Xenos Christian Fellowship
Christian Principles Unit 1

Theology Proper

 


Instructors

Overview


Introduction

While "theology" refers to the more general study of the biblical worldview, "theology proper" refers to the specific study of God's person and character.

The Practical Importance of Theology Proper

(Ex. 33:18)  Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"

(Ex. 34:6-8**) Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; (7) who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." (8) And Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.

This passage is in response to Moses' request ( Then Moses said, "I pray Thee, show me Thy glory!"). Note that God's glory is revealed not primarily in experiencing his power, but by understanding his character revealed by his word. This is an important realization today when people seek a subjective experience of God's power more than an understanding of his character as revealed through scripture.

e.g. In Rudolf Otto's influential book, The Idea of the Holy, he argues that there is an experience of the numinous (the sense of the other) that is the core of all religions. But this is too vague. Our sense of awe is grounded in content that God has revealed about himself.

God's self-distillation of his Person (in response to Moses' request in Ex. 33:18) is that he is both righteous and gracious, both just and merciful. These are the essence of who God is and both are good (33:19). Note Moses' response . . .

Note: God's justice defines the dilemma between humans and God, and his mercy is the way he resolves this dilemma >> NEXT 2 WEEKS In the cross God has found a way to be both just and the justifier for mankind.

Note: "Visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children…" see Ezekiel 18:14-20 (especially vs 20) and Exodus 20:4-6. The point is, sin can effect one's descendants, but each person is responsible for their own sin. God will hold people accountable for their sin in whatever generation they turn away from Him.

Contrasting Views of God

Before we study the God of the Bible in more detail, we will briefly examine contrasting views of God or ultimate reality. Most people's view of ultimate reality is an amalgam of many of these views. What follows is a brief overview of several views of God:

There is one infinite-personal-righteous God. This view of God is found only among religions which are based on the Bible. Judaism and Islam are both monotheistic, but differ from Christianity in many important areas. In this system, man's dilemma is true moral guilt before a righteous God. Our guilt requires cleansing or forgiveness.

Deists recognize that a Supreme Being exists who created the universe, but view him as uninvolved with human affairs. Deism was an 18th century way-station between theism and atheism. Many Americans are still practical deists.

No God exists. Reality is confined to that which can be empirically verified. This view is also called "naturalism," emphasizing its denial of the supernatural. This is a very recent worldview and it undergirds much western scientism.

Spirits inhabit animate and inanimate matter. They are the cause of most good and ill fortune, and humans must placate them or control them to succeed in life. Most tribal religions (including Native American spirituality) are animistic. Most animism is occultic in the sense that humans can control the spirit world through attaining certain knowledge, sympathetic ritual, etc. Man's problem: placating and controlling the spirits. Solution: ritual sacrifice, occultism, sympathetic magic, etc.
Note: Some anthropologists believe that human religions "devolved" from belief in a single creator God to animism (see Eternity in Their Hearts, by Richardson).

There are many personal (but not infinite) gods. The Greek and Roman pantheons are well-known examples of polytheism. This belief appears to be a projection of human characteristics (including limitations and character flaws). The gods are personal yet finite anthropomorphic projections of fallen humanity.

God is the impersonal life-force that permeates the world. God is infinite, yet impersonal. Ultimate reality is oneness; all distinctions (including persons) are illusory. Classical Hinduism and Buddhism are well-known examples of pantheism. Western notions of the ultimate state in pantheistic religions is often mistaken. Nirvana (Buddhist) and Moksha (Hindu) are not personal, conscious states of bliss but a loss of individual personality when we are merged with the all.

Ultimate reality is equal opposing forces or persons. Dualism recognizes the moral and personal distinctions that pantheism denies, but elevates them to ultimate reality. For example, Zoroastrianism (Ahriman and Ohrmazd were opposing persons). Some people think of Christianity this way with Satan and Jesus as the equal and opposing persons. Taoism's yin and yang, and Star Wars' "The Force" are examples of theological dualism. The problem in Dualism is imbalance between forces and the solution is balancing forces. We see this today in some forms of Alternative medicine in which the medical problem is thought to center on an imbalanced energy field (Therapeutic Touch, Ayurvedic Medicine).

