The doctrine that makes Christianity Christian

JP: A good read

The Most Important Doctrine Many Never Think About

Introduction:

If any doctrine makes Christianity Christian, then surely it is the doctrine of the Trinity. The three great ecumenical creeds—the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed—are all structured around our three in one God, underlying the essential importance of Trinitarian theology. Augustine once commented about the Trinity that “in no other subject is error more dangerous, or inquiry more laborious, or the discovery of truth more profitable.” More recently, Sinclair Ferguson has reflected on “the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse in on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity. If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it!”

Conclusion:

Third, why does any of this matter? There are lots of reasons, but borrowing from Robert Letham’s work, and in Trinitarian fashion, let me mention just three.

One, the Trinity matters for creation. God, unlike the gods in other ancient creation stories, did not need to go outside himself to create the universe. Instead, the Word and the Spirit were like his own two hands (to use Irenaeus’ famous phrase) in fashioning the cosmos. God created by speaking (the Word) as the Spirit hovered over the chaos. Creation, like regeneration, is a Trinitarian act, with God working by the agency of the Word spoken and the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit.

Two, the Trinity matters for evangelism and cultural engagement. I’ve heard it said that the two main rivals to a Christian worldview at present are Islam and Postmodernism. Islam emphasizes unity—unity of language, culture, and expression—without allowing much variance for diversity. Postmodernism, on the other hand, emphasizes diversity—diversity of opinion, believes, and background—without attempting to see things in any kind of meta-unity. Christianity, with its understanding of God as three in one, allows for diversity and unity. If God exists in three distinct Persons who all share the same essence, then it is possible to hope that God’s creation may exhibit stunning variety and individuality while still holding together in a genuine oneness.

Three, the Trinity matters for relationships. We worship a God who is in constant and eternal relationship with himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Community is a buzz word in American culture, but it is only in a Christian framework that communion and interpersonal community are seen as expressions of the eternal nature of God. Likewise, it is only with a Trinitarian God that love can be an eternal attribute of God. Without a plurality of persons in the Godhead, we would be forced to think that God created humans so that he might show love and know love, thereby making love a created thing (and God a needy deity). But with a biblical understanding of the Trinity we can say that God did not create in order to be loved, but rather, created out of the overflow of the perfect love that had always existed among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who ever live in perfect and mutual relationship and delight.

More Shield of Trinity images here!

1969: Credit and Banking

It’s hard to explain how much banking and credit have changed in 40 years. Banking has improved significantly, in my view; and credit has become a little too available.

Funding for college: Kathee and I don’t recollect that there were any student loans available then. I can’t think of one friend who financed his education. Education funding was simple: earn and save. Parents paid for the education of some of our friends (not K and me!). And of course scholarships were available.

Kathee was in college from 1969-1973. For two years she went to St Petersburg Junior College and lived at home with her parents. Her final two years were at Florida State. She paid her way through college as was debt free upon graduation. I was in college from 1967-1971. I lived at home and commuted daily to campus. I was able to earn enough in the Summer time (working at Monsanto Chemical) to basically pay for all of my college expenses and the did miscellaneous jobs (selling shoes, dock work at the Cincinnati paper, etc) to pay for my day to day expenses. My parents paid for my clothing in my first year of college, but after that I was on my own. Dad directed me to buy own car when I was 19 and I was on my own for those expenses as well.

Banking: If you wanted a checking account, you opened one at the Bank. If you needed a savings account, you opened one at the Savings and Loan. There was no branch or inter-state banking then. Then one had to reconcile one’s bank statement (canceled checks were returned with the statement). Today I just log onto Wells Fargo banking and know my balance.

Credit Card: I had a gas station card from Gulf Oil. I think the limit was either $ 100 or $ 200. Gas was only about 35 cents a gallon back then so that was plenty of credit. I remember using my Gulf card for muffler repairs on my VW a couple of times.

I double majored in Economics and Finance at the University of Cincinnati. For one class, I wrote a paper on the emergence of the new MasterCharge and Bank of America cards.

After Kathee and I were married, our very first credit card was Sears Card. As I recollect we used this to buy a washer and dryer.

Because credit was not readily available, people did not easily fall into credit card debt. When Kathee and I married we had zero debt! Different days indeed!

On the historicity of Adam

JP: James Anderson on Was Adam a Real Historical Individual?

