Monday, 26 January 2009

God does not magnify himself: on Thomas Schreiner and Jonathan Edwards

Michael Jensen mentions Thomas Schreiner’s recent New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Baker, 2008). Michael is right to be troubled by this interpretation of the New Testament: “Schreiner wants to argue that the anchoring theme of NT Theology is something like: God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. That is, God’s concern for God’s own glory is the driving heartbeat of the NT witness and mission. God’s self-referencing self-regard is what perpetuates his plans and his interaction with his creatures.”

I had a similar complaint when I recently read a friend’s essay on Calvin’s doctrine of God: Calvin was not an Edwardsean! This whole business of “God magnifying himself” or of God redeeming the world “for the sake of God’s own glory” is really pretty perverse.

Personally, I’ve read Jonathan Edwards’ The End for Which God Created the World a number of times, and I think it’s an amazing achievement of speculative philosophical theology. (I haven’t read any John Piper, but I’ve heard that he popularises the same argument.) At one point in my life, I was persuaded by Edwards’ argument: its logic is so tight and so compelling; its vision of an always-self-glorifying God seemed so charged with religious awe and solemn Calvinist reverence. It was only as I was reading the Fourth Gospel one day that it occurred to me that Edwards had made one small mistake: he had forgotten to include “Jesus Christ” in his definition of God. And of course this one mistake invalidates the whole elaborate procedure: if a doctrine of God is wrong here, it’s wrong everywhere.

According to the Fourth Gospel, the divine “glory” is manifest in Christ’s cross. This presents a very different picture of what it means for God to “glorify himself”: God does not “magnify himself” (literally “make himself bigger”, from the Latin magnus); rather he humiliates himself and makes himself smaller. God’s glory travels a path of abasement and lowly self-giving. God’s glory, in other words, cannot be understood apart from God’s humanity – the eternal decision in which he becomes God-for-us in Jesus Christ.

An Edwarsean interpretation of the New Testament, then – in which God’s interactions with humanity always serve the higher aim of God’s self-magnification – can only be said to represent a stunning theological misreading of the New Testament witness. It’s one of those rare instances in which you wish a biblical scholar had read a little less theology.

46 Comments:

Matt Jenson said...

C'mon, now...That was a lot of rhetoric and, possibly, a reduction to a false dilemma. That the humanity of God must be considered in accounting for his glory is vital and thoroughly Johannine. But to pit that against a 'speculative' doctrine of God's self-glorification strikes me as specious. I'll never forget my first time reading through the prophets and how utterly focused there are on God's doing things for the sake of his glory. This doesn't hinder his merciful, patient love; but it at least requires to be set next to that love as a similarly compelling explanation of why God does what God does.

nate kerr said...

It does not seem to me inherently problematic to affirm that God acts "for the sake of God's own glory" (though I don' like the phrasing). It is probably just that the statement in-itself is meaningless. What is problematic is precisely the logic inherent within the idea that God's action as such is a matter of "God's self-referencing self-regard." I have not read Schreiner's book, so I'll refrain from commenting on what he means by that construction (assuming he uses it). But I do think that the idea of "glory" biblically is important precisely as the unveiling of God's holiness (John Gammie's study of Holiness in the Old Testament is still unsurpassed here, to me). And God's holiness is unveiled precisely as the act of outgoing love for the other. The problem, it seems to me, lies in the implication that God's glory is something "other" in himself than that very outgoing, and that that the "magnification" of that something other is what must ultimately be the purpose of God's work ad extra. The upshot of such is that the doctrine of justification is an outworking of God's self-regard in such a way as ultimately to be about the justification of God himself(!). What necessarily cannot be thought on this scheme is a doctrine of sanctificaiton as the creature's really being made holy (i.e., deification).

Ben Myers said...

