A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.
A. How does God define our relationships?
I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.
Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.
The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!
And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.
Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.
B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships
Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.
The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.
We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;
- If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
- We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
- We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
- Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’
Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.
Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbow: We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.
Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.
No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.
- God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
- God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
- God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
- When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
- God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.
3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)
- God is an impersonal force
- Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
- Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
- Relationships and personality are temporary
The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.
Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter (vv.28-30)
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.
C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship. They express and define perfect love.
Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.
|Bible verses||Nature of relationship|
|John 14:31, 3:35||Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.|
|John 17:1,4||Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.|
|John 10:30||Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.|
|John 5:30||Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.|
As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.
Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!
There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent
Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.
Simon Gathercole is a New Testament scholar at Cambridge University who is also a leading expert on other so-called gospels. He has written books on the gospel of Judas and the gospel of Thomas. In this lecture Dr. Gathercole takes a look at the sensationalist claims of the media about other gospels not found in the Bible and offers an expert opinion on what we can really know about Jesus.
Reading some of the media output of the last 24 hours and you’d be forgiven for thinking a new ‘gospel’ had been discovered shedding light on the life of Jesus and challenging our traditional understanding of him. Let me assure you that no such document has been found.
Quite simply the only ‘gospels’ in existence that tell us anything about the real Jesus come from those very early gospels of the New Testament that were all written within the lifetime of the eye-witnesses of the events of his life. True, many other gospels were penned from the 2nd century onwards all by those who never knew Jesus. These gospels don’t tell us anything about Jesus although they are useful in the study of the development of ‘chrisitan’ groups and the development in particular of a christian gnosticism.
Bart Ehrmann (no friend of evangelical Christians) writes:
The oldest and best sources we have for knowing about the life of Jesus – are the four gospels of the New Testament. This is not simply the view of Christian historians; it is the view of all serious historians of antiquity of every kind, from committed evangelical Christians to hardcore atheists. This view is not, in other words, a biased perspective of only a few naïve wishful thinkers; it is the conclusion that has been reached by every one of the hundreds (thousands, even) of scholars who work on the problem of establishing what really happened in the life of the historical Jesus.
We may wish there were other, more reliable sources, but ultimately it is the sources within the cannon (that is the four gospels in the Bible) that provide us with the most and the best, information.
Simon Gathercole,a leading expert at Cambridge University, has written this compelling response to those who wish to find a whole lot more than really exists in this new discovery.
What if Jesus had never been born…how the lives of even the irreligious have been shaped by his life
Something from Tim Keller’s new book Center Church to get you thinking:
In his history classes, C. John Sommerville used to demonstrate to students how thoroughly Christianized they were, even those who were atheistic or antireligious. He would list the values of shame-and-honor cultures (like those of pagan northern Europe before the advent of Christian missionaries) and include values like pride, a strict ethic of revenge, the instilling of fear, the supreme importance of one’s reputation and name, and loyalty to one’s tribe.
Then he would list corresponding Christian values, which had been hitherto unknown to the pagans of Europe — things like humility, forgiveness, peaceableness, and service to others, along with an equal respect for the dignity of all people made in God’s image. Many of Sommerville’s most antireligious students were surprised to learn just how deeply they had been influenced by ways of thinking and living that had grown out of biblical ideas and been passed on to them through complex social and cultural processes.
His point was that much of what is good and unqiue about Western civilization is actually “borrowed capital” from a Christian faith, even though the supernatural elements of the faith have been otherwise neglected of late in the public sphere.
A very helpful essay by Dr. Art Lindsley of seven insights that CS Lewis shared with the world
- Chronological Snobbery
- Objective Values vs. Relativism
(HT: The Poached Egg)
Originally a post on this blog Evangelicals Now have edited and published it for a wider audience
This section of a documentary entitled The trouble with atheism presented by Rod Liddle also highlights the extreme violence conducted by atheist states in the past century.
I’ve just returned from a walk listening to a Tim Keller sermon on the jealousy of God from 2011 in which he offers this extensive quote from CS Lewis’s Problem of Pain, chapter3:
You asked for a loving God: you have one. ..not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philantropy of a conscientious magistrate, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between the sexes.
When we fall in love with a woman, do we cease to care whether she is clean or dirty, fair or foul? Do we not rather then first begin to care? Does any woman regard it as a sign of love in a man that he neither knows nor cares how she is looking? Love may, indeed, love the beloved when her beauty is lost: but not because it is lost. Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but Love cannot cease to will their removal. Love is more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved. Of all powers he forgives most, but he condones least: he is pleased with little, but demands all.
What we would here and now call our “happiness” is not the end God chieﬂy has in view: but when we are such as He can love without impediment, we shall in fact be happy.
God gives what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives.
God loves us too much to leave us as we are and too much to give us what we want. Keller says we would not give a 5 year old child everything they asked for because we have better things for them in mind. He reminds us of how we look back at our teenage years and cringe with embarrassment at the things we demanded from our parents and even of how our 25 year old selves seem child-like once we have reached 50 and so finally God loves us too much than to give us what we want.
Peter Mullen writing in the Telegraph argues that behind the debate about same-sex marriage is a much bigger clash of ideas.
(HT: David Robertson)
What might just persuade our friends to embrace the gospel of Christ? I guess that depends on what we think is stopping them. Our apologetic (defense) of Christianity largely revovles around answering various questions; Are the gospels reliable, what about other religions, suffering, etc…
But Doug Wilson wonders whether we’ve really understood the nature of unbelief? Can I suggest that next time you chat to a self-confessed atheist why not ask them this question ‘Do you hope that God is there?’ and it might reveal the true nature of the problem. Their answer might well reveal that behind intellectual doubts, at it’s heart unbelief is a heart issue rather than an issue of the head.
Wilson takes us to Romans 1 and reminds us that unbelief is really a suppression of the truth because of a hearts desire to rebel against God and his word. People in some sense don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
What them should we do? How should our theology drive our apologetic? Doug Wilson asks us to aim at the heart in our apologetics because that is the heart of problem. When the Christian community learns to love God by demonstrating a deep gratitude for all that we have received from him that has persuasive power. From a man who debated Christopher Hitchens on more than one occasion its a helpful reminder. And after all wasn’t it Francis Scaheffer who said ‘the greatest apologetic of all is love’.
The Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (OICCU) invites students across Oxford to take a fresh look at Jesus. Lunch time and evening events led by Mike Cain and Tim Keller. All happening this week. Oxford Town Hall.
(HT: Gavin McGrath)
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