Can God Make a Stone So Heavy He Can’t Lift It?

2015-03-Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-sea-water-Rocks-Jonathan-BeanSome questions aren’t worth answering.

Not because the question is too hard to think through, but because if you try to answer it, you have just stepped into a world of nonsense and absurdity. For example, anyone who seriously tried to discuss the question, “How did George Washington like driving with a manual transmission?” is only revealing his or her own ignorance about history.

The same thing is true with the question, “If God can do anything, can God make a stone so heavy that he cannot lift it?” On the surface, the question appears to make the concept of God’s omnipotence ridiculous. If you say “God can do anything,” that implies that God should be able to make an unliftable stone. But if it’s unliftable, then there’s something God can’t do–lift that stone–and so he’s not really omnipotent. On the other hand, if God can’t make an unliftable stone, then there’s something God can’t make–and so he’s not really omnipotent then, either. Either way you answer the question, you have to say God can’t be omnipotent. Ha! Gotcha!

Unfortunately, some people treat this as if it’s a serious philosophical and theological problem. In reality, it’s really just a matter of word tricks and linguistic limitations.

The unliftable rock question reveals the ignorance of the one asking, because it’s a question about . . . nothing.

Here’s why.

The question first assumes that God is a being for whom no task (including lifting any stone) is impossible (“if God can do anything). This means that the set “unliftable stones” is empty. Therefore, an “unliftable stone” is a non-entity. Yet the question asks whether such a non-entity can be lifted. Therefore, the question is really asking information about an empty set of objects (unliftable stones). Which is to say that the question is asking information about . . . nothing.

If you try to answer a question that is really asking nothing, you’re going to look really foolish. Instead, demonstrate why the question itself is asking nothing, and therefore deserves no answer.

Here’s a better (a real) question.

Then try this: a legitimate question that leads to more fruitful discussion of God’s omnipotence is: “Is God a being for whom any action is possible?” The answer, of course, is no.

God cannot, for example, sin or kill himself. Does that mean that he is not omnipotent? Of course not, since sinning and killing oneself are not the actions of an all-powerful being. In other words, the inability to perform certain tasks does not necessarily imply lack of power, but, in some cases, the possession of great power.

One way to avoid this linguistic confusion is to speak of God as having limitless power, or as the most powerful possible being, rather than a being who is able to do anything, since the word “anything” may encompass nonsense actions (such as lifting a rock which is unliftable) or actions that are characteristic of impotence (such as dying or sinning).

So there you have it. Don’t let anyone trip you up by the old “can-God-make-a-stone-so-heavy-he-can’t-lift-it” question. Don’t answer it. It’s nonsense.

The Power of Example

“Virtuous deeds,” wrote Plutarch, “implant in those who search them out a great and zealous eagerness which leads to imitation” (Life of Pericles 1.4). Although he was by no means a Christian, Plutarch’s words resonate with the words of Scripture, particularly the cry of the psalmist in the opening verses of Psalm 119:

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!” (Psalm 119:1-5).

What was the psalmist’s “inciting moment” of his journey with the Word of God? What triggered that thirst in his soul for God’s Word? It was not merely his reading of it, but his seeing it incarnated in the lives of others. He saw the action of these people: they walked in the law of the Lord. He saw their passion: they sought him with their whole heart. And most of all he saw their blessedness. It was the example of these people that compelled the psalmist to cry, “Oh that my way may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!”

As Christians, we have a powerful resource at our disposal. It is the same resource that Plutarch said “implant[s] in those who search them out a great and zealous eagerness which leads to imitation.” It is powerful because it does not merely coerce from the outside: it inspires from within. It is the power of example. It is the power of a life consistently and earnestly following God’s Word.

Saving Group Discussions from Disaster

I have found that group discussions are one of the most difficult kinds of communication to do effectively.

The challenge of group discussion lies partially in the fact that the leader has less direct control over how it goes. If you are leading a group discussion, it’s not enough for you to know your material well: you must know how to invite others into the process of discovery. You also take greater risks, since the quality of the discussion often depends on how interactive and focused the group chooses to be. But if a group discussion is led well, it can also be one of the most effective ways of communication.

Here are some principles I’ve learned along the way that can save a group discussion from being a disaster.

1. Set a clear agenda and let the group know the parameters of the discussion.

People who are eager to learn will feel frustrated by a rambling discussion. Make sure you make it clear at the outset where you intend to go. Setting the parameters at the beginning can also be a preemptive action for potential conversation hijackers.

