Monday, October 21, 2013

Revelation: a few words.

                In my late teens, I spent a summer as a New Student Orientation Leader for the University of New Mexico.  My favorite part of this job was giving the campus tour.  I loved taking my groups of intended-freshmen through the tree-dappled campus to point out the buildings, comment on their architecture, and relate the stories behind each.  My students, however, were always the last to return from this exercise; most of my co-leaders seizing this opportunity to rest on the grassy knolls by the duck pond or tuck away into the stone benches by the library fountain, having finished their tours with great efficiency.  There was no way, regardless of the tour method employed, to convey all the pertinent information in one swoop around campus.  Whether I lingered over the story of the Totem Pole by the Chapel, or while walking ceaselessly backwards, raced past each building, naming each, but knowing that my students would be hard pressed to locate Mitchell Hall in the fall, I could not convey all there was to know about this institution. 

                It is infinitely more so with the attributes of God.  We touched lightly, exceedingly briefly, on only two.  We could devote a lifetime to just these, some have; however, because this series was only meant to whet your palate for theology, we’re going to have to press headlong into revelation for these next two weeks.  And though I’d like very much to linger, to flesh out more of what even these two attributes mean to a believer, I am left feeling like that orientation leader giving a tour of a large campus, pointing out buildings as we fly past them, noting their import, and admonishing everyone in the group to keep up. 
                So following me friends, because, “we’re walking.  And we’re walking,” into the realm of:

How we know what we know about God
                There are two categories to which theologians refer when discussing how God reveals Himself to humanity.  They are called General (or Universal) Revelation and Special (or Specific) Revelation.

                God is infinite.  We know this because He existed before time, before matter, before space.  Humans, however, are finite.  Though we are designed to be eternal beings, we each have a beginning.  Thus, as we do not exist in eternity past, we are finite.  So if we are to know an infinite God, our knowledge about Him must come from Him.  He is the only being who is able to reveal anything about Him; for everything that exists came after, and therefore nothing exists that can teach us about who He is, as an infinitely on-going state of existence, except God Himself.

                Thus God has chosen to reveal Himself through creation, through His Spirit, through His word, and through His Son, Jesus Christ. 

                General revelation is defined as God’s revelation of Himself through creation.  It is how peoples without exposure to other means know that there is a power greater than themselves at work in the universe.  It is how God draws people to Himself: through the beauty of His handiwork, the intricacy of His design, the unfathomable discoveries that are as grand as the birthing places of stars and as minute as the molecular mechanics holding the entire universe together.  Even science here bends a knee, for we cannot keep pace with the unveiling of the glories of God’s hands.  It is the invading peace filling a soul that stands atop a mountain, gazing out over indescribable riot of color alive in the autumn woods.  It is the stilling quiet that bundles up a heart setting in sand heeding to the ancient rhythm of the waves approaching the shore.  It is rock and tree and flower and mountain and creature and stars all crying out, “He is God.  He is beautiful.”   It is what stirs up our spirits to look deeper for meaning in this life, to search after something grander than ourselves, to investigate why?   It is way of calling out, of saying “I AM,” even if we are choosing not to listen. 

                And though beautiful, it is not enough.  General revelation can take us only so far.  It may provide us with the basis for our questions, and even hint at the answers, but it does not tell us enough about who God is.  For a god who only reveals himself through creation, is distant.  This god does not interact with humanity; he is non-relational.  This god is more voyeur than father – only watching from a distance as humanity delights in and discovers through creation.  Thus, God, our Heavenly Father, must also reveal Himself with specificity through explicit means. 
                Thus, we have Special Revelation: God revealing specific things about who He is, how He acts, and what His character is.  To accomplish this, He utilizes the Holy Spirit, the Holy Scriptures, and His Son, Jesus Christ.  The Spirit teaches our hearts and minds and spirits [so long as we allow Him] about God.  This can be accomplished through the historic inspiration of scripture, an answer to prayer, or giving of wisdom through the studies of scripture.  God inspired humans to write His story of how He interacts with us throughout our history, and even gives us a glimpse of what the future will be like, in the Holy Scriptures.  Finally, and most important of all, God revealed His divine nature, love, and grace through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  So that we might know Him now, and in the age to come. 

