sanctification ahead of me...

(100%) 1: Presbyterian/Reformed
(94%) 2: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England
(89%) 3: Eastern Orthodox
(87%) 4: Lutheran
(78%) 5: Congregational/United Church of Christ
(71%) 6: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic)
(66%) 7: Roman Catholic
(54%) 8: Church of Christ/Campbellite
(40%) 9: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene
(31%) 10: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist
(23%) 11: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God
(23%) 12: Seventh-Day Adventist
(6%) 13: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Bucer and the True Church.

I recently have enjoyed discovering and reading various other "forgotten reformers." If you speak of the Reformation, immediately two names come up: Martin Luther and John Calvin. Yet, the Reformation was not the whim of one or two men, but the movement and culmination of many people pushing for the reform of the church such as Philip Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer, and Martin Bucer. Bucer, in particular fascinates me. Few remember that Bucer was one of the main reformers nearly on the level with Calvin but in the German Reformed movement. He eventually ended up in England at the invite of Cranmer, before the reign of bloody Mary. Among Bucer's writings, he wrote about the necessary reforms in the church in order for the church to actually be the true church. Luther had also spoken of the signs of the church, chief among them the proper preaching of the word and the sacraments rightly administered. Bucer had another quality necessary for a true church. The Roman Church of the 1500s was not acting like the true church for this reason: it neglected the poor.

“the holy provision for the poor and needy which the Holy Spirit has prescribed and commended to us [is something that] without it there can be no true communion of saints." -Bucer

For Bucer, if you see a local body that calls itself the church, and does not care for the poor, then they are not the church, for a sign of the true church is helping the poor.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Christian Sheet Music?

"People are not having enough sex." -Relevant Church

You know, if you asked me what the Church's message to a fallen and broken world should be, I honestly would not have put the above quote near the top of the list. Anyone else just getting generally disgusted with "seeker churches" reducing Christianity to advice on your love life? I would love to go to the parking lot of Willow Creek, Relevant Church and Lakewood and give a short quiz on the Trinity, Christ and salvation. I have no doubt that these churches are filled with Modalistic Arian Pelagians and even if the pastors are orthodox they are doing nothing to make sure their congregation knows as much about God as they do about 9 principles to a better sex life.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Jonathan Edwards on Limited Atonement

"From these things it will inevitably follow, that however Christ in some sense may be said to die for all, and to redeem all visible Christians, yea, the whole world by his death; yet there must be something particular in the design of his death, with respect to such as he intended should actually be saved thereby. "

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Forgiven and Damned?

"Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God's." -Rob Bell

Now, all traditions confess the strange and wonderful reality of Common Grace, as Matthew puts it, that God "makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust."

Yet, statements such as "hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for" is what we are left with if we do not confess some limiting of the atonement. To say that God has forgiven people that then end up in hell, and the deciding factor on our fate and distinctiveness is us ignores Paul's harsh rebuke: "For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? " (1 Cor 4:7)

I know many will not agree with the controversial 5th point of Calvinism (Limited Atonement) but we must say that the love of Christ for the Church is different than His love for the world. His love for His Church redeems the Church. When we read in Scripture: "Husbands, love your wives," we know that love because it was modeled in Christ's for the Church as the verse finishes up "as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." My wife would not be happy if I told her the love I have for her is just like my love for everyone else. Christianity does not say this. It says "we have been purchased at a price" and "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). If we are forgiven, it means we are the Church and Christ loves His Church with an active love that forgives her and cleanses her. Christ does not love her from afar and let her be damned. That is not the love of a husband for his bride. What makes the Church differ from the world is Christ, and his love and forgiveness that he obtained for the Church with Himself. He did not give Himself and His forgiveness to the world, He gave Himself for His Church. All who Christ purchased in His death are His forever, His effectual forgiving love is particular to His Church, and He loves her with a greater love than what we are proclaiming with a gospel of the glory of man's decision.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hymn: Awaiting Full Redemption

Horatius Bonar, the Presbyterian minister who also wrote "Not What my Hands have Done" also wrote this hymn about how we await full salvation. This is a theme I have recently encountered at seminary and have continued to take comfort in, as hope becomes a real doctrine to me. And so we, the church, ask with David: "How Long?"-

Come Then, Lord Jesus

1. The Church has waited long Her absent Lord to see
And still in loneliness she waits
A friendless stranger she
Age after age has gone,
Sun after sun has set
And still, in weeds of widowhood,
She weeps a mourner yet

Chorus: Come then, Lord Jesus, come
Come then, Lord Jesus
Come then, Lord Jesus, come, come, come.

2. The serpent's brood increase,
The powers of hell grow bold
The conflicts thickens, faith is low,
And love is waxing cold
How long, O Lord our God, Holy and true and good Wilt thou not judge Thy suffering Church, Her sighs and tears and blood?

3. We long to hear thy voice,
To see Thee face to face
To share Thy crown and glory then,
As now we share thy grace
Should not the loving bride, The absent Bridegroom mourn?
Should she not wear the weeds of grief,
Until her Lord return?

4. The whole creation groans,
And wait to hear that voice
That shall restore her comeliness,
And make her wastes rejoice
Come, Lord, and wipe away, The curse, the sin, the stain And make this blighted world of ours, Thine own fair world again