Creation and Trinity

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Bible starts telling us that: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1) What do these simple words tell us about God?

In the Beginning

The phrase—in the beginning—tells us that God is eternal. If creation has a beginning, then it must also have an end. This implies that creation is not eternal, but the God who created it must be. If our eternal God created time, both the beginning and the end, then everything God created belongs to God. Just as the potter is master over the pottery he makes, God is sovereign over creation (Jer 18:4-6). God did not win creation in an arm-wrestling match or buy it online or find it on the street, he created it—God is a worker (Whelchel 2012, 7).

Transcendence

God eternal existence suggests that as mortal beings we cannot approach God without his assistance, an immediate consequence of God’s transcendence. The story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 makes this point in a physical sense, but it also stands as a metaphor for philosophical towers that we might attempt to build, such as the Enlightenment Project.

Sovereignty

God’s sovereignty is reinforced in the second half of the sentence when it says: God created the heavens and the earth. Here heaven and earth form a poetic construction called a merism. A merism is a literary device that can be compared to defining a line segment by referring to its end points. The expression—heaven and earth—therefore means that God created everything.[1] Because he created everything, he is sovereign over creation; and sovereignty implies ownership.[2]

Holy

So, from the first sentence in the Bible we know that God is eternal and he is sovereign. We also know that he is holy. Why? Are heaven and earth equal? No. Heaven is God’s residence. From the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the burning bush (Exod 3:5), we learn that any place where God is becomes holy in the sense of being set apart or sacred. Because God resides in heaven, it must be holy. Earth is not. Still, God created both and is sovereign over both (Rev 4:11).
Genesis paints two other important pictures of God.

Holy Spirit

The first picture arises in Genesis 1:2; here the breath, or spirit of God, is pictured like a bird hovering over the waters.[3] Hovering requires time and effort suggesting ongoing participation in and care for creation. The Bible speaks exhaustively about God providing for us—God’s provision. Breath translates as Holy Spirit in the original languages of the Bible—both Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).[4]

Immanence

The second picture appears in Genesis 2, which retells the story of creation in more personal terms. As a potter works with clay (Isa 64:8), God forms Adam and puts him in a garden. Then, he talks to Adam and directs him to give the animals names. And when Adam gets lonely, God creates Eve from Adam’s rib or side—a place close to his heart.

Summary

Genesis 1 and 2, accordingly, paint three pictures of God: 1. God as a mighty creator; 2. God who meticulously attends to his creation; and 3. God who walks with us like a friend. While the Trinity is not fully articulated in scripture until the New Testament, God’s self-disclosure as the Trinity appears from the beginning (Chan 1998, 41).
The Lord’s Prayer casts a new perspective on Genesis 1:1when Jesus says: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10) Because we are created in God’s image, we want our home to modeled after God’s.

References

Dyck, Drew Nathan. 2014. Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.


[1] Heaven and earth can also be interpreted as proxies for God’s attributes of transcendence and immanence (Jer 23:23-24; Dyck 2014, 99).

[2] God’s eternal nature is also defined with a merism: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev 1:8)

[3] This bird (avian) image appears again in the baptismal accounts of Jesus. For example, in Matthew 3:16 we read: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.”

[4] Breath itself is necessary for life—part of God’s provision.

Creation and Trinity

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/Holy_Week_2018

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Importance of Meta-Narrative

simplefaith_web_01172017A meta-narrative is a grand story which contains and explains the other stories that we observe. The meta-narrative of scripture, for example, is often described as a three-act play: creation, fall, and redemption.[1] Continuing the analogy to the theatrical model, Vanhoozer (2016, 98) argues for five acts:

Act 1: Creation, the setting for everything that follows (Gen 1-11)
Act 2: Election of Abraham/Israel (Gen 12-Mal)
Act 3: Sending of the Son/Jesus (the Gospels)
Act 4: Sending of the Spirit/Church (Acts—Jude)
Act 5: Return of the King/day of the Lord/consummation/new creation (Rev).

Other authors describe the meta-narrative of scripture in terms of covenants, such as the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus, which provide insight into our relationship with God.[2] Each of these frameworks have a slightly different focus, but all serve to offer meaning within the narrative of scripture to the relationship between God and his creation.

The Book of Genesis begins with a picture of a creator God whose sovereignty rests on the act of creation and who creates us in his image as heirs to this created kingdom. Describing God as creator implies that he transcends creation where transcendence implies standing apart from (different than) and above (sovereign over) creation. This act of creation implies love because God allows creation to continue existing after the fall and even promises redemption (Gen 3:15).

