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.