Category Archives: Sam Storms

God Magnifying God: A contemporary debate

tsslogo.jpgThe motive of God, as displayed in Scripture, is central to Reformed theology (i.e. Calvinism). God acts for the sake of His own glory. Does this make God a narcissist?

Much of what is written on blogs sinks quietly into the electronic void (sometimes that’s a good thing). I think it’s worth our time to pause here to listen carefully to this contemporary debate.

It all started last Monday.

Ben Witherington initiates (11.20.07)

The recent discussion was ignited by Bible scholar Ben Witherington, Professor of New Testament Interpretation, Asbury Theological Seminary. Witherington was reading Schriener’s new book (New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ) and came across Schriener’s thesis: “God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.”

Witherington took offense and wrote a critical blog post on Nov. 20th (“For God so loved Himself?” Is God a Narcissist?). In part he writes,

“There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God’s self-adulation and praise.”

Witherington defended his view of God as one who acts out of self-sacrifice for the good of others. God’s glory stems from His selflessness and sacrifice not his self-centeredness.

And Witherington ended his critique with a left hook.

“I suppose we should not be surprised that in a culture and age of narcissism, we would recreate God in our own self-centered image, but it is surprising when we find orthodox Christians, and even careful scholars doing this.”

Ouch.

With this one post, Witherington challenged centuries of Reformed theology and especially Jonathan Edwards. But his rifle also took dead aim at contemporary ministries of men like John Piper and Sam Storms.

Especially given Witherington’s scant exegetical basis for his arguments there were responses to be expected. And it didn’t take long for them to begin.

Denny Burk responds (11.21.07)

Denny Burk, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Criswell College in Dallas, was the first to respond. His response was centered around two main points.

1. Scripture does not present God’s “love” as an end in itself. God’s love and redemption shown towards sinners is frequently used to show that God acts in these things for His own glory (Exodus 9:16; 2 Samuel 7:26; Psalm 79:9; Isaiah 42:8; 48:9; Ezekiel 36:22, 32; John 17:5; Romans 9:17; 11:36; Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

“God’s love (manifested supremely in Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners) is a means by which His glory is manifested to the world. This is the common Arminian error. They mistakenly regard God’s means (His love and redemptive acts) as ends in themselves. But the Bible simply does not bear this out. The ultimate end or purpose of everything is God’s glory.”

2. Calvinists do not call God “narcissistic” (an “inordinate fascination with oneself”). After citing Isaiah 42:8, Burk writes,

“When sinful humans exalt themselves, it is not loving because it is a distraction from the One who truly can meet the deepest needs of fallen humanity. It is a vice for sinful people to call others to admire them and so to distract them from admiring God. God is love. Therefore He must exalt Himself so as to draw people into worship. This is not narcissistic because it is no vice for Him to exalt the beauty of His own perfections for His creatures’ enjoyment and blessing. Witherington misses all of this, and like other Arminians, removes the firmest grounding that we have for God’s love — God’s own desire to exalt the glory of His own perfections.”

In other words, God acts in love towards sinner because He is motivated for His own glory. God magnifying His own glory is the foundation for the love given to me as a sinner.

Bottom line, Burk calls Witherington out on the simple fact that God’s love towards sinners in redemption is not at odds against God acting for His own glory. Sinners like myself enjoy God forever because God is most concerned about His eternal glory.

John Piper responds (11.24.07)

It was only a matter of time before Piper responded. Piper is John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota and featured at desiringGod.org. Glorious and profound truths (like the motives of God!) are his lifelong study.

And his thoughts on Witherington’s critique? “Astonishing.”

As expected, Piper’s response was exegetical. Piper posted a list of passages under the title “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory.” These passages include Exodus 14:4; 1 Samuel 12:20-22; 2 Samuel 7:23; 2 Kings 19:34; Isaiah 43:6-7, 25; 48:9-11; 49:3; Jeremiah 13:11; Ezekiel 20:14; 36:22-23; Psalms 25:11; 106:7-8; Habakkuk 2:14; Matthew 5:16; John 5:44; 7:18; 12:27-28; 14:13; 16:14; 17:1, 24; Acts 12:23; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 1:22-23; 3:23-26; 9:22-23, 17; 11:36; 15:7; Ephesians 1:4-6; Philippians 1:9,11; 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10; 1 Peter 2:12; 4:11; Revelation 21:23.

In succinct bullet points, Piper adds the following.

“God’s exaltation of his own glory is not narcissistic but loving, because it directs our attention away from ourselves to the one glorious reality that can satisfy our souls forever.”

“God’s self-glorification is not the alternative to our glorification but the foundation and goal of it, as Schreiner will make plain.”

“The real cultural bondage today is not that too many people are making God radically God-centered, but that most people cannot conceive of his being loving unless he is man-centered.”

And then came the zinger.

“To suggest that Tom Schreiner is ‘creating God in our own self-centered image’ because he says, with the apostle Paul, that God saves us ‘for the praise of his glory’ (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14) is less an indictment of Tom than of Ben.”

