The Trinity: A Doctrine of Delight and Practicality

This paper is original writing by Audrey Carroll and was written in partial fulfillment of the requirements of EH 340 at The University of Alabama in Huntsville under Dr. G. Hubbell, Spring 2020.
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Photo by Timur Kozmenko on Unsplash

Introduction

The doctrine of the Trinity has long been a topic of great discussion and debate among those within and without the realm of Christianity.  This debate has extended into the discussions among Christians about the necessity of holding to a concrete understanding of the Trinity.  They question whether or not the Trinity is Biblical, and, if it is Biblical, how can it be tangibly defined?  In this paper, I argue that forming and holding to a Biblically based doctrinal understanding of the Trinity is necessary and practical for the Christian.  Without such an understanding, all other doctrines within the Christian faith will crumble because of an unstable foundation of the Triune, three-in-one (OED), God at the center of everything.  I will analyze what Thomas Aquinas says about the Trinity in Treatise on the Trinity, what God says about Himself in the Bible, and what others say about these two sources collectively.   

When considering oppositional sources, Herbert McCabe, in his article “Aquinas on the Trinity,” attacks Aquinas’ presentations of the Trinity because he cannot reconcile an incomprehensible view of God to the physical reflections of God that are seen in creation.  However, McCabe does not take into account the Biblical foundation for Aquinas’ arguments, that his arguments are sourced solely from the Bible.  Contrarily, Aquinas’ presentation is Biblically solidified because its concepts are derived entirely from Scripture, and, when understanding this view, it may become incredibly easy to reconcile the incomprehensible with the visible.  This paper will use the Bible as the basis for analyzing the doctrine of the Trinity as it is according to Aquinas, McCabe, and other commentators.  Ultimately, my goal is to show how the doctrine of the Trinity is a good and necessary doctrine that glorifies God and enables man to experience and enjoy Him in a way that uniquely reflects the Trinity.      

Methodology

In approaching any doctrinal argument with a Biblical basis, one must thoroughly consider what the Bible says.  For Christians, it is the absolute foundation for any pursuits and studies.  However, it is not simply enough to weigh into consideration the bare words of the Bible.  It must be approached objectively and entirely as a book, without removing passages from context in which they exist in the grand metanarrative of Scripture.  Similarly, analyzing the doctrine of the Trinity must be based solely on the words contained in the Bible, thus the conclusions within the words of Aquinas and his theological peers must be held to the standard of the Bible.  The Bible is self-credible, stating clearly in the book of 2 Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (3:16).  The original Greek word for “inspired” in this verse is crucial to the foundation of any Biblical arguments: Theopneustos, literally meaning “divinely breathed in” (“Theopneustos”) offers a self-credibility for Scripture  Therefore, all commentaries regarding Biblical subject matters may rightly be held to this standard.  It is sufficient for the formation and defense of any doctrines which come directly from its pages.

The relations of a Triune God, of which there are four definitions, are crucial to understand.  “Innascibility” is the eternal non-generation which belongs solely to God the Father (Duby para. 6).  “Filiation” is the eternal sonlike procession from the Father which characterizes only God the Son (para. 6).  “Common spiration,” or the eternal bringing forth of the Holy Spirit, belongs jointly to God the Father and God the Son (para. 6).  Finally, “procession” is the “coming forth from the Father and Son” (para. 6).  These definitions have been widely accepted and applied since the publishing of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, or the Nicene Creed, in 325 AD (Mathison 6), and they are crucial for any successful discourse about Trinatarian doctrine. This Creed gave local churches a more well-rounded understanding of the global church’s understanding and application of the Trinity as found in the Bible.   

What Aquinas Says about God

Aquinas’ massive doctrinal dissertation Summa Theologiae and its excerpt Treatise on the Trinity analyze various qualities about both God Himself and Christianity as a whole, and Aquinas positions himself in a way that is prepared to answer objections.  The work is set up so that he is able to present qualities about the Trinity, their subsequent objections, and answers to those specific objections.  Aquinas defends the doctrine of the Trinity from the position that it is a defense of God’s character rather than God’s substance.  Though the word “Trinity” is used nowhere in the Bibleand Aquinas readily acknowledges this fact—Aquinas responds, “The name ‘Trinity’ in God signifies the determinate number of persons.  And so the plurality of persons in God requires that we should use the word trinity; because what is indeterminately signified by plurality, is signified by trinity in a determinate manner” (107).  The reader can draw from this the conclusive reality that the doctrine of the Trinity results from plurality present within the Bible.  Aquinas also defends the doctrine of plurality, the understanding that there are three distinct persons within a singular God by bringing up the doctrine of the hypostatic union (95).  Hypostasis, or a hypostatic union, is defined by “each person [being] identical to the other in terms of the divine essence, but each has a distinct personal property that they do not share in common and that do not pertain to the divine essence or being” (Mathison 7).  Aquinas notes that “hypostatic union,” though often used to refer to three separate substances, is unified in God by three separate essences being one within the Godhead.  He cannot be three separate gods, for to be three separate gods would be entirely contradictory to the first commandment: to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3).  How then can the proposed idea of three-in-oneness not contradict the commandment?  God is not contradicting Himself by revealing His nature.  Rather, He is proving His omnipotence, omnipresence, and omniscience.  In possessing three distinct persons, He is supreme commander of all other power, all of time, and all events of history past and future. 

Further, Aquinas states that although there are four relations in God—paternity, filiation, common spiration, and procession—that does not mean that God is four-parted (98).  His defense to this opposition of a multiplicity of gods is the simple characterization of each of the three persons of the Trinity.  Paternity, or fatherliness, belongs to God the Father; filiation, or eternal sonship, belongs to God the Son; and procession, or co-eternality, belongs to God the Spirit (98).  These unique characteristics are what contribute to common spiration, or the idea that the Spirit proceeds directly from the unity of the Father and the Son (128).  However, despite the seeming disorder or disunion that might be created by individual relations, Aquinas says “in the divine Trinity not only is there unity of order, but also with this there is unity of essence” (107), and “in God there is not triplicity, but Trinity” (108), the latter referring to a unity, and the former referring to a disunity.  These four relations are what propel the story of the Bible: that God created all things, man fell into sin, God sent His Son, the Son died and rose again, and the Spirit was sent to indwell believers where He will reside until the Son returns.  Finally, in an effort to avoid a heretical downfall, Aquinas presents the word “distinction” which prevents one from coming to the easy, though false, conclusion that there is a separation between the persons of the Trinity (109-110).  A separation would result in utter chaos, preventing God from operating in an orderly manner as is represented throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  For Aquinas, what may be perceived from the outside as chaos is not chaos but is perfect order and alignment with what is communicated in the Scriptures.  When comparing how Aquinas characterizes God in Treatise on the Trinity, it becomes evident how Aquinas could not have come to his conclusions based solely on his own reason but on the Bible alone.  Therefore, any argument about the character of God that is not based solely on the Bible is futile at best.        

