When Self-Exaltation is Love

October 17, 2014

When Self-Exaltation is Love

by Mike Riccardi

Edwards PortraitJonathan Edwards’ life, thought, and theology was dominated by the glory of God. Edwards argued extensively that God is chiefly concerned with His glory—manifesting the beauty of His perfections—and therefore all His creatures should be concerned with His glory as well. This commitment would shape Edwards’ entire theology, even as it related to theodicy and theology proper, the Calvinist-Arminian debate, the Christian’s pursuit of holiness, and the centrality of the affections in the Christian life. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say, along with one church historian, “No theologian in the history of Christianity held a higher or stronger view of God’s majesty, sovereignty, glory and power than Jonathan Edwards.”[1]

During his years ministering to the Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Edwards wrote his Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, where he masterfully develops the truth that God’s chief end in creating the world was to bring glory to Himself. He wrote:

All that is ever spoken of in the Scripture as an ultimate end of God’s works is included in that one phrase, the glory of God. … The refulgence shines upon and into the creature, and is reflected back to the luminary. The beams of glory come from God, and are something of God and are refunded back again to their original. So that the whole is of God, and in God, and to God, and God is the beginning, middle and end in this affair.[2]

Edwards argued that if God did not aim at His own glory in creation, He would be unrighteous. He must regard Himself above all things because only a Being as perfect and lovely as He is worthy of such regard. In other words, for God to be holy, He must value what is supremely valuable; and He is supremely valuable.[3] To do anything else would be for God to commit idolatry.

After tracing the Hebrew and Greek words for glory throughout the Scriptures, as well as employing typical Edwardsian air-tight reasoning, Edwards extends that God’s ultimate aim in creating the world is not—indeed cannot be—different from His ultimate aim in all of His acts in the world. J. I. Packer precisely summarizes Edwards’ conclusion:

“God’s internal and intrinsic glory consists of his knowledge (omniscience with wisdom) plus holiness (spontaneous virtuous love, linked with hatred of sin) plus his joy (supreme endless happiness); and that his glory (wise, holy, happy love) flows out from him, like water from a fountain, in loving spontaneity (grace), first in creation and then in redemption, both of which are so set forth to us so as to prompt praise; and that in our responsive, Spirit-led glorifying of God, God glorifies and satisfies himself, achieving that which was his purpose from the start.”[4]

The question that is raised, then, is if God’s chief regard is always to Himself, how can it be said that He is loving, or benevolent, towards human beings? Does not this doctrine of God’s own God-centeredness make Him a self-centered narcissist? The answer, of course, is an emphatic, “No!” because God has created us such that our fullest satisfaction comes from perceiving His glory.

Because [God] infinitely values his own glory, consisting in the knowledge of himself, love to himself, and complacence and joy in himself; he therefore valued the image, communication or participation of these, in the creature. And it is because he values himself, that he delights in the knowledge, and love, and joy of the creature; as being himself the object of this knowledge, love and complacence. Thus it is easy to conceive, how God should seek the good of the creature, consisting in the creature’s knowledge and holiness, and even his happiness, from a supreme regard to himself; as his happiness arises from that which is an image and participation of God’s own beauty. … [Thus] God’s respect to the creature’s good, and his respect to himself, is not a divided respect; but both are united in one, as the happiness of the creature aimed at, is happiness in union with himself.[5]

Packer summarizes that thought as follows:

“God made us that in praising, thanking, loving, and serving Him, we find our own supreme happiness and enjoyment of God in a way that otherwise we would not and could not do. We reach our highest enjoyment of God in and by glorifying Him, and we glorify Him supremely in and by enjoying Him. In fact, we enjoy Him most when we glorify Him most, and vice versa. And God’s single-yet-complex end, now in redemption as it was in creation, is His own happiness and joy in and through ours.”[6]

Edwards himself succinctly put it, “The enjoyment of Him is our highest happiness, and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.”[7] In other words, God’s glory and our happiness (or our good) are not different things. Our greatest happiness is to see God’s glory manifested and expressed for us to enjoy, because the beauty of that vision is that in which we were created to find our greatest satisfaction.

And so God’s self-exaltation is not narcissism, but love. As Piper has said, “God is the one being in the universe for whom self-exaltation is the most loving act,” because, “unlike our self-exaltation, God’s self-exaltation draws attention to what gives greatest and longest joy, namely, himself.”

May we behold the beauty of this God who has revealed Himself for our everlasting joy.

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[1] Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, 506.

[2] “A Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005), 1:119-120.