               As I have repeatedly mentioned, we cannot do justice to any of these topics, and due to the brevity I have imposed upon this series, we will only address two aspects of special revelation: the Inerrancy of Scripture, and Jesus Christ as Divine Revelation.  If you would like to know more about general revelation, I commend Louie Gigilo’s Indescribable.  Or for a more academic treatment of this subject, I highly recommend  any of these debates between noted atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins,  and the thrice doctorate John Lennox (mathematician, philosophy of science, and bioethics) and twice doctorate William Craig Lane (theologian and philosopher):  Dawkins vs. Lennox*, Hitchens vs. Lennox, Craig Lane’s response to Dawkins’ The God Delusion.  Though these debates are not specifically on the topic of general revelation, each apologist using God's reveal of Himself through creation to prove his point.  And, yes, it's nice to see how the intellectual questions of the validity of Christianity be answered with articulate intellect, reason, and even [gasp] science.   
                General revelation can be summed up in Psalm 19:1-6, with verses 7-14 articulating special revelation.  Take some time to read this Psalm today, meditating on it to prepare for our discussion on special revelation tomorrow.**

 * Sadly, the entire debate was taken down by it's owner, Fixed Pointed Foundation.  The only online resource for this debate is the video preview linked above, the notes found here, and the opportunity to order the audio here or the DVD here.  I apologize for this unanticipated change.  Believe me when I say, I am disappointed that this material is not made widely available for unencumbered, public consumption.   

**Special Note: I'm more than a few days late with the post on the Inerrancy of Scripture, as I'm sure you've noticed, dear reader.  With my 14th wedding anniversary and sending my eldest off to wilderness camp, I hope you'll forgive this lapse, dear one.  As the Officer and I are concurrently working on two more ministry projects together, I will have to adjust the first schedule accordingly.  Thanks for sticking with me.  ~ Jen     

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 
Why Theology?
How do we do this?
What are attributes?
What's Omnipresence?
What's Transcendence?



Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Transcendence:  “God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.  God is not simply attached to, or involved in, His creation.  He is…superior to it in significant ways.”[1]

                Sometimes, dearest reader, I forget how supreme God is.  Not that I have ever actually comprehended His greatness, His majesty, His divinity.  No one can.  But there are times that I get so bogged down in details: in presence, in need, in immediacy, in any number of soul-numbing-albeit-true postures, that I forget.  And it takes more than just lifting my eyes heavenward to see what I’m missing.  It takes purposed and intentional focus to expand my field of vision, to seek after the God Who Is (present, active, indicative).  This is why I need to focus on God’s transcendence; not because I want a fancy five dollar, seminary word [yes, sometimes it feels like these lessons have a word-by-word price tag], but because I need to remember, in my being, who El Roi – the God Who Sees Me – truly is.  And from what I’ve seen of the modern, western Church, so do the rest of us. 

                Let’s first clear up what transcendence isn’t.  It is not a superiority determined by elevation.  God is not above creation in the way that clouds are above my house.  We must remember, particularly as a moderns who recognize that our planet is part of a heliocentric system, in a similar galaxy, …ad infinitum…that God is not bound by a physical form.  He existed, eternally, before He created matter, space, and time ex nihilo {out of nothing}.  Therefore, His transcendence is not in any way related to, or dependent upon, His location as it relates to His creation.      

                We must also be aware, as the scholar Ray Dunn notes, that God’s transcendence is tempered with His immanence {the attribute of God’s nearness to His creation}.  Dunn remarks that a God who is solely transcendent would not initiate or maintain any relation to human beings and would therefore be completely unknowable and irrelevant to his creation.[2]  However, God’s transcendence is balanced biblically with his immanence through the affirmations that “God is living, holy, and One.”[3]  To that end, Dunning finds that in the New Testament the “glory of God…[and] the self-disclosure of God, [have]…its locus is in the person of Jesus Christ,”[4] which is substantiated by Colossians 1:15-20.  Thus, God, who is absolutely, eternally, and infinitely existing in a state of greater-than-ness in relation to His creation {aka: transcendence} manifests His equally absolute, eternal, and infinite nearness to creation {aka: immanence} in the person of Jesus through the incarnation.
                In scripture, there are four men in particular who experienced the truth that God is separate from, and elevated over and above, His creation.   Moses, Isaiah, Paul, and John speak of these occurrences, with all but Paul including narrative evidence of their experiences in scripture.  Moses’ encounter of a part of the glory of God is found in Exodus 33:18-19; Isaiah had a vision of God seated on his throne in heaven in Isaiah 6:1-5; and John penned the book of Revelation, which is filled with the mysteries of God’s majesty and greatness.  In both the Mosiac and Isaiachic vignettes, the men involved cannot look at the glory of God; he is described as other-worldly, bright and so glorious that Moses and Isaiah are at risk of death simply by being fallen creatures in close proximity to Almighty God. 

