Ben (withering)10

Last week Ben Witherington posted a little something he titled, "For God so loved Himself?" Is God a Narcissist?, which has received a little bit of play and a (brief) response from John Piper.

I had a long week last week, so I didn’t quite have the time to shake out that post, but I happen to have an hour this morning, and I'm sure Ben is glad that the dark side of town has finally gotten to his opinion on the subject of God and His Glory.

Let's make sure we "get" that this is s critique of Ben's post and not of what's going on in the meta of that post, which may deserve its own treatment. That said, here we go:
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.
I have to admit that one of things about this post that seems not quite right is how one-sided it is. That is, not one-sided in opinion, but one-sided in discussion. Because Ben is reading a book not yet in print, he may have an obligation not to cite it directly – which, I guess, is fine. But it's hard to compare or substantiate what comes next when what we get is a one-sentence summary of a doctrine which, frankly, requires a little more nuance than Ben delivers here.

Does God receive "more glory"? Well, more glory than what? And when one objects to God being "self-referential", doesn’t that overlook God's ontological position among everything in which He is creator and everything else is not?

And what about the well-known first question of the Westminster Catechism –
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.
Is that statement making God "self-centered"?

I think what has happened here is that Ben has simplified someone's theology farther than is justified, and has left out a bunch of stuff. Which, you know, happens. But when that happens, maybe one should be careful about saying things like this:
What's wrong with this picture? How about the basic understanding of God's essential and moral character?
Somehow the point that God's essential character, and God's moral character, are in fact self-referential. That is, as God would say: "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you." (Is 45 for the verse number wonks)

It is in that which there are effects of God's character – such as love for creation, specifically for man; judgment on creation, specifically on man; mercy on creation, specifically on man; and so on. To try to segment God's reliance on God alone before approaching the rest of this stuff kinda misses the point of who and what exactly God is.

I think that's why I found this particularly disturbing:
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..."?
In fact, no we would not expect that – because this expectation is seeded by the idea that there is only one goal or one tier of goals in the divine will. May I suggest that there is certainly more than one tier of objectives in God's plan – even to the most divinely-fixated Edwardsian thinker. And in that, in John 3 Jesus is not speaking to the ultimate or highest tier of God's will but to the meaning of redemption in God's will.

To say that God loves the world does not nullify God's jealous love of Himself and His own holiness and perfection – and to anticipate that the only love God would speak of is His view of Himself does make God like us, but neither the common Edwardsian or the nuttier ones you might encounter go that far.
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.
I think the irony here is that Ben is asking us to believe that the writer of the book he is considering is making an either/or proposition: either God is glorified –or- a man or mankind is somehow glorified or made right. Can't it be both, where one is an effect of the other – an intended and intentional effect where both objectives are effected to their best possible outcome? Why must it be bifurcated into either God is glorified or God loves man enough to save man – doesn’t it seem more sensible that God is glorified by His love for man and by His saving of man – but that as much as man is saved, the greater objective is the demonstration of who God is because God is, in fact, the greater being both ontologically and spiritually?
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.
Ben's view is that "the joy which was set before [Christ]" is –only- the salvation of His people – but reading this passage closely renders two outcomes which, I think, Ben overlooks:

[1] That the joy set before Christ is parallel to the race set before "us", and that the goal of both seems to be the same goal.

[2] That salvation per se is not listed here as the joy of Christ but that being seated at the right hand of the throne of God is listed as the outcome of Christ's endurance.

The parallel here is that we should reflect Christ's obedience so that we may end up where Christ is -- which is, frankly, in a glorified state. Certainly our salvation is purchased at the cross – but this passage is not talking about propitiation directly: it is talking about our endurance as it reflects Christ's endurance – and the end of such a thing is to end up in glory as Christ is himself in Glory.
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.
This may be the most puzzling part of Ben's riff here because, again, it speaks specifically to God's self-referential nature in that even if men change or are evil, God is still good and faithful! That is, that God isn’t going to get jerked around by the infidelity of men – even of Israel! God will be God and do what He intends.
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.
Dr. Piper has already sent a salvo of scripture over this statement, but my small contribution here is this: what is evident in the Bible is not just that it is "right" that we worship God: it is what God desires for us and from us. That is, God desires the worship of men. Does that really need a proof-text? Do we have to outline the books of Moses to show how God defines worship and take extraordinary time to define what it means to worship him? Or to point of that Hosea makes the case that the real sin if Israel is giving worship to false gods and not to God who desires and deserves it?

It is difficult to frame what Scripture says about worship except by noting how God frames the matter and the problem in that He thinks we desire to worship Him less than He himself desires us to worship Him.
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 think Ben would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that from the text. I would enjoy discussing that with him specifically. Until such a time, I think it's appropriate to say, "that definition of the image of God is imaginative at best – and overlooks the definition of the image of God provided, for example, by Gen 1:26-29 and Gen 9:6."
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.
It seems odd that Ben can get this – that God's glory and some other objective can coexist and even be co-terminus – but then stand by his criticism of God-centeredness. But even in that, I think he mistakes the point of Ps 8 – which is that God is glorified by the things He has done.
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.
I think what is surprising is that Ben doesn’t really understand the thing he is criticizing here very well. He's a well-respected guy with a very popular blog and quite a few books published – but it seems he doesn’t really get how God-centeredness works. That is to say, the greatest commandment is, "Love the Lord your God with all your mind, soul and strength", and that the Lord commanded this knowing it is for our own good.