This picture of a sovereign God is key to understanding both God’s role in our lives and who we are, especially in the postmodern age because God’s sovereignty depends on God transcending our own little personal worlds. When faith is viewed as a private, personal preference rather than as acknowledgment of our own place in the meta-narrative of scripture, then all meaning is lost. If God is not longer transcendent, God is also no longer sovereign. As the Apostle Paul writes: “And if Christ has not been raised [from the dead by a transcendent God], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14 ESV) Jesus’ resurrection validates God’s transcendence; if you do not believe in miracle of resurrection, then the rest of scripture is only of historical interest.

But you say—“that’s not true; we still worship God and still believe in his sovereignty.” Yes, but the words are hollow if Sunday morning worship serves only to jazz us up, but our Monday morning lives differ little from the atheist in the next cubical. If God is not transcendent, then he is also not immanent—not in our thinking, not in our daily lives. A Sunday morning god is no god at all.

This is not a new idea, as we saw above in the reference to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:14). More recently, Phillips (1997, 7) wrote:

“The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life.”

While in modern age weaknesses in our spirituality were exposed to public ridicule, as when Dorothy pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz (1939)[3] to find a white-haired, old man, during the postmodern age our modern institutions have begun to crumble as their Christian presuppositions have been removed and secular substitutions are found lacking. Modern institutions, such as the mega church, public schools, democracy, corporations, and professions, presume objective truth, personal discipline and integrity, and human rights—products of the Christian meta-narrative—and function poorly, if at all, in the absence of that narrative.[4]

In this sense, the postmodern age is in the middle of a transition when our culture no longer looks to our past to find meaning and a new age has yet to emerge on the horizon, giving our time an end-time feel. To use an Old Testament analogy, we find ourselves wandering in the desert having left Egypt, but not yet having entered the Promised Land.[5] The Good News is, however, that it is in the desert where the people of Israel truly came to know, experience, and rely on God.[6]

References

Bridges, William. 2003. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Phillips, John Bertram. 1997. Your God is Too Small (Orig Pub 1953). New York: Simon & Schuster; A Touchstone Book.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 2014. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Wolters, Albert M. 2005. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformation Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[1] For example, see: (Wolters 2005).

[2] For example, see (Hahn 2009).

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wizard_of_Oz_(1939_film).

[4] Secular values are a poor substitute for a Christian character, in part, because they are lightly held, not deeply ingrained. It is like comparing a foundation of sand with one of stone when building a house on a floodplain (Matt 7:24-29). Jesus’ insight into housebuilding may sound cheeky, but secular society deifies the individual, which makes sense only in dealing with adversities that an individual can deal with. Once adversity grows to overwhelm the entire society, individual rights and problem-solving are ignored and irrelevant—only a society unified under God can withstand such a challenge. The image of an ant shaking a fist at a shoe comes to mind; united as an army of ants, however, the wise foot will forebear to crush the ant.

[5] Bridges (2003, 43) makes the point that it took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took about 40 years to get the Egypt out of the people (Num 11:5). The point is that transitions begin with people looking backwards; proceed through a long period of uncertainty; and end as people began to adapt to the new environment (Bridges 2003, 100). After 40 years in the wilderness, it took new leadership, Joshua, to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

[6] As God tells Moses: “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod 7:16) In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this paradox of blessing through adversity must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16) After all, the entire sacramental system of the ancient world implicitly associated blessing with bigger sacrifices that only the wealthy could offer. And, of course, the wealthy were not inclined towards experiencing adversity!

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Prayer of Rememberance

Blessed Lord Jesus,

We praise you for remembering us—

in our celebrations and joy,

in our loneliness and fear,

in spite of who we are or were or will ever be.

We confess that we forget you—

when things go well,

when pain becomes overwhelming,

when we ought to know better and do not.

We give thanks for Easter—

a time of resurrection, new life, and abundant possibilities,

a time when we know that we are not alone and are loved,

a time that begins a period of waiting for your Holy Spirit.

We ask for eyes that see and ears that hear—

that we might participate in your new life,

that the waiting may come to an end,

that we might transcend life constrained to the here and now

and see the Father in you. Amen.

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Dyck: Stop Mistaking a Tiger for a Pussy-cat

Tiger_review_07182014Drew Nathan Dyck [1]. 2014. Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Economists, who work in the world on worldly matters, often chide at the anti-intellectual attitude that often limits objective problem solving.  This is not a new problem.  Writing in 1936 in the middle of the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes famously wrote:   Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist [2].  This same anti-intellectualism, of course, also shows up in the church as an overt bias against ideas that sound vaguely like theology.

In his book, Yawning at Tigers, Drew Nathan Dyck observes:

…we need to be reminded of God’s love … [but] Rarely do we hear about God’ mystery and majesty, let alone whisper a word about his wrath (3).

Furthermore, he observes:

The truth is that God is radically different from us, in degree and kind.  He is ontologically dissimilar, wholly other, dangerous, alien, holy, and wild (5).