2. Ask the right discussion

This is such an important part of group discussions that it deserves several points.

  • Ask questions that lead toward the central thought you are communicating. For example, if you are teaching on prayer, you might ask, “Why is it so easy for us to neglect prayer?”
  • Don’t make your group guess what you’re trying to communicate. This is an easy mistake to make. For example, if you are trying to communicate that our model prayer should be the Lord’s prayer, don’t ask, “What should our model prayer be?” If someone says anything different than the Lord’s prayer, you’ll end up having to say something like, “Nice try, but you’re wrong.” Questions like this come across as, “I’m asking this question to see how many wrong answers you bozos could come up with. Now here’s the real answer.”
  • Ask specific, but open-ended questions. For example, the question, “How important is prayer to you?” is open-ended, but not specific enough. The question, “Does the threat of losing something valuable make you desperate to pray? is specific, but not open-ended. The question, “What kinds of circumstances do we tend to feel the most desperate to pray?” is both specific and open-ended.
  • Give people time to think about the questions. Since your group is hearing your question for the first time, they need a little time to mull it over. To keep from having dead spaces in the discussion, ask a question, and then talk about the question while giving the group time to come up with answers.

3. If a person says something completely wrong, affirm them without affirming their wrong answer.

Of course you try to avoid questions that might yield answers that contradict your central thought. But inevitably someone is going to offer an idea that is totally wrong. You don’t want to say, “That’s right!” to such a statement. Not only is that dishonest, but you will lose credibility with those who know that answer is wrong. At the same time, you don’t want to embarrass the person who gave the wrong answer. You might get away with a good-natured, “Nope!” But if the person is sensitive, that might embarrass them.

The key to navigating this potentially awkward situation is to think how the wrong answer seems reasonable and explore that path a bit. That way you can communicate that, while it might be reasonable to think such-and-such, given more information the opposite is actually true. Of course, you can’t control whether someone feels hurt or embarrassed. But you can at least do your part to show them respect.

4. Use humor to lighten tense moments and to help people feel comfortable enough to talk.

Tactful humor or even just small talk about yourself can ease the atmosphere in the room. You don’t have to be clever or a comedian to make people feel laugh and feel comfortable, but make sure that any deprecating humor is directed only toward yourself.

5. Regardless of how the discussion went, know ahead of time what ideas you want the group to take away from the meeting.

Don’t end the meeting by saying, “Well, that was an interesting discussion.” The discussion might have brought to light some points you hadn’t thought of, but make sure that you reiterate the central point you were trying to communicate. Ideally, the discussion will have amplified, illustrated, and driven that point home even further.

Never Stop Learning: Five Ideas to Deepen and Expand Your Knowledge

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel” (Socrates).

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Solomon, Proverbs 1:5).

Learn or Stagnate

I believe in the importance of constantly learning. The moment I become satisfied with my current level of understanding is the moment I start to stagnate. I am certainly not the most intelligent person, not the fastest learner, and not the the most retentive. But I can always be learning. In fact, I must always be learning.

For me, the urgency of learning comes with my role as a youth pastor. I speak to the same group of teenagers at least twice a week. If I stop learning, they will probably stop listening. This doesn’t mean that I have to say something completely new or different every time I speak. In fact, I often say the same things over and over again. But these timeless truths must impact me in fresh ways. The only way this will happen is if I’m personally committed to deepening and broadening my understanding.

But even if I didn’t have the responsibility to speak to people regularly, I still think I would feel the delightful pull of constant learning. After all, the universe bears the imprint of God’s character–endlessly fascinating, and filled with things worth learning.

That’s why I believe it’s so important to be constantly learning.

Learn within the Framework of Biblical Wisdom

Before you read the list below of practical ways to learn (outside pursuing formal education), let me emphasize that no amount of learning can replace or even rival the importance of gaining true wisdom–ordering your life according to Christ–through Scripture. I don’t say this just as a pious-sounding preface to this list. I say it earnestly: accumulating knowledge apart from Christ will only make me a more sophisticated fool, which, in many ways, can be worse than a simple fool.

So, within the framework of Biblical wisdom, here are some ways I’ve discovered to be a learner. I’m sure there are countless more ways out there, but I’m limiting the list to things I’ve personally done and found helpful.

