Tuesday, November 20, 2007

"For God so loved Himself?" Is God a Narcissist?

I was recently reading through the proofs of a new book on New Testament Theology, and it was stated that the most basic theme or thesis of NT theology is --'God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit'.

There were various nuances and amplifications to the discussion, but the more one read, the more it appeared clear that God was being presented as a self-centered, self-referential being, whose basic motivation for what he does, including his motivation for saving people, is so that he might receive more glory. Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God's self-adulation and praise.

What's wrong with this picture? How about the basic understanding of God's essential and moral character?

For instance, suppose this thesis stated above is true-- would we not expect John 3.16 to read "for God so loved himself that he gave his only begotten Son..."?

Or again if this thesis is true, would we not expect Phil. 2.5-11 to read differently when it speaks about Christ emptying himself? If the Son is the very image and has the same character as the Father, wouldn't we expect this text to say--'who being in very nature God, devised a plan to glorify himself through his incarnation' if God really is so self-referential? 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.

Or take Heb. 12.2-- we are told that Jesus died for our sins, not 'for the glory set before him', and in view of how this would improve his honor rating but rather 'for the joy set before him'. That is, he despised the shame of dying on the cross, which death was the least self-glorifying thing he could do, because he knew of how it would benefit his people thereafter, and he took joy in that fact.

Or re-read Hosea 11 where God explains that his love for his people is not at all like the fickle, self-seeking love of mere human beings. But rather God keeps loving his children, whether they praise or love or worship him or not.

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.

If we go back to the Garden of Eden story, one immediately notices that it is the Fall and sin which turned Adam and Eve into self-aware, self-centered, self-protecting beings. This is not how God had created them. Rather, he had created them in the divine image, and that divine image involves other directed, other centered love and relating. It follows from this that not the fallen narcissistic tendencies we manifest reflect what God is really like, but rather other directed, self-giving loving tendency.

I like the remark of Victor Furnish that God's love is not like a heat-seeking missile attracted to something inherently attractive in this or that person. Rather God's other-directed love bestows worth, honor, even glory. Notice exactly what Psalm 8.5 says--God has made us but a little less than God (or another reading would be, 'than the angels') and crowned human beings with glory and honor. Apparently this does not subtract from God's glory (see vs. 1) but simply adds to it. God it would appear is not merely a glory grabber, but rather a glory giver.

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.


Theophilus Punk (PLStepp) said...

I'm curious: was the writer in question was from a Reformed background?

Alex said...


You said, "Even the sending of the Son and the work of the Spirit is said to be but a means to an end of God's self-adulation and praise." Sadly, this is not a sentiment isolated to this particular book draft you were reading through. I spent my teenage years in the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) and at a PCA college and I can tell you that they would totally identify with a statement like this. The basic idea for them is that God does everything for his own glory and it's not an uncommon view in reformed circles so your post is more relevant than maybe you even know. But you're pretty in tune with theological circles so I'm sure you are and that's probably one thing that prompted you to post this. It sounds like something R.C. Sproul or John Piper would say. Nothing against them. They have very important roles in American Christianity, but this particular idea of God needs some rethinking by them and their ilk.

Unknown said...

AMEN!!! I actually just wrote a paper on Piper's "Let the Nations Be Glad" for a class in seminary. This was his very thesis of the book (and every other book he has ever written). "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever".

Have we really become so distorted into thinking that God is this narcissitic self-centered being that is all caught up in himself and does everything for his glory. This makes me feel depressed and like crap. It makes me feel like God doesn't love me or care for me. Ben's comment on this being a sign of our age is exactly right. Simply because Jonathan Edwards says this does not make it true.

God loves people and does not do everything to glorify himself. If there were a characteristic to describe Jesus, it would be humility. If Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15 I believe), then this belief about God is completely anti-biblical. God being into himself is anything but humble.

Piper likes to quote his proof-texts from the psalms particularly (not quite the theological genre of literature), and he thinks statement like "For my name's sake" and "for my glory" indicates God as doing everything for himself. What he does not see is that God wants all to come to know him (1 tim 2:4), and when people do things to degrade and slander his name, it puts this in jeopardy. God cares about his name and wants his people to represent it for the purpose of the nations coming to know him, not for the purpose of him being narcissistic and egotistical. God loves people, period, and when we read scripture and can't see that then we have some seriously distorted lenses we're viewing scripture from.

Dr. Witherington, I assume you're probably talking about Dr. Schreiner's upcoming NT theology text. If you are, then I'm not suprised, because he, Piper, and many other Reformed individuals are all on the same page.

Peter Gurry said...

If I may disagree, I find that God's primary motive in doing what he does (including loving creatures) is to glorify himself. How could God want to glorify something outside himself? Would that not be to betray his own supreme worthiness? Is man really worthy to be glorified?

Actually, besides venting, I have a serious question for you Dr. Witherington. How do you take the last phrase of Colossians 1:16 that says all things were created through Christ and for Christ? I take that to mean for his glory, but would you disagree? How do you take the word for there?

John Owens said...

Dr. Witherington,

I'm not sure how I found your blog a few weeks ago, but you're in my favorites and I'm really enjoying reading your thoughts.

My first thought was, "Was the author John Piper, or one of his heroes?" :)

I used to struggle with this "hyper" self focus. I have sense landed somewhere in the middle, partly because of Ephesians 1, which I would love to hear you comment on...the nature and works of God concluded by 2 phrases "to the praise of his glory."

Man was created to be the image of God, instructed to be fruitful and multiply, therefore spreading the image of God throughout the earth. This was repeated in the Great Commission to make disciples. Obviously there is greater good from the earth being filled with God's glory than man's. I believe that God himself knew this. Not that he is so self-centered, but knowing that the greatest gift to us is actually himself. What else could God do but so boldly proclaim himself.

However, I do agree that part of what makes the concept of God so glorious is his self-sacrificial love. I appreciate hypothetical spin on the on those NT and OT texts that reminds of his heart for us. Great insight.

I am not submitting these thoughts, but rather hoping for your further comment. Like, I said, I'm enjoying your blog. Besides, I'm not even a full-time student. I'm currently in a distance program at DTS, so the more profs teaching me and the less tuition I have to pay, the better. :)

Grace & peace,

jon owen

Ben Witherington said...

It is honestly irrelevant what the writer in question's background is. We should discuss ideas on the basis of their soundness and consonance with the Bible, or not, not make the issue one of personalities.

Col. 1.16 mentions nothing about glory at all. The issue is the origin of all things (from the one who is the image of the invisible God) and the end of all things (for him).

Let's take an analogy. I have a good friend who created a beautiful drawing especially for me. He did not create it to glorify me or to glorify himself, he did it simply because he was a friend and wanted to express his love. He created it so that I would have something that belonged to me which came from him.

Similarly, all of creation was created 'for him', that is in order to belong to Christ. The issue of glorification, whether self-glorification or some other sort is not raised by this verse.

If you ask the question how could God want to glorify something outside of himself, then of course you are not paying attention to what Psalm 8 says which says he crowned us with glory.

Furthermore, the NT is all about our coming to share in glory--- look at 2 Cor. 4.17-- 'our light and momentary sufferings are achieving an eternal glory for us that outweighs the suffering'. What Paul is referring to is our regaining the glory we lost in the fall, by being conformed to the image of God's Son.

The glorification of human beings is completed when we are raised from the dead and are finally fully conformed to the image of our Savior.

Notice as well that our glorification is not only intended by God in 2 Cor. 4, it brings God glory to do this for us. In other words this is not a zero sum game-- you are not subtracting from God's glory by talking about the numerous passages in the Bible which talk about God sanctifying. loving, honoring, and yes glorifying us, not in the sense of praising us, but in the sense of making us like God's Son both inwardly and outwardly.


Alvin Grissom II said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Barr said...

I also thought of John Piper almost immediately, though I think this goes much further than what he would say.

It seems to me the way God brings glory to himself is by loving and blessing others, and by enacting redemption. It's not as if God has in mind the primary motive of bringing glory to himself. Of course, if all creation comes to be brought to right relationship with God and worships God as he should be worshiped, then yes God will be glorified - clearly. But it seems to me... not incidental so much as as it is an inevitable consequence, a result of the proper harmony between God and creation.

It's not unlike how I see the relation between the early church and the Roman empire - I don't see their proclamation of Christ as Lord as necessarily intended first and foremost to impinge on Caesar's claim to lordship. I see them primarily intending to affirm positively Jesus' status as Lord. But there can be no doubt that a necessary consequence of proclaiming Jesus as Lord necessarily implies saying any other claimants to the position are illegitimate.

wnpaul said...

I cannot of course comment on the intent of the author quoted by Dr Witherington, but I suspect it is problematic to identify God glorifying himself, or the Spirit glorifying Jesus, with God being a narcissist.

Narcissism is a pathological condition and as such cannot exist in God. Not all self-love is narcissistic.

I think that what we need to realize is that the Bible does not contain everything there is to know about God, but only what God judged fit for us to know and what is necessary for us to love and follow him.

I am sure that there are depths to the motivation God has for doing everything he does which go way beyond what has been revealed to us; a temptation in theology is to state, in our summaries or systematic theologies, more than has actually be revealed, or to narrow God down to what has been revealed, thinking that this is all there is to God.

Thus, the author quoted seems to fall prey to that temptation when he reduces God's motivation to increasing his own glory. But we need to beware against falling prey to this temptation ourselves when we imply that God's love would somehow be invalidated or deficient if his glory were also part of his motivation for his love for us. That would be true if God were but a man, but he is not -- he is God, and we cannot even begin to really comprehend his motivation and more generally, the working of his mind.

Ben Witherington said...

Another text worth thinking about is of course 'Christ in you, the hope of glory'. Here clearly the reference is to human beings obtaining glory in the future. God doesn't hope for glory, God is simply glorious. Here again we find the Pauline notion of the glorification of human beings at the eschaton, of which Christ's living presence in us gives a foretaste and thus produces hope for such a consummation.


Unknown said...

To get my bias out of the way, I would roughly concur with the picture of God's motivation alluded to in your post. I have replies to two of your scriptural citations.

First, John 3:16 is not an adequate rebuttal of the idea in question. No necessary conflict between God's love of himself and God's love of his creation exists. Consider Eph 2:1-10. Verses 1-6 detail humanity's fall into sin and God's gracious saving activity among fallen humanity. Verse 7, however, amends a purpose to this activity: "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." God is magnifying his grace throughout all eternity by his kindness to us. Verses 8-10 are the grounds of this truth. Because God saves by grace and because we are his workmanship, God gets the glory in the salvation of humans.

Second, the Phil 2 passage does, contrary to your post, mention glory as a motivation. Because of Christ's active obedience, God will exalt him. The purpose/result of this exaltation is the pervasive praising of Christ among all humanity.

Finally, we must be careful using narcissism as a caricature for this position. When the narcissist label is used for a human, a negative connotation results. People are disgusted with narcissists because these people do not deserve the attention and adoration that they apply to themselves (e.g. "he ain't all that").

However, this connotation would not be fitting for God. He is, in fact, the being than which no greater can be conceived. Therefore, because of all his perfections, he deserves adoration and attention.

This proposal--that God's perfections merit God's devotion to himself--is the basis for many affirmations of God's devotion to his glory. In fact, Piper, who has been mentioned in many comments, produces this sort of argument, but his source is Jonathan Edwards's The End for Which God Created the World, wherein Edwards argues that for God to be righteous he must chiefly regard himself.

