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BASIC ELEMENTS

OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY:
SCRIPTURE REPLACING TRADITION

Fernando Canale

Andrews University Lithotech

2005
Printed by Andrews University Lithothec
Berrien Spring, Michigan 49103, USA
Copyright © by Fernando Canale 2005
Cover photo by Silvia Bacchiocchi Canale
Cover design by Gianluca Bacchiocchi
C O N TEN TS

Preface................................................................................... 1
Introduction.............................................................................. 5
1. The Sources o f Theological Knowledge.............................. 10
2. Theological M ethod...............................................................16
3. Theology’s Usefulness........................................................... 30
4. Departing from Scripture: Tradition,
Timelessness and G o d ........................... ............................. 40
5. The Historical God of Scripture............................................ 56
6. The Reality of the Trinity....................................................... 75
7. Divine Foreknowledge..........................................................104
8. Predestination........................................................................ 134
9. Creation in Tradition........................................................... 165
10. Creation in Scripture............................................ 197
11. Basic Elements and the Matrix of Christian Theology... 230
12. Epilogue................................................................................247
Selected Bibliography..................... 251
Glossary.............................................................................. 256
HBH
PREFACE

One hot summer Sabbath afternoon when I was ten years old, I
found myself alone in my grandfather’s living room while the rest
of the family was taking a nap. I could not go out nor did I want to
take a nap, so I began looking around for something to do . First I
scanned the room for some children’s books without success.
Perhaps my grandfather, being a great storyteller, did not think it
necessary to buy children’s books. As my eyes continued to roam
the room for an adequate pastime, they came to rest on a small
wooden box which instantly peaked my interest. Upon opening it
I discovered a little brown book, a Spanish version of the New
Testament.
My grandfather was a pastor and my mother a faithful
Christian. We attended church every Sabbath where I became
acquainted with Scripture. I knew my mother expected me to read
Scripture by myself but I had not been motivated to do so until
that hot afternoon.. With nothing else to do, while the minutes
seemed to stand still, I opened the little book and began browsing
through its pages.
While I was reading the titles of the New Testament books,
the book of “Romans” caught my interest. Immediately, I started
reading it. I kept on reading expecting to find something said
about the Romans, especially the emperors and their battles and
court intrigues. Disappointed, I closed the book without finding
what I expected and not having understood one word Paul wrote.
The moral of the story is that we weave our previous
experience into our reading. In my case, my experience did not
help me to understand the book of Romans. Disappointed I closed
2 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

the Bible. My boyhood experience typifies human hermeneutical


experience. By default we adapt Christian religion to our
experience whether positive, negative, or indifferent, unless we
decide to seriously look and listen to what Scripture says.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, most human
beings initially meet and identify Christianity with its visible
traditions and institutions. To do so is as misleading as judging the
people of a country by their government and leaders. Yet, millions
of people, even Christians, identify Christianity by the institutions
and historical traditions that represent it in our society. Christianity
is Christian tradition, that is, the result of a long historical process
of thinking, administration, and even war that ensued after the
death of Christ and the writings of the Old and New Testaments.
Postmodern society identifies religion with tradition. In our
days, to belong to a particular religion or Christian denomination
means to belong to a particular tradition and culture. Religion is
very rarely about seeking and upholding truth, but about culture,
ritual, and customs relating to our birth, marriage, and death. This
was not so at the beginning. It is not so in Scripture.
Because one finds in Scripture what one seeks, through the
years, as theologians read Christian tradition has fragmented into a
multitude of small traditions and denominations. For the sake of
clarity and brevity, in this book I will refer to tradition in a general
sense as represented by Roman Catholic and Protestant
organizations (main lane and evangelical churches). As I survey
Christian tradition’s interpretation of the basic elements o f
Christian theology, I will work with the teachings of formative
systematic thinkers which Christian tradition follows even today.
Notably, I will dialogue with Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John
Calvin, and Arminius.
Yet, how does one bypass the simplistic and distorted view of
Christianity tradition is feeding the multitudes through digital and
computer technologies? How does one look seriously into the
meaning of Christianity? By letting Scripture replace tradition.
Preface 3

The purpose of this book is to facilitate believers, students,


pastors, and teachers o f all denominations to leave tradition behind
and discover the inner logic of Christianity through the pages of
Scripture. Let me, right off the bat, add a disclaimer: our task is
not an easy one. Yet I promise to simplify things by avoiding the
technical jargon tradition and theological systems commonly use.
Because of the complexity and variety of issues involved, I will be
selective and aim not to give the final word but rather to introduce
the issues for further discussion, correction, and development.
No single mind can embrace all that is involved in the
understanding o f Christianity as revealed in Scripture. Yet I hope
to clarify and compare the general interpretive patterns from
which Christian tradition and Scripture work. My goal is that by
understanding the process through which theologians arrive at
their conclusions, readers will better appreciate the inner logic of
Scriptural teachings in turn enhancing their perception of
Christianity and their relationship with the God of Christianity.
In our study, I assume issues discussed in some length in
previous publications. First, I assume a historical hermeneutical
(postmodern) understanding of reason, the tool we use in
searching for theological meaning, interpreting Scripture, and
constructing the doctrines of Christian theology.1 Second, I
assume a historical cognitive model o f God’s revelation and
inspiration of Scripture2 that departs from the thought revelation
verbal inspiration of classical tradition (Roman Catholic and
Protestant) and the encounter revelation-artistic inspiration of the
modem tradition (Roman Catholic and Protestant).3 Finally, I also
assume a postmodern understanding o f the nature and limitations
of the scientific method and its teachings.4
The contents of this book have grown through the years. In
the last few years, they became part of the material I teach in the
course Survey o f Theology I at the Seventh-day Adventist
Theological Seminary to second-career students. My daughter,
Silvia Canale Bacchiocchi, has helped prepare my manuscript for
printing. I want to thank her for smoothing my English, for her
4 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

many suggestions about how better communicate difficult ideas,


for her permanent encouragement through the writing of the
manuscript, and for doing it all while expecting her third child,
Enzo Fernando. I also want to express my appreciation to Dr.
Miroslav Kis for his support and encouragement in organizing my
teaching schedule so that I could have enough time to write this
book. In this sense, my thanks go also to the administration of the
Adventist Theological Seminary and Andrews University that
provides their teachers with time to research and write. My final
thanks go to God, the source of all goodness and on whose
revelation in Scripture I based my reflections in the Basic
Elements o f Christian Theology. To Him be all glory, honor, and
power now and forevermore.
May God bless the readers of this book.1234

1 Fernando Luis Canale, A Criticism of Theological Reason: Time and


Timelessness as Primordial Presuppositions, Andrews University
Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, 10 Vol., vol. 10 (Berrien Springs,
MI: Andrews University Press, 1983).
2 Fernando Canale, Back to Revelation-Inspiration: Searching for the
Cognitive Foundations o f Christian Theology in a Postmodern World
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001)..
3 Fernando Canale, Understanding Revelation-Inspiration in a
Postmodern World (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Lithotech,
2001).
4 Fernando Canale, "Evolution, Theology and Method Part I: Outline and
Limits of Scientific Methodology," Andrews University Seminary Studies
41, no. 1 (2003): "Evolution, Theology, and Method, Part Ii: Scientific
Method and Evolution," Andrews University Seminary Studies 41, no. 2
(2003); and, "Evolution, Theology and Method, Part III: Evolution and
Adventist Theology," Andrews University Seminary Studies 42, no.
Spring (2004).
INTRO DUCTIO N

§ l.THEOLOGY AND UNDERSTANDING


When I took my first course in systematic theology, I thought the
great theologians of the past had solved all possible problems of
interpretation. As a future minister and Bible teacher, I envisioned
my role would be to pass along the clear teachings of Scripture
backed up by the consensus of scholarship. To study theology, I
thought, would be similar to the study of history or psychology
where you leam from the wisdom of others. Little did I know at
the time that most issues in theology are not settled; that theology
is not about information but about thinking in the light of tradition,
philosophy, and science.
I feel most Christian believers very possibly share my initial
naive take on the nature of theology. They may be quick to accept
doctrines upon joining a church but have little use for them in
everyday living. What, if any, are the practical implications of
theology for life in a complex, pluralistic, postmodern world?
In reality, theology is not about information but about thinking and
understanding divine revelation aiming at finding the wisdom of
God expressed in teachings that may help believers to live their
present and eternal lives as God intended.
The goal o f this brief study of Christian theology is to help
church members understand God’s revelation about himself,
6 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

ourselves, the world, what He is doing in the world and His plans
for the future.

§ 2.THEOLOGY FOR THE CHURCH


The audience I have in mind is the church. This means that I
will attempt to probe the deep things of God for the benefit of
pastors and church members.1 From this center, issues that are of
interest mainly to scholars may be included in the footnotes
sparingly.
I am convinced that there is only one theology. That is to say,
the theology o f pastors and parishioners should be the same as that
o f seminary scholars. The difference between them being the level
o f detailed analysis that the latter exercise in their thinking as well
as the dialogue they keep with tradition, science, and philosophy.
Many Christian denominations decide their theological
understanding at the academic level, which they later “translate” to
the non-academic level of the laity. Frequently, the result is the
existence of parallel, not always compatible, theologies; one truth
for the scholar, another for the “ignorant” layperson. This
theological dichotomy conspires against the unity of the church
and prevents believers from enjoying their Christian experience to
the full.
When pastors and church members begin thinking in the light
o f Scripture they will come to understand the truth about God,
themselves, the world we live in, and the world God has promised
to create in the future.

§ 3.BASIC ELEMENTS OF THEOLOGY


At the beginning o f the twenty-first century, the church is
experiencing a need similar to that of the early Christians. When
the author o f Hebrews wrote about some very complex theological
issues regarding Christ’s ministry in heaven He realized his
audience was lacking the knowledge of the basic elements of
Christianity.. “We have much to say about this [Christ’s ministry
in heaven], but it is hard to explain because you are slow to leam.
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need
Introduction 7

someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over
again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:11-12, NIV,
italics mine).
More precisely, in the original language instead of the
“elementary truths,” Paul says that to understand what he was
writing to the Hebrews church members need someone to teach
them “the basic (rudimentary) elements of the principles of the
oracles” [divine revelation].” The word “estoicheia” (rudimentary
elements) refers to basic things that hold and form part of an
integrated greater whole. The letters in the abecedary is a sample
of rudimentary principles. Each letter is an element o f a whole, the
human language.
From the context of his statement, we can infer Paul was
talking about basic realities and events involved in the greater
whole of Christian theology. We also know that the elements Paul
had in mind are realities and events disclosed to us through the
public means of biblical revelation (oracles [logion]). The basic
elements of Christian theology are biblical elements, not
philosophical teachings introduced later via church tradition.
I do not know exactly what Paul’s specific basic elements
were. Yet, the understanding o f the doctrines he was preaching
integrated and assumed them. My selection of basic principles
may probably be different from Paul’s, yet it will play the same
role and attempt to reach the same goal which his rudimentary
elements played and reached in the first century.
The search for understanding divine revelation is an ongoing,
ever-expanding task, never quite reaching a final stage of
perfection. Theological statements and doctrines are always in
need o f correction from the public source of divine revelation on
which they build. Besides, the richness of divine revelation and the
complexity of the issues it addresses are so great that no single
human being or theological study will ever be able to embrace it
all.
A theology for the church is a theology for life. The search
for understanding divine revelation is a daily search for the
meaning of one’s own existence in the infinite universe and the
purpose of one’s life in the complexity of human and cosmic
8 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

history. By definition, theology is the way in which the ongoing


thinking of the believer and the church takes shape daily in the
flow of our personal histories and communities.

§ 4.THE PLAN OF THE BOOK


All theologians work their reflections using a methodology (a
variety of activities and procedures) that is always conditioned by
(1) cognitive principles (the sources from which they draw their
theological knowledge and information); (2) hermeneutical
principles (the ideas the use to interpret their data); and (3) the
teleological principle (the ultimate aim of theological activities
and reflection).2
Consequently, I will start my presentation by discussing the
sources of theological knowledge to distinguish the watershed
between Christian tradition that builds on the plurality of
theological knowledge conviction and this study which favors the
consistent application of the Protestant sola Scriptura principle
(chapter 1). Then, I will specify the actual procedure (theological
methodology proper) I will follow in studying the interpretation of
the basic principles o f theology in tradition and Scripture (chapter
2) . At the end of my brief reference to specific methodological
issues directly involved in our study, I will reflect on the
usefulness of theology for personal salvation, the unity o f the
church and the advancement of God’s mission on earth (chapter
3) .
With these methodological principles in mind, we will be
ready to consider the first basic element o f Christian theology, the
basic characteristic of God’s reality' as divine entity. We will
survey the timeless view of God’s reality in Christian tradition
(chapter 4), and, the historical view o f God’s reality in Scripture
(chapter 5). Then we will turn our attention to the second basic
element o f Christian theology, the triune nature o f God’s entity
and life as understood by Christian tradition and Scripture (chapter
6). Once we have a basic understanding of the Trinitarian nature
of God’s entity and life, we can move on to survey God’s
activities that condition our theological understanding o f our
Introduction 9

created reality, history, salvation and new creation. The third basic
element o f Christian theology is divine wisdom and
foreknowledge. We will survey the teachings of Christian tradition
and Scripture on this point. The understanding of God’s wisdom
and foreknowledge is foundational to understand God’s design for
creation (chapter 7). The fourth basic element o f Christian
Theology is divine predestination (chapter 8). The understanding
o f each element assumes our understanding of previous elements.
Thus, Christian tradition and Scripture assume their own
distinctive and conflicting interpretations of previous elements in
their views on predestination. The understanding of divine
predestination conditions our understanding o f salvation and
therefore everything related to Christian teachings on salvation
and history. The fifth basic element o f Christian Theology is
creation. Through creation, God’s eternal design for the universe
became real. We will survey Christian tradition’s classical and
modem views on creation (chapter 9), followed by Scripture’s
teachings on creation (chapter 10). After our study of creation, I
will argue that all five basic elements o f Christian theology
organically interface in both Christian tradition and Scripture.
Their organic interface forms the matrix from which all
interpretation of Scripture and construction of Christian teachings
springs (chapter 11). I conclude the book by calling all readers to
let Scripture replace Christian tradition in their theological
thinking and spiritual lives (epilogue). At the end, I will include a
selected bibliography o f books cited and a glossary with technical
terms to help readers understand theological jargon more
precisely.12

1 Millard Erickson, "On Fyling in Theological Fog," in Reclaiming the


Center: Confronting Evangelical Accomomdation in Postmodern Times,
ed. Millard J. Erickson (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books, 2004), 339-340.
2 Fernando Canale, "Interdisciplinary Method in Christian Theology? In
Search of a Working Proposal," Neue Zeitschrift fur Systematische
Theologie und Religionsphilosophie 43, no. 3 (2001).
1. THE SO URCES OF THEOLOGICAL
KNOW LEDGE

A theology for the church must be a theology for believers, for


those who teach and preach, as well as for those who week after
week sit in the pews. Believers seek to know God personally,
experientially by understanding His attributes. This is what
cements their belief and furthers their faith. From where does the
believer’s knowledge of God originate? In other words, what is the
source Christians have to know God? These questions open our
study of the grounding principle of the theological method. The
theological method is simply the system or process which
believers follow in order to arrive at their interpretation o f God,
Scripture and formulation of religious beliefs.
Throughout history, Christians have embarked on several
paths in their quest to understand God. Different sources for
theological reflection have lead to different schools of theology
with the natural result o f splitting Christianity into several
conflicting practices, churches, or denominations. Let’s briefly
consider some of the major paths theologians have undertaken to
develop their understanding of God.

§ 5.ATHEISM
Not only Christian believers think about God. Non-Christian
religions also think about Him. Even those who do not believe
there is a God must take Him into account. These latter are called
atheists.
Atheism is the conviction that there is no God. Because
sensory perception does not give us information about God, nor
can reasoning prove the existence of what religious people call
The Sources of Theological Knowledge 11

God, atheists conclude that He is simply inaccessible. To the


atheist, God is a name without a reality behind it. It is as if we
spoke about the sun, but without any star corresponding to the
definition sun.
Atheism, then, does not allow for a theology. For atheists
there is only philosophical and scientific understanding of
themselves, the world and the future.
Since Atheism questions the existence of God with rational
arguments, many Christian theologians have provided rational
arguments showing that He exists. This rational exercise is part of
Christian apologetics. Some authors start their exposition of
Christian theology by proving rationally the existence o f God.
Thomas Aquinas, leading theologian for the Roman Catholic
Church, is a classic example o f this approach.
Atheists, then, deny that there is a way for us to understand
God, simply because according to their reasoning there is no
divine reality. To understand God, in their minds, amounts in the
end to understand nothing. This way of thinking produces a way of
understanding reality without God known as naturalism and
nihilism.
When witnessing to atheists, rational proofs of God’s
existence may help. The Holy Spirit may use these rational
arguments to break down some o f the cultural prejudices that
hinder faith in many postmodern persons.

§ 6.PHILOSOPHY
Besides devising rational arguments to prove the existence o f God,
philosophers have attempted to know God’s nature by
contemplating nature and history. In other words, in philosophy
the sources to know God are the everyday data we find in our
natural environment and historical events. Aristotle (384-322 BC)
was probably the first philosopher to develop an idea of God by
contemplating nature.
During the Middle Ages (VI-XIII centuries AD),
philosophers continued to develop a “natural” knowledge of God.
They conceived the nature of God by negating all imperfections
12 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

and evil characteristics we find in nature and history (way of


negation); by affirming all the good characteristics and perfections
we find in reality (way o f affirmation); and, by claiming God
possess them in an infinitely perfect mode (way of eminence).
These three ways to know the nature o f God produce the notion o f
a personal timeless God usually labeled as theism.
In modem times (XVIII-XX centuries AD), philosophers
placed God outside of the cause-and-effect line of the space-time
continuum. They no longer conceive o f God as a person with
characteristics similar to humans (anthropomorphic God) but as
something that exists beyond the limits o f our creatureliness. The
concept of God becomes associated mostly with energy pervading
and leading nature and history. This way to know God blurs the
distinction between God and the world. For all practical purposes,
God and the world are the same. The scholarly designations that
identify this way of understanding God are pantheism and
panentheism.
The study o f God based on natural and historical sources
helps philosophers to continue in their search for the meaning of
natural and historical realities, for instance, the world, humans,
knowledge, history, and good. The concepts and teachings shaped
by the natural/historical approach become the content of what
scholars call Natural Theology.

§ 7.HISTORY OF RELIGIONS
In modem times (XVII-XX centuries AD), the same approach
described above (see §6) initiated the study of God using data
produced by different religions. On a pantheistic and parenthetic
base, some modem thinkers began to study God by reflecting on
religious experience. Various religions have developed ideas about
God based on religious experiences, whose existence scientists
cannot deny as human phenomena. Philosophers, then, start their
“scientific” study of God by using the ideas produced by
“religious experiences” as data to construct an idea of God that
they could not justify by scientific procedures.
The Sources of Theological Knowledge 13

This procedure, then, takes as sources of theological


knowledge the teachings produced by all religious traditions
including the Christian religion. Scholars call this approach the
history o f religion or the history of traditions approach. The
concepts and notions about God gathered from tradition as source
of theological knowledge are also a part of “Natural Theology.”

§ 8.MULTIPLE SOURCES
Most theological traditions use the multiple sources of theological
knowledge approach. By arguing that philosophy correctly speaks
about God in harmony with Christ’s revelation, Justin Martyr
(100-165 AD) initiated the theological conviction that Christianity
must study God and develop its doctrines using multiple sources
of information.1 Following his lead, most Roman Catholic and
Protestant theologians built their ideas on God and theological
systems on the multiple sources of theological knowledge matrix.
Although the Roman Catholic tradition originated the
multiple sources matrix approach, in practice Protestants never
totally rejected it, in spite o f their much-heralded conviction about
the sola Scriptura (Scripture only) principle. They refer to the
multiple sources of theological knowledge for the study o f God
and all Christian doctrines as the “quadrilateral of sources” which
includes experience, Scripture, tradition, and philosophy.
The conviction that Christianity should build its
understanding of God and doctrinal system in a multiple sources
matrix has become unchallengeable methodological dogma. To
question it amounts to heresy.

§ 9.SCRIPTURE
Another possible way to understand God and develop the
teachings o f Christian theology for our postmodern world is the
use of Scripture, Old and New Testaments, as the sole source of
information about God and Christian doctrines.
The Protestant Reformers introduced the revolutionary sola
Scriptura (Scripture only) principle in the XVIth century AD.
However, in spite of their bold formal challenge to the multiple
14 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

source of theology matrix, in practice Protestant theologians


continue to do theology from the multiple source matrix.
Due to the unchallenged methodological dogma insisting that
Christian theologians build their theologies from a multiplicity of
interrelated sources of knowledge, leading Christian traditions and
denominations have not yet developed an understanding of God
based only on Scripture.

§ lO.CONCLUSION
Obviously, thinking about God requires a public way to know
Him. By “public,” I mean readily accessible to all human beings at
all times. The source of theological knowledge is, therefore, the
basic, grounding issue on which theological methodology stands.
A clear explanation of theological methodology is necessary to
justify the way in which we identify and understand the basic
elements of Christian theology in the pluralistic atmosphere of
twenty-first century Christianity.
The position any theologian takes about the source or sources
of theological knowledge will determine the general direction and
system of their theological search for the meaning of God and
Christian doctrines. In a sense, the choice of source of theological
knowledge is the parting o f the ways between various projects of
Christian theology.
For the most part, theologians uncritically follow the
theological sources of the tradition to which they belong. This
decision necessary predetermines their understanding o f God and
their assumptions of how He reveals Himself.
Atheism, in denying the existence of God, denies the
possibility of revelation and therefore of a truthful theology.
Consequently, this option does not help theologians to decide the
source of theological knowledge.
Natural Theology develops various interpretations of God. In
its theistic and panentheistic interpretations, Natural Theology
develops as the human version o f what God should be like.
Natural theology imagines God in the silence of His absence. The
result is a God either totally separate from the world as in Deism,
The Sources of Theological Knowledge 15

or totally identified with it as in pantheism and panentheism.


These versions radically differ from the biblical version o f God.
The multiple sources of theological knowledge matrix, on
which classical modem and postmodern traditions o f Christian
theology build, greatly distort the self-revelation o f God testified
to in Scripture. The teachings of Natural Theology dominate in the
interpretation of biblical information about God’s being and acts.
In the process, biblical thought is either completely neglected or
distorted. Sadly, it is through this distorted vision that Christianity
stands and continues to represent God to a multitude o f sincere
believers and seekers.
Clearly, there must be a better way to present God to
believers, free of distortions and built on a reliable foundation.
This way is none other than the biblical way. In Basic Elements o f
Christian Theology, I will attempt to help Christian believers
understand God, from God’s own self-presentation throughout
human history, as attested to in the public records o f Scripture.
Understanding the reality of God is the first basic element o f
Christian theology on which everything else hinges.

1 “Justin tries to trace a real bond between philosophy and Christianity:


according to him both the one and the other have a part in the Logos,
partially disseminated among men and wholly manifest in Jesus Christ (I,
v, 4; I, xlvi; II, viii; II, xiii, 5, 6)” Jules Leberton, "St. Justin Martyr," in
The Catholic Encyclopedia (www.New Advent.org, 2003).
2. THEOLOGICAL M ETHOD

As I explained in the first chapter, Basic Elements o f Christian


Theology does not pretend to be the final theological word for the
Church but a springboard to get believers started in thinking and
acting in the light of Scripture. This requires that all believers
agree upon some basic assumptions and procedures. Once we
agree on presuppositions and basic method, the diversity o f God-
given talents will work in harmony, producing unity in mind and
action.
For this reason, before moving into the study of God, we
must consider our roadmap, the way in which we will proceed.
Theologians in the past refer to this as “prolegomena,” that is to
say, the things we need to articulate explicitly before we attempt to
identify and interpret some basic elements o f Christian theology.
In this chapter, we will consider the Scripture principle; the
interpretation principle; the deconstruction o f tradition; and the
construction of theological thinking by way o f Biblical and
Systematic Theologies.
One last word before we begin, it is likely that some church
members may find this chapter’s analytical and technical content
intimidating or discouraging. If this is the case, I advice skipping
this chapter and returning to it later. On the other hand, theological
students, pastors, and Bible teachers may want to consider it
carefully in order to become better acquainted with basic aspects
o f theological thinking.

§ ll.THE SOLA SCRIPTURA PRINCIPLE


No Christian theology can operate or even exist without Scripture.
Natural theology and the history of religions cannot produce
Theological Method 17

Christian theology. Only the Bible has the necessary information


to produce Christian theology. Thus, all schools of theology speak
about the Scripture principle. However, as will become clearer
further into our study, the way in which the Scripture principle
functions in any theological project depends on the understanding
of revelation and inspiration assumed by each theological project.
By theological project, I mean any tradition that attempts to
understand God and Christian teachings in a coherent way. In the
broadest sense, we can say that there are as many theological
projects as theologians. In the narrowest sense, we can say that
there are three major theological projects or traditions: Roman
Catholic/Eastem Orthodox, the Protestant/Evangelical, and the
Modemist/Scientific. As I allude to theological “traditions” or
“projects,” I will be referring in the narrowest sense to these three
projects as the main traditions, schools or projects of Christian
theology.
Since each tradition understands the revelation-inspiration of
Scripture in a different way, the Scripture principle plays
differently in each project.
The theological project I will briefly trace in Basic Elements
o f Christian Theology not only assumes a different understanding
of the revelation and inspiration of Scripture but also replaces the
multiple sources context with a full application of the Protestant
sola Scriptura (only Scripture) principle.
The full application of the sola Scriptura principle, embraces
not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament as an
indivisible revelation from God (tota Scriptura). By committing
itself to the whole of Scripture, Basic Elements o f Christian
Theology leaves behind the heretical tendency to build Christian
theology from the New Testament without the doctrinal structure
of the Old Testament. To understand God and Christian doctrines
we need to discover the inner logic of the divine historical
continuity which the Old and New Testament reveals.
Faithfulness to the whole of Scripture also pre-empts the
typical “cannon within the cannon” methodology. In other words,
it averts the tendency to shape Christian theology by picking and
18 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

choosing from Scripture whatever best suits one’s religious


traditions.
In the multiple sources of theology context, the prima
Scriptura procedure means that theologians start with a biblical
teaching, passage, or concept which they then complement or
adapt to information or concepts derived from other sources. In the
sola Scriptura principle context, the prima Scriptura procedure
functions in the following way.
First, theologians search for the meanings of the entire
biblical revelation guided by hermeneutical principles derived
from Scripture itself. Only then, we apply the biblical ideas about
God, the world and humankind to understand and criticize all
human wisdom. So under the sola Scriptura principle, the prima
Scriptura procedure means that theologians give hermeneutical
and interpretive priority to the truth of Scripture over the truths we
arrive through philosophical and scientific methodologies.
Moreover, we criticize and understand the latter in the light of the
former.
Because we have decided to define the principle of
theological knowledge by replacing the traditional multiple
sources paradigm with the full application o f the Protestant sola
Scriptura (only Scripture) principle, the theological project I will
develop in Basic Elements o f Christian Theology will radically
depart from the main projects o f Christian theology.

§ 12.PRINCIPLES OF INTERPRETATION
Theology is an intellectual interpretive activity. As such, it
involves not only data (the principle of knowledge), but also
human beings attempting to understand the data and the reality
about which the data speak (the principle of interpretation). Here
is the point where professional theologians, pastors, and believers
come into the theological task. While lay people have nothing to
do with the contents of theological data, their understanding of the
contents shapes Christian doctrine.
Theological Method 19

Since theology is the task o f understanding divine revelation


(§1) which God through revelation-inspiration has made available
in Scripture (§11) we need to become familiar with the principles
of interpretation.
To know is to understand, and to understand is to interpret.
All human knowledge, including theology, falls within the general
patterns of interpretation. So, what is interpretation? The English
dictionary tells us that to “interpret” means “to conceive in the
light of belief, judgment, or circumstance.” Key to the notion of
interpretation is the “light” in which we see things. In technical
jargon, the “light” in which we see things is made up by the
presuppositions or context we assume when attempting to
understand data, information or facts.
We need to perceive the difference between data (facts,
information) and knowledge (understanding). That “2+2=4,” and,
that the “sun is hot” are data we receive by way o f language. We
discover the meaning of both when we put it in the context of the
realities to which they refer. That is to say, we understand that
“2+2=4” when we connect this set of signs with our counting
apples. When we take one apple and put it beside another apple we
have two apples. When we take two apples and put them beside
another two apples, we have four apples. We learn this cognitive
procedure early in our infancy and bring it with us whenever we
face an arithmetic equation. We learn “in the light” of our previous
familiarity with the object, to which the signs we take as data
refer. The previous knowledge we bring to the task of
understanding signs or realities automatically shapes our
understanding or interpretation o f them. The same happens in the
phrase: “the sun is hot.” Because the knowledge these statements
express is so clear to us and we can corroborate it by our
immediate experience, we call them “facts” and tend to forget that
we have obtained them through interpretation.
However, not all knowledge is so clear and immediately open
to our experience and corroboration. When issues are complex,
interpretation usually leads to different views o f the same object,
text, reality, or problem. This is the case when humans attempt to
understand scientific, philosophical, or theological texts,
20 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

questions, or realities. Scientific, philosophical, and theological


knowledge always depends on the presuppositions human beings
assume in their understanding of data.
We, therefore, must keep in mind that as theologians, pastors
and believers attempt to understand divine revelation given in the
language of Scripture, their conclusions reflect not only the
revelatory data they study but also the presuppositions or “light” in
which they see them.
In short, the “light” in which we see things is the knowledge
we already have regarding the things we attempt to understand.
Thus, interpreters do not “invent” the light or presuppositions they
need to understand their objects of study, but they assume it from
the objects themselves, based on previous knowledge or
experiences.
Since knowledge is interpretation, all theological projects are
the product o f the application of different presuppositions,
preconceptions, or “lights” regarding the object we study. In the
case of Christian theology all theological project is an
interpretation that attempts to understand God and Christ as
revealed in Scripture.
The sources of theological knowledge we studied under the
title of the Scripture principle (§11) made clear that a theological
project based on Scripture alone will be radically different from all
theological projects based on the multiple sources of theological
knowledge matrix. If theologians work with different sets o f data,
their conclusions are bound to be different.
However, why are there different theological projects among
theologians that agree with the multiple sources of theological
knowledge matrix? The answer is simple. Theologians working
from a multiple sources of theological knowledge matrix interpret
theology and construct their understanding of theology from the
dictates of philosophy and science. As these sources change with
the development of human knowledge, so does the light from
which theologians construct their theological projects.
For instance, the classical project of Christian theology (in its
Roman Catholic, Easter Orthodox, Protestant, and Evangelical
Theological Method 21

versions) works in the light of Platonic and Aristotelian concepts


of reality and knowledge. The modern project of Christian
theology works under Kantian and Hegelian philosophical
concepts as well as the scientific theory o f evolution.
The theological project I intend to trace in Basic Elements o f
Christian Theology significantly departs from tradition as it will
draw its “light” from Scripture itself. Thus, we will derive the
principles of interpretation from the Scripture principle. In so
doing I will continue the theological direction o f Old and New
Testament writers and the tradition o f the so-called “Radical
Reformation” initiated, among others, by the Anabaptist
community.
The principles of interpretation are about reality (ontology),
articulation (metaphysics), and, knowledge (epistemology). The
principle of reality deals with the basic characteristics of God,
human beings and the world. The principle o f articulation deals
with the way in which God, human beings, and the world interact.
The principle o f knowledge deals with the way in which human
knowledge operates, the origin of theological knowledge, and the
way in which we should interpret theological data.
Because this is not an academic study but a Theology fo r the
Church, I will not attempt a theoretical analysis of the cognitive or
the interpretative principles of Christian theology.1 Instead, I will
address the principles o f reality and articulation as part o f the
theological search into the meaning o f Scriptural revelation.

§ 13.DECONSTRUCTION OF TRADITION
Biblical interpretation and doctrinal construction take place as
history. We belong to and work within a history of interpretation
and construction. Even when defining the principles o f theological
knowledge and interpretation differently theologians need to relate
their views to past and present traditions.
In this work, we will relate our search for meaning to the
main theological projects in Christian thinking that determine the
thinking and actions o f most Christian believers around the world.
These projects are the classical, which includes the original
22 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Roman Catholic version, and the Protestant version o f the Catholic


version; and, the Modem project that also includes the Roman
Catholic and Protestant versions. The content of these projects are
the central part of what Christians call “tradition.” The leading
projects of Christian theology use tradition as the “light” from
which to continue interpreting Scripture and constructing Christian
doctrines.
How should a theological project that intentionally interprets
Scripture and builds Christian doctrines on the sola Scriptura
principle relate to a tradition that builds from the multiple sources
of theology matrix? Should we reject it completely?
In Scripture, we have a negative and a positive view of
tradition. On the negative side, for instance, we find Christ
answered Pharisees and Scribes when they accused His disciples
of breaking the tradition o f the elders by charging them with
following their tradition instead of God’s Law (Mathew 15:1-16;
c.f. Mark 7:8-9, 13). Paul expands the negative use of tradition in
theology by including philosophically originated traditions.
(Colossians 2:8). On the positive side, Paul commands the
brethren “that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that
walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of
us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6 KJV). Because we are historical beings
tradition is unavoidable. Tradition is the history to which we
belong. So there is a good theological history/tradition which
springs from divine revelation in Scripture, and an erroneous,
distorting theological tradition originating in man’s imagination
and philosophy.
Obviously, we cannot take traditional teachings as
authoritative sources of theology. Instead, we should engage
tradition critically to determine whether it contributes to
understanding scriptural revelation in the light of Scripture. While
respecting tradition and willing to learn from it, the Scripture
principle from which we work requires a critical engagement of
tradition as a precondition to use concepts from tradition.
The critical retrieval of tradition stems from a “hermeneutics”
of suspicion that generates a deconstruction of all theological
Theological Method 23

systems, interpretations, and concepts. In other words, we engage


tradition but do not receive it as revealed dogma. Instead, we see
tradition as human constructions conditioned by the concepts their
creators implicitly or explicitly chose in their theological
constructions. Consequently, we cannot take tradition as a source
of theology but, instead, we must approach it with suspicion.
Because human beings working from the multiple sources of
theology matrix generate the main traditions of Christian theology,
a theology that works from the sola Scriptura principle must
compare traditional teaching with biblical thinking and retrieve
only that which fits within its margins. We must reject what falls
outside the limits and inner logic of biblical thinking and replace it
with a new construction, building from the solid pillars of biblical
revelation.
Deconstruction is the methodological procedure by which we
analyze the systems of biblical interpretation and doctrinal
construction. Beginning from the totality of their claims,
deconstruction follows the inner logic of traditional positions to
identify the basic elements on which they stand. If the basic
elements on which they stand are biblical, we can retrieve them for
theological use in the church. If they stand on philosophical,
scientific and/or cultural constructions, Christians need to reject
them, building, in their place, new conceptions from basic biblical
ideas. Theologians working from the sola Scriptura matrix should
deconstruct all theological traditions including their own.
Deconstruction is not an end in itself but the necessary step
leading to biblical interpretation and doctrinal construction.

§ 14.BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
Although believers have interpreted Scripture since the early
beginnings of Christian theology, they did it from the framework
of philosophy and systematic theology. In those times, theologians
understood Scripture in the light of philosophical and theological
traditions. Even the great Reformers Luther and Calvin who gave
Scripture a prominent role in their theological constructions did
24 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

not work within the parameters of modem biblical theology and its
method.
Ever since the eighteenth century, exegetical methodology
has worked independently from philosophy and church tradition
but become subservient to the methods and presuppositions of
modem science. Thus, instead of interpreting Scripture from
philosophical and church traditions, exegetes interpreted Scripture
following the same methods historians apply in their scientific
interpretation of historical texts. This modem approach to Bible
studies freed Scripture from tradition but shackled it to scientific
presuppositions and methods. We know this approach as the
“historical critical method.” This method has led to a larger
distortion of biblical truth. To put it bluntly, according to the
historical critical method there is no divine truth in Scripture, only
the presence of various threads of human traditions.
In spite of the low view of Scripture held by the scholars
involved in the origination of biblical exegesis as an independent
theological discipline, Bible believers learned to do exegesis
without applying the negative scientific presuppositions followed
by their learned European colleagues.
Not surprisingly, biblical theology and its exegetical
methodology have captured the imagination of theologians
building Christian theology from Scripture. This becomes
prominent in the conservative evangelical circles where the
generalized conviction is that if truth is in the words of Scripture,
biblical exegesis is the method we must use to understand God.
Once exegesis has ended, we have discovered truth from God.
Theologically, we need to do nothing else to understand God and
the teachings of Christianity. This methodological conviction is
alive in present-day American conservative Evangelicalism.
At first sight, believers in sola Scriptura may think the
interpretation of the text is all theologians need to do to understand
divine truth. However, believers soon discover that exegetical
methodology only attempts to understand the meaning of the text
of Scripture stopping short from actually wrestling with the
important truths and questions these texts raise. Understanding
Theological Method 25

God requires understanding what the texts say and mean for us
today (that is what biblical exegetes do), but it also requires that
we grapple with the truths and the issues discovered and
uncovered by biblical exegesis (this is what systematic theologians
do).

§ 15.SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY
Since most Christian denominations use multiple sources of
theology, one can safely say their beliefs and teachings do not
derive from biblical exegesis. Instead, their beliefs and teachings
stem from traditionally received interpretations and constructions
flowing from philosophy, science, culture, personal experience,
and Scripture. This includes even conservative evangelical
denominations that claim to uphold a high view of Scripture.
1. Difference between biblical and systematic theologies
Very few theologians attempt to understand the meaning of
Christian doctrines from Scripture alone. When they do, they
engage in what we today call “systematic theology” to distinguish
it from “biblical” or “exegetical” theology. The difference
between them is methodological and centers in what they try to
understand. While biblical or exegetical theology try to understand
the text of Scripture (§ 14), systematic theology tries to understand
reality as a whole from the perspective of God and His actions.
From a different angle, we may say that biblical theology is a
textual discipline while systematic theology is a discipline about
reality as a whole (an “ontological” discipline).
2. Methodological limitation of conservative evangelical
systematic theologies
Let us consider briefly the status of systematic theology in
conservative Evangelical theologies. I propose this detour because
they belong to a tradition that claims simultaneously to abide by
the sola Scriptura principle and the multiple sources of theology.
Does Evangelical theology following this approach to theological
sources produce a viable methodological model to do systematic
theology in the “light” o f Scripture?
26 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Systematic Theology as Summary: Most conservative


American Evangelical theologians approach theology from the
methodological conviction that systematic theology is a summary
of biblical exegesis. An example of this view is systematic
theologian Wayne Grudem. He defines systematic theology as the
task of “collecting and understanding all the relevant passages in
the Bible on various topics and then summarizing their teachings
clearly so that we know what to believe about each topic.”2 From
this perspective, systematic theology appears to be the large
“summary” for church consumption of what biblical exegesis
produces.
Systematic Theology as interconnected Construction:
Emphasizing the multiple sources of theology approach,
postconservative American Evangelical theologian Stanley Grenz
takes issue with Grudem’s conservative project of Systematic
Theology. First, Grenz claims that Grudem’s emphasis on
Scripture is an attempt to “sidestep the thorny issues surrounding
the roles of tradition and culture in theology.”3
Grenz is right in bringing up this issue because the
Evangelical tradition to which both Grudem and Grenz belong
dogmatically accepts the multiplex of theological sources. Thus,
on this methodological assumption, working on just one source
without further explanation seems unacceptable.
Second, Grenz correctly criticizes the Grudem’s claim that in
theology the order o f the doctrines or truths does not modify
theological understanding or truth.4 Grenz proposes to replace
Grudem’s disconnectedness o f theological truths with the notion
that we ought to view “Christian doctrine as comprising a ‘belief-
mosaic’ and see theology, in turn, as the exploration o f Christian
doctrine viewed as an interrelated, unified whole.”5
Grenz is again correct in challenging Grudem suggestion that
theological truths stand disconnected. This claim breaks the heart
of any systematic understanding o f Christianity. In reality, nothing
exists in disconnection from everything else. Thus, we cannot
understand the close-knit teachings of Scripture in disconnection
from each other.
Theological Method 27

Weighing Grudem’s and Grenz’s approaches to Systematic Theology.


Grudem’s and Grenz’s projects represent two different
approaches to doing systematic theology in the Evangelical
tradition. On the one hand, Grudem emphasizes Scripture as
presuppositional truth while neglecting the systematic nature of
biblical thinking. On the other hand, Grenz emphasizes the
interconnection between ideas and doctrines but neglects Scripture
by mixing it with tradition and contemporary culture.
Grenz follows the old way o f doing theology by mixing
Scripture with tradition and culture. This way originated and is
still alive in Roman Catholicism and most Protestant
denominations and has, unfortunately, distorted Christian theology
and experience. We need to follow a new way, the way of
Scripture that Grudem attempts to follow. However, the way to do
theology from Scripture alone requires more than an exegesis of
the texts and a summary of their contents. To understand Christian
theology we need to discover, understand, and apply the inner
logic (interconnectedness or articulation) of biblical thought and
acts.
Thus, we will search for the meaning of Christianity from
Scripture by deconstructing tradition, and thinking about the
realities that Scripture speaks about “in the light” o f Scripture.
That is to say, we will interpret biblical texts, find the inner logic
of biblical ideas, and construct the basic shape of Christian
doctrines from principles of interpretation derived from Scripture
itself.

