Posts Tagged ‘The New City Catechism’

What the Trinity says about God’s loving nature

July 28, 2017

The New City Catechism Devotional continues to bless me. I’m writing down these words about the Trinity from Kevin DeYoung mostly so I can quickly refer to them the next time I teach confirmation class.

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most important Christian doctrine that most people never think about. It’s absolutely essential to our faith, and yet for many Christians it just seems like a very confusing math problem. And even if we can figure out what Trinity means, it doesn’t feel like it has much bearing on our lives, much relevance to us.

The word Trinity, famously, is not found in the Bible, but the word does very well at capturing a number of biblical truths. There are actually seven statements that go into the doctrine of the Trinity:

  1. God is one. There’s only one God.
  2. The Father is God.
  3. The Son is God.
  4. The Holy Spirit is God.
  5. The Father is not the Son.
  6. The Son is not the Spirit.
  7. The Spirit is not the Father.

If you get those seven statements, then you’ve captured the doctrine of the Trinity—what it means when we say there is one God and three persons.[1]

Is that clear to you? Would this communicate with 12-and 13-year-olds in confirmation class?

Incidentally, as I’ve mentioned before, I like the ministry of Christian apologist and philosopher William Lane Craig, who frequently debates world-renown atheists. One of his arguments for God’s existence is the “moral argument”: in a nutshell, the fact that objective moral values and duties exist means that God exists. If there are laws, there must be a law-giver. If there’s no law-giver, then no matter how strongly we “feel” that something is wrong, what we feel is the result of blind, undirected physical forces: to say something is “wrong” is merely to assert one’s personal taste. (For more on this, see this old post.)

But this raises a potential problem, as many of Craig’s opponents point out: Are these objective moral values and duties good because God says they’re good? Or is their goodness based on a standard external to God himself?

Do you see the problem? If we say “because God says so,” that seems arbitrary.

On the other hand, if the standard by which we measure goodness is external to God himself, then God is unrelated to this standard, and the moral argument goes out the window. (In philosophical circles, this problem is often called “the Euthyphro dilemma,” which was raised by Socrates himself.)

Craig would call this a false choice and say something like this: We can be confident that what God commands is good not simply because he says so, but because what God “says” is rooted in his divine nature, which is only good and loving. You can easily Google his argument, and let Craig speak for himself!

Regardless, the Trinity shows how this is true: God, in his very nature, is a loving relationship of three Persons. From eternity past, this relationship, at the center of God’s nature, demonstrates true love, which is the foundation of objective moral values and duties.

Not that DeYoung was addressing the “moral argument” when he wrote the following, but I find it helpful to this discussion:

“[W]hen you have a triune God, you have the eternality of love. Love has existed from all time. If you have a god who is not three persons, he has to create a being to love, to be an expression of his love. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in eternity have always had this relationship of love. So love is not a created thing. God didn’t have to go outside of himself to love. Love is eternal. And when you have a triune God, you have fully this God who is love.[2]

God did not have to go outside of himself to love. To be a loving god, a non-Trinitarian god would have to first create someone or something to love.

Not so the God of Christianity. He is loving by nature, in and of himself, such that the apostle John can say, “God is love.”

Therefore, God does not have to “go outside of himself” to find a standard to measure the goodness of God’s commands. What God commands is good because it springs from this loving nature.

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 26.

2. Ibid., 27.

Our only hope in life and death

June 22, 2017

Recently, I’ve become interested in catechesis, the instructions that the church gives to people who are going to be baptized or confirmed. Our church’s confirmation class, for example, is one form of catechesis: “Here are the essentials of the Christian faith and our Wesleyan movement. Here’s what it means to be a Christian. Here’s what it means to be a Methodist Christian.”

A couple of centuries ago, churches often expected confirmands and converts to memorize catechisms, a series of questions-and-answers about the doctrines of the faith, along with scripture references. Some churches still use these. Earlier this year, I began studying one famous catechism, which John Wesley adapted for us Methodists, the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The well-known first question and answer is the following:

Question 1. What is the chief end of man?

Answer. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

Drawing upon classic Protestant catechisms of the past—like the Westminster Shorter and Heidelberg Catechisms—Crossway, publisher of the ESV Bible, recently produced The New City Catechism. Pastor Tim Keller, one of my favorite contemporary preachers, helped to put it together.

A couple of weeks ago, I bought the version that included devotionals—one historical and one contemporary—for each entry. John Wesley is one source for the historical devotionals. I’ve been reflecting on the first question and answer, which you can see in the photo above:

What is our only hope in life and death?

That we are not our own but belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to God and to our Savior Jesus Christ.[1]

The scripture reference is Romans 14:7-8: “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

I’ve written and preached before about my sinful tendency to compare myself to others. Even last Sunday, describing my experience the week before, I said the following:

I can hardly enjoy Annual Conference without looking over my shoulder at what my fellow clergy have—how prestigious their appointment is; how high their church’s steeple is; what awards and recognition they’ve received. And I compare myself to them, and I’m miserable because I worry that I’m falling behind.

Why do I do this? In part, it’s because I don’t believe that my only hope in life and death is that I belong to God and his Son Jesus. I place my hope in many other things: in career success, in other people’s opinions of me, in physical fitness, in my enjoyment of leisure time and hobbies. How do I know I do this? Because if something threatens any of these things, I fall apart. I’m filled with resentment.

Even last week in Athens, tendinitis in my left Achilles tendon (which is itself an “overuse” injury from trying to get in shape for an upcoming beach trip) prevented me from running in a 5K with my son Townshend. And I was so angry about it! Why? Because I derive some measure of my self-esteem from being able to compete (and beat) other people in 5K races. I place some measure of hope in this kind of success. And now—suddenly—my body tells me I can’t do that? Then what good am I? How will others know I’m valuable?

Yes, I know it’s ridiculous.

By contrast, suppose I believed—really believed—that my life was not my own; it belonged solely to the Lord. Suppose I believed that every moment of every day was his to do with as he pleases. Suppose my chief concern in life was pleasing the Lord and not myself?

“What a wonderful world this would be,” as the song says.

Are you like me? Are you placing your hope or hopes in something or someone other than Christ? Where are you placing them?

Here’s the prayer that accompanies the New City Catechism’s first devotional:

Christ Our Hope, in life and in death, we cast ourselves on your merciful, fatherly care. You love us because we are your own. We have no good apart from you, and we could ask for no greater gift than to belong to you. Amen.[2]

1. The New City Catechism Devotional (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 17.

2. Ibid., 19.