Falantedios said...

One must admit that it is not a long step from the concept that 'everything God does glorifies Him' to the concept that 'everything God does is FOR THE PURPOSE of glorifying Him'.

Ben, you haven't dealt with Jon Owen's question about Ephesians 1. That amazing long Greek sentence says that all of our salvation has been done "to the praise of the glory of his grace."

Further, I've always thought of magnifying relatively literally, as in "making something appear more clearly visible."

Ironic that you bring up Hosea, where God passionately blasts his people for not loving him despite how much he loves them.

God's not a egotist. He's a jilted Lover! It is not narcissistic for a groom to want his bride's love. It is the most natural thing imaginable.

I don't like the idea of God being presented as self-centered. SElf-referential, sure. He is the major character in the story. I also don't like the idea that his "basic motivation... is so that he might receive more glory."

That is the natural result of God's actions, and while I can understand a certain amount of confusion between natural result and primary motivation, I cannot understand how a group of theologians could read through the NT and conclude that "glory-seeking" is God's prime motive.

in HIS love,

Anonymous said...

i, too, had similar thoughts as most of the commenters regarding the theology that usually espouses this line of thinking. i never could get on board with reformed thinkers in this regard (or in many other regards, really). in fact, someone who follows Piper, et al once told me that "God gets glory out of sending people to hell" and I don't know if I have ever heard a more repulsive statement!

Walk said...

You wrote that “God’s character is essentially other directed self-sacrificial love. I totally agree with that. Even before creation God’s love was other oriented. The intra-Trinitarian love that the Father has for the Son, and the Son for the Father, has always been other oriented. We are told multiple times that the Father loves the son. And it seems that this intra-Trinitarian love is the basis for God’s love for us. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you”. Since the intra-Trinitarian love is other oriented (the Father wants to glorify the Son and the Son wants to obey the Father) and because God is one, is there not a way in which God’s love for the Son is also a self love or a self focus?

How would that relate to God’s love for us? Is there a way in which God’s love for us is related to God’s self love or a self focus?

For God to admit that he is not the center of everything is hard for me to understand. It seems against the very thing that makes him God.

Ben Witherington said...

Ephesians 1 does not say that everything that is created or everything that is redeemed is done FOR God's glory. The phrase doing something 'to the glory of God' has a very specific meaning in ANE culture namely that it is done in a way that comports with God's character, brings honor to God's name. This is very different from Owen's notions about Ephes. 1. It's one thing to say that God acts with integrity and in a manner that is consistent with his character and should lead humans to praise God, it is another thing to say that God's motive for doing such things is applause, or so that he could have more glory.

And while we are at it-- the Trinity is certainly not solely self-referential. In particular NT Christology is a clear refutation of this-- Christ came for our benefit and our behalf to rescue us. A by product of that is that God is glorified by such actions-- but the purpose of the coming and the object of the action was not either for God to add to his impressive resume, nor to bump up the praise quotient so God could have more glory.


bryan said...

I appreciate that you all are discussing this issue. But rather than base our statements on past experience ("those 'hyper-calvinists'" or choosing Apollos or Paul (or Piper or non-Piper)) or stating what scripture hypothetically could have said (i.e. "for God so loved himself") or starting with philosophical positions instead of scripture--can we look at texts to support arguments?

If Ben is right, then how do we explain Isaiah 48? (I am not saying it can't be explained--I simply want to know how we explain that God is not aiming to glorify himself in this passage.)

Isaiah 48:9-11 (ESV)
"For my name's sake I defer my anger,for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. [10] Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. [11] For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another."

Doesn't God argue in v 9 that he is compassionate and merciful to them for the sake of HIS praise?

Unknown said...

I'm not a huge John Piper follower but I do think that a lot of what has been said is not accurate, lets be careful before we put words into his mouth, Luke. He says, "the cheif end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever."

Falantedios said...

I still think the point we're discussing is motive. Let's start at the beginning.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Before there was anyone but the triune God watching, God created. Everything else flows from that. God's motive has not changed since before creation. His motive is still love.

However, one cannot underestimate the awesome and totally healthy love for himself that God possesses. If he does not love himself perfectly, he cannot love the "neighbors" he has created perfectly.

God doesn't want applause in itself. He wants love.

What about this?

IF the best possible life for humanity is a God-glorifying life;

AND IF God wants what is best for humanity;

THEN by wanting what is best for us, God wants himself to be glorified.

Again, the question is one of motive. We are mixing human ideas of megalomania, narcissism, and tyranny with our understanding of the mind of the one true God whose glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Should he pretend to be other than what he is?

God FIRST wants what he knows is best for creation. Ironically (one might even say serendipitously), what is best for us is to glorify him with our lives.

Simply put, God does not seek glory for glory's sake. He seeks glory for OUR sake. From a human, that would be facetious at best. From the Worthy One, it is trustworthy.

in HIS love,

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for pointing to Isaiah 48, which should be part of this discussion. These verses are not a random comment on God's jealousness about his own name and protecting his good name. They are a comment on the way God is relating to Israel. More specifically the issue is that Israel's behavior reflects either well or badly on Yahweh. Notice how in Is. 48.4ff. God refers to their going after pagan idols and images etc. The problem is this--- if God were to fully execute his wrath on Israel their pagan captors would say-- 'see Yahweh is no god as he could not protect his people' Therefore, here Yahweh says that he must act to protect his own good name. Notice as well, however that we are told that the other reason God doesn't fully exercise his wrath on Israel is that he does not want them to be utterly destroyed.

The issue here then is not God glorifying himself per se, but rather God not wanting his name defamed through either the bad behavior of Israel or the destruction of Israel, both of which would lead to 'defamation of the divine character'. In short, this is an honor and shame passage which assumes a collectivist understanding of things such that 'if the child is shamed or acts shamefully it besmirches the parents name'.


Falantedios said...

But Ben,

What the "honor and shame" paradigm presupposes is that it is in the best interests of the child to honor and glorify the parent.

Or, covenantally speaking, it is in the best interest of the client to glorify the lord.

With a human patron, this is clearly a risky proposition. But it is altogether true with God.


Ben Witherington said...

You seem to be missing the point altogether Nick. The desire to protect the honor of one's name is by no means the same issue as the desire to 'glorify' one's self in the modern sense. The problem here is the anachronistic importation of western notions about glory and self-glorification by latter day Reformers into an ancient text.


Ryan said...


Nick commented on the motivation of God. What would you say is the motivation of God? Edwards would say that for God, though his ultimate motivation is to glorify himself, his penultimate motivation is love for lost sinners (among others). So yes, Ps. 8 describes us as getting glory. But to what end?

I doubt you would say that God is not in it to get glory. But how does this motivate him? To a large degree? To a lesser degree than his love for us? It seems that your answer to this question will be helpful.



C.P.O. said...

Dr. Witherington, thanks for this post. Something has always bothered me about that type of reasoning about God's glory, but I was unable to name what it was. You put words to my discomfort with that type of theology. Now that you mentioned it, it seems so obvious, but sometimes that type of theology sounds so pious and reverent that it is an easy trap to fall into.

Ben Witherington said...

God is concerned about the integrity and honor of his name. When a text speaks of God glorifying himself or acting in a fashion that amounts to this, this is what we are talking about. We are not talking about love, or self-love at all.

Furthermore, the love shared between members of the Trinity is not really a form of self-love, in the sense that we might talk about loving ourselves as we love our neighbors. There are three different persons in the Godhead, not just one, and when one member of the Godhead loves another-- say the Father loves the Son or vice versa, we are dealing with inter-personal relating. This too has nothing to do with God glorifying his name.

Glory in the Hebrew Kabod, in the Greek doxa, in the primary sense refers to the divine presence, hence the Shekinah glory. It can also refer to the light emminating from the divine presence as well. For example when in John 1 we hear that Christ's glory has been seen, this is not a reference to witnessing his self-adulation. It refers to seeing the one in whom the divine presence dwells.



Unknown said...

Shea Cole,

Before you make claims about misquoting Piper, try to catch up on his works. In "Let the Nations Be Glad", I think around page 23 and many other pages, Piper makes the claim that "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever". He said he is adding to the westminster catechism which states "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever".

So Piper says exactly these words, not just in "Let the Nations Be Glad", but in virtually every book he has ever written (since they're all basically the same, he's ripped me off like 3 times). I am not putting words into Piper's mouth when I make this statement, rather I am quoting something he precisely says...numerous times.

It is this statement that worries me so much about our view of God, b/c the statement in itself is a very narcissistic, egotistical statement about our Father...2 qualities I believe the Father (nor son or spirit) does not possess.

We can quote proof-texts all day and make the Bible say anything we want it to (Isaiah 48), the tough part is building a biblical theology (rather than an informal systematic theology that does injustice to the individual authors) and then building a consensus on the whole character of God. The mistake we have made in evangelicalism is believing everything Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Edwards said. While they said many good things, they were fundamentally flawed about this aspect of God.

The other problem we have is believing everything Piper says. For some reason, he is absolutely admired among people my age (college-age and mid-20s), I assume partly b/c the Passion movement and partly b/c pastor's quote his works thus giving them authority from the pulpit. I have the utmost respect for the man, he lives right and is a radical follower of Jesus Christ. However, he has some serious theological problems, particularly this belief.

So, I'm not trying to be unkind, but next time you claim that I am misquoting an author, make sure you are familiar with what that author has said and believes. In this instance, this particular belief and statement is extremely prevalent in all of Piper's works.


d glover said...

I guess I don't see the necessity of an either/or approach in talking about God's purposes (EITHER He does what He Does for His own glory OR He does it out of other-oriented selfless love) any more than I see the necessity of an either/or approach to the doctrines of God's sovereignty and human responsibility. I think that both are taught in Scripture and I think that, in light of the Trinitarian nature of our God (He IS relationship as well as having relationship with us), even when He seeks His own glory, He does it in a self-giving rather than a self-seeking kind of way. The key to understanding God's seeking His own glory as something other than narcissism is to always keep His Triune nature in mind. If God was the God of Isalm or Unitarianism, His seeking His own glory would be narcissisitc, but this is a false view of God. God is a relationship in His very essence and so there is a mutual bestowing/receiving of glory amongst the three persons of the Godhead.

Allie, Dearest said...

"God's love is not like a heat-seeking missile attracted to something inherently attractive in this or that person. Rather God's other-directed love bestows worth, honor, even glory."

Your blogs are a tad more academic than I'm used to, which is great--thank you for this quote. I am glad to have found your site.


danny said...

I'm still waiting for Dr Witherington to respond to someone's point about Philippians 2:5-11. Dr Witherington, you quote this passage as if it ends with Christ's self-sacrifice, but in reality, it ends with God exalting Christ, who is confessed by all as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

This is also a good indication of the false dichotomy that you have set up: that God can't act out of the motivation of loving others and the motivation of His own glory. And it's an unfair characterization of the opposing position (not to mention Christian brothers & sisters).

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Danny:

Look again at the text of Phil. 2.5-11. God actually gave glory to the God-man Jesus on the basis of his obedience even unto death on the cross. And far from glorifying the God-man causing a subtracting from the glory of the Father, it added to it.

But here's the catch. God is not glorifying the divine nature of the Son of God-- this is not an example of the divine nature of the Father glorifying the divine nature of the Son.