What God Says about Himself

It is crucial to note that a triune God is not a multiplicity of gods.  As previously noted, if God were a multiplicity, He would be contradicting His own commandment to worship only Him.  The unity of the Trinity is what makes God so gloriously incomprehensible: that He, existing in three distinct and eternal persons, would exist in one unity so that He is singularly worshiped by His people and the whole of creation.  Certainly, the God of the Bible is unified and singular, though He exists in three distinct persons.  In this three-in-oneness, God equips and sends out His people to evangelize, commanding them to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).  This commandment is rooted in the presentation of a single name which encompasses three persons.  In the case of discussing Biblical doctrine, grammar is the final say.  Therefore, the usage of the singular “name” from this passage should result in a closed case.  However, this establishment is not present solely in the New Testament.  This crucial Trinity-based command is the fulfillment of the Old Testament command given to the Israelites in Exodus 20:3, that God would be solely worshiped by everyone everywhere.  The Trinity is for the glory and fame of God.  In this grand communion, the people of God may experience the person of God in three unique ways that individually relate to the three persons of the Trinity.  The Father is experienced in beholding the wonders of creation.  The Son is experienced through the outpouring of love on the cross and victory over death.  The Spirit is experienced in the growth of the heart of the believer, drawing the Christian into a life that is an ever-improving reflection of God.  Tyler Smith reflects on the Trinity by stating:

When we glimpse the beauty of this teaching [of the Trinity]—not in spite of, but because of its rich complexity—its implications stretch before us in ever-widening circles: from the very reason for our existence, to the way we live our lives, to the way we treat one another, and even to the way we relate to other religions and worldviews… Perhaps most precious of all, the doctrine of the Trinity reveals that woven into the very fabric of the universe is the self-giving love of God. (paras. 28-29) 

This life-guiding worldview of the Trinity points humanity back to the loving Creator who so desires His children to know Him that He chooses to reveal Himself in a Triune way.  Such an existence, though far more complex to understand, displays His goodness by relating to creation in different and unique ways.

Simultaneously, as the Trinity is for the glory of God, the Trinity is also for the good of Christians.  2 Corinthians 1:21-22 states: “Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge [of His faithfulness (see also verse 18)]” (NASB).  Christians have a solidified foundation in Christ, are anointed in that faith by God, and are sealed in the walking of that faith by the gift of the indwelling of the Spirit.  The three-in-one unity propels the Christian forward in unity within the church, allowing the Christian to live a life that is focused on the eternal, knowing that the divine and incomprehensible character of God is a sufficient seal for such a promise that this life is not the end.  This unity that is experienced and enjoyed by the church, though not untouched by human failures, is a perfect reflection of the unity that is present in the Trinity.  Christians within the church are able to move forward to one goal, the glory of God, through the studying and teaching of the Scriptures.  In the study of the Scriptures, the Christians is educated to know God more and equipped to experience Him more fully.  In teaching the Scriptures, the Christian is edified in the continuing education and exhorted in the continuation of the command that Jesus gave in Matthew 28.  Furthermore, in this Tri-unity, the believer is forged into reflections of Jesus the Son Himself, and this process of being made holy uniquely allows the Christian to further enjoy God and glorify Him more.  After all, “man’s chief end is to glorify God… and enjoy him for ever” (“Westminster” Q1.A1).  If God was reduced to the simple level of what He created, He would not be worthy of worshiping because He would be merey equated to a product of creation as well.  If this leveling were the case, experiencing Him would not be as wondrous as what is presented in the Bible.  Rather, since God is a Trinity, He may be experienced beyond a physical level as that of creation, benefiting the life of the Christian in countless ways.  Further, the Trinity is indicative of God’s ability to faithfully fulfill His promises to His people.  This faithfulness can be seen in Luke 1:35 when the angel Gabriel came to Mary, telling her about the coming of the baby Jesus: “The angel answered and said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High [the Father] will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child [the Son] shall be called the Son of God’” (NASB). The promise of God coming in the flesh is the equipment that the church needs to be able to carry out all of the unity in and enjoyment of God Himself.

Since the time of Aquinas, there has been much dispute within the church regarding the necessity of the doctrine of the Trinity.  While some have misinterpreted its divine characteristics, many have denied its importance altogether.  However, the Apostle Paul, in writing the book of Ephesians would strongly disagree, saying, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord [Jesus], one faith, one baptism, one God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (4:4-6).  Without the Trinity, Christianity would not exist because it would have no foundation in spreading.  A loving God who displays His love through His three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is active in the lives of all Christians to unify them in Him and enable them to live temporal lives that are focused on and encouraged by the eternal.  The doctrine of the Trinity is the doctrine of the Gospel; one cannot remove one without destroying the other.  In his article “Is the Trinity Biblical?”, Keith A. Mathison identifies the doctrine of the Trinity as a Biblical basis of concision: that there is only one God; that the Father is God; that the Son is God; that the Holy Spirit is God; and that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinguished (5-6).  Interestingly, the doctrine of the Trinity caused such an uproar in the early church that they deemed it necessary to create a statement about what the Bible teaches about the Trinity.  The Nicene Creed was birthed to defend the characteristics which are essential to communicating how God is represented as Triune in Scripture, thus laying to rest some arising heresies which were destroying unity within the Church (Fesko 24).  In criticizing even one element of the Trinity, by simply denying that the Holy Spirit is fully and equally God, sends a domino effect throughout all of Scripture.  Therefore, the doctrine of the Trinity is necessary for the function of the Christian life, fueling the relationship between mankind and God Himself.  Because of the overwhelming proof of the existence of the Trinity present throughout all of Scripture, saturated in the Old Testament and the New Testament, Mathison’s answer to the question of whether the doctrine of the Trinity is biblical is fitting: “Without a doubt” (7).      

What Others Say about what Aquinas Says (or Commentary)

In his article “Aquinas on the Trinity,” Herbert McCabe’s primary opposition to Aquinas’ writings on the Trinity is his reliance upon abstractness.  He often notes Aquinas’ assumption that his reader is familiar with the grandiose theological vocabulary used in Treatise on the Trinity, but McCabe himself does not believe that all of Aquinas’ readers even agree with his outlined oppositions.  McCabe’s frustration is Aquinas’ acknowledgement that a Trinitarian doctrine does not logically make sense (538).  Further, where Aquinas argues for a wonderfully mysterious yet practically known view of God, McCabe seems to believe that God is far more tangibly known to humankind.  However, this belief—that God is easily known because God is creation—is exactly what Aquinas attempts to eliminate in his writings.  Where Aquinas argues that God is distinct from creation because of His existence that was without beginning (Psalm 102:24-25; 1 Timothy 1:17), McCabe asserts that God is understandable because of what is readily known about creatures, leading to the suggestion that God Himself is a created being (537-538).  If this is the case, then there is no need for a Trinitarian understanding of God.  In fact, there would be no need for a god who is not powerful enough to be so beyond the bounds of time that he is capable of aiding his children, and McCabe readily notes this failing of logic (541).  Alas, such a weak god is not the God of the Bible.  He has made Himself readily known throughout Scripture, proving to be a simultaneously loving and wrathful God, and once one attempts to think about God outside of the bounds of Scripture, such logic only proves baffling.  McCabe’s concluding argument against Aquinas is the idea that a three-in-one God must mean that within God is contained three uniquely individual “knowledges” (556).  However, this notion must not be based on relations but on person.  The Trinity is not, as seen clearly in Scripture, based in a three-personness, and Aquinas is prepared to thoroughly answer this opposition. 

