Sent Forth, Born of Woman

Posted by R. Fowler White

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Gal 4:4-5)

In his phrase when the fullness of time had come, the Apostle Paul points us to the truth that the one true God has been orchestrating all of history and, in particular, the timing of Christ’s birth. In fact, it was by God’s singular sovereignty and providence that the histories of Rome and Jerusalem—even that of little Bethlehem—had coincided at the birth of Jesus. The appointed date for the debut of the Son of the Father occurred right on schedule, and He became the Child born at just the right time. And that’s not all. Paul has more to say in Gal 4:4.

He tells us that the Child in the manger was the Son sent forth by His Father. These simple words take us to the backstory of the Son’s arrival in history. Notice that the Son existed before He was sent, before He was born, before He was given the name Jesus. Before His Father sent Him, He subsisted as a Person and, at that, as a Person distinct from both the Father and the Spirit, the latter of whom was Himself later to be sent (Gal 4:6). In effect, Paul would tell us that the Son was (and is) the same in substance and equal in power and glory with the Father and the Spirit, yet was also distinguished from them by their personal properties. Notice too that the Father sent forth (sent out) His Son. That is, the Son who came had a commission from His Father. We speak of the Great Commission, but here Paul speaks of the Greatest Commission of all. He reflects on the harmony between the sending Father and the sent Son. The Father was pleased to send the Son; the Son was pleased to be sent by His Father. According to the Apostle, then, the Baby in the feeding trough was none other than God with God, the Son with the Father and the Spirit, the Son commissioned by His Father.

Paul tells us also that the Child in the manger was born of (a) woman. Again, think on how remarkable that brief phrase is. The Apostle here discloses that he knows the history of Jesus’ birth. That phrase born of woman was an expression referring to human birth (Job 14:1; 15:14; 25:4; Matt 11:11; cf. 1 Cor 11:12), and yet with an evident allusion to at least the promise of Gen 3:15. His birth was of woman, but we know from other OT prophecies that His conception was anything but ordinary. The Son born of a woman was in fact born of a virgin, born without a man, as predicted by the prophet Isaiah (Isa 7:14 with 9:6). The sent Son became flesh: He was not only made and formed in woman, He was of her, of her flesh and blood. Of these He took part. In keeping with prophecies such as those from Genesis and Isaiah, the Son was born of a woman.

In these two short phrases, Paul begins to reflect on the circumstances of Jesus’ birth, and they in turn move us to ponder the humiliation of Him who is from all eternity the glorious Son of God. Here, after all, we see the first stage of what the will of the Father required of the Son He sent forth. For your sake, Christian, the Son was pleased to humble Himself in conception and birth. Though from all eternity He had been the Son at His Father’s side and in the Spirit’s presence, He was required to empty Himself, to make Himself of no reputation, and to condescend to be made in human likeness and the fashion of a man. He was pleased to become the Son of Man when the fullness of time had come, when all the parts of history that had to occur had occurred just as predicted. Though He was the glorious eternal Son, the will of His Father required that He be born of a young virgin woman, taking part in all human properties, except sin, through her His mother. He was pleased to be born into conditions that were even worse than ordinary. He was born in a first-century truck stop. Strips of cloth were His first garments. A feeding trough was His first crib. The humiliation of His nativity, however, would not stop there. For the rest of His earthly life, the Son would endure false accusations that He had been born as a result of an immoral relationship outside of the bounds of marriage. What, then, did the will of the Father require of the Son He sent forth?  It required that, for your sake, Christian, the eternal Son of glory be pleased to humble Himself in His conception and birth.

What Child is this, then, in the manger? He is the preexistent Son commissioned by His Father, born of woman. Miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit as to His human nature and miraculously preserved by that same Spirit from defilement in His mother’s womb, He had not always been man. Nor was He a mere woman-born human upon whom divinity descended. He was God who became flesh, thus permanently taking to Himself human nature and becoming forever thereafter one Person with two natures.

What’s an Exile to Do? Take Courage

Posted by R. Fowler White

The Apostle Peter’s first letter has been described as a Survival Manual for Exiles, for Christ’s kingdom-colony of resident aliens in this world. His letter was relevant in the first century and is relevant now because, in the ebb and flow of divine providence, Christians can find themselves at the margins of life, relegated into social-cultural, if not geographical exile. To increasing numbers of people in our world right now, we who confess the historic Christian faith are outmoded at best and hateful at worst. It is vital, then, for us to know how Peter would have us approach every area of life. The Apostle’s opening message (1 Pet 1:1-2) to us is straightforward: though we’re exiles, we ought to take courage in our identity as God’s elect.

