In today's post, I begin a series of posts that will explore the doctrine of God, sometimes referred to as "Theology Proper". I'll admit that the prospect of studying the doctrine of God can be challenging, mind-expanding, and ultimately worshipful. The nineteenth century Baptist preacher C.H. Spurgeon began with these comments in a sermon he preaching on the doctrine of God in January of 1855,
1. God's nature. Some begin with the nature of God. The doctrine of God covers the being (nature) of God, His attributes, and His acts in creation, providence, and redemption. Some theologians have begun with God's nature. This starting point helps us to see what makes God different from everything else, and why He is worthy of our worship. Examples of theologians of the past who do this approach include Thomas Acquinas in His classic work "Summa Theologica".
2. Comparing human nature. Others will draw analogies from human nature or how human beings have a built-in awareness of God. Theologians such as Wayne Grudem in his "Systematic Theology" tend to begin with this approach.
3. Names of God. Still others will use the names of God as an entry point to studying the doctrine of God. One will notice how often God made known a name about Himself when making Himself known to His people throughout the Bible.
4. God's attributes. A fourth method or starting point for studying the doctrine of God is to begin with the attributes or perfections of God, and then work toward grasping the nature of God to which the perfections point. In Dr. Barrett's book "None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God", we find Him working through such attributes as God's self-sufficiency (a.k.a "Divine Aseity"), omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and other perfections. One thing we remind ourselves of is to note that though we can truly know God, we can never fully comprehend God (an attribute known as God's "incomprehensibility").
5. The Trinity. A fifth starting point, which the ancient church fathers commonly did, was to begin with the Trinity. Take for example the great creeds of the Christian church, such as the Apostle's Creed. It begins "I believe in God, the Father, Maker of Heaven and Earth". This opening line assumes a particular understanding of "God" in regards to His nature as the One truly and living God. What follows in the Creed are twelve points or truths that flow from the doctrine of the Trinity. In later creeds (such as the Nicene Creed) we see this pattern of beginning with the Trinity more unfolded.
6. Arguments for God's existence. One final starting point we can mention is what is more common among those thinkers who engage in Christian apologetics or "defense of the faith". Typically, one will notice how they labor to show what "God is not" by contrasting the Biblical doctrine of God with other worldviews and then supporting the Christian revelation of God through what are called arguments for God's existence.
For our study over the course of these next several posts, I'll mainly use the outline of the Doctrine of God spelled out in Wayne Grudem's 2nd edition of his "Systematic Theology". I'll likely start by first noting the key names of God that point us to God's nature, attributes, and Triune identity. Grudem's outline serves as an example of what I call a "map" for exploring the doctrine of God. Any major systematic theology written over the centuries will arrange the study of the doctrine of God in its own distinct way. Grudem's outline represents a general order and method that has been followed by other writers throughout the history of the church. I'll comment briefly under each of the headings so as to help clarify the order of the "map" for exploring the doctrine of God.
I. The Existence of God.
When we speak of God's existence, we are concerned with understanding how we know He exists by our inner awareness, as well as showing He exists through various arguments or "proofs". The 11th century theologian Anselm of Canterbury developed the followingway of expressing how God exists, "God is the greatest conceivable being, of which non-greater can be conceived". Scripturally, Hebrews 11:6 gives us this important principle that relates God's existence to Biblical faith "And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him."
III. P1 The Character of God: Incommunicable Attributes.
IV. P2 The Character of God: Incommunicable attributes.
V. The Character of God: Communicable Being Attributes
What I noted in "point III" about communicable attributes is applicable here. Certain attributes of God, such as "love", "mercy", "goodness", are shared by God with us. We, in our creaturely way, being made in His image, have something in common with God. We could say that God's incommunicable attributes prompt worship of Him, whereas His communicable attributes make possible fellowship with Him - especially by His people who know Him by faith. These comments cover the points below (points "VI" through "IX").
VI. P1 The Character of God: Communicable Moral Attributes
VII. P2 The Character of God: Communicable Moral Attributes
VIII. The Character of God: Communicable Attributes of Purpose & Intellect
IX. The Character of God: Summary Attributes.
X. Introducing the Doctrine of the Trinity
In the first nine points of our "map", we have noted the being and attributes of God. I sometimes summarize God's being as considering "what kind of God God is" and His attributes as concerning "how God is the kind of God He is". In this next major portion of the map of the doctrine of God, we go from consideration of God's being and attributes to that of His identity as the Trinity. I sometimes refer to this as "who God is".
XI. Three statements that summarize the Biblical teaching of the Trinity.
A. God is Three Persons.
B. Each Person is fully God.
C. There is One God.
XII. Errors that have come in denial of the Trinity.
XIII. What are the distinctions between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
XIV. The different functions (or roles) of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are appropriate to their distinct identities.
XV. The Person of the Holy Spirit.
XVI. Understanding and Applying the Doctrine of the Trinity.
In our next post we will begin our approach to this study by considering God's power and nature by way of the key names used for Him in the Bible.