Matt, just a quick clarification: I'm not objecting to the idea that God is glorified (of course, the works of the Johannine Jesus are also aimed at glorifying the Father). Instead, I'm disputing this particular Edwardsean understanding of "glory" — the idea that God ultimately values only one thing, his own magnificence; that God ultimately takes pleasure only in this one thing; that the only thing God ultimately enjoys is himself (other things bringing God pleasure only to the extent that they serve this goal). As I mentioned above, this particular interpretation of "glory" is something that you can't find even in Calvin's lofty doctrine of predestination: Edwards is far more ruthless than that!

So it's not a question of whether God is interested in his own glory: it's a question (as Nate also observes) of what kind of glory — and therefore also: what kind of God?

steve martin said...

The 'theology of glory' vs. the 'theology of the cross'.

The late Gerhard Forde had some terrific things to say regarding this comparison.(and Luther wasn't too bad himself on the matter)

Shane said...

Does Edward really believe there is a dichotomy between theology of glory and theology of the cross? I've never understood why there was supposed to be an exclusive disjunction between the two. Magnus means "great" as well as big--so God, in magnifying himself, can still make himself small. That's what's so great about him, if you take my meaning. To say that God chose to magnify himself through the cross would just be to say that he thought this would be the best and greatest thing to do. And indeed it was.

What's so objectionable about that?

Brandon Jones said...

Ben, perhaps you would enjoy the latest edition of Trinity Journal in which Tom McCall and John Piper have a little back and forth about God's sovereignty. One sticking point is whether what you call the Edwardsean claim is true, although McCall doesn't use that terminology. Anyhow, it's an interesting read.

Joshua Ballard said...

While admitting that I haven't read Edwards' work, I do know that Piper sufficiently references Christ as the Glorious eternal self reflection of the Father. Knowing how much Piper integrates Edwards, I would assume that this is an underlying thought in Edwards' explanation of God's purposes in exalting his own glory.

I must also note that the concept that Trinitarian self-exultation is perverse is only perverse if the Trinity was not worthy of such exultation.

If I were to exalt myself, it would prove be an exponential exultation of failure, whereas in God exultation only multiplies God's own perfection.

I would assume that the Johannine language of glory is like much of the other passages of Bible in it's phenomenological expression.

I have difficulty with the concept that God's glory is his outpouring of himself at the Cross, which would beg the question for me...where was his glory before the cross? If the cross is where his glory was made known TO US, (and even the Principalities etc.) then I could understand the use of the language.

I understand the value in the Father's self-sacrificial giving to the Son within Trinity, and the Son's self-sacrificial giving etc. as expressions of the Love nature.

Trinitarian Mutuality makes that possible, but without the Glorious Trinitarian nature being the focus of the Trinity, I don't understand why we should focus on the Glorious nature of the Trinity.

Andrew Faris said...

This is a frustrating post for me, because I'm not sure whether you are unclear or just wrong. I think it's one or the other though. Even your clarification for Matt doesn't help me much.

The problem for me is that it seems like God's glorification of himself in Christ in the Fourth Gospel is completely tied up with Jesus' humiliation and death on the cross. That is, the two are so tied together that separating them may be pretty difficult.

That said, I don't want to misrepresent or misunderstand you, and I have that haunting sense that says I am. So I'm fully willing to take any critique back if that becomes clear to me.

Andrew

chris said...

To the earlier point - there was a group discussion posted by the Gospel Coalition recently, it featured Carson, Keller, Piper and others talking amongst themselves about various topics. At one point Piper is asked what he'd change if he could revisit his earlier books - he said that he would stress the cross more.

The point of the theology of glory/theology of the cross distinction is that we as fallen humans are very bad at distinguishing God's glory behind natural revelation, and therefore rather than trying to peer behind the natural order to see the glory of God, we should instead see his glory where he chooses to reveal himself to us - through the incarnation, and ultimately through the cross.

Steve H said...

