About the Author
John S. Feinberg (PhD, University of Chicago) is department chair and professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of Ethics for a Brave New World (with Paul D. Feinberg) and is general editor of Crossway’s Foundations of Evangelical Theology series.
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In Isaiah 46 Israel's God compares himself to the gods of the Babylonians. They are mere idols, but not so the true and living God of Israel. In fact, no nation has a God like Israel's. In verse 9 God says, "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me." No one like the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! No one like the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
But if there is no one like this God, that still does not tell us what he is like.
Although it might not seem difficult to describe the God of the Bible, in our day there are various understandings of him. For many centuries of church history the predominant portrait of God has been the one painted by Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas. In our time, many theologians are saying that this concept of God is both outmoded and unbiblical. The absolutely immutable, impassible, self-sufficient, sovereign, and omniscient God of the classical Christian tradition, we are told, is too domineering, too austere, and too remote to be at all religiously adequate. This God monopolizes all the power, and refuses to share it with anyone. If his human creatures don't like this, that is their problem.
Process theologians claim that this classical God is too infected with ancient Greek philosophy; the God of Anselm and Aquinas is not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead of the classical God, process thinkers propose a more relational and vulnerable God. He is a God who suffers with us and changes as we change. He increases in knowledge as he continually interacts with us and our world. The process God of Whitehead, Hartshorne, and Cobb is no divine monarch who rules with a rod of iron. Rather, he shares his power with his creatures. He won't force his creatures to do what he wants, but instead lovingly tries to persuade them to do what he deems best. Of course, they can refuse, and if they do, this God won't violate their freedom.
Process theologians don't claim to be evangelicals, but they think their depiction of God is more attuned to Scripture than that of classical Christian theism. Advocates of what is known as the open view of God agree that the biblical God is much kinder and gentler than the God of classical theism. However, proponents of the open view believe that process thinkers have strayed too far from biblical revelation. The open view of God purports to offer a mediating position between the classical and process views. Espousers of the open view believe they have captured the best insights from the classical and process traditions while formulating their concept of God in a way that more accurately reflects biblical revelation.
There is certainly much to fault in both the classical and process concepts of God. This does not mean, however, that the open view should be accepted as the best alternative. I agree that we need a mediating position between classical and process views of God, but the open view isn't that position. Hence, in this book I come not to bury God, but to reconstruct him — at least to refashion the idea of God from an evangelical perspective. I don't delude myself into thinking that all evangelicals will adopt my reconstruction. But, I intend to offer an account of God which is sensitive to process and open view concerns without altogether abandoning the best insights of the classical conception. And I intend to ground that conception in Scripture.
So, what does my model of God look like? Process and open view thinkers seem to believe that a commitment to the classical God's non-moral attributes (absolute immutability, impassibility, eternity, simplicity, omnipotence, etc.) requires a monarchical God who is distant from, unrelated to, and unconcerned about the world he made, and yet still exercises absolute control over everything that happens in it. Correspondingly, if one holds to God as a sovereign king, it is deemed inevitable that one will adopt the classical package of divine attributes.
Despite such assumptions, there is no entailment between the two. The God I shall describe is indeed a king, but he is the king who cares! I believe that process and open view critiques of the classical God are most persuasive in relation to the classical attributes, but my nuancing of those attributes even differs from their revisions. When it comes to how God relates to and rules over our world, in my judgment process and open view conceptions are least persuasive. The God I present is absolutely sovereign, but he is no tyrant, nor is he the remote and unrelated God of classical theism. He is instead the king who cares!
Indeed, there is no one like God, the king who cares. But though there is no one like him, there is no lack of competitors in our day, even as there were many false gods during biblical times. In order to understand more accurately the distinctness of the Christian God, we must place him alongside the pantheon of pretenders. Hence, the first section of this book is devoted to describing the various models and conceptions of God in the intellectual and spiritual milieu of our day. That will illustrate the issues that are on the minds of our contemporaries as they think about God, and it will help us to see why non-evangelicals and many evangelicals are clamoring for a revisioning of God. Because the final two parts of the book will be devoted to articulating a specifically Christian conception of God, the first section will emphasize heavily non-Christian and non-evangelical notions of God. This doesn't mean nothing will be said relevant to the evangelical Christian concept, but only that we must first understand the whole range of views of God in contemporary thought and religion in order best to see that there truly is no one like the biblical God!
In the second section of the book, the discussion will turn directly to the Christian God. Here the focus will be the being and nature of God. In this portion of the book, I shall present my nuancing of the divine attributes. There will be some agreement with process and open view understandings of those attributes, but there will be significant differences as well.
After we have seen who and what the Christian God is, the third section of the book will turn to what God does — his acts. There are many things that God does which are covered in other volumes of this series. For example, God is in the business of saving humans from their lost and hopeless condition of sin, but his actions in redeeming lost humanity are covered in the volume on the cross and salvation. God has also revealed himself in many ways, including Scripture, but the doctrines of revelation, inspiration, and inerrancy are treated in the volume on Scripture. The focus in this volume will be on God's acts of creation, his decree, and his providential control over our universe. It is on the last two matters that the greatest difference between my views and those of the open view will become apparent. The God I present relates to and cares about his creatures, but he is unquestionably king. He not only has sovereign power, but he uses it in our world — but not so as to eliminate human freedom and dignity. Impossible, you think, to wed divine control with human freedom? Perhaps so for some rigidly deterministic models of God, but not so on the soft deterministic model I shall offer.
