Back in January I took a class at TMS taught by Dr. Bruce Ware on the doctrine of the trinity, which I blogged about here. As a part of the class Dr. Ware assigned several reading assignments, one of which was the book Father, Son, & Holy Spirit.
Father, Son, & Holy Spirit is based on a series of lectures that Dr. Ware gave at a CBC pastor’s conference in 2004. The book begins with a broad overview of the doctrine of the Trinity and moves on to examine each of the persons of the Trinity in detail.
Father, Son, & Holy Spirit is a short book, weighing in at around 160 pages, but it is a very readable book due to it’s origin in a series of talks for pastors and their wives. Throughout most of my Christian life I have always viewed the Trinity as a mystery that was simply beyond my ability to understand, so for the most part I ignored it. What Dr. Ware does in this book is to bring the doctrine of the Trinity into full view for everyday people and to draw applications from this marvelous doctrine. Each chapter is concluded with a series of applications that range from marriage, to parenting, to business relationships, to pastoral ministry. Father, Son, & Holy Spirit truly is a theologically devotional book. I’ll close with a quote from Dr. Ware.
The one God is three! He is by very nature both a unity of Being while also existing eternally as a society of Persons. God’s tri-Personal reality is intrinsic to his existence as the one God who alone is God. He is a socially related being within himself. In this tri-Personal relationship the three Persons love one another, support one another, assist one another, team with one another, honor one another, communicate with one another, and in everything respect and enjoy one another. They are in need of nothing but each other throughout all eternity. Such is the richness and the fullness and the completion of the social relationship that exists in the Trinity.
After class yesterday I drove up to Pine Mountain Club where my old church is at. It was the first time that I’d visited PMC in 4 years and it was such a blessing seeing many of my old friends. I ended up staying in PMC pretty late, which meant that I got back to Los Angeles pretty late so this morning was a little tougher than most. Fortunately, there is a Star Bucks just around the corner from where I’ve been staying so with my latte in hand I went back to TMS for the last class session in which Dr. Ware covered the Reformed understanding of providence.
Dr. Ware gave the following definition of Divine Providence from a Reformed understanding:
God continually oversees and directs all things pertaining to the created order in such a way that 1) He preserves in existence and provides for the creation He has brought into being, and 2) He governs and reigns supremely over the entirety of the created order in order to fulfill all of His intended purposes in it and through it.
The best way to illustrate the Reformed understanding of providence is probably through what Dr. Ware calls “spectrum texts.” These are passages of Scripture that illustrate the spectrum of God’s control over both good and evil. Some examples would be:
Deuteronomy 32:39 — See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.”
Isaiah 45:5-7 — 5I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; 6 that men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun that there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, 7 the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD Who does all these.
This passage in Isaiah is an especially powerful one as Isaiah goes to great lengths to make the point that God Himself is the one who “creates darkness” as well as “creating calamity.” According to this passage it is not that God merely permits evil to happen, nor that he simply watches helplessly as calamity occurs in this world but rather that He actually creates it. It’s clear from these passages and others that God has absolutely no interest in being removed from responsibility for the evil things that happen in this world.
The twin pillars upon which the Reformed understanding of providence rests are 1) God brings both and evil to pass, 2) God is good and not evil. While these twin truths may seem incompatible, when the biblical data is taken into account this the picture of God’s providence that we receive. Both of these tenants are critical to our understanding of God’s relationship to the world as well as God’s relationship to us as individuals. God is just as much in control of the tragedies, hardships, suffering and pain in this life as He is in control of the joy and happiness in this life. Behind every experience in life stands a God who is good and and not malicious.
The question still remains how can God remain guiltless when he is in control of all things including evil. This is a multi-tiered question with multiple answers, but one of the broadest categories is the fact that God works through human beings in such a way that His will and their will is compatible. The best example of this is the story of Joseph. In Genesis 45:4-8 we read:
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, . . . ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life . . . 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt.’