Hmm, I seem to remember writing a book about this once...
Three quick comments, perhaps:
1. I think Edwards is guilty of an error of the sort you describe here, although it is far more subtle, and you won't find it in The End for which....
2. Edwards's account of God's self-glorification in The End for which... is quietly, but deliberately and thoroughly, Trinitarian. He constantly talks about a twofold internal glory of God ('God's internal glory, as it is in God, is either in his understanding or will'), and God's external self-glorification mirrors this. It is now easy to demonstrate that this is all trinitarian: the communication of knowledge to the creature is the ad extra correlate of the eternal begetting of the Son, the Logos, and the communication of delight to the creature is the ad extra correlate of the eternal procession of the Holy Spirit. Edwards makes this identification repeatedly in notebook entries written around the same time; these have recently been published.
3. 'he has forgotten to include "Jesus Christ" in his definition of God.' Well, now... could we re-phrase that? How about 'he has refused to succumb to the strangely-popular recent heresy of thinking that the incarnation changed God in any way, a point explicitly and energetically refuted by every strand of Christian theology from the Cappadocians till at least Schleiermacher'? The Jewish man Jesus Christ appears centrally in The End for which... in the dogmatically-proper place, as the head of the creation; Edwards knew, of course, that this Jewish man existed, and exists, only in personal union with the Eternal Logos, but he parsed that in a way that all Christian theology has considered orthodox. Christian theology may have been wrong - perhaps God cannot exist without at least this one creature also existing - but if you throw aside Edwards on this point, everything from the Creed of Nicaea (which anathematises anyone legontas ... trepton e alloioton ton huion tou theou) down goes with him...

Kyle Strobel said...

It seems important to note Edwards' understanding of aesthetics here, not to mention his "sense of the heart." God's glory is manifested to humanity through Christ's work - in so far as it was excellent, beautiful, and glorious. Edwards' Christologically robust sermon, "The Excellency of Christ" makes this exact point. There were "diverse excellencies" brought together in the man Jesus, that infinite highness was brought to utter lowness on the cross. A theology of glory and a theology of the cross meet in the bowels of Edwards' aesthetic - that this God just is infinitely beautiful, and the manifestation of that, however veiled, is glorious.

In terms of Ben's point, Edwards' God does tend to come across as a bit mechanistic. God is the infinite good, true and beautiful, and therefore has to be "aimed" towards himself just as a compass aims North. But on the other hand, Edwards will also say that in the incarnation, "God became passionate to his own." Like Barth, Edwards could certainly complain that people critique him without reading all of him.

Ben Myers said...

Hi Steve — ah, I was worried that a real Edwards scholar might come and spoil all the fun! ;-)

On the interpretation of Edwards, I'll of course be glad to defer to your expertise. I'm glad you've pointed to the Trinity, since this is obviously such an important dimension of Edwards' thought. I suppose this makes it more palatable — but we're still left with a God who is ultimately interested in only one thing: himself. And this troubles me, since, when I read the Bible, God just doesn't strike me as that sort of character.

If I had to answer the question "why did God create the world?", I'd much prefer the answer of another Calvinist, the Dutch theologian A. A. Van Ruler: God created the world "for the fun of it" (i.e., for no real reason at all). That might be going a little too far in the opposite direction, but at least it captures something of the "flavour" of the biblical portrayals of God, and something of the sheer gratuitousness of creation.

Steve H said...

Hi Ben,
With Oliver C. hanging around as well, you were never really going to get away with it...
Edwards's wrestlings with God's reasons for creating lasted most of his life, & are interesting. He essentially worried away at a couple of boundary conditions, they key one being that creation cannot make up any lack in God's own life. Thus gratuitousness is the heart of things for him (for a while he played with the idea that God created out of goodness, because, alone of all divine perfections, goodness demands exercise ad extra - but this still leaves the world making up for some lack in God's own life).
he finesses the selfishness charge with what amounts to theological sleight of hand, in my view. Selflessness is having a view to 'being in general' rather than my own particular being; but God is 'being in general', so selflessness and self-regard coincide in God. It works as a bit of logic, I suppose, but...
Van Ruler: I've not read him; with a strict Edwardsean hat on, I guess I want to interrogate the notion of 'fun': is this capriciousness? If so it is unworthy of God. Edwards's account of the will, of course, leaves him no room for a 'no reason at all' answer, which may be the root problem.

kim fabricius said...

