The Work of God

Work of God

God’s Master Plan

In this post we will be looking at the work of God, what he has done in creation as well as what he is currently doing. I believe it is safe to assume that God has a purpose for his creation. A purpose that guides all that he has done, is doing, and will do. If that is indeed the case, then the better we can understand his purpose, the better we can understand how he is working it out.

Some understand that the purpose of creation, and humanity in particular, is to bring glory to God. While it is true that the creation does, and humanity should, bring glory to God, that is not the same as saying that the purpose of creation was for his glory. And it would seem to imply that for some reason God needs us to glorify him. I do not believe though that God has any need that we can meet, including bringing glory to him.

Other people see God as creating because he needed an expression for his love. But I believe this also implies a need on the part of God that is unwarranted. Ultimately, I believe that God created because he chose to, not because of any need on his part. So why did he choose to create?

I do not believe that the Bible contains a fully developed purpose statement from God, it does at least shed some light on the subject. The opening of Paul’s letter the the Ephesian church gives us one of the biggest clues.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory. – Ephesians 1:4-14

Notice in this passage the reference to us being chosen before creation as well as the consequences of that choosing. At least a part of God’s plan in creation, and the part that most directly concerns us, is to create children and to develop them as his own. We should be careful not to equate our adoptions as sons with Jesus status as Son; it is different. But God has created us to be holy and blameless, to be partakers of his grace, to be his children. Knowing our place in God’s plan will be helpful as we turn to God’s activity in this world, starting with creation and continuing on with its maintenance. A redeemed humanity is central to God’s purpose, and thus his working in the world.

Creation

The Extent of Creation

The Bible declares that God created the universe from nothing rather than recycling preexisting materials. Hebrews 11:3 says that “by faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” This verse affirms that the universe was created by God ex nihilo, or out of nothing. Everything, from the smallest subatomic particle to the largest galactic supercluster, was produced by God, from nothing. Other passages, like Colossians 1:16-17, give further definition to the scope of creation; “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Not only was the material universe created by God, but much of the spiritual realm was also created by him; excluding himself of course. That spiritual realm is largely a mystery to humanity, but does include all of the angels, whether they are serving God, or serving Satan, who himself was created by God. It seems that all that is, apart from the triune God, is a product of God’s creative work.

Creation and Science

The Bible has an account, actually two of them, of creation that, if taken literally, is at odds with current scientific theories. How we view the apparent conflict between the biblical account and the scientific account is based, at least in part, on our understanding of inerrancy. For the strict inerrantist, the Bible is right and science is wrong, at least when it comes into conflict with the Scriptures. A more limited view of inerrancy will seek to reconcile the differences between the two. And one who does not hold to inerrancy at all will generally reject the Bible when it is at odds with science.

While the Bible would seem to indicate that the earth is only a few thousand years old, the geological record seems to claim that it is around 4.5 billion years old; the gap between these two estimates is enormous. The record of life on earth and of civilization also argue for an earth that is much more than ten thousand years old. What follows is a brief description of some of the attempts that have been made to reconcile the two accounts. 

The Gap Theory

The gap theory is based on a specific reading of the first two verses of Genesis. In verse one God creates the heavens and the earth, while in verse two the earth was formless and empty. Proponents of this theory argue that when God creates it should be perfect, but verse two seems to imply something less than perfect. Something must have happened between these two verses to mar the perfection of creation. The remainder of the first chapter of Genesis then goes on to describe, not the original creation, but a re-creation of the earth. What caused the chaos described in verse two? Some would speculate it was Satan’s fall from heaven to earth. In this theory the re-creation of the earth, and the life on it now, is fairly recent in time. All of the evidence that points to an old earth is based on the original creation and development.

The Flood Theory

This theory argue for a relatively young earth, but one that was devastated by the global flood described in Genesis 6-8. This flood and the devastating storms that accompany it are responsible for the geological evidence that many interpret to indicate a very old earth. This theory is one that is used in support of a relatively young earth.

The Ideal Time Theory

This is another theory that argues for a relatively young earth. In this theory, sometimes known as the apparent age view, it is argued that when Adam was created, he was created with an apparent age; he was not a newborn, but rather a grown man. In the same way the trees created on the third day were full grown trees having tree rings that would indicate an age of multiple years. From this is drawn the conclusion that all of creation was produced with an apparent age of billions of years, although in reality it was much younger. This includes light created in transit from distant stars and other evidence of an old earth.

The Day-Age Theory

This theory is based on the Hebrew word yom that is translated as day in the first chapter of Genesis. A 24 hour period of time is the most common rendering of this word.  But yom is also used to refer to other periods of time, including a long epoch. The day-age theory uses this longer period of time to argue that creation took, not six days, but six long periods of time. The Genesis account describes, not how long creation took, but the general ages of creation history.

The Pictorial-Day Theory

In this theory, also called the literary-framework view, the six days of creation are not referring to physical time, but rather to logical groupings. It sees in the six days of creation two logical groupings. Days 1-3 are building the domains of the heavens, the waters, the sky, and the earth. Days 4-6 then populate these domains, lights into the heavens, creatures into the waters and air, and creatures onto the land. Rather than being a physical description of creation, the first chapter of Genesis is a poetic description of creation.

While there are multiple supporters for each of these theories, as well as other theories, I find that the pictorial-day theory is the most satisfying, mostly because it eliminates the challenges posed by the strict ordering of events in the other theories such as light before the sun and stars, and trees before the sun or fish.

Development within Creation

Was creation complete after the initial creation period or has creation been an ongoing process. In particular, how did we end up with the great variety of life that is now present on earth, as well as what we find in the fossil record. There are four distinct views on how life came to be as it currently is.

Direct Creation

In this view God created all of the species of life present today, as well as throughout history, during a brief period of creation. While there has likely been some minor diversification within species since then, there have been no new species produced. This is the predominant view of those who hold to a creation event in the past few thousand years.

Naturalistic Evolution

This view is the opposite of direct creation. Naturalistic evolution believes that all existing life today originated from a common ancestor and, over great periods of time, has evolved into the wide variety of life present today. Naturalistic evolution holds that all of the changes in body structure have occurred via the naturalistic process of evolution without any intervention from a  creator. This is the dominant view in the secular world, but is also common among Christians.

Theistic Evolution

This view is similar to naturalistic evolution in believing that life evolved from a common ancestor. But it differs in seeing the hand of the creator involved in the production. Just how extensive that involvement is will vary; but in all cases God is guiding the natural process of evolution, using it to shape his creation to his intended destination.

Progressive Creationism

This view, like the previous one, is a more moderate view than either of the initial two extremes. In progressive creationism God does directly create all of the existing species of life, but it does it gradually. While the direct creation view sees all species created in a brief span of time, progressive creationism sees them coming into existence over a very long span of time. Minor diversification within species may occur, but they do not evolve into new species.

Direct creationism accounts very well for the biblical record, but is at odds with the findings of science. Naturalistic evolution, on the other hand, accounts well for the findings of science, but is at odds with the biblical account. Both theistic evolution and progressive creationism are compatible with the biblical account as well as the scientific account. Progressive creationism accounts best for events like the Cambrian explosion while theistic evolution accounts best for the similarity in body plans and DNA across life. Theistic evolution seems like the best view to me, but progressive creationism also has a lot to offer. They both offer a good compromise between God’s revelation in the Bible and his revelation in the creation.

Implications of Creation

There are several implications of the doctrine of creation. If the universe, this planet, and the life on it are simply a fortuitous accident, then none of it really has much value. On the other hand, if it is all the purposeful act of an intentional creator, then it has value, both to the creator and to the creation.

A naturalistic explanation for our existence can give no explanation for why we are able to observe the creation and understand it. But a universe created by a God who wants us to be able to discover him in his creation would be orderly and discoverable; just how we see things to be.

And, finally, if creation was a fluke, what purpose could there possibly be in my existence. I am on the scene for a brief period of time and then gone, and nothing I can do or say will have any lasting impact. But if God created me for a purpose, then I have a reason for being, and who I am and what I do matters.

Providence

The doctrine of creation deals with God’s bringing into existence all that is. Providence, on the other hand, is the continuing action of God to maintain creation and guide it to his intended purpose. Providence takes two forms; preservation and governance.

Preservation

One of the ways that God’s providence works is in maintaining the creation. In Colossians 1:17, Paul says that “in [Christ] all things hold together.” Also in Hebrews 1:3 we are told that Christ is “sustaining all things by his powerful word.” Christ is the sustaining power of the universe. You might see that the elementary forces of nature, gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces, are God’s sustaining power in the universe. Where he to remove them the universe would simply cease.

Governance

While preservation is primarily a passive activity, governance is the active side of providence. In governance we see God actually directing the affairs of individuals and nations; willing, directing, and causing. There are at least four areas where we can see Scripture making reference to God’s governance.

Natural Processes

One aspect of God’s governance concerns the natural processes that provide for life on earth. Acts 14:17 reflects this when Paul says “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” God does this for all life on earth, not just his own people. We understand the physical processes that produce rain and that grow crops, yet it is God who is responsible for those processes; they are not just an accident. While I do not believe that God purposefully sends every rain shower, I do believe that he maintains the processes responsible for them.  And I do believe that at times he withholds the rain and at times causes it. James 5:17-18 reflects on Elijah’s experience with the rain as he attempted to lead the nation of Israel back to the worship of God.

At a National Level

In Acts 17:26 Paul says that “From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.” Here God is actively involved in the rise and fall of nations and people groups and in the limits of their influence. God is pictured here as the great orchestrator of history.

On a Personal Level

In 1 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” I am the way that I am, not because of anything I did, or that my parents did. Instead, I am uniquely crafted by God.

My Choices

And, finally, in Proverbs 16:33 we are told that “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” The implication from this passage is that even the decisions that I believe I make are actually from God. I may think that I have free will and the ability to make choices, but that would seem to be an illusion.

Governance: General or Specific

God, in his governance, does affect the course of this life. But how involved is he in it. Some will argue that he is mostly concerned with the big picture, marching creation along toward his intended purpose. Others will argue that God’s governance extends down to the small details; that nothing is too small for him to be involved in and directing.