                The glory to which these men refer is a concept of “otherness”  which Dunn says is a means of “divine self-disclosure;” it is expressed by the “term ‘glory,’” which “originally meant ‘weight’ and carries the connotation of something solid or heavy.  It is often used of that which is impressive, such as wealth or honor.”[5]  Throughout the scriptures, this word “also came to suggest the idea of ‘brightness’ or ‘radiance.’”[6]  Dunning also notes that because God revealed Himself through glory, there exists a theological implication of invisibility, such that God’s “glory is the visible manifestation of the being of God.”[7]  Bruce Demarest and Gordon Lewis support the theory of implied invisibility by pointing to the fact that God approached Moses in Exodus 19:19 as a dense cloud at Sinai.[8]  This expression of God’s being through non-anthropomorphic {not having human-like qualities} means is also intended to further attest to his glory.  Similarly, Demarest and Lewis point to the thunder, lightning, and earthquake in verses 16 and 18 as symbolic of God’s “awesome majesty and power.”[9]  Thus, God’s ontological {existential state of} separateness from His visible and material creation is equivalent to his transcendence; and his transcendence is evidence of his power, majesty, and glory. 

Where Theology Can Go Wrong
         If one overlooks God’s transcendence by focusing only on His personal and relational communion with that which He has created, such as individual human beings, one may fail to recognize the gravity of sin as it relates to a perfect and holy God; and thereby miss the necessity of Christ’s complete and absolute substitution for sin on behalf of the world.

        Conversely, the over emphasis of God’s separate and otherness from His creation can lead to a deistic theology which says that God does not intervene in creation history anymore.  This view negates miracles, renders prayer a pointless exercise, and makes religion hollow and rote.  God merely becomes a disinterested party who is waiting out the salvation clock until the Age to Come. 
        Neither of these views are adequate representations of what God has revealed to us in the Holy Scriptures or through His Son, Jesus Christ.  Thus we must hold God’s perfect transcendence in conjunction with His perfect immanence.  As with omnipresence, God is both near to us because He loves us, and removed from us because He is holy.      

        God’s transcendence is an expression of His absolute perfection and holiness over and above all of creation.  It makes His perfect mercy and justice available to His creation, both of which are expressed in and through the immanent incarnation of his Son. 


[1] Erickson, Millard J.  Christian Theology, Second Edition.  Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.  Page 338.
[2] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988. Page 116.
[3] Ibid., page 190.
[4] Ibid., page 104.
[5] Dunning, H. Ray.  Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology.  Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1988.  Page 101-102.  Emphasis: mine.
[6] Ibid., page 102.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God. vols 1 & 2.  Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1987. Page 184.
[9] Ibid.

Want to know where we've been in this series?  Click the links below for more. 
Why Theology?
How do we do this?
What are attributes?
What's Omnipresence?

