Monthly Archives: September 2013

My Systematic Theology Books

Yesterday my family and I didn’t have time for after breakfast Bible reading. Thus instead of sharing from it with you, I’ll comment briefly on the systematic theology books that I have. I’d appreciate your advising me of other systematic theology books that you have and find useful.

Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Volumes 19-20 of Great Books of the Western World. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952. Aquinas (1224-74) was the greatest philosopher and theologian of the medieval church. He wrote The Summa Theologica in 1267-73. In 1879 Pope Leo XIII declared it official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill and translated and indexed by Ford Lewis Battles. Volumes 20-21 of The Library of Christian Classics. Philadelphia, Westminster, 1960. Calvin (1509-64) was the greatest theologian of the Reformation. He wrote the original version of Institutes of the Christian Religion in 1536 and revised it several times. The LCC version was translated from the 1559 version collated with earlier versions.

Strong, Augustus H. Systematic Theology. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907. Strong (1836-1921) was a president and professor of theology at Rochester Theological Seminary. Systematic Theology was first published in 1886 and revised and enlarged in 1906. It was widely used by Baptists until replaced by Millard Erickson’s Christian Theology (1983-85).

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology. Fourth edition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1939. Berkhof (1873-1957) was a president and teacher at Calvin Seminary. Systematic Theology was the favourite systematic theology book of Dr. Ratz, the dean of Eastern Pentecostal Bible College when I attended it. Grudem describes it as “the most useful one-volume systematic theology from any theological perspective,” but I think that Grudem’s own Systematic Theology is.

Thiessen, Henry Clarence. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Revised by Vernon D. Doerksen. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979. Thiessen (1883–1947) was a former chairman of the faculty at Wheaton College. The first edition of Lectures in Systematic Theology was published in 1949. It was the textbook for systematic theology at Eastern Pentecostal Bible College when I attended it. Grudem categorizes it as Dispensational.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. Grudem (1948- ) became Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in 2001 after teaching for twenty years at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. My family and I are currently reading Systematic Theology in our after breakfast reading time.

Horton, Stanley M. Editor. Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective. Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1994. Horton (1916- ) is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Bible and Theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective was written by twenty teachers of Bible and theology in the seminary and colleges of the Assemblies of God.

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The Attributes of God – Unity

Yesterday my family and I considered the unity of God in our after breakfast Bible reading time guided by Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994). One of my other systematic theologies, L. Berkhof’s Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1939) distinguishes between unitas singularitatis, God’s oneness and uniqueness, and unitas simplicitatis, God’s not been divided into parts. Grudem considers under the attributes of God just unitas simplicitatis, explaining that because it could be confusing to speak of two different kinds of unity in God he would consider unitas singularitatis in another place in his book. In our family reading we followed Grudem’s example, but here I’ll include a section on each of the two kinds of unity.

Unitas Singularitatis

Bible passages asserting God’s oneness include:
– “That all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– “Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
– “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Bible passages asserting God’s uniqueness include:
– “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
– “Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4).

Unitas Simplicitatis

The Bible assumes that each of God’s attributes is completely true of Him and true of all of His character. Thus John says “God is light” and later says “God is love” (1 John 1:5; 2:8). This means that we shouldn’t think that part of God is light and part of Him is love or that He is partly light and partly love. Nor should we think that He is more light than love or more love than light. Instead it is God Himself who is light and God Himself who is love.

This indicates that we shouldn’t think of God as a collection of attributes added together or of His attributes as something added to His character. Instead each attribute is just a way of describing an aspect of His being and character. He Himself is a unity, a completely unified being who is wholly perfect in each of the attributes. Grudem explains this with a series of diagrams, which I (and I hope my family) found helpful. For those with access to His book, they are found on pages 178 – 180.

Grudem claims that this means that we shouldn’t think of God as a God of justice in the Old Testament and as a God of love in the New Testament. Rather He is and always has been infinitely just and infinitely loving and everything that He did in the Old Testament and in the New Testament is completely consistent with each of those attributes. I must admit that I am one of those who have thought of God as a God of justice in the Old Testament and a God of love in the New Testament. Thus if Grudem is correct, I need to start reading the Bible with a different pair of glasses on.

