Thursday, 19 March 2009

Trinity

I'm thinking, at a very basic level, about the doctrine of the Trinity, in preparation for one or two talks I need to give over the next few days. One aspect of these talks is to give reflections on how God as Father Son and Holy Spirit affects our Christian living. Part of my thinking has been focused on our praise and worship in song as Christians.

Here's my genuine question. In what sense can we sing the following lines, taken from a song that I sang in a Christian setting recently:

As Angels looked on You humbled yourself; Gave up your glorious throne;


Is it ever proper to talk about Jesus giving up his glorious throne? I'm not sure. My knowledge of the Scriptures is very poor, so I cant think of an obvious passage that the song alludes to. (Johannine ideas perhaps? Philippians 2 certainly does not fit.) My gut instinct is to feel that I know what the song is getting at. But my theological head tells me that not for one moment did Jesus give up his glorious throne. The Son of God has always been, and will always be, enthroned in heaven.

Thoughts? Offers of help?

10 comments:

Steven Carr said...

David,

A good place to start when thinking about how the Trinity affects our Christian living is Ephesians 1.

In regard to your question about Christ specifically, Calvin has much to say. Especially in his doctrine that the Divine nature of the Son of God remained beyond the human nature. Both natures were brought together in a hypostatic union so that we cannot speak of two persons, but two natures in one person. Neither can we talk about mixing the natures together. They remained distinct. Separating the natures to have two people is called the Nestorian heresy. Mixing the two natures to get a new nature is called the Eutychian heresy. We want to navigate between these two heresies as best we can. It ain't as easy as it looks.

The "leaving the throne" line in the song could easily fall into the Eutychian heresy, however, over-stressing the fact that the Divine nature remained on the throne without any reference to the humiliation of the person of the Son of God is falling under the Nestorian heresy.

Study these two heresies, and study the Orthodox reactions against these heresies. If you are able to get your hands on it a great little book entitled The Christological Controversy ed. by Richard A. Norris is a good place to start. The Athanasian Creed is a very handy refeerence in how we ought to speak of Christ. Read also Calvin's discussion of the two natures of Christ in Book II Chap. xvi of his Institutes.

I hope this has been helpful.

Blessings

Steven Carr said...

The Christological Controversy can be found here:

http://www.amazon.com/Christological-Controversy-Sources-Christian-Thought/dp/0800614119/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1237519531&sr=1-1

Dougie said...

Dave,

A good and easy intro would be to scan the few chapters relating to Nicaea and Chalcedon in A Lion Handbook of Church History.

This would give you a helpful, easy summary before you hammer into Calvin, Athanasius, the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine.

Robert Letham's book called The Holy Trinity also gives you a good summary of what's been argued down the years and he devotes a section to what the Trinity means for the Incarnation, Worship, Prayer, Creation and Missions.

David Shedden said...

Guys, thanks for your posts. Cut to the chase though... would you sing the line or not? Why or why not?

Steven Carr said...

David,

I could cut to the chase but it would be better if you did the studying on your own.

Would I sing the song or not? is not an applicable question for me since I belong to an exclusive psalmody church. However, if I were a hymn-singer, I would have to see the line in the context of the whole song.

Sorry for being elusive. Okay, I'm not sorry. :)

David Shedden said...

Steven, it is interesting that both you and Dougie advised on historical theology in your posts. I have studied theology and I am aware of the various Christological debates. Neither of you offered practical advice based on your reflection of Scripture.

Can you see how this is a practical problem for me as a pastor? My ministry cannot be lost in the 3rd, 4th and 5th century Christological debates. I tend to think that those debates themselves were pretty convoluted and permeated by unhelpful socio-political interference. The effort in understanding them in depth probably doesn't pay back in pastoral wisdom.

I need to be able to explain to people why I don't like the idea of singing a song with the line "As Angels looked on You humbled yourself; Gave up your glorious throne;" If I cant do this out of my teaching and preaching of Scripture I'm finished as a pastor. Otherwise I'm wrong and the line is fine. What do you think?

JohnGreenview said...

Mary is told that 'Luk 1:35 The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.' In these matters we can bow to the plain if ultimately inexplicable words of Scripture. Jesus the son did leave the glory that he had with the Father before the world was, as John tells us. He expects to return to that glory taking with him not only his divinity but his humanity. he came from God and will return to God.

Thus I have no problem in saying that he left his Father's throne.

Danny said...

I'm with John. I would have no problem singing the line and I would argue that Phil 2 is quite relevant here... "he who was in very nature God... made himself nothing". The hymn line might not be strictly correct but it captures the spirit of this passage.

And I reckon that Jesus did indeed give up his glorious throne... if he didn't how could he make himself nothing? If he didn't then something of the glorious mystery of Incarnation is lost and something of the power of the Gospel message (particularly Good Friday and Easter Saturday)is lost too.

But you could argue this sort of stuff all day as your friends with the posts on the Christological debate demonstrate so well. As pastors we can't always come up with the definitive answer! We learn to live with the questions and to keep on asking them - and Trinity is a particularly elusive doctrine both theologically and scripturally.

Dougie said...

Dave, apologies, not knowing your background I had no idea whether you had looked at the 4th-5th century Christology stuff, I was purely trying to give some introduction stuff.

Second, there seems to be an air that the debates 16 hundred years ago were unhelpful. Yes it is tough to untangle what they were all saying but they are crucial today. Surely it is of the utmost importance that Jesus is both God and man especially with all the weird and wacky ideas out there about who he is.

Lastly the song. John, he did leave his Father's glory to come to earth, of that there is no doubt. However did he 'give up' his throne? It makes it sound like there was a point he wasn't king of kings. Yet John 1, Ephesians 1 and 2 and Colossians 1:15-22 suggest he always was, is and will be even though he suffered disgrace on earth. Maybe you disagree though?

So, I would be surprised if the song is getting at that Jesus is not the king of kings. If the song means that Jesus left heaven for a bit, then no problem, even if the wording is unhelpful.

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