A combination of pantheism, animism, dualism, occultism and western individualism.

The problem for the new age thinker is that we don't realize that we're already god. Solution: realize you are God and create your own reality. Read James Sire's, The Universe Next Door, for more information on this.

Note: An ecological spirituality often flows out of animism and pantheism. As Christians we understand the need to respect and value our environment as God's precious creation which he gives us stewardship over. In some cases we will need to refute the misconception that the bible justifies our destruction of the environment for our selfish gain.

Ultimate reality is purely a matter of individual/social perception. There is nothing "out there" independent of human/social construction. Therefore, western monotheism and eastern pantheism, though logically contradictory, are mutually "true" in the sense that they are the paradigms through which different society's construct reality. It should be obvious why this view is more sympathetic to eastern religions (which assert that all religions are imperfect attempts to describe ultimate reality)—both deny the ability to have "the truth" about God and reject the law of non-contradiction.

 Remember: You will not meet people who are purists in any of these areas but you'll hear hints of many of these views in what they say. Part of our job as evangelists is to help people sort through and understand their own beliefs and see key ways the biblical world view is different.

The Self-Revelation of God

Definitions:

 

(Rom. 1:19-20) since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. (20) For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

See also Psalm 19.

Note: Therefore, the honest person without access to the Bible will not be a devout animist, pantheist, etc. Paul says they know enough about the true God from general revelation to be justly judged for idolatry. We must resist the popular idea that people's religious beliefs are determined by their religious environment. While this may be a strong influence, God says he has revealed himself sufficiently through nature and conscience so that honest people will realize that their (non-biblical) religious environment is false or inadequate. Many testimonies from the mission field confirm this.

What are the limitations of general revelation? (More on this in Unit #4 Week 5)

Special Revelation: The Unity & Diversity Of God

What is the Trinity?

Example of modalism: ONE PERSON PLAYING DIFFERENT ROLES: The same person may function as a supervisor, husband, or father depending on the situation.

(Erickson) "Those aspects of God which we never fully comprehend should be regarded as mysteries that go beyond our reason rather than as paradoxes which conflict with reason." Erickson, Christian Theology, p. 338

Example: Most of us are not able to explain how a Xerox copier works, but that doesn't mean it is logically absurd.

Example: To a two dimensional being, a three dimensional object like a cube would be incomprehensible. The cube can objectively exist, but it's presence is difficult for a two dimensional being to detect or grasp.

We use analogies to try to understand and illustrate the tri-unity of God. Bear in mind that these analogies are limited—they tend to emphasize either God's unity or his diversity.

Identical twins: They share the same genetic material, so that their bodies even accept one another's organs. Yet they are clearly separate persons who marry different spouses, have different careers, etc. (This emphasizes diversity more than unity.)

Water's "triple point": At a certain pressure and temperature, different H20 molecules exist as ice, water, and steam. (They may emphasize diversity more than unity.)

Marriage: Two distinct persons who maintain their personhood but whose lives are united in many ways: physically, love relationship, etc.

Scripture's emphasis on the unity of God

(Deut. 6:4)  Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

(Isaiah 45:5) I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.

(1 Timothy 2:5)  For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

(James 2:19) You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

 

Scripture's emphasis on the diversity of God. This is not an NT innovation brought about by the church. While the OT does not provide a detailed development of the Trinity, it does provide hints that God exists as a plurality of Persons.

(Genesis 1:26,27)** Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

(Joshua 5:13-15)  Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"(14) "Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come." Then Joshua fell face down to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for his servant?"(15) The commander of the Lord's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy." And Joshua did so.

(Isa. 48:12-16) Listen to Me, O Jacob, even Israel whom I called; I am He, I am the first, I am also the last. (13) Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together. (14) Assemble, all of you, and listen! Who among them has declared these things? The LORD loves him; he shall carry out His good pleasure on Babylon, And His arm shall be against the Chaldeans. (15) I, even I, have spoken; indeed I have called him, I have brought him, and He will make his ways successful. (16) Come near to Me, listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, From the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.

Note:  In NASB, small caps (whether LORD or GOD) mean YAHWEH(YHWH). YHWH is the only name that refers exclusively to God. "Adonai," "Elohim," etc. are used to refer to God and other persons (context determines).