General Governance

Those who hold to general governance believe that God has created a humanity that truly has free will and can make decisions that are contrary to God’s will. In particular, humans can choose to serve God, or to rebel against him. We also have free choice concerning our spouses, jobs, how we spend our money, and what we do with our time.

Repeatedly in the Scripture we find passages that call on us to believe or have faith in God (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9-10). We are also called to share the gospel of Christ (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8), to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:15-16), and to love one another (Matt. 22:39; John 13:34-35). Would there be any need for these instructions if God was in control of all of the details of our lives? Would we not do these things regardless?

Those who hold to general governance will also argue that specific governance, making God responsible for all that we do, also makes him responsible for the evil that we do. If I do not have the ability to make free choices, and am programmed to carry out the actions of God, then he is responsible for everything that I do, including my sin.

Specific Governance

In contrast to general governance is specific governance, the belief that God is involved in all the details of my life, including all of the decisions that I make. We choose God because he first chose us, and we cannot not choose him. In this view free will is really only an illusion. 

Ephesians 1:11 offers support for this view saying, “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.” God has a plan for us and is making sure that everything conforms to that plan. While there is no explicit indication of a detailed plan in this passage, it is clear that God’s plan will not be thwarted; things will happen the way that he wants them to.

Psalm 139:16 is more explicit concerning God’s involvement in day to day life: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” The easiest way to read this passage implies that my life was planned before I was ever born; I have no opportunity to vary from that plan.

Hard and Soft Determinism

There are two variations of specific governance, also known as determinism. In hard determinism there is no such thing as human free will; any appearance of free will is merely an illusion. Everything that happens to me and every decision I make was predetermined by God. The hard determinist will even generally take the logical step of acknowledging that God must also be responsible for sin and evil in the world.

Soft determinism, on the other hand, while holding to the sovereignty of God, does not see that as being incompatible with human free will. In this view the sovereign God works in our lives in such a way that we freely make the decisions that he wants us to make. This is frequently called compatibilist free will, or free will that is compatible with God’s sovereignty.

Reconciling Sovereignty and Free Will

The Scripture is clear that God is sovereign, but it also seems to indicate that humans have at least some limited form of free will. On the surface at least, it would seem that God’s control over nature and humanity would conflict with human free will. There are a number of ways that people have reconciled the two.

Incompatible

In this view either God is not actually sovereign, at least concerning human free will, or free will is just an illusion. This ideal of illusionary free will is one than many non-believers hold to as well. Hard determinism is advocated by many who see the universe operating according to strict laws from which there is no freedom. to the unbeliever, or seeming ability to make free choices is simply something programmed into us by genetics and environment. To the believer with this view, it is God who is directing all of my decisions. The decisions I make are the ones he wants me to make.

Self-limited Sovereignty

God is sovereign, but that does not mean that he always exercises that sovereignty. God could voluntarily choose to limit his sovereignty to allow humans to exercise real free will. That would not detract from God’s sovereignty, but would allow us a certain amount of autonomy, up to the limits God chooses to allow. This view, at least in my opinion, best explains the scriptural descriptions of God’s sovereignty and human free will. This view is also a higher view of sovereignty, since God is able to accomplish his purpose even when taking into account other autonomous free will agents.

Created Compatibility

In this view God is sovereign and has created a world where people freely choose to do what he wants them to. Given the choice between prime rib and liver, I will always choose prime rib. I have the option to choose either one, but I will never choose liver. Environmental and genetic factors have made me so that I always choose against liver. But how many of those factors were manipulated by God to ensure that I dislike liver and thus freely choose any alternative?

Miracles

Another aspect of God’s activity in the world concerns miracles. Miracles are generally considered as something that God does; something that either cannot, or would not, happen apart from his direct action. If there is a creator who is interested in moving his creation toward some specific end, then the existence of miracles should be expected. And real miracles would be conclusive proof for the existence of a purposeful creator. But just what is a miracle?

Manifestations of little known laws: There are some would believe that miracles are actually natural occurrences, the working of natural laws that we are currently unaware of. Some day we will likely discover these laws and be able to harness them ourselves.

Breaking the laws of nature: Others see that miracles are violations of the natural laws. When a miracle occurs, God suspends the laws that would prevent the miracle long enough to perform the miracle, and then reinstates the laws. If God is not transcendent to the natural laws that control the universe, then miracles would not be possible.

A countering supernatural force: Gravity is a force of nature that I cannot break. But I do, in a limited sense, counter the force of gravity when I pick something up. In the same way God supernaturally counters natural laws when he performs a miracle. The laws are not broken, just overridden. This explanation seems the best to me.

What about Evil?

A challenge we often face when talking about God’s interaction with the creation concerns evil. Why does evil exist today? If, as we believe, God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and if he is good, then how does evil manage to exist? Surely an all-powerful and all-knowing God should be able to figure out and implement a creation where evil was not possible. And if he was good, surely he would want to do this. So, the argument goes, either God is not all-powerful, or not all-knowing, or not good. Or, evil does not really exist; it is just an illusion. Evil seems to be pretty real though, impacting everyone on this planet as well as the planet itself. So how can we understand the relationship between God and evil?

Natural Evil

We can roughly break up the topic of evil into two categories. The first of these is natural evil; evil whose cause is not derived from humanity. Earthquakes, storms and disease are examples of natural evil. This form of evil seems to be inherent in nature, the way the earth works. It would seem like God could have easily created a world where the earth was stable, the weather always sunny and disease was non-existent, but clearly he did not. Or at least that is not the conditions that currently exist. Much of what we identify as natural evil is easy to explain as necessary or to be expected if the earth is very old, but more challenging for a young earth that was created as it currently is.

An Old Earth Perspective

If, as science suggests, the earth is a few billion years old and developed by natural processes, then plate tectonics is actually important to life on earth. Without the movement and collision of plates creating mountains, erosion would long ago have reduced the earth to a watery world. Plate tectonics is also responsible for burying many of the heavier elements that, in excess, are harmful to life. These elements are buried within the depths of the earth where they cause us no harm.

Storms are also a natural part of the world we live in. Storms are essential for circulating layers in the ocean, mixing colder deep water with warmer upper layers. This mixing of nutrients is essential for the health of our oceans. Storms also, along with plate tectonics, shape the surface of the earth. Without the weathering that comes from erosion the surface of the earth would just be rock.

Many of the diseases we face are the result of other living creatures that prey on us, including bacteria and viruses. We live in harmony with most of these microscopic creatures, but there are some who have evolved in such a way that they prey on us, causing us harm. Other diseases are the result of our bodies not functioning properly or because of poor habits on our part.

A New Earth Perspective

If the earth is on the order of 6-10,000 years old and created as is, then there is no need for plate tectonics, weathering storms, nor time for the evolution of harmful bacteria and viruses. Instead, these are generally thought of as being a consequence of the fall. Because of Adam’s sin in the garden the whole creation was upended. And every ill is our world today can be traced back to this seminal event.

Romans 8:19-22 is the passage that is most commonly used to support this belief. “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” The thought here is that the creation is subjected to its bondage to decay because of the fall, and that at Christ’s return both redeemed humanity and the creation are restored to their original state.

But in either case, natural evil is not really evil in the sense that we typically use the word, with evil having a moral quality. Instead it is simply the result of the way our planet currently functions. While it causes harm to people, there is no malicious or even conscious intent to cause evil.

Moral Evil

A second aspect of evil is that which is human generated. There is untold suffering caused by either human carelessness or poor decision making. The Bible has many terms that are used for moral evil with sin being the primary one. It seems there has been sin and evil in the world as long as there have been humans; we just seem naturally inclined to sin. But could not God have created a humanity that did not sin, where evil was not possible? And if he could, why didn’t he?

Solutions to the Problem of Evil

There have been many solutions developed over the years to try and address the problem of evil in a world created by an omnipotent, omniscient, and good God.

Dualism

Dualism takes the approach that God is not omnipotent. There is another powerful being contending with God who is responsible for evil. This being is frequently thought of as Satan, or someone like him. The problem with this approach, besides arguing against God’s omnipotence, is that the Bible claims Satan is a created being; he is not an equal with God. While Satan is our adversary, he is subject to God’s authority and can do nothing that God does not allow.

A Result of the Fall

Some will argue that the creation was without evil until man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. Because of the disobedience of Adam and Eve, sin entered into the world with a sinful nature being passed down to all of their descendants. Genesis 3:17-19 describes God’s judgement against the first couple because of their disobedience while Romans 8:19-22 includes the rest of the creation in unrest because of their sin. This approach lays the blame for moral evil at the feet of humanity, unlike dualism that blames Satan.

God is Responsible

While some blame Satan for evil, and others blame humanity, there are those who place the responsibility for evil at God’s feet. Many of those who stress the sovereignty of God conclude that nothing happens in the creation apart from God’s directing hand. So, if evil exists, it is because God wants it to and causes it to happen. This is the position of some who hold to an extreme view of specific providential governance.

God Allows Evil

A fourth position is that God allows evil to occur for some purpose of his own. Humanity is responsible for evil, but God allows it to occur.

  • Some see that God allows evil because if free will is to be real there must be the possibility of making poor choices that produce evil. If God is truly interested in producing a people who can freely choose to love and worship him, then he has to accept that there will be those who will chose not to, choosing instead to live self-centered lives that produce sin. Why God would want to give us free will may be related to the purpose he has created us for, a purpose that we do not yet see clearly.
  • An alternative idea is that God is actually using the evil in this world to accomplish some purpose. Sometimes it might be easy to see some good resulting from evil, but more often it is challenging for us to find the good. However, we do not know the mind and purpose of God and how he might work. At least in the case of believers it appears like the troubles that come our way are used to purify our faith (1 Peter 1:3-9) and we can then endure through it. But in other cases, like child molestation, it is hard to see how any good comes to the innocent child.

Conclusion

Does God cause evil? I find it difficult to accept that God is the cause of evil. James 1:13-14 says that God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Instead our temptations come from within.

Does God allow evil? It seems clear that evil exists in the world today. It would also seem that God could have created a world where evil was not possible. If this is the case then it would also seem that God must allow the evil that exists in our world today.