As if anticipating the rejection of the notion of God, Aquinas writes: 

Reason is employed… not as furnishing sufficient proof of a principle, but as confirming an already established principle, by showing the congruity of its results, as in astrology the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is considered as established, because thereby the sensible appearances of the heavenly movements can be explained… (122)

The basis for Aquinas’ rebuttal is likely based on Romans 1:20 which states that creation is sufficient evidence for the glory of God, denying the notion that creation itself contains God.  McCabe’s conclusion is the questioning of the usage of the word “God.”  He writes: “…[A]ll this argument is based not on any knowledge or understanding that we have a God; it is simply what we are compelled to say if we are to use the word ‘God’ correctly…” (542).  It must be concluded, then, that McCabe’s questioning is not simply focused on the Trinity; rather, his questioning is largely focused on the dependability of God.  

Conversely, Steven J. Duby’s “Trinity and Economy in Thomas Aquinas” is in full agreement with Aquinas’ Trinitarian works.  He simplifies and summarizes the characteristics of a monotheistic Triune God, specifically addressing the “notion” of God, or the idea that God can be fully understood and comprehended by the human mind (para. 6).  For Duby, as well as the historic orthodox church which held to specific doctrinal beliefs as based solely on the Bible, understanding God through these four relations does not humanize Him, but it does allow the human mind to comprehend His characteristics in a more well-rounded way.  Further, he defends the widely-held monotheistic view of a Triune God, stating:

To connect [these relations] at a very general level to contemporary debates about the distinctions among the divine persons, it is worth noting that Thomas [Aquinas] does not envision any faculties (intellect, will) or inhering features that might distinguish the persons, only their relations to one another. (para. 7)

Contrary to McCabe’s position, Duby’s position is that possessing a notion of God does not level Him with creation, as such a view cannot withstand the test of Scripture (Revelation 4:11).  Rather, the God of the Bible commonly reveals Himself through creation (Romans 1:20) and through His Word (2 Timothy 3:16) while simultaneously remaining distinct from His created beings (Isaiah 40:25-26).   

Conclusion 

Aquinas’ understanding of the Trinity has rightly been upheld for centuries past because of its ability to pass the test of Scripture.  In fact, instead of simply surviving under the test of Scripture, Aquinas’ Trinitarian doctrine is bound by Scripture, succeeding within it.  For the Christian, the cruciality of understanding the Trinity is based upon the cruciality of understanding the Bible.  However, despite the adoption of the Nicene Creed and historic churches testing and then readily accepting Aquinas’ findings, opponents to Aquinian Trinity doctrine continue to arise.  McCabes article “Aquinas on the Trinity” questions not only Aquinas’ stance on the incomprehensible but also a Biblical stance of God.  His issues lie in accepting abstractness.  However, after thoroughly examining the Scriptures, it is not only necessary for the Christian to embrace God’s abstract character, but it is also good for the Christian to embrace the incomprehensible.  The revelation of God’s triune character through creation, the Old Testament, the New Testament, and beyond is evident throughout the summation of Scripture.  Incontestably, the doctrine of the Trinity is good, necessary, and true.  

Works Cited

Aquinas, Thomas.  Treatise on the Trinity.  Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, John Laney, 2017.

Duby, Steven J.  “Trinity and Economy in Thomas Aquinas.”  The Southern Baptist Journal of  Theology, vol. 21, no. 2, 2017, pp. 29-51, https://equip.sbts.edu/publications/journals/journal-of-theology/trinity-economy-thomas-aquinas/, accessed 21 January 2020.

Fesko, J.V.  “The New Adventures of Old Trinitarian Heresies.”  Tabletalk, Dec. 2019, pp. 23-25.

Mathison, Keith A.  “Is the Trinity Biblical?”  Tabletalk, Dec. 2019, pp. 5-7.

McCabe, Herbert.  “Aquinas on the Trinity.”  Angelicum, vol. 78, no. 4, 2001, pp. 535-557. 

OED Online. Oxford University Press, February 2020. Web. 28 February 2020.

Smith, Tyler.  “5 Ways the Doctrine of the Trinity Is Surprisingly Practical.”  LogosTalk. https://blog.logos.com/2016/03/5-ways-the-doctrine-of-the-trinity-is-surprisinglypractical/.  Accessed 28 February 2020.

The Bible.  The New American Standard Bible, Zondervan, 1995.

“Theopneustos.”  Blue Letter Bible. https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G2315&t=NASB

“The Westminster Shorter Catechism.”  The Westminster Presbyterian. http://www.westminsterconfession.org/confessional-standards/the-westminstershorter-catechism.php

 

In Physical Isolation, Do Not Become Spiritually Quarantined

I’m a naturally worrisome person, and the COVID-19 pandemic is not helping.  I am in daily need of repenting for my inclinations to anxiety, often convicted by Philippians 4:6: “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be make known to God” (ESV).  Since last Thursday when my university’s president suspended in-person classes for the rest of the semester, it has been far too easy to slide in and out of fear.  Countless churches cancelled their services yesterday, and today, I woke up to the news that the CDC’s new recommendation is to refrain from gathering in groups larger than 25 people.  It has become even more easy to worry about tomorrow.  Physical quarantine is something that is scary to me (even though I am most certainly introverted), and I know it is also scary for countless others.  So how do we as Christians walk through a difficult and unsure time with great hope and uncertainty?

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By Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Hope with an Object

Q: What is your only comfort in life and death?

A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 1.1)

You cannot have hope apart from Christ.  Looking to the systems of this world–the president, governors, leaders, or even the CDC–will only lead to more uncertainty.  The Lord’s faithfulness to His children is unwavering, even in the midst of a storm.  In Matthew 6:31-33, Jesus says:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (ESV)

If worrying cannot add a single hour to my life, what is the point?  My worry is not glorifying to Christ.  If you are in Christ, there is no need for fear.  Christ is the object of our hope, and we are hid in His steadfast love.  The Father has promised to provide for all our needs.  Who are we to worry as the rest of the world panics?

I am incapable of bringing peace to my own soul.  That peace is only something that can be brought about by the good work of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22), so let us not trick ourselves into thinking that we can enter in to some spiritual distancing that is entirely removed from the serious situation at hand.  We have not been called to disengage; we have simply been called to trust.  But this trust is something for which I have to continually beg the Lord to give me.  He has promised to provide all of my needs, and in a time where I am not fully able of providing for my own needs like I am used to, I have to be content in trusting that He is faithful, no matter what storms the world may bring.

