Witherington’s Critique of Schreiner’s NT Theology

Ben Witherington offers some critiques of an unnamed book on NT theology. The book to which he is referring is Tom Schreiner’s forthcoming New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Tom Schreiner argues in his new book that the basic theme of the New Testament is “God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.” Witherington doesn’t like this thesis. Let me give you a sampling of Witherington’s complaints and then offer some brief responses.

“In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves. . .

“Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God, but this is a very different matter from the suggestion that God worships himself, is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not, and his deepest motivation for doing anything on earth is so that he can up his own glory quotient, or magnify and praise himself.

“If we go back to the Garden of Eden story, one immediately notices that it is the Fall and sin which turned Adam and Eve into self-aware, self-centered, self-protecting beings. This is not how God had created them. Rather, he had created them in the divine image, and that divine image involves other directed, other centered love and relating. It follows from this that not the fallen narcissistic tendencies we manifest reflect what God is really like, but rather other directed, self-giving loving tendency. . .

“I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.”

Full disclosure: Tom Schreiner was my doctoral supervisor and is a good friend. That being said, I still think Witherington’s critiques are way off and reveal more of his own Wesleyan/Arminian commitments than of any deficiencies in Schreiner’s work.

First, Witherington would be hard-pressed to show biblically that God’s love is an “end” in itself. Everywhere the Bible teaches that God’s love and redemptive acts are designed to magnify His own glory (e.g., Exodus 9:16; 2 Samuel 7:26; Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9; Ezekiel 36:22, 32; John 17:5; Romans 9:17; 11:36; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). God’s love and God’s glory are not at odds, as John Piper would say. God’s love (manifested supremely in Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners) is a means by which His glory is manifested to the world. This is the common Arminian error. They mistakenly regard God’s means (His love and redemptive acts) as ends in themselves. But the Bible simply does not bear this out. The ultimate end or purpose of everything is God’s glory (see the texts cited above).

Second, neither Schreiner nor any other Calvinist would use the word “narcissist” to describe God. Witherington’s use of the word to describe Schreiner may be an effective rhetorical ploy, but it really isn’t helpful at all in terms of theological analysis. We get our word “narcissist” from Greek mythology, but the term’s meaning in common parlance is “inordinate fascination with oneself.” But the Bible teaches that it is not possible for God to be inordinately fascinated with Himself; nor is it possible (as the myth goes) for God to be so enraptured with the reflection of His own image that it becomes a vice. The sum of the Bible’s teaching is that God is the only being for whom self-exaltation is not a vice, but a virtue. That God would exalt the beauty of His own perfections for others to admire is the essence of love. That is why you have texts in the scripture that express God’s jealousy concerning His own worship and glory: “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images” (Isaiah 42:8). Only with God is self-exaltation a virtue, since He is the first and best of beings, the only One who can satisfy the soul. When sinful humans exalt themselves, it is not loving because it is a distraction from the One who truly can meet the deepest needs of fallen humanity. It is a vice for sinful people to call others to admire them and so to distract them from admiring God. God is love. Therefore He must exalt Himself so as to draw people into worship. This is not narcissistic because it is no vice for Him to exalt the beauty of His own perfections for His creatures’ enjoyment and blessing. Witherington misses all of this, and like other Arminians, removes the firmest grounding that we have for God’s love—God’s own desire to exalt the glory of His own perfections.

In sum, don’t go to Witherington for a reliable analysis of Schreiner’s work. He is hitting way wide of the mark. God’s love and God’s glory are not at odds, as Witherington would have us to believe.

49 Responses to Witherington’s Critique of Schreiner’s NT Theology

  1. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 1:38 pm #

    Will these types of discussions always boil down to Arminian/Calvinism differences? Does it really boil down to your position is the traditional or classic reformed position and Witherington’s is the Arminian/Wesleyan position?

    I find it odd that you would describe God’s love as a “means”. I would say that God’s love is not a “means” but instead what motivates him and drives the means (redemptive acts – ultimately Jesus’ crucifixion) that result in him being glorified.

    You said “The ultimate end or purpose of everything is God’s glory”. I would say that everything God does results in him being glorified but I wouldn’t call that the purpose of everything he does. After all how could God do anything that doesn’t result in him being glorified? It is a natural outcome of what he does but I wouldn’t say that is what drives him. Even if something does appear to not result in God’s glory (like taking the form of a slave, being crucified on a cross) it still is because it shows the extent of his self giving love that would go to the farthest extremes possible to redeem us so that we can participate in his love. And that is glorious!

    What does a God look like that always considers before he does anything “how will this make me look better”, instead of how can I manifests my love?

    A God who does that is narcissistic and has an inordinate fascination with himself. Let’s not say it is ok just because it’s God doing it. As Witherington says God doesn’t love his himself (or his glory) so much that he gives his only son to redeem us, he loves us so much that he gives his only son. His love is what motivates him and his love is what makes him so glorious.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. I realize I could be wrong but at this point I am more convinced by Witherington.

    Bryan L

  2. Peter G. November 21, 2007 at 1:48 pm #

    Denny, I was hoping you would respond to Dr. Witherington. So thanks.