First, our present reality: we’re exiles (1:1). To be specific, we’re exiles of the Dispersion. But what does this wording mean? Originally applied to deported Israelites, Peter now applies it to the NT church, including Gentiles, scattered throughout the nations. But Peter’s words tell us more. They tell us that, like our father in the faith, Abraham, we’re resident aliens and strangers in this place. Meanwhile, however, by faith we understand who we are: we understand that God has made us heirs of a better country, a heavenly homeland. Knowing, then, our identity as God’s exiles, Peter says to us, “Take courage.”

Though like other exiles we lack a permanent homeland here, we’re different from others too. We’re elect exiles, loved from eternity by God the Father (1:2). Just as the Father foreknew His beloved Son (1 Pet 1:20), so He foreknew us. That is, before the creation of the world, the Father, who set His affections on His Son, set His affections on His people too. While we humans make our choices based on something worthy in others, God’s choice of us as His own is not based on anything worthy that He has foreseen or sees in us. As the Apostle Paul plainly states, God chose as He did so that no human being has anything to boast about before Him. So, nothing in us made us deserving of His choice. His choice is purely gracious. By contrast, the world measures our worth by ever-changing standards, vacillating between tolerance and hatred. Disdaining the world’s ambivalence toward us, we take courage in our gracious God: we’ve been irrevocably under His care since before the world began.

Speaking of God’s irrevocable fatherly care, we’re His elect exiles, set apart from the world by God the Spirit (1:2). Chosen precisely as the Father foreknew us, Peter says that He chose us for the purpose of having the Spirit sanctify us. That is, He had the Spirit set us apart from the world to be saved through faith. We ought to take courage, then, knowing that our present identity is no accident, no product of good luck. To the contrary, it is the Father’s eternal choice of us coming to fruition through the Spirit who set us apart for salvation.

Being now saved just as the Spirit sanctified us to be, we’re God’s elect exiles, obedient to and purified by God the Son (1:2). Focusing on the goals (not the grounds) of the Father’s choice and the Spirit’s sanctification, the Apostle describes the two sides of our conversion: side one is our obedience to Christ’s gospel; side two is Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness of us who believe. God chose us, not because of obedience to Christ, but for obedience to Christ. That is, He chose us to the end that we would obey Christ as He called us to repent and believe His gospel. God also chose us for sprinkling with His blood, to be cleansed from the sins that defile and doom us. Most likely, Peter means to remind us that Christ is like Moses, but also better (see, e.g., Heb 9:11–10:18). Moses put the old covenant into effect, and the high priest kept it in effect, by sprinkling the blood of sacrifices that could never take away sins. Christ, however, put the new covenant into effect and has kept it in effect by sprinkling the blood of His one sacrifice, by which He has forever taken away our sins. We who believe, then, should take courage from knowing that we have become just what God chose us to become: obedient to Christ and purified by His blood.

So what’s an exile to do when relegated to the margins of society? Take courage. Though we have no lasting city here, we bear witness that our triune God has given us an identity better than anything this world has to offer. By His grace alone, we are His elect, loved from eternity, set apart for salvation, purified forever.

A Scandal at the Core of the Christmas Story?

Posted by R. Fowler White

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. (1 John 1.1-4, NASB)

Some might say that there is a scandal at the core of “the Christmas story”–otherwise known as the account of the nativity of Jesus. It is the scandal that explains why non-Christians celebrate Christmas as they do. While they party with a fictional Santa, they scoff at the truth of Jesus, particularly the scandalous truth of His Incarnation. The fact of the Incarnation scandalizes the unbelieving world.

According to the Bible, Jesus of Bethlehem is the Eternal Son, the Christ, who is now and always will be fully God and fully man. He has not always been man; He has always been God. He is God with God, God the Word, God the Son, who has permanently taken to Himself human nature. Jesus Christ was not first a man upon whom divinity descended for a time. No, He was first God who then became the God-man, and that forevermore thereafter. That is, after the Incarnation, He is now and will forever be one person with two natures, divine and human.