(Matt. 28:19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit . . .

Many other NT passages (e.g. those that assert the deity of Jesus and the HS) provide scriptural material for the Trinity. We will cover those passages in Christology and Pneumatology.

Why is the Trinity important?

The Attributes of God

These terms themselves aren't necessarily found in the Bible. Nor are they exhaustive. They are ways of describing what we see of God in the Bible. Some are unique to God; others are in common with humans—especially before the fall (love, veracity). These categories help us, as finite beings, understand God. These attributes are interrelated (e.g. God exercises his power in a way that's consistent with his love and justice).

We err when we anthropomorphize God and also when we view God as impassive (a detached philosophical abstraction).

We'll look over your applications in your homework. Because of time, we'll raise what we think are some of the most important applications . . .

With each attribute we will consider whether it is common (shared by humans as part of the image of God) or unique (only seen in God).

Omniscient (Unique)

Definition: God knows all things actual or possible.

Scriptural Evidence: (Ps. 147:5; Isa. 40:28)

(Psa. 147:5)  Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit.

Application:

We can never surprise God by sinning: God has always known what we are like and what we will do. Nor can we hide from God (our reluctance to admit our sin to God).

God knows what we need better than we do. Because we are both finite and fallen, we need to cultivate the habit of looking outside ourselves to God (through his Word) for direction rather than trusting our own inward thoughts and feelings. (CONTRA THERAPEUTIC EMPHASIS: i.e., the individual as the one who instinctively knows the way to health—the problem is repressive people, society, etc.)

Ps. 139:23,24 - corrective to introspection. If we deal honestly with God, we can trust that he will show us what we need to see about ourselves when we need to see it (Phil. 3:15). (CONTRA THERAPEUTIC EMPHASIS)

Omnipresent (Unique)

Definition: God transcends all limits of space and time.

Scriptural Evidence:

(Psa. 139:7-10) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (8) If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. (9) If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, (10) even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Application:

God is not confined to a "sanctuary"—you can talk to him anywhere at any time (Acts 7:48-50; 1 Thess. 5:17).

No dichotomous living (sacred/secular): all things are to be done "as unto the Lord" (Col. 3:17).

No matter how lonely you may feel, or no matter how isolated from other people you may be (CHRISTIAN PRISONERS), God is always accessible to us.

SCHAEFFER: "Because God is infinite and personal, he is capable of relating to each of us as though we were the only person in the universe. He is able to give us his full attention." (CONTRA C.E.O. WHO IS TOO BUSY TO TALK TO YOU UNLESS IT IS "REALLY IMPORTANT")

Prayer: You don't have to pray at the site where you would like God to work. Prayer for missionaries across the world is as effective as if we were right there with them.

Omnipotent (Unique)

Definition: God can do whatever he wants to do.

Note: This does not mean God can do the logically impossible (e.g., make a square circle), violate his own character (e.g. act cruelly), fail to do what he has promised, or undo the past (though he may release us from its consequences and even the memory of it).

Scriptural Evidence: (Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:17). "Almighty God" (El Shaddai)

(Jer. 32:17) "Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

Application:

The miraculous is no more impossible for God than the non-miraculous. These are distinctions that we make, not God. Both are equally possible for him. Problems with the possibility (not documentation of) miracles are ultimately presuppositional rather than logical, etc. (JONAH; RESURRECTED BODIES).

God is able to sanctify us. Specifically, God is able to change our characters, no matter how big our problems are (Eph. 1:18-20; 3:20; Phil. 4:13). SANCTIFICATION

God is able to use you to accomplish his purposes. - (2 Cor. 3:6; 12:10). MINISTRY

There is no one so lost that God is not able to convict/draw them (Jn. 16:8). EVANGELISM

God is more powerful than Satan (I Jn. 4:4). CONTRA SECULAR OCCULT MOVIES WHICH PORTRAY HIM AS GOD'S EQUAL OR MORE ("THE OMEN").

Sovereign (Unique)

Definition: God owns, rules, and sustains the creation. No one and nothing can thwart him from ultimately accomplishing his purposes.

