Both Sides of the Mouth (Post #4 on the Holy Spirit)

All Christians suffer from unbelief. Worry and anxiety are forms of unbelief (Matthew 6:25-34; 1 Peter 5:7). But it is one thing to lapse into functional unbelief and quite another thing to integrate unbelief into your view of God. And that kind of integrated unbelief is what happened in the 18th century as Liberal Christianity (in the technical sense) began to emerge.

To understand Liberal Christianity you need to know about two thinkers of the 18th to mid-19th century: Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schleiermacher. Both men share the same philosophical starting point; namely, that science operates on the basis of sense experience and so any metaphysical questions about God (such as his existence) are to be excluded on the basis of science. For Kant this meant that all that was left over in religion was relegated to the realm of morality; for Schleiermacher, this meant that one could accept this metaphysical predicament but then build a whole system of theology, prayer, church, etc. around the experience of “God-consciousness,” which he called a “feeling of dependence” on God.[1]

But the problem here is that once you discard the metaphysical reality of the Triune God, you might as well be consistent and throw out all statements about God. This whole talk of “God-consciousness” or a “feeling of dependence” is a waste of time. Now of course, anyone can follow Schleiermacher and waste much time (and ink) talking about God, the Holy Spirit, and a whole manner of Christian truth, but it will always sound inconsistent; a Liberal Theology can be constructed, but only out of one side of the mouth, for the other side of the mouth completely denies any metaphysical certainty of God’s existence. That is what Karl Barth understood, and so masterfully critiqued with devastating blows.

I personally have a lot more time for a guy like Richard Dawkins than a guy like Schleiermacher. Dawkins understands that if you wipe out the metaphysical foundation for God on the basis of science then at least be consistent and throw out theology altogether! Now of course I disagree with Dawkins – I think there is metaphysical evidence for God – but I can at least appreciate his consistency.

[1] Gary D. Badcock, Light of Truth and Fire of Love: A Theology of the Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1997), 113-17.


Tremble, Don’t Squirm (Post #3 on the Holy Spirit)

 “…But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” (Isaiah 66:2 ESV)

We have come up with so many clever ways to undermine the authority of Scripture:

“This passage of Scripture is too hard to understand so we should not draw conclusions from it.”

“The historical context is so different than our context that this passage does not apply to us.”

“The letters of the New Testament were ‘occasional’ ad hoc letters so they do not apply to us.”[1]

The real problem here is that we often hold more firmly to a preconceived bias than to the clear meaning of the words of Scripture. And so if the Bible challenges our value system we find ways to make the Bible say the exact opposite of what it almost certainly means.

Now that is not to say that we don’t bring a bias to our study of God’s word – we all do. We all bring our experiences into reading the Scriptures. But that is not really the problem. The problem is that in our hardness of heart, we would rather mute Scripture than let go of an ideology we hold to. Some go so far as to make whole systems of interpretation based on one particular ideology or another – Marxist, Feminist, Liberation, Green.

Every society and every person encounters parts of the Bible that make them squirm. There are passages that make socialists squirm. There are passages that make white males squirm. When you squirm, that is the light of God’s truth exposing you. Embrace those uncomfortable moments when the Scripture cuts against your values. If we chose not to tremble at his word we end up with a God of our own making, and this is happening self-consciously in some academic circles – there is now an ecofeminist view of the Holy Spirit, and a liberation view of the Holy Spirit! Wow![2]

That’s ok. Go ahead. As long as you recognize that one day you will stand before the living God. That same God took the gracious initiative to communicate with us beforehand regarding his being and character. Don’t set yourself up for a big surprise. Tremble at his word.[3]

[1] Thanks to Carl Hinderager of Briercrest College and his tongue-in-cheek handout “Creative ways to undermine the authority of Scripture”

[2] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 147-77.

[3] There is also a very controversial point in all this for cessationism and the post-enlightenment bias from which it arises. But that will have to wait for another post.

The Trinitarian Argument for going to Church (Post #2 on the Holy Spirit)


Every so often you come across a Christian who would rather stay home and “do church” on their own, or perhaps with his or her family than attending a Sunday morning service. Recently, Don Miller provoked a blog storm when he wrote a post along these lines, giving his reasons for choosing not to attend church.

You’ve heard the arguments: “I find it too hard to listen to a sermon”; “The music there doesn’t engage me”; “I don’t fit in with those people.” We tend to think practically, functionally, about why we should or should not attend church. But I think we need a good dose of reality, ontological reality – as Christians, who we are in our being ought to compel us to get to church.

John Zizioulas has argued that “[w]hat is most characteristic of God is his being in relation. As the Trinity, the three Persons of the Godhead interrelate with each other. There is an intra-trinitarian love relationship. With this same love, the Triune God relates to human beings and the world and embraces them in divine-human koinōnia [communion].”[1]

Since we are not only created in God’s image but also indwelt by the Holy Spirit, regular church fellowship is part of our very composition as believers. So Christian communion (koinōnia) is not some optional addition to your “personal walk with God”; it is central, ontologically central, to your identity as a spirit-indwelt Christian.

In other words, our individual communion with Jesus by the Holy Spirit necessitates communion with other believers in the common bond of that same Spirit. So it can be said with certainty that Christians need other Christians. It is an ontological fact of our ecclesial existence.