What does the text say-- the Son stripped himself of his having of equality with God (or as I would prefer to put it, he put the divine prerogatives on hold without setting aside his divine nature), and took on fully the nature of a human being, and even a servant amongst human beings.

Now I sincerely doubt you would want to argue that God the Son's divine nature died on the cross. So the question is-- why has God exalted the God-man who was obedient even unto death? Not because of something he did in his divine nature, but for something he did in his human nature, indeed could only do in his human nature, since the divine nature is bullet proof.

Are you getting the drift here? Christ is Adam gone right, obedient even unto death. He is the true human being dying on the cross for our sins. 'Ecce homo...' God has exalted Jesus for his actions as the God-man, more specifically for his human actions including death. And when God glorifies the God-man in this way, it does not detract but rather adds to the glory of the Father.

In other words, we must notice that it is at the name of Jesus, (the human name the Son acquired at his birth, not his divine title), that every knee must bow, and call this human one Lord, risen Lord.

Now again, Jesus risen is an example of something that can happen to a human being. God can neither be killed nor raised in the divine nature. The exaltation happens because of the obedience unto death and through death comes the resurrection.

In short, we are talking about Christ being the clear example of the glorification of a human being at his best, and further more, when Paul talks about our being conformed to the image of the risen Son in Rom. 8 and 1 Cor. 15, this is precisely what he pre-supposes.

QED-- this text is not about God the Father in his divine nature glorifying God the Son in his divine nature. Exaltation comes for what he did as truly and fully human for he was like us in all respects, save without sin.

Ben W.

Kevin Jones said...

Dr. Witherington,

Was Jesus not fully God as well? When God the Father turned His back on Jesus, was He turning His back on His Son or on a man. "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"

Was His death not Spiritual as well? He did not come to save us from physical death but spiritual death. So, if He only "died" physically the the spiritual death has not been paid.

Kevin Jones said...

John 17:1 - 5 (KJV) These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.

Was Jesus fully human BEFORE the world? He obviously had the glory before he was human. Did Jesus ask for Himself to be glorified as a MAN or as He WAS BEFORE the world?

Ben Witherington said...

Of course Jesus was fully God as well as fully human, as the NT teaches. But that is irrelevant in these texts as glory is interestingly associated with his human actions.

And yes, in regard to Jn. 17 it looks like what we are talking about there is God glorifying the Son's human actions namely his coming death, since he already had the divine presence and hence was glorious by nature in that sense. Jn. 17 then is much like Phil. 2 in this regard.


danny said...

Dr Witherington, unfortunately, you didn't deal with the part I was most concerned about- namely, the ending of this passage: that all this happened to the glory of God the Father.

Now, I don't necessarily disagree with what you are saying in your response. The point, however, is that it doesn't deal with the issue at hand. I'm not denying that God glorified Jesus for what He did on this earth; I don't disagree that God the Father shares His glory with God the Son. And I certainly don't disagree with the fact that we, too, will experience the glorification that the Son has secured for us.

But none of that has anything to do with what I pointed out, that you haven't dealt with the climax of Phil 2:5-11: that Christ is exalted and confessed as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Kevin Jones said...

Dr. Witherington,

I believe you are missing one important aspect of His perfect human side. Did He not rely TOTALLY on the Holy Spirit to live this perfect life?

Who gets the glory...the Giver (Holy Spirit) or the receiver (His human nature)? It has been my experience and belief that the Giver gets the glory because it is only due to Him that He lived the perfect human life. If Jesus did not have the Divine nature He could not have lived the perfect human life...just as we can't and must lean totally on Jesus' righteousness for our righteousness.

Based on this, who is actually being glorified? His human nature or His divine nature?

Rick Frueh said...

Everything God does always glofifies Him, but that it not His motive. How can God get more glory than absolute glory? His actions reflect His glory, but His motive is love.

After all is distilled and sifted, the entire subject is a magnificent mystery regardless of how we attempt to neatly package it withing the organized pages of our systematic theology.

jpm said...

I think your treatment of verses is pretty one-sided in your post. You've also made a straw man of your opponent I think. If I'm guessing the opposing view's authors, I think you have misrepresented the full depiction of the issue at stake here.

All sides agree God loves mankind. The question is why? Is there something inherently good that makes us loveable? Or is there something inherently good in God that makes Him loving? I think the latter is the Bible's answer. Now that makes God more glorious, because He loves us because of Himself, rather than because of ourselves.

"he predestined us for adoption through Jesus CHrist...to the priase of his glorious grace." Eph 1:5-6

It's not a conflict in these peoples theologies between the glory of God and the love of God, its all about primacy. But I'm sure you know that.

If God is the best thing in the universe, if He promotes Himself as first to us, He is giving us the best He can. Maybe I don't see the problem of having a self-promoting God, but I welcome it. I don't want a God who is all about me and my feelings, my heart is wicked and wants self-worship. I worship myself too much, I don't need God joining in on my idolatry.

yuckabuck said...

The quote does seem to be from John Piper, or someone influenced by him.

I'm not going to jump into the fray over individual verses, but I do think a false dichotomy is being made here between God desiring glory to accrue to Himself alone, and for His love to be outward focused. I heard Piper give his presentation in 1998 at my church (without the Calvinism) and I thought it was very biblical. (I still have the tapes, even though I disagree with Piper on soooo much.)

Piper's argument was that God MUST seek His own glory in our lives, as it is the MOST loving thing (towards us) that He can do. God's essential nature (love, outwardly focused) is expressed in ways that always bring Himself more glory, because if He expressed Himself in a way that brought someone else more glory and Himself less glory, then it would not be the most loving thing He could do for us.

My understanding was that God's glorifying Christ because of actions performed while incarnated as a man did not invalidate the basic concept. And Piper's explanation of it in no way painted God as narcissistic or self-focused. He is completely focused on others because it is His nature, but this love is expressed in ways that bring Himself the most glory because that is the most loving thing He can do.

(Ugh, I hate systematic theology. Can't we talk about something more fun like eschatological dualism or the synoptic problem?)

God bless you,
Happy Thanksgiving,

Chip said...

This puzzle has always been interesting to me. I always thought it interesting why God should care so deeply about his own glory. Wittgenstein believed most of the problems of all philosophy were really all problems of language. I wonder if something similar is not also the case here. The puzzle for me has always been what does it mean for God to be glorified or to get glory?

First, I considered if God could get more glory in an ontological sense. For example, could He become more glorious than He was before? I think not. And most of the people who hold to this “glory” motif would agree. God is perfect and as such can not be improved in any way.

Therefore, I figured it must be in some kind of epistemic sense. That God getting glory must be in some sense related to someone recognizing or understanding how glorious God already is. Now, this growth in knowledge couldn’t be in God Himself. Because He already has perfect knowledge of how glorious He is. So, it appears to me that God getting glory can only mean human beings (or other created things) coming to a knowledge or recognition of how Great, Glorious, Awesome, Powerful, and Beautiful God already is. And the things He does glorify Him because they reveal who He is to the world.

But who benefits from God getting the glory? Is this for God’s benefit? Was God somehow unhappy or suffer from a low depression and needed some affirmation from humans in order to boost His self-esteem? Again, I think not. God is already perfect and self-sufficient. Therefore, it seems that the only people who benefit from God being recognized and shown to be God are human beings (or other created things: ie angels).

In conclusion, I don’t necessarily think the “God does EVERYTHING for His own glory” anthem is necessarily correct. Nevertheless, I don’t see how it is possible to claim that God doing things for His own glory is self-serving or narcissistic since it is only others who benefit from His being glorified. Rather, it appears, He does things for His own glory out of His missional character and grace. (Perhaps it may be better to say “God does everything He does because of Everything He is). I think much of the problem stems from the fact that these “glory” statements are worded in ways that appear to favor a self-serving interest, and then, like me, people are more puzzled than anything else. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Thanks for the thoughtful discussion.

Paul K said...

The phrase "narcissism of God" suggests that God has an opinion of Himself? Does He? If so, it must be correct. Does God wish us to share that opinion?

Kevin Jones said...


Well said! God only loves us because He wants to glorify His grace! Else, why would He have even created a world and allow sin to supposedly reign in it?

Without sin their is no grace or mercy!

Kevin Jones said...

Paul k,

This is a pretty clear "opinion" that God has about Himself:

Exodus 20:1 - 7 (KJV) And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; And showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.

Ben Witherington said...

I commend the comments of Chip below, from the philosophical side of this discussion.

To Danny I say, of course all this was done in a fashion that brought praise to God. But something being done 'to the glory of the Father' is not the same as saying something was done 'for' much less 'exclusively for the glory of the Father'. The grammatical construction here does not warrant such a conclusion.

To JPM I would say there is indeed a reason why God loves us that is not simply because of God's nature. It is because we are all creatures of sacred worth, made in God's image.

God loves us in one sense for the same reason he loves Jesus-- we bear God's image and are of inherent sacred worth because of this fact. We of course since the fall are only God's adopted children while Jesus is the only begotten Son, but nevertheless God loves his offspring, like any good parent would.

In other words, it is false to say that God loves us simply because God is wonderful.

Finally, in regard to Ephes. 1.5-6 , itis part of a larger discussion about Christ being the elect one of God. We have 'in Him' and 'for Him' clauses repeatedly. Notice for example the end of vs. 6-- 'which he has freely given us IN THE ONE HE LOVES'.

Election is a concept applied here in the first instance to Jesus himself, not to us in any primary sense. We are only elect in so far as we are in Christ, the Elect One. It was the Son who was chosen before the foundations of the world, as he was the only one who existed back then, not us.

The failure to come to grips with the fact that election is a corporate concept which only happens in Christ, and when the author wants to talk about how one gets 'into Christ' he speaks of salvation by grace through faith, is a significant failure. Salvation is by grace, but through the free response of faith, not some other means, such as predetermination of individuals to be saved, which is not what this passage is about.

Those who are already in Christ the elect one are indeed destined in advance to be conformed to the Son's image, as Rom. 8 says, but that is another matter.

Finally, God's glorious grace is not the same thing as God's glory.


Ben W.

Unknown said...

A friend of mine defines God's glory as "any manifestation of God's revelation of himself." If that is true, shouldn't we rather think that God does what he does, both automatically and intentionally, for his glory? And is this necessarily vanity? Couldn't it be grace to all creation that he reveals himself (is glorified) particularly in the satisfaction (Piper's term) of his people in him? I do struggle with the concept of Christian Hedonism, but mostly because I'm not up to the task.

Chestertonian Rambler said...

How's this for rephrasing the question:

The Scriptures seem pretty clear that God is of his nature glorious, and that his actions will therefore (as all expressions of his nature do) bring him glory.

The question: Does this mean that God does all for his glory, or does this mean God does all out of his mercy/justice/righteousness/etc., and thus demonstrates his glory?

The distinction is important because it gets at the fundamental idea of the knowability of God. Calvinists often complain that they're judged by the standard of "hypercalvinists," but I do think one of the dangers of being so insistent on "the chief end of God is to glorify God" is a tendency to place God's (unknowable) glory above his (clearly defined) other virtues.

I just don't see the Scriptural call to do this.