Apart from the Incarnation, Jesus’ life is outstanding and His death obscene. Because of the Incarnation, however, His life and death are unique: in fact, they are both part of His unique saving work for sinners. The apostles of Christ made that clear in the good news that they heralded. In His life, Jesus the God-man was entirely faithful to His God and Father where sinners are entirely unfaithful; in His death, He bore the penalty sinners justly deserve for their unfaithfulness. Just so, in Jesus the God-man alone, through faith alone, sinners find the joy of life with God.

To deny that Jesus of Bethlehem is God-who-became-man is to disbelieve the authentic Christian gospel; it is to believe a lie. So we’ll be careful not to settle for anything less than God the Son Incarnate, Jesus of Bethlehem. For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. This person is the deceiver and the antichrist! (2 John 7, NASB)

Did God’s Essence Become Incarnate?

One of the most difficult questions in Trinitarian theology is how the essence/person distinction relates to the Incarnation. The classic formulations state that God is in essence one, and that one essence is shared fully and completely in the three persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The essence of God must be involved somehow in the Incarnation, but finding a way of expressing that is difficult. On the one hand, it is vitally important not to drive a wedge between the essence of God and the three persons. Otherwise, we wind up with the classic problem of a quaternity (essence plus three persons).

The way this problem has been avoided in the past is through the doctrine of perichoresis, or mutual indwelling of the persons. The three persons interpenetrate each other in such a way that the persons remain distinct, and yet share fully in the essence. Perichoresis is also the only resource we have for understanding how God can be one essence that is simple (not divisible), and yet also be three distinct persons.

Objections to this doctrine usually bring God down to man’s level. For instance, someone will object that an essence cannot be so shared. The objection will only prove true, however (upon close examination), of mortal and finite essences. An infinite essence such as God’s essence is not limited by such problems.

The other problem we will have to avoid is in saying that the essence of God underwent any change whatsoever in the Incarnation. Here the Chalcedonian formulations help us out. The two natures of Christ remain distinct, even though inseparable. Therefore, the divine nature of Christ did not change at all when the Son added a full human nature to Himself.

This helps us answer the question: did God’s essence become incarnate? We have to say that God’s essence did not change into something else at the Incarnation. At the same time, we have to say that God’s essence was involved in the Incarnation. The Reformed scholastics help us out here. Their formulation is that God’s essence is incarnated, but only in one of its hypostases or persons (see Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, volume 4, p. 211). The process of incarnation is one of addition. A full human nature is added, taken up in hypostatic union with the second person of the Trinity, the essence of God in the second person. This must not be understood in any way that would imply that a separate already-formed human person was joined to the divine person. The full human nature (body and soul) of Christ only ever exists in hypostatic union with the divine nature. This being said, the Father and the Holy Spirit were not passive spectators in the Incarnation either. All the outside works of the Triune God are indivisible (which means that all three persons of the Trinity are at work in everything God does). The Father sent both the Son and the Spirit in the process of incarnation, and the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary. This must qualify what was said about only the second person being incarnated. For while it is true that only the second person became incarnated, yet it is also true that the Father and the Holy Spirit were involved.

An Argument Against Exclusive Psalmody

Let it be known at the beginning of this post that I love the Psalms, and that I believe the Psalms should be sung in worship frequently, just not exclusively. I heard this argument recently from a new friend of mine in the OPC, by name, the Rev. Brett Mahlen. He used to be EP himself, and so he knows the position from inside, as it were. The argument goes like this: the way most EP proponents phrase the matter is that we can only sing in worship words that are inspired, and that the Bible commands us only to sing the Psalms (usually they interpret Colossians 3:16 to refer to the Septuagintal division of the Psalter into psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). The argument from my friend addresses the first half of the statement. If we may only sing inspired words, then we cannot sing in English, since the translation into English is not itself inspired; only the autographs are inspired. If we then say that the English translation (into meter, which involves considerable paraphrasing!) is inspired, then we are undermining our doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration. English metrical Psalms, as beautiful as they can be (and most worthy of being sung, I might add!), are not inspired Scripture.

