Tuesday, March 10, 2015

AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc.

Greetings everyone,

In this short post, I am writing to introduce you to AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc., a non-profit (501 c 3) corporation founded to assist pastors, evangelists, missionaries and their families and churches in east Africa and south Asia.

Please click the following link to read a "Letter of Introduction" to AsiAfrica Ministries, Inc.


Thank you, and I hope that you and many others who read this blog will consider participating in this work,


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Grace and Response: First Things First

Hello everyone,

Please read my latest published article, entitled "Grace and response: First things First," available at:

I think you will like it! Thanks,


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

What Does It Mean to Say, "God is Love?"

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor 13:4-7).
In some of the most beloved words ever written, the apostle Paul describes love (agape) in terms of relationship. For Paul, love is patient and kind; it is not self-seeking. The kind of love that Paul describes is clearly not self-centred; it is other-centred. It is not turned inward on self; rather, its orientation is outward, toward the other.
Love is Interpersonal     
For Paul, “love” is interpersonal in nature. That is, “love” requires one to give it and another to receive it. Paul’s inspired portrayal of spiritual love (agape) bears directly on the Christian doctrine of God. According to the New Testament, “God is love” (1John 4:8, 16). Since love requires another, clearly the “being” or “nature” of the God who is love is interpersonal. In other words, “God” is more than one person. This reasoning, of course, is in complete harmony with the New Testament teaching that “God” is “Father,” “Son” and “Holy Spirit”―three divine persons, who eternally exist in the unity of love (e.g., Matthew 28:19; 2Cor 13:14).[i]
Against the Greek philosophical tradition that has distorted the western Christian doctrine of God for centuries, the biblical witness attests that God does not exist in simple, undifferentiated “one-ness.” Rather God is “being-in-relationship.” God is a fellowship of divine persons inseparably and indivisibly united in a communion of love. Since God is “being-in-relationship,” we cannot reduce the “being” of God to a simple mathematical unity. When we speak of the “unity” or “one-ness” of God’s “being,” we have no right to impose a mathematical framework  that leaves us scratching our heads as to how “three” can be “one,” or “one” can be “three.” The New Testament witness precludes the application of mathematical nonsense to the being of God, for its writers reveal that “this God,” the one who has revealed himself in space-time history as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is “one” only in the sense that the three persons of the Godhead joyfully give to and receive from one another all that they are.[ii] All that the Father has belongs to the Son; all that the Son has belongs to the Father; all that the Father and Son have belong to the Spirit; all that the Spirit has belongs to the Father and Son. We cannot conjecture a “being” of God other than, or greater than, the being of God that is entirely constituted by the Father, Son and Spirit. As theologian Colin Gunton often stated, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, in their relationships among themselves, constitute the “being” of God “without remainder.” [iii]
As Colin Gunton notes, to say that “God is love,” means that the “being” of God is describable as “love” of a particular kind. The being of God is an interpersonal “structure” of mutual giving and receiving. According to Gunton, “God is a fellowship of persons whose orientation is entirely to the other.” Of course, the notion of “person” can be problematic. In modern western thought, “person” connotes stark “individuality,” where the “individual” is set over and against the other.[iv] To guard against the erroneous teaching that the Holy Trinity is composed of three separate, “individual” persons, each with his own plans and agenda, the Church Fathers of the Fourth Century coined the term perichoresis to characterize the nature of God as “being-in-relationship.” [v] According to Basil of Caesarea, God is a “sort of continuous and undifferentiated community.” [vi]  While the three persons of the Holy Trinity are distinct, they do not exist in isolated individuality in competition with one another but, rather, are “entirely for and from one another.” That is, there is “an orientation to the other within the eternal structure of God’s being.”[vii] To say that God is love, therefore, means that God is three persons, whose being is so closely bound up with one another that they are said to “indwell” one another in mutual giving and receiving. In their perichoretic interrelations of mutual giving and receiving, the three persons of the Trinity together constitute “one God.”
Creation: an Act of Grace
Because God eternally exists in a communion or “fellowship” of love, God is not “lonely.” To the contrary, God is not “alone,” for God eternally exists in a relationship of three divine persons, whose unifying, overarching characteristic is “love.”[viii] Because the orientation of love is outward and other-centred, God sovereignly determines that there be a reality other than himself, with whom he may share his life and love (Barth). God’s love, rather than being eternally turned “inward” upon itself, flows “outward” to create others whom he may bring into relationship with himself.
Because God is eternally Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three divine persons eternally co-existing in the unity of love, it is not necessary for God to create the world. To be sure, God does not “need” human beings to keep him company. In contrast to a weak and puny God who depends upon his creation, God is utterly self-sufficient. Thus, God did not create the world out of need; God created the world out of love―a love that eternally flows outward to another.[ix] In short, we are not here because God needs us; we are here because God wants us![x] To say that “God is love” means that we are created to share in the joyous life and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hence, creation itself―including our own lives within it―is an act of sheer grace.
Divine Attributes: A Trinitarian Framework
To say that God is “love” requires a complete re-thinking of many traditional ideas about the “nature” or “being” of God. Theological textbooks typically introduce the “doctrine of God” with a laundry list of classic “attributes,” wherein God is described as “infinite,” “immutable,” “impassible,” “omnipotent,” “omnipresent,” et. al. The “classic” attributes that are said to describe the nature of God actually arise from observation of the creation. The “imperfections” of nature are merely negated and then applied to the “perfect” God, where God is said to be “not this.” For example, since nature is finite, we say that God is infinite (“not finite”). Since nature is “mutable” or “changeable,” we say that God is “immutable” (not “mutable” or “changeable”). Or we may simply extend human limitations to an infinite degree and declare that God is “omnipotent” (“all-powerful”), “omniscient” (“all-knowing”), and “omnipresent” (“all-present”). Either way, rational descriptions of God are nothing more than attempts to develop knowledge of the Creator from the creation.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, on the other hand, is derived from God’s self-revelation in the history of Israel, the giving of the Son and the sending of the Spirit. While “natural theology” has its place as a support to faith, it cannot be allowed to supplant God’s self-revelation as Father, Son and Spirit. A trinitarian approach to the doctrine of God, where God is understood not philosophically but personally, demands a thorough re-formulation of the classic “attributes” of God. As we have seen, the “being” or “nature” of God is constituted “without remainder” by a tri-personal fellowship of “love.” Thus, the traditional attributes of God must be recast in personal terms, where God’s historical revelation in space-time history as Father, Son and Spirit takes precedence over traditional “philosophical” constructs.
In a trinitarian framework, the personal attributes of God come to the forefront. When God is understood personally rather than philosophically, personal qualities such as “love” and “mercy” take precedence over abstract concepts such as immutability and its logical corollary “impassibility” (“not able to suffer”). As Colin Gunton notes, “mercy is not an occasional but an intrinsic quality [of God], because it is the outworking of the way in which God is eternally love.” In other words, “mercy” is the expression in space-time history of God’s eternal nature as “love.”[xi] To be sure, many of the “classic” attributes of God, as traditionally conceived, simply do not fit with the biblical description of God. For example, in the classic attributes, divine “omnipotence” (“all-power”) is typically construed in terms of strength, force and the ability to coerce in order to achieve a particular goal. A trinitarian framework, built on God’s self-revelation in Jesus and the Spirit, however, reveals that God does not accomplish his saving purpose for creation through the use of “power,” as traditionally conceived. From the beginning of his ministry, when he was tempted in the wilderness by Satan, the Son of God refused to fulfil his mission through the use of worldly power. Jesus admonished his disciples against the worldly use of power (Matt 20:25, 26). The power of the God who fulfils his plan of redemption through the meekness of a manger and the humility of a cross cannot be captured by merely extending human concepts of power to an infinite degree. At the same time, however, as Gunton notes, “One who can direct history through an incarnation leading to a cross is one to whose power no limits can be set.” The incarnation and the cross reveal “omnipotence” not as abstractly and philosophically conceived but “personal and ordered to the needs of its object.”[xii]
As noted above, to say that God is “love,” as revealed in the giving of the Son (John 3:16) and the sending of the Spirit (John 14:16, 17; 15:6), demands that the classical attributes of God be reformulated in personal rather than philosophical terms. For example, divine “immutability” must no longer be conceived in philosophical (i.e., Platonic) notions of “un-change-able-ness,” according to which God may not even respond to prayer![xiii] Rather, the classic attribute of divine immutability must be reformulated in the personal terms of God’s unswerving faithfulness and commitment to his good plan for creation and his steadfast determination to bring it to fruition. Similarly, the philosophical construct of divine “impassibility” (not able to suffer) must be recast in view of Bethlehem and Calvary, for the entire life of the Son of God was a bearing of the cross on behalf of all humanity. Finally, even the troublesome and oft-abused construct of divine “wrath” must be reformulated, not in terms of penalty and punishment, but in terms of God’s determined purpose to resist anything that stands in the way of his loving purpose for all creation.
To say that “God is love” means that God is not a simple, undifferentiated “one-person” monad existing in eternal isolation. Rather, God is three divine persons, who eternally exist in a relationship of mutual self-giving and receiving. To say that “God is love” means that God’s basic orientation is outward, “toward” and “for” the other. To say that “God is love” means that God has sovereignly determined that “he will not be God without us” (Barth). Creation is an act of grace, wherein God has determined to bring us into the circle of his divine life and love. To say that “God is love” is to subvert all man-made (i.e., “philosophical”) constructs in favour of the self-emptying, suffering God revealed in the manger and the cross. Finally, to say that “God is love” means that all God’s way toward us are ways of love, for God can do no other than be true to his nature as our loving Father, as revealed in Jesus and the Spirit.
Rev. Dr. Martin M. Davis, (Ph.D)

