The doctrine of the Trinity is humbling

We cannot peer directly into the blazing Sun of his glory and grasp the inner core. Only God comprehensively and immediately knows himself.

We find ourselves utterly dependent on God to reveal himself. We otherwise stumble in the darkness. We need our eyes opened, our minds enlightened, and light shown into our hearts.

We cannot use “univocal” language about God. We must rather use analogical language. “His righteousness reaches to the heavens.”

We require a multiplicity of analogies, none of them adequate. We cannot push any given analogy too far. In concert they keep us tethered to the truth, as we are prone to drift from it.

The doctrine of the Trinity gives us guardrails or boundaries. We must stay inside them. Oh, what a challenge to our arrogance, our doctrinal wanderlust! What a rebuke to our clever ideas!

It is intellectually overwhelming. It is immense. “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” (Psalm 139:6) We must simply submit to it. While others scoff, we must fall prostrate and worship.

“I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.” (Psalm 131:1-2)

Our flesh insists on making God in our likeness. The Trinity refuses to be remade in our image. He is other. He is holy, holy, holy.

The flesh is agitated by the doctrine, as it exposes us. Not just our humanity, but our sin. Not just our finitude, but our idolatry.

Those wishing to minimize mystery find themselves overwhelmed with God’s immensity and inexhaustible, incomprehensible depth.

Those wishing to minimize doctrine are presented with the rich treasures of beauty and detail made available by God’s revelation to the creaturely mind.

Studying the doctrine puts us into contact with Christians far more thoughtful, far more intelligent, and far more adoring of God than we are.

We rediscover the voices of church fathers warning us over repeatable errors. We realize that Christ’s church has always been the pillar and buttress of the ruth. Its traditions are fallible but are nonetheless smelling salts and weighty deterrents. “Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.” (Proverbs 22:28)

“And here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You’re my God
You’re altogether lovely
Altogether worthy
Altogether wonderful to me”

“Holy, holy, holy!
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons
Blessed Trinity!”

No to-do list condemnation in Christ

Stop using your to-do list as a self-condemning document.

There is therefore no to-do list condemnation in Christ Jesus. (cf. Romans 8:1)

It isn’t sacred. Add items you did to your to-do list. Your original plans were fallible.

You accomplished some things that weren’t originally on the list. Live with that.

Perhaps you are more productive than you think. Stop beating yourself up.

End of day: What did I accomplish by God’s grace?

Be gracious to yourself. Why? Because God is gracious toward you.

Are you abdicating basic responsibilities? Maybe. If so, repent. Get angry, and channel that anger toward action, not self-condemnation. But be slow to judge yourself and others.

Start the day with God’s grace – it is empowering. Then work with all the power that God is mightily and graciously working within you. Then end the day by resting in his grace.

“Believers are accepted through Christ, and thus their good works are also accepted in him. This acceptance does not mean our good works are completely blameless and irreproachable in God’s sight. Instead, God views them in his Son, and so he is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, even though it is accompanied by many weaknesses and imperfections. (Ephesians 1:6; 1 Peter 2:5; Matthew 25:21, 23; Hebrews 6:10)” (https://founders.org/library/1689-confession/chapter-16-good-works/)

This only applies to Christians – those who are completely and permanently forgiven in Christ. If you are not forgiven, then you are in rebellion. In this case you have far worse things to worry about than your to-do list failures or misplaced shame. And no to-do list success can fix that.

But for those in Christ:

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand.” (Romans 5:1-2)

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

On the static potential of finite gods

A finite god that anticipates endless improvement is terribly static, immobilized, and boring.

Nearly all of his being is in a potential state, not yet actualized. Since this finite god’s improvement is never-ending, most of his potential will never be realized. Almost the entirety of this god is static or “slow”, not yet put to full use, and not yet up to speed.

As though watching a demigod toddler learning to walk, his worshippers clap and say, “But at least he’s getting better! He’s not completely still. And we can relate to his limitations.”

But the infinite God is completely actualized. None of himself is potentially better. His whole infinite being is active, both in the inner life of the Trinity, and in the love of his creation.

He isn’t bumping up his own limitations, having to stretch himself. He doesn’t need more gas in his fuel tank. He isn’t upgrading along the way.

