Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Part One: The Doctrines Of Divine Simplicity, The Trinity And Christology

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2 Peter 3:18 "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."


The only good thing that is not "too much of a good thing" is taking the time to think more deeply on God, His nature and His attributes. Such a study of God is what theologians refer to as "Theology Proper" or "The first thing in the study of God", namely, "God Himself". A little while back, I did a series of posts that introduced readers to what is called "the doctrine of Divine Simplicity" (or, DDS). This doctrine has its roots into the earliest days of the church and arises most naturally from considerations of certain Biblical statements and doctrine about the God of revealed scripture. 

We began that series by presenting the historic definition of the doctrine, "God is not composed without parts", and spent considerable time expounding upon what is meant by such a statement. We then spent time testing to see if the doctrine could withstand contemporary objections which claim that such a doctrine makes it impossible to talk coherently or clearly about God. Then finally, we took the last few posts of the series to see how compatible the DDS was with the doctrine of the Trinity. 

For those readers interested in reviewing the full series on the doctrine of Divine simplicity, simply click on the links below:

The compatibility of the doctrine of Divine simplicity with the doctrine of the Trinity

As mentioned above, we introduced the doctrine of Divine simplicity as that teaching which asserts that God, by His very nature, is not composed of parts. Divine simplicity equates "what God is" in terms of His essence with "how God is" in terms of His existence. This means that, in God, there never was a time where He added any of His attributes. Biblical passages that affirm "God is" something (such as "God is light" 1 John 1:5; "God is love" 1 John 4:8; "God is holy" Isaiah 6:3) alert us to the truth of God's existence and essence being the same. 

God's Divine simplicity affirms that God has had all of His perfections from all eternity and thus is equal to all of His perfections. God's properties or qualities do not "compose" God like lego bricks would, say, a "lego man". All other created beings (humans, angels, universes, planets, animals) begin as potentially what they could be and grow to become, in actuality, what they're designed to be. 

God, is, in the words of the Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, "pure actuality". When Aquinas describes God as "pure actuality", he means that all that God is has always existed in total perfection, from all eternity. Thus, we have in the doctrine of Divine simplicity a way to explain how God is one God. 

So then, in understanding "what God is", the doctrine of the Trinity aids us in answering the question: "who is God"?The doctrine of the Trinity, as we explored in the above mentioned series on Divine simplicity, affirms that the three Persons (or hypostases, subsistences) of the Trinity each bear this simple, undivided, eternal nature of deity. As one theologian as aptly expressed the doctrine of the Trinity: "God is 'One God' and 'Three Who's'". 

As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each bear the properties of Deity, they all three share and participate equally and eternally as the One God of revealed scripture (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Psalm 110:4; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Divine simplicity affirms no division nor "parts" composing the divine nature of God. 

When it comes to the Triune Persons, the DDS does not prohibit the distinct Persons of the Trinity from bearing the Divine nature as bearers of such Divine properties. With respect to the doctrine of Divine simplicity, it is the nature, not the Persons, which are its focus. So what's the practical take-away from these admittedly deep considerations? 

The doctrine of the Trinity, when conjoined with the doctrine of Divine simplicity, explains how such a Divine being can truly interact with our created world in history, answering prayers and revealing the books of the Bible. The broader discussion of the Trinity is connected to another, more particular conversation about the second Person of the Trinity - namely, the Son.

Defining Christology and Its Relevance to the discussion of Divine simplicity

The doctrine of the Trinity is the Biblical consequence of the New Testament authors' testimony about three truths about God: Biblical monotheism, Jesus Christ as "God in the flesh" and the Personality of the Holy Spirit. The second of these truths will occupy what follows in the remainder of this post. Anytime we study the Person, natures and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and expounded by the work of systematic theological reflection, we call such a study: "Christology". 

To expound somewhat more, Christology, as a major branch of Christian theology, concerns itself with the following:

1. Understanding how the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, became incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The meaning(s) associated with Christ's atonement for sin.

3. The significance of Christ's resurrection.

4. Christ's ascension into heaven and His current functions as the exalted Prophet, Priest and King.

5. Explaining how and what Christ will do upon His return to bring this current age to a close to bring about the age to come. 