Could God prevent evil from occurring? I do accept that he could prevent evil if he chose to. If so, then why doesn’t he? In part, I believe that he is not overly concerned about our happiness in this life. He is working to produce people that will be in relationship with him for eternity. This life is preparing us for that, and if learning to make correct choices and being purified by evil help to accomplish that purpose, then evil is accepted.

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Credo: Creation and Providence

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The Nature of God

Nature of God

What is the nature of God? What is he like? This post will be taking a brief look at the nature of God, seeking to get an overview of his nature and character. The Bible will be our primary guide to understanding who God is and his attributes. But even with the help of the Bible we will be limited in what we can know and understand about God. We are finite beings seeking to understand the infinite. Anything approaching complete understanding is not possible for us.

The Attributes of God

There are a number of ways that the study of God’s attributes is approached. One of these is to divide them into communicable and incommunicable attributes. Communicable attributes are those that humans may also have, although to a lesser extent. Incommunicable attributes are those that are unique to God alone. This organization is purely an issue of convenience and does not reflect their importance or value.

Incommunicable Attributes

God is spirit. He does not have physical form or limitations. He is not limited by physical place or time. John 4:24 most clearly expresses this attribute, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

God is self-existent. His name “I Am”, in Exodus 3:14, indicates that he is not dependent on anything else for his life, he is self-existent. That is unlike any other life that we know; all of the rest of us are dependent on him for life. This attribute is often called aseity

God is simple. At first glance we might question this as an attribute. After all, we are complex beings, and he is infinitely greater than we are. But simplicity here does not mean a lack of greatness. It means that all of God’s attributes are fully merged in his nature; he is fully unified. While love and anger are both attributes of my humanity, they are distinct from each other and at times are at odds with each other. That is not the case with God. His love and his anger at sin are not two distinct attributes that are at odds with each other, sometimes demonstrating one and at other times demonstrating the other. God’s love, holiness, mercy, and wrath, while distinct attributes from a human perspective, are all fully integrated and merged in the divine nature.

God is infinite. God is without any limits.

  • In relation to space. Jeremiah 23:23-24 says, “‘Am I only a God nearby’, declares the Lord, ‘and not a God far away? Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do not I fill heaven and earth?’ declares the Lord.” We could call this attribute omnipresence.
  • In regards to time. Psalm 90:1-2 says, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” This is actually a part of omnipresence; God is everywhere in both time and space. We also see this as God being eternal.
  • In relation to knowledge. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” This attribute is also call omniscience.
  • In regards to power. Matthew 19:26 says, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” This attribute is generally called omnipotence. Over a hundred time in the Scripture, God is referred to as God Almighty, another reference to his omnipotence.

God is unchanging. In Malachi 1:6 God says, “I the Lord do not change.” And in James 1:17 we are told that God, “does not change like shifting shadows.” God is at least unchanging in his nature and in his plans for his creation. He does not have to change his plans because of anything I might do. This attribute is oftentimes called immutability.

God is sovereign. God answers to no one and is free to do whatever he chooses with his creation. In Isaiah 46:10 God says “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” As humans, God is not obligated to do anything for us. Nothing we can do will put him into our debt.

Communicable Attributes

God has personhood. He is not some great cosmic force, but has personality, is self-consciousness and capable of having relationships. That God is a person, not a human, is at least partially expressed by having a name. In Exodus 3:13-14 Moses asks God for his name and God responds with “I Am”. Only one with self-awareness can identify himself with a name. Repeatedly throughout scripture you also see God interacting with people, often expressing a desire for relationship with people.

God is holy. He is set apart, or distinct, from all of creation. In Leviticus 11:44 God says, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” He is holy, and calls on us to share in that holiness. Some would label this as an incommunicable attribute, but it is listed here because he does call on us to also be holy as he is holy (1 Pet. 1:15-16).

God is righteous. Psalm 71:19 says, “Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens.” God does what is right and commands us also to do what is right. Repeatedly in the Old Testament his law is praised as being righteous. And in the New Testament, God’s righteousness is given to those who surrender to him.

God is truthful. What he says and does is in accordance with truth. 1 Samuel 15:29 says, “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” We can count on him to do what is right. And we can depend on what he has told us in his word.

God is faithful. He is dependable and keeps his promises to us. In Numbers 23:19 we find, “God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”

God is love. 1 John 4:16 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.” God is not loving; he is love. Love is sharing of oneself with another, and God does this for us. John 3:16 expresses this with, “for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

God is gracious. Grace is God’s unmerited favor given to an undeserving people. Ephesians 2:6-7 says, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

God is merciful. He has compassion on a poor and helpless people. Romans 9:17, speaking about God’s gift of righteousness, says, “It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.”

God is wrathful. Most of us today don’t like the idea of a wrathful God; it seems so contrary to love, grace and mercy. Yet both testaments have numerous references to God’s wrath. Romans 1:18 says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”. His wrath is reserved for those who reject his grace and mercy.

God has all of these attributes in full measure. He is not a little of this and a little of that. But he is each of these to the fullest amount possible. As expressed above, these attributes are in complete union and harmony with each other. God is the standard for all of these attributes. We do not judge God’s love based on some external standard. Rather he is the standard by which we can judge love. And the same applies to all of God’s attributes.

Triune

The Trinity is a uniquely Christian doctrine, teaching that there is only one God, but in three persons. The Trinity is not explicitly taught in the Bible, but is implicitly proclaimed throughout the New Testament. It is worth taking the time to look at the scriptural evidence to support the concept of the Trinity. How did we come to our current understanding of the Trinity. And what are some common analogies used to describe the Trinity.

One God

The Shema, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 begins with “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” When Jesus is asked for the greatest commandment, Mark 12:28-30, he replies by quoting this portion of the Shema. This affirms that, at least for Israel, and Jesus, that there is only one God; they are monotheistic. James 2:19, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, and 1 Timothy 2:5-6 also affirm that there is only one God.

Three Persons

Father: Jesus talks about his Father often, and the other New Testament writers used this term for God as well. In Matthew 6:26 the Father feeds the birds of the air while in v.30 God clothes the grass of the field. In this passage Jesus is using God and Father interchangeably. The Father, distinct from the Son, is God.

Son: In John 10:30 Jesus says that he and the Father are one. They are distinct, and yet in some fashion are one. Philippians 2:5-9, in speaking of Jesus, Paul says “who being in very nature God”, affirming that Jesus is God. John 1:1-3; 14, Colossians 1:15-20 and Hebrews 1:1-4 all speak of Jesus as being God.

Holy Spirit: In John 14:16 Jesus tells his disciples that the Father would send to them another advocate, the Spirit of truth. The ‘another’ in this passages indicates one who is like Jesus; this Spirit of truth is also God. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 Paul tells us that we are God’s temple, while in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are the temple of the Holy Spirit; God and the Holy Spirit are synonymous here.

Three in Oneness

In the baptismal formula in Matthew 18:19-20, we are told to baptize believers in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Note the singular ‘name’ here rather than names. We are to baptize in the name of the one God in three persons.

In 2 Corinthians 13:14 Paul says, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” All three parts of the trinity are included here without any indication of rank and in a different order than in the Matthew quotation. If they are all equal, then the order does not matter.

Formulation

The orthodox position of the Trinity is that God is one being, of one substance, with three distinct persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct, and yet of one substance. They are all three eternal and uncreated. Ontologically they are equal, even though functionally for the purpose of our redemption, the Son and The Holy Spirit are submissive to the Father.

This understanding of the Trinity was slow in developing and resulted mostly from the need to separate the orthodox position from heresies that were abounding in the early centuries of the church. The Council of Nicaea, in 325, produced the Nicene Creed which was modified in 381 at the First Council of Constantinople. This creed has been accepted as the orthodox position by Roman Catholics, Protestants, and the Orthodox churches.

Heresies

Modalism teaches that there is only one God who appears to us as either Father, Son or Holy Spirit. While they are all the one God, God is only one of them at any one time. For instance: the Father is active in creation; the Son in redemption; and the Spirit in our sanctification. Oneness Pentecostalism is a current example of this heresy.

Tritheism teaches that the three persons of the Trinity are actually distinct gods, although sharing the same substance. Mormons practice a form of tritheism, believing the Father, the Son and the Spirit are distinct individuals.

Arianism teaches that Christ is the first and greatest of God’s creations, that he has a beginning and is not eternal. The Nicene Creed was developed primarily in response to Arianism. Jehovah’s Witnesses today proclaim a version of Arianism.

Analogies

As humans, we struggle with trying to understand the concept of the Trinity. In an attempt to understand the Trinity we have developed a number of analogies, but all of the analogies fall short and many of them are actually supportive of one of the heresies listed above.

The analogy of the egg postulates that the Trinity is like an egg, which has three parts; the shell, the yoke and the white. This is actually a form of tritheism, since the three parts of the egg are of different substances, unlike the triune God whose persons are of one substance.

The analogy of water is another attempt to describe the Trinity. Water can be a solid, a liquid or a gas; one substance in three different forms. Yet this is actually a form of modalism; the water can only be in one of these states at a time.

I am a father, a husband and a son; three distinct roles yet one person. The problem with this is that I function in a single role at a time; to no one am I more than one of these roles. That makes this a form of modalism.

The only analogy I know of that comes close is from the world of physics. Light is both a particle and a wave, depending on how you look at it. That is challenging to understand, at least for me, but physicists assure us that it is the case. In the same way that the Trinity has a single essence with three simultaneous persons, so a single photon of light has two simultaneous states.

Ultimately I know of no simple analogies that adequately describe the Trinity. It is not really understandable to us finite creatures and is simply a matter of faith. The Bible, while not explicitly teaching the doctrine, does affirm this doctrine, and so we accept it by faith. God is one in three persons.

The Will of God

The will is what we call the ability to choose, think, and act voluntarily. This is a characteristic of humanity but it is much greater with God. God, as a person, has the ability to choose, think and act free of any constraint beyond his own nature. Complicating the understanding of God’s will, is it’s relationship to the will of his creatures, in particular humans. God has created humanity and given us some measure of will and the freedom to exercise it. But does the exercise of my will interfere with God’s will; is my will limited to act only within the will of God, or can my will act in ways that are contrary to God’s will. There are God fearing Bible believing Christians today who sit on both sides of this question.

