From A.W. Tozer in "The Knowledge of the Holy": "...the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentious fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more elequent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God."
Dennis Kinlaw, without making any direct references to Tozer, models his theological approach in "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology" along the same lines as Tozer's statement above. In chapter one, "A New Concept of God," Kinlaw describes the two greatest revolutions in mankind's view of God and how these two revolutions enables humans to rightly know who God is and how we rightly relate to Him.
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." (Dt. 6:4) The first great revolution in man's view of God is that there is only one God, as opposed to many. An inseperable aspect of this new view of God is that God is transcendant, totally seperate from His creation. The polytheism of the ancient world viewed God and nature as an unbroken whole. God was seen as either part of the natural world or made up of the entirety of the natural world. Polytheists believe that evil is part of nature, therefore, evil and the divine are inseperable. As there is no transcendant being in the polytheistic universe, history is viewed as a repetitive cycle. There is no possibility of a new world, a new society or a renewed humanity. In Monotheism, God is not rooted in nature but in history. God revealed Himself to humanity in time and space as being the only one God, totally seperate from His creation. Judaism, Islam and Christianity in the strongest terms affirm the oneness of God; all three label the worshipping of nature and the divine as idolatry.
Kinlaw highlights this next important consideration leading up to his examination of the second great revolution in man's view of God. To understand that God is one is not to understand God's nature, what God is like. The key to understanding what God is like is what seperates Christianity from the other two monotheistic religions: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the world's problem with Christianity, Kinlaw states, or as a Japanese student once told me (John Guthrie), "I try to worship God, but this Jesus keeps getting in my way." The world's problem with Jesus concerns the second great revolution in man's view of God: Jesus' own understanding of who He is and of His relation to the Father. Jesus tells the world that He must be honored just as the Father is honored because He is God's own Son. Jesus claimed a unique intimacy with the Father, more intimate than Moses who saw God face to face. "Jesus said God is one, as Moses insisted, but in the oneness there is a differentiation that enables Jesus Himself to be distinct from the Father and yet part of the divine oneness." (Kinlaw, p. 24) This divine oneness, this unity, is conceived of in familial terms. Jesus is not God's servant, He is God's Son. The only begotten Son. And, Kinlaw points out, this second great revolution of man's view of God should lead us to doing theology in a whole new way.
As creatures created by God, it is natural for us to think of God in terms of how he relates to His creation. Questions concerning God's existence and how God relates to His created order are primary. Systematic theologions since Augustine begin with questions about God's attributes: abstract qualities such as omniscience, omnipotence, infinity, eternity, unchangeableness, impassibility. But these attributes don't tell us who God is, what He is like. Jesus Himself leads us to a different approach. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (Lk 10:22) "...'I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep." (Jn. 10:7) Jesus is the gate, or door, not just to salvation, but also to the knowledge of the one true God. By being the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15), Jesus gives us a window on God's inner self. We see within the interactions among the Father and the Son a familial relationship. We see God as Father, not just as King and Judge. In revealing this familial relationship, God has revealed to us the kind of relationship He wants with all men and women and how all humans are to relate to each other.
We see that God is one but that God is not alone. There is an "otherness" to God that is described in terms of "the Word." (Jn. 1) Words indicate an interrelatedness; it is in the nature of love to communicate. The creation came into existence by God speaking in conversation. Thus we see that God is dialogical; there is communication between the persons of the Godhead.
We see that God is free, that there is responsible freedom within the inner life of God. Sovereignty characterizes God's relationship to creation, but sovereignty does not reflect the fatherhood of God in God's inner life. Among the persons of the Godhead, there are not only different roles among them but also perfect equality. There is no compulsion among them, no necessity. As Kinlaw states, love is only possible where freedom rules. The persons of the Godhead reveal an other orientednes toward each other. In Islam, Allah is accountable to no one. If Allah wishes to show mercy, that is because he has decided to show mercy, not because his nature is merciful. Muslims have told me (John Guthrie) that they have no assurance whether or not Allah will receive them into Heaven; whatever Allah chooses is whatever Allah chooses. This nonaccountability of Allah leads Muslims to emphasize God's sovereignty; salvation is seen to be a matter of performance of a standard set by Allah. Yet among the persons of the Godhead, there is accountability. The Father doesn't dispose of His creatures according to His whim, but He responds to the intercession of His Son. (This last sentence is my own contribution, not a paraphrase of Kinlaw. The origins of this insight is my Systematic Theology course at Wesley Biblical Seminary taught by a professor who learned from Kinlaw.)
We see that God is not bipolar, He is triune. The Holy Spirit originates from the Father and the Son; the Holy Spirit was born through the loving relationship between the Father and the Son. Through the Holy Spirit Jesus comes to mankind in a different way (Jn. 14:18, 28) The Holy Spirit's primary role for us is to bring us into communion with Jesus Christ. Kinlaw explains that in the Greek, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as another of the same kind. The indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us leads us to the final point.
We see that God is holy. Only He can say "I am," we can only say "we are because of Him." Holiness refers not just to God's transcendance, but also to His character. His character is the ultimate absolute. What is right, what is true, does not originate in a standard God holds us to. Right and truth originate in God's very character. There is a unity between God's being and God's action, between who God is and what He does. God is the same in His essence as He is in the revelation of Jesus Christ. It was God's holiness, not God's soverignty, that caused Isaiah to be undone in God's presence. And we are called to be holy as God is holy, but in ourselves this is an impossibility. We cannot effect a change in our conduct unless we have a change of nature. This requires more than a pardon, more than a change in legal status as articulated in the judicial metephor. We need a change from the inside. The reason for the incarnation and atonement was ultimately for this purpose: to make us holy so that we can be in an intimate relationship with the three persons of the Godhead as sons and daughters of God. For the Church as a whole, this holiness prepares it to be a spouse for the Son of the Father. As we are made in the image of God, we are capable of responding positively to divine overtures of love. God seeks those who freely choose Him. In His image renewed humanity is capable of enjoying communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God became a man and died for all so that all could participate in the other oriented, self-giving holy love which characterizes the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity.
The next post will look at chapter 2 dealing with the Judicial, Familial and Spousal metephors which describes our relationship to God.
All scripture references from the NIV.