New Testament passages such as Philippians 2:5-11; 3:8-10; Hebrews 12:1-3 and 2 Peter 3:18 urge us to know Jesus and to think deeply on His Person, His two natures (truly Divine and truly human) and His work of salvation on our behalf. To say that Christology is important is a vast understatement.  

Thus, the one final test of whether or not the doctrine of Divine simplicity (DDS) is useful for communicating the Bible's revelation of God is the doctrine of Christ. If the DDS is in anyway compatible with the doctrine of the Trinity, then does it follow that such a doctrine can work within the framework of the Bible's revelation of Jesus Christ as One Person who is truly God and truly man? How well this question is answered will determine the Biblical usefulness and accuracy of the DDS explaining the Bible's portrayal of the Triune God and Christ in particular. 

More next time....

Thursday, August 23, 2018

An Antidote For Defeating Double-Mindedness In The Christian Life - Revelation 2:18-29

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Revelation 2:18-20 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: 19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols."


There was a very sad news story that made headlines just this past week. A woman was walking her little dog near a lagoon adjacent to lush golfing resort community at Hilton Head, SC. She was on a get-away with her husband at their vacation home. Everyone who lives in that resort area are aware of the alligators that lurk in the water hazards around the golf course. The lady went out to walk her dog one morning, when suddenly, both she and the dog were confronted by an alligator.  Despite her best attempts to defend her dog, the poor lady ended up losing her own life. She thought she was safe. She was aware of alligators, but took the risk. The tragic result was fatal. 

This sad story got me to thinking about the situation we read about concerning the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29. When we attempt to court sin, it's like the situation with the alligator. When we tolerate what we know is not right, we feel we're safe. After all, we often will say to ourselves: "since its not hurting anyone now, how bad can it be?" But then, at a moment we don't expect, the jaws of sin catch us. If were not vigilant enough, our cravings will attempt to pull us under sin's chilly waters. As the old saying goes: 

"sin will keep you longer than you intended to stay, cause you to lose more than you intended to pay."

Summary of today's post 

There are points throughout Christian experience where a Christ-follower can stand at certain crossroads. The choice we must make is this: 

"go forward with Jesus or choose the lesser path". 

Whenever we’re tempted to “straddle the fence” or “be double-minded”, such enticements can spell much danger. Today’s aims to equip readers on how to avoid a double-minded life. So, where do I get this phrase "double-minded"? James 1:5-7 informs us of the sort of mindset that we see lurking in Thyatira: 

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” 

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:2 uses a different term (i.e. "carnal") to convey the danger of such compromises:

“I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able.”

How can the follower of Jesus Christ avoid double-mindedness? Consider the following thoughts as we tour through Jesus' fourth letter in Revelation 2:18-29.

1. Turn your eyes on Jesus. Revelation 2:18-19; 25-27

There is a villain afoot at the church of Thyatira by the name of Jezebel.  Now we won’t focus too much on this N.T Jezebel, since we want to focus our attention on Jesus. Like her O.T counterpart, the N.T. Jezebel's name means “without honor”. Interestingly enough, whenever you compare these two Jezebels, their respective bios mirror one another: 

A. Both sought evil. (1 Kgs 16:31; Rev 2:20).

B. Both celebrated evil.  (1 Kgs 21:25; Rev 2:21-24).

C. Both suppressed God's word. (2 Kings 9:7; Rev 2:20)

D. Both were self-centered.  2 Kgs 9:30; Rev 2:20).

Is it no wonder that things were such a mess in this first-century church. The church at Thyatira was located in the smallest city of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and yet, Jesus issued the longest of the seven letters we find in Revelation 2-3. Jesus is devoting such attention because of the precarious position of the double-minded church. Thyatira was in the smallest city, yet she has the most words from Jesus. We're reminded of the fact that Jesus only sees churches, not how "big" or "small" they may be. This little letter also has the most space devoted to Jesus (next to Philadelphian and Laodicean letters).

So what's the point? When we’re in spiritual high-cotton (like the church at Philadelphia, Revelation 3:7-13), we’d better look to Jesus. When the ship is sinking (like the church at Laodicea, Revelation 3:14-22), we’d better to look to Jesus. When we're double-minded (like at the church of Thyatira, revelation 2:18-29), we need Jesus. What about Jesus enables us to break free of the rut of double-mindedness?

