THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 1—A Christian Worldview Reset (040614)

THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 2—A Witness from the Past (040615)

THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 3—Filling Out the Picture (040616)

THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 4—No Heavenly Spectator (040617)

THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 5—The Ultimate Test (040618)





THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 1—A Christian Worldview Reset (040614)


The foundation of the Christian worldview is the knowledge of the one true God. The fact of God’s existence sets this worldview apart from all others—and our knowledge of God is entirely dependent upon the gift of divine revelation. All Christians need a regular “reset” of our worldview perspective. The times demand that we address the pressing issues and controversies of the day with Christian truth. Eternity demands that we take every thought back to the reality of God’s existence and the revelation of His character and will.


The world’s rejection of the Christian worldview is rooted in its ignorance or rejection of the one true God. Thus, a moral recovery must follow a theological recovery—and that represents the true nature of our challenge.


Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke these words: “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord . . .” [Jeremiah 9:23-24]. The highest aspiration of the human soul and mind must be to know the one true and living God, to enjoy Him, and to serve Him with gladness.


The good news is that a vast majority of Americans report a belief in God. Indeed, pollsters indicate that only a bare fraction of Americans are atheists or agnostics. If you take these data at face value, you would think America must be experiencing a great revival and spiritual recovery. This is hardly the case, however. Do Americans live as if they believe in a God of holiness who hates sin? Do Americans fear a God of wrath who shall surely judge sinners? Do Americans find their security in a God of omnipotence who holds all creation by the power of His might and the exercise of His providence? Do Americans believe in a God who created the heavens and the earth? Do Americans find their hope in a God who is rich in mercy? I think not; and the polls indicate not. The bad news is that the god in whom millions of Americans believe is not the God of the Bible.


A remarkable insight into the contrast of this apparent religious belief with genuine faith in the living God is found in a study of the British population. Like Americans, the great majority of Britons report a belief in God. The pollsters then asked a revealing question: “Do you believe in a God who can change the course of events on earth?” One man’s response was taken as so indicative of the public’s general view, that his answer became the title of the study. Do you believe in a God who can change the course of events on earth? “No,” he replied, “just the ordinary one.” Just the ordinary God, he said—meaning a god empty of identity and lacking in definition. This god provides an easy answer for a pollster, but is not a God who rules the universe, not a God who can change your life, surely not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—clearly not the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


This man’s response is, I believe, sadly indicative of modern belief in God. It is not a true belief at all, but superstition at best. We are standing once again where the Apostle Paul once stood at Mars Hill in Athens. Acts chapter 17 tells us that Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with the inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”


Our message must be the same. “Men and Women of America, we observe that you are very religious in all respects. We have seen your altars and your crystals, we have heard your prayers and have watched your lives, we have observed your worship and heard your conversations. What you worship in ignorance, this we proclaim to you.”


The unavoidable truth is that most modern Americans do not know God. Ignorance of basic biblical truth is rampant and now expected. People are perishing because of a lack of knowledge. Remarkably, this is a problem inside, as well as outside, the church. Many church members are as ignorant of the true and living God as is the general public. Too many pulpits are silent and compromised. The ‘ordinary God’ of popular belief is the only God known by so many. The God of the Bible is as unknown in many pews as He is unknown in the world at large.


The problem is rooted in the godlessness of our age, and in the secularization of our culture. The disease is also present in so much of what is called modern theology. For too long we have had theologians who have told us that God is doing the best He can under the circumstances. For too long we have been told that we must outgrow the primitive belief in God found in the Bible. For too long we have been told that God is lacking the power to effect His will. For too long we have seen the God of the Bible replaced with the God of the modern theologians—a God who generally means well, but cannot accomplish His will. This God is a spectator, not a sovereign.


The one true God, the God who revealed Himself in the Bible, is a God who defines His own existence, sets His own terms, and rules over His own creation. The sheer shallowness of modern “spirituality” stands as a monument to the human attempt to rob God of His glory. Our much-needed worldview reset will require a comprehensive theological reformation—and that will start with a profound recovery of the knowledge of God.




THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 2—A Witness from the Past (040615)


The need for a Christian worldview reset underlines the necessity of knowing God—the one true God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. A recovery of this knowledge is the starting point for both theological reformation and worldview realignment. The fact that so many modern people believe in “just an ordinary God” indicates the true nature of our challenge. This “god” of popular American spirituality is nothing like the God of the Bible—not even close.


A powerful witness to the transforming nature of true knowledge comes from an unlikely source, but a man with a powerful testimony. His name was Nebuchadnezzar. One of the greatest kings of all history, one of the most effective builders, one of the most illustrious warriors, one of the most brutal tyrants ever to sit on a throne—he was Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Three times he attacked Judah. Three times he defeated the children of Israel. Historians record that Nebuchadnezzar took the Jews into captivity, and humiliated the Jewish nation. The Bible records that God raised up Nebuchadnezzar in judgment against His own chosen people.