Here is how Edwards' biographer George Marsden answers the charge of divine self-centredness (in Jonathan Edwards: A Life, p. 462):

"While it would be inappropriate for an inferior being to be ultimately motivated by self-love, preeminent love to self is not inappropriate to a being who is infinitely good because in that case self-love is simply to love what is infinitely good."

Convinced? I'm not - yet. At least such a defence needs to be thickened in a trinitarian and Christological way. Interestingly, Robert Jenson thinks that Edwards does just that, indeed in such a way that "in supremely valuing himself, God supremely values our blessedness" (in America's Theologian, p. 39). In fact, Jenson goes so far as to suggest that at times "Edwards seems to anticipate Hegel and make the perfected creature as a whole, and not Christ, the second divine hypostasis, God's perfect object of love who just so is God again" - though he adds that Edwards' "language is in fact christology" (p. 41). How 'bout that, Ben!

Edwards' aesthetics - glory-as-beauty - I think, also takes the edge off Ben's critique, particularly if we think of artistic beauty, and then parse art at least partially in terms of play (Auden noted that art is "frivolous" - which is not the same thing as "capricious"!)

Why did God create the world? For the heaven of it, for Christ's sake!

FredFredFred said...

Ben,

Remember that Edwards affirms a traditional distinction between God's natural perfections and his moral perfections. The perfections of the divine nature include all the omnis, plus things like "big" and "shiny." But God's moral perfections are the ones that show his character: justice, mercy, love. No slam on the natural perfections, but it's the moral excellence of God that make him God, or that are the excellence of his excellence. As Edwards also says, the natural excellencies could theoretically belong to some other entity who did not have God's moral character. Devils can be big and shiny.

What God seeks "magnification" of is the display of his moral excellence. He doesn't want to show himself shinier, but ever more merciful and righteous. I think that avoids the things you're worried about. Check out the relevant bits of Religious Affections to see how Edwards deploys this distinction.

It's not a magic key that unlocks every door, but the natural/moral distinction that "divines are wont to observe" is a far better place to engage Edwards than on the more blunt terms of your original post: that he missed the point of John's notion of glory, or isn't trinitarian, or left the cross out of his basic theology, or whatever else.

I know the comments have turned into an Edwards referendum, and I suspect that your post, despite its rhetorical bombast, was less serious: it sounds like really just an attempt to tweak at the self-confidence of the Reformed resurgence by insulting their patron saint. I haven't read Schreiner yet.

p.s. great stuff the last couple of weeks.

Nicole said...

I found your post through a comment on Theologica...

I do not think Edwards, missed the bigger picture. Christ's glorification in His work on the cross does not end on the cross. Two passages that point to this are Hebrews 2:7-10, and Revelation 5:6-12.

Hebrews 2:9 points to Christ being made lower than the angels, but "now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death".
Revelation 5:11,12 says: "Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

Christ is indeed magnified and glorified for His self-abasement. For His humiliation. But it is because of what He accomplished on the cross. The Revelation passage is amazing. Ten thousand times ten thousand voices crying out in eternal praise to Christ for the blood He shed. The most ghastly act in history will be the most celebrated. He will be glorified, and exalted for it.

Another great passage on this is Philippians 2:6-11, especially verses 8-11And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should 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."

I love it!!!! God will be glorified eternally, and magnified, and exalted, for Christ's humbling act on the cross. We miss the bigger picture if we leave Christ bruised and humiliated on the cross. One day every knee will bow because of what He did - that is the ultimate end, and what I long for!

Brad said...