A. Support of Jesus. Revelation 2:18 

When we slip, Jesus is there ready to catch us and supply firm footing. Psalm 94:18-19 reminds us:

"If I should say, “My foot has slipped,” Your lovingkindness, O Lord, will hold me up. 19 When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.” 

B. Supremacy of Jesus. Revelation 2:18

When sin looks good, focus on Jesus, who outdoes all. Consider how Revelation 2:18 describes the Lord Jesus Christ....

i. Jesus is omnipresent. Revelation 2:18  “eyes like fire”. This attribute corresponds with what we see described of God in 2 Chronicles 16:9a 

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.”

ii. Jesus is omnipotent. Revelation 2:18 “Son of God” and “feet of bronze”. This metal was used in the Old Testament temple’s construction of the brazen altar. Daniel 10:6 has similar description, wherefore Daniel encountered Yahweh, hence reinforcing the truth of Jesus' deity.

iii. Jesus is omniscient Revelation 2:19. “I know”. Jesus knows all things, including our trials, our thoughts. 
Hebrews 12:1-3 reminds us of the benefits of focusing on Jesus. 2 Peter 3:18 commands us to know Jesus better. In terms of the emphasis on Jesus in the New Testament, we can summarize as follows: The Gospels = show who Jesus was. Acts and Epistles and Rev 1-5 = show who Jesus is. Revelation 6-22 = show Jesus to come.

So if you and I are going to defeat double-mindedness, we need to focus on Jesus in order to show the folly of our compromising with sin. But now lets consider the second main point of Revelation 2:18-29....

2. Trust Him For Your Future. Revelation 2:25-29

Why is it we find compromise so easy? Why do Christians find the trap of "double-mindedness" so enticing? One word: "distrust". We simply waver in our trust of God. We somehow get convinced that He may not have our best interest in mind. Worse yet, we may think our way is better than His. Two areas of trust are covered in Revelation 2:25-29 that urge us to trust in Jesus...

A. Trust Him for tomorrow. Revelation 2:25

Lamentations 3:22-24 reminds us: 

"The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I have hope in Him.”

The Lord gives the believer enough grace for today. All sorts of mercies are laid out by God at the beginning of each day. We have what we need to accomplish whatever comes across our path for today. Once today is done, tomorrow begins with a new set of mercies. 

b. Trust Him for beyond tomorrow. Revelation 2:26-29

We can trust Jesus for the short-term of today and tomorrow. But what of the long-term? Matthew 6:33-34 quotes Jesus own words:

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

How many of us can say "amen" or "I agree" with Jesus' statement? A great follow-up text to these point comes from the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6-7

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Closing thoughts:

In today's post we discovered ways in which we can defeat "double-mindedness" or that Christian propensity to "straddle the fence" when it comes to moral and spiritual matters of life. We discovered from Jesus' letter to the church of Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29 the following antidote:

1. Turn your eyes on Jesus
2. Trust in Jesus for tomorrow

Monday, August 20, 2018

Understanding The Belt Of Truth And Breastplate Of Righteousness In Ephesians 6:14

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Ephesians 6:14 "Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness."


This week is vacation Bible school at our church. The theme is centered around Ephesians 6:10-18. The occasion of Paul's letter to the Ephesians occurred during his house arrest at Rome in Acts 28. The author, Luke, writes the following in Acts 28:16

"When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him."

Paul had ample time to carefully observe the soldier guarding him. Imagine finding yourself in the same prison situation as the great apostle! Paul undoubtedly shared the Gospel with the soldiers guarding him, as explained once again by Luke in the closing of the book of Acts, Acts 28:30-31

"And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, 31 preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."

Paul's metaphor of the spiritual armor corresponded to Roman accoutrements. Other sources of antiquity describe what a Roman soldier would had worn in the day of Paul's incarceration. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia, Volume 1, Page 320, has this to say about Ephesians 6:10-18 and the ancient literary evidence that would had been available from the Greco-Roman world:

"Polybius (6,22 and 23) describes the Roman soldier as wearing such a helmet, a breastplate of brass or chain mail (lorica) to cover especially the heart and greaves; and as carrying a javelin, a sword hanging from the right side of the waist, and a shield, either one circular or one about two and a half feet by four feet in length. This description compares favorably with Paul's metaphorical statement (Ephesians 6:14-17) about the Christian armor...".

