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Survey of Theology 1. The Doctrine of God

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Topics

(These topics and notes are primarily from Chapter 9 in Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath. Blackwell Publishers, 2001)

1. Is God Male?

1.1. Use of Analogy To Provide Insight to God

1.2. Summary

2. A Personal God

2.1. God is Not "Impersonal"

2.2. Dialogical Personalism

2.2.1. Meaning of "Personal" Relationship to God

2.2.2. I and Thou

2.2.3. I-It Relationships

2.2.4. I-You Relationships and Personhood

2.2.5. God, the Absolute You

3. Can God Suffer?

3.1. Classic Greek understanding of God

3.2. Some Views of the Church Prior to the 20th Century

3.2.1. Anselm of Canterbury

3.2.2. Thomas Aquinas

3.2.3. Articles of Religion

3.3. The New Orthodoxy of the 20th Century: God Does Suffer

3.3.1. The Reasons for Change to a New Orthodoxy

3.3.2. Theologies of a Suffering God

4. The Omnipotence of God

4.1. The Creed on God's Omnipotence

4.2. What Does the Omnipotence of God Mean?

4.3. The Two Powers of God and Divine Self-Limitation

4.4. Jesus' Divine Self-Limitation or Kenoticism

5. God’s Action Within the World 

5.1. Four views of how God acts in the world

5.2. Deism

5.3. Thomas Aquinas: God Acts Through Secondary Causes

5.3.1. Primary and Secondary Causes

5.3.2. God Works in the World Indirectly Through Secondary Causes

5.4. Alfred North Whitehead: Process Theology

5.4.1. Reality in Process Theology

5.4.2. Criticisms of Process Theology

5.5. Pierre Teihard de Chardin’s Point Omega

6. The Problem of Evil

6.1. Definition of the Problem of Evil or Theodicy

6.2. Some Approaches to the Problem of Evil

6.2.1. Irenaeus of Lyons

6.2.2. St. Augustine of Hippo

6.2.3. Radical Limitations on the Omnipotence of God

6.2.4. A Theodicy of Silence

6.3. Summary: The Problem of Evil

6.3.1. No Satisfactory Explanation

6.3.2. Taking a Message from Job

7. God as Creator

7.1. The Theme of God as Creator in the Old Testament

7.2. The Challenge of Dualism

7.3. Implications of God as Creator

8. The Holy Spirit

8.1. Theological Evolution in the Understanding of the Holy Spirit

8.2. Images of the Spirit Found in Scripture

8.3. The Spirit as the Bond of Love

Primary Reference

 

 

1. Is God Male?

1.1. Use of Analogy To Provide Insight to God

  • Language in Old and New Testaments intended as analogy: In saying “God is our Father,” the intention is that the human role of father can provide insights into the nature of God

  • Sexuality is part of the created order. Hebrews never attributed sexual function to God (in contrast to the Canaanite fertility cults)

  • “God as mother” or “God as friend” can also provide insights into the nature of God.

 

Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love, May 1373:

 

“I saw that God rejoices to be our Father, and also that he rejoices to be our Mother; and yet again, that he rejoices to be our true Husband, with our soul as his beloved bride. . . He is the foundation, substance and the thing itself, what it is by nature. He is the true Father and Mother of what things are by nature.”

 

1.2. Summary

  • God transcends the created order of sexuality, is neither male or female

  • Personal roles such as father, mother, friend, husband, wife, can provide by analogy, insight into the nature of God

 

 

2. A Personal God

2.1. God is Not "Impersonal"

First, we can say God is not the “impersonal” God of Aristotle or Spinoza:

  • Aristotle: God is an utterly transcendent, perfect entity, eternally contemplating its own perfection and beauty

  • Spinoza: God is a perfect being, and therefore cannot have passion, cannot love or suffer (for then God would then change, becoming “more” or “less” perfect).

 

2.2. Dialogical Personalism

2.2.1. Meaning of "Personal" Relationship to God

When we speak of God as “personal,” we mean a being with whom we can have a relationship that is analogous to the relationship we can have with human persons. A deeper description of the meaning of "personal" relationship can be found in Martin Buber's "dialogical personalism".

 

2.2.2. I and Thou

In 1923, Martin Buber published I and Thou (the usual English translations of the German Ich und Du)

Buber suggests we have two modes of experiencing / relating to the world:

  • 1. Experience of an object = “I-it” Relation

  • 2. An Encounter with Another = “I-Thou” or “I-You” Relation  (The "You" here is the "You" of intimacy, which once existed in English in the word “Thou”)

 

2.2.3. I-It Relationships

“I-it” Relation:

  • We objectify, conceptualize, fit into the “box of our understanding” that which we see, hear, etc (“it”).

