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Monotheism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 2, 2024 12:01 am

Monotheism

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 2, 2024 12:01 am

While the doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious, the Bible plainly affirms that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. Today, R.C. Sproul affirms that Christians worship one God.

Get R.C. Sproul's Teaching Series 'The Mystery of the Trinity' and the Crucial Questions Booklet 'What Is the Trinity?' for Your Gift of Any Amount: https://gift.renewingyourmind.org/3240/mystery-of-the-trinity

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When you get to the prophets, you read an almost constant diatribe against the false gods of other religions, that they are seen as not competing deities, but as useless idols.

In fact, the prophets characteristically make fun of people who worship trees, who worship statues, who worship those things that they have made with their own hands. From the Old Testament to the New, the people of God have always affirmed belief in one God, not that He is first among many, but that He is the only one true and living God. You're listening to the Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind.

I'm your host, Nathan W. Bingham. So how should Christians respond to the false accusation that we in fact believe in three gods, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? To help answer that question, and to give you a firm understanding of the essential doctrine of the Trinity, over several weeks you'll hear R.C. Sproul's series, The Mystery of the Trinity. And when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, we'll send you the complete series as well as Dr. Sproul's book, What Is the Trinity? Well, here's Dr. Sproul to make the case for monotheism, our belief in one God.

Today we're going to begin a new series of study. The whole concept of the Trinity is one that is fraught with difficulties and controversy throughout church history, and yet it has emerged as a touchstone of truth and a non-negotiable article of Christian orthodoxy. Still, there is so much confusion around this concept that to this day we find people misunderstanding it in very serious ways. Some people really think that the doctrine of the Trinity means that we believe in three gods, which is what's called tritheism, which of course the church has categorically rejected historically. And others have seen it as the church's retreat into contradiction. I had a conversation not too long ago with a man who had his PhD in philosophy, and he objected to Christianity on the grounds that at the heart of the Christian faith was this doctrine of the Trinity that was a manifest contradiction, saying that God is three and one.

And I was surprised at that because since he was a professor of philosophy, I assumed he had had at least elementary courses in logic and knew the basic ingredients of the law of non-contradiction, which is defined historically by saying A cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship. And when we see our confession of faith in the Trinity, the church confesses that God is one in essence and three in person. God is one in A and three in B. And if we said he was one in essence and three in essence, that would be a contradiction.

Or if we said he was one in person and three in person, that also would be a contradiction. But as mysterious as the Trinity may be, and as it may be above our capacity to understand in its fullness, the historic formula is not contradictory. But why did the church get into this discussion of Trinity in the first place? And I think what we need to understand initially is the development of the church's understanding of the nature of God based upon the Scriptures. And when we look at the Scriptures, we see what we call in theology progressive revelation. Now what we mean by progressive revelation is that as time goes by, God unfolds more and more of his historic plan of redemption. He gives more and more content of his self-disclosure by means of revelation. Now this progress in revelation does not mean that what God reveals in the Old Testament he then contradicts in the New Testament. Progressive revelation is not a corrective whereby the latest unveiling from God corrects a previous mistaken revelation.

No, no, no. What we mean by progressive revelation is that there is a building upon what has been given in the past and an expanding dimension of content to that revelation. Now I mention that at the beginning because we don't see on the first page of Scripture a clear manifest teaching of God as being triune in his nature. There are hints of that very early in the Old Testament, but we don't have the extent of information about the Trinitarian character of God in the Old Testament that we find in the New Testament.

And so we have to trace this development throughout redemptive history to see what the Bible is actually saying about these things. Now of course before we even talk about Trinity, we have to first talk about unity because Trinity means triunity. And what is behind the concept of unity is the biblical affirmation of monotheism, and I think most of us are familiar with this term monotheism. Mono means one or single, and theism has to do with God, so the idea that there is only one God.

We hear the Hebrew Shema in the book of Deuteronomy where the call is made, hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one, and then comes the great commandment, I shall love the Lord your God with all of your art, and so on. But this affirmation of monotheism is a startling dimension of Old Testament faith and religion because of the rarity of such assertions in the ancient world. Most of the cultures of antiquity from which we have historical records had religions that were not monotheistic in nature. Some have argued that the Egyptians were the first monotheists because of their worship of Ra or Ahtan of the sun god and so on, but there is a uniqueness found in the particular type of monotheism that is native to Israel and to the Old Testament Jewish faith.

