The Importance of a Theology of God

Jul 30th, 2011 | By | Category: Christian Life, Featured Issues

Broadly speaking, our evangelical culture in America is dumbing down doctrine and theology.  Rarely in the typical evangelical church in America will you hear sermons or teaching sessions on God as Trinity or the importance of the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ.  Yet, both of these doctrines are central to our faith and have major implications for culture and life.  In this Perspective, I want to illustrate the importance of sound doctrine to our lives.

  • First of all, the importance of the doctrine of God as Trinity.  Genuine, biblical Christianity has at the core of its theology the doctrine that God is Trinity.  The Bible clearly reveals this truth from chapter 1 of Genesis on through the closing chapters of Revelation.  As the early church struggled with the precise terms to define what the Scriptures clearly articulate, the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451 was perhaps the critical tipping point.  At that Council, church leaders stated, in effect, that God is one essence of three persons who differ both relationally (i.e., Father, Son and Spirit) and functionally (e.g., Ephesians 1:3-14, where we learn that, in terms of salvation, the Father chooses, the Son redeems and the Spirit seals).  The doctrine of God as Trinity is difficult but is central to our understanding of who God is as He has chosen to reveal Himself in Scripture.  A few examples:  You cannot read the Gospel of John without the clear conviction that Jesus is fully God, especially the ?I am? passages and the central passage of John 5:19-24, one of the greatest defenses of Christian monotheism in the entire Bible.  Further, 1 John 4:8 teaches that ?God is love? a predicate nominative that defines one of the central elements of God?s character and nature?love.  But love is a relational concept and, since God is Trinity, that concept makes much more sense.  God is love because through all eternity God the Father, the Son and the Spirit experienced love and communion with one another.  That is certainly one of the reasons God chose to create humans as His image bearers:  His creatures will enjoy the same love and communion that God as Trinity has enjoyed for all eternity.  God desires to walk with us and fellowship with us (see Genesis 2 and Revelation 21-22) but our sin makes that impossible.  Therefore, the God who is love sends the second person of the Trinity, who adds to His deity humanity, to die for our sin and be resurrected in power, proving that the price for sin had been paid.  God as Trinity enables us to more fully understand His love and His redemptive plan for us.  Without this doctrine, His redemptive work does not make sense.
  • Second, consider a broader understanding of God as Trinity.  Paul makes the case for God?s diversity as the basis for diversity in the body of Christ, the church, in 1 Corinthians 12.  The diversity of the body also extends to the ethnic makeup of the church as well?witness Acts 2 for example.  As even the book of Revelation makes clear, in heaven and in the new heaven and new earth, every tongue, people, tribe and nation will be represented.  The ethno-cultural differences of humanity reflect God?s love of diversity and variety, which are rooted in His nature as Trinity.  Contrast this fundamental belief with Islam.  The Qur?an teaches adamantly that Allah is absolutely one.  Indeed, in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, Islam, after conquering Jerusalem and establishing the supremacy of Islam in the Holy Land, built the Dome as a memorial to Allah so that it would dominate Jerusalem and stand higher in elevation than the church of the Holy Sepulcher on Temple Mount.  In the Dome of the Rock, there is this founding inscription inscribed around the inside of the Dome:  ?O you People of the Book, overstep not bounds in your religion, and of God speak only the truth.  The Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, is only an apostle of God, and his Word, which he conveyed unto Mary, and a Spirit proceeding from him.  Believe therefore in God and his apostles, and say not Three.  It will be better for you.  God is only one God.  Far be it from his glory that he should have a son.?  This inscription was an obvious invitation for Christians (and Jewish monotheism) to abandon belief in the Trinity and in the divinity of Jesus!!  Therefore, Allah lacks diversity within himself and this belief impacts Islamic culture as well.  There is an authoritarian unity that is demanded in Islam, at least in religious matters, and it does not share the appreciation of diversity that one sees in biblical Christianity.  The Qur?an has been translated into other languages, but Arabic remains the language for worship and prayers (e.g., the ritualistic prayers prayed five times daily are always prayed in Arabic, even if you do not understand the language).  There is a hesitation to embrace cultural differences within Islam, with a strong impetus to create a monolithic society and culture.  This is certainly the agenda of radical and extreme Islam but is also the case among the conservative Islamic cultures of, for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  One?s belief in God as absolutely one, as in Islam, has a direct impact on how the culture and society develop.
  • Third, consider the importance of affirming the authority of God?s revelation in Scripture.  The Bible is adamant that this Trinitarian God is also the Creator of all things, including creating humanity in His image.  But now, within evangelical Christianity, there is a movement to deny the biblical teaching that God directly created humanity in the persons of Adam and Eve?in other words, that Adam and Eve are our ?parents? and that their sin was a historical event, not simply a metaphor or a story without historical foundation.  The Darwinian hypothesis has challenged genuine, biblical Christianity since 1859.  But within evangelicalism today, there are leaders such as Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, who converted from atheism to Christianity.  He argues that he is both a committed defender of Darwinian evolution and a Christian who believes in God as Creator.  He basically defends a theistic evolutionary model, one which doubts the historicity of Genesis 1-3.  For Collins, one cannot believe that God directly created Adam and Eve.  But, in my view, the Bible does not give us this option.  It declares forcefully and unequivocally that God created directly Adam and Eve, in His image, and that through their sin and rebellion all humans sinned.  Further, the Apostle Paul in Romans 5 makes it clear that the Second Adam, Jesus Christ, through His obedience, undoes the disobedience of the First Adam.  Such a conceptual framework for the entire redemptive plan of God is impossible if there is no first historic couple.  If there is no Adam and Eve, there is no gospel!  These two are inextricably linked in Scripture.

In conclusion, today?s typical evangelical church must return to detailed and systematic teaching and preaching of what Paul calls ?sound doctrine.?  The current cultivation of superficiality and shallowness within evangelicalism must come to an end.  Every dimension of our lives and our culture depends on well-taught and well-equipped Christians.  As Ephesians 4 makes clear, the key to equipping the saints for ministry is God?s Word, which is the source of ?sound doctrine.?  There is no other way to do it and the illustrations in this Perspective demonstrate why teaching sound doctrine is so important!

See Christianity Today (June 2011), pp. 23-27 and 61. PRINT PDF

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3 Comments to “The Importance of a Theology of God”

  1. Charles K. Harder says:

    Dr. Eckman,

    This has been a long time concern of mine as I pastor small, rural congregations. The need is so GREAT but the appetite is so SMALL!

    Are you the kind of person who could author a resource for pastors on how to teach/preach theology? I am thinking of a basic curriculum that every member of a congregation should be thoroughly familiar with.

    Thanks for such an important reminder and God bless you for the way He has used you in my life in the past and also as you enter a new phase of ministry following Grace University.

    In Him,

    Charles K. Harder
    First Baptist Church
    Las Animas, CO

    • Cathy McKinnis says:

      Concise Theology by J.I. Packer is a brief introduction to theology that I have enjoyed. It could be used by Sunday school classes or home bible study group. It is simple and very understandable.

  2. Cathy McKinnis says:

    Concise Theology by J.I. Packer is a brief introduction to theology that I have read and enjoyed. It is written for laymen.