Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Part One: The Doctrines Of Divine Simplicity, The Trinity And Christology

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2 Peter 3:18 "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen."


The only good thing that is not "too much of a good thing" is taking the time to think more deeply on God, His nature and His attributes. Such a study of God is what theologians refer to as "Theology Proper" or "The first thing in the study of God", namely, "God Himself". A little while back, I did a series of posts that introduced readers to what is called "the doctrine of Divine Simplicity" (or, DDS). This doctrine has its roots into the earliest days of the church and arises most naturally from considerations of certain Biblical statements and doctrine about the God of revealed scripture. 

We began that series by presenting the historic definition of the doctrine, "God is not composed without parts", and spent considerable time expounding upon what is meant by such a statement. We then spent time testing to see if the doctrine could withstand contemporary objections which claim that such a doctrine makes it impossible to talk coherently or clearly about God. Then finally, we took the last few posts of the series to see how compatible the DDS was with the doctrine of the Trinity. 

For those readers interested in reviewing the full series on the doctrine of Divine simplicity, simply click on the links below:

The compatibility of the doctrine of Divine simplicity with the doctrine of the Trinity

As mentioned above, we introduced the doctrine of Divine simplicity as that teaching which asserts that God, by His very nature, is not composed of parts. Divine simplicity equates "what God is" in terms of His essence with "how God is" in terms of His existence. This means that, in God, there never was a time where He added any of His attributes. Biblical passages that affirm "God is" something (such as "God is light" 1 John 1:5; "God is love" 1 John 4:8; "God is holy" Isaiah 6:3) alert us to the truth of God's existence and essence being the same. 

God's Divine simplicity affirms that God has had all of His perfections from all eternity and thus is equal to all of His perfections. God's properties or qualities do not "compose" God like lego bricks would, say, a "lego man". All other created beings (humans, angels, universes, planets, animals) begin as potentially what they could be and grow to become, in actuality, what they're designed to be. 

God, is, in the words of the Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas, "pure actuality". When Aquinas describes God as "pure actuality", he means that all that God is has always existed in total perfection, from all eternity. Thus, we have in the doctrine of Divine simplicity a way to explain how God is one God. 

So then, in understanding "what God is", the doctrine of the Trinity aids us in answering the question: "who is God"?The doctrine of the Trinity, as we explored in the above mentioned series on Divine simplicity, affirms that the three Persons (or hypostases, subsistences) of the Trinity each bear this simple, undivided, eternal nature of deity. As one theologian as aptly expressed the doctrine of the Trinity: "God is 'One God' and 'Three Who's'". 

As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each bear the properties of Deity, they all three share and participate equally and eternally as the One God of revealed scripture (see Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Psalm 110:4; Proverbs 30:5; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14). Divine simplicity affirms no division nor "parts" composing the divine nature of God. 

When it comes to the Triune Persons, the DDS does not prohibit the distinct Persons of the Trinity from bearing the Divine nature as bearers of such Divine properties. With respect to the doctrine of Divine simplicity, it is the nature, not the Persons, which are its focus. So what's the practical take-away from these admittedly deep considerations? 

The doctrine of the Trinity, when conjoined with the doctrine of Divine simplicity, explains how such a Divine being can truly interact with our created world in history, answering prayers and revealing the books of the Bible. The broader discussion of the Trinity is connected to another, more particular conversation about the second Person of the Trinity - namely, the Son.

Defining Christology and Its Relevance to the discussion of Divine simplicity

The doctrine of the Trinity is the Biblical consequence of the New Testament authors' testimony about three truths about God: Biblical monotheism, Jesus Christ as "God in the flesh" and the Personality of the Holy Spirit. The second of these truths will occupy what follows in the remainder of this post. Anytime we study the Person, natures and work of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Old and New Testaments and expounded by the work of systematic theological reflection, we call such a study: "Christology". 

To expound somewhat more, Christology, as a major branch of Christian theology, concerns itself with the following:

1. Understanding how the second Person of the Trinity, the Son, became incarnated as Jesus of Nazareth.

2. The meaning(s) associated with Christ's atonement for sin.

3. The significance of Christ's resurrection.

4. Christ's ascension into heaven and His current functions as the exalted Prophet, Priest and King.

5. Explaining how and what Christ will do upon His return to bring this current age to a close to bring about the age to come. 

New Testament passages such as Philippians 2:5-11; 3:8-10; Hebrews 12:1-3 and 2 Peter 3:18 urge us to know Jesus and to think deeply on His Person, His two natures (truly Divine and truly human) and His work of salvation on our behalf. To say that Christology is important is a vast understatement.  

Thus, the one final test of whether or not the doctrine of Divine simplicity (DDS) is useful for communicating the Bible's revelation of God is the doctrine of Christ. If the DDS is in anyway compatible with the doctrine of the Trinity, then does it follow that such a doctrine can work within the framework of the Bible's revelation of Jesus Christ as One Person who is truly God and truly man? How well this question is answered will determine the Biblical usefulness and accuracy of the DDS explaining the Bible's portrayal of the Triune God and Christ in particular. 

More next time....

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