[i] As the great Church Father Gregory Nazianzus said, “When I say ‘God’, I mean the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
[ii] Gunton, C.E. 2002. The Christian Faith: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 186.
[iii] ibid., p. 188. I have long appreciated Gunton’s assertion that the three persons of the Holy Trinity constitute the being of God “without remainder.” As Gunton has argued, this means there is no “fourth-something” hidden behind the Father, Son and Spirit, whose purpose for us is unknown. To be sure, there is no other God than the loving, self-giving God revealed in the history of Israel and in the giving of the Son and the sending of the Spirit.
On another note, the biblical teaching that God is a communion of persons, who eternally exist in a nexus, or “network,” of relationships, is reflected at the most fundamental level of nature. Modern science has discovered that the basic “building blocks” of nature are not “atomistic”; that is, they do not exist as disconnected “particles” in isolation or separation from one another. Rather, they exist in networks of relationships, where the “building blocks” and the relationships between them constitute their reality. Hence, at the subatomic level, nature has its “being-in-relationship.” As T.F. Torrance noted, when the discoveries of modern science support the biblical revelation of God as tri-personal “being-in-relationship,” we do well to pay attention.
[iv] To be sure, there is a measure of “individuality” in the Christian doctrine of God, for each divine person―Father, Son and Holy Spirit―is unique and irreplaceable: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son. Yet, all three divine persons are essential to God’s being “as God.”
[v] The Cappadocian Fathers―Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus and Gregory Nyssa―were a trio of great trinitarian theologians from the province of Cappadocia, now in modern-day Turkey. Their doctrine of perichoresis, with its emphasis on the mutual “indwelling” of the three persons of the Trinity, guards against the erroneous teaching of “tri-theism.”
[vi] Gunton, p. 186. The classical doctrine of the Trinity states that the “one God” of the Christian faith eternally exists as three co-equal divine persons―Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
[vii] Gunton, pp. 186-7.
[viii] “Father” and “Son” indicate “persons” in relationship with one another.
[ix] God did not create human beings because he needs us; he created us because he wants us. God is a “Father,” who reveals his love for us through his Son and Spirit. As a loving Father, God wants his children with him.
[x] As Karl Barth insisted, God will not be God without us!
[xi] Gunton, 188.
[xii] ibid., 189.
[xiii] According to the classic idea of divine “immutability,” God cannot respond to prayer, for to do so would introduce “change” into the Deity (!). Misdirected by his inherited philosophical tradition, Calvin argued that those passages of scripture that “”seem” to indicate God’s answering prayer were merely “baby talk” to strengthen the weak in faith. Scripture, however, portrays a God who interacts with his people in a mutual “give-and-take.” Had Calvin not been bound by the neo-Platonic philosophical tradition that entered the church through Augustine, he would have been free to embrace the scriptural portrait of the loving Father who stoops to interact with his children and is moved by their prayers!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