§ 15. CONCLUSION
Living in a Christian society we are all painfully aware o f the
plurality of denominations that profess to represent Christ. Most
Christians and non-Christians have become accustomed to the
multiplicity of Christian denominations and non-Christian
religions coexisting in the pluralistic culture of western
civilization. The tolerant attitude promoted by democracy, and the
relativism advanced by postmodern intellectuals has brought about
the unchallenged conviction that religion is a part of human
28 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

experience derived from culture. Consequently, religious pluralism


is seen a fact of human experience received through birth and
tradition. This general opinion collides with the also general
opinion that all religions speak about the same God. If all religions
speak about the same God, why do we have so many religions
describing God and our relation with Him in contradictory ways?
If Christ is one and explicitly called for the unity o f His followers,
why do we have a multiplicity o f church denominations professing
to represent Him to the world?
Different Christian denominations stand on different
theological projects. Different theological projects result from the
application of different theological methodologies. Different
theological methodologies stem from the way in which Christian
theologians have decided on the sources of theology through
which God reveals Himself to them. Finally, theological projects
differ because of the principles of theological interpretation
theologians choose as guides in their interpretation of Scripture
and construction of Christian doctrines.
The theological project briefly traced in Basic Elements o f
Christian Theology builds by replacing the traditional multiple
source of theology with the Radical Reformation sola-tota-prima
Scriptura principle. Because o f this methodological choice, we
will be forced to radically depart from mainline Roman Catholic,
Protestant, and Conservative theological projects. The reasons and
contents of such departure will become self-evident as we slowly
develop the basic elements of Christian theology.
A consistent application o f the sola Scriptura principle will
require a change of the principle (light) from which we will
understand Scripture and Christian teachings. The Scripture
principle requires a careful deconstruction of all traditions and
theological interpretations to make sure we only retrieve what
finds its ground in Scripture understood in the light of biblical
principles and thought. Our project will draw mostly from biblical
theology and therefore use the exegetical method and insights
discovered by biblical theologians working within the theological
methodology we have decided to follow. The purpose o f our
Theological Method 29

project is not to understand the biblical text but the thought the
text conveys and the realities the thought illuminates to our
understanding.
Before turning to the study of God, the first element o f
Christian theology, we must reflect about the need to do theology.
Why should we spend time and energy trying to understand
Scripture and searching into what God has revealed in its pages?

1 I assume in this study my previous scholarly analysis of them, see for


instance, Fernando Canale, Back to Revelation-Inspiration: Searching for
the Cognitive Foundations of Christian Theology in a Postmodern World
(Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001), 21.; and, Fernando
Luis Canale, A Criticism of Theological Reason: Time and Timelessness
as Primordial Presuppositions, vol. 10, Andrews University Seminary
Doctoral Dissertation Series (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University
Press, 1983).
2 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical
Doctrine (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 21.
3 Stanley Grenz, and John R. Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping
Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville, KY: Westminster John
Knox Press, 2001), 14.
4 Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine,32.
5 Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern
Context,51.
3. TH EO LO G Y’S USEFU LN ESS

During my senior year in college, I had the delightful experience


of studying under the fresh mind of a theology teacher who was
new to the school and profession overall. He had been a pastor all
his life and was not aware of many o f the protocols of an
educative institution. The first day of class, he handed out the
course outline. After enumerating several requirements, he added,
“it would be good if besides reading 800 pages you prepared 80
index cards with thoughts that impressed you the most, as they
will become a valuable resource in your ministry.”
One week before the deadline for all our papers and reports
the teacher said: “and don’t forget to turn in the eighty index cards
I asked you to write.” With quizzical looks in unison we replied,
“what index cards? You just said, it be good if we wrote them,’
you never said we needed to write them!” It goes without saying
that we burnt the midnight oil the rest o f the week writing those
eighty index cards that now were an unquestionable requisite for
all. The moral of the story is we rarely put effort into doing things
unless we consider them necessary or required.
Is theology necessary? Why should we care about theology or
spend money in theological training? And why should the average
believer engage in theology? In our postmodern times the answer
to these questions is more important for the Church than finding
rational proofs for the existence of God. Basic Elements o f
Christian Theology challenges the conviction that theology is an
obscure theoretical reflection without any practical usefulness. The
usefulness of theology is not an “element” of it but its final goal.
As such, the usefulness o f theology belongs to the various
principles of theological method.
Theology’s Usefulness 31

Most Christians may argue that theology is useful, but their


ignorance and neglect paints a different picture. One can be a
Christian without knowing, caring, or engaging in theology.
According to Roman-Catholic Christians, what is decisive is
participation in the mass. Without it one can hardly claim to be a
Christian or to possess salvation. According to Protestant and
Evangelical Christians, what is decisive is receiving divine
justification. Without it one can hardly claim to be a Christian or
to possess salvation. According to Pentecostals and Charismatic
Christians, what is decisive is the reception of the Holy Spirit.
Without it one can hardly claim to be a Christian or to possess
salvation. Clearly, most Christian traditions do not see theology as
playing any useful or necessary role in their Christian experience.
Rituals and direct experience with God seems to downplay any
importance that theology might have in their minds.
In this chapter, I will briefly argue that theological reflection
is indispensable for salvation, the unity of the church, and the
success o f her God-given mission.

§ 17.THEOLOGY AND SALVATION


1. Theology as not necessary for salvation, in the
eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury described theology’s aim
as “understanding.” Theology according to Anselm is “faith
searching understanding” (fides quaerem intellectual). What
Anselm suggests as the goal of theology is to understand faith
either as God’s promise of salvation or as the ensemble of church
teachings and practices. In any case, Anselm’s view implies that
faith exists prior to and independently from understanding.
Consequently, faith does not require theology to exist. Instead, to
exist, theology requires the experience of faith. If faith saves, it is
clear that we do not need theology to believe or to receive
salvation.
According to the Roman-Catholic theological project to
which Anselm belonged, theology is not necessary for salvation.
In other words, the believer does not need to understand what he
32 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

or she receives or accepts for salvation. Theology is not necessary


for the act of faith or the experience of salvation to take place.
This may explain why most Christians live their religious
experience without engaging in theology. Besides, to search for
the meaning of one’s faith or leam the summary of fundamental
beliefs in the Church’s creed is quite different from attempting to
understand the will and actions of God as revealed in Scripture.

2. Theology as necessary for salvation.


According to Scripture, however, faith is the acceptance of God’s
words and promises and therefore assumes or pre-requires that the
believer understand God’s self-revelation in Scripture.
Referring to the mixed experience of Old Testament believers
not all o f whom heeded the good news, Paul affirmed the
unbreakable link between understanding and faith by saying that
“faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ”
(Romans 10:16, 17 NAB).
Paul also makes the all-important connection between
theology and salvation. “For since in the wisdom of God the world
through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-
pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save
those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21 NAB). The message of
salvation is the theology that believers must hear, understand and
accept prior to receiving salvation.
Jesus Himself intricately linked theology and salvation by
explaining the nature o f eternal life: "This is eternal life, that they
may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You
have sent” (John 17:3 NAB). So, not only is faith theological in
nature, as it is grounded on the believer’s understanding of God’s
revelation, but, according to Jesus, salvation is also theological in
nature because it centers in knowing God and Jesus Christ.
So we see that without revelation there would be no
understanding of God (theology), without an understanding of
God there would be no faith, and without faith, there could be no
reception o f salvation.
Theology’s Usefulness 33

3. Theological process and salvation


It is important to note that understanding divine revelation in
Scripture is a life-long process, just as knowing God and Christ is
a life-long process, one that will continue through all eternity.
During one of His interchanges with the Jews, Christ outlined the
essential steps through which salvation comes to sinners. In that
process, theology plays an essential yet not the only or decisive
role.
The apostle John wrote, “Jesus was saying to those Jews who
had believed Him, ‘If you continue in My word, then you are truly
disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will
make you free’" (John 8:31-32 NAB). In a brief synthesis, Jesus
pointed out the main steps in the human reception of salvation not
in a theoretical setting, but through practical interactions with real
people living real lives.
The first step: Faith. Christ builds on the faith of Jews who
had believed in Him. How was this initial faith generated?
Obviously, as the result o f Jesus preaching, teaching and acting
among them. They became acquainted with Jesus and understood
what He was saying and who He was, even if dimly. Their initial
faith sprang from their dim understanding of the direct divine
revelation in the person o f Christ. They believed in Him.
If we were at this point to apply literally some of Paul’s
statements regarding justification by faith, we should expect these
Jews to be saved by faith. God should impute justification to them,
as He did to Abraham, the father o f the faithful. Though the text
does not speak about imputation o f justice, we may assume their
faith was imputed to them as righteousness. Yet, according to
Christ an initial manifestation of faith did not free them from sin,
nor bring them salvation.
The second step: Theology. Once the Jews had placed their
faith in Christ, they were ready for the second step: “To continue
in Jesus’ Word.” The Greek word translated “to continue” gives
the idea of continuous permanence in Jesus’ words. Thus,
theology is not only necessary to bring about initial faith, but
initial faith in Christ is necessary to devote our lives to understand
34 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

God’s words and acts. Jesus presented this step as a condition for
the third step
The third step: Discipleship. “Then you are truly my
disciples”: It is only when faith and a continual theological search
become the established, permanent foundation of our lives that we
become disciples. In other words, a disciple is one who lives
according to the understanding he or she derives from the
teachings and actions o f the master on whom they have put their
faith. A disciple not only understands his or her master’s teachings
but accepts them as truth and follows them rigorously as the
compass for making choices in his or her daily life.
The fourth step: Knowledge o f the truth. Discipleship leads to
knowledge of the truth. According to Jesus, truth is not mere
theoretical knowledge or understanding o f His words and actions.
In other words, we do not know the truth by doing biblical or
systematic theologies. We know the truth after we apply the
knowledge we gain from understanding God’s words to our lives.
On this application hinges Christianity and personal
salvation. As we will learn in the chapter 8 on predestination, the
Trinitarian God decided that His perfect creation should center in
Christ’s personal historical mediation of divine wisdom and
understanding to human beings. God plan of salvation is to restore
the order of creation centered in Christ’s historical incarnation and
revelation of His wisdom.
To be a Christian, then, is to live everyday by God’s wisdom
revealed in the words o f Scripture. They should become the light
from which we take all the decisions that shape our minds and
characters. “To know” God is to experience His wisdom in our
daily lives, to make it our own, to be o f the same mind Jesus had
when living on earth. According to Christ, we know the truth
when we, in faith, make choices and take action— ones that may at
times seem contrary to logic. Only then, we experience the
redeeming power of God’s words.
The fifth step: Salvation as freedom from sin. Jesus’ words,
“and the truth will set you free” have become part o f our western
culture yet are, unfortunately, generally applied outside the
Theology’s Usefulness 35

theological context in which Christ pronounced them. What Christ


was saying is that on condition of abiding in Him within a faith-
theology-obedience continuum, humans will know the truth and
that truth will make them free. It is only at this point that freedom
or salvation can be received. That Jesus was indeed speaking
about salvation becomes clear when we consider His response to
the Jews, presumably those who did not put their faith in Him.
These immediately challenged the truthfulness of Jesus’ words,
“We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved
to anyone; how is it that you say, 'you will become free'?" (John
8:33, NAB). (Of course, in a political sense their claim was false
since they were under Roman domination).
“Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone
who commits sin is the slave of sin.’ ‘The slave does not remain in
the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son
makes you free, you will be free indeed’” (John 8:34-36 NAB).
According to Christ, freedom from sin— salvation— results
from receiving both God’s truth and the Son by living within the
faith-theology-obedience continuum. In explaining the will o f God
for us by way of the Law and wisdom of God revealed in Old and
New Testaments, Truth frees us from a future life of slavery to sin.
By Christ’s life and death in our stead, the Son frees us from our
past transgressions that condemn us.
To receive salvation we need to receive/abide in the Truth
and the Son. To receive them we need to live within the belief-
theology-obedience continuum Christ expects of all who becomes
His disciples.
We should at this point remember that according to Christ,
the church should baptize disciples, that is, those who have
decided to live within the faith-theology-obedience continuum
(Matt, 28:19). When Paul and other New Testament writers speak
about being “in Christ” or being “in the Spirit,” we should
understand their expressions as technical words referring to what
Christ described as a “faith-theology-obedience-continuous”
relationship with Him, the Master.
In fact, following Christ’s pattern, Paul synthesized the steps
in the experience of salvation by including the same steps: We
36 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

receive justification when by faith we open our lives to Christ


(Romans 3:22) (stepl). Later, Paul expands the steps of salvation
by explaining “that, though you used to be slaves to sin you
wholeheartedly obeyed (step 3) the form of teaching (step 2) to
which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin (step5)
and have become slaves to righteousness (step 4)” (Romans 6:17-
18). Paul clearly follows the same pattern of salvation established
by Christ. This is little wonder since the “disciple is never above
His master” (Matthew 10:24).

§ 18.THEOLOGY AND UNITY


Before offering up His spotless life in our stead, Christ
pronounced the most beautiful intercessory prayer. He asked His
Father that throughout history His disciples may be one (John
17:20-22). Christ prayed for unity in the church most probably
because He knew the enemy would introduce divisiveness.
The only way to achieve Christ’s goal of church unity is for
each church member to focus on a “faith-theology-obedience-
continuous” relationship to Christ. Essential to the praxis o f faith
and obedience is the understanding of God and His will held by
each member o f the community. The same applies in different
communities of faith. Christian denominations stand separate
mainly because they understand God differently.
This shows that theology plays a central role not only in the
salvation of human beings but also in the unity of a worldwide
community of faith.
Pastors and laypersons should become seriously involved in
theological thinking if Christ’s prayer for the unity of His disciples
would become a reality in our complex, postmodern world. Many
are the questions and options pressed on postmodern believers.
More than ever, they need to understand the Truth so that it might
free them from the uncertainty of relativism and subjectivism
advanced by western culture at the beginning of the twenty-first
century.
Theology’s Usefulness 37

§ 19.THEOLOGY AND MISSION


Most believers will very likely not see any real connection
between theology and mission. After all, theology is theoretical
and mission is practical. Theology deals with arcane ideas and
mission with the immediate needs o f present-day human beings.
Thus, in her mind the church disconnects mission and ministry
from the task of theological reflection and Bible study. As a result,
both become increasingly impoverished, even ineffective in their
isolation.
As pastors and missionaries conceive their ministries in
independence and isolation from the theological task, they
frequently come to understand their responsibility as the task to
communicate the “beliefs” of the community to the world.
Unfortunately, in the process, neither the missionary nor the
convert understands the theology summarized by the statement of
beliefs.
As a result, mission loses its power and becomes a
mechanical application of several methods o f cultural
communication. Ministers working from this disjunction are
always attempting to repackage the summary of beliefs they are
attempting to communicate, or trying new methods of
communication. The notion that the success of mission and
ministry depends on the correct understanding of God’s word as
reveal in Scripture seems alien to most of them.
I write Basic Elements o f Christian Theology in the
conviction that the success of the mission Christ gave to the
church depends directly on the missionary’s understanding of
God’s word, and its capability to help others obtain for themselves
the same saving understanding o f God. When pastors and
laypersons realize that theological understanding is the powerful
means the Holy Spirit uses to bring souls to Christ, a seismic
paradigm shift will rip through the church’s missionary enterprise.
Once theologians and lay people work on the same level of
theological understanding, the Holy Spirit will at long last unleash
the power of God’s word to the world.
38 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

§ 20.CONCLUSION
Anselm’s broadly accepted view of theology as “faith searching
understanding” disengages theology from salvation and life. By
following Anselm’s view, traditional Roman-Catholic and
Protestant traditions have rendered theology unnecessary for the
believer’s experience. Instead, theology becomes a theoretical
exercise for a few intellectual members of the church that, in turn,
takes over the definition of the contents o f faith confessed by
believers upon joining the church. The rift between church’s
theoretical beliefs and the member’s personal lifestyle is a direct
result of the long tradition of church intellectuals thinking about
God from the multiple sources of theology matrix. This separation
will become clearer later on in our study.
If, departing from tradition, we now correctly view theology
as the search for understanding divine revelation in Scripture,
instantly, theology takes on a more useful role for members, as it
is directly relate to their personal salvation, as well as the unity
and mission of the church.
According to Christ and Paul, theology plays an essential role
in the experience and reception of salvation. (1) God reveals
Himself and His will to sinners through Scripture (the word of
God). The Holy Spirit that inspired Scripture uses the words of
Scripture to call sinners to change the order of their lives. Some
sinners reject the call others accept it by faith. The wisdom and
beauty o f God attract them to Him. (2) By abiding in His word,
sinners come to understand God’s will and promises for them
(theology). (3) When by faith sinners respond to the Holy Spirit
teachings in Scripture (theology), they become disciples and
pattern their daily lives after Christ’s wisdom and example. (4)
When sinners become disciples, they come to know the truth of
God’s will for them (theology) in their own discipleship (the
salvific result of theology trough the Holy Spirit). (5) The Son
(through His revelation, sacrifice and intercession) sets free
(justifies) His disciples.
Theology’s Usefulness 39

The order in the believer’s experience, then, is not faith,


salvation, and, understanding, but revelation, understanding of
revelation (theology), faith, discipleship, and freedom from sin
(salvation).
According to Christ, theology belongs to the essence of
salvation through the believer’s “faith-theology-obedience-
continuous” relation to God. Since, as we have seen, without
theological understanding there is no faith and therefore no
salvation, we cannot overemphasize the usefulness of theology for
the life o f the church.
Finally, we can see the usefulness o f theology when we
realize that theological understanding is the means through which
the Holy Spirit brings about the unity of the church and will bring
to completion her mission.
4. DEPARTING FROM SCRTTPRUE:
TRADITION, TIMELESSNESS AND GOD

The first element of Christian theology is the reality of God.


Technically, the word theology comes from the Greek words Zeds
(God) and Logos (word, study). Thus, “theology” literally means
“the study o f God.”

§ 21. THE STARTING POINT


How should we begin the study of God? The starting point of a
theological project is very important. Aquinas remarked that when
we do theology “a small error at the outset can lead to great errors
in the final conclusions.”1 Biblically one may be tempted to think
that theology starts with creation as presented in Genesis 1 and 2.
Doctrinally, at least for Evangelical Christians, one may be
tempted to think that theology starts with Christ. However,
Christ’s divine incarnation requires that in understanding Him we
first assume a concept o f God and a concept of humanity. Only
after we have dealt with these issues can we attempt to understand
what Scripture says about Jesus Christ, justification, salvation,
eschatology, and so forth.
We should start, then, by addressing the notion of God,
particularly, the question o f divine reality (ontology). The way we
understand divine reality is very important because our views on
this issue will directly determine our understanding of divine
activities. In turn, the way in which we understand divine activities
will shape the way we understand the rest of Christian teachings.
Yet, before we can deal with the notion of God, we need to
explore elements of divine revelation from which to access
publicly available information about God (§5-§10). We will then
Departing from Scripture 41

explore some elements of theological methodology (§11-16)


which will provide the guidelines to process the scriptural data
and lead to a proper understanding o f God through His scriptural
revelation.

§ 22. GOD AND THEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS.


God is the center of all theological systems. The way theologians
understand the nature of God’s reality determines their
understanding of His actions. God’s actions, in turn, determine all
interpretations, constructions, and practical applications of
doctrine.
Changes in the view of divine reality and actions, then, will
unleash changes in the entirety of the intricately knit web of
theological meanings. As we will see later, our replacement of the
traditional and uncritically accepted multiplex sources o f theology
matrix with the sola Scriptura principle entails a replacement in
the understanding of the nature of divine reality, and consequently
of the entire scope of the system of Christian theology.
We can trace the main differences between various
theological projects back to the way in which theologians
understand God’s nature and articulate His actions.

§ 23. DETOUR TO TRADITION: PURPOSE


The study of God embraces all the characteristics o f His reality,
character, and actions. Since in this work we are concerned with
the basic elements o f Christian theology we need to consider only
the basic outline of the nature of divine reality and His activities.
In this chapter, we will start by describing briefly the way in
which Christian tradition understands divine reality (ontology).
Almost every human being has a notion about God derived
from culture and tradition. All assume their concept o f God is
correct and from it they deal with religious issues without giving
further thought to the concept of God. Most Christian believers are
not aware of the fact that there are various conflicting ideas about
God that, in turn, generate conflicting versions o f Christian
theology.
42 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
As believers, then, we need to become familiar with
tradition’s main view about God so we can understand the variety
of theological views circulating among fellow believers today. We
also need to become aware of the difference that exists between
the view o f God generated and disseminated by Christian tradition
and the view of God generated by biblical revelation. In short, we
need to become aware with the basic elements on which Christian
tradition is built and operates.
Our purpose is to help readers become familiar with the basic
interpretation of God’s reality from which theologians constructed
the Roman Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical projects of
Christian theology. In the next chapter, we will deal with the
biblical view of divine reality (ontology).
I hope the detour we are taking in this chapter will help
readers visualize the stark contrast between tradition; which
searches for the understanding of faith, and thinks in the “light” of
philosophy; and our project: to search for the understanding of
divine revelation, and think in the “light” of Scripture. As readers
perceive this contrast, they will discover why a biblically based
theological project must deconstruct commonly accepted Christian
doctrines built over two thousand years of tradition working from
the multiplex sources of theological matrix.

§ 24. PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY


From very early in the history of Christian thought, tradition
decided to build its understanding of Christian doctrine from the
plurality of sources methodological matrix. Among the sources
included for theological use was that of classical Greek
philosophy, which many converts brought with them into the
church. Philosophy influenced theology in many ways. Yet,
arguably, the way in which philosophy influenced the
interpretation of Scripture and the construction of tradition’s
theological projects the most was through its interpretation o f the
nature of “ultimate” reality (ontology).
Theologians assumed that philosophy was the “right” reading
of God’s natural revelation.2 Thus, philosophical explanations
about the nature of reality (ontology) became the “light” from
Departing from Scripture 43

which early Christian thinkers came to understand the reality of


God. Since Scripture does not speak about reality in the technical
jargon Greek philosophers invented, theologians did not realize
that Scripture also speaks about reality and God.
The unfortunate result was that Roman Catholic theology
first, and then, Protestant and Evangelical theologies have used the
philosophical view on reality as the guiding hermeneutical “light”
from which to interpret Scripture and understand divine reality.
With the passing o f time philosophy changed and theologians
found necessary to adapt their understanding of God to the new
philosophical “light” of the times. Most theological changes
resulted from the broadly shared methodological conviction
compelling Christians to build the theology of the church from the
ever-moving sand of human philosophical imaginations (c.f.
Matthew 7:24-29).
Can Christian theologians break the shackles of slavery to
philosophical and scientific teachings? Can theologians search for
the meaning of God and His salvific actions from the “light”
shining from Scripture? Thinking in the “light” of Scripture
requires replacing philosophical and scientific views on reality
with biblical views on ultimate reality, beginning with the reality
of God.
We will attempt to uncover the biblical view on God’s reality
(ontology) in our next chapter. At this point we will describe
briefly the basic concept about God’s reality that has shaped the
leading theological projects shaping the Christian community thus
far.

§ 25.TI IETIMELESS COD OF CREEK PHILOSOPHY


As we have seen, theologians derived their views on God’s reality
(ontology) from Greek philosophy. Two millennia have elapsed
and yet the basic idea of divine reality as a static, timeless,
spaceless, non-historical reality still rules the main traditions of
Christian theology.
Back in the fourth century before Christ, Greek philosophers
arrived at the conclusion that reality had two dimensions or sides.
44 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
One dimension we see and experience daily, it is changing and
transitory because its nature is time. The other side, one we do not
see or experience, is unchanging and eternal because its nature is
timeless. In philosophy, this idea evolved slowly and stayed
mainly in the background of philosophical teachings about reality
(ontology). We can trace the first clear expression of timelessness
as the basis of “ultimate” or “real” reality to Parmenides (c.
475BC). He taught that reality was one and timeless thereby
rejecting the reality we experience in time as “not” real, or at least,
“less” than real.3 Due to Parmenides’ idea, philosophers and
theologians up to our day speak of “ultimate” or “real” reality to
differentiate between the immovable timeless reality Parmenides
spoke about and the moving reality we experience in time and
space through our sensory perceptions.
Plato (427-348 BC), perhaps the most influential philosopher
o f all times, became convinced that Parmenides’ basic view that
reality was timeless and unchanging was right. From this
conviction, he developed the dualistic view of reality as a whole.
We know it as Plato’s two-tier cosmology. The higher tier was
heaven were spiritual timeless realities eternally reside as models
o f material temporal transient realities. Within his dualistic
cosmology we find the more familiar dualistic notion of human
reality as composed of a spiritual (real, timeless) reality, and, a
body (illusory, temporal) reality. In his works, Plato argued this
cosmological model in more detail. After his death, his disciples
found his arguments for cosmological and anthropological
dualisms persuasive and engaged in the task of fine-tuning the
vision of their master.
By the time Christ walked the streets of Nazareth, Platonism
was the leading philosophical tradition among the intellectuals of
his time. Persuaded that Plato’s view of reality was compatible
with the Old Testament, Jewish theologians began to understand
theology in the light of his view of reality. It is interesting to note
that Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 BC- after 40 CE) was writing his
theological system in the light of Platonic dualistic cosmology
while Jesus was advancing theology in the light of the Old
Testament view of reality (e.g. Luke 24:27).
Departing from Scripture 45

As we will later explore, soon after Christ death, resurrection,


and ascension to heaven, Christian theologians forgot Christ’s
theological method. Instead of understanding Christ and Scripture
from the basis o f Old Testament teachings, they began to study
Christ and Scripture from the starting point of Plato’s view of
reality.

§ 26. WHAT IS TIMELESSNESS?


Before moving any further, we need to wrestle with the concept of
timelessness. We often use the adjective “timeless” to indicate that
something is not restricted to a specific period. Thus, we say
Beethoven’s ninth symphony is timeless because its appeal
communicates beyond the time of its creation and its author’s
culture.
Philosophically speaking, the adjective “timeless” indicates
something quite different. Something is “timeless” when it does
not relate to time in any way. Specifically, we say that a reality is
“timeless” when it does not exist in time; that is to say, when a
reality does not exist in the future-present-past flux of time.
Perhaps Plato was the first to express with clarity what
philosophers mean by “timeless” reality when he describes the
eternity of God in contrast with the temporality o f creation. Plato
wrote his book entitled Timaeus more than two millennia ago. In
it, he explicitly gives content to the technical meaning of
timelessness by arguing that the divine being does not experience
the future-present-past sequence of time.4 His description of
timeless divine eternity still determines the way Christian
theologians understand the eternal nature of God and heavenly
realities.
I cannot overemphasize the importance for the reader to
understand Plato’s concept of timeless eternity. In this single
stroke, Plato determined God’s reality as incompatible with the
future-present-past flux of created time. Even today, most
believers understand divine eternity as a state of being where there
is no temporal flux. Aristotle was not as specific about divine
timelessness but he completed the picture by adding that God’s
46 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
reality is also spaceless, immaterial.5
By now, the reader may be tempted to think that by focusing
on this issue I am “majoring in minors.” Who cares how we think
about God’s reality? After all God is eternal, even Plato and
Aristotle say so. Why should we make an issue out o f their
timeless interpretation of divine reality and eternity?
The answer to this question will become increasingly clear as
we move along, deconstructing theological projects built on Plato
and Aristotle’s view of divine timelessness and spacelessness. The
importance of understanding the hermeneutical repercussions of
the timeless conception of divine reality will come into sharper
focus when we discover the way in which Scripture interprets
God’s reality and His relation to time.

§27. HOW DOES A TIMELESS GOD ACT?


The way theologians think God acts is very important because
biblical theology centers around God’s activities in His created
universe. The reader should bear in mind that the search for the
meaning of revelation follows the logic of reality. The way we
interpret God’s reality sets logical limitations on the way we can
conceive His activities without contradicting ourselves.
Aristotle not only interpreted God’s reality as timeless and
spaceless but also devised the general pattern of what a timeless
God can and cannot do. In his writings, Aristotle recognizes three
main types of human activities.
The first kind corresponds to manual labor (Aristotle called it
“poiesis”) where the activity produces an object different than the
person doing the action and the action itself. The work o f the
carpenter exemplifies this kind of activity. When the work is done,
the carpenter has produced something different from himself and
his activity (that was not in existence before), for instance, a chair
or a table.
The second kind of human activity corresponds to human
interactive activity (Aristotle called it “praxis”) where the activity
does not produce an object but coincides with the interactive
activity, for instance in the work of teaching, politics or ministry.
Departing from Scripture 47

At the end of the day, when the activity ceases there is nothing
concrete that can be shown as result of the activity.
The third kind o f activity is the contemplation of nature that
philosophers do (Aristotle called it “theory”). They do not create a
new reality nor engage in interactive relations with other beings.
At the end of the day, when the philosopher ceases his
contemplation nothing new has come into existence, no relation
with other beings has taken place, only the remembrance and awe
of the contemplation remain in the philosopher.
When it comes to the type of activity that properly
corresponds to the reality of God, Aristotle clearly chooses theory.
Of course, God’s activity cannot consist in contemplating what is
outside of Himself. That, as we will see, would involve change
and therefore a diminishing o f His perfect goodness. According to
Aristotle, God’s reality is immutable, that is to say, it involves no
movement at all, and not even spatial movement that many other
“eternal” beings have according to Aristotle.6 Due to its absolute
immobility, Aristotle identifies his notion of God as the “first
unmoved mover.”
How can we conceive the activity of an unmovable reality? It
seems impossible. Yet, Aristotle came up with an interesting
suggestion. God acts without moving of place or changing in His
essence or thought. The activity o f God consists in contemplating
Himself for all eternity.7 Only in this way, can He act without
changing in anything or depending on something outside of
Himself to act. In this way, God safeguards His self-sufficiency.
In conclusion, the timeless and spiritual (immaterial,
spaceless) God o f Aristotle cannot create something outside of
Himself. The world, time, and space coexist eternally with God.
Moreover, the God o f Aristotle cannot be the provident God of
Scripture that interacts with human beings and angels in the flow
of created history. Finally, the God o f Aristotle cannot know the
world because that would imply not only change in God’s
assumed immutability but also would make Him dependent on
something outside o f Himself thereby violating His self-
sufficiency.
The self-sufficient God o f Aristotle who only knows and
48 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
relates to Himself is the highest embodiment of self-centeredness
and stands opposite to the relational nature of divine love. Since
the reality and activities o f the God of Scripture are so different
from the reality and activities o f the God o f Aristotle, one would
expect that early Christian theologians would have rejected it
completely. Unfortunately, history tells a different story.

§ 2 8 . THE TIMELESS GOD OF C HRISTIAN THEOLOGY


Theological systems take time to develop. Theologians do not
immediately see the logical consequences of the concepts and
teachings they introduce in the doctrines of the church. With the
passing of time, new generations o f believers automatically
(mindlessly) accept traditional teachings as the starting point for
their theological reflection. Slowly and nearly imperceptibly, an
entire way of thinking and living develops. This was the case with
the concept o f divine timelessness. At first, divine timelessness
affected mainly the notion o f divine eternity. In time, though, it
came to affect the entire doctrine of divine reality, actions, and the
theological system as a whole. We will become aware of these
consequences slowly as we advance in our understanding of
biblical revelation.
Augustine o f Hippo (354-430) was one o f the greatest
philosophical and theological minds o f all times. His writings and
theological project became the ground from which Roman
Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical theological traditions
developed and flourished. Several centuries later Thomas Aquinas,
another of the greatest theological minds of all times, brought
more theological specificity to the Roman Catholic theological
project. Unfortunately, although Luther and Calvin, using the
writings of Scripture, challenged the Roman Catholic theological
project, their own followers soon returned to the Roman Catholic
theological paradigm created by Aquinas during the seventeenth
century. We know this period in the history of Protestantism as
“Protestant Orthodoxy” or “Protestant Scholasticism.”8 In the
twentieth century, evangelical theologians developed their
theological views drawing from Augustine.
Let us review, briefly, some o f the basic ideas about God’s
Departing from Scripture 49

reality Augustine brought into Christianity. He was convinced that


God cannot act in the future-present-past sequence of time as
Scripture presents all divine activities. Instead, he followed
Parmenides, Plato, and Aristotle’s imaginative construction o f a
God whose reality is necessarily timeless and spaceless.
Anyone perusing Augustine’s famous Confessions will soon
leam his confidence that "if the present were always present, and
would not pass into the past, it would no longer be time, but
eternity."9 The notion of divine timelessness, that is to say, the
view that God’s life does not take place in the sequence of future,
present, and past is not without consequences. Several other
positions follow it as a coherent and logical package of ideas that
attach themselves as parasites to the idea of God.
For instance, the notion of divine timelessness and
spacelessness is directly connected and dependent upon the idea of
immutability. This immutability is absolute.10 God does not
change in location, mind, knowledge, or actions, i.e. He can never
do anything new. He possesses life in absolute perfection to which
He can never add or subtract. For instance, Augustine’s God
cannot know directly what we experience in our temporal lives.
He knows them in the simultaneity o f His perfect, unchanging,
immutable, timeless, spaceless intellect. Because of His
timelessness and spacelessness God is “simple” that is, He has no
parts. Parts exist only in beings made of material elements. Yet,
God’s being has no material elements and therefore cannot have
parts. He is simple and spiritual. As we will see later, this notion
will cause disturbances when theologians assuming it attempted to
deal with the Trinitarian essence of the Christian God.11
According to Augustine, God’s reality includes all the
perfections or characteristics of all created realities knowable. In
other words, God cannot leam anything new from created realities.
His reality is completely self-sufficient and non-relational.12 Since
God is the total sum of perfections, He is also the total sum of
goodness (summum bonum). God’s reality is in itself the supreme
good outside of whom we cannot call anything good.13
Finally, for Augustine, by the very nature of His reality God
is truth. An all truth finds its origin in God. Every created reality is
50 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
(exists), and is true, because they receive both their being and their
truth from God.14

§ 29 TIMELESSNESS AND THE REJECTION


OF THE LAW
The adoption in Christianity of the Greek view of reality slowly
affected the concept of God, human beings and, through them, the
entire body of Christian theology. By adopting the teaching of
timelessness in relation to reality and particularly God,
Christianity, by the time of Augustine, had transmuted itself into
something vastly different to what it was in the time of Christ and
the first New Testament writers. Simply put, Christianity had
rejected its roots: the Old Testament teachings embodied in the
Law.
As Christians began to see God and heaven as spiritual, non­
temporal realities, historical realities slowly lost their relevance for
the community of faith. By the beginning of the fourth century,
Christian theologians viewed divine, human, and heavenly
realities not as material or temporal, but as immaterial and
spiritual. Temporal changes did not affect spiritual ones. This view
of reality clearly paved the way for changing the day of worship
and rejecting Jewish Christians from the community of faith.
Thus, when Constantine faced the fact that religion was
dividing his empire, he found no theological barrier preventing
him from changing the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday.15
Since the Old Testament law still indicates Saturday as the eternal
will and design of God, this decision forever alienated Jewish
believers from joining the church. By accepting the timeless
interpretation of reality borrowed from Greek philosophy,
Christianity rejected its theological and communal roots and
wedged an unbridgeable gap between Christians and Jews. What
God designed to be one people, theological and political
manipulations divided in to two incompatible fighting
communities.
Adventist theologian Jacques B. Doukhan has traced the
history of this fateful separation of Christianity from its Old
Departing from Scripture 51

Testament roots and the alienation, scorn and percussion of the


Jewish people that came as a result.16 The need of a theology
building on the continuity between Old and New Testament
revelations (the tota Scriptura principle) will repair the millenary
gap that has separated the people of God in theological
understanding and communal experience.
Assuming God’s reality was timeless, early Christian
theologians, believers and administrators produced teachings that
radically departed from the Old and New Testaments. The timeless
notion o f God fueled two main heresies that are still operating in
Christian theological reflection. They are Marcionism and
Docetism.
Following Marcion’s (140-2077AD) teachings, Marcionism
advanced the idea that the Old and New Testaments respond to the
existence o f two different Gods. Marcionists “rejected the writings
of the Old Testament and taught that Christ was not the Son o f the
God o f the Jews, but the Son of the good God, who was different
from the God of the Ancient Covenant.” 17 The division stands on
the notion that the Old Testament God is not as loving and
spiritual (immaterial and timeless) as the New Testament God.
This view o f the two different Gods lies behind the generally
accepted conviction in conservative Christian communities that
theology should build only from the New Testament writings.
As a Christian heresy, “docetism” (from dokesis [semblance])
claims that Christ only “seemed” to have a real temporal, material
body. In reality, He did not have a temporal, material human body
because the timeless, immaterial nature of His divinity cannot
become temporal and material. Timelessness has no place for real
temporality and space. In our days, this heresy is behind the
growing spiritualization of Christianity, its disengagement from
history and ethics, as well as the charismatization of Christian
worship during the twentieth century.

§ 30. CONCLUSION
The first element of Christian theology from which everything
52 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
originates, coheres, and aims, is God. “A small error at the outset
can lead to great errors in the final conclusions,”18 warned Aquinas
to all future theologians. In this chapter, we have realized that
Christian theology starts by understanding the basic nature of
God’s reality. This small beginning affects the entire scope of
Christian theology. A modification at this level of understanding
will have a ripple effect reaching until the last notion,
interpretation, action, and doctrine o f Christianity. This
unavoidable domino (systematic) effect takes place because God is
the systematic dynamic center of Christian theology. Paul
recognized the systematic centrality of God by saying, “from him
and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36 RSV).
Unfortunately, early Christian theologians relied on the Greek
definition of the basic characteristic of reality as timeless. Thus,
Augustine baptized Parmenides’ intuition on the nature of reality,
Plato’s cosmology, and Aristotle’s view of God into Christianity.
As early Christian theologians understood the first element o f
Christian theology from the starting point of philosophical
timelessness, the systematic role of the doctrine of God in
theology tainted the entire system of Christian doctrines.
As understood by Greek philosophy and later developed by
Cristian philosophers and theologians, timelessness describes a
reality that is totally devoid of time. A timeless reality does not
exist in the future-present-past flux of time. It cannot experience
anything new, because it has no future. It cannot experience
anything now, because it has no present. It cannot bring things to
memory because it has no past. According to Boethius’ (480-
5257AD) classical definition, a timeless reality experiences all
things as a simultaneous whole.19 This view completely prevents
God from performing new actions in created time and relating to
temporal creatures historically within the flow of created time. As
we will see in our next chapter this view completely contradicts
the biblical view o f divine reality.
Due to this fateful theological error in early Christian
theology, Christianity rejected its theological and social roots in
the Old Testament and Israel. Due to the Christian rejection, Israel
withdrew to herself and the Old Testament. A Christian theology
Departing from Scripture 53

that would bridge the gap between Old and New Testament is still
forthcoming. In Basic Elements o f Christian Theology, I will
attempt to search for the biblical understanding of divine reality
that may help the church to reevaluate divine revelation in the
continuity of Old and New Testaments. Perhaps in this way we
will finally understand God without the theological distortions that
evolved due to erroneous views about His reality. We might even
overcome the gap dividing Judaism and Christianity.

1 Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, trans. Robert T. Miller


(http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/aquinas-esse.html: Internet
Medieval Source Book, 1997), prologue.
2 Bonsor explains that “the basic conviction that reason and faith together
offer humanity access to the truth of our world ground the place of
philosophy in Catholic theology. Philosophy is the effort o f human
reason to understand the nature o f reality and the meaning of human
existence” Jack A. Bonsor, Athens and Jerusalem: The Role of
Philosophy in Theology (New York, NY: Paulist, 1993), 12.
3 Parmenides, "The Way to Truth," in Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic
Philosophers: A Complete Translation o f the Fragments in Diels,
Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker, ed. Kathleen Freeman (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1948), fragments, 7 and 8.
4 “For there were no days and nights and months and years before the
heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them
also. They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created
species o f time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to eternal
being, for we say that it ‘was,’ or ‘is,’ or ‘will be,’ but the truth is that ‘is’
alone is properly attributed to it, and that ‘was” and ‘will be” are only to
be spoken of becoming in time, for hey are motions, but that which is
immovable the same forever cannot become older or younger by time,
nor can it be said that it came into being in the past, or has come into
being now, or will come into being in the future, nor is it subject at all to
any o f those states which affect moving and sensible things and of which
generation is the cause.” Plato, "Timaeus," in Plato: The Collected
Dialogues, ed. Edith Hamilton (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press, 1989), 1167; 37.d-38.b.
54 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

5 Aristotle put it in the following words. “It is clear then from what has
been said that there is a substance which is eternal and unmovable and
separate from sensible things. It has been shown also that this substance
cannot have any magnitude but is without parts and indivisible. For it
produces movement through infinite time, but nothing finite has infinite
power. And, while every magnitude is either infinite or finite, it cannot,
for the above reason, have finite magnitude, and it cannot have infinite
magnitude because there is no infinite magnitude at all. But it is also
clear that it is impassive and unalterable; for all the other changes are
posterior to change of place. It is clear, then, why the first mover has
these attributes.” Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, Jonathan
Bames ed., 2 vols. (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press, 1984),
1695; 073a 4-12.
6 According to Aristotle, for instance, the stars are eternal they have no
magnitude but experience spatial change in their rotation. That change,
however, does not change the eternal nature of their non material
substances (Metaphysics, XII. 8).
7 Julian Marias, History o f Philosophy, trans. Stanley Applebaum and
Clarence C. Strowbridge (New York: Dover, 1967), 65.
8 See for instance, Justo L. Gonzalez, A History o f Christian Thought:
Volume 3, vol. 3 (Nashville, TE: Abingdon, 1975), 227.
9 Augustine, Confessions, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J.G. Pilkington, vol. 1,
The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (Albany, OR.: Ages Software,
1996), X I,14,17.
10 Guillermo Fraile, Historia De La Filosofia, 3 vols. (Madrid: B.A.C.,
1965, 1966), 211.
11 Ibid. 212; Saint Augustine, The Trinity (Washington, DC: The Catholic
University of America Press., 1963), VII,5-10.
12 Fraile, Historia De La Filosofia, 212.
13 Ibid.; Augustine, The Trinity, VIII,3-4.
14 Augustine, Confessions, X,46,65; XII, 25-35, Augustine, The Trinity,
2,3.
15 For a detailed scholarly study o f the history behind the change from
Saturday to Sunday see, Samuele Bacchiocchi, From Sabbath to Sunday:
A Historical Investigation o f the Rise o f Sunday Observance in Early
Departing from Scripture 55

Christianity (Rome: Pontifical Gregorian University, 1995).