The word-picture of Roman armament picturing the need to "fight the good fight of faith" is rooted in history and Paul's travels. As we will see below, the rich spiritual truths associated with "the belt of truth" and "the breastplate of righteousness" lends to the wealth of spiritual lessons applicable to daily Christian living. 

What is meant by the "belt of truth"

What is truth? "Truth" in its most basic definition has to do with anything that "corresponds to reality". Truth "holds together" everything else in life. The phrase "belt of truth" corresponded to the piece of the soldier's equipment that held everything together, which could also be termed a "girdle". Adam Clarke notes in his commentary: 

"The girdle went to the loins and served to brace the armor tight to the body, and to support daggers, short swords and such like weapons which were frequently stuck in it." 

Christians are those people who, by nature and belief, ought to make truth their priority. Whenever we study the necessity of truth in the scriptures, we discover the following:

1. Truth is the priority of the Christian
-Priority in conversion 2 Thess 2:13; Jas 1:18;

-Priority to our walk 2 Peter 1:12; 1 John 2:27;

-Priority for our joy 2 John 4; 3 John 3

2. Truth personified by Jesus
-Isaiah 11:5; John 1:18; John 14:6

3. Truth promotes spiritual health
-Lk 12:35; 2 Cor 6:7; Eph 5:6-9; 1 Pt 1:13-15

So that's the belt of truth. Now let's consider the second piece of the spiritual armor - "the breast plate of righteousness".

What is meant by the breast plate of righteousness?

The breastplate of righteousness has rich meaning in light of the whole Bible's teaching on the subject of righteousness. Whenever we study the scripture's teaching on "righteousness", we find the general sense referring to "being in a state of rightness". Further study of the Old and New Testaments gives four types of righteousness:

1. God's righteousness

2. Christ's righteousness

3. Credited righteousness

4. Practical righteousness

The first two types of righteousness are absolute and belong to God and then specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ. God's righteousness and Christ's righteousness are equated with one another (since Christ the Son is "Immanuel", "God with us"). Both God's righteousness and Christ's refer to how God alone is right morally, spiritually and judicially. God's character is the standard of what constitutes "right" and "wrong". Hence, the only type of righteousness deemed acceptable by God is His own "rightness" (and thus Christ's righteousness, since He Himself is God in the flesh). 

For the Christian, unless they have by faith received the righteousness of Jesus Christ (as so credited or imputed unto them by the Father and applied by the Person of the Holy Spirit at conversion), no other righteousness (self-righteousness, works-righteousness) is adequate. 

One can think back to Genesis 3 in the wake of Adam and Eve's treason against God. Whenever God sought them in the garden, they hid themselves and attempted to cover their nakedness (or shame) with fig leaves. Any attempt to render ourselves pleasing to God outside of His prescribed course of salvation in Christ is nothing more than a "fig leaf" salvation. Such manufactured efforts won't cover the sinner's guilt, shame and alienation. As God provided "coats of skin" from two innocent animals to cover our original parents upon their inferred professions of faith in his salvation (Adam acknowledging his wife as "Eve", the mother of all living, Genesis 3:15, 20), so too the sinner needs "covered" by Christ's credited righteousness which is reduplicated in the sinner's life at saving faith. This third type of righteousness - "credited righteousness" - is judicially credited and declared unto the sinner by the Father at saving faith - otherwise known as the doctrine of justification by faith (see Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:1-6; Galatians 3:23-24). 

Once Christ's righteousness is credited at saving faith, the Christ-follower begins living for Him in a lifestyle characterized by the fourth type of righteousness we find in the Bible - "practical righteousness". Practical righteousness is the Christian's daily Christian life flowing from Christ's righteousness that was credited unto them in salvation. The "breastplate of righteousness" listed in the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6:14 is highly important indeed.

