In this series of posts I am going to write about God. “Wow! That is revolutionary for a theology blog: thanks for being so specific, Michael!” Slow down, you are already wearing me out. We are going to talk about God, but I want to focus on something that I believe is the most neglected aspect of theology proper (the formal doctrine of God) in the church today. This is a serious charge, but I don’t think I am overstating it. We will see . . .
I don’t want to deal with who is God; neither do I want to deal with what God has done. Here, I am going to focus on the “what” of God. What is God? In other words, what, essentially, makes God, God. What characteristics must a being have to be called “God”? Personality? Goodness? Activity in our lives? Power? Grace? Or could God lack these things and still be God in the proper sense? What does God have to be to be God?
This might sound rather unspiritual and beyond our ability when dealing with the ineffable (that which is incapable of being expressed), yet I contend that it is essential and should be among the prolegomena (“first words”) in the study of theology proper. What I mean by this is that if you don’t get this right, all other questions about God will suffer to a great degree. This will in turn affect your view of everything, from Christ to morality, from inspiration to eschatology, and much more.
(Stay with me . . . I will explain as we move forward. One step at a time.)
By the time this study is finished, I believe that we will have discovered that many of our understandings and concepts about God do not really qualify for the title. In other words, some people’s views of God lack essential qualifying properties for God to bear the name “God.” This is prevalent among Christian cults and other world religions.
However, I must preface these strong propositions with a confession: I don’t believe a person must have a perfect concept of God to be in a true relationship with him. This is a matter of discipleship, essential as it may be.
In short, I will be arguing for what is called “Classical Theism,” something that has been under heavy attack the last couple of decades. As usual, I will try to help you understand why those who are straying from the classical theistic tradition are doing so and why I believe they have taken a wrong turn. I will also join them in the challenge of classical theism at one point, so be ready.
Let me start by putting forth three ways that we can think about God. Or better, three points of reference to our theology that guide us in our definition of God.
#1 An ontological point or reference (What is God?). The ontos of something is its essence or “stuff” it is made of. This describes the essential properties that the object must have. For example, the essential characteristics of a chair to qualify for “chairness” is not its color, height, or even what it is made of, but its ability to, with stability, hold an individual while seated. Therefore, it must have a seat. Classical theism believes in many ontological points of reference with regard to God (most of which will be defined and defended soon), e.g., God is eternal, God is transcendent, God is immutable (unchanging), God is simple (exists without reference to time, space, or matter), God is a se. We will continue this in further posts. Hang tight.
#2 An historical point of reference or point of action (What has God done?). This describes what someone has done in history to establish who they are now. With regards to God: God created the world out of nothing, God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the promise land, God sent His Son to die for the sins of man, Christ rose from the grave, etc.
#3 A personal or relational point of reference (Who is God?). This describes personality characteristics. With regards to God: God is sovereign, God loves the world, God is gracious and forgiving, God is offended by sin, God brings about His will, God provides for His people, God comforts us in times of trouble, etc.
To use me as an example (to further illustrate): you may say you know me; here is your description:
#1 Ontological (What am I?): Michael is a male. He is corporeal (space bound). He is a human being (i.e. I am not a bot!). He exists in time. He has a will of his own. He is conscious of his existence. He is dependent for his physical existence on many things including parents, food, water, and protection from harm. He has a body and spirit, etc.
#2 Historical (What have I done?): Michael became a Christian when he was young. Michael rebelled against God for many years. He got married in 1997. He went to seminary in 1998 at Dallas Theological Seminary and focused on New Testament Studies. He fathered four children. Michael has often contributed to the Parchment and Pen blog. He is currently working on a project called The Credo House, etc.
#3 Personal (Who am I?): Michael wants to be a good father and husband. He loves superheroes because he (secretly – or not so secretly) thinks he is one. He desires a 2010 Camaro that he will never get. He loves to teach theology to educate the church. He has a heart for those who struggle with their faith.
Of these three, in the discussion of God, we are talking about the first. In other words, I don’t believe that anything in #2 or #3 are characteristics that God must have in order to have the title. The first is the “what is God” of this series.
More soon . . .