The fact of the matter is that it was the brothers who sold Joseph into slavery into Egypt, but God used their sinful choice in order to bring about his predetermined ends. Another way to think of this is that all men have a freedom of inclination, in other words men do what they are most inclined to do. In selling Joseph into slavery the brothers were following the inclination of their hearts, but God uses these inclinations in order to bring about His predetermined ends, namely saving the family from the soon coming famine.
This truth has huge implications for sanctification. If it’s true that men always do what they most want to do than it is also true that we either sin or pursue righteousness based on what we most want to do. What has to happen in us so that we live in ways that are increasingly pleasing to God is that we must have our “most want tos” changed, so that what I most want to do is grow in my faith. You see, in order for sanctification to happen I must be changed on the level of my desires so that what I most want is to please the Lord rather than myself. This is the principle issue in any person’s spiritual growth, What does he desire most?
I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take this class. I know that I have grown tremendously through Dr. Ware’s teaching. I have a lot to think about when I get back home and a few books to read through. For right now, I’m just glad to be back with my family and very glad to be heading back home to Mount Vernon tomorrow.
Dr. Ware is probably best known for his book God’s Lesser Glory which is an analysis and refutation of a movement called “Open Theism.” God’s Lesser Glory is by far the best known treatment of the topic, so it was a real privilige to listen to Dr. Ware teach on the topic of Open Theism today.
If you haven’t heard of Open Theism before, it is basically the belief that God does not know the future. The God of Open Theism is a God who takes risks by creating creatures who are completely free to make their decisions which God is completely unaware of until those decisions are actually made. Clark Pinnock (the father of the movement) defines Open Theism in this way:
“. . . God rules in such a way as to uphold the created structures and, because he gives liberty to his creatures, is happy to accept the future as open, not closed, and a relationship with the world that is dynamic, not static. . . . We see the universe as a context in which there are real choices, alternatives and surprises. God’s openness means that God is open to the changing realities of history, that God cares about us and lets what we do impact him” (Clark Pinnock, The Openness of God, pp. 103-104).
Open Theists are essentially Arminians who have come to realize that Classic Arminianism collapses under its own weight when it comes to God’s foreknowledge, so the Open Theism movement simply gets rid of God’s foreknowledge and describes God as one who is always learning.
One of the passages that Open Theists appeal to frequently is Genesis 18:16-21 where Abraham takes Isaac up to Mount Moriah to offer him as a sacrifice to YHWH. Just as Abraham raises the knife the Lord stops him and says, “now I know that you fear God.” Open Theists argue that this means that God did not actually know what Abraham was going to do until he tested him. The primary reason that this cannot be the right understanding of this passage is that in Genesis 18:16-21 Moses is using anthropomorphic language to describe God (describing God in human terms). It is not that God did not know what Abraham was going to do, but rather that God experienced the heartache of Abraham in those moments. God’s knowledge of men is twofold 1) God possesses exhaustive, comprehensive knowledge of all things (this is in fact one of the proofs of His deity (Isaiah 41:21-29; Isaiah 46:8-11); 2) God also possesses an intimate, personal knowledge of us moment by moment as He enters into relationship with us. That is to say, that God knows by experience (as a Father knows the pain of an injured child) every aspect of our moment to moment existence.
Tomorrow Dr. Ware will finish class by covering the Reformed understanding of God’s providence.
This morning marked a significant shift in the class as we started focusing in on the doctrine of Divine Providence. Dr. Ware prefaced the entire discussion by pointing out that in order to understand Providence we must begin by understanding the triune nature of God. The taxis of the trinity (the role that each person of the Godhead fulfills) is very helpful in understanding providence. The work of providence is ultimately the design of the Father. In other words, the Father designs and orchestrates all things according to His will. While the Father is the grand architect of all things, the Son is the agent by which the Father causes all things to happen. In other words, while the Father designs providence, the Son is the one who actually carries out the affairs of this world and “holds all things together” (Hebrews 1:3). The final step in providence is that the Son sends the Spirit as the activator of His will and His work (John 15:15-31). With this understanding we begin to see how all three persons of the trinity are intimately involved in ordering the affairs of this world and even the small things of my life.