Unknown said...

i think Jon Owens comments were getting very close to the truth, if not right on it. God is the greatest gift (and His grace as well).He is the greatest being, the author of ALL being that is expressed in His name- "I AM."
i dont think God made creation as a gigantic mirror to adore Himself in- but we do Glorify Him and His Being- and this is for the nations. So that they can see and know that there is "I AM" and that the hopelessness of a lost world isnt all that there is.
i.e. Gods desire to Glorify Himself is not for His benefit, but for ours.

James Pate said...

But there are many passages in Ezekiel where God says he acts not for Israel's sake but for the sake of his name. So the position you are critiquing, Dr. Witherington, has support within a certain strand of biblical tradition, though I can understand your problems with it.

Unknown said...

I have a question that should clear things up for me.
Should God be praised when He sends people to hell?
Let's assume that it's judgment day and God divides those who are in Christ from those who aren't, then He takes them and throws them into Hell. Should God be praised for doing such a thing?

Ben Witherington said...

I am sorry but saying "God only loves us because he wishes to glorify his grace" is an utterly indefensible remark if one actually does the exegesis on the passages in the NT that refer to God's love for the world, his creatures, believers, and creation in general. There is nowhere in the NT a verse which says anything even remotely like this.

As for whether God should be glorified for sending people to Hell, much depends on what you mean by glorified. So far as I can see, it brings God nothing but sorrow when the lost refused to be saved. Think for example of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem who would not be gathered to Jesus, as chicks are by a hen'. I don't think anyone will be having a victory party after the lost judgment in regard to what happened to the lost. I do think there is more joy in heaven when one lost person is saved than in many other circumstances as Lk. 15.1-10 suggests.
Should God's justice and mercy be praised in the abstract--- sure. Should we be hooting and hollering when people go to Hell, and is God quietly celebrating this in heaven--- no, and no.


Anonymous said...

Since we're trying to rescue God from our modern, Western notion of narcissism, why don't we find a way out of worshiping God too? I mean, seriously! A being who commands worship - how narcissistic is that, right?

Somehow in this discussion, God doing things ultimately "for his glory" has produced a bitter taste in many mouths because its too narcissistc (how horrible for God). But God receiving and commanding worship seems to be ok with the same group of people. How ironic. If that isn't "narcissistic" I don't know what is.

Let God be God.

Unknown said...


I think you're totally missing the point bro. Besides, you have an extremely prideful and arrogant tone to your post that is very offensive. You can let your God by your God, however, some of us just think this is a false thinking of God. Though we should give weight to certain authors in modern history and in church history, I personally think it's irrelevant what Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Owens, Warfield, and Piper say. In the end, the question should be "What does the text say".

The bottom line is, we can sit here and quote proof-texts for both sides of this discussion all day. However, this is a pedantic and poorly constructed method that unfortunately 99% of believers use for their theologically beliefs. I hope you're not so closed-minded to see the other side of this issue.

Since Jesus is the image of the invisible God, I think a good place to start is to look at his life and character. What we have here is the opposite of self-centeredness, a characteristic which you would certainly ascribe to God so it seems. You say "let God by God", this is easy to claim, but it is each person's task to figure out what that is, and this task is not easy, but very difficult and it includes wrestling with the text and not just reading systematic theology textbooks and popular church history and modern theologians.


Jared Queue said...

It is amazing how like-minded people find each other and each other's works (blogs) and then compliment each other and their ideas and find themselves so appalled at the beliefs of those that disagree and then discuss it as if they are being objective.

We really are an arrogant people.

If this were posted on a "reformed" blog the readers would be in an uproar. If similar conclusions were drawn on the same topic about a more man-based theology (for example, one might say that it is in this narcissistic age that man would create a theology where God's primary focus was on man...) and then posted on a "reformed" blog, the readers would agree heartily.

Anonymous said...

Dear Luke,

I think you missed my point. My comment wasn’t about what such and such a theologian or church historian said. As you rightly suggested, primary importance goes to Scripture. No argument here. My point was on Dr. Witherington’s (and your) concern to rescue God from narcissism. I didn’t bring it up – both of you did.

As far as my “tone” goes – it’s called satire. I meant no offense. (I think a little satire can do some good once in a while.) Though I must say, I was a bit surprised by your reaction. After reading your criticism I had my wife read my comments and scan it for “pride” and “arrogance.” The results were negative, as I suspected. In any case, I apologize to you, my brother.

You mentioned the dangers of proof-texting. Point well taken. But can 1 Timothy 2:4 and John 3:16 be used as proof-texts too or are those verses “proof-text” proof? (You did use 1 Tim. 2:4 it in your first reply to Dr. Witherington.)

Back to my original point on narcissism. Is God worried about being labeled a narcissist? I don’t think so. Perhaps I have missed those scriptures which speak to this. If so please point them to me in context. Why does God command us to worship him? Is this or is this not a classic case of narcissism? I think that answering these questions will help put to bed our problems with God doing things in order to be glorified.

In Christ,

C. Andiron said...

One consideration that seems to be not fully expressed in this thread (although hinted at): God's person cannot be separated from his attributes. His Person is the source of his attributes. It's constitutive of them, so God desiring as his ultimate purpose to glorify Himself means at the very least a desire that we love righteousness and live righteously, an intolerance of sin, a desire that we love our neighbors, a will to see that justice is done, that mercy be shown, etc.

If people find the language of God's ultimate purpose being his own glorification upsetting (because they cannot distinguish between notions of Divine or human personhood, or they cannot grasp that God and his attributes are inseparable, unlike with humans), they can think of it as meaning that God's ultimate purpose is the enacting of his desires which flow from his attributes, and recognition and love of his attributes by his creatures.

Russ said...

Richard Pratt gave a lecture at Calvin seminary that touches on this. The topic is actually whether preaching should be God- or human-centered, but of course the answer to that question is shaped by a broader theological perspective on theo- vs. anthrocentrism. Pratt argues it is a false dilemma.

It can be accessed here:


(scroll down to March 13, or search for Pratt on the page).

Kevin Jones said...

Dr. Witherington,

You said "Should we be hooting and hollering when people go to Hell, and is God quietly celebrating this in heaven--- no, and no."

Who has said that we should do this?

I do see the following in scripture:

Psalms 59:7 - 9 (KJV) Behold, they belch out with their mouth: swords are in their lips: for who, say they, doth hear? But thou, O LORD, shalt laugh at them; thou shalt have all the heathen in derision. Because of his strength will I wait upon thee: for God is my defence.

As well as:

Proverbs 11:10 (KJV) When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.


Ezekiel 33:11 (KJV) Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?

So, God laughs but has no pleasure in the death of the wicked? Hmmm. Seems that God's emotions are little more complex than our finite human brain can understand.

We tend to try to put God's emotions/actions into the box of our emotions/actions. It never fails that I hear a HUMAN analogy argument against Calvinism. We must come to a conclusion that God can actually LAUGH and CRY about a situation at the same time. How can He laugh at the calamity of the wicked and yet NOT take pleasure in it? Seems to me that there is another side to God than His love for people.

Anyway, is there ANYTHING in us that is truly loveable? If it were not for God wanting to show (or glorify) His grace then He WOULD NOT have created a world that He knew would fall into sin.

To the praise of the glory of His grace!

Ephesians 1:6 - 7 (KJV) To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace;

DrJ said...

Here's some scripture that I think speaks to the topic from Ezekiel 36:25-30.

25 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God. 29 I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. I will call for the grain and multiply it, and bring no famine upon you. 30 And I will multiply the fruit of your trees and the increase of your fields, so that you need never again bear the reproach of famine among the nations. (NKJV)

Sounds like this is a very others-oriented description of the new covenant tucked away in OT prophecies. This is God saying what He is going to do for man.

The problem is I ripped those verses out of context. This section of scripture has "book-ends" both before and after it that express I think very clearly why God is doing this:

First, here's the two verses before this section:

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went. 23 And I will sanctify My great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD,” says the Lord GOD, “when I am hallowed in you before their eyes. (NKJV)

And here's the verses after that section:

31 Then you will remember your evil ways and your deeds that were not good; and you will loathe yourselves in your own sight, for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 Not for your sake do I do this,” says the Lord GOD, “let it be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, O house of Israel!” (NKJV)

Jay T said...

I appreciate what Jorge said.

At our small group the other night we discussed why it was OK for God to seek his own glory when it would be repulsive for us. We went around and gave examples of how God glorifies himself in our lives: regenerating us, sanctifying us, being our provider for all good things that we enjoy, etc. Then I asked the question: how does it make you feel to see God glorified. It turns out, we were all at our happiest when Christ received glory through our recognition of his greatness. No one complained that God was selfish.

IOW, it's not selfish and cruel of God to call me to strive for and do what I love most: acknowledging His honor for his mercy in Christ. It is not repulsive. It is awesome.

BTW, John Piper has dealt with objections like "Is God a narcissist?" and "Is it unloving of God to seek his own glory?" It's not like this is a new (or illegitimate) objection, and his responses are helpful.

Michael Haney said...


here you go, everybody! (grin)

Unknown said...

oh boy ... the blog-fight is on:http://theologica.blogspot.com/

Unknown said...


Thanks for responding. I can totally appreciate the use of satire at times because it helps us get our points across, however, satire is a very offensive method to use at times. I just took your use of satire to be arrogant and hateful. However, you having responded the way you did to my remarks corrects my initial reaction. So your point is well-taken. My main problem was your "let God by God" remark at the end, because it is this task that we are all trying to figure out! That's the whole purpose for theology. We will never reach a point where we completely figure God out, and sadly most people have him in there little box and think they do (a very modernistic way of thinking).

The point is that no theological system completely has God figured out. I hope many of you very reformed individuals reading this do not seriously believe that the westminster catechism or the synod of Dort wrapped up the whole essence and character of God. We all have a set of lenses we view scripture from and those lenses are biased whether we believe it or not. There is no such thing as a completely objective reading of a text b/c we are all shaped somehow by our race, denomination, gender, etc. I am just fed up with hearing Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Owen, Warfield, and Piper quoted all the time because there is much more to church history and right theology than these guys. It's just the whole "let God by God" thing didn't sit well with me at first reading, but now I see your heart and apologize for my initial reaction.

Thank you for commenting on my statement about proof-texting. As you said, I did use one or two in my first comments on this topic. My point is that we can all do this and end up right where we started. This is the method everybody does for some reason, and I think it is very pedantic and poorly constructed, b/c we completely throw out context and the diversity of authorship. You can quote me 50 proof-texts about God's God-centerdness, and then I can counter-react with 50 proof-texts about God's people-centerdness. It's a method that just doesn't work. Granted, I'm not saying throw it out the window and never utilize it, I'm just saying on issues such as these it is better if we derive our theology from our exegesis, study the whole character of God, and base our decision from that. I don't think I'm quite at this point yet, but you might be, and if you still believe that God is all into himself, then that's fine.

I'm not denying that God demands worship. He deserves our worship and praise. Trough Christ all things came into being. So please don't think that I believe that God doesn't want worship or praise. I know this. If this is egotistical, then so be it. However, I want you guys to see God's love for people b/c I think it's an aspect that is almost absent from writers such as Piper (I said almost, not completely, so don't counter-react with links to sermons or quotes from Desiring God or something). One positive I see with the Calvinistic way of thinking is the emphasis it puts on God. However, I just think it goes further than what the biblical text states...and yes, that is possible. I find it no coincidence that people like Luther and Calvin were complete jerks b/c of their extreme thinking. They were all about God, which is great. However, there are 2 great commandments, not just 1. We cannot ignore the sacrificial love we are supposed to have for those around us, and when we love other people, we show our love for God.