Now I know that some people work shift work and some people have sport commitments and the realities of life sometimes make getting to church difficult – but really – go to church. You need it. You were made for it as an image-bearer of the Triune God. (As you have opportunity) get a new job. Get a new sport! Get there!

[1] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 106.

Unity and Diversity (Post #1 on the Holy Spirit)


I have been reading a book called Pneumatology by Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen in which he discusses, among other things, the way Eastern Orthodox theology has emphasized the mutual work of the Son and the Spirit (a notion found in some western theologians like Karl Barth).  The point Kärkkäinen made is that Eastern theology has especially emphasized the unity in the work of the Son and the Spirit, and he explains some implications of this trinitarian reality for the church:

As a mutual work of the Son and the Spirit, the catholicity [“togetherness” if you will] of the church has two aspects: unity (as a result of the church’s being the body of Christ) and diversity (as a result of the church’s being the fullness of the Spirit). The christological aspect creates the objective and unchangeable features of the church, while the pneumatological aspects shapes the subjective side of the church. In other words, the christological aspect guarantees stability while the pneumatological aspect gives the church a dynamic character.[1]

There is a beautiful, trinitarian reality here: the work of the Trinity, and the essence of the Trinity, is united, even as the Persons of the Trinity have diverse roles. For the church, this means that we have a common mission and common organization “in Christ” even as we have different gifts and roles to serve in; likewise, in our worship there are some fundamental forms and doctrines that unite us, that is, there is an order to our worship (1 Corinthians 14:33), even as we have the freedom to express our worship in various ways (2 Corinthians 3:17). For our society this means that we should have common unifying features, like freedom of speech and religion, while recognizing that we all have diverse vocations and roles. Finally, for marriage this means that we recognize that there is a unity between husband and wife, while each has different dynamic and diverse roles to fulfill. It would be wonderful if our churches, societies, and marriages reflected the glorious beauty of the Trinity, in which there is both form and freedom, unity and diversity.

[1] Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Pneumatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 72.

The Pleasure of Obedience


“You shall therefore love the LORD your God and keep his charge, his statutes, his rules, and his commandments always.” (Deuteronomy 11:1)

John Piper has done the church a great service by constantly pointing out that our happiness and God’s glory are not at odds – that is really the central idea in his classic book Desiring God.[1] In Desiring God, Piper actually goes further than saying God’s glory and our happiness are not at odds – he claims that being happy in God is glorifying God. We glorify God by being happy and satisfied in God himself; in other words, bringing God glory and being happy in God is the same thing! So the more we are happy in God, the more God is honoured, or as Piper often puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

This is a revolutionary truth for the soul. It means that obeying God does not need to be some dreadful drudgery. Obeying God and bringing him glory is our privilege, passion, and pleasure! So Piper calls himself a “Christian Hedonist” because he is into religion for the pleasure! And those who have walked with the Lord will testify to the greatness of this – TV, friends, sports, music, money, and even family can never bring us the same deep-seated pleasure that obeying God can.

America’s greatest theologian and John Piper’s greatest influence was a pastor named Jonathan Edwards who lived in the 1700s. Edwards knew that the glory of God is vitally important in our lives and he knew that our hearts needed to be engaged and affected as we pursue God’s glory. His most famous work, The Religious Affections, is written in part to explain how important it is that our hearts are affected by God. Edwards writes:

The nature of human beings is to be inactive unless influenced by some affection: love or hatred, desire, hope, fear, etc. These affections are the “spring of action,” the things that set us moving in our lives, that move us to engage in activities.

When we look at the world, we see that people are exceedingly busy. It is their affections that keep them busy. If we were to take away their affections, the world would become motionless and dead; there would be no such thing as activity. It is the affection we call covetousness that moves a person to seek worldly profits; it is the affection we call ambition that moves a person to pursue worldly glory; it is the affection we call lust that moves a person to pursue sensual delights. Just as worldly affections are the spring of worldly actions, so the religious affections are the spring of religious actions….

A person who has a knowledge of doctrine and theology only – without religious affection – has never engaged in true religion…. No one ever seeks salvation, no one ever cries for wisdom, no one ever wrestles with God, no one ever kneels in prayer or flees from sin, with a heart that remains unaffected.[2]

So then how can we delight our hearts in God? So how then do we find our happiness is God? This is so important if we desire to glorify God and find our pleasure in God! There is no simple answer – it is a daily battle to engage your heart to behold and enjoy God. In the Psalms, David prayed that his heart might be engaged:

Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:14)

Incline my heart to your testimonies,
and not to selfish gain! (Psalm 119:36)

So prayer then is part of the answer – we should ask God for help in enjoying him. Seeking God in his written word is part of the answer. Spiritual disciplines like fasting and memorizing Scripture are part of the answer. Being aware of physical realities like sleep, nutrition, and exercise is part of the answer. Having a sensitivity and awareness of the person of the Holy Spirit is part of the answer. And simple, self-disciplined, on-the-job, just-do-it obedience is part of the answer – we obey God and then pray for forgiveness for not enjoying it more!

[1] John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 1986).

[2] Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith, eds., Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2005), 20-21.