In order to study providence Dr. Ware began by taking us through a full examination and explanation of the classic Arminian model of Divine Providence including history, major tenets, etc.
The most important thing to remember about the Classic Arminian position is that it places a heavy emphasis upon the universal love of God for all men. Arminians understand the universal love of God to be that love by which God loves all men equally and desires the greatest good for all men. The irony of the Arminian position is that in their desire to emphasize the universal love of God, they miss the much deeper aspect of God’s particular love for His people. It is absolutely true that God has a love for all men (John 3:16-17) and yet this does not discount God’s particular love for His people. In fact one of the major themes in Scripture, when it comes to the love of God, is the way in which that love is contrasted with those who God does not have this particular love for. Isaiah 43 is a great example of this.
But now thus says the LORD,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the LORD your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
God specifically says that He will give up other nations, in order to ransom Israel back as His beloved bride.
The particular love of God would be similar to a husband’s particular love for his wife. It is true that the Bible commands me to have a love for all men, even a love for my enemies, but this does not negate the particular love that I have for my wife. I love my wife in a way that far exceeds my love for the person sitting next to me right now. In the same way God has a general love for all mankind, but He has a particular love for the his children (Ephesians 5:22-33).
The nail in the coffin of Arminianism seems to be the fact that it is completely incapable of accounting for the unspeakable evil that exists in this world. The Classic Arminian system can do little but look at the horror of the suffering in this world and attribute it to meaninglessness. As a theologian, I find that answer questionable at best. As a Pastor, I find it revolting. If there truly is no purpose to suffering and no greater purpose for the evil that exists in this world then I have absolutely nothing to say to the man suffering with terminal cancer, or the woman who just lost her baby, or the child who just lost his mother. The best I can do for them is say, “Well, that’s tough. I wish God would have done something, but you know he values mankind’s free will so much that He’s chosen to give up control of this world and because of that, this kind of stuff happens sometimes. But aren’t you glad that you have free will!” I find that way of thinking completely unacceptable.
If you’re interested, the following is a 10 minute video of Dr. Ware critiquing he Arminian position in a public debate.
Tomorrow Dr. Ware is going to begin unpacking the Open Theist view of Divine Providence and Saturday He will get to the traditional Reformed understanding of Divine Providence.
I started this morning out with a good cup of coffee, which was a very good thing because of the weightiness of what Dr. Ware brought to us today. With each passing day I grow to have a greater and great appreciation for the gravity and seriousness of the doctrine of the Trinity. This is not an easy doctrine! It is fraught with peril on every side, so great care is needed when we begin to unfold what the Scripture teaches about the triune nature of God.
The topic for most of the day was the Son’s relationship to the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament consistently speaks of a day when God will make a new covenant with His people and that covenant will be inaugurated by the coming of the Messiah (Jesus) as well as the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 44:1-5 – But now listen, O Jacob, My servant, And Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus says the Lord who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. ‘For I will pour out water on the thirsty land And streams on the dry ground; I will pour out My Spirit on your offspring And My blessing on your descendants; And they will spring up among the grass Like poplars by streams of water.’ “This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s’; And that one will call on the name of Jacob; And another will write on his hand, ‘Belonging to the Lord,’ And will name Israel’s name with honor.”
