About the Author
Robert A. Peterson (PhD, Drew University) is a writer and theologian. He taught for many years at various theological seminaries and has written or edited over thirty books.
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Peoria, Illinois. He is also the host of a daily half-hour radio Bible teaching program, Unlimited Grace, and the founder and chairman of Unlimited Grace Media (unlimitedgrace.com). Bryan previously served as the president of Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, and is the author of a number of books, including Holiness by Grace.
Andreas J. Köstenberger (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is the director of the Center for Biblical Studies and research professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a prolific author, distinguished evangelical scholar, and editor of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. He is the founder of Biblical Foundations, a ministry devoted to restoring the biblical foundations of the home and the church. Köstenberger and his wife have four children.
Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. He has written over twenty books and is an editor of the Theologians on the Christian Life series. He also hosts the weekly podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.
Read an Excerpt
The Glory of God Present and Past
STEPHEN J. N ICHOLS
Speaking about God can be daunting. The author of Ecclesiastes sternly warns that we are to keep our words few as we approach God in worship. "God is in heaven," the author declares, "and you are on earth" (Eccles. 5:2). Theologians also are earthbound, and should take care to guard their steps and watch their words. We speak of the transcendent God, a rather humbling truth.
In light of the grandeur and transcendence of God, twentieth-century German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg offers some helpful perspective on the theological task. Pannenberg explains, "Any intelligent attempt to talk about God — talk that is critically aware of its conditions and limitations — must begin and end with confession of the inconceivable majesty of God which transcends all our concepts." Pannenberg is speaking, in glowing terms to be sure, of the distance between us and God, a distance that should be remembered as we begin the work of theology. We need to remember that when we do talk about God, we are entering into the realm of mystery. And we must keep this mystery in view even as we begin the task of theology. Pannenberg notes, the task of theology "must begin with this because the lofty mystery we call God is always close to the speaker and to all creatures, and prior to all our concepts it encloses and sustains all being, so that it is always the supreme condition of all reflection upon it and of all the resultant conceptualization."
Before we start thinking and speaking of God, he is the "supreme condition" that makes any such reflection even possible. God is not only everywhere present as we begin the task of theology, but he is also everywhere present during it. Further, he is also everywhere present at the end or the goal of theology. Consequently, Pannenberg points out that the task of theology "must also end with God's inconceivable majesty because every statement about God, if there is in it any awareness of what is being said, points beyond itself." God is so much bigger than our speaking or thinking of him. God is, in other words, so much bigger than our theology. He is before it, around it, at the end of it, and over it. Speaking and thinking about God can be daunting indeed.
Yet, and Pannenberg concedes this point quickly, no matter how majestic or how transcendent God may be, "it does not follow that we do better to be silent about God than to speak about him." Rather, it is far better to speak. In fact, we must speak, for, as Pannenberg has duly noted, God's majesty is at the beginning, at the end, and also ever-present in the middle of theological discourse. The majesty of God permeates all our talking about God, serves as the focal point of all our worship of God, and grounds all our service to God. Or, at least it should.
Pannenberg's words, however insightful, also point to the problem. Speaking of the majesty of God is no easy task. Nevertheless, it is the theologian's task. Over the centuries of the Christian tradition, many theologians have spoken of the glory of God. They tend not to spend their energy on this topic defining it. Biblical scholars, in fact, may be better suited for the task. Where theologians do spend their energy, at least some theologians that is, is in thinking about how the glory of God functions in one's theology, how the glory of God functions methodologically in theological construction and discourse. In short, theologians who have a sense of the gravitas of the glory of God, who spend time and energy reflecting on the glory of God before they embark on their theological task, are better theologians. It may also be true that pastors who have a sense of the gravitas of the glory of God and spend their time reflecting on the glory of God are better pastors. And it may be further true that Christians, the faithful in the pew, who have a sense of the gravitas of the glory of God and spend time reflecting on the glory of God are better Christians. The glory of God is the compass that keeps all our theologizing, pastoring, and Christian living oriented in the right direction — toward God and not toward ourselves. The pull in the opposite direction is so strong that the psalmist repeats: "Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory" (Ps. 115:1).