Scriptural Evidence: (Gen. 14:19; Acts 17:24-28; Ps. 24:1ff)

(Acts 17:24-28) "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. (25) And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. (26) From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. (27) God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. (28) 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'

Application:

Even Satan is under God's ultimate sovereignty, and can do nothing that God has not allowed him to do (Job; Luke 22:31,32; 1 Cor. 10:13 >> CROSS; 1 Cor. 2:8).

When we act under God's authority (Matt. 28:18,19) Satan has no authority over us. But this doesn't mean that we are out of the battle . . .

It is wrong for us to think that we have authority over our own lives or our own possessions, since all we have, and even our own selves belong to God.

Rom. 8:28 - God is able work for good even when you make poor choices (others and yours) if you are committed to his purpose. It is wrong to blame others for our problems when God could have prevented it from occurring. Look for God's sovereign purposes in misfortune (Gen. 50:20). (ANTI-VICTIM)

Basis for hope: God's purposes will ultimately prevail! You are on the winning side!!

Loving (Common)

Definition: As God's love is expressed toward humanity, it means that God always views humanity with compassion and acts for its best interest.

Note: We cannot use God's love to erase his other attributes—like his justice (see Ex. 34:6-8). CONTRA UNIVERSALISTS

Scriptural Evidence: (1 Jn. 4:8,16; Isaiah 30:18-21;49:14-16) His proper name Yahweh is associated with his goodness grace and compassion (Ex. 33:17-20; Joel 2:13;Psalm 86:15). In Exodus 34:14 he calls himself Yahweh whose name is "Qanna". Quanna is used only five times in scripture and solely of God in the context of idolatry. This is the attitude of a lover who wants the loyalty of the one to whom he's bound himself to honor and serve.

(1 Jn. 4:8,16) Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love . . .(16)  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

Application:

Never pit God's will against your good or other people's good. The issue is how to attain this good: my way or God's way. When we disobey God's will, we say, "I don't trust that you love me."

We can trust God, even when he is disciplining us. He is always actively involved in our lives for our good (Heb. 12:4,5). (DISCIPLINE vs. RETRIBUTION)

There is no reason to be afraid of God as believers. While we should respect him, we need never fear his rejection or retribution. Deut. 10:12,13 defines "fear of God" in the proper sense.

Righteous (Common)

Definition: God is the essence of moral goodness.

Scriptural Evidence: (Mark 10:18; Job 34:10; Hab. 1:13)

(Hab. 1:13) Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.

Application:

This is the basis of absolute morality (CONTRA MORAL RELATIVISM & POSTMODERNISM).

(Ravi Zacharias) "Not all atheists are immoral, but morality as goodness cannot be justified with atheistic presuppositions. An atheist may be morally minded, but he just happens to be living better than his belief about the nature of man warrants. He may have personal moral values, but he cannot have any sense of compelling and universal moral obligation. Moral duty cannot logically operate without a moral law; and there is no moral law in an amoral world." (Ravi Zacharias, A Shattered Visage [Brentwood, Tenn.: Wolgemuth & Hyatt Publishers, 1990], p. 61,62)

We could never work our way to God.

When we want to be sanctified in our lives, we should look to God's character. Even though others can disciple us and be models of some character areas, they will always present a mixed picture. We always need to look ultimately to Christ himself. Look also at the Fruit of the spirit. Are we making progress (1 Tim. 4:15- " . . . that others may see your progress.")

Righteousness is not merely the absence of the bad; it is the active presence of the good (1 Thess. 3:11,12). SINS OF OMISSION (Jas. 4:17)

Immutable (Unique)

Definition: God doesn't change with regard to his attributes or promises.

Note: Not with regard to his emotions since he is emotional. He also introduces changes in his redemptive program.

Scriptural Evidence: (Heb. 13:8; James 1:17; 1 Sam. 15:29)

(1 Sam. 15:29) He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.

Application:

Progressive revelation doesn't mean that God has evolved, only that he has revealed more of the plan to us. PROCESS THEOLOGY- as man has evolved, so has God.

