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.

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2 thoughts on “Is Love God’s Most Important Attribute?

  1. Bob Hunter Post author

    Actually each of the writers referred drew his conclusion on the basis of how the Bible pictures God. However, as you suggested, how the writers interpreted the Bible passages was likely coloured by their personal experiences of the Almighty. I fully agree with you that we cannot really explain God with our finite minds.

    Reply

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