    I do have one question for you though and if it’s too off topic, just respond via email. My question is how you understand Col. 1:16 where Paul says that all things were created though Christ and for Christ. I asked Witherington the same question, and he takes that to mean that all things were created “in order to belong to Christ.” He says there’s no mention of glory in the passage at all. The reason I ask is that Piper recently preached a sermon on this verse and made a major point that all things exist for the glory of Christ. So Piper takes the word for to mean for Christ’s glory. But I’m curious what you think. For my part, until I read Witherington’s take on it, I assumed it meant for Christ’s glory. And this is how I taught it just last week for the Jr. Highers at my church. But Witherington’s comment has made me rethink that and so I’m curious to your opinion.

    Lastly, I think this whole discussion has clarified one major difference between Calvinist folks and Arminian folks. As Roger Olson puts it, “[John] Wesley placed God’s love at the center of his preaching and teaching whereas Edwards made everything revolve around God’s glory.” It’s interesting to see this difference still working itself out among Wesley and Edwards’s theological grandchildren.

  3. MatthewS November 21, 2007 at 2:01 pm #

    The sum of the Bible’s teaching is that God is the only being for whom self-exaltation is not a vice, but a virtue.

    Is that really a fair summary statement of the Bible?

    The story of the Bible starts in Eden, experiences the fall, then the Law, then Jesus, and finally comes to a new city.

    While on earth, Jesus summed up the Law and Prophets as saying “Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.” One can focus on that statement through the lens of “God is the only being for whom self-exaltation is not a vice” but I don’t think that is the summary that naturally arises.

  4. Chris November 21, 2007 at 5:16 pm #

    Bryan,

    “Will these types of discussions always boil down to Arminian/Calvinism differences?”

    Probably yes, mainly because the primary difference between Arminian theology and Calvinistic theology is that when you boil it all down Arminian theology is primarily man-centered and Calvinistic theology is God-centered.

    For example you concluded your post with, “His love is what motivates him and his love is what makes him so glorious.” While there are passages that speak of God’s love as motivation for major works (John 3:16 as you referenced), we must also consider the overwhelming evidence (many of which Denny included in his post) in the Bible that makes is clear that God is uppermost in God’s affections. See especially the Ezekiel references. The bottom line for Calvinistic theology is that God’s love for us is the practical application of God’s desire to glorify his mercy and grace (Romans 15:8-9)

  5. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 5:28 pm #

    “God’s desire to glorify his mercy and grace”

    What does that even mean? How does God glorify his mercy and his grace?

  6. BrianW November 21, 2007 at 5:32 pm #

    While Witherington may be in error a little, so are you, Piper and everyone else who talks about God’s “self” exaltation. God isn’t a “self.” Until we take God’s trinitarian relationship seriously, we’ll keep thinking of God like us, except in “really big” categories. The NT doesn’t refer to God in “self” terms; what we see is the Father calling all to praise his son. We see Jesus calling all to give honor and glory to his father. And we see the Spirit working to fulfill the mission and ministry of Jesus casting all recognition from him to Jesus. If we believe in the ever-unfolding revelation of God throughout the scriptures, the OT “self” language needs to be re-thought. But isn’t that what the NT (New Covenant) all about? And if this is true, Witherington’s intuition that “God” is “other” centered fits well with scripture; too bad he doesn’t talk about it in Trinitarian terms.

    Also, the obsession with finding the “cause” of God’s love (for example) seems overly emphasized. Interestingly, if I need a “reason” to love my wife, she might not feel too secure in my love (because its conditioned somehow). I’m comfortable saying God’s love and glory are connected without necessarily needing to establish one as more important than the other. God does all for his glory, without question. But maybe God is so for his glory because he knows its for our good? Which comes first? Piper says his glory; Witherington says his love. I say neither (for now, at least).

    Just some thoughts.
    Brian

  7. Chris November 21, 2007 at 5:56 pm #

    “What does that even mean? How does God glorify his mercy and his grace?”

    Well, I am certainly not an expert theologian, but the way I understand it is that God’s glory is like pure, white light and all of God’s work in creation is like a prism intended to refract that pure, white light into the full spectrum of his glorious attributes so that they can be fully understood, enjoyed and praised. Therefore, God’s love is magnified and glorified by the greens, blues and purples of his grace, mercy and compassion. On the other hand the reds, oranges and yellows of his holiness are magnified and glorified by his justice, wrath and righteousness.

    I know that is not an academic understanding, but it helps me visualize God’s motivation: to glorify and magnify his Name. And it helps me see how God is motivated by his own glory yet is still loving toward us. In fact the most loving thing God can do is command us to enjoy his grace so that He is glorified.

    Thanks for your patience. I know I am not explaining myself very well.

  8. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 6:11 pm #

    BrianW,

    Witherington would not talk about it in trinitarian terms because that kind of “other” centeredness would still be God-centeredness or “self” centeredness because all 3 persons of the trinity are God him”self”.

    To say that God is “other” centered would mean that he is centered around someone or something else other than God and that is idolatry according to the Bible. So, is God an idolater?

  9. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 6:12 pm #

    Thanks for your perspective Chris. I’m not a theologian or academic either so don’t feel the need to qualify your words.

    I’ll be honest though I have a hard time understanding your prism analogy and how it works out and looks in the practical. And truthfully the way I often see “glory” language used is in a very abstract way that is hard to really understand how it works in practice or what it looks like. And then people start attaching the word glory and glorify on to everything without every asking what it even means.

    And I’m still not sure how God glorifies (a verb) his mercy and grace. Especially when those 2 things bring him glory.