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Omnipresence:  present in all places at all times.[1]
In a recent family theological discussion, I asked the minis what “omnipresence” means.  “It means that God is here right now; and in Heaven at the same time,” replied the youngest. 
“And in China,” chimed the elder. 
“And Breckenridge,” further the younger. 
“And Alaska! And Florida!  And D.C.!  And the moon!” 
The lists of and’s grew ever longer as each tried to out-distance the other’s how-far-and-still-how-close-God-is.  For a 10 and 8 year old with concrete thinking, this understanding of omnipresence is a good base.  Yet as I assume you, reader, are no longer a child and therefore capable of reasoning above that of a concrete level, I will ask you to be mindful of the following before we delve into heavy thinking about what omnipresence means:
1.        All of God’s attributes are expressed in relationship synergetically.  No one is more important than another.  They cannot contradict each other; they are expressed equally in perfect harmony.  Thus, as we consider one attribute, we must also be mindful of God’s other attributes and how the one we are examining fits with the ones we are not.
2.        God is not a material being.  He existed, eternally, before matter was created.  He existed, eternally, before time was created.  He existed, eternally, before space was created.  Therefore, God exists outside the bounds of time, space, and matter.[2]  
3.        Many of God’s attributes find no mirror expression in humanity as we are material beings who are bound to the laws of matter, space, and time.  God’s omnipresence is an attribute that has no similar expression in human being, thus we cannot utilize our existence to comprehend certain attributes, of which omnipresence is one.        
Returning to omnipresence: it is oft understood as my children stated, “God is everywhere all the time.”  However, while this limited definition aligns with God’s attribute of omnipotence (He is all-powerful), it becomes problematic when held in conjunction with God’s holiness.  For if God is literally in all places at all times, He is then necessarily present in places of unrighteousness, such as a sinner’s heart, or even hell.  Yet, according to Scripture, these are places where God is not.  People who do not believe in and subsequently follow Jesus Christ as Savior will experience an eternity apart from the presence of God, after they die.  The apart-ness of Hell, juxtaposed against the presence of God in the New Heaven and New Earth described in Revelation, implies that God will not be in Hell.  Thus, God is not materially everywhere at all times. 
However, this does not mean that He does not have the power and sovereignty to be in all places at all times.  To ascertain the truth of this attribute, the most common scriptural evidence is found in Psalm 139:7-15, in which the Psalmist writes: 
Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

Scholars recognize that this psalm utilizes the juxtaposition of dual images such as darkness and light, and heights and depths, to illustrate the point that nothing occurs outside of God’s sovereignty.  Because these polarized extremes in Jewish literature were used to symbolize totality, the imagery in Psalm 139 does not imply that God is physically everywhere at all times, rather that God’s omnipotence {all-powerfull-ness} is available and able to be exercised in all places at all times.  
Ray Dunning, in Grace, Faith, and Holiness, states that verses 7 through 15 of Psalm 139 are an allegorical image of God’s sovereignty and divine love.  Thus, the Psalmist “was making a religious assertion of the inescapable presence of God, not proposing some ontological theory {a theory relating to God’s being or existence}.”[3]  Dunning suggests that the main idea in these verses “is not a question of whether God fills every space,” rather, “it means that there is no place closed to the sovereign power of God as holy love.”[4]  In other words, God is sovereign everywhere.  Scholars like Dunning do not consider the attribute of omnipresence to be an existential description of God’s place in space or time; instead, to these theologians, God’s omnipresence means that His sovereignty and love can be actualized in any place at any time, because He is all-powerful.
Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, in Integrated Theology, agree with Dunning in that Psalm 139 is not a treatise on God’s temporal location.  However, they appropriately note that limiting God’s omnipresence to only His divine sovereignty creates the idea of “an impersonal ‘God,’” who therefore does not express His personal presence in His creation.[5]  This line of thinking means that while God can be near to His followers in relationship through his providence, love, and power, He would remain ontologically remote.[6]  The problem with this idea is that the Holy Spirit is ontologically present with every believer.  This actual presence is a necessary aspect of God’s love and care for His children.[7] 
In order to hold the truths of God’s holiness (there are places He is not) in conjunction with His promised, personal presence through the Holy Spirit, Lewis and Demarest refer to Augustine’s proposition that affirmed God as “wholly everywhere and [as] contained in no place;” so that God’s being is not partly in heaven and partly on earth, but His entire being is wholly in heaven and wholly on earth at the same time.[8]  Thus God, as an infinite Being existing outside the bounds of matter, space, and time, can be fully present in Heaven (and thus separate from unrighteousness) and fully, personally present, with His creation, as His personal presence is a necessary aspect of His omnipresence and is inseparable from His love and care.[9]  
Where Theology can go wrong:
As we see in the differences between Lewis & Demarest and Dunning’s views, the distinct perspective with which one views God’s omnipresence is a vital determinant for the whole of one’s theology.  If a person believes that God is physically and literally present in all places at all times, this view has the potential to lead to the idea that God is in everything.  This variant of omnipresence is in direct opposition to God’s transcendence over and God’s holiness in relation to His creation.  The idea that God’s omnipresence places the divine inside of creation also contradicts the premise that God created the universe, ex nihilo {out of nothing}.   Aside from the absurdity of God somehow separating a part of His absolute infinite whole into a now non-infinite part (thus rendering His absolute infiniteness non-infinite and thereby diminishing all His other attributes by division thereof), were God to place a piece of the divine into any aspect of creation, it would then mean that He did not create the universe out of nothing {creation ex nihilo}, but rather out of something -- a reduced piece of the divine whole.  This idea, then, contradicts the scriptures and is therefore erroneous.[10]       
God’s omnipresence is not expressly a temporal location, but rather it is the assertion that there is nowhere outside of God’s sovereignty, so that He, as an infinite Being outside the bounds of matter, space, and time, is able to be fully and personally present concurrently in Heaven to preserve His holiness, as well as anywhere in creation at any time in history.            