Now because the roots of monotheism in the Scripture go back basically to the account of creation, that created an enormous controversy in the 19th century in the field of religion and philosophy. One of the most dominant philosophers of the 19th century was Friedrich Hegel, and Hegel developed a philosophy of history, and it's a very complex and speculative philosophy of history that has at its core a concept of historical development or evolution. In the 19th century, we saw thinkers being preoccupied with the concept of evolution, not simply with respect to biology, but this idea became almost a buzzword in the academic world and in the scientific community, and was applied not only to the development of animals or living things, but also to political institutions. There was a social Darwinianism that was applied to an understanding of history in terms of models of civilization and sociological models and the like. Well, the same ideas were then applied by the followers of Hegel to the development of religious concepts, and at the heart of this was what was called the religious historical school. And the religious historical school of thought in the 19th century worked with this assumption that just as in the case with all other forms of evolution, so religion evolves historically following the same pattern of evolution in the biological realm, and that is the pattern of development from the simple to the complex. And so when this assumption was brought to the Old Testament text, the assumption was this, that all religions develop in a similar pattern, beginning first of all in the simple form of animism. And the term animism comes from the idea that there are living souls in what we would normally understand to be inanimate or unliving objects, like souls or spirits that inhabit rocks or souls or personalities that inhabit trees or totem poles or statues or so on.

Again, this was confirmed, of course, by these scholars by examining those outposts of primitive peoples that still survive down to the present day. When you go into the remote corners of the world and you examine the religion of primitive people, you find that there's still a strong element of animism. And so the assumption was that all religions begin with animism, and then they move in an evolutionary way progressively to the next step or which is the next stage, which is polytheism, many gods. And you've seen the religions of antiquity, such as the Norse religions, the Roman religion, the Greek religion, where they had a god or a goddess for almost every human function, a god of fertility, a god of wisdom, a god of beauty, a god of war, and so on. And we're all familiar with that in terms of the mythology of the ancient world, and that is that people believed in a multitude of gods that existed to serve various functions of human life. And then the next stage of religious development after polytheism is called henotheism, and henotheism is sort of a hybrid between polytheism and monotheism.

It's a transitional stage between the species as it were. What henotheism is, is a belief in one god, again the prefix hen comes from the Greek word for one, a different word than the word mono, but the idea here is that there's one god for each people or for each nation, and he reigns sovereignly over the geographical area of his domain so that there would be, for example, a god for the Jewish people who was Yahweh, a god for the Philistines who was Dagon, and a god for the Canaanites who was Baal, and so on, so that each people, group, or each nation had one god, but they did not believe there was only one god ultimately. They would recognize the reality of other nations' gods, and many of the times the battles that were fought between nations were seen as battles between the individual gods of the people. And we'll look at this in a moment, how people find this in the Old Testament because you see so many of these conflicts recorded where the god of Israel goes up against the god of Baal, or the god of the Astaroth, or the god of the Philistines, and so on, but that becomes a transitional phase until you reach the full development of monotheism. And now, assuming this evolutionary framework, the 19th century critics challenged the idea that the Bible is consistently monotheistic. There was an ongoing debate as to when monotheism really began in Israel. Probably the more conservative of these critics would say there were hints of it in Abraham. Many of them said monotheism didn't begin among the Jews until Moses, and many rejected even the idea that Moses was a monotheist, saying that monotheism didn't begin until the 8th century prophets, particularly with the work of Isaiah.

And some even more skeptical argued that the monotheism didn't begin until after the exile and was a rather recent development in Jewish religion. And so, orthodox scholarship has had to fight that battle for the last hundred plus years in trying to demonstrate that the idea of the unity of God, the singleness of God, is rooted in the very beginning of biblical history. You see, for example, in the very first verse of Scripture, we read, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

And so, in the creation narrative, we see the affirmation that the God who was introduced in the first page of the Pentateuch is the God whose domain is the entire creation, not just the limited geographical boundaries of Old Testament Israel, but that He is the God over heaven and over earth. Another phrase that is used for God frequently in the Old Testament is the Most High God. One of the reasons, however, that the critics see a lack of monotheism, even in the creation narratives, is because in those narratives there is a vacillation between two different names for God. On the one hand, God is referred to as Jehovah or Yahweh. On the other hand, the name Elohim is used for God. And that name Elohim is striking because the em on the end is the plural ending of the Hebrew noun. And so, one could translate Elohim by the English word gods. Now, at the same time, there is a further anomaly with that name Elohim that even though it has a plural ending, it appears with a singular verb form. And so, the writer is obviously saying something that can't simplistically be interpreted to mean many gods. But again, the character of this Elohim or this Jehovah who is revealed to us in the opening chapters of Genesis is the one who is sovereign over all things. And so, I think you're leaping to conclusions by assuming from the name Elohim that therefore there was this polytheism.