Furthermore (and this is now my addition to the argument), by saying that only the very words of the Psalter may be sung, proponents of EP commit a word-concept fallacy. To remind ourselves, the word-concept fallacy is an error in logic that happens when people believe that words are the same thing as ideas, whereas the truth of the matter is that we use words to express ideas, even though those ideas could be expressed with different words. To flesh it out a bit more, an idea can be present even though a specific word is not used. Similarly, just because a specific word is present does not mean that the idea is also present. In this case, the word-concept fallacy is committed by saying that what is meant in the Psalter can only be obtained by singing the very words themselves. Then the error is compounded by saying that the English metrical Psalters can fit the bill of singing the ipsissima verba (the very words) of Scripture. Ironically, in other places in their Reformed theology, EP proponents would not commit this fallacy. For instance, Reformed EP proponents all (as far as I know) hold that the Bible teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the word “Trinity” nowhere occurs in the Bible. They recognize that the concept of the Trinity is very much present (even obviously so!), and yet the word “Trinity” is not present. The word “Trinity” is our shorthand to express the fact that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and yet there is only one God. So there is not a consistency here with EP proponents: they say that we may only sing the very words of the Psalter, and yet they advocate English metrical Psalters to accomplish this, which English Psalters are not the very words of the inspired Psalms.

To push the point a little further, we may remember that several commentators on the Psalms have said that the Psalter is a mini-Bible. My description of the Psalter would be that it is an emotional commentary on all of Scripture, mostly in the form of prayers. The Psalter thus extends its influence on all the rest of Scripture in one way or another. If this is so, then it is by no means unreasonable to assert that any hymn that is biblical in content reflects the teaching of the Psalter.

Of course, no case whatsoever can be made for a position that says we must all learn Hebrew so that we will sing the Psalter in the original language. That would again commit the word-concept fallacy. The content of Scripture can be translated into other languages, and it is the content of Scripture that we want available to us. Translation of Scripture is implied in the Great Commission of Matthew 28, among other places.

So the EP proponent, if he admits the force of this argument, might respond by saying, “Well, as long as we have the content of the Psalter, then we are good.” However, once one has gotten over the hump of the word-concept fallacy, the whole game is given away, because of what I wrote two paragraphs ago. It seems to me that the claim that we must only sing the inspired Psalms is an essential linch-pin in the EP argument. Without it, the whole thing collapses to the ground. The EP proponents singing metrical Psalms in English are not singing the inspired Psalms, because they are not singing the original Hebrew.

My position is that we must sing only what is biblical. But by the term “biblical” I mean what is biblical in content. We do not need to sing only the very words of Scripture. Otherwise we would have to sing in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. We need to sing the content of Scripture. There is a continuum, therefore, of “biblicalness” when it comes to what we sing. Some can only marginally be called Scriptural. Songs like “In the Garden” have content that can be argued as being anti-biblical (really, an experience that none other has ever known? Are you the recipient of direct divine revelation or something? What kind of walking and talking with me is the song singing about?). We should aim, therefore, to ask the right question: is this hymn biblical in its content?

Up to Some Good (I Hope)

(Posted by Paige)

It’s been a while since I had time or thought enough to post anything here. Much of my brain space lately has gone into planning and carrying out the home-schooling of a high-schooler – I get to prep him for the English and History APs this year! – and much of my writing time has gone into building up an online library of Biblical Literacy materials.

But here is one thing I can share with you, as a resource to pass along to anyone who would like to gain a bit more knowledge of the big sweep of redemptive history. This is a 36-minute talk that I put together for a Bible conference this October, one of several short presentations that I’ve offered to introduce the Women in the Word Workshop in Willow Grove, PA. (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!) My creative entrée into the Big Picture this year was the progressive development of the figure and the idea of “The Christ” in Scripture.

This is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me talking, but ‘cause I made some snazzy slides to go with it. (But it’s possible to listen without looking, if you prefer to multi-task.) Enjoy!

S.D.G.

The Insider Movement and the Word-Concept Fallacy

Debate was rather heated in the PCA General Assembly this year over a motion to include a statement to the effect of saying that the Muslims and the Christians worship the same God. It is usually felt by people who believe this that such a statement can be an effective bridge for evangelism to Muslims. They will also usually state the obvious, that the Arabic word for God is Allah, and so Arabic translations have the word “Allah” in the Bible. Therefore they have the same God that we do.

There are a number of serious problems with this line of reasoning. Firstly, the implication of such a statement is that the Trinity is not central to the Christian idea of God, but is an optional add-on. Folks, are we really willing to say that about the Trinity? That it is optional? I would think Athanasius would be rolling in his grave at the suggestion.