    Thanks

  10. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 6:18 pm #

    Kevin,

    Do you intentionally set up leading questions like that? You seem to do that often (“this must mean this so are you saying this?”) and I can’t tell if you do it on purpose and you are trying to trap people or if I’m just reading you wrong.

    Help me to understand where you are coming from.

    Thanks

  11. jeff miller November 21, 2007 at 6:21 pm #

    Hello BrianW,
    Doesn’t the eventual demonstration of the legitimacy of the God of Abraham have first place over the demonstration of your or my legitimacy? …even if that means my destruction? When I was reading Isaiah I could not help but get that impression.
    blessings,
    Jeff

  12. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 6:44 pm #

    Bryan L,

    I tend to do that unfortunately. My mom always has said that I would have made a good attorney.

    However, to trap someone means that their position is not founded on solid truth. Does the Bible teach that God is man-centered or God-centered. Is it about us or about God? If we are centered on anyone else but God then we are idolaters…is it the same for God?

    I am not trying to trap anyone. Please provide scriptural support that shows that God is centered around anyone or anything else other than Himself. Is His love for man the “end” of the reason for His love or does it serve as a means to another “end”?

    If we “love” God as a means to His gifts then we are idolizing His gifts. Our love for God MUST be the “end” for us. Does His love for us HAVE TO BE the “end” for Him? If it is, does that make God an idolater (loving someone else more than God)?

  13. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 7:35 pm #

    Funny Kevin (the lawyer comment).

    Anyway you said “However, to trap someone means that their position is not founded on solid truth.”

    Not necessarily, If you are trying to lead someone to a particular view or have them admit something they don’t really hold to or believe then it doesn’t mean their position is not founded on solid truth. It’s like one of those questions “Do you still believe it’s ok to beat your wife?” It’s a leading question that is meant to trap you into saying something you wouldn’t. But whatever.

    “Does the Bible teach that God is man-centered or God-centered. Is it about us or about God? If we are centered on anyone else but God then we are idolaters…is it the same for God?”

    That’s a good question. What do God’s actions in scripture tell us? What does a God who creates the universe and spends so much time and effort trying to redeem it when it rebels against him, to the point of taking the very form of that which he created and willingly dying a humiliating death, what does that tell us about God and what he’s about. If he was so self-centered why the need to go through all of this? Why the need to exhort us to be like Christ and have the mind of Christ who put others before himself (Philippians).

    I don’t know that God is “centered” on us, but his actions don’t necessarily show that he is completely centered on himself. Maybe he is neither. Maybe he is just Love which is centered on everything; others and himself. I don’t know, but I don’t see it necessarily being an either or.

    “If we “love” God as a means to His gifts then we are idolizing His gifts.”

    What if we love God because of what he has done for us? Is that still idolizing his gifts? Or it loving and worshiping him for the kind of God he is (which brings him glory)? Often we say we love God not for what he’s done but for who he is, but who he is is tied up with what he’s done.

    “Does His love for us HAVE TO BE the “end” for Him? If it is, does that make God an idolater (loving someone else more than God)?”

    Witherington says God loves people as ends in themselves, meaning that it’s not to get anything but because it is in his character to love, and to love us for no other reason because he is Love. Is it idolatrous for God to love us for no other reason than because he just does?

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  14. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 7:57 pm #

    Bryan,

    Wow! You questions remind me of someone…hmmmm…who could that be? 😉

    The Bible does say that we love God because he first loved us (1 Jn. 4:19). But, does God love everyone EQUALLY? What does Eph. 1:6 mean by “being accepted in the BELOVED”? Are those that reject Jesus not BELOVED? Is it narcissistic to say that I will only accept those who will accept me? Does it sound selfish to say that I will only choose you if you choose me?

    I think BOTH sides (Calvin/Arminian) can be “twisted” into narcisistic ideas. The question is not what we THINK but what the Bible says. We bring many preconceived ideas (whether true or a lie or half-truth) to our reading of the scripture and we must ask God to open the eyes of our understanding to the the REAL Truth.

    As you probably remember, I am not a “reformed” Christian but a Christian who agrees with some of the “reformed” doctrine.

    I do not believe that a God that ONLY wants to reveal His love would create a world in which He would allow Satan to tempt His being created in His image and allow MANY of them burn in Hell for eternity. By allowing this to happen there obviously is other resons for His creation. I believe He wants to show ALL of His nature:

    Romans 9:21 – 24 (KJV) Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

    sidenote: try doing a study of the word “called” and see who the called are and who they are not.

    Anyway, there are many things in the “reformed” faith that make God look Narcisistic to our human nature. Can our natural man understand it? I don’t think so. But, the Arminian camp also sounds Narcisitic…”I will only love you if you love me first.” Which is Biblical…God loves us first then we love Him, or He waits for us to love Him then accepts us into His beloved? (see above referenced verses to see for yourself)

  15. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 8:38 pm #

    Another way to ask it is:

    According to the Bible, did God choose us because we chose Him or did we choose God because He chose us?

    If the ULTIMATE reason God saves us is because of ANYTHING that we do then I believe that nullifies grace.

    If the ULTIMATE reason God saves us is because of what HE does then grace is still grace.

    I am NOT saying that we do not “choose” to repent and believe, but if God did not choose us first then we would not choose Him.

