Matthew Barrett

Podcast Throwback: Inseparable Operations: Good News for Salvation? Adonis Vidu and Matthew Barrett

The external works of the Trinity are undivided. Until recently, this statement was an uncontroversial affirmation of the doctrine of inseparable operations. In fact, for nearly two millennia, inseparable operations were simply assumed to be an integral premise of the Christian faith. Yet modern treatments of the Trinity have left the essential unity of the… Download Audio

Should we call down fire from heaven or pick up our cross? Michael Horton and Matthew Barrett

In the 21st century Christians have proved one thing with their fiery rhetoric: we fear man instead of God. That misplaced fear has created extreme hostility towards others in society. That misplaced fear has been exposed lately when Christians engage controversial topics such as Christian America, cancel culture, martyr complex, LGBTQ+, racism, and more. Yet… Download Audio

An Attribute of God Simply Too Serious to Ignore

Back during my seminary days, our family lived in Louisville, Ky. One of the advantages of living in Louisville was the occasional trip to Homemade Pie and Ice Cream, which had the most scrumptious pies in town. Each year, people from all over the country, even the world, travel to Louisville for the famous Kentucky Derby. Before the race, the festivities are marked not only by flamboyant hats and mint juleps but also by most bakeries’ selling out of their Derby pie.
I enjoy a classic Derby pie, but there is one pie I enjoy even more: Homemade Pie and Ice Cream’s award-winning Dutch apple caramel pie. Truth be told, the caramel on the pie is so thick that you need a butcher’s knife to cut through it. But let’s say you’ve found your knife and you begin dividing up the pie—a fairly large piece for me, thank you, and perhaps smaller pieces for everyone else.
It kills me to admit this, because a theologian is always looking for an insightful illustration wherever he can find one, but Dutch apple caramel pie is a poor illustration for what God is like. That’s right, a really bad one. And yet it’s how many people think about God’s attributes. In fact, it’s what makes me nervous about writing on the different attributes of God, as if we’re slicing up the pie called “God.”
The perfections of God are not like a pie, as if we sliced up the pie into different pieces, love being 10 percent, holiness 15 percent, omnipotence 7 percent, and so on. Unfortunately, this is how many Christians talk about God today, as if love, holiness, and omnipotence are all different parts of God, God being evenly divided among His various attributes. Some even go further, believing some attributes to be more important than others. This happens most with divine love, which some say is the most important attribute, what they might call the biggest piece of the pie.
But such an approach is deeply problematic, as it turns God into a collection of attributes. It even sounds as if God were one thing and His attributes another, something added to Him, attached to who He is. Not only does this approach divide up the essence of God, but it potentially risks setting one part of God against another. (For example, might His love ever oppose His justice?) Sometimes this error is understandable; it unintentionally slips into our God talk. We might say, “God has love” or “God possesses all power.” We all understand what is being communicated, but the language can be misleading. It would be far better to say, “God is love” or “God is all-powerful.” By tweaking our language, we are protecting the unity of God’s essence. To do so is to guard the simplicity of God.
Simplicity and the Wisdom of the A-Team
Simplicity may be a concept that is new to your theological vocabulary, but it is one that has been affirmed by the majority of our Christian forebears over the past two thousand years of church history, even by some of the earliest church fathers. And for good reason, too. Let’s consult Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and Thomas Aquinas.

Podcast Throwback: Thomas Aquinas: Friend or Foe? Michael Allen and Matthew Barrett

Why are evangelicals so unfamiliar with one of the greatest theologians in the history of the church, Thomas Aquinas? Is Thomas a friend or a foe to evangelicals today? Was Thomas first and foremost a philosopher or a theologian? Was Thomas a rationalist as some would suggest? What advantages are there to embracing a Reformed Thomism?… Download Audio

How can liturgy create a healthy church? Jonathan Gibson and Matthew Barrett

Liturgy is to the church like oxygen is to the lungs. Unfortunately, churches today can be suspicious towards liturgy, as if it is devoid of the heart. But for most of history the church has turned to liturgy as a vital part of worship. As the Reformers considered how to reform the church, for example, they… Download Audio

Why is the Beatific Vision our Hope? Michael Allen and Matthew Barrett

The apostle John once wrote to the church and made a bold promise: “Beloved we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). What does John mean… Download Audio