Sadly, American reformed evangelicalism has substituted this belief with going to church, having quiet times, going to seminary, readying theology textbooks, having debates, right-wing politics, fighting to get "one nation under God" back in the pledge, the 10 commandments back in the court houses, etc. I hope you catch my drift. My criticism is that this extreme view of thinking neglects God's love for people, thus causing us to neglect our love for people. Because the most important thought we could every think is what we think about when we think about God, because it will determine every other element of our existence. I see dangers in Piper's theology, just like I see dangers in the Arminian way of thinking, our task is to balance these, find the good in both, and not label ourselves or those around us as "Calvinist", "Arminian", "Open-theist", etc, but rather as radical followers of Jesus Christ. We can't get caught up in defending systems, but we can and should get caught up in defending God and his word.

So, no scripture is proof-text proof (good terminology...I like that!). I just want you to see that everybody can use this method, and in the end it's faulty and dangerous. However, sometimes they're good when we're making a point. Unfortunately, pointing something out to you in context to argue my point will take up a whole bunch of space, and I've taken up too much already!

It is easy to point out the flaws of a particular theological system or mindset, the difficult part is finding the things to learn from and listen to. I hope we can all learn from one another, and not become closed-minded and arrogant and act as though we know it all and have all the answers. I admire Dr. Witherington for being bold enough to speak against this extremely popular way of thinking, because for some reason people just don't disagree with Piper or his kind these days. Thanks Jorge, for the comments, I look forward to interacting with you in the future.


David A. Carlson said...

"There is a popular notion in the evangelical world today that I think has become part of our folklore and can very easily misrepresent the character of God by attributing to Him motivations for creation that I do not believe are true. Some would say that God’s purpose, intent, and motivation for creating humanity and all of creation was for His own self-glorification. I think that this is a difficult position to sustain biblically and theologically."

C. Micheal Patton @ http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2007/02/12/was-gods-purpose-in-creation-to-glorify-himself/

last feb

Kevin Jones said...


You said "I admire Dr. Witherington for being bold enough to speak against this extremely popular way of thinking, because for some reason people just don't disagree with Piper or his kind these days."

I do not see many people (other than the blogosphere) believing in the Calvinistic teachings. It may seem like it on the internet, but I don't think our churches are full of people believing "that way". Even Piper said he thinks only 5% (non-scientific) of professing Christians believe in the TULIP.

We would all be better off if we remember the following:

Romans 12:3 (KJV) For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The key here is "not to think of himself more highly than he ought". Let's just learn to debate LOVINGLY and leave it to God to give His assigned "measure of faith" to all believers.

Kevin said...

Romans 11:36,
"For from him
and through him
and to him
are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen."

Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

Arrow said...

Dr. Ben,

I read your article, but I must admit I haven't read all of the comments. What I have to say has probably already been said. Nevertheless, comments are still open so here are my thoughts.

Let's refer to the thesis of the book you read (and the book itself) as "TS" (Thesis Statement). I agree with TS and disagree with your post. Here's why:

#1) Amen and praise God for His great love; but don't set up false dichotomies. The affirmation that God is loving does not negate the fact that God is actively seeking His own glory. When the Bible clearly affirms two truths, we should not use one to deny the other.

#2) "Wouldn't we expect..." is not a compelling form of argument to make this kind of point. Someone could say, "If Dr. Ben is correct, then wouldn't we expect Isa 43:7 to say `everyone... whom I created so that I could selflessly love them'." But such arguments would not be convincing.

#3) "[W]hich death was the least self-glorifying thing he could do". Praise to Jesus for His humility and His endurance of shame. But again, don't set up false dichotomies. In the short run, the cross of Christ was a place of great shame. But in the long run, the cross is also the place of Christ's greatest GLORY (e.g. Col 2:15). Again, the affirmation that Christ sought joy does not negate Him seeking glory as well. In fact, I would say Christ was seeking the joy of His glory -- compare Heb 12:2b with John 17.

#4) "Or re-read Hosea 11 where God explains that his love for his people is not at all like the fickle, self-seeking love of mere human beings." Amen to that! But it is unfair to use this against TS. Here's why: it is possible for God to seek His own glory in all He does, and at the same time not be anything like a fickle, self-seeking human being. There are non-communicable attributes of God: God can do certain things beautifully in a God-like way, but if man tries to do them in a man-like way it is ugly and sinful. Saying "Worship me" is one such thing. Seeking one's own glory is another.

#5) "But rather God keeps loving his children, whether they praise or love or worship him or not." Hallelujah to God's patient and forgiving lovingkindness! But we also know that those who refuse to praise, love, and worship God, and continue to refuse to the end will thereby prove that they were not adopted as God's children and will be cast into hell. Heaven is a place for praising, loving, and worshipping God. So you see, God is amazingly patient while His glory is defamed in this world, but in the end He does ensure that His glory is upheld.

#6) "Let me be clear that of course the Bible says it is our obligation to love, praise, and worship God." Amen! So what do you make of the fact that God Himself is the one who gives those commands. God demands the worship of God. Is He not then, seeking His own glory, at least indirectly?

#7) "...is deeply worried about whether he has enough glory or not..." Now, Dr. Ben, let's be fair. TS didn't say that, did it? I would expect that TS probably affirms, as does the Bible (e.g. Isa 42:8), that God is in fact very confident in His ability to uphold His own glory.

#8) "[H]e had created them in the divine image, and that divine image involves other directed, other centered love and relating. It follows from this that not the fallen narcissistic tendencies we manifest reflect what God is really like, but rather other directed, self-giving loving tendency. [Emphasis added]" There are a couple problems here, one is begging the question. What you have done is to start by assuming that God is "others centered". Then you have stated that man was made in God's image, but man fall into sin and became self-centered. Clearly man was not meant to be self-centered, rather (based on your assumption) he was meant to be others-centered. Therefore (you conclude) that since man was made in God's image God must also be others-centered rather than self-centered. So your assumption has been proven on the basis of your assumption.

TS, if I understand correctly, is claiming that God is God-centered. Thus we can say that man was created in God's image to be God-centered. When man fell he became self-centered, and yes we all agree that the result is ugly and sinful. So you see, if you put everything in terms of "self-centeredness" versus "others-centeredness" then "others-centeredness" sounds much better. But I would argue that "God-centeredness" is much more Biblical than both, and indeed no human being can really find the power to sacrificially love others unless he is centered first and foremost in God and Christ. Just as it is right and in fact necessary for man to be God-centered, likewise it is right for God to be God-centered.

#9) "God it would appear is not merely a glory grabber, but rather a glory giver." Amen! How wonderful and joyous is the Biblical truth the God who seeks His own glory also takes us in to reflect and share in the joy of that glory (John 17:1-26).

#10) "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." Nope, I really don't think it works that way. Try this experiment: go teach TS to a bunch of narcissists and check their reaction. Will they say, "Oh great! God is self-seeking, so that justifies me to be self-seeking also"? Nope, my experience is just the opposite. Human nature is repelled by TS. TS doesn't support men in their narcissism, on the contrary, TS is the ultimate crushing blow to narcissism. Narcissists hate TS with a passion. Here's why: TS says that God is the center of the universe and even God Himself knows it. But if God created a universe centered on God, and God has a priority on seeking to uphold God's glory, then guess what? Zach is not the center of the universe and Zach's glory will never, ever in a billion years be lifted up above God's glory, and in fact Zach's glory is not even any more important than Ben's glory because only God's glory is ultimate, and even God Himself knows it! Thus TS crushes any shred of narcissistic hope of my own glory outshining God's, or even outshining Ben's. My sinful, narcissitic heart would never come up with something like TS, because TS slaughters my narcissitic heart.


Kevin said...

What are the kinds of things that God desires to do that have nothing to add to His Glory?


Kevin Jones said...


Romans 11:33 - 12:1 (KJV) O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

It seems to me that all things were created by him, through him, and for him...not us. Would this be for his glory? I think so.

Did God need to create us to "complete" him. I do not think so. God wants us to know him and his grace as well as all other aspects of his "glory" or nature.

Unknown said...

Kevin J

I don't know what your purpose was for quoting that verse to me. Maybe I sound prideful and arrogant, if I do, then I'm sorry. I am not meaning to sound this way. I take very seriously the command to esteem others more than myself, because I believe it was a characteristic of our Lord. Also, you quoting the last part of that verse makes no sense (I guess it would help if your translation were actually english and not from 1898!).

Maybe not many around your part believe that way, but where I grew up, a non-calvinistic way of thinking was certainly a minority belief. I'm actually astonished at that quote and percentage from Piper you gave. I assume he was preaching it in a negative sense. Actually, in the circles I am in right now, there would not be a strict following of TULIP, maybe more 3 and 4 pointers instead of 5 (I assume limited atonement would be the one most people disagree with). This is actually my first experience on the blogosphere (and probably my last), so my belief about the number of reformed thinkers is not influenced by the blogosphere, but by personal experience. I actually used to believe this way b/c it was how everybody around me believed. There was always something that made me a little uneasy about it. I still certainly listen to my calvinist brothers and sisters, but it is my personal belief that the system has some dangerous aspects.

We have to remember that the most important thing is not orthodoxy, but how we live. God is more interested in how we live than in what we believe. We can debate and scream over calvinism/arminianism, the sovereignty of God, God's God-centeredness, which translation of the Bible is best, eschatological differences, etc, but if we don't live right, then it is all void. I hope we never forget or neglect that, because when we do, then Christianity is worthless.


Unknown said...

dr. witherington,

thank you for your comments. i did very much enjoy reading one of your books (women and the genesis of Christianity) in one of my classes for women in church, family, and society. and the prof. who assigned it also thought your book was a great read.

in response to your entry as well as some of the other responses, i do tend to fall in line with your thinking that it is a bit more nuanced than God being narcissistic.

yes, i do affirm as a confessionalist that there is no other thing, being, or what not that is worthy of praise other than God. He is that which we take joy in, and all glory goes to him.

however, with that being said, i find your statements also in line with what Scripture teaches about our partaking in the kingdom. we are now sons and heirs to the kingdom of God and we should celebrate God as the one who has brought us in through the Son.

in all, i don't believe these statements or thoughts to be incongruent with the whole of Scripture which i firmly see as God's covenanting himself with his people. through covenant, i think that our relationship with God is tied. He is faithful to bring about his promises, and as such he was faithful through Christ to give us a guarantee of something greater in the Kingdom.

in this covenantal structure of thinking i see the glorification of God as something that is not narcissistic in any way, but rather praising one who is worthy. AND i also see that we as partakers of the covenant blessings have something special to celebrate as well... that is our citizenship that will be in glory. ultimately, we are to worship God face to face. the glorification state is something that i think is a necessary condition for that promised worship, hence God's worship and our glorification are bound up together.

all this to say, at the end of the day, i believe this is much more nuanced than people would make it out to be. it is not only about a God who demands worship because he is glorious, but it is about a people declared righteous by that God who will worship... in glory before Him... and that state of glory shall be... well... glorious!!!

Ben Witherington said...

Dear ALL:

It's time to close out this interesting discussion. It is clear that two problems arise, causing confusion.

