Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Is God Like - Incommunicable Attributes

(For the workshop attendees from our Green Lake conference.)


Why this study?

         It’s about knowing God better… who God is.

         Knowing who God is helps us…  How?

The Attributes of God.

         What is an “attribute?”

         What is an essential attribute?

QUESTION – Let’s begin by naming attributes of God.

         Make a list on the white board.

         Communicable attributes      Incommunicable attributes  

There are “communicable attributes” of God, and “incommunicable attributes” of God.

Communicable attributes are those attributes of God that God shares or “communicates” with us. (E.g., God’s wisdom.)

Incommunicable attributes are those attributes of God that God does not share or “communicate” with us. (E.g., God’s eternity; God’s omnipresence)

A.V. - How do we come up with the attributes of God?

         A.V. - Two sources:


         Perfect being theology

The concept of God is underdetermined by the biblical data.

That is, the biblical data do not always make it clear how we are to understand God’s attributes.

For example, the Bible affirms clearly that God is eternal, but it doesn’t make clear whether this means that God is infinite throughout all time or whether God transcends time all together. The biblical data is underdeterminitive with respect to how we grasp or understand divine eternity.

A.V. - Scripture guides us in seeing what God has revealed about himself.

The concept of God enunciated by St. Anselm as the greatest conceivable being (or the most perfect being) has guided our theological reflection upon the raw data of Scripture so that God’s biblical attributes are to be conceived in the greatest possible way – in a way that would serve to exalt God’s greatness.

So when the Bible says, for example, that God is all-powerful or that God is all knowing, we should take this attribute to the greatest possible degree that we can and that is coherent – to say God is omnipotent and omniscient and to construe these attributes in ways that would exalt God’s greatness.

A.V. - God is an infinite-personal God.

Insofar as God is infinite, there is a great chasm that separates him from everything else in all creation including man, animals, and inanimate life. God stands alone as the infinite being.

On the other hand, insofar as God is personal, man (as made in the image of God) finds himself on God’s side of the chasm that separates him from all of the rest of creation which are not persons.

This is in contrast to the gods of many other religions in the world. For example, the gods of Greco-Roman mythology were certainly personal beings, but they were not infinite. The god of Eastern pantheism like Hinduism and Taoism is infinite but this concept of god is not personal. What the Bible says is that God is both infinite and personal.

Incommunicable attributes of God

A.V. - God’s Independence

This means that God does not need us or the rest of creation for anything, yet we and the rest of creation can glorify him and bring him joy.

This is sometimes called God’s self-existence, or his “aseity.” (From the Latin a se, meaning “from himself.”)

Aseity comes from the Latin words a se which means “by itself” or “in itself.” The idea here is that God exists a se; he simply exists in himself. Or, as I put it here on the outline in English, God is self-existent.

          Discuss “aseity.” Does it make sense to you?

 Acts 17:24-25 - 24 “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 human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

No one, or nothing, made God.

God did not create human beings because he was lonely.

“If this were true, it would certainly mean that God is not completely independent of creation. It would mean that God would need to create persons in order to be completely happy or completely fulfilled in his personal existence.” (WG, ST, 161)

Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God

 God’s independence is seen in his self-designation in Ex. 3:14 – “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’”

God’s being is something totally unique.

It’s not just that God does not need the creation for anything. God could not need the creation for anything.

Grudem – “God exists in a fundamentally different order of being. It is not just that we exist and God has always existed; it is also that God necessarily exists in an infinitely better, stronger, more excellent way.”

W. L. Craig - Aseity or self-existence is even stronger, even more robust an attribute than simply existing independently of other things.  Aseity means that God exists by a necessity of his own nature. That is to say, it belongs to God’s very nature to exist. He doesn’t just happen to exist and happen to be independent of everything else. Rather, God exists by a necessity of his own nature.

Wayne Grudem – “The difference between God’s being and ours is more than the difference between the sun and a candle, more than the difference between the ocean and a raindrop, more than the difference between the arctic icecap and a snowflake, more than the difference between the universe and the room we are sitting in: God’s being is qualitatively different.”