[3] Ibid., 1:98.

[4] Packer, “The Glory of God and the Reviving of Religion,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 92.

[5] Edwards, “The End for Which God Created the World,” in Works, 1:120.

[6] Packer, “The Glory of God,” 92.

[7] As quoted in Donald Whitney, “Pursuing a Passion for God Through Spiritual Disciplines,” in A God Entranced Vision of All Things, eds. John Piper and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 126.

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Online Source: The Cripplegate

Christ the Image of God

by Mike Riccardi at The Cripplegate

Exact ImprintThe Old Testament had much to say about the presence of God. Throughout the history of Israel, God’s presence was mediated through fire (Exod 3:6; Deut 5:4), through blazing light (Exod 33:18–23), through visions (Ezek 1:28) and angels (Jdg 6:21–22; cf. 13:21–22), through the temple worship (Pss 27:4; 63:1–2), and even through God’s own Word (1 Sam 3:21). But with the coming of Jesus and the New Covenant era, the glory of God’s presence is now uniquely and supremely manifested “in the face of Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). This makes sense, of course, because Christ is the perfect “image of God” (2 Cor 4:4).

This is precisely the testimony of the opening verses of the Book of Hebrews. Though God had revealed Himself by speaking to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days He has spoken finally and decisively in His Son (Heb 1:1). Christ is therefore the radiance of the Father’s glory (1:3)—the manifestation of the very presence of God, the “effulgence of the divine glory,” as one commentator colorfully puts it.

The Son is also described as the exact representation of the Father’s nature (1:3). The word for “nature” there is hupostasis, which the lexicons tell us speaks of the “essential or basic structure/nature of an entity” and thus refers to the Father’s “substantial nature, essence [and] actual being.” And the phrase “exact representation” is a translation of the Greek term charaktēr, which denotes “a stamp or impress, as on a coin or a seal, in which case the seal or die which makes an impression bears the image produced by it, and . . . all the features of the image correspond respectively with those of the instrument producing it” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, 577). Just as the shape, impressions, and intricacies of a coin reveal precisely the nature of the original die, so does the Son reveal the very essence of God Himself. Anthony Hoekema’s conclusion is inescapable: “It is hard to imagine a stronger figure to convey the thought that Christ is the perfect reproduction of the Father. Every trait, every characteristic, every quality found in the Father is also found in the Son, who is the Father’s exact representation.”

This teaching is borne consistent witness throughout the NT. Though no one has seen the Father at any time, Christ the only begotten God in the bosom of the Father has explained Him (John 1:18). Literally, the Son has exegeted the Father, making known to finite humanity in His own person what was otherwise imperceptible. The glory that humanity beholds in Christ is the “glory of the only begotten from the Father” (John 1:14). Paul tells us that Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Col 1:15), such that, “though God is invisible, in Christ the invisible becomes visible; one who looks at Christ is actually looking at God” (Hoekema, 21). So full is the Father’s revelation of Himself in the Son that Jesus can say to Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), for in Him “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form” (Col 2:9).

All of this accords entirely with the parallelism going on in 2 Corinthians 4:4 and 6, which presents as synonymous

(a) the (i) light of the (ii) gospel of the (iii) glory of Christ, (iv) who is the image of God, and
(b) the (i) Light of the (ii) knowledge of the (iii) glory of God (iv) in the face of Christ.

Paul clearly shows that “the glory of Christ” in v. 4 is identical with “the glory of God” in v. 6 by identifying that Christ’s being the image of God is synonymous with the light of God’s glory shining in the face of Christ. Jonathan Edwards comments,

The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can be conceived of; as it appears shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer.

Piper’s conclusion captures it well: “there is a glory of the Father and a glory of the Son, but . . . the Father and the Son are so inseparably one in glory and essence that knowing one implies knowing the other” (God is the Gospel, 72). Another writer hits the nail on the head: “When we look at Christ . . . we never have to give ourselves a cautious mental check and think, Oh, but that’s Jesus, not God. Seeing Jesus, we see God.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of the very image of God. He is the supreme revelation of the Father—the very radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact representation of His essence. Though God revealed Himself in various ways throughout history, by His great grace we now behold the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God shining in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). Let us worship Him for this. And beholding His glory, may we be transformed into that very image, from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

Mike originally published a version of this article in April 2013.

World Vision and Why We Grieve For the Children

by Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition

World Vision has announced that its American branch will adjust its employee code of conduct to allow same-sex couples who are legally “married.”