God's promises are always true no matter how I feel. EXAMPLE: If I am experiencing alienation in my walk with God, it isn't because God has rejected me (though he may be grieved) >> Rom. 8:1

What about God "repenting" (Ex. 32:10-14)? God may have been acting out a divine drama where Moses was a type of Christ as an intercessor (1 Cor. 10).

Veracity (Common)

Definition: God is truthful and faithful to his Word.

Scriptural Evidence: (Heb. 6:18; Num. 23:19; Titus 1:2; 2 Tim 2:13)

(Heb. 6:18) God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.

(Titus 1:2)  . . . a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time . . . 

Application:

God's revelation to us is the definition of truth (Jn. 17:17) >> INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE

God is utterly faithful (2 Tim. 2:13; Rom. 3:3,4). He will always keep all of his promises no matter what. However, you must distinguish between conditional (Rom. 8:28; Matt. 6:33) & unconditional promises (Rom. 8:1; Heb. 13:5).

Self-Existent (unique)

Definition: God is totally independent—the only non-contingent being in the universe.
The base or cause of God's existence is himself. See divine name YHWH.

Scriptural Evidence: (Ex. 3:14; Jn. 8:58; Isa. 40:28; Acts 17:25)

(Ex. 3:14) God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"

Application:

God cannot be manipulated by his creation, because he is not dependent on it. This undercuts the basis of occultic magic and chants.

The essence of sin is to not acknowledge your dependence upon God (Gen. 3:6; Isa. 14:14).

HUMAN AGENCY should never be understood to mean that God needs man. God doesn't need us to love him, to minister for him, to give him money, etc. These are privileges of grace.

The postmodern view that God's existence and nature are ultimately subjective (individual's or culture's perception) is false. God exists objectively and is the way he is completely apart from our perception of him (like gravity). The value of our beliefs about God is not that they create him, but (hopefully) that they correspond to the way he really is.

Just (common)

Definition: God does what his righteousness demands (reward, punishment, deliverance). His justice operates retributively only towards sinful beings apart from Christ, and he rewards Christ and those who are in him.

Scriptural Evidence: (Rom. 2:1-5; Gen. 18:25; Ps. 19:9)

(Rom. 2:2,5) Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth . . .(5) But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

(Gen. 18:25) Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"

Application:

We should never ask God to give us "what I deserve." The moment that you sin the first time, you forfeit forever any chance for justice to operate toward you in a positive way (LIKE NAZI WAR CRIMINALS AT NUREMBURG DEMANDING JUSTICE). WHAT ABOUT REWARDS? This should be seen as "grace upon grace."

To avenge another in interpersonal relationships is to usurp God's role (Rom. 12:14,17,19). This is why all bitterness is wrong (as well as because God has dealt with us under grace [Eph 4:32]). It is therefore not proper to speak of justice/rights within interpersonal relationships.

God wants to hear about your worries and frustrations, but not at the expense of faith in his justice. (e.g. Psalm 73) God often is on a different timetable for executing his justice than we would prefer.

Note: Legal/civil justice is valid, but it is always partial and imperfect, and left to the civil authorities to execute (Rom. 13:4).

Eternal (Unique)

Definition: God has always existed and will always exist. Although God acts in time, he is free from all constraints of time.

Scriptural Evidence: (Ps. 90:2; Jude 1:25; Isa. 44:6; Rev. 1:8)

(Ps. 90:1-12) Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born, or Thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God. 3 Thou dost turn man back into dust, and dost say, "Return, O children of men." 4 For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, Or as a watch in the night...
12 So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom.

Application:

We should cultivate a sense of awe for God. To number one's days is an act of recognition of the vast difference between God and finite humanity. The wise reckon continually with God's existence and human accountability. They pray for "a heart of wisdom" and are receptive to God's instruction.

Memory Verses

Ex. 34:6-8** - God's character is awesome and worthy of worship. God is both just and merciful in his dealings with humans.

Gen. 1:26,27** - God exists as more than one Person.

Assignment

Read Gen. 3-11 and answer the following questions in the form of a table (see example):

1. Choose five examples of the sinfulness of human nature in these chapters. Supply the references (chapter and verses) where the examples occur AND give a brief description of each one.

2. For each citation from above, provide an example from society.

3. Then provide a personal example.

 


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