Sanctified by Grace (Eilers and Strobel) is an attempt to do theology in a way that involves more than the comprehension of Christian truth, rather it is an attempt to do theology in a way that helps bring about Christian faithfulness.
In their preface to the book Eilers and Strobel write that the normal Christian life is intimately and inescapably theological and that the work of Christian Dogmatics can and should participate in the sanctification of the Holy Spirit who forms Christians in the likeness of Christ.
Having said that they notice that there is often a divide between doctrine and theology on the one side and spirituality and ministry on the other. In this book they hope to help tear down that false dichotomy. In my own opinion the doctrine that they start with fits this theme very well. If there is a doctrine that many Christians see as useless, though true, is the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus inviting Fred Sanders to write a chapter on this topic which gives itself over so easily to this false divide is a great move.
In this chapter Sanders sets our spiritual growth in the middle of a Trinitarian truth, specifically Trinitarian adoption. He argues that believers are adopted into the life between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The eternal begetting of the son stands behind the temporal mission of the Son to save humanity. The Spiration of the Spirit stands behind the Spirit’s work in uniting us to the Father and Son. Thus, the Christian life itself can only be understood in light of the Trinity.
For me the highlight of this chapter included his discussion of how eternal processions give rise to temporal missions. The relationship between these two is often tricky and convoluted. Most theologians intuitively know there is a link, but that link is hard to pin down. Sanders does a good job of explaining the connection without being dogmatic about the “link” between the two.
Another highlight was his discussion of adoption. Sanders does a fine job navigating between the view that our sonship is merely metaphorical and the opposite view that we become totally immersed in the life of God (erasing the creator/creature distinction). Rather by advocating a soteriology of Trinitarian adoption, he is able to maintain our intimacy but distinction from God.
Overall Sanders does a great job of showing how the doctrine of the Christian life is shaped by Trinitarian though, specifically the eternal processions of the Triune God. He succeeds in showing that the Christian life is filial by essence.
Last week in our Trinity Seminar George Hunsinger led a discussion about Church Dogmatics 1.1 Sections 8-12. Here are some notes that you might find helpful/interesting:
Reading for the Outline
Barth has a very detailed outline by which he structures Church dogmatics. “Every paragraph is written around a central mainpoint” if you read each mainpoint you can reconstruct his outline. You can go paragraph by paragraph and find out the main point.
Keep track of the antecedent of the pronoun. If you get lost start looking for the pronoun and trace it back to the antecedent.
Many people have come away from Barth with the impression that its modalistic.
How are ones and trinity related? Dialectically! Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity.
He wants oneness and trinity to both be basic, and not privilege one over the other.
Another reason for this dialectical organization is that the reality of God is ineffable for God.
Language – oneness and threeness are not univocal nor equivocal, but we are driven to use these terms. So we always have to have a recognition that we are using these terms in a peculiar way.
The preposition “in” does a lot of work in Barth’s theology. Barth is sort of “mystical” – the three persons are “co-inherent’ in the divine ousia. The divine ousia is co-inherent in the divine hypostasis.
The indivisible divine being is a given – the three are mutually participating in one another…. The Holy Trinity for Barth is a communion. For Barth – Koinonia is ultimate reality. Its not “being” itself but “being” in relation and in communion. The telos is “koinonia.”
Economic/Immanent Relations and Epistemology is Asymmetrical
The unknowability of God is given in and with the knowability of the Holy Trinity. The unknowable part of God is still Trinitarian.
What he is in revelation He is antecedently in Himself. And what he is antecedently in Himself He is in revelation. (466) We don’t know about the immanent trinity directly. As far as knowledge of God is concerned we go from economy to immanent. God is not a different God than the one in all eternity. When we know God in Christ, we are taken up and participating in the truth of God’s self knowledge. This is the danger of Rahner’s rule… the immanent Trinity is a different form of the Economic Trinity. Its an asymmetrical relation.
The Divine Ousia
One thing we find in Barth, and not Moltmann and Jenson is that God’s ousia is invidisible. Barth upholds a strong version of divine simplicity. This has to do with the otherness of God. If you weaken simplicity you weaken your concept of eternity. You are in danger of making eternity someone = temporality and adding a dependent element into the Godhead. The divine ousia is one and indivisible and also living at the same time.
