Magnifying God in Christ

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God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit.

That is the underlying and over-arching theme of the New Testament, according to Tom Shreiner‘s upcoming book, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ.However, in a recent blog post by Ben Witherington (Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary), he confesses that such a thesis about our Lord as a self-centered God is disturbing and “narcissistic”:

In other words I am arguing Christ, the perfect image of God’s character, reveals that God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. God loves people, not merely as means to his own ends, but as ends in themselves.[…]Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God, but this is a very different matter from the suggestion that God worships himself, is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not, and his deepest motivation for doing anything on earth is so that he can up his own glory quotient, or magnify and praise himself.

Denny Burk gives an appropriate, biblical response to Witherington’s narcissistic view of our self-centered God:

Everywhere the Bible teaches that God???s love and redemptive acts are designed to magnify His own glory (e.g., 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 and God???s glory are not at odds, as John Piper would say. 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 (see the texts cited above).

How typical of Witherington to say what he says, for when we remember that he’s an Arminian then it all makes sense!In my own spiritual pilgrimage, I have been blessed by the ministry of Louie Giglio and John Piper. Through these men and their ministries, they have given us young evangelicals a God-centered theology through catch-phrases like “Yes Lord, walking in the way of Your truth we wait eagerly for You, for Your name and Your renown are the desire of our souls” and “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”The interpretation of Scripture that I have learned and discerned from sitting under their teaching and then submitting myself to the study of God’s Word (especially in the Gospels and Paul’s letters) is that God does everything He does for the ultimate purpose of His glory, honor, and praise. As it says in Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. He is rightfully self-centered and egotistical because He is God! (To do anything less than make everything about His own glory would make Himself out not to be God.)

I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.Isaiah 42:8

And if He is LORD and Lord over all creation, should He not rightfully be completely self-centered? After all, if He is the greatest and most glorious thing in the world, should He not do all that He does for His own glory? If He loved us and gave His Son only for our sake as a means in and of itself, wouldn’t that make us a little bit more important than God Himself? Honestly, there are times when I wished that John 3:16 would say “For God so loved Himself” because somewhere in this world, some Christians and seminary professors have put themselves on a pedestal, thinking they are so important to God that you know what — He really should love them! This is a pitiful interpretation of Scripture and I am very saddened that such controversy arises even within biblical scholarship today :(In short, Witherington’s own concluding paragraph works nicely when we consider him as the subject of it:

“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.”

(HT: Justin Taylor)

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