Helping readers walk the line between idolatry and ingratitude, this book emphasizes our responsibility to glorify God by joyfully embracing his good gifts without letting them become worldly distractions that steal our affection.
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About the Author
Joe Rigney (MA, Bethlehem College and Seminary) is assistant professor of theology and Christian worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is the author of Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles and The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two sons.
John Piper (DTheol, University of Munich) is the founder and teacher of desiringGod.organd the chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. He served for thirty-three years as the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and is the author of more than fifty books, including Desiring God;Don’t Waste Your Life;This Momentary Marriage;A Peculiar Glory;andReading the Bible Supernaturally.
Read an Excerpt
The Glory of the Triune God
In the confession of the Trinity, we hear the heartbeat of the Christian religion.
I should think that these things might incline us to suppose, that God has not forgot himself, in the ends which he proposed in the creation of the world.
Before getting to the practical and pastoral challenges, we need to get some things on the table. Some of it will be high theology, the kind that can make the head hurt and the eyes glaze over. Bear with me, and I'll try to keep it lively. The Scriptures provide us with tremendous resources to help us live the Christian life (everything we need for life and godliness, in fact), but drawing out those resources takes work. It's labor, but it's worth it.
My view is that we should begin with the Trinity. I'm tempted to say "always begin," but we'll leave that aside for now. I regularly tell my students that it's crucial that we be Trinitarian Christians, all the way down. The Trinity is the heart of the Christian religion, the great mystery that makes all other mysteries understandable. In fact, much of the content of this book might be viewed as an application of the Trinity to various aspects of practical theology and Christian living.
Let's begin with a definition of the Trinity. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology distills the Trinity into the following three statements:
1) God is three persons.
2) Each person is fully God.
3) There is one God.
In short, in the one God there are three separate, coequal persons.
Of course, the relative simplicity of this statement is actually a testament to the grand mystery of the Godhead. In what sense is God one and in what sense is God three? How does the three-ness and plurality of God relate to his absolute oneness and unity?
A Word about Models and Analogies of God
Theologians throughout church history have made use of models and analogies to better understand what it means that God is three and one. If creation is a reflection of the divine nature, and the divine nature is fundamentally triune, then we ought to be able to recognize aspects of the Trinity in what God has made. Of course, in making use of such analogies, we must never mistake our models for the reality. C. S. Lewis liked to say that our models are like maps — they can help us to understand the land, but they should never replace an actual visit to the countryside. Put another way, the use of models and analogies ought never to become a way of "analyzing" God, as though we might actually be able to diagram him on the whiteboard.
Models of the Trinity can be roughly categorized into two types: oneness analogies and threeness analogies. Oneness analogies emphasize the unity of the Godhead, as though one God "unfolded" into three persons. For example, I am one human being, but as one human being, I am a father, a husband, and a professor. This analogy is a kind of three-in-one, but it is fundamentally misleading because Joe the father isn't a distinct person from Joe the husband. Thus, the analogy tends toward modalism, an ancient heresy in which the three persons of the Trinity are treated as distinct modes of existence rather than full and coequal persons.
On the other hand, threeness analogies emphasize the distinctions between the persons, as though three persons came together into one God. Thus, one family made up of three persons — a father, a mother, and a child — can provide an analogy of the Trinity, but again it is misleading because the family itself isn't personal, and each member of the family is only a part of the whole. Thus, whereas oneness analogies tend toward modalism, threeness analogies tend toward tri-theism, three distinct gods.
Despite the dangers of each type of analogy, together they can help us understand how God can be one and three. Using multiple analogies keeps us from emphasizing God's oneness over his threeness or his threeness over his oneness. Theologians throughout church history have recognized these dangers and therefore have employed various analogies to illuminate the Trinity while acknowledging that no analogy is sufficient to explain the triunity of God.
The Psychological Model
Bearing in mind the limitations of Trinitarian analogies, we can now explore one or two of them as a way of better understanding the God who is three in one. First up is the psychological model. Dating back to Augustine and finding considerable expression in the theology of Jonathan Edwards, it holds that in the Godhead, there is God in his direct existence (Father), God's self-reflection or contemplation of himself (Son), and God's love and delight for himself (Holy Spirit). Or again, there is God, God's idea of God, and God's love for his idea of himself.
Now, when confronted with the psychological model, many people have the same reaction: Where is that in the Bible? And I realize that on first glance, it sounds a bit odd. I certainly thought so the first time I heard it. (Incidentally, if you want to go further into this than I will, find Edwards's "Essay on the Trinity." Or read the first chapter in Piper's The Pleasures of God.) Suffice it to say, I think that the Bible does provide hints and pointers that our own existence as creatures with minds and hearts, understanding and will, knowledge and love, is a reflection of who God is in his own divine life.