Grudem concedes that some actions of God show some of His attributes more than other actions do. He illustrates by observing that creation showed His power and wisdom, the atonement shows His justice and love, and Heaven will show His glory and beauty. However he goes on to note that each of those actions also shows His other attributes in one way or another because God is a unity and everything that He does is an act of His whole being.

Grudem closes His consideration of the unity of God by warning against trying to single out any one attribute of God as more important than the others. As I mentioned to my family, I’ve seen this done in Facebook discussions that I’ve participated in or at least observed. Grudem says that such attempts seem to view God as a combination of parts with certain parts being larger or more influential than others. Instead all of the attributes are just aspects of God’s total character. It is He Himself in His whole being, not any one of His attributes, that is important.

The Attributes of God – Omnipresence

Yesterday my family and I considered the omnipresence of God, His being present everywhere, in our after breakfast Bible reading time, guided by Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994).

Because God is omnipresent, there is nowhere where one can escape from Him, as David eloquently observes:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol [the abode of the dead], you are there!
If take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.”
(Psalm 139:7-10, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV)

Also because God is omnipresent, there is no place that can hold Him, as Solomon observes in his prayer of dedication of the Temple: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot hold you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)

Although God is everywhere at the same time, He may act differently in different places. He may be present to punish, to bless, or merely to sustain. Bible passages that show this are:
– (to punish)
“Not one of them [the sinful Israelites] shall flee away,
Not one of them shall escape.
If they dig into Sheol,
from there my hand shall take them;
if they climb up to heaven,
from there I will bring them down….
And I will fix my eyes upon them
for evil and not for good.”
(Amos 9:1b-2, 4b)
– (to bless) “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).
– (to sustain) “And he [the Son of God] is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

However, when the Bible says that God is present, it usually means that He is present to bless. Thus when we pray for God’s presence, what we’re asking for is for Him to be present to bless.

The Attributes of God – Eternity

Yesterday my family and I considered the eternity of God in our after breakfast Bible reading time. I understand God’s eternity as His being everlasting or without beginning and end. However the book that my family and I are using in our family reading, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), understands its to include His being timeless or without succession of time as well as His being everlasting. Here I’ll share why Grudem views God as being timeless and then explain why I disagree with that view.

That God is everlasting or without beginning or end is affirmed or suggested in the Bible by such passages as:
– “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are good” (Psalm 90:2, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8; Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet).

Grudem claims that according to physics matter, time, and space must all occur together and thus that time didn’t begin until God created the universe. He goes on to assert that God’s being everlasting and time’s not beginning until God created the universe means that God has no succession of time. Thus God stands above time and is able to see past, present, and future simultaneously. In other words, God is timeless.

However the Bible shows God’s acting within time and acting differently at different points in time in such passages as these:
– “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
– “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5).

Thus the Bible pictures God as being everlasting and acting within time rather than as being everlasting and timeless. For a fuller explanation of how God is eternal, see my February 23 post, “From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou Art God.”

The Attributes of God – Immutability

Yesterday my family and I considered the immutability of God, His not changing, in our after breakfast Bible reading time. Because the book that we’re using in our family reading, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), calls it “unchangeableness” instead of “immutability,” we used that name for it in our consideration of it. However here I’ll use its traditional name.

Grudem specifies four ways in which God doesn’t change–His being, His character, His purposes, and His promises. Bible verses affirming that He doesn’t change in these ways are:
– (His being) “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:25-27, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– (His character) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
– (His purposes) “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Psalm 33:11).
– (His promises) “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19).

“God is not…a son of man, that he should change his mind” seems to be contradicted by God’s not bringing threatened punishment, such as judgment on Nineveh (Jonah 3:4, 10), and His expressing sorrow over a previous action of His, such as making Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11). (See my March 2 post, “Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future,” for more examples.) However in each case the change in God’s action or attitude came in response to a changed situation, the people of Nineveh’s having repented and Saul’s having disobeyed God. Thus none of the changes represents a change in God’s being, character, purposes, or promises.