Speaking for myself, I appreciate the "rhetorical bombast," because having seen this kind of theology with legs on it, I have found it to result in ugly and brutally unloving ways of thinking, worshiping, and relating to others. In the Bible belt (specifically central Texas) John Piper, whose theology is one and the same with Schreiner's, is enormously popular, and seeing the way this kind of language gets played out on the ground is truly disconcerting. Any kind of tragedy, any kind of hurt, any kind of pain -- to others or to oneself -- is met with one response alone: "God must have done it to glorify himself."

Not only that, but God's ethical character gets lost, because when what is "good" is defined solely as what God does to magnify himself, and everything that happens is God's doing, and everything God does magnifies God ... where does the logic end, and how do we not find ourselves flushed down the toilet of incomprehensible capriciousness?

So I say: thanks for the post. This is a supremely important issue that is often ignored by the "loftier" topics of theology.

michael jensen said...

Hey, is this a blog steal? :-)

The Biblical studies guild have had their go at this topic over at:

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/11/for-god-so-loved-himself-is-god.html

Corey said...

I don't really have a problem with this. Is not man's purpose to glorify God? So our salvation would ultimately be for the purpose of further glorifying Him. Although I concede that "God acting for His own glory" is awkwardly phrased. It summons up the idea of someone arrogant and self-serving. The difficulty is that, unlike man, God actually is justified in serving and glorifying Himself.

roger flyer said...

I get tired of such 'glorious' lectures--
“…Our theology should be like poetry…A poet spends a great deal of time listening to his unconscious, and slowly calling up a poem word by word, phrase by phrase, until something beautiful is brought forth into the world that changes people’s perceptions. And we respond to a poem emotionally. And I think we should take as great a care when we write our theology as we would if we were writing such a poem, instead of just trotting out an orthodox formula, or an orthodox definition of God, or a catechism answer–so that when people listen to a theological idea they feel as touched as when they read a great poem by say, Milton or Dante…”-Karen Armstrong

Halden said...

I agree with Ben's post here, and have for a long time. I know first hand the kind of damage that is done all the time with this sort of theology of glory. Ultimately it is a textbook example of the master signifier, or constitutive exception. God is the exception that grounds all the rules. What this reveals is that this sort of scholastic Calvinism should be analyzed, not primarily as an errant form of biblicism, but rather as the outworking of a particular political notion of the sovereign which is projected onto God at the expense of construing God in light of Christ's singular history of agapeic love.

Anonymous said...

Halden,

Do you mean 'God' becomes "Driscoll in a loud voice"?

Halden said...

Driscoll's just an epiphenomenon of a much larger theological reality in relation to contemporary and historical forms of Calvinist political theology and ethics. But yes.

Ben Myers said...

This is a fascinating discussion — thanks for all the interesting comments: I'm learning a lot about Edwards!

Just to follow up briefly on Kim's point about "play": I think "play" is an important concept here (and this is exactly what Van Ruler means when he says that God creates "for the fun of it").

I just had a look at Ben Witherington's post, and in one of the comments he gives this illustration: "I have a good friend who created a beautiful drawing especially for me. He did not create it to glorify me or to glorify himself, he did it simply because he was a friend and wanted to express his love. He created it so that I would have something that belonged to me which came from him."

This nicely illustrates the fact that love is a playful act: it has no "reason" beyond itself; it is perfectly frivolous (not capricious). But as Steve Holmes notes above, "Edwards's account of the will leaves him no room for a 'no reason at all' answer" — for Edwards, God's love for us has to serve some higher goal; it can never be mere "play", never simply a presuppositionless act of generosity. It has to have a reason. And I'm always suspicious of a person who claims to love me "for a reason"!

(If you need proof that being loved "for a reason" is an unpleasant experience, just watch this wonderful scene from Pride and Prejudice, where the clergyman Mr Collins proposes to Elizabeth — it's probably the worst and most hilarious proposal ever, beginning with the words: "perhaps it would be advisable for me to state my reasons for marrying.")

michael jensen said...

Halden -

arguing that everything is political sounds fancy and knowlegdeble, but it doesn't really help, does it? At best, it is irrelevant. At worst, it is its own kind of intellectual power-play.