He Walked in Our Shoes

Just in time for the Advent-Christmas season!

For many Christians, the Easter celebration overshadows Christmas in regard to the importance of the atonement. Jesus' atoning sacrifice did not begin at Calvary, however; it began at Bethlehem, where God became one of us in order to walk in our shoes.

Please read my new article, "He Walked in Our Shoes," available at http://www.ptm.org/14PT/winter/index.html#/5/. This is a "popular" explication of the important doctrine of the "vicarious humanity" of Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

God: A Father Eternally Loving his Son in the Spirit

This post offers an easy way to approach the doctrine of the Trinity without ever talking about the doctrine of the Trinity! You will note that the word "Trinity" does not appear in the main body of this post! Enjoy!

During a recent mission trip to Zambia, I visited mighty Victoria Falls, a thundering, mile-wide torrent of water falling hundreds of feet into the lower Zambesi River. Later that evening, gazing in awe at the countless stars in the night sky above a remote area of Zambia, I saw the “Southern Cross,” a constellation visible only from the southern hemisphere. In awe of the sights and sounds of the day, I praised God for the majesty of creation.
Thundering waterfalls, countless stars in the night sky, majestic mountains rising above the clouds, vast oceans with their unexplored depths―these marvels of nature create in us a sense of awe and mystery. Most rational people believe that “something” or “Someone” brought the universe into existence. The beauty and design of the world around us, including the regular, lawful movement of the heavenly bodies, attest the existence of “God”―an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator, Designer and Lawgiver, who brought all things into existence and governs them with infinite power and wisdom.
In the western-Latin theological tradition, “natural” theology―that is, rational reflection on nature (i.e., “creation”)―has been the starting point for speculation about God. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) developed his famous “five ways” of knowing God, each based on the principle that a “cause” can be known by its “effects.” Following the Greek philosopher Aristotle, Aquinas argued that creation (i.e., “effects”) demands a “Creator” (i.e., “First Cause”), while the design inherent in the universe attests a “Designer.” Just as we can draw inferences about an artist by studying his or her paintings, for Aquinas, we can draw conclusions about the nature of God by studying his “handiwork” (i.e., “nature”).[i] Following Aquinas, theology textbooks continue to describe God primarily in the abstract language of “natural” theology, where God is conceived primarily in negative terms, such as “infinite,” (not finite), “immutable” (not changeable) and “impassible” (not able to suffer). 
The abstract, impersonal Deity of natural theology underlies American civil religion, wherein the “God” in whom “we trust” is conceived primarily as “Maker,” “Designer” and “Lawgiver.” In our multicultural, politically-correct society, this generic view of God is easily fitted to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, so that the pastor, rabbi and imam can ceremoniously unite in joint (albeit generally vague) prayers to the “Creator.” The “all-purpose” Deity of American civil society is the God of religion, the impersonal “Judge” who presides over a vast meritocracy, watching us from a distance with his “”all-seeing eye,”[ii] rewarding those who do “good” and reserving stiff penalties for those who do “evil.”
While the moon and stars, the high mountains and the deep oceans attest with one voice the existence of an “all-powerful,” “all-knowing” Maker-Designer-Lawgiver, who created the universe and governs it with a steady hand, many vitally-important questions remain unanswered in regard to the generic deity of natural theology and civil religion. For example, why did God create the universe? What is the purpose of our lives? Are we safe in the hands of an “all powerful” God? Can an “all-knowing” God be trusted? What does an “all-powerful,” “all-knowing” God require of human beings?
The Son Reveals the Father
While natural theology cannot address these vital questions, God has graciously provided answers to humanity’s deepest existential concerns. Unlike Aquinas, who developed his primary doctrine of God from rational inquiry into “nature,” the great Athanasius (c. 296-373) insisted that it is better to start with the “Son” and to know God as “Father” than to start with creation and to know God only as “Unoriginate” (i.e. “Maker” or “First Cause”).[iii] As Athanasius rightly understood, knowledge of God must begin with Jesus! 
While Christians rightly believe that Jesus came to save us from our sins (1 Tim 1:15) and to reconcile us to God (2 Cor 5:19), many fail to realize that Jesus also came to reveal the Father. When Jesus was teaching his disciples to pray, he taught them to say, “Our Father in heaven” (Luke 11:1; emphasis added). For Jesus, God is not an impersonal Creator-Designer-Lawgiver that can be described in negative abstractions as “infinite” and “impassible.” Rather, Jesus reveals that God is first and foremost Father!” (see John 1:18). 
Only Jesus can reveal the true nature and character of God, for he is the eternal “Word,” who was “with God” in the beginning, who “became flesh” and dwelled among us (John 1:1-3, 14). Jesus is the “image of the invisible God,” the one in whom “the fullness of God dwells in bodily form” (Col 1:15; 2:9). Jesus is uniquely able to answer our questions about God for only he knows the Father (Matt 11:27; John 10:15; 17:25). No one has seen the Father but Jesus (John 6:46). Jesus knows the Father because he comes from the Father (John 7:29). The eternal Son of God left the hallowed halls of heaven (Phil 2:5-8) in order to take ordinary human flesh from the Virgin Mary, so that―from “inside our skin,” using human words, images and thought forms―he could forever render redundant all rational speculation about the nature of God by revealing to a confused world that God is “Father.” 
In complete harmony with the Father’s will, Jesus revealed who God is by doing only those things he saw the Father doing (John 5:19, 20; 6:38). In his out-stretched hand of mercy to the leper and the demon-possessed; in his healing touch upon the sick, the blind and the lame; in his compassion for the poor, the orphan and the widow; in his fellowship with sinners and outcasts, Jesus revealed the Father’s love for all (see John 3:16; Rom 5:8; 1 John 3:1). In his beloved “Parable of the Prodigal Son” (see Luke 15), Jesus revealed the Father’s heart, teaching that God loves us despite our utter selfishness and ingratitude. In his cry of forgiveness on the cross, Jesus revealed the infinite extent of the Father’s mercy, even in the face of our heinous evil (Luke 23:34).
The Father’s Love for the Son