Firstly, there are of course plenty of texts in the Bible which talk about God doing things 'for his name' or 'for his namesake'. See Ps. 23. This name theology has to do with an honor and shame matter, namely that God is protecting his good name and reputation.

So many of the texts cited in this lively discussion don't even mention glory, they are name theology texts. This is an honor and shame issue, not a self-glorification issue.

An analogy will have to do. If someone attacks your integrity, or calls you dishonest, or the like, then your reputation is on the line. You may feel a need to vindicate your good character. This is what is being discussed over and over again in the Bible when we get the phrase 'for his namesake'. This is no more an issue of self-glorification than it would be if I defended myself against a false charge. Self-vindication is not the same thing as self-glorification.

Secondly, there has been a chronic failure in this discussion to come to grips with the variety of ways the terms kabod (Hebrew) or doxa (Greek) are used in the Bible. You can't just look up all the reference to 'glory' in your KJV Lexicon and assume they all refer to the same thing. But even if you do this, it is perfectly clear that glory and glorification are predicated of beings other than just God in the Bible, including human beings on various occasion. God not merely deserves to be glorified, he gives 'glory' to others, including his children.

What does this mean? In some contexts it means their sanctification, in some context it means they have been conformed to the image of God's Son and so reflect his good character, in some cases it refers to having the divine presence within us, which gives us the hope of being completely 'glorified' (i.e. perfected in the image of Christ) in due course. This is what 'Christ in you, the hope of glory' is all about. Neither God nor Christ are merely hoping for glory, they already have it.

And at the end of the day, the big problem with predicating everything of God, including all praise and all glory and indeed all actions, in a theology where God is viewed as the one who destines all things is that of course it makes God the author of both good and evil, both tragedy and triumph, both sanctification and sin, and so on. In fact however, this is not what the Bible says, and that is indeed the bottom line.

Praise and glory to God that it is NOT true that God is the only actor on the human stage, not the only person involved in making decisions that cause actions, not the only person who has a dog in the fight to save the world.

God made us in his image, and made us capable of a love relationship with God, and the former means that we were made with wills, and choices of our own to make, and the latter means that we are capable of having a love relationship with others, including God. Such a relationship cannot be predetermined, coerced, compelled or otherwise rigged, or it ceases to be a love relationship on the basis of what the Bible itself says about love. I quite agree that God's glory and God's love are not at odds with one another. Praise God.

So finally, is the thesis statement that the NT's central theme is 'God magnifying himself through Christ, by means of the Holy Spirit' an adequate assessment of what we find in the NT? No. It is not.

In fact you will be hard pressed to find a single verse in the NT that says anything close to this. Not only are Christ and the Spirit not depicted in the NT as mere means to ends, they are depicted as part of the Godhead itself! The Trinity is the Trinity, and the Son and the Spirit are not merely God's agents to work out his inscrutable will, though they certainly are mediators of various things, including salvation.

The NT is God's love letter to humankind, to the world in general whom he seeks to save. Does and should such activity lead to the glorification and praise of God--- absolutely. But those who think that God's chief motive or prime reason for saving people is so he can gain more brownie points or kudos, or so he can praise himself in a bolder vein, have profoundly misunderstood the character of God.

God is frankly not that self-centered a being. Indeed, God is even prepared to praise others when they do well-- including Jesus, and yes human beings. Remember the words in the parable where Jesus is telling us whom the Master will praise and why. He says this--- "Well done good and faithful servant". This has nothing to do with modern narcissistic tendencies to pamper spoiled human beings. It has to do with God's appreciation when his children do well, and like any good parent he is prepared to praise and indeed magnify such godly behavior in us.

Is God either a narcissist or a bad and overly indulgent parent -- no God is not, and we would be well not to paint a picture of him that suggests either.


Ben W.

Kevin Jones said...


I apologize. That last part was intended for all...just as a reminder. I was not directing that at you. Sorry.


Unknown said...

I know, you closed out the discussion, perhaps one more comment though?
The “name theology” that you say is behind God’s self vindication (as opposed to his self glorification) may be coming up a bit short of the point. I would agree that God is vindicating his name in these instances. But what kind of a being offers the vindication of his name as the motivation for doing good to others? For example, if someone insults me, my instruction in the NT is to walk away from my rights to vindicate myself- for what reason? For the advancement of the kingdom, and, ultimately, the glory of God. But what kind of a being does not walk away from those rights, but instead upholds them? When God is insulted or defamed, he does not say “oh, forget it, no biggie. I’m all about loving you, let me just love you and forgive you and all will be well.” No, he says “I will forgive you, but understand, I do it to vindicate me. I do it for my sake.” I am told to walk away from my rights if I am defamed. I do this for His glory. He does not walk away from his rights when he is defamed- and he does that for his glory. The only time he did walk away from his rights was as the son of God, and, as has already been pointed out in this discussion, the end result (which I would think we would both agree he knew would be the end result) was the glorification of Himself.
I am aware that doxa is used in a variety of ways. And yes, we will share in His doxa. We will be molded, as you said, into his image. But I don’t know why you do not see God’s centrality in that! “Come, let me make you look more and more like me, and wont THAT show you how wonderful you are!” I don’t think that is the point! I think it’s more like this- “come, I will make you more and more reflect me, more and more look like me, and in that you will share in my glory, in that you will reflect me.” I think the joy on heaven will not be a have my own piece of glory that is about me, but that I share in HIS glory.
He does all things for his glory- and he does this because the most loving thing he can do for us IS to do something for His sake. If we say that God is not most in love with himself, then what is he most in love with? Whatever it is, can you point me to it, because I want to start worshipping it. It must be glorious!
You reveal, I believe, your presupposition that has led you to come to the conclusions you have come to when you say –
“And at the end of the day, the big problem with predicating everything of God, including all praise and all glory and indeed all actions, in a theology where God is viewed as the one who destines all things is that of course it makes God the author of both good and evil, both tragedy and triumph, both sanctification and sin, and so on. In fact however, this is not what the Bible says, and that is indeed the bottom line.”
That is the bottom line for you- that is the starting point. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have me presuppositions too, we all do. But understand that that has had a major impact on how you have viewed the texts, just as it has influenced others who have commented here in this discussion. While we don’t want to come up with presuppositions and bring them to the text (for the most part, some we must) and then see if they work, we will have to put the ones we already have to the test of the Word, and not squeeze it to say what we want. Our presuppositions have to stand up to the light of the Word. I know you believe yours have. But I wonder if you want to go where they lead? What, then, is God most concerned about, in your worldview, if not Himself? What is more worthy? No, God is not a modern narcissist. But he does love Himself most, He does, being all wise, recognize His worth and understand His value, and sees Himself as most valuable and worthy of praise, and He does work all things toward something, toward some end. His name sake, and His glory, have been offered as that end by many who have commented. What do you say is the end he works toward?

“8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs 9 so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy…”
(Ro 15:8-9a)

Shaun Tabatt said...

John Piper has responded to Dr. Witherington's original post over at the Desiring God blog. http://www.desiringgod.org/Blog/931/

Unknown said...

I really respect John Piper, but I really wish he would give his proof-texts a rest. On his response, he provides a link to about 50 proof-texts defending his thesis.

I know he is smarter than this, because anybody can play that game. I could easily find a concordance or get on Bibleworks and have 50 proof-texts that prove God's people-centeredness within one or 2 hours. It's easy to look in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah (and all the prophets) for proof-texts, but seriously, how many people know what's really going on in those books? (I'm not saying they can't be understood, I'm saying nobody studies them...they only study Romans, Ephesians, and Revelation). I would actually love to hear what an OT scholar (Goldingay, Chisholm, Kaiser) would have to say regarding these verses that Piper and his people love to use so much (I'm not saying Piper's wrong, I'm saying he might be). Basically, all we ever do with the Old Testament any more is use it to proof-text our beliefs anyways (well, I guess that's what we've been doing since like the 3rd century or something).

People of God, please use alternative methods than these. I understand they may be appropriate at times, but I hope you see how dangerous they can be. Arius had his proof-texts, so did Apollinaris and Nestorius, the gnostics had hundreds of them. Actually, I'd love to see some interaction as to what other methods we can use other than this pedantic, misused method (b/c I hate griping about problems when I have no solution). Piper is a very careful exegete, but he does this far too often (as with 99% of other leaders in evangelicalism).


steve said...

Luke said...
I really respect John Piper, but I really wish he would give his proof-texts a rest. On his response, he provides a link to about 50 proof-texts defending his thesis.

I know he is smarter than this, because anybody can play that game. I could easily find a concordance or get on Bibleworks and have 50 proof-texts that prove God's people-centeredness within one or 2 hours. It's easy to look in Isaiah and Ezekiel and Jeremiah (and all the prophets) for proof-texts, but seriously, how many people know what's really going on in those books? (I'm not saying they can't be understood, I'm saying nobody studies them...they only study Romans, Ephesians, and Revelation). I would actually love to hear what an OT scholar (Goldingay, Chisholm, Kaiser) would have to say regarding these verses that Piper and his people love to use so much (I'm not saying Piper's wrong, I'm saying he might be). Basically, all we ever do with the Old Testament any more is use it to proof-text our beliefs anyways (well, I guess that's what we've been doing since like the 3rd century or something).

People of God, please use alternative methods than these. I understand they may be appropriate at times, but I hope you see how dangerous they can be. Arius had his proof-texts, so did Apollinaris and Nestorius, the gnostics had hundreds of them. Actually, I'd love to see some interaction as to what other methods we can use other than this pedantic, misused method (b/c I hate griping about problems when I have no solution). Piper is a very careful exegete, but he does this far too often (as with 99% of other leaders in evangelicalism).


As a matter of fact, Piper did much more than just give a link to 50 prooftexts. He also provided two links in which he exegetes some of his prooftexts:



I'm fascinated by the number of professing Christians like Luke who think they enjoy a plenary exemption from telling the truth. Simple honesty is actually a Christian virtue.

Kevin said...

i'm curious what is the criteria for getting a comment posted?
Some blogs post such criteria.

A few of mine haven't made the cut. They weren't brilliant comments, but every comment posted hasn't been, either.

Ben Witherington said...

Dear Hashman:

Many months ago, I published a list of criteria for commenting on this blog. One of them was no anonymous comments, by which I mean, if when I click on your screen name I don't end up finding a real person with a real name, then, when I can, I do not post such comments from anonymous contributors, but I do not monitor this as consistently as i would like. The basic principle is-- if you have the courage of your convictions then fine, say what you like respectfully, and when someone clicks on your screen name it needs to lead to a real profile of a real person.

I also tend to cut off comments altogether when we have reached a good place of closure and the discussion has served its purpose, and in the latter case it has nothing to do with something you've said, its just that if you want to have a private conversation with one other blogger, then by all means do so-- in some other way.


Ben W.

Kevin said...

Far from being anonymous. I thought clicking on my name would lead to my blog, church, etc.

Kevin Hash

Ben Witherington said...

Nope, when I clicked on it, it led to no profile available :)

Erlend said...

Given that the discussion has reached an impasse when I stumbled upon it I shall not comment further. But I wanted to say that found your post so refreshing. My sincere thanks for taking the time to express your thoughts. I find myself increasingly marginalized for refusing to hold such views, particularly given the prominence Piper, MacArthur and Sproul are enjoying at the moment across evangelical circles that previously were not of a Reformed background- such as my own denomination.