A Promise for Good

While we have been promised that God works all things for the good of His children in Romans 8:28, this “good” is not the good that the world seeks.  This good is our sanctification.  He has promised that He will hold fast His children, constantly forging them into the image of His precious Son who is our example.  Do not fail to take advantage of this unique time, where the Lord has given us newfound opportunities to seek His face.  This process of sanctification is rarely easy, but He has promised to accomplish this good. Within this process of sanctification, He has not promised to give us unceasing comfort.  He has simply promised that He will remain: faithful, unchanging.

Do not fall for the tricks of cultural Christianity, which says that God has promised to heal you, help you recover from this time of economic disaster, and give you renewed purpose.  Your only purpose, both in this life and the next, is to bring unceasing glory to our Great King.  Take full advantage of this opportunity to point others back to Him.  Rejoice in the good works that He is doing in making His people more holy.

Do Not Give In to Spiritual Quarantine

Do not fall into an inescapable hole of Netflix, Hulu, or Disney+.  Do not waste the extra time you have been given, but take it captive.  Spend extra time in prayer, but not only for the situation at hand.  Pray for your family, the lost in your life, your spiritual growth, wisdom in the days ahead.  Pray that you would love Jesus more, trust Him more, and glorify Him more.

As churches are continuing to cancel services, don’t simply watch the livestream and then call it good.  The Lord has ordained and provided fellowship within the Body of believers for a reason.  That constant exhortation and encouragement that exists in the church is a good gift; do not forsake it.  Technology is certainly a wonderful thing.  Make good use of it by remaining in fellowship.

Challenge yourself in your study of the Bible.  Pick a difficult doctrine (the Trinity, predestination and its caveats, eschatology, the Holy Spirit, etc.), and make it your project during during quarantine.  Pray through Scripture.  Beg the Lord to teach you more about Himself through His Word.

Listen to sermons.  Please, listen to good sermons.  The iOS/Android app “RefNet” plays solid sermons almost 24/7.  Do not listen to Steven Furtick or Chris Hodges or the like.  Man’s words are futile, and their futility is especially evident during such a difficult time.  Only the truth found in the Word of God can bring about comfort.  If you are in search of good podcasts, theological resources, or other good sermons, please reach out!

Other Practical Advice

Do not over-consume media.  Facebook, Twitter, and other news outlets are flooded with constant mentions of COVID-19.  Continuing to saturate your life with statistics, symptoms, new cases, and new closures will only give you the continued temptation to give in to worry.  Contrary to what you may think, you don’t actually need to know every fact about the virus there is to know.  You don’t need to monitor the stock market or current economic situation.  Delete social media if that is leading you into the sin of worry.  Watch your local evening news broadcast, and limit yourself to just that.  Or do something similar.  Yes, Jesus is coming soon, but He always has been.  Be diligent to share the Gospel always.

“Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care
Is round me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all.”

-“What E’er My God Ordains is Right,” traditional hymn

Creeping In: America’s Most-Consumed Version of Christianity Is Also Its Most Dangerous

Appropriately (and perhaps providentially), I have spent the last month and a half studying through the book of Jude.  When my dad suggested that I go through the book after finishing a stint in 1 Thessalonians, I gladly accepted the challenge.  The entire book is 25 verses; how meaty could it be?  I have been overwhelmed by just how much meat Jude packs into such a seemingly underwhelming package.  Jude deals with two main concerns.  First, he addresses “certain persons [who] have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 1:4), and he goes on to warn the believers about the dangers that these people who disregard the Holy Spirit and embrace the lusts of the flesh can bring into an unsuspecting Body.  Second, he exhorts the believers to be warned by those before them in the Old Testament: to take heed of God’s righteous judgement and to guard themselves from falling into the same sin.  Really, it’s a jam-packed book, and I would definitely recommend challenging yourself to dig into it and wade through the difficult issues with which Jude deals.

Those men who crept into the church to which Jude was writing were unable to let go of the desires of the flesh—their previous pagan practices—in order to fully trust in Christ.  They pursued things unnatural and ungodly in order to meet their desires, and, in doing so, brought about a lot of spiritual damage to God’s children.  This combining of a religion (in this case, Christianity) with other religious and/or pagan practices is known as syncretism.  Got Questions has a fantastic definition article on the subject (that you can read by clicking here):

“[R]eligious syncretism can be seen in such religious systems as the New Age, Hinduism, Unitarianism, and Christian Science. These religions are a blending of multiple different belief systems, and are continually evolving as the philosophies of mankind rise and fall in popularity.  Therein lies the problem, for syncretism relies on the whim of man, not the standard of Scripture.”

However, religious syncretism is by no means limited to these sects of which you may or may not have heard.  Religious syncretism has ultimately invaded Christianity in America like a disease.   The most direct, flat-out example of this that I have recently delved into is Bethel.  Bethel is a non-denominational megachurch based in Redding, California.  They are most well known for their music ministry, but they also have a school (Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry) that is in Redding.  The extent of my knowledge of Bethel was, until recently, the questionably over-spiritualized content of their music and the counter-Biblical message clips that I’ve seen of Bill Johnson, the senior pastor, floating around the internet and in the fantastic documentary, The American Gospel.

Maybe you are completely unfamiliar with the heart of Bethel’s teachings and just enjoy their music.  If you are consuming anything coming from the doors of Bethel, you should run away as quickly as possible.

I was recently made aware of a three-part podcast series by Cultish, a wonderfully educational podcast put out by Apologia Studios, called “Defecting from Bethel.”  Through the podcast, I was made aware of countless serious issues with Bethel, and specifically, I was pointed to an article directly from the website of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry (BSSM) called “Are You More Religious Than Jesus?”  The article is about a couple of students from BSSM who set up a tent at a psychic fair to provide people with psychic readings, dream interpretations, and healings in the name of a spirit whom they called “the spirit of creation.”  As loud sirens sound in the background, I must alert you that this is textbook syncretism.  The author goes on to tell his readers about how he is more religious than Jesus because he thought the Holy Spirit would be offended by what they were doing at the psychic fair, but when the Holy Spirit directly told him that He was not offended, the author came to the conclusion that his religious standards were way higher and more traditional than his god.  (Yes, the usage of the “little g” god is imperative here.)

Deuteronomy 18:10-14 gives us very clear warnings about those who dabble in witchcraft, no matter whose name in which it is performed:

10 There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, one who uses divination, one who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, 11 or one who casts a spell, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to the LORD; and because of these detestable things the LORD your God will drive them out before you. 13 You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. 14 For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. (NASB)

The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit will never lead in a way that is contradictory to the Word of God.  The spirit which spoke to the BSSM student in the article was not the Spirit of the Lord.  God is absolutely offended by what these people did in His holy Name, burning in righteous indignation, just as His Word tells us in Deuteronomy.