I believe that Scripture indicates that I am able to act in ways that are contrary to God’s will. Throughout the pages of the Bible, from the fall, the flood, and the history of Israel we see over and over mankind resisting God’s will and exercising their own instead. But if I can resist God’s will, does that make me stronger than he is? Some people take it that way, and would respond by denying that humanity can actually resist God’s will. But in the same way I allowed my children to exercise, within limits, their own wills, even when contrary to mine, so God allows us to exercise our wills in ways contrary to his. It does not mean I am stronger. It means that God is allowing me some freedom.

Those who accept that human will can resist God’s will tend toward seeing God’s will from two different perspectives. The first of these is God’s antecedent will. This describes God’s will prior to human will and is illustrated by 2 Peter 3:9 where God is said not to want anyone to perish. God’s antecedent will is that all people be saved. But our human will is allowed to resist God and as a result God’s subsequent will is what happens as a result of our resistance. John 3:16-18 is clear that those who continue to resist God’s offer of salvation in Christ are condemned, who those who accept it experience eternal life. But these distinctions in the will of God are only from the human perspective. God’s will is not divided or at odds with itself or any part of his nature.

Immanence and Transcendence

There are two additional attributes of God to examine. Immanence and transcendence deal with God’s interaction with the creation.

Transcendence

God is not a part of his creation; he is outside of it. This is what is meant by transcendence. Most of the gods of mythology are not transcendent, they are a part of the natural world. Zeus was powerful and ruled over the gods and humanity, but he was still contained within this universe. The gods of Mormonism are also not transcendent; they did not create the universe and are contained within it. The gods of Hinduism and New Age are also not transcendent, being one with the physical universe.

But the creator of the universe is transcendent to it; he is distinct from the universe he created. The transcendent God is not bound by any restrictions imposed on his creation, such as time and space. Transcendence is both a logical reality as well as affirmed by the Bible. Isaiah 55:8-9 tell us that God is wholly unlike us, while the attributes for infinity above list some of the passages that indicate his freedom from the constraints of the creation.

Immanence

While transcendence refers to a God who is outside of the creation, immanence refers to a God who is involved with the creation. The god of deism is transcendent, but is not immanent; he does not get involved in the working of the creation and in the lives of people. The God of Christianity though is immanent; he is present in the creation, active in history, and working to create a people he can call his own. Jeremiah 23:23-24 and Acts 17:27-28 refer to God’s immanence. Even more vivid is the example of the incarnation, God taking on human flesh and living among us.

God’s immanence is particularly significant for us. A deistic god is pretty much indifferent to what happens within creation. But God is intimately concerned about accomplishing his purpose in creation. He is active in our lives, and we can have a relationship with him that is beyond intellectual acknowledgement.

Questions about the Nature of God

There are many questions that people raise about the nature of God and some of the more common ones are addressed below.

Logical Impossibilities

Can God make a rock so big he cannot lift it? Can God make a square circle? These are some of the questions people ask when trying to refute the omnipotence of God. But when you look a bit closer at them you see they fall into the category of logical impossibilities. If I were to make a square circle, I would actually have a square. Making an impossible to move rock is a bit trickier. In essence it is asking if a limitless God can make something (a big rock) that would limit himself (unable to pick up). But this is logically impossible; how could a limitless being create limits for himself?

God and Time

I am a finite being and bound by time and space; I can only be in one place at a time, and can only be in the current moment. For me the past is gone and the future has not yet happened; only the current moment actually exists. I can remember or read about things that have happened before the current moment and I can guess what will happen in the future, either because in my experience it always has (the sun appearing in the sky every day) or because I am planning on it to happen. But I have no certainty.

But what about God? We believe God to be transcendent, distinct from the creation and not bound by time and space. We also believe him to be omnipresent; there is no place in the universe that he is not. God is also omniscience, knowing all things. But is his omnipresence and omniscience limited only to space at the current time? Or does it span all of time as well?

We would generally answer that God is omniscience in regards to time; that he knows everything that will ever happen over the life of the universe. But how does he know the future? Some would say that he knows it because it is operating according to the plan he laid out before creation. Everything that happens is according to his plan, or will. Others will say that he knows the future because he is smart enough to know everything and so can predict what will happen tomorrow, and next year, and a million years from now. And his predictions are so certain as to be absolute.

But is God omnipresent in regards to time? In other words, is he currently in the age of the dinosaurs as well as in the age of the Jetson’s? It would be easy to say no to this, since the past and future don’t actually exist. But is that true for one who is outside of time, for whom time does not proceed along in a linear fashion? There are a trio of passages in the New Testament that may give us some insight about this.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. – Ephesians 1:4 NIV

This passage says that God chose me before creation. Before the moment of creation, God already had knowledge of me and had chosen me to be a part of his plan; to be holy and blameless in his sight. Did God only have intellectual knowledge? Or did he also have relational knowledge?

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. – Romans 8:29-30 NIV

In this passage we see that those God had known prior to creation were also predestined to be like Christ, were also called, were justified, and were glorified. As a Christian I can see that God has predestined, called and justified me; those things have happened in my past. But glorification is something I look forward to; yet it is in the past tense here. God has glorified me. God is not in time: my past, present, and future are all now to him. So while glorification may be in my future, Paul can easily describe it as something that, along with my predestination, calling and justification, all happened when God foreknew me; prior to creation. It is not something God knew would happen, but something that did happen.

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. – 2 Timothy 1:9-10 NIV

This final passage adds clarity to the above when Paul affirms that God’s grace was given to me before the beginning of time, prior to creation. From my perspective this happened 45 years ago. But from God’s perspective it happened long before that; although the terms before and after are meaningless to one outside of time. To him it is all just now.

Time is an integral part of the creation that controls my earthly existence. But it does not impact God. And that provides a third possible response to God’s knowledge of the future: he is there. He can see my future, not because he has planned it out, or because of his predictive ability, but because he is there. In every moment of my life, past, present, and future, God is there. It is not that he was with me and will be with me, but that he is currently with me, even at the end of my life.

Because God is currently in every moment of time, he knows every choice and action I will ever make. And I can, within limits, freely make choices that have no impact on his knowing the future. How? Because he is in the future, seeing me make those choices as well as the consequences of them. And, if that is a valid picture, then it would seem that omniscience and human free will are not really in conflict.

Open Theism

Open Theism is an attempt to explain how God knows the future. And they do this by denying that God has exhaustive knowledge of the future. In Open Theism, God cannot know the choices humans will make prior to the making of those choices. If he did know them, then the people really didn’t make a real choice. In other words, the future can only be known if it is pre-determined. And that is not compatible with human free will. So, while God can know some of what will happen in the future, he can know nothing that humans impact.

This brings up some rather interesting, and damning ideas. If God does not know the future, it is possible for him to make a mistake, directing me to do something that doesn’t work out as expected. God may need to back up and try again sometimes. It also makes it hard for me to trust him for my future. Afterall, if he doesn’t know what is coming, how can he be an adequate guide for my life. He is really just guessing, and while his guesses may be better than mine, they are still just guesses.

Is the God of the Old Testament also the God of the New Testament?

Many people who read the Bible will note that the God of the Old Testament appears to have a different character than the God of the New Testament. Old Testament God is kind of grouchy, smiting people who do not follow his instructions and commanding genocide against whole people groups because they worship other gods. In Numbers 31:15-18 you have God instructing Israel to take vengeance on the Midianites because of their attempt to seduce Israel. But this vengence did not include virgin girls, who could be taken as slaves or maybe wives. In Deuteronomy 20:10-18 instructions are given for going to war against the inhabitants of Canaan, and it is not pretty, including genocide of multiple tribes of people, showing no mercy to them.

On the other hand, New Testament God loves everyone and wants us all to know him. John 3:16 says that God loves the world and gave his Son in order to rescue us. In Matthew 5:48-43 Jesus tells us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. How can we reconcile this with God’s instructions concerning the Midianites?

So what do we make of this seeming difference between the Old and New Testaments? Are they referring to two distinct Gods? It is tempting to take this approach and downplay the Old Testament. After all, isn’t the Old Testament the Jewish Bible and of secondary importance to Christians? Indeed it is the Jewish Bible, but it was also the Bible of Jesus, Paul, and the other New Testament writers. And nowhere can we find Jesus or any of the New Testament authors trying to correct the image of God presented in the Old Testament. He was their God and they embraced him without reservation. So it would appear that what we today view as a distinction in the nature of God between the Old and New Testaments is only apparent and not actual.

When we look deeper we will discover than the messages between the testaments is not as clear cut as one might initially believe. In Leviticus 19:34 God gives instructions for the people to love the foreigners who were dwelling among them; quite a contrast to the instructions for genocide found elsewhere in the Torah. And in the New Testament, references to the wrath of God being poured out on unbelievers are common.

But that still does not explain the passages giving instruction for genocide, both for the tribes living in Canaan when Israel entered the land as well as the Amalekites who had attached Israel during their exodus from Egypt. Did God actually command the Israelites to do this? Or did Israel just do it and then justify it by claiming it is what God wanted them to do? If the Bible is inerrant, whether strictly or soteriologically, then we have to admit that the message presented is at least one that God was OK with.

It could be that the establishment of Israel as a nation was a special time in history and it was necessary to remove these peoples who would corrupt the fledgling nation. There are problems with this approach as well, so it is probably best to just admit ignorance on this question and not get bogged down by it.

Does God Change His Mind

There are a number of times in the Bible where God appears to change his mind, including Genesis 6:6 where it says that God regretted making humans. Exodus 32:14, where God relents from his plan to destroy Israel after the golden calf incident, is another. Did God really change his mind? Was Moses actually able to offer God a better alternative than his original plan? Open Theism proponents would say that he did, that God recognized he had make a mistake and was correcting it. But why would a God who is truly omniscience ever need to change his mind. He would have known from prior to creation what was going to be happening and already determined from then how he would respond.

Rather than God actually changing his mind, these passages speak from a human perspective; God only appeared to change his mind. The passage in Exodus is really a lesson about prayer. If God does not change his mind and already has everything planned out, then what value is there in prayer? Can prayer change things? Moses’ prayer to God concerning Israel did indeed change how God reacted to the golden calf. But the omniscient God knew from creation what Moses’ prayer would be and had already taken it into account. It appeared like God had changed his mind, but in reality he acted as he had planned from eternity past. However, had he foreknow that Moses prayer would be different, his response to Israel would likewise have potentially been different.