While creation proclaims that God is Maker, Designer, Lawgiver, and Ruler, Jesus reveals that God is first and foremost “Father.” To be sure, God has not always been “Creator.” Rather, God became Creator when he made the universe; he became Lawgiver and Ruler when he imbued his creation with order and design and began to uphold it by his awesome power. But while God has not always been Creator, Lawgiver and Ruler, God has always been “Father.” In Jesus, we learn that God is eternally a Father loving his Son, for the Father loved his Son before the foundation of the world (John 17:24). 
God is not merely the cold, abstract “omnipotent,” “omniscient,” “omnipresent” Deity of dusty theological textbooks. Rather God is “love” (1 John 4:8, 16), because God is eternally a Father loving his Son! For this reason, Athanasius and other theologians of the early Church took great care to insist that Jesus is not a “created” being (e.g., an “archangel”) but is the eternal Son of God.[iv] Just as a glowing lamp is never without its light, they argued, the Father is never without his Son, who is the “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb 1:1-3). If ever there was a time when the Son did not exist, argued Athanasius, then there was a time when God was not “Father,” and if God is not eternally “Father” by nature, then God is not eternally “love.” In that case, the frightening reality for humanity is that God may cease to love! To be sure, the implications of a doctrine of God who is “all-powerful” and “all-knowing” but not “all-loving” are terrifying.
The Son’s Love for the Father
Not only is God the Father who eternally loves his Son, however; God is also the Son who eternally loves his Father. From before the beginning of time, the Son eternally exists with the Father in a relationship of supreme intimacy (see John 1:1-3, 14; Col 1:17; Heb 1:2), so that Jesus dares to call the Father “Abba,” a term of endearment used by little children (Mark 14:36). Jesus, the Son of God, so closely identifies with his Father that he says to Thomas, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also” and to Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:7, 9). The relationship between the Father and the Son is one of mutual self-giving and reciprocal delight, wherein they “indwell” one another in a communion of love, as Jesus attested when he claimed, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10, 11). 
Moreover, there is an unparalleled harmony of will, purpose and intent between the Father and the Son. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him [i.e., the Father] who sent me” (John 6:38). Jesus even claims that he “can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does” (John 5:19, 20a; emphasis added). The good news for humanity is that there is no abstract, impersonal “God” hidden behind Jesus, whose purpose for us is uncertain, but only the loving “Father” that the Son of God came to reveal! 
Shared Love for the Spirit
In the Middle Ages, as he reflected upon the nature of God, Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173) rightly insisted that love requires another. That is, love requires both one to give it and another to receive it. Since God is “love” (1 John 4:8, 16), argued Richard, God must eternally exist in more than one person. Richard went further, however, to argue that God must eternally exist in three persons. According to Richard, if God is only two persons (Father and Son), the mutual love between them could conceivably be exclusive in nature, like that of enraptured lovers so absorbed in their mutual adoration that they disdain all others. Richard argued, however, that the Father and Son so delight in their love for one another that they rejoice in sharing it. As the mutual love between a husband and wife blossoms into a shared love for their child, the mutual love between the Father and Son overflows in an inclusive, shared love for the Holy Spirit.[v] Richard of St. Victor provides a theological rationale for the New Testament assertion that “God” is three divine persons―Father, Son and Holy Spirit―eternally united in a fellowship of “love.” From all eternity, the Father and Son have delighted to share their mutual love with and through the Holy Spirit in such an undivided communion of intimacy and inseparable closeness that we rightly refer to Father, Son and Spirit as “one God.”
A Blueprint for Creation
In the overflowing love shared by the Father, Son and Spirit, we find the key to unlock the mystery of our lives. As noted above, the Father eternally pours out his life and love to the Son. Unlike a miser with his money, the Father does not hoard his love but delights to give it to his Son. Because the Father delights to share his life and love, his superabundant love overflows into creation, so that Jesus may be the first-born among many sons and daughters (see Eph 1:3-5; Col 1:15). 
It is the Father’s nature to give life (see John 5:21). Because God is eternally a sharing God, God wills to create humanity in order to include us in the divine fellowship of reciprocal love, joy and delight shared by the Father and Son in the Holy Spirit. Our creation, then, has a “correspondence” (Karl Barth) in the Father’s love for the Son. In perfect freedom, the Father chooses to share his love for the Son with humanity. The Father’s love for the Son is the “blueprint” for creation, so that creation is the extension in space-time of the Father’s eternal love for the Son.
At the same time, the Son’s love for the Father is the “blueprint” for human response to God. According to Jesus, the Sons wills only to do the Father’s will (John 6:38); the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees the Father doing (John 5:19, 20). Jesus’ life of perfect faith and obedience in space-time history “images” (Col 1:15) and reflects (see Heb 1:3) the Son’s eternal love for the Father in the Spirit. Jesus desires that “. . . the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me (John 14:31), for Jesus’ love for the Father is the model for our relationship with God.[vi]
Children of God
When we begin our thinking about God with the eternal Son, Jesus Christ, we see that God is first and foremost our loving “Father.” Jesus reveals that creation is an expression of the Father’s heart, for the Father so delights in his love for the Son that he wishes to include us in it. Because Jesus reveals that God is eternally “Father” by nature, we are assured that we are not merely vassals or subjects under the thumb of an all-powerful, all-knowing Creator-Lawgiver-Judge. Because Jesus reveals the Father, we see that our standing with God is not merely a “legal” relationship, wherein we are liable for substantial penalties in case of breach of contract. In revealing that God is “Father,” Jesus frees us from the bondage of religion and frees us for relationship with God. Because Jesus reveals that God is “Father,” we may enjoy a familial relationship of love―the love of a Father for his children, as attested throughout the New Testament (e.g. John 3:16, Rom 5:8, 1 John 3:1; 4:9, 10). Because God is “Father,” we are “co-heirs” with Christ (Rom 8:17), so that all that belongs to him is also lavishly given us.
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! (1 John 3:1)
© 2014 Martin M. Davis, Ph.D.

