Thursday, March 24, 2011

CGtM: A Biblical Defense of the Trinity

            One of the most confusing central doctrines of Christianity is the Doctrine of the Trinity: the concept that there are three divine personages (The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one entity (God).  As I mentioned earlier in my “Christian’s Guide to Mormonism”, Mormons reject the Trinity, because they reject that God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost are one being.  Muslims also reject the trinity for two reasons: they deny the deity of Jesus and that God is more than one person.  Since both religions somewhat acknowledge the authority of the Bible (Mormons slightly more so than Muslims), this post is devoted to giving a Biblical look at the Trinity.

There are essentially three objectives (no direct connection to being triune intended) in defending the Trinity.  Everyone knows that the Father is the divine God.  Thus, our first two objectives are to show that the Son and the Holy Ghost are also divine personages in the Godhead.  The third objective is to show that the Trinity is comprehensible.  Or at least logically coherent.

First of all, let’s look at Christ.  Now getting into Jesus’ radical notion of being divine with Mormons gets really, really confusing, because it gets into the actual Hebrew words and…well I’ll do a post on that later.  So, I’ll give a couple verses in favor of showing that Jesus is God.  Isaiah 9:6 is familiar, especially around Christmas time: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and he shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (by the by, this is identical to the Book of Mormon’s 2 Nephi 19:6)  Matthew 1:23 states “Behold, a virgin will soon be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”  1 Timothy 3:16, “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”  Along the same lines, there’s John 1:1, 14, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory and the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  These verses clearly indicate that Jesus, the one made flesh who dwelt among us, is both with God and being God, simultaneously.

My favorite way to show that Jesus is God is to ask the question, “Was Jesus good?”.  The automatic response is, “Well of course, he never sinned.”  Well let’s see what Jesus himself said.  “And a certain ruler asked him, saying, Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  Here, in his typical style, Jesus avoids the question at first and says something a little odd.  “And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, that is, God.”  So, the argument goes like this: only God is good, if Jesus is good, he must be God.

On to the Holy Ghost.  Acts 5:3-4, “…why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost…thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.”  Here, the Holy Ghost is actually equated with God.  The Bible also describes the Holy Ghost as having the attributes of a deity such as omnipresence, Psalm 139:7-12, and omniscience, 1 Corinthians 2:10-11.  A little later in this post, I will show more evidence that the Holy Ghost is also God in a less direct manner.  Of course there’s slightly less overtly textual evidence to show that the Holy Ghost is a personage of God.  One would think that the Holy Spirit being the living breath of God among humans would be evidence enough of his place in the Godhead.

A kind of fun way to look at the Trinity is to ask a few questions that have some…interesting Biblical answers.  So, let’s look at some of these questions.

Whose Spirit indwells all believers; the Spirit of God the Father, Spirit of Christ the Son, or the Holy Ghost?  Well, Romans 8:9-13 states, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you.  Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his…But if the spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you…by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”  So here we have both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ dwelling in believers.  In 1 Corinthians 6:19, we see “…Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God…”  So, we see that all three Spirits are in believers.  But are there three separate Spirits?  1 Corinthians 12:13 says otherwise: “for by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.”  So, all believers have the one Spirit of God (Father, Son, AND Holy Ghost).  The Romans verse “…Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead…” leads to our next question.

Who raised Jesus from the dead?  Well, Galatians 1:1 states, “Paul, and apostle, not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.”  So the Father raised him.  Well, then what about John 2:19, 21, “Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I [referring to himself, Jesus] will raise it up…But he spake of his body.”  So Jesus the Son raised himself from the grave.  Confusing, unless of course the Father and the Son are the same being.

OK, so it’s still confusing.  I’ll try to make it a little more clear.

An illustration of the Triune can be shown with human nature, specifically the mind, since man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  The relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is analogous to the relationship between the mind, its ideas, and the expression of those ideas in words.