 

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The Bible

The Bible

There are two different perspectives we can use when examining the Bible. The first of these is from a human perspective; who wrote it, why they wrote it, and when they write it. The second of these perspectives provides a more God-ward focused view; why did he give it to us, and what is its purpose.

The Human Perspective

The Bible is not a single book. Rather it is a collection of a number of writings produced over a long period of time by a number of distinct individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds. In the Bible used by most Protestants today there are 66 different books in the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. But those, at least in the Old Testament, are not reflective of how they were originally written. The books of Samuel and Kings, for instance, probably had the same author and were written as a single account, but broken up because of size limitations for scrolls.

Two Collections: The writings in the Bible are broken up into two distinct collections; the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament corresponds to, but is not identical with, the Jewish Scriptures. The Jewish Bible has a different ordering and divisions that the Protestant Old Testament. There are also other Jewish writings that are a part of the Roman Catholic Old Testaments. These difference are mostly based on different document sources and traditions. We use the term Old Testament to refer to the writings focused on the covenant established between Israel and God on Mt. Sinai. It is worth noting that the term ‘Old Testament’ can be offensive to Jews who see there only being a single covenant.

The New Testament writings are those of the new covenant between Christ and his Church, established by his atonement on the cross. These writings are distinctly Christian and are not accepted by Jewish readers as being from God.

Kinds of Writings: The Bible is a diverse collection of literature, from history to poetry to instruction to apocalyptic. Some of the books in the Bible contain one type of literature while others contain multiple types, sometimes interwoven together. Complicating this for modern readers is that Hebrew poetry is different than what we are accustomed to and their view of history is also very different.

Authors: While some of the writings in the Bible, especially the New Testament, have known authors, or at least traditional authors, many of them are anonymous. In the New Testament, the gospels are anonymous with traditional authors, Hebrews has an unknown author, and some others, like 2 Peter, have disputed authorship.

It is even worse in the Old Testament. Who wrote the first five books, the Torah? Traditional scholarship claims that Moses wrote the Torah. But more modern scholarship disputes that. They view the Torah as a collection of verbal and written traditions that were finally collected into their current form around 2500 years ago. In a similar fashion, nearly every book in the Old Testament has both traditional and modern theories as to the authors. Ultimately we do not know who wrote the vast majority of the Old Testament.

Dates: Dating the writings of the Bible is just as challenging. The New Testament is the easier of the two, with most scholars convinced it was completed in the second half of the first century. Many of these writings have fairly reliable and uncontested dates.

The Old Testament is the more challenging collection. When was the Torah written? It really depends on who the author or editor was. If it was written by Moses, then the date is during his lifetime, about 1400 B.C. give or take a hundred years. But if it is a collection of different traditions joined together by a later editor(s), then it is impossible to know. The traditions could go all the way back to, or before, Moses, reaching the final form 2500 years ago. Most of the rest of the Old Testament faces the same issue but we can safely say that it was completed prior to about 300 B.C.

Accuracy: This really relates to the historical sections of the Bible; is it an accurate portrayal of the actual events that it records. This is of primary concern to a modern audience that expects its history to be factually based and unbiased; although in reality it always has some bias. Unfortunately, at least from our perspective, ancient historians were less concerned with accuracy and bias and more concerned with telling a story. That is not to say they fabricated their accounts. It is just that telling a story was more important that dry sterile facts, something neither the authors nor their audience cared about until recent times. So, if you read the Bible’s historical accounts thinking they are like the history you read in school, you will be disappointed.

Canonization: There were many more writings in both the Jewish and Christian communities than what we have in the Bible today. How did we come to accept the books in the Bible as being from God while rejecting others? For both testaments this was a long process without clearly defined rules. Ultimately it came down to what Jews, for the Old Testament, and Christians, for the New Testament, considered as being inspired by God, from reputable sources, widely accepted, and of value. Standard collections, or canons, are eventually, and independently, accepted by both communities and today are what we call the Bible.

If you are interested in reading more about this topic you might look at a couple of earlier blog posts concerning the Reliability of the New Testament and the Canonization of the New Testament.

The Divine Perspective

Before looking at the Bible from the divine perspective, there are some assumptions that need to be expressed. The first of these is that God exists; if he does not then the Bible is nothing more than ancient writings of a religious nature. The second assumption is that God wanted us to know something about himself and his purpose in creation. If he wanted to inform us, then something like the Bible would be expected. If not, then the Bible is undoubtedly of human origin and of limited value.

Inspiration

At the heart of the divine perspective is inspiration. Is the Bible given to us by God, and if so, how did he communicate it to the human authors who actually penned the words we have today. The Bible itself, in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, claims to be inspired, or God breathed. But it does not tell us in what way this inspiration occurred. There are a number of different theories as to what inspiration actually is. And how you understand inspiration will impact many, if not all, of the other doctrines you hold to.

Theories of Inspiration

Dictation: One of the theories of inspiration is that God gave the specific words to the authors of the Bible. They were nothing more than a passive tool that God used. Every word, every expression, every stylistic inflection is all provided by God. If two different authors had been used to produce the same book, they would be identical. There are not many people who actually subscribe to this theory today.

Verbal: This theory is very similar to the dictation theory. The Holy Spirit’s influence over the author extends to the words that are selected and used. The difference between the two is that in verbal inspiration the Holy Spirit limits himself to the vocabulary of the human author. So if two distinct authors, especially if separated by time, write a book, while it will be exactly what God wants, they will be different. This is likely the most popular theory among evangelicals today.

Dynamic: In the dynamic theory, the Holy Spirit and the human author work together to produce the writing. The Holy Spirit provides the thoughts or concepts while the human author provides the words to express those thoughts. In this theory the human author’s personality comes through very clearly and in a way that would be unique to them.

Illumination: This theory limits the input of the Holy Spirit to influencing them by heightening their spiritual sensitivity. The Holy Spirit gives the human author neither specific thoughts nor words. Rather it is similar to the influence of the Holy Spirit on any other believer. In this version of inspiration, the Bible is little different from any other ‘inspired’ work that Christians might use, like the writings of C. S. Lewis, John Calvin, or Augustine.

Questions about Inspiration

Given the variety of theories concerning inspiration, how does one go about determining what inspiration really means in the case of the Bible? One method is simply to choose based on popularity. And, if you are an evangelical, that would lead you either the verbal or dynamic theories, with the verbal most likely. But do we have to depend on popularity?

I believe an examination of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, can be helpful here. These three are very similar, so much so that many believe that two of them (Matthew and Luke) use the third (Mark) as a source, adding other material as needed. It is clear when reading them that they are very closely related, and quite distinct from the gospel of John. Why do we have multiple gospels? Why not just one comprehensive one, one without the apparent inconsistencies among the Synoptics?

The introduction to the gospel attributed to Luke can help to answer those questions.

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

In this introduction Luke acknowledges that there are already in existence many other accounts of the life of Jesus. And Luke himself then chooses to produce yet another account, after a thorough research into the life of Jesus. So what can we learn from this:

  • Luke himself chooses to write. He gives no indication that God directed him to do this. And Luke’s reason for writing is a personal one, so that an acquaintance of his would know the truth about Jesus life.
  • Luke’s inspiration for writing did not preclude careful investigation. He does not just sit down and start writing. He is involved in what the final composition looks like.
  • There are other ‘gospels’ already in circulation, likely including Mark. But Luke is not satisfied with them.
  • From comparing Luke and Mark, it appears like Luke changes Marks’s account in some of its details, as well as adding a lot of content.

If the above conclusions are true, it is hard to see that both Mark and Luke are inspired by either the dictation or verbal theories. The difference in details, like the number of angels at the empty tomb, are hard to reconcile with the Holy Spirit giving them both the words to say.

On the other hand, if the Holy Spirit is guiding their thoughts, ensuring that the story he wants told is actually told, then the little details are not a problem. And the other differences can be attributed to the purpose for the author’s writing (Luke and John both share their reason) as well as the sources they drew from. The dynamic theory seems to best account for what is seen in the gospel accounts.

One other passage that supports dynamic inspiration comes from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. In 1 Corinthians 7:10 Paul explicitly says that his instruction is from the Lord. But in both verse 12 and verse 25 he expresses that he is delivering to them, not the Lord’s command, but what Paul believes best. Paul would seem not to believe that his writing is either dictated to him from God or verbally inspired. Dynamic inspiration seems to cover this much better.

Inerrancy

A topic that is closely related to inspiration is inerrancy. Inerrancy generally is considered to mean that the Bible, as originally written, is free from error of any type in the topics that it covers. The topic of inerrancy is one that generates a lot of discussion and, for some, is almost a test of the faith. Can I be sure that what the Bible says is true, or are the contents of the Bible of questionable validity.

Models of Inerrancy?

Strict Inerrancy: Strict inerrancy goes hand in hand with both dictation and verbal inspiration. If the Holy Spirit is supplying the words to the human authors, then it follows that, since God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), it must all be true. How could an omniscient and truthful God produce a Bible that was not completely true in all regards, even concerning things that would be completely unknown to the authors, like creation?

The debate over inerrancy is actually a relatively modern one. Historically it was assumed by most that the Bible was true, in its entirety. But with the advent of modern science and history many began to question the accuracy of at least some parts of the Bible. Coming out of this debate is a formal definition of inerrancy, a definition that is subscribed to by many, if not most, evangelicals. The Council on Biblical Inerrancy produced the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1979 which includes the following as a part of its definition of inerrancy.

Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

What this means is that if the Bible speaks about any subject, then it is authoritative. If the Bible says that the earth was covered by the waters of a flood and only Noah and his family survived, then that is exactly what happened. Allowance is made for phenomenological language, describing things as they appear such as the rising of the sun, and for symbolic language like much of Revelation, but Bible is exactly what God wanted us to have and is completely true.

With strict inerrancy, if questions are raised about creation, the flood, the exodus, the conquest of Canaan, or David’s kingdom; the Bible is always right, and any scientific or archeological findings that seem to contradict the Bible are inaccurate or incomplete. The plus side to strict inerrancy is that the conflict between science/history and the Bible is easy to resolve. God’s inspired and inerrant word cannot possibly be wrong.