[i] Christian apologetics draws upon Aquinas’ method to assert “proofs” that God exists.
[ii] The “all-seeing eye” of God can be seen on the back of a one-dollar bill.
[iii] Athanasius, Against the Arians, 1:34.
[iv] Arius, a deacon in the church at Alexandria, wrongly claimed that Jesus was not the eternal Son of God but, rather, was a created being, like an archangel. Arius’ heretical teachings are mirrored today in the false doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[v] Great care is needed when making comparisons between human experience and the inner, divine relations of the Godhead. We must not think that the Father and Son “birth” the Holy Spirit, in the same way a husband and wife join together to “birth” a child. Rather, it is theologically proper to say that the Son is eternally “begotten” of the Father, while the Spirit eternally “proceeds” from the Father through the Son. In asserting that the Son is “begotten,” while the Sprit “proceeds,” theologians of the early Church guarded against the erroneous teaching that God has “two sons.”
[vi] For the excellent insights in this section, I am indebted to Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to Christian Faith, Downers Grove: IVP, 2012), pp. 41-4. This is one of best (and easiest!) books I have read on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Doctrine of God and Male-Female Relationships in Christianity and Islam

© 2014 Rev. Dr. Martin M. Davis (Ph.D.)

 Personal note: During a recent teaching/preaching trip to east Africa, a publisher heard me speak on this topic. At the publisher’s request, I wrote this article for publication as a pamphlet to be distributed free to secondary (“high”) school students in Kenya, a Christian nation that is on the frontline of defence against radical Islam. The Westlake Mall massacre in Nairobi and the recent slaughter of the citizens of the village of Mpeketoni, are only two of the recent attacks in Kenya by Al-Shabob, the branch of radical Islam in Somalia, on Kenya’s northern border. I travel to east Africa on a regular basis to teach Trinitarian theology, so that I might play a part in strengthening these faithful Christians against the ongoing threat to their country. Please help me to do this work by making even a small donation through this website.

Recently I heard a young pastor express his concern regarding the increasing number of marriages between young Christian women and young Muslim men in Kenya. In Nairobi, he said, many young Christian women believe it is acceptable for them to marry Muslim men, for―as they claim―“Christians and Muslims worship the same God.” 

But is it true that Christians and Muslims worship the “same” God? Is “Allah” just another name for the God of the Holy Bible? Or are there important differences between the God of Christianity and the God of Islam? In this essay, I will show that Christians and Muslims do not worship the same God. In addition, I will show how the differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs about the nature of God have major consequences for male-female relationships.  

