Tuesday 7 August
Australian Rikk Watts is the speaker for the morning Bible Teaching at New Horizon this week. Initially an aeronautical engineer, Rikk later worked with IBM while studying philosophy, art history, and sociology at LaTrobe University. He went on to complete two Masters degrees in theology (OT & NT, Gordon Conwell) and a PhD (Cambridge). After 20 years of teaching at Regent College, Vancouver, Rikk and his wife Katie recently returned to Australia where he is the Dean of the School of Theology at Alphacrucis College. Here is a summary of his message from Tuesday morning brought to you by the NH Media Team:
Yesterday we were talking about ways of understanding the Trinity and some of the problems we encounter, especially with the debate over the meaning of the Greek words that are used to describe it. I’m wary of starting with human reason and logic. Humans love to speculate but whenever we do that, we get things wrong. Even the analogies that are used to describe the Trinity are limited because they are based on the created world but God is neither created nor material.
The modern world is not the product of Greek rationality, it is the product of the Gospel. We believe that all people have value not because of reason but because God tells us it is so. Every modern country in the world is basically Christian in its outlook. Even your most radical atheist is profoundly Christian in the way they approach the world.
Israel begins with what they experienced and what their senses observed. You might hear someone tell you, “Don’t let your experience determine your theology.” And yet this is exactly what shaped God’s people in scripture. Go back to the Exodus and see how many times it talks about what the people of Israel say, heard and experienced.
In 1 John – John spoke about what the disciples had seen and heard and touched.
When God says, “I AM who I AM,” He means, “Don’t guess. I am not like other gods. Look, listen and learn because I am a God like any other.”
If God hasn’t spoken, don’t go beyond the text. This doesn’t mean we don’t think. Nowhere will you see Moses or the elders having a symposium to think their way up to Yahweh. We are not the measure of all things – the only One who is, is the “I AM”.
What creates the problems with understanding the Trinity is the clash between the ancient Jewish and the ancient Greek ways of thinking. Israel’s ways of understanding the world was to go back and consider their history – what they experienced, saw and heard. Greek thought is about human reason and rationality, which is in conflict with the Jewish way of thinking.
Human beings have a belief in small numbers. If you throw a dice 10,000 times it is going to be 50/50 but not if you throw it 20 times. So we can come to wrong conclusions because we don’t have sufficient information. Our rationality tricks us. If something sounds reasonable, we believe it is true. But it is only true if you have the evidence.
The stunning thing about the scriptures is that we did not invent God. He is a God unlike any other. We didn’t invent the Trinity – it landed in our laps. Yahweh is not made in our image. He is who He is and thank God for that!
God is not like us! And that is good news.
God – Elohim
In my seminary training, when I took a class in theology the first thing we started with was the doctrine of God but that is not where the Bible begins. Genesis begins with what God creates and makes.
The focus then, having seen God as maker, is on human beings as “makers” in His image even though the relationship with God has been broken. We teach people that knowing God is about description but it is about making, creating and innovating.
Most of us as evangelicals start with good and evil but that is not where the Bible starts. If you only talk in terms of good and evil then what do you do in the real world when some people have only two choices – bad and worse?
The Bible begins with LIFE, with the Creator, with the one who brings form and fullness to that which is empty and formless. The grammar of the Christian story is life. We are not called to be the moral police of the universe. That doesn’t mean we can’t speak into those things but our fundamental calling is to bring LIFE.
The created world is not divine – the ancient world feared created things and thought they were gods e.g. the sun, the storms, etc.. But the Bible tells us you don’t need to fear these things.
Genesis does not say that creation is perfect! It was good but not perfect because perfect doesn’t allow room for change and growth. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians were the most innovative, creative and life-bringing people in the world?
There are no other gods and this is important. God is NOT human. He is NOT created. This is good news. We know He is a person. Even though we don’t have a doctrine about Elohim, we can see what He does. He has made this stunningly, beautiful world. That is the nature of our God – that is what He does
We also know that He is deeply concerned about human beings. We are made in the image of God – we are NOT God but we are meant to reveal something of God on the earth
We did not invent this stuff. We care about scripture and about reading it well. If human beings were designed to be in relationship with God, then the incarnation is not an act of humiliation (the later stages of becoming a servant and going to the cross are humiliating but not the incarnation itself). God says He has made us a little lower than the angels.
Every design choice reflects the designer’s character. That is why it is important to know the character of the Creator.
Unless things are clear in scripture, don’t speculate. God makes things plain that need to be plain.
Yahweh – the LORD
Exodus is central to the Torah. This is where you learn about Yahweh. That is why it is so profound. Moses at the burning bush encountered Yahweh! Here there is a radical shift in Israel’s relationship with God. Moses has a personal encounter. The word “Yahweh” is mentioned 6,000 times in Scripture.
There are two dangers: Conforming God to our rationality and the second is conforming God to our experience.
We need to know God as Yahweh, FIRST and then we can understand Him as Father. Paul says there is one God and Father (Elohim) and one Yahweh, the Lord Jesus Christ.
God reveals Himself as Yahweh – the God of compassion. He has seen the suffering of His people and He has heard their cries. Most people do not describe Christians as people of compassion. Is this what it means to take His name in vain? To say that we are followers of Yahweh and not be a people of compassion? How can we say that we are Christians and not look like Yahweh?
There is an emphasis on God’s presence – “I will be with you.” What is needed in our churches is God’s real, compassionate, merciful presence. We don’t get to do our own thing. The journey of self-discovery will lead you into a vacuum. Yahweh is the one we need to know.
He reveals Himself as, “I AM who I AM” – Don’t guess. The emphasis on Yahweh in Exodus is that the people see God redeeming them, taking them to the promised land, working miracles and defeating their enemies. He is the one who does it. It is not about you and me! There are things that Christians should do but in the end “I AM” is the one who does it. We can take incredible encouragement from that.
If you are worried about what people think of you expressing your love for the Lord when you are among Christians, then you are going to have a problem loving the Lord when you are among people who don’t know Him. It is not about what people think of you!
In the Exodus, Israel met Yahweh (the LORD) and this is the same word that Paul uses for Jesus – the LORD Jesus Christ! Moses’ encounter at the burning bush was different to the encounters that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had with Elohim. This is personal. This is God revealing Himself to Moses by name!
Father / Son / Begotten language
The first person to be called the son of God is Israel Ex 4:22. Nowhere in God’s scriptures does being God’s son make you God.
If you want to talk in the God language – that is Elohim and Yahweh. When God talks in the Father / Son language, He is talking about His creation.
When we talk about Jesus as God don’t use the “Son” language, talk about Him as Yahweh / the LORD.
When you see Jesus as God operating as God’s Son, He is demonstrating the relationship we are supposed to have with our Father. We are called to be God’s children and Jesus perfectly demonstrates what that looks like.
Not like other gods!
When Moses struck the Nile river in Egypt with his staff (a symbol of judgement), the life-giving water turned to blood (a symbol of death).
But in Exodus 17:1 – 7 when the people accused Moses – “Your God is no different to the gods of the Egyptians”- the LORD tells Moses to bring his staff to the rock of Horeb. The LORD stood on the rock and told Moses to smite the rock. Life-giving water came out of the rock. This is the complete opposite to what happened in Egypt. God is saying, “You think that I’m like the gods of Egypt? I am not like those gods. I’m the source of life.”