16 See, for instance, Jacques Doukhan, Israel and the Church: Two
Voices for the Same God (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Jacques
Doukhan, Mystery o f Israel (Hagerstown, MD Review and Herald.:
2004).
17 J.P Arendzen, "Marcionites," in The Catholic Encyclopedia, ed. Robert
Appleton (www. New Advent, org, 2003).
18 Aquinas, On Being and Essence, prologue.
19“ What we should rightly call eternal is that which grasps and possesses
wholly and simultaneously the fill ness o f unending life, which lacks
naught of the future, and has lost naught o f the fleeting past; and such an
existence must be ever present in itself to control and aid itself, and also
must keep present with itself the infinity o f changing time” Boethius, The
Consolation of Philosophy, ed. Israel GOlancz, trans. W.V. Cooper, Gthe
Temple Classics (London: J.M.Dent, 1902), 161.
5. THE H ISTO RICA L G O D OF
SCRIPTURE

§ 31 INTRODUCTORY REVIEW
Before we turn to Scripture to study the first basic element o f
Christian theology, the reader might benefit from a summary of
our study so far. We need to keep these five points in mind as we
are beginning to build our understanding o f the basic elements o f
Christian theology.
First, we discovered that theologians understand the task of
theology as the search for the meaning of the Christian faith (§1).
Second, we considered the sources o f theological knowledge
Christian theologians have traditionally used in the search for the
meaning of the Christian faith. Among several possible options,
three presented themselves as the leading ones. From these
sources, theologians derive their views about the basic elements o f
Christian theology. Let’s briefly review the two most popular
traditions: the classical and the modem.
Classical Christians constructed their faith under the
conviction that there are two main sources of divine revelation,
one Scripture, and the other nature (§8). Unfortunately, for
classical theologians nature as such was not the source o f theology
with which they worked. That is to say, for them “nature” as a
source of theological knowledge was not the observation of, for
instance, a tree, a river, the songs of the birds, etc., but the human
philosophical and scientific interpretation o f nature (§6). Thus, a
multiple sources of theological knowledge matrix became the
undisputed fount of divine revelation for most traditions of
Christian theology.
The Historical God of Scripture 57

Modem theologians do not believe there is one source of


divine knowledge from which we can do theology. We only reflect
on believers’ experiences, what they say is the content of their
beliefs (§7). Thus, classical and modem theological projects agree
in working their theological constructions from the multiplex
sources of theological knowledge matrix. The difference between
classical and modem theologians is that the former believe that the
multiplex of sources provide us with knowledge from God while
modem theologians believe they only give us human imaginations
about God.
In this study, we will part ways with the multiple sources of
theological knowledge matrix. Instead, we will search for the
meaning of God and Christian doctrines from divine self­
revelation in Scripture as the only source of theological knowledge
(§ 9).
Third, we saw that our commitment to the sola-tota-prima
Scriptura principle requires a respectful but critical retrieval of
traditional formulations of Christian doctrines. To avoid retrieving
concepts incompatible with the inner logic of biblical thinking we
must include as an early step of our theological method the
deconstruction o f tradition (§23).
Fourth, we searched for the meaning o f divine revelation not
for aesthetic or cultural purposes but because according to
Scripture, the understanding of God is a central means through
which God brings about the salvation of human beings (§17).
Fifth, Aquinas warned us to give careful thought to the way
we start our theological construction because one small error in the
beginning leads to great ones at the end (§21). Christian theology
starts by considering a first basic element: God and the main
characteristic of His reality (§22). All the leading traditions of
Christian theology start by agreeing with the classical
understanding of divine reality as timeless (§24-§28). Did they
make the small error against which Aquinas warned us?
If God is not timeless, is He temporal? Does Scripture present
God’s reality as timeless? If not, how does Scripture describe the
reality of God? Is the biblical God temporal? Wouldn’t a temporal
God be a powerless, limited, finite God?
58 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
We should not attempt to answer these questions through
philosophically building a notion of divine temporality. Neither
should we draw our understanding of God’s temporal reality from
previously established philosophical and scientific models. For
instance, process philosophy advances a dualistic panentheistic
model of divine reality that includes in God’s reality all the
fullness of created time. Instead, we need to turn our attention to
Scripture and start searching for the basic characteristic of God’s
temporal being in its pages.

§ 32. WORDS FORETERNTTYIN SCRIPTURE


Although we cannot decide whether biblical writers conceived the
reality of God as timeless or temporal by analyzing the meaning of
the words they used to express divine eternity, a brief review of
the main Hebrew and Greek words for eternity may help introduce
us to biblical thinking on God and time.
The main Old Testament word for eternity, the Hebrew
'olam, basically means life span. This shows that for biblical
thinkers time is not a theoretical concept but relates to concrete
life. In this way 'olam is essentially related to life. Life and time
belong together. The absence of time is the absence of reality and
life.1
The main New Testament word for eternity, the Greek aion,
basically designates a long period o f time. Eternity is thus not
necessarily a timeless concept, but the most comprehensive,
temporal one, which the experience of time has produced.
Theologically speaking, eternity as lasting time is the property of
God, the Creator, while passing time belongs to the creature.
Plato, on the other hand, used the word aion in the technical
philosophical sense o f timelessness.
After a brief survey of the word, then, it is evident that
eternity in Scripture does not convey the philosophical concept of
timelessness. Instead, it refers to a long temporal period. The
Hebrew mind clearly conceived of God as living in limitless time
and not abstractly as being beyond time. As for the Greek word,
Oscar Cullmann’s exegetical study of the use of aion in the New
Testament concludes that in early Christian thinking eternity is not
The Historical God of Scripture 59

timelessness, but endless time (linear time shared by God with


human beings).2

§ 33. GOD’S TIME SURPASSES HUMAN TIME


Nowhere in Scripture do we find the implicit assumption or
explicit presentation that God’s reality is timeless or immutable as
Christian tradition firmly believes. Instead, in Scripture we find
abundant evidence that the writers of Scripture understood the
reality of God as temporal-historical, dynamically interacting with
created beings in the flux o f created time. Since in this work our
specific aim is to present the basic elements o f Christian theology,
we will select a few texts as samples of the evidence about divine
temporality we find in Scripture.

1. God’s years
Early in biblical history, Elihu one of Job’s friends expresses the
temporality o f God in the context of God’s greatness and mystery.
“How great is God—beyond our understanding! The number of
his years is past finding out” Job 36:26 (NIV). This affirmation of
divine greatness corresponds to what theologians technically call
divine transcendence. Because of God’s greatness, His being is
beyond our understanding. Literally, the Hebrew says “there [is]
no searching.” We will consider the transcendence of God later in
our study. The greatness or transcendence of God puts His being
beyond the human capacity to search, know, or understand Him.
Surprisingly, however, the affirmation of divine transcendence
does not assume divine timelessness but divine temporality.
Literally, “we know not the number of His years.” In His greatness
and transcendence God has years, that is, in some way God is
temporal. Why do we as humans not know the number of God’s
years? As we will see from other texts, we do not know the
number of God’s years because they are infinite.
Obviously, Elihu is thinking from within the perspective of
created time as perceived in our planet earth. Does the affirmation
that God has earthly years limit God’s temporality to human
temporality?
60 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
Now, to avoid arriving at wrong conclusions from reading
biblical texts we need to bear in mind the hermeneutical principle
of textual limitation. According to this principle, no text in
Scripture, in spite of its revelation and inspiration from God can
completely and perfectly express a single divine truth.
Consequently, we need to arrive at our knowledge of God, and all
biblical truths, by way of the systematic method of construction.
The systematic method o f construction starts with a solid
understanding of the text, and, being aware of its textual
limitations, search for other texts where inspired authors address
the same reality or action. The realities to which the texts speak
become the hermeneutical justification to bring them together in
the search for the understanding o f the revelation that they convey.
In this way, we can grow in the understanding, in our case, o f the
meaning of divine temporality as fundamental characteristic of
divine reality.
Following this hermeneutical principle and systematic
methodology, we will consider other biblical statements that may
help us gain a more accurate picture of the biblical understanding
of divine temporality.

2. Divine time is neither transitory nor duration


To avoid concluding from Elihu’s statement about “God’s years”
that God experiences the same temporality that creatures have,
David explicitly compares them. "As for man, his days are like
grass, he flourishes like a flower o f the field, the wind blows over
it and it is gone and its place remembers it no more. But from
everlasting ('olam) to everlasting ('olam) the Lord’s love is with
those who fear him" (Psalm 103:15-17, NIV).
David describes human time as transitory; it has a beginning
and an end. David does not speak about time abstracting it from
the life and reality of human creatures. When human time begins
so does human reality. Likewise, when human time ends, the
reality and life of the human creature also ends. David is not
attempting to clarify the meaning o f time in itself but the limited
temporality of the human creature.
The Historical God of Scripture 61

In comparison with the trasitoriness of human time and life,


God’s time and life are permanent. Yet David does not conceive
the non-transient nature of God as timeless. On the contrary, he
conceives it as temporal extension without the limits of creaturely
time. God’s being is literally from eternity past (a long period of
past time) to future eternity (a long period of future time). In short,
God’s temporality differs from created temporality because it has
no beginning and no end.
Now, is David speaking about the eternal duration of
an unchanging divine reality as Aristotle3 and Christian tradition
believe?4 In other words, does David imagine the eternity of God
as analogous to the “life-span” o f a stone? Is David telling us that
God’s temporality is only the duration of a static being who does
not experience the passage of the future-present-past flux of time?
As with Elihu, David is not attempting to clarify the nature of
either human or divine time. Instead, he is contrasting the
creature’s finite reality with the creator’s infinite reality by
comparing the differences in their temporalities. The temporality
of creatures is limited, finite, with a clear beginning and end. But,
the temporality of God’s love is infinite, from the most distant
limitless past to the most distant future.
God’s love assumes He is capable of personally relating to
humans within the level o f their future, past, and present creaturely
flux. David, then, is not saying that an immutable God, incapable
of personally experiencing the future-present-past flux of time,
endures for as long as there is creaturely time. On the contrary,
from his personal experience David knows that God’s relational
love is a characteristic o f His reality, and therefore exists in the
beginning-less past, active present and endless future flux of
divine temporality.

3. God does not become God


When biblical authors think of God’s reality as temporal, do they
mean to say that God is in a process of becoming God? As created
human beings, our temporal existence takes place as a physical
and cognitive process o f becoming that begins with conception
62 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
and ends at death. Does divine temporality in any way imply that
God has a beginning, then develops from a lower to a higher form
of being, and finally will die? The author o f Hebrews affirms that
the reality of God is simultaneously temporal and devoid from
becoming.
“In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations o f
the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out
like a garment. You will roll them up like a robe; like a
garment they will be changed. But you remain the same,
and your years will never end” Hebrews 1:10-12 (NIV).
Again, we find a biblical author comparing the transience of
the creature with the permanence of the creator. While the creature
perishes and changes, the creator remains “the same” in His
endless temporal reality. So it is clear that the infinite temporality
of the biblical God does not embrace the process of becoming
included in the nature of His temporal creatures. The temporal
God o f Scripture experiences the flux of time in His life but His
reality never exists as a process o f becoming God. His reality is
always the same.

§ 34. CREATED TIME HAS A BEGINNING


Did God create our time? Does our time have a beginning? Or is
our time infinite (without beginning) as is God’s time? Building
on Plato, Christian tradition affirms that a timeless God created
time when He created the world in the image o f unmovable,
eternal heavenly things.5
In this one point, that created time has a beginning, Plato and
Scripture are in agreement. Paul wrote that God promised eternal
life “before time began;” literally, “before the times o f the
centuries” [irpo xpovcov alcovitov] (Titus 1:2, NKJ). Here Paul
merely wants us to know that God promised eternal life, and
designed the plan o f salvation before He even created our world
and its time (see, 2 Timothy 2:9; and 1 Corinthians 2:7). He is
clearly not dealing with time in the abstract, nor interested in
explaining the nature of created time. However, these and other
The Historical God of Scripture 63

texts point to the fact of God existing and acting “before” creation.
Was that “before” timeless or temporal?

§ 35. GOD’S TIME BEFORE CREATED TIME


Augustine interprets the biblical references to God’s years and His
actions “before” time from his philosophically originated
conviction that God’s reality is timeless. Therefore, for Augustine
God’s years are not temporal but simultaneous.6 Likewise, the
biblical ‘‘before” created time cannot refer to time but
timelessness. Thus, God does not precede created time in time but
“in the sublimity of an ever present eternity.”7
Scripture, however, does not know a timeless God. To think
along the lines of Augustine and the ensuing Christian tradition
one has to both forcefully insert the platonic notion o f timeless
reality in biblical thinking and simultaneously replace the content
of biblical thinking (temporality) with its opposite (timelessness).
Oscar Cullmann is quite possibly the one scholar who most
radically departs from Augustine’s view. According to him in the
New Testament “eternity, which is possible only as an attribute of
God, is time, or, to put it better, what we call ‘time’ is nothing but
a part, defined and delimited by God, of this same unending
duration of God’s time.”8 From Cullmann’s vantage, we
understand the biblical references to God’s existence (John 17:5,
24; Jude 25; c.f., Colossians 1:17) and actions “before” time as
taking place in God’s “pre-temporality” to created time. In other
words, God’s existence and actions take place in the future-
present-past flux of infinite divine time prior to His creation o f the
universe and its time.
In God’s temporal “before” to created time, New Testament
writers place “God’s secret wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:7),
predestination (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20), and foreknowledge
(Romans 9:29).
To complete this picture we need to remember what in the
Old Testament the prophet Micah said about the origins of Christ,
the Messiah. "But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to
be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to
64 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the
days o f eternity" (Micah 5:2, NAB, emphasis added). The prophet
pierces back to God’s own eternity in the person o f the eternal Son
who through the incarnation will become the ruler of Israel. The
existence and activity of Christ are literally, ’’from the days of
eternity.” This helps us to complete the picture of God’s previous
temporality. When biblical authors refer to divine actions that
preceded the creation of the world, they speak about “before
creation.” Yet, when Micah speaks about the very being o f the
eternal God before creation, he speaks Christ is “from the days o f
eternity[('olam), ancient times]" of which there is no “before.”
Through Micah, Scripture affirms clearly the infinitude o f God’s
temporality before the creation of the universe and its limited time
and space.
We will study God’s “eternal” actions before the creation of
the world in later chapters.

§ 36. GOD’S RELATION TO CREATED TIME


How does God experience time? Does He experience time as
we do? These questions bring us to face the mystery of divine
being which we can only understand through His revelation in
Scripture. Again, Scripture does not dwell on this issue. Yet, Peter
speaking about the Christ’s second coming helps us by quoting
and expanding on Psalm 90:4 “But do not forget this one thing,
dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a
thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8, NIV).
Traditionally, theologians have used these verses to prove the
timelessness of God.9 Peter, however, does not imply that God is
timeless or that He cannot relate to our time. The basic meaning of
these two parallel passages is that God does relate to our time, but
differently from the way humans relate to time.10
For instance, that God experiences “one thousand years as the
day that just went away” (Ps. 90:4) tells that He is able to relate to
created temporal events stretched far beyond our reach with
comprehension and immediacy. The complexity of world events in
a thousand years stands in God’s experience as yesterday’s events
stand in our memories. Obviously, Moses assumes that time
The Historical God of Scripture 65

belongs to the very essence o f God’s reality and therefore belongs


to His divine power and activities. The text tells us that God
experiences our time in a way different from the way we
experience it. Though God experiences time differently, time also
passes for God. That is why He can experience a thousand years as
our yesterday. This perception or relation flows from His own
being and temporality, which is different from our temporality.
When Peter affirms that for God, “a day is like a thousand
years,” he deepens and expands Moses’ original statement in
Psalm 90:4 that for God “a thousand years are like yesterday.”
Thus, God experiences not only our past lives with unsurpassed
comprehensiveness and clarity but also experiences each instant of
our present lives. He experiences our time with a closeness of
focus that allows Him to search the daily events of our lives in a
level of infinite detail that Peter compares with the complexity and
amount of events that take place in creation during one thousand
years.
When we experience a moment lived with intensity it seems
to us an "eternity." The moment seems to stand still and time
seems to stop. In a similar way, when God considers our day His
time seems to stop, a day then becomes like a thousand years. God
relates to our times from the depth of His infinite temporality.

§ 37. COMPARING GOD’S AND HUMAN TIME


From the brief overview of biblical texts sampled from Old and
New Testaments, we are beginning to realize that the biblical
authors conceived of divine reality as temporal. We need now to
understand what they mean when they say or assume that God is
temporal.
The Bible speaks of God as having years. What does it mean
to say that God has years? Following tradition, most Christians
understand these verses and other like them as metaphorical or
symbolical meaning that we should not take the statement of God
having years literally as actually having years and time.
Why should they argue that way? What leads Christian
tradition to read these texts as mere symbols of divine
66 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
timelessness? The answer is clear, they come to these texts with
the pre-conviction that God’s being is timeless. As we explained
previously, early Christians derived this view from Greek
philosophy and transmitted it via tradition.
We, however, have departed from the methodology of
multiple sources of theological knowledge that includes
philosophy, science, and tradition. Thus, when reading these texts
we bring no baggage, no assumptions or preconceptions originated
by fallen human beings outside the knowledge and revelation of
God in Scripture.
Instead, we take the biblical texts at face value, understanding
them to say that God in some way is temporal. The first reaction to
the statement “God is temporal” is to understand that God as
temporal in a creaturely sense, implying that God is transitory as
the creature and even that He is mutable and experiences
becoming as creatures do.
Clearly, however, the biblical texts surveyed, stated quite the
contrary, that God’s temporality is not like our temporality. It is
infinite as corresponds to the being o f the Creator, whereas human
temporality is limited as corresponds to the finite being of the
creature.
Let us look at God a little further. Job asked some obvious
questions about God’s reality. “Do you have eyes of flesh? Do you
see as a mortal sees? Are your days like those of a mortal or your
years like those of a man?” (Job 10:4-5, NIV). The implicit answer
to these questions is no. God does not have eyes of flesh or sees as
mortals. Similarly, God’s days and years are not like the days of
mortal creatures. Yet He has eyes (Job 36:7; Psalm 34:15; Ezra
5:5), and years (see § 33). The Bible says God has “eyes” because
His vision is able to accomplish what our limited vision achieves,
but goes far beyond to achievements greater than we can possibly
understand or imagine. God’s reality differs from ours in design,
power, structure, and character.
Likewise, God does not have days or years (time) as we do.
Yet He is temporal in a way different from our temporality. We
have seen that God’s temporality is infinite while human
temporality is finite. This allows God to experience our limited
The Historical God of Scripture 67

temporality. He is also able to experience time in ways we will


never be able to achieve because of our fmiteness. Beyond His
active relation with His creatures, God experiences temporality in
a deeper and higher sense than we will ever experience or
understand. According to Scripture, then, the infinite temporality
of divine reality is capable to do and experience temporality within
the limited level in which finite creatures exist without sharing in
their temporal and spatial limitations.

§3&COTSTIME: LN1VOCALANDEQUIVOCALVIEWS
After briefly comparing divine and human temporalities, we may
attempt to assess the biblical view o f divine temporality. When
biblical authors speak or assume divine temporality, are they
saying that God’s time is identical (univocal), totally different
(equivocal) or similar (analogical) to our time?
Before answering these questions, we need to review our own
speculative idea of time. We need to get rid of the notion of time
as a universal container and replace it with the notion that time is a
characteristic o f what is real.

a. Time is not a “container.”


In the biblical statements reviewed earlier, we discovered that
biblical authors do not think of time in the abstract as a separate
issue from temporal realities or events. 11 This approach does not
flow from the pastoral or practical focus of biblical authors.
Instead, this approach reveals the fact that time “co-appears” to us
as a basic general characteristic of concrete realities. In other
words, time is “co-given,s to our reflection in the temporal realities
we encounter in life.12
Unlike qualities such as colors, characteristics, or virtues,
which co-appear only with some realities, time co-appears with
everything. Time is not a thing like a container within which
reality takes place, such as when we put water (a thing) within a
bucket (another thing); that is, time is not a thing in which all other
things have their being. Our difficulty in defining time springs
from our assumption that time is such a thing. Time never appears
68 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
or is given to us as a “thing,” but co-appears with all things as a
basic characteristic of their being. Things are not in time, but time
is in things. Therefore, we cannot understand time as separate
from everything else; instead, we can only understand time in its
relationship with all things of which it is characteristic. The word
“time” is a noun, but we should think of it as functioning like an
adjective.

b. Time as primordial characteristic of what is real.


If time is neither a thing nor a container, what is it? It is an overall
quality shared by everything real. Time is the quality by which
real things exist within a past-present-future flow. By primordial
characteristic, I mean the basic, first, broader characteristic that
conditions our understanding of what is real. .
As we have seen, according to Scripture, because God has
enduring life He has enduring time. When biblical authors see God
as temporal, they are not thinking of time as a container whose
limitations both God and creatures have to accept. On the contrary,
for them time is to be understood from the perspective o f the
reality to which it is attached and qualifying. In short, the reality of
God defines what divine time is.

c. The univocal Nature of God's Time


We need to return to the question that opened this section (§38).
When biblical authors speak or assume divine temporality, are
they saying that God’s time is identical (univocal), completely
different (equivocal) or similar (analogical) to our time? As we
proceed, we should bear in mind that “univocal” means “a word
having one meaning only." “Equivocal” means “a word having
one or more different meanings.” And, “analogical” means “a
word having one or more similar meanings.”
When we apply the word “time” to God and creation, then,
we may understand “time” in a univocal meaning. In this case,
“time” would mean the same for both God and creation. We may
understand “time” in an equivocal sense. In this case, “time”
would have two completely different meanings one for God and
The Historical God of Scripture 69

the other for creation. Finally, we may understand “time” in an


analogical sense. In this case, “time” would have two similar
meanings one for God and the other for creation.
Classical philosophy and theology has understood the word
“time” in a univocal sense. In other words, they understood time
meaning the same thing whether it applied to God or creation. For
them “time” meant the measure o f change. Thus, it could only
apply to created reality, never to God. This conception created an
intellectual gap that severed God from His creation. The nature of
their respective realities created a gap between a timeless God and
temporal creation that prevented God from directly
communicating, relating, and acting within the historical order of
created causes. The reality o f God was “transcendent,” that is,
separated from His creation and incompatible with it.
In modem times, philosophers and theologians continued to
use the concept of time in a univocal sense. However, they became
more familiar with the temporal nature o f reality. Consequently,
they progressively recognized temporal things as real. History no
longer was just an illusory duplication o f timeless eternal realities
as platonic and Christian traditions believed. Likewise, God was
no longer totally devoid o f time. Instead, He was now conceived
to include time in His being.
The result o f this redefining was that the temporal universe
became a side of God; His visible side. Because in the modem
interpretation God’s being includes all that there is, we label it
“pantheism” (God is everything) and “panentheism” (everything is
in God). The pantheistic and panentheistic interpretations of God’s
reality belong to the school o f philosophy denominated “Process
Philosophy” or “Process Theism” precisely because they
understand God as including the becoming temporal world in His
reality.
The more familiar notion o f the human soul may help us to
visualize this otherwise complex view o f God. As those who
believe in the existence o f the soul conceive human reality as a
composite of a visible corporal body and an invisible spiritual
soul, those who conceive the reality o f God in pantheistic and
panentheistic patterns view God as a composite of a visible side
70 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
(the world) and an invisible soul (its timeless spiritual side beyond
the world).

d. The equivocal view of God’s time


Christian tradition has not adopted the equivocal view of divine
time. However, Karl Barth, one o f the greatest theologians o f all
times, at times seems to have implicitly assumed it.
On the one hand, Barth speaks about God’s history and
time.13 According to him, the “historicity” o f God is the very
source of time.14 Yet God’s “historicity” does not include the
future, present, past succession of created time.15 Instead, God’s
historicity and time, even in the incarnation of Jesus Christ takes
place in the traditional timeless simultaneity that excludes the
essential characteristic o f created time, that is, its future, present,
past flux.16 Barth also speaks about created time where the future,
present, past flux takes place as “our fallen time.” 17
Thus, when Barth writes about God’s “history” or “time”
these words have an equivocal meaning, that is, a totally different
meaning than when he uses the same words in reference to
creation.

§ 39. THE ANALOGICAL VIEW OF GOD’S TIME


The brief review of biblical passages above (§32-§37) show that
biblical authors understood time neither in a univocal nor in an
equivocal sense, but rather in an analogical sense. In Scripture,
God’s time does not have exactly (univocally) the same meaning
that time has for creation. Likewise, what time means for God is
not completely different from what it means for man
(equivocally). Instead, biblical thinking assumes that God’s time
and created time are similar (analogical).
Now, we need to spell out briefly the concept of analogy. The
similarity which is basic to the concept o f analogy involves the
presence of both difference (equivocity) and sameness (univocity)
predicated by both analogues.18 In other words, we use a concept
of time analogically when it means something identical (univocal)
and something different (equivocal) to both God and creation.
The Historical God of Scripture 71

In the case of the concept of time, what is identical in divine


and human times is the experience of internal consciousness and
external realities in a future, present, and past succession. The
univocity involved here is the experience of past, present, and
future as real, both at the divine and created levels. Yet, we need
to bear in mind that even when God and creation univocally share
the characteristic of temporal succession, they experience such
succession differently. This difference exists because time is not a
container that applies identically to both God and creation, but a
characteristic that adapts itself to the different configurations of
reality (§38 a, b).
The analogical understanding of divine temporality allows
God to experience time in its fullness and, at the same time, within
the limitations proper to creatures. Here the principle that the
more is capable of the less applies. According to Scripture, in the
analogical view of time, the “more” of God’s infinite time is
compatible with and able to relate to the “less” of creation’s finite
time.
God Himself, then, is temporal. God’s temporality means that
in His eternity God’s life and action takes place in the order of
future, present and past succession. Because divine and creaturely
realities have different configurations, God experiences the
fullness of time that creatures will never experience. Moreover,
from the fullness of His infinite, limitless being, He experiences
our time directly. Yet God’s experience of creaturely time does
not limit His infinite being in any way. Not even the limitations
that the Trinity decided the eternal Son should adopt to save
humanity modified or limited God’s reality. What is more is able
to experience what is less.

§ 40. CONCLUSION
We started this chapter by asking the following questions. If God
is not timeless, as Christian traditions assumes, is He temporal?
Does Scripture understand God’s reality as timeless? If it does not,
how does Scripture understand the reality of God? Is the biblical
72 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
God temporal? Wouldn’t a temporal God be a powerless, limited,
finite God?
After our brief incursion into some biblical passages, we
learned that Scripture radically departs from tradition by
understanding God’s reality as temporal. This implies that
tradition’s choice regarding the nature of God’s reality involves a
radical departure from the basis of biblical thinking. Between
tradition and Scripture there is a parting of the ways at the very
beginning of theological thinking where Aquinas advised we
should not err to avoid disaster at the end.
Biblical authors assume an analogical understanding of divine
time. This means that God’s eternal and infinite reality
experiences the flux of time in its fullness, according to His own
divine nature. He also is able to directly experience our limited
created time without limiting Himself to it. The analogical
understanding of divine time helps us to understand why biblical
authors had no problem in speaking of an infinite, eternal, and
immutable God that was able to act directly and personally within
the flux of created time.
We saw that the analogical view of divine time does not make
God powerless, limited, or finite. On the contrary, it allows Him to
express His power in creation fully. A timeless view o f God,
however, does limit Him, preventing any real interaction within
the cause and effect sequence of created reality. A timeless God is
a powerless God, a God who cannot act historically within the
movement of history. By making God powerless to act in history,
timelessness removed God from the relevance of daily life, which
led to the secularization of Christianity and the strengthening of
secular atheism.
As we now continue our search for the meaning o f divine
revelation in the following chapters, we will work on two main
methodological convictions, the sola-tota-prima Scriptura
principle, and the infinite analogical temporality of God. The
former provides the sources of theological knowledge through
divine revelation. The latter gives us the biblical understanding of
the first element o f Christian theology which we will use as our
The Historical God of Scripture 73

basic presupposition to interpret biblical texts, and to understand


God’s reality, life, and actions in history.

1 See Collin Brown ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament


3:827, 828).
2 Oscar Cullmann, Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception
of Time and History, trans. Floyd V. Filson, 3 ed. (Philadelphia, PA:
Westminster Press, 1964).
3 “And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and
God is that actuality; and God's self-dependent actuality is life most good
and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most
good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for
this is God”(Aristotle, Metaphysics, trans. W. D. Ross, XII, 7.).
4 Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, ed. Israel GOlancz, trans.
W.V. Cooper, Gthe Temple Classics (London: J.M.Dent, 1902), 161.
5 Plato, "Timaeus," in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. Edith
Hamilton (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 37, e.
6 Augustine, Confessions, trans. John K. Ryan (Garden City, NY: Image
Books, 1960), X I,13,16.
7 Ibid.
8 Cullmann, 62.
9 For instance, commenting on 2 Peter 3:8 Luther explains that “...there
are two ways o f looking at things: God’s way and the way of the world.
Thus this life and the life to come are of two kinds. This life cannot be
the same as the life to come, since no one can enter the life to come
except through death, that is, through the cessation of this life. Now this
life amounts to eating, drinking, sleeping, digesting, begetting children,
etc. Here everything goes by number: hours, days, and years in
succession. Now when you want to look at the life to come, you must
erase the course o f this life from your mind. You dare not think that you
can measure it as this life is measured. There everything will be one day,
one hour, one moment” Luther, M. (1999, c l 967). Vol. 30: Luther's
works, vol. 30 : The Catholic Epistles (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H.
74 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (2 Pe 3:11). Saint Louis: Concordia


Publishing House.
10 Commenting on 2 Peter 3:8, Cullmann explains that Peer’s purpose
“ ...is to assert, not the timelessness of God, but rather the endless
character of the time of God, which he alone can grasp and which can be
expressed only by saying that for God the standards for measuring time
are different” (Christ and Time, 69).
11 To consider time abstractly is a death end street. Augustine expressed
the impossibility to provide an understanding of time itself not related to
temporal realities in the following way. "What is time? Who can easily
and briefly explain this? Who can comprehend this even in thought, so as
to express it in a word? Yet what do we discuss more familiarly and
knowingly in conversation than time? Surely we understand it when we
talk about it, and also understand it when we hear others talk about it.
What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to
someone who does ask me, I do not know" (Confessions, XI. 14,17).
12 See for instance, Martin Heidegger, "What Is Metaphysics?" in
Existence and Being, ed. Werner Brock (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1949),
340, 347-348.; and, Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John
Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York, NY: Harper and Collins,
1962), Intr. II.7. c. See also, Thorleif Boman, Hebrew Thought
Compared with Greek (New York: W.W. Norton, 1970).
13 Karl Barth, 1886-1968, Church Dogmatics, ed. G. W. and T. F.
Torrance Bromiley, trans. G. W. Bromiley, 2d ed. (translation of Die
kirchliche Dogmatik) ed., vol. v. 1 pt.l (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark,
1975), III. 1,66.
14 Ibid., 111.1,67.
15 Ibid., 11.1,608-677.
16 Ibid., III. 1,73-74.
17 Ibid., III. 1,7.
18 “In the history and development o f the concept o f analogy as an
instrument for the extension of knowledge a core of univocity is thus a
decisive premise even though analogous relations might be observed”
Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromley,
3 vols., vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991, 1994), 344, fh. 14.
6. THE REALITY OF THE T R IN IT Y

§ 40. INTRODUCTION
Many years ago, while working as a district pastor in Argentina,
the members would often invite my family for Sabbath lunch. .
After what often was a culinary feast we would sit back and enjoy
some friendly after-dinner conversation. Frequently out of the
blue, without any preliminary build up, my host would ask,
“Pastor, how do you understand the Trinity?” As I already had
some experience as a seminary teacher I was familiar with the
issue enough to recognize I was in a no win situation. In a sense,
my hosts were trying to get their money back, as it were, through a
mini-course on the Trinity. Most of them, in fact, often had set
ideas with which they merely wanted my corroboration.
Unfortunately, the nature of the Trinity, being the very nature of
the reality of the infinite God, prevents finite humans from
understanding it. Only God can understand Himself. For us, the
nature of the infinite Trinity stands beyond our reach or
understanding. Unfortunately, that was not the answer my hosts
were hoping for, but after a succulent meal, my hosts were in no
physical condition for a more thought-provoking, in-depth
exploration o f the issue. I anticipate the reader, however, is
geared up and ready to delve into some revealed truths on the
complex issue o f the Trinity.

1. God as element in a Theology for the Church


Because of its far-reaching influence in the understanding of all
elements o f theology, we can say that the doctrine o f God is the
first element o f Christian theology.
76 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

As we continue our study, the reader should remember that


we are focusing on the basic elements o f Christian theology. Their
development into a theology fo r the Church will require several
volumes.
Consequently, we are dealing with the basic issues in a
simplified way to motivate laypersons and pastors to a deeper
understanding of Scripture and the doctrines of the church that
may promote her unity and empower her mission.
So far, we have considered only the basic characteristic of
divine reality which exegetes and theologians assume when
interpreting and developing the beliefs of Christianity. Besides the
question of divine eternity and its relation to time and space, our
search leads us beyond the general characteristics of divine reality
(such as love, wrath, holiness, etc.) to consider its Trinitarian
structure. In this chapter, then, we will attempt to “understand” the
mystery of God’s triune entity.

2. God as “mystery”
As we attempt to understand God as Trinity, David’s insight may
help us to recognize some of our limitations. “Great is the LORD,
and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable”
(Psalm 145:3, RSV). As I stated earlier we are attempting to
understand something beyond the reach of human knowledge It is
important to note that God’s revelation of His reality as Trinity
involves a direct revelation accessible to human knowledge which,
at the same time, however, involves a surpassing of its own
revelation. In understanding God, then, we face mystery.
In Scripture, mystery does not refer to something unknowable
but to what we may know partially through divine revelation. For
instance, Paul applies the category o f mystery to the love o f Christ
as He prays that the Ephesians may "know the love o f Christ
which surpasses knowledge" (Ephesians 3:19, RSV). We must
devote ourselves to understanding what is revealed and be wise in
discerning when we have reached our limitations. We must never
cross over the limit between the revealed and hidden (Deut 29:29)
The Reality of the Trinity 77

facets of mystery, particularly in discussing issues like the Trinity,


foreknowledge, eternity, and the like.

§ 41. TRADITION AND THE TRINITY


Since its very inception, the New Testament revelation about the
Father, the Son, and, the Holy Spirit has inspired a broad range of
theological reflection that still goes on unabated. The history of
theological interpretations about the Trinity can be classified into
four major categories, (1) heretical solutions, (2) dogmatic
statements, (3) classical understanding, and (4) recent
developments.
From the beginning, human philosophy (specifically
Neoplatonism) and its timeless understanding o f divine reality
have influenced the formulation of Christian teachings on the
Trinity. Unfortunately, to appreciate the various attempts to
understand the doctrine of the Trinity, a basic awareness of the
ways in which philosophy has conditioned its development is
necessary. However, to facilitate communication with a wider
audience I will do my best to avoid most philosophical issues and
language.

1. The Economic and Immanent Trinities


Very early in the history o f Christianity (II century AD)
theologians adopted the platonic-aristotelic understanding of
ultimate reality as belonging to non-temporal eternity.
Since Ireneus (d.c. 202 AD), an early Christian theologian
from Asia Minor who became the bishop of Lyon, the word
"economy" became a technical expression used by theologians to
designate the historical level o f reality where God reveals Himself
and carries on His works of creation and redemption.
Tertullian, writing in Latin from Carthage, North Africa (d.c.
220 AD), and Origen, prolific writer from Alexandria, also North
Africa (c. 185-253 AD), adopted the timeless tradition o f Greek
philosophy that led them to understand the Trinity as a timeless
reality. Since biblical revelation speaks o f the Trinity in historical
78 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

terms, they added to it their timeless view that we know as the


“immanent” Trinity.
Ever since, Christian tradition has recognized two levels of
the trinity: The economic, historical level where Scripture
describes the persons and the works o f the Trinity; and the
immanent level where the real being of the Trinity exists in the
immutable, static perfection of its timeless eternity. O f course,
according to Christian tradition the “real” trinity is the immanent
Trinity.

2. The“OneGod”(Deowio)andthe“Threeone”God(DeoTiind)
From the beginning of the Genesis account, the Bible
simultaneously affirms both the oneness and the plurality o f God.
The philosophical tradition originated in Plato and Aristotle,
however, considers that true reality is simple, that is, it has no
parts and is therefore indivisible. Achieving a proper concept of
God, then, required the systematic elimination of plurality within
divine reality.
If God is simple, as a perfect timeless-spaceless reality
demands, we can conceive His being only as one, not three. The
biblical information about the Trinity, then, becomes a problem
not only because the writers grounded the Trinity in history rather
than in non-historical, philosophical speculations, but also because
they clearly present God as Trinity.
Theologians who start from a conception o f God's oneness
tend to see in the Trinitarian revelation presented in the Bible a
problem to be solved rather than a characteristic o f God to be
integrated in our understanding about the very life and being of
God. Thus, classical theology starts with the conception o f God as
One (Deo uno) and only then does it deal with the Trinitarian God
(Deo Trino) witnessed in the Bible.
As a result, in Christian tradition the doctrine of the Trinity is
a problem to "solve," not a key element for the understanding of
Christian doctrines. Karl Rahner (1904-1984), perhaps the greatest
Roman Catholic theologian of the twentieth century, confirms this
situation by recognizing that "should the doctrine of the Trinity
The Reality of the Trinity 79

have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature


could well remain virtually unchanged"1
Let’s move on now to consider the Trinitarian structure of
God’s reality from the data we find in biblical revelation.

§ 42. THE TRINITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT


In the Old Testament, Moses received and formulated the
grounding direct historical experience of God’s reality as historical
person (Exodus 3:2-15).2 Moses’ affirmation of God’s (Yahweh)
“oneness,” “Hear, 0 Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah”
(Deuteronomy 6:4, ASV) has formed part of Israel’s faith for more
than three thousand years.3 Moses also affirmed the “oneness” of
God by saying that “there is no other” God but Yahweh (cf.
Deuteronomy 4:39). Clearly, Old Testament faith is strongly
monotheistic over and against the predominant polytheism of the
ancient world.
Although the New Testament notion of God as Trinity is alien to
Old Testament writers (we will see in the next section that it took
Jesus Christ to personally reveal the Trinity through His
incarnation) they, however, prepared the way for the revelation of
the Trinity by suggesting that His reality was also plural. Let’s
take a look at some of the ways they did this.

1. Threefold address to God


In the Old Testament the evidence for adding plurality to
divine oneness is uneven. Among the weaker evidence, we find
some texts where the author addresses God following a threefold
pattern. For instance, God instructed Moses to bless the priest by
using the following formula: “Jehovah bless thee, and keep thee:
Jehovah make his face to shine upon thee, and be gracious unto
thee: Jehovah lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee
peace” (Numbers 6:24-26, ASV). For some, the threefold
repetition of God’s name Jehovah implicitly foreshadows the
plurality of the Trinity. They see the same implication in Isaiah’s
description of the worship dialogue between seraphs by the throne
of God in heaven: “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy,
80 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

holy, holy, is Jehovah o f hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory”
Isaiah 6:3 (ASV). As I said, this is weak evidence some totally
dismiss as referring to or implying divine plurality.

2. The plural form of the Hebrew word Elohirn


Even though biblical writers could use the singular form El to
speak about God, they usually employed the plural form Elohim
(used at least 680 times). One notorious example occurs in the
Israelite confession of faith that affirms the oneness of God. "Hear
O Israel, the Lord (Yahweh) our God (Eloheynu: our gods) is one"
(Deuteronomy 6:4). Some dismiss this usage as simply the
author’s way of showing respect to God’s majesty. Others, looking
at this text from the systematic advantage of later New Testament
revelation see here an anticipation of Trinitarian plurality.

3. God as plural subject


Some texts use not only the plural name Elohim but also refer to
God as a plural subject. Moses’ creation account presents God
(Elohim) as saying, “Let us make man in our image, after our
likeness” (Genesis 1:26, KJV). When God reacts to Adam’s sin
Moses reports Him as saying, “Behold, the man has become like
one of us, to knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22, RSV).Finally,
after the universal flood, Moses reports God reacts to the Babel
Tower initiative by deciding: “Come, let us go down, and there
confound their language, that they may not understand one
another's speech” (Genesis 11:7, ASV).
This evidence seems to be the strongest of the three arguing
the plurality o f God. And yet, all three types of OT references can
be understood as pointers to divine plurality to be fully revealed in
the New Testament by Christ Himself.