Sam Storms responds (11.26.07)

For such an important topic of debate, Piper’s response seemed a bit short. With a new generation of blog readers interested in Reformed theology and these topics of debate, bloggers need to clearly and carefully articulate issues for them.

So I was thankful to hear Sam Storms (a long-winded blogger) jump into the discussion. Storms — a scholar of Jonathan Edwards, former professor and the man featured by Enjoying God Ministries — took time to more fully explain how we benefit from God seeking to glorify Himself.

Storm’s “brief response” was likely the longest of the three.

Because God is our greatest good, God’s seeking to magnify His glory does not impede our good. This is a fascinating argument Jonathan Edwards presented. It’s worth reading Storm’s argument at length:

“The question I most often hear in response to this is that if God loves himself pre-eminently, how can he love me at all? How can we say that God is for us and that he desires our happiness if he is primarily for himself and his own glory? I want to argue that it is precisely because God loves himself that he loves you. Here’s how.

I assume you will agree that your greatest good consists of enjoying the most excellent Being in the universe. That Being, of course, is God. Therefore, the most loving and kind thing that God can do for you is to devote all his energy and effort to elicit from your heart praise of himself. Why? Because praise is the consummation of enjoyment. All enjoyment tends towards praise and adoration as its appointed end. In this way, God’s seeking his own glory and God’s seeking your good converge.

Listen again. Your greatest good is in the enjoyment of God. God’s greatest glory is in being enjoyed. So, for God to seek his glory in your worship of him is the most loving thing he can do for you. Only by seeking his glory pre-eminently can God seek your good passionately.

For God to work for your enjoyment of him (that’s his love for you) and for his glory in being enjoyed (that’s his love for himself) are not properly distinct.

So, God comes to you in his Word and says: ‘Here I am in all my glory: incomparable, infinite, immeasurable, unsurpassed. See me! Be satisfied with me! Enjoy me! Celebrate who I am! Experience the height and depth and width and breadth of savoring and relishing me!’

Does that sound like God pursuing his own glory? Yes.

But it also sounds like God loving you and me perfectly and passionately. The only way it is not real love is if there is something for us better than God: something more beautiful than God that he can show us, something more pleasing and satisfying than God with which he can fill our hearts, something more glorious and majestic than God with which we can occupy ourselves for eternity. But there is no such thing! Anywhere! Ever!”

Very well stated.

Conclusion

Like cutting open the chest and uncovering a beating heart, to understand that our sovereign God acts in all things, and at all times, for His own glory gets at the very heart of God’s motivation. I simply cannot think of a truth more clearly presented throughout Scripture, nor can I think of a more radical worldview-changing truth.

God always acts for His own glory.

If we take our eyes off God’s magnifying of Himself in all things, we will be tempted. We’ll be tempted to downplay the demands of the Law (because we will no longer view the Law as God’s preservation of His glory). We will misunderstand the work of Christ on the Cross (that Christ met the high standards of the Father’s glory). We will misunderstand our life purpose (we do all things to bring glory to God as an act of union with God Himself). And we will misunderstand Scripture’s picture of eternal worship (we will find it odd that we circle around the throne of the Father, the throne of the Son, the river of the Spirit and sing worship forever).

Here’s the irony. To view God’s motives of grace and salvation as ends terminating in our good is to reinterpret the biblical God by our own narcissistic hermeneutics. Our greatest good and eternal joy both stand squarely on God’s motive of magnifying Himself.

In summary, if we take our eyes off God in his magnifying of Himself, we will fail to understand everything else. But most sadly, we will miss our greatest pleasure – to glorify God by enjoying Him forever!

Here is the center of Calvinism, what we call Reformed theology.

Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Book review
Signs of the Spirit by Sam Storms

Published in 1746, Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections remains the great masterpiece on biblical discernment. Edwards exposes the inner workings of the soul, using Scripture to make concrete the contrast between the fleeting affections of a hard hypocritical heart and the enduring affections of a softened and converted heart. The precise dissection of the soul in Religious Affections is one of the enduring characteristics of Edwards intellectual brilliance and a precision warranted from such delicate matters. But many contemporary readers (like this one) have found Edwards’ intellectual precision difficult to read.

In his new release, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’ (Crossway: 2007), Sam Storms has written an excellent guide through Edwards’ rich arguments. Storms is noted for his study of Edwards and has worked through the Religious Affections at least 10 times (p. 12).

But Storms is not enthralled with the genius of Edwards. He begins the book with clear, foundational biblical exposition and carries biblical proof throughout the entire work. Genuine discernment of the true work of God finds its basis in God’s Word, not Edwards. Storms’ careful biblical development deserves applause.