What can Christians learn from Stephen King? Jared Wilson and Matthew Barrett

Stephen King will go down as one of the greatest fiction writers of our time. Although his works are not often considered relevant to theological conversation or even unfriendly to the Christian faith by some, King offers Christians a window into the human experience with his deep sense of reality that is honest about the… Download Audio

What is the Extra Calvinisticum? KJ Drake and Matthew Barrett

But if his human nature is not present wherever his Godhead is, are not then these two natures in Christ separated from one another? Not at all, for since the Godhead is illimitable and omnipresent, it must necessarily follow that the same is beyond the limits of the human nature he assumed, and yet is… Download Audio

Why is humility essential to theology? Kelly Kapic and Matthew Barrett

When Jesus washes his disciples’ feet he is not just giving them a picture of the type of salvation he has come to accomplish, but he is showing them the means by which he will accomplish that salvation as well. Moreover, Jesus commands his disciples to follow his example and sacrificially serve one another in… Download Audio

Allergies, Anyone? The Trinity Does Not Fit Into Your Tiny Box of History

As Jesus claims repeatedly to be the way to salvation in John’s Gospel, he will also back up his right to make that claim, especially when the religious leaders question his authority, by appealing to his eternal origin from the Father. It is only because he is begotten by the Father from all eternity that he can then claim to be sent by the Father to become incarnate in history. His eternal relation to the Father constitutes his redemptive mission to the world, but not vice versa.

I must admit, we evangelicals have developed an allergy to things eternal, especially when it comes to our doctrine of the Trinity. To be brutally honest, we are prone to conflation. We approach the Bible assuming history is its only focus. Ironically, this approach is a failure to be biblical enough. Yes, Scripture’s storyline does take a narrative form, focused as it is on salvation history. But the biblical authors never stop there, nor is narrative an end in and of itself. Never do they shove the infinite, incomprehensible Trinity into our tiny box of history, limiting who God is to what God does, prioritizing function over being. Either in their presuppositions (consider the Psalms) or in their theological conclusions (purview Paul’s letters), they intend the reader to read theologically. More to the point, the biblical authors are not so focused on the historical facts of the life of Christ that they are unconcerned with his eternal, trinitarian origin prior to the incarnation. They are not so earthly minded that they are of no heavenly good.
We should not be either.
Consider the opening of John’s Gospel, for example. As I share in Simply Trinity: The Unmanipulated Father, Son, and Spirit (Baker, 2021), I often hear pastors advising churchgoers to give the Gospel of John to someone they are trying to evangelize. That’s for good reason, too: John’s Gospel lays out the gospel with lucid conviction, bringing the unbeliever face-to-face with the crucified and risen Christ and the many gifts he gives to all recipients of his grace. That’s why we love texts like John 3:16; we desire to tell the world about God’s Son so that they might receive eternal life.
But in our rush to talk about eternal life, we sometimes skip to the second half of John 3:16 and forget to talk about the eternal Son. As the first half of John 3:16 says, God “gave his only begotten Son” (KJV). Let those words marinate: God . . . gave . . . his . . . only begotten . . . Son. When we rush to the benefits the Son brings and skip over the identity the Son has in eternity, we neglect not only the first half of John 3:16 but the first two chapters of John’s Gospel—chapters, need I remind you, that precede John 3.
God in Himself
Did you know, for instance, that John begins his Gospel not with the eternal life we receive but with the life the triune God enjoyed in eternity? Go back to the opening of John 1 and what do you read? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (1:1–2). Before we get to the good news about Jesus and the eternal life he brings, let’s take a step back and consider, as John does, where this Jesus originates from in the first place. This will be hard, but let’s put off what God has done in creation and focus first on who God is apart from creation. Why would we do that? Here’s why: unless you understand who God is apart from you, you will never understand the importance of what God has done for you, at least not in full. I realize how counterintuitive that sounds, holding off on the history of redemption—your history—to talk about things eternal. Abstract and esoteric perhaps. But John is convinced that in doing so you will have a better grasp of who this Word is and why he became flesh and dwelt among us. Furthermore, a long line of church fathers also believe that John’s approach avoids a dirty swamp of heresies, many of which threaten to conflate who God is in and of himself (ad intra) with how God’s acts externally (ad extra) toward his creation.
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