4. Jehovah and the Angel of the Lord


At times, the Old Testament speaks of an “angel of the Lord” in
the obvious, literal sense o f an angelical creature acting as the
messenger of Jehovah. Sometimes, however, the context reveals
The Reality of the Trinity 81

that the “Angel of the Lord” is not an angelical creature but a


divine one.
Consider for instance, when the Angel of the Lord appeared
to Moses in the desert out of the burning bush (Exodus 3:2). When
Moses turned aside to see burning bush, “God [not the angel]
called unto him out o f the midst o f the bush” (Exodus 3:4, ASV).
Obviously, the Angel of the Lord in this case was the Lord
Himself (cf. Acts 7:38).
Later on when God was giving covenant promises to Israel,
He assured them that He was sending “an Angel before thee, to
keep thee in the way, and to bring thee into the place which I have
prepared. Beware o f him, and obey his voice, provoke him not;
for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him”
(Exodus 23:10-12, KJV).
This angel was not an ordinary, created angel. Notice that the
Israelites were told to obey his voice, and not provoke Him.
Furthermore, this angel has the power to pardon sin because the
name [reality] of God was in him. We can easily conclude that
because o f these attributes, this angel was a divine being. Thus,
from the perspective of Old Testament revelation, we find here
two divine beings: Jehovah and His unusually gifted “angel,” an
“angel” possessing divine reality (“my name is in him”) and the
power to forgive sins (an act requiring divine righteousness). We
have here then an instance where Moses implies the existence of
two divine entities. From the advantage of New Testament
revelation, some identify this angel with Christ.

5. Jehovah and His servant


Consistently following Old Testament teachings, Isaiah clearly
recognizes that salvation and the forgiveness of sins is Jehovah’s
work (Isaiah 43:24-25). Yet in chapter 53 Jehovah places the
burden o f sin and the work o f forgiveness on somebody else, His
servant. Isaiah predicts that Jehovah will place on His servant “the
iniquity o f us all" (Isaiah 53:6, RSV). Jehovah’s servant “will
justify many; and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11,
NIV). As the “angel o f the Lord” in Moses’ times, in the future the
82 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

“servant of Jehovah” will perform the divine works of redemption


and justification. In these texts, then, we see again the implicit
recognition of a duality of divine entities, Jehovah and His servant.
This is strong evidence that Old Testament revelation implicitly
assumed a duality of divine entities (cf. Isaiah 42:1-7).

6. TheLord, theAngel ofHis Presence and His Holy Spirit


At the end of his book, Isaiah pens a beautiful psalm of
supplication (63:7-64:11). In the first few verses, he praises the
goodness of the Lord toward Israel (63:7); refers to the “Angel of
His Presence” who saved the Israelites (63:9); and sadly recalls
their rebellion against and grieving o f “His Holy Spirit” (63:10).
Isaiah repeats here previous evidence that implies the existence of
two divine entities, Jehovah and the Angel o f the Lord. The
addition of the Holy Spirit in passing may not be sufficiently clear
to imply a third divine entity. Yet from the advantage of New
Testament revelation, one can see here a hidden allusion to the
Trinity already present in Old Testament times.

7. Conclusion
The evidence o f the Old Testament texts provides the appropriate
background for the New Testament revelation o f God’s reality as
Trinity. This is not to say that the Old Testament explicitly taught
the doctrine of the Trinity or that the Israelites were familiar with
the Triune God.
The Old Testament notion regarding divine oneness
distinguishes Jehovah from the general polytheism of the times.
However, Old Testament revelation does not conceive God’s
oneness as a monad or single, simple, indivisible entity. Its writers
do not limit their understanding o f God to the simplicity of one
divine entity. By using language that implies a duality of divine
entities, the Old Testament opens a beyond-oneness complexity in
the reality of God
Only in the New Testament, through the incarnation and
teachings of Christ, could the implicit openness and complexity of
the Old Testament idea of the Godhead become clear and explicit.
The Reality of the Trinity 83

§ 43. TRINITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT


When, according to divine predestination and the providence, the
incarnation and the cross became historical realities, the Old
Testament’s implicit plurality of God’s oneness stood in need o f a
deeper and more explicit revelation.

I. Jesus Christ reveals the Triune reality of God


Jesus Christ personally revealed the Trinity. Through His ministry,
His less than obvious divine nature shone through humanity in
deeds and words. As divine entity, Christ related directly and
personally with God in heaven. God in heaven was His “Father,” a
second intelligent, active, powerful, eternal divine entity standing
side by side with Christ. Finally, when the time of Jesus’ death and
resurrection was drawing near, Christ presented His successor, the
divine person of the Holy Spirit. Thus, through the Trinity Christ
revealed that the plurality implicitly present in the Old Testament
included three full divine entities, God the Father, God the Son,
and God the Holy Spirit.
Although Christ revealed the Trinitarian reality o f God during
His incarnation, the Trinitarian reality of God is eternal. This
means that in Old Testament times God was the same eternal
Trinity. Moreover, Christ revealed the doctrine o f the Trinity
because it is the necessary presupposition for the possibility and
proper understanding of both the incarnation and the cross as
divine acts.
Christ, however, did not only affirm and expand the Old
Testament notion of plurality in God’s reality. He also affirmed
the oneness of God by asserting the Old Testament confession of
faith that “the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29, RSV;
cf. James 2:19, and, Galatians 3:20).
To have an overview of the plurality involved in the
reality of the Trinity, we need to consider each eternal person
separately. With a clear view of the plurality of divine entities
revealed in the New Testament, we will consider the way in which
New Testament writers put together the plurality and oneness that
make up the reality of the Christian God.
84 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

2. The divinity of Jesus Christ


Through dozens of carols and manger scenes, nearly every boy
and girl is introduced to Jesus at Christmastime. From that
humble beginning, Christ’s humanity overshadowed His divinity
throughout most of His life on earth. Occasionally there appeared
aspects in His life that offered His disciples a rare glimpse into His
divinity. Clearly, in theological terms, Jesus Christ was more than
the temple, the prophets, or even kings (Mathew 12:6,41-42).
Scripture testifies about the divinity of Christ in several ways.
Mentioning two of them should suffice to show the basic view of
New Testament writers about the reality of Jesus Christ’s entity.
John, the beloved disciple, opened his Gospel narrative with a
succinct “biography” on Jesus Christ: “In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He
was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made\
without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3,
NIV, emphasis mine). In verse 14 John identifies the eternal Word
incarnated as Jesus Christ. Paul expressed the divinity of Christ
with even greater precision: “who [Christ], being in the form o f
God, did not consider to be equal with God as something to be
grasped” (Philippians 2:6, translation and emphasis mine).

3. The “Generation” of the Son


New Testament writers give us some insights about the relations
between Jesus and His Father, that is, between the eternal Father
and the eternal Son. Among these insights, two became prominent
in the way theological tradition formulated the doctrine o f the
Trinity. We find the first insight in the Gospel o f John. John refers
to Christ as “the only begotten Son which is in the bosom o f the
Father” (John 1:18 KJV). We find the second insight in the epistle
to the Hebrews. The author of the epistle speaks about Christ as
His “firstborn.” “For to which o f the angels did God ever say,
‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you ’? Or again, ‘I will be
his Father, and he will be my Son’? And again, when he brings the
firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship
him’” (Hebrews 1:5-6, NRS). The author uses the words
The Reality of the Trinity 85

“begotten” and “firstborn” in their original context where a human


father generates a child, specifically, the birth of His first son.
Tradition erroneously understood these texts as referring to
the relationship of reality that exists between the eternal Father
and the eternal Son. In other words, they moved the meaning of
the words from its historical biblical context to the timeless
context where the eternal entities of the timeless Father and the
timeless Son were supposed to exist. The result of tradition
reading these texts “ontologically,” that is to say, from the
assumption that divine reality is timeless and spaceless, was the
orthodox teaching that the eternal Father actually and at the level
of divine reality, generated the eternal Son. O f course, since
tradition views God the Father and God the Son as entities that
exist in a timeless spaceless reality, we have to conceive the
Father’s generation of the Son as “eternal.” Origen was among the
earliest theologians to speak about the “eternal generation o f the
Son.” This theological construct became part of what history
identifies as a component of the “orthodox” doctrine o f the
Trinity.
How do we read these texts from the methodological
perspective of the sola Scriptura principle, and the infinite
analogical temporality of divine reality?
First, Scripture uses John’s language “only begotten
[,monogenes]” not only in the literal sense of “only begotten” but
also in the metaphorical sense of “distinctive,” “unique,” “one o f a
kind.” In this sense, monogenes corresponds to the Hebrew word
yahid (only, only one, solitary one, unique). Genesis 22:2, 12 and
16 use yahid as an adjective to qualify the relation of Isaac to
Abraham his father. God said to Abraham, "take your son, your
only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and
offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of
which I shall tell you" (Genesis 22:2, RSV, emphasis mine).
Correspondingly, in the New Testament, Paul uses monogenes to
describe Abraham’s sacrificial offering of Isaac at God’s request
(Hebrews 11:17). That Scripture is not using this word in its
literal sense is clear because Isaac was not the only one generated
by Abraham, nor his firstborn.
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Second, the best reading of the Greek text of John 1:18 is


monogenes Theos. A literal translation would read, “The only
begotten God” but that clearly does not fit the biblical concept of
God. Obviously, we should read this word metaphorically, as
other authors use it in Scripture. Then, we would read this text as
referring not only to the “only begotten son” but the “unique God”
who revealed the Father to humans.
Let us turn our attention to the word “prdtotokos” (firstborn)
used in Hebrews 1:5-6. This word is a composite of the Greek
words “protos” (first) and tikto (bom). Tradition read these texts
theologically, applying the notion of “firstborn” to the relation
between the eternal reality of the Father and the eternal reality of
the Son. Thus, this text became another biblical basic element
sustaining the doctrine of the “eternal generation” of the Son from
the Father.
Hebrews 1:5-6, however, is quoting from Psalm 2, known as
a “coronation” psalm because the Israelites would sing it during
the crowning ceremony of a new king. At the ceremony of
inauguration, the choir would sing: “I will proclaim the decree of
the LORD: He said to me, “You are my Son ‘today I have become
your Father’” (Psalm 2:7, NIV).
The psalmist refers to the concept of “prototokos” in a
transferred sense to express the special relationship that took place
between the son and the father during the crowning ceremony.
“Today I have become your father” referred to the transfer of
kingly power from father to son. In this transferred sense the two
roots from which “prdtotokos is derived (first and physical birth),
no longer play any part in the meaning.
This becomes clear when we consider Jehovah’s statement
about David as his firstborn. "I also shall make him My firstborn,
the highest of the kings of the earth” (Psalm 89:27, NAB). Since
David was the youngest of eight brothers God was using the
notion of “firstborn” in a metaphorical sense (1 Samuel 16:10-13)
to indicate the position of authority, distinction, and responsibility
God conferred on him by crowning him king of Israel. The
concept of “firstborn,” then, stands closer to the concept of
adoption: i.e. the bestowal of special legal rights and honors. In
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like vein, Christ’s victory on the cross earned Him the special
legal right and honor to be crowned King in heaven after His
ascension (Acts 2:32-36).
Clearly, the traditional theological construction that proposes
the “eternal generation” of the Son by the Father as we find in the
creeds and the theology of the church4 does not stand on biblical
teachings. Tradition takes biblical statements about the “only
begotten God,” and the “firstborn” and interprets them as speaking
about the reality of God: The entity of the timeless Father begets
the entity o f the timeless Son. This view places the entity of the
Son in an eternal relation of dependence on the entity of the
Father. And so we see that the orthodox view of the Trinity
departs from Scripture both by assuming that divine entities are
timeless, and by implicitly subordinating the entity of the Son to
that of the Father. Because they view divine eternity as timeless,
the “eternal generation” of the Son is not a divine movement but
an immutable “relation” of dependence. The unavoidable result is
that the divinity o f the Son becomes less divine than the divinity of
the Father who eternally generates Him.
When viewed biblically, however, the concepts of only
begotten and firstborn simply point to the uniqueness, special
place, and honor the Son has in the historical execution of the
work o f salvation. They do not speak about Trinitarian reality but
about Trinitarian life. In the biblical view of the Trinity, then,
there is no place for any sort of subordinationism among the
reality o f the Trinitarian persons. All persons are coetemal.
According to Scripture however, there is a subordination of
roles among the Trinitarian persons. Such is the case in the
historical execution of the plan of salvation designed by the
Trinity before the creation o f the world. We will touch on the
beginning o f this historical subordination of service and mission in
the life o f the Trinity when we study the basic element of divine
predestination in chapter eight.
Now we need to turn our attention to the Father.
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4. The Father: The God of Jesus Christ


The idea o f God as Father is not alien to the Old Testament.
When God is called “Father” in the Old Testament, “Father” refers
to His tender care for His chosen people (Deuteronomy, 1:31;
32:6; Proverbs 3:12; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Hosea 11:1, 8; Malachi
2:10). However, Old Testament writers do not use the name
"Father" to designate a person of the divine Trinity. Christ’s
incarnation and His personal revelation o f the Trinity make such
distinctive usage possible in the New Testament.
The man Jesus of Nazareth in whom "the whole fullness of
deity" dwelt bodily (Col. 2:9) introduced to us the person o f the
Father as His God. Besides the foundational usage that Jesus made
of the word “Father” to refer to His God in heaven, the New
Testament also bears witness to the divinity of the Father of Jesus
Christ.
Arguably, in Philippians 4:20 Paul refers to God as Father in
the general sense characteristic in Old Testament times. In other
passages, however, Paul follows Jesus' application of the term
Father to His God in heaven. For instance, Paul imitates Jesus'
witness about God as His father when He referred to God as "the
Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 1:17; Colossians. 1:3;
cf. Titus 1:4; Revelation 1:6).
Jesus, then, consistently used the word “Father” in a new and
specific personal sense. Jesus—God incarnate-used the word
"Father" in order to address Himself to God (Matthew. 7:21;
10:33; 11:26,27; 18:35; 26:39,42; 26:53). When Jesus prayed, He
addressed God as "my Father" (Matthew 26:39, 42; Luke 10:22),
or simply as “Father” (Mark 14:36; Luke 10:21; 22:42, 46; John
11:41; 12:27, 28; 17:1, 5). Finally, in the discourse on the bread of
life (John 6:22-40) Jesus refers to God as "God the Father [6
Tcaxrip 6 OsoqTio pater ho Theos]" (John 6:27).
Thus, when the New Testament authors use the father-son
language in reference to God they uncover the personal and
relational features that belong to the divine plurality of God's one
being. Both, the Son and the Father are God, the only, one God of
both Old and New Testaments. There are two complete divine
The Reality of the Trinity 89

entities identical to each other in sharing all divine characteristics


and reality.

5. Christ reveals the divine person of the Holy Spirit


Christ not only introduced His Father to us but He also introduced
to the church the divine person o f the Holy Spirit when the time
for His death and departure from earth drew near. With Jesus’
introduction of the Holy Spirit to the disciples, the christological
revelation of the Triune reality of God reached its New Testament
climax.
Even though the idea that God is Spirit is clearly testified in
the Bible (Gen 1:2; 6:3; John 4:24) the concept that God's plurality
involves not only the persons of the Son and the Father but also a
third person, the Holy Spirit, originates in Jesus Christ Himself.
The revelation about the existence and specific salvific role of a
third person of the one God was produced by Jesus Christ as He
tried to prepare the disciples for His departure from earth (John
7:33; 14:1-3).
According to John, Christ hinted at the personhood and
historical coming of the Holy Spirit shortly before His death at the
Feast o f Tabernacles when He promised that "he who believes in
me, as the scripture has said, 'Out o f his heart shall flow rivers of
living water'" (John 7:38), "this he said-explains John-about the
Spirit, which those who believe in him were to receive" (7:39).
However, Christ clearly announced the coming o f the Holy Spirit
only few hours before His crucifixion as He promised: "I will pray
the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you
for ever, even the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17; cf. 16:4-7, 13).
After His resurrection Jesus brought the attention o f the disciples
again to the coming o f the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49; Act 1:4, 5, 8).
Why was the existence of the Holy Spirit as a divine person
revealed precisely at this time? Because o f the historical flow and
nature of the plan of salvation the Holy Spirit had to be revealed as
a divine person in order to explain how the redemptive work of
Christ would continue after His ascension simultaneously on earth
and in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 8:1, 2). We should also bear in
90 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

mind that God reveals His triune reality not for the speculative
purpose of revealing the nature of God. Instead, the divine purpose
was to help humans to understand His redemptive acts in history.

6. The Divinity of the Holy Spirit5


The divinity of the Holy Sprit appears attested to in Scripture in
various ways. For instance, in Acts 28:25 Paul refers to the Holy
Spirit as if speaking o f God, "Well did the Holy Ghost speak to
our fathers by Isaiah the prophet;" the passage continues by citing
Isaiah 6:9-10, a prophecy which Isaiah puts in the mouth of the
"King the Lord of hosts." Likewise, Paul writes in I Corinthians
3:16: “know ye not that ye are a temple o f God, and that the Spirit
of God dwelleth in you?” (ASV); and in 1 Corinthians 6:19: “or
know ye not that your body is a temple o f the Holy Spirit which is
in you, which ye have from God? (ASV). Paul seems to use the
words “God” and “Holy Ghost” interchangeably, as synonymous.
Other biblical authors testify to the divinity o f the Holy Spirit
in various ways. One way is to describe the Holy Spirit as
possessing divine characteristics, such as "Holy" (Luke 1:49), "the
Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11), and, "Spirit o f Jesus" (Act
16:7).
Another way is by narrative. In Peter’s account o f Ananias
and Sapphira’s deceit it is clear that he understood the Holy Spirit
to be a divine person. According to Peter, Ananias had lied to the
Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3). Since one can only lie to a person, this
testifies to Peter’s understanding o f the Holy Spirit as a person.
The same narrative reveals that Peter also understood the Holy
Spirit to be God. He thought that in lying to the church Ananias
and Sapphira had lied to God (Acts 5:4).
Other biblical passages affirm the divinity o f the Holy Spirit
by conferring on Him additional divine characteristics. For
instance, some of the characteristics o f the Holy Spirit are,
omniscience (1 Corinthians 2: 10-11), omnipresence (Psalm
139:7), truth (1 John 5:7), holiness (from the "Holy Spirit"
designation [Luke 11:13]), life (from the "Spirit o f life"
designation [Rom 8:2]), wisdom (Isaiah 40:13; 1 Corinthians
The Reality of the Trinity 91

2:11), power (Luke 1:35; Rom 15:19), and eternity (from the
"Eternal Spirit" designation [Heb 9:14]).
Additionally, the New Testament demonstrates the divinity of
the Holy Spirit by presenting Him performing specific divine
actions, like creation (Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30),
speaking to the fathers through the prophets (Acts 28:25),
inspiration of Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21), illumination (John 15:26),
regeneration (John 3:7, 8; Romans 8:11; Titus 3:5), and
sanctification (2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

7. The Personality of the Holy Spirit6


Is the Holy Spirit a person as the Son and the Father are, or is His
name merely a designation for "divine energy"?
Through history, many have understood the Holy Spirit to be
the divine energy and power belonging properly to the Father's
person. They divested the Holy Spirit of both individuality and
personality. This interpretation seems to find support in some
biblical passages. For instance, while the names “Father” and
“Son” evoke personal realities, the name “Spirit” does not
necessarily evoke a personal entity.
Moreover, the gender of the Greek word "spirit" (pneuma) is
neuter, seemingly suggesting a non-personal reality. Furthermore,
the fact that Scripture talks about the Holy Spirit as taking the
bodily form of a dove (Luke 3:22), and likens Him to the wind
(John 3:8), water (John 7:37-39), and fire (Acts 2:3) also
contributes to the superficial and mistaken idea that the Holy Spirit
is not a personal entity like the Father and the Son.
Finally, overemphasis on the biblical description of the Holy
Spirit as a Gift (Acts 2:38,; 10:45) that grants gifts to men and
women (Romans 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; Ephesians 4:11)
may also be responsible for the erroneous interpretation of the
Holy Spirit as a divine energy rather than a divine person. These
biblical passages, however, do not teach that the Holy Spirit is a
non-personal being, but they do leave open the possibility that
some may use them to claim the Holy Spirit is non-personal divine
92 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

energy. Further explicit evidence is necessary to decide whether


the Holy Spirit is a personal or non-personal being.
The New Testament uncovers the personal nature o f the
Holy Spirit in a variety of ways. Among them it is interesting that
the while the Greek word for "spirit" is neuter, the New Testament
writers spoke about the Holy Spirit utilizing masculine pronouns
to replace the neuter form Holy Spirit (John 16:13,14; Eph 1:14)
even at the cost of syntactical inconsistency. This fact reveals that
New Testament writers understood the Holy Spirit in personal
terms.
Additionally, the New Testament acknowledges that the Holy
Spirit possesses a variety of personal characteristics that explicitly
reveal His personal nature. Some of these are intelligence and
knowledge, (John 14:26; 1 Cor 12:11), emotions (Eph 4:30),
judgment (Act 15:28), and relatedness as testified by the fact that
it is possible to lie to (Act 5:3, 4), resist (Act 7:51), and sin against
(Matt 12:31; Mark 3:29) the Holy Spirit.
Furthermore, the New Testament also presents the Holy Spirit
performing actions that only a personal being can perform. The
Holy Spirit speaks (Acts 8:29), teaches (Luke 12:12), reveals
(Luke 2:26), testifies (Acts 20:23), searches (1 Corinthians 2:10-
11), sends (Acts 13:2), guides, leads, and directs (Acts 8:29;
11:12), declares things to come (John 16:13), and bears witness to
our spirit (Romans 8:15-16).
Only when we grasp the New Testament revelation about
the coetemal divine persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy
Spirit can we fully see the extent and nature of the plurality o f the
One God who the Old Testament dimly anticipated. The plurality
of divine entities and the biblical insistence on the “oneness” of
God sets the stage on which the triune reality o f God stands.
Before we move on to see how the New Testament formulates the
Trinitarian concept o f God, we will consider the “procession” of
the Holy Spirit as a theological issue that according to tradition
corresponds to the “generation” of the Son.
The Reality of the Trinity 93

8. The procession of the Holy Spirit


The traditional teaching on the “eternal generation” of the Son
from the Father corresponds to the traditional teachings regarding
“eternal procession” of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the
Son.7
Tradition teaches not only that the reality of the Son’s entity
was eternally begotten by the Father, but also that the reality o f the
Holy Spirit’s entity proceeds (exporeuetai) from the Father and the
Son. As the eternal generation of the Son implied the eternal
subordination of His entity to the Father’s entity, so, the eternal
procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son implies
the eternal subordination of His entity to the Father’s and the
Son’s entities.
The notion that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and
the Son originates in Jesus Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit
as His successor on earth. “When the Counselor comes—
explained Jesus—, whom I shall send to you from the Father, even
the Spirit of truth, who proceeds (ekporeuetai) from the Father, he
will bear witness to me” (John 15:26, RSV; italics mine).
Jesus’ promise of the coming Counselor is not stated in the
context of Greek ontology regarding divine eternal entities.
Instead, Jesus is talking about the mission which the Holy Spirit
will fulfill in the historical flow of created space and time to
achieve the goals of the Trinity’s plan of salvation. In this context,
Christ, “sends” the Holy Spirit as His representative. The Holy
Spirit, sent by Christ to testify about Him, comes or proceeds from
the Father. Thus, this is not a statement about God’s reality but
about God’s life and mission.

9. Binitarian formulas
How did biblical authors assemble revealed information about
God’s oneness and plurality? Let us consider, first, one o f the
ways Paul used to deal with the plurality and oneness of God. This
is an example of “binitarian” formulas because it does not mention
the Holy Spirit.
94 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

“Concerning therefore the eating of things sacrificed to


idols, we know that no idol is anything in the world, and
that there is no God but one. For though there be that are
called gods, whether in heaven or on earth; as there are
gods many, and lords many; yet to us there is one God,
the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and
one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and
we through him” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6, ASV, emphasis
mine).
Paul strongly affirms the oneness of God: “There is no God
but one.” Yet, he also strongly affirms the plurality of God’s
reality in a binitarian way, “there is one God, the Father... and one
Lord, Jesus Christ.” Paul sticks to the revealed facts without
attempting to dissimulate or erase the logical contradiction that the
revelation of God’s reality posses to human logic.

10. Trinitarian formulas


At times, Scripture wrestles with the plurality of God including the
Holy Spirit. They are examples of Trinitarian formulas. One of
the writings by Paul says, “There are diversities o f gifts, but the
same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the
same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same
God, who worketh all things in all” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6, ASV,
emphasis mine). Here Paul affirms the plurality o f divine entities
as they relate to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is no attempt to
affirm either the oneness of God or the plurality o f His entities.
Teaching on the unity of the Church Paul calls on the
plurality of divine entities. “There is one body and one Spirit—just
as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord,
one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all
and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6, NIV emphasis mine).
Again, Paul affirms the plurality of divine entities. Since in this
passage Paul attempts to build up the unity of the Church one can
argue he implicitly assumes the oneness of God’s reality. Yet, Paul
does not attempt to deal with the logical paradox the simultaneous
The Reality of the Trinity 95

affirmation o f oneness and plurality of entities poses to human


reason.

11. Trinitarian formula in blessings


We find another way in which biblical authors related to the
plurality of divine entities unleashed by the incarnation of Christ
and His revelation o f God’s reality in the Trinitarian blessings.
Consider, for instance, Paul’s blessing to the Corinthians “May the
grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship o f the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians
13:14, NIV). Peter follows a similar formula when blessing his
readers, “who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge
o f God the Father, through the sanctifying work o f the Spirit, for
obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood: Grace and
peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2, NIV). Neither Paul nor
Peter affirms the oneness o f God explicitly. They do affirm the
plurality of divine entities probably implicitly assuming the
oneness of God as a non-negotiable presupposition.

12. Jesus’ Trinitarian formula


After His resurrection and before His ascension to heaven Jesus
commanded His disciples to engage in worldwide missionary
outreach. "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name [to onoma] o f the Father and the Son
and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19, NAB, emphasis mine).
Besides the obvious missionary thrust, in this statement Jesus
deals with the issue o f the Trinity in a new and unexpected way.
First, Jesus affirms the oneness of the Trinity by referring to
the name o f God. In Scripture, the name of God indicates His
reality. In the Old Testament, God has many names yet one name
stands above all others, and sustains them. When God chose to
reveal His personal reality to Moses, He named Himself
“Jehovah” (Exodus 3:13-15). The name “Jehovah,” then, pointed
to God’s reality as directly revealed to Moses, face to face. In
Christ, God spoke not to one chosen intermediary as with Moses,
but to all human beings that would relate with Him. Christ, the
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“unique,” incarnated God revealed the Father (John 1:18) and the
Holy Spirit (John 14: 16-17) as divine persons just as He was a
divine person. This revelation clearly broadened the understanding
of God’s reality which had been available since Old Testament
times. Consequently, the name o f God, Jehovah, which identified
and summarized the Old Testament revelation of God’s oneness
and plurality needed an overhaul to fit the new Trinitarian
revelation. Thus, Christ changes the name of God to “The Father,
the Son, and the Holy Spirit”
Second, in changing the name, Jesus provided the more
precise Trinitarian formula we find in the New Testament.
According to Christ, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” the
three divine, personal, inter-relational, all-powerful, co-etemal
entities are the one-name (singular) reality o f God.
Christ’s Trinitarian formula connects the being of God with
the three persons, simultaneously affirming the oneness and
plurality of God’s reality. Christ did not hide or attempt to explain
the obvious logical contradiction that affirming God as one entity
and three entities at the same time presents to human logic.

13. Trinity as divine fellowship


Throughout the Gospel o f John, Jesus speaks about His relation to
the Father. Most of His statements are windows that reveal the
amazing marvel of inter Trinitarian life to our mortal sight. There
are some, however, who view these statements as referring to the
way oneness and plurality relate in the reality of the one Triune
God.
Such is the case in theological tradition with the Cappadocian
fathers8 who attempted to explain the unity of the three persons of
the Trinity relationally. This traditional approach is termed the
“fellowship” or “communion” explanation of the Trinity. The
Cappadocians built their view on Christ’s statements about the
unity between Himself and the Father. Christ spoke about His
unity with the Father in His “Priestly” prayer after He celebrated
the last supper with the disciples. In this prayer, Jesus asks His
Father to protect His disciples “by the power of your name— the
The Reality of the Trinity 97

name you gave me— so that they may be one as we are one. (John
17:11, NIV). Later in the same prayer, Christ expands, “that all of
them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.
May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have
sent me” (John 17:21, NIV). Of course, the Cappadocians assumed
God’s reality to be timeless and spaceless. Consequently, they
read the relation between the Father and the Son (and made it
extensive to the Holy Spirit) as “the inexistence and coexistence of
each person in the other two.” They called this view perichoresis
[literally, “dancing around”], and circuminsessio [the vital
circulation or mutual interflow of divine life.”9 Yet community of
life, even timeless life, does not equal reality.
Briefly, the Cappadocians understood Christ’s relational
language, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11,
NIV) as each divine entity fully coexisting in the other two. Since,
according to tradition, this relation takes place in timelessness, it is
a “dance” that does not move, a relation that does not relate. They
perfectly describe one timeless divine entity [God] as being
identical to the mutual relations of three non-existent entities. The
“one” God mandated by Greek philosophical assumptions still
mles over the relations of divine life described in Scripture. This
view reduces the plurality of divine entities revealed by Christ’s
incarnation and teachings to “real and relational differentiations
(distinctions)” within the one reality of God.10 The one timeless
God of tradition still conceals and shackles the three divine entities
that, according to the New Testament, are working out salvation in
the flow of history.
Contrary to the Cappadocian “fellowship” theory that reads
New Testament passages like John 14:11; 10:31; and, John 17:5 as
referring to Trinitarian oneness, the biblical context demonstrates
that they instead refer to Trinitarian life and unity o f purpose. In
these texts, Christ is speaking about His eternal, living relationship
with the Father that continued during the incarnation. When
Christ speaks about His uninterrupted relation with the Father He
is referring to what theologians call the “Economic Trinity,” As
we saw at the outset of this chapter, this approach means that the
Trinity o f divine persons Scripture presents as separate entities are
98 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

working out salvation within the flow of the space and time
continuum. Moreover, Christ’s expressions refer to Trinitarian life
not entity. The unity, then, does not equal the oneness o f Old
Testament and New Testament revelations but the unity o f purpose
in the work o f salvation. Yes, the life of the three persons exists as
a unique community of life and action. Yet the community stands
on the existence of three real and separate entities. According to
biblical revelation, the plurality of divine entities does not collapse
into the unity of purpose of divine life.
In short, the divine fellowship theory that is assumed between
the trio of divine entities does not respond to the biblical teaching
that God is one. Fellowship between divine persons does not
explain or respond to the “oneness” o f the biblical God. A
fellowship between three real divine persons still leaves us with
three Gods. There is only one Christian God, the Trinitarian God.

14. Trinity and transcendence


At the end of our brief summary of the Trinity we are facing the
same question my church members would ask after a succulent
Sabbath meal. How do we understand the Trinity?
We have made good progress in this and previous chapters
toward answering this question. We know that Scripture reveals a
God that is not timeless but infinite and analogically temporal. We
also know that the God o f Scripture is, at the same time, one and
plural. Divine plurality includes three different, co-etemal divine
persons that interact with each other. Consequently, the Economic
Trinity that interacts with human history as Christ revealed during
His incarnation is the Immanent Trinity. In other words, the
Economic Trinity and the Immanent Trinity are identical.
The Economic Trinity is God revealing Himself in words,
presence, and actions within the flow of created history. This
public “side” of the Trinity interacts directly with creation. This is
the only side we will ever know even in the new earth. However,
this side does not show clearly the oneness of the divine entity.
Instead, God relates to us as three full-fledged divine personal
entities sharing the same characteristics, capabilities, and
The Reality of the Trinity 99

character. If this were all we knew about God, Christians would be


Three-theists.
Yet, we know and relate to God in mystery. We see partially
not only because sin separates God and creatures but also because
the finite creature cannot fully relate to the infinite God. There is
more to God than the three divine persons, relating and sharing
their histories with ours, disclose.
God is transcendent (different, separated) to the world of
creation. Transcendence is the “private side” of God which, as
Trinity, includes both His life and His reality. Scripture says, for
instance, that there is a private relation between the Father and the
Son unknown to creatures. John explains, “No one has seen God at
any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the
Father, He has declared Him” (John 1:18, NKJ). Divine life also
includes a transcendent “private” relation between the Father and
the Holy Spirit. “For what person knows a man's thoughts except
the spirit of the man which is in him? So also no one comprehends
the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11,
RSV).
When God accommodates Himself to the finiteness of human
history, He shows up as three divine entities. In them, we know
God directly as He is in Himself. Yet, He shows Himself within
the limitations imposed by the finiteness of the creatures. Because
the oneness of His entity escapes the limitations of our knowledge,
it remains hidden to us. Divine oneness belongs to the hidden side
of the mystery o f God’s reality.
Speaking about faith that does not save, James deals with the
hidden side of the Trinity: “You believe that God is one. You do
well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19, NAB).
We will consider the existence of angels and demons at length
later in our study. For now, we understand that demons are
angelic creatures that used to live in the direct presence of God but
chose to break their communion by rebelling from God
(Revelation 12:7-9). Yet, before their rebellion, they knew God
directly without the distance and limitations sin imposed on
humans. However, even angels that had direct access to God only
know Him as three divine persons. They accept the truth of God’s
100 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

“oneness” not by personal knowledge or perception but by faith in


God’s statement about the oneness of His reality.

§ 44. Conclusion
In this study, we are attempting to understand the basic
elements o f Christian Theology. The “elements” are about realities
and actions we find at the ground, center, and structure of a
Theology fo r the Church. The reality and actions of the Trinity are
the most important basic element in Christian theology.
Divine temporality (versus timelessness) referred to the basic
general characteristic of divine reality and life. While classical and
modem theologians constructed the doctrines of Christianity
assuming that God’s Trinitarian reality was timeless (chapter 4),
Scripture assumes God’s entity is infinitely and analogously
temporal (chapter 5). Thus, according to Scripture the Trinitarian
God exists, lives and acts within the flux of the fullness of His
temporal reality (Immanent/Economic view of the Trinity).
The issue of the Trinity refers to the shape of the divine
entity. We can know God’s entity only from His revelation in
Scripture. Scripture reveals God’s entity as simultaneously being
one and three complete divine persons. How do we understand this
logically contradictory revelation of divine reality?
The doctrine of the Trinity, as we surveyed from Scripture,
involves three fully divine persons. These persons are centers of
consciousness and power fully vested with all the divine
characteristics Scripture ascribes to God, including the fullness of
infinite and analogous temporality. At the same time, God is
oneness. The three and the one stand together without canceling
each other out. As God’s revelation requires His accommodation
to our finiteness as creatures, we grasp His reality only in part. Our
reason can comprehend God as three, but the oneness of God
enters a zone of mystery that we must accept by faith.
Furthermore, we understand that the three persons acting in
redemption history do not tell the whole story about divine reality.
By affirming God’s reality as simultaneously three and one,
we reach the limits of human understanding. The Trinity is a
The Reality of the Trinity 101

logical contradiction. Assuming that the laws of logic set the


boundaries for the possibility of all that exists, the philosophically
oriented person could deduce that the Trinitarian God does not
exist. Yet for the creature of faith, this contradiction reveals the
transcendence of God. The limits of our logic reveal that the actual
shape of the divine entity lies beyond our reason and imagination.
No creature can know or imagine the shape of God’s entity. This
is due to the equivocity that exists between the infinite Creator and
the finite creature.
Even though creatures have characteristics that make their
entities analogous (similar) to God, their similarities stand on a
fundamental discontinuity. That discontinuity is divine
transcendence. Because humans cannot imagine the shape o f the
God’s entity, and God’s revelation breaks the patterns of human
reasoning, God commands them not to make “a carved image, or
any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the
earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus
20:4, NKJV). We cannot even make an image of God from divine
revelation. This includes Jesus Christ or any other of the three
independent persons of the Trinity.
Although we relate to God the Father through the Son and the
Holy Spirit, this knowledge and experience will never allow us to
have an image o f the actual shape of God’s entity. Only God can
know God as He is in Himself. Only the Father, the Son, and the
Holy Spirit can know God as God is in Himself. We know God
directly as He reveals Himself by accommodating to the
limitations of our finite temporal and spatial beings.
He can relate to us personally and directly because His
infinitely analogous temporality allows Him to experience and act
within the future, present, past flow of created time. Yet as we
cannot understand His infinite time or experience reality from
infinite time, we cannot understand the shape of His infinite
temporal Trinitarian entity. God simply transcends His creatures in
every possible way.
This difference makes Him God. This difference will always
exist. God cannot remove it. The aim of the plan of salvation is not
102 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

to remove the difference between Creator and creature, but to


remove sin.
Finally, as according to Scripture the One God (deo uno of
tradition) is the Trinitarian God (deo trino). It is important to note
that the study o f theology does not revolve around the entity and
actions of the one timeless God (the immanent Trinity), instead,
theology centers around and follows the three divine persons of
the Trinitarian God in the fullness of infinite analogous
temporality. In other words, the goal of theology is to understand
God’s history with His creatures as ultimate reality where the
Trinitarian love of God works His wondrous works of salvation.

1 Karl Rahner, The Trinity, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York: Herder and
Herder, 1970), 10-11.
2 Fernando Luis Canale, A Criticism o f Theological Reason: Time and
Timelessness as Primordial Presuppositions, Andrews University
Seminary Doctoral Dissertation Series, 10 Vol., vol. 10 (Berrien Springs,
MI: Andrews University Press, 1983), chapter 3.
3 Francis Nichol, D. [et alii.], ed., The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible
Commentary: The Holy Bible with Exegetical and Expository Comment,
7 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, c l 978-80), Det. 6:4.
4 Consider the development of the idea of eternal generation of the Son in
the from the “Apostle’s Creed,” (Second century?), through the Nicea’s
creed (325 AD), to the Athanasian Creed (Fourth century).
5 In this section I follow closely, Fernando Canale, "Doctrine of God," in
Handbook of Seventh-Day Adventist Theology, ed. Raoul Dederen
(Hagerstown, MD.: Review and Herald, 2000), 133.
6 In this section I follow closely, Ibid., 133-134.
7 See the text of the Nicene Creed (325 AD).
8 The Cappadocians fathers where leading theologians of the Greek
Church. Gregory o f Nazianzus (c325-389 AD), Gregory ofN yssa (+385
AD) and, Basil the Great (329-3 79AD) made up the distinguished trio of
Cappadocian theologians.
The Reality of the Trinity 103

9 William J. Hill, The Three Personed God: The Trinity as a Mystery of


Salvation (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press,
1982), 272.
10 Ibid., 49.
7. FO R E K N O W LE D G E

When I was a boarding student in college, I became close friends


with the men’s dean. He was a keen observer of people and could
deduce much about their character from certain external traits. At
the beginning of each school year, I used to enjoy the “pre”
evaluation he made of new students merely by observing the way
they walked, dressed and spoke. At times, I was able to confirm or
deny his conclusions based on my previous knowledge of the
individual’s thoughts and actions. Advance knowledge of a
person’s character or how they will act certainly helps us
understand and relate to them better.
As the men’s dean attempted to “foreknow” his new students,
although not always with success, according to Scripture, God
indeed foreknows what free human beings will do in the future.
What does Scripture teach about God’s foreknowledge? What role
does God’s foreknowledge play in our theological understanding?
How does divine foreknowledge relate to our understanding of
God and His redemptive actions in history?

§ 45 REVIEW
Theology is the search for understanding God’s revelation in
Scripture through His interactions/relationships with humans
(introduction). Although we follow the sola Scriptura principle,
our purpose is not to understand the biblical texts alone, but the
realities and actions about which Scripture speaks. We first
focused our attention on God’s reality.
We discovered that Scripture radically departs from tradition
which presents a timeless, spaceless God. Instead, biblical authors
assume God’s reality is temporal. For them, God exists, lives, and
acts in the historical process of His own eternal being.
Divine Foreknowledge 105

Furthermore, we discovered that biblical writers think about God’s


time not as identical to human created time but as analogous to it.
In short, God is able to experience the flow of human time and act
directly through it without assuming its limitations.
From this general perspective, we reviewed the biblical
teaching about God’s entity. We discovered Scripture presents a
Trinitarian understanding of God. When God adapts His reality to
interrelate with creatures within the flow and limits of their
temporal and special natures, we encounter Him as three co­
eternal divine persons, the divine trio of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit.1
The fact that it took Jesus Christ’s incarnation to reveal the
plurality of personal divine entities forming God’s reality does not
imply the Trinity did not exist during Old Testament times. On the
contrary, we explored several Old Testament texts that support the
activity of the Son and the Holy Spirit from the earliest of times.
As God is eternal, we understand that the Trinity always existed
and was involved in executing plan of salvation.
The basic elements o f Christian theology described so far—
the infinite analogous temporality of God and the Trinitarian
nature of its reality— , provide the platform of reality from which
to construct a theology fo r the church. A Christian theology built
in the light of Scripture will center in the history of the Trinity.
The history of the Trinity generates the historical inner logic
of biblical thinking. Thus, to understand the truth Scripture reveals
about God we need to trace the history of God’s acts as far back as
we can. To think theologically in the light of Scripture, then, we
need to think historically. To think historically we need to start at
the beginning. This leads us to consider divine foreknowledge.
In their search for the meaning of faith, Christian theologians
follow the inner logic that articulates all the components of faith.
They have traditionally found that inner logic in philosophical
teachings about the nature of reality. Next to the reality of God, we
find the actions of God that revolve around divine foreknowledge,
predestination, and providence. Roman Catholicism and
Protestantism have developed their own understanding of these
issues from the basis of the timeless notion God’s reality. Ever
106 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

since the reformers connected predestination with the gospel and


the assurance of salvation, the discussion about divine
foreknowledge, predestination, and providence has continued
unabated.
In this chapter, I will introduce briefly the way Thomas
Aquinas, John Calvin, Jacobus Arminius, and the Openview of
God theologians explain divine foreknowledge. This will help us
to understand their traditions and theological differences better.
Moreover, we will be able differentiate between thinking from
tradition and thinking from Scripture.
By thinking from Scripture I mean nothing less than once
again applying the sola Scriptura pinciple. We must understand
divine foreknowledge, predestination and providence from scratch.
In other words, we need to understand what biblical authors
thought about these concepts in the framework of the biblical view
of God’s reality. In the process, we will discover how past
theologians discovered some rays of truth but lost their truth by
placing them in the setting of philosophical thinking.