Secondly, the argument from the word “Allah” commits the word-concept fallacy. This fallacy happens when someone claims that because a word is present, therefore a particular concept is also present. In this case, the argument states that because we both use the same word for God in Arabic, that therefore we both pour the same meaning into the word. This is not a legitimate move. I can use the word “lie” to mean a falsehood. Just because someone else uses the word “lie” to mean recline does not mean that we have the same definition of the word “lie.” Now, it is a little more complicated than that with the example of “God,” because some things that Muslims believe about God resemble some things that Christians believe about God, whereas there is no overlap at all between “falsehood” and “recline.” Still, it remains true that Muslims and Christians mean something very different by the name “God.” I have no problem at all with Arabic translations using the name “Allah” for “God.” We do not argue about words, but about the meaning of those words.

I would argue that this very difference is an evangelistic tool. Why tell a Muslim something that we are just going to have to retract later on? The situation reminds me of the mentality of the seeker-sensitive movement, which winds up dumbing down the message of Christianity in the interests of getting them in the door. The problem is that they don’t stay in the door, because there is nothing very different between the church and the world. It is the worship that is extremely different from anything the world has that actually perks up people’s interest, to the point of them saying, “Why is this different? What do they have that I don’t have?” Similarly with Muslims, I do not believe it is helpful to start out by saying something that is grossly misleading at best, and heretical at worst. It is far better to tell them of the love of Jesus Christ, and to keep on directing them there. The love of God and the grace that Christianity offers in the Gospel is a far more effective evangelism tool.

East and West on Spiration

When discussing the doctrine of the Trinity, something that comes up very quickly is the difference between the Eastern churches and the Western churches on how the Holy Spirit is spirated (or breathed out, or processing). The West added a small modifier to the Nicene Creed (this happened at the third Council of Toledo in 589). The original ran “We believe in the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father.” The Council of Toledo added the phrase “and from the Son,” indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeds not only from the Father, but also from the Son. This clause is called “the Filioque clause.” The Latin “Filioque” means “and from the Son.” This procession, of course, happens in eternity, not in time, in parallel to the Son’s eternal begottenness from the Father. The East objected to this phrase, since they believed that the Father was the only fount (Latin, fons) of divinity. They equated “fons” with the person of the Father. The West believed that, aside from unbegottenness, everything that the Father has He gave to the Son. If that is true, then the Father also gave the power of spiration to the Son. Attempts have been made recently to try to reconcile the two positions. The usual formulation is that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. This does not entirely solve the problem, since it could be interpreted to mean that the Son is a mere conduit through which spiration passes. It seems to me that there is a better way, and that is simply to make a logical distinction (not a distinction of essence, mind you) between the character of the Father’s spiration and that of the Son’s spiration. For it must be acknowledged, even by the most die-hard Westerner, that the Son’s ability to spirate the Spirit comes from the Father. So, why not simply say that the Father’s spiration is original, while the Son’s spiration of the Spirit is derived (eternally, of course, not in time, since we are speaking of a communication of essence)? That would preserve the East’s concern about the Father being the fount of divinity, while preserving the West’s concern that the spiration of the Spirit does not leave the Son “out in the cold,” so to speak. Spiration cannot be an attribute of the personhood of the Father, then, because, it is something that He communicates to His Son. The personal attributes are those that belong only to one of the three Persons. What do you think?

Ferguson’s Address

This address is entitled “Losing My Religion.” The text is Psalm 119:97-100. The goal of this address is two-fold: to increase our desire to read the Word of God, and then to read good books.

Christianity today is definitely a mile wide and possibly less than an inch deep. We need to be delivered from the notion that we have got it right in our churches. The real work of the church is to worship God, and seek His glory and majesty. We need to devote ourselves to intercessory prayer. We need to devote ourselves to the Word. At the end of Hebrews 5 (which deals with a very high Christology), it becomes evident that we have become hard of hearing.