  16. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 8:39 pm #

    Kevin,
    You raise a lot of points a questions but truthfully I feel we could start going down a different path and I’m not up for one of those types of discussions right now so I’ll have to pass.

    I just have one thing you said that I want to question. You said, “But, the Arminian camp also sounds Narcisitic…”I will only love you if you love me first.”

    Is this from our perspective or God’s? If it’s from God’s I don’t know any Arminian who says this (God waits for us to love him before loving us). If it is from ours it’s not so much a perspective as a fact. We love God because of what he did, does, and will do. His character is reflected in his loving actions toward and for us. It’s not an “if” (we will if you, God, do first) but a “because” (we love you because you, God, first loved us)

    God doesn’t wait for us to love him before loving us. It’s his character to love; he is love. But if we choose not to reciprocate that love and to reject his he respects our choice. This is what C.S. Lewis refers to as locking hell from the inside.

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  17. Ian November 21, 2007 at 8:53 pm #

    “First, Witherington would be hard-pressed to show biblically that God’s love is an “end” in itself…”

    Where in the comments you quoted did Witherington say that “God’s love is an “end” in itself”.

    I could be blind (it happens!) but I couldn’t find it. I did see that he said God does not treat human beings as ‘a means to an end’ but rather as ‘ends’ themselves.

  18. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 9:04 pm #

    Bryan,

    To say God respects our choice is the same as saying that He only chooses those who choose Him (which is the truth, by the way). The question is who chooses FIRST (biblically)…God or us?

    Did God create everything and then “look down” thru time to see who would choose Him and then say…”Since they chose me then I will choose them and make them my elect!”? If this is what He did then our election is conditional based upon our “free” choice and that nullifies grace.

    Anyone out there want to discuss the following questions?

    Did God choose His elect because His elect chose Him first? Or did God choose His elect so that they could and would choose Him?

    If there is another choice then I would like to hear it.

  19. Bryan L November 21, 2007 at 9:15 pm #

    Kevin, if I choose you to be the best man in my wedding but you didn’t want to be and you choose not to does that mean you chose first? If I respect that choice of yours and don’t force you be my best man does that mean you chose first?

    Either way you are trying to reframe this discussion into a debate about election and choice and I’m really not that interested in going there, but maybe someone else is.

    Thanks.

  20. Andrew November 21, 2007 at 9:21 pm #

    In general terms, most people would say that they want to benefit both themselves and others. The notion of wanting good for everyone (loving others just as you love yourself), is a common idea, and what we would expect from a good, benevolent, and moral person.

    The bible mentions at various times God’s love for others. It also mentions at various times God’s desire to increase his own honor. (Honor being a concept in the ancient world that we no longer use, and which roughly translates to ‘wealth and fame’ in the modern world) Thus God is ascribed at times in the bible as having the various desires we might expect from a good being: His own good and the good of others.

    The trouble comes when people pick one of the desires God is described as having and proclaim it as the single most important and ultimate desire to which all others must bow. The claim that God has a desire for his own glory among his many and various desires, is one that is borne out by the biblical evidence. The claim that God’s desire for his own glory is the greatest of all of his desires, and absolutely supersedes any of God’s other desires, is an arbitrary claim that has no biblical evidence. No biblical verses go into detail about which of God’s desires is the most ultimate one.

    If we do force a distinction between a desire to benefit others and a desire to benefit oneself, we must ultimately answer the question: Is God more Selfless or more Selfish? Is God’s love for others simply a means to his own selfish ends? Or is because he has an ultimate goal of selfless love for others as his distinguishing characteristic that makes him worthy of love and worship? Is glorifying God a result and side-effect of his selfless love, or is his seemingly selfless love a means to a selfish end?

    Now in general, the average man on the street I think would say that taking this dilemma at face value there is only one possible answer: You have to say that God is Selfless. To say that God is selfish intuitively seems like blasphemy.

    As appealing as that simple logic seems, it is not really an option for Calvinists, since if God’s highest value is selfless love he obviously wouldn’t arbitrarily predestine people to eternal torment when predestining them to eternal happiness is the alternative. Therefore Calvinists are forced down the other fork and have to say that God performs such predestining because it glorifies God and his ultimate goal is his own glory. This then means that Calvinists have to deal with two difficult issues: (1) Why God being selfish isn’t a bad thing, and (2) How predestining people to eternal suffering reflects positively rather than negatively on God.

    Thus, Calvinists due to their doctrine are forced to opt for a view that appears to demean or even blaspheme God and have to attempt to explain why it doesn’t. Whereas Arminians begin with a very positive view of God, which can thus give them reason to glorify him.

  21. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 10:44 pm #

    Bryan L,

    You are using a human analogy to try to describe a divine spiritual relationship. If you accurately portray the analogy then it will work:

    You desire me to be your best man at your wedding
    I am your best friend and would gladly accept
    BUT
    I am dead and cannot respond in a positive way and therefore I will not accept your invitation
    HOWEVER
    You have the miracle working power to be able to raise me from the dead and you choose to do so
    THEN
    I happily accept your offer and look forward to the wedding!

    I know you do not want to discuss this but the fact remains that we are spiritually dead and must be born again before we can see the kingdom of God (John 3).

  22. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 10:52 pm #

    “Arminians begin with a very positive view of God, which can thus give them reason to glorify him”

    This “positive view” of God is only positive to man if it makes much of man. Calvinist doctrine makes much of God and puts man in his place therefore it is not a “positive view” in the eyes of carnal man.