It really gets at times absurd. I remember when I was in seminary listening to a professor say that Jewish religion began in animism because of the experience of Abraham by meeting the angels by the oaks of Mamre. And the professor said, do you see what's going on here that Abraham's engaged in a conversation with these supposed three angels by the oaks? He said, really what's going on is Abraham's conversing with the gods in the trees. He said, hello, there's not a shred of evidence in the text that Abraham is engaged in any kind of animism. But the charge of animism is also lodged because in the account of the fall, you have the temptation being brought to Adam and Eve by a serpent who assumes personal characteristics. He can reason, he can speak, and he can act with volition, and so this ascription of personal characteristics and traits to a serpent would be seen by some critics as an example of animism.

Also, the same could be said later on of the experience of Balaam's ass when that donkey speaks there and they say, well see, there's this spirit in the donkey just like there was a spirit in the serpent, and these are the evidences, so to speak, for animism. And then the idea of henotheism is charged because, as I said, there is so much conflict recorded in the Old Testament between the God of Israel and the God of the other nations. And so the question remains, was it really monotheism from the beginning?

But as I've said, the creation account asserts that God is the creator over all things, the heavens and the earth, when we move fast forward to Exodus to the account of the giving of the law. The very first commandment received by Moses at Sinai is one that is strongly monotheistic because God is saying, thou shalt have no other gods before me. Now, some people would say, well, that's only monotheistic because God is saying, you can have other gods just as long as they don't outrank me, just as long as you make sure that I'm the head deity, the chief deity.

No one can rank ahead of me. Don't you put anybody before me, except that when God is speaking there, thou shalt have no other gods before me, what He's saying in the before me is in my presence, and His presence, of course, is ubiquitous, and it's on the presence. So what God is saying when He says, thou shalt have no other gods in my presence, He's basically saying to worship anything apart from Him, whether you live in Israel or whether you live in Canaan or whether you live in Philistia, you are engaged in an act of idolatry because there's only one God. And the second commandment reinforces that first commandment with its manifest prohibition of all forms of idolatry. When you get to the prophets, you read an almost constant diatribe against the false gods of other religions, that they are seen as not competing deities but as useless idols.

In fact, the prophets characteristically make fun of people who worship trees, who worship statues, who worship those things that they have made with their own hands, and makes fun of people who believe that that block of wood is inhabited by some intelligent being. That as if that block of wood could hear or as if that block of wood could see, and so they ridicule the whole idea of animism and the whole idea of polytheism consistently throughout their critique. And so I think just in passing that we have to understand that what is firmly established in the religion of Israel and the Old Testament is this concept of monotheism. There is one God, but it's precisely because of this clear teaching of monotheism that the whole question of the Trinity has become so problematic because by the time we come to the New Testament, the New Testament church is affirming that God the Father is divine, God the Son is divine, and God the Holy Spirit is divine, yet the New Testament still strongly maintains the notion of monotheism. So that somehow we have to understand that the distinctions in the Godhead are not essential.

I don't mean not essential in the sense of not important, but that is they're not of the essence, they do not refer to a fragmentation or compartmentalization of the very being of God. The New Testament continues to affirm the oneness of God as we will see in forthcoming messages, I hope. But you see what the problem is, the whole question of the Trinity is rooted and grounded first of all in the biblical affirmation of monotheism. And so the struggle has been how can we maintain the Old Testament doctrine of monotheism with the clear New Testament affirmation of the triune character of the biblical God. It was Augustine who once said that the new, referring to the New Testament, is in the old concealed. The old is in the new revealed, and that is our task to show that in this progression of thought and divine revelation there is an uncompromised unity of thought.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Saturday edition of Renewing Your Mind. Thanks for joining us. The doctrine of the Trinity is an essential doctrine of the historic Christian faith and is often the area so-called Christian cults first attack.

So over five weeks you'll hear R.C. Sproul's explanation and biblical defense of this truth to help equip you as you meet people who deny the Trinity or have questions about it. We're also offering the complete series on DVD along with streaming access and Dr. Sproul's book What Is the Trinity when you give a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org. Perhaps study the series yourself and give the book to a new Christian to help plant their feet on solid ground. Request this resource bundle today at renewingyourmind.org and remember this offer ends at midnight. The doctrine of the Trinity was not invented by theologians but is the consistent witness from the pages of Scripture. And that's what Dr. Sproul will explore next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-02 02:34:39 / 2024-03-02 02:42:54 / 8

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