Are traditional views of “deity” actually deistic?

In this series, we’ve considered the fact that ancient Jews thought of monotheism in terms of “divine identity,” here’s a question worth mulling over.

Might traditional theological perspectives of God be implicitly deistic?

Let’s not forget that deism argues that God started the world but has since left it to run on its own. God does not involve himself in human affairs.

Lao PeopleWhy would I ask the question?

When we think of deity has mainly to do with “what” God is, we might also too sharply separate the physical world and God’s realm. However, Rev 21–22 and Isa 65–65 are strong reminders that our ultimate hope is for the union of earth and heaven, i.e. God’s throne room (cf. Ps 11:4; Isa 66:1).

Many traditional apologetics and theologies create this sort of perspective when they dichotomize the “material” world and “spiritual” things. Similarly, when we say the Bible represents human nature and divine nature as different “substances,” we create our own apologetic problems and Christ’s nature becomes an apparent logical contradiction.

God enters our world!

By contrast, what happens when we see deity in terms of “divine identity” (my second post in the series)? Our exegetical problems go away and we stumble on to fresh insights.

For example, Richard Bauckham directs our attention to Phil 2:8–11

8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

It is precisely because of Christ’s humility as a human that he receives the praise due only to the one true God. Notice the “therefore” in the sequence of thought.

Recall that one distinctive of the “divine identity” is that God engages in the things of our world!

We need to heed this warning: Traditional Christian assumptions about “deity” (being primarily about substance) may subtly oppose the Bible’s view of God.

I have a few questions for you.

Even if, philosophically speaking, there is a “material” difference between deity and non-deity, is it worth sacrificing the biblical emphasis on God’s divine identity?

What do you think?

Do we create our own apologetic problems?

Doing Twitter Theology

Wish theologians would sum up their ideas in just 140 characters?

Well, this and next week, I am doing a theology series over on Twitter. I offer a concise summary of many Christian doctrines using an honor-shame lens.

Each day, I’ll suggest a simple explanation of 1–2 Christian themes while sprinkling in various  passages that illustrate a theology in terms of honor and shame.

Look me up on Twitter: jacksonwu4china

Follow the hashtag: #honortheology

How to Contextualize the Gospel for Animists

How do we contextualize the gospel among animists?

In the last post, I highlighted a possible danger to be aware of when presenting the gospel among many unreached people groups. In this post, I will suggest a more constructive approach.

China polyHow does the Bible confront other “gods”?

How did people like the OT prophets contend with polytheistic beliefs in their own contexts? I think we see a pattern in their approach.

I offer the following suggestion when confronting the false “gods” of animistic peoples. Continue reading

Why Chelsea Clinton was named “Mother of the Year”

Glamour magazine named Chelsea Clinton “Woman of the Year.” After only six weeks of being a mom, Katie Couric dubbed Clinton “Mother of the Year.

Why? The answer is actually pretty simple….

clinton28n-2-web Continue reading

“Cheating is our birthright”

You may remember the series of posts I ran last year about cheating in Chinese culture, including pastors within the Chinese church. Well, it turns out students in India and China have something in common._78844057_indiabackstudentsthink624

According to one Indian student, cheating “is our democratic right!…Cheating is our birthright.”

If you want to read the rest of the article, check out the article posted by the BBC, “The students who feel they have a right to cheat.” As I read through it, I recalled many conversations I’ve had with Chinese students.

Here are a few quotes:

  • “If you really want to know the truth,” she added, “there’s no point in studying properly. You just need to buy one of the cheat books sold in the bazaar and learn the answers.”
  • “In my first year doing history I tried to study properly, but my seniors just told me: ‘Buy the cheat books.'”
  • The question is, what’s the solution? When pro-cheating rallies were held in Uttar Pradesh in the early 1990s, the state’s chief minister gave in to demands and repealed an anti-copying act – he actually allowed students to cheat.

These stories raise questions about for the church. Of course, we want people to speak the truth and not lie or cheat. However, we also need to think about how we might contribute to the systemic solutions to the problem. How might Christ’s followers use their own education, experience, and vocations to improve things like education?

Does not this sort of work characterize what could be called “missional” living?


How NOT to Contextualize the Gospel for Animists?

How might a more biblical (rather than philosophical) view of monotheism shape evangelism among animists?

right way wrong wayWhat do I mean by “animism”?

At a very basic level, animists believe that certain objects or things in nature have a spirit. At a more practical level, I refer to the perspective that characterizes countless unreached people groups (UPGs) around the world.

This sort of animism treats certain objects with the respect one would give a god. Not surprisingly, many animistic cultures are functionally polytheistic (even if they don’t call these objects “gods”).

In this post, I want to question one possible way of addressing animism. In the next post, I’ll suggest something more constructive. Continue reading

Will I see you at ETS?

Next week, I leave to attend the annual conferences of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) and the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL).