The problem here is inherently theological.  We are comfortable with God’s love, an attribute of an immanent God, but profoundly uncomfortable with a Holy God, an attribute of a transcendent God. Dyck’s point is that an infatuation with God’s love has led to neglect of His other attributes.

As Christians, we confess that God is both immanent (near us as in the Holy Spirit and like us as in Jesus Christ) and transcendent (above us and removed from us as in God the Father).  Dyck (99) cites the Prophet Jeremiah:

Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?  Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:23-24 ESV)

The problem that faces the church is that in refusing to debate theology, perhaps due to an obsession with our own emotions, we may inadvertently adopt theologies that we would not choose, if we spent more time thinking about it.

In Dyck’s case, he worries that a domesticated God (totally immanent) lacks the power required to deal with life’s challenges.  Power is an attribute of transcendence.  If God is no longer almighty (holy, sovereign), then He is also no longer interesting—kids need not attend church.  He’s safe but irrelevant.  Dyck (6) observes:  We ask God to keep us safe, not realizing that it is from him we most need protecting [3].

A teddy bear god is of no use in a world populated with tigers—clearly, much more could be said.

Yawning at Tigers covers a lot of ground in 12 chapters:

  1. Divine Invasion;
  2. Beyond the Shallows;
  3. The God Worth Worshipping;
  4. A Vision of Holiness;
  5. Dangerous Living;
  6. God Incognito;
  7. Loving a Lion;
  8. Tenacity and Tenderness;
  9. Intimate Beginnings;
  10. Face-to-Face:
  11. Jesus in the Shadows; and
  12. The Fragrance of Eternity (viii).

These chapters are bracketed by an introduction (The Greatest Adventure) and a follow up discussion guide.  Dyck is well read and has traveled widely during his career.  This makes his narrative writing style both interesting and accessible; a masters in theology makes his writing engaging. He is currently the managing editor of the Leadership Journal [4] and author of Generation Ex—Christians:  Why Young Adults are Leaving the Faith…and How to Bring them Back [5].

[1] www.DrewDyck.com.

[2] A fuller reference is:  “… the ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back …”John Maynard Keynes. 1936. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. (383–84).

[3] Or as the Bible says:  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31 ESV)

[4] The Leadership Journal is associated with Christianity Today (www.christianitytoday.com/le).

[5] www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/evangelism/youngadultsleavingfaith.html

 

 

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White: The Second Fall and the Christian Call

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

James Emery White.  2004.  Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.  Downers Grove.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Walking through the bookstore at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary [1] in Charlotte, NC a book by James Emery White caught my eye. The title was: Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Being a serious guy, I bought a copy.

White begins with a proposition: mankind has suffered not one but two falls. The first fall occurred when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. A second fall occurred when modern society turned its back on all notions of transcendence, including God (18). The mantra of the naturalist has become the watchword of the age: nature is all that there is. If it cannot be empirically verified, it does not exist (47). By the processes of secularization, privatization, and pluralization, White argues that we have come to a time when Christianity is treated as a preference fit for private discussion only within the walls of one’s own house.

White’s book is organized into 7 chapters:

  1. The Second Fall,
  2. The World that Lives in Us,
  3. The City of Dreadful Delight,
  4. Deeping Our Souls,
  5. Developing Our Minds,
  6. Answering the Call, and
  7. Aligning with the Church.

He apologizes up front for writing a mile wide and an inch deep (15). He need not have apologized: the hardest part of problem solving is arriving at a clear definition of the problem. For White, spiritual anemia (78) is the pressing problem of our age. We are lukewarm in our faith, in part, because we do not know what we believe. To deal with this problem, White commends the spiritual disciples of prayer, study, and worship.

Of these, the most interesting is worship because he views each Christian as called to treat his vocation as an act of worship. White writes: The Reformation idea of vocation follows from the monastic vision. Luther, himself a monk, was clearly familiar with the monastic conviction that all tasks needed to be offered as worship of the living God (116). This view flies in the face of society’s picture of worship as a Sunday morning activity confined within the walls of a church. Rather than being religious entertainment, worship defines who we are.  Here is our identity in Christ.

Christ calls us to ask a question of every moment of every day: to what purpose has God called me to this particular time and place? In the words of the Apostle Paul: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23). If we answer this call, every moment of every day has purpose. If God is present in our lives, we can perform a ministry of presence in the lives of those around us.

A writer’s packaging matters. Even if a writer rambles a bit, my rule of thumb is that a book is worth the time if I find myself quoting from the book and applying its lessons in my life. Two passages from Serious Times come to mind.

In the first passage, White cites a story by Walter Truett Anderson (57) that is helpful in highlighting the distinctions among modernists, postmodernists, and deconstructionists—three important worldviews today.