From here Storms builds a historical backdrop to Religious Affections and then defines affections, finally concluding that affections are the “warm and fervid inclinations that reveal the fundamental orientation of the human heart” (p. 44). Storms follows the design of Edwards in explaining the 12 signs that don’t necessarily authenticate the work of God in the soul and the 12 signs that do authenticate the genuine work of God in the soul. Genuine God-given affections are lit by the flame of God Himself, an enduring flame that displays itself in genuine love and admiration of God as He exists in His spectacular beauty. True religious affections will reveal themselves by causing us to hate sin and pursue Christ-likeness, driving our appetite for more of God and to pursue the sweetness in the Person and Work of Christ.

Edwards’ personal testimony of these religious affections comprise the final 80 pages.

Religious Affections is always relevant but especially in our day when “Christianity” is often defined by outward affiliations, church strategies, and cultural relevance. Edwards’ reminder to our era is that genuine Christianity is marked by a radical soul transformation. Christianity is not defined pragmatically by what it offers and what we get. More important than marketing Christianity as a list of exclusive benefits, Edwards understands that a true work of God begins with a vision of God in His unspotted glory and supreme majesty.

“We must, therefore, be careful that our primary joy is in God, as he is in and of himself, and not in our experience of God. That we have been made recipients of his grace and are enabled to behold his beauty is a marvelous thing indeed. But it is secondary and consequential to a recognition of God’s inherent excellency. What brings you greatest and most immediate delight: your experience of a revelation of Christ, or Christ revealed?” (p. 92)

Discerning this genuine work of God is essential for every generation of Christians, and Edwards’ timeless truth has now been made more accessible. But don’t misunderstand. If reading Religious Affections is climbing the face of Mount Everest, reading Sam Storms’ interpretation is climbing the rock wall at REI. There is a harness, air conditioning, engineered footholds and an attendant holding the rope, but you’ll still sweat.

Storms’ timing is excellent. Our generation needs Edwards to help us ground our discernment between the facade of inauthentic Christian profession and the genuine work of God in the soul.

“I doubt if there is a more pressing and urgent issue for the church today than determining ‘what are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards.’ Or to put it in other words, what is the nature of true spirituality and those features in the human soul that are acceptable in the sight of God?” (p. 37)

I think he’s right.

Title: Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ ‘Religious Affections’
Author: Sam Storms
Reading level: 3.5/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: paperback
Pages: 238
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: none
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007
Price USD: $15.99 from Crossway (includes free PDF)
ISBNs: 9781581349320, 1581349327

Book review > Chosen for Life by Sam Storms (1581348436, 9781581348439)

Book review
Chosen for Life
by Sam Storms

One of the best defenses of the sovereign election of God in salvation comes from the pen of Sam Storms in his classic book, Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election. Crossway just released the revised and expanded version, 20 years after it was first published by Baker.

Chosen for Life is a humble and deeply biblical look at the controversial subject of God’s sovereign election of sinners. Storms excels at incorporating illustrations that make the concepts easy to comprehend for those who are new to the discussion.

While there are many books on the doctrine of election, (to my knowledge) no others emphasize God’s unmerited delight in His chosen! That’s right, God delights in the elect. Building off Ephesians 1:11-18, Storms writes,

“God didn’t predestine us unwillingly, grudgingly, or reluctantly. He wanted to do it. He delighted to do it. God has an emotional life. There is immense and unfathomable complexity in his feelings: He delights in some things, and despises others. He loves and hates. He rejoices and judges. Choosing hell-deserving sinners to spend an eternity with him as his beloved children is uniquely joyful and pleasing and delightful and exciting and satisfying to the heart of God! … God not only delights in the act of election, he also delights in the objects of election: us! … God wants us to fully understand and grasp and experience what we are to him! But note well: the glory and honor of being elect is not why we are elect. Rather, there is glory and honor because we are elect. Election bestows glory and honor, but is not based upon it” (p. 188, 191-192).

What Humble Calvinists we would become if we truly grasped this concept. God rejoices over us and exults over us with loud singing (Zeph. 3:17)! He delights in His elect. If you were elected by God, His heart rejoices, delights, is excited and satisfied over you.

But we are totally depraved sinners deserving only of God’s wrath?!? Yes, but God delights. Never does God delight in us because we are delightful. He delights in us because He has freely chosen us. We are the depraved prodigal son, God is our father who lavishes unmerited righteousness, joy and delight over us (Luke 15:11-32).

Few truths will better encourage us, help us to battle the sin of condemnation in our hearts, focus our corporate worship upon God’s grace or truly bring humility to our hearts. God sings over me. Amazing truth!

If you are opposed to Calvinism or if you’ve been a Calvinist for 50 years, this book will be a great challenge and encouragement. Even better it will stir your affections because Chosen for Life is really a wonderful book about the motives and character of our great electing God!

Title: Chosen for Life: The Case for Divine Election
Author: Sam Storms
Boards: paperback
Pages: 237
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: yes
Scriptural index: yes
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway
Year: 2007 (expanded from 1987 Baker ed.)
Price USD: $17.99 / $12.99 at CBD
ISBNs: 1581348436, 9781581348439

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