Understanding such truths aid in heeding the command to "put on the full armor of God". The spiritual armaments listed in Ephesians 6:10-18 would had corresponded to the armaments worn by Roman soldiers. 

So, which type of righteousness composes the breastplate of righteousness? Just as the literal breastplate served to guard the soldiers heart, lungs and vital organs, there needs to be a righteousness that can serve to guard the saints heart and vital faith. The only type of righteousness that can perform such a function is that righteousness credited to the believer in salvation - namely Christ's righteousness. The New Geneva Study Bible has this insightful comment on this point: 

"Believers are protected by the righteousness of Christ imputed to them (Rom. 4:6–11Phil. 3:9), and they can stand up to the accusations of the devil; devil in Greek means “slanderer” (Rom. 8:31–34). Simultaneously, Paul sees believers taking on the righteous character of Christ (4:25; 5:9), while their growing conformity to His image gives them confidence in resisting temptation."

Paul himself daily donned the breastplate of Christ's righteousness that had been imputed to him at salvation, as seen in Philippians 3:9 

"and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith."

Closing thoughts

Today we considered the two pieces of the spiritual armor found in Ephesians 6:14 - the belt of truth and the breastplate of righteousness. May we as Christians put on the whole armor of God and be all about the truth and depend upon the righteousness of Jesus Christ, our salvation. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Part Six: The Doctrine Of Divine Simplicity: The Distinctions And Unity Of The Father, Son And Holy Spirit

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1 Timothy 6:16 "who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen."


In the last several posts, we have explored the doctrine of divine simplicity and its relationship to the doctrine of the Trinity. These two doctrines work together to expound on the Biblical revelation of God. One of the important applications of this type of study is to understand how to talk about God to others. The doctrine of Divine simplicity (DDS) asserts that God is not composed of parts. When we speak of God in this way, we refer to how His essence (i.e. "what He is") and existence (i.e. "how He is") and attributes (i.e. "what describes God as God") are all one, eternal, ultimate, Personal, living reality that never developed but has always been the case without beginning. Put another way, to say "God is without parts" is to mean that God has always been God, without change and possessing every perfection and fullness of being from all eternity. 
Those that affirm the DDS teach that whenever we consider all of the attributes of God taught from scripture, they leads us to conclude God's Divine simplicity with respect to His essence (i.e. "what He is") and existence (i.e. "how He is"). 

A note on how the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity is useful in evaluating other worldviews

The DDS enables us to combat other conceptions of God that are unbiblical (such as Mormonism, Pantheism, Polytheism and other worldviews). Other conceptions of Deity portray a god that is composed of parts, that is growing in knowledge or which has picked up attributes and knowledge in its relationship with the created order. The Bible affirms that God is unlike any other and without comparison (Isaiah 43:10-11; Isaiah 44:11), immaterial by nature (John 4:24) and without parts. The God of Biblical revelation never hungers, fatigues nor is a creature like us (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:25; Isaiah 40:11; Acts 16:17). Such express ideas lead back to the inferred  doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

When it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, the doctrine of Divine simplicity can work together with that doctrine to expound on the Biblical revelation of God. In the last several posts, we considered two out of three planks or concepts that comprise the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. For review, all three planks are listed below:

a. Monotheism = oneness of God's being

b. Plurality of Personhood = that is, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit sharing the Divinely simple nature.

c. The co-equality of the Persons = that is, Father, Son and Spirit are equal in glory, eternity and power in their sharing the Divinely simple nature.

In today's post, we want to explore the third of these planks to see how well the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity functions together with it in expounding the God of the Bible.

Plank #3 of the Trinity: Co-Equality of the Persons sharing in the one, simple Divine essence

By reflecting on the first and second "planks", we then find the third plank of the doctrine of the Trinity to follow: namely, that all three Persons are co-equal and co-eternal. On this point, I find it helpful to ask this question: "where does the eternal, simple, undivided essence of the one God reside?" We understand from statements such as 1 Kings 8:6 that the essence of God cannot be contained by heaven nor the heaven of heavens. 