§ 46. DIYERSITYAND SEQUENCE IN GOD S ACTIVITIES


When Christian tradition adopted the presupposition of a timeless
God, it necessarily rejected the biblical picture of a historical
sequence of divine operations. Since, in the traditional view,
divine activity takes place in the timelessness of God’s being, it
leaves no place for a historical sequence of divine activities. The
best way to conceive divine activity in the traditional view is
through the “eternal instant.” “Eternity” because it gives the
unchanging content of divine knowledge, and “instant” because it
implies the “timeless moment” in which the eternal soul gets in
touch (merges/connects) with the eternal content in God’s mind.
Biblical writers, on the other hand, understand God as a
temporal-historical reality, His acts taking place within the
temporal-historical flow of His infinite analogous temporality,
and, from creation onward, within the flow of finite created time.
Consequently, we should understand the biblical sequence of
Divine Foreknowledge 107

divine acts involved in the work of salvation as a historical


process.
How do we access the inner logic of God’s historical
activity? Tradition reduces “God’s history” to Christ’s incarnation.
Is that the starting point and total duration of God’s history of
Salvation? Scripture starts even earlier than the incarnation with
creation, yet we know God’s history has no beginning. Did God
relate to history before the creation of the world, when there was
only divine history? The answer is “yes.” Although Scripture’s
account of divine and created histories is partial and incomplete,
God has left enough traces for us to reconstruct the essential
outline of His personal involvement in the history of creation and
redemption.
Paul gives us a partial view into the historical sequence of
divine redemptive activities.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good
of those who love him, who have been called according
to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also
predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son,
that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And
those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he
also justified; those he justified, he also glorified”
(Romans 8:28-30, NIV).
The sequence of divine works in favor of those who love God
is clear, (1) foreknowledge, (2) predestination, (3) calling, (4)
justification, (5) glorification. As good as this list is, we know
from Scripture that God’s historical activities are even more
complex than this list might lead us to believe. And yet not only
does Paul’s theological synthesis help us identify core divine
actions present in the sequence of history, it also has the broadest
possible historical reach, from the farthest past (divine
foreknowledge), to the remotest future (divine glorification).
The study of divine activities “before time began” is essential
because it provides the presuppositions for understanding the
entire range of divine activities. In the next chapter on
predestination, we will discover biblical data that place divine
108 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

foreknowledge and predestination before the foundation of the


world. However, first we must deal with Christian theological
tradition on divine foreknowledge. We will start by reviewing the
concept of divine foreknowledge and its relation to predestination
and providence Then, we will examine Roman Catholic,
Protestant, and Open Theist interpretations of divine
foreknowledge. We will end the chapter with a biblical study and
theological interpretation of divine foreknowledge constructed
from the basic elements o f Christian theology presented in
previous chapters.

§ 47. DESCRIBING FOREKNOWLEDGE AS DIVINE ACT


Before we move to theological interpretations of divine
foreknowledge, a brief introductory description of foreknowledge
as a divine act will help you to start developing your own
understanding of this basic element o f Christian theology.
Literally, foreknowledge means, “to know beforehand,” to
know before it happens. Imagine you knew beforehand what
numbers would win the big lotto game next month. You would
become rich very soon and very easily. The men’s dean mentioned
in the introduction to this chapter practiced a form of
“foreknowledge” as he attempted to predict the personality of new
students. At the center of scientific methodology stands its
“predictability.” The scientific method attempts to predict the
outcome of events. Predicting natural recurrent event or events
one’s self originates is not difficult. Predicting human free will
actions is the test of real foreknowledge. Clearly, humans do not
posses this ability—otherwise we might all be lotto winners!.
Scripture affirms that only God has foreknowledge (Romans
8:29). Isaiah uses foreknowledge as a proof of Jehovah’s divinity
over the foolishness of worshipping idols (Isaiah 41:22-23).
From the biblical affirmation that God possesses the ability to
know future human free actions, theologians have developed
various interpretations of how God knows the future and its
consequences for predestination (see chapter 8), and providence
(see chapter 11).
Divine Foreknowledge 109

Augustus Strong, Protestant theologian, describes God's


knowledge as “perfect and eternal knowledge of all things which
are the object of knowledge, whether they be actual or possible,
past, present, or future.”2 Thus, divine foreknowledge (God’s
knowledge of the future) forms part of divine omniscience (God’s
knowledge of everything).
On the one hand, because Roman Catholic and Protestant
theologians assume the timelessness of divine reality, they tend to
use foreknowledge, predestination, and providence as synonyms
or as closely related concepts. For them, these divine actions do
not flow in a temporal, chronological sequence but relate to each
other in a logical order. Having ground their understanding of
divine foreknowledge in the timeless view of divine reality they
find it difficult to understand how divine foreknowledge and
human freedom can coexist. A tension between God's
foreknowledge and man's freedom necessarily arises. If God
foreknows what humans will do, they are not free to do otherwise.
On the other hand, if we understand Paul’s sequence of divine
activities from the biblical perspective of God’s infinite,
analogical, temporal reality, we can distinguish foreknowledge,
predestination and providence as different actions of God taking
place in the chronological order of divine time.
To understand this issue better, let us review some of the
traditional interpretations and attempt to construct one assuming
the infinite, analogous, temporal, Trinitarian reality of God as
basic element o f Christian theology.

§4aDIVINE KNOWLEDGE ANDFOREKNOWLEDGE


Scripture affirms God knows the future, but since it does not give
us details as to how, theologians construct theories, possible
explanatory scenarios. What theologians attempt to understand in
the doctrine of divine foreknowledge is, first and foremost,
knowledge. Attempting to explain how God knows, they assume
not only a basic understanding of the reality of the God who
knows, but also an understanding of what knowledge is. As
nobody has observed the cognitive processes in the mind of God,
110 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

neither does Scripture disclose information on this issue,


theologians derive their view of knowledge from philosophy.
Interestingly, as we review the various approaches to
understanding foreknowledge, you will note that they paint only
the broad strokes and then work out the details. The end result is
that contradictions often appear in the general system of
explanation. The saying “the Devil is in de details,” certainly
applies to theological work (no pun intended). In order for the
explanations about different aspects of theological teaching to fit
nicely in a web of coherent meaning we must begin from a sure
foundation. This underlies the importance of a proper and clear
understanding of the basic elements o f Christian theology.
Now, regarding knowledge, we know that human knowledge
is a subject-object relation. Knowledge needs the existence of a
subject (human being who knows) as well as an object (the thing
being known). The object or thing can be anything around us, our
memories, even our own imagination are the objects of our
knowledge. Then, through the cognitive capacity of humans, these
objects connect to our human consciousness and produce
knowledge. When dealing with divine knowledge, theologians
assume God is the subject doing the knowing. Most theologians
agree that the Christian God is a knowing Being. God needs
objects to know. Being the Creator, God knows His creation. The
problems for theological explanations begin here. Does God know
only what He creates? How does God know creation? How does
divine knowledge affect creation?
At this time our study requires we are take a theological dive
plunging into deep theological waters surveying the views on
divine foreknowledge of main representatives of Christian
tradition. My purpose is to help readers to see for themselves the
stark contrast between Christian tradition and Scripture’s views on
divine foreknowledge. Although I will simplify the issues as much
of possible, the reading may still be rough for laypersons with no
previous experience in reading theological writings. They may
want to jump sections §49-§53 to section §54 where we will
explore Scripture’s view on divine foreknowledge. Perhaps, after
reading what Scripture says, they may want to return to the
Divine Foreknowledge 111

sections where I describe the views of Aquinas, Calvin, Arminius,


and Open View theologians.

§ 49. ROMAN CATHOLIC TRADITION


The Roman Catholic tradition finds its foremost representative in
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). In the Catholic tradition, the God
who knows is timeless. On this basis, Aquinas attempts to explain
divine knowledge within the parameters of a timeless act. A
timeless God knows outside the order of succession.
Consequently, Aquinas follows Boethius’ traditional explanation:
God knows everything simultaneously. Everything is present to
God’s knowledge.
The question arises, how does God know things that exist in
the order of succession? God cannot gain His knowledge of
temporal things from temporal realities because it would require
Him to experience succession. This would make God, the Creator,
depend on creatures as the cause of His knowledge. Something
external to God would then determine the content of His eternal
unchanging knowledge. Aquinas denies that something temporal,
external to God causes the content of His knowledge because He
identifies God’s immutable reality with His knowledge.3 If God’s
reality is immutable and what God knows is not temporal creation
but His own immutable reality, then, His knowledge must be
eternal.
In his theology, Aquinas christianizes Aristotle’s teaching
(that God’s activity is to know Himself).4 In knowing Himself,
God knows within Himself all His perfections (ideas). God’s
eternal ideas are the causes of creatures and what the creatures do
in the order of temporal sequence.5 Timelessly, within His own
consciousness, God sees every concrete creature and the future
temporal things they will do.6 In God’s sight, all history is always
present even before it began. The temporal order of succession
becomes real through God’s will. God produces all that exists by
the decision of His will and the operation of His power. Thus, in a
sense, God’s foreknowledge of what will actually take place in
future history depends on His eternal decision to create what He
112 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

eternally foreknows. Theologians label God’s will in operation


predestination. By involving predestination with foreknowledge
Aquinas comes close to Calvin’s view. What exists in history
depends not only on divine foreknowledge but also on divine
predestination.
The more salient consequence of the classical or Roman
Catholic view of divine knowledge is that human history is a
duplication o f the contents’ o f God’s eternal mind. (One can
hardly miss Plato’s dualistic cosmological template determining
Aquinas’ view of God’s reality and foreknowledge.) Nothing
departs from eternity. Nothing new takes place in history. We
speak of “new” things because we exist in the sequence of time,
not in simultaneous eternity as God does. Since God and the
reality of history pre-exist in the immutable timeless being of God,
“newness” exists only as our partial, present, temporal perception
of what comes to us from the future. Yet, what comes to us from
the future has existed from all eternity in the mind and reality of
God. Recently, Process and Openview theologians have labeled
the classical position on divine eternity and foreknowledge as
closed theism.

§ 50. PROTESTANT TRADITION (CALVINISM)


John Calvin (1509-1564) the great systematic theologian of the
Protestant Reformation made a minor modification to the Roman
Catholic view on divine foreknowledge. He argued for the
primacy of divine will over divine nature. According to Calvin,
God’s will does not depend on His foreknowledge, instead His
divine foreknowledge depends on God’s will.
Calvin constructs his theological system implicitly assuming
the same basic elements o f Christian theology that Aquinas used in
his Summa Theologica. Calvin assumes God’s reality is timeless
and immutable, as in Aquinas’ tradition. However, in constructing
his theological views Calvin chose to closely follow Augustine
(354-430), another great Roman Catholic theologian. Calvin
borrowed Augustine’s emphasis on divine will and predestination
Divine Foreknowledge 113

thereby giving more importance to God’s will than to His nature.


God’s will and power are the ultimate cause of all that is real.
Calvin constructed his theology around the notion of divine
decrees promulgated by God’s will. Now, since God is timeless
His will and actions are also timeless. That is to say, divine action
does not take place in the order of succession.7 Divine decrees of
God’s timeless will are the cause of creation and all that takes
place in history. Again, we see here at work Plato’s dualistic
worldview shaping theological thinking. We will say more about
Calvin’s concept of predestination in the next chapter. Now we
will turn to his view on divine foreknowledge.
Calvin’s understanding of divine foreknowledge is very
similar to Thomas Aquinas.’8 However, they differ as to the cause
behind the object God foreknows. While for Aquinas the cause is
God’s reality, for Calvin it is God’s will. According to Calvin,
God knows the future because He decides (predestines) what will
happen.9 Since His decision is timeless and immutable, history
duplicates, in the order of temporal succession, the contents of
God’s eternal decrees that exist in the timeless order of
simultaneity.
In short, God foreknows because he predestines.
Predestination is the basis of divine foreknowledge.
Predestination, so to speak, “creates” the ideas in the mind of God
that God “then” knows. Of course, there is no divine “before”
God’s decision to create His ideas, and no divine “after” God’s
decision.
To understand this better we need to realize the difference
between divine and human decisions that Calvin assumes. When
we decide to do something, we still have to do it. In the order of
temporal succession, decision is not equal to the reality of what is
decided. God’s decision being timeless, however, is
simultaneously the reality of His decision. We can see that Calvin
very closely associates not only foreknowledge and predestination
but also predestination and omnipotence.
Because Roman Catholic and Protestant theological traditions
assume the timelessness of God’s reality, will, and actions they
can become difficult to understand. Classical and Protestant
114 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

theologians, convinced that God is timeless, explain that the


difficulty revolves around the fact that humans can only use
temporal concepts and words to describe what in fact is timeless.
Consequently, when we hear Calvin suggesting that predestination
“creates” the ideas God “then” foreknows, we should not imagine
that God first takes a decision, and then knows it.
In Calvin’s view, God is sovereign in the absolute sense. God
foreknows because He has decided and caused everything.
Obviously, this way of thinking raises questions regarding what
kind of role human freedom plays in our salvation and daily lives.
The concept of divine timelessness affects not only God’s
reality but also His actions. God cannot act in a temporal
sequence. In Him, all exists simultaneously, even predestination
and foreknowledge. There is no history of God, only the
timelessness of His decision. Divine and human histories are
predetermined and closed. In the end analysis, our human freedom
is a delusion, our lives and histories pure fiction prewritten in the
mind of a puppeteer God.

§ 51. PROTESTANT TRADITION (ARMINIAMSM)


Although Calvin’s interpretation of divine predestination stands at
the root of the theological doctrines of most Protestant and
Evangelical denominations, his understanding of the basic
principles of Christian theology led him to contradict clear biblical
teachings such as Adam and Eve’s responsibility for the fall.10 He
also claims that God decides who will live and die eternally on His
own, that is, without regard to what we have to say in the matter.
With the passing of time and the growth of exegetical
research of Scripture, theologians began to see inconsistencies
between Calvin’s theological system and biblical thinking. Yet his
system still survives and sustains Protestant and Evangelical
denominations because Calvin tied his philosophically grounded
notion of predestination to the biblical “gospel” and the assurance
of salvation.11 One can understand that those who became
Christians accepting Calvin’s construction of the gospel would
have a hard time letting go of their assumed “assurance” to find a
Divine Foreknowledge 115

way of understanding that better fits the inner logic of Scripture


and all its basic elements.
Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) saw inconsistencies in
Calvin’s and other theologians’ views on foreknowledge,
predestination, and providence. Sadly, an early death prevented
him from developing a complete systematic theology. Deviating
from Aquinas and Calvin, his insights have produced a loose
opposition to Calvin’s system known as Arminianism. Yet, neither
Arminius nor Arminianism has developed an alternate theological
system for Protestant theology.
Arminius’ way of doing theology resembles that of Aquinas.’
Not surprisingly, Arminius agrees with Aquinas about the
timelessness of God’s reality,12 and the nature and contents of
divine foreknowledge.13
From this perspective, he disagrees with Calvin’s
explanation. Regarding the salvation or damnation of individuals,
God does not foreknow what He predestines but predestines what
He foreknows.14 Speaking about predictive prophecy Arminius
explains what he means, “a thing does not come to pass because it
has been foreknown or foretold; but it is foreknown and foretold
because it is yet to come to pass.” 15 This implies that in God’s
mind, foreknowledge is “posterior in nature and order to the thing
that is future.”16 Obviously, Arminius means “posterior” in a
logical not temporal sense.
Arminius means that the will of God is not the cause of
foreknowledge. Created reality causes God knowledge. Yet, how
does God engage created reality from eternity when it does not
exist yet? Moreover, how does God know? To answer these
questions we need to turn our attention to Arminius’
understanding of divine knowledge. Here, Arminius follows
Aquinas closely. God does not obtain His information about
creation from objects external to Himself17 as we creatures do.
Instead, God knows all things only by knowing Himself18 in a
simple act that is not successive but eternal19. Arminius follows
Aristotle’s natural view of God as a basic template from which to
understand God’s way of knowing.
116 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Has Arminius produced an alternative to Calvin’s notion that


God is the ultimate cause of everything? When one considers
Arminius’ belief that everything in creation came to existence
“ [tjhrough his own Will, and by means of his Power”20 it is
difficult to see any concrete difference. In spite of Arminius’
affirmation that human freedom causes divine foreknowledge, in
the end it is God’s will that eternally chose what we experience as
the history of our lives.

§ 5 2 OPEN VIEW OF GOD: PRESENT KNOWLEDGE


By the end of the twentieth century, the philosophical and
scientific views that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and Arminius
assumed had radically changed. The antimetaphysical bias of
empirical philosophy and scientific methodology rejected the
notion that ultimate theology is timeless. Modernism emphasized
the historicity of the human experience. Postmodernism concluded
that reality is temporal rather than timeless. An epochal change is
taking place.
Within Protestantism, this new intellectual climate related
best to the “Arminian” wing opposing the reigning Calvinistic
system. From within this sector, a loosely connected small group
of evangelical theologians proposed a radical new way to
understand divine foreknowledge.
Openview theologians take Arminius’ view that in God’s
mind foreknowledge is “posterior in nature and order to the thing
that is future,”21 not in a metaphorical, logical sense as Arminius
did but in a literal, temporal sense.
Assuming a modified version of Process Philosophy’s dipolar
theism,22 Openview theologians assume God’s reality is at once
timeless and temporal. In this way, they extend Greek
cosmological (Plato’s two tier theory) and anthropological (soul
and body) dichotomies to God who also has a “soul”
(corresponding to His eternal nature) and a “body” (corresponding
to His temporal nature). Explicitly or implicitly, Openview
theologians assume God’s temporal reality is uni vocal (identical
with created time). According to them God’s cognitive capabilities
Divine Foreknowledge 117

belong to His temporal side. Thus, they radical reinterpretation of


the temporal mode of divine reality requires their denial of divine
foreknowledge. By sharing exactly the same temporality humans
have, God cannot know future events that still do not exist (the
“not-yet”).
God knows creation from His temporal nature. Creatures
outside God are the cause of divine knowledge. The way God
knows, therefore, is not by knowing Himself in timeless eternity,
but through His present knowledge, God’s direct relation to what
takes place in the temporal flux of creation.
God is omniscient, He knows all that there is to be known.
Since future free acts of human entities do not yet exist God does
not know them. Since God does not have a timeless causal
foreknowledge of the future, the way free agencies decide is not
predetermined (closed) but undetermined (open). Only the
decision of the creature determines and therefore closes history.
Can Openview theologians reject the existence of divine
foreknowledge and still maintain predictive prophecy? Does
biblical predictive prophecy not assume divine foreknowledge?
They are bound to answer this question because they use Scripture
as cognitive revelation from God. Besides, these questions are
important to their communities and immediate audience who take
the Bible seriously.
According to Openview theologians, God predicts the future
based on His limited predestination and omniscience.23 They
continue to affirm causal divine predestination as Calvin24 and
Arminius but in a limited sense. They use their denial of divine
foreknowledge as a tool to limit, not to deny, causal divine
predestination. Divine predestination does not extend to human
free actions but continues to rule God’s work in the history of
salvation.
Predictive prophecy results from God’s limited
predestination. In predictive prophecy, God unveils what He has
decided to do from all timeless eternity. Christ’s second coming,
for instance, is certain because it does not involve human free will
but God’s power and decision. At times future human free will
actions condition God’s predictive prophecy based on God’s
118 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

limited predestination. The fulfillment of these prophecies is not


certain. When the human agency satisfies the condition the
prophecy is true, when it does not, the prophecy is false.25 John
Sanders, a leading Openview theologian, uses 1 Samuel 23:29-13
as an example of this type of predictive prophecy. In these texts,
God predicts that Saul will come down to Keliah if David remains
there. God’s prophecy was wrong because Saul did not come
down as God predicted when He learned that David did not stay in
Keliah (the condition).26 Because the prophecy was conditional,
God’s “mistake” here affects Calvin’s absolute predestination
system. Openview theologians do not see God made a mistake
here because He stated His answer to David from within the finite
dynamics of human history and not from the immutability of His
unchangeable being.
Predictive prophecy also results from God’s omniscience. By
inference, God predicts the future from His perfect knowledge of
future and past historical events. Of course, here what God
predicts stands on guesswork rather than knowledge. He has no
way of knowing if what He predicts will happen. Prediction
statements of this nature are less reliable the farther removed they
are from the events they predict. For instance, Isaiah predicted
Cyrus would give the edict to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple
(44:28) about 150 years before the actual event took place (2
Chronicles 36: 22-23; Ezra 1:1-2; 6:3). However, the claim that
God can predict the free actions of a king by guessing that far in
advance is not persuasive.
On the one side, Openview theology correctly affirms, in
harmony with Scriptures, the actual freedom of the human spirit.
They are also correct to affirm that history is real because it is
open to human freedom. On the other side, Openview theology
fails not only to explain biblical prophecy but also to integrate the
conviction of Old and New Testaments authors that God knows
exhaustively future free actions of human beings.
Clearly, Openview theology stands, so to speak, “between
paradigms.” Its theological project is unstable and pulled apart on
both sides by the coherent projects of Christian traditions and
Divine Foreknowledge 119

Scriptural thinking. Let us turn our attention to the way biblical


thinking presents the reality of divine foreknowledge.

§ 53 PARADIGM SHIFT IN TRADITION


As we have seen, tradition has reached a consensus regarding the
doctrine of the Trinity, but not regarding divine foreknowledge.
As theologians attempt to put all the pieces of the system of
Christian theology together, they find not all of them fit. As the
Reformation (XVIth century) and the birth of Biblical Theology
(XVIIIth century) forced theologians to include more biblical data
in their theological explanations the classical view held by
Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin became increasingly untenable.
The timeless understanding of God’s reality and the Trinity
set the stage for a timeless understanding of divine activities
starting with divine foreknowledge. Unfortunately, divine
foreknowledge involves the sequence of created time as its object
thereby requiring a theological explanation about the way in which
a timeless God relates to the sequence of created time. Committed
to divine timelessness, Roman Catholic and Protestant theologies
have been unable to incorporate in their system the historical
nature of biblical thinking. As consequence, their way of doing
theology requires the spiritualization of the biblical history of
salvation in the form of metaphors and symbols.
Realizing the systematic inconsistencies in tradition, a
handful of American theologians are challenging tradition
(classical theism) by rejecting the biblical teaching that God
knows the future free actions of human creatures (Open theism).
Unfortunately, while the strategy of Open theism allows Christian
theology to explain many inconsistencies of classical theism, they
do not explain all of them. Moreover, while strongly calling on
scriptural teachings as proof for the openness of history, they fail
to include in their system Scripture’s conviction that God knows
the future free actions of humans. Finally, Open theism still works
on the assumption that to understand biblical thinking properly we
need to assume philosophical and scientific views of reality. It is
precisely their implicit or explicit use of Process Theology’s
120 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

bipolar view of God (timeless and temporal theological dualism),


that keeps alive the classical ground for theological inconsistencies
with biblical thinking. After all, Process Philosophy is only a neo­
classical adaptation of Platonism to scientific data about temporal
realities.
The sola Scriptura principle we are using to uncover the
biblical view of the basic elements o f Christian thelogy, leads us to
depart both from classical and open theisms. Biblical authors
understood the one Trinitarian God of Christianity as a trio of
historically divine Persons who are infinite and analogously
temporal. On this basis, we turn our attention to the biblical
understanding of divine foreknowledge.

§ 54. BIBLICAL NOTION OF FO REK N O W ELD G E


Theologians have assumed that we can understand the way in
which God knows by assuming God knows in the same manner as
humans. Aquinas, Calvin, Arminius and Openview theologians
construct their views by accounting for both the subject and the
object in divine knowledge. In their view, God knows within the
subject-object structure of human knowledge.

1. Foreknow ledge as m ystery


However, Scripture affirms, “His understanding (intelligence,
skill) no one can fathom (cannot be searched) [(there is) no
searching to His intelligence]" (Isaiah 40:28, translation mine).
Consequently, we should search for an understanding of divine
knowledge all the while expecting to find a limit beyond which
our reason cannot pierce. At that point, silence is golden. We
should bow to what God says He does, without attempting to fit
His actions to the limitations that time and space place on
creatures.
God's cognitive capabilities are part of the Triune God's
transcendence. Humans have access only to what God reveals
about Himself by appearing and speaking within the limitations of
finite entities. We cannot understand God’s causal operations
(such as, how did God operate in creation) or His cognitive
Divine Foreknowledge 121

awareness of entities other than Himself. Consequently, the issue


of God's foreknowledge surpasses us. We cannot grasp it in
continuity with our experience of time and reality. The Bible
reveals, therefore, what God does in our level of history, but it
cannot reveal how He does it.
With this being the case, a theory of God's cognitive activities
is impossible even analogically. God does His "fore-knowing"
within the depths of the Trinitarian structure of His transcendent
reality, of whose structure and functioning we have no idea except
that it is beyond our reach. By revelation, however, we can know
the results o f His actions and the content o f His knowledge.
It is evident then, that beyond biblical revelation we cannot
pierce without disrespecting divine privacy and presumptuously
inventing from our limited finite imaginations. When we
overstretch ourselves in this manner, we, in essence, make for
ourselves an image of what we cannot imagine, and transgress the
second commandment.

2. Divine omniscience
God’s foreknowledge is an aspect of His all-knowing ability
(omniscience). "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.
Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to
whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13, NIV). This
statement teaches that God knows all in creation, and therefore is
omniscient. Yet, it can not, specify all that God knows.
If one assumes God’s reality is timeless, then “God’s sight”
in this text refers to His timeless, eternal, simultaneous knowledge
not only of creation, but also of His own reality. Thus interpreted,
the text affirms total omniscience. Conversely, if one follows
Scripture and assumes God’s reality is infinitely and analogously
temporal “God’s sight” in this text refers to His “present
knowledge” in the sequence of created, spatiotemporal realities.
Thus interpreted, the text affirms omniscience in relation to the
created universe.
122 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

3. Content of divine foreknowledge


We have already seen how in his epistle to the Romans (8:28-30)
Paul outlines a partial sequence of divine actions involved in
God’s work of salvation. In it, he mentions divine foreknowledge
of those that would love God throughout history as the starting
point of God’s works of salvation. Paul does not explain the
meaning of divine foreknowledge; he affirms it.
New Testament writers assume the existence and meaning of
divine foreknowledge originally developed in the Old Testament,
notably by Isaiah. Reasoning with His wayward people God
presents His foreknowledge as a test of divinity. Idols are not gods
as their followers claim because they cannot predict the future.
“Who is like me? Let him proclaim it, let him declare and set it
forth before me. Who has announced from o f old the things to
come? Let them tell us what is yet to be” (Isaiah 44:7, RSV). Here
“foreknowledge” means the general knowledge of future history
that involves the free decisions of humans.
The knowledge of future history includes what God and
humans will do. Because of the obstinate nature of His people,
God anticipates what He will do,
"The former things I declared of old, they went forth
from my mouth and I made them known; then suddenly I
did them and they came to pass. Because I know that
you are obstinate, and your neck is an iron sinew and
your forehead brass, I declared them to you from of old,
before they came to pass I announced them to you, lest
you should say, 'M y idol did them, my graven image
and my molten image commanded them'” (Isaiah 48:3-7,
RSV).
The promise and fulfillment of God’s plans is a proof of His
divinity. Theologically, however, when God anticipates His plans
we are not talking specifically about foreknowledge about
predestination (plan-promise; see chapter 8) and providence
(execution-fulfillment; see chapter 11).
Divine Foreknowledge 123

God not only knows what He will do in the future but also
what free created agents will do. God declares new things “before
they spring forth" (Isaiah 42:9, RSV). These “new things” then,
include not only (1) God’s acts, but also (2) the free acts of
believers. For instance, God knew Jeremiah when he not yet was.
God told Jeremiah, "before I formed you in the womb I knew you”
(Jeremiah 1:5 RSV). In addition, “new things” include (3) acts of
unbelievers. God knew the rebellion of the Jewish nation (Isaiah
48:8; Romans 11:2). Finally, “new things” include (4) the complex
history of human empires as well (Daniel 2: 28-29). According to
Scripture, then, the content of divine foreknowledge includes the
free thoughts and actions o f creatures.
For classical theologians the affirmation of divine
foreknowledge and human freedom becomes a problem they solve
by way of their compatibilistic view of human freedom. They
conceive human freedom is compatible, that is, subservient to
divine foreknowledge. For Openview theists the problem
foreknowledge presents to the human mind revolves around the
non-existence of the object God’s knows. How can God know
what it is not yet there for Him to know? How can God know
without an object? Their answer is that God does not know what is
not there for Him to know. This basic conviction allows Openview
theologians to affirm their equally basic conviction abut the
libertarian nature of human freedom. Since God does not know
the future, history is open rather than closed, as it is in classical
thinking. Human freedom involves real choices whose outcome is
not predetermined but open for humans to “close.”
In biblical thinking, however, God does know the future free
actions of His creatures, from His infinitely and analogously
temporal Trinitarian reality. From this point of view, the classical
problem of incompatibility between human freedom and divine
timeless immutable knowledge disappears. God’s knowledge does
not close history or predetermine in a compatibilistic way, the
outcome of human decisions.
However, the biblical view of God and divine foreknowledge
faces the problem outlined by Openview theologians. How does
God know what is not yet for Him to know? We understand that
124 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

He does know all the future free actions of His creatures, yet
without predetermining the outcome of human freedom. Since
Scripture does not assume a univocal but an infinite and analogical
view of God, we must reject the Openview conviction that God
does not know the future. We know that in His Trinitarian
transcendent reality, God relates to space and time in ways we will
never understand. Therefore, He can relate to the future in
dimensions we cannot imagine. In this context, we can accept
divine foreknowledge without being able to explain God’s modus
operandi (way of operation) and without having to “sacrifice our
reason.” By definition, God is different from us and outside our
range of knowledge and understanding, unless He decides to
reveal aspects of Himself to us. We see then, that in the operation,
the how, of divine foreknowledge, we face another facet of the
mystery of God’s reality.

4. Nature of divine foreknowledge: wisdom


In classical thinking, God has always held the same ideas. He can
never have a new idea because He is timeless. Yet the infinite
analogical temporality of the biblical God who does “new things”
suggests that He, in fact, acts and knows in sequence.
According to Scripture, God’s knowledge is wisdom.
Solomon reflected on wisdom in his book of Proverbs. In
Scripture, human wisdom is the art of being successful, of forming
the correct plan to gain the desired results. Its seat is the mind, the
center of moral and intellectual decision.27 Human wisdom
depends and stands on divine Wisdom. When we say God is wise
we mean His knowledge is the correct plan to achieve true results.
God’s knowledge starts with wisdom, a complete plan that is truth.
We should not conceive of divine knowledge as reduced within
the subject-object-relation as we humans are. We should attempt
to understand divine foreknowledge not only within the subject-
object relation but also from the broader context of divine wisdom,
His creative omniscience of al truth.
In chapter eight, Solomon personalizes wisdom and describes
it being “by him, as a master workman in creation” (Proverbs
Divine Foreknowledge 125

8:30, ASV, emphasis mine). In the New Testament, John applies


Solomon’s identification of divine wisdom to the eternal person of
Christ in his notion of Christ as the eternal divine Logos (John 1:1-
3). Solomon’s reflections on wisdom as a type of Christ help to
illumine the doctrines of predestination and creation. We will
come back to this text in chapter 8.
Here we want to explore what the text suggests regarding the
nature of divine knowledge. Does God know everything
simultaneously as tradition suggests? Or, does God know
sequentially as the biblical notion of His infinite analogical
temporality suggests?
Solomon personifies wisdom as saying, “Jehovah created
(possessed) me since the time of the beginning of His way (work),
before His works, since then. From the days of old I was anointed
(exalted, appointed, established, consecrated), from the beginning,
from before [the creation of] the earth. From [the time when there
was] no abyss, I was brought forth, from [the time when there
were] no fountains abounding with water” (Proverbs 8:22-24,
dynamic translation mine).28
Tradition has long discussed whether Solomon was speaking
about wisdom as a real person or as a divine attribute.29 Arguably,
Solomon is speaking about both simultaneously. The identification
of wisdom with a real divine person does not cancel either but
helps us see their relation to each other. In this section, then, I will
limit our reflection to what the text suggests regarding wisdom as
a divine activity.
First let us consider the chronology Solomon establishes and
the actions God executes on wisdom and its personification.
Solomon places God’s actions on wisdom in the distant past,
“from the days of old” (v 23). Clearly, Solomon assumes the
temporal understanding of divine reality. Solomon goes further.
Within the endlessness of past eternity, Solomon brings our
attention to the “time of the beginning of His way (work)” (22). Is
Solomon speaking about the beginning of creation as Genesis 1:1
and John 1:1 do? In these texts Solomon is speaking about God,
His wisdom, and Christ in relation to a beginning that took place
before the beginning of the creation of the earth and universe
126 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

(Genesis 1:1), a time when there was no primordial abyss (23-24).


This is the farthest back God’s revelation goes in speaking about
the “beginning of His way.”
What did God do at the beginning of His way? Solomon
speaks about two important things. God created wisdom, that is,
He appointed Christ, the personification of wisdom, as pre­
requisite of His work of creation. (As we will see in the following
chapter, Paul also refers to “the beginning of God’s way” in
speaking about the wisdom of divine predestination as a
presupposition to the plan of salvation).
Regarding divine wisdom, our topic in this section, Solomon
affirms that the content of God’s wisdom, with which He created
the universe, had a beginning in God’s limitless past. This does
not transfer to Christ in implying He, Christ, had a beginning, as
Arius (250-336 AD) thought, it simply states that, in His creative
life, God has new thoughts. In this passage, then, Solomon states
that the beginning of God’s way stems from His eternal past when
God originated the wisdom involved in the design and creation of
the universe.
The nature of God’s thoughts, then, is temporal. Thinking
and wisdom are activities of His life and not characteristics of His
reality. While God’s Trinitarian reality does not have a beginning,
His knowledge does. God is able to produce new divine thoughts
within the sequence of His eternal life.
God’s creation of thoughts does not take place within the
subject-object framework of human knowledge. The thoughts God
creates do not flow from realities outside of His mind but from His
divine imagination (formation of images). In the case of His
design for creation God used His wisdom as blueprint to create the
universe as a reality separate from His own.
God’s knowledge is creative, theoretical, and anticipatory. It
is creative because it brings about new thoughts. It is theoretical
because it exists only in the mind of God. It is anticipatory
because it exists before the existence of its object.
Divine foreknowledge anticipates all the consequences of its
creative design. When God generated the plan to create the
universe, He saw and continues to see what free created agencies
Divine Foreknowledge 127 *

will do in all possible circumstances, even the circumstances they


will create by using their freedom, imagination, and creativity.
How does the sequential flow of divine knowledge relate to
His foreknowledge? To answer this question we need to consider
the extent of divine foreknowledge.

5. Extent of divine foreknowledge


Traditional Christian explanations of divine foreknowledge place
it in God’s timeless reality, outside of the sequence of time. This
view requires that God know all things simultaneously. However,
if God is infinitely and analogously temporal, His acts, and
therefore His knowledge, take place sequentially.
If this is so, we do not need to assume God knew all things at
the same time but in the dynamic sequence of His eternal life.
With this in mind, let us consider Isaiah’s classical statement on
divine foreknowledge, “the end from the beginning, and from
ancient times the things that are not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10, KJV,
emphasis mine).
Isaiah’s statement shows no indication that God knows the
future by “reading” His own timeless reality. Instead, he suggests
that divine foreknowledge extends from the beginning to the end
of history. Now about what beginning and what end does the text
speak? We should recognize the general tone of Isaiah’s statement.
He only claims that God knows the end of history from its
beginning. Human creatures and events have beginnings and ends.
God, then, knows all ends from all beginnings.
Because God knows and acts in the sequence of time, we
should expect many beginnings and many ends. Earlier, we saw
that Solomon and Moses spoke about two related beginnings.
Solomon spoke about the beginning of everything by God’s
creative wisdom while Moses spoke about the beginning of
everything by God’s creative power.
From the moment God generated His plan of creation in past
eternity, He theoretically anticipated the complexity of human and
cosmic histories His plan would unleash, including the many
beginnings and ends His creatures would cause. Foreknowledge,
128 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

then, means that God knows all beginnings and all ends before He
creates, provides, acts, promises or answers prayer.
God’s blueprint for creation called for the existence of human
and angelic creatures free to think and act. God’s blueprint for
creation, then, called for the existence human and angelic
histories. Human history is highly complex. It involves the
interrelation of millions of free creatures with themselves, with
God and His angels, and with Satan and his angels. Each action of
each free agency may cause the beginning or the end of a series of
interrelated events. In His foreknowledge, God anticipates the end
that every historical begining opens.
Let us recap then: The divine foreknowledge God generates
is theoretical, anticipatory, highly complex, and open. It is
generated in past eternity because it is not a characteristic of God’s
reality but an activity of His creative, eternal, temporal life. It is
theoretical because it takes place in God’s mind as product of His
perfect imagination. It is anticipatory because it operates in the
absence of the objects and events God foreknows. It is highly
complex because it anticipates human history. It is open because
God does not cause the free actions He perfectly anticipates.

§ 55. CONCLUSION
Theological understandings of Christian doctrines always assume
the views about God’s reality and actions that believers bring to
their search. Logically and historically, God first relates to humans
in His foreknowledge. Our view on divine reality directly shapes
our understanding of divine foreknowledge. We begin to
appreciate how everything links together in theological thinking.
Tradition has interpreted divine foreknowledge within the
limitations drawn by their philosophically based, timeless
interpretation of divine reality and life. Augustine, Aquinas,
Calvin, and Arminius followed the logic of divine timelessness. If
God is timeless, His life must be timeless as well. A timeless God
cannot experience causes from outside of Himself. That would
mar divine perfection, immutability, and eternity. On this basis,
tradition fused God’s being and knowledge. His life and being
Divine Foreknowledge 129

became identical. Either His being or His will became the ultimate
cause of everything in creation including the free actions of human
beings.
One secondary effect of this interpretation of divine
foreknowledge was to “close” history. In other words, history is
not real, it is the duplication in the sequential order of time of what
already exists in God’s being or will. Theologians had
“christianized” Plato’s cosmological dualism. As we will discover
later in this book, the timeless interpretation of God’s reality and
foreknowledge has pushed God’s purposes and salvific activities
to the timeless level of spirituality. The historical acting God of
Scripture becomes a symbol, metaphor, saga, or myth pointing to
the real spiritual God who acts outside of the flux of history.
These views collide with Scripture. In spite of great and long
efforts, theologians have not been able to integrate the entire
teachings of Scripture with the timeless reality and knowledge of
God. With the growth of biblical theology as an independent,
scientific discipline, these inconsistencies became more noticeable
and bothersome.
Since, due to its timeless assumptions, tradition was not able
to integrate biblical teachings, a few theologians, inspired by
Process Theology, argued that because God is temporal He cannot
know the future. Without intending it, Openview theism implied a
complete paradigm shift destined to replace the timeless paradigm
on which Christian tradition had constructed all her beliefs.
However, so far, Openview theologians have shied away from the
radical consequences of their proposal. Instead, they have worked
within the rule of tradition affirming that God is both timeless and
temporal. Thus, they add to the traditional cosmological dualism
the dualism of divine reality. God as a timeless soul (eternal pole)
and a temporal body (temporal pole).
One major positive point of the Openview approach is the
“opening” of history. Since God is temporal, neither His being nor
His will predetermine either human freedom or history.
Unfortunately, a major problem with Openview theology is their
blunt selectivity of biblical teachings. They affirm God does not
know the future thus contradicting the clear teachings of Scripture.
130 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Openview theologians do not derive their understanding of


the reality of God and their denial of divine foreknowledge from
the sola Scriptura principle, but from the multiplex sources of
theology principle. Instead of using an adaptation of Plato and
Aristotle’s views of reality (like the Roman Catholic and
Protestant traditions), they work from an adaptation of Process
Philosophy’s views of reality— which in actuality is an adaptation
of Plato to empirical science.
While we recognize the way God foreknows is a mystery
hidden to us, faithfulness to the sola Scriptura principle compels
us to affirm that God perfectly and exhaustively knows future free
decisions.
Biblical data depart from traditional explanations of divine
foreknowledge. Scripture not only understands God’s reality as
infinitely and analogously temporal but also distinguishes between
His reality and His life. Foreknowledge belongs to God’s dynamic
life which includes the capability to create knowledge and wisdom
without the existence of the objects. Thus, we should not conceive
God’s foreknowledge as taking place within the subject-object
relationship but rather as a divine theoretical, anticipatory, creative
imagination.
When God creates knowledge, He is not simultaneously
creating what He knows. Only after a decision of His will does His
power create what He has previously conceived. In the divine
imagination, foreknowledge is the capacity to anticipate the
independent way that free created agencies will, think, imagine,
act, react to the actions of other free agencies, and, react to divine
providential activities. In so doing, God sees not only what will
take place, but all the infinite numbers of histories that will take
place as response to His providence. Thus, God sees not only one
highly complex scenario of the future but an infinite number of
possible scenarios, all of them open.
Only when there is a beginning, that is, a divine decision or
action, a specific series of possibilities becomes real. For instance,
the beginning of Proverbs 8:22-24 refers to God’s creating the
wisdom (design) to create the universe. That was the theoretical
beginning of our universe. When God designed the macro and
Divine Foreknowledge 131

micro levels or our limitless universe He was, so to speak, able to


fast-forward it to see what every creature will freely do in
response to God’s providential engagement with them.
God foresees an infinite number of scenarios that will never
take place, yet they form the broad content of the wisdom from
which He relates to us in our daily lives. The infinite number of
historical scenarios in God’s foreknowledge form part of the
wisdom God utilizes when He makes decisions about each
creature and answers the prayers of the saints.
Although, we cannot explain how God anticipates what
humans will freely do before they actually exist, think, and take
decisions, we can realize that His perfect and exhaustive
knowledge does not close history nor cancel the ultimate causal
reality of free human agencies.