One of the most profound implications of the Son’s relationship to the Spirit is found in the incarnation of Christ. As you read through the gospel accounts it becomes increasingly clear that one of the outstanding characteristics of Jesus is the fact that He relied so heavily upon the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2). The reason for this seems to be that in the incarnation Jesus set aside the use of His divine attributes (Philippians 2:6-8) and so He lived His life in the same way that you and I live our lives. He did not call upon His divine attributes to get Him out of sticky situations (like finding out who touched Him in a crowded street), but rather lived His life in complete and utter dependence on the Spirit. This quality of Christ’s dependence on the Spirit is what qualifies Him as our great example. Jesus lived the same life that I live (save that He never sinned), a life completely dependent on the Spirit. This serves as a tremendous source of hope on two fronts 1) No matter how difficult the path that I may walk down, Jesus has already gone before me. There is no place in this life so dark that Christ has not already gone there. 2) I need to live my life in dependence upon the Spirit. In other words, there should be an increasing sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in my Christian life, because that’s how Jesus lived as my great example.
Dr. Ware began the morning with a moving lesson on what he calls the “poor god” syndrome that so many churches suffer from. Ware describes this syndrome as the tendency of Christians to believe that they are somehow doing God a favor by getting saved, or serving in their local church, or giving to missions, as if these acts somehow makeup for a deficiency in God. The truth of the matter is that God is completely self-sufficient and without any need whatsoever. The fact that believers are allowed to participate in God’s work is an act of sheer grace intended to maximize our joy.
Another interesting thing that I learned today is that the doctrine of the trinity is a subject of great disagreement today. Millard Erickson along with several other leading theologians are engaged in a significant battle with Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware over the nature of the trinity, specifically the rolls within the trinity. It is Erickson’s position that any distinctions that we see between the Father, the Son and the Spirit are merely present because of the created order but in actuality there are no distinctions within the Godhead whatsoever. Ware’s position is essentially that the distinctions within the Godhead are not based on any ontological differences, but rather are based upon the roles and relationships within the Godhead. Several books have been written on this topic and it was a major source of discussion this year at the Evangelical Theological Society.
The roles which Ware went on to describe include the Father as being supreme among the persons of the Godhead (1 Cor. 15:28), the Son and his three offices as the eternal Son, the incarnate Son, and the exalted Son, all the while remaining a Son. The position which Jesus occupies as the Son implies His submission to the will of the Father during His incarnation, as well as eternity past and eternity to come.
I walked away with several significant application points from today’s class. 1) Submission to authority is a godlike act, because Jesus always submits to the authority of the Father. The culture which we find ourselves living in today is full of rebellion against authority and yet the submission of the Son to the Father reminds us that to submit to the authorities in our lives is to imitate God in the person of Jesus Christ. 2) To abide in Christ and to experience the full warmth of fellowship with Christ we must obey Christ. Dr. Ware spent some time reviewing John 15:9-10 – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” In this passage Jesus is teaching that there is an intimate connection between our ability to abide in Christ and our obedience. To abide is not simply to have warm-fuzzy feelings about God, but rather to obey Christ and in that obedience to find rest and peace and warmth and intimacy with God.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow Dr. Ware will be covering Christ’s relationship to the Holy Spirit and wrapping up the section on the trinity.
Today was the first day of class and we certainly started off with a bang. In the introduction Dr. Ware explained that he was going to take 3 days of the class to cover the doctrine of the trinity and the last 3 days to cover the doctrine of providence. Ware pointed out that in order to understand the trinity you must understand providence and in order to understand providence you must understand the trinity, because God operates as a triune God even in His providence.
One of the big objectives that Dr. Ware has for the class is to open our eyes to the proliferation of Trinitarian texts within the Bible, especially the New Testament. The problem is that as NT Christians we often times read these texts as if the author were repeating himself, but in actuality he is saying something very specific. Take Ephesians 1:1 for example, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will God…” For years I’ve read that text as if Paul were somehow repeating himself. “Paul…something about God…something else about God’s will.” What Dr. Ware pointed out was that Paul was actually saying something very specific in this passage. Paul is emphasizing the fact that God the Father is master designer and architect of all things, including the fact that Paul would be an apostle of the Father’s Son Jesus Christ who is responsible for carrying out the will of the Father. What we find repeatedly in Scripture is a taxis (order for the Godhead) whereby the Father is the one who orders and designs all things, the Son is the one who executes and accomplishes, and the Spirit is the one who mediates out all things in relation to God’s people.