Steve H said...

Two notes, perhaps:
1. Please don't blame Edwards for Driscoll et al.!
2. Love for 'a reason' Ben - Edwards's concept of 'reason' is perhaps a bit broader than you give him credit for; his basic line on the will is 'the will is always as the greatest apparent motive is' (from memory, but the sense is right) - the 'reason' for love might be 'I am the sort of person who loves all who I meet,' or 'it is morally good to love others'. His argument is against capriciousness: I do not love or hate randomly, but because of who I am, and the circumstances I find myself in. This seems to me an important thing to say about God, particularly if you are, as Edwards was, a traditional Calvinist (if you can show that the decree of election and reprobation is not capricious, then most of the serious theological objections to Calvinism are removed, I think).

Joseph said...

Ben,

With respect, I think it is seriously inadequate to simply rhetorically redescribe a lack of reason for action as "playful" or "frivolous" rather than "capricious." You seem to fail to distinguish between reasons as explanations and reasons as sufficient causes. Unless you are operating with Spinozistic concept of reason (i.e., the principle of sufficient reason), it is perfectly meaningful to say that someone had a reason for acting (even we we may not know, in full or at all, what it was), and that knowing that reason would explain their action. It is a serious philosophical mistake to read a statement like that as somehow meaning that the given reason qua explanation was, by itself, a sufficient cause for the action, which would thus lead to a form of determinism.

In Dr. Withington's example, love for a friend is most definitely (and obviously) an explanation for why the person acted: is it such that it causually determined the action? Of course not, but it is still a reason and obviously so ("Why did you do that" "Because I love you").

So, the "playful" (reason-less) and "[sufficient] reason" binary you are operating is inadequate to a fair and nuanced discussion of Edwards or anyone, for that matter.

With that in mind, the same kind of fuzzy thinking seems to be implicit in the way you (and others) react to Edwards' talk of God's glorifying himself. Besides issues of interpretive charity, in principle any who recognizes "the infinite qualitative distinction" between God and man, and is "okay" with God being something qualitatively from his creatures should, by virtue of that distinction, recognize the inherent plausibiliy of God acting for motives that, if attributed to finite agents, would have a different (in this case, opposite) moral valence. The underlying evaluative structure that legitimates a reaction of offence to that idea looks something like this: We are like x, so, if God is to be reasonable, plausible, acceptable, etc. to us he must not only be like x, he also cannot contradict x in any substantive way (else he fails to look like us). The evaluate stucture puts in place a human criterion underwhich are subsumed God and man, rather than operating by a criterion established God underwhich man is subsumed and in which there is inherent and substantive disanology between God and man.

The fact that God's glorifying himself offends modern autonomy, individualism, and our ideas of "love" may have more to do with 1) the potential incoherence of the above notions and/or 2) the fact that we, at least implicitly, do not really believe there is an infinite qualitative distinction between the Creator and the creature, and that we think God should play by "our" rules to the extent that we effectively (and affectively) avoid any serious disanologies between God and man, as noted above.

Halden said...

Michael, I think you may need to calm down a little in your interpretation of what I was saying. My point wasn't that "everything" is political (though that may well be the case). Rather I was making the pretty uncontroversial point that the conception of sovereignty that is proffered by Calvin and certain streams of his namesakes is distinctly informed by political notions having their root in the late middle ages.

That isn't just some little obfuscating dance to sound smart. It's just what pretty much anyone who's ever studied the history of political thought seems to agree on. Not saying that this answers all the theological questions about Calvin and his successors, just that it should be part of the discussion, not willfully dismissed as irrelevant in the facile manner that you seem to propose.

Greg Breazeale said...

So in God making himself smaller and becoming a servant and taking the form of a man is that not exalting to God. Phil 2 seems to make it clear that God has highly exalted Christ through this, which in turn brings glory to God.

GB

michael jensen said...