I write from a Christian perspective as a Christian theologian. I am not a scholar of Islamic studies. Therefore, I will focus primarily on the Christian doctrine of God, showing how the Christian view of God, in contrast to the Muslim view of God, promotes equality between men and women by encouraging mutual giving and receiving in the context of loving relationships.[i] 

The Christian God of Love and Relationship 

In order to better understand how our doctrine of God affects our view of self and others, we must stretch our minds in order to think our way into the very heart of God. According to the Holy Bible, the sacred text of Christianity, “God is love” (1John 4:8, 16). That is, God’s “being” or “nature” is “love.” God’s basic attitude toward the world is an attitude of “love,” expressed in divine self-giving for his creation. 

In his great treatise on godly “love,” recorded in the New Testament (1Corinthians 13), the apostle Paul explains that “love” is “patient” and “kind.” According to Paul, “love” does not “envy” or “dishonour” others. “Love” is “not self-seeking.” “Love” is “not easily angered.” It “keeps no record of wrongs.” Notice that Paul describes love in interpersonal terms; that is, he describes love in terms of relationship. Love cannot exist apart from relationship, for love requires another. That is, there must be at least one to give love and another to receive love.  

To assert that love is relational brings us to the heart of the Christian doctrine of God. The God of Christianity is the Holy Trinity: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”―three equal divine persons, who eternally exist in an intimate relationship of “love.” God is eternally a Father loving his Son and a Son loving his Father.[ii] In addition to their mutual love for one another, the Father and Son enjoy a shared love for the Holy Spirit. The love that is shared among the three persons of the Holy Trinity is expressed in an intimate relationship of mutual giving and receiving. The mutual giving and receiving among the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reflects both the equality and distinction of the three persons of the Holy Trinity.[iii] The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal in their divinity: that is, each divine person is fully “God.” At the same time, each divine person is distinct from the other: the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Father; likewise, the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son.[iv]  

The Christian belief that God eternally exists in a relationship of three equal but distinct divine persons, who express their love in mutual giving and receiving, has vast implications for human beings. According to the great Christian thinkers of the past, we cannot truly know ourselves until first we know God. The Christian doctrine of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, eternally united in a relationship of “love” provides the clue to the meaning and purpose of our lives. By its very nature, love cannot be contained; love must reach out to another in order to express itself. Because God is “love,” God reaches out to humanity in order to share his love with us. God created us in an act of overflowing love in order to share the joy of divine life with us forever. Because we are created to share in the life and love of the Holy Trinity and to enjoy the riches of God’s blessings forever, the proper Christian attitude toward God is gratitude, expressed in praise and thanksgiving. 

The Muslim God of Power and Submission 

In contrast to the Christian view of God as “three divine persons” who eternally exist in a relationship of “love,” the god of Islam is a one-person deity, who exists in eternal solitude. According to the Quran (Surah 2:163; 6:19), Allah is “numerically and absolutely one.”[v] Allah has no “equal” or “partner.”[vi] Unlike the loving Father of Christianity, Allah has no son to love. Because he has no equal with whom he can enjoy either mutual or shared love, mutual giving and receiving in the context of loving relationships is foreign to Allah’s “being” or “nature.” Because he eternally exists alone, in isolation from relationships, Allah cannot be eternal love, for love requires another. Whereas the God of Christianity relates to the world in love, Allah relates to the world through power. The word, “Islam,” means “submission.” The appropriate response to the Islamic god of “power” is fear, expressed in absolute, unquestioning submission to the will of Allah.[vii] 

The many differences between the God of Christianity and the god of Islam may be construed in terms of the fundamental difference between “love” and “power.” “Love” seeks to give and receive in relationships defined by equality and diversity. “Power” seeks to dominate and control in hierarchies defined by inequality and conformity. This basic difference in views between the Christian God of “love” and the Muslim god of “power” has far-reaching implications for male-female relationships. 

Male-Female Relationships: A Comparison 

The Christian doctrine of God provides the foundation for understanding the proper relationship between men and women. According to the Holy Bible, human beings are created in the “image of God”:
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Genesis 1:27). 

When God created human beings in his “image,” he created them as “male and female.” In other words, “man” and “woman” together―that is, in relationship to one another!―constitute the “image of God.” Since God exists in an eternal relationship of love among equal but distinct divine persons, the “image of God,” as embodied by human beings, involves relationship between beings who are both equal (both are human) and diverse (male and female). In regard to the relative status of men and women in the order of creation, “woman” is afforded equal status with “man,” for both male and female together constitute the “image of God.” In the Christian view of male-female relationships,  “man” and “woman” exist as fully equal but complementary partners from the beginning of creation 

The Christian doctrine of God shapes our view of male-female relationships. For Christians, God is a fellowship of equal but distinct persons eternally related in a fellowship of love. Human beings are created in the image of God as male and female to reflect the fellowship, equality and diversity of the Holy Trinity.[viii] The equality and diversity of men and women ideally facilitates an egalitarian but richly diverse society, where opportunity, personal growth and happiness are equally available to all―regardless of sex. In a properly functioning Christian social structure, both men and women enjoy equal opportunity not only in regard to personal choice in marriage but also in familial, professional, academic and other important aspects of life.[ix] 