Conclusion:

  1. On the face of it, the basic literary genre of Genesis 1-4 is that of historical narrative (as opposed to, e.g., poetry, legal code, or apocalypse). This isn’t to say that these chapters can contain no figurative language; many conservative OT scholars would readily grant that they do. But it does imply that these chapters (like the rest of Genesis) are intended by the author to report important events within historical space-time. As such, there should be a strong presumption that the Adam of chapters 1-4 is no less a real historic figure than, say, the Abraham of chapters 12-25.
  2. The first five verses of Genesis 5 not only describe events in Adam’s life, they attaches specific numerical dates to those events. This is passing strange if the author didn’t consider Adam to be a real historical figure. (This point applies equally to the human author and to the divine author!) For example, we’re told that Adam lived 930 years. Why would one make what seems to be precise factual statement about the lifespan of a certain individual if the individual in question never actually lived? (Cf. Gen. 25:17; 50:26; Num. 33:39; Deut. 34:7; Josh. 24:29; etc.)
  3. The author of Genesis presents the book as a seamless historical account. There is no obvious shift from non-historical narrative to historical narrative. Rather, we’re presented with a series of narrative sections, each introduced with some variant of the formula, “These are the generations of . . .” (Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10; 11:27; 25:12; 25:19; 36:1, 9; 37:2). The implication is that Adam and Eve were no less historical figures than Noah, Shem, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau, and Jacob.
  4. Adam is named in the genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1. The presumption is that Adam is just as historical an individual as the other people who feature in the genealogy. It’s one thing to grant (as many conservative OT scholars would) that there are gaps in the OT genealogies; the Hebrew words for ‘father’ and ’son’ certainly allow for that. It’s quite another thing to suggest that this genealogy slides imperceptibly from the non-historical to the historical.
  5. The interpretation of Hosea 6:7 is disputed, but a good case can be offered that taking ‘Adam’ as a reference to the first human being, rather than as a place-name or as ‘mankind’, makes best sense in the context. (The notes in the ESV Study Bible nicely summarize the rationale for this reading.) It would be foolish to rest too much on this verse; but on the other hand, it shouldn’t be overlooked. If this is indeed the correct reading, it lends some further support to the prima facie case for a historical Adam.
  6. The genealogy of Jesus Christ given in Luke 3:23-38 traces all the way back to Adam. While it’s likely that the genealogy isn’t complete (and isn’t intended to be), it’s hard to believe Luke would have accepted the idea that his list is a mixture of the historical and the non-historical. If Adam were not a historical individual, wouldn’t that tend to undermine Luke’s point, namely, that Jesus is the saving hope for all human beings, both Jews and Gentiles? How would a partly fictional genealogy back up a factual theological point?
  7. In Matthew 19:3-9, in answer to a question about divorce, Jesus refers the Pharisees back to the account of the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1-2. On the face of it, Jesus takes for granted that the Genesis account describes real historical events and individuals. If the paradigmatic married couple never actually existed, wouldn’t this rather undermine Jesus’ argument?
  8. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul draws his famous parallel between Adam and Jesus. The transgression of “one man” (Adam) brought judgment and death, but the obedience of “one man” (Jesus) brought righteousness and life. If Adam never actually existed (never mind sinned), Paul’s parallel — on which his theological argument depends — falls flat.
  9. In the same passage, Paul states that “death reigned from Adam to Moses” (verse 14). Paul clearly means to refer to a specific period in human history; but if Adam wasn’t a real historical figure, then there was no historical period from Adam to Moses, in which case Paul’s statement fails to refer (and therefore fails to express a truth).
  10. Paul’s parallel between Adam and Christ reappears in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 (also verse 45). The same considerations apply here as to Romans 5:12-21. If Adam’s sin wasn’t a historical event, Paul’s argument is derailed.
  11. In 1 Timothy 2:12-14, Paul refers to specific details about the creation and fall of Adam and Eve to support his instructions about women teaching in the church. The cogency of Paul’s argument depends crucially on the historicity of the events to which he appeals.
  12. Jude 14 refers to “Enoch, the seventh from Adam”; it’s a reasonable presumption that the author of Jude viewed both Enoch and Adam as historical individuals. Yes, I realize that complications arise from Jude’s use of the pseudepigraphical book 1 Enoch, and I wouldn’t want to put any more weight on this point than on the interpretation of Hosea 6:7, but evangelicals should bear in mind three simple points: (1) all Scripture is verbally inspired; (2) Jude is Scripture; and (3) the author of Jude didn’t have to mention that Enoch was “seventh from Adam”.

I want to grow up

“For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:5-11).

JP: I am somewhat of a Norman Rockwell fan. Some time when you are by the house, check out the Rockwell print in our den. The above image is Hes Going to Be Taller Than Dad, 1939. Advertisement for Upjohn pharmaceuticals. I chose this image for the first of what I hope to be a series of posts on Christian growth and maturity!

The Lord’s atoning work on the cross is the basis for Christian Growth!: Our Lord died that those who believe on Him would both be saved and be sanctified. Sanctified is the term used to describe the process of becoming conformed to the image of our Savior.