The Book of Daniel relates that Nebuchadnezzar was troubled by dreams, and that Daniel—a faithful son of Israel—accurately interpreted these dreams as warnings from God that Nebuchadnezzar would be judged. The judgment surely came, as we find in Daniel 4:28-37.


Nebuchadnezzar—whose very name invoked a pagan deity—came most unexpectedly to know and worship the one True and Living God, the Most High, and to bear witness to His power and glory. The God of Daniel, the God who reduced the proud Nebuchadnezzar to the state of a wild beast, the God who restored Nebuchadnezzar’s power and reign—this is no “ordinary God.” Nebuchadnezzar was among the world’s most successful kings. It was he who built the great hanging gardens of Babylon—one of the so-called seven great wonders of the ancient world. He had defeated all the known powers of his day, from Egypt to Judah and to every point on the compass. He had built an empire, and millions were under his sovereignty. As he walked on the walls of the royal palace that fateful day, he was filled with a pride the world could easily understand. “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?”


Nebuchadnezzar is a fitting example of the egotistical pride that has so thoroughly infected our own society and age. America—and much of the modernized world—is experiencing a “Nebuchadnezzar moment” of self-centered pride. Is not this America the great, which we ourselves have built by the power of our own might, and to the glory of our own democratic majesty? Are we not the world’s only superpower? Did we not split the atom, wage war against our enemies, and rule the forces of nature? Are we not the center of the information revolution, the capital of economic energy, the exporter of culture, the protector of freedom?


The same pride can infect our smaller kingdoms as well. Is not this institution, this corporation, this congregation, this denomination what we have built? And to whose glory?


Nebuchadnezzar discovered that the Living God will allow no competitors, and will eventually make His will known. The word from the Sovereign of all Creation was this: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you.” The proud king was reduced to eating grass like the cattle, roaming with the beasts, and appearing as a wild and wet bird. He was driven from mankind, and expelled from his royal palace. The king’s humiliation was complete. But the same God who humbled Nebuchadnezzar brought him back to his senses when he raised his eyes toward heaven. With his reason restored, Nebuchadnezzar praised and honored the Most High.


Listen to his testimony: “For His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation.” Nebuchadnezzar came to know what a real dynasty was like. He also discovered the One who rules all creation. “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth.” What about real power? “And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’”


That is a priceless testimony, and King Nebuchadnezzar articulated a powerful vision of a sovereign God, who rules over the affairs of humanity and the business of the nations. This God is no spectator, but the powerful ruler whose will humbles kings and brings hope to the hopeless. This God bears no resemblance to the lighter-than-air deity of so much postmodern theology and popular religion.


There will be no recovery of the Christian worldview until this God—the self-revealing God of the Bible—stands once again at the center of our knowledge and wisdom. Belief in a sub-biblical God will result in a sub-Christian worldview. Just ask Nebuchadnezzar.




THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 3—Filling Out the Picture (040616)


The Christian worldview has suffered significant atrophy in the modern age—and virtually all of this can be traced to a significant shift in the doctrine of God. The God worshipped by millions of modern persons—including some who identify as Christians—is a deity cut down to postmodern size. This God is more a spectator than a sovereign, and largely leaves his creatures to make their own way. This formless “God” may be popular—but He is not the God of the Bible.


The Christian doctrine of God is rooted in this most fundamental truth—that God and God alone is sovereign. The Bible reveals the true and living God in this way, and without this revealed knowledge we would know nothing of Him, for He is incomprehensible and beyond the reach of our creaturely investigation. There is much we cannot know of God, for as the Apostle Paul asked, “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways.” [Romans 11:33] There are questions about God we simply should not ask. Martin Luther, the great reformer, reminded his own students of this truth with a memorable story recorded in his Table Talk. “When one [student] asked, where was God before heaven was created? St. Augustine answered: He was in himself. When another asked me the same question, I said: He was building hell for such idle, presumptuous, fluttering and inquisitive spirits as you.” I can assure you that every seminary professor has been tempted at some point to answer a troublesome student the same way!


This God is one, and He is the only God. That most basic truth is found in the Shema—that central verse to the Old Testament [Deuteronomy 6:4]: “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” This great revelation set the true worship of Israel over against the myriad paganisms all around them. That great central truth is followed by the Great Commandment: “You shall love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” [Deuteronomy 6:5]


This God who is one is also three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is not an accessory doctrine to Christianity—it is our most central doctrine. This great doctrine sets the worship and witness of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ over against all the constellation of rampant heresies in our own day. The doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental starting-point in which everything else we know of God is rooted. As the early church confessed, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three persons, each “very God of very God,” fully divine—of one essence—one true God.