So Audrey, you ask, I’m just listening to Bethel’s music, not buying in to their heretical teachings.  What’s the big deal?  It’s a really big deal.

Any time that you stream a Bethel song or sing a Bethel congregational song at church, you are (though, perhaps, inadvertently) leading others to movements that are contrary to the Word.  Theology drives doxology.  John 4: 23-24 says,

But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (NASB).

If our worship has what we believe to be the Spirit but is not saturated with truth, it is not true worship.  Throughout the New Testament, we see countless examples of God not accepting sacrifices or offerings because His people offered those things in a way that was disobedient to what He commanded.  How dare we worship God in a way that is pleasing to us; He has laid out in His Word how He is to be worshiped.  Creating with our own imaginations worship experiences is foolishness; creating worship experiences that are linked to other false religions or pagan practices is condemning.

The teachings of Bethel are not even remotely Christian.  They are directly offensive to God.  Sisters, do not continue to support Bethel.  Do not point others to their music; do not post their lyrics on Facebook; do not stream old favorites on Spotify.  Doing so financially supports their ministry and can lead other professing Christians to fall into false teaching.

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Unsplash x Aaron Burden

The Gospel is not about healing, fulfilling personal destiny, or even having a supernaturally motivated relationship with God.  The Gospel is about coming to die (Luke 9:23, John 12:24).  Repent of your sins, repent of clinging to teachings of the world, and trust in Christ as Ruler and Savior.  In His death, Christ absorbed all of the wrath of the Father for those who will trust in His sacrifice.  His death and resurrection is sufficient for paying for our sins, and because of His holy blood, those who trust in Him no longer have to fear the judgement of the Father.  However, all of those who refuse to repent and believe will face God and experience the fullness of His wrath.  This Gospel is far more costly than the false message perpetuated by Bethel, but it is also eternally more valuable.  It is worth dying for; it is worth giving up my entire life.  If you have any questions about the Gospel, please email me directly at audtaycar@gmail.com.  I would absolutely love to have a conversation with you.

Release your hold on music by Bethel, Hillsong, Jesus Culture, and the like.  We must be passionate about worshiping God in spirit and in truth as we have been commanded.  We must be obedient in worship.  If worship is all about God, we cannot form it into our own image by shaping it according to our own desires.

If you’re having a tricky time finding good, worshipful music that is Biblically sound, check out my Resources page or send me an email.  If you have any questions or want to further the discussion, please contact me, and I would love to talk more with you.

The Pursuit of Happiness

It would be an understatement for me to simply say a lot has happened since my last post.  I started my senior year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville pursuing a bachelor’s degree in secondary education, focusing on English language Arts.  I’ve poured so much of the last four-plus years of my life into this career path, and I was excited to get back into the swing of things and re-find my routine that comes along with a new school year.  Less than two weeks into the semester, as I was sitting in one of my classes, it hit me.  And I decided to change my major.

Since then, life has been a whirlwind.  I’ve had to shift my entire way of thinking along with the realization that I will never be in a public high school classroom.  I have to re-figure out what I want to do after finishing undergrad and before starting grad school.  It’s exciting, stressful, and so freeing.

But I didn’t change my major because I wasn’t happy and wanted to be happy.

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Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

I’ve searched for happiness and contentment in everything possible.  I’ve tried placing my identity in different aspects of my life: my major, my art, my sense of style, my grades, my boyfriend.  The list goes on and on.

Finally, a couple months ago, the Lord brought me to the place where I realized that none of these things can ever fulfill me and give me ultimate and unlimited happiness for which I continually long.  Ultimately, searching for my identity in anything other than Christ is a form of idolatry, and this is among the most dangerous kind.  We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with the idea that we should be the central pursuit in our own lives.  We are told that everything that we do, every single decision we make, should be made in the pursuit of happiness.  We search and search, but nothing works.  Only Christ in us can bring us contentment, and in fact, happiness is an actual fruit of the Spirit.  It is the result of Christ at work within us and without us, drawing us closer to the Father and making us more like Him and love Him more.  When, by His grace, He becomes the sole pursuit of our life, happiness and so much more will overflow and become evident to ourselves and to others.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB)

However, make no mistake: this happiness is is not what we think it is.  It isn’t always loving your life, having no struggles with sin or anything else, or everything going according to plan.  Biblical happiness means laying down my desires and stepping back from trying to take control of my life.  Biblical happiness means realizing that God is good and sovereign, and I have to trust Him in that.

In Colossians 2, Paul simply exhorts us to walk.

6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. (NASB)

Christ is our firm rooting Who holds us fast as the Spirit builds us up and establishes us in the Father, but we can’t ignore the “as you were instructed” part.  We have been given the incredible privilege of having the Word printed in words that we can read for ourselves, and we take that for granted.  We must daily walk in Him, and this cannot be separated from spending time in the Word—studying it, meditating on it—and in prayer.

How do I move forward in the realization that this life I am living is not my own?  No matter what happens when I graduate in less than 11 months, no matter how the Lord continues to make drastic changes in my life or keeps me on a predictable path, He is in control, and in that, I can fully rest.

 

“And Jesus Still Loves Me”

You know Alabama Hannah.  Even if you have never seen a single episode of The Bachelorette (like me) and live in the South, you still cannot escape her presence in the media and even in generic conversations.  Who is she?  She’s the current face of American Evangelicalism.  Long story short, Hannah openly confessed immorality within her role on the show and followed up her confession by boldly stating “and Jesus still loves me.”  What do we do with this?

Addressing Sin

Sin is the root of our heart problem.  It is the thing that ruthlessly separates us from the true, loving, Triune God.  It eats away at our core, and we love it, like a dog returning to its own vomit.  Addressing the sin problem that we see in our own hearts is a necessity, but sometimes we don’t always see the problem for what it is.  This is feeling like someone is doing you wrong, when really the problem is clinging to your own pride (been there).  This is clinging on to the thing that you think makes you happy while turning a blind eye to what it is doing to your personal walk with the Lord (been there, too).  Sin takes so many forms, but it always starts in the heart.  This means that addressing our own sin must begin in the heart.

In Ezekiel 36:26, the Lord promises to give His children a new heart.  This heart does not desire the things of the flesh—immorality, greed, pridefulness, anger, jealousy, and so on—but it desires the things of the Spirit: self-control, love, joy, peace, patience.  These things are not natural desires for the flesh; they can only come by the working of the Holy Spirit.

While these new desires cannot come apart from the working of the Spirit in a new heart, we are also commanded to live in this way.  In Romans 12:2, Paul exhorts the believers by stating,

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable, and perfect.”

A misunderstanding of the concept of sin is a misunderstanding of the Gospel.

What is the Gospel?

The Gospel is good news.

The bad news is this: we are utterly dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1), walking in continual separation from God since before birth (Psalm 51:5).  God has clearly given us His standard of perfection through the Law and has commanded that we be holy (Leviticus 11:44), yet we are entirely incapable of meeting His demands (Romans 3:23).