1 Ellen White, Evangelism (Washington D.C.: Review and Hearald


Publishing Association, 1946), 62-63.
2 Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (Westwood, NJ.: Revell,
1907), 282.
3 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English
Dominican Province, 3 vols. (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947), la.
14. 4.
4 Ibid., Ia. 14. 2.
5 Ibid., Ia. 14. 8.
6 Ibid.Ja. 14. 13.
7“Will you say that these things are false, which, with a strong voice,
Truth tells me in my inner ear, concerning the very eternity of the
Creator, that His substance is in no wise changed by time, nor that His
will is separate from His substance? Wherefore, He willeth not one thing
now, another anon, but once and for ever He willeth all things that He
willet; not again and again, nor now this, now that; nor willeth afterwards
what He willeth not before, nor willeth not what before He willed.
Because such a will is mutable and no mutable thing is eternal; but our
God is eternal” Augustine, Confessions, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J.G.
132 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Pilkington, The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1 (Albany, OR.:


Ages Software, 1996), 12. 15. 18.
8 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Mcneill,
trans. Ford Lewis Battle (Albany, OR: Ages Digital Library, 1998),
m.21.5.
9 Ibid.,111.23.6.
10 “Again I ask: whence does it happen that Adam’s fall irremediably
involved so many peoples, together with their infant offspring, in eternal
death unless because it so pleased God? Here their tongues, otherwise so
loquacious, must become mute. The decree is dreadful indeed, I confess.
Yet no one can deny that God foreknew what end man was to have
before he created him, and consequently foreknew because he so
ordained by his decree” Ibid., III.23.7.
11 John Calvin, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, trans. J.
K. Reid (Louisville, Ke: Westminster, 1961), 56-58.
12 Jacobus Arminius, The Works of James Arminius, 3 vols. (Albany, OR:
Ages Software, 1997), I. 358.
13 Ibid., I.Disputation 4.31-46.
14 “From these follows a FOURTH DECREE, concerning the salvation of
these particular persons, and the damnation of those. This rests or
depends on the prescience and foresight of God, by which he foreknew
from all eternity what men would, through such administration, believe
by the aid of preventing or preceding grace, and would persevere by the
aid of subsequent or following grace, and who would not believe and
persevere” Ibid., 2:466.
15 Ibid., 2:69.
16 Ibid.
17 Ibid., I. 360.
18 Ibid., I. 358.
19 Ibid., I. 359.
20 Ibid., I. 365.
21 Ibidem.
Divine Foreknowledge 133

22 Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God's Openness


(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2001), 143-144.
23 John E. Sanders, The God Who Risks: A Theology of Providence
(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1998), 133.
24 Ibid., 131.
25 Ibid., 133.
26 Ibid., 131.
27 J. Douglas, New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House,
[electronic ed. of 2nd ed.]), 1255.
28 My translation in the text is dynamic not literal. I include here the more
literal translation of the text for the reader t compare. “Jehovah created
(possessed) me [since the time of] the beginning of his way (work),
before his works (things made [ways]) since then (at that time). From the
days of old I was exalted (anointed, consecrated), from the beginning,
from before the earth [was created]. From [when there was] no abyss, I
was brought forth, from [when there were] no fountains abounding with
water” (Proverbs 8 22-24, translation mine). In both translations what I
put in brackets are words not present in the text supplied to complete the
meaning of the original. What appears in parenthesis are alternate
translation of the precedent word.
29 For an introduction to this scholarly debate, see the forthcoming article
of my esteemed colleague Richard Davidson to be published in Hans K.
La Rondelle's Festschrift.
8. PREDESTINATION

As you by now know, during my high school years, I attended


boarding school. In the dorm, we high school students mingled
with college students, listening to and, at times, following their
more mature wisdom. O f course, the strategy of how to find a
good girl to marry was one of the issues most often under
discussion.
I recall Joseph, a serious college student majoring in
theology, who used to speak about every subject with great
aplomb and confidence. His strategy to find a wife, however, was
laughable and revealed less wisdom that we thought he had.
A fellow student sharing the room with Joseph revealed his
strategy to us. Joseph’s plan was simple. He decided to survey the
last issue of the college’s yearbook and make a list of each girl
whose appearance appealed to him. With this foreknowledge in
mind, Joseph chose the girls whose appearance appealed to him
and put them on a list. It was now expected that one of these
young damsels would be young Joseph’s “predestined” wife.
Unfortunately, the names in the list leaked to the wider community
of students and eventually even to the “chosen ones” who felt
disgusted at being part of such a list. You see, I forgot to mention
that Joseph was quite lacking in the looks and personality
department and now his presumption added a third strike. Joseph
was out, not even one girl on his list responded favorably. In the
end, Joseph had to settle for a girl who was not on his list.
Joseph’s strategy helps to illustrate the classical
understanding of divine predestination according to which God
has made a list of all those He would like to be in heaven. As
Joseph, God has arbitrarily chosen some to salvation and some to
perdition. Unlike Joseph, God is omnipotent and can make the
Predestination 135
choices on His list become a reality. Let’s examine how tradition
arrived at such a conclusion.

§ 56. INTRODUCTION
For starters, traditional interpretations of divine
predestination assume the interpretation of God’s timeless
Trinitarian reality and His foreknowledge. God knows all things
simultaneously in His own reality.
By grounding God’s foreknowledge of human freedom and
history in either His timeless reality or will, Christian tradition
dismissed the historical approach to theological thinking followed
by biblical authors. In its stead, Christian theology adopted an
unhistorical approach. God not only knows everything but,
through the decision of His timeless will (predestination) and the
simultaneous causality of His timeless omnipotence (providence),
He is the ultimate cause of everything.
Within this context, theologians no longer assume that
biblical teachings and Christian doctrines refer to God’s history of
salvific actions. Instead, they think Scripture and doctrines refer to
God’s non-historical spiritual reality that includes all entities.
According to Scripture, however, God operates salvation
through a sequence of interrelated temporal actions beginning with
divine foreknowledge and followed by predestination. Because of
their hermeneutical ramifications and impact on theology as a
whole, both o f these doctrines are highly emphasized by
theologians as basic elements o f Christian theology. We turn our
attention now to the study of divine predestination. We will start
by highlighting the main traditional models on predestination and
end with a brief study of the biblical model.

§ 57. THE ISSUE OF PREDESTINATION


The biblical word for predestination, proorizo, means to
determine, to mark beforehand. In classic Greek, to predestine
(proorizo), means to pre-ordain in the sense of fate (moria). In
Christian tradition, predestination means that God causes the
destiny o f each human being and all the events of history by the
136 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

decision o f His own will and the operation of His irresistible


power. Augustine and the Reformers made predestination a
prominent basic element o f Christian theology in order to ground
their interpretation of the doctrine of justification by faith.
Evangelical theologian Millard Erickson unpacks the
theological span of the traditional notion of predestination by
distinguishing between foreordination, predestination, and
election. Foreordination is a general term "denoting God's will
with respect to all matters which occur, whether that be the fate of
individual human persons or the falling of a rock.” Predestination
"refers to God's choice of individuals for eternal life or eternal
death." Election "is the selection of some for eternal life, the
positive side of predestination."1
According to Scripture, however, we should not identify
predestination with God’s foreknowledge, providence, or selection
o f individuals for salvation or damnation. Instead, predestination is
G od’s theoretical blueprint fo r the salvation o f the human race
which He planned from the perspective of His design of creation
and His foreknowledge of angelic and human free decisions before
the creation o f the universe.

§ 58. DIVINE WILL AND PREDESTINATION


The doctrine of predestination speaks about God’s decisions made
through His will and brought to pass outside of His reality through
His omnipotent power. To properly appreciate tradition’s take on
predestination and providence we need to understand the concept
o f divine will.
God’s will is an operation o f His Trinitarian reality that
closely relates to His foreknowledge and His providence. Since
God’s reality and foreknowledge are timeless, His will should be
timeless also. Augustine understood this and expressed it in the
following words, “if we speak of that will of His which is eternal
as His foreknowledge, certainly He has already done all things in
heaven and on earth that He has willed,— not only past and
present things, but even things still future [emphasis mine].2
Notice carefully that God’s will is done “when” He wills it.
Predestination 137
However, since God is timeless, He does not will things in
sequence. As He knows all things simultaneously, He also wills all
things simultaneously. Thus, there is not a before or after to His
will. Besides, what God decides exists in His decision. His
decision does not exist without its simultaneous fulfillment. What
God decides is real and exists always in His timeless being.
Since God’s will is timeless, when tradition says that God
willed, elected, decided, or predestined something it is referring
not only the decision but the eternal preexistence of what God
decided. Predestination, being the decision for salvation of
concrete human beings, implies that what God decided, the
salvation of an individual, is already real before He creates the
world and the chosen individual is bom. God’s activity is finished
before it deploys in our history. Here we see, working as macro
hermeneutical presupposition, the Platonic notion that nature
mirrors or duplicates supemature. History is not real. Freedom is
predetermined. God is the only actor in a historical play He has
written and acted to the last detail.
This view not only departed from, it denied and ultimately
replaced the biblical temporal historical model with its opposite. In
so doing, tradition effectively canceled the biblical way of
thinking about God and salvation in the sequence of divine and
created times. This cancellation-replacement led Christian
tradition not only to reinterpret the doctrines of divine
foreknowledge and predestination but, through them, all Christian
doctrines as well.
With this background in mind, let us turn our attention to
some of the main traditional models o f divine predestination
before surveying Scripture for its original teaching on this issue.

§ 59. LUTHER AND CALVIN


The great Protestant Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin,
causally connected the gospel, justification by faith, and the
assurance of salvation to divine predestination. In other words, the
divine action that causes our salvation is divine predestination.
Luther built his view on Augustine’s notion o f God’s
timeless reality and will. In maintaining divine timelessness, any
138 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

portion of Scripture in which he found God expressing His will or


making a choice Luther found an expression o f divine eternal
predestination. After all, according to Luther’s implicit
assumptions about divine reality and will, God’s decisions are as
eternal and indivisible as His own being and life. Divine
predestination is God exercising His will through His
omnipotence. Predestination, then, became the ultimate eternal
cause of all concrete historical events. On this basis, Luther
constructed his view o f causal eternal predestination by reading it
out o f Romans chapters 9 and 10.
Calvin also follows the classical timeless notion of divine
reality, foreknowledge and will he took from tradition, particularly
from Augustine. It was through Augustine’s view of
predestination that Protestant theologians found a way to preempt
Roman Catholic arguments favoring meritorious works.
Broadly speaking, Calvin defines predestination “as the free
counsel of God, by which he regulates the human race, and all the
individual parts of the universe, according to his own immense
wisdom, and incomprehensible justice.”3
In a narrower sense, Calvin calls predestination
“God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with
himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are
not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is
foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.
Therefore, as any man has been created to one or the other
o f these ends, we speak of him as predestined to life or to
death.”4
Calvin’s double predestination involves the terrible notion
that sin is part of God’s eternal will. Calvin openly admitted that
Adam and all his children “have fallen by G od’s w ill”5 Explaining
this issue further Calvin affirms, “No one can deny that God
foreknew what end man was to have before he created him, and
consequently foreknew because he so ordained by his decree.”6
Moreover, Calvin believed that it ought not to seem absurd for him
“to say that God not only foresaw the fall o f the first man, and in
him the ruin of his descendants, but also meted it out in
accordance with his own decision. For as it pertains to his wisdom
Predestination 139
to foreknow everything that is to happen, so it pertains to his
might to rule and control everything by his hand.”7
Calvin slightly modified the classical view of predestination
by saying that God foreknows because in His predestination He
causes all things. Many argue that Calvin did not intend his view
on predestination to play a central systematic role in his
theological proposal. However, the fact that all theological
systems find their inner coherence from their view of God and His
salvific actions makes Calvin notion of predestination central to
his system of thought. The timeless view of God’s Trinitarian
being, foreknowledge, and predestination play a leading
hermeneutical role in the construction of the Roman Catholic and
Protestant systems of theology.

§ 60. JACOBUS ARMINIUS


Arminius rejected both Luther’s and Calvin’s view of absolute
arbitrary predestination as divine causation of a timeless
omnipotent will. On predestination, Arminius challenged tradition
in two small but meaningful ways.
First, he changed the rales of the game. Instead o f starting
from philosophy, he started from Scripture. Thus, predestination
no longer was the omnipotent act o f a timeless and arbitrary God
determining the shape of history and the content o f human free
decisions as Calvin taught. Instead, Arminius proposes that
predestination is the decree appointing Christ as savior, to bring
about the salvation of those that believe and persevere in Him, and
to administer the necessary means for repentance and faith. Sadly,
this “biblical turn” loses its strength and meaning when we realize
that Arminius maintained the timeless view o f divine reality and
knowledge. His turn to Scripture is good but brief.
Second, although he still affirms Calvin’s double
predestination, Arminius subordinates God’s eternal decision to
His eternal foreknowledge (see § 52), o f the future faith or
unfaithfulness of free human agencies.8 He clarifies that this
decree is not the foundation of Christianity or the assurance of
salvation.9
140 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

However, we need to have in mind that according to


Arminius, God does not obtain His information about future free
decisions of human beings from objects external to Himself10 as
we creatures do. Instead, God knows all things only by knowing
Himself11 in a simple act that is not successive but eternal12
As we attempt to understand Arminius’ view of
predestination we need to remember also his understanding of
God’s will as the divine capacity that causes the decree of divine
predestination. According to Arminius, God’s will belongs to His
life.13 As divine foreknowledge, God’s will is simple because “by
a single and simple act, wills its own goodness, and all things in its
goodness.” 14 God’s will is also eternal, “because nothing can de
novo either be or appear good to God.” 15 God’s will, then, is also
“immutable; because that which has once either been or seemed
good to Him, both is and appears such to Him perpetually; and
that by which God is known to will any thing, is nothing else but
this, His immutable entity.”16 Finally, Arminius claims that
through His power God’s decision causes all other things.17
God’s predestination, then, causes what He eternally foresees
in His own timeless immutable being. Although Arminius argues
that the future free decisions of human faith or unbelief conditions
God’s predestination to salvation or damnation, the fact is that in
Arminius theology the conditions pre-exists in God’s eternal
being. What eternally exists in God causes human history and free
decisions.
In theory, Arminius claims God does not arbitrarily
predetermine the eternal destiny of free human beings. In practice,
however, Arminius’ explanation of predestination depends so
much on the classical view of God’s timeless reality and
foreknowledge that his attempt to condition the classical doctrine
of causal predestination to future free human decisions fails to
achieve its explicit purpose. Nothing temporal can condition a
timeless immutable God.
Predestination 141

§ 61. KARL BARTH


Karl Barth (1886-1968) was undoubtedly one o f the greatest
theologians of all times. Unfortunately, he developed his
theological system using the multiple sources of theology
conviction borrowed by Protestant theologians from Roman
Catholicism. Because of this conviction Barth faced the new
philosophical trends of modem philosophy. His massive
systematic theology, Church Dogmatics, is the most coherent
adaptation of Calvinistic theology to the philosophical patterns of
modernity. His writings will continue to influence Protestant
theology for a long time.
Barth developed his theological project adopting Calvin’s
interpretation of the basic element o f Christian theology. For
instance, with Aquinas and Boethius he assumes that God’s
reality, foreknowledge, and will are timeless and immutable.18
Departing from Roman Catholic tradition and intensifying
Calvin’s emphasis on divine will, Barth built his theological
system around the conviction that God’s will has primacy over His
being. God decides not only the actual contents o f nature and
history19 but also His own being.20 As we consider Barth’s system,
we need to bear in mind Augustine’s explanation o f the
consequences that timelessness has on his understanding of God’s
will. Since God’s will does not operate in the future, present, past
sequence of time, what He decides already exists in the timeless
act of decision. In other words, God does not decide and then
bring about the content of His decisions. In God’s reality there is
no sequence of time and therefore no “then.” The totality of God’s
decisions exists eternally (timelessly) in His reality. Divine will
assumes the operation of His power. Thus, God realizes, unites,
and contains in Himself all reality.21 By emphasizing that
“whatever else we may have to say must always correspond to this
first definition,”22 Barth recognized the great systematic role the
interpretation of God’s will and predestination play as basic
element o f theology in His theological system.23
Barth, however, modified the Evangelical Reformed tradition
by rejecting Calvin’s double predestination.24 Instead, Barth taught
that the content of eternal predestination is Jesus Christ as
142 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

universal savior. The eternal will of God is the election of Jesus


Christ, not the election of some and rejection of others. In Jesus
Christ the entire human race has been predestined to salvation.
The basic Platonic understanding of reality adopted by
Roman Catholic theology survives and leads in Barth’s modernist
reinterpretation of the Protestant Reformed tradition. Thus, history
continues to be the outer manifestation in time of what always
existed in the inner timeless reality of divine action. This
philosophically originated view of divine reality, foreknowledge,
and predestination ignores and widely departs from the temporal
and historical way in which biblical authors interpreted the same
issues. A theology fo r the church based on the sola Scriptura
principle as source of theological knowledge needs to build on the
biblical understanding of predestination.

§ 62. FROM TRADITION TO SCRIPTURE


We cannot build our understanding of biblical predestination by
turning our attention to Scripture without first recognizing the
inner logic that connects the issue of predestination with other
elements o f Christian theology. As we turn our attention to the
biblical understanding of predestination, we will not only depart
radically from the traditional views considered above
(deconstruction), but also use what tradition taught us in harmony
with Scripture (construction).
Tradition correctly understood that the interpretation of
predestination depends on the understanding of divine reality and
foreknowledge. Thus, as theologians read the biblical text on
predestination they automatically make them fit to their
philosophically originated view on divine reality and
foreknowledge. We know biblical authors recognized the inner
logic that connects these issues because in Romans 8:29 Paul
made the connection explicit: “those whom he [God] foreknew he
also predestined” (RSV).
We will build on Arminius’ acknowledgment that according
to Scripture divine predestination is not a theory about divine
causation but His plan o f salvation (§45), and, on Barth’s

—— -
Predestination 143
recognition that predestination centers God’s decision to operate
through Christ (§46).
We will radically depart from tradition because of our
decision to build Christian theology only based on Scripture. Thus,
as we consider the same text tradition uses, we will understand and
connect them from the same infinite analogous understanding of
God’s Trinitarian reality (chapter 5), and divine foreknowledge
(sequential, theoretical, anticipatory, highly complex, and open)
(chapter 7, §55.5), that biblical authors assumed in their writings.

§ 63. CHRISTOLOGICAL DESIGN OF CREATION


Creation is a basic element o f Christian theology. Scripture
addresses creation in various ways, contexts, and viewpoints. We
will study some of them in the next chapter on creation. In this
section, our purpose is to study again Solomon’s account of
creation in Proverbs 8:22-31, because it speaks about God’s
actions before creation.
Solomon presents the personalization o f Wisdom describing
her relation to God in the following words.
“Jehovah created (possessed) me since the time of the
beginning o f His way (work), before His works, since
then. From the days of old I was anointed (exalted,
appointed, established, consecrated), from the beginning,
from before [the creation of] the earth. From [the time
when there was] no abyss, I was brought forth, from [the
time when there were] no fountains abounding with
water” (Proverbs 8:22-24, dynamic translation mine).
This text is important because it speaks about decisions God
took at the earliest temporal beginning mentioned in Scripture, a
beginning before the beginning of creation (Genesis 1 and 2). New
Testament texts on predestination also speak about a divine
decision taken before the foundation of the world. However,
because Solomon’s statement refers to creation, it has historical
and logical precedence to New Testament statements on
predestination that refer to Christ’s incarnation, death, and
heavenly ministry.
144 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

In the context o f the Arian controversy, tradition understood


the importance of this passage and read it as a revelation of God’s
Trinitarian reality. Arius (250-336) argued from Proverbs 8:22-31
that Christ was a created being. Arius’ opponents, among them
Hilary of Poitiers,25 interpreted the text assuming God’s reality is
timeless. As the Arians, he believed that the creation of wisdom
refers to the personification of Christ. Yet, against the Arians,
Hilary correctly argued that Solomon places the “creation” of the
personification of Wisdom in a beginning before the beginning of
creation and time. From this, he incorrectly concluded that the
beginning o f Wisdom before the beginning of creation could not
be temporal but timeless. Consequently, he concludes following
Christian tradition26 that Proverbs 8:22-24 does not speak about
the creation o f Christ in time, as Arians argued, but about the
eternal (timeless) generation of the Son by the Father (see above
§44.3).
In chapter 7 (§ 55.4) we considered this text in relation to
divine foreknowledge. What did God do at the beginning of His
way before the works o f creation? Solomon tells us God did two
important things before His work of creation: God created wisdom
and appointed Christ, the personification of wisdom. Both
decisions relate to God’s theoretical design o f creation.
In the “beginning o f God’s way before His works of old,”
before Genesis 1 and John 1, the Trinitarian God chose the overall
design or master plan He would follow in creating the universe.
God’s theoretical imagination created wisdom within the sequence
and history His divine temporal life. This means that from an
infinite number of possible designs produced in God’s creative
imagination, He chose one to create our universe.
In the beginning before the beginning of creation, Solomon
tells us God did something else. He anointed (appointed) the
personification of wisdom as master worker and mediator next to
Himself. In Solomon’s time, the doctrine of the Trinity was
unknown. Thus, God referred to the existence o f a second person
of the Trinity indirectly by personifying wisdom. God attached His
wisdom for creation— the design, and the natural and spiritual
orders under which creation would have its existence—to a divine
Predestination 145
person not only embodying the order of creation but also standing
by God when He created the heavens and the earth “as a master
workman” (Proverbs 8:30, ASV). When John speaks about Jesus
Christ as the eternal Logos (John 1:1-14), he builds on Solomon’s
personification o f wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-36).
Because of its broader content, Proverbs 8:22-36 provides the
theological context from which to understand Genesis 1 and 2, and
John 1:1-3. The importance of God anointing the personification
of wisdom before the creation o f the world is immense. God did
not only create the world following the order He previously
established by His creative imagination and chose by His will, but
God decided to make Christ, Himself in person the wisdom of
God, the central part around which the order o f creation would
revolve/hinge.
Thus, Solomon’s reference to God “anointing” the
personification of wisdom before the creation of the world does
not refer to the constitution of God’s Trinitarian reality but to His
design of creation. By appointing Christ, the wisdom o f God, from
before the creation of the world as the constitutive mediatorial
center of His creative design, Solomon discloses the historical and
Christological order o f creation.
Richard Davidson, Old Testament scholar, correctly suggests
that at the beginning of God’s way, before the creation of the
universe, when God chose (predestined) the design o f creation, the
Father appointed God the Son as mediator between the Trinity’s
infinite, analogous, temporal, historical, transcendent reality and
the immanent, finite, temporal, historical reality of creation.27
Paul understood the centrality of Christ’s mediatorial work in
God’s original design of creation. He explained the centrality of
Christ as the mediator of divine wisdom in the history o f perfect
creation in the following words, “for in him [Christ] were all
things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible
and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or
principalities or powers; all things have been created through him,
and unto him; and he is before all things, and in him all things
consist” (Colossians, 1: 16-17, ASV).
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Thus, Christ’s mediatorial role stands on God’s decision


(predestination) that Christ should be the center o f the universe by
His continuous historical presence and impartation o f divine
wisdom among historical-spiritual realities. Moreover, we should
understand Christ’s salvific mediatorial work from God’s original
decision about Christ as the historical center of the universe. Thus
understood, the goal of Christ’s salvific mediatorial work is to
reinstate Christ’s original mediation of divine wisdom as center of
the universe.
We can see how Scripture supports Barth’s view that
predestination is about Christ, albeit in a different way. Barth’s
understands predestination as God’s timeless eternal decision to be
a savior. Thus, in His eternal decision our salvation finds its
eternal cause. In Scripture we find an altogether different picture
about God’s predestination of Christ. The Trinitarian God of
Scripture decides not out of His timeless eternal reality but from
the temporal sequential flow of His eternal life. From the infinite
possible designs of His imagination, the Trinitarian God chose
one.
The center of God’s predestination of creation (blueprint of
creation) involved the continuous historical mediation o f His
wisdom to creatures through the personal historical mediation of
Jesus Christ. Solomon reports that the actual engagement o f Christ
as master workman in the process and results o f creation brought
great delight to the Godhead and to the sons o f men (Proverbs
8:30-31). Solomon immediately makes the theological application
to fallen humanity. Since God’s blueprint of creation coheres
around Christ’s personal mediation o f wisdom, Solomon presents
the experience of salvation as dependent on the willingness of
fallen humans to listen to Christ’s wisdom.
“For blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction,
and be wise, And refuse it not. Blessed is the man that
heareth me, Watching daily at my gates, Waiting at the
posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, And
shall obtain favor of Jehovah. But he that sinneth against
me wrongeth his own soul: All they that hate me love
death” (Proverbs 8:32-36, ASV).
Predestination 147

§ 64. BIBLICAL PREDESTINATION


To understand the biblical concept of divine predestination we
need to consider the method of discovery, basic characteristics,
and contents of divine predestination

1. Method of discovery
Interestingly, since we do not share the same views on divine
reality, will, and life, we cannot adopt Luther’s or Calvin’s views
on causal predestination. Moreover, this is not the place to
interpret Romans 9 and 10 as these texts do not deal with divine
predestination, but with divine providence and the election of
particular individuals to play a determined role in the execution of
God’s plan of salvation. In these texts, God clearly argues that in
the historical execution of His plan of salvation He makes
arbitrary choices that involve these individuals. For instance, God
arbitrarily chose Abraham to create a people to Himself which He
would use as His chosen instrument to bring about His salvific
plan throughout history.
Likewise, and pursuing the same goal, God chose to bring
His promise of a large progeny to Abraham through the sterility of
his wife Sarah. (Romans 9:7-9). The same providential dynamics
applies when God chose Jacob instead o Esau as the heir of His
promise to Abraham (Romans 9:10-13), and used the Pharaoh’s
hardening to show His, God’s, glory (Romans 9: 17-18). Contrary
to the interpretations o f Luther and Calvin, Paul in this chapter is
dealing with the election of Israel and the related issue o f divine
providence that at times involves God’s arbitrary decisions
regarding our private lives. We know these chapters do not deal
with God’s predestination because Paul does not use them to
express the characteristics or contents of divine decisions taken
before the creation o f the world.
To discover the basic concept of biblical predestination we
will consider texts in which the biblical writer specifically refers to
divine decisions taken before the foundation of the world, or
before the beginning of created time. Our basic guiding key to
select biblical texts dealing with the characteristics and contents of
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divine predestination will be the biblical word for predestination,


proorizo, or related words describing divine decisions before the
creation of the world. I will not attempt to present an exhaustive
report on biblical predestination, but rather to delineate its basic
contour.

2. Basic Characteristics
1. The eternal origin of predestination.
God's design of the plan of salvation and His decision to become
personally involved in its execution—predestination—happened
before the foundation of the world. This means that God freely
(without any pressure from historical situations or sin) made the
decisions regarding the creation and salvation of a world He knew
would be unwilling to live within the spiritual and physical order
of His blueprint for creation.
According to Scripture, predestination is prior to and
independent from creation. Predestination, God’s will to save is
not the reason that compelled God to create as Barth suggested.
Instead, the creation o f free, historical, spiritual beings in the
image of God is the condition that moved God to predestine
sinners to salvation, devise a plan of salvation, and commit
Himself to becoming personally involved in its execution.
As Isaiah (46:9-11) and Paul (Romans 8:29) recognized,
predestination stands on divine foreknowledge. As God, by way of
His free creative imagination, was able to produce an infinite
number of designs for the universe, He was also able to anticipate
theoretically an infinite number of possible scenarios that would
take place as Christ, the mediator of divine wisdom, interacted in
different ways with free human beings created in the image of
God.
According to Paul, to speak about Christ is to speak about
wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30), yet not the wisdom of this world (1
Corinthians 2:6) but “God's secret (en mysterio) wisdom, a
wisdom that has been hidden and that God predestined (proorisen)
for our glory before time began (pro ton aionon)" (1 Corinthians
Predestination 149
2:7, my translation). Christ’s wisdom, revealed in His teachings,
and Christ’s power, revealed at the cross (1 Corinthians 1:24), are
the execution of the blueprint for the saving o f humanity which
God conceived and predestined in temporal eternity, that is, before
the creation of the world.
Before creating the universe, by way of His foreknowledge,
God knew that angels and human beings would rebel against the
order of creation centered in Christ’s mediatorial work and
wisdom. God could have decided not to create. Neither an internal
nor an external necessity pressured divine freedom to create.
Foreknowing all the evil and suffering creation will unleash not
only on creatures but also on His Trinitarian life, God created the
universe because in His love He was committed to save the
universe and all those who would accept the mediatorial role and
wisdom of Christ.
When guided by the Holy Spirit, New Testament authors
wrote about the profound meaning of God’s salvific acts in
Christ’s mediatorial wisdom and sacrifice on the cross, they felt
compelled to place His works in the broad context of eternal
divine predestination. In this way, the eternal origin o f divine
predestination becomes an important element in the task of
interpreting Scripture and constructing our understanding of its
teachings about God and the world.

2. The theoretical nature of predestination


The traditional understanding of God's reality and action as
timeless logically requires that the contents of God’s decision be
already fully real in God’s timeless decision. In other words,
God’s timeless decision implies the existence of what He decided
in His own being from eternity.
For instance, according to this way of thinking, God’s
decision to save some (Calvin, Luther), or save all (Barth), is
already real in His decision before the creation o f the world. God
operates salvation in His eternal decision not in the historical flux
of time. Time only mirrors in sequential order what already
simultaneously exists in God’s decision. History cannot change
God’s salvation because it already immutably exists in timeless
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divine predestination. God causes salvation not by the historical


act of the cross but by His eternal predestination. Luther, Calvin,
and Barth's views radically departed from the biblical conception
o f divine predestination.
Paul clearly states the theoretical nature of divine
predestination, “We were “predestined according to the plan of
him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of
his will” (Ephesians 1:11, NIV). Paul describes predestination as
God deciding to do something, making a plan to do something
within created human time, but not accomplishing such decision
until after created human time was underway.
To realize that according to Scripture before the creation of
the world the contents of God’s predestination were not real but
only theoretical blueprints for future divine action in history is as
important as the recognition of their eternal origin in God’s mind
and purpose. The theoretical nature of divine predestination flows
from the infinite analogous temporality of the Trinity and affirms
the historical nature and inner logic of the implementation of the
plan of salvation.

3. The contents of predestination


There are not many passages in Scripture dealing with God’s
decisions for our salvation before the creation of the world.
However, comparatively speaking, we find more biblical
information about divine predestination than about divine
foreknowledge. A probable reason for this difference may be that
we can and need to understand more about divine predestination
than about foreknowledge.
In this section, our purpose is to describe in broad lines what
God decided about our salvation before the creation of the world.
Probing into the contents of predestination in Scripture is not an
idle speculative enterprise. On the contrary, because the content of
predestination is the blueprint God follows as He engages
historically in the work of salvation since the creation of the
world, awareness of the content of predestination will help us
better understand His work of redemption.

______
-
Predestination 151
Let us review now some of the biblical texts on
predestination. In them we will discover that, before the creation
of the world, God made several decisions regarding our eternal
salvation.

1. Relational design of human beings


In the introduction to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (1:4-11), we
find what is possibly the lengthiest passage dealing with the
characteristics and contents o f divine predestination.
Paul starts his statement about God’s predestination by
affirming that “he [the Father] chose (exelexato) us in him [Lord
Jesus Christ] before (pro) the creation of the world to be (einai)
holy and blameless in his sight in love” (Ephesians 1:4, my
translation). Even though Paul does not use the technical word for
predestination (proorizo), the fact that He speaks about a divine
decision regarding our relation to Him before the creation o f the
world places this verse within the area of predestination.
What did God decide? Paul tells us that God decided the
structure of our reality, literally o f our being (einai). God decided
our lives would exist in relation to Him. Who we are and what we
do would take place as we freely relate to Christ, the immanent
personification o f wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-36). Consequently, as
we will further explore in our chapter on creation, God designed
our realities in such a way that we might relate with Him. In other
words, God created us in His image as spiritual historical realities
who, through knowledge and action, are capable of relating to God
personally and historically.
God also decided that our relational nature would find its
fulfillment in personal openness to Christ, the personification and
mediator of divine wisdom. Human openness to Christ was
necessary to reach God’s goal o f creation, that humans would “be
holy and blameless in his sight in love” (Ephesians 1:4).
Following His plan, God created humans with the capacity to
relate not only to one another, but also with Him. Because this
decision defines the nature o f human beings, it remains the goal of
divine predestination and works o f salvation.
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2. Christological: God’s wisdom


God designed the blueprint for salvation knowing beforehand the
concrete form creaturely rebellion will take. This advanced
knowledge revealed that some creatures would reject the central
role God’s design o f creation called Christ to play. As some
angelic and human creatures would reject the mediatorial work of
Christ as personification and dispenser of divine wisdom, they
simultaneously would break their original personal relation with
Christ. They would define their realities in relation to other
creatures instead of the Creator (see Romans 1:25).
Not surprisingly, God’s blueprint for salvation centered on
Christ’s incarnation and death. Paul knew that in preaching the
gospel “we speak God's wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom,
which God predestined before the ages to our glory” (1
Corinthians 2:7, NAS, emphasis mine). O f course, the hidden
wisdom God predestined before the ages (before the beginning of
created time) Paul was speaking about was Christ and His death
on the cross (1 Corinthians 1:24).
Before the creation o f the world God decided that Christ, the
personification o f wisdom on whom the harmony and stability of
creation stands, should become a creature to demonstrate
personally the contrast between God’s order centered in Christ’s
wisdom and the alternate order o f sin centered in creaturely
wisdom and ambition. To save sinners God decided to do
something He never did before nor will ever do in the unending
eons of future eternity. Christ, one o f the three fully divine persons
that constitute the Trinitarian reality o f the one Christian God
should become a finite creature and die in the place of all sinners
so that anyone desirous to return to the original order of creation
could be adopted back into the family o f God. Christ’s death
would allow God to forgive transgressors and restore the
immutable order of creation.
Peter helps us understand that God not only predestined
Christ’s incarnation, ministry, and death but He also foreknew
it.
Predestination 153
“Knowing that ye were redeemed, not with corruptible
things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner o f life
handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood,
as of a lamb without spot, even the blood of Christ: who
was foreknown (proegndsmenou) indeed before the
foundation o f the world (pro katabloles kosmou), but was
manifested (phanerothentos) at the end of times (eschatou
ton chronon) for your sake” (1 Peter 1:18-20, ASV,
emphasis mine).
While Paul pointed out that God’s wisdom in Christ mediatorial
work was hidden (2 Corinthians 2:7), Peter added that Christ
mediatorial work was manifested at the end of times.
This means that once God predestined Christ’s incarnation
and substitutionary death, He was able to anticipate the various
possible historical scenarios o f fulfillment through His theoretical,
anticipatory, highly compiex, and open foreknowledge. As the
history of salvation unfolded, the multiplicity of possible historical
scenarios which God foreknew for Christ’s ministry and death
became progressively fewer until the one we know came to pass.
That God not only predestined but also knew the way in
which what He predestined would happen has great importance in
our understanding of salvation. First, that God foreknows the
outcome of Christ’s predestined mission shows that divine
predestination is not about determining the actual historical causal
series of historical events required to achieve the predestined
purpose. As a theoretical blueprint, predestination determines a
goal, aim, or purpose God will achieve in future history.
Second, God did not decide to bring about Christ’s
incarnation and death by His omnipotent creative power, but
through the weakness, freedom, limitations, uncertainty, and risk
characteristic of all historical events. In other words, since divine
predestination did not determine or cause the outcome o f what
God predestined, God’s foreknowledge allowed Him to anticipate
the results of His plan. At this point, we need to remember again
that divine foreknowledge is theoretical, anticipatory, highly
complex, and open. Thus, we cannot argue that divine
foreknowledge caused the events foreknown. On the contrary, the
154 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

mystery of divine foreknowledge resides in the fact that free


events that are not yet are the cause of God’s anticipatory
knowledge.
To achieve the goals of predestination and save His wayward
children God would open Himself to temptation and risk.
Foreknowledge gave God advanced knowledge of Christ’s future
victory on the cross on whose future authority He saved Old
Testament believers.
God not only predestined and foreknew Christ mission and
death but He brought it about to its perfect fulfillment. With the
passing of time we know now that God operated salvation through
a historical dynamic that involved real risk of failure and defeat.
The defeat could be achieved by the same enemy who conquered
the world through enticing Adam and Eve to replace God’s order
of creation, centered in the mediatorial work and wisdom of
Christ, with a new order centered in themselves. New Testament
authors were witness to the fulfillment of God’s predestination of
Christ’s life and death that they called the “Gospel.” They were
witnesses that what God predestined had happened among them.
Christ Jesus had become to them “wisdom from God, and
righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians
1:30 NAB, emphasis mine). Though Jesus Christ was God, he
learned obedience through suffering, “and having been made
perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author o f
eternal salvation (Hebrews 5: 9-9, ASV, emphasis mine)

3. Soteriological means
Paul details some of the salvific activities included in the
predestination of Christ’s ministry and death. "He [the Father]
predestined us to be (1) adopted as His sons (2) through Jesus
Christ in accordance with (3) His pleasure and will—to the praise
of His (4) glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One
He loves. In Him we have (5) redemption through His (6) blood,
(7) the forgiveness of sins in accordance with the riches o f God's
grace that He lavished on us with all (8) wisdom and
understanding (phronesis)” (Ephesians, 1:5-8, my translation).
Predestination 155
The way in which Paul wrote this passage includes directly
under predestination points 1-4, indicated in the text in
parenthesis. Points 5-8, also indicated in the text in parenthesis,
connect indirectly to predestination as enumeration of salvific
operations of Christ’s ministry. The fact that direct references to
divine predestination precede and follow these points reinforces
their inclusion as components of divine predestination.
Thus understood, this passage uncovers the basic outline of
salvific activities included in Christ ministry and death. Divine
predestination through Christ’s mediatorial ministry, includes
adoption o f sinners into Gods’ family, divine grace, redemption
though His death, forgiveness of sins, and the administration of
wisdom and understanding. This God decided from before the
foundation of the world in accordance with the pleasure of His
will, that is, freely without internal or external coercion of any
kind.

4. Anthropological aim
God not only designed the means o f salvation but also the general
anthropological aim their application in the lives of believers
should produce. “For those who God foreknew—explains Paul—
He also predestined (proorisen) to be conformed (summorfous) to
the likeness (tes eikonos) of His son that He might be the firstborn
(prototokon) among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, translation
mine). Here, Paul presents predestination in the beauty of its
ultimate Christological end. Predestination sets God’s destiny
(morfe) for all human beings, not just a random selection of
“chosen ones” as implied in traditional predestination. Through
the application of the salvific means He predestined, God wants to
change sinners into the image of Christ, to restore in them the
image o f God that Adam and Eve possessed when they emerged
from the hand of their creator.
To change sinners into the image of God, God needs to
produce and apply the necessary soteriological means of
predestination, to reinstall Christ’s mediation and wisdom as
center o f human life, and to restore the relational design of
predestination.
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The achievement of the anthropological aim of predestination


assumes the freedom and historicity of human nature. Historicity
because achieving the goal of predestination ip human beings
requires change. Freedom because God achieves the change not by
eternal decree or force but by persuading human minds and wills
to come back to Him. Thus, while salvific predestination of all
humankind is unconditional, achieving its anthropological and
historical aims is conditional to human knowledge and freedom. In
other words, God’s predestination of the relational design of
human beings, the Christological mediation of Christ’s wisdom,
the soteriological means, and the anthropological goal are
unconditional. God decided all of them without the contribution of
created intelligences. Yet, achieving the anthropological aim of
predestination is conditional to the free acceptance of Christ’s
salvific activities, mediation, wisdom, and personal relation.

