Think Tank 2012 Live-Blog: Two-ism and the Incarnation (Dennis Johnson)

by Chris Poblete on February 8, 2012

Speaker: Dennis Johnson (professor of practical theology, Westminster Seminary CA)

Session: Two-ism and the Incarnation

The opening of John’s gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Three simple sentences (v 1,3,14). Together, they present one of the most shocking and wonderful truths in all of history. Peter Jones calls it, “The stupendous miracle and great mystery … The two incompatible realities.” If you are not confounded, you should be.

We should never ever confuse the Creator with his creature. The Bible in unmistakably  two-ist. John’s statement should confound us and slap us awake. The one-ist worldview, on the other hand, is not confounded. To them, the one-ist sees the incarnation as an axiom for reality.

Horton: the self-existence of God that makes the incarnation of God as Jesus of Nazareth so unique and transcendentally beautiful.

  1. The infinite divide of Creator from Creation
    Immutable eternity – the Creator is eternal and unchangeable in His being and perfection, whereas His creatures constantly change.
  2. The Creator is infinite in His energy.
    God is utterly incomparable. All nations are accounted as less than Him (Psalm 40:28). God never nods off or exhausts Himself?
  3. The Creator is irresistible in His power over His creatures.
    The Lord raises storms at sea, and He also calms them.
  4. He is the only source of salvation for His vulnerable creatures.
    God alone is the one who can save anybody. “I, I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior” (Isaiah 43:11). It is foolish to look toward material idols and other creatures (or persons). Yes, the Lord used human beings to bring forms of salvation to others, but the source is always the work of God. Salvation is God’s work.
  5. He alone is worthy to be worshipped.
    Because of all this, only the Creator is to be worshipped. Scripture insists that He alone be the object of our worship.

This overarching two-ist theme is an offense to many.

In Galatians, Paul calls the cross a stumbling stone. “ But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (Galatians 5:11).

Yet, at the same time, Jesus was completely human. He wept, He slept, He got tired, He wrestled with the high cost of His obedience. “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him” (Luke 22:43).

The reason Jesus was crucified was that He considered Himself equal to the Father. “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’” Jesus dared to refer to Himself according to the covenant name that God gave to Moses. Jesus claimed to be impossibly old and, moreover, called Himself “I am.”

When the Jews accused Him: ““It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God” – not once did Jesus deny this. It wasn’t a misunderstanding. It was truth

When the paralytic is raised through a roof by His friends, Jesus first forgives the man’s sins. The listeners are outraged. Who can forgive sins? Only God can do such a thing. David saw this clearly in Psalm 51

“For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight”
(Psalm 51:3-4 ESV)

Jesus claimed to forgive sins. He also calmed a storm at sea (Mark 4). Psalm 107 and Mark 4 contrasted: in Psalm 107, God calms the storm and people rejoice; in Mark 4, Jesus calms the storm  and great fear overcome them. Why? The disciples wonder: Who is this man?!

When Jesus commissions His disciples, He echoes the promises in Isaiah:

I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.
(Isaiah 43:12)

There is salvation in no one else. The Lord alone is the Savior, and Jesus is the Lord.

At the end of days (Revelation 5, specifically), God is worshipped for His incommunicable attributes. They sing a new song:

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation”
(Revelation 5:9)

How can we wrap our minds around this? The Creator becomes a creature. We want to be able to explain this much like the disciples when the sea was calmed – we ask, “Who is this?!”

People have had all kinds of schizophrenic ideas on how to explain this. The Council of Nicea sought to steer the controversy away from the ideas of the world and toward what Scripture says about the Incarnation—namely, in the Trinitarian Godhead.

However, the greatest attempts to dispel the mystery of the Trinity or incarnation ultimately fall short. One man wrote a 650 page dissertation on the subject. He could not dispel the mystery. He concluded:

  1. It was good news that our finite minds could not fathom the person of Christ. If we could dispel the myth, then we could easily conclude that another finite mind came up with it.
  2. Rather than fully explaining “how”, God is more concerned with telling us “why”.

Jesus uniquely displays the Father. The book of Hebrews focuses on God’s speech—He spoke through prophets, and He spoke through Jesus. A central purpose of the Incarnation is revelation. In his book, Your God Is Too Small, J.B. Phillips challenged readers to open their minds to the reality that the Creator of the universe is so much bigger than we ever imagined. He further argues that this infinite God chose to be known by His creatures and focused Himself through the the focused person of Jesus Christ.

Anselm argued that God’s being known by us would result in destruction unless God Himself sought to make Himself known for the purpose of revelation and redemption.

God assumed our humanity to be our savior, kinsman redeemer, and great high priest. The redemption of people was initiated by God.

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