Explaining Our Knowledge of God (Letham)

  Here’s a helpful section of Robert Letham’s new Systematic Theology.  It has to do with the nature of our knowledge of and language about God.

Our knowledge of God is not univocal, identical to his in manner or content.  If it were, it would yield a precise identity between God’s knowledge and ours.  His knowledge of this or that, from 2×2=4 to more complex realities, would  not differ in principle from the way we know things.  This would be rationalism.  It would erode the Creator-creature distinction.  God transcends his creation.

Conversely, neither is our knowledge of God or creation, in relation to God’s knowledge, to be understood as equivocal, in principle totally different.  If it were, there would be no correspondence between our knowledge of God’s knowledge, and unbridgeable gap between God and ourselves.  We could not know God at all, nor know his creation accurately.

Instead, our knowledge of God is analogical, with both a correspondence and a difference between our knowledge of God and who he is in himself, between our knowledge of this or that created entity and God’s knowledge of the same entity.  This is based on the biblical revelation that God is the infinite Creator, knowing all things instantaneously and comprehensively, and we are his creatures, yet made in his image for partnership, with a correspondence between him and us….

This is of monumental importance.  It affects the way we interpret the Bible.  God speaks to us in ways we can understand.  His revelation is true.  He reveals himself in a manner that we can grasp, like a father speaking to his young child.  Yet the reality transcends the revelation….

Robert Letham, Systematic Theology, p. 62-3.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The “Beneficent Propensity” of God (Van Mastricht)

Theoretical-Practical Theology Volume 2: Faith in the Triune God The goodness, kindness, mercy, and love of God are major themes in all parts of Holy Scripture.  It’s always one of my favorite parts of theological reading when I come across good explanations of God’s goodness and love that are very much based on Scripture.  In volume two of his Theoretical-Practical Theology  Petrus Van Mastricht wrote an excellent section on the love, grace, mercy, long-suffering, and clemency of God.  After doing some exegetical work on Exodus 34:6 (…The LORD is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth [CSB]), Van Mastricht discussed in detail what these terms mean and how they apply to the Christian life.  Here are some quotes that I really appreciate.  I’ve edited the layout to make it easier to read:

…There is in God a certain benevolent and beneficent propensity toward his creatures….

That propensity is called benevolent when considered intrinsically and beneficent when considered extrinsically.

In itself generally considered it is love;
insofar as it is independent, free, and is not owed, it is grace;
insofar as it considers the creature as miserable, it is mercy;
insofar as it considers the offending sinner whom it endures, it is patience;
insofar as it endures him a long time, it is long-suffering;
insofar as it also does good to him, it is clemency and beneficence.

Petrus Van Mastricht, Theoretical-Practical Theology, vol 2., p 348-349.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ’s Suffering, Our Suffering (Clowney)

The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross (Bible Speaks Today) Peter knew well what it means that Jesus suffered.  Peter witnessed the sufferings of Christ and he knew that Jesus’ suffering was redemptive.  You can read more about his teaching on suffering in his epistles, of course.  Peter also knew that our suffering as Christians is connected to Christ’s suffering: “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Pet. 4:13 NIV).  Edmund Clowney gave a helpful insight into the relationship of Christ’s suffering and the Christian’s suffering:

Peter is a witness of Christ’s sufferings (5:1). He testifies not only to the events of Gethsemane and Calvary, but also to their meaning. Christ, the righteous one, suffered for us, the unrighteous, to bring us to God (3:18). The fact that the righteous suffer is the enigma posed in the book of Job and in many Psalms. Peter answers the question just as the Old Testament does. God is sovereign; we suffer according to the will of God (4:19). But God’s will for our suffering must now be understood in the light of God’s will for Christ’s suffering. Only Christ is truly righteous, yet he suffered for our sins. The key to the mystery of the suffering of the righteous is the mystery of the suffering of Christ. The prophets testified of his suffering and of the glory to follow (1:11). In the wonder of God’s design, it was his purpose that Christ should suffer for us, and by his suffering save us. Knowing his suffering for us, we may rejoice when God wills that we should suffer for him. We cannot add to his atoning sufferings, for he bore our sins in his own body on the tree (2:24). Christ suffered for sins ‘once’ (3:18). Yet when we suffer as Christians there is a sense in which we share in the sufferings of Christ. Made righteous by him, we suffer as the righteous with him.