God’s not changing in any of those ways means that we can put our trust in Him, knowing that He will remain wholly good and that He will fulfill the purposes and promises that He has revealed to us in the Bible.

Because of the length of the section in “Systematic Theology” on God’s immutability, we read only three of its six parts in our family reading and I’ve shared on just those three parts here. The parts that we didn’t read are called: The Question of God’s Impassibility, The Challenge From Process Theology, and God Is Both Infinite and Personal. If any of you wants me to share on any of those topics, please let me know in a comment to this post or by e-mail.

The Attributes of God – Self-existence

Yesterday my family and I considered the self-existence of God, His not needing anything outside of Himself, in our after breakfast Bible reading time. Because the book that we’re using in our family reading, Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994), calls it “independence” instead of “self-existence,” we used that name for it in our consideration of it. However here I’ll use its traditional name.

Some passages asserting that God doesn’t need anything from mankind or the rest of his creation include:
– “Who has first given to me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heaven is mine” (Job 41:11, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:9-10).
– “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anthing, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25).

The God’s self-existence reminds us that He wasn’t created but always was. Some Bible passages indicating this are:
– “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
– “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Psalm 90:2).
– “You created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

It has been suggested that God made angels and humans because He was lonely and needed fellowship with other beings. If this were true, it would mean that He needed them. However the doctrine of the Trinity implies that there has been fellowahip among the persons of the Trinity throughout eternity. Jesus indicates this in His prayer to the Father after the Lord’s Supper when he refers to “my glory that you have given to me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

However, as Grudem points out, God’s self-existence doesn’t make our existence meaningless. We (and the rest of creation) can glorify God and bring Him joy. In Isaiah He describes His people as those “whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (43:2) and says that “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (62:5). He doesn’t need anything from us, but He delights in us.

The Attributes of God – Introduction

Yesterday my family and I began reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time the first of three chapters in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) on the attributes of God, Chapter 11, “The Character of God: ‘Incommunicable’ Attributes.” We read the part of the section introducing the attributes of God in which Grudem explains the method that he uses for classifying God’s attributes. We won’t be reading the other main part of the section, in which Grudem considers the names of God in the Bible; at the end of this post I’ll explain why we won’t be reading it.

Several methods have been used for classifying the attributes of God. One of my systematic theology books describes these methods: natural (or non-moral) and moral attributes, absolute and relative attributes, immanent or intransitive and emanent or intransitive attributes, and incommunicable and communicable attributes (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1939, pages 55-56). Since Grudem uses the last of those classifications, incommunicable and communicable attributes, it’s the only one that we considered in our family Bible reading and it’s the one that I’ll use here.

The incommunicable attributes of God are those attributes that He does not share or communicate with others. Examples are His unchangeableness, His eternity, and His omnipresence, each of which is an attribute of Him but not of us.

The communicable attributes of God are those attributes that He shares or communicates with others. Examples are His knowledge, His wisdom, His love, His mercy, and His justice, each of which not only is an attribute of Him but also can be shown by us.

However, as Grudem explains, there is no attribute of God that is completely incommunicable or communicable. For example, although unlike God we aren’t unchangeable, some aspects of our character remain largely unchanged (and will be even more so when go to be with Him). And, although we can share some of God’s knowledge, we can never share all of it. Nevertheless distinguishing between God’s attributes as incommunicable and communicable is a useful way of classifying them.

Above I said that I’d explain why my family won’t be reading Grudem’s consideration of the names of God. What he considers are descriptions of God taken from creation (such as comparing Him to a lion in Isaiah 31:4) and from human experience (such as comparing Him to a husband in Isaiah 54:5) rather than the names by which God is referred to or addressed in the Bible (such as Elohim and Yahweh). Since none of my other systematic theology books contains such material, I felt that we could safely omit it.

Although Grudem’s explanations of the attributes range from about half a page to almost six pages, my family and I are currently planning to spend one day for each, which means that I’ll be devoting one post to each. This means that for some of them we’ll be reading only part of what he says and I’ll be sharing here only part of what he says. If any of you has “Systematic Theology” and think that what I share from it on any of the attributes omits important material, please let me know in a comment to the post or by e-mail.