First, the Bible regularly describes the Son of God as God's "image" or "representation" (Col. 1:15; 2 Cor. 4:4–6). The Son is the radiance of the Father's glory and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb. 1:3). The eternal Son of God is often connected to God's wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30; Prov. 8:30) and to his Word or self-expression (John 1:1). Jesus says that if you've seen him, you've seen the Father (John 14:7–11), as if he were simply an image, a replication of his Father's nature. What's more, the Son is the one who manifests and makes known the Father (John 17:24–26).
Drawing these biblical threads together, we can say that from all eternity God has had with him an image, a representation, a reflection of his own infinite perfection and beauty, and through this image has fully and completely known, understood, and expressed himself.
What, then, of the Holy Spirit? The Bible often connects the Holy Spirit to God's love and joy. It is striking that while the Father and the Son are repeatedly described as loving each other (John 3:35; 5:20; 14:31) and human beings (John 14:23; 16:27), the Spirit is never said to love the Son or the Father or us! Jonathan Edwards explains this strange omission by arguing that the Spirit is the very love of God, the love that flows between the Father and the Son and overflows to his creatures. He finds support for such a notion in the fact that God's love is poured into our hearts by the Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and that God's abiding, love's abiding, and the Spirit's abiding in us all seem to be different ways of describing the same reality (1 John 3:24; 4:12–13). What's more, when the biblical writers begin their epistles, they often say something like, "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ" (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2). The absence of the Spirit in these passages is again striking, given the fact that the Holy Spirit is fully divine. Edwards argues that this absence is explained by the fact that the Spirit is the grace and peace of God that flows to us from the Father and the Son. Finally, Edwards notes that at Jesus's baptism, the Spirit descends upon him like a dove as the Father expresses pleasure in his beloved Son (Matt. 3:16–17). What at first glance appears speculative actually turns out to have a fair bit of biblical foundation.
Thus the trajectory of these passages is that from all eternity God has beheld his beloved Son with perfect clarity, and there has arisen between Father and Son a love so pure and deep, so matchless and limitless, so boundless and infinite that the love stands forth as a full third person in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit.
In light of these two streams of biblical thought, Edwards concludes that one way for us to understand the Trinity is to see God existing in his direct existence as the Father, in his knowledge of himself in the Son, and in the mutual love flowing between the Father and the Son in the person of the Holy Spirit.
Or to say it another way, the Father knows, loves, and delights in the Son by the Spirit.
The Family Model
The family model of the Trinity is in many ways more straightforward. In this model, the three persons of the Trinity are seen as members of a family or a society, bound together in a bond of love and overflowing with joy and delight in one another. The Bible explicitly endorses this model in that the first two persons of the Godhead are referred to as Father and Son, that is, as members of a family. The family model helps us to recognize the full equality of each person of the Godhead, because each member has a crucial and important role to play in the work of redemption. The Father chooses a people for himself and sends the Son. The Son obeys his Father and accomplishes the work that he is given to do, laying down his life in order to purchase God's people. The Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son (John 14:16; 16:7), is the down payment of our inheritance (Eph. 1:14), and indeed is the sum of all the good things that God has purchased for us (Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13).
At this point, it is worth pausing to reflect on a key aspect of the Trinity that I'll come back to again and again. In the Gospel of John, when Philip asks to see the Father, Jesus responds:
Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:9–11)
The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father. Because of this, when we see the Son, we have also seen the Father. The Father dwells in the Son and does his works, works that testify to the reality that the Father and the Son are in each other. The theological term for this is perichoresis. It refers to the mutual indwelling of the members of the Godhead. This reality is what enables us to distinguish the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit from one another, without separating them from one another. The Father is not the Son, but he is in the Son. The Son is not the Spirit, but he is in the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father, but he is in the Father. And this mutual indwelling is thorough and complete. All that the Father is, he is in the Son and the Spirit. All that the Son is, he is in the Father and the Spirit. All that the Spirit is, he is in the Father and the Son. There are no leftovers, no remainder, no excess divinity.
Perichoresis means that in the Trinity, the three persons exist as one God without crowding out the others. They overlap and indwell one another completely and totally without in any way compromising the personal distinctions among them. We'll return to perichoresis later in the book.
For His Glory
Pressing into the Trinity in this way will have huge implications for how we think about other fundamental truths of the Christian faith, such as God's goal in all that he does. Thanks to the recovery in recent years of a God-centered vision and theology, many Christians gladly affirm that God does all that he does for his glory. They embrace the biblical truth that God aims to glorify himself in the creation of the world and the redemption of his people. They love the truth that God is passionately committed to his glory, that God is uppermost in God's affections. However, many who embrace the truth would be hard-pressed to explain what exactly they mean by "the glory of God." Indeed, the phrase runs the great danger of becoming simply another buzzword, a slogan used to say something without meaning anything. One of the central aims of this book is to deepen and fill out our understanding of the glory of God by pressing into the Trinity, the Bible, and creation.
