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Hi friends. You might be surprised to see an episode coming through that’s not on a regular schedule of a Wednesday release. That’s because we have the privilege of sharing excerpts from the audiobook of Every Woman a Theologian leading up to the launch on February 28th. So, in this brief episode, I hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt and get excited for the full book release at the end of this month.
Chapter Two, Theology, a Loving and Holy Father, The doctrine of God. I came to Christ because of pornography. At 12, I was exposed to an erotica novel at a garage sale. Erotica novels are romance novels with sexually explicit scenes. They’re essentially pornography in book form. The book had no cover and thinking it might be The Boxcar Children or Nancy Drew, I picked it up. I was intrigued, then ashamed, and I threw the book away from me. But I was also curious. The shame drove my curiosity into secrecy, and as I continued consuming the novels, I harbored my struggle for years. Over the next three years, I found myself confused, angry and helpless in my sin and shame. I didn’t know where to turn. I was too embarrassed to tell my parents, and I didn’t want anyone in my friend group to know my situation.
While I wouldn’t choose to relive that lonely season, it drove me to the one person I knew I could trust, Christ. Desperate for an answer, I began to pray. I began to ask questions, “Does God really love me? What does it mean that Jesus died for my sins? How could God tolerate me when I keep exposing myself to this trash?” Up to that point, I had been hardened to the things of God. I had no interest in worship at church, I was bored by sermons, and I didn’t have any desire to honor my parents or love my siblings. I was a challenging child and a little bit proud of it.
But this new realization of my helplessness drove me to seek an answer. I came to Christ in the back 10 acres of our family farm, alone at sunset, writing in a journal bedecked with sunflowers. Jesus met me there and my heart changed. But my life didn’t, at least not right away. My struggle with erotica would be an ongoing battle for the next decade, but underneath that struggle was something deeper, the real reason for my sexual stronghold. It actually had less to do with sex and a lot to do with my view of God. I viewed God as a judge, righteous, just too holy for sin, offering Christ to save me, but doing so with some reluctance.
I believed God loved me John 3:16, but I did not believe God liked me. He tolerated me. He was a distant and difficult father, unlike even my earthly father, a good man, and I preferred to keep my distance from him. I battled my sin, never feeling as though I was forgiven, never truly gaining victory, and never feeling at rest in the affection of God. If you are like most Christians, you probably resonate with some part of my story. Perhaps not the pornography portion, but maybe the shame portion or the reluctance to accept God’s love or the disbelief in his kindness. But it’s important to know that our theology of God the Father affects how we interact with all the other ologies of Christianity. After all, if God isn’t kind, if he is an intolerant and reluctant Father, then we are never truly safe in our attachment to Him.
The Bible upends these assumptions. The God of the Old Testament is the same as Jesus in the New, and the closer we study it, the more apparent this becomes. As we explore the character of God, we find Him far kinder, greater and gentler than we ever imagined. Let God define himself. To truly embrace God’s character, we have to destroy the assumptions we make about who He is and we all have assumptions. It’s amazing how we project our own experiences or unanswered prayers back unto God.
While some of this is to be expected or human, we must be honest enough to check these assumptions against what scripture in its context says about God. We read Old Testament passages through the Western bias of a culture enamored with love and unacquainted with true justice.
Ancient Middle Eastern culture was built not on feelings of love, but on structures of honor and shame. Family honor, respect for elders, and integrity held the utmost importance. Our cultural differences caused us to struggle to form an accurate picture of the God of Israel. We have no framework for Him. Fortunately for us, the Bible gives us a framework if we take the time to understand it. The God of the Old Testament is often accused of being vindicative, wrathful, violent, and unloving. In contrast, many people point to Jesus as loving, kind, nonviolent, and accepting. The two are presented as oppositional forces when in fact they are two sides of the same coin.
Jesus is and was God. God sent and is one with Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the very essence of Christ given for our growth. We’ll talk more about the Trinity specifically in a moment. But it’s important not to splice apart these persons of God based on our own feelings about love and wrath. Instead, we should be considering the following questions, “Why did God command firm judgments for sin in the Old Testament law? Why did God send Jesus? What did Jesus say about God?” We must deal in the revealed Word of God, not just our feelings about that word. When we take the time to wrestle with these texts and let them teach us about who the Father is, we come away far more secure in his love for us. There is so much that could be said and has been said about God. The theology of God the Father fills entire books in systematic theologies.
