Grasping the Transcendent

I’m delighted that the good people at Primer have released an online version of the article that I wrote in Primer 08 called ‘Joining the Dots’ on the Scriptural basis for the Christian doctrine of God. At the end, after a fair bit of theological heavy lifting, I try to draw out some implications of believing that God is perfect and infinite for our lives now. Recent events, in lots of different ways, have made me ponder these ideas anew recently. I’ve put that extract below and the full article can be found in the link here. I’m delighted to have been asked to be involved in the work Primer is doing of deepening our grasp of theological issues both old and new.

What difference, then, does believing in and cherishing God as unchangingly, eternally perfect make? We can draw out just one implication of our discussion. If ultimate reality is found in the one who is, rather than in any historical process of becoming, then it re-orientates our assessment of human purpose. Of course, the eternal God is directing the process of salvation-history, but the goal of that process is the worship and praise of the eternal Father, Son and Spirit not only for his work in creation and redemption but simply for who he is.

This means that the final goal of human action is not achievement but worship; it is not usefulness but adoration. An approach to Scripture that concentrates on God’s acts but not on his being, will always tend toward a task-orientated, activist Christianity where the urgent question is always, “are we advancing the Kingdom?” And we will almost always imagine that the Kingdom is advancing quicker in the church of 500 than in the church of 50 or through the gifted personal evangelist or Bible teaching rather than the stammering introvert. And, no doubt for the best of motives, the pull of pragmatism will always tug at our hearts and practice. Church services will be viewed as ‘shop windows’ for the visitors; any teaching regarded as peripheral to the gospel, ecclesiology, the sacraments, even the doctrine of the Trinity itself, can be side-lined if inconvenient; and the question will return, again and again, have I, or we, done enough? Exhaustion, burn-out, and breakdown cannot but be far behind. 

But if we view the end of the Bible story, and therefore the purpose of human life, as worship of the Triune God, then we can bring the end into the middle of the story, here and now. Each Sunday, each church, no matter what size, can attain to the goal of human existence as they worship God in spirit and truth. The paraplegic, the housebound, the elderly can worship God with just as much piety as the bold Bible teacher or energetic evangelist and therefore bring just as much glory to God as they do so. Grasping the transcendent, unchanging, infinity of Father, Son and Spirit, swings the compass of hearts towards what is eternal rather than time-bound, what is infinite rather than finite. It liberates us from pragmatism and activism, because our first question becomes “did I worship God truly?” not “did I advance the kingdom?” Our value no longer arises from our gifts and achievements but from our status as adopted children of the infinite Father.

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