Sunday, December 16, 2012

3a God, the Basics

I thought I might continue my Sunday work on Biblical Theology.

Chapter 1
Introduction to Biblical Theology

Chapter 2: Revelation
2a From Text to Scripture
2b NT Understanding of Scripture
2c God's Speakings before Scripture
2d God's Speakings in the Old Testament
2e The New Testament Church

Now Chapter 3: Theology of God
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The first line of the Apostle's Creed gives us the heart of what the earliest Christians believed about God: "I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth."  We have here a statement of God's power and a reference to him as Creator. The fatherhood of God would have supported this sense of him as our point of origin and added a sense that he is an authority over us.  And while ancient fathers were not "Daddys" in the modern sense, fathers did provide for the needs of their families. They were thus loving in an ancient, rather than the contemporary, intimate sense.

In the centuries since the Apostle's Creed, Christians have refined their sense of God's characteristics or "attributes" as they are called.  The word "almighty" has become the formal sense that God is "omnipotent," that he has the power to do anything that makes sense.  He can make and lift any size of rock (and so cannot make a rock so big that he cannot lift it).

Christians came to believe that God knows everything, that he is "omniscient."  Almost all Christians would say God's omniscience certainly means that he knows everything true at this moment in time and everything that has happened and was true in the past.  Most Christians also believe God knows every possible scenario in the future, and most continue to believe that God knows what the actual scenario of the future will be, assuming there is only one.

Christians believe that God is present everywhere in space (omnipresent) and time (eternal).  The details have varied just as Christians' sense of how space and time work has changed over the years. These attributes, which tend to be of a more philosophical nature, were largely discussed and refined in the years after Scripture was formed. Thus God is self-sufficient (aseity) and some have said him to be "without parts" (simplicity).

Various passages in Scripture hint or sow seeds of such characteristics.  Certainly God's power is one of his central characteristics in Scripture.  His knowledge--or more importantly his wisdom--is a constant theme, although many parts of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, do not present him as knowing everything (e.g., Gen. 3:9). The Bible does not treat any location as beyond God's access (e.g., Ps. 139:8). And he certainly has both always existed and will always exist (e.g., Ps. 102:25-27).

But these are not the characteristics of God that Scripture most highlights. Scripture most highlights God's characteristics in relationship to his people. Passages that stretch across all the Old Testament affirm God as "gracious," "merciful," "slow to anger," and "abounding in love (Exod 34:6; Ps. 86:15; Jon. 4:2).  The Old Testament also describes God as "jealous" (Exod. 34:14), usually with overtones of his anger at those who are not exclusively faithful to him.

The New Testament primarily focuses on God as love (e.g., 1 John. 4:8).  But God's love often features against the backdrop of his justice (e.g., Rom. 3:25-26) and a coming judgment.  God's "righteousness" to some extent captures both features (e.g., Rom. 1:18), both his propensity to provide a way of salvation for those who will and yet also the fact that his "wrath" ultimately comes on unrighteousness.

The Bible does not present such characteristics of God from a philosophical perspective.  Such theological statements are generally made in informal ways in the manner of ordinary language. Sometimes we find them in poetic contexts, where one has to be particularly careful to watch for less than fully literal dynamics.

A biblical theology of God thus will organize biblical teaching both with a view to the historical and literary contexts of various Scriptures as well as to the trajectory God seems to have led his people throughout the ages...

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