The God revealed in the Bible is a personal God, not an impersonal force. He is Spirit, but He is not merely a vague Spirit who animates the universe. He is both Spirit and person. The God of the Bible relates to His creatures, and that relationship is genuine and personal.


God is self-existent and self-sufficient. He depends upon nothing, and is complete in Himself. God is the only uncreated being, and He brought all creatures into being. He is eternal—there never was a time when He was not; there never will be a time when He is not; and He himself is the Creator of time. When Moses asked His name, God responded: “I AM WHO I AM.” [Exodus 3:14] His name establishes His eternity and self-existence.


This is a good reminder to us that God does not need His creatures, but He chooses to glorify Himself through them. Our God is a God of glory. The Bible is rich with passages about the glory of God—the radiance of His deity and the effulgence of His majesty. There is no one like Him, and no one to whom He can be compared. The more we know Him, the more we see His glory, and the more greatly we glorify Him.


God never changes. As the great hymn resounds, “there is no shadow of turning” in Him—He is not forced to change His will or His ways. This is a great comfort to His people. Our God is not quick to anger, and He keeps His promises. As the Lord stated in Malachi 3:6, “For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”


Human language fails to express the greatness and majesty of God, but we must do our best with the words at our disposal. Several key words describe important attributes of God, truths about Him we must know and confess.


God knows all things—past, present, and future. There is nothing hidden from His sight. God never learns anything, for He has no need of learning. We describe this as His omniscience. God’s knowledge is all-encompassing and perfect. As A. W. Tozer has written: “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, every plurality and all pluralities, all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desires, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell.”


God’s infinite and comprehensive knowledge is also a foreknowledge. God does not wait to see what will happen. He rules by the power of His will and by the determination of His foreknowledge. As King Nebuchadnezzar boldly stated: “He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth, and no one can ward off His hand....” This should come as great comfort to God’s people, for we are safe in the care of the One who knows the future and rules the future, as well as the past and present. God knows all the people of the earth, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. As David expressed this, “O LORD You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You scrutinize my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O LORD, You know it all.” [Psalm 139:1-4]


The all here is categorical. There is nothing God does not know, even the thoughts yet unformed in our minds. He knows us better than we know ourselves.


The Christian worldview is structured, first of all, by the revealed knowledge of God. And this means the comprehensive knowledge of the self-revealing God who defines Himself and will accept no rivals. There is no other starting point for an authentic Christian worldview—and there is no substitute.




THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 4—No Heavenly Spectator (040617)


Our concept of God inevitably determines our philosophical worldview. The question of the existence or non-existence of God is primary, but so is the question of God’s power and character. Theologians speak of the “attributes” of God, meaning the particulars about God’s revealed nature. If we start with the right concept of God, the worldview will be properly aligned. If the concept of God is sub-biblical, the worldview will be sub-biblical as well.


What more does the Bible reveal about God’s nature? God not only knows all, but He is everywhere at once. God is always near to us, and we cannot escape His presence. We refer to this as God’s omnipresence. King David knew this, and asked: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Your hand will lead me, and Your right hand will lay hold of me.” [Psalm 139:7-10] God’s omnipresence reminds us that all creation is His, and that He is never far from us.


Stephen Charnock saw this clearly when he explained that “God is essentially everywhere present in heaven and earth. If God be, He must be somewhere; that which is nowhere, is nothing. Since God is, He is in the world; not in one part of it; for then He would be circumscribed by it: if in the world, and only there, though it be a great space, He were also limited.”


There is far more to say, for God is not only omnipresent and omniscient, He is also omnipotent. The Lord is almighty and holds all power. In the Old Testament He is revealed as El Shaddai—God almighty. As Nebuchadnezzar reminds us, “no one can ward off His hand.” He is the source of all that is, and of every power. There is no power in heaven or on earth which can thwart His plans, frustrate His will, or force His hand.


Kings and earthly leaders may think themselves powerful, but like Nebuchadnezzar they will discover their limits. Nations exult in their power, but, as the prophet Isaiah stated, “All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.” [Isaiah 40:17] This is a cogent and prophetic word to our own nation. The Lord is the only all-powerful One, and all the nations will one day bow before Him. No force, no power, no king, no president, no nation, nor even all the powers of the universe combined can stay His hand or force His action.


In his vision, the Apostle John saw the great multitude of heaven “as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” [Revelation 19:6, KJV]


We cannot speak of God as if there could be anything He cannot do. God is not doing the best He can under the circumstances—He is the all powerful One, whose power and might cannot be thwarted or reduced.


God is revealed to us in terms of these biblical attributes, such as omniscience and omnipotence. To these already listed must be added His faithfulness, goodness, patience, love, mercy, supremacy, grace, glory, infinitude, majesty, wisdom, and wrath.