1. Listen to audio books.

This is the only reason I wish I had a longer commute to work–so that I could listen to more of an audio book. Where do you get your audio books, you ask? Unless you listen to free classics, or amateur recordings at Librivox, you could pay a pretty penny from places like Audible. That’s why I love Hoopla–a service through local libraries that gives you about six items (e-books, music, and audio books) per month. Using Hoopla mostly since the beginning of 2015, I’ve listened to all or parts of Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis), Hamlet and King Lear (Shakespeare), The Confessions and The City of God (Augustine), The Universe (John Brockman). I’ll let you guess which ones I’ve listened to entirely. Right now, I’m listening to The Mental Floss History of the World by Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand (caveat: these authors can be rather tasteless in their approach).

2. Learn a language using Duolingo.

Hooray for free! Duolingo is an excellent free language-learning platform that seems to be expanding the languages they offer. I’ve been impressed toward its teaching technique: it requires the learner to speak, write, listen, and translate so that language is reinforced a variety of ways. For my degree, I need two research languages. They won’t accept Australian and Canadian, so I’ve chosen German and French. Even though it seems more geared toward developing conversational skills, Duolingo has taken me a long ways toward getting familiar with both these languages.

3. Read reference books.

I know this sounds boring. But I have found reference books to be one of the best ways to familiarize myself with topics I know nothing or little about, or to deepen my knowledge of areas I already know something about. Yes, you can do Wikipedia, but I like using a published source if possible. For several weeks, I spent about 20 minutes every weekday reading an entry from the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology or the New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. More recently, I’ve taken about 15 minutes on most days to read an entry from a book called 50 Big Ideas You Really Need to Know by Ben Dupré (not a Christian author).

4. Enroll in a free online course.

We live in an amazing age: we can hear lectures from the most prestigious professors at the most prestigious schools in the world–for free (of course, getting credit for those courses is an entirely different story!). One of the most enjoyable courses, totally outside my area of study has been Financial Markets by Robert Schiller. The course A Brief History of Humankind (lecturer, Yuval Noah Harari) was a fascinating exhibit of the brave yet bizarre explanations necessary to sustain a Darwinian, atheistic view of humankind. I’ve recently created an account with Khan Academy, but haven’t done anything there yet.

5. Keep a journal.

I wonder how many people have had earth-shattering, break-through, revolutionary ideas. But – alas – they forgot them because they didn’t write them down. Of course, not everyone gets to have such earth-shattering ideas (I’ve had none so far). But you can at least have good ideas, fascinating ideas, ideas worthy of more exploration. And if you do, write them down! I keep a journal that includes things I’m mulling over, ways I want to change, and things I’m learning from the Bible. I’ve heard it said that you don’t really know what you’re thinking until you can write it down. I think that’s very true (and I just wrote it down, too!).

There are other ways to constantly learn–not the least of which is of interacting with other learners, listening to podcasts, etc. But those are things I feel like I haven’t explored as deeply or as profitably as the ones I’ve listed above.


Six Things You Would Have Noticed About the First Christians

It’s easy to miss the incredible nature of what was happening in Jerusalem following Pentecost. We’ll never be able to fully put ourselves in the shoes of a first-century Jew living in that city, but from Luke’s record in Acts, here’s what would have stood out to us about those first Christians:

1. They were radically reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures.

Peter’s Pentecost sermon represented a radically different way to understand the Jewish Scriptures–writings which many of his hearers had known all their lives. For example, Peter was saying that Joel’s prophecy–that God would pour out his spirit on all flesh–was being fulfilled now (Acts 2:16-21). He claimed that the ancient King David had actually been talking about Jesus of Nazareth when he wrote the sixteenth psalm (Acts 2:24-35).

2. They were claiming that Jesus was still alive, and that his resurrection proved that he was really God’s Anointed One.

This claim was shocking (and infuriating) especially to those who were convinced that Jesus had been a blasphemer, and therefore that his crucifixion was absolutely warranted. If Jesus of Nazareth was really alive, as his followers seemed absolutely convinced, this fact would validate his claims of having a unique relationship with God. Those who believed this amazing claim realized the implications it had. Desperately, they responded, “What must we do?”

3. They were confident and urgent in what they claimed.

The manner of the apostles was not sophisticated and academic–there was a frank boldness and urgency in their tone (Acts 4:13). They had nothing to gain and everything to lose by insisting that Jesus was not only alive, but the Christ of God.