Here we’re going to focus on some of the most evident truths found in scripture and the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. We’ll see these principles emerge in other ologies later as well. Let’s start with one of the more complicated but most fought for doctrines of the Church, the Trinity.
God is Trinity. Every St. Patrick’s Day, parents attempt to teach the Trinity with strained analogies to three-leaved clovers. When it’s not St. Patty’s, we use analogies to water, describing it as one substance able to present itself in three ways liquid, solid, or gas. But any analogy we use to describe the Trinity will fall short. The Trinity is a truly mystical, spiritual doctrine. It’s hard to explain and sometimes hard to understand and yet our early Church fathers considered it so important, they fought for it in books, letters and counsels over hundreds of years.
Many people struggle with the idea of Trinity. Some struggle to understand how three persons of God isn’t the same as three Gods. Unique personhood of Father, Son and Spirit simply means they are distinct. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father, and so on. In the Bible, the Father sent Jesus into the world, and Jesus left the Spirit with the Church. For this to occur, they cannot be the same person. Some scholars summarize this difference by saying each member of the Trinity has a distinct center of consciousness. This is how Christianity can be a monotheistic religion, meaning a religion with one God. And yet we talk about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as individual entities or persons.
If your mind spins a little that’s understandable. This is one of the most essential, yet complicated doctrines of our faith. In his book, Delighting in the Trinity, theologian Michael Reeves outlines the importance of God’s triune nature, saying, “I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus. I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone. But if I do not believe in this God, then quite simply, I am not a Christian. So, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief.” This is a bold statement, but it gets to be bold because it’s true. If God is triune, meaning three in one, then everything we know about Him and every truth we hold points back to this three in one nature. We can’t rightly understand Jesus’ life, death, or ministry, apart from the Father who sent Him or the Spirit He left behind. We can’t understand Christian life today led by the Spirit without Jesus atoning sacrifice, and we can’t understand the point of any of it without the God revealed in the Old Testament books.
In essence, the Trinity traps us into the truth. Without the Trinity, there is no Christianity, and there is no Christianity if God is not triune. Inevitably, this leaves us with questions. If God is not three separate gods, nor a cosmic shapeshifter moving between godlike personalities, how do we understand Him? The simplest way to describe the doctrine of the Trinity is that God is one existing in three persons. He is equal, eternal and distinct, yet unified in himself.
At the risk of falling short with yet another analogy, one might describe the Godhead like a human being who is at the same time daughter, sister, and mother. None of these roles make her any less human in essence. She is three, yet she is one. However, this analogy falls flat as well since those three roles aren’t distinct persons like the Father, Spirit, and Son. But it might give us a slightly clearer picture of what scripture describes.
Fr. John Behr says, “The Father, Son, and Spirit are the same or one in essence, yet distinct and personal.” The Trinity can be a divisive doctrine. It is the doctrine that sets us apart from Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. Each of these affirm God and Jesus in some capacity, but all of them deny the Trinity. The trinitarian doctrine drove the Church to develop the Apostles’ Creed and later on the Nicene Creed, which set in stone a set of beliefs the apostles taught and the early Church affirmed.
Before we move on to some other truths about God the Father, we must ask what’s the real life impact of the Trinity. It actually has a lot to do with God’s love. In other monotheistic religions, the main man upstairs is a solitary being. He is, as Michael Reeves says, “An inevitably self-centered being.” Completely solitary gods create people out of a desire for servants or slaves or sexual partners, not out of a desire to truly love. But the Christian God is different. This God is one, but he is expressed in three and these three all have fellowship in the one. They are a community of holy love. And from this community of holy love, pours out love in community. God created humanity. He didn’t create a single human, but two. And from those two he fully expected a fruitful and multiplied world. Why? So, He could dwell with them and be their God, Exodus 29:45.
The community of the Trinity created the community of humanity, which was intended to commune in unity, God and human forever. Sin ruined this intention, but in the final restoration, God’s original goal will be achieved. The triune God is a communal God, a loving God, and he can be no other kind.
Thanks to your preorders of Every Woman a Theologian’s audiobook on Amazon’s Audible. We have hit number one in Women’s Christian Living, number one in Systematic Theology, number three in Christian Apologetics, and number nine in Christian Theology, as well as number 50 in all audible Christianity new releases. Thank you so much for preordering Every Woman a Theologian. It helps to get the word out about this book both in the audible format and in the hardcover. I hope you enjoy listening to the full book.