Halden - well, fine, but that wasn't what you said before. You were insisting that a certain theology be analysed, not as theologies, but as outworkings of politics. Of course, historians of political thought are prone to see theology as a reflection of politics and not the other way around, no? It is a way of bracketing out the theological.

joel hunter said...

Joseph,

I think your analysis of the term 'reasons' is confused. The point of playfulness and love is freedom, or free action, and this requires a distinction between volitional causation and deterministic causation to account for some fact. Both explanations and arguments may make use of either type of causation. Confusion enters because of the ambiguity of the term 'because'.

(a) deterministic causation: "Dark spots appeared on Jupiter in the summer of 1994 because a comet struck its atmosphere."

(b) volitional causation: "I brought you roses because I love you."

In both cases the fact is not controversial: (a) dark spots appeared on Jupiter in the summer of 1994; (b) I brought you roses. The first is due to non-manmade causes and the second to manmade causes, or, the first is the product of deterministic causation and the second of volitional causation.

It is not the two Bens who need to distinguish between the different senses of 'because', it is Edwards and those who recapitulate his doctrine of God. Their answer to the question "Why does God save me?" invokes teleology: "to magnify God's own glory." Even were one to argue that God's love is implicated in that formulation, such that his glory and his love exist in mutuality, two sides of the same coin as it were, the reason (cause) is "for the sake of which," i.e., ends. Does the fact of God's love for you and me come into being because of deterministic or volitional causation? Since the Edwardsian answer appeals to God's nature or essence, and "for the sake of which," it is the former (though it is still contingent--Jacob and Esau and all that).

Lastly, in your attempt to find fault with Ben's supposed evaluation of what are possible or plausible motives for God's actions toward us, you are hoist with you own petard. On the basis of the Creator-creature distinction you presume to be able to reason out what is or isn't appropriate for God to do or to want. For Edwards and his theological kin, it is only fitting that God's consuming passion and interest is his own glory. Everything God does or desires is instrumental to that end.

You say: "The fact that God's glorifying himself offends modern autonomy, individualism, and our ideas of 'love'..." but this is not offensive to anyone at all. What is offensive to lots of people is that God became a baby with poopy diapers, as a Lutheran friend puts it. It is the outrageous unfittingness of the beaten, bloodied and crucified God that offends. It is the shameless, degrading action of the weepy father who runs to the lost son to give him the ring, the robe and the fatted calf that isn't becoming of any self-respecting deity. These concrete realities of the God who is revealed to us as Immanuel are also unfitting for a doctrine of God which has front and center an "infinite qualitative distinction between the Creator and the creature." If this is the central article of one's definition of God, then when do we get to Jesus Christ? The NT makes much more sense to me if somewhere near the center is the eternal Word being squeezed and pushed through Mary's birth canal and having poopy diapers next day.

I think Kim should write a hymn :-)

ecnal37 said...

"the concept that Trinitarian self-exultation is perverse is only perverse if the Trinity was not worthy of such exultation."

No, what's perverse is that such a view twists the Holy Trinity into a version of the Narcissus myth.

Is the secret of God's inner life really "self-exultation" or "self-love"?

To me, that's an incredibly perverse -- even Satanic -- way of speaking about God's inner life.

Though it's instructive that America's greatest theologian gives us a very American (i.e., modalistic/unitarian, egocentric) God.

Ben Myers said...

Joseph, thanks for your thoughtful critique; and thanks, Joel, for responding so eloquently — I love this line: "The NT makes much more sense to me if somewhere near the center is the eternal Word being squeezed and pushed through Mary's birth canal and having poopy diapers next day."

Halden said...

Michael, what I in fact said was that this form of Calvinism should not be analyzed primarily as an "errant form of biblicism," but rather required more thorough historical analysis in conversation with the political context it is situated in.

The idea that this is calling for a non-theological analysis is, well kinda silly. I just don't assume that thorough theological analysis can be done apolitically, or that a call for historical and political analysis of a theological idea is a call to bracket the theological. Rather I deny the whole idea that there can be some sort of "pure" theological form of discourse that is not political in nature.

roger flyer said...

