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Jesu, Juva

Archive for the ‘Creeds and Confessions’ Category

Parousia

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[Jesus] ascended into heaven,
  and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
  from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. (Apostles’ Creed)

When will this coming of Jesus be? We cannot know for sure, but the Bible gives us some helpful clues.

One clue is a prophecy made by David:

Yahweh says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.” (Psalm 110:1)

Jesus will remain seated until his enemies become his footstool. This is an ambiguous image—they may become his footstool either in repentance or in judgment. Closely related to this, we have the great commission that Jesus gives to his church:

Go therefore and disciple all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)

This has echoes of God’s promise to Abraham that “in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). This promise was partially fulfilled at times in the Bible. For example, Joseph became a father to Pharaoh (Gen. 45:8) and ministered to “all the earth” (Gen. 41:56). Much later, through Esther, God’s supremacy was proclaimed “in every province and in every city” of a global empire, so that many peoples were converted (Esther 8:17).

There is no reason to doubt that the gospel of Jesus (the greater Ahasuerus) will be successful in accomplishing the great commission, as the church (the greater Esther) offers her own life for the world. God declares that it is too small a thing for him to save few people or nations:

[Yahweh] says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
  to raise up the tribes of Jacob
  and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
  that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

But so far we have no indication of timing, only of context. In Joseph’s case, the entire world came to Joseph in fourteen years. In Esther’s case, many nations were converted in nine months. God made David’s and Solomon’s enemies to be at peace with them in a matter of decades.

However, the Bible gives us a time-related clue in another one of God’s promises:

Know therefore that Yahweh your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.(Deuteronomy 7:9)

If we take a generation to be 40 years (the time Israel spent in the wilderness, the reign of a king), then God promises to show faithfulness for 40,000 years. There is some elegance to taking this number, because it makes the old covenant, which spanned 4,000 years, to be a tithe of all of history. However, in other places God speaks of plural thousands of generations (Exodus 20:5-6, 34:6-7, Deut. 5:9-10, Jer. 32:18). And in another case when God lays claim to thousands, we take it to be an understatement, not an overstatement:

For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:10)

So it seems that 40,000 years may be a bare minimum.

Perhaps it is not just the earth, but the universe, that God intends for us subdue.

See also: The future of Jesus

Written by Scott Moonen

September 11, 2014 at 8:08 am

Invictus

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The Westminster Confession of Faith reads:

God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

We confess that God ordains or decrees everything, but in a way that establishes individual freedom and responsibility. At one level this is simply a mystery to us, but it is possible for us to go a little deeper. Authorship and artistry — or, as Tolkien puts it, sub-creation — have been for me a helpful analogy for God’s sovereignty over creation[1]. It does not even occur to us to accuse Tolkien of tempting or causing Gollum to sin, or of any injustice or violence toward Gollum. Even recognizing Tolkien’s authorship, we do not doubt that Gollum did what he did of his own free will, or that he deserved his end. Philosophers call this compatibilist free will, but it just means that we do what we want to do. An author or artist’s decreeing or ordaining her work is categorically different from ordinary causation or compulsion within the world of the work itself. In fact, the author’s decrees are just what establishes and upholds a structure of causality and responsibility within the world of her work. Otherwise it would be utter chaos.

This also means that God’s very being and existence are categorically different from ours; to use the philosophical term, he is transcendent. This is perhaps the main reason that Anselm’s argument fails: we cannot induct our way outside of the story; we cannot build a ladder that jumps right off the page. We need God to reveal himself to us.

There are some fun ways to explore this creator-creature distinction in story and art. In simplest form, characters might speculate about or comically defy the author. Pushing the analogy to its limits, we end up with self-reference, a multiplicity of levels, and illusions. This gets us into the realm of what Douglas Hofstadter calls the “strange loop,” and as Hofstadter points out, Escher’s work is a great example of all this. But the analogy does break down: our stories are only shadows of reality, and Escher’s lizards and hands and birds only have the illusion of reality. Only God enters his creation in the flesh and allows it to act upon himself.

While talking with the men from my small group this week, it struck me that this analogy of sub-creation gives literary references to God a double or ironic meaning. When an unbelieving author’s characters rail against or reject God’s authority, they are in one sense railing against him, and so he is undermining his own argument. In his very attempt to boast in human autonomy, he reveals the absurdity of that rebellion. He cannot escape his dependence on and submission to God any more than his characters can escape their obvious dependence on and submission to him.

This gives us an alternate reading of the poem Invictus. Instead of seeing it as the poet’s raising his fist against God, we can equally see it as the character within the poem’s raising his own fist against the poet. In that light, the poem becomes childish and petty.

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”

The idea that we could transcend the boundary between ourselves and our author, or somehow cast off a dependence on him that is fundamental to our very existence, is absurd. Far better to humble our hearts and enjoy where he has set us.