This essay offers a foray into the history of the theological discussion of the glory of God by exploring the function of the glory of God in three contemporary theologians: Charles C. Ryrie, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and the pastor-theologian John Piper. It is likely a safe assumption that these three figures have never before been compared. All three, however, represent the end result of a number of significant lines of influence stretching back through the past two millennia of theology. And all three have the glory of God close to the center if not at the center of their theology. Like sampling a lake to determine the nature of the headwaters and tributaries of a watershed, their respective work will reveal these respective influences. A brief introduction of each of these three is in order before their work is examined in greater detail.
Hans Urs von Balthasar died on June 26, 1988, two days before his taking the position of cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church. Trained as a Jesuit, he left to form a secular institute. Drawing on his training in philosophy, literature, theology, and biblical studies, Balthasar published widely, embarking on a monumental project that would synthesize theology around the beautiful, the good, and the true — a theology that would synthesize the three fields of philosophy, namely, aesthetics, ethics, and logic or epistemology. The first undertaking was his seven-volume theo-aesthetics, appearing in English as The Glory of the Lord. Next came theo-drama, consisting of five volumes on theo-dramatics, exploring the grand drama of redemption. This was followed by the three-volume work on theo-logic, setting forth the truth that God has revealed of himself. A final volume, which he entitled simply Epilogue, offers a closing word on the project. In addition to these sixteen volumes, dozens more came from Balthasar's pen, earning him the title of the second "necessary theologian" of the twentieth century, standing in line behind Karl Barth. Like the Swiss Reformed neo-orthodox theologian, Balthasar, the Swiss Roman Catholic theologian, belonged to the twentieth century and continues to cast his shadow over the twenty-first. Charles C. Ryrie comes from a rather different and distant place on the theological map than Balthasar. Among his many publications, the eponymous Ryrie Study Bible and his single-volume systematic theology, Basic Theology, stand out. Ryrie also wrote a slimmer, less well-known volume entitled Transformed by His Glory. Considered the leading theologian of dispensationalism, Ryrie offered what to many has been the definitive word on the subject in his Dispensationalism Today in 1965, released as an expanded and revised work in 1995 simply titled Dispensationalism. In that work, Ryrie identified the glory of God as one of a trio of tenets he labeled the sine qua non of dispensationalism. Ryrie teased this out by declaring that Scripture is "Godcentered because His glory is the center." Ryrie, earning doctorates at both Dallas Theological Seminary and Edinburgh University, studying with Thomas Torrance among others, spent the larger share of his career as a systematics professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is an avid rare book collector, with a few medieval New Testament manuscripts among his collection. It is also quite safe to say that from his seminary post Ryrie has likely trained as many pastors theologically as any other person in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The second of this trio of theologians, John Piper, would likely prefer to be designated a pastor, or at least a pastor-theologian. Credited with playing a key role in the recent Reformed resurgence, Piper also has introduced whole swaths of contemporary audiences to the Puritans, more specifically to the New England Puritan Jonathan Edwards. Like Piper, Edwards was a pastor first and is better designated as a theologian-pastor. Piper finds within Edwards the material for his singular emphasis, the Godcenteredness of God, which Piper expressed as "the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ." Piper studied at Fuller Seminary, then took a DTheol from the University of Munich. Having taught for six years at Bethel College, Piper then became pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church, a post he has held for some thirty years. Piper has made many significant contributions; likely chief among them is that by example he has shown that Calvinists can indeed be both passionate and missional. No one can deny Piper's widespread influence today.
As mentioned, one might be hard-pressed to find what connects these three figures, Balthasar, Ryrie, and Piper. All three, however, view the glory of God as the central and ultimate destination of theologizing. What is quite intriguing about them, however, is that all three get there via different routes. One of the tasks of historical theology is to listen to echoes. These echoes reflect the original voice, the Logos, the one who is not merely in the image of God, as we are, but the one who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4), the one who is the "radiance of the glory of God" (Heb. 1:3). The Logos echoes, as it were, through history and on to the present day. Examining the work of Balthasar, Ryrie, and Piper becomes then an exercise, and, I would argue, a rather healthy one, in listening. Below follows an attempt to listen not so much to the voices of Balthasar, Piper, and Ryrie, but to the voices they have listened to, to uncover the sources that they have drawn upon.