If God’s nature is possible – if it is logically possible for God to exist – then he exists. He exists by a necessity of his own nature.


         Discuss and explain.


God is eternal

God’s aseity entails God’s eternity.

If God exists by a necessity of his own nature then it is impossible that God would ever fail to exist, and therefore that he could come into being or go out of being. If God exists by a necessity of his own nature then he will exist permanently without beginning or end. That is to say, he will be eternal. God’s attribute of being eternal is entailed by his aseity.
God’s eternity means this: God has no beginning, end, or succession of moments in his own being, and he sees all time equally vividly, yet God sees events in time and acts in time.

This is sometimes called God’s “infinity.” To be “infinite” is to be unlimited. Time does not limit God.

This is related to God’s unchangeableness. If God does not change, then time does not change God. Time has no effect on God’s being.

For example, God never learns things or forgets things. That would mean a change in his perfect knowledge.

The passing of time does not add to or detract from God’s knowledge: he knows all things past, present, and future, and knows them all equally vividly.

God is timeless in his own being.

         Ps. 90:2 - Before the mountains were born
    or you brought forth the whole world,
    from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Job 36:26 - How great is God—beyond our understanding!
    The number of his years is past finding out.

Rev. 1:8 - “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Jesus, in John 8:58 – Before Abraham was, I am.

Exodus 3:14 – I AM WHO I AM suggests a continual present existence.
Job 36:26 which says, How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of his years is past finding out.

The Scriptures seem to teach that God existed before time began.

Jude 25 - to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.


God’s Unchangeableness

This means that God is unchanging in his being, perfections [= essential attributes], purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.

         This attribute is also called God’s immutability.

Scripture attests to this.

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
           and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.

Malachi 3:6 – God talks about his qualities of patience and mercy, and says, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.”

James reminds his readers that all good gifts come ultimately from God “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

God is unchanging with respect to his being and with respect to his perfections (that his, God’s attributes or the various aspects of his character).

God is unchanging with respect to his purposes.

Ps. 33:11 – “The counsel of the LORD stands for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”

God claims through Isaiah that no one else is like him in this regard:

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
          I am God, and there is no other;
           I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.

What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.

Here is what J. I. Packer says.

1.    God's life does not change. That is to say, God exists forever and he neither matures nor regresses. God is permanent, eternal, never begins to exist, never ceases to exist, and as Packer says he neither gets better or gets worse. He neither matures nor regresses. He has a perfect permanent life.

2.    God's character does not change. God's mercy, love, faithfulness, justice never change. God's moral qualities are essential to God. Although he may deal with people in different ways, they will all be consistent with his fundamental moral character which is immutable.

3.    God's truth does not change. That is to say, the word of the Lord endures forever. God's revelation to us stands secure. Obviously, that revelation progresses from the old covenant into the new covenant as further truth is unfolded. But God's word is trustworthy and true and therefore can be relied upon.

4. God's ways do not change. Again, God certainly does deal with people in different ways. He dealt with the people in the old covenant in a different way than he deals with us. There was a system of animal sacrifices and temple worship in the old covenant that is done away with now. But I think what Packer is saying is that God, in the ways he deals with people, is consistent in dealing with men. He punishes sin consistently. He bestows grace freely. It is not as though God is capricious or changing in the way he deals with people. His different ways will be expressions of that deeper consistent way of dealing with human persons – punishing sin and unrighteousness and awarding or bestowing grace and forgiveness freely.

5. God's purposes do not change. God's plans are from eternity past with full foreknowledge of the future. Nothing catches God by surprise. He doesn't need to change his plan or adjust with mid-course corrections because his plans are set from eternity past. Therefore there is simply no need to change. Indeed change is ruled out in virtue of his full foreknowledge of the future. So God's purposes and plans are unchangeable.

6. God's Son does not change. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”


God sees all time equally vividly.

Ps. 90:4 - A thousand years in your sight
    are like a day that has just gone by,
    or like a watch in the night.