5. Historical goal
Divine predestination, however, has an even broader and larger
aim. In the contents of divine predestination Paul included the
ultimate end o f the social universe: God “made known to us the
mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which He
purposed (planned) in Him (Christ) in regard to the administration
of all the periods of times— to bring all things in heaven and on
earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians, 1:9-10,
translation mine).
In this passage, Paul reveals three important points regarding
divine predestination. First, Paul recognized that in accordance
with His good will, God had revealed His wisdom for salvation in
the personal ministry and death of Jesus Christ. Second, God’s
plan o f salvation aims not only at the restoration of the centrality
of Christ’s wisdom in the life of individual believers, but also at
the restoration o f Christ’s centrality in the life of the created
universe: “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under
one head, even Christ” (Ephesians, 1:9-10, translation mine).
Third, the achievement o f this universal cosmic goal of
predestination involves a historical process through which God in
Predestination 157
Christ would administrate all periods of time to bring all things in
heaven and on earth together under the headship of Christ. In
short, since its inception in eternity, before the creation of the
world, God’s blueprint for salvation included a historical process
through which God was to bring about His salvific operations and
reach His personal and universal goals. Theologians refer to this
process as providence. As general process of historical operation
and administration, providence is part of the various contents of
divine predestination.
However, as we will see in the chapter on providence, this
does not mean that God had decided in detail all the events of
human history from before the foundation of the world.
Providence is included in predestination as a necessary process
that as to its actual contents remains open to divine and human
initiative and interaction.
In other words, predestination determines beforehand in
eternity the need of God's providential task in history. It
foreordains providence as a divine activity in history. God does
not foreordain the actual content of His providence. The latter
would amount to the swallowing up of providence into
predestination. That is not Paul's idea.
Predestination, however, determines the broad direction that
God's providence will follow in history. As we will see later, the
historical gathering together of all things (heavenly and earthly)
under the head of Jesus Christ includes the ongoing battle between
Christ and Satan; and, after His resurrection, Christ’s reign from
God’s throne in the heavenly Sanctuary (Hebrews 10:12-13) “till
he hath put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24,
ASV).
The future historical gathering of all things under Christ is the
final aim o f God’s predestination, the restoration o f His design of
creation according to which Christ, the personification of divine
wisdom, was to mediate historically between God’s transcendent
reality and His creatures.
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4. Predestination and the “elect”


Does Scripture teach that God predestined (determined) the “elect”
(those who He will save) before the foundation of the world? Are
Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Barth correct in understanding
predestination as God’s causal determination of whom He will
save? Let us consider some text were biblical authors address this
issue.
Paul wrote what is quite likely the most comprehensive
theological declaration about God choosing the elect, this is found
at the end o f his statement on predestination to the church in
Ephesus. “In whom [Christ], having been predestined according to
the advanced plan of him who works everything according to the
decision o f his will, we who first hoped in Christ were also chosen
for the praise o f his glory” (Ephesians 1:11-12, my translation).
Paul writes about the election of fellow believers at the
conclusion o f his statement on predestination (Ephesians 1:4-10).
Moreover, he explicitly places God’s choice of individual
believers in the context of divine predestination (God’s advanced
theoretical plan for salvation); that God follows in His providential
operations (He who works everything according to the decision of
His will). God chooses the elect in His providence, not in His
predestination. God chooses the elect by putting His plan
(predestination) in historical operation (providence). That is why
Paul affirms that God chose the elect “in Christ” the mediator of
divine wisdom in creation and the blueprint of salvation
(predestination). Finally, Paul underlines that God chooses the
elect to live for His glory, implying their personal salvation and
engagement in missionary work bringing the message to salvation
to the world.
While discussing the second coming and the ongoing battle
between the mystery of lawlessness and God’s truth Paul finds
comfort in the faith of the Thessalonians. "But we ought always to
thank God for you brothers loved by the Lord, because from the
beginning (aparchen) God chose (eilato) you to be saved, through
the sanctifying work o f the Spirit and through belief in the truth to
which He called you through our good news, to the acquiring of
Predestination 159
the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13,
translation mine).
Paul affirms that God chose the Thessalonians for salvation
from the beginning. Placing the choice o f the elect from the
beginning of the world onward is another suggestion that God’s
choice o f the elect does not belong to predestination but to
providence.
In His providential activities, God chooses to save the elect
by applying His plan of salvation (predestination). Thus, having
chosen to save the Thessalonians, God works their salvation
through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and by calling them to
believe in the truth by the preaching of the gospel o f Christ so they
may acquire the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. God calls from
within the complexity of His providential activities in human
history and experience. He directs His call to the mind and
freedom of human beings. There, in the inner recesses of the
human mind and heart God through His Holy Spirit lures sinners
back to Him by the power of His words and truth. In other words,
God calls sinners according to His plan that by faith they may go
back to the original plan of creation to live open, direct, and
obedient relationship with Him, the personification, and mediator
of divine wisdom. Unfortunately, Christ knows that not all would
respond to His loving call. “For many are invited, but few are
chosen” (Matthew 22:14, NIV).
Divine predestination, then, does not include the causal
decision to save individuals. God does not accomplish the
salvation o f individuals in eternity, before the salvation o f the
world. On the contrary, He saves individuals through Christ’s
historical mediation luring sinners back to the central revelation of
wisdom and imparting of His forgiveness. To obtain the personal
and universal aims of predestination, the infinite analogous
temporal Trinity engages in the task of bringing salvation about
though a historical process (providence) centered in the
application of all the means included in the blueprint for salvation
predestined before the foundation o f the world.
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§ 65 CONCLUSION
The Reformers connected justification to predestination in order to
counter and preempt current Catholic arguments for meritorious
works. Unfortunately, not only do their arguments counter biblical
thinking, they obliterate human freedom and history. More
importantly, to assume that God’s reality, will, and predestination
are timeless to support the biblical doctrine of justification by faith
contradicts the inner temporal historical logic of biblical thinking.
Theological tradition conceives divine predestination as the
operation of God’s timeless will eternally existing in His mind as
an immutable reality. God’s will generates a series of divine
decrees. Because divine decrees include from all eternity the
reality of what God decreed, they are also ultimate causes defining
everything that takes place in history. Not without reason
Openview theologians argue that traditional theology “closes”
history. Since God’s predestination determines all events, there is
no room left for events originating from human thinking,
choosing, and acting (libertarian freedom).
Departing radically from tradition, biblical authors speak
about divine predestination as God’s theoretical decision to save
any creature that would reject His blueprint for creation. God
decided His plan of salvation in the infinite analogous temporality
of His life before the creation of the world.
According to Scripture, then, divine predestination is a
decision of God’s will. As decision o f the will, predestination
exists in God’s mind as His wisdom for the salvation of sinners
(blueprint of salvation). God’s decision does not contain the
existence of what God decided, but implies His commitment to act
accordingly.
Some of the contents of predestination are (1) the
reestablishment of the relation between Christ as mediator
between God’s transcendent wisdom and sinners. This relation
was central to the order o f creation God anticipated creatures
would sever. Acceptance of Christ’s mediation and wisdom by
believers will lead to the (2) restoration in them o f Christ’s image.
This restoration is the goal o f predestination for individuals. To
Predestination 161
achieve this goal God’s predestination (commitment to save His
rebellious creatures) included several integrated divine activities:
(3) Adoption of sinners into the family of God, (4) the death and
(5) ministry of Jesus Christ who will save sinners through (6) His
grace, (6) redemption through His blood, (7) forgiveness of sins,
and the (8) administration of wisdom and understanding.
Predestination sets the ultimate historical goal (9) to bring all
things in heaven and earth under the headship of Christ. God
would achieve this goal after Christ’s resurrection through His
enthronement and reign in heaven.
To make His plan effectual God would work in history luring
wayward children back to the beauty of His truth, wisdom and
love through the mediation and revelation of Christ. In His
predestination God did not choose whom He would save or
condemn (the elect and the damned), but in His providence, He
chooses to save all sinners who respond to His call and salvific
provisions.
The way in which Christian theological tradition, both Roman
Catholic and Protestant, understands divine reality,
foreknowledge, and predestination as basic elements o f Christian
theology, sets the inner logic of their theological constructions in
the non-historical realm of Plato’s heavenly timeless “ultimate”
reality. Christians generally refer to this realm as the realm o f the
Spirit or spirituality. Accordingly, predestination is God’s causal
determination of whom He will save and the simultaneous eternal
existence of the reality of His decision. God saved sinners in
timeless eternity “before” He created them.
The way in which biblical writers in both Old and New
Testaments understand divine reality, foreknowledge, and
predestination as basic elements o f Christian theology, sets the
inner logic of theological construction in the historical realm
corresponding to Plato’s earthly temporal illusory reality.
For biblical writers, however, created historical reality is not
illusory but “real” reality. In short, for tradition “real” reality is
non-temporal and spiritual, for biblical thinking “real” reality is
temporal and historical.
162 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

This difference determines that the traditional and biblical


understandings of the basic elements o f Christian theology
generate opposite theological projects. The theological project of
tradition, based on the multiple sources of theology conviction
requires a timeless non-historical matrix for the interpretation of
Scripture and the construction of Christian doctrines.
We base the theological project we are proposing in Basic
Elements o f Christian Theology on the conviction that Scripture,
the only source of theological knowledge, requires a historical
matrix for its own interpretation and the construction of Christian
doctrines. Obviously, each project will generate radically different
understandings of Christianity and its practices.
Unfortunately, the basic project of Christian theology behind
both Roman Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical theologies has
forgotten and preempted any possibility of doing theology within
the biblical historical matrix. Thus, the historical matrix of
biblical thinking should displace and replace the non-historical,
timeless matrix of Roman Catholic and Protestant theological
projects.
Changes in Christianity, then, will not come from organized
established churches and theological traditions but from believers
personally understanding Christianity in the light of Scripture’s
views of the basic elements and historical matrix of Christian
theology.

1Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2 ed. (Grand Rapids, MI.: Baker,


1998), 908.
2 Augustine continues, “but before the arrival of that time in which He
has willed the occurrence of what He foreknew and arranged before all
time, we say, It will happen when God wills. But if we are ignorant not
only of the time in which it is to be, but even whether it shall be at all, we
say, It will happen if God wills, — not because God will then have a new
will which He had not before, but because that event, which from eternity
has been prepared in His unchangeable will, shall then come to pass”
(Augustine, “The City of God,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,
Series 1, ed. Philip Schaff [Albany: Books for the Ages, 1997], 2: 22. 2).
Predestination 163

3John Calvin, Secret Providence [Albany, NY: The Ages Digital Library,
1998], 13.
4 Institutes III.21.5
5 Institutes III. 23.4
6 Institutes III.23.7
1.Ibidem (emphasis mine).
8 Jacobus Arminius, The Works o f Janies Arminius, 3 vols. (Albany, OR:
Ages Software, 1997), II. 466. Consider also, “God decreed to save and
damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in the
foreknowledge o f God, by which he knew from all eternity those
individuals who would, through his preventing grace, believe, and,
through his subsequent grace would persevere, according to the before
described administration of those means which are suitable and proper
for conversion and faith; and, by which foreknowledge, he likewise knew
those who would not believe and persevere” Arminius, I. 194.
9Arminius, II. 466.
10Ibid., I. 360.
11 Ibid., I. 358.
12 Ibid., I. 359.
13 Ibid.,I 362.
14Ibid., I. 363.
15 Ibid.,I 364.
16Ibid., I. 364.
17Ibid., I. 365.
18 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. 13 Volumes, ed. G. W. Bromiley and
T. F. Torrance, 13 vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1936), II.1.610-611.
19Ibid., 260.
20 Ibid., 268.

23 Erickson, 922.
24 Ibid., 921-922.
25 Hilary of Poitiers, in On the Trinity, ed. Philip Schaff, The Nicene and
Postnicene Fathers, Second Series, (Albany, OR: Ages Digital Library),
12.36-45.
26 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English
Dominican Province, 3 vols. (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1947),
Ia.27.2.ro.2. John Calvin, Institutes o f the Christian Religion, ed. John
T. Mcneill, trans. Ford Lewis Battle (Albany, OR: Ages Digital Library,
1998), 1.13.7; II.14.8.
164 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

27
Davidson concludes, “...according to Proverbs 8, at the
beginning of creation, we find a situation of equal members of the
Godhead. Presumably by mutual consent, one Person of the Godhead is
installed (nsk III) in a role of Mediator. While the Person we call the
Father continued to represent the transcendent nature of the Godhead, the
Person we know as the Son condescended to represent the immanent
aspect of divinity, coming close to His creation, mediating between
infinity and finitude, even before sin. This is not a subordination of the
Son to the Father, but a voluntary condescension to be installed into a
mediatorial role, representing the divine love in an immanent way to his
inhabited universe” Richard Davidson, "Proverbs 8 and the Economic
Subordination of the Son of God, 2003," Presentation to the Evangelical
Theological Society, Atlanta, GA. Forthcoming publication in Hans La
Rondelle’s Festschrift.

g B ie a s a M B q
9. CREATIO N IN TRADITIO N

One day my high school Bible teacher illustrated the importance


of acting on our decisions by giving us a riddle. On a rock by a
pond, were five frogs. Three of them decided to jump into the
pond. How many were left? Despite the fact that the question
seemed too easy, I blurted out: “Two!” I still remember how
foolish I felt when the teacher retorted: “five, because even though
they decided to jump, they didn’t.” For us, to decide and to act are
two different actions. Are they also different for God?
In chapter eight we considered the way in which tradition
interprets the relation between God’s decision and actions as one
and the same. For God to think, to be, and to act are the same
thing.1 This view became the unavoidable consequence of early
Christian adoption o f the non-biblical view that God’s reality is
timeless.2 In other words, Christians became convinced that being
and actions existed simultaneously in God’s reality instead of
sequentially in His life.
Our brief exploration of the basic elements o f Christian
theology brings us now to consider the origin of the universe.
Obviously, Christianity and our experiences involve more than
divine wisdom, foreknowledge, and predestination. Besides God’s
reality, we find the reality of the universe. How did the universe
originate? How does the universe relate to God, His wisdom,
foreknowledge, and predestination? How does the origin of the
universe relate to salvation and Christian doctrine? To answer
these questions we will briefly consider the main teachings of
tradition and Scripture on the origin of the universe.
166 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

As in the other chapters o f this book, our purpose is not to


provide a detailed historical account of traditional Christian
teaching on creation. Instead, we will briefly survey a few
classical shapers of Christian tradition on the origins of the
universe. Before turning to the biblical view on the origin of the
universe, then, we will consider the classical traditional view in
the teachings of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and the modem
traditional view in the scientific evolutionary cosmology generally
accepted as the true account o f the origins of the universe at the
beginning of the twenty first century.

§ 66 AUGUSTINE
The choice of Augustine as representative of tradition stands on
several points. First, Augustine is one of the greatest theologians
of all times. He dealt extensively with the systematic issues on
which Roman Catholic and Protestant tradition still build their
theological projects. With the passing of time, Augustine became
the main formative theologian of the Protestant-Evangelical
tradition and Aquinas the main formative theologian of Roman
Catholic theology.
As we start our review o f creation as seen by both tradition
and Scripture, we need to bear in mind that no human being has
witnessed the events that generated the universe or our planet.
Consequently, we should review not only the various teachings
about the origin of the universe, but also the sources of
information and interpretation behind them.

1. Scripture interpretation and “inner” iflumination


What sources of information and interpretation did Augustine
use in forming his views on the origin of the universe? Obviously,
Augustine used and followed Scripture closely. In so doing, he
avoided succumbing to the Gnostic panentheistic concept
according to which the world emanated from the overflow of
divine reality.
Creation in Tradition 167

However, Augustine was aware that different authors


interpret Scripture in different ways. How should we distinguish
between interpretive pluralism of the same text? Augustine rejects
the notion that we can decide between conflicting textual
interpretations based on what the author meant when he wrote the
text. Instead, he believed that the Holy Spirit spoke the truth of
the text in his inner intellectual ear.3 We know, however, that God
does not communicate truth directly to the intellect as Augustine
claimed. By claiming God revealed His truth intellectually to his
“inner ear,” Augustine was justifying his interpretation of
Scripture as coming directly from God. Unfortunately, however,
what he took for divine truth “spoken to his ear” was his own
private interpretation of Scripture based on the Neoplatonic view
of the basic elements o f Christian theology as we have already
explained in previous chapters.4
Because Augustine’s method of theological interpretation
flows from the timeless understanding of divine reality and action
it runs against the historical meaning assumed by biblical writers.
In his Confessions, Augustine asks,
“Lord, is not this Thy Scripture true, since Thou art true,
and being Truth, hast set it forth? Why then dost Thou
say unto me, 'that in Thy seeing there be no tim es’;
whereas this Thy Scripture tells me, that what Thou
madest each day, Thou sawest that it was good: and
when I counted them, I found how often. ” Unto this
Thou answerest me, for Thou art my God, and with a
strong voice tellest Thy servant in his inner ear,
breaking through my deafness and crying, “O man, that
which My Scripture saith, I say: and yet doth that speak
in time; but time has no relation to My Word; because
My Word exists in equal eternity with Myself. So the
things which ye see through My Spirit, I see; like as
what ye speak by My Spirit, I speak. And so when ye see
those things in time, I see them not in time; as when ye
speak in time, I speak them not in time.”5
168 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

2. Mode of creation
How then does a timeless God create a temporal world?
According to Augustine, God creates by means o f His Word that is
coetemal with Him. The eternal Word spoke all things eternally
not successively. God said all that He had to say at once and
eternally. Every thing God says He will make, He makes by His
Word. Yet, Augustine recognizes that God does not make all
things simultaneously or everlasting.6
According to Augustine God is at rest and working
simultaneously. This implies that God neither rests nor works in
the sequence o f time. God does not work historically but
timelessly. “For as without any movement that time can measure.
He Himself moves all temporal things, so He knows all times with
a knowledge that time cannot measure.”7 A historical
understanding of God’s mediation through Jesus Christ in created
history as decided by God before the creation of the world is
impossible in Augustinian theology. Augustine’s formative
interpretation of the basic elements o f Christian theology
preempted the historical matrix of Christian theology assumed by
biblical authors.
Consequently, God cannot create in the historical sequence
indicated by Moses in Genesis 1. Instead, Augustine claims God
created everything in an instant8 By God’s will, the world came
out of nothingness. Because Augustine interprets Genesis
allegorically not historically, the history o f creation as seen in
Scripture becomes obsolete. God created simply by an act o f His
will, instantaneously generating matter out of nothingness. In that
formless matter, God placed “rational seeds” corresponding to His
eternal ideas. These seeds had the power to generate, at God’s
appointed time, the divine realities they represented in the
temporal and material realm o f creation. We should note that there
is no evolution of species involved here. According to Augustine,
each divine idea has its own “seed” that generates its temporal
material reality independently of other seeds and realities.9
Creation in Tradition 169

3. Content of creation
According to Genesis 1, God created the heavens and the
earth. According to Augustine, however, God created two
heavens. One heaven is the temporal physical heaven we see as
part of our universe. The other heaven is the timeless “heaven of
heavens,” partaking in eternity of the Trinity and therefore “placed
beyond all the rolling vicissitude of times.”10 Correspondingly,
God created two stages o f the earth. One “earth,” was the
primeval, formless, invisible chaos that God did not place among
the days of creation, because in the absence of order (form) there
is no time.11 The other is the temporal earth God brought into
existence by ordering the formless, invisible, timeless chaos in the
sequence of time. This is our physical world that corresponds to
the temporal physical heavens.
“After” the creation o f the timeless heavens and formless
earth (chaos), God created the world instantaneously as the days of
the Genesis story indicates. Augustine wholeheartedly wrestled
with the biblical story where God creates in a historical sequence
o f seven 24-hour days. Yet, the philosophical basic elements o f
Christian theology he accepted as true did not allow for the
historical matrix of divine actions operating along the sequence of
time. Instead, he considered the nature of the Genesis days as
‘mysterious,” surpassing the capabilities of our rational power.12
Along with the creation of the “heaven of heavens” God
created angels as timeless creatures living in heaven.13 Note that
all this happens before God creates the physical universe and its
time.14
Next in creation were human beings, souls existing in
material temporal bodies. The human soul, however, is an
immaterial, incorporeal, intellectual, immortal15 substance that
reportedly works much better when death frees it from the world
and the body,16 that is to say, freed from the temporality o f the
physical world God created in seven days. As the angels, human
souls have been created for the purpose of contemplating God in
170 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

timeless, immaterial, incorporeal bliss for all eternity in the


timeless realm of God’s dwelling, the heaven of heavens.
In Augustine’s theological project, we can detect how the
timeless a-historical matrix derived from Greek Philosophy has
replaced the historical matrix of Scripture.

§ 67 AQUINAS
About eight centuries elapsed between Augustine (+430) and
Aquinas (+1274). During this period, theological tradition grew in
complexity and produced, in many cases, contradictory opinions.
Aquinas undertook the monumental task of surveying the teaching
o f respected authors in the Roman Catholic tradition sorting out
their differences of opinions and smoothing their contradictory
positions. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Aquinas used
Augustine extensively and authoritatively, still managing to cover
more issues in detail, presenting them in exemplary order and
with intellectual coherence.

1. Use of Scripture
Aquinas’s use o f Scripture is less exegetically oriented than
Augustine’s. As one reads Augustine one sees him wrestling with
the text of Scripture and attempting to integrate in his theology
what he considers to be the truth about which the text speaks. We
miss Augustine’s almost naive reference to the God’s “inner
voice” revealing to him the true meaning of texts even if it
contradicts their literal historical meaning.
Aquinas rarely engages in exegetical ruminations. His usage
of Scripture is more in line with what we would call a “proof text”
approach. He presents the texts to bear on the issue he is
systematically analyzing and brings them together with the sayings
o f authoritative philosophers and theologians.
Creation in Tradition 171

2. Divine wisdom the blueprint of creation


Aquinas correctly traces the design o f all created things back to
divine wisdom. He explains that divine wisdom devised the order
of the universe, including the types o f all things, which he called
ideas. Right in step with Aristotle, Aquinas views ideas as
exemplar forms, timelessly existing in the divine mind as part of
His divine reality. In this manner, therefore, God Himself is the
first blueprint of all things.17 O f course, divine wisdom of itself is
not the cause of creation. It is God’s will that causes the blueprint
of creation, eternally existing in His wisdom, to become reality in
time and space.18

3. Mode of creation
So we see that God not only contains in His eternal ideas the
blueprint o f all reality, but that He is also the efficient cause that
brings them into existence outside His timeless mind in the realm
of time and space He creates for His creatures to exist.19
How does a timeless, immutable God create the temporal
world? Through reproducing in time and space the timeless ideas
that are eternally in His mind. Since God’s ideas include all beings
and events transpiring in human history one can say that creation
duplicates in time what already eternally exists in God’s mind.
History duplicates God in time.
Aquinas believes that God created all reality ex nihilo, out of
nothing, by way of emanation.20 Yet, what exactly does he mean
by “emanation”? Does emanation involve movement and change?
Aquinas understands the word “creation” to imply a
movement that produces something not existing before. Creation
signifies mode of change, to make something from nothing.
However, he affirms, “creation is not change”21 because God,
being timeless, creates without movement. When we remove
movement from the creator’s action and creature’s passive
receptivity, only the relation between them remains. What type of
relation could that be? According to Aquinas “creation in the
172 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

creature is only a certain relation to the Creator as to the principle


of its being.”22 We are a very far cry from the seven-day process
of awesome display of divine power and wisdom described in
Genesis 1.
For Aquinas there can be no literal seven-day creation
because both for God and His creation time is only “imaginary”
not real. He explains, “God is prior to the world by priority of
duration. But the word ‘prior’ signifies priority not of time, but of
eternity. Or we may say that it signifies the eternity o f imaginary
time, and not of time really existing.”23
Aquinas leaves his timeless view o f God intact by claiming
that God creates without movement and change. Instead, creation
is not divine movement or process, but relation to the creature. In
the “creative relation,” the creature receives its being from the
creator. Since Aquinas’ creation does not take place in movement
and time, we can liken it to an “eternal present.” In Aquinas’
“creation as relation,” while God’s being and action remain
timeless they, according to His wisdom and will, “produce” time,
temporal realities, and their activities.

4. Content of creation
Aquinas understands that the phrase “God created heaven and
earth” to include heaven, earthly beings, time, and angels.24
God created the heaven o f heavens or the highest heaven as
the place of the angels. This is not the physical heavens o f space
and time we contemplate every night but is above it in the
hierarchical conception o f the universe that originated with Plato
and Aristotle. It is difficult to imagine this intellectual yet corporal
nature of heaven. Aquinas argues that even angels are intellectual
(not material) in nature, but because they were created to interact
with lower beings they were given a corporal place to do so.25
Plato developed his basic cosmological dichotomy between
heaven and earth into a complex hierarchy designed to
accommodate the great variety o f created realities. Aristotle did no
Creation in Tradition 173

less. Then came Aquinas who adapted the same hierarchical order
of philosophical reality for theological usage. He followed the
same criterion Plato and Aristotle used to determine the various
levels in the hierarchical order of reality, namely, the level of
changelessness in each type of reality. The degree of immutability
and timelessness of each creature is given at the moment of
creation. The more changeless a reality is, the higher its place in
Aquinas’ classical hierarchy.
Behind the complex hierarchical order of creation Aquinas
places the three-layered division between eternity, aevitemity, and
time. Again, this threefold hierarchy depends on the degree of
immutability o f various realities.
Eternity requires absolute changelessness and therefore
belongs only to God. The order o f temporal succession is totally
alien to God’s nature and being.
Aevitemity is an intermediate level o f reality between divine
eternity and temporal creatures made up o f corruptible matter and
incorruptible souls. Aevitemity “is simultaneously whole; yet not
eternity, because ‘before’ and ‘after’ are compatible with it.”26
Aevitemity, allows for some “annexed” or “attached” change in
otherwise changeless realities such as the heavenly bodies and
angels. Heavenly bodies are changeless in their realities but can
change place in their rotations. God created angels as intellectual
beings,27 that is to say they are mind-like realities without space,28
bodies, or physical matter.29 They have no extension and are
incorporeal, which makes them changeless, yet their choices,
intelligence, and affections can change.30 They can also change
place since they are allowed the use bodies to communicate with
humans in space and time.31
Temporality is the order of succession where there is a before
and an after. Change, mutability, corruption, and death result from
the nature of matter and space. God created human beings as the
lower expression of intellectual beings. Humans are composite of
material bodies and intellectual souls.32 Because while existing in
the human body the soul relates closely to physical matter, human
174 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

souls experience potentiality and change in a larger degree than


angels do.
The soul is an incorporeal substance33 that makes up the
intellect and basic nature of human beings. Although the soul,
being the lowest of the intellectual creatures, was by creation
united to a body, it can exist separate from the body and is able to
understand intellectual things (spiritual things) directly as angels
do.34 After the death of the body, human souls are designed to
continue living in an even higher level o f existence, if they
achieved salvation through God’s grace.
Even at the level of temporality, timelessness rules what is
intelligent and spiritual. The soul, though lower in its degree of
changelessness and timelessness, still shares in them by God’s
creation and design. After its existence in the body it will exist
separately and incorruptibly contemplating God in heaven.

5. Creation as intermediate stage designed for meritorious works


From all observation, it is evident that our universe is temporal. In
it things take place sequentially and spatially. The classical
doctrine of creation, of which Aquinas is an outstanding
representative, believes God’s creation proceeds from His eternal
unchangeable wisdom, foreknowledge and will.
The question regarding what God created versus what He did
not create may never be answered. After all, only God knows and
He has not revealed that to us. Yet a less ambitious question
might be, what is the purpose o f history in God’s eternal wisdom?
Why did God create the imperfect order o f corruptible matter and
human temporality? Was God’s creation perfect or a step in
achieving some higher degree o f perfection?
Aquinas believes that God creates human beings as historical
beings existing in the order o f sequence so that they could merit
their salvation which he interprets as the vision o f God in His
essence. By that he means to know God directly as He is in His
infinite timeless Trinitarian being, not through divine
Creation in Tradition 175

accommodations to the temporal and special limitations o f human


nature. According to Aquinas, Adam and Eve in their perfect pre­
fall existence “did not see God through His Essence. ”35 Since for
Aquinas to see God in His essence preempts the possibility of sin,
the fact that Adam and Eve did sin clearly proves that they did not
see God in His essence.36
“Man was happy in paradise—explains Aquinas—but not
with that perfect happiness to which he was destined, which
consists in the vision of the Divine Essence.”37 The perfection of
Adam and Eve by which their reason was subjected to God “was
not a merely natural gift, but a supernatural endowment of
grace.”38 According to Aquinas, grace acts on the human soul as a
supernatural “add on”39 infusing into the human soul “certain
forms or supernatural qualities, whereby they may be moved by
Him sweetly and promptly to acquire eternal good.”40
Aquinas taught that “man, even before sin, required grace to
obtain eternal life.”41 Thus, Aquinas connects grace not primarily
to redemption but to God’s design of creation. Moreover, grace is
given to sinless human beings so they can engage in meritorious
works to gain their salvation; to obtain the promise that they will
see God’s reality without intermediaries (to know God in His
essence). In short, God created human beings perfect and sinless in
order that they might gain their salvation through meritorious
works.42
From these concepts, we see that Aquinas did not believe
God’s creation in Genesis 1 was perfect. Instead, we see that God
purposely, in His wisdom, decided that the nature o f perfect
human beings should not be very good and perfect, but in an
intermediate unstable stage of perfection. Humans were created to
desire God and to obtain the satisfaction of their God-given desire
by way of meritorious works. God designed and created history so
that humans would be alloted time to do meritorious works and
obtain the satisfaction of their desire to see God in His inner
nature. God’s creation in Genesis 1 was not complete but the first
176 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

step in a continuous creation that would end at the eschatological


consummation of God’s eternal will.
What would happen to the created universe in the
consummation when the elect fulfill their desire of seeing God?
Let us consider briefly Aquinas’ thought on the new earth.

6. The new earth


According to Aquinas, the “new” earth will not be a restoration of
what God created in Genesis 1 before the fall but the final step of
His plan of creation.
Literally, according to Aquinas the new creation will differ
substantially from the original Genesis creation. Perhaps the more
notable distinction is that in the new creation time will no longer
exist.43 Because of the glorification of the human body, the
maintenance o f human life no longer requires the conditions
created by the movement of celestial bodies.44
The basic characteristic of the new creation is incorruptibility.
Only incorruptible beings such as angels, heavenly bodies, and
glorified human beings remain. The animal and plant kingdoms
will no longer exist.45 Heavenly bodies will exist but without their
present movement. Following Aristotelian scientific explanations,
Aquinas thinks that in losing their present movement the heavenly
bodies as intellectual entities will not lose their perfection.46
Because of the glorification of the body, Aquinas expects the
elements will acquire a “certain clarity o f glory.”47 “Hence all the
elements will be clothed with a certain brightness, not equally,
however, but according to their mode: for it is said that the earth
on its outward surface will be as transparent as glass, water as
crystal, the air as heaven, fire as the lights of heaven.”48
The center of the new creation is the glorification o f human
beings as they satisfy their God given destiny as in beatific vision
they see God in His essence in “the same [manner/way] whereby
God sees Himself.... because as He sees Himself in His essence so
shall we also see Him.”49 Of course the elect will not know God as
Creation in Tradition 177

He knows Himself but according to the limitations of the glorified


human intellect.50
Aquinas follows Aristotle in believing that, “in the act of the
understanding the soul does not make use of the body.”51 Yet the
same Aristotelic anthropology prevents Aquinas from leaving the
body completely out of the glorified human being.52 He rejects
prior Neoplatonic tradition and the complete spiritualization of
human nature in the glorified state. Instead, Aquinas contends that
in heaven the nature of our bodies will no longer be material but
spiritual. Thus, he explains that a “glorified human body” subjects
itself the soul closely by “participating in its specific being. ”53
Since the soul becomes the principle of its movement, the
glorified body becomes spiritualized acquiring “subtlety,” along
with “agility and the other properties of a glorified being.”54 Yet
Aquinas does not concede that the spiritualization of the glorified
body includes the loss of its spatiality.
Two glorified bodies, Aquinas argues, cannot share the same
space.55 Space continues to be constitutive of the reality of
glorified human beings in heaven. Yet God by a miracle can
cancel the spatiality o f a glorified being so that two can occupy the
same space.56 The entire argument assumes that space will
continue to exist in the new order of things. Aquinas accepts that
glorified bodies will move from place to place but not in their
essences.57
So, while arguing against the total Neoplatonic
spiritualization of glorified human nature, Aquinas favors the
Aristotelian view o f a glorified body, implying the existence of
space and spatial movement in the new creation. In so doing,
Aquinas recognizes the existence of time as condition of the
displacement o f glorified bodies in the new creation. “Although
after the resurrection the time which is the measure of the
heaven’s movement will be no more—explains Aquinas— there
will nevertheless be time resulting from the before and after in any
kind of movement.”58
178 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

From the perspective of the Aristotelian scientific model


popular in Aquinas’ time, his proposal for the new earth involved
only a minor adjustment in the way people perceived the universe.
Conversely, from the modem scientific viewpoint o f the universe,
Aquinas’ view o f the new earth requires a massive reshaping of
the entire universe. At least we now know that the nature of the
heavenly bodies is not intellectual or higher than human nature.

§ 68 EVOLUTIONARY THEORY AND CHRISTIAN ORIGINS


Human philosophy and science began to change substantially
during the seventeenth century. The change was progressive and
slow compared to twenty-first century patterns of scientific
development. The timeless view of reality continued to lead in
theological matters. Science, however, rejected the timeless view
o f the world. During the nineteenth century, Charles Darwin
proposed the evolutionary theory of the origins o f life on earth that
has developed to embrace the history of the entire universe and
replaced Plato’s dichotomic view and patterns o f explanation in
scientific circles.

1. Hannoniziiig Christianity to deep time evolution


Evolutionary theory is a wide umbrella embracing a number of
broad scientific theories and related sciences such as physics,
geology, biology, and paleontology. The general methodological
parameters followed by these sciences mle out the existence and
intervention o f God in the origin of the universe and life on planet
earth. Even in postmodemity most scientists and common people
accept the evolutionary metanarrative as correctly describing the
origin of the universe and life on earth.
In the mind o f western educated individuals, deep time
evolutionary history falsifies the Genesis metanarrative. This
conviction includes the great majority of Christian theologians
including Roman Catholic, Protestant, and conservative
evangelical authors.
Creation in Tradition 179

Since Christian theological tradition accepts the teachings of


science as one of the multiple sources o f theological knowledge,
the doctrine of evolution becomes somehow “authoritative” for
most theologians. The teachings of modem science are for modem
theology as authoritative as the ontological and cosmological
teaching of Plato and Aristotle were for Patristic and Medieval
theologians.
Moreover, because Christian tradition interprets God’s
reality, foreknowledge, predestination, and creation as taking place
in the spiritual non-temporal level of Neoplatonic reality new
scientific explanations of what takes place in the historical level of
reality does not challenge the inner logic or basic matrix of
classical Christian theology. (We will see how the basic elements
o f Christian theology we are studying in this book relate to the
theological matrix of Christian theology in the last chapter.)
Not surprisingly, then, most Catholic and Protestant
theologians find no theological constraint in their tradition or
theological matrix that would prevent the accommodation of their
understanding of Genesis 1 to deep time and/or evolutionary
theory. After all, Genesis works its explanation in the temporal
order, which by the criteria of theological methodology belongs to
the scientific, not the theological field of investigation. Thus,
Roman Catholic, Protestant and even conservative evangelical
theologians can accept the theory as the tme historical explanation
of the way in which life on this planet originated, provided that
one does not use it also as the explanation for the origin and
dynamics of the spiritual side of reality.
John Paul II, known for his high esteem o f Christian tradition
and fundamental beliefs of Roman Catholicism, had no problem
recognizing evolution as a scientific theory. However, the pope
does not accept evolution as the explanation of the origin of the
human soul, only God originates spiritual reality.59 Also
evangelical theologians such as Bernard Ramm, Karl Barth,
Langdon Gilkey,60 Wolfhart Pannenberg,61 Millard Erickson,62
180 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Stanley Grenz,63 and Wayne Grudem,64 find a way to harmonize


their theological views with evolutionary and deep time views.

2. Use of Scripture
Theological harmonization of the biblical doctrine of creation to
deep time uses Scripture in ways similar to Augustine’s rejection
of Genesis 1. Since God does not act historically within the
sequence of time but in His immutable timeless eternity, whatever
Scripture presents as a divine action must be understood
allegorically, metaphorically, or mythically. That is to say, when
Scripture speaks about divine actions in history we cannot use
Scripture’s literal meaning as true because it does not correspond
to God’s nature and actions.

3. Mode of creation
Let us review briefly the way in which the leading intermediate
models harmonizing creation and evolution theologically conceive
the mode of divine action in creation. Both Theistic Evolution and
Progressive Creationism understand divine causality in
evolutionary history spiritually rather than historically. Let us
review each view briefly.
Theistic Evolution. Teilhard de Chardin, a French Roman
Catholic priest, imagines a system of theistic evolution where God
works from the inside o f nature and history not from their outside.
God works as spiritual energy which, to animate evolution in its
lower stages, “could of course only act in an impersonal form and
under the veil of biology.”65 Thus, according to Chardin, divine
causality does not operate within the spatiotemporal dynamics o f
historical causes but as hidden energy from the non-spatiotemporal
realm of the spirit.66
Progressive Creationism. Bernard Ramm,67 an American
evangelical theologian, rejects theistic evolution because,
according to him, it springs from a pantheistic view o f G od’s
being. Instead, he suggests Progressive Creationism as the theory
Creation in Tradition 181

that best accounts “for all the facts—biological, geological, and


Biblical.”68 “Progressive creation is the means whereby God as
world ground and the Spirit of God as World Entelechy bring to
pass the divine will in Nature.”69 God works creation by a
combination of instantaneous miraculous events o f fiat creation,
and by a derivative and complementary process o f evolution. God
operates fiat creation transcendentally from outside history.70
Ramm suggests that several acts of fiat creation have occurred
through deep evolutionary time.71 These acts help to clarify the
starting point and gaps in evolutionary history that science cannot
explain.72 Then God “turns the task of creation over to the Holy
Spirit who is inside Nature.”73 The Holy Spirit is the energy that
brings about the evolutionary side of God’s plan o f creation.74
According to these theories, God works out the events of
natural and human history using the biological mechanism and
laws of evolution.75 However, according to Scripture God created
our world by acting not from the inside or outside of the
spatiotemporal series of historical causes but from within its
historical flow.76
The difference between Theistic Evolution and Progressive
Creationism consists in the way they see God’s involvement in the
process of evolution. Both, however, share the conviction that
evolutionary science tells the true history o f what actually took
place in reality. Moreover, following the dictates of timeless
Greek Metaphysics, both views assume that God does not work
historically within the spatiotemporal sequence o f historical
events. Divine causality does not operate historically
(sequentially) but timelessly (simultaneously).

4. Content of creation
In general, the content of creation coincides with traditional
theology, presenting the same universe we have now. If we follow
John Paul II’s provision that Roman Catholic believers should not
182 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

use evolution to explain the origin of the soul, we could expand it


to apply also to the origin of the angels.
However, in theological projects of harmonization as theistic
evolution and progressive creation I have not encountered major
interest in attempting to explain the origin of the angels or their
heavenly abode.

5. The new earth


From the Roman Catholic perspective supported by John Paul II
the new earth will be very similar to what Aquinas presented. In
the future, the universe will evolve from time to timeless eternity.
Time will be no longer and the heavenly view o f classical
Christian theology stands coherently as the last step in theistic
evolution.

6. Harmonizing creation to evolution builds on


harmonizing the basic elements of Christian theology
Thus, the Christian harmonization o f creation to evolution
apparent in Roman Catholic, Protestant and conservative
evangelical camps stands on their prior replacement o f the biblical
interpretation of the basic elements o f Christian theology with the
classical interpretation of them described earlier in this book.
Before the rise of evolutionary theory, Christian tradition had
harmonized basic elements o f Christian theology to Greek
metaphysical and anthropological dualisms that guided Augustine
and Aquinas’ theological projects.77 They systematized the
dehistorization and spiritualization of Christian doctrine on which
Theistic Evolutionism and Progressive Creationism built their
theological syntheses.
A theological project built from the sola Scriptura principle
cannot accept Theistic Evolution or Progressive Creationism not
only because they deny the historical meaning o f Genesis 1, but
also and more importantly, because they require harmonizing our
understanding of the basic elements o f Christian theology with
Creation in Tradition 183

human philosophical and scientific views. Moreover,


harmonization implies we accept the evolutionary account of
history and therefore reject the historical matrix of Christian
theology from which biblical authors worked their views on God,
Christ, Salvation, and the world to come. Let us turn our attention
to the biblical understanding of creation as a basic element of
Christian theology.

