Amid the coverage and criticism of his recent sermon entitled, “Yahweh Elohim,” John Mark Comer, pastor of Solid Rock Church in Portland, Oregon, has offered the following attempted clarification on his Facebook page:
Solid Rock family,
Some of you have been asking some great questions about my recent teaching “Yahweh Elohim” and Solid Rock’s theology. To clarify, we are NOT polytheists. We ARE monotheists. We believe there is ONE real, true Creator God with NO equal or parallel. By using the language of “Creational Monotheism,” we are saying there are real spiritual beings in the universe UNDER the Creator God Yahweh. The demonic powers we read about in the scriptures are not “non-entities,” but are real. The New Testament calls them “demons,” “angels,” “spirits,” “powers,” “princes,” and “principalities,” but the primary Hebrew word used in the Old Testament is elohim or “gods.” These beings are “gods with a lowercase g.” They are not on par with the Creator God Yahweh. They are created, but have rebelled against their Creator to wreak havoc on the earth. This is the worldview of Jesus and of the Scriptures.
By using the language of “Creational Monotheism vs. Modern Monotheism,” we are challenging the post-enlightenment, Western European view of monotheism from the last 300 years that says there are no other spiritual beings in the universe. We don’t buy it, and we don’t think Jesus does either. At Solid Rock it is our deepest conviction to know and pursue the ways of King Jesus, to understand and adopt his way of thinking and his worldview. Stay rooted in the Scriptures, keep asking questions, and above all follow the Creator God in Jesus!
John Mark and the teaching team of Solid Rock
Comer’s initiative to respond to the confusion is commendable. Yet there still seems to be a game of words being played here. Above, Comer claims that what he has deemed as “modern monotheism” argues that “there are no other spiritual beings in the universe.” Yet, one would be hard-pressed to find a Christian (a monotheist by necessity) who would argue with such verses as:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10-13)
And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:14-15)
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (Jas. 2:19)
These are just a few of many verses that affirm the reality of evil spiritual beings, namely Satan and his demons. The traditional understanding of monotheism—that there is one God, that there always has been one God and that there always will be one God (Isa. 43:10–11)—does not deny that other spiritual beings exist. It does deny that these beings exist as “lesser gods” or lesser deities.
Indeed, the pagan cultures of the Old Testament worshiped what they believed to be “gods.” The Bible teaches, however, that they are not actually gods, but idols. Several verses come to mind in regard to this:
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good. (Jer. 10:5)
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:4–8)
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Cor. 8:4–6)
In his sermon, Comer appeals often to open theist Greg Boyd and his book, God at War. To better understand the theological background and beliefs of Boyd, here is how Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) explains open theism:
Open Theism, also called openness and the open view, is a theological position dealing with human free will and its relationship to God and the nature of the future. It is the teaching that God has granted to humanity free will and that in order for the free will to be truly free, the future free will choices of individuals cannot be known ahead of time by God. (Source)
Theopedia offers a similar definition:
Open theism, also called free will theism and openness theology, is the belief that God does not exercise meticulous control of the universe but leaves it “open” for humans to make significant choices (free will) that impact their relationships with God and others. A corollary of this is that God has not predetermined the future. Open Theists further believe that this would imply that God does not know the future exhaustively. Proponents affirm that God is omniscient, but deny that this means that God knows everything that will happen. (Source)
With that in mind, consider the following teaching about creational monotheism from Boyd’s book, which is referenced by Comer throughout this sermon:
Unlike philosophical monotheism with its speculative conjecture about what “pure” monotheism entails, creational monotheism does not rule out the acknowledgement of the existence of lesser gods…Arising out of the biblical revelation, creational monotheism affirms that there are indeed a multiplicity of gods, but only one is eternal, only one is Creator, only one is Lord, and only one is omnipotent, while all others have their being and their power only by virtue of being given it by their Creator. Hence the Creator is in a class all by himself, and for this reason he and he alone is to be worshiped.
(Gregory Boyd, God at War, [InterVarsity Press: 1997], 120–121.)
To close, it may be helpful to see how it is that John Mark Comer illustrates the difference between what he calls “modern monotheism” and “creational monotheism”:
One God alone, or one God among many? There’s only one place to go to find the answer, and it is neither to a pastor nor to a blog, but to the Word of God.
“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior. (Isa. 43:10–11)
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isa. 45:5-6)
The original appears here.