Biblical and Historical Overview
Dr. Ware wrapped up his introduction by describing the two pillars of Trinitarian doctrine (Distinction and Identity). The first pillar of distinction refers to the fact that each member of the Godhead is a distinct person, not to be confused with the other members of the Godhead. The second pillar of identity refers to the fact that while each of the person’s of the Godhead is distinct in their personhood, they are of the exact same essence or nature. What is meant by that is that the nature of the persons of the Godhead is of a far greater equality because it is an equality of identity, unlike any other beings identity. For example, if you put three people in a room it would be safe to say that those three people are equal in their value as human beings. Yet, if one of those people were to die it would not affect the other two because they are equal in that they have the same kind of nature. God is unique in that each member of the Godhead is a distinct expression of the exact same nature, not just the same kind as are human beings. This is the source and foundation of monotheism within the Scriptures that God, while existing in three persons, is one one nature.
In the second part of class Dr. Ware went through a number of different passages affirming monotheism as a thoroughly biblical doctrine (Genesis 1:1; Deut. 6:4; Isaiah 45:5-7; Isaiah 46:9; James 2:19; and others). After which he followed up with a series of Trinitarian passages (John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; John 1:1; and Hebrews 1) and an overview of the first four church councils, which were primarily concerned with various aspects of the trinity.
Significant Definitions and Statements
Definition of the Trinity - “God’s whole and undivided essence belongs equally, eternally, simultaneously, and fully to each of the three Persons of the Godhead, so that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each is fully God while each is his own personal expression, in role and activity, of the one eternal and undivided divine essence.”
Equality of Essence – “The Christian faith affirms that there is one and only one God, eternally existing while fully and simultaneously expressed in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Godhead is equally God, each is eternally God, and each is fully God—not three gods but three Persons of the one Godhead. Each Person is equal in essence as each possesses fully the identically same and eternal divine nature, yet each is also an eternal and distinct personal expression of that one undivided divine nature.”
Distinction of Roles and Relations – “Because of this, what distinguishes each Person of the Godhead from each other is not and cannot be the divine nature of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This—the one and undivided divine nature—is possessed equally, eternally, simultaneously, and fully by each of the three Persons of the Godhead. So, what distinguishes the Son from Father and Spirit is not the divine nature of the Son. This (divine nature) is possessed also equally and fully by the Father and Spirit. What distinguishes each Trinitarian Person is his particular role in relation to the other Trinitarian Persons, and the relationships that he has with each of the others. What, then, characterizes the distinct roles and relationships of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Consider the answer to this question by focusing on the Son and his relations to the Father and Spirit, respectively.”
I’m writing this post as I sit in a beautiful restaurant on the corner of Sepulveda and Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. The sky scrapers are rising above me, there is no rain (something to be truly thankful for), and my family is in Visalia with Amy’s parents enjoying some grandma and grandpa time.
When I was in seminary one of my favorite times of year was winter break because during winter break TMS always brought in top level scholars to teach on various topics (i.e. Wayne Grudem on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Steve Lawson on preaching the Psalms, etc.). One of the benefits of being an alumnus of TMS is now that I’ve graduated I am invited to attend any of these Winterim classes for free! This year, with a baby due in early April I’ve decided to forego the Shepherds’ Conference (happening in March) and to attend this year’s Winterim with Dr. Bruce Ware on the Doctrine of the Trinity.
In order to assist me in this study I’ve decided to write summary posts for each day of class, as a way for me to synthesize what I’ve been learning and to share some of the choicest lessons and insights with my readers (that’s right I’m looking at you mom ). The posts will probably follow about a day behind as I’m going to need some time to process the class myself, but I will be posting everyday this week, so keep an eye on the blog for lots of new content.