Needless to say, the issues under consideration in this volume are both controversial and extremely important for Christian doctrine and practice. Though my intent is to offer a constructive piece of Christian theology, because of the controversy surrounding so much of the doctrine of God in our day, of necessity we cannot entirely escape polemics. My goal, however, is to engage in those debates for the sake of clarifying a biblically accurate and religiously adequate evangelical notion of God. This is no easy task, but we dare not allow the difficulty of the issues to deter us, for too much is at stake for Christian thought and life.CHAPTER 2
God — The Very Idea
Human beings are "incurably" religious. We sense that we are not alone in the universe. As we gaze upon the glory of creation, it is natural to think that someone or something with superior power, wisdom, and goodness made it all. The psalmist (Ps 19:1) tells us that this is so, and so does the apostle Paul (Rom 1:19-20). It is hard to imagine that it just "happened."
Humans also have a sense that there are rules of right and wrong to which we are accountable. But, rather than merely an obligation to some abstract notion like the moral law, we sense that there must be a moral lawgiver. That sense of accountability only increases when we disobey those moral rules and deem ourselves worthy of punishment. Though some people think there is no day of reckoning before an extra-mundane being, and hence, that we are free to make our own morality, there is still the nagging question of whether there is not a supreme lawgiver.
Belief in God, however, comes not merely from a perceived need to explain the existence of the cosmos, nor merely from a need to have a grounding of morality in an ultimate arbiter of what is right. It stems as well from a desire to understand who we are and why we are here. It arises from a need for a friend in times of trouble, a friend who not only sympathizes with our plight but is able to do something to change it. It arises from a need for someone with knowledge and wisdom beyond even the collective wisdom of all humanity to guide us as we face the changing circumstances of life. But most of all, belief in God issues from the fact that there is a God and he has revealed himself to mankind. He has done so through the natural world, through miracles, through the Bible, and most fully in his Son Jesus Christ. For the Christian committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, God is the starting point for everything else we think and do. More than that, though, he must be our highest desire, joy, and delight!
It is not just Christians, however, who believe in God. People at all times and places have had some notion of God. That idea has not always been monotheistic, but it has been of something(s) that transcends mankind. There have, of course, been atheists, but even these people have some idea of what God would be like, if there were one. For others, even if only to have someone to blame or curse when things do not go to their liking, belief in some sort of God has seemed necessary. For these reasons and many more, one can certainly understand and to a degree concur with Voltaire's comment, "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him." But even Voltaire added, "but all nature cries out that he must exist."
With the entrenchment of the modern mindset over the last few centuries, many have increasingly thought it difficult to make a rational case for the existence of God and hence, for belief in God. However, with the advancement of a postmodern intellectual paradigm in the final decades of the twentieth century, it has again become acceptable, even if not entirely fashionable, to profess belief in some deity. Hence, in talking to many who do not know Christ as Savior, "making a case" first for the existence of any God is nowhere near as necessary as it was even thirty to forty years ago. This doesn't mean we should throw off all vestiges of modernity and warmly embrace everything postmodern. It only notes a cultural shift in attitudes about belief in God.
Lest Christians become unduly excited about these developments, however, we must see what sort of God it is in whom people are now believing. Here one is met with a myriad of models, conceptions, images, and motifs for understanding God. In many cultures where Christianity has been dominant, these different models claim to reflect the perspective of Scripture. But the notions of God one finds are so diverse that it is dubious that all of them are justifiable on scriptural grounds. Moreover, contemporary nations and cultures are so culturally diverse that along with various "Christian" conceptions of God come many visions of the religious ultimate from other world religions.
Because of this diversity in understanding of and commitment to God, we must begin by surveying the different conceptions of God in today's world. Still, this book intends to be a piece of evangelical Christian theology, not an apologetics text or a work in comparative religions. But because there is such difference of opinion on matters such as the meaning and reference of the term "God," the biblical conception of God, the most appropriate way to understand the Christian God's relation to our world, and how we should understand language about God, before we articulate distinctly evangelical Christian conceptions of God we must set such views within a larger framework of worldwide beliefs about God. This includes what might be called "secular," non-religious notions of God.
To illustrate the difference of opinion and, to some extent, confusion occasioned by these issues, consider for a moment the meaning of the term "God." When referring to a word's meaning, we can distinguish the term's sense from its reference. The sense of a word is its basic definition, a definition one might find in a dictionary. The sense tells us how the word is used in various contexts. On the other hand, a word's reference is the object, person, action, or event in our world to which the word points (if it points at all).
