Reeves: The Triune God vs. Allah

One of the things I appreciate about Michael Reeves’ Delighting in the Trinity is how he interacts with Islamic theology.  In a number of places in the book he demonstrates the poverty of the Islamic Allah.  The single-person Islamic god simply does not measure up to the Triune God revealed in the Bible.  Here’s a sample:

Onenness for the single-person God would mean sameness.  Alone for eternity without any beside him, why would he value others and their differences?  Think how it works out for Allah: under his influence, the once-diverse cultures of Nigeria, Persia, and Indonesia are made, deliberately and increasingly, the same.  Islam presents a complete way of life for individuals, nations, and cultures, binding them into one way of praying, one way of marrying, buying, fighting, relating — even, some would say, one way of eating and dressing.

Oneness for the triune God means unity.  As the Father is absolutely one with his Son, and yet is not his Son, so Jesus prays that believers might be one, but not that they might all be the same.  Created male and female, in the image of this God, and with many other good differences between us, we come together valuing the way the triune God has made us each unique.

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit…If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be?  If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact, God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor. 12:4, 17-20)

So it is not just that the Father, Son, and Spirit call us into fellowship with themselves; they share their heavenly harmony that there might be harmony on earth, that people of different genders, languages, hobbies and gifts might be one in peace and love; and that one day, with one heart and voice, we might cry: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Rev. 7:10).  And that is what the family of God — by its very existence — makes known to the world: that the God of harmony is the hope for world peace; that he can and will unite enemies, rivals, and strangers into one loving family under his fatherly care.  (pp.103-104)


Sproul: Infallibility and Inerrancy

In his little booklet Can I Trust the Bible? R.C. Sproul discusses the terms “infallibility” and “inerrancy.”  I appreciate the way he describes the difference and the need to maintain both:

The church historically has seen that the Bible alone, of all the written literature in history, is uniquely infallible.  The word infallible may be defined as “that which cannot fail”; it means something is incapable of making a mistake.  From a linguistic standpoint, the term infallible is higher than the term inerrant.  Though the words have often been used virtually as synonyms in the English language, there remains a historic technical definition between the two.  The distinction is that of the potential and the actual, the hypothetical and the real.  Infallibility has to do with the question of ability or potential; that which is infallible is said to be unable to make mistakes or to err.  By contrast, that which is inerrant is that which, in fact, does not err.  As an illustration: a student can take a test made up of twenty questions and get twenty correct answers, giving him an inerrant test.  However, the student’s inerrancy in this restricted arena does not make him infallible, as mistakes on subsequent tests would verify. (pp.26-27)

This is a good illustration of what medieval theologian John Duns Scotus called a formal distinction.  Infallibility and inerrancy are both characteristics of Scripture.  They can be distinguished, as Sproul did above, but they cannot be separated.  They belong together.


Pastoral Q & A: How Do I Indicate My Aspiration to Serve as an Elder or Deacon?

Wanting to be an office bearer is a great thing – Scripture says so in 1 Timothy 3:1, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  We certainly want to encourage men in our churches to have such aspirations.  For those who aspire to the ministry it’s relatively easy to indicate your aspirations.  You do pre-seminary studies and then go to seminary.  However, how do you let people know if you have an aspiration to be an elder or deacon?  Perhaps you could say it directly, or you might wait until your elder asks you on a home visit.  But what if verbally indicating your aspiration might be frowned upon or even seen as somewhat arrogant?

As it turns out, there are more ways to indicate the aspiration to serve as an elder or deacon.  Let’s look at three ways in particular.

Christian Maturity

Scripture speaks about the qualifications of office bearers in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  One should certainly go to those qualifications and use them as targets to aim for in a thankful Christian life.  However, they can all be summed up with one word:  maturity.  An office bearer has to consistently demonstrate Christian maturity.  There has to be evidence of a life lived in union with Jesus Christ.  That’s going to be seen first and foremost in a love for Christ and for the gospel.  If the gospel doesn’t personally excite you, if you don’t feel love for Christ in your heart, how would you lead others in that direction?  If you don’t love reading and studying the Bible, how would you guide others to do it?

If you aspire to be an office bearer, Christian maturity also has to be seen in the home:  “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will be care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:4-5).  As an outworking of that, an aspiring office bearer ought to be leading his children in daily family worship.  You have to be discipling your own children before you can be discipling others.

If someone aspires to office, there also has to be maturity evidenced in regards to the church and his involvement with it.  For example, an aspiring office bearer makes public worship twice on the Lord’s Day a priority.  Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught…”  That implies being under the Word as often as it is taught.  An office bearer has to set an example in this regard and so an aspiring office bearer is going to aim for this too.

A Desire to Learn

In Hosea 4:6, God said “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”  Learning is essential for all Christians.  This is why 2 Peter 3:18 says, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”  But this imperative to grow in our understanding of the Christian faith is sharper for those who are leaders in Christ’s church.  The young pastor Timothy was called to do his best to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:14).  He was to immerse himself in studying and teaching the Scriptures so that everyone could see his progress (1 Tim. 4:13-15).

So what about those aspiring to the office of elder?  An elder is called to first exemplify the learning and growing Christian.  Moreover, he’s also called to oversee the teaching and preaching in the church.  How is he going to be equipped for that if he’s not reading and learning more?  Even deacons are called to “hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3:9).  They have to have a good (and growing) grasp on the doctrines of the Christian faith.  After all, they’re also leaders in the church – governing the ministry of mercy.

If you aspire to be an office bearer, one of the best things you can do is go to your pastor or ward elder and say:  “I want to read a good book.  Can you recommend something?”  Readers are leaders – and serious readers in the congregation are going to get noticed.