Glory and Beauty, Part 1: Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Church Fathers
Balthasar set out to develop a Christian theology in light of the true, the good, and the beautiful. But he started with the beautiful, a deliberate move. In his reading on the history of ideas, he had found that theologians had given up on aesthetics, abandoning the subject to philosophers, which in turn resulted in beauty becoming a topic of idle speculation and pure abstraction, an "aesthetic monism." Neoplatonism, incubating in the church during the patristic period, came of full age in the medieval era. This triumph of Neoplatonism distorted both God and beauty. Or, one could say, this was a doubly damning move, condemning both philosophy and theology. The former, philosophy, subjugated to lifeless abstraction and ethereal speculation, while the latter became lifeless logical pronouncements in artless expression. To put the matter more practically, in a world without beauty, Balthasar declares, "What remains is then a mere lump of existence," or conversely, a mere lump of ideas.
In terms of theology, Balthasar, not surprisingly, faults Martin Luther for eliminating aesthetics from theology. Luther so distrusted Neoplatonic aesthetic metaphysics that he steered the church and theology clear of aesthetics altogether, according to Balthasar's reading of Luther. Balthasar also faults Calvin for overemphasizing the "actualistic," that which is solely and entirely concrete, over and against "the contemplative and aesthetic." Rushing in to fill this aesthetic vacuum came the pietists, in the church and in theology, and the German idealists, in the academy and in philosophy. These two strains of pietism and idealism, in Balthasar's estimation, are simply too abstract. They altogether lack the concrete. These two extremes of the singularly concrete or singularly abstract simply feed each other, causing both to go further and further afield.
It is in light of this reading of the history of ideas — and it is duly noted that one can and should debate his reading of the Reformers — that Balthasar proposes his project, which may be summed up as setting forth a theological aesthetics. This encompasses two primary elements: a theory of vision and a theory of rapture. A theory of vision relates to how we perceive God, governed entirely by God's self-revelation and summed up by the expression "the glory of God." A theory of rapture has to do with ontology, in terms of both the nature of the divine being and of human beings. In the incarnation, Christ as the God-man is the revelation of God's glory, which is to say the revelation of being itself. And, according to Balthasar, through faith in the God-man, humanity participates in, is brought into communion (in the fullest sense of that term) with, God. The ultimate being is God, which Balthasar sees as nearly everywhere represented in Scripture as the glory of God. The end of human beings, then, is to be taken up (the term rapture) in fellowship and communion. The ultimate end of human beings is to be taken up entirely in participation in God. In speaking of Balthasar's theological style, Angelo Scola notes, "Its point of reference, in the final analysis, is the Gloria Dei, which is the absolutely free and enchanting irradiation of the Lordship of God on being, on every being — a glory from which irradiates a beauty capable of enrapturing whoever perceives it." The theory of vision and the theory of rapture come together around the concept of the glory of God.
In Balthasar's theory of rapture, of being caught up in the glory of God, one clearly hears the resounding echoes of the Eastern Orthodox notion of theosis or deification. This concept may be summed up in the often quoted words of Athanasius, "God became man so that man might become God." It also, at least in a bare sense, seems to derive from such biblical texts as 2 Peter 1:4, in which Peter writes of the result of salvation, "by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature." For Balthasar, taking his cue from and following this text, the theory of vision and the theory of rapture are inseparable. At the center of God's revelation is glory. Glory then becomes a sort of theological shorthand to encompass and communicate all that he is. Glory is also the end goal of human beings. In the words of John, "When [Christ] appears we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). And in the words of Paul, "We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor. 3:18). Theosis, however, is not exclusively an Eastern Orthodox notion. It is clearly evident in the teachings of Aquinas, in various Puritan writings, and, as will be seen, in the thought of Jonathan Edwards. Henry Scougal's classic work on the Christian life reveals the presence of the theosis doctrine in Puritan literature. Scougal's The Life of God in the Soul of Man wielded significant influence over British Puritans, as testified in its hold on John Bunyan. It was one of two books that comprised the entire dowry of his first wife. In this influential book, Scougal writes of "the image of the Almighty shining in the soul of man," which he further explains as a "real participation of his nature." Scougal adds, "It is a beam of the eternal light, a drop of that infinite ocean of goodness; and they who are endued with it, may be said to have 'God dwelling in their souls,' and 'Christ formed within them.'"
