New Resource Page: On The Doctrine Of God

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.

Here is a resource page that seeks to orient the reader to the basic contours of the biblical, ecumenical, and Reformed doctrine of God.

Resources

Thanks to Bob McDowell for his editorial help.

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for these resources. Very nice. From the titles, I can’t tell if there is a resource that addresses the question regarding God’s appearing to be an ego-maniac insofar as he demands worship from his subjects. Can you assist me with this?

    • Bruce,

      This is a question that comes up in apologetics. I don’t remember addressing it specifically. FWIW, my reply:

      Any supreme being, who is worth his salt, would demand absolute fealty. The objection rests on a false assumption, that God is merely a bigger version of us. It’s true that it is a mania for any creature to demand worship from any other creature. We belong to the same order of being, the same genus. God does not. He simply is. He belongs to a class of one, sui generis such that some theologians (e.g., Aquinas) have discussed whether he may be said to belong to a class at all. The question assumes the Modern prejudice against all absolute authority and assumes, arrogantly, that humanity is the measure of all things. It assumes that there could be no entity intrinsically worthy of worship. It assumes the absoluteness of the secular and denies the existence of the utterly holy but the God who demands worship deserves it and will get it, one way or another (“every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord;” Phil 2:10), as the who says, “I AM” (Ex 3:14), who is utterly other than us in his being, in his moral purity, and in his justice.

      To such a person I would say that Jesus of Nazareth, accredited by all rational people as, at least, a just and true teacher was not the least offended by God’s demand for utter loyalty and worship. Why should any of us be offended?

  2. I thought so. This was a fleshed-out version of my own answer. (I could have appended “asking for a friend” at the end of my question). Do you know of any place where this issue is treated at length? Thanks, again.

    • I think it has been but I don’t know any place off hand. I would look for apologetics texts of various kinds. I really don’t recall CVT addressing this though he might have done. This seems like the sort of thing R. C. Sproul might have addressed or perhaps Ravi Zacharias or someone like that.

  3. Dear Scott,
    What a timely post. This has been on my heart more and more, especially during this season. Your posts encourage me, by reminding me that it is not wrong to be seeking to be a church that is “always reforming.”

    Thank you,
    Ginger

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