ETSI will present a paper at ETS next Thursday at 8:30 AM (Pacific Salon Four) for anyone who is interested in coming. I was graciously invited to participate in the Asian/Asian-American Theology Consultation. My presentation is titled,

“How Christ Saves God’s Face…and Ours: A Soteriology of Honor and Shame”

Here is the abstract of the talk:

Honor and shame are critical aspects of a biblical soteriology. In order to demonstrate the point, this paper surveys three key doctrines—sin, atonement and justification by faith. Shame is a subjective and objective reality. It is both the consequence and defining feature of sin. Within the context of a collectivistic covenant relationship, Christ pays the honor-debt owed by those who give their loyalty to him. In so doing, Christ not only glorifies his people; more importantly, he saves God’s face.

I was specifically asked to present some of the key ideas from Saving God’s Face: A Chinese Contextualization of Salvation through Honor and Shame

If you plan to be at ETS, then I hope to see you next Thursday.

If you can’t be there, I would greatly appreciate your prayers. I will be offering an overview of how honor-shame should shape our view of the atonement and justification such that we may glorify Christ with our entire lives.

That’s a lot to do in a small amount of time.

THE 3D GOSPEL for Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

Over at, my friend Jayson has announced his new E-book called “The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures.”

3D-Gospel-Mock-up-784x1024The introduction below comes from

Is your gospel 3D? Western theology emphasizes forgiveness of sins, but people in the Majority World seek honor or spiritual power. In today’s globalized world, Christians need a three-dimensional gospel. Learn how the Bible speaks to cultures of guilt, shame, and fear, and enhance your cross-cultural ministry among the nations!

The 3D Gospel is a concise e-book explaining the world’s three primary culture types and how Christians can fruitfully minister cross-culturally. To equip believers with a dynamic view of gospel, The 3D Gospel explains the following aspects of guilt, shame, and fear cultures:

  • The main cultural characteristics
  • How people function in everyday life
  • The  biblical narrative of salvation
  • Doctrines of original sin and the atonement of Jesus
  • Definitions of 40+ theological categories
  • Key verses from scripture
  • Two separate evangelistic approaches
  • A contextualized form of Christian witness
  • Practical tips for relationships and communication

It is available at Amazon or can be bought at a discount on his website using Paypal.

Here is the endorsement I wrote for the book:

“I am excited that The 3D Gospel is now available. It is a practical guide for Christians who want to see how different types of cultures and worldviews influence how we read the Bible and develop mission strategies.”

Many of you may have you read Roland Muller’s Honor and Shame, a popular introduction to the subject. You might think of The 3D Gospel as an improved 2.0 version of Muller’s book. Jayson writes for the practitioner, not the academic, so it’s accessible for a larger readership. I am excited to see that he offers a number of introductory bridges into the theological sphere, not treating honor and shame as mere anthropological categories, as if distinct from biblical categories.

Explaining the Trinity of “Divine Identity”

What kind of analogy can we give to explain the Trinity?

In previous posts, we considered how ancient Jews talked about the one true God (i.e. monotheism). Richard Bauckham uses the phrase “divine identity” to describe this perspective. Follow-up posts highlighted the significance of this view for the sake of our ministry.

imageI’ll be the first to say that all analogies that attempt to explain the Trinity have limitations. That includes the ideas I’ll suggest below. Nevertheless, we have to try. Naturally, we should want to help people understand the Trinity.

If you have not read prior posts, I’ll remind you of three criteria that constitute the “divine identity” (i.e. that which Jews regarded as the one true God’s “deity”).

a. God is the Creator of the world
b. The Creator is the covenant God of Israel. In history, He has revealed himself to and through them.
c. The one true God is the king over all nations

The above 3-fold standard is a “functional” view of deity (rather than ontological or about what kind of “substance” is deity).

Three Analogies

Here are a few suggestions. I’d love to hear what you think.

1. The Bible

The Bible is one book with many smaller books/letters. In order to considered the “Bible,” a book must satisfy at least these three criteria.

 . . . inspired by God
. . . written by people
. . . without error in all it affirms

Notice that both the Bible (as a whole) and the individual books could satisfy these three criteria.

2. The Earth

The earth is a planet consisting of many specific and distinct places.

. . . orbits our sun
. . . has one moon
. . . supports human life

Both the planet (on the whole) and countless distinct locations in the world can satisfy these criteria.

3. An iPhone

How do we identify an iPhone from other smart phones? It will

. . . be designed by Apple
. . . make phone calls and send texts
. . . surfs the internet and plays music

Again, these criteria speak to those features that make the iPhone distinct from other types of technology.

This post is a brainstorm of sorts. If the Jews saw God in terms of “divine identity” and we are called to help people know the one true God, then we should consider how best to explain the Trinity.

What do you think? Do you have suggestions of your own?

Talking about Biblical Monotheism — A Few Suggestions

Previously, I suggested what I think is a more biblical perspective of monotheism (compared to conventional ways of thinking about the subject). In the last post, I applied these ideas to apologetics.

God on FacebookIn this post, I suggest a few specific applications. Biblical monotheism should alter the way we talk with unbelievers. We should emphasize the following points. Continue reading