It is critically important to sing Christian songs and hymns that are consistent with Christian theology and worldview overall. Yet the only way to know if the song or hymn is compatible with the faith is to think carefully about the words and meanings it mentions.
For example, if you’ve ever attended a liturgical Christian church then you’ve likely heard and even sang the popular hymn “Glory Be to the Father,” known in Latin as the Gloria Patri. When I attended the Roman Catholic Church as a youth we also called it the “Glory Be.” (It is often the case in Christian history that document and song titles are taken from the very first words to appear on the page.)
The Gloria Patri serves as a doxology (short hymn of praise) to the eternal Triune God. Here is the English version that we sing at every service at the Reformed church that I attend:
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen. Amen.
A friend of mine, who grew up reciting the Gloria Patri while attending a Presbyterian church, asked me about a specific phrase that appears in the doxological hymn. Here’s his question:
The last stanza of the hymn seems to conflict with what I understand about Scripture, and also with RTB teaching: ‘…as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end.’ Scripture clearly teaches that the universe is in a state of decay (entropy) since the Fall (thus not the same now as in the beginning); and will one day be burned up at the Final Judgment, replaced with a New Creation (thus the current world will one day end).
This is a good question; however, we need not worry that the Gloria Patri violates scriptural teaching. The unusual English expression “world without end” refers not to the physical cosmos we are presently in, but to the eternal glory of the Trinity that endures throughout the ages (beginning, now, evermore). “World without end” is another way of saying “forever and ever” or “ages upon ages” and it applies to the appropriate glory of the Trinity. It is not a reference to the present created order enduring forever. Thus, we can go on reciting the Gloria Patri without fear of false doctrine.
Since the Gloria Patri is a wonderful historical and doxological hymn to sing in praise of the Triune God, let me also recommend a book that I recently reviewed. Delighting in the Trinity by theologian Michael Reeves is one of the very best books that I have read on the Trinity. He does a great job of explaining the importance of the Trinity for Christian belief and life and why only the Triune God can be love and offer loving forgiveness to repentant sinners.
As a historic Christian the most appealing aspect of my faith is the truth that God is Triune (one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). God’s unique Triune nature is revealed in the pages of Scripture and is theologically defined in the historic creeds and confessions of Christendom. The doctrine of the Trinity is arguably historic Christianity’s most distinctive theological feature and therefore impacts all Christian belief and practice. Continue reading
I strive to encourage Christians to think carefully and critically about their faith not only through Reflections but also through two RTB podcasts: Straight Thinking (I lead my colleagues in discussions of important issues in light of the Christian worldview) and I Didn’t Know That! (RTB scholars offer unscripted answers to listener questions). In case you missed them, check out these recent episodes where we tackle the end times, evidence for the Trinity, the tension between flesh and spirit, and much more.
“Is the Bible a Science Book?” (Episode #224) – Science changes, but the Bible does not; therefore, the Bible is not a science book—so argues a Vatican astronomer. Physicist Dave Rogstad and astronomer Hugh Ross join me in discussing how to help believers interpret Scripture’s statements about the natural world.
“Eschatology’s Ten Commandments” (Episode #226) – People can’t seem to get enough end times speculation. But irresponsible predictions and excessive conjecture about the world’s future serve to remind all believers to exercise caution when reflecting on eschatology (study of future things). Here I offer 10 guidelines for a careful approach to Christian eschatology.
I Didn’t Know That!
Episode #265 – I answer a question regarding Old Testament evidence for the Trinity (starting at 10:48).
Episode #266 – The apostle Paul aptly describes a believer’s battle against sin in Romans 7: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” A listener question sparks a lively discussion among Dave, Hugh, and I about this war between the flesh and the spirit (starting at 16:08).
Update on I Didn’t Know That!
New segments on I Didn’t Know That! now offer listeners apologetics equipping in bite-sized pieces. Each podcast episode includes at least two of the following features (in addition to our popular Stump the Scholar bit):
- A Better Question: We consider common theological/apologetics questions and offer improved alternatives to get conversations moving in a spiritually productive direction.
- Elevator Apologetics: Get ready to answer an apologetics question in 60 seconds or less!
- Junk yard Apologetics: Many bad arguments are put forth in science-faith debates. We take a moment to debunk some of them.
- Much Ado about Nothing: Listen in to bloopers and behind-the-scenes banter among the scholars and podcast host, Joe Aguirre.
Richard [of St. Victor: d. 1173] argued that if God were just one person, he could not be intrinsically loving, since for all eternity (before creation) he would have had nobody to love. If there were two persons, he went on, God might be loving, but in an excluding, ungenerous way. After all, when two persons love each other, they can be so infatuated with each other that they simply ignore everyone else—and a God like that would be very far from good news. But when the love between two persons is happy, healthy and secure, they rejoice to share it. Just so it is with God, said Richard. Being perfectly loving, from all eternity the Father and the Son have delighted to share their love and joy with and through the Spirit.
– Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 31.
I could believe in the death of a man called Jesus, I could believe in his bodily resurrection, I could even believe in a salvation by grace alone; but if I do not believe in this God, then, quite simply, I am not a Christian. And so, because the Christian God is triune, the Trinity is the governing center of all Christian belief, the truth that shapes and beautifies all others. The Trinity is the cockpit of all Christian thinking.
— Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic), 16.
Augustine’s life (AD 354–430) can be divided into roughly two halves. The first half of his journey was spent searching for the truth that would give meaning, purpose, and significance to his life. The second half was spent reflecting upon, explaining, defending, and living out the truth he encountered through faith in Jesus Christ. Given his life-long quest for truth, years of leadership in the church, and dramatic conversion, Augustine was able to make several contributions of enduring value. Continue reading
To say that the Trinity cannot be understood likewise is imprecise, or at least open to misinterpretation. Trinitarian theologians do not mean to imply that the Trinity is unintelligible nonsense. Rather, the point they are making is that the Trinity cannot be fully fathomed, or comprehended, by the finite mind of man.
– Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Why You Should Believe in the Trinity (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989), 16.
First, the fact that Mary was a virgin points to the fact that the conception of Jesus was wholly the result of the divine initiative, the work of the Holy Spirit, he had no human father. Secondly, the fact that he had no earthly father means that his existence in space and time causes us to look into no time (eternity) and no space (infinity) for the truth concerning him; that is, to his eternal origin in the life of the Holy Trinity.
–Peter Toon, The Anglican Way: Evangelical and Catholic (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2010), 6.
Jaroslav Pelikan, an important historical theologian who became [Eastern] Orthodox late in life, once told me, ‘You evangelicals talk too much about Jesus and don’t spend enough time thinking about the Holy Trinity.’
–David Neff ed., “The Fullness and the Center,” Christianity Today (July 20, 2011) 41.
The doctrine of the Trinity can be regarded as the outcome of a process of sustained and critical reflection on the pattern of divine activity revealed in Scripture, and continued in Christian experience. This is not to say that Scripture contains a doctrine of the Trinity; rather, Scripture bears witness to a God who demands to be understood in a Trinitarian manner.
–Alister McGrath, An Introduction to Christianity (Cambridge, Mass: Blackwell, 1997), 193.