Many Mormons object to the Trinity on the grounds that it is incomprehensible.  However, being incomprehensible is kind of an attribute of the Almighty God (remember the “mystery of godliness”?).  It’s rather unhelpful for gaining an understanding of God, but it’s not entirely implausible that God would escape our powers of comprehension.  What we can ask is “is the Trinity contradictory?”.  The doctrine of the Trinity does not state that there are three essences in one essence, nor three natures in one nature.  Those would be contradictory.  Instead, Christians believe that God is three natures (persons) in one essence (being/entity).  Another way of putting it is this: there are three “Who’s” in one “What”.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three “Who’s”, and God is the “What”.  Take a look at this diagram.
All three personages of the Trinity exist inseparably and simultaneously in one being, which is God.

I’ll end with an illustration that Pastor Jan at New Covenant Community Church (who's own blog can be found here) loves to use to better understand the Trinity.  As 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love”.  But love is triune in that it involves a lover, a beloved (the one being loved), and a spirit of love between them.  In the same way, the Father is the divine Lover, the Son the divine Beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of love.  Love must have all three of these existing inseparably and simultaneously.  Yet love is one: three in one, just as the one God is three distinct personages in one holy being.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Thoughts on Christian Musicianship

There are essentially two settings in which Christian musicians participate: worship in the private church setting and worship in the public setting.  These, I believe, have different goals and different ways in which to perform one’s music.
                First: the public sector.  This includes radio, live performances (gigs, if you will), recordings, and really anywhere else that’s not leading worship for a church.  If you read my last post, I shared my disliking for the Contemporary Christian music scene, mostly with regards to its lyrics.  In addition, they also fail in their musicianship.  Look at the great bands of the past; Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Eagles, Van Halen.  These guys made incredible music for themselves or for whatever earthly motive they had.  Christian musicians make music for the all-powerful and almighty GOD.  They have no excuse but to make music beyond themselves.  Shoddy composition and poor skill is simply unacceptable.  I have the same problems with basically all popular music, Christian or not, but you won’t see me writing too much about the terrible hip-hop “musicians” these days because Christian musicians should be held to a higher standard.  You all have heard the story of Cain, Abel, and their offerings to God.  The Christian musician, as an act of worship, should give to the very best of his ability.  Christian music listeners: support musicians who use their God-given talents to the best of their abilities. To the musicians content with creating endless covers of “Shout to the Lord”, who think that knowing the A, G, and F Major progressions are “good enough”: I urge you to hone your craft and give the best that you can possibly give to the God of the universe.  I believe creating and playing music is a gift of God as well as one of the greatest ways to worship Him.  Become the best you can to glorify God because He is worthy of the greatest music.  Make that great music.
                OK, I’ll stop preaching and continue on with those who lead worship.  I don’t revoke anything I said in the last paragraph; however, I want to clarify. If you are in a setting in which your music leads a group of people in worship, do not perform such that it is distracting for those whom you are leading.  Your perfect guitar solo is awesome for your personal worship, but when people stop noticing God through you and just notice you, it becomes a problem.  I’ll steal a metaphor from my good friend and mentor Randy Parker.  In a church setting, the stage, the lights, the sound, and the music should be a mirror that points to God.  Even if what you the musician are doing is completely for God’s glory, you have to remember that the audience may see you instead of the reflection of God in you.  I’m not saying to hold back your skill as a musician.  I’m saying that the better Christian musician should know what is appropriate to play while leading congregational worship.
Now, on to the listeners.  I think it’s OK if the music you sing in your church services is different than the music you listen to on a daily basis.  Congregational worship is meant to lead the widest possible audience in musical worship.  I realize God did not give everyone equal musical skills.  So, I’m OK with church music being simple and lacking some musical prowess.  All I’m really saying is that it isn’t the case that this is the ONLY kind of worship music.  This post is largely a reaction to those who want to box up and keep their “Jesus music” in church, or having simplistic music and lyrics.  There are wonderful Christian musicians out there.  You just have to peek your head out of the “Contemporary Christian” genre to find them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Contemporary Christian Music Bugs Me