Since he is entirely infinite, and all of his attributes coextensive, and completely perfect, the fullness of his perfection is active.

On masks

teal and white underwear on gray textile

An April 2020 NatGeo article notes the social significance of masks:

  • They offer “sense of agency and control.”
  • They express communitarian solidarity.
  • They give one a “sense of contributing to the public good.”

The article is still relevant, as their social significance has cemented and increased. They function as a proxy or symbol now for a variety of political sensibilities.

At best, especially among those most convinced of their effectiveness, masks demonstrate neighbor-love. They are seen as a reasonable way to submit to government, express social solidarity, and show courtesy to others having a range of sensitivities and risk levels.

I can’t reliably judge random individuals over this – there are a lot of reasons a person might use a mask. But I would argue that masks also became an icon for the fear of death, a false sense of control, and acquiescence to communitarian excess.

There is another concern distinct from medical efficacy and cultural significance: natural impropriety. The face is designed to be the most visible, dignified center of attention and interpersonal communication. The face shines with a natural glory. To cover it is unnatural and requires an extenuating circumstance. It is, to some degree, dehumanizing, especially on children.

As those in the UK had to carry on during the German Blitz – maintaining a sense of life and normalcy worth saving – at some point we have to decide, with a moral calculus factoring in social significance and natural impropriety, that a mask mandate is unhealthy for the non-medical aspects of society.

On funding local pastors

Paul repeatedly insists that local pastors, particularly those devoted to preaching, be paid (1 Corinthians 9:9, 1 Timothy 5:18, Galatians 6:6). Yet he forgoes the right for himself, an apostle

Mormonism reverses this, paying its apostles and mission presidents, yet “muzzling the oxen”, the bishops, refusing to compensate those appointed as local leaders. This is unthinkable to Paul (1 Timothy 5:17). He simply assumes some of the local pastors will labor in preaching and teaching so intensely that it will be appropriate to compensate them.

The LDS Church has not here restored the normative original order of the early church. For Paul, to not pay one’s devoted pastor is not worth bragging about. Mormons “glory in their shame” and even violate their own scripture (D&C 42:71-73) when they boast about not paying their bishops. Not to pay one’s devoted shepherd is cause for embarrassment.

So if you want to “ex-Mormon even harder”, and double-down on actual new Testament Christianity, find yourself a church with a preacher that you want devoting his week to prayer and the word. And if your LDS friend accuses your pastor of gaining “filthy lucre”, cheerfully give even more. Fight against your flesh and against cynicism. Set aside an uncomfortable amount of money to give so that it stretches you. Unapologetically give to the general budget of the local church.

Aim to give your preaching pastor-shepherd a salary above the median income where he lives, so that he can buy a house for his wife, so his wife can stay home with the children, so that he can avoid being entangled in secular employment, and so that he can be hospitable and generous to others.

Ira Ransom’s evangelical sketches of Utah (1850-1950)

Ira Ransom’s Utah Christian evangelism observations on 1850-1950. Quoting “These Forty + Years”, published in 1999:

Shortly after the Mormons arrived in Utah, three denominational groups which were quite evangelical at the time (Presbyterians. Methodists, and the Baptists) began ministering in Utah. A number of Presbyterian churches were built in cities and towns such as Salt Lake City, Logan, Kaysville, Brigham City, Payson and other places. The Methodists and Presbyterians had an agreement that certain towns would be for the Presbyterians and others for the Methodists. Methodists built churches in Corinne. Tremonton, Price, and other places.

For a period of several months, [Fredrik] Fransen, the founder of The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), came to Utah and walked from home to home and farm to farm to minister to Mormons who had come from Scandinavian countries.

Early in the twentieth century, John Nutting, a Congregational minister, came to Utah to minister. He organized the Utah Gospel Mission. At first he came with a group traveling with covered wagons. He would go from town to town, and preach around camp fires and from the steps of various court houses. Later his mission groups traveled in model T trucks.

In 1929, George Cook came to Utah under Utah Gospel Mission. He later became a member of Utah Bible Mission and continued serving the Lord in Utah until his death.

In 1957, I talked with the Hansons in Brigham City who had heard John Nutting preach from the court house steps in Brigham City. Archie Yetter, of Rockmont College, told me in 1957 that he heard John Nutting pray near the end of his life that God would raise up someone to evangelize Utah.