Hoping to keep the evangelical organization out of debates over same-sex marriage, president Richard Stearns adjusted the employee code of conduct to sexuality within the confines of “marriage” whether between man and man or woman and woman. In other words, while declaring to not take a position on redefining marriage, his organization has redefined it.

Some observers are elated.

Evangelicals are shocked.

Many are outraged.

No matter what you think about this decision, I hope you feel a sense of grief… for the children. This is a story of deep and lasting significance, because there are children’s lives at stake in how we respond.

Children will suffer as evangelicals lose trust in and withdraw support from World Vision in the future. It will take time for evangelicals to start new organizations that maintain historic Christian concepts of sin, faith, and repentance.

In the meantime, children will suffer. Needlessly.

That’s why critics of the evangelical outcry toward World Vision will say, Get over it! Kids matter more than what men and women choose to do romantically!

Strangely enough, we agree. In fact, this is one of the main reasons we’re against redefining marriage. We believe kids matter more than gays and lesbians having romantic relationships enshrined as “marriage.”

Children are the ones who suffer when society says there’s no difference between a mom or a dad.

Children are the ones who suffer when a couple’s romantic interests outstrip a child’s healthy development, whether in no-fault easy divorce laws, or in the redefining of society’s central institution.

Children are the ones who suffer when Mom and Dad choose to live together, as if their relationship is one lengthy trial or audition, a decision that can’t provide their children with the security that comes from marriage.

Children are the ones who suffer when careers matter more than marriage, when romance matters more than reproduction, when sex is a commodity, when a marriage culture is undermined.

Children are the ones who suffer when organizations like World Vision, under the guise of neutrality, adopt policies that enshrine a false definition of marriage in the very statement that says no position will be taken.

Children are the ones who suffer when President Obama (rightly) mourns the rampant fatherlessness in the African-American community, while simultaneously campaigning for marriage laws that would make fathers totally unnecessary.

Children are the ones who suffer and die when “sexual freedom” means the right of a mother to take the life of her unborn child.

Sex is our god. Children are our sacrifice.

So, yes, we grieve for the children across the world who will be adversely affected by World Vision’s decision and the evangelical response.

But we also grieve for children here at home who are growing up in a culture in which sexual idolatry distorts the meaning of marriage and the beauty of God’s original design.

Today is a day to grieve for the children.

‘Son of God': Jesus film earnest but bland, reviews say

By Oliver Gettell, LA Times

11:22 AM PST, February 28, 2014

Adapted for the big screen from the History Channel miniseries “The Bible,” the new film “Son of God” is essentially a feature-length recut of the second half of the series, based on the New Testament.

The reedited nature of the movie, which tells the story of Jesus from his birth through his preaching, crucifixion and resurrection, might explain why many film critics are saying “Son of God” feels more like a greatest-hits compilation than a cohesive work.

In a review for The Times, Martin Tsai writes, “to its credit, ‘Son of God’ proves more than a mere watered-down ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The epic proportions of the miniseries hold up well on the big screen, save for the digitally composed establishing shots of Jerusalem.”

On the other hand, it also has the feel of a “midseason clip show.” Tsai adds, “If ‘The Bible’ was CliffsNotes for the Scriptures, ‘Son of God’ is the cheat sheet. The two-hour film condenses about four hours of what already was hasty television, and it all winds up a little dramatically static.”

The New York Times’ Nicolas Rapold says, “‘Son of God’ runs through the scriptural greatest hits of the Passion with the reliability of a Sunday reader.” He continues, “Jesus looks like a tanned model in robes in the person of the Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado. His scenes pivot on teachable moments buttressed by reaction shots to his coterie, undermining the mysteries of Jesus with the blandness of the filmmaking.”

Rapold concludes, “‘Son of God’ may have hit the mark if part of the goal was to create a portrait flat enough to allow audience members to project their own feelings onto the screen.”

Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle finds the film a bit chintzy, writing, “Jesus of Nazareth’s accent changes frequently,” that “Jerusalem looks as if it was built in a few hours out of balsa wood,” and that there’s “more hair product being used in this movie than in an entire season of ‘Dancing With the Stars.'”

However, “the film does thoroughly succeed in one important regard: offering a coherent, viewer-friendly account of the life of Jesus Christ. The movie flies by despite its 138-minute running time, a holy CliffsNotes that packs in all the greatest hits. Never again will a Sunday school student get lower than a C-minus on this material.”