We are individually responsible to cooperate with the process of sanctification. This is seen in these commands:

  • “knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him … “ (not technically a command but has a command-like emphasis)
  • “reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin”
  • “do not let sin reign in your mortal body” (Romans 5:12)
  • “present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God” (Romans 5:13)

I personally want to continue to grow! I have not yet arrived! Paul echoed this thought in Philippians 3:13: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead”. The way to grow is to first be “in Christ”, a true Christian!

Til the Storm Passes By

JP: From Jim Korth (a close friend):

Jim Korth: Storm Stories

Over the last week there has been a lot in the Charlotte and Raleigh news looking back at some past storms. It was 20 years ago when Hurricane Hugo wrecked havoc on Charlotte and points west, and 10 years ago when Hurricane Floyd brought great flooding to Raleigh and points east.

We hear stories of survival, as well as stories of the lasting impact these storms have had on the state.

Yesterday at church we heard a message on “Til the Storm Passes By” from Matthew 14:22-32. As I’ve been thinking about the message I saw four ways we need to respond to the storms that come in life, be they storms sent our way by God, as a result of our own sin, or as a result of living in a sin-stained world.

  1. LOOK – Look up to the Lord in the midst of the storm. Often the storms that come distract us and, in an effort to find release, we turn to everything BUT the Lord. We might look for help from others, from ourselves, or from secular ideas. We need to be sure we look to the Lord as our first resource and not our last resort.
  2. LEAN – We need to entrust ourselves to God in the midst of the storm remembering that nothing happens by mistake and nothing catches God by surprise. We remember that we are not to lean on our own understanding, but to remember that He is sovereign over all things and that all things are working together to accomplish His good purposes. Lena on the truth that God is good, He always does what is right, and He always does what is best.
  3. LEARN – Never let a good storm go to waste. Se each one as a learning opportunity. How could I have better prepared for this storm (spiritually and emotionally)? How is this storm going to change my life and conform me more to the image of Christ? Did this storm come as a result of my own foolish decisions, or was it something sent by God to train me?
  4. LEAD – We don’t experience storms in a vacuum. What we are experiencing is also being experienced by others. A storm may be an opportunity for us to exercise our spiritual gifts and strengthen others as we bear up under the storm together.

Perhaps in a storm God will use you to help others to LOOK, LEAN, and LEARN.

Tullian Tchividjian: When Churches Have Disputes

JP: One pastor comments on an upcoming vote to dismiss him:

Tullian Tchividjian: When Churches Have Disputes

Excerpt:

You may have read, in this paper or elsewhere, six members of our church recently circulated unsolicited letters and a petition voicing their opposition to my leadership and requesting a congregational meeting to vote on whether to keep me as their pastor. Citing things like my desire not to wear a robe when I preach, not honoring the legacy and preferences of Dr. Kennedy to the degree that I should, making personnel changes (bringing in my staff from New City), and not preaching political sermons, these six members have been working to remove me as pastor.

The saddest thing about all of this is that, because of the visibility of both Coral Ridge and my family, this conflict has taken on a national interest. The reason this grieves me so deeply is because the Bible says God wants the church to be a visual model of the gospel. He wants us, in other words, to live our lives together in such a way that we demonstrate the good news of reconciliation before the watching world.

The late Francis Schaeffer once noted that bitter divisions among Christians give the world the justification they’re looking for to disbelieve the gospel. But when reconciliation, peacemaking, and unity are on display inside the church, that becomes a powerful witness to this fractured world. “Just as I have loved you,” Jesus commanded, “you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

To get this matter behind us once and for all, the elders and I have called this congregational meeting and a vote will take place on Sunday. You will no doubt read about the result, but whatever it is, I want to say three things to the South Florida community that I love so much and have called home for 37 years.

First, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church is not my church, and it wasn’t Dr. Kennedy’s church. It’s God’s church and I want to honor Him and carry on the legacy of Jesus above anything or anyone else.

Second, I remain committed to serving our one new church and the community where we’re located. We are surrounded by so much need for God’s love and the hope that comes from knowing Him and I want this to be the focus of my life and ministry. I want Coral Ridge to be a church in Ft. Lauderdale, for Ft. Lauderdale. We want God to use us to make Ft. Lauderdale a better place to live for everyone, not just us.

Finally, whenever you see any of us who claim to be “Christ followers” behaving in a manner that is unlike Jesus, please forgive us. And please let that be a reflection on us, and not on Him. As imperfect people, we will continue to let you down and disappoint you, but Jesus will never let you down–he will never disappoint you. This conflict has “given the world the justification they’re looking for to disbelieve the gospel”, and I am sorry.

Tullian Tchividjian (Grandson of Billy Graham) is pastor of the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church

Image is Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” (Kathee and I have a print of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms)

Think soberly

JP: Comment on the images above: Back in the days when Kathee and I worked at IBM, every IBMer had a “Think” sign on his or her desk. Why …. because IBM founder Tom Watson (picture above) had one! What does “think” have to do with this week’s text?

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3)

Notes available for online viewing or download