Edmund P. Clowney, The Message of 1 Peter: The Way of the Cross, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 190.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54002

Known by God; Knowing God (Futato)

 So far I’ve appreciated Mark Futato’s commentary on the Psalms in the Tyndale Cornerstone Biblical Commentary series. It’s somewhat brief, but Futato does a good job in giving enough textual, interpretive, and application details to make it worth reading.   For example, while studying Psalm 139 this week I found this helpful note in Futato’s comments:

While being known is perhaps our deepest longing, it is also one of our deepest fears. After their initial sin, Adam and Eve hid from God because they were afraid. They were afraid that to be known as they were, sins and all, would mean being rejected. Thus arose the internal conflict between the desire to be known and the desire to avoid rejection. Such fear of rejection does not come into view in these opening verses of Psalm 139. This must be because of what linguists call nonspecified shared information. There must be some knowledge about the relationship that God and a person share that is not spelled out in this text. Psalm 130, along with many other psalms, has already specified what this knowledge is. It is true that if God knows me as a guilty sinner, then I cannot hope to have a relationship with him (130:3). But both God and I know that he forgives (130:4). I know and God knows that his unfailing love for me endures forever (Pss 136; 138:8). I can be known without fear because God is love and forgives all my sins. I know clearly what the psalmist knew dimly: that I am secure in the love of God because the Lord Jesus has lived a perfect life in my place, died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins, and was raised for my justification. Through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I can experience the intimate relationship my heart longs for. I can know and be known and loved.

Mark D. Futato, “The Book of Psalms,” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009), 414.

If you’re looking for a concise and helpful commentary on the Psalms, check this one out!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Hospitality: Don’t Compare Yours to Others

 Hospitality is definitely something that Christians should practice and show.  Hopsitality is part of Christian ethics since there are clear commands in Scripture for followers of Jesus to be hospitable (e.g. Rom. 12:13b, 1 Pet. 4:9).  However, Scripture doesn’t give a detailed definition of hospitality.  Hospitality does mean that we lovingly welcome guests and show kindness to them, but there are not a series of specific commands in the Bible telling us exactly how to show hospitality. This is important to remember.  It’ll free us from unbiblical expectations in showing hospitality and it will keep us from trying to measure up to how others show hospitality.

For example, there are books and articles that give stories of how certain Christians show hospitality.  They’ll talk about how they make certain foods, play certain games, stick to certain traditions, and even open their doors to anyone and everyone.  Those things are fine and good for some people, but not for all people.  Thankfully you’re not called to show hospitality exactly like other Christians show it.  Instead, you have to show hospitality like the Bible commands.  Since the Bible doesn’t give specific details about showing hospitality, this means you can do it in ways that suits your personality, your situation in life, and the gifts that God has given you.  You don’t have to be able to cook or bake to show hospitality, nor do you need to have a perfectly clean or large home to show hospitality.  If you have children you might not want to let shady people in your home.  You can even show hospitality in places outside your home.  (Abraham fed his guests while they were under a tree.  Jesus didn’t even own a home and he was very welcoming to various people.)  If you read a book on hospitality and it makes you think, “I can’t do it like that!”, don’t worry, you don’t have to!

