The Attributes of God—A New Approach: Introduction

Traditional Approach

The Doctrine of God is usually approached using a systematic theology model, i.e. what we know about God from the Bible is classified into a logical system.

  • God’s attributes are classified into headings, sometimes under headings like:
    • God Communicable and Incommunicable attributes (Reformed model)
    • God’s Greatness and Goodness (Millard Erickson)
    • What God is (Attributes of God) and What God does (creation, salvation etc.)

Alternative Approach

  • While such an approach is very useful, it is not how God has chosen to reveal himself.
  • Instead, God has chosen, for the most part, to use stories—historical accounts of his interactions with the universe and especially with human beings.
    • God’s attributes rarely found in the abstract, but usually as part of events that were recorded.
      (The closest we have to systematic presentations would be some of the Epistles, such as Ephesians or Romans.)
    • He reveals himself primarily through relationships (e.g. Adam, Abraham, Moses, Nation of Israel, David, and through Jesus).
    • Particular attributes of God are often revealed in each story. e.g. his faithfulness to Abraham in keeping his promise.
  • If the traditional approach is known as Systematic Theology, then this alternative would be Biblical Theology.
Systematic Theology Biblical Theology
Organize truth into a logical system Ask how God has organized truth
Doctrine of God: divide his attributes into categories How has God decided to reveal his nature and character to us?
Good as an end-point The best place to start

Why should God reveal himself in this way? I believe that the answer lies in the way that he has created us. There is evidence that human beings construct their worldview from foundational stories. Missionaries reaching new cultures have discovered that it is not sufficient simply to teach correct doctrine to new converts, the tribal stories that define their worldview must be replaced by the historical stories of the Bible.

This idea can be seen in Joshua 4:5–7

  1. …take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel,
  2. that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’
  3. then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan stopped flowing before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan stopped flowing.
    So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

God’s Outline

One way of structuring the order of attributes would be to look at the order in which they were revealed. So we might start with:

  1. God’s omnipotent power in creation
  2. Aspects of his personal/relational characteristics in his pre-fall relationships with Adam and Eve
  3. His justice in the fall

This structure has two weaknesses:

  1. There are some places later on in revelation history where there seems to be a particular focus on certain aspects of God’s character, e.g.
    • in the making of the covenants with Abraham, and later, Israel.
    • in the detailed focus on God’s judgement on Sodom & Gomorrah
  2. If Jesus Christ is the full revelation of God, then we must be careful that he is at the head and not the tail-end of our stories.

An Attempt

I am going to make a “first pass” at this method, and in doing so discover what the problems are, and so lay the groundwork for a fuller and more polished structure at a later date.

The series will be in ten parts, starting with God’s power, as revealed in creation.