One of the notable early Baptists serving in Utah was Rev. M. T. Lamb who, in 1887, wrote a book called THE GOLDEN BIBLE. It was a scholarly work analyzing the Book of Mormon. Reprints are available now through Utah Lighthouse Ministries.

About 1920, a Rev. Baynes established Bethel Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. In 1924, he drew quite a few Mormons to hear a special sermon which he preached on the subject “When Modernism Comes to Mormonism”. He was followed by his son, Rev. James Baynes who pastored the Bethel Baptist Church until about 1958 or perhaps 1960. Rev. James Baynes also started Anchor Baptist church, and Sandy Baptist Church (Which is pastored today by Wesley Clem). Rev. Baynes was active in the IFCA, and frequently attended the Regionals held in Colorado, and shared his burden for Utah with the men in the Rocky Mountain Regional. James Baynes passed away suddenly in 1963 and Thomas Miller succeeded him as pastor of Anchor Baptist Church.

Independent Forms of Polity

Assuming the autonomy and independence of churches from outside interference or external governance, I see four forms of polity:

  • Elder-rule without consensus. Elders may build or assure consensus from congregation, but it is not principally and finally required. Pronouncements on major decisions made at the gathering may normally but not necessarily imply consensus between elders and congregation.
  • Elder-rule with consensus. Neither the majority of members nor the majority of elders can overrule the other on accepting/expunging members or elders. General consensus of some (at least implicit) kind is required. Voting on elders is common. Major decisions like adding new members don’t always require a congregational vote. The elders do not derive their authority from the congregation, but directly from Christ.
  • Elder-led congregationalism. Requires express vote for all major decisions (especially accepting/expunging members or elders). Sees the congregation as having final authority over the elders and delegating authority to the elders. Consensus between congregation and elders not principally required, but often practically secured if elders are normally the ones to bring matters to vote.
  • Strict congregationalism. Members can unilaterally both bring matters forward for vote and overrule elders. The church and even its elders are ruled by plurality of members and committees.

Worth a mention: Single-elder rule, deacon board rule, or a combination thereof.

Edification and Beauty

This book by James M. Renihan has arrested me for the past few weeks. It was riveting to hear how my Particular Baptist brothers, with a “primitivist urge to fulfill the dictates of Scripture”, “ransacked the pages of the Bible in order to establish their deeds with a heavenly authority.” (58)

I find myself largely at home with the Particular Baptists of the late 17th century, who themselves admired their Puritan brothers. Their ecclesiological retrieval is inspiring.

The book is a running commentary and synthesis of primary sources. Renihan ended each chapter with cogent summaries without rhetorical flourish.

Continue reading “Edification and Beauty”

On recognizing our malleability

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” (1 Corinthians 15:33)

What does it look like to be deceived here? It means to be in denial of how malleable and pliant and vulnerable we are to outside influence.

Knowing we are deeply open to outside influence, we are to strategize what we consume and who we surround ourselves with.

The coming resurrection and final judgment motivates us to be vigilant about this.

This also relates to a good conversation question:

What influences do you most enjoy? Who most shapes you?

Humble people are cognizant and clear about who that is.

The proud pretend they have none or are reluctant to admit who they are.

The naive assume they have or need none.

Wrapping up the semester at MBTS

Dr. Todd Chipman cheerfully shepherded us students through two semesters of elementary Greek. He prayed for us often and loved his students. He encouraged us to quietly use Greek as a humble foundation beneath our preaching.
Jared Wilson made us all want to finish seminary and go pastor. His books, “The Pastor’s Justification” and “Gospel-Driven Ministry”, were good for the soul.

He taught us to keep the gospel of ongoing central importance in our preaching, identity, and pursuit of personal transformation. His temperament, speech, and wisdom were imitable.

He had us read from Spurgeon’s “Lectures To My Students.” This is easily the most memorable reading I have done here so far.
Dr. Thor Madsen took us above the clouds and stayed at cruising altitude through large stretches of the New Testament for two memorable semesters. Stacia and I marveled at what we learned on our walks back home.
Continue reading “Wrapping up the semester at MBTS”