Persons like you and I remember recent events more vividly than we remember past events.

In Ps. 90:4 we are told that God remembers past events like they just happened yesterday.

Grudem – “All of time since the creation is to God as if it just happened.

2 Peter 3:8 – With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

This means that, from God’s perspective, any extremely long period of time is as if it just happened. And any very short period of time (such as one day) seems to God to last forever.

Thus, God sees all events past, present, and future with equal vividness.

God relates to time in a way that we do not and cannot experience. God’s experience of time is not just a patient endurance through eons of endless duration, but he has a qualitatively different experience of time than we do.


God is omnipresent

God’s omnipresence can be defined like this: God does not have size or spatial dimension and is present at every point in space with his whole being, yet God acts differently in different places.

God is fully present everywhere.

God is unlimited with respect to space.

Jer. 23:23-24 - “Am I only a God nearby,”
declares the Lord,
    “and not a God far away?
24 Who can hide in secret places
    so that I cannot see them?”
declares the Lord.
    “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord.

Ps 139:7-10 - Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
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.

God does not have spatial dimensions.

         1 Kings 8:27 – Heaven and earth cannot contain you.

God is not a localized deity, like the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

         God says, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?”

God does not live in a localized building.

The fact that God is everywhere present should encourage us in prayer no matter where we are.

The fact that no place can contain God should discourage us from thinking there is some special place of worship that gives people special access to God. God cannot be contained in one place.

This does not mean that there is some really big space, bigger than the universe, where God is. This makes the mistake of thinking of God in spatial terms, or size.

         God is a being who exists without size or dimensions in space.

Also, this is not pantheism, the false teaching that everything is God, or that God is everything.

God is present everywhere in creation, but is also distinct from creation.

God’s omnipresence means: we can contact God at every location. No matter where we are we can call upon God and he is there.

It also means: We should practice the presence of God. We should be aware and constantly conscious of his presence with us.


The unity of God

God is not divided into parts, yet we see different attributes of God emphasized at different times.

         This is also called God’s “simplicity.”

Grudem – “When Scripture speaks about God’s attributes it never singles out one attribute of God as more important than all the rest. There is an assumption that every attribute of God is completely true of God and is true of all God’s character.

For example, John can say that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and then a little later say also that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). There is no suggestion that part of God is light and part of God is love, or that God is partly light and partly love. Nor should we think that God is more light than love or more love than light. Rather it is God himself who is light, and it is God himself who is also love.” (Grudem, ST, 178)

God’s whole being includes all of his attributes: he is entirely loving, entirely merciful, entirely just, and so forth. Every attribute of God that we find in Scripture is true of all of God’s being, and we therefore can say that every attribute of God also qualifies every other attribute.

Each attribute is simply a way of describing one aspect of God’s total character or being. God himself is a unity, a unified and completely integrated whole person who is infinitely perfect in all of these attributes.



Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology. This is arguably the best systematic theology book there is. Grudem’s chapters 11, 12, and 13 are on the attributes of God.

William Lane Craig, Click on ‘Media.’ Click on ‘Defenders Podcasts.’ Click on ‘Doctrine of God.’ See especially transcripts/podcasts 5 ff.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God.

Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker. This book is about the creativity of the Trinitarian God, and how God communicates to us his creativity.

A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God.

A. W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Praying Shapes Chaos Into Order

Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin - Linda and I will be here today and tomorrow!

When I pray I am peaced back together. Since to pray is to live experientially in Christ, I am the recipient of His peace. I love the way Richard John Neuhaus describes the power of God's peace (shalom):

“This means the bringing together of what was separated, the picking up of the pieces, the healing of wounds, the fulfillment of the incomplete, the overcoming of the forces of fragmentation.” (Neuhaus, Freedom for Ministry, 72)

Praying takes inner chaos and transforms it into order. The Hebrew word shalom means "peace" in the sense of things or events or persons once distanced and in conflict come together. In praying God peaces the heart together. This is heaven’s peace experienced now in an unpeaceful world.