Joel-
Though the poopy diapers bit doesn't square with my earlier plea for more soul and poetry in our theological flogs, it's better than the endless piety of glory of God sloppers.

Erin said...

I must say, for my part- and I understand it is not the interpretive question being discussed precisely, I see the Edwardsian/Piper/Keller theology either distorted or worked out, depending on your viewpoint, in churches around me precisely around the question of instrumentality. I feel that when love is not the primary cause, but something such as a glory is, a seam is opened up to justify some of the inhumanities churches visit upon people. I do believe this was not Edwards intent, though I am less convinced it is not the effect. I have often felt that churches choose to act on principles other than love because it is so hard to love and the Glory of God becomes a subtle alternative. I mean, c'mon - the Glory of God?! -that'll preach. And so we in the church often motivate out of upholding God's honor and subtly secure allegiance to institutions; country, church or pastor. It is more difficult to inspire with a message of lose your life to save it because God is love, when the world is actively convincing people of the opposite. I don't want to fault Edwards primarily, but I have wondered if the structure of his reasoning allows for this slippage, and appreciate the post. Personal experience only, your mileage may vary.

Erin said...

apologies for typography :)

roger flyer said...

Erin-
Thank you! Here's some soulful poetic theologizing...
Jesus loves me, this I know.

michael jensen said...

Halden: by saying that the theology you don't like is a projection of a view of politics onto God is precisely saying that it is not theological: or that it is politics masquerading as theology and ought to be unmasked as such. Ok, that is a theological judgement I guess: but perhaps the 'errant biblicism' ought to be the primary ground of evaluation. Silly idea, I know.

Halden said...

Michael, I don't know why we should evaluate such forms of Calvinism as a form of biblicism when the historical and political antecedents to its genesis seem so self-evident. To do so seems not like a more "theological" approach. Rather it seems like a sort of willful ignorance.

But that aside, to say that a certain theology is politically derived is not to say that it is un-theological, your assertions notwithstanding. Rather it is to say that such a theological position is acquiring its theological capital from certain sources rather than others and such factors should not be boxed out of the conversation.

In other words if we pretend that this is just about who's more biblical we're playing at fictions. The reality is more complex, on all sides.

Ron Short said...

Here is what Miroslav Volf has to say on this subject:

"God is love. God bestows goods upon others without any concern for God's own good. True, God jealously guards divine glory. But God's glory is the divinity of God's love, and God's jealousy for God's glory is not so much about God's own good as about the good of the creation." (Free of Charge, p 62.)

Mark said...

Thanks for the post. It put into words an uneasy feeling I have when I hear folks like Piper try to explain the glory of God.

I think we have to accept the whole concept of God's glory as somewhat paradoxical--and you are right that the starting point is John's theme of the glorification of Christ on the cross.

God glorifies himself when he displays his unselfish, self-giving love. He doesn't need any recognition of his glory--i.e., our praise, but in his love for us he is pleased to accept it.

Matt Stone said...

Ben, I've often been disturbed by these tendancies in Calvinist teaching but you've shown me my understanding of Calvinism may be too limited. Thanks. I like your argument.

Marty in Cambridge said...

Halden, I'm not sure that the "historical and political antecedents to [Calvinism's] genesis seem so self-evident" at all. The word "Calvinism" to begin with is so inexact in describing the movement (is it even that?) and has been abandoned in the most recent and best studies on the subject. I'm not sure what historiography you're relying on that makes it so "self-evident" but I haven't found it as yet.

Jonathan Keith said...

Some relevant snippets from Jesus' prayer in John 17:

"Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you."

"I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began."

"I have given them the glory that you gave me"

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world."

Anonymous said...

Is not Christ's humanity now exalted to the highest place? Was he not, because of his incarnation-obedient life-death on a cross-and resurrection, given the name that is above every name? And yet, isn't this all to the glory of God the Father?

Phil. 2.6-11

Just a thought.

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