Thursday, September 15, 2016

Theological Statement, Part 1 - The Nature of God

Last year I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel by my Baptist church and its denomination, and I thought it might be a useful resource to include portions my ordination paper here in my blog. Occasionally, when I draw from theological resources in the Christian tradition that mainstream evangelicalism is not quite as familiar with (such as patristic/early church, Anabaptist, and Eastern Orthodox theology), I encounter questions from readers about my overall theological position. So I offer here the theological statement from my ordination for your perusal. Whereas my "95 Theses" series focused on areas of continuing questions and tentative theological explorations, this paper represents the core of what I believe, teach, and practice. You'll find it to be an expression of classic orthodox, evangelical Christianity. I tried to write it in a way that demonstrated the glory and the joy of Christian doctrine--the dogma of the church is drama, adventure, and delight, and never ought to be reduced to a dry recitation of mere "beliefs." This statement will be divided into eight weekly posts due to its length. 

 (Altarpiece depicting the Trinity, c.1250)

        God – I believe in one God, eternally self-existent, from whom and in whom all things take their being (Acts 17:28). He is omnipotent and all-knowing; He is the ultimate and defining cause of all that is true, good, and beautiful (Gen. 1:31). God is love (1 Jn. 4:16), and he exists eternally in a personal community of love: three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19), all of the same single and undivided divine nature (Jn. 10:30). The persons of the Godhead are not quite persons in the same way that humans are persons—rather, they are infinitely more so. They are “super-personal,” to the point that their personal relationality extends to actual unity with each other. This plural fullness of the Godhead goes back to the fundamental truth that Love is at the very essence of the character of God (1 Jn. 4:16), and love is most fully manifested where personal plurality becomes unity (as in human marriage). To say that there are three persons means that the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit, and so on. However, despite this apparent separateness, there is a definite unity to the Godhead (Deut. 6:4). They all share a single divine nature, and they can properly be understood as one God, eternally in mutual interrelationship so deep that it is true unity. (Note that while I am using the language of plurality extending into unity for the sake of explanation, the image is imperfect: it would be an error to assume that the plurality of God logically or temporally precedes his unity). Regarding his attributes, I would affirm that God is eternal (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 93:2; Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:8), meaning that he exists beyond time. He has no beginning and no end, and is timeless in his own person, while still able to act within the sequence of time. Second, he is also fully independent (Ex. 3:14; Is. 40:21-26; Jn. 5:26; Acts 17:24-25)—a necessary Being, depending on no other person or set of circumstances for his existence. Third, he is immutable—his essence and character do not change (Ps. 102:26-27; Mal. 3:6; Jas. 1:17). This is not to say that God is static with regard to emotion; rather, God’s emotions as portrayed in the Bible are outpourings of his unchanging character in response to varying circumstances. Fourth, God is omnipresent (1Ki 8:27; Ps. 139:7-10; Jer. 23:23-24), which means that he does not have any spatial dimensions. He exists, if it is possible to conceive of such a thing, both “beyond” and “throughout” space. Fifth, God is omnipotent and sovereign, possessing limitless power and authority (Ps. 115:3; Jer. 32:17; Matt. 19:26; 2 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 3:20). Sixth, God is omniscient, possessing all knowledge (Ps. 139:4, 16; 147:5; Pr. 3:19-20; Heb. 4:13; 1 Jn. 3:20). And seventh, God is a perfect unity, not divided into parts—every attribute is completely true of the fullness of God’s character (1 Jn. 1:5; 4:8, 16).  When it comes to communicable attributes, the list becomes even longer: wisdom (Job 12:13; Rom. 16:27), relationality (Jn. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:20); faithfulness (Deut. 32:4), goodness (Ps. 106:1; Lk. 18:19), love (Jn. 3:16; 1 Jn. 4:8, 16), mercy (2 Sam. 24:14; 2 Cor. 1:3), holiness (Ps. 99:9; Is. 6:3), righteousness/justice (Ps. 4:1; Rom. 3:5, 25-26), peace (1 Cor. 14:33), jealousy (understood as the reaction of God’s love against the adulterous affections of his people for other “gods”—Ex. 20:5), wrath (understood as God’s active anger against sin—Jn. 3:36; Rom. 1:18), beauty (Ps. 27:4), and glory (Ps. 24:10; 2 Cor. 3:18). These represent the heart of the biblical picture of God’s attributes. Other attributes could be added if space allowed, since this list is a compilation of merely human descriptors of the radiance of God’s being—the various ways in which we experience the unified truth of God himself.