Put simply, because God is always triune, we must always conceive of his glory in Trinitarian terms. God's glory is his Trinitarian fullness, or the abundance of perfections and knowledge and love and joy and life that he has within the Godhead. Or, to put it another way, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit knowing, loving, and rejoicing in each other from all eternity simply is the glory of God. It's why Jesus prays in John 17:5, "Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed." This is the glory that the Father gave the Son because the Father loved him before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). So when you hear "the glory of God," think "Trinitarian fullness."
If God's glory is his Trinitarian fullness, then what does it mean to glorify God? Many define God's glorification of himself as the display or manifestation of his perfections. And while the display of God's attributes and perfections is certainly included in glorification, a Trinitarian vision of God pushes us to say more. Glorification includes not merely the display of God's attributes but also the knowledge of those attributes and love for and delight in those attributes. Remember the psychological model: God himself does not merely exist in his perfections as Father but also knows himself fully in the person of the Son and loves and delights in himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, glorification must include more than mere display; it must also include the knowledge and love and joy that result from that display. In short, a triune God requires a triune understanding of glory and glorification.
Drawing together an understanding of the Trinity, the doctrine of perichoresis, and a fuller understanding of glory and glorification, we are now in a position to answer one of the pressing questions from the introduction: What does it mean to glorify God? Let's put it in terms of God's actions in seeking his glory.
God glorifies himself by inviting us to participate in his Trinitarian fullness. Put another way, God glorifies himself by extending his glory so that his divine life comes to exist in creaturely form.
Those two statements represent different pictures of what happens as the triune God glorifies himself. In the latter, God's glory is depicted as flowing out from himself, emanating and overflowing to creatures who exist solely by his will. The other picture moves in the opposite direction. Instead of glory flowing out to us, we are invited into God. We are drawn in so that we come to share in divine knowledge, love, and joy, or as Peter says, we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). So the language of display is perfectly legitimate, provided that the display is always understood as an invitation to participate, to partake, to mingle. As Lewis writes in The Weight of Glory,
If we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendour of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present, we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.
The Upper Room Discourse in the Gospel of John (13–17) provides the fullest picture of the invitation to indwell, the promise of perichoretic participation in the Bible. Following the exit of Judas, Jesus launches into an extended reflection on his coming death, the tribulation to be faced by his disciples, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and the life that his followers should live in the midst of a fallen and broken world. In the process he provides glimpses into the divine life and into God's purposes for us (and I'd encourage you to have your Bible open to John 13–17 as we proceed).
In reading the passage, we can easily feel disoriented, like Jesus is taking us somewhere but doesn't want to be followed. Jesus moves along in one direction, only to double back and repeat himself, often with a slight modification. The simplicity of the individual words masks the complexity of the tangents, paradoxes, and wanderings. However, even amidst the apparent meanderings and confusion, we can sense a deeper structure at work, an order and purpose that is holding all of the commands, promises, and cryptic statements together. Perhaps it's akin to being in the midst of a tornado, a flurry of chaos and confusion governed by consistent laws of physics.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Things of Earth"
Copyright © 2015 Joe Rigney.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword John Piper 11
Introduction: What Are We to Do with the Things of Earth? 19
1 The Glory of the Triune God 35
2 The Author and His Story 47
3 Creation as Communication 61
4 Created to Be a Creature 77
5 The Gospel Solution to Idolatry 95
6 Rhythms of Godwardness 117
7 Naming the World 137
8 Desiring Not-God 153
9 Sacrifice, Self-Denial, and Generosity 175
10 When Wartime Goes Wrong 197
11 Suffering, Death, and the Loss of Good Gifts 215
12 Embrace Your Creatureliness 231
General Index 261
Scripture Index 265
What People are Saying About This
"If there is an evangelical Christian alive today who has thought and written more biblically, more deeply, more creatively, or more practically about the proper enjoyment of creation and culture, I don’t know who it is . . . This book has been very helpful to me. I mean that personally. I think I will be a better father and husband and friend and leader because of it.”
—John Piper, Founder, desiringGod.org; Chancellor, Bethlehem College & Seminary
“We are probably familiar with the proverb about the overly pious fellow, the one who is so heavenly minded he is no earthly good. And we have seen the opposite so many times that we don’t even need a proverb for it—the carnal thinker who is so earthly minded he is no heavenly good. And no earthly good either, as it turns out. The hardest thing to achieve on this subject is balance, but it is a difficult feat that Rigney has accomplished. Buy this book. Make it one of your earthly possessions. Read it to find out what that is supposed to mean.”
