Wednesday, November 21, 2007

God and His own glory

One of my favorite NT scholars is Ben Witherington. While I can't say I always love his stuff, some of it is downright great (The Jesus Quest, his commentary on Acts). I've been reading his blog now for sometime (apparently everyone has a blog now), and I sometimes find myself shaking my head in disappointment at his periodic unfair characterizations of others and what seems to be hastily written posts. I guess I'm so disappointed because he can be such a terrific scholar (and one with whom I have many theological agreements), I hate to see him write stuff that is not up-to-par.

Thus, today, I find myself disappointed once again. In his latest post he refers to the prominent view (particularly in Reformed circles) that God is concerned with His own glory. His post is filled with unfair characterizations such as this one:

Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God, but this is a very different matter from the suggestion that God worships himself, is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not, and his deepest motivation for doing anything on earth is so that he can up his own glory quotient, or magnify and praise himself.

It's funny, I'm not sure I've heard any proponents of the view he is opposing (John Piper, for example) who argue that God worships Himself (though I realize I haven't read everything on this topic). I'm also not sure I've come across any that paint the picture of God as sitting around worrying about this. Lastly, I know that I've never seen anyone argue that God is trying to "up his own glory quotient." Such condescending drivel is unbecoming of a first rate scholar.

Obviously this issue is too large for a short treatment here, but I want to point out two things from his post that caused me to scratch my head. First, on Philippians 2:5-11, he writes,

If the Son is the very image and has the same character as the Father, wouldn't we expect this text to say--'who being in very nature God, devised a plan to glorify himself through his incarnation' if God really is so self-referential? In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God's character, reveals that God's character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.

What I find so confusing, especially coming from a NT scholar (who has written a commentary on Philippians, no less) is the complete lack of contextual reading. What we see in vv6-11 is a Cliff Notes version of Christ's story, which ends with this (9-11, NET):

As a result God exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

The passage doesn't end with Jesus' act of self-sacrificial love (though that is clearly an indispensable portion of the story), it culminates in God performing an action (exalting Jesus and giving Him a name above all names) and man performing an action (bowing and confessing that Jesus is Lord) resulting in God the Father receiving glory! Christ's sacrifice borne out of a heart of love is part of that story, but it is not the full story. The story doesn't end until God the Father is properly glorified!

Which leads me to my second criticism: Witherington acts as if those who propose the view that God is concerned with His own glory have no place for God being motivated by His love for His people. While I'm sure there are some who may minimize this too much, most will certainly give it its due. No one denies that Jesus died out of love for sinners. I agree that it would be wrong to say that Jesus' death on the cross is merely a means to an end of glorifying God (though it does do that, right!?!?!). And when Witherington writes "God it would appear is not merely a glory grabber, but rather a glory giver", I say "Amen!" God being motivated to act out of love is not incompatable with being motivated for His own glory.

Finally, I'd recommend you read Ezekiel 36 (among other places, another commentor on Witherington's post mentions Isaiah 48 as well), in particular vv22-23:

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hymn of the Week: Great is Thy Faithfulness

This is one of my favorite hymns, and has been since I was a kid. The words were penned by Thomas Obadiah Chisholm.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be

Chorus: Great is Thy faithfulness, great is Thy faithfulness
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hands hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Summer and winter, springtime and harvest
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love


Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside


I find myself singing this particular hymn when I'm by myself; it seems to lend itself well to this. Some of the better versions I've heard are by Selah and Gary Chapman (who only sings the 1st verse and chorus on his cd Shelter). It's also one we sing periodically in church.

We've got some good scriptural allusions in here (James 1 in the 1st verse, Lamentations 3 in the chorus). And I think in light of Thanksgiving coming up, I'm encouraged to reflect on the Lord's faithfulness in my life. Admist the changes and transitions of life, God is unchanging. Despite my sin and rebellion, He provides peace and His presence. And, as the 2nd verse notes, God is even faithful to creation itself (ever thought about that?)! By the way, am I missing the significance to the number 10,000? It also reminds me of Amazing Grace ("when we've been there 10,000 years"). Is there a reason for that particular number? Any help would be appreciated.

This is one song I was hoping to sing at my wedding, but we couldn't really fit it in. But on that day (and since) I did reflect on God's faithfulness in getting me this far. I've tried, oh how I've tried!, to sabotage His work in my life, but despite by best (or worst) efforts, He has faithfully held on for dear life and showered me with new mercies every morning. I have much to be thankful for.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

5.5 random things: a half-hearted defense of the patriots running up the score

5.5: This post is dedicated to the most oversaturated topic in football. Let me state for the record, I don't think there's any denying that the Patriots are running up the score a bit this season. Being up by 5 touchdowns in the 4th quarter and still throwing the long ball qualifies as such. Any denial of this reeks of homerism (being a "homer" means that you are completely uncritical of your hometown team, despite incriminating facts). But it isn't as bad as some might think...I think. Let me give a few reasons:

5: In Game Practice- Supposedly the Pats have used these late-game blowouts as another practice. I heard one sports journalist say that some of the plays they ran in the Indianapolis game to win were practiced late in the Redskins and Dolphins blowouts. Plus, if you get into the habit of pulling your starters too early, they are more likely to tire out late in games that are close. If you play only 3 quarters in 14 games, but the 15th is close and you're still going hard late in the 4th quarter, you may not have the "in-game" conditioning that you need.

4: The Record Books- When the beloved Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning did this a few years ago, most praised them for gunning for the touchdown record. The Pats do it, and they are unsportsmanlike. Not a defense, really, just pointing out the hypocrisy. Along those lines, since when is it bad for a team to gun for the record books? The Pats are one of the greatest dynasties in football history, they are simply adding to their accomplishments. What they don't have is statistical dominance, and in sports, statistics mean are second only to winning (some seem to place them first and foremost). Now they have it. The team may set the all-time scoring record, Brady passing records, Moss receiving records, etc.

3: Brady's vs Manning- Again, along those lines, it's interesting that so many media members have claimed Manning to be the superior quarterback to Brady because of his statistical superiority. Others, like myself, have always claimed that Brady is a better quarterback, but with inferior receivers (come on, Troy Brown and David Givens are no Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne) could not put up the Manningesque numbers. Now Brady has his shot to place himself in the #1 spot, can you blame him for aiming for it?

2: The Vengeance Factor- Some of the teams really have brought this upon themselves. Coaches such as Wade Phillips made comments to the media about the Patriots spying scandal tainting their accomplishments. Of course Belichick is going to take his anger out on them? I'm not saying it's right, but this is nothing new to the Patriots. Mind you, this doesn't excuse the Pats running it up on the Joe Gibbs coached Redskins- Gibbs has never said a negative word about anyone.

1: Settling It Like Men- Finally, I had a thought come to me this morning. Often times, players and coaches carry out their rivalries through the media, taking cheap shots at each other that have nothing to do with the game. While this can be, at times, entertaining, it's often seen as unprofessional. After all, they are football teams, they should "settle it on the field" and not use the media as their weapon. Well, the Pats are doing exactly this. Belichick and the players aren't talking trash about other teams and coaches, even though the rest of the league is doing it to them. They are taking their anger out on the field. And everyone hates them for it.

Thus concludes my half-hearted defense of the Patriots running up the score.