I like the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology’s entry on hospitality.  I can’t put the whole thing here, but I’ll give a few excerpts that I appreciated:

Hospitality is at the heart of the gospel and practice of the early church; its themes and language pervade the NT. Implicit in the stories of Jesus and in NT descriptions of human relationships with God and other people, hospitality is also explicitly required and commended in practice. Although there is no word for hospitality in the Hebrew vocabulary, the practice is evident in the welcome, food, shelter and protection-asylum that guests received in OT times. Commands in the Torah and exhortations in the prophets to care for strangers attest to the importance of hospitality in the OT. Narratives demonstrate that hospitality was closely connected to the recognition of Yahweh’s lordship and to covenant loyalty. Stories provide evidence of God’s presence and provision in the context of hospitality.

…The Greek word for hospitality, philoxenia, is used in Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2, 1 Peter 4:9, 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:8. It combines the general Greek word for love or affection, phileō, which denotes love among people connected by kinship or faith, and the word for stranger, xenos. Hospitality is a concrete and personal expression of Christian love, intended to include strangers in a circle of care. Hospitality, though important, could also become burdensome; practices were developed to limit abuses (letters of reference; Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1–2).

…In Romans 15:7, Paul urged believers to ‘welcome one another’ as Christ had welcomed them. The experience of divine hospitality and the practice of the early church were dynamically related.

 C. D. Pohl, “Hospitality,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Sex, Humanity, Mind, Body

 I’ve mentioned this book before: Hooked by Joe McIlhaney and Freda Bush.  While it’s not specifically a Christian book, it is a wisdom resource for thinking about sex, our minds, our bodies, our emotions, and our lives.  Below are two paragraphs from the last chapter of the book.  These paragraphs are helpful in and of themselves and they give a good summary of what this book is about:

As we have shown with the most current science available today, over and over again, sex cannot be dismissed as an activity with little or no impact on the person as a whole. We know sex involves the entire individual. Perhaps the most damaging philosophy about sex in recent years has been the attempt to separate sex from the whole person. Neuroscientific evidence has revealed this approach to be not only false but also dangerous.  Popular culture would have you believe that young people should become sexually active when they feel “ready” and that not to become involved sexually at that point in their lives will cause them to be sexually naive and repressed. As we’ve seen, the facts tell a very different story.

Current neuroscience research shows us that the human mind is an astounding organ, one we will never totally comprehend. But beyond that, just as the brain is remarkably complex, it is even more difficult to fully grasp what it means to be fully human. There is far more to human experience than we can ever explain. Life is not just a collection of choices. Nor are we robots or mechanical beings who hopelessly get hooked on certain behaviors. And to think that we are nothing more than a group of “brain cells” or neurochemicals moved about by our environment is ridiculous. We cannot be explained by quantity, matter, or motion. However, we do know and understand some things about ourselves. This information, properly interpreted and utilized, gives us direction toward the most beneficial behavior choices. It gives us so much new insight into how to live in harmony with our innate nature and, therefore, to be more fully human.  Living in accordance with this information gives us the greatest possible chance to enjoy our lives to the fullest.

Hooked, p. 141-142.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Biblical Understanding of Sin (Horton)

Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology For Pilgrims on The Way When it comes to the topic of sin, we for sure want a biblical view of it. We want to understand sin in the way that the Bible defines and describes it. It is a big topic, of course, since the Bible talks about it very often. The following paragraph from Michael Horton’s The Christian Faith is a helpful brief summary of a bigger topic:

“The tendency of fundamentalism is to reduce sin to sinful acts and behaviors, while liberalism reduces sin to evil social structures that impede the realization of the ethical kingdom. In contrast to both forms of reductionism, the biblical understanding of sin is far deeper in its analysis. Sin is first of all a condition that is simultaneously judicial and moral, legal and relational. Accordingly, we sin because we are sinners rather than vice versa. Standing before God as transgressors in Adam, we exhibit our guilt and corruption in actual thoughts and actions. If we cut off one diseased branch, another one – pregnant with the fruit of unrighteousness – grows in its place.”

Michael Horton, The Christian Faith, p. 427.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54105