At the foundation of all these attributes are two great truths of which we must be ever mindful. The first of these is God’s total, final, and undiluted sovereignty. Our Lord is not only the Creator of all—He rules over all. God’s sovereignty is the exercise of His rightful authority. His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence are the instruments of His sovereignty. Nebuchadnezzar’s great discovery was that there is one true sovereign of all creation—and His name is not Nebuchadnezzar. The one true and living God is the sole sovereign, and He shares His sovereignty with no other power. What was Nebuchadnezzar’s response? “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, exalt and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”


Job discovered this when he was called to answer God. Was God really able to rescue Job, and was He really sovereign after all? Job knew, and he rightly answered, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.” [Job 42:2] The sovereignty of God is one of the most compromised doctrines within the church, and this is to our everlasting shame. So many who think themselves Christians believe in a God who means well, but cannot seem to make His will determinative, or a God who is needy, and requires our help to accomplish His will, or a God who is not quite sure what He wants done in certain circumstances. This may be the God of much modern theology, but this is not the God of the Bible.




THEOLOGY: No Ordinary God: Part 5—The Ultimate Test (040618)


The concept of God that prevails in our modern [or postmodern] popular religion bears little resemblance to the God of the Bible. As A. W. Pink famously once observed, “The conception of Deity which prevails most widely today, even among those who profess to give heed to the Scriptures, is a miserable caricature, a blasphemous travesty of the Truth. The God of the twentieth century is a helpless, effeminate being who commands the respect of no really thoughtful man. The God of the popular mind is a creation of a maudlin sentimentality. The God of the present-day pulpit is an object of pity rather than of awe-inspiring reverence.”


Pink’s words were written over seventy years ago, and the situation is far worse today. Some theologians who dare to call themselves evangelicals now speak of the “openness of God” and deny His omnipotence and omniscience. These theologians have significantly redefined their understanding of divine sovereignty, and what is left is actually no sovereignty at all. As one proponent of “open theism” states his case: “God sets goals for creation and redemption and realizes them ad hoc in history. If Plan A fails, God is ready with Plan B.” This is a direct denial of God’s sovereignty. The God revealed in the Bible needs no ‘Plan B.’ God’s omnipotent sovereignty sets his power in full view, but power is only one vital aspect of God’s revealed nature. We also know His character.


In a word, God is holy. The Prophet Isaiah heard the seraphim cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of Hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.” [Isaiah 6:3] God does not and cannot sin. He is absolute righteousness, and He is the standard for righteousness and holiness. There is not the slightest imperfection in God, for He is pure and perfect.


Since the Hebrew language has no comparatives or superlatives, words are sometimes repeated for emphasis. From Isaiah’s vision we learn that God is not merely holy, or even holy, holy; He is holy, holy, holy—infinite holiness. All that belongs to God is holy. His presence marks holy ground. His temple is a Holy Place, and the altar was in the Holy of Holies. The church of Jesus Christ is a holy nation, and we preach God’s Holy Word, the Holy Scriptures. Everything that God is and does is holy.


Holiness is the quintessential attribute of God’s moral character, and it defines all other attributes. God’s power is the power of holiness, His omniscience is a holy knowledge. God’s love is a holy love, even as His wrath is a holy wrath. The doctrine of the wrath of God has been banished from far too many pulpits, but God’s holiness cannot be understood apart from His determination to punish sin. There are few doctrines as thoroughly grounded in Scripture as the doctrine of God’s wrath. Jesus Himself taught that God would judge all persons, and that He must punish sin. Paul reminds us that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” [Romans 1:18] and John the Baptist warned that we should “flee from the wrath to come.” [Matthew 3:7] Yet God has made a provision for us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, who for sinners bore God’s wrath against sin. A holy God demands and deserves a holy people, and thus we are called to be holy as well.


King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to know the Lord Most High, the one true God. There is coming a day when every creature will come to know God, when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Philippians 2:10-11] In the meantime, it is our task and glory to bear witness to the true and living God. As our Lord prayed in His final hours on earth: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” [John 17:3]


While others may profess and proclaim a dehydrated deity, let us bear witness to the God who revealed Himself in the Bible—the God who is our Creator, our Redeemer, our Deliverer, and our King. Christians must affirm and teach His greatness and power, His sovereignty and majesty, His sufficiency and omniscience, His omnipresence and His eternity, His glory and His grace.


Our task is to bear witness to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. No matter what the world may say, the true church must tell of His greatness, His holiness, and His sovereignty.


A. W. Tozer rightly observed that “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” What comes to your mind? The God of the Bible shows mercy to sinners through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. His greatest demonstration of His own glory is seen in the redemption of sinners. To truly know Him is to know His saving power. Those who truly know the living God will find salvation by His grace, through Jesus Christ.


For thus says the LORD, “Let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD.”