Wednesday, January 17, 2018

2.1b Rule of Faith cont.

Thus far in a future book.

Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
1.1 Introduction
1.2 Basic Approaches
1.3 History of Biblical Theology
1.4 This Book's Approach

Chapter 2: Theology of God
2.1a The Rule of Faith

4. This is the view of God that Christians have developed in dialog with Scripture, various Christian traditions, their experiences, and their reason. Although various Christians and Christian traditions quibble over the fine points here and there, the vast majority of Christians believe that God is holy, self-sufficient, triune, loving and just, sovereign, eternal, immutable in his nature, creator, spiritual, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.

We might say that these features of God are a kind of "rule of faith." Most Christians would say that these attributes of God are biblical and are derived from Scripture. In reality, the process of their development has been more of a dialog between Christians and Scripture. Philosophical reasoning was a clear feature of early Christian reflection on God in the first few centuries of Christendom. Further, when we encounter passages in the Bible that seem in tension with an attribute like "omniscience," most Christians deploy intellectual coping strategies to try to explain the passages in some other way.

For example, Genesis 6:6 says that God regretted that he had made humanity. Upon reflection, we realize that this statement conflicts with the notion that God is omniscient and knows everything. If God knew humanity was going to sin, then he cannot truly regret making us. He knew we were going to sin when he made us.

Nor will it work to deploy the fact that humans sometimes know something with their heads and then feel differently when they know it experientially. This dynamic is a function of human finitude. If God knows all things, then he knows what it is like to experience his universe too. Indeed, if God truly created the world out of nothing, then he created the very possible shape of human experience.

So we are faced with only a few options. Perhaps Genesis 6 was originally anthropomorphic, knowingly picturing God in human terms. Or perhaps we think of this passage as anthropomorphic while concluding that the author of Genesis would not yet have realized it. Of course some Christians take the passage literally and no longer believe in God's omniscience.

Our sense is that 1) the author of this passage in Genesis probably did originally understand this statement in 6:6 literally, meaning that this author did not yet have a full understanding of God's omniscience. Yet also, 2) as Christians we take the statement metaphorically, because as Christians we have come to believe that God does in fact know all things, including the future. We take Genesis 6:6 as a step along God's journey with Israel toward an understanding of full omniscience within later Jewish and Christian belief.

5. The absolute, monotheistic sense of God has developed as Christian thinkers throughout the centuries have reflected on the basic truths mentioned above. Most experts would suggest that some details were not yet fully in place at the time of the New Testament. The Trinity would perhaps be the most obvious example of a belief that may not yet have been fully conceptualized in the first century.

The sense of creation out of nothing is another example of a doctrine that may not have been fully crystallized until the end of the second century. If so, then the Christian sense of God as creator could not yet have been fully mature within the time frame of the Bible itself. As Christians, we read the Bible with this understanding of God as creator, but experts of the original meanings may not think that this understanding was fully present in the minds of the original authors.

As modern science expands and refines our general sense of the creation, our sense of God as creator expands and develops too. For example, what are the implications of modern physics for our sense of God? As relativity has shaped our sense of time, we are bound to look at the question of God and time a little differently.

It is not so much that such thoughts contradict Scripture as that they push us to aspects of God that would have been incomprehensible in ancient times. The principle that Scripture was, first, God revealing Godself to the original authors and audiences of the Bible to speak to their context implies that the understanding of God in the Bible has a great deal to do with ancient worldviews. God met them where they were just as God meets us where we are.

6. The pages that follow will make clearer exactly what we are saying here in concrete form. We have begun with the end in view. We have set out in this section the general aspects of a Christian view of God. This section is titled the "rule of faith" because these are the views that generally reflect the consensus of Christians everywhere throughout the centuries.

So we can listen to Old Testament theologies of God in context as well as New Testament theologies of God. We need not feel pressured to twist these texts to make them say exactly what the consensus came to be. We can be honest in our historical and biblical scholarship. We can see these individual texts as points along God's journey with his people on earth, meeting them where they were within their understandings of the world.

But we do not stop there, with how God revealed Godself to ancient Israel or to individual New Testament authors. We take a "canonical" perspective on how God was shaping these texts toward a goal, namely, the understanding of God we have presented in this section. We believe we know where God was leading his people, and we can read the biblical texts in this canonical light.

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