These Puritan sources, however, quite escaped Balthasar's notice. Instead, he looked to patristic sources. In short, what these patristic sources contribute to the church's understanding of the glory of God is absolutely crucial to any theology of the Godhead. They take the biblical phrase the "glory of God" to mean God in his being, as distinct from and superior to his creation. It is essential to any fundamental understanding of ontology. Once God is understood, then and only then human beings and all other kinds of being can be properly understood. But more, the early church fathers also infused their understanding of the glory of God with what they had learned from centuries of Greek philosophy, especially from Plato, namely, that understanding the biblical phrase "the glory of God" is enhanced by the philosophical discussions of excellence, of beauty. The key is not to be controlled by the Platonic discussions, which is exactly what happened in the case of Neoplatonism. This intersection of the theological and the philosophical is what so intrigued Balthasar. It is precisely why he titled his theological aesthetics, which is another way of saying a theology of beauty, The Glory of the Lord. In other words, glory is beauty. Glory is that which is excellent, that which is extraordinary, that which is transcendent. And, Balthasar quickly points out, it is known only by revelation, which is to say it is known ultimately in Christ.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Glory of God"
Copyright © 2010 Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson.
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Table of Contents
List of Abbreviations 11
Series Preface 13
1 The Glory of God Present and Past Stephen J. Nichols 23
2 The Glory of God in the Old Testament Tremper Longman III 47
3 The Glory of God in the Synoptic Gospels, Acts, and the General Epistles Richard R. Melick Jr. 79
4 The Glory of God in John's Gospel and Revelation Andreas J. Köstenberger 107
5 The Glory of God in Paul's Epistles Richard B. Gaffin Jr. 127
6 Toward a Theology of the Glory of God Christopher W. Morgan 153
7 A Pastoral Theology of the Glory of God Bryan Chapell 189
8 A Missional Theology of the Glory of God J. Nelson Jennings 209
Selected Bibliography 235
Author Index 239
Subject Index 241
Scripture Index 245
What People are Saying About This
“The glory of God, celebrated by angels, but often lost on the church today, is here restored to our vision. This is a serious engagement with biblical truth and it asks the reader to engage with it seriously, too. When we climb a mountain, we know that however long is the ascent, it is all made worthwhile by the view from the top. So it is here.”
David F. Wells, Senior Distinguished Research Professor of Theology, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
“The Westminster Shorter Catechism rightly tells us that the chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And yet, ‘glorifying’ God and living for ‘the glory of God’ can often seem mysterious and ultimately disconnected from day-to-day life. In this new installment in the Theology in Community series, Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have pulled together a team that not only teach about God’s glory but in their very scholarship display ‘the visible splendor and moral beauty of God’s manifold perfections.’ As I read this book, I wanted to sing, ‘To God be the glory, great things he has done!’”
Sean Michael Lucas, Senior Pastor, Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis, Tennessee; Chancellor’s Professor of Church History, Reformed Theological Seminary
“There is no theme more central to the message of Scripture than the glory of God. He created the world so that his name would be glorified in and by the things he made, and he has saved us so that we might glorify him in eternity. It is a focus that a self-centered generation badly needs to recover, and the contributors to this volume have given us a wonderful introduction on which to base our reflections and our worship.”
Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity, History, and Doctrine, Beeson Divinity School; author, God Is Love and God Has Spoken
“Christians often speak of the glory of God and living for the glory of God, but what is the glory of God? This work presents an excellent biblical study of God’s glory. Not only does it provide a good doctrinal foundation for understanding the glory of God, but it also applies the subject practically to the Christian life. An understanding of God’s glory affects every area of Christian living: the purpose of the Christian life, worship, ethics, evangelism, missions, pastoral ministry, and the study of theology. As a pastor, I highly recommend this work for the Christian who desires to understand more fully God’s glory and what it means to live to the glory of God.”
Van Lees, Pastor, Covenant of Grace Church, St. Charles, Missouri
“Christopher Morgan and Robert Peterson have once again assembled a fine team of biblical, historical, and systematic theologians to shape the second volume in the Theology in Community series. This talented team of writers demonstrate how focusing on the all-encompassing theme of God’s glory impacts our thinking about God, the self, and the world, including questions regarding meaning, purpose, and salvation. These explorations provide us with a more in-depth appreciation of how the glory of God has been emphasized in Scripture and how it has been interpreted in church history. In addition, we are presented with an overarching and powerful portrait of God’s grandeur, beauty, and transcendence. I am pleased to recommend this outstanding volume to students, lay leaders, pastors, and theologians alike.”
David S. Dockery, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary