Monthly Archives: December 2012

Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?

This is the second in a series of posts on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site. The first post in the series focused on this statement in the first point of “summary of openness theology”: “We believe love is the primary characteristic of God.” In the post’s concluding paragraph I noted that some open theists even consider love to be the foundation of God’s other attributes rather than just the most important of His attributes and promised to consider that claim in my next regular post.

This is that post. In it I’m going to consider the claim by summarizing the chapter “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” in John M. Frame’s No Other God (pages 49-56) and by presenting my view as to what is the most important attribute of God and whether it is the foundation of God’s other attributes.

Summary of Frame’s “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?”

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Frame opens the chapter by defining “attributes,” listing some of God’s attributes given in traditional theologies, and identifying some attempts by theologians to show that one attribute of God is fundamental to the others.

Frame devotes the bulk of the chapter to considering the open theistic view that love is God’s fundamental attribute, making each of these the topic of one or more paragraphs:
– noting the attractiveness of the view but questioning whether “God is love” describes anything more fundamental in God than descriptions of other attributes of God
– demonstrating the importance of one of those descriptions, the title “Lord,” in considering God’s nature but showing that it isn’t more central than some other attributes of God (implying that neither is love)
– observing that classical theology doesn’t make any of God’s attributes central but teaches that all are ways of describing Him and essential to His being
– explaining his own view that each of the essential attributes of God is “perspectival,” describing everything that God is from a certain perspective, and able to be taken as central
– arguing that to show the primacy of love as an attribute of God, it is necessary to show not only that it is perpectivally central but also to show that it is more important to the biblical revelation than the other attributes of God
– claiming that although open theists have presented Biblical evidence for the importance of God’s love, they haven’t shown that it is more important than GOd’s other attributes
– presenting Biblical evidence for the importance of God’s lordship and claiming that it includes God’s love and all of His other attributes as well
– concluding that while God’s love is very important in Scripture, open theists need to look at Him from many perspectives to do justice to what the Bible says about Him

Frame closes the chapter with a discussion of “Love, Sensitivity, Responsiveness, and Vulnerability” in which he argues that God’s love is a sovereign love rather than the vulnerable love that open theism proposes it is.

My View of God’s Most Important Attribute

Although previously accepting without question the teaching of classical theology that none of God’s attributes is central but all are ways of describing Him and essential to His being, I was attracted by the teaching by modern open theists that love is the most important attribute of God. However because some aspects of the world don’t seem consistent with a God of love, I wasn’t persuaded by the teaching of at least some of them that love is the foundation of God’s other attributes rather than just the most important of His attributes. Moreover I was affected by Frame’s claim that although open theists had shown the importance of love as an attribute of God they hadn’t compared it with His other attributes and showed that it was more important than them.

Similarly I was impressed by Frame’s demonstration of the importance of lordship as an attribute of God. However I wasn’t any more persuaded by his claim that it includes all of God’s other attributes than by the claim by some open theists that love includes all of His other attributes. Moreover I noticed that he didn’t do for lordship what he criticised open theists for not doing for love, compare it with God’s other attributes and show that that it is more important than they are, and so I couldn’t even accept lordship as the most important of God’s attributes.

Does this mean that I’ve reverted to the teaching of classical theology that none of God’s attributes is central but all are ways of describing him and essential to His being? Not exactly. I was also impressed by A. H. Strong’s argument in his Systematic Theology on behalf of holiness as the fundamental attribute in God. And reminded of what I’d often heard, that God’s holiness required Him to punish sin and His love motivated Him to take the punishment upon Himself, I concluded that holiness and love are jointly the most important of God’s attributes, or at least of His moral attributes. However, being neither a Bible scholar nor a theologian, I haven’t tried to compare God’s holiness and love with His other attributes and so won’t claim that they are the foundation of God’s other attributes.

In my next post I’ll continue this series of articles on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site by considering the second point in that summary.

Indifference or Worship?

This special post is adapted from an article that I wrote for the Christmas 1993 <The Hunter Family Holiday Newsletter>.

As I was reading and meditating upon the Christmas story in anticipation of writing this Christmas message, I was struck by the different responses of the various characters involved in the Christmas story. Here I’ll share a few observations regarding the reactions of some of those characters or groups of characters–the innkeeper, the shepherds and those to whom they told their story including Mary, and the Magi.

Dansk: Giovanni della Robbia, Jesu fødsel, La ...

Dansk: Giovanni della Robbia, Jesu fødsel, La Verna Italiano: Giovanni della Robbia, La Navitá di Gesu, La Verna (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:4-7, ESV)

No room in the inn for the Christ child! How could this be? Obviously other guests had got there first and filled the inn up, so that when Joseph and Mary came it was crowded and they couldn’t get in. However surely if the innkeeper had recognized the importance of the baby who was to be born to Mary, he would have rearranged his guests so that she could come in. Thus a secondary reason for there being no room in the inn for the Christ child is that the innkeeper didn’t recognize his importance. Similarly our lives can be so occupied with other things that we have no room in them for Christ and don’t even recognize his importance when he comes to us.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:15-20, ESV)

In these verses, Luke records the reactions of the shepherds to the angelic announcement of the birth of the Christ child, of those to whom the shepherds told their story, and of Mary. The shepherds’ terror at the appearance of the angel turned to joy when they heard the angel’s message, that the long-awaited Messiah or Christ had been born. They hurried to see the baby, after which they told others what they had heard about him and returned glorifying and praising God. Their reaction should be a model for the Christian as well as for the non-Christian. In his commentary on the Gospels, John Calvin asks, “If they [the shepherds] valued Christ’s nativity so highly, that they should rise from that stable and manger to the heights of heaven, should not the death and resurrection of Christ work more powerfully among us, to lift us to God?”

Those to whom the shepherds told what they had heard about the baby were amazed but, unlike the shepherds, don’t seem to have acted on what they were told. Matthew Henry comments, “They wondered, but never enquired any further about the Saviour, their duty to him, or advantages by him, but let the thing drop as a nine days’ wonder. O the amazing stupidity of the men of that generation!” And of people of all generations who are told of Jesus but don’t seek him.

Mary’s reaction–treasuring all these things and pondering over them–is, in contrast to the spreading of the news by the shepherds and to the amazement expressed by those who heard the news, something which kept to herself. In his notes Albert Barnes described Mary’s reaction as that of a mother: “A mother forgets none of those things which occur respecting her children. Everything they do or suffer–everything that is said of them–is treasured up in her mind; and often, often she thinks about those things, and anxiously seeks what they may indicate respecting the future character and welfare of her child.” It is part of the picture Scripture presents of the believing woman (see, for example, Luke 1:45 and Acts 1:14) and thus should encourage all Christians to meditate upon the works of God.

And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:11, ESV)

“The great fact must be noted that the magi fell down and worshipped this child, born in this little village and not in Jerusalem; living in a house and in surroundings of the poorest kind; lying in the arms of a mother who was ranked among the lowliest of the land,” asserts R. C. H. Lenski in his commentary. He continues, “From the capital and King Herod they had come to this poor house. They treat it as the grandest of palaces and this little child as the most glorious king. How could they do this? Their hearts must have beheld what their eyes did not see.” (R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1943, page 70. Reproduced by permission of Augsburg Fortress.) What an example for us!

Just as the various characters involved in the first Christmas story reacted differently when they were told of or met the Christ child, so do people of today react in different ways when they encounter Jesus Christ. Their reactions may range from indifference as was shown by the innkeeper (or even by hostility as was demonstrated by King Herod when he was told of the newborn king, Matthew 2:16) to the worshipping of him as was done by the Magi. How will you respond to him this Christmas as we once again celebrate his entering our world so that we may have a share in his world?

In my next post I’ll return to the series of articles that I began last week on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site by considering the chapter “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” in John M. Frame’s <No Other God>.

The Love of God

Originally this was going to be the first in a series of posts expanding on the outline of the distinctive theology of open theism that I gave in “Introduction to Open Theism,” an outline based on John Sanders’ “summary of openness theology” at Open Theism Information Site. However Dr. Sanders has kindly given me permission to quote from “summary of openness theology” itself, and so in this post I’ll be commenting on the first point in his “summary of openness theology”:

According to openness theology, the triune God of love has, in almighty power, created all that is and is sovereign over all. In freedom God decided to create beings capable of experiencing his love. In creating us the divine intention was that we would come to experience the triune love and respond to it with love of our own and freely come to collaborate with God towards the achievement of his goals. We believe love is the primary characteristic of God because the triune Godhead has eternally loved even prior to any creation. Divine holiness and justice are aspects of the divine love towards creatures, expressions of God’s loving concern for us. Love takes many forms–it can even be experienced as wrath when the lover sees the beloved destroying herself and others.

Sanders opens his consideration of love as an attribute of God in The God Who Risks (pages 175-181) by observing that Western theology emphasizes instead such abstract and impersonal attributes as omnipotence and omniscience. A glance at my systematic theology books confirmed his observation. However I think that most ordinary Christians when asked what God’s most important attribute is would unhesitantly reply, “Love.” Why the difference? Sanders suggests that it’s because theologians tend to think of God as an absolute being rather than as rather than as the personal being that ordinary Christians think of Him as being. Openness theologians seek to correct this situation, as evidenced by the quotation from “summary of openness theology” given above.

A Bible verse that supports Saunders’ claim in the quotation that God’s primary characteristic is love is 1 John 4:8, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (ESV. Biblical quotations in the rest of this post are also from the ESV.) In the Greek original the word for “love” in this verse is agape, a word which scholars say points to a quality in the one loving rather than to qualities in the one or thing loved which make him/her or it attractive to the one loving him/her or it. This suggests that when the Bible refers to the love of God it has in mind an innate quality of God rather than just His feeling the kind of affection that we feel for a family member or a member of the opposite sex.

"ὁ θεòς ἀγάπη ἐστίν" ó theòs agape e...

“ὁ θεòς ἀγάπη ἐστίν” ó theòs agape estín (Greek; trans. “God is love”) on a stele in Mount Nebo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few other passages that highlight God’s love are:

“It is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharoah king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:8).

“I have loved you [Israel] with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3).

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, one of the first Bible verses memorized by me and countless others).

“God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The passages that I’ve quoted above are among those that Richard Rice refers to in considering God’s love in his contribution to Clark Pinnock et al’s The Openness of God (pages 18-22).

By “the triune God has eternally loved” I understand Sanders to be referring to the eternal love of the members of the Trinity for one another, a love which he describes in his consideration of love as an attribute of God in The God Who Risks as “the agape love of one another: an unselfish, nonmanipulative love.” In the same place he observes that because of the Trinity’s experiencing and manifesting this kind of love, God didn’t need to create in order to love [and to be loved]. However in loving freedom He decided to create beings with whom to share this agape love.

“Divine holiness and justice are aspects of the divine love towards creatures” suggests that Sanders considers love to be the foundation of all of God’s attributes rather than just His primary characteristic. Rice actually makes that claim. I’ll discuss it in my next regular post in which I’ll consider chapter 4–“Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?”–of John M. Frame’s No Other God.

As I’ve already observed, in my next regular post I’m going to consider the chapter “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?” in John M. Frame’s <No Other God>. That will be two weeks from now as I’ll be posting a Christmas message next weekend.

Passages Supporting God’s Foreordaining Everything

This is the last of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “An Introduction to Open Theism.” In it I expand on this statement:

Other passages indicating that God knows the future are . . . those supporting the Calvinist view that God preordains all that is going to come to pass, such as Lamentations 3:37-38 and Romans 11:33-36.

John M. Frame’s No Other God contains an excellent chapter presenting Biblical evidence for the Calvinist view, “Is God’s Will the Ultimate Explanation of Everything?” I’m going to look at the four passages in it that Frame claims explicitly teach that God foreordains everything–Lamentations 3:37-38, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:11, and Romans 11:33-36. He considers them on pages 84-87.

Lamentations 3:37-38

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (ESV. Biblical quotations in the rest of this post are also from the ESV.)

Read by itself, the passage seems to say that nobody can make anything good or bad happen unless God has commanded that it happen. However John Sanders observes that the verses immediately before the passage assert that the bad that has come upon Israel was a consequence of sin as had been forecast in Deuteronomy 28-30 and concludes that the passage just asserts that a specific historical calamity, not all calamity, was brought about by God (The God Who Risks, pages 83-84). Bruce A. Ware concedes that the passage refers to a specific historical situation but argues that the truth asserted transcends the situation (God’s Lesser Glory, page 205).

Romans 8:28

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Although the passage just seems to say that whatever happens to God’s people He will bring good out of it, Frame interprets it as teaching that everything that happens is a part of God’s plan to bless His people.

Ephesians 1:11

“In him we have obtained an inheritance [OR we were chosen], having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”

Although the passage just seems to recapitulate the teaching of the preceding verses, which tell of God’s having chosen and predestined us and describe the blessings that we consequently have in Christ, Frame argues that in repetitively saying “the purpose of him who works all things” Paul is saying that our salvation is part of God’s overall control of the world.

Romans 11:33-36

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how unscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” In Romans 9-11 Paul sets forth the mystery of how the Jews’ rejection of the gospel opened the door for the Gentiles to be saved but that in the future God would save “all Israel” (11:26). He concludes with this doxology of praise to God. Frame claims that the “all things” in the final verse includes events, such as God’s judgment of the Jews and His blessing of the Gentiles, as well as material things.

Next weekend I’ll begin a series of posts expanding on the outline of the distinctive theology of open theism that I gave in “An Introduction to Open Theism.”

Biblical Passages Containing Prophecies Later Fulfilled

This is the third of four posts expanding on what I said about traditional theism in “An Introduction to Open Theism.” In it I expand on this statement:

Other passages indicating that God knows the future are those containing prophecies later fulfilled.

Prophecies about Cyrus and Josiah

In my last post, I referred to one such prophecy, God’s naming Cyrus as the one through whom He would later restore Jerusalem. The prediction is made in Isaiah 44:28 and its fulfillment is described in Ezra 1. A similar naming and fulfilling is described in 1 Kings 13:1-3 and 2 Kings 23:15-17:

“And behold, a man of God came out of Judah by the word of the LORD to Bethel. Jeroboam [the king of Israel] was standing by the altar to make offerings. And the man cried against the altar by the word of the LORD and said, ‘O altar, altar, thus says the LORD: <Behold a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name, and he shall sacrifice on you the priests of the high places [unauthorized altars] who make offerings on you, and human bones shall be burned on you.>’ And he gave a sign the same day, saying, ‘This is the sign that the Lord has spoken: <Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are on it shall be poured out.>'”

“Moreover, the altar at Bethel, the high place erected by Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, that altar with the high place he [Josiah, the king of Judah, 300 years later] pulled down and burned, reducing it to dust. He also burned the Asherah [images of the Canaanite goddess, Asherah]. And as Josiah turned, he saw the tombs and burned them on the altar and defiled it, according to the word of the Lord that the man of God proclaimed, who had predicted these things. Then he said, ‘What is that monument that I see?’ And the men of the city told him, ‘It is the tomb of the man of God who came from Judah and predicted these things that you have done against the altar at Bethel.'” (ESV. Biblical quotations in the rest of this post are also from the ESV.)

God’s bringing this about involved using the apparently freewill choices of Josiah and others, providing support for the view of traditional theism that God foresees the whole future, not just what He intends to do.

More Examples of Prophecies That Were Later Fuflilled

“Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and they will come out with great possessions. . . . And they shall come back here.'” (Genesis 15:11-15) Thus long before they occurred God told Abraham of the future captivity of the Israelites in Egypt and of their deliverance from there and return to Canaan.

“Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].” (Isaiah 7:14) Matthew 1:22-23 observes that the birth of Jesus fulfilled this prophecy made centuries earlier through Isaiah to Ahaz, the king of Judah. The Old Testament contains many such prophecies that were fulfilled by Jesus.

“Jesus said, ‘I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.'” (Luke 22:34) Each of the four Gospels contains this prediction made by Jesus to Peter while they were in the upper room before going to Gethsemane and records the fulfilment of the prediction when they were at the high priest’s house after Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane.

Traditional theists generalize from such examples that God knows the whole future beforehand. However open theists argue that although such examples may show that God is sovereign and can predetermine and thus foreknow whatever He wants to, they don’t justify the conclusion that He knows the whole future beforehand.

In my next post I’ll consider some Biblical passages supporting the Calvinist view that God foreordains all that is going to come to pass.