Three umpires have a beer at the end of the day. The first one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way they are. The second one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way I see them. The third one says there are balls and strikes and they are not anything until I call them. The first umpire is a modernist who believes in (unconditioned) objective reality. The second umpire is a postmodernist who believe that reality is conditioned on our perspective of it. The third umpire is a deconstructionist that believes that reality is conditioned on who is in charge.

This story sticks in my mind because I can put faces to each of these umpires.

The second passage is his highlighting of the broken glass theory of criminologists James O. Wilson and George Kelling (158) [2]. The idea is that crime is contagious. It starts with a broken window and spreads to an entire community. Cleaning up trash, graffiti, and broken windows and minor violations of law, New York City substantially reduced crime in the 1980s. For those of us who grew up scared to walk the streets of New York, this reduction in crime was a big deal. After reading White’s account I suddenly found ammunition to argue for cleaner kid’s rooms in my household and greater attention to detail in the office downtown. The broken glass theory has a familiar ring: I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:45). Small stuff matters.

I enjoyed Serious Times immensely and have already gifted half a dozen friends and colleagues with copies. Perhaps, you will too.

[1] www.GordonConwell.edu

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory.

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Long: Honoring God in Worship

Cover, Thomas Long. Honoring God in Worship
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Long: Honoring God in Worship

Thomas Long. Beyond the Worship Wars:  Building Vital and Faithful Worship. Herndon:  Alban Institute.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Before I attended seminary, I spoke with a pastor who began quizzing me about a worship service that she was planning.  The question totally stumped me.  For me, worship was that mysterio

us experience on Sunday mornings that drew me closer to God (or not).  I had no idea what worship was or how to plan it.  As I studied worship in seminary, Thomas Long’s book, Beyond the Worship Wars, helped reduce the mystery in worship planning.

Long defines worship as: what happens when people become aware that they are in the presence of a living God (18).  But how does a faithful church actually bring people into awareness of God?  Long offers an interesting insight:

Even when Christian worship is at its best, it is much like that Mother’s Day breakfast.  It is always the work of amateurs, people who do this for love, kids in the kitchen overcooking the prayers, half-baking the sermons, and crashing and stumbling through the responses on the way to an act of adoration (vii).

Does the word, humility, come to mind?

Beyond the Worship Wars is written in 10 chapters whose titles are instructive:

  1. Worship wars:  a report from the front lines.
  2. Why do people come to worship?  The presence of mystery,
  3. Why do people come to worship?  A sense of belonging.
  4. All the world’s a stage—and heaven too.
  5. O for a thousand tongues:  the challenge of music.
  6. Tents, temples, and tables:  the space of worship.
  7. Serving in this place:  neighborhoods and mission.
  8. Come to the joyful dance:  memory and celebration.
  9. In the spirit on the Lord’s Day:  Leadership.
  10. Epilog:  Can revitalized worship happen here?

These chapters are preceded by a preface and acknowledgments and followed by notes and a bibliography.

In surveying Long’s chapter titles, is anything in all of creation left out?  This is not an idle question, but more a theological one.  The apostle Paul writes:   And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23).  In writing about the cultural wars, new cultural realities lead Long (2) to observe that:  rare also is the congregation that has not felt some stress, some measure of conflict over all this ferment in worship [and in the world!]

Long (2-9) sees the conflict arising between two groups.  The first group seeks to recover the genuinely biblical worship of the ancient church as represented by interest in Bishop Hippolytus of the third century following Vatican II.  The second group focuses on seeker [1] worship symbolized by the praise music of the Willow Creek Community Church (www.WillowCreek.org) led by Bill Hybels.  While recognizing that the seeker worship is influenced more by our television culture than the Gospel story, Long sees wisdom in looking for a third-way that adopts the best of both worship styles (10-11).

How do we make room for God in worship, regardless of style?

Motivation clearly matters.  Long (26) sees us coming to worship for two fundamental reasons:  the hunger for communion with God [a sense of mystery] and the hunger for human community [a sense of belonging].  Theologians call the first need transcendence (God above us); they call the second immanence (God with us).  When we come to worship, the question of authenticity quickly arises because if our view of God is too transcendent, worship is dry and lifeless.  And if our view of God is too immanent, worship is too worldly.  Hence, true worship involves balancing this tension.

Long (107-110) ends with four insights:

  1. Pastoral leadership is the key to worship renewal.
  2. Whenever worship is renewed, some congregational conflict is inevitable.
  3. To change worship, significant lay involvement is necessary.
  4. Education and publicity help pave the way for worship renewal.

How do we make room for God in worship?  Long points out that the best worship is to some degree learned by heart (86).  This is because when worship is memorized, we are less distracted and more open to God’s presence.

Long’s Book, Beyond the Worship Wars, is a helpful book which I have given as a gift to friends.  Like many of the books published by the Alban Institute (www.alban.org), it is worth a look.

____________

[1] A seeker is someone interested in (seeking) God , but not yet a believer.

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