For me anyway, their God leaves a completely different taste in the mouth from the image of a God than the one I heard of when I was saved and convicted of my sin. Whether or not its scriptural I guess will take me a while to figure out. But it certainly feels foreign to the God that I have read of myself in scripture- that of a God who primarily is framed as a loving Father, needing nothing more than seeing his creation suffering and dying under sin to be prompted to unfailing action.

Ben Witherington said...

To Bob Meredith, since your email doesn't seem to work.

Dear Bob:

I got your message and while duped is too strong a word, I would say you have been misled. It is of course true that we human beings are called upon to praise and glorify God and that is part of what we mean by worship. But worship is something only creatures do in relationship to the Creator.

God, being God, does not worship himself. There is in various places language about God doing things for his glorious name's sake. If you study the name theology of the Bible you will discover that such phrases most often refer to God vindicating his name, or fulfilling his promises or the like. It does not have to do with God 'glorifying himself' in the sense that some have suggested or mean.

God is not an ego-centric being, rather God is a relational being-- in fact God is a tri-personal being. So for example when God the Father loves the Son, that is a relational love, it is not 'self-love' in the normal sense in which we would use the term. When the Father magnifies the Son that also is not 'self-magnification'

For example, at John 12.28-29 this is not about God puffing himself up, or glorifying himself in the sense that some would have it. God's glorifying of his name is quite specifically referring here to God doing what he had promised he would do through the ministry of Jesus, namely save the world through Jesus' death (see vs.27).

Notice as well in vs. 26 where it says that God will honor the one who serves Jesus. God has no problem praising, honoring, or indeed with the glorification of human beings, and while of course all of this redounds to the honor of God's name, it is quite another matter to say that God did all these things chiefly, or mostly because he wanted to praise himself!!!

To the contrary the reason God did such things is because he loved us, and in loving us of course he revealed his glorious character, and as a by product this led to more praising of God by us.

The most fundamental problem with glory theology that we have been talking about in this post is the doctrine of God, and the heart of the matter is that instead of presenting Jesus as the most perfect reflection of the self-sacrificial heart and character of God, Jesus becomes simply a means to the end of God's self-praising. Wrong and wrong.

God loves us because we are beings of sacred worth created and redeemed in his image, the parent loves the offspring simply because that is the character of God! (see 1 John 4--- God is love).

God doesn't just love us because this brings him more glory or praise, though as a by product that is true. The question is-- is God's love and plans for humankind a reflection of self-sacrificial other directed love, or self-directed love?

Hope this helps,

Ben W.

Brian said...

Dr. Witherington not sure if this was asked but which NT Theology would you recommend? I know some seminaries are using the I.H. Marshall and Frank Theilman combo. I have Ladd's Nt Theology but would like to have updated supplement.


BJ Stockman said...

Dr. Witherington,

Are you endorsing the very book that you disagree with the main thesis of? Or is it a different author with a different New Testament Theology forthcoming?

You endorse Schreiner's forthcoming commentary with the following statement:

"...This is probably the best New Testament theology written in the last several decades from a decidedly Reformed and evangelical point of view. While I disagree with the analysis at various points, it is still a fine piece of work, and I am happy to commend it" (source below).

If this is indeed your endorsement and it refers to the same theology you are critiquing in this blog post, why endorse this New Testament Theology?

It seems odd that one would endorse a book in which one disagrees with not just "various points" but the main point.

Is my assessment unfair or incorrect? I'd appreciate any comments if you haven't exhausted yourself already :).

BJ Stockman


Ben Witherington said...

I absolutely have endorsed Tom Shreiner's new book. Its full of useful exegesis and explanation of texts. Its a fine and helpful piece of work. I just disagree with his reading the NT through the grid of modern Reformed theology, and mostly I disagree with what he sees the central thesis of the NT theologies being.

As for recommending a good NT theology try reading George Caird's Oxford volume put together after his death by L.D.Hurst. Ladd updated by Hagner is useful as well.


Ben W.

Anonymous said...

Here is what I sent to Dr. Piper on his response to this post by Dr. Witherington. It generally provides my input in respect to both sides. My letter to Dr. Piper will begin after the asterisks. God bless.


Dr. Piper, I disagree with much of your Christian Hedonism system, but I think you're more correct than Dr. Witherington on the general point of God doing all things for His glory, but in another respect I think Dr. Witherington is more correct on the concept of God's love. Allow me to explain. Indeed God does do everything for His own glory, but where I part from you is on the essence of God's love and how God loves us. For example, you've said, "The love of God is not God's making much of us, but God's saving us from self-centeredness so that we can enjoy making much of him forever." I agree that God's love does draw us to worship Him as its ultimate goal. But let us note: the late Dr. D.G. Barnhouse once correctly described worship as love that gives upward. So in essence we might say, God loves and provides for us simply so we will love and adore Him; He is after only our hearts for Himself. The Puritan Thomas Shepard said, " Consider it is nothing else but love the Lord looks for, or cares for. Love looks for nothing but love, (Prov. 8:17,) and this is the end of all election, to be holy before him in love" (see http://www.puritansermons.com/shepard/sheprd11.htm )

Furthermore, the context of the Trinity is critical to our understanding. God's Triune nature means that even from eternity, the members of the Trinity have been seeking the glory of the OTHER two, all in love (cf. John 17:2,24) so God's love is others-focused by nature and yet the one true God remains at the center. But in essence, let us look to the Song of Solomon. If we read this as typographical for Christ and the Church (which is the classical interpretation held by most Puritans, old revival preachers like Spurgeon, etc.; for further details on why this is the only logical interpretation, see the introduction of Dr. Peter Masters' The Mutual Love of Christ and His People, Wakeman Trust, London: 2004.) it is clear that the Lord is captivated by His Bride, not just glorifying Himself to her, but the Bride Herself. Here is but a sample of the text (4:9-10, KJV): "Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!"

Clearly the Lord is in deep love with the Bride HERSELF, that is, His Church. His love is a giving love, but it is also one of complacency and delight in us as the text shows.
For a more in-depth look, I will also note a reference to Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology; see


And in John 15:9;17:23 we see something incredible. From 17:23, "...and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me." (KJV) The word "as" here being "kathos" or just as, even as, the strongest word possible in the context according to the late Dr. J.M. Boice. The same word appears in John 15:9, and the concept again in 17:26
If God's love to us is complacency and delight in we ourselves, and the apostle tells us God loves us as much as the Father loves Jesus, that has immense application, because that is the greatest of all loves. God has no love for Himself that goes beyond the love of two members of the Trinity for one another, since each Person is fully God. In Standing in Grace, Edwards noted how the love between the Father and Son IS the love of God to Himself. So if God loves us and values us (because we love what we value; cf. Luke 12:34) that much, how is He not an idolater? The issue is twofold: first, our union to Christ. We are not inherently lovable and valuable, but rather we can receive this love from God because we are "in Christ," joined in spirit to Him, and are His Bride and Body. Secondly, the last end of God's love to the believer is not the believer; it's end is the believer loving/worshipping God. So if we are in Christ and have been given the full inheritance of Christ Himself (Romans 8:17,32), then God sees us in Christ, united to Him, and so loves us with the exact same love --- in type and degree --- that the Father has for Christ. For some key references in church history of others who have interpreted this from John 15:9;17:23,26, etc., see the following:

1. Dr. Jack MacArthur Sr. sermons on these texts

2. Charles Spurgeon

3. John Calvin (see v. 26)

4. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
(Initially taken from his book exposition on Ephesians 1, God's Ultimate Purpose. Baker Book House, Grand Rapids: 1978. pg. 137-146)

5. Thomas Goodwin (Puritan)

6. Dr. H.A. Ironside
See H.A. Ironside. John. Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, originally from 1920 with reprint in 2006. pg. 433

7. The 1599 Geneva Bible (see notes for John 17:26)


The point is, this view can indeed be seen in church history. God does all things for His own glory, but our context must remain focused on the specific intra-Trinitarian nature of it, and furthermore, remember that God's goal in glorifying Himself is to draw out our loving adoration for Himself who has first loved us, in and through Christ, even as, just as, inasmuch as Christ Himself, with the greatest of all loves. So God is retained as the last end, and yet we can rejoice that His love to us is not just emotionless giving, but "...love in the sense in which that word comes home to every human heart." (as Hodge said, per the earlier reference) The very same which the Father has had for Christ from all eternity.

God bless, Dr. Piper.

Stephen Ley said...

Dr. Witherington, I appreciate your scholarship and Christian witness. I think the statement would have been better worded: ONE OF THE major themes of the NT is God magnifying himself through Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Other than that I don't see a problem with it theologically or exegetically, but I'm far from an expert and could be dead wrong and unduly influenced by Edwards, Piper, et al.

Your point is well taken though that we should place more emphasis on the relational, self-giving love within God triune. This might add more richness and nuance to what I think is a correct concept: God's passion for his own glory and jealousy for his name AND infinite satisfaction in his own excellencies, such that he desires to manifest them more fully in us his creatures.

Blessings! 2 Peter 3:18

Vitamin Z said...


omakase said...

Here is an interesting page from Miroslav Volf's book "Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a World Stripped of Grace".

There is a balance that is needed concerning God's love and plan for people, and God's show of his own greatness. Unfortunately, I think most Calvinists have a all too zealous "either/or" mentality. Here's Volf's quote:

"Consider, first, what Luther calls human love, but which is better described as distorted love. It’s elicited by the object of love; it’s basically passive in the sense that it depends on the object of love, Its only activity, says Luther, consists in “receiving something”. A person sees beauty – or goodness or truth – and wants to have it. As a consequence, people who love in this way seek their “own good” in those they love: they don’t bestow any good on them. A man may shower a woman with gifts, but he may be doing it so that he can ingratiate himself to her, enjoy her, keep her, or even worse, so that he can display her as a trophy. When we love in this way, we are receivers, not givers.

Contrast this kind of possessive love with divine love. First, divine love never had to come into being at all; it wasn’t elicited by its object. It simply is. It doesn’t depend on the truth, beauty, or goodness of the beloved. Second, as Luther stated, because God’s love isn’t caused by its object, it can love those who are not lovable…Luther concluded, “Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good”.

Such divine love is supremely manifested on the cross on which Jesus Christ took the sin of the world upon himself. “This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person”. Unlike merely human love, divine love gives and doesn’t receive.

Some theologians claim that all God’s desires culminate in a single desire: to assert and to maintain God’s own glory. On its own, the idea of a glory-seeking God seems to say that God, far from being only a giver, is the ultimate receiver. As the great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth disapprovingly put it, such a God would be “in holy self-seeking…preoccupied with Himself”. In creating and redeeming, such a God would give, but only in order to get glory; the whole creation would be a means to this end. In Luther’s terms, here we would have a God demonstrating human rather than divine love.

But we don’t have to give up on the idea that God seeks God’s own glory. We just need to say that God’s glory, which is God’s very being, is God’s love, the creative love that wants to confer good upon the beloved. Now the problem of a self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God’s love is vindicated. In seeking God’s own glory, God merely insists on being toward human beings the God who gives. This is exactly how Luther thought about God. So should we.

Yet have I now come full circle, inadvertently embracing God the Santa Claus, who gives without demanding anything? No, and the difference is this: Unlike gifts received from Santa Claus, whose gifts are the end of the story, God’s gifts oblige us to something further. To what do God’s gifts oblige us? What is the nature of the obligation? Let’s examine the second question first.” pages 38-39

Erlend said...