[1]  Accessed 10/8/13 at 11:38 am.  The first known use of omnipresent occurred in 1609 – to describe God.  What was once a term invented in attempts to describe the One, True God has since devolved into ubiquitous use to ascribe godly attributes to false deities.  This is where errant Theology can lead. 
[2] The obvious exception to this statement was the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  However, this was a specific, historical event that occurred within the bounds of the physical universe (expressed in material state and confined by the laws of time and space); and to which we will return later in this series. 
[3]Dunning, H. Ray. Grace, Faith, and Holiness: A Wesleyan Systematic Theology, (Beacon Hill Press: Kansas City, 1988) page 202.  Definition: mine.
[4] Ibid.
[5]Demarest, Bruce and Gordon Lewis.  Integrated Theology: Knowing the Ultimate Reality of the Living God, Volume 1.  (Academie Books: Grand Rapids, 1987) page 181.
[6] Ibid., page 182.
[7] Exodus 3
[8] Demarest and Lewis, Integrated Theology, page 182.  Emphasis, mine.
[9] Ibid, page 179.
[10] Matt 13:35; 19:4,8; 24:21; 25:34 | Mark 10:6; 13:19 | Luke 11:50 | John 8:44; 17:24 | Rom 1:20 | Eph 1:4 | 2 Thes 2:13 | Heb 1:10; 4:3; 9:26 | 1 Pet 1:20 | 2 Pet 3:4 | 1 Jn 1:1; 2:13-14; 3:8 | Rev 3:14; 13:8; 17:8   

Curious about where we’ve been during this study?  Click on the links below to see more.  


Monday, October 7, 2013

Attributes, a few notes

Attributes are “those qualities of God that constitute what He is, the very characteristics of His nature.”[1]  Hence, these are sometimes referred to as the character of God.  Attributes, therefore, are what we can examine to discover the essence of who God is, to the extent that we as finite, fallen beings can.  They are “permanent and intrinsic qualities, which cannot be gained or lost,” thus God cannot add to or take away from who He is.[2]  However, we must not confuse His attributes with his actions, nor His corresponding roles as such; examples of non-attributes include God’s act of creating, guiding, and preserving creation, and the roles of Creator and Sustainer thereof. 

The attributes of God apply to holistically the Godhead; each is a quality possessed by the Trinity as a whole.  Properties, on the other hand, are characteristics expressed distinctively by an individual person of the Trinity.  Thus every member possesses the attributes of God, but each may express distinct properties.
So what does all this mean?  It means that God’s actions are not what define His character; rather, His actions are informed by His attributes.  He acts a particular way because He is a certain way.  For example: I am a mother – role – because I birthed two children – action.  I was able to do this because I am a woman – attribute.  Giving birth to my children and my role as their mother are not a defining characteristics; this is an action I can do and a role that I am able to fulfill because I am a woman.  Thus, attributes make actions possible and shape roles.  I can be a mother of more children if I have others.  But if I had never been pregnant, I could not be a mother.  However, I cannot be more of a woman by having more children, nor can I be less of a woman by not having any children.  My woman-ness (attribute) is absolute, regardless of my role as a mother or the number of times I have been pregnant (action); it cannot be added to or taken away from.[3]

Therefore, the attributes of God are qualities that make up who He is.  They are universal among the Godhead; and they cannot be added to nor taken away from.  They inform how God acts.  And because they were revealed to us by God Himself, they can help us know, glorify, and worship Him all the more. 
I will see you tomorrow, reader, as we take a look at God’s omnipresence.   


[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology Second Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998). Page 291.
[2] Ibid. page 292.
[3] Please note that this is NOT a commentary on adoption – children of the heart make women mothers just as much as those of the womb – I was simply employing a metaphor that I find accessible, for men and women.  Conversely, women who are unable (or choose not to) have children are no less woman than any other individual with XX chromosomes.