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

The analogy of authorship might prove instructive to us in other ways, too. The fact that God’s sovereignty is what establishes causality and responsibility rescues us from futile determinism. And seeing God as an author certainly emphasizes his power over his creation. It is a small thing for him to write of the weaving of his world in seven days, or of a world-wide flood rather than a regional flood: we don’t have to wring our hands over miracles that are hard for our creaturely minds to conceive. And as much as there may be degrees of fellowship with or separation from God, this also suggests that it is misguided to divide creation and our experience into the natural and the supernatural, secular and spiritual, nature and grace. Because of God’s intimate and personal involvement in his story, the overlap between the natural and supernatural is entire and complete. You cannot possibly escape God’s sovereignty, lordship, or grace. That in turn lays the foundation for a robust common grace.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Finally, this analogy also suggests that, while there is great value in a reductionist approach to understanding God’s world, there is comparatively greater value in seeking to understand God’s word and world holistically, to grasp the sweep of story and persons.

See also: Proof of the non-existence of God.


[1] Yes, this does contradict the WCF quote on the face of it. See John Frame’s distinction between what you might call a proximate and an ultimate sense of authorship, which is what I’m getting at by distinguishing between decree/ordination and causation/compulsion.

Written by Scott Moonen

May 27, 2011 at 9:19 am

In the way

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Last November I posted a quote from John Loftness on parenting with faith in God and his promises for our children. But faith always has legs; “therefore how we act,” as Loftness says. I have three small children. What difference does it make that I know God is at work in them, that he has been at work from the very beginning?

  • We teach them [1], [2] to name Jesus as “our Lord” and to confess that “he died for our sins and pleads with God for us.”
  • When we pray, we teach them to name God as “our Father” and to look to him for provision and forgiveness. And we rejoice in his forgiveness and provision! God is far more lavish even than Mommy and Daddy in his mercy and blessing.
  • We teach and expect them to sing to our savior and king, at home and at church.
  • We teach and expect them to walk in the fruit of the Spirit. With every bit of good fruit we see, we rejoice and encourage them that this is God at work in them.
  • We teach and expect them to obey cheerfully. Repentance for sin and rejoicing in God’s forgiveness and acceptance are also a key part of this.
  • Whether or not they participate in the Lord’s supper, we teach them to thank Jesus for cleansing them from sin with his blood, and for making them a part of God’s family.

Not that we have already obtained this!

Are we training our children to be little hypocrites? Absolutely not! Rather:

  • Scripture gives us great confidence that the Holy Spirit is already at work in our children, and our task is one of fanning into flame.
  • The Christian life is lifelong repentance and faith. While regeneration is absolutely necessary, it is likely in the case of our children that pinpointing it will be futile. The gardener diligently tends his garden before he can even see the sprouts; and as they grow, he tenderly cares for, trains and prunes them, without knowing whether they will survive, so that they may survive. In the same way, we train our children to walk in daily repentance, faith and obedience.
  • Similarly, there is a reason that Proverbs 22:6 does not instruct us to lead our children to the way, but rather train them in the way. Christian nurture is not preparation for a future driver’s exam; it is a continuous going deeper. We love our savior and king; there is absolutely no question that he is our trustworthy savior and the king of the world; and faith, repentance and obedience are simply what it looks like to love him.

Written by Scott Moonen

January 30, 2010 at 11:23 am

A gospel catechism

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Our church practices credobaptism, and I’ve assembled this catechism to help ready my children for a pastoral interview. We’re also learning the apostle’s creed, below. Some influences are my pastors Phil Sasser and Daniel Baker, and also Chris Schlect and the Westminster-based catechism for young children. I’d be grateful for suggested improvements.

Catechism

Sin

What is your sin?
Disobeying God’s word (1 John 3:4)
What is the penalty for your sin?
Death (Romans 6:23)

Gospel

What is the gospel?
Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead; just as God promised. (1 Cor 15)

Father

Why does God love you?
He made me His child.
How do you know that God loves you?
He gave his son Jesus for me.

Jesus

Who is Jesus?
He is God’s son, my maker, savior and king. He is my life and my treasure.
How is Jesus your Savior?
Jesus died in my place, so I am forgiven and adopted.
Where is Jesus now?
He rose from the dead and sits at our Father’s right hand.
How is Jesus your King?
He leads, provides, cares for and protects me.

Holy Spirit

Who is the Holy Spirit?
He is my helper.
How does he help you?
He gives me life, peace, comfort, and strength to become more like Jesus.

Response

What is faith?
Resting on Jesus for my salvation (Psalm 62:5-8)
Why do you love God?
He is great and good, and he loves me.
What is repentance?
To be sorry for my sin, to hate it as God does, and to keep turning from it
Why do you obey God?
Because I love him

Church, now and then

Who are God’s people?
They make up his church.
What does his church do?
We display God’s greatness and beauty, and serve and care for one another.
What will become of God’s people?
God will keep us to the end.
What happens at the end?
Jesus will restore his creation and live with his people.

Baptism

What is baptism?
Baptism is God’s marking out a person as his own.
What does your baptism signify?
I am cleansed from my sin by Jesus’s blood, and united to him in his death and resurrection.
Why do you want to be baptized?
Because I belong to Jesus

Apostles’ creed

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, where he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

Written by Scott Moonen

October 14, 2009 at 6:05 am

Christ our mediator

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“If, then, we should seek for another mediator who would be favorably inclined toward us, whom could we find who loved us more than He who laid down His life for us, even while we were his enemies?” — The Belgic Confession, Article 26

HT: Nathan S

The Apostles' Creed

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I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen.

See other forms at CRTA, CCEL, Wikipedia.

Written by Scott Moonen

November 5, 2006 at 1:51 pm

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