In contrast to the Christian view of equality between men and women, however, Islam asserts a marked inequality in male-female relationships. In the world of Islam, men and women do not enjoy equal status; rather, men are regarded as “superior” to women.[x] Given their “inferior” status, women’s lives are dominated and controlled by their male relatives―including husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles and even distant male cousins.[xi] In regions and nations ruled by shari’a, or Muslim law, women are not allowed to own property or to participate in the political process. Muslim women are valued primarily in terms of their sexuality, specifically their ability to bear children―especially sons. A Muslim woman’s value is based on her virginity. A woman who loses her virginity outside the context of marriage is devalued in Islamic society because she brings shame and disgrace upon the men of her family―including her father, brothers, uncles and even more distant male relatives. Virginity is prized in the world of Islam not for the honour it brings to a chaste woman but as a safeguard to male pride. A woman who “disgraces’ her family by sexual promiscuity may even be murdered by her own relatives![xii] 

In order to safeguard female virginity, Muslim men deny women access to the marketplace. Even adult women may be confined to their homes and allowed access to a wider social context only when accompanied by a male relative. Because their primary function is to bear sons, Muslim women are denied education; hence, many Muslim women remain functionally illiterate and ignorant. When outside the home, many Muslim women are required to wear burkas, or coverings, over their entire bodies. While these coverings are intended, at least in principle, to safeguard female virginity, they, in fact, negate women’s humanity by rendering them effectively invisible! Islam essentially reduces women to the status of non-persons. The Muslim male obsession with virginity reduces women to the status of property to be protected, like a donkey or a prized goat. 

The inferior position afforded women in Muslim society is the inevitable consequence of the Islamic doctrine of God. The required human response to the Islamic God of “power” is absolute submission and unquestioning obedience to the inscrutable will of Allah. A theology of absolute power and total submission facilitates a social hierarchy of authority and submission, most clearly evident in Muslim marriages. In Muslim marriages, wives are required to submit to the will of their husbands with the same unquestioning obedience that believers are required to offer Allah. Wives who do not submit to their husbands’ authority with unquestioning obedience may be beaten, imprisoned or even killed.[xiii] The hierarchy of power and submission inevitably leads to violence. Violence against women is common in Muslim societies. Muslim women who have escaped their social-marital imprisonment and have immigrated to the West are unveiling the abuse of women that is an inherent part of the Muslim social structure.[xiv] 

Muslim social structure reflects the Islamic view of a god of “power.” Since “power” seeks to dominate and control, Islamic social structure is inevitably based on a hierarchy of power and authority from “above,” where ruthless dictators dominate and control society at large, clergy dominate and control believers, and men dominate and control women.  

A Christian View of Marriage 

Unlike Islam, Christianity affords women equal status with men. In the New Testament, the equal status of men and women is a fundamental aspect of Christian marriage. In his important treatise on marriage (Ephesians 5:22-28), the apostle Paul admonishes his readers―both male and female!―to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” In contrast to Islam’s demand for wives’ total submission to their husbands, mutual submission as a sign of reverence to Jesus Christ establishes the foundation for Christian marriage. Paul continues:
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 

According to the New Testament, wives should “submit” to their husbands “as the Church submits to Christ,” for the husband is the “head” of the wife. If the apostle Paul had finished his teaching at this point, one could argue that the place of women in Christianity is little different from the place of women in Islam. In contrast, however, to Islam’s hierarchy of power and control, where female submission is a consequence of male “superiority,” Christianity views submission in the context of the relationship between Christ and his Church; that is, submission is a response to sacrificial “love.” Paul continues:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 

According to the New Testament, husbands are to love their wives “just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself” for her as a sacrificial offering. Whereas wives are taught to submit to their husbands in response to sacrificial love, men are instructed to give themselves to their wives in sacrificial love―in the same way that Christ loved the Church and gave himself for her! Clearly the greater burden of marital responsibility is upon husbands, who are taught to give themselves in sacrificial love in order to protect, nurture and enhance the well-being of their wives. 

The Attitude of a Servant 

The command for sacrificial giving by husbands is a direct reflection of the character of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset [attitude] as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8) 

In our relationships with one another we are to have the same “mindset” or “attitude” of self-giving love as Jesus Christ. The Son of God took the position of a “servant,” humbling himself in sacrificial love and giving his life on the cross for the sins of the world. This “servant” attitude is attested in the teachings of Jesus. He said: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-27). Jesus reveals that the heart of God is the heart of a “servant.” In stark contrast to the absolute monarch of Islam, who wields unbending “power from above,” Jesus Christ, the Son of God, offers himself for the world in humble self-giving and sacrificial love. Jesus reveals that God is a “Servant-King,” who expresses his power in terms of love, pouring himself in self-giving for his creation.[xv]  

Because we are created in the “image” of God, we too are created to express our love through sacrificial love for God and others. Our willingness to love and serve others is a direct reflection of the heart of God, in whose image we are created. Just as God offers himself in sacrificial love for the world, we too are to offer ourselves in self-giving for others. We see, therefore, that the Christian doctrine of God expresses itself in our daily lives in terms of mutual love and reciprocal service, where giving and receiving in the context of relationships―whether marital, familial, or communal―is a reflection of the heart of God in whose image we are created. 


Ideas have consequences. Our ideas about the nature of God, whether “love” or “power,” will be reflected in our most important relationships―especially the relationship between men and women. Whereas power seeks to dominate and control, thereby dehumanizing others, love seeks to serve and empower, so that the personhood and well-being of others is nurtured, preserved and enhanced. Whereas power brings personal stagnation and communal suffering through violence, love brings personal flourishing and social cohesion through mutual giving and receiving in the context of communal harmony and peace.  