It occurred to me reading Volf's post by Omakase that I've just been, in a way, researching this issue with regards to Second Temple Judaism.

Consider the following quote which were is against (I am arguing) the Greek system of euergetism (or clusmly " reciprocal benefaction"), whereby a good act was giving but only in the return of glory. For ancient Jews this standard Greek practice seems to have repugnant, and one of the most remarkable features of the Jewish God that he did not act out of desire for anything back: especially glory and honour.

Take this quote for example from Philo:

"you will find that all men, and especially those who have been alluded to as giving gratuitously, sell rather than give; and that they, who we fancy are receiving favours, are, in reality, purchasing the benefits which they derive; for they who give, hoping to receive a requital, such as praise or honor, and seeking for a return of the favour which they are conferring, under the specious name of a gift, are, in reality, making a bargain…..But God distributes his good things not like a seller vending his wares at a high price, but he is inclined to make presents of everything, pouring forth the inexhaustible fountains of his graces, and never desiring any returns.
Cher 122,123"

This of course doesn't mean for Philo God is not to be honoured e.g. "most valuable of all things, the rank of priesthood, the office of service of paying honour to Him, who is in truth the only being worthy of honour and service”Ebr. 75. But the idea of a God who did gave out of desire for glory for Philo, and as Ben and many on this board have tried to show, is just not giving.

DRB said...

Perhaps too much blame is being put specifically on John Piper. Seeing God as ultimately self-seeking may be the logical consequence of Calvinism in general. A respected Lutheran seminary professor puts it this way:

"...in Calvin's theology the sinner is justified chiefly in order that he may be enabled to honor God through the activity which springs from regeneration. For Luther God loves the sinner for Christ's sake. It is not a question of what God will get for Himself out of His expenditure of redemptive love. For Calvin God moves from the motive of divine sovereignty. God redeems not for the sake of the sinner but for Himself. The question is no longer Luther's, what God can do for man, but what man can do for God... The real goal is not reinstitution of fallen mankind for its own sake, but for the praise of God. Since the sovereignty of God is the final goal of all of His acts, including redemption, the works have value, not because of their Christological association as in Lutheran theology, but because they are in themselves pleasing to God. In fact, the works have a higher value than the persons performing them. It is a matter of what God can get out of man for Himself. Thus, prayer is particularly important for Calvin since God is glorified by the praises of believers. For Luther prayer is the Christian's recognition of his faith's own helplessness and by prayer he throws himself upon the mercy of God."

From this PDF article

LPC said...

It seems to me that a different concept of God emerges if God is after his glory for his own sake.

In Buddhism the concept of karma is applied this way: you do good to others because you will get good back your way. Thus in practical terms, if you want to get something back as a result, do good to others.

Following what DRB said, the stress of the Sovereign Glory of God apart from the Cross can lead one to think that God is Allah or God has the philosophy of Buddha. I am not being cynical, I am just following the slop where it ends.


kellyH said...

I would echo those who have pointed out what true narcissim is. The very problem with human nature is not at all that men, such as Piper and Schreiner, have turned God into a "narcissist," but rather that WE oursevles are narcissists that assume that everything in life and the gospel is about fundamentally about US. If the gospel is fundamentally man-centered it is ultimately irrelevant, for the very need of the gospel is due to the need of something outside one's own self and finite, human capabilites.

DRB said...

Man-centered theology sees redeemed man — but not God incarnate — as exercising a love that ultimately seeks not its own. Christ-centered theology confesses that no one can show greater love than that which motivates a man to lay down his life for his friends.

Unknown said...

Dear Ben,

Does not self-emptying love show something about the character of God? And if so, the fact that He chooses to act at all in this way, wouldn't that show His glory? I think that you may not like how Tom Schriner presents God showing His glory, but if God chooses to act at all, isn't that a revelation of His glory? Wouldn't God delight to bestow self-giving love, because He has been bestowing self-giving love among the Trinity? Dan Elifson

LPC said...

Yes God is self-emptying and we see this at the Cross, but from this, we can not conclude that the reason why he is self-emptying is because behind all that - he really loves himself!

LPC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hi! I'm Ken said...

If what God says about Himself is true, must we not confess that we cannot fully comprehend all that He says/does? That being said, it seems that many are quick to see God's desire to receive glory as a bad thing. This may well be true from a human perspective/understanding of the issue. I submit that if God is, indeed, perfect in all His attributes and we as fallen, finite creatures find fault with one or any of these attributes then the problem is obviously with our comprehension of the notion.

As an example, God says His love for His children is a jealous love. From the (distorted) human perspective (human) jealously is a bad thing. Which, indeed, it can be. But the biblcal (godly) notion of jealousy is one of protecting the object of jealously from harm, to love in a sacrificial manner, to become angry (in perfect righteousness) at whatever threatens the (eternal) well being of the said object.

In closing I feel we must confess our lack in fully understanding this issue and bow before God's revelation to us or we must confess that we pick and choose the parts we like about His revelation and discard the parts we don't and thereby try to become the creator (creating a god that is tolerable to our fallen notions of what is right and wrong and how God should act) which is, of course, what we have been doing since Adam.

Kyle said...

To say that God's saving activity is penultimate, while God's concern for enjoying and glorifying Himself forever is ultimate, is just ridiculous and unscriptural. And to say that this is the ground of God's love for us is tantamount to saying that God needs to put on a glory-capades in order to show us that He is worthy of worship.

The more biblically and theologically sound position is that God creates, sustains, and redeems out of His holy love, and He is quite naturally glorified in the process because He is the most supremely powerful and loving Being.

The Calvinist says "God loves us (read: the elect, He hates everyone else from all eternity) because He wants to glorify Himself."

The Arminian says, "God is glorious because He loves everything that He has made."

M. Jay Bennett said...

I have begun a series of posts here
critiquing Dr. Witherington's further comments in defense of the post above.

Anonymous said...

The following excerpt is taken from Denny Burk's blog in response to Dr. Witherington's defense. Here's the link, along with Dr. Burk's insightful thoughts: http://www.dennyburk.com/?p=958


Dr. Witherington,

Thanks for the comment. A couple of responses:

1. I understand that we are reading the “for my name sake” passages differently, but I am not convinced that the authors intended to dichotomize God’s conern for His name and God’s concern for His glory, as you would have it. Isaiah 42:8 is a case in point: “I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.” Here the paralllelism links God’s concern for His name with His glory. We could move through each text individually (I only cited the ones I did as exemplars, of course there are many more), and I think we would see that the link is clear.

2. For the sake of argument, even if I granted that the authors intended to separate God’s concern for His name from His concern for His glory, you would still have to deal with texts that explicitly cite God’s glory as the motivation for His redemptive acts. Could Paul be anymore clearer on this point than he is in Ephesians 1. It says that God, “blessed us with every spiritual blessing . . . to the praise of the glory of His grace” (vv. 3-6). Christ’s redemptive work is a result of God’s predetermined plan and purpose to save His elect for “the praise of His glory” (vv. 7-12). The seal of the Holy Spirit is given with a view to the future resurrection of the saints which will be “to the praise of His glory” (vv. 13-14). Can there be any doubt in Ephesians 1 that the entire Trinity is said to be working redemption for the praise of God’s glory. God’s glory is the end; God’s redemptive acts are the means towards that end.

3. I don’t think “glory quotient” is a helpful way to describe what we are discussing here. When the Bible speaks of people “glorifying” God or even of God “glorifying” Himself, as it were, it’s not suggesting that God is becoming ontologically more glorious. For those of us on the Calvinist side of the theological spectrum, we certainly don’t mean to imply that God is becoming ontologically more glorious. To say such a thing would not be a faithful understanding of how the various expressions in the Bible work, nor is it even theologically coherent.

Thanks again,
Denny Burk


Dr. Witherington never responded.

Anonymous said...

Bradley, Dr. Witherington DID respond when he wrote the post at http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/12/ephesians-16-to-praise-of-gods-glorious.html

Your comment and his post appear to have been written the same day, so I'm not sure if you wrote that before or not, but either way, there it is. I do not say I necessarily agree with his assertion (nor do I fully agree with the Piper school of thought either, as I explained in my post on the nature of God's love; see above). In any case, I wanted to let you know. God bless.

Dave said...

"God commands us to worship Him, mama. Isn't that being self-centered?" my daughter asked me.

I used to wrestle with that question too. After all, we are told that "love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; ...does not seek its own" (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). But i found that it's loving for God to pursue His own glory this way:


Unknown said...

I for one do not believe that God is deficient in his condition that he has any need at all. To imply God’s need of self love is to cast God in the human condition where we only understand motivations of the human psyche. God is self sufficient in and of himself and is empty of need. Yes, he desires his creation to know him and love him in the fullness of his glory, but the impetus of his work is not motivated in self need. God the Father said of Himself: “I am that I am”. He has no need as we humans understand need. To view the Father in light of the human condition, one only needs to view the life and words of Christ. After all this is the incarnation where God put on flesh and walked among us. Christ displayed acts of love without displaying acts of egotism. I think the real question here is: why did God undertake this great experiment with man in the first place and what was the impetus for the experiment. This is the great mystery that all men ponder.


Anonymous said...

What a blasphemous, Biblically illiterate, irrational, grossly
egotistical tower of Babel: "'For God so loved Himself?' Is God a Narcissist?" classic transference like with alcoholics' blame of others for the condition, wicked, insane exaltation of the creature above the Creator Who is blessed forever in Romans 1 fashion.
How ironic that the greatest foolish railing against the true joy of God receiving the Glory due His Name that His Perfect Authoritative Word demands for Him, so edifying for His Church, and calling it "egotism," is really itself just sinful egotism, with not one legitimately exegeted verse of Scripture for support versus Piper's many books of said support (e.g. Desiring God, What Jesus Demands From the World and God is the Gospel to name just a few), sadly typical of the illiterate postmodern, postChristian collapse
strutting about pretending it has anything even rational, much less intelligent, to say.How like the stupidity of synergism similarly exalting the creature above the Creator with not one legitimately
exegeted verse of Scriptural support; tell a lie often enough and folk'll believe anything, like the groundless eisegetical delusion that one is not accountable to God for moral inability.
Please note my careful effort exclusively to focus my attack on false doctrine alone versus those holding it, very sensitive to such having once foolishly held the tragic semi-pelagian synergism heterodoxy I now bring under
Biblical authority.
God save us all.
Romans 3:4 1 John 1:7-10.
Russ Davis

Dr. R said...

I'm offended to see people using God's word, written to man, against The Almighty. Why else has man been created if not for the glory of God?
Yes we are told that love is not boastful and proud in the Bible but how can you use the Bible to bound the essence of God? He is beyond any limitation or guidlines that he has set for mankind and he is so infinite in his wisdom that whatever he does is unquestionably the most righteous action that could take place. It would be wrong for us to be selfish because we are not God, God is God he is completely justified in whatever he does and we can not try to throw this lasso of human limitation around him by subjecting him to criticism and labeling him a narcisist if he should choose to use man as an ends for his Glory. It would be wrong for man to use all creation as a method of acheiving personal Glory, however it is moral for us to be the means of God's glory.

If my only purpose on life is to glorify God and that is my only reason for being then so be it! I would have it no other way! I can see no other reason for my existence. To God be the Glory forever.