4. Their miraculous works were irrefutable and awe-inspiring.

It was impossible to discredit these Christians by saying their miracles were just a sham. For example, a man whom everyone knew had been lame since his birth was suddenly able to walk, leap, and stand right next to Peter and John, praising God for his miraculous healing (Acts 4:15). Luke tells us the effect of this and many other miracles: “awe . . . upon every soul” (Acts 2:43).

5. They were amazingly generous, joyful, and unified with each other.

Luke records that “they had all things in common,” and that “they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This unusual generosity and unity was hard to ignore.

6. Their number was growing rapidly.

After the initially explosive growth of 3,000 people joining the ranks as Jesus-followers, Luke records that there continued to be a steady flow of people joining them: “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47). If you had been living in Jerusalem at that time, there is a good chance you would have personally known a follower of Jesus.


Seven Disciplines of the Christian Scholar

In a previous post, I discussed six convictions to guide Christian scholarship. By “disciplines,” I mean habits that spring from these convictions and require determination to maintain. These habits will not be easy. As Sertillanges put it, “The life of study is austere and imposes grave obligations. . . . The athletes of the mind, like those of the playing field, must be prepared for privations, long training, a sometimes superhuman tenacity.”[1] The disciplines listed here are essential and actionable—essential in that scholarship cannot advance properly without them, and actionable in the sense that they move beyond convictions to concrete actions.

1. The discipline of worship.

Scholarship is not an end in itself. It is a means to worshiping God. Indeed, the more a scholar seeks after truth, the more he finds reason to worship. As he traces intricate paths of inquiry, he often finds that they disappear beyond his comprehension, but that they always lead back to their source, the God of truth. Thus, the Christian scholar does not hesitate to mingle devotion and prayer in his studies, no matter the discipline. In fact, a silent word of gratitude, an earnest prayer for insight, or a brief pause to reflect at the beauty and grandeur of a God so lofty, are rational responses for a human who delves deeply into any subject.

Some of the most influential intellectual works in Christian literature are steeped in a spirit of worship—for example, Anselm’s Proslogion. While many dispute the effectiveness of the ontological argument, no one can question its worshipful tone:

“So truly therefore dost Thou exist, O Lord my God, that Thy non-existence is inconceivable; and with good reason; for if a man’s mind could conceive aught better than Thou, the creature would rise above the creator and judge Him; which is utterly absurd.”[2]

Many portions in Augustine’s Confessions are also stated as prayers, including this well-known passage:

“You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”[3]

While not all realms of scholarship require explicitly addressing God in articles and essays, Christian scholars would do well to infuse their scholarship with this same spirit, if not the letter, of God-adoring worship.

Of course, a indispensable feature of Christian worship is the gathering of Christ’s people in the context of a local church. So gathering weekly with one’s church (including the fellowship and accountability that accompanies church life) is an indispensable part of genuine Christian scholarship.

This discipline does not come naturally, for it is the mind’s tendency to wield intellectual attainment for self-glory. The scholar must bend his efforts to God’s purposes. He must remind himself that he carries out his work God’s enablement alone, for God’s glory alone, and ultimately in God’s presence alone. With the Apostle Paul Christian scholars can exclaim, “For from him and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36). The scholar does not worship his scholarship, but rather worships in his scholarship.

The discipline of holiness

If it is true that our minds have been adversely affected by sin, then the banishment of sin can only have a salutary effect on our minds (Romans 8:6). Thus, the Christian scholar must make the pursuit of holiness an essential discipline. He cannot ingest poison into his moral life and expect that that his intellectual life will retain its vigor and clarity. The partitioned life is a myth. As noted above, the intellectual, social, moral, and spiritual components of a human are interrelated. They affect and are affected by another. The scholar must pursue holiness, putting off sinful habits, renewing his mind, and putting on actions that resemble Christ’s character (Ephesians 4:22-24).

3. The discipline of healthy living.

The conviction that we are composite beings created in the image of God means that we cannot devote time and attention to one segment of ourselves and neglect others without also damaging that segment we are seeking to cultivate. Just as ignorance can lead to poor health choices, so poor health can obstruct mental growth. Wrong beliefs can cause emotional distress, but emotional distress can also cultivate wrong beliefs. The actionable item here for the Christian scholar is that he must maintain health in all areas of his life, not just his intellect. Sertillanges urges this composite discipline on his readers: “You will not imagine that your work is of more importance than you, and that even an increase of intellectual possibilities should prevail over the achievement of your true self. . . . To be where we ought to be, to do what we ought to do, disposes us for contemplation, and feeds it.”[4] Thus the Christian scholar manages his work responsibilities, relationships, exercise and nutrition, not merely as necessary evils, but as essential parts of what it means to be a human created in the image of God, as he is convinced that health in all these areas will only serve to heighten the vigor of his intellectual output.