            I don’t like Contemporary Christian music.  There, I said it.  As much as I agree the lyrical subject matter, I don’t think the musicians are very skilled, I don’t think the lyrics are particularly good, and I don’t enjoy the genre in which they play (but that’s more of a personal thing).  This doesn’t mean I don’t like Christian music, I’m just very picky about my Christian music.  Oh, and one more thing.
            “Christian” is a lyrical theme, NOT a genre.
            I don’t know how many times I’ve asked a person what genre of music they like and they say “Christian”.  Yeah, it bugs me more than it should, but it bugs me.  You like Christian what?  Christian Reggae?  Christian Rap?  Christian Death Metal?  Gregorian Chants?  All these constitute as “Christian music”, but I doubt that most people listen to any or all these genres.  Now, I know what they mean, but the majority of listeners of “Christian music” listen to what is referred to as “Contemporary Christian”.  Again, this is not really a genre, just like 80’s music isn’t a genre: it’s a time period.  Contemporary Christian includes bands like Matt Maher, Hillsong, and Chris Tomlin.  These are all fine and good, but if they were to fall into an actual genre it would be Soft Rock.  To find a Christian group outside this genre, one has to make an active search.  You’re not going to hear Trip Lee, an excellent Christian rapper, on the local Christian radio station.  The closest you’re going to find is TobyMac (who, let’s be honest, is a forty-year old white guy attempting to do hip hop-ish music that appeals to the Contemporary crowd).  However, most people are content with leaving Christian music to the soft rockers.  They’ll listen to secular bands in the particular genre they like, but keep “Christian” music in their little box of “Contemporary Christian” music.  I refuse.
            There seems to be a misunderstanding that for music to be “Christian”, the lyrics have to explicitly talk about Christ, or even just have generally blunt lyrics.  Subject matter aside, I find the same problem with Cont. Christian lyrics as I do popular hip hop/rap lyrics.  “I don’t want to think, so just give it to me straight.”  That bugs me.  Christian bands do for Jesus what Snoop Dogg does for sex.  Look at Relient K.  This is a great Christian band that also has good lyrics!  Their song “Be My Escape” shot up on the (secular) charts when it first came out.  Christians and non-Christians alike loved it.  Guess what it was about?  Crying to Jesus for help.  And the word “Jesus” was completely absent.  Where Third Day said, “He'll meet you wherever you are, cry out to Jesus”, Relient K said, “I’m stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake.  I gotta get out of here, and I’m begging You to be my escape”.  Blunt; not so blunt; said the same thing.  In my opinion, Relient K’s lyrics are of a better quality.  In the same way, in my opinion, a physical description of Mr. Darcy by Jane Austin is of a higher quality than a physical description of Edward Cullen by Stephanie Meyer.  Actively listening to lyrics is a practice that, unfortunately, has been somewhat abandoned.
            My favorite Christian band is Project 86, mostly because the lead singer, Andrew Schwab, writes some amazing lyrics filled with Christian themes of turning away from the world, the power of God, the struggles of sin, running the good race, and more.  None of these are explicitly stated, but there are times when I’ll be listening to a song I’ve heard a million times and suddenly think, “Oh, that’s what they mean!”  Such revelations make the songs that much more satisfying to listen to.  However, when most people hear them, they’ll say “Oh, they don’t sound Christian.  They sound so angry.”  Does Christian music have to sound like you’re caressing a lamb?  Can’t it sound like putting on the armor of God, raising your sword against the powers of darkness, or voicing your struggles to He who can help?
            Here’s something that’ll bake your noodle: is there such a thing as instrumental Christian music?  No lyrics with which to praise God!  Somehow, I don’t think He minds.  Psalm 150 reads “Praise Him with trumpet blast; praise Him with harp and lyre.  Praise Him with the tambourine and dance; praise Him with flute and strings.  Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals.  Let everything that breathes [the metal-heads, the Rastafarians, the techno dancers, the soul men, the blues brothers, the rappers, the jazz artists, the gospel choirs, the soft rockers, and everyone in between] praise the Lord.  Halleluiah!”
I guess my point here is to tell Christians to branch out.  If you like the softer sound of Contemporary Christian, that’s fine.  And I don’t want you to respond “Contemporary Christian Soft Rock” if I ask what genre of music you like.  However, don’t restrict Christian music to this.  If you like other genres, search for bands within those genres with Christian lyrical themes.  So go ahead, pop in that Demon Hunter album and headbang for Jesus.