Creation itself is incapable of containing the infinite being of God. The answer to the question is found in the three Persons of the Trinity. To flesh out further this third plank of the Trinity as it relates to the doctrine of Divine simplicity, we can observe it from two vantage points: how the Triune Persons are united together and how the Triune Persons are each distinct from one another.

a. The unity of the Triune Persons as mutually indwelling one another while bearing forth the Divinely simple essence of deity.

Each person (or 'subsistence', personal instance of deity) not only possesses all the attributes that are appropriate to deity, but the Father, Son and Spirit mutually indwell one another. The language of "mutual indwelling" is found in Jesus' extended discussions with his disciples in the upper room on the eve of his crucifixion in John 13-17. We get a hint of this whenever Jesus explains to Philip in John 14:6-8 that anyone that Has seen the Son, as seen the Father. We then see references to the "Father being glorified in the Son" (John 14:13). Moreover, the Persons of the Trinity somehow indwelling believers as one God (John 14:23). As one goes further into Jesus' extended exposition in John 13-17, this language of "in me" or "He in me and I in Him" increases, with the highest frequency occurring in John 17. 

To illustrate what we mean by "mutually indwelling", I think of bubbles in a tub or on a surface. I'm sure readers have noticed how bubbles can have bubbles within themselves. In turn, those bubbles can have their surfaces penetrate and indwell their bubble neighbors, causing the entire bubble structure to be pretty close to being one "bubble structure". the following picture below depicts my point.

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The early Greek church fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nazianzus and Athanasius saw this language of "mutually indwelling" as the Three Persons containing within themselves the one undivided, Divine nature. A wonderful term that came common in the Christian writings of the first several centuries was "perichoresis", which envision the Persons of the Trinity in a Divine-sort-of dance in, out and through one another. This writer would suggest that the doctrine of Divine simplicity fits quite well in describing the unity of being mutually shared by and indwelling in, among and through the Father, Son and Spirit.

As observed, the doctrine of the Trinity does not have the three Persons set off to one side and the Divine essence of God set off to the other side as a "fourth something". Rather, the Divine essence resides as the undivided, vibrant, eternal, simple, living, mutually indwelling reality shared and expressed by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The attributes which we see in scripture, such as love, is expressed by the Father (as lover), the Son (as beloved) and the Spirit (the Personal agent of loving activity between the Father and Son) as that perfection that is the Divine essence of God being love in and of Himself (see 1 John 4:8). 

The 1689 London Baptist Confession rounds out its discussion of the Trinity with this practical note:

(The Persons of the Trinity are) "all infinite, without beginning, therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him."
b. The Personal Distinctions Of Each Persons Of The Trinity In Which Each Bears The Divine Simplicity of Deity

When understanding how the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity fits with the doctrine of the Trinity, we can talk of how all three Persons mutually indwell one another or are united together as One God. But there is a second way in which we discuss the Trinity - namely, the distinct identities of the "subsistences" that are known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

When we speak of God, there are no distinctions between His essence and attributes. God's essence is carried forth truly and fully by each of the members of the Trinity. We saw in the last post that the term "subsistence" is used by older doctrinal confessions to express the members of the Godhead. This older term was chosen by the drafters of the older Baptist confessions, since the term "Person", though not inaccurate, nonetheless carried baggage that may have us picture God as three separated people. A subsistence refers to a property bearer or instance of the given essence of a being. The Father, Son and Spirit are Personal subsistences that each bear truly and completely the simplicity of being. 

How the doctrine of Divine simplicity works in expressing the co-equality of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

To further clarify what I mean when I say that each Person of the Trinity is a subsistence bearing forth the Divine simplicity of being, it all stems from how we understand the Persons of the Trinity in their interrelationship to one another. The Father so bears or expresses, by virtue of Who He is as a member of the Trinity, the trueness of Deity. The Father is the eternal initiator of the Trinitarian relationships (not essence) with the Son and Spirit. The Father brings to us Himself as a Divine bearer of the undivided essence. The opening lines of the Nicene Creed bear this out: "I believe in One God, the Father". 

This fullness of deity, so possessed truly by the Father, is described in scripture as equally shared by and possessed in true fullness by the Son, world without end (see John 1:1, 18; 14:8; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Romans 9:5). The Son is not composed of a "semi-divine" substance, but instead possesses the same, Divinely simple essence with which He co-shared with the Father. The Son is the Son by virtue of Who He is in relationship with the Father. The creeds describe the Son as "begotten, not made". 