—Douglas Wilson, Senior Fellow of Theology, New St. Andrews College; Pastor, Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho
“Reading this will be a sweet moment of profound liberation for many. With wisdom and verve, Rigney shows how we can worship our creator through the enjoyment of his creation. This is going to make a lot of Christians happier in Christ—and more attractively Christlike.”
—Michael Reeves, President and Professor of Theology, Union School of Theology, Oxford, England; author, Delighting in the Trinity, The Unquenchable Flame, and Rejoicing in Christ
“This book makes me want to watch the Olympics while eating a pumpkin crunch cake, rejoicing in the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. But part of me is a little wary of the indulgent pecan crunchiness and astonishing athletic feats. What if my heart gets lost in these things? If you’re familiar with that hesitation, this book is for you. We were made to take in all the fullness of the intergalactic glory of the triune God. This book is a trustworthy guide to help your gaze follow along the scattered beams up to the sun.”
—Gloria Furman, author, The Pastor's Wife, Missional Motherhood, and Alive in Him
“I am always amazed at how God reveals his character to his children. This book has radically changed the way I view the Giver of every good and perfect gift. What’s more, it has helped me to really enjoy him through the many blessings he has lavished on me.”
—Shane Everett, singer/songwriter, Shane and Shane
“It is not easy to understand how I can love God with all my heart, but also love the world he has made. God’s Word encourages us to love the creation (Psalm 19), but also to love not the world (1 John 2:15–17). Rigney is really helpful to those wrestling with this kind of question, and he helps us with a lively and engaging style. This book clarifies and builds upon John Piper’s Christian Hedonism. I heartily recommend it.”
—John M. Frame, J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By nature, I have a war-time mentality. I wish I could attribute it to a white-hot gospel fire in my bones, but it probably has more to do with seeing President Gerald Ford wearing a sweater and urging us to turn our thermostats back to sixty-two degrees when I was in elementary school. I could easily justify feeding my family beans and rice, rice and beans so that we could give more to missions. I would happily go on wearing my 1980’s-era black dress until Jesus comes and forego family vacations in favor of a bigger emergency fund in the bank. Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry a man with a much more balanced view of life. (Apparently, he missed President Ford’s speech.) Thanks to his influence, we eat a wide variety of food, my shoulder pads don’t get stuck in the door, and we go to fun places and do fun things with our children. However, even with nearly twenty-five years of his sensible voice in my ear, I really needed to read The Things of Earth. Thoughtful Christians walk a tightrope when it comes to possessions, wealth, and all the good things that God has made. If we fall off the tightrope on one side, we realize that we are, in the words of Tim Keller, “making good things into ultimate things” by idolizing God’s gifts. If we fall off the other side, we are subject to the alienating guilt or self-reproach of trying to define just exactly where the line is between “excessive” and “appropriate.” Joe Rigney carefully lays a biblical foundation for his thesis, which is based in Christian hedonism, that knowing God makes his gifts “brighter and better and more potent.” The truth that “God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him” is rooted deeply in God’s triune nature. As a relational being, He has made all things in order to extend and to communicate his fullness and as an invitation into his own triune life. Therefore, as creatures, we should not only view the whole creation as a revelation of God, but also rejoice in the wisdom of God’s provision for us in this world. The richness of all this theological truth comprises the first four chapters of the book, and, quite honestly, is sufficient reason to read the book, even if Rigney had nowhere else to go with it. However, he pushes into the hard territory of practical application. Given all that we know about God, how do all his magnificent gifts fit into a God-centered life? Are possessions, comforts, and wealth tools to be used for his glory, or are they obstacles to the radical Christian life? What is the difference between strategic self-denial and the tragic loss of good gifts, and just exactly how does the demonstration of the fact that our treasure is in heaven and not on earth relate to the Great Commission? Scholarly and richly researched, The Things of Earth is a challenging read, and will likely yield a few opportunities for the reader to delight in God through Rigney’s fresh descriptions and vocabulary. Even so, this is no ivory tower project, because the thesis of the book has been hammered out in real life through the author’s own relationships and through some wrong turns he has made along the way. And speaking of real life, why was the recipe for pumpkin crunch cake not given in the foot notes of chapter five? Seriously. Although I pushed through this book like a seeker, my plan now is to live with it over a period of time. I want to ponder it as I hold my sweet grandson, or as I play Scattergories with my two youngest boys. I plan to let its words echo behind the sound of the Pemaquid bell as it carols the approach of a nor-easter and to feel the gracious provision of God in the steam on my face rising from that perfect cup of morning tea. For me, the things of earth might just be growing brighter, seen in the full light of Glory. Disclosure: This book was provided by Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review.