Barth on the Spirit
The Holy Spirit does three distinct things for Barth – 1)HS brings Christ to us and 2)us to Christ, and 3)The Spirit brings everything into unity with Christ. The Spirit does not add anything, he actualizes it. The Spirit “applies.” But Barth avoids the “application” language because it makes stuff impersonal.
Threefold Office of Christ
Prophet – Truth Bringer. It has correspondence to Spirit in Truth.
King – Messiah, Lord. It has correspondence to Spirit in his power of Love. Spirit also brings the Lordship of Christ to us. None can say Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit. Priest – intercession, worship, thanks, praise, brings us into union and communion with Christ. Access, blood, expiation, propitiation. Correspondence in Spirit by his teaching us to praise, bringing us into union with Christ. The person, work, and benefits of Christ are distinct but we cannot keep them apart.
On Rahner’s Rule
Key difference between Rahner’s rule and Barth’s doctrine of antecedence is that there is an asymmetry between the relation of economic/immanent in Barth whereas for Rahner, the economic and immanent is so strictly related that any sort of difference is collapsed. For Barth there is a difference in form but not in essence. Interesting question – is everything that is true of the economic trinity, but not vice versa?
On Functional Subordination
Revealer – Father
Revelation – Son
Revealedness – Spirit
God reveals himself as the Lord. It’s a participatory knowledge. Its God the Spirit moving in us that gets us in this revelation.
Sometimes Barth’s rhetoric does not fully match his substance/content. The rhetoric of revealer-revelation-reavealedness dominates his theology. Part of this is his historical context – which makes us lean to much on revelation as opposed to for example reconciliation.
Rhetorically Barth has modalistic tendencies. In substance he is not modalistic. Nonetheless he uses a modalistic idiom.
Does he derive his doctrine of Trinity from concept of Revelation?
Barth is trying to test whether the doctrine of the Trinity is dispensable or not. So its not a project of deriving it. The Trinity can’t just be taken out and thrown away or else you lose everything else with it. It’s a “testing” exercise rather than a derivation exercise. Three reasons why we have the trinity (other than the Biblical witness): A-Revelation, B- Reconciliation, and C-Worship. Modern theology had abandoned it and Barth is trying to show why we need it. If we take the Trinity out we are losing these three things.
The Trinitarian revival that has been experienced among academic theology has now started to trickle its way down into popular theology. This is a good thing! We can always get better at knowing God’s heart – and the way to really do that is to dive deeper into his Trinitarian character and nature. A couple of popular treatments of this doctrine come to mind – The Deep Things of God by Fred Sanders and Delighting in the Trinity by Michael Reeves; however these books still feel like theology books. What was needed was a book on the doctrine of the Trinity that feels more devotional…. Joe Thorn has written such a book.
Experiencing the Trinity
The book consists of a short introduction, describing why Thorn wrote this book and a few words describing the discipline of “preaching to yourself.” According to Thorn preaching God’s word to ourselves helps us find peace, joy, strength, and faith in God. However it is not necessarily a quick fix, at times we will suffer and experience sorrow, yet even these experiences can lead us closer to God. While in the midst of these experiences we need to keep our eyes on the truth – that is where preaching to ourselves comes into play.
Here is how Joe Thorn describes the nature of this book:
What follows are fifty daily readings that reflect on God and the gospel and how they overcome our fear, failure, pain, and unbelief. Much of this I preached to myself over the last couple of years, and all of it is directed toward my own heart… But if you find yourself with a heart like mine, weak, and in need of grace, I pray these readings will be an encouragement to you. For God offers his grace to people like us.
These 50 readings are divided according to each person of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Under the Father section you will find “notes” on topics like – He is Creator, He is Patient, He is Unchanging, He is Jealous, He is Father.
Under the Son section you fill find “notes” on topics like – His Humanity, His Deity, His Poverty, His Temptation, His Obedience, His Suffering, His Reign, His Mission, His Glory.
Under the Spirit section you will find “notes” on topics like – He Indwells, He Fills, He leads, He Revives, He Sanctifies, He Gives Gifts.
This book certainly serves its purpose well. Though I didn’t take 50 days to read through it, I definitely did stop to meditate on the topics that spoke most to my heart. Thorn has written a wonderful devotional that takes a difficult theological concept – the Trinity – and brings it down to a point where our heart can be warmed by it. I really appreciated hearing the story of how he wrote the book – he was brutally honest – I appreciate that. Hearing his story really helped me to see how “preaching to yourself” can be a powerful spiritual discipline.
Note: I received an advanced readers copy of this book courtesy of Crossway in exchange for an impartial review.
As the person who oversees college Life Groups at my church I know how hard it is to find, write, or develop good small group/bible study curriculum. Over the years I have perused tons of Bible studies and small group materials, only to be fairly disappointed every time. However, Robbie Castleman’s New Testament Essentials a collection of 12 weekly bible studies does not disappoint.
Castleman’s book focuses on two basic characteristics of the New Testament – first that it is Christocentric and second that it is thoroughly Trinitarian. These two themes get developed across three bigger sections: 1) the person and work of Christ, 2) the person and work of the Spirit in the church, and 3) the kingdom of God. Under each of these sections you will find a Bible study portion – 5 in the Christ section, 3 in the Spirit section, and 4 in the Kingdom section.
Each of these sections include:
1 – Bible Study: scripture to read, some texts to memorize, and some question to reflect on based on the reading.
2 – Reading: a section written by Castleman in which she offers background and insight into the passage.
3 – Connecting to the Old Testament: here she helps the reader understand how the New Testament draws upon the Old Testament.
4 – The Ancient Story and Our Story: a section on how the passage connects with our lives as Christians today.
I was pretty impressed with the book. Rarely do I come across a bible study that actually challenges me to think deeply about Scripture and deeply about my life. Bible studies tend to go one-way or the other, but this one found a a great balance. Also I thoroughly enjoyed it – in fact I did one study each morning for 12 days. During those twelve days I was forced to ask myself deep questions about my life with God and I was challenged to really read Scripture instead of simply skimming it. All in all it was a valuable exercise.
However I can foresee some issues that people will have with this book. First, and maybe this was just my own issue, the book started falling apart in just a few days. Maybe it was created so you could rip out the pages for “study purposes” but I highly doubt that is the case. Second, I can foresee some people saying that the study questions are way too difficult. The author really leads the reader into some heavy exegetical work, meaning that most people will have a difficult time making it through the questions in a timely manner. I found the depth quite refreshing, but I know not everybody will feel the same way. This makes me wonder about its intended audience, who is this book really for? Is it for a new believer? I doubt it. Is it for the average adult? Probably not. I imagine that it is probably geared towards college students and/or seminarians.
Overall this study guide impressed me. I enjoyed working through each session. I was challenged and stretched and I believe that others will be too.
(Note: I received this book courtesy of IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)
I have run into several people across the years who have been very adamant about the notion that as Christians we should not pray to the Holy Spirit, sing to the Holy Spirit, or worship the Holy Spirit. They say that all of our worship/prayer ought to be focused on Father, through Jesus. Are they right?
Do We Worship the Holy Spirit?
Karl Barth seems to think that they are wrong, we indeed ought to direct prayer and worship to the Holy Spirit. In Church Dogmatics 1.1.12 Barth quotes the Nicene Creed which adamantly affirms that we ought to worship the Spirit as well:
And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life; Who proceeds from the Father and the Son, Who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified…
The Father is worshiped and glorified, the son is worshiped and glorified, the Spirit is worshiped and glorified. What the creed refers to, according to Barth, is that the One Lord is to be worshiped and glorified as Father and as son and also as Spirit. Thus tritheistic worship is ruled out. All this to say that “the Holy Spirit is denoted as an object of worship and glorification.” As the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is fully God. As part (such a tricky word) of the Godhead he is one with the divine essence. This means that when we worship the Holy Spirit, we are fully engaged in worship with the Triune God. This is just as true as when we worship Jesus or when we worship the Father. All Christian worship is directed at the entire Triune Godhead, its not as though one person of the Trinity gets left out when we worship the other persons of the Trinity.
So to answer your question – “Do we worship the Holy Spirit? The answer is an emphatic yes.”
Here is a sample of a blog post I wrote for Reformed Ragamuffins for their series “The promises of God.” Check out their blog!
Dallas and His Dad
I have a Golden Retriever named Dallas, he’s a little over three years old now so he is kind of still a puppy. I remember the day that I got him, it was a Wednesday morning and we were getting him from a friend. My family wanted a boy dog and not a girl dog and he was the only one left, so we walked into their backyard to check the puppies out. I remember walking over to the dog run and seeing an explosion of puppies. As soon as the puppies heard me walking they exploded out of the dog house and ran over to the gate. They all seemed pretty excited, then all of a sudden another puppy runs out of the dog house and jumps on top of all the other puppies. He starts climbing all over the other one, even standing on top of them trying to climb over the fence. This was Dallas. Dallas showed his cards before we even took him, he would be trouble. So after playing with the puppies a little bit we took home the only boy puppy, Dallas. We got home set him up in the kitchen, gave him some water, some toys, and a training pad then put a puppy fence around his area. I walk out of the room and 2 minutes later I hear a loud crash. Somehow this little puppy knocked over a fence made for 75-100 pound dogs. I put the fence back up and lo and behold a few minutes later he is climbing it and has gotten stuck, now Dallas is crying. After that incident we decided fences couldn’t contain Dallas. Then we tried to teach him to go on walks… this too was a disaster. Actually it wasn’t a disaster, Dallas ended up taking us for walks instead. To tell you the truth his dad was actually like this. His dad was an outside dog, but when he got in he wrecked the house. His dad would knock over kids and old people. His dad was impossible to walk. All this to say that Dallas much like his dad is a trainwreck. Two rambunctious Golden Retrievers…. like father like son. I guess its family resemblance. I believe that understanding the concept of family resemblance can help shed light on the nature of our promises especially in light of our Father’s promises to us.
Let what you say say be simply “yes” or “no”; anything more than this comes from evil. -Matthew 5:27
Here Jesus says it quite simply. Let your “yes” be “yes” or your “no” be “no.” Don’t swear falsely. Say what you mean. Keep your promises. If you say you will do something for someone do it. Don’t say you will do it then not follow through. Don’t be flaky. Okay you get the point, keep your promises!
The Righteousness of God
There is much discussion over what the term “the righteousness of God” is, two that jump out at me are the following:
God’s commitment to get his glory
God’s covenantal faithfulness
Either way you go, you must admit that at least a part of The Righteousness of God is his covenantal faithfulness. God makes covenants and he keeps them. God makes a covenant with Abraham to fulfill three promises 1-Land, 2-Progeny, 3-Blessings to the nations. This covenant runs throughout the Bible (see Exodus 1, 2 Samuel 7, Jeremiah 29, Colossians 1); and its all about God’s attempts to rescue and redeem the world through Abraham’s descendants, specifically through the one who embodies and represents Abraham’s descendants, Jesus Christ himself. The point is God has a commitment to restore and redeem this world, and the Abrahamic covenant is a means to this end. This commitment to his purposes finds a very articulate expression in the fifth chapter of 2nd Corinthians where Paul says that “in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Within a context of the ministry of reconciliation this passage shows that God reconciled us to himself in the Messiah and that God has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation; As Wright has argued “in the Messiah, we embody God’s faithfulness, God’s covenantal faithfulness, God’s actions in reconciling the world to himself.”
All this to say:
God has made a commitment to restore and redeem this universe and he has called us to work alongside of him.
Why does this matter? Its called family resemblance. Like Father like Sons and Daughters. The God who asks us to keep our promises is the God who is faithful to keep his promises, especially his promise to restore all of restoration. Our “promise keeping” at a horizontal level is grounded on God’s “promise keeping” (God’s Righteousness) at a vertical level. It is because God has promised to rescue and restore us that we even have the power to obey his command to make our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” When we are adopted into the Family of God we take on a family resemblance; we start to look a lot like our Dad. Just like Dallas took on some of the characteristics of his dad we begin to take on the characteristics of our Dad. And our Dad is fundamentally one who keeps his promises (his covenant to the human race). So as you go about making promises this week, make sure you stick to them because your Father has kept his promise to rescue and redeem you.