See my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Robert George on Peter Singer and Infanticide

Robert George is Professor of Law at Princeton University. Here's Robert George's take on Peter Singer's logic re. abortion and infanticide:

"Once one recognizes that the scientific evidence establishes that the fetus, no less than the newborn, is a human being, one must logically treat the two the same in assessing the question of their rights and our duties towards them. And so Peter Singer, a leading advocate of abortion and a recent appointee to a distinguished professorial chair of bio-ethics in my own university, argues that infanticide is sometimes morally justifiable and ought, up to a certain point, to be legally permissible. While Singer's views have caused outrage and made his appointment at Princeton controversial, the truth is that he is merely following the logic of a pro-choice position in light of an honest assessment of the scientific facts. He recognizes that "birth" is an arbitrary dividing line when it comes to the humanity and rights of human beings in the early stages of their development. Hence, if abortion is morally justifiable, so is infanticide. Of course, I believe that Singer is tragically wrong in supposing that abortion and infanticide are morally justifiable; but he is right in claiming that either both of these practices are justifiable, or neither can be justified."

But of course!

My recently published book is Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Read Larry Taunton's New Book on Christopher Hitchens

I felt sad when atheist Christopher Hitchens died. I felt sad this week when I read Larry Taunton's The Faith of Christopher Hitchens: The Restless Soul of the World's Most Notorious Atheist.

I laughed when I read it, too (and I don't laugh at many things).

This book is beautiful and brilliant. I couldn't put it down.

Taunton was a very good friend of Hitchens. They traveled together and hung out together, a lot. Taunton has insights into Hitchens that increase my interest in him and my compassion and even respect for him.

Taunton is a Christian theist. Was Hitchens an atheist? Maybe. Maybe not. You have to read this book to understand this. Even well-known atheist Michael Shermer says, "Read this book."

Part of my respect for Hitchens was that he was no ideologue. He despised and dismissed most atheists, and especially his adoring Facebook fan atheists. And even, it seems, atheist Bill Maher.

Hitchens upset Maher on the latter's show. Taunton writes:

"In a 2006 appearance on Maher’s Real Time, Maher wrongly assumed that because he and Hitchens were both atheists and vociferous critics of religion that the two would be ideological soul mates. Indeed, one gets the distinct impression that Hitchens is, for Maher, something of a hero. Christopher promptly dispels any such notions of solidarity when Maher infers that George W. Bush’s religious beliefs were no less nutty than those of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. When Maher’s anti-Bush audience applauds this remark, Hitchens comes off the turnbuckle like a professional wrestler: “Your audience, which will apparently clap at anything, is frivolous . . .” The audience boos loudly and Christopher raises his middle finger to them and says enthusiastically, “. . . F— you!” Maher looks genuinely hurt. But Hitchens isn’t done.

[Hitchens] "I’ve been on the Jon Stewart show, I’ve been on your show, I’ve seen you make about five George Bush I.Q. jokes per night. There’s no one I know who can’t do it. You know what I think? This is now the joke that stupid people laugh at. It’s a joke that any dumb person can laugh at because they think they are smarter than the President . . . like the people who make booing and mooing noises in your audience . . . none of whom are smarter than the President."

He finishes with another middle finger."

I am not a fan of the middle finger. I haven't used it in forty-seven years, except to play guitar, finger-style. Actually, I spend my life attempting to invert the message of the middle finger. But I do admire Hitchens correctly identifying the mindless ideological stupidity of Maher and Maher's fans.

Get this book and read it.

After that, get my book and read it. Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.

Solitude Comes Before Community (and Before Conversation)

Manistee, Michigan

The ontological order of spiritual formation into Christlikeness is:

1. Solitude.
2. Community.

Then, return to solitude, and back to community, over and over again and again, year after year. This is a dialectical movement, meaning a forward motion where every return to solitude is a small but significant gain in Christlikeness, which is then brought to community, and so on and on as Christ is formed in us. (Galatians 4:19)

Practically, in my life, it looks like this.

I take time alone with God.