The Newark Star-Ledger’s Stephen Whitty writes that “‘Son of God,’ unfortunately, is ultimately just a bit of canny recycling,” and “the cuts and compromises show.” What’s more, he says, “there’s little fresh or daring here. As controversial as ‘Passion’ or ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ were, at least they presented very personal visions of this ancient story; whether you felt they were enlightening or blasphemous, they took risks. They dared all. But when it comes to ‘Son of God’ — well, the film is willing. But its spirit is weak.”

And Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post says, “‘Son of God’ is nothing if not sincere, its earnest retelling of Jesus’s life story resembling a gentle, pop-up book version of the New Testament, its text reenacted for maximum reassurance and intellectual ease.”

She ends with an advisory: “To the filmgoers thronging to theaters this weekend: Don’t expect to see a great film, or even a very good one. Whether you discover a meaningful channel with which to continue your walk with the film’s protagonist, however, is strictly between you and your god.”

The Spirit of Idolatry – Glenn Fairman

The Spirit of Idolatry is a subtle lure. In some ages, men bow to Dagon and Baal and in others it is Abstract Freedom and Empirical Knowledge. Placing any forbidden obsession at the apex of human consciousness and desire causes an ontological distortion in the perceiving eye and its corresponding soul — projecting into infinity our dilemma of unrequited thirst for completion, for the substance which the world cannot of itself give to us. No temporal peace or earthly rapture — no golden calf forged in the cauldron of our longing could ever prove sufficient to quell the mystery of our incessant quest for the union of all things — the absence of which condemns us to carnal bleakness and confines us to the velvet-lined misery of incommunicable despair. As we wrestle at night in the desolation of solitary thoughts, that droning din of meaninglessness that runs across our soul like a saw blade bears witness to the Spirit of Idolatry — a Cassandra warning for us against the barren antipode we have sought refuge in. Those deaf and sterile gods we are enthralled in stark fealty to will not answer us in that hour of excruciating need. They have always fallen, and they are falling even now as still-born hearts conduct their inevitable masquerade: a denial of life they present as window-dressing for public consumption — to be revealed utterly on that final and terrible Day of Reckoning.

 

 
Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca.  He can be reached at arete5000@dslextreme.com and at http://www.stubbornthings.org and on Twitter.

Millennials and Mainlines: When ‘Relevant’ Christianity is Irrelevant

John Stonestreet, BreakPoint

 

Recently, the Presbyterian Church (USA) dropped the hugely popular hymn, “In Christ Alone,” from its hymnal after its authors, Keith Getty and Stuart Townend, refused to omit a reference to Jesus satisfying the wrath of God.

In a powerful response over at First Things, which we’ll link to at BreakPoint.org, Colson Center chairman Timothy George quotes Richard Niebuhr who, back in the 1930s, described this kind of revisionist Protestantism as a religion in which “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”

The response from the PCUSA, that their problem was not with God’s wrath but with the idea that Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath, doesn’t change the fundamental problem of what George calls “squishy” theology. Theology is supposed to be true, not palatable.

Along these lines, maybe you’ve seen the recent viral opinion piece on CNN by my friend, Christian blogger and author Rachel Held Evans. In it, Evans offers her answers to the truly important question "Why are millennials leaving the church?"

To counter the exodus of young people from American churches, Evans says it’s time to own up to our shortcomings and give millennials what they really want — not a change in style but a change in substance. The answer to attracting millennials, she writes, is NOT “hipper worship bands” or handing out “lattés,” but actually helping them find Jesus.

Amen. I couldn’t agree more.

Then she goes on: “[The church is] too political, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to [LGBT] people.” Well, okay — anytime political programs co-opt our faith, or we ignore the needy and fail to love those with whom we disagree, we do the Gospel of Christ great harm.

But when she writes that attracting millennials to Jesus involves “an end to the culture wars,” “a truce between science and faith,” being less “exclusive” with less emphasis on sex, without “predetermined answers” to life’s questions, now I want to ask — are we still talking about the Jesus of biblical Christianity?

The attempt to re-make Jesus to be more palatable to modern scientific and especially sexual sensibilities has been tried before. In fact, it’s the reason Niebuhr said that brilliant line that I quoted earlier.

He watched as the redefining “Jesus Project” gave us mainline Protestantism, which promotes virtually everything on Evans’ list for millennials. The acceptance of homosexuality, a passion for the environment, prioritizing so-called “social justice” over transformational truth are all embodied in denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But religious millennials aren’t flocking to mainline Protestant congregations. Mainline churches as a whole have suffered withering declines in the last few decades — especially among the young. What gives?