In Islam, where the relationship between God and humanity is one of absolute power and total submission, human relationships are arranged in a hierarchy of power, authority and obedience―whether at the level of marriage, family, community, tribe or nation. In Christianity, on the other hand, where God is viewed as a loving Father who gives his beloved Son to save the world from sin (John 3:16), healthy human relationships are built on a democratic, egalitarian framework of mutual giving and receiving―particularly at the level of marriage, family and community. Our doctrine of God, therefore, is immensely important to our daily lives, for it shapes the way we interact with others at the individual, familial, and communal levels.[xvi]  

Of all God’s gifts to humanity there is none greater than love. God has demonstrated his love for the world by sending his Son to be our Saviour (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1John 4:9, 10). The Christian view of God encourages us to respond to God’s love for the world as revealed in Jesus Christ with gratitude, expressed by loving love one another with the self-giving love that God pours out for the world. Therefore, let us love one another as God loves us (1John 4:11). 

Effects of Doctrine of God on Male-Female Relationships

Nature of God
love and relationship
power and submission
Divine attitude toward world
sacrificial giving
absolute power
Human response
Social structure
egalitarian, democratic
inequality, totalitarian
Male-female relationships
equality in diversity, mutual submission
male domination-female submission
Social consequences for women
personal flourishing in family, education and profession
personal stagnation:
child bearing (sons)

[i] This essay is not intended as a blanket indictment against all Muslims. As a Christian, I believe that God the Holy Spirit is lovingly at work among many Muslims, drawing them to the bosom of the Father and Creator of all as revealed in Jesus Christ. In this essay, however, I do intend to show the harmful consequences of the Islamic view of God in regard to male-female relationships.
[ii] To say that God is “Father” does not mean that Almighty God is “male.” God is not an “old man” with a long white beard. God transcends the limitations of sex and gender, possessing all the loving characteristics of both a father and a mother. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, is male. While he is the fully divine Son of God, he is also the fully human son of the Virgin Mary.
[iii] According to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, God is “Father, Son and Holy Spirit”: three distinct, equal divine persons, united as “one God” in a “relationship of love,” expressed by mutual giving and receiving.
[iv] Each person of the Holy Trinity is equal in divinity: that is, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equally “God.” At the same time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons, each with his own unique way of relating to the world.
[v] Robinson, S. Mosques & Miracles: Revealing Islam and God’s Grace, rev. ed., (Upper Mt Gravatt Qld, Australia: City Harvest Publications, 2004), p. 188.
[vi] Ibid.
[vii] Like Muslims, Christians are taught to “submit” to the will of God. Submission to the God of “love,” however, has very different consequences for human relationships than submission to the God of “power” (see below).
[viii] The implications for human relationships of the equality and diversity (“distinctness”) of the persons of the Holy Trinity extend beyond male-female relationships to include relationships among tribes, ethnic groups and races. At a variety of levels, God has created human beings to express the diversity and equality of the Holy Trinity, in whose “image” we are created. Perhaps the greatest earthly reflection of the unity and diversity of the Holy Trinity is the Christian Church―a diverse body of believers from all nations, ethnic groups, races and socio-economic classes united (at least ideally) in an egalitarian fellowship of love.
[ix] History shows that the Christian Church has not always reflected the equality between men and women that is the logical consequence of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Such failures, however, reflect the shortcomings of the sinful human heart rather than an inherently deficient doctrine of God.
[x] Robinson, p. 176. According to Robinson, the Muslim belief in male “superiority” finds support in the Quran (see Surah 4:11, 176). Male “superiority” continues even in the afterlife, notes Robinson. Faithful males are promised innumerable sensual pleasures in heaven, including the sexual pleasures of perpetually virgin maidens. In contrast to the sensual delights awaiting men in the afterlife, however, one Islamic tradition holds that women may find salvation only under their husbands’ feet!
[xi] For much of what follows, I am indebted to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Muslim native of Somalia, who immigrated to the West to escape an arranged marriage. Ali was elected to the Dutch Parliament. She is an outspoken critic of the abuse of women not only in traditional Islamic countries but also among Muslims who have immigrated to the West. See Ali, A.H. The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam, (New York: Free Press, 2006 English Translation).
[xii] “Honour killings,” or incidences of social-sanctioned murder designed to protect family (i.e., male) pride, occur even in the West among Muslim immigrants.
[xiii] Likewise, in Muslim families, daughters who do not obey their fathers’ absolute authority may be beaten, imprisoned or killed―with no legal or social consequences for the male perpetrators of violence!
[xiv] Violence against women is not only prevalent in countries or regions ruled by Muslim law (shari’a). Even in the West, violence against women is widespread among Muslim immigrants.
[xv] The God worshipped by Christians is the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth, whose power is unlimited, whose wisdom is without measure, and who is present in all places at all times. Although God is almighty, however, God has chosen to save his creation from the destruction of sin by the power of love expressed at the cross of Jesus Christ. In redeeming his creation by self-sacrificing love, God reveals that love is finally the greatest power of all (1Corinthians 13:13).
[xvi] Many marital and familial problems easily arise when a Christian woman marries a Muslim man. The New Testament cautions Christians against being “yoked together” with unbelievers (2Corinthians 6:14).