  •  Impersonal

  • The “normal” experienced world of space and time

    • This is the way we usually experience other human beings.

 

2.2.4. I-You Relationships and Personhood

“I-You” Relation:

  • The “You” can never be objectified, or “boxed” into our understanding. A “You” has no borders, cannot be measured. A “You” “fills the sky” of our mind's eye

  • An encounter, a transitory event (the “event of relation”) which is mutual and reciprocal

  • Can be called love

  • Comes to us by grace

 

A “person” then is someone with whom we can have an “I-You” relationship. The person of an “I-You” encounter cannot be “objectified,” or “boxed-in,” turned in “content.” A person of an “I-You” encounter is a Presence, is Presence as power.

 

2.2.5. God, the Absolute You

God:

  • A being with whom we can have an “I-You” relationship

  • Buber: God is:

    • the “Absolute You”

    • the “You” which by nature can never become an “It.” God is a being who escapes / transcends all attempts to objectify / describe.

  • God is an active presence, an active subject, revealing God’s self in human history and in personal relationships, not an “It” waiting to be discovered and examined.

 

 

3. Can God Suffer?

3.1. Classic Greek understanding of God

  • God is perfect. Perfection understood as static:

    • any change is a move either away from or towards perfection

  • God is therefore also unchanging and impassible (incapable of suffering or pain)

  • Christians theologians of the patristic and medieval periods accepted this view of God

 

 

3.2. Some Views of the Church Prior to the 20th Century

3.2.1. Anselm of Canterbury

  • We can experience God as compassionate, but the emotion of compassion is not part of God’s divine being

  • The language of love and compassion is figurative when applied to God

 

3.2.2. Thomas Aquinas

  • God’s mercy is an effect of God’s actions towards sinners, but God does not feel sorrow over the misery of others

 

3.2.3. Articles of Religion

  • Articles of Religion (p. 867 Book of Common Prayer): “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. . .”

 

 

3.3. The New Orthodoxy of the 20th Century: God Does Suffer

3.3.1. The Reasons for Change to a New Orthodoxy

20th Century saw a radical change in this view of in God. Reasons:

  • 1. Need to respond to protest atheism

    • an intensely moral form of atheism that  refused to accept idea of a God immune to the suffering of (for example) an innocent child

  • 2. Rediscovery of Luther and his “theology of the cross” (God who is hidden in suffering)

  • 3. History of dogma movement and appreciation of how Greek ideas had influenced early Christian theology

  • 4. Process theology (God has limited himself to persuasion of the processes of creation and is a fellow sufferer)

  • 5. Fresh Old Testament studies showing how the God of the Old Testament shared in the suffering of God’s people

  • 6. Idea that love requires some mutual sharing of feeling.

    • an “impassible love” immune from being emotionally affected by the beloved is not truly love

 

3.3.2. Theologies of a Suffering God

Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God (1974): a God who cannot suffer is not perfect, but deficient:

 

“A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.”

 

Kazoh Kitamori A Theology of the Pain of God (1946): God can give meaning and dignity to human suffering only because God is also in pain and suffers.

 

 

4. The Omnipotence of God

4.1. The Creed on God's Omnipotence

“I believe in God, the Father almighty. . .”

  • almighty = Latin omnipotens

 

 

4.2. What Does the Omnipotence of God Mean?

Does the omnipotence of God mean God can do anything? Then there are problems:

 

“If God were good, he would wish to make his creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, he would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either the goodness, or power, or both.”

- The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis

 

Omnipotence does not mean God can doing anything. 

  • God cannot do anything logically impossible

  • God cannot do anything against the nature of God (for example, to lie, subvert justice)

  • God can make decisions that limit the possibilities of what God can do

 

 

4.3. The Two Powers of God and Divine Self-Limitation

The Two Powers of God (Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, 13th century)

  • 1. The Absolute Power of God: God is confronted by an array of possibility and can choose any of them

  • 2. The “Ordained” Power of God: Once God chooses a possibility and actualizes it, other possibilities disappear. God’s choices can limit God’s options and hence God’s power. The “Ordained” Power of God is the power of God after God’s divine self-limitation.

 

 

4.4. Jesus' Divine Self-Limitation or Kenoticism

Kenoticism: The divine self-limitation and divine “self-emptying” (Greek kenosis, an emptying) of God taking on human form in Jesus; explored particularly in the 19th century.