Predestined before the beginning of time, the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14).  He who was fully God and fully man died and was raised again.  His death is the atonement and His resurrection the victory for those who obey the command to repent and trust in Him (Acts 16:30-31).

Salvation is not by works of the Law, but it is only by grace through faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Only Christ can satisfy the Father’s righteous requirement; nothing that we do can bring us one inch closer to the Father.  Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us on the basis of His own perfection.  He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5), and the Spirit dwelling in the transformed heart of the believer intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26).

The assurance of the Gospel is that those who have repented and trust in Christ will dwell eternally in the presence of God (John 3:16), sharing in Christ’s inheritance as sons of the promise (Hebrews 9:15).  Heaven is not simply the absence of earthly struggles; it is the presence of God and the promise that we will worship and enjoy Him in His holiness forever.

What I’m Not

I am by no means perfect, nor am I claiming to be perfect.  And I will not arrive at perfection until I am in the presence of my Savior.  However, as a Christian, I must obey the command on my life to strive to live in a way that is obedient to the Word of God, daily denying the desires of the flesh and walking toward the calling of holiness.  In doing so, I trust that I will one day attain the fulness of sanctification in the presence of my Savior.

I am also not attacking Alabama Hannah.  I don’t know her, nor have I ever met her, but the moment she mentioned Christianity on TV was the moment that she put Christianity on the line: would she honor Truth, or would she look like the world?

I am concerned with the disregarding attitude toward sinfulness that I see as a result of Hannah’s Bachelorette stint.  I have lamented over seeing many professing believers applauding her boldness, affirming her lifestyle of sin while silently continuing on in personal unrepentant sin.  Certainly, I often fall into sin, but sisters, how dare we ignore the calling of the Holy Spirit, refusing to let Him break us and bring us back to the Father, returning tearfully to Him.

We must not turn a blind eye.  We must not continue in sin.  And we must pray for brothers and sisters who have and are.

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Photo by Jared Murray via Unsplash

What I’m Called to Be

We are called to run from sin.  We clearly see the command in 1 Corinthians 6:18-20:

Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

We are not our own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ (Heidelberg 1.1).  As we have been bought with the price of blood, let us live by it.  How dare we live any other way.  How dare we flaunt the blood of Christ as meaningless.

We are called to live holy lives.  Rejecting Christ’s sanctifying work in us is also rejecting God the Father.  1 Thessalonians 4:3, 7-8 lays out God’s will for us in this:

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.  So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who give His Holy Spirit to you.”

We are also called to walk according to the Spirit (Romans 8), and we must actively put to death the deeds of the body (verse 13).  The warning is clear: the kingdom of heaven is very near, and we must repent (Matthew 3:2).

In Luke 5:31-32, Jesus Himself calls people to repentance, and Paul reminds us in Romans 6 that, just because we are under the Law of Grace, we should not continue in sin so that grace may increase (verse 1).  This can be a slippery slope; how do I continue in my fight against sin without abusing the Father’s abundant grace?  Our best defense is the Word of God.  It alone is the source of all Truth.   

Our continual fight with sin in this life is no reflection of the endurance of the Father’s love for us, but walking in open unrepentance gives fellow believers reason to question whether we still love Jesus.  Our inward love for Him is marked by our outwardly obedience to His commandments (John 14:21).

Let us strive to love Jesus more and strive to walk in more obedience to Him.  Let us pray that we may love His commandments, not because our own acts are capable of saving us, but because we have been given the desire to be more like our precious Savior.  He is infinitely worth far more than anything our flesh thinks can make us happy.

Alabama Hannah, I am praying that you see the infinite value of the love of the Father.  I am praying that I may daily see more of its infinite value, too.

Is Jesus My Joy?

Fade, fade each earthly joy
Jesus is mine
Stronger than fleeting hopes
Jesus is mine
Dark is the wilderness
Earth has no resting place
Jesus alone can bless
Jesus is mine

—”Jesus Is Mine,” Matt Merker

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There are two weeks and one day left in this semester, and I have no less than tooth-and-nail struggled.  It has by far been the hardest semester all of my life for multiple reasons.  In the midst of this struggle, I have neglected to fully cling to Christ.

Four years ago I began blogging.  Somehow, by the grace of God, my heart has changed so much since then.  Looking back on the things I’ve written and posted and even some of the things I’ve written and didn’t post, I’ve realized that my life, too, looks very different right now than I thought it would look like four years ago.  I never pictured myself at a university close to home, in a long-distance relationship, or studying education.

As each new day goes by, I must ruthlessly fight any discontentment I see beginning to break soil in my heart.  I have so often dwelt on what I would change, where I would rather be, or how much better my life would be if my schedule was more open.  Ultimately, my fight against this unrest has been futile.  I have found myself, every day, indirectly begging God to go against what is clearly His will for my life and change something.  If I was there, my life would be better.  If I was at this school, my life would be easier.  If I could just graduate, I could relax.  But when I’m there, when I graduate, I’ll want to be over there, I’ll want to be doing that, and I’ll probably wish I was back in college.  I cannot conjure contentment, but I have strove to create any idealistic reality that I could posses the possibility of grasping.  The world actively tells me to find happiness, choose joy, and create inner peace.  The reality is that these are unfair expectations.  Apart from Christ, I will never be happy, never experience joy, and never find peace.  I cannot. Therefore, Jesus must be my joy.  But is He?

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;” Galatians 5:22-23a, NASB

While these aspirations are unfair, unrealistic worldly standards, as believers, we are called to actively dwell in these in the power of the cross.  It is impossible to experience any of these things apart from Christ; we are enabled to live in them with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joy, peace, and patience should be a part of my everyday life.  Gentleness should be my character.  Self-control should be evident in my words and actions.  Because of this, I’ve had to pull a John Crist and check my heart.  I have so desperately been grasping for satisfaction from the things the world tells me I need to live a happy life.  If Christ is my life (Philippians 1:21), it is contradictory for me to look for fulfillment in the world.

The paradox of Christianity is that we are called to come and die and live (Matthew 16:25).  The question I am left to ask myself is this: Is Jesus my joy?  Am I looking to Him as He holds me fast?  When all else fails, He still remains.

I don’t have this figured out.  No matter how much my heart knows that Christ has won me, my head still looks at this world’s offerings with a sense of longing.  The only thing I can do is turn to the Father in His Word to cling fast to His commands and ask for His help through prayer.  One day, not too long ago, I thought this season of my life would satisfy me.  Now, I find myself seeking satisfaction in the promise of the next season.  The only tangible promises I have are found in the Word.  Jesus is mine.