§ 69 CONCLUSION
Up to this point in our study we have focused on understanding
God, both in tradition and in Scripture. We dealt with the basic
characteristic o f God’s reality (chapters 4 and 5), His Trinitarian
nature (chapter 6), His foreknowledge (chapter 7), and His
predestination (chapter 8). Although the study of God has been our
prime focus, God alone does not make the fabric of theology.
Theology requires the existence of creatures other than God who
can reflect on God and reality as a whole, from a different
viewpoint than the creator’s.
By now, readers may have realized that all basic elements o f
theology are interlinked. Thus, the doctrine of creation depends on
the understanding o f God and His actions theologians assume in
their interpretation o f Scriptural passages on creation and the
origins of the universe. Since Christian tradition decided to use a
multiplex approach to the sources of theological knowledge,
philosophy and science played a formative role in the
interpretation o f the basic elements from which Christian tradition
operates.
Early Christian theologians borrowed from Greek
philosophers the conviction that God is timeless and spaceless
even when this view contradicted the clear teaching of Scripture.
A timeless God cannot act in the order of temporal sequence but
can act in the order of timeless simultaneity. Due to the
unavoidable interrelatedness of realities and meanings, classical
theologians continued to interpret other basic elements timelessly.
184 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

The issue of origins presented a new dilemma for


theologians. They could no longer stay within the timeless
confines of divine reality. The notion of creation implies that God
produces outside of Himself something other than Himself. How
could a timeless God do such a thing when Aristotle had rejected
the notion of creation from nothingness and Plato’s account of
creation was not entirely consistent with his timeless view of God?
Augustine and Aquinas solved the problem by arguing that
creation was not an action but a relation of dependence of the
creature on the Creator. Moreover, Augustine suggested that God
did not create in the historical sequence o f activities indicated by
Moses in Genesis 1. Instead, he affirmed that God created
everything in an instant. By God’s will, the world came out of
nothingness. Scripture, he states, does not present us with the real
history of creation but with metaphors designed to help us
understand the dependence of the creature’s existence on the
Creator.
In similar fashion, Aquinas affirmed that “creation is not
change”78 because God, being timeless, creates without
movement. When we withdraw movement from the creator’s
action and the creature’s passion, only the relation between them
remains. As we saw in Aquinas, this relation is completely
impersonal, it is only o f “principle.” The creationist approach
articulated by Augustine and Aquinas ruled unobstructed until the
nineteenth century. After Darwin’s theory seized the day in
scientific theory, Christian tradition has shifted, particularly in the
latter part of the twentieth century, to embrace deep time and the
evolutionary understanding of the origins of the universe and life
on earth. The reason for this relatively quick adjustment of
traditional Christian doctrine on creation to evolutionary theory
stems from the way in which Christian tradition led by Augustine
and Aquinas understood the mode of divine operation in the
creation of the universe and life on earth explained above.
The classical view on the mode of divine creation paved the
way for harmonizing the biblical account of creation to long
Creation in Tradition 185

evolutionary ages. After all, according to Christian tradition


creation did not take place in the historical sequence of time.
Consequently, changes in the account of earth history introduced
by the evolutionary rewriting of deep time history did not interfere
with the classic doctrine of creation.
Teilhard de Chardin harmonized deep time evolutionary
history to the classical doctrine o f creation using the theistic
evolutionist model. He claims that God works as spiritual energy
which to animate evolution in its lower stages “could of course
only act in an impersonal form and under the veil of biology.”79
Thus, by claiming that divine causality does not operate within the
spatiotemporal dynamics o f historical causes but as hidden energy
from the non-spatiotemporal realm of the spirit, Chardin works
within the timeless parameter the classical view established for
God’s operation in creation.80
Bernard Ramm also works his version of progressive
creationism, within the timeless parameter the classical view
established for God’s operation in creation. Bernard Ramm claims
that God works creation by a combination o f instantaneous
miraculous events o f fiat creation, and by a derivative and
complementary process of evolution. God operates fiat creation
transcendentally from outside history.81
Thus, at the beginning of the twentieth-first century most
Christians believe that science has correctly reconstructed the
historical side of God’s creation. The billions of years of deep time
required by evolution have replaced the one-week historical
account of divine creation in Genesis 1.
As to the content o f creation, there is little disagreement
between classical-creationist and modem-evolutionist accounts
because the reality whose origins they attempt to explain is the
same. As to the content of the new earth, there is also little
disagreement because both accounts harmonize evolutionary
theory to the broader Neoplatonic dualistic cosmology. Original
creation belongs to the temporal level o f Neoplatonic dualism that
186 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

by ceasing to exist will open up the timeless space for the future
renewal and glorification of creation.
In Christian tradition, then, there are two main approaches to
the understanding o f the origin of life and the universe. Since
Christian tradition works from the multiplicity of sources o f
theological knowledge, the two approaches flow from and reflect
the contents of the classical and modem scientific convictions on
the origins of the universe. Plato and Aristotle’s cosmological
theories are behind the classic creationist approach, and Charles
Darwin’s cosmological theory is behind the modem approach.
There is no doubt that creation is a pivotal basic element o f
Christian theology because in theology everything revolves
around the relation o f the Creator with His creation. From the
understanding of God theologians assume, they interpret Scripture,
attempt to understand the doctrines o f the Christian faith, and
construct their theological projects. They also assume a particular
view about the origin of the world and the universe. Different
views on God’s reality and creative action generate different
theological projects.
In this chapter, we appraised briefly the two views in
Christian tradition on the origins o f the universe. We have learned
a few important facts that will help us later to understand the
reason for the way Christian tradition interprets Scriptures and
understands theology as a whole. As in life, and science, in
Christian theology everything is interconnected. Knowledge exists
in a web o f interlinked realities, meanings, teachings, and theories.
Change in one link unleashes changes in the entire web o f
theological meaning.
In our last chapter, we will consider the way in which all the
basic elements we have considered so far become the basic matrix
for biblical interpretation and the constmction of systems of
Christian theology. But now let’s continue by addressing the
biblical doctrine on the origins of the universe. It will be evident
how trying to forcefully “harmonize” traditional basic elements
with biblical doctrine results in ultimate cacophony.
Creation in Tradition 187

1Augustine, "The City of God," in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers,


Series 1, ed. Philip Schaff (Albany, OR: Books for the Ages, 1997), 8.6.
2 Notice how his Neoplatonic view of reality forced Augustine to
interpret Scripture denying its literal historical meaning in favor of an
allegoric interpretation accommodating the text to the timeless
assumption on divine reality. Interestingly, Augustine’s accommodation
directly denies what the text says, namely, that God lives and acts in the
order of historical sequence rather than in the odd order of simultaneity
required by timelessness. “In the excellency of an ever-present eternity,
Thou precedest all times past, and survivest all future times, because they
are future, and when they have come they will be past; but ‘Thou art the
same, and Thy years shall have no end.’ Thy years neither go nor come;
but ours both go and come, that all may come. All Thy years stand at
once since they do stand; nor were they when departing excluded by
coming years, because they pass not away; but all these of ours shall be
when all shall cease to be. Thy years are one day, and Thy day is not
daily, but today; because Thy today yields not with tomorrow, for neither
doth it follow yesterday. Thy today is eternity” Confessions, 11.13,16.
3 Confessions, 12.24.33. “And what doth it prejudice me, O my God,
Thou light of my eyes in secret, zealously confessing these things, since
divers things may be understood under these words which yet are all true,
-what, I say, doth it prejudice me, if I think otherwise than another
thinketh the writer thought? All we readers verily strive to trace out and
to understand his meaning whom we read; and seeing we believe him to
speak truly, we dare not imagine him to have said any thing, which
ourselves either know or think to be false. While every man endeavours
then to understand in the Holy Scriptures, the same as the writer
understood, what hurt is it, if a man understand what Thou, the light of
all true-speaking minds, dost show him to be true, although he whom he
reads, understood not this, seeing he also understood a Truth, though not
this truth?” (Confessions, 12. 18).
4 City o f God, 8.6.
5 Confessions, 13.29.44
6Ibidem, 11.7
188 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

7 City of God. 11.21.


8 Aquinas explains this point by saying that “according to Augustine
(Genesis ad lit. iv, 34), the works of the six days were done all at one
time” (Summa Theologica, Ia.91.4.ro5).
9 Guillermo Fraile, Historia De La Filosofia, 3 vols. (Madrid: B.A.C.,
1965, 1966), 2: 215-216.
10 Confessions, 11.9.
11 Ibidem.
12 “What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps
impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!” City o f God,
11. 6 .
13 Augustine places the creation of the angels with the creation of the
light in the first day of creation. Going outside the text he affirms that
angels “were created partakers of the eternal light which is the
unchangeable Wisdom of God, by which all things were made, and
whom we call the only-begotten Son of God” (City of God 11.9).
14 Confessions, 11.14.20.
15 City o f God, 12.24.
Letter, CLVIII.il.
17Summa Tehologica, la.44.3.a.
18Ibid., Ia.46.la.
19Ibid., Ia. 44.4.ro4.
20Ibid,, Ia.45.1.a.
21 Ibid., Ia.45.2.ro2.
22 Ibid., Ia.45.3.a.
23Ibid., Ia.46.1.0.8.
24Ibid., Ia.46.3.a.
25Ibid., Ia.61.4a.
Creation in Tradition 189

26 Ibid., Ia.l0.5.ro2.
21Ibid., Ia.50.2a.
28Ibid., Ia.50.la.
29Ibidem.
v>Ibid., Ia. 10.5
3176W.,Ia.51.3a.
32Ibid., Ia.75.introduction
33Ibid., Ia. 75.2a.
34Ibid., Ia.89.la.
35Ibid., Ia.94.la.
36 Ibidem.
37Ibid., Ia.94.1,ro 1 (emphasis provided).
38 Ibid., Ia.95.la.
39Ibid., Ila.l 10.2.ro2.
40Ibid., Da. 110.2a
41 Ibid., Ia.95.4.rol.
42 “We conclude therefore that in the state of innocence man’s works
were more meritorious than after sin was committed, if we consider the
degree of merit on the part of grace, which would have been more
copious as meeting with no obstacle in human nature: and in like manner,
if we consider the absolute degree of the work done; because, as man
would have had greater virtue, he would have performed greater works.”
Ibid., Ia.95.4a.
43 “Time will at length cease, when the heavenly movement ceases. Yet
that last “now” will not be the beginning of the future. For the definition
quoted applies to the ‘now’ only as continuous with the parts of time, not
as terminating the whole of time” Ibid., IIIa.supplement.91.2.ro9.
190 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

44 “Now in this way the heavenly bodies serve man by their movement,
in so far as by the heavenly movement the human race is multiplied,
plants and animals needful for man’s use generated, and the temperature
of the atmosphere rendered conducive to health. Therefore the movement
of the heavenly body will cease as soon as man is glorified.” Ibid.,
IIIa.supplement.91.2a.
45 Ibid., IIIa.supplement.91.5a.
46 Ibid., IIIa.supplement.91.2.ro4.
47Ibid., IIIa.suplement.91,2.ro5.
48 Ibid., IIIa.suplement.91.4a.
49Ibid., IIIa.suplement.92.l.ro2.
50Ibid., IIIa.suplement.92.1 .rol4.
51 Ibidem.
52 Ibidem.
53Ibid., IIIa.suplement.83.la.
54Ibidem.
53Ibid., IIIa.suplement.83.2a.
56Ibid., IIIa.suplement.83.3a.
37Ibid., IIIa.suplement.84.2a.
58Ibid., IIIa.suplement.84.3.ro5.
39 Pope John Paul II built his remarks on Pius XII’s conviction that there
was no opposition between evolution and the doctrine of the faith about
man and his vocation, on condition that one did not lose sight of several
indisputable points (Encyclical Humani generis [1950]). “Today, almost
half a century after the publication of the Encyclical, new knowledge has
led to the recognition of more than one hypothesis in the theory of
evolution. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively
accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various
fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of
Creation in Tradition 191

the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a


significant argument in favour of this theory” (“Message to Pontifical
Academy of Sciences” (http://abbey.apana.org.au/articles /0044.htm,
October 22, 1996), 4. Coming back to Humani generis Jon Paul II
reminds us what Pius XII considered the immorality of the soul as an
“indisputable point.” It is accepted Catholic ontological teaching that
even though the ‘human body takes its origin from pre-existent living
matter [the spatiotemporal historical realm] the spiritual soul is
immediately created by God’ ("animal enim a Deo immediate creari
catholica fides nos retinere inhet"; Encyclical Humani generic, AAS 42
[1950], p. 575). “Consequently—concludes John Paul II—, theories of
evolution which, in accordance with the philosophies inspiring them,
consider the mind as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a
mere epiphenomenon of this matter, are incompatible with the truth about
man. Nor are they able to ground the dignity of the person” (ibidem).
Here we find the clear marked parameters of classical theological
methodology from which the Pope harmonizes Catholic belief in the
immortality of the soul (derived from Greek ontology) with present
teachings of evolutionary cosmology. Evolution, as theory, can apply to
the scientific study of the material world and causation. The spiritual
world where God acts and the Church mediates belongs to philosophical
and theological interpretation grounded on Greek ontological patterns
and supervised by the Magisterium.
60 For the way in which Ramm, Barth, and Gilkey deal with
harmonizing theology with evolution and deep time, See Fritz Guy,
"Genesis and Geology: Some Contemporary Theological Perspectives,"
in Creation Reconsidered: Scientific, Biblical, and Theological
Perspectives, ed. James L. Hayward (Roseville, C.: Association of
Adventist Forums, 2000), 289-296.
61 Theistic evolution and Process theologies are examples of this type of
maximal harmonization. Interesting and imaginative is Wolfhart
Pannenberg’s view of creation. He conceives God’s entity as timeless but
inclusive of all temporality and finitude (Systematic Theology, trans.
Geoffrey W. Bromley, 3 vols, [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991,
1994, ], 1: 410). From this basis, he deals extensively with the act of
creation from within the act of trinitarian life. He concludes his long
192 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

explanation of the “trinitarian origin of the act of creation” remarking


that, “a trinitarian exposition of the concept of creation makes it possible,
then, to relate what is said about creation to the totality of the world from
the standpoint of its duration in time. It does not concern merely the
world’s beginning. To limit it to the beginning, as the OT stories seem to
do in accordance with near Eastern myths of a primal era, is one-sided”
(ibidem, 2:34). Without mentioning deep time or evolutionary theory,
Pannenberg’s view opens room for it as part of the “totality of the word”
that is included in God’s timelessness and creative act.
62 Millard Erickson adopts a minimalist harmonization. He does that by
affirming “progressive creationism.” (Christian Theology, 2 ed. [Grand
Rapids, ML: Baker, 1998], 409).According to this idea, God creates
every kind perfect as Scripture says but not after the schedule and pattern
revealed in Genesis by within the evolutionary timetable. Erickson
argues his harmonization model on the basis that the Hebrew word for
day (yom) is not limited to the 24 hour period meaning (ibidem, 407).
Erickson forgets that “the phrase ‘evening and morning,’ appearing at the
conclusion of each of the six days of creation, is used by the author to
clearly define the nature of the ‘days’ of creation as literal twenty-four-
hours days. The references to ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ together outside
of Gen 1, invariably, without exception in the OT (57 times, 19 times
with yom ‘day’ and 38 without yom), indicate a literal solar day. Again,
the occurrences of yom ‘day’ at the conclusion of each of the six ‘days’
of creation in Gen 1 are all connected with a numeric adjective (‘one
[first] day, ‘second day,’ third day,’ etc.), and a comparison with
occurrences of the term elsewhere in Scripture reveals that such usage
always refer to literal days” (Davidson, “The Biblical Account of
Origins,’ 14; for a summary of exegetical argument and counter
arguments against and in favor of a 24 hours interpretation of yom in
Genesis 1 see, Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to
Biblical Doctrine (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994], 293-297). It is
interesting to notice that Erickson’s theological method does not make
room for his “progressive creationism.” Erickson claims that revelation
supplies “the major tenets of our understanding of reality” (ibidem, 56);
and, that “whenever a tradition, whether it is a teaching of ancient origin
or of a recent popular leader comes into conflict with the meaning of the
Bible, the tradition must give way to Scripture” (ibidem, 284). To be
Creation in Tradition 193

consistent with his stated methodology Erickson should affirm the six
days creation pattern of Genesis 1, and deal with deep time from that
perspective. Erickson partial harmonization of Genesis 1 to deep time is
not convincing. It may help pastors to preempt questions from a scientific
educated audience. Yet, by itself, deep time has no power of explanation.
It requires an ontological-cosmological theory. By affirming deep time
them as real, Erickson gives the first step toward adopting evolutionary
theory. He will not take it now. Yet, other believers will unavoidable
follow the inner logic of his first step to include the evolutionary pattern
of explanation. Besides, the notion that God created a little here and there
through billions of years raises questions regarding biblical claims about
His omniscience, foreknowledge, wisdom, power, mercy and love.
63 Stanley Grenz stops short from endorsing evolutionary theory due
mainly to the epistemological limitations of science. Yet he quotes
approvingly the notion that the Bible and evolution are not mutually
exclusive (Theology for the Community of God [Nashville: Broadman
and Holman, 1994], 147-148). Since for Grenz there will no resolution
between evolution and the biblical account of creation of humans he is
prepared to harmonize. He does it by taking and essentialist view of
human nature. “Regardless of how Adam actually appeared on the
earth—explains Grenz—, God’s purposes in creation reach a new plane
with Adam. Beginning with this creature, God is at work in a special way
on the earth, for he has determined a unique destiny for Adam and
Adam’s offspring” (ibidem, 149, emphasis provided). Grenz further
explains, “humanity begins at a specific point in the history of the
universe, namely, with the appearance of Adam on the earth. With Adam
(or ‘homo sapiens’) and solely with Adam, God enters into a special
relationship or covenant. In this covenant God declares a new intention
for creation, namely, that his creation—Adam and is offspring— fulfill a
special destiny by being related to God in a way unique from all other
aspects of the universe that God has made” (ibidem). Technically
speaking, Adam is created when in the process of evolution God decides
to infuse an immortal soul probably in the womb of one hominid
(ibidem, 149, 167). Thus is how we come “to have” an “eternal” soul,
which is the basis of our individuality (ibidem 167). Grenz position here
builds on classical anthropological dualism and agrees with the Roman
194 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Catholic position that accepts evolution as explanation of the body but


traces the origin of the soul to God’s creation.
64 While deep time argument persuade Grudem’s mind scientifically, he
recognizes that “Scripture seems to be more easily understood to suggest
(but not to require) a young earth view, while the observable facts of
creation seem increasingly to favor and old earth view” (Systematic
Theology, 308). Since he sees science and Scripture inconclusive on the
age of the earth, he suggests increasing dialogue between old and young
earth believers (Ibidem). He, then, stops short from harmonizing.
Dialogue, however, only delays the moment of commitment. Should he
stand by Scripture or would he harmonize Scripture to the teachings of
evolutionary Science. In his Systematic Theology, Grudem begs the
question.
63 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon o f Man, trans. Bernard
Wall (New York: Harper & Rows, 1959), 291-292.
66H ow can hidden energy from the non-spatiotemporal realm affect the
physical world without acting in history? Does the interaction of a
timeless energy with the temporal order of causes involve a logical
contradiction? To solve this predicament theologians build on
Aristotelian ontological dichotomy of matter and form. The former being
temporal and the latter timeless. On this basis God’s actions in history
are conceived as “instantaneous” touching the timeless component of
physical reality, the from or essence of historical realities. In short, God’s
timeless acts communicate with the timeless component of physical
reality.
07 Bernard Ramm argues, “[according to the Biblical view pantheistic
identification with Nature is wrong. God is not Nature, but world ground
to nature as both Augustine and Aquinas taught” (Ibidem, 108). He later
explained, “God is world ground. He is world ground to all geological
phenomena as well as to morality, ethics, and spirituality. God is in
Nature for God is in all things. All is according to his divine will and by
his power. The Spirit of God is the Divine Entelechy seeing that the
Divine will is accomplished in Nature. Progressive creation is the belief
that Nature is permeated with the divine activity but not in any
pantheistic sense” (Ibidem, 227). Ramm builds on Augustine from whom
Creation in Tradition 195

he quotes approvingly. “Whatever bodily or seminal causes, then may be


used for the production of things, either by the cooperation of angels,
men, or the lower animals, or by sexual generation; and whatever power
of the desires and mental emotions of the mother have to produce in the
tender foetus, corresponding lineaments and colours; yet the natures
themselves, which are thus variously affected, are the productions o f
none by the most high God. It is his occult power which pervades all
things, and is present in all without being contaminated, which gives
being to all what is, and modifies and limits its existence so \that without
him it would not be thus and would have any being at all (Confessions,
XII, 25, quoted in Bernard Ramm, The Christian View o f Science and
Scripture, 107).
68 Ibidem, 293.
69 Ramm, 115-116.
70 Ramm, 116
71 Ramm, 116.
72 Ramm, 228.
73 Ramm, 116 (emphasis in the original).
74 Ramm, 116.
75 Not all representatives of Progressive Creationism will explicitly
affirm that God uses the mechanism of evolution. Yet, the result of His
providential guidance between ex-nihilo creative events follows the same
history and development that science has reconstructed by using the
patterns and biological mechanism of evolution.
76 Ramm claims that the way to fit evolution to creation is to understand
it as “an element in providence” (Ibidem, 292). However, in Scripture
divine providence does not act from “inside” or “outside” nature and
historical events but from within their flow. Ellen White explains, “In the
annals of human history the growth of nations, the rise and fall of
empires, appear as dependent on the will and prowess of man. The
shaping of events seems, to a great degree, to be determined by his
power, ambition, or caprice. But in the word of God the curtain is drawn
aside, and we behold, behind, above, and through all the play and
196 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

counterplay o f human interests and power and passions, the agencies of


the all-merciful One, silently, patiently working out the counsels o f His
own will” (Education, 173).
77 Bernard Ramm borrows freely from Augustine and Aquinas as he
argues that “God is world ground,” see The Christian View o f Science
and Scripture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1955), 106-108
78Ibid., Ia.45.2.ro2.
79 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, trans. Bernard
Wall (New York: Harper & Rows, 1959), 291-292.
80How can hidden energy from the non-spatiotemporal realm affect the
physical world without acting in history? Does the interaction of a
timeless energy with the temporal order of causes involve a logical
contradiction? To solve this predicament theologians build on
Aristotelian ontological dichotomy of matter and form. The former being
temporal and the latter timeless. On this basis God’s actions in history
are conceived as “instantaneous” touching the timeless component of
physical reality, the from or essence of historical realities. In short, God’s
timeless acts communicate with the timeless component of physical
reality,
si
Ramm, 116
10. CREATION IN SCRIPTURE

In this chapter, we will explore briefly the broad contour of the


biblical teachings on origins. From the general context provided
by the biblical interpretation of the basic elements o f Christian
theology viewed in previous chapters— God’s infinite analogous
Trinitarian reality, foreknowledge, and predestination—we will
consider selected biblical passages about God's creation. We will
build our theological understanding of origins around Scripture’s
teachings on God’s mode of creative activity as a concrete
sequence o f historical activities. Through them, God brought into
existence the awesome infinite universe whose grandeur modem
science can only partially describe to us.
Creation produced nature and made history possible.
Creation, then, in one sense made real God's theoretical blueprint
for the world (see Proverbs 8:22-31; cf. Jeremiah 10:12), and,
made history possible and divine providence necessary.
From the beginning of creation (Genesis 1 and 2) to the end
of history (Revelation 14:7), Scripture teaches about the God who
is the creator of heaven and earth. For instance, we are told that
"by the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host
by the breath of his mouth" (Psalm 33:6 RSV). By the direct
command of the Lord, the universe came into existence (Psalm
148:5-6; Hebrews 3:4). Scripture specifically presents the
Godhead o f Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as the agent performing
the act o f creation (1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 1:2; Isaiah 37:16;
Malachi 2:10; John 1:3; Hebrews 1:10; Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4).
We will direct our attention now to the wisdom and power
behind the act of creation. Then, we will consider the otherness of
198 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

the creature standing before the creator after which we will reflect
on the creation of the angels. Next, we will deal with the mode of
creative action as the historical sequence of actions God
performed during the first week of life on our planet and the need
to reject accommodations to deep time reconstruction o f the
history of life on earth. Subsequently, we will consider God’s
creation of human spiritual entities and history as the goal of
creation. After that, we will compare the mode of divine action in
creation and redemption. Then, we will study some o f the
characteristics of creation and God’s continuous preservation of
creation. Finally, we will consider the biblical view on the new
earth.

§ 70. GOD’S WISDOM AND POWER


When God created He brought into existence the design He
fashioned in the beginning of His way (Proverbs 8:22). We studied
this “beginning” before the “beginning” already as preamble to
God’s foreknowledge (chapter 7 §54.4), and to God’s
christological design of creation (chapter 8 §60). Here we will
apply and develop what we previously discovered in these
sections.
In His infinite, analogous, timeless eternity (chapter 5 §38),
God, through His imaginative wisdom, created the design o f the
universe. The center of God’s design for the universe was the
personification of wisdom (Proverbs 8:23), Christ the second
person of the Trinity and mediator of wisdom and understanding
between the transcendent God and the historical reality of creation.
Paul affirms the universal centrality of Christ in God’s design for
the universe by writing that “in him [Christ] were all things
created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and
things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or
powers; all things have been created through him, and unto him”
(Colossians 1:16, ASV). Consequently, when Paul says that in
Christ as center of creation “all things hold together” (Colossians

_
— _
Creation in Scripture 199

1:17, NRS), he is not talking only of our history but also of the
entire history o f the universe including all spiritual beings
Scripture present under the general designation of “angels.”
Obviously, “in Christ” Paul does not mean literally within the
actual reality of the person of Christ as if suggesting pantheism or
panentheism. Instead, Paul is affirming that all things exist and
stand together as they develop their histories by relating spiritually
to Christ. Through the dispensation of divine wisdom to spiritual
creatures (angels and humans), Christ articulates the inner logic of
the history o f the universe.
The christological design of creation assumes the Trinitarian
nature of God and His analogous-infinite-temporal reality, which
allows God’s reality to accommodate itself to created history to
relate directly and personally with His spiritual creatures, angels
and human beings. Christ’s personal historical mediation of divine
wisdom for His spiritual historical creatures is the center of God’s
design of creation. Without it, the entire design falls down and
self-destructs. After all, “in Christ all things hold together”
(Colossians 1:17). The centrality o f Christ’s mediatorial role in
creation defines the concrete form of divine immanence. Divine
immanence is a technical term by which theologians speak about
God’s relation to history. The opposite o f immanence is
transcendence. A way to understand the basic meaning of these
terms is to associate them with “inside” and “outside” of creation.
Immanence describes God “inside” or relating to history
historically. Transcendence portrays God “outside” history in
himself, not in relation to the world.
The importance o f the way we conceive God’s immanence
cannot be overstated. Christian tradition, due to its timeless
interpretation o f the basic principles o f Christian theology tends to
view divine immanence impersonally in terms of power, force,
energy, or even omnipresence. The christological design of
creation defines divine immanence in terms o f divine personal
presence within the historical flux of created time.
200 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

God’s design of creation is not that in the end time and


temporality will cease to make possible the desire to see the
transcendence God directly and timelessly in heaven. Against the
theological convictions o f Christian tradition, Scripture presents a
God whose eternal plan revolves around His own immanent
personal presence and ministration of wisdom and understanding
to His creatures directly within the flux of their finite temporal and
spatial realities.
We have not access to God’s plan of creation but through the
things created (Romans 1:20). Microbiology and astronomy have
open to our understanding a vision of God’s wisdom in design,
power, and execution that overwhelms, awes and humbles the
greatest human minds. This understanding differs enormously both
quantitatively and qualitatively from the Aristotelian
understanding assumed in classical Augustinian and Thomistic
theological projects. A design so awesome makes it almost
impossible to rationally assume that fate and deep time produced
and executed it. Yet most human beings follow the conclusions of
a speculative scientific theory that does not have God in its
purview.
To move from God’s theoretical design of creation to the
existence of the universe we need divine power, basically, God’s
capacity to act productively resulting in the material-spiritual
universe. Isaiah put it clearly and beautifully, “Lift up your eyes
on high, and see who has created these things, Who brings out
their host by number; He calls them all by name, By the greatness
o f His might And the strength o f His power, Not one is missing”
(Isaiah 40:26, NKJ, emphasis mine). The existence of the universe
totally rests on God's wisdom and power.
Moreover, according to Scripture creation does not require or
assume the existence o f some principle outside of God, as for
instance, matter or physical energy. Paul explains that God "calls
into existence the things that do not exist" (Romans 4:17, NRS),
and in a more explicit and technical way he makes plain "that the
Creation in Scripture 201

world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was
made out of things which do not appear" (Hebrews 11:3, RSV).
We should not attempt to understand creation in analogy to
human creativity. Human creativity is the process of organizing a
pre-existent material reality using various combinations o f already
existent design patterns. Divine creative power does not operate
from an "extra deum" (from something outside of God). Creation
is not the overflow o f divine reality emanating from God.
Since God's creation rests totally on His wisdom (design) and
power (existence) (Jeremiah 10:12), requiring no pre-existent
matter or extension of His own being, the scriptural conception is
properly captured in the traditional "ex-nihilo” (“out of
nothingness)" qualification.
Consequently, the biblical view on origins substantially
departs and cannot be harmonized to philosophical and scientific
originated explanations of the origin of the universe such as
Platonic dualism, Neo-platonic emanationism, pantheism,
panentheism, or modem evolutionism.

§ 71. THE WORLD AS “OTHER” THAN GOD


Through His wise and powerful creative activities, God brought
the world from non-existence into existence. The world became
the "other" than God, a reality different from God and standing
before God. This implies that God is not the sum total o f reality
that there is. German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel,
(1770-1831), considered that a true real infinite being should
surpass and include in itself all finite beings.1 The Creator of
Scripture, then, does not fit the modem panentheistic definition of
infinite entity.
Scripture has no word for "infinite." However, it speaks of
God as unlimited in relation to space and time. In this sense, then,
we can say, in harmony with Scripture, that the Godhead is an
"infinite" being. Time and space do not limit God as they limit
202 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

creatures. Because God does not have the limitations creatures


have, we say He is “infinite.”
Because God in His infiniteness does not have the limitations
creatures have, Zophar, answering Job, asked whether Job, a finite
limited being, could “discover the completeness (perfection) o f the
Almighty?” (Job 11:7, NAS, my translation, emphasis provided).
The psalmist also recognized the infinitude of God’s knowledge.
In awe he exclaimed: “Of His understanding there is no number
(narration)” (Psalm 147:5, YLT). If from our limitations, we
cannot find the limits to the quantitative infinite physical universe
God created, how much more we will never be able to “find out”
His “completeness” or the “number” of His understanding.
However, the idea of creation as the "other" than God
explicitly contradicts the pantheistic-panentheistic argument that
because God is "infinite" and limitless there can be no "other"
outside of Him.
In making room for the reality of the “other” existing freely
over and against God, creation made the manifestation o f God’s
love possible. Without the “other” than God, divine love would
have never manifested himself outside of His relational one
Trinitarian being. Moreover, in limiting God to the “other” the act
of creation is in itself a manifestation of divine love.
In a relational sense, God's creation limits God in order to
allow "space" for the creature. In His eternal reality, however, God
is not limited by space and time as creatures are; or by the
creatures themselves. Creation thus becomes the necessary
condition for the possibility of God's relationship with creatures,
and therefore, of their shared history.

§ 72. THE CREATION OF THE UNIVERSE


BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE EARTH
Theological reflection about the biblical doctrine of creation
usually starts with Genesis 1. However, in §54.4, §60, and, §70
above we learned that theologically and historically Genesis 1
Creation in Scripture 203

presupposes the Proverbs 8:22-31 creation account. Proverbs 8:23


speaks of a (1) beginning in the history of God’s eternity before
the (2) beginning of creation in Genesis 1.
The history of creation in Genesis 1 speaks of the beginning
o f life on earth. What does Scripture have to say about the creation
o f the entire universe? Is there intelligent life outside planet earth?
Scripture teaches that in the universe there are other extra
terrestrial creatures named angels. Angels are creatures of the
same God who play an important role in the lives and salvation of
human beings. Angels are ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:13-14).
We know God created them because at the resurrection human
nature will become similar to angelic nature (Luke 20:36; cf.
Matthew 22:30). However, in Genesis 1 there is no mention about
the creation o f the angels. When, then, did God create the angels?
Did God create them before, at the same time, or after the creation
o f earth described in Genesis 1?
Aquinas addressed this question in his Summa Theologica.
He recognized in Christian tradition the existence of two viable
opinions on this issue. Following Scripture more closely than
Aquinas, Saint Jerome (340-420), John Damascene (676-+754-
787), and Gregory Nazianzen (325-382) were of the opinion that
God created angels before the creation of the universe. They spoke
about the time when the God created the angels, a time before the
time of earth’s creation.2 Aquinas favored the other opinion
according to which God created the angels at the time of the
creation of earth.3 The notion that God created angels after
creating earth seems to have no support in tradition or Scripture
What does Scripture say about the time when God created the
angels? We will consider three biblical passages: Genesis 1, Job
38:7, and Revelation 12:7-9.

1. P assive tem poral gap in Genesis 1


Scripture starts with the account of creation in Genesis 1. The
history of creation starts affirming, “in the beginning God created
204 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void,
and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God
was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-1, RSV).
The discussion revolves around whether these verses refer to the
creation o f planet earth or to a time before the creation of the
earth. Recently, Richard Davidson has brought together in an
excellent article the most relevant exegetical scholarship on
Genesis l.4
Davidson convincingly points out that the preamble of
Genesis 1:1-2 speaking of God creating heavens and earth may
refer to time before the six days creation of earth when God
created the universe and probably the material components.
Exegetes refer to this view as the “passive gap” theory. By “gap,”
they mean a time between the creation of the universe and the
creation o f earth. By “passive,” they mean God was not creating
between both creations. Although Davidson recognizes that the
interpretation recognizes no temporal gap is possible between
Genesis 1:1-2 and verse 3-31, he favors the “passive-gap” view.
Among the reasons for his preference Davidson points to the fact
that the text begins to narrate the creation of planet earth in verse 3
when the author opens the account o f the six-day history of earth’s
creation with the sentence: “and God said.”5 In the narrative, the
author consistently repeats this sentence to open the report of what
God did in each of the six days of creation. By this literary devise,
the text distinguishes clearly between the creation of heaven and
earth at the beginning and the creation of life on earth, perhaps
billions o f years later.
From the perspective of the theory of evolution, the passive
gap allows for deep time in the history of the universe but not in
the history of life on earth. On the issue of the origin of angels, the
passive gap theory allows their creation to have taken place before
the creation of the earth.
Creation in Scripture 205

2. A ngels o f G od shouting for jo y w hen G od created


earth
Yet is there in Scripture additional evidence that God created
the angels before the creation of the earth? When at the end of the
book of Job God asks him a series of questions designed to help
him perceive his existential plight from the divine perspective God
started by questioning Job about his knowledge o f creation.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation...while the
morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?”
(Job 38:4,7, NIV). This text tells us that when God created planet
earth the universe and the angels existed and rejoiced at the
awesome work of divine creation.

3. W hen did G od create Satan?


In Scripture, the angel first appears in Genesis 3:1 as a serpent
tempting Adam and Eve. Modem exegetes attempting to interpret
Scripture from a purely historical viewpoint now find themselves
at an impasse. What does this serpent represent, since we
historically know serpents are not spiritual talking beings? A
theology working from Scripture as the only source o f revealed
theological information, however, can use the additional
information about the serpent available from later biblical authors.
For instance, John identified the serpent in Genesis 3:1 with the
angel that other biblical authors named Satan and/or Devil
(Revelation 12:9). Although God created Lucifer perfect, he,
among other angels, by his own volition, became the archenemy of
Christ (Ezekiel 28:12-16).
When did God create Lucifer and, by association, the angelic
host? Christ himself spoke of the devil as being “a murderer from
the beginning,” and not standing “in the tmth, because there is no
truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own
nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NAS,
emphasis provided). Satan is evil and the enemy from the
beginning. What beginning did Christ have in mind? Clearly,
206 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Christ was referring to the beginning of creation in Genesis 1-3.


Yet if, as Genesis repeatedly affirms, God created only good
things, Satan’s evil nature cannot originate in God but from his
own actions which required time.
Once again, because God created only good things, we know
that He did not create Satan’s evil nature. Evil was Lucifer’s own
doing which became “his own nature.” To affirm without
contradiction that God created Satan and that Satan was evil from
the beginning of his creation preempts the possibility that God
created him either after or with the creation of earth. For Satan to
be evil and created by God at the beginning of the creation o f life
on earth we must assume God created him perfect at some time
before the creation of the world. Only then, can we harmonize the
revealed teaching that God creates only good, perfect beings and
the historical truth that Satan was evil from the beginning o f the
creation of the earth.
An angelical creation before the creation of the world
harmonizes also with the “passive gap” interpretation of Genesis
1:1-2, and explains how, at the earth’s creation, God’s could
affirm that the “morning stars sang together and all the angels
shouted for joy” (Job 38:4,7, NIV) was possible.
The existence of the angelic host serving God before the
creation o f the world gives time for Lucifer’s rebellion against
God’s design o f creation in Christ to develop, mature, and spread
to other angelic beings (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). Thus, he became
Satan the murderer and the Father of lies in Genesis 3:1.

§73. SEVENTH-DAY HtSTORIOTY OF EARTH’S CREATION


How did God create? What was God’s mode of creation according
to Scripture? Because with Augustine and Aquinas Christian
tradition assumes God’s reality is timeless, Roman Catholic and
Protestant theologies understand God’s mode of creative action as
being instantaneous and spiritual with the relation of dependence
o f creaturely existence upon the creator.
Creation in Scripture 207

According to Scripture, however, God's eternal and


immutable nature is not timeless but rather infinitely and
analogously temporal. Divine actions not only take place in the
future-present-past sequence of divine time, but God can act also
sequentially within the finite time o f creation.
On this basis, Genesis 1 and 2 describes God’s mode of
creation as the seven-literal-day historical process within which
God, by a series of successive and complementary creative acts,
brought the world into existence.6 Genesis does not reveal the
actual inner structure o f divine creative actions. We would not
understand such information anyway because it would require
understanding God as He understands himself. Instead, the author
of Genesis describes God’s process o f creation from the simple
perspective of an observer on our planet.7
The infinitude of the created universe as we know it at the
beginning o f the twenty first century should help us to understand
that if the effect is beyond our comprehension how much more the
divine cause that designed and brought about the universe in its
marvelous inner physical and spiritual harmonies.

§ 74. REJECTING DEEP TIME HISTORY


Why should we reject deep time evolutionary reconstructions of
earth history while Christian tradition (Roman Catholic and
Protestant) sees no problem in harmonizing biblical creation to
deep time evolutionary history? There are epistemological and
theological reasons for rejecting deep time evolutionary history in
a Scripture-based construction o f Christian theology.

1. Epistemological reasons
Deep time history is the reconstruction o f the history o f life on
planet earth which geology, paleontology and biology require as
the presupposition for explaining their objects of studies, rocks,
fossil remains, and life mutations. These sciences have concluded
that without deep time history they cannot explain their data.
208 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Beyond a doubt, contemporary scientists believe that deep time


history accurately describes the real events that formed life on
earth. They have absolute certainty about the truthfulness of their
historical reconstruction. This does not mean they agree on
specific points or processes which scientists are constantly
revising, polishing, and sharpening. However they may disagree
about the actual precise shape o f historical events, they all agree
on deep time. The short history o f life presented by Scripture does
not explain the data scientists have before their eyes.
Consequently, most scientists and Christian theologians find
themselves having to reject the biblical view as mythical (unreal)
and in its place accepting the scientific reconstruction as real.
This conviction, however, rests on the strength of the
theological method and the way scientists apply it in their concrete
research projects. However, by nature, scientific methodology
never produces absolute truths.8 Consider, for instance, Karl
Popper’s conclusion about the nature of scientific discoveries:
“The empirical basis of objective science has thus
nothing ‘absolute’ about it. Science does not rest upon
solid bedrock. The bold structure o f its theories rises, as
it were, above a swamp. It is like a building erected on
piles [testing]. The piles are driven down from above
into the swamp, but not down to any natural or ‘given’
base; and if we stop driving the piles deeper, it is not
because we have reached firm ground. We simply stop
when we are satisfied that the piles are firm enough to
carry the structure, at least for the time being.”9
Postmodern criticism o f scientific conclusions goes even further10
than Popper in recognizing the relative nature of scientific
discoveries. Postmodernism considers the absolute truth
contemporary scientists and the public confers upon scientific
conclusions and theories as legend. Consider for instance, how
Philip Kitcher evaluates from an epistemological perspective the
way in which scientists constructed the theory of evolution.
Creation in Scripture 209

“According to Legend, science has been very successful


in attaining these goals [attainment of truth about the
world]. Successive generations of scientists have filled
in more and more parts of the COMPLETE TRUE
STORY OF THE WORLD (or, perhaps, o f the
COMPLETE TRUE STORY OF THE OBERVABLE
PART OF THE WORLD). Champions of Legend
acknowledged that there have been mistakes and false
steps here and there, but they saw an overall trend
toward accumulation of truth, or, at the very least, of
better and better approximations to truth. Moreover, they
offered an explanation both for the occasional mistakes
and for the dominant progressive trend: scientists have
achieved so much through the use of SCIENTIFIC
METHOD.”11
Kitcher does not challenge the right or scientific nature of the
theory of evolution, but the assumption that it is absolute truth. As
consequence, Christian theologians do not have to feel rationally
compelled to reject the biblical short history of earth by assuming
deep time history is absolute truth depicting correctly what
transpired in the history of our planet.
One has to bear in mind that scientist know their theory has
been falsified many times, yet, as human beings, they need to have
an explanation of the historical origins of human life. Since
scientific methodology, in its metaphysical presuppositional
structure, does not have room for God, scientists feel compelled to
accept the most likely theory they can produce as ultimate absolute
truth. They have to do that to explain everything else in life. Deep
time history, though a mythical construction of the human