4. The discipline of quiet solitude.

Both James Sire and A. G. Sertillanges discuss silence and solitude as separate disciplines, but there is a great deal of overlap. “Interior silence” may be maintained in the midst of noisy surroundings. Yet simply because one is alone does not mean he has dismissed all distractions.[5] Ultimately, both disciplines have the same aim: to allow the scholar to think unbrokenly. There must be a deliberate stilling of noisy and conflicting thoughts, the decisive elimination of distractions that derail that essential train of thought, the consistent putting aside of curious interests that are winding trails off the central path toward truth. Quiet solitude will help the scholar see past mere facts to the underlying truth.

In an age when we have vast amounts of information about virtually anything at our fingertips, the discipline of quiet solitude is more difficult yet even more critical to maintain. The Christian scholar must resist the temptation to know what everyone is saying about his particular topic. This might mean the setting aside of social media, unsubscribing to blogs, and putting the phone out of one’s reach. It will also mean staying on top of one’s other responsibilities, so the mind will not be constantly be nagged with these concerns.

5. The discipline of curiosity.

James Sire calls this discipline lateral thinking.[6] I have chosen to call it disciplined curiosity, the inquisitive branching into other areas of thought, with the result that the whole of truth is seen more clearly. This curiosity is an essential component of creativity, which is in turn an essential component of the intellectual life. When the scholar intentionally peers into other arenas completely different from his own, he brings fresh insights into his own study, seeing new connections to which he was formerly blind. Just as constant smelling can immunize the olfactory nerves from an intense fragrance, so the mind can begin to be dulled by fixating on the same topic with no break.

This curiosity is not merely diversion. It takes discipline to explore another topic, especially one in which the scholar is not naturally interested. Yet this disciplined curiosity, or lateral thinking, is especially essential in the realm of theology, whose metaphysical atmosphere can seem so far removed from the realities of daily life. Thus, the scholar of theology can benefit from exploring psychology, behavioral sciences, art, law, history, and a host of other disciplines.

6. The discipline of reading.

The cultural and intellectual conversation throughout history is a paper trail—the great ideas have been enshrined in writing. Even more importantly, God has condescended to communicate his mind in human syllables reduced in Scripture to paper and ink. For these reasons, the Christian scholar must read, but his reading must be disciplined in choice and subject matter. As Francis Bacon has famously advised, “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”[7] The Christian scholar should choose books which expand his mind, challenge his thinking, and pull him to a higher level.

7. The discipline of writing.

Finally, the Christian scholar must write. He must not be content to be a consumer of ideas, but a producer of them. Like other areas, his writing must be disciplined if he will have any productivity at all. Good writing is the result of deep thought, careful planning, but mostly laborious rewriting. The scholar that tends to be perfectionistic must be careful not to spend all his time researching every possibly pertinent datum and never reach the writing stage. Neither should he allow his writings to never see the light of day due to his obsessive revisions. He strives for perfection, but realizes his writing will never be perfect. Only God has the last word to say on any topic. Inevitably, there will be sentences, paragraphs, chapters, perhaps even a thesis, that he would modify or scrap completely. Yet this should not keep him from contributing to the intellectual conversation.

Faith and scholarship are not mutually exclusive. Christian scholarship is no oxymoron. Christians should be scholarly, and scholarship must be Christian. Of course not every Christian is called to a life of scholarship, nor is every aspect of scholarship explicitly about Christ. However, no aspect of scholarship can be legitimately separated from the person and work of Jesus Christ.

[1] OP A. G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, trans. Mary Ryan (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1987), 4.

[2] Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, Documents of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1999), 151.

[3] Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Maria Boulding and John E. Rotelle, Second edition (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 2012), 39.

[4] Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life, 58.

[5] Ibid., 67.

[6] Sire, Habits of the Mind, 136.

[7] Francis Bacon, Bacon’s Essays (Indo-European Publishing, 2010), 84.