  • Philippians 2:6-7: “Jesus, though he was in the form of God. . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer Letters and Papers from Prison:

 

“God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. . . . The Bible directs us to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help.”

 

 

5. God’s Action Within the World

5.1. Four views of how God acts in the world

  • 1. Deism

  • 2. Thomas Aquinas: God acts through secondary causes

  • 3. Alfred North Whitehead: Process Theology

  • 4. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Point Omega

 

 

5.2. Deism

  • God is the watchmaker; the world the watch.

  • God created a rationale and ordered world, completely autonomous and self-sufficient. Once set in motion, no further action needed from God

 

Deism had a significant effect on the Episcopal church in the 18th century.

 

 

5.3. Thomas Aquinas: God Acts Through Secondary Causes

5.3.1. Primary and Secondary Causes

Example: consider the quality and beauty of piano music at a concert.

  • Primary Cause: the gifted pianist with the ability to play the piano beautifully

  • Secondary Cause: the piano

  • The primary cause (the gifted pianist) must work through the secondary cause (the piano) to achieve the effect they desire. If the piano is horribly out of tune . . . .

 

5.3.2. God Works in the World Indirectly Through Secondary Causes

Aquinas:

  • God is the primary cause of everything, but has chosen to work indirectly through secondary causes. (i.e. “delegating” divine action)

    • God might try to move a human will, for example, in order to help an ill person

  • Suffering and pain are due to the imperfection and fragility of the secondary causes through which God works

 

 

5.4. Alfred North Whitehead: Process Theology

5.4.1. Reality in Process Theology

  • Process / change is the fundamental basis of reality (not matter, substances, essences. . .)

  • Reality is composed of building blocks of processes called “actual occasions,” or “actual entities,” each with a certain degree of freedom to develop and influence adjacent processes

  • God is the permanent, imperishable background of order for the developing processes

  • God can act to influence and persuade the processes, but cannot violate the rules governing the processes.

    • God can try to persuade the murderer not to kill, but ultimately cannot violate the murderer’s “free will.”

    • God can try to persuade the processes of nature involved in an avalanche, but ultimately cannot violate the rules of nature’s “free process”

  • God both influences processes and is influenced by the processes. God is thus “a fellow-sufferer who understands” (Alfred North Whitehead)

 

5.4.2. Criticisms of Process Theology

  • too radically compromises the transcendence of God

  • hard to find the God of the Old Testament in the God of Process Theology

 

 

5.5. Pierre Teihard de Chardin’s Point Omega

  • Universe is an evolutionary process constantly moving towards states of greater complexity and higher levels of consciousness

  • There are no radical discontinuities or innovations in this evolution. From the beginning, there was a “biological layer” inherent in the fabric of universe, a “rudimentary consciousness” in all physical matter (“there is a Within to things” said de Chardin) that was the basis for the evolutionary development of life and consciousness

  • “Critical points” of transitions include emergence of life on earth, emergence of human consciousness

  • The universe’s evolution is ascending towards Point Omega, which is both:

    • a union with God

    • the “force” attracting the evolutionary process

  • God is at work:

    • immanent within the world, working in the process of its evolution

    • as the “attractive” force drawing the process to its divine goal and fulfillment in the "Omega Point"

 

 

6. The Problem of Evil

6.1. Definition of the Problem of Evil or Theodicy

The problem of evil = Theodicy:

How can we reconcile:

  • the goodness of God and of God’s creation

  • the omnipotence of God

with:

  • the existence of evil and suffering in the world?

 

 

6.2. Some Approaches to the Problem of Evil

6.2.1. Irenaeus of Lyons

  • The world is a “vale of soul-making.” (John Keat's phrase).  Human beings are incomplete and to grow must participate in the world, freely responding to God’s call by choosing between good and evil.

  • Evil is thus a necessary presence in the world to allow human development

 

Criticisms:

  • Appears to lend dignity to evil

  • Does not address the evil that destroys rather than advancing human growth (Hiroshima, Auschwitz)

 

 

6.2.2. St. Augustine of Hippo

  • evil not a created entity/substance, but is rather a defect of being (like a hole in a shirt, tree rot, blindness in an eye)

  • these defects arise as a consequence of “free will,” from human beings willfully turning away from that which will ultimately make us happy

  • thus evil is a side effect of giving “free will” to the creation

 

 

6.2.3. Radical Limitations on the Omnipotence of God

Radically limit the omnipotence of God, as in Process Theology:

  • God can only persuade and influence the processes of the world, acting within the “rights” and “freedoms” of the processes

  • God tries to persuade the processes for the best possible outcome, but a bad outcome can still result

  • God, having done his best to persuade the process for a good outcome, is

    • not responsible for a bad outcome

    • does not desire or even tacitly accept the bad outcome

 

Criticism: A God robbed of this much power would cease to be God. One cannot have a faith that such a God would be able to make all thing right in the end.