The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father by the Son or for the Son. Like the Father and the Son, the Spirit is Himself a bearer of the Divinely simple essence with which He shares co-eternally and equally with them. Since the divine nature of God is "simple", the nature is not separated into "parts" by the Father, the Son and the Spirit. 

The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 recognizes the compatibility of the oneness of God's nature and the "Threeness" of the Divine persons in Article 2 of its summary of the doctrine of God. In a more detailed description, the older 1689 Baptist Confession notes about the Persons of the Trinity in how they each bear forth the undivided, Divinely simple essence of Deity:

"therefore but one God, who is not to be divided in nature and being, but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him."

Both the Father and the Son, each possessing and sharing the true and fullness of deity, in turn share equally with the Spirit (Ephesians 2:8). The Holy Spirit is also designated with titles of deity ("God" in Acts 5:4-5; "LORD" in 2 Corinthians 3:16-17), who in turn is Himself a Divine Personal agent sharing in the one, undivided, simple nature with the Father and Son. As I heard one modern author note: "God is One "what" and three "whos".

Closing thoughts for today
We explored how the doctrine of Divine simplicity works with the third plank of the doctrine of the Trinity in expounding the distinctness of the Three Persons which together identify the One God of the Bible. We viewed these two doctrines working together from the standpoints of the unity of the Three Persons and the distinction of the identities of each of the three Persons (or "subsistences"). In our explorations, we found that the ancient doctrine of "mutually indwelling" or "perichoresis", which describes how the members of the Trinity indwell one another, is quite compatible with the doctrine of Divine simplicity. Hence, in considering the other "two planks" of the Trinity already explained in previous posts of this series, the possible compatibility of the doctrines of Divine Simplicity and the Trinity holds consistent. In the next post, we will attempt to draw this series to a close with final applications. 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Part Five: The Compatibility Of The Doctrines Of Divine Simplicity And The Trinity

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2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.


We have taken the time to journey our way through a doctrine that has been in use by Christians since the early days of the church: the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. For readers that are interested in links to previous posts in this series, please click on the link to the last post, which contains links to the other parts of this series here:

This doctrine asserts that everything in God is God and that His very essence contains no "parts" that would somehow compose Him. Scripture's way of describing God as Divinely simple is seen in those texts which equate His attributes with Himself. For example, we see that God "is" light (1 John 1:5-7); God "is" love (1 John 4:8); God "is" holy (Isaiah 6:3; Psalm 99:1); God "is" all-knowing (1 John 3:20) as language describing God's simplicity of being. God's attributes are not just descriptions that we "predicate" to Him. As a human being, I can be loving, which predicates the act or attribute of love. However, to say I "am" love is blasphemous, since I am but a creature. For God, we don't merely "predicate" to Him the attributes we find of Him in scripture. Instead, Scripture identifies God with His attributes, which means He is not lacking in any property necessary for Him being God.   

God is not some sort of Divine being assembled from a collection of eternal properties and attributes that resulted in He being God. This mistaken notion of God is referred to as "complexity". Complexity (that is, composed of parts and things which go from a state of potentially being what they "could be" to becoming "what they are") is a trait shared by all created things. If God were "complex" (such as all created beings) rather than simple, then whatever properties we speak of, those properties would somehow either pre-exist prior to God or God would had picked them up along the way. Rather, what we have discussed in these last series of posts is how Divine Simplicity attempts to explain how God is God and why God is totally different from everything else. 

The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS), in concert with the Doctrine of the Trinity, expresses the first plank of the Trinity doctrine: monotheism. We mentioned in the last post how the doctrine of the Trinity, along with the doctrine of Divine simplicity, works in tandem to express the Biblical revelation of God that is Personally involved in His creation (such as in answering prayers, guiding people in history and working in the salvation of sinners). In today's post, we continue on with our discussion of how Divine Simplicity and the Trinity are compatible doctrines that work together to expound on the God of the Bible. 