Soteriological Inerrancy: There is a lessor form of inerrancy that is common among churches of the Wesleyan tradition such as the Methodists and Nazarenes. Soteriological inerrancy claims inerrancy for the Bible in matters that concern our salvation and relationship with God, but do not make that claim for matters of science or history. While strict inerrancy would insist that all of the Genesis stories about Abraham are correct and literal, soteriological inerrancy would accept that they could be legends, likely with a kernel of truth, that have come down to us from antiquity, and not historically accurate by today’s standards. But all of the accounts in the Bible, whether historically or scientifically accurate contain truth that God wants us to have.

While there is an appeal to soteriological inerrancy because it removes much of the tension between the Bible and science/history, it does open its adherents to the Slippery Slope challenge. Once you allow for some inaccuracy in the Bible, where do you draw the line? If you admit to the possibility that Adam was not a historical person, could acknowledging the same for Jesus be far behind? This is clearly a real danger.

Soteriological inerrancy is most compatible with the dynamic theory of inspiration. If God is inspiring the message, but not the very words, then obviously what is important is the message. That it is not accurate in all of the details is not important, so long as God’s message to us is delivered in a way that we can learn from. The passage in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that declares the inspiration of the Bible, expresses that its inspiration is to enable us to grow in maturity and completeness as believers. The inspiration of the Bible is not to teach us how the earth was formed or details in the life of the early patriarchs.

Not Inerrant: The extreme opposite position of strict inerrancy would be those who deny any form of inerrancy for the Bible. For them, the Bible may have some form of inspiration like illumination, and it may have value for knowing God and be useful for living a godly life, but it is only a human book and subject to error as well as revision. The Bible may be a special book, but it is treated little different than other books that offer perceived value to the readers. This is a position that is popular among liberal churches that want to proclaim a gospel that is different than that proclaimed in the Bible.

Questions about Inerrancy

How important is the question of inerrancy in the life of the believer? I do believe that at least to some extent it is an important issue. If one does not believe that the Bible is true, then why bother to read it or seek to follow its instructions. What makes it any different that the Koran or the Book of Mormon? What makes it any better a guide to truth than thousands of other books you might find in a bookstore or online?

On the other hand, if strict inerrancy it true, then absolute truth is found in the pages of the Bible and any conflicting source is in error. There are several advantages to this approach.

  • There is no need to evaluate any competing claims that appear to be at odds with the Bible. The Bible is always correct. I may not understand what it is saying on a particular topic, but I can rest assured that ultimately it will be proven correct and I just need to depend on it and invest the time in it to properly understand its message. It is actually much easier to simply believe the Bible is true than to have to evaluate the truthfulness of each of its claims.
  • It can protect me from heresy. Many of the heretical ideas that are portrayed as truth are based on non-biblical sources.
  • Accepting anything other than strict inerrancy can lead to doubts about God’s truthfulness. If God has given us a book that is not truthful in all its parts, can we really depend on his nature, that he is who the Bible declares him to be? And that he really is working for my good?

There are however, at least in my mind, some issues with the strict inerrancy approach. It does make the assumption that God is unable to provide us with a book that is anything less than 100% true in every way. I believe that is an unwarranted assumption. I hesitate to put that kind of limit on what God can or cannot do.

The Bible is oftentimes challenging to understand. Why didn’t God give us a book that was more straight forward and easy to consume. What is the reason for the endless genealogies, Psalms about smiting enemies and Song of Solomon? Why is the history in the Bible so uneven; some events covered in great detail and others virtually ignored? Why does the Bible reflect the culture that produced it?

The Bible is a product of a culture(s) that is long gone. It was written by men of that time for men of that time. They had a different way of looking at the world and oftentimes a different understanding of who God is. God worked through them to reveal himself to his people in ways that were meaningful to them. They recorded their history and their world in ways that was meaningful to them and reflected how they perceived God to be working. God used these men, inspiring them, to produce the Bible.

I believe it is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of the Scriptures. As mentioned before, 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is key to understanding this purpose.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

God has given us the Bible to teach us, rebuke us as necessary, to provide correction and to train us in righteous living. The goal is that we may be fully equipped for the life he has called us to. And the Bible can do that quite nicely without the standards of accuracy that we are accustomed to today. Trying to defend the historicity of the Old Testament accounts, or the scientific accuracy of the Genesis creation accounts detracts us from the goal of living thoroughly equipped lives that honor Christ.

Demanding strict inerrancy can also reduce our ability to bear witness to the love of God to a world that is quite different from the one that produced the Bible. When all of the scientific evidence points to an earth that is billions of years old, proclaiming a belief in an earth that is only thousands of years old will mark us as fools not worth listening to. Being thought a fool for Christ is not a bad thing. But being foolish concerning God’s revelation of himself in the creation, a revelation that is so clear to the rest of the world, is a problem when it keeps people from listening to the truth that we do have.

Soteriological inerrancy accepts that the message of the Bible for us is true. And it recognizes that the Bible was written by and for a culture that is different than ours today. It does not reject the history and science of the Bible; but it calls on us to see it in a different light, a light that is hard for us today and takes a lot of work.

Authority

Ultimately the most important question we can ask concerning the Bible is the authority it will have in our lives. Regardless how we view inspiration and inerrancy, its authority in the life of the believer and its usefulness as a guide to spiritual truth is key. I might view the Bible as verbally inspired and inerrant, but if I do not accept its authority, it will have little value for me, apart from an intellectual journey. But if the Bible is authoritative, then just how it was inspired and its level of inerrancy is not important.

Conclusion

The Bible is a collection of writings produced by human authors who lived in a culture foreign to ours today, and written to that same culture. In many ways this makes the Bible challenging to understand. It was also not written to give us a systematic theology of God. Instead it contains historical narratives, laws to follow, corrective material, poetry, and apocalyptic writings. It requires effort for modern man to dig out the message of the Bible.

At the same time, the Bible is inspired by God, and is our authoritative source for faith and practice as believers. It contains what God wants us to have, including the parts that may make little sense to us today. While the context that the Bible was written in has changed, the content of the message has not. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is just as true for 21st century American believers as it was for 1st century believers. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

If the Bible is God’s revelation of himself to humanity, how come it is so often confusing and not more straightforward? Why does he not just tell us who he his, his purpose in creation, the significance of Jesus incarnation and atonement, and how the church should operate? I have no doubt that he could have produced that kind of a book. But he did not. Instead we have a collection of writings that theologians have debated and argued over for as long as we have had them. Could it be that he intentionally gave us something that would require some effort on our part to understand, and with that effort, helping us to grow in our faith? After all, the more we put into it, the more we are likely to derive from it.

The remainder of the posts in this series will assume that the Bible is an authoritative guide to knowing God, his purpose, humanity and our condition, and living as believers. This is an unprovable assumption, but one that has been proven true in the lives of untold numbers of people, including my own. I also will be assuming dynamic inspiration and soteriological inerrancy.

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Credo: The Bible

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The God of General Revelation

knowing God from general revelation

The Existence of God

Does God exist? I believe that he does. But I cannot conclusively prove that to you. I believe that he exists for two primary reasons. The first is based primarily on my own experience, and secondarily on the experience of others. That there is a God, a God who is interested in me, and who is working in my life, is the best explanation I have for who I am and for what I have experienced. And I am not just an isolated example. I have personally known others, and read about countless others, whose experiences have been similar to my own. I cannot prove to you that God exists, but I believe he has proven his existence to me.

The second primary reason I believe in the existence of God is that it makes more rational sense to me than the alternative. I simply cannot wrap my head around the thought that this universe, including the planet we live on, life itself, and the ability to think rationally are simply the product of blind chance. I know there are some really smart people who seem to have no problem with accepting that; but I just cannot.

I must also confess that my upbringing in a Christian family has had an impact on me. Some would say that I was brainwashed, but I am grateful for that push in the right direction. I may have believed at one time because of my parents, but that time is long past.

Proofs for the Existence of God

If I cannot prove to you that God exists, why would I include a section on proofs for his existence? Well, while I do not believe that a conclusive proof is possible, there have been many attempts over the years to provide logical proofs for God’s existence. Some are convinced that they are effective, but I believe they are really only useful to demonstrate the rationality of belief; a quite different thing than real proof. These proofs include:

Cosmological: There are a variety of cosmological arguments for the existence of God. Each of these is centered on causation or change. Among the most familiar of these is the Kalām argument. This proof takes the form of:

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe had a cause

If the initial two premises are correct, then the conclusion is also correct. This seems like a good proof, but you will not have to use it very many times before you find those who will disagree with one or both of the initial premises. To me, their reasons for disputing the premises seem far-fetched or flimsy, but to those who do not want to believe, any excuse will work.

Teleological: The teleological argument is also known as the argument from design. Essentially the argument is that the universe, and life, is too finely tuned to have been an accident; there must have been a designer. Today, the intelligent design movement is championing the teleological argument. Like all of the arguments listed here, there are those who dispute that the appearance of design requires a designer. If could, for instance, simply be that there are an infinite number of universes, and this one just won the cosmic jackpot and was able to support life.

Ontological: Of all of the logical proofs presented here, this is to me the most confusing. A variation of this argument goes something like this.

  • God is by definition the greatest being that you can conceive of.
  • But what is greater, that which is only conceived, or that which is actualized?
  • That which is actualized is greater, so a god that actually exists is greater than a god who is only conceptualized.
  • Therefore God is actual.

Confusing; yes. But it does have its proponents.

Miracles: A miracle is defined as an event that is caused by a supernatural entity. So if miracles occur, then there must be a supernatural entity, God, behind them. So if miracles can be demonstrated to occur, or have occurred in the past, then there must be a God. The biggest miracle ever to occur is the creation of the universe, so God does exist.

Morality: Seemingly hardwired into humanity is a sense of right and wrong, and of fairness. There is also a willingness to self-sacrifice, a willingness which seems contrary to a purely naturalistic understanding of life. What is the source of this morality? Is it a trait that evolution has left us with? Is it culturally derived? Or is it a divine moral lawgiver? There are problems with the first two, so it must be the third.