    Arminian doctrine says…make much of man so man can make much of God. Calvinistic doctrine says make much of God so man can be humbled and God can be God.

  23. Ian November 21, 2007 at 11:04 pm #

    Anyone intending to discuss Witherington and Schreiner?

    This Calvinist/Arminian debate is incredibly tiresome. Calvinists, go read ‘Why I am not a Calvinist’ and Arminians go read ‘Why I am not an Arminian’. It should be obvious by now, one would have thought, that one-liner biblequotes or analogies don’t ‘win’ this debate. I am not even convinced that these are questions the NT writers are attempting to ask or answer. They are theological theories (and I don’t mean that pejoratively at all) concerning mysteries about how God may be at work in the life of particular individuals who respond to the gospel while others don’t. To make them some kind of key orthodoxy is a huge mistake; and their fruit seems ot be norme out in the mutual anathematising of opposing Christians. God save us from this.

    I particularly loathe the claim that Arminians attempt to ‘make much of ‘man’ [sic]’ as though that lies behind either Jacob Arminius or Wesley’s concerns (to name just two theologians).

    It strikes me that the NT causes problems for both Calvinist and Arminian systems.

    Within this (pointless) discussion, I see no mention of election being IN CHRIST or of the predominant reference of election in terms God’s historical purposes.

    Anyway, back to Schreiner and Witherington; even if we can happily affirm (from the Scriptures) that God is indeed glorified through his fulfilling his purpose for creation through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, is that emphasis really a helpful way of summing up the biblical story?

  24. Ian November 21, 2007 at 11:07 pm #

    Anyone intending to discuss Witherington and Schreiner?

    This Calvinist/Arminian debate is incredibly tiresome. Calvinists, go read ‘Why I am not a Calvinist’ and Arminians go read ‘Why I am not an Arminian’. It should be obvious by now, one would have thought, that one-liner biblequotes or analogies don’t ‘win’ this debate. I am not even convinced that these are questions the NT writers are attempting to ask or answer. They are theological theories (and I don’t mean that pejoratively at all) concerning mysteries about how God may be at work in the life of particular individuals who respond to the gospel while others don’t. To make them some kind of key orthodoxy is a huge mistake; and their fruit seems to be borne out in the mutual anathematizing of opposing Christians. God save us from this.

    I particularly loathe the claim that Arminians attempt to ‘make much of ‘man’ [sic]’ as though that lies behind either Jacob Arminius or Wesley’s concerns (to name just two theologians).

    It strikes me that the NT causes problems for both Calvinist and Arminian systems.

    Within this (pointless) discussion, I see no significant mention of election being IN CHRIST or of the predominant references to election being in terms God’s historical purposes.

    Anyway, back to Schreiner and Witherington; even if we can happily affirm (from the Scriptures) that God is indeed glorified through his fulfilling his purpose for creation through Jesus Christ and the Spirit, is that emphasis really a helpful way of summing up the biblical story?

  25. BrianW November 21, 2007 at 11:16 pm #

    Kevin,

    You say, “all three persons of the Trinity are God him’self’.” I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean exactly. If we are going to take NT language about God seriously, we are going to see God as he is revealed, which is the dynamic, ongoing relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see God IN these relationships. And the relationships are ongoingly sacrificial, loving and ‘other’ centered. To equate Father, Son and Spirit and simply say these three added together is God’s “self” doesn’t do justice to Trinity. The Father isn’t the Son, The Son isn’t the Spirit and so on. So the Father is ‘other’ focused, namely, towards his son. The Son is ‘other’ focused, namely, towards his Father. I don’t know how we get around this if we are truly going to be Trinitarian in our thoughts. Maybe its because we really don’t know how to integrate Trinity.

    Our glory is being included in this relationship; that in Christ, we will be partakers of this divine nature. God doesn’t sacrifice his glory to love his creation; the father elevates creation into his glory in Christ. Thus, God doesn’t ‘sacrifice’ his glory (which Calvinists fear), but yet, creation isn’t dismissed as this mere afterthought to God’s love (which Arminians fear).

    Jeff,

    I’m not sure where you are going with you statement. Could you flush it out more and share how that relates to what I was sharing? Thanks.

    Brian

  26. Robbie Sagers November 21, 2007 at 11:46 pm #

    Dr. Burk, thank you for raising this issue for discussion! I did want to take up some of your analysis of Dr. Witherington’s critique of Dr. Schreiner’s thesis regarding the central theme of the New Testament (a thesis with which I agree, for what it is worth!)

    Dr. Witherington says: >>“In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves. . .

  27. Kevin J November 21, 2007 at 11:51 pm #

    BrianW,

    I understand and agree. The trinity is “triangular” in giving each other glory. However, the only time Jesus submitted to the Holy Spirit was while He was in human flesh on the earth. True, each person of the trinity is “other” centered. However, each person of the trinity if fully God. Therefore, God is God-centered and we get to enjoy the love between the trinity by being “in” Christ.

    This is an awesome thought. Everything that is Christ’s is ours to enjoy…especially the love of the Father.

  28. Robbie Sagers November 22, 2007 at 12:05 am #

    I apologize. It seems that the last part of my comment (number 26 above) got eaten. Here is my full comment:

    Dr. Burk, thank you for raising this issue for discussion! I did want to take up some of your analysis of Dr. Witherington’s critique of Dr. Schreiner’s thesis regarding the central theme of the New Testament (a thesis with which I agree, for what it is worth!)