Plank #2 of the Trinity: there are a plurality of Persons sharing the Divine nature - Father, Son and Holy Spirit

The doctrine of the Trinity not only asserts monotheism, but secondly, it affirms that this monotheistic nature is undividedly shared by Three co-eternal, co-equal persons (compare Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Within the shared relationship of the members of the Trinity, each member (Father, Son and Spirit) is an "instance" or a true possessor of the Divine nature. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms that each member of the Trinity is a true Personal, eternal  instance or "subsistence" of the Divine nature. (Note: if readers feel the need to skip the following discussion on the meaning of the term "subsistence", they may do so and move onto the next heading of the post, otherwise, dive in!) Put another way, its not like the Father is 1/3 God, the Son is 1/3 God and the Holy Spirit is 1/3 God. Recall, the Divine being of God is simple - incapable of division and not composed of parts. Each Person of the Trinity bears forth the essence of Deity. It is within and through the Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son and Spirit that the undivided essence of Deity resides and is expressed. Again, readers can explore the next two paragraphs which attempt to trace this thought out or simply move onto the next heading in this post, wherein I discuss what I call "compound unity".

What do we mean by "subsistence" with reference to the Trinity (optional reading section)

A "subsistence" is a bearer of properties or characteristics that indicate the sort of substance we are talking about. Subsistences can be non-living things (such as rocks) or living things (such as my cat). Subsistences can also lack a will or include a will, dependent upon whether we speak of the given substance being a mind (immaterial and endowed with volition), or rocks. The 1689 Baptist Confession explains this idea in the following sense as pertaining to God:

"In this divine and infinite Being there are three subsistences, the Father, the Word or Son, and Holy Spirit, of one substance, power, and eternity, each having the whole divine essence, yet the essence undivided."

Again, when we speak of "properties", we mean all of the attributes that describe or indicate what a given entity is. The essence or "substance" of a given thing is that to which the various properties are assigned. When we speak of God, we have not one, not two but three, Divinely Personalized "subsistences" or property bearers. The question is: what sort of property is it that the Triune Persons are bearing? If we say a Divinely Simple nature, then each "subsistence" or "Person" can with the other two make a unified decision to create or not to create. Also too, the Triune Persons, each carrying the unified essence of Deity with the other two Persons, can answer prayers and legitimately interact with the world without undergoing internal changes to what it means to be God. 

The Doctrine Of The Trinity and the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity present a God that is a "compound unity"

One question that was asked of me in in this series of posts had to do with a term I used: "compound unity". When I use the term "compound", I speak to the discrete identities of the Father, Son and Spirit. The London Baptist Confession of 1689, Article 2, has the following final statement in its section on the Persons of the Trinity:

"but distinguished by several peculiar relative properties and personal relations; which doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation of all our communion with God, and comfortable dependence on him."

Though the essence of God is without parts and devoid of literal distinctions among the Divine attributes, this does not apply to the three "subsistences" or Persons which bear the essence. In other words, it is appropriate to make necessary identity distinctions between the members of the Trinity. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father and the Spirit is neither the other two. 

We do differentiate between the Persons by their identities. When I use the term "unity", that term speaks to the simple essence which is borne truly and completely by each Person. Since the Divine Essence is "Simple", this means that the Trinity is not "three deities", but Three Persons (or subsistences) within and through whom consists the one essence of Divine being. The Athanasian Creed has the following thoughts within its rich contents:

"The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty."

Ending on a practical note for today

I know these last several posts have taken us into deep waters. However, using our minds to think hard about God is a form of worship (see Matthew 22:37; Romans 12:1-2) that cultivates the appetite of the heart for the Lord (Psalm 34:8; 2 Peter 3:18). Where does all the above, admittedly technical sort of discussion, lead us? I come back to the issue of prayer. When we pray, we pray to the Father, through the Son, by the Spirit (see Ephesians 2:18). When we address one of the Persons, we are also including the other two, since, after all, we are praying to God (John 14:8,23; Romans 11:34-35; Hebrews 1:1-2). Such a Divine nature as that of the Biblical God, incapable of division, is expressed truly and totally by each member of the Trinity, which together constitute the identity of God. It is important what we think about God. It is vital how we talk about God, since the Bible reveals a God that is very Personal and worthy of worship.

More next time....