Well, in an another essay which appeared in First Things over 20 years ago, a trio of Christian researchers offered their theory on what’s behind the long, slow hemorrhage of mainline Protestant churches:

“In our study,” they wrote, “the single best predictor of church participation turned out to be belief — orthodox Christian belief, and especially the teaching that a person can be saved only through Jesus Christ.” This, said the researchers, was not (and I add, is still not) a teaching of mainline Protestantism. As a dwindling denomination rejects a hymn which proclaims salvation “in Christ alone,” this research sounds prophetic.

Evans is right that evangelical Christianity is responsible in many ways for the exodus of millennials. But ditching the Church’s unpalatable “old-fashioned” beliefs to become more “relevant” to the young won’t bring them back.

BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

Publication date: August 8, 2013

The Providence of Jesus

by Jerry Bridges

The feeding of the five thousand, recorded in Matthew 14:13–21, is probably the most well known of all of Jesus’ miracles. It is the only one recorded by all four of the gospel writers (see Mark 6:30–44; Luke 9:10–19; John 6:1–14). It is also one that skeptics have most often tried to explain away. A common explanation is that the little boy’s example of generosity in giving his bread and fish to Jesus prompted others to share the food they had brought along, so that there was enough for all.

That this was an amazing miracle is beyond doubt. To use a contemporary expression, it was “over the top.” It is impossible to visualize in our minds what it must have looked like, and the extreme brevity of the account tempts us to fill in the details. But we should refrain from doing so, knowing that the Holy Spirit guided the gospel writers to give us only as much detail as He wanted us to know.

Rather than puzzling over omitted details, we need to ask of any portion of Scripture what it teaches us. Without claiming to have plumbed the depths of this passage, let me draw out one obvious lesson: Jesus controls the physical universe, and He exercises that control for His people.

Scripture teaches us that the Son of God was not only the agent of creation, but that He also upholds the universe and holds it together by the word of His power (Heb. 1:1–3; Col. 1:16–17). That is, He who created the universe in the beginning also sustains and directs it moment by moment on a continual basis. We know, for example, that ordinarily the physical laws of the universe operate in a consistent and predictable manner. The reason they do is because of the consistent will of Christ causing them to do so. They do not operate on their own.

This helps us understand why Jesus could perform miracles; in this case causing five small barley cakes and two small fish to multiply so dramatically that they fed more than five thousand people. Jesus, who created the physical laws and stands outside of them and over them, could, as He purposed, change or countermand any of them. In fact He could, if He so willed, create an entirely new law of multiplication for that specific occasion so that the bread and fish multiplied.

We really don’t know what Jesus did, or what the multiplication process looked like. We only know the results, and we know that the Lord of the universe could, in whatever way He chose, produce those miraculous results. Miracles were no problem for Jesus.

Today, at least in the Western world, we seem to see few miracles, and certainly none the scope of the feeding of the five thousand. What we do see, however, are the results of God’s invisible hand of providence. Setting aside the theological definition of providence  to keep it simple, we may say that providence is God’s orchestrating all events and circumstances in the universe for His glory and the good of His people (Rom. 8:28).

Scripture teaches us that just as the Son of God was the agent of creation and is its present sustainer, so too is He also the agent of God’s providence. Jesus is in sovereign control, not only of the physical laws of the universe, but of all the events and circumstances in the universe, including those that happen to each of us. If you have food today in your cupboard and refrigerator, that is as much the result of Jesus’ care for you as was the feeding of the five thousand.

Just as the physical laws of the universe ordinarily operate in a consistent and predictable manner, so providence ordinarily operates in a predictable cause and effect relationship. “A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich” (Prov. 10:4). That’s cause and effect, and it is generally predictable. But just as Jesus intervened in the physical laws during His time on earth, so He intervenes in normal cause-and-effect relationships. Sometimes from our perspective His intervention is “good” and sometimes it’s “bad.” In either case He is in control “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lam. 3:38).

The good news, however, is that Jesus is not only in control of all the events and circumstances of our lives, He is also compassionate. In the record of the feeding of the five thousand, the text says “He had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:14). At the subsequent feeding of the four thousand, Jesus said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat” (Matt. 15:32). Whether it was healing the sick or feeding the multitude, Jesus was moved to act by His compassion. On other occasions throughout the Gospels we see Jesus acting as a result of His compassion. And what He was while on earth, He is today in heaven: a sovereign and compassionate Savior who works all things for His glory and our good.