Three reasons why we should pursue a greater knowledge of God. 1. This (the pursuit of a greater knowledge of God) is the reason for which God regenerated us. 2. Christ has specifically taught us about this. See Mark 12:28-34. Jesus adds to the Shema the phrase “with all your mind.” We are not in a culture that associates “love” with the mind. We will not have any affection for God without love of God in the mind. Psalm 119 emphasizes that we love the Word of God. In John 13-17, while the disciples need help because they are frightened and beleaguered, what does Jesus do but teach them about the Trinity? Jesus is saying that if they are going to get through this hardship and other hardships in the future, then they need to know who God is on a much deeper level. Far from being speculative and irrelevant, the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most unspeculative, and one of the most relevant. But we won’t know this unless we dig into the Word of God. 3. Because this has life-transforming power. See especially Romans 12:1-2. John Stott said that the secret of holy living lies in the mind. Colossians 3:1 is important here as well. What do you think about when you have nothing else to think about? This question has a tendency to reveal our utterly carnality. It is always a challenge to fill our minds with the things of Philippians 4:8.

There are three strategies for pursuing a greater knowledge of God. 1. We need to place our lives under the living ministry of the Word of God in a church. This is God’s central instrument that He uses to shape our lives. This is an argument for the regular means of grace. Some might say “But the preacher is no better than I am.” Calvin’s Institutes, however, would say that this is precisely the point. We sit under Christ. The minister is just an instrument. The Word does its own work. See Acts 6:7. The question should not be “What are we doing?” It should rather be, “What is the Word doing?” 1 Thess. 2:13 is also important. 2. We dig deeply into the Word for ourselves. Bible studies are not the same thing as digging for ourselves. 3. Learn together with all the saints (reading good books). There are great central books of Christian literature. Two great books is Calvin’s Institutes, and John Owen’s On Communion with God. Calvin taught Ferguson how to think Trinitarianly, and Owen taught Ferguson how to live Trinitarianly.

Is Van Til Orthodox on the Trinity?

This question has been a debated question in the blogosphere as well as in print. Van Til makes some startling statements in his An Introduction to Systematic Theology. In chapter 17 of that volume he makes the assertion that “God, that is, the whole Godhead, is one person” (p. 363). This is not merely the same thing as saying that God’s essence has personality. Van Til says that “God is not an essence that has personality; he is absolute personality” (p. 364). In order to determine, therefore, whether Van Til is contradicting Trinitarian orthodoxy, the question that must be answered is this: does Van Til use the word “person” in the same sense in these statements of the uni-personality of God as he does in those statements concerning the tri-personality of God? If he uses them in the same sense, then he is unorthodox. If not, then he is merely guilty of difficult and confusing language (which is probably true regardless; I’ve never found VT easy reading!). Ultimately, I think Van Til is orthodox on this point, though I wish he had phrased himself more felicitously. My evidence is the following contextual clue that “person” does not mean the same thing in both contexts: “Yet, within the being of the one person we are permitted and compelled by Scripture to make the distinction between a specific or generic type of being and three personal subsistences” (p. 364). I believe that what Van Til means here is that the “specific or generic type of being” corresponds to the phrase “God is one person,” and that the phrase “three personal subsistences” refers to the tri-personality of the three persons. In other words, the distinction between “God is a person” and “God is three persons” is a distinction between a generic type of being (and therefore personality) as contrasted with the three relational persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

What is Van Til trying to safeguard here? The difficulty with traditional formulations is not that they are wrong, but that they can be understood wrongly to separate the essence of God from personality. It is not as if we can say that the essence of God happens to be personal, as if personality were an afterthought. I think the best way to say this is that God’s essence is absolutely personal. God is personal as His essence is divine personality. This is true in a generic sense, therefore using the adjective “personal” in a different way than in the tri-personality of the three distinct persons, although, by definition, the three persons are “personal” as well (not in the same sense).

The problem with Van Til’s language here is the confusion that can result from using “person” in these two different ways. He didn’t exactly make it clear that he was using the term in two different ways. Only by a judgment of charity can we come to that conclusion. Some are not willing to extend that judgment of charity to Van Til’s thought. I will close by quoting Bill Edgar’s footnote on Van Til’s statement, a helpful reminder of what VT was trying to do:

This is one of Van Til’s most original contributions to theology proper. As he said at the beginning of the chapter, to speak of God as one is to speak of God as a person. This fits our ordinary experience, as, for instance, when we pray, we pray to one person. It also fits biblical data that constantly refers to God as a person. By this reminder Van Til avoids two errors. The first is the tendency, found mostly in Western theology, of separating God’s essence, which becomes a remote inaccessible being, from the persons. The other is the neoorthodox error of reducing personality to relationship, rather than regarding it as the foundation of ontological consciousness.

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