Religion: Throughout time and place wherever modern man has been found there is some trace of religion, an acknowledgement of something greater than ourselves. That is quite the coincidence, unless the creator has built into us a desire to know him.

General Revelation

What can I know about God apart from the Bible? This is generally what is considered to be general revelation, what is revealed about God through some source other than the Bible or other God inspired writings. General revelation can include:

  • Nature: The creation itself bears witness to its creator (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:18-23).
  • History: Sometimes in historical, or even current, events we can dimly see the hand of God at work.
  • Conscience: Why do we have a conscience? Romans 2:14-15 identifies the conscience as God’s law written on our hearts.

General revelation is available to everyone who lives, or has lived. But for the most part humanity ignores the witness of general revelation and live their lives as if there were no God. General revelation does not tell us anything very specific about the creator and is best understood in light of his more directed revelation of himself in the Bible.

The Nature of God from General Revelation

So just what can a person know about God based on general revelation? There are a number of attributes of God that can be derived just from what we can see in the creation, and others that are likely.

Powerful: In my way of thinking, power is required to produce something. And the bigger and grander the product, the more power is required to produce it. As humans we think of ourselves as pretty powerful, and yet producing something the size of the moon is well beyond our ability to execute. I cannot imagine the amount of power that would be required to produce a universe. Even a universe that unrolls from a singularity would require an amazing amount of power to start it, and keep it unrolling.

I have no idea about what lies beyond the universe we inhabit, nor what limits there might be on a universe creator in that realm. But within the context of the creation, I think it is safe to identify the creator as all-powerful, omnipotent; without equal in power and ability; able to do whatever he chooses.

Intelligent: The more complex and elegant the design, the more intelligence is required to produce it. And can you think of anything that is more complex or elegant than the universe, apart from its creator? Is there anything about the creation that its creator would not know?

Transcendent: A creator would be distinct from his creation, independent of it and not limited by it. Space and time are two limitations that we are very familiar with. Everything in this universe is limited to being in a single location at any one moment in time. And everything that I am aware of experiences the passage of time in a forward only manner, although I am aware that there is some thought that in the quantum world that forward only direction may not be completely applicable. This lack of limitation has some interesting application to a creator.

Not being bound by space means that the creator can be multiple places at any one instance of time, or even in every place within the universe. This means that the creator could be omnipresent, everywhere at once. While in a sense I am able to be multiple adjacent places at once, limited by the size of my body, the creator could be everywhere in his creation, since unlike me, he is not limited by space.

Even more interesting is that the creator would not be bound by time, meaning that he could move both forward and backward in time; be in multiple time periods simultaneously; or even be concurrently present at all points of time. That is admittedly hard to visualize, but if, as scientists claim, time is just another dimension, then it is really little different than being in multiple places at one time.

If the creator is intelligent enough to create our universe, and is able to be everywhere within it, both in space and in time, then he could know everything that has happened, is happening, or will happen. He would be omniscient.

Miracles: A miracle is generally defined as something that has a supernatural origin, an act of a deity. Much of the argument against miracles assumes that there is no creator. But there are those who will argue that even an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent creator would be unable to produce a miracle. But that does not really make sense, since creation itself is an act of the creator, a miracle. I can find no rational argument for supposing that a creator would be unable to interact with his creation, i.e. perform miracles. He may choose not to perform miracles, but that is different than claiming he would be unable to.

I am able to manipulate the creation in some limited extent to accomplish my own goals. Why could not the creator be able to do the same thing? While I am not able to manipulate the laws of physics to accomplish my goals, is there any reason to suppose that a creator could not? I was a software developer for many years, the creator of little software worlds. Most users of those applications were limited by the user interface in what they could do. But I was able to tweak the underlying data in ways that they could not, allowing me to accomplish things that the average user could not. That is really no different than the creator manipulating the underlying laws and constants that drive our universe to accomplish something that I would be unable to.

Miracles are impossible if there is no creator. But if there is a creator, then miracles should not be a surprise, even miracles that we do not recognize as such; rather they should be expected.

Purposeful: While it is by no means certain to me, it does seem likely that a creator would have a purpose in his creation. In other words, he had a reason for producing a life friendly universe. Other than for the production of some form of life, it is hard to determine what his purpose might have been, assuming all we had to go on was creation itself.

But if he had a purpose in creation, and especially if that purpose included intelligent life, it would seem reasonable to assume that he would be active in his creation, at least enough to make sure his purpose was fulfilled. It would also seem likely that he might want any intelligent life that developed to have some concept of him and his purpose.

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The Doctrine of Humanity

A crowd of humanity

Who am I? Why am I here? What does the future hold for me? I’m sure that most of us have at least occasionally asked these questions. And the answers to these questions are important. How one answers them though will be impacted by what one believes about God and his purpose for his creation. It will also be impacted by what one believes about the Bible; is it a reliable guide to what God has done, is doing, and will do? Or is merely an outdated religious text with no relevance to today?

For some, there is no creator, we are merely a product of chance, have no purpose for being, and our existence is merely a blip on the timeline of history. In that case, nothing I do will ultimately matter. Making the most of the brief existence I have should be my goal in life. And if others get in the way of that then I am justified in moving them out of the way. Granted few people who hold to the opening sentence actually follow through on the previous sentence, but it is really the logical conclusion.

But if God does exist, he created us, and he has a purpose for us; and if the Bible is indeed his inspired word to us; then we should have quite a different view of humanity and our place within the creation. Being an intentional creation of a purposeful God is quite a contrast to being simply an unlikely and accidental by-product of chance.Who I am is significant and what I do matters; not just now, but potentially for long after this brief existence comes to an end.

The Origin of Humanity

Where did we come from? How did we get here? The Bible tells us that God intentionally made us. That he formed us from the dust of the earth. That he made us in his image. That he made himself known to us. That he originally placed us in paradise. And the simplest reading of the Bible says that we were made as is just a few thousand years ago.

Science tells us that the first human like ancestors appeared on the earth 2.5 million years ago, with the first modern humans appearing around 200 thousand years ago. That humans, like all life, evolved from a common single cell ancestor. That we are a product of the working of the same laws that produced the rest of the creation and keep it functioning. Science produces a timeline that looks something like the following:

  • Creation of the universe – 13.8 BYA (Billion Years Ago)
  • Creation of the earth – 4.5 BYA
  • First life on earth – 3.87 BYA
  • First life on land – 500 MYA (Million Years Ago)
  • Earliest human ancestors – 2.5 MYA
  • First modern human (homo sapiens) – 200,000 YA
  • Oldest known cave paintings – 40,000 YA
  • Oldest permanent settlement – 25,000 YA
  • Domestication of sheep – 11,000 B.C.
  • Jericho settled – 9,000 B.C.
  • Invention of the wheel – 5,000 B.C.
  • Invention of writing – 3,200 B.C.B

By way of comparison, the following are some common dates for biblical events:

  • Abraham – 2,000 B.C.
  • The Exodus – 1,400 B.C.
  • King David – 1,000 B.C.

So how does one reconcile what appears to be two distinct accounts of our origin? Some reject the scientific account, while others reject the biblical account. While in between these two extremes are a couple of attempts to reconcile the two; theistic evolution and progressive creationism.

Fiat Creation: This is the view that rejects the scientific evidence and holds to a specific, rigid, and literal interpretation of the creation event in Genesis. God creates Adam and Eve as fully formed adult humans who then become the ancestors of all of today’s humanity. This is the view of pretty much all young earth creationists, but also of some who accept that the earth and life on it are very old.

Naturalistic Evolution: This view is at the opposite extreme from the previous one, rejecting any authority of the biblical accounts and building solely on scientific findings. In this view humans are simply one of the millions of life forms that have evolved from a common ancestor in a purely naturalistic fashion. Humans are not a product of a purposeful creator; rather they have just evolved a different set of attributes than other life.

Theistic evolution: TE asserts that evolution is not just a blind naturalistic process, but that God serves as a guiding hand behind it. With theistic evolution, God allows the natural processes to perform their work, but God is involved enough to ensure that evolution produces what he has intended. This view is fully compatible with the scientific explanation for our development as humans, and is not incompatible with the biblical account; so long as one does not try to hold too rigidly to a literal 6 day creation a few thousand years ago.

Progressive creationism: This view is also compatible with science and an old earth interpretation of the biblical account. It differs from theistic evolution by positing that there are periodic creation events. That God, at different times in history, created all of the types of life on the planet, and then that life evolved into the bewildering variety found today, as well as throughout history. This view, unlike the previous, is compatible with a literal Adam and Eve created at some time in the past.

I believe that science has much to teach us about the creation and I am unwilling to reject it as a learning tool. But I also believe that the Bible is inspired by my creator and is also useful to teach me about spiritual matters, including where I came from. As a result I have to reject either of the extremes, looking for a position that is faithful to the teaching of the Bible and the discoveries of science. Both theistic evolution and progressive creationism offer viable reconciliations of the Bible and science and choosing between them can be a challenge; but I tend toward theistic evolution.

Adam & Eve

No discussion of human origins is complete without including Adam and Eve. Were they an actual first couple from whom we are all descended? Or are they fictional, maybe representative of humanities origins.

The apostle Paul seems to have believed that they were real and that the account of the fall in the third chapter of Genesis was real history. In Romans 5:12-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 Paul talks about Adam as if he were a real man, identifying him as the one through whom sin can into the world. The question concerning the reality of Adam is tightly connected to ones view of inspiration and inerrancy. If the Scripture is strictly inerrant, then it follows that Adam must have been a real person. With a more limited view of inerrancy there is room for Paul to have believed that the fictional Adam was real, and the lessons he draws from the third chapter of Genesis are valid for us.

Made in God’s Image

In the initial creation account of man, Genesis 1:26-27, we are said to be made in God’s image. But what does this mean? Obviously we do not look like him, since he is spirit and we are not. Over the years I have wondered if it was a reference to our being body, soul, and spirit, similar to his triune nature. Or maybe being created in his image means that we are made to conform to some picture he had of us, similar to an artist painting a picture.

But it seems most likely that we are made to be like him in some fashion. We are intelligent creatures, capable of abstract reasoning. We are also moral creatures, having an innate sense of right and wrong. We are able to express unselfish and sacrificial love. All things that God can do, yet are foreign to the rest of creation.

