Trinity Tuesdays – The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

The Shield of the Trinity From Wikimedia Commons

The foundational doctrine of the Bible is that there is one true and living God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This prayer, called the Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”), was the central confession of Israel.

But just as surely as the Bible teaches there is one God, it also teaches that there is a three-ness to God – that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit. Astonishingly, one of the primary proof texts for this claim is Israel’s ancient creed in Deuteronomy 6:4.   In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, the apostle Paul says:

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

According to Paul, the “LORD our God” refers to the Father (“one God”) and also to Jesus Christ” (“one LORD”). This elaboration of the Shema is profound. It says that the one LORD who is God that Israel has always worshiped is the Father and the Son. Continue reading

Calvinism and the Two “Wills” of God

John Calvin, by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543)

Those who hold to the Calvinistic concept of predestination believe that God predetermined everything that would happen before the foundation of the world in an eternal and unconditional decree. The Westminster Confession of Faith outlines this decree and its ramifications in this way:

I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass…

III. By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life; and others foreordained to everlasting death.

In this view, God selected certain sinners to be regenerated and implanted with saving faith, but did not select other sinners for regeneration and faith. Continue reading

In Defense of Theology

I grew up hearing many sermons urging Christians to “speak where the Bible speaks.” And I have embraced that heritage. I’m a “Bible guy.” Almost all of the classes I teach are textual studies, and most of my sermons are expository messages, moving verse by verse through a passage of Scripture.

Thomas Aquinas, An altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy,
by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)

But I also went to a seminary to receive a graduate degree in theology. And for some people from the same background as me, theology is almost a dirty word. And seminaries? Why, they ought to be called cemeteries, because they bury the word of God!!!! More than once I have discussed my grad school experience with friends who have also had some seminary training, only to hear them say something like, “Well, I took as many textual courses as I could, but I stayed away from any of those theology courses” (italics cannot adequately capture the disdain in their voices!).

Why do so many people have this allergic response to theology? Continue reading

Paul vs James? Faith, Works, and Justification

Portrait of Martin Luther, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1529)

In his 1522 Preface to the New Testament Martin Luther expressed his reservations about the book of James, which he described as an “epistle of straw.” He had questions about the identity of its author, but he was even more troubled by its seeming contradiction with the teaching of Paul on justification. At one point Luther offered to give his doctor’s beret to any man who could reconcile the teaching of Paul and James. 

On the surface, it is easy to see why Luther was so perplexed. In Romans 3:29 Paul says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Yet in James 2:24 we read, “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.” We have basically two options: either Paul and James contradict each other, or they are using the same terms to mean different things .

And I believe this latter approach is correct. Continue reading