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On Not Seeking Glory

“I do not seek my own glory” (John 8:5). With these words Jesus set a precedent for all those who claim to follow him. Fundamental to the call to discipleship is the renunciation of seeking to glorify, to magnify, to enhance and promote oneself.

It is often thought that this calling is based on the distinction between God and humanity. God should be glorified, not us. Therefore we refuse to glorify ourselves and instead glorify God. Indeed, aspects of the Reformed tradition insist that God’s whole aim in being involved with the world is to glorify God’s own self. Thus, we glorify God rather than ourselves because God wants to glorify God’s self rather than humanity.

However, this is all entirely wrong. Jesus, according to the Christian confession is God’s very self come among us. Thus, when Jesus reveals that he does not seek his own glory, he is stating something that is not only to be true about us, but preeminently about God’s own life. God’s life consists in the refusal to seek self-glorification. Rather, the life of the Godhead itself consists in the loving mutuality of the trinitarian persons who only seek the glory of one another. Thus, Jesus seeks the glory of the Father rather than his own, and so also the Father seeks to glorify Jesus (John 7:18). Finally, God also fundamentally desires to glorify humanity: “those he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30).

So, we do not reject the quest of self-glorfication to somehow “make room” for God’s desire to self-glorify. Rather we reject self-glorification because that’s precisely what God is like. To reject the quest for self-exaltation is, counterintuitively, the very epitome of what it means to be God-like. We don’t reject self-glorification because self-glorification is reserved for God alone. We reject it because self-glorification in any form is demonic.

14 Comments

  1. kim fabricius wrote:

    Is that a Mark Driscoll quote?

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:24 am | Permalink
  2. Halden, I’m not sure this is a valid inference from the verse (John 8:50). I think this is another example of appealing to a theology of the Trinity to resolve issues in the Gospels instead of the patristic model of appealing to Christology. Stephen Holmes talks about this some in his article: ‘Three versus one? Some problems of social trinitarianism’, Journal of Reformed Theology 3.1 (2009), pp.77-89. This is not to say that Piper and company are right in their claims either, but your post looks to me like an overreaction the other way. I’ve enjoyed your blog for some time, by the way, I just don’t comment here often.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink
  3. Jeremy wrote:

    So what would you say about Lewis’ statement in Reflections on the Psalms (which Piper credits with helping him formulate Christian Hedonism) that God demands that we glorify him because it is the culmination of our delight in him? I guess I’m specifically asking how you would answer Lewis’ question in Reflections: Why does God sometimes sound like an old woman looking for compliments?

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Brandon, I’m confused, are you saying its not valid to infer things from the gospels about Jesus’s relationship to the Father? That seems absurd to me. If that’s what you mean.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Halden wrote:

    Jeremy, that would seem to fit the pattern perfectly. Of course God wants us to glorify him. The whole thing is about glorifying the other rather than yourself. So to be sure God wants us to glorify him (and one another, though of course in different ways). Glorifying God and others is what true human flourishing is. Or rather, love always glorifies God and others, never self.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Further to this point, Brandon, I think I’m actually making a point very similar to one Holmes makes in his article in IJST, “Trinitarian Missiology”:

    . . . for God to be described as missionary, the events of the gospel story must be revelatory of God’s eternal life, but they need not be definitive of it. . . . what happens on Calvary is a repetition of the pattern of God’s eternal life.

    I don’t think we can legitimately not infer from the life of Christ the nature of the Son’s eternal relationship to the Father (however we construe the issue of “definitiveness”). To not do so seems to deny revelation in Christ at a fundamental level.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink
  7. Jeremy wrote:

    Ahh. Makes sense. I was looking at it from the wrong end. Thanks.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  8. Hi Halden, sorry if my claim was confusing. I am not making the very broad, sweeping points you mention in your comments here (I believe in eternal generation and the Father as the fount and source of divinity as biblical concepts). I am making the lesser point that I don’t think your specific inference of this text is valid. It looks like it presumes a robust social Trinitarian theology when I’m not sure that such a theology rightly comes from the Gospels (including this text) in the first place. I mentioned the Holmes piece because I think he rightly raises some issues with such a Trinitarian theology and how theologians today often do much more with it than the fathers ever did. They addressed such issues as how to interpret Jesus’ statements about glory in their Christology rather than Trinitarian theology, and I don’t think they denied revelation in Christ at a fundamental level in doing so either. Of course I could be wrong, making my point rather inane. This is one reason I rarely comment.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Well, I wouldn’t call myself a social Trinitarian in any strict sense. Here’s some more on that if you’re interested.

    However, I still fail to see how we could interpret anything in terms of “Christology rather than Trinitarian theology.” I don’t see how we can insert that troubling “rather than” without getting into major trouble.

    But, whatever the case, I don’t think there’s any way to avoid saying that Jesus’s statements about the relationship of glorification between him and the Father reveal something of the nature of the Trinity. The relationship of Jesus to the Father cannot be separated (or even distinguished as far as I’m concerned) from the relationship of the eternal Son and Father. Thus every statement about Christ always bears directly on Trinitarianism, just as every statement about the Trinity directly bears on Christology.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  10. Somehow as I was typing my last comment I thought this would precisely be your response. I’m not sure if I agree with it, but that’s okay with me. I would call you a social Trinitarian if you really mean what you said in this post though.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    How so? Because I say that Father and Son love and glorify one another? That’s the only thing I can think of…but that’s something we all must say if we believe that Jesus’s human life reveals the Triune God.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    Also, when I looked at your blog, for a second I thought you were in the Portland area because the other fellow on there mentioned the Spurgeon fellowship. I (among other things) run the bookstore at Western Seminary. Small world.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 4:01 pm | Permalink
  13. I don’t follow your account of John 7:18. I’m fine with saying the Father and Son love and glorify one another. I don’t think you can get from there to saying self-glorification in any form is demonic without inserting a robust social Trinitarian theology where the Father glorifies the Son as “other” (in a quite strong sense, much stronger than the ancient accounts of hypostasis) and vice versa. This is where I think it is helpful to look at this issue under the person of Christ rather than the Trinity. You see the trouble in the “rather than,” and I see the trouble in eliminating it. I would guess the truth is somewhere in between.

    I believe Chris visits here too. He pastors in Bend, Oregon. ‘Tis a small world after all. Well, one other reason I don’t comment much is because it’s hard to keep up with it. You may have the last word if you wish.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink
  14. Halden wrote:

    Hmm, I don’t think my account of the otherness of the Father and Son states anything beyond what we see in the Gospel of John itself. Obviously for Christ there is a clear distinction between what it would be for him to glorify himself versus having the Father glorify him. There’s clearly some sort of real otherness between them or the dialogical nature of Jesus’s relationship with the Father as portrayed in the gospels just wouldn’t make sense. I don’t see how I’m pressing for anything beyond this.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

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