 

 

6.2.4. A Theodicy of Silence

The answer of some Jewish theologians to question of trying to justify God in face of suffering.

  • “If I were to know him, I would be him” (old Jewish saying)

  • Our silence should be like Aaron's when he was told of the death of his two sons killed by divine fire: “And Aaron was silent.” (Leviticus 10:3)

 

 

6.3. Summary: The Problem of Evil

6.3.1. No Satisfactory Explanation

Hans Küng: there is no satisfactory explanation to theodicy:

 

“. . . suffering, -- excessive, innocent, meaningless suffering, both individual and collective -- cannot be understood theoretically, but can only be lived through. For Christian and Jews there is only a practical answer to the problem of theodicy.”

 

6.3.2. Taking a Message from Job

  • In the last resort, God is incomprehensible to human beings

  • Human beings are given the possibility of showing trust in this God

  • God also respects human protest against suffering (“protest theodicy”)

 

 

7. God as Creator

7.1. The Theme of God as Creator in the Old Testament

God as Creator a major theme of the Old Testament:

  • opening 2 chapters of Genesis

  • Job 38:1-- 42:6

 

 

7.2. The Challenge of Dualism

Challenge of Dualism clarified the theology of God as Creator in the early church. Gnosticism proposed two Gods:

  • Supreme God of the spiritual realm (redeemer God)

  • Lesser, inferior God (“the demiurge”) who created the imperfect and evil material world (the God of the Old Testament)

 

Against Dualism, early Church affirmed doctrine that:

  • God is creator of both spiritual world and material world (of “heaven and earth” in the Creed)

  • God created everything out of nothing (ex nihilo). There was no “pre-existent material” that God fashioned as best God could into the material universe

 

 

7.3. Implications of God as Creator

Implications of the dogma that God is the Creator:

  • Creation is not God. God chose to bring into being that which is not God, that which is wholly Other

  • God has authority over Creation. Creation does not belong to human beings; rather humans beings have been given stewardship over creation. This carries implications for ecology

  • Though “fallen” through sin, Creation remains God’s good creation and capable of redemption

  • Creation has a meaning and purpose. Augustine: “You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”

 

 

8. The Holy Spirit

8.1. Theological Evolution in the Understanding of the Holy Spirit

Steps in the theological understanding of God in the early church:

  • recognition of the full divinity of Jesus

  • recognition of the full divinity of the Holy Spirit

  • development of the full doctrine of the Holy Trinity

 

 

8.2. Images of the Spirit Found in Scripture

Images of the Spirit (Hebrew Ruach) found in Scripture:

  • 1. Spirit as wind.

    • Calls to mind surging energy of the “Lord of Hosts,” the dynamism of God

    • God experienced not only as judge, but as one who refreshes the chosen people

  • 2. Spirit as breath

    • God is the one who brings life. God brings Adam into life by breathing on him. The bones in the Valley of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14) come to life when breath enters into them

  • 3. Spirit as charism

    • “charism” = filling of an individual with the Spirit of God

    • wisdom, leadership, prophecy all endowments of the Spirit

 

 

8.3. The Spirit as the Bond of Love

St. Augustine’s theology of the Holy Spirit as the Bond of Love:

  • Augustine suggested there are “triadic” traces of the Trinity in the human soul: For example:

    • triad of self-knowledge (memory, understanding, will)

    • triad of self-love (Lover, Beloved, Love)

  • Taking “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) literally, and the idea that the triad of self-love in human is a trace of the Holy Trinity, Augustine proposed that:

    • within the Trinity: the Spirit is the Bond of Love between the Father and the Son

    • within the church: the Spirit is the Bond of Love between God and believer, and between believers

 

 

Primary Reference

Chapter 9 “The Doctrine of God” in: Christian Theology. An Introduction. Third Edition. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, 2001

 

 

 

Survey of Theology

 

1. The Doctrine of God

2. The Doctrine of the Trinity

3. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 1. Classic Christology

4. The Doctrine of the Person of Jesus, Part 2. Modern Views and Concerns

5. The Doctrine of Salvation in Christ

6. The Doctrines of Human Nature, Sin, and Grace

7. The Doctrine of the Church

8. The Doctrine of the Sacraments

9. Christianity and the World Religions

10. Last Things: The Christian Hope