As an example, consider the phrase "the president of the United States." The phrase's sense is a certain political, governmental office and the person who holds that office in the country of the United States. The sense of this phrase has remained the same throughout the history of this nation. On the other hand, as I write this sentence, the person to whom the phrase refers is William Clinton. Prior to Clinton, George Bush held the office, prior to him Ronald Reagan was president, etc. Each referent is a different person, but each of those persons' position is correctly designated by the sense of "the president of the United States."
What should we say about the sense and reference of "God"? Here we find a great variety of ideas about both the sense and reference of that word. For example, Anselm claimed that the sense of "God" is "the being than which none greater can be conceived." For Paul Tillich, "God" is "the name for that which concerns man ultimately." For yet others "God" means "the One," "the Absolute," "the wholly Other," and so forth.
There is also great diversity of opinion about the referent of "God." For Tillich, what concerns us ultimately can only be something which determines our being or nonbeing. Consequently, Tillich's God is identified as the ground of all being or being-itself. For others, the referent of "God" is one, among many, finite beings who is in charge of one area of life or another (as in the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods). For Anselm, the referent is an immaterial being with all perfections. For pantheists, our universe is God. If they believe the universe is only material, then matter is somehow alive or divine in a way that no atheistic materialist would grant. Thus, the referent of "God" is the material universe. Other pantheists who think there are immaterial things as well as material identify the referent of "God" as the totality of all material and immaterial things in our universe. For John Hick, God is "the Real." What this exactly is in itself we cannot know. Still, "the Real" is the ultimate reality in the universe.
So, how should we understand the meaning of "God"? As to its sense in Christian theology, one might initially be tempted to use Tillich's "that which concerns man ultimately," but I think this is too broad and ambiguous. Tillich notes that various cultures have had their gods, and these gods transcend the realm of ordinary experience in both power and meaning. Nonetheless, he claims that such gods are ultimately finite. "They are images of human nature or subhuman powers raised to a superhuman realm." Since they are projections, they can't be what ultimately concerns us, since our ultimate concern is whatever determines our being or nonbeing. All other concerns are preliminary, regardless of how much emphasis we place on them.
Despite Tillich's claims, for many people "ultimate concern" conjures ideas of the ultimate passion of their life. In many cases, that ultimate passion is nothing like what the Christian tradition means by "God," nor does it correspond to what Tillich thinks is really of ultimate concern. For example, sometimeswe say of someone, "He's making a god out of wealth (or pleasure)." By this we usually mean that this person is living as though wealth (or pleasure) is the most important thing in life; it is his ultimate concern. While few would say that things like wealth or pleasure qualify as superhuman beings, they might agree that such things are what most concerns them. Thus, if "God" means whatever concerns us ultimately, it seems too open to being understood in ways that move very far from what most religions and Tillich himself mean by God.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No One Like Him"
Copyright © 2001 John S. Feinberg.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Harold O. J. Brown,
List of Abbreviations,
Chapter 1 Introduction,
PART ONE: CONCEPTS OF GOD,
Chapter 2 God — The Very Idea,
Chapter 3 What Happens To God In Contemporary Thought?,
Chapter 4 Process Theology,
PART TWO: THE BEING AND NATURE OF GOD,
Chapter 5 The Existence and Being of God,
Chapter 6 The Attributes of God,
Chapter 7 The Non-Moral Divine Attributes (II),
Chapter 8 The Moral Attributes of God,
Chapter 9 God, Time, and Eternity,
Chapter 10 The Doctrine of The Trinity,
Chapter 11 The Decree of God,
Chapter 12 The Doctrine of Creation,
Chapter 13 Divine Providence: The Decree and Human Freedom,
Chapter 14 A Case for a Compatibilist Specific Sovereignty Model,
Chapter 15 The Issue of Freedom and Foreknowledge,
Chapter 16 Divine Providence and Evil,
Chapter 17 "No One Like Me",
What People are Saying About This
"This book contains some rare combinations: first, an author who is as concerned with conceptual clarification as he is with the absolute truthfulness of the biblical text; second, an argument that avoids the common "either-ors" and contends for the importance of both divine sovereignty and divine solicitude in equal measure; third, an approach that espouses divine determinism and divine temporality. No One Like Him takes on the most intractable intellectual challenges of contemporary evangelical theology."Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Research Professor of Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
"John Feinberg judicially reconstructs aspects of the classical view of God in a way that proves more faithful than process and openness of God theisms. Arguably, this is the best study of theology proper in print."Bruce Demarest, Senior Professor of Theology and Spiritual Formation, Denver Seminary
"Feinberg reads theology with a philosopher's eye and writes it with a philosopher's sensitivity to illogic and incoherence."J. I. Packer, Late Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"A magisterial work, one that truly deserves to be called a magnum opus. . . . It reveals its author as . . . perhaps the only modern scholar whose work, like that of Carl. F. H. Henry, can compare in size, detail, comprehensiveness, and intellectual acuity with the accomplishments of the late Karl Barth. . . . It is not risky to predict that Feinberg's No One Like Him will come to be a milestone in evangelical theology."Harold O. J. Brown, Professor Emeritus of Biblical and Systematic Theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School