A Desire to Serve

Last of all, being an office bearer is all about service.  Being a shepherd is about serving the flock.  What about the deacons?  The very word “deacon” means “servant” or “minister.”  Those who aspire to this noble task should strive for a track record of service in other capacities.  When the opportunity arises to volunteer, the man who aspires to office should be the first one to put up his hand.  Those who are keeping busy with non-office bearer work in the church community will often find themselves being noticed when it comes time to nominate for elders and deacons.

To sum up, perhaps you’ve noticed that these three ways have one thing in common:  they’re all things we ought to be striving for as Christians at any rate.  Every Christian ought to aim for growing levels of maturity.  Every Christian ought to desire to learn and serve.  So, basically, if you aspire to be an office bearer, live like a Christian.

    


Piper: Can the Divine Author Say More than the Human Author?

One of the topics John Piper discusses in Reading the Bible Supernaturally is meaning.  He stresses how important it is to reach for the intended meaning of any given Bible passage.  Specifically, what did the human author intend to say?  Of course, Piper insists that God speaks through these human authors and their words in Scripture.  But that raises the question:  does it ever happen in Scripture that there is more to a human author’s words than he might have been aware of when he wrote them?  Listen to Piper:

So, can the human author intend things of which he is not conscious at the moment?  The answer is yes.  I know this sounds contradictory, since I have defined meaning as what the author intends to communicate.  And now I am saying he can intend something he is not conscious of.  What does that mean?

It really is not that strange.  You do this every time you use the little abbreviation etc.  Or when you say, “and so forth.”  Suppose you say, “Any green vegetable that you can buy at the grocery store is good for you, including lettuce, broccoli, cucumbers, etc.”  At that moment, those are the only green vegetables that come to your mind.  You are not conscious of any others at the moment you speak.  But the term etc. is designed to carry your intention beyond what you are conscious of.

Etc., in your sentence, can’t mean just anything.  You have given it boundaries.  You said, “Any green vegetable,” and you said, “that you can buy at the grocery store.”  These two traits limit the meaning of etc.  So if someone said, “Do you mean — that is, do you intend — to include asparagus?” you would say, “Yes.”  You meant asparagus even though you were not conscious of asparagus.  Another way of saying this is to point out that necessary implications of our conscious meaning are included in our meaning, even if we are not conscious of all of them.  (pp.318-319)

Piper follows this up with examples.  The first is the prophecy of Caiaphas in John 11:49-52.  Piper writes:

Caiaphas’s immediate intention was to communicate that it would be better that Jesus be killed than that the Jewish nation be wiped out by the Romans.  God communicated to John that God had a different intention with the same words, namely, that Christ’s death would indeed, by a substitution, save his people, but that salvation would be greater, both in depth and scope. (p.320)

The other example is from Col. 3:17, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.”  Notes Piper:

God sees every single one of the billions of acts included in “everything” and intends for us to do each of them in the name of Jesus.  Paul, however, cannot see the specific implications of the word everything for every Christian who ever lives.  Therefore, God, in this sense, always intends a fuller, more specific, meaning than the human authors.  (p.321)

Well-said!

Reading the Bible Supernaturally is available for free on-line here.


Book Review: Broken Pieces

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother’s Eyes, Simonetta Carr.  Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2019.  Softcover, 359 pages.

Though it deals with a gut-wrenching topic, I could not put this book down.  I bought it on a Saturday afternoon and had it finished by Tuesday morning.  It’s compelling reading about a family’s struggle with mental illness.  Simonetta Carr’s son Jonathan developed schizophrenia and it turned their world upside down.

The book consists of two parts.  The first is the story of Jonathan and the Carr family.  You won’t be able to read it without tears.  The second part is about coming to terms with mental illnesses like schizophrenia.  How can affected families find the support and help they need?  The author answers questions related to medication and other treatments, including Christian counselling.  She discusses self-medication through tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana.  What about when a spouse is the one with mental illness?  She offers solid theological reflection on suffering in the Christian life and how to cope with it.

There are at least four things that bring me to highly recommend Broken Pieces.

First, there’s the forthright honesty in describing the struggle Carr’s family faced with Jonathan’s illness.  The author made herself vulnerable in doing this, but the benefit is that readers unfamiliar with such experiences get a clear picture of what it’s really like.  That helps to create empathy for those suffering with mental illness in their family.  Those who are familiar with these issues receive affirmation that they’re not struggling by themselves – there are others out there who have gone through similar challenges.

Next, I really appreciate Carr’s emphasis on the church and the ordinary means of grace (i.e. preaching and the sacraments).  Her family belongs to a United Reformed Church in the San Diego area, and this church figures prominently throughout Jonathan’s story.  In the second part of the book, Carr stresses how important it is to be part of a solid, gospel-preaching church.

Third, Broken Pieces both illustrates how husbands and wives often deal with the mental illness of a child in different ways.  Yet there’s not only description, there are also suggestions on how to manage those differences and even capitalize on them.

Finally, this book has great potential to improve the understanding of the treatment of mental health issues like schizophrenia.  I’m thinking especially of our Reformed churches.  There is often much ignorance among us about the seriousness of these ailments.  In some instances, the focus is entirely on the medical side of things.  With others, the illness is (mis)treated as strictly a spiritual problem.  Carr contends for a more balanced approach taking everything into consideration.

I recommend Broken Pieces to one and all, but let me especially recommend it to two audiences in particular. First, to all families dealing with mental health issues.  It doesn’t have to be schizophrenia.  If you’re dealing with whatever mental illness, I’m sure you’ll find this a useful read.  Second, to all office bearers.  Office bearers particularly need to understand the complexities of mental illness so that in our shepherding we don’t hurt, but help.  Carr’s book will get you in the right frame of mind to show the love and patience of Christ to those suffering with their mental health.