Recounting and Rejoicing in Grace

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:4-7, NASB

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A lot has happened in the six months since my last blog post.  I graduated community college, moved out of my childhood home, and began a new and precious season of my life, living nearby UAH as a full-time student.  I sat down the other day and read back through my last post, “Waiting: God-Given Patience and Sovereign Provision.”  That was almost a surreal experience because I have seen the things I wrote about play out and continue to play out in my life.  In no way have I mastered the art of being patient, but by God’s grace, I have come to understand that it is given by His hand, and He always sovereignly provides it when His children need it.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I tend to find myself writing about the things that I am presently learning, but sometimes it’s nice to take a step back and rejoice in the things the Lord has accomplished in my life.  Before moving out, I had no idea that this time in my life would be one of the sweetest seasons.  What I thought could potentially be filled with loneliness and isolation has turned into a time of both building relationships as well as reflecting in solace.  I need both of those things in order to serve the Lord well.  I tend to be better at one (solace) than the other (being social), but by His grace, He is allowing me to grow and know and love Him more in all things.  When I initially committed to UAH, I didn’t know exactly how the Lord would use my being so close to home.  I am still learning, but His mercies are new every morning.

My biggest prayer in this season of my life has been for “joyful obedience.”  More times than not, I am grudgingly obedient.  What does joyful obedience look like?  In the time I was praying about which university to attend, I learned that God is always faithful, and it is for the sake of His eternal glory and my earthly happiness if I can rejoice in being obedient.  As I look back through the last year, I have certainly walked through a lot — more than what I ever thought I would walk through — but I can recount the Lord’s goodness and see the ways in which He is bearing fruit in my life and teaching me more about His character.  By His grace, He is constantly teaching me that He can be trusted, but in the valleys and on the peaks, I must rejoice in His grace.

In Philippians, Paul commands the believers to rejoice in the Lord continually.  We must not take Paul’s advice lightly; rejoicing in the Lord is part of the peace of God that He gives as Paul mentions in verse 7.  In my own life, this looks like being aware of what the Lord has done and is doing in my life, not for my sake but for His own.  This looks like rejoicing in seasons of waiting, rejoicing in God-given contentment, rejoicing in relationships and fellowship, and rejoicing in trials, knowing that He will hold me fast.  Whatever this looks like in your life, you need to be about the business of rejoicing.  I often forget about the necessity that rejoicing functions in my spiritual life, but recounting God’s grace can be one of the most tangible ways the Lord encourages us.

Waiting: God-Given Patience and Sovereign Provision

If you have been hanging around long enough, you know the thing I most enjoy writing about is what the Lord is presently teaching me.  This year has been and will continue to be the most transitional in my life thus far.  By His grace, the Lord showing me the value of waiting.  Here’s what that has looked like.

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I am not the most patient person, and I revel in the illusion that I have my life under control.  Graduating community college this May, I felt like I needed to have my next step completely planned before the turn of the new year.  When I was in middle school, high school, and in the early parts of my college education, I naturally assumed I would go to one particular school (Auburn).  It was what I had always wanted to do, so I thought the Lord was providing in my desire.

After relentlessly pursuing Auburn, accompanied by two years of consistent prayer, the Lord made it evident through numerous circumstances that He was, in fact, not leading me there.  I felt like my life was crumbling around me, and it became very difficult for me to trust the sovereignty of God.  Why was He not putting me where I had always longed to be?

I had toured every other school within reasonable driving distance from home — all except one: UAH.  The truth is, I was scared to tour UAH because I knew as soon as I stepped foot on campus, the Lord would make it unmistakably clear that that was where He wants me even though I did not want to be there at the time.  It didn’t fit the model that I had wanted my life to imitate.  Night after night, I cried out to God in prayer, begging Him to make His will known.  I would ask Him to make His plan so clear that I couldn’t miss it if I tried.  In reality, I already knew what the Lord was doing, but I was hoping that maybe He would change His mind and open the door for me to be where I wanted to be.

After a few more weeks of attempting to walk in disobedience and arguing disguised as praying, the Lord graciously broke me down.  Though I had pushed back against any form of God-given patience, He had sovereignly provided.  And thankfully, He did this work in my heart before it was too late.

This was in October, and since then, He has continued to show me the importance of relenting to God-given patience.  Not only has He made a way for me to be at UAH, but He has also changed my heart and allowed me to enter this new stage in life with God-given joy.  As much as I want to be a control freak, I can’t; I have to trust that He is going to sovereignly provide in whatever He’s doing.  

After securing my admission and scholarships, it became important for me to secure a place to live.  I started on the housing application but put it off for the sake of wanting to be informed.  By the time I finally sat down to submit it, the dorm was already completely full for the entire year (even though the application period still had a month before it closed!).  Exasperated, I began praying that the Lord would provide.  This time, I also prayed for humility to walk in whatever He was doing.

After pursuing numerous and differing paths for a few weeks, the Lord sovereignly provided a home in a matter of hours.  He has graced my family and me with overwhelming peace that He will always accomplish His will, and I am so excited to see the doors He continues to open at UAH.

Jumping the gun is a dangerous thing.  It leads to so much spiritual unrest, and it makes way for the temptation to walk away from pursuing Christlikeness because you are not actually letting Him take the reins.  This is a good chance for this post to take a left turn and veer towards the social gospel.  However, make no mistake: the Lord always provides for His children, but we like to overlook one little detail.  The Lord always provides for His children according to His will.  Sovereign provision doesn’t always mean bigger and better (in fact, it rarely means bigger and better); sovereign provision always means that He will accomplish His will and make His children look more like His Son in the process.

In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul is exhorting the believers at Thessalonica to walk in purity:

     “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you   received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; …For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”

The goal of waiting is sanctification, not earthly and personal glorification.  He has been and is continuing to be so gracious to me.  Through these things, my prayer has become that I will walk in obedience to His will because I’m not always aware of what He is doing.  But I continue to pray that, in all areas of my life, my eyes would be open, my heart would be obedient, and my life would become more like Christ in the process.

 

The Valley of Vision in a Jesus Calling World

You know Jesus Calling by Sarah Young: the pocket sized “devotions for every day of the year.”  You may even own a copy of the best-selling devotional, planning to use it as you begin your New Year’s resolution to have a better quiet time.  If that is the case, or if you know someone who is planning to do so, I hope this article will be helpful (only if you read until the end).  I know as women, the temptation is often for us to gravitate towards what is easy on the heart: something that is more encouraging and less exhortation.  Challenge yourself to gravitate away from things that are, though easy to stomach, contradictory to the Word of God, and exchange that for something that challenges comfortable Christianity.

I had only encountered second-hand experienced with Jesus Calling through social media, seeing others post their devotional for the day.  I noticed these devotions were strangely extra-biblical.  I did not have a well developed response until I read Tim Challies’ article, “10 Serious Problems with Jesus Calling”  (you can read it here).  However, for the purpose of this article, I will be drawing from Challies’ general review of the book that you can find for yourself here.  I hope that you will deeply consider these things that he has objectively pointed out in his article.