But what is the significance of being made in God’s image? It would appear that all of humanity is made in God’s image, not just some subset of us. It is not only white middle class hetrosexual Christian males that are made in God’s image. But also those with a different skin color, gender, educational or economic situation. Also those who worship a different god, have a different sexual orientation, or are convicted felons. All of us are made in God’s image and should be treated as such; treated with respect and with value.

Of interest to this discussion is Jesus encounter with the Pharisees and Herodians in Matthew 22:15-22. In response to their question about paying taxes, Jesus asks for a coin and for whose image is on the coin. They responded that it was Caesar’s image, to which Jesus responded, Give to Caesar what was Caesar’s, and to God what was God’s. It was Caesar’s image on the coin that identified it as his. In the same way, having God’s image on us makes us belong to him. The image was a sign of ownership.

Human Constitution

It is obvious that humans are material creatures, flesh and blood, and I know of no sane person who would deny that. But is that all that we are? Or is there also a non-material part to us? Many today would deny that we are anything other than material beings; that our consciousness is nothing more than chemical processes operating in our brains, giving the illusion of something more than a purely physical being.

But is it possible that chemical processes alone can give rise to consciousness like we have today? That seems unlikely to me. The Bible claims that we are more than just material beings, but that we also have a soul and/or spirit. I say soul and/or spirit because it is unclear from the Scripture if it uses soul and spirit as two distinct components, or if they are somewhat interchangeable. But what is clear is that our consciousness, thoughts, will, and emotions are more that just the result of a chemical stew. And further, the Scripture affirms that this soul/spirit will survive the death of our physical bodies, someday being reunited with some form of a body and, at least for some, will continue into eternity.

Why Humanity?

So just why does humanity exist? As mentioned above, some will say we exist for no reason; it is just a fluke that we exist and we have no purpose or future. But for those who believe that we are an intentional creation of a purposeful God, it is only reasonable to accept that we were created for a purpose. But for what purpose? Scripture indicates that that purpose is one that is only fully met beyond this life; that life here is only a preparation for God’s ultimate purpose for us. That specific purpose is not clear, but I am reasonably certain that it is more significant than sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, and eating bon-bons.

I am able to live my life here, through all that comes my way, with confidence that God is preparing me for something beyond my imagination. While I may not know the purpose for which I was created, it is good to know there was a purpose and that God will see it through to completion. And I look forward to finding out just what he created me for.

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Credo: Humanity

Systematic Theology: An Introduction

Systematic Theology

Introduction

Theology literally means ‘words about God’; it is the study of God, or anything related to God. All Christians talk about God, making all of us theologians. Of course that does not necessarily make us good theologians. Being a good theologian requires study and effort, a task many are not willing to make, but a task that is beneficial. The better I know God and what he is doing in creation, including with me, the more effective I can be in serving him.

Systematic theology is a specific branch of theology that examines all of the doctrines of the church and systematizes them; making sure that they all fit well together in harmony. Who we understand God to be is going to affect pretty much every other doctrine we have. What we understand about sin will impact what we believe about the work of Christ and salvation. Many of our doctrines are like this, so to have a good understanding of one requires a broader understanding of many others. Systematic Theology studies all of the major doctrines in a framework that will knit them together in a cohesive and coherent whole.

Sources of Theology

There are many sources that people use for developing their theology, some good, some not so good, and some that are downright terrible. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral describes four of these sources: Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. While there are other sources that some use, I believe that this one does a good job of grouping our primary sources.

Scripture: It should be obvious that the Bible is our primary source for theology. After all, what can be a better guide to knowing about God and his working that the text he has given to us. The Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to us in our life with Christ, containing all that we need to be mature and complete believers. However, the Bible is not a systematic theology book. It contains theology within its pages, but not necessarily in the format we would like to have. The Bible is the story of God’s interaction with humanity, and it is sometimes a messy story involving cultures that are foreign to us. Great care needs to be taken when deriving our theology from the Bible to separate the content of the theology from the context of the culture in which it was written.

Tradition: The Wesleyan Quadrilateral does not use tradition to refer to our practices with the church. Instead it is referring to the teachings of the church. The Bible does not directly contain the teachings of the Trinity that the church holds to today. The doctrine of the Trinity was developed over a long period of time to express truths that are contained within the Scriptures. The doctrine of the Trinity comes to us from tradition. The dual nature of Christ, the fundamental role of the atonement, Calvinism, Arminianism, various view of eschatology, and other doctrines that sometimes divide us are largely a product of tradition. Tradition is not bad; it represents the labors of many godly men through the ages trying to understand how God is working. But it is not infallible and is of a lessor importance than Scripture.

Reason: In some circles reason and faith are seen as opponents in the ring, ever at odds with each other. But that is unfortunate. God has given us minds and instructs us to use them (Mark 12:30). The development of our tradition was by the application of rational thought to the Scriptures. It is only appropriate for us today to continue to apply our minds to the study of Scripture and our search for knowledge and understanding of God. If your theology is based solely on what others teach you, then you stand on pretty shaky ground. When difficulties or challenges to your faith come along you will find that the theology developed without rational thought may well not sustain you. The danger with using our minds is that we need to ensure that our thought is well grounded in the Word.

Experience: Experience may not be the best guide to our theology, but it is one from which we cannot separate ourselves. My experiences shape who I am and how I think. But my experiences with God, as well as the experiences of others interaction with God, can help me to gain a better perspective on him. Of the four, this is the one that I trust least, but it is undeniably a part of how I do theology.

The Holy Spirit: The Holy Spirit is not included in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, yet I believe that we cannot do good theology without the assistance of the Holy Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 Paul expresses that no one knows the thoughts of God except for the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. And God has given to us his Spirit to help us to know him. We will not be able to know God apart from his Spirit’s help. Just be sure that you do not confuse your own rational thought process with the leading of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will work within our thoughts, but our thoughts may also operate without, or contrary to, the Spirit.

How to do Theology

If you are interested in developing good theology there are a number of steps you need to be careful to take. The steps below can assist you in your development.

Be Complete: There is a danger in developing your theology independently of the Scripture, and then turning to the Bible to find support for you positions. This is a sure fire way to develop bad theology. You need first to determine what all of Scripture has to say about a particular doctrine, as well as the relevant church tradition. You may not always find that you can reconcile all of the teachings about a topic, but you should strive to form doctrine that best supports the majority of the texts.

Separate Content from Context: It is important to remember that the Bible was written by and for a culture that is very different from that of 21st century United States. The place of women and slaves is quite different. Their government and economy are quite foreign to us today. Education, technology and healthcare are dramatically improved today. It is natural for us to read the Bible as if it were specifically written for us today. But it was not. That does not reduce the value of Scripture for us. But it does mean that we need to take that cultural setting into account. The content, or message, of the Bible is timeless. The context, or culture, of the Bible is not. Distinguishing between the two is an important task in developing your theology.

Update the Context: Once you have separated the content and the context you should apply that content to your own culture, or to the culture that you are trying to reach. Jesus as the good shepherd is meaningful to a pastoral culture. But it can leave modern city dwellers somewhat in the dark. Can you update the message of a savior who cares and provides for his people into more modern imagery? The prescientific view of creation expressed in Genesis is challenging to a scientifically oriented culture. Yet the content, that God created all that is, remains as true today as it was then.

Ensure Coherency: I know people who will remark after a tragedy in their lives that it was meant to be, implying that God controls everything that happens. And yet those same people believe that they actually have some control over their lives, making real choices. But the two positions seem to be at odds with each other. God is omniscient and omnipotent, creating the universe the way he wanted it to be; yet many view creation as broken and God as scrambling to fix it. We are going to have paradoxes in our theology, like the teaching that Jesus is fully God and fully human. We are finite and trying to understand the infinite. But our theology should be as consistent and coherent as we can make it. We should not say that God is in full control and that he is not in full control.

A Warning

There are two distinct ways of ‘doing’ theology. The first is to simply study some authority on the subject and adopt their position. There are many good sources for theology, and most of them are in general agreement on most positions. Erickson, Grudem, Geisler, Odem, and others have produced massive volumes on their systematic theology and are highly recommended; especially Erickson. But I would encourage you not to take that approach. Use these books as resources in your study, but don’t just accept what they have to say.

The second approach is much more challenging, and more dangerous, but ultimately more rewarding. Read the relevant passages in the Bible. Study the works of other theologians. And think. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you. Ask questions and don’t be afraid of the answers. The challenge to this approach is that it is much more work than simply reading and accepting what someone else has said. The danger is that you may not come to the same conclusions as the authors of the books you read or your teachers. Just be sure that your theology is solidly grounded in the Scriptures and not in some other source. And the reward? That your theology will become more deeply ingrained in you, that it will be yours rather than someone else’s.

That, in a sense, is what this guide is. It is the product of years of study, asking questions and exploring responses. In many respects it is very similar to what you would find in a much larger text, but not always. There is no guarantee that it is all correct, and most likely is not. But it is what I feel I have been led to. Please, as you read this, do not just accept or reject it. Allow God’s Spirit to lead you into the truth. It is a glorious journey. Whether you agree with me or not, study the Scriptures because in them you will find the truth.

The Framework

Most systematic theologies start with either God or with the Bible. You might start with God because without him the Bible has no value. You might start with the Bible, because without it we can know little about God. It’s kind of a chicken and egg thing. I have opted for a different approach. We will start with what can be known about God apart from the Bible. Next we will study about the Bible, assuming that God would want us to know more about himself that can be ascertained by our own rational thoughts, and seeing the Bible as the record of this self revelation. And then we will study God as described in the Bible. From there we will follow a more traditional sequence, each doctrine building on the ones that came before. Not every doctrine of Christianity will be covered, but the major building blocks will be covered. The rest of them can be easily added on your own.

The outline below highlights the general areas that will be covered. 

  1. An Introduction to Systematic Theology
  2. The God of General Revelation
  3. The Bible
  4. The Nature of God 
  5. The Work of God
  6. Humanity
  7. Sin
  8. The Person of Christ
  9. The Work of Christ
  10. The Holy Spirit
  11. Salvation
  12. The Church
  13. The Future

Extensively revised on 9/27/2017

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