    Dr. Witherington says: “In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves…”

    It is true that Jesus is the perfect example of other-centeredness (Phil 2), an other-centeredness that is exemplified in his love of God the Father–being sent to accomplish and fulfill the plans and purposes of God, being obedient to the will of God, humbling himself in taking on flesh, etc., AND in his love of neighbor–taking up the basin and the towel, casting out demons and healing others, forgiving sins, taking the sin of the world upon himself, etc.

    Jesus delights in receiving praise and honor, a glory that is to God the Father. The Father delights in exalting the Son as the King of the cosmos and Savior of the world. And the Spirit delights in pointing to both Jesus and the Father and away from himself.

    I think that Dr. Witherington might miss some of the truth that Jesus is other-directed in his love of and obedience to God the Father, while Dr. Burk may miss some of the emphasis on Jesus’ love of neighbor in “For God so loved the world…”

    What say you?

  29. Denny Burk November 22, 2007 at 12:54 am #

    Robbie,

    Yes, I agree that God is “oriented” toward the “other,” as it were–both within His intra-trinitarian fellowship and with respect to His redemptive acts toward His creation. Nevertheless, I do not think that His “other-orientedness” can be turned into an ultimate end, which is what I think Witherington does.

    Go back and read the texts that I cited above. Yes, God so loved the world that He gave his only Son (John 3:16), but when Jesus prayed about this massive work he said, “Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:5).

    That says me. 🙂

    Denny

  30. Bryan L November 22, 2007 at 6:45 am #

    I hear you Ian!

  31. Dr Fin November 22, 2007 at 11:54 pm #

    I, too, had some issues with Witherington’s observations and criticisms, which I detailed here.

    Approaching it both theologically and psychologically, I noted,

    To say or imply that God is narcissistic is to diagnosis Him with a personality disorder but, as demonstrated by the definition of personality disorders, God does not qualify as having one: it cannot be said that His disposition or behavior is a significant deviation from what might be expected of a god, nor does it result in distress or impairment for Him. God’s character is stable and inflexible – He never fluctuates or changes – and it is pervasive: He behaves the same at all times in all situations. But the latter qualities are true of personality in general and not just personality disorders.

  32. Beat Attitude November 23, 2007 at 7:51 am #

    “Only with God is self-exaltation a virtue, since He is the first and best of beings, the only One who can satisfy the soul.”

    This makes sense to me. Here is my suggested understanding of it which I’d like to open to debate and correction:

    Is glory something that can be realised fully outside the framework of a relationship? There needs to be a witness to glory, and God is not glorious because we are witnesses to it, yet in witnessing it we give that glory extra relevance.

    God is trinity, so he is capable of being witness to his own glory. However surely the purpose of creating humans is that we are not glorious in the same way, therefore when we witness his glory the “quality” of it is highlighted in a new way.

    So where does love come into it? Love is evident because God wants to share that glory, and not just use it in judgement. Were we not reconciled to him through Jesus, that glory would be terrible.

    God’s glory I think is everything about him, and god’s love is one part of him. It is his defining characteristic as far as we are concerned, so the glory of god is irrevocably intertwined with his love. I think that’s why it’s true to say “God is love”. So love is an end inasmuch as it is part of God’s glory, and a significant part at that.

    I feel I can only make sense of the world by relating things to the Ultimate Glory. Glory is a kind of quantititive experience, a mixture of joy and awe and love. Its quantity serves as reparatory justice in the same way that monetary reparations are used in court cases when someone is treated unjustly. Can love itself have the same quantitive characteristic?

    And surely the theory of glory and of love become irrelevant once we experience them?

    Just some thoughts on this subject. Sorry if that drags back the progress of the above posts!

  33. Paul K November 23, 2007 at 8:51 am #

    The discussion of “means and end” and love and glory are important, I think.

    Is God glorified through His love? If so, it seems the end is the glory of God.Or is He loved through His glory? If so, then the end would be the love of God.

    Was Christ glorified because of His love? If so, it seems the end of Christ was the glory of God.Or was He loved because of His glory? If so, then the end of Christ would be the love of God.

    What, then, is the end of our Christian walk, glory or love? Is glory the means to love? Or is love the means to glory?

    I supposed some would maintain that love is both the means and the end of all of this.

    Then where do we put glory?

    I am certanly no theologian, but I try to simplify complex matters for my simple mind to grasp, all the while knowing God cannot be simplified so as to remove the mysteries which cause me to think about Him.

  34. jeff miller November 23, 2007 at 11:19 am #

    I am convinced we should drink in Isaiah so that we can have the proper foundation to “stand-under” God and the Gospel. The Gospel is what Isaiah’s message is about.

    The message of the whole book seems especially resistent to proof texting but here are a couple excerpts from the second chapter:

    “The proud look of man will be abased,
    and the loftiness of man will be humbled,
    and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day….

    ….And the pride of man will be humbled,
    and the loftiness of men will be abased, and the LORD alone will be exalted in that day…

    …Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?”

    BrianW

    I guess I was just saying our understanding of NT Theology may be improved more by a better grasp of Isaiah than by a grasp of Witherington’s critique of Schreiner. I am just trying to work through some of the statements above which strike me as divorced from God’s actual message to us. I probably should have kept quiet until I had worked thru it more.

