Those nineteenth-century Germans thought that the Reformed had deduced their whole theology, piety, and practice from their doctrine of predestination were wrong but the doctrine of God is at the headwaters of the Christian religion. Everything we say about everything else, method, scripture, humanity, Christ, salvation, church, sacraments, and last things depends to some degree or other upon the doctrine of God. The first thing that a Christian confesses is, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” Christian theology is Trinitarian. Our piety is Trinitarian. Yet, this is a topic in theology that Christians seem likely to overlook. When evangelicals begin to discover aspects of Reformed theology, it is not typically our robust Trinitarianism that excites them. Indeed, there seem to be not a few evangelicals and at least a few ostensibly Reformed folk who seem to think that the biblical, ecumenical, and Reformed doctrine of God is plastic and malleable. So, there have been some very unhappy experiments in recent decades in the doctrine of God, whether it was “Process Theology,” which became fashionable among mainline (liberal) theologians after World War II or its nephew, Open Theism, which several leading evangelicals took up in the 1980s and 90s, or Social Trinitarianism, which has been advocated by evangelical and nominally Reformed theologians (and philosophers) over the last 25 years. Now, of course, we are witnessing experiments among evangelicals who are denying the eternal generation of the Son (never mind that we confess it in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (AD 325, 381), and experiments with the so-called “covenantal mutability” of God. The need to recover the biblical, ecumenical, and historic Reformed doctrine of God is great.
Our piety is intimately related to the doctrine of God. This was impressed upon me by the classical Reformed writers who routinely moved from discussing the doctrine of God to discussing our worship and the rule of worship. The medievals had a maxim for this: the law of praying is the law of teaching. What we do in worship necessarily affects our doctrine of God. What doctrine of God are teaching our congregations by what we sing and say in worship or by how we sing and say it? Do we really agree with the pastor to the Hebrews when he wrote, “for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29; ESV)? Does our piety (our prayer life, our worship, our approach to God) reflect that conviction? How would it affect us if we lost the doctrines of divine simplicity, immutability, or impassibility? To lose them any one of them would be the end of Christian theism but one fears that our piety has become so therapeutic, so moralistic, and so self-absorbed that many Christians, perhaps many pastors might not even miss these essential Christian doctrines. If these terms, “divine simplicity,” or “divine immutability” are strange to you and you have been in church for more than a decade then your experience is evidence of the sort of neglect about which I am concerned.
Thanks to Bob McDowell for his editorial help.