[The following post was originally published on 12/6/06.]
If you haven’t noticed, the essential doctrines of the Christian faith have an element of mystery about them. Take our beliefs about God, Jesus, and Scripture. When we think about our basic Christian understanding of who God is, we affirm (as apologist James White
has expressed it): “Within the one being that is God, there exists eternally three co-equal and co-eternal Persons, namely, the Father the Son, and the Holy Spirit
.” We affirm this doctrine based on the fact that Scripture very clearly declares that there is only one God in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 45:5-7, and Isaiah 46:9, but it is equally clear from Scripture that three Persons are recognized as one God– with Jesus the Son (or Word) being referred to as God in John 1:1 and 2 Peter 1:1, who prays to the Father (who is God) in John 17, and the Holy Spirit is referred to as God in Acts 5:1-11. How, exactly, can one being exist as three Persons without becoming three separate beings and without any of the Persons losing their identity? We must admit that we cannot fully explain the answer to this question, yet we must also proclaim that this is what the Bible declares.
When we think about our basic beliefs concerning Jesus, we affirm (as written in the Athanasian Creed
): "The right faith therefore is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man."
We affirm this doctrine based on the fact that Scripture very clearly declares that Jesus is God in the passages mentioned above, but it is equally clear from Scripture that Jesus was a human being- apart from His prayers to God the Father in Scriptures such as John 17, we also see His humanity in that He has a body (Luke 24:39), while on Earth He grew in wisdom (Luke 2:52), and He was tempted (Matthew 4:1). So how can one who is God experience these human realities? How can Jesus Himself cry out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me
?" (Matthew 27:46) Again, while we must faithfully describe
the work of the God-Man on the Cross, we cannot fully explain
certain aspects of Jesus' nature. [This, I would suggest, is why the definition of Chalcedon
primarily describes the relationship between the divine and human natures of Christ using the "way of negation," declaring that Christ is both God and Man "without mixture, confusion, separation, or division." Scripture is followed as far as it goes in describing the two natures of our one Lord, but where Scripture does not speak, it is better not to speculate. Rather, we simply identify those statements which would present the Scriptural teaching as a lie, and we avoid speaking of Christ in such a way as to cause people to think of Him as opposed to God's revelation.]
Finally, when we think about the understanding that the Church has always held concerning God's self-revelation in Scripture, we affirm (as confessed in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
): "That canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production."
The Bible is the very Word of God written by human authors. That all of Scripture is God's Word is clear from the claims Scripture makes for itself in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:1-9, Jeremiah 1:1-4, Ezekiel 1:3, Hosea 1:1, John 16:13-15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, and 2 Peter 3:14-16. The human nature of the Bible is evidenced by the different genres and styles of the various authors, as well as passages such as Luke 1:1-4, in which the gospel writer gives some insight into the process he went through in recording his account. How could imperfect people produce a perfect work 'this side of heaven'? How could Scripture be preserved infallible through two thousand years of diverse translations? Once again, the Scriptures must be proclaimed and taught, yet they cannot be fully explained.
Now, the fact that these orthodox beliefs tend to defy sound-byte explanations (the summaries above presume a familiarity with a Christian worldview), and, in fact, cannot be fully explained is a huge challenge to human pride. Most people, upon realizing that there are things God has revealed that are too difficult for us to understand, do not take comfort in humbly trusting the LORD
as King David did in Psalm 131
. Most people, even as they are morally convicted by God's Word, assert that they will not except the truths of Scripture until they can either fully explain these truths or until God grants them a mystical experience testifying that His Word is true. And it for this reason that false teachings concerning God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit-breathed Scriptures abound.
And so, just before I moved to Louisville, Kentucky to attend the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
, a friend of mine from Grace Heritage Church
and I were trying to proclaim the gospel to a couple of Mormon missionaries at my home in Auburn, Alabama. Much of the terminology employed by these young men in describing their beliefs was very similar to language we Christians are familiar with, but when we questioned them carefully concerning their beliefs about God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, the vast gulf between our belief systems quickly became obvious. Denying the Holy Trinity, the Mormons were quite unwilling to repent of their theology unless we could fully explain the inner workings of the Godhead in intricate detail- a level of detail unnecessary for saving faith, and thus not provided by Scripture. [For God's Word is not given to satisfy every question of intellectual curiosity, but to make those who approach it in humility "wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15).] Dissatisfied by our responses, which included appeals to Deuteronomy 29:29
and Isaiah 55:9
, the Mormon missionaries finally left, and the only apparent benefit that was given to them by this encounter is that now they hopefully understand why they cannot say that we believe in the same God or even the same Jesus, as they had asserted when we first began the conversation.
After they left, it occurred to me that while the Mormon missionaries had been presenting their view of who God is and how part of our salvation includes being made into gods, there were at least a couple of times when they were trying to think through some particular point and they had briefly (and, seemingly, subconsciously) began to trace through the air with their fingers. From what I knew of Mormon doctrine, I came to realize that what they were doing was visualizing the Mormon Plan of Salvation
, which they had apparently seen depicted on a diagram somewhere, and they were trying to trace where what they were saying fit in on the chart. And I thought, 'It's no wonder that what we were saying about God and His Son seemed so incredibly baffling to them. Everything they believe is reducible to charts, and so it must seem so much more concrete than any talk about mystery or one Being in three Persons.' But as I thought further on this, I realized even more how the Mormons have been deceived by their theology. For they have made the fatal error of equating simplicity [in terms of 'ease-of-comprehending'] with truth. Now, if you are familiar with Mormon doctrine- with its presentation of Elohim living with his wives near the star of Kolob, etc., you may be surprised at this claim. Some of the Mormon beliefs seem fairly complex. But I'm talking about simplicity in comparison with the Scriptural presentation of the truth on subjects such as the nature of God, Christ, and Scripture, as presented at the beginning of this post. And so, for all of the structural complexity of the narrative presented in Mormon teaching, the actual basic doctrines of the Mormon church are easily and completely grasped once a person becomes familiar with the overarching story.
And here's where the Star Wars element of this post finally comes in. I own the original Star Wars trilogy on DVD. Now, I could watch Star Wars every day, read about these movies from books and on the Internet and come to a comprehensive knowledge of these movies. I could get to the point where I could beat anyone I knew at Star Wars Trivial Pursuit and I could answer any question anyone asked concerning the original trilogy. But for me to gain all understanding of these movies would not prove them to be true. In fact, my ability to gain comprehensive knowledge of these movies actually demonstrates that they are fiction. For the way that events unfold in reality often defies our ability to completely account why a particular set of circumstances came to pass. Especially as people are involved in history we begin to see that events involving true, personal relationships defy our ability to completely grasp them. In a good movie, the screenwriter must usually make sure that each character's motivation is clear, but how can we analyze and chart all the motivations that drive real people to act as they do?
And this is why the Christian message- a message of faith in Jesus that is so simple when people accept it in humility- is shown to be mysterious, complex, and incomprehensible upon further examination. For we are not presenting a set of facts, but a Person. We are not calling people to a simple formula or plan, but to a relationship with God Himself through Christ Jesus. And so we should not pridefully expect to fully understand Him or His ways, but we should joyfully anticipate learning more about our Merciful Savior throughout eternity.
Labels: apologetics, Christian worldview, evangelism