    Jeff

  35. Ben Witherington November 23, 2007 at 11:51 am #

    Hi Denny:

    The essential fly in the ointment of your argument here is that you assume, wrongly, that the ‘for my name sake’ theology is the same thing as a theologica gloria. It is not. Of course it is true that God is concerned about the honor of his name, as I say in one of the responses to the lively discussion on my blog. But this is quite beside the point. The concept of kabod, or divine presence, sometimes later called the shekinah glory is sometimes related to name theology in the OT, but it is by no means the same thing. In short, to say that God does very things in accord with the honor of his name, and sometimes for the honor of his name, is not the same thing as saying he does it to magnify himself or up his glory quotient. The issue is God’s reputation, not God’s self-adulation.

    Blessings,

    Ben W.

  36. BrianW November 23, 2007 at 12:31 pm #

    Jeff, I would whole-heartedly concur with you as I suspect Witherington would as well. But we must also see how the NT informs or expands, if you will, OT categories. And as I tried to point out, God is primarily referred to in trinitarian terms in the NT. God isn’t a self; the NT speaks of God in relational terms, not individualistic terms. That’s why I’m always taken back by this obsession with God’s “self” exaltation. And to top it off, our participation in the glory of God is hardly ever spoken of, just God’s “self” obsession; this is probably due to our lack of trinitarian understanding which provides the ground and basis for our inclusion into the divine life.

    Thanks,
    Brian

  37. Denny Burk November 23, 2007 at 12:56 pm #

    Dr. Witherington,

    Thanks for the comment. A couple of responses:

    1. I understand that we are reading the “for my name sake” passages differently, but I am not convinced that the authors intended to dichotomize God’s conern for His name and God’s concern for His glory, as you would have it. Isaiah 42:8 is a case in point: “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” Here the paralllelism links God’s concern for His name with His glory. We could move through each text individually (I only cited the ones I did as exemplars, of course there are many more), and I think we would see that the link is clear.

    2. For the sake of argument, even if I granted that the authors intended to separate God’s concern for His name from His concern for His glory, you would still have to deal with texts that explicitly cite God’s glory as the motivation for His redemptive acts. Could Paul be anymore clearer on this point than he is in Ephesians 1. It says that God, “blessed us with every spiritual blessing . . . to the praise of the glory of His grace” (vv. 3-6). Christ’s redemptive work is a result of God’s predetermined plan and purpose to save His elect for “the praise of His glory” (vv. 7-12). The seal of the Holy Spirit is given with a view to the future resurrection of the saints which will be “to the praise of His glory” (vv. 13-14). Can there be any doubt in Ephesians 1 that the entire Trinity is said to be working redemption for the praise of God’s glory. God’s glory is the end; God’s redemptive acts are the means towards that end.

    3. I don’t think “glory quotient” is a helpful way to describe what we are discussing here. When the Bible speaks of people “glorifying” God or even of God “glorifying” Himself, as it were, it’s not suggesting that God is becoming ontologically more glorious. For those of us on the Calvinist side of the theological spectrum, we certainly don’t mean to imply that God is becoming ontologically more glorious. To say such a thing would not be a faithful understanding of how the various expressions in the Bible work, nor is it even theologically coherent.

    Thanks again,
    Denny Burk

  38. Bryan H November 23, 2007 at 3:42 pm #

    I think that one text that gives us a hint that God is focused on things other than lovw for humans (at least ultimately) is in Ephesians 3:10-12

    “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made know tho the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has reasized in Christ Jesus our Lord…”

    What I see here is that behind the scene of redemption for humans is God’s desire (and purpose)to display something to non-humans–to rulers and authorities in heavenly places.

    We don’t know how long before the creation of Adam and Eve it was that the creation of the angels took place, but there is something that God is showing them (HIS manifold wisdom) through what he is doing on earth with us.

    I suppose the argument on the table, as someone here has said, about whether God’s glory is His highest motivation for his actions, or whether His love is his highest motivation.

    It seems that this verse at least says that he has multiple reasons for what he does (manifold wisdom).

    What I haven’t seen enter the conversation yet is how God can justify his wrath if his ultimate goal is love and not glory. Wrath makes all kinds of sense (to me anyways) if God is jealous for his fame and glory above all other jealousies. I have more trouble understanding his wrath, (and not seeing it as an overreaction) if his primary motivation is love.

    I know this is stating it uncomplicatedly, but the triptiphan from my turkey sandwich is getting the best of my energy…that is all…for now anyways.

  39. Bryan L November 23, 2007 at 3:43 pm #

    Denny,
    Can you go more into what you mean by glory? What does it mean for God to do something for his glory? Does he receive glory or does he maintain or uphold (?) his glory? If he receives his glory who does he receive the glory from? Us or himself? Obviously like you said he doesn’t become more glorious ontologically, so what do you see happening?

    Whenever I hear the word glory it sounds like such an abstract concept that I’m not sure that I understand it the way you do. When someone instead refers to glory as reputation or their good name or something like that it’s easier to understand.

    Similarly it’s easier to understand God doing all this (creation, redemption etc…) because he loves us or because that is his character (that’s easy to picture), but to say he does all of this things for his glory is not so easy to picture. So maybe if you don’t mind your could flesh that out a little more and put it into more concrete terms.