Linda and I meet with a small group of Jesus-followers every week (we've done this together for 43 years).

Linda and I meet with the large group community (our church family, on Sunday mornings at other times).

Then it's back to solitary, alone-times with God, and the forward-moving spiral begins again.

Solitude makes me better in community. Henri Nouwen writes:

"Why is it so important that solitude come before community? If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we are going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that we are. We will expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love. They cannot." (Nouwen, 
A Spirituality of Living, p. 21) 

(For a presentation of how solitude comes before conversation, see Sherry Turkle's brilliant Reclaiming Conversation.)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

G.A.S.H. - The Great American Search for Happiness Leads to Unhappiness

Dinner with friends new and old while filming "Adventures with God" in Greenville, S.C.

The Great American Search for Happiness (G.A.S.H.) leads to unhappiness. That's what philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote years ago. Hoffer said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” This is akin to Sherry Turkle's observation that social media increases loneliness (sociality decreases) and creates loss of empathy. (See Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation.)

More on G.A.S.H.:

"This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it."
- Ruth Whippman, "America the Anxious" (nytimes, September 22, 2012)

Whippman continues:

"The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis."

This makes sense to me. Our age, writes Elaine Showalter in the Chronicle of Higher Education, is an age of anxiety

In the book How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdownmedical historian Edward Shorter says that "It has not escaped many observers that today we are drenched in anxiety." Psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn states that "commonplace anxiety and depressive disorders" affect at least 20% of Americans. That's 60 million people. In our pursuit of happiness we have become depressingly unhappy. (See Kahn, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression) Woo-hoo, right?

Academics are particularly unhappy and depressed, argues University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich, in Depression: A Public Feeling. She writes: Academe "breeds particular forms of panic and anxiety leading to what gets called depression—the fear that you have nothing to say, or that you can't say what you want to say, or that you have something to say but it's not important enough or smart enough."

The Jesus-idea of happiness is the promise of "blessedness." Blessedness is independent of material or social conditions. Blessedness is not to be pursued for its own sake, since to do so would cause it to suffer the same infelicitous fate as meets all whose life goal is "happiness."

Blessedness is an indirect byproduct of the pursuit of God and the love of others, for their own sake and not for what you can get. One gives one's life away for God and others and thereby gains life. This is, precisely, anti-American in its non-consumerism. The result is a blessed life.


My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God is available HERE and as a Kindle book HERE

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Purity Is the Result of a Great Longing

Monroe County
1 John 3:2-3 says:

We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, 
for we shall see him as he is. 
All who have this hope in him purify themselves, 
just as he is pure.

Purityis not a religious thing, not some legalistic command accompanied by an angry face telling us to "Be pure!" Purity is a RESULT. 

It is the RESULT of an GREAT DESIRE. Purity is a fruit of desire-attachment.


This GREAT DESIRE to BE LIKE HIM is fueled by a HOPE. 

This HOPE is the expectation that one day WE SHALL SEE HIM as he is.

All who share this hope desire and admire Him and long to not only be with Him but to be like Him. We want to be like Jesus, not to impress anyone, but because we are His children and children want to emulate their parents. Like Father, like daughters and sons.

We become what we long to behold. One day we shall behold Christ face to face. N.T. Wright writes:

"What an amazing moment! To come face to face, eye to eye, with the people he had loved but never seen. There is something transformative about eye contact. People who spend a lot of time looking at one another sometimes come to resemble each other. Perhaps this is because they are instinctively copying one another’s facial expressions until their muscles and tissue begin to be reshaped in that way. Imagine beginning that process at last after years of love which had been expressed through words and touch but never before through sight." (N.T. Wright, The Early Christian Letters for Everyone, p. 149)

Our deepest longing is to come face to face with Him. "To see his smile, to catch his facial expression, to begin to know him in a whole new way." (Ib.)

All who have this GREAT DESIRE purify themselves now as the RESULT of wanting to be like Him.

Purity is the result of a great longing.

My book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God is available HERE and as a Kindle book HERE