Pastor and theologian Tim Keller made a Tweet in regards to the incarnation of Jesus this week. Keller said: “The God of the universe became a wiggling baby in order to get close to you.”
James White, another theologian, was critical of Keller’s comment: “No sir, the second person of the Trinity took on a perfect human nature first and foremost to bring glory to the Triune God in the redemption of a completely unworthy people upon whom the Triune God had decreed mercy and grace in eternity past. That’s not getting ‘close to you.”
I’m a huge fan of Keller, but I also really enjoy White’s work, but I disagree with the criticism that White is raising here. Both men are in the Reformed camp, and one of the great strengths of Reformed theology is its emphasis on the glory of God. As part of this idea, everything that God does is for his own glory. I affirm that belief.
However I do think that people in the Reformed camp can sometimes emphasize the glory of God to the point where I feel that it can also undermine the love of God and that God is relational. It’s because God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish (John 3:16). Yes, God is glorious and we need to live to glorify God.
I feel like we can treat glory almost like a utilitarian idea, that glory is the only thing that matters to God, and we act like the things that God does which happen to benefit humanity have nothing to do with God’s love for humanity. But we can’t reduce the attributes of God. Everything that the Lord is, the Lord is always, and to the superlative decree. So it’s not that God is sometimes glorious, sometimes loving, sometimes more or less loving, sometimes powerful. But it’s that everything God is, God always is.
I’m not suggesting that White has a low view of the love of God.
I do think that staunchly Reformed Evangelicals can communicate theological ideas which very much give that impression.
Yes, Jesus came into the world to bring glory to God. But he also came so that everyone who believes in him can be with him. That’s the heart of the gospel. The God who created the world came into the world to save the world.
Why go to theological battle over that?
It’s not an either/or. It’s both/and.
Josh Benner is the associate pastor at Cornerstone Evangelical Free Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota and has a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He enjoys writing about faith and culture. He lives with his wife Kari in Minnesota.