    Thanks,
    Bryan L

  40. Wesley November 23, 2007 at 7:00 pm #

    I agree with Bryan L that the word “glory” and the phrase “God’s glory” need to be better defined.

    Paul (in Romans) states that “for all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” As we have been brought near to Himself by His blood there is an indication in the scriptures that rather than falling short we are now progressively being taken from glory to glory in Christ.

    I am curious of what you guys might have to say concerning the relationship between Gods love, man’s faith, and God’s glory. Could it be said that the “walk by faith” is a walk–by faith, on love, toward glory?

    The way I understand faith in God to be possible is by a revelation of His love. In other words, as God has revealed Himself (His love) to me, my faith (trust) in Him has grown. Love has a way of simplifying things. I believe that it is this response by faith to His love that brings me into the knowledge of His glory and causes Him to be glorified in and through me. But it all begins with and upon God’s Love.

  41. Drew November 23, 2007 at 7:44 pm #

    Bryan L,

    I think it would be better to start reading your systematic theology books than to ask irrelevant questions here. Especially in light of the discussion between Denny and BW. You just leave a bunch of nonsensical comments. If you need attention – call a friend.

  42. Ruth November 24, 2007 at 9:30 am #

    Excellent response!
    I was very disappointed in the Witherington critique. You have dealt with it admirably.

  43. Yvette November 25, 2007 at 12:25 am #

    Drew,

    Your statements to BryanL were quite rude.
    You wrote: “You just leave a bunch of nonsensical comments. If you need attention – call a friend.” It would be more useful for all of us to respond in the grace we would wish to receive.

    In a conversation on glory, inquiring of Denny’s understanding of glory seems quite germane to the topic. Wesley had similar questions. Answers to both Bryan’s and Wesley’s questions would probably be beneficial to many in the community of faith. I know I would benefit from such concretization.

  44. John November 26, 2007 at 5:26 pm #

    “[Arminians] … say that the Augustinian tradition subordinates the love of God to the will of God … But this is not what distinguishes the Augustinian tradition from the Arminian tradition. The distinction is between intensive and extensive love, between an intensive love that saves its loved ones, and an extensive love that loves everyone in general and saves no one in particular.

    Or if you really wish to cast this in terms of willpower, it’s the distinction between divine willpower and human willpower. Or, to put the two together, does God will the salvation of everyone with a weak-willed, ineffectual love, or does God love his loved ones with a resolute will that gets the job done?… Which is more loving?

    So the difference is not about love and glory, it is about what kind of love does God actually have toward his people: conditional or unconditional ?

  45. Arminian November 26, 2007 at 5:32 pm #

    This is not an Arminian/Calvinist issue. As my username testifies, I am an Arminian. But I agree more with Piper/Schreiner on this. I respect Ben Witherington, but the Bible seems clear that God’s glory is supreme. And it is precisely his nature as love that makes this not selfish but the most loving thing God could do. Part of the problem is that I think that many Calvinists (occasionally Piper) define God’s glory as fame or praise, which is part of it but not the whole. God’s glory has to do with the manifestation of his charcater and perfection and its magnificence and the loving/esteeming of it. For God to pursue his glory involves him pursuing our good and eliciting from us the loving of who he is (love) and being like him. It is one joy-filled blessing fest driveb by the blessing God, who is forever blessed; blessed be his name.

    (I could say much much more, but I am short on time. I just did not want this to be wrongly framed as an Arminian vs. Calvinist issue just because Witherington is rightly and wisely an Arminian. I, and many other Arminians I believe, embrace God’s glory as the chief end of God and of man. It is in fact Arminianism that gives greatest glory to God in my opinion. That is one reason why I am Arminian.)

  46. Jerry November 27, 2007 at 12:31 am #

    I must say after following all this that I have to side with Piper/Schreiner in this controversy. The thesis of the book is right on the spot. Ben was trying to diagnose it to mean a narcisistic tendency on the part of God. God is worthy of ALL the glory, man on the other hand is totally depraved (spiritually) very worthy of death. So how can a perfect God be guilty of a human pathology in his dealing with man as revealed in the scriptures? Hard to imagine.

    Jerry

  47. rey November 28, 2007 at 4:43 pm #

    BrianW is right on in #6. The god of Calvinism looks so much like allah, a one person god who is a self-exalting egomaniac. The true God, Jehovah, is not concerned with this overarching self-adulation, but the Father is concerned with glorifying his Son, and the Son with glorifying the Father, and the Holy Spirit with both. But why? To receive bare praise from robots as allah does in Calvinism? No. Rather, to provide happiness for men, since the glorification of the Son by the Father and of the Father by the Son and of both by the Holy Spirit is good for men. The love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the father results in his love for man, for men were made by and for the Son, and therefore in seeking to glorify the Son, the Father will help men. And also, the Son in seeking to glorify the Father will provide for the adoption of men, for them to be joint heirs with him. How much better is this vision of the true God, Jehovah, than is the dark and dismal vision of Calvinism’s allah.

  48. Matt B December 1, 2007 at 12:33 am #

    As far as glory being defined in more concrete terms I wonder if God’s glory encounter with Moses is helpful. In the text we find Moses explicitely asking to see God’s glory; God in turn grants the request of Moses and in the subsequent verse we find the text saying, “I will have my GOODNESS pass before you.” Could the central feature of God’s glory be his supreme goodness. That in and of itself may be a bit abstract but it may be helpful.

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