Why God’s Triunity Should Confound our Intellect

Is it possible to arrive at the idea of the Trinity apart from divine revelation? A few philosophical theologians have thought so, including Richard of St. Victor, G. W. F. Hegel, and Richard Swinburne. Richard of St. Victor, followed by Richard Swinburne, argues that “if God is loving, then he must share (hence the Son); and cooperate in sharing (hence the Holy Spirit)” (527).* David Brown casts doubt on this theory by asking whether it is necessary for another to exist in order for one to love, and whether “cooperation in love must generate a third person” (527). Hegel attempts to arrive at the Trinity by a different route. He sees self-consciousness as depending on the existence of other beings. Accordingly, “it was necessary for the Father to have the Son as other than himself before a coming to full self-consciousness could occur in the life of the Holy Spirit” (526).

The reason for differentiating members of the Trinity comes from the data of the New Testament itself, but even the New Testament does not always clarify which member of the Trinity is the subject. Additionally, it is not clear how metaphorical and how literal are the statement of the relationships among the members of the Trinity. In what sense is the Son a son of the Father? And in what sense does the Father and Son “send” the Holy Spirit. As David Brown says, “Sonship and procession are both metaphors. But if the persons do not literally ‘generate’ or ‘send,’ what have we left as the distinction between them?” (528).

The cumulative effect of these models—whether Richard Swinburne’s philosophical social theory or Augustine’s psychological theories—magnifies rather than diminishes the philosophical problem of the Trinity. Not only are they insufficient within themselves, but they contradict other models in important ways.

Perhaps it would be more profitable for philosophical theology to provide a critique of our cognitive scope—a scope that is so narrow that it will not allow us to conceive of God’s unity and diversity at the same time without distorting either. Such a critique might proceed thus: if God exists, then we would expect him to be of such a nature that would be so clearly and utterly beyond the range of our intellectual grasp, and to exist beyond this range in those areas that are basic to our cognitive processes: identity, singularity and multiplicity. The doctrine of the Trinity confounds our thinking, but this should serve to confirm, rather than disconfirm, our belief in it. What else would we expect about the nature of a God who is independent of our own categories of thought?

In fact, if the doctrine of the Trinity could have been conceived of on purely logical grounds, as Hegel and Swinburne seem to affirm, then it should seem intuitive to the logically-inclined person. But as soon as the doctrine is explained in such a way so as to seem intuitive, it slides inevitably either toward overemphasizing God’s singularity (to the diminishing of his multiplicity) or toward overemphasizing God’s multiplicity (to the diminishing of his singularity). Swinburne’s social model well accounts for God’s threeness, but not his oneness. Augustine’s psychological models well accounts for God’s oneness, but not his threeness.

Such a critique should also suggest a model or illustration of our limited cognitive scope, as it stands confounded by the doctrine of the Trinity. One such illustration might proceed thus: An observer stands several yards in front of a colossal wall, on either end of which is a tall tower (God’s threeness and God’s oneness,  Figure A). The observer, due to his scope of vision, can see only one tower at a time. When he moves his head to see the other tower, the other disappears from his vision (Figures B and C). Wanting to see both towers at the same time, the observer looks through a convex lens (a model or theory of the Trinity). He can see both towers at the same time, but the towers are no longer straight up and down, and the wall appears to be curved (Figure D). Thus, the observer’s perception of the wall and tower is constrained by his scope of vision: he can (1) observe one tower straight up and down (God’s oneness), (2) the other tower straight up and down (God’s threeness), or both towers appearing to lean toward the center (God’s oneness and threeness as explained in a model or theory of the Trinity). But he cannot both observe towers at the same time and perceive them as straight as they truly are.

An observer stands several yards in front of a colossal wall (God’s nature), on either end of which is a tall tower (God’s oneness and God’s threeness).

Figure A – An observer stands several yards in front of a colossal wall (God’s nature), on either end of which is a tall tower (God’s oneness and God’s threeness).

Trinity 02

Figure B – The observer, due to his scope of vision (limited cognitive scope), can see only one tower at a time (either God’s threeness or God’s oneness). When he moves his gaze to see one tower (God’s oneness), the other disappears from his vision (God’s threeness).

Trinity 03

Figure C – The observer, due to his scope of vision (limited cognitive scope), can see only one tower at a time (either God’s threeness or God’s oneness). When he moves his gaze to see one tower (God’s threeness), the other disappears from his vision (God’s oneness).