The two major, inexcusable problems I have with Jesus Calling are as follows:

1.  Young claims that the Bible is insufficient.  She states “I knew that God communicated with me through the Bible, but I yearned for more. Increasingly, I wanted to hear what God had to say to me personally on a given day.”  Challies responds to this claim by writing,

James Montgomery Boice once said that the real battle in our times would not be the           inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, but its sufficiency—are we going to rely on the Bible or will we continually long for other revelation? In Jesus Calling we see this so clearly. Young teaches that though the Bible is inerrant and infallible, it is insufficient. It was not enough for her and, implicitly, she teaches that it cannot be enough for us. After all, it was not reading Scripture that proved her most important spiritual discipline, but this listening, this receiving of messages from the Lord. It is not Scripture she brings to us, not primarily anyway, but these messages from Jesus.

Eternally more importantly, let’s look at responses from the Word of God to this kind of claim:

Every word of God is tested;
He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.
Do not add to His words
Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.  (Proverbs 30:5-6, NASB)

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV.  Italics added.)

Adding to the Word is not only a dangerous game, but it is also the endgame.  Claiming to have an additional word from God is heresy.  There is no other word that can be used.

2.  Young presents herself as a prophetess with a new holy text.  I am a English education major.  This past semester in my world literature class, we spent the majority of our classtime discussing what qualified as “holy” texts.  Most of these traditionally “holy” works followed a pattern to develop into religions.  A good example of this would be Mormonism (even though most outsiders now count this as a sect of Christianity).  Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon church, was “guided” by an angel to a new holy text.  Think of other world religions with which you are familiar.  They begin with a prophet claiming to have a “new word” that adds to a previously holy text.  As stated in the numerical bullet above, anything added to the Word is heresy, so that must mean Sarah Young is a heretic.  She suggests readers depend on her for spiritual guidance.  Her devotions never directly reference Scripture, but they indirectly reference Scripture, thus suggesting that her words are equal to the words in the Bible.  She is following the “holy text” pattern I spent the past semester studying.  Young never even claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit (even if she claimed this, we know by looking at Scripture that an additional “word” is not possible.  See the book of Revelation).  She claims to be guided by a mystical emotionalism that frankly, is dangerous for the believer and only hinders spiritual growth.

So, if Jesus Calling is trash, what is a valuable devotional aid?

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I recently acquired a copy of The Valley of Vision.  This is a collection of compiled prayers that were written poem-style by anonymous believers, all of whom are now in Glory.  There is never any extra-biblical claim made in these prayers; they do not even claim to be an aid to the infallible Word of God.  They are merely prayers, written by believers struggling with sin or trusting God or depending on His Word or glorifying Him or obeying Him.  They penned the struggles of their heart into prayers that are meant to encourage and exhort present-day believers.  Their prayers are radical – they pray that the desires of their heart would be to desire holiness, to desire to be in the Word.  They are convicting me of things – why do I not desire such holiness?  After spending time studying a passage, I like to read through a prayer, then praying that my life would reflect such longings and desires.  Next to my Bible, the most valuable resource I own is a copy of The Valley of Vision.  (You can buy your own here).

Bear in mind that The Valley of Vision was never intended to be a replacement for personal time spent in the Word (as Jesus Calling claims to be).  It cannot and should never replace imperative personal time studying the Word.  But instead of resorting to Jesus Calling, my encouragement for 2018 is to spend time in personal prayer, then spend time studying the Word, then spend time reflecting on prayers in Valley.  This is my prayer for myself in the new year.

May the Lord grow us to love Him more in 2018,

Audrey

 

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference

between my receiving and my deservings,

between the state I am now in and my past gracelessness,

between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit,

Who made me to differ, but thee?

for I was no more ready to receive Christ than were others;

I could nt have begun to love thee hadst thou not first loved me,

or been willing unless thou hadst first made me so.

O that such a crown should fit the head of such a sinner…!

Infinite wisdom cast the design of salvation

into the mould of purchase and freedom.

Let wrath deserved be written on the door of hell,

But the free gift of grace on the gate of heaven.

— from “The Mover,” a Valley of Vision prayer

Slowing Down

W O W – these last few weeks have been the craziest of my life.  I have been stretched thin and tugged ten different directions.  I want to pour my heart and time and energy into too many things.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 100 times: I have never been so stressed in my life!  But, this year has been so fantastic.  I have gotten to do things I never thought I would be able to do, and the Lord’s provisional hand has been very evident.

The past month in particular has been a wild rollercoaster ride.  I went back and forth on whether I should write about it or not, but here I am.  So, my sophomore year of college began last month.  Beginning my four-year degree at a community college has been a blessing in so many ways, but sometimes it has made things extra difficult.  The main reason for this is because there is (what I feel like) an added pressure to wrap things up in preparation for entering my program at a university.  Because of my decision to avoid summer classes and keep on truckin’, I am having to take a so-heavy-they-don’t-recommend-it class load in order to complete my associates work in a timely manner and be prepared to graduate with my first degree in May and then be ready to transfer to pursue my bachelor’s in August 2018.  Let’s just say I have never read so much in my entire life.  Ever.

I have also had the opportunity to pursue Dahlia Lettering more than I thought I would be able to within where I am in life.  I’ve been learning new skills (screen printing, anyone?!) and promoting my work more than ever.  I’ve even participated in a couple of vendor shows, which has been crazy fun (but also a boatload of work).  And later next month, I will be participating in a brand new vendor show in downtown Huntsville called Hunt+Gather! But in the midst of all this running, praying, working, and reading, I crashed.  The effects of stress actually made themselves evident within my immune system.  That all started Friday, but I wouldn’t let it slow me down.  I can’t get behind, and I can’t slip.  Until Monday.  One of my friends said to me, “Wow, Audrey.  You look really stressed.”  I  am.  I didn’t know you could tell, though.

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Thankfully, the Lord always seems to provide exactly what we need exactly when we need it.  So yesterday, I was laid up in my room, fighting a cold, but also catching up on homework and catching up on rest.  I wrote something that won’t be graded!  I was able to spend more time in prayer and in the Word than I have in a few weeks.  It was so refreshing, and it’s exactly what I’ve needed.  Sure, the circumstances were not ideal, but I’m grateful.

I don’t subscribe to the personal gospel – “Jesus will fulfill exactly what I want, and He will glorify me and help me be the best I can be.”  The truth found over and over again in Scripture is plain and simple: the purpose of our lives is to glorify God, not “allow Him to glorify us.”  This is a lie of selfishness masked as truth, and this lie has manifested and is now widely celebrated in American Christianity today.  My purpose is not to glorify Audrey, to have a great life, to work towards accomplishing my dreams and goals so that I can have a super great, fun life.  My purpose is to obey my King, to follow His will for my life.  A lot of times, that doesn’t look like what I have always dreamed, but He often reminds me that He opens doors for a reason, and He closes doors for a reason.  Pray with me that I will have the wisdom to walk through those open doors and not be heartbroken by the closed ones, because in the end, it’s not my life to live.

Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised form the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away wth, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.      Romans 6:4-7