When the observer looks through a convex lens (theories of the Trinity), he can see both towers (God’s threeness and God’s oneness) at the same time, but now the image is distorted: the towers are no longer straight up and down, and the wall appears to be curved (Any model of God’s Trinity inevitably inadequately portrays God’s threeness, God’s oneness, and God’s nature as a whole).

Figure D – When the observer looks through a convex lens (theories of the Trinity), he can see both towers (God’s threeness and God’s oneness) at the same time, but now the image is distorted: the towers are no longer straight up and down, and the wall appears to be curved (Any model of God’s Trinity inevitably inadequately portrays God’s threeness, God’s oneness, and God’s nature as a whole).

We understand oneness, and so we can understand that God is one. And we understand threeness, and so we can understand that God is three. But our cognitive scope forbids us from understanding both at the same time without distorting one or the other. The reason for the limitation of our cognitive scope is that our cognitive processes are constrained by the properties of identity and non-contradiction. Yet it makes sense that the Being from whom these properties originated stands above these properties, and that his standing above these properties finds manifestation in at least one feature of his existence, namely, his Triunity.

*Page numbers refer to Quinn, P. and Taliaferro, C., eds. A Companion to Philosophy of ReligionMalden, MA: Blackwell, 1997.

Evangelicalism and Social Responsibility

In the enormous book Tough-Minded Christianity: Honoring the Legacy of John Warwick MontgomeryVernon Grounds has an essay entitled “Evangelicalism and Social Responsibility.” I found his main points to be helpful, which I quote here:

  1. The Church’s primary task is that of personal evangelism.
  2. The Church has the responsibility of nurturing and judging the ethos of our political and economic life.
  3. The church, a supernatural fellowship living under the law of holy love, is divinely obligated to maximize love by maximizing justice.
  4. Political action as a legitimate expression of Christian love is a self-justifying expression of redemptive love.
  5. The church qua church ought not enter the political arena.
  6. Great caution must be employed in order to present the identification of some transient issue with the eternal will of God.
  7. The concrete application of love calls for competence and know-how as well as disinterested goodwill.
  8. Every Christian has his own vocation and so needs to determine before God what responsibilities and tasks the lordship of his Savior lays upon [him] as an obedient disciple.
  9. The New Testament warns against Utopianism, any romantic illusions about sweeping and permanent reforms.
  10. Though blessed with divine revelation, we do not have all the answers, perhaps even many of the answers, to the problems of society.


Today Is Sunday

Today is Sunday.

It’s the first day of the week—the day my Lord rose from the dead.

All four Gospels record that Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1). The Romans called this day “the day of the sun” (dies solis) because they adopted the Egyptian practice of naming each day of the week after the sun, moon, and five planets, respectively.

That makes Sunday a special day.

The early Christians followed the Apostle John’s example (Revelation 1:10) and preferred to call Sunday “the Lord’s day,” as a reminder that Christ’s resurrection on this day proved his lordship over all (Acts; Romans 1:4; Ephesians 1:20-22). The English language retains the Roman practice of naming the first day of the week after the sun (Sunday), but several other languages carry the Christian tradition of naming the first day of the week “the Lord’s day.” See how you can hear the Latin word for “lord” (dominus) in each of these words for Sunday: domingo (Spanish), domenica (Italian) and dimanche (French).

It would be a mistake to assume that Sunday is the Christian version of the Jewish Sabbath. The observance of the Sabbath, as an aspect of Israel’s ceremonial law, is no longer binding on New Testament believers (Romans 14:5-6; Gal. 4:8-11; Col. 2:16-17; Acts 15:28-29). However, the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day do have parallel theological significances. The Sabbath points to the eschatological completion of God’s creative work (Exodus 20:11; Hebrews 3:7-4:11), and the Lord’s Day, as the day on which Christ rose from the dead, anticipates the new creation (1 Cor. 15:20ff).

We have only hints that the early church gathered for worship on Sunday (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2). But it is certain that Christians as early as A. D. 120 made Sunday worship a regular practice. Besides the example of New Testament believers and the early church, Sunday is chosen as a day of worship for Christians because Christ rose on that day, and the resurrection is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Sundays give us a glimpse into eternity,

Because on this day people all over the world will gather

The gathered church is like a shaft of light from the eternal state. Hebrews 12:22-23 describes the “heavenly Jerusalem” as including “the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven.” Revelation dazzles us with a vision of the future when “the dwelling place of God is with man” (Rev. 20:21) and countless beings, including redeemed humans sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain” (Rev. 5:12). When we sing with our fellow redeemed ones on Sunday, we can remember that our song is part of a chorus that will reverberate into all eternity. What Christ began on a Sunday, and what I celebrate this Sunday will continue forever. That’s why Sundays give us a glimpse into eternity.

Under spires and steeples and thatched and tin roofs to worship Christ,

Sunday is a good time to remember that the church is bigger than what meets under my local church’s arched ceiling. Many Christians around the world pay dearly to worship Christ on Sunday. Many dress differently, look differently, and worship differently than I do. But what binds us together is our shared devotion to our Savior Jesus Christ.

And so will I.

If today is the Lord’s Day, I want to worship Christ today. If today is the Lord’s Day, I can’t think of anything I would rather do than hear His word preached, sing his praises with his people, and partake in his Supper. It’s Sunday, and today I’ll be with my church.


Alexander, T. Desmond, and Brian S Rosner. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press ; InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Baker Academic ; Paternoster Press, 2001.


Christian Virtue Ethics

Stephen S. Bilynskyj’s essay “Christian Ethics and the Ethics of Virtue” champions virtue ethics as a superior approach to moral decision-making. Working from the writings of Stanley Hauervas, Bilynskyj insists that, for a Christian, ethical questions must be addressed within the redemptive narrative and the Christian’s identity with Jesus Christ. He puts it this way: “For the Christian what will be distinctive about our ethics is not so much the acceptance of certain principles . . . but the fact that we are who we are, that is, the people of Jesus Christ. . . . It is our commitment to follow Jesus Christ which defines us both individually and as a community.”

There is much in Bilynskyj’s essay that Christians will find compelling. His articulation of a distinctly Christian ethic resonates with anyone who knows and loves the gospel well. Indeed, many of the moral dictates in the New Testament are rooted in the Jesus-story, such as when Paul exhorts children to husbands to love their wives “as Christ loved the church,” wives to submit to their husbands “as to the Lord,” and children to obey their parents “in the Lord.” Perhaps it can be said that there is no moral instruction given in the New Testament that cannot be traced to a believer’s relationship with Christ. Additionally this approach addresses the “fragmentation” of moral reasoning resulting from the debate between two rival approaches to ethics: deontology and consequentialism. Each approach has its own method of judging the morality or immorality of a particular action. Thus, for both approaches, morality is located in the action itself. For the virtue ethicist, the emphasis is rather upon the one doing the action. Both deontology and consequentialism are insufficient as an approach to ethics because (among other problems), they fail to adequately consider the moral agent. Virtue ethics, and particularly a Christian approach to virtue ethics, avoids these insufficiencies.

While Bilynskyj’s essay resonates with people who know and love the Bible and the gospel, there are some aspects of it that make it inadequate by itself as an approach to ethics. The biggest problem I see is that it essentially gives up on attempts to speak ethical norms to the world. According to Bilynskyj, the church, as a community of people who have embraced a particular narrative, cannot expect the world to understand, for example, the immorality of abortion. Instead, the church is a sort of conscience to the world, demonstrating that its solutions to problems are superior to the solutions of the world. As Bilynskyj puts it, “The Church has something to say to the world only insofar as it displays to the world the world’s own nature as sinful and adequate.”

I agree with Bilynskyj that the church should show that the world is sinful and inadequate in its grasping after ultimate significance. But I disagree that this is all the church can do to the world as it relates to ethical issues. It is certain that a person of the world will never understand a Christian’s true ethical motivation until he puts his faith in Christ. But Christians can at least hope, and act upon the hope, that the world will respond to some degree to moral reasoning, even if that reasoning is not linked to a distinctively Christian narrative. It seems that the universal image of God in man means that believers and unbelievers alike will possess a moral sense which the church can invoke in ethical discussion. John the Baptist’s condemnation of Herod for his taking of his brother’s wife may be offered as an example of a Christ-follower speaking a moral imperative into the life of an unbeliever.

Having pointed out that inadequacy, I do believe that Bilynskyj’s essay offers us much in terms of consideration and practice. We Christians should be sure to root our ethics in our relationship to Jesus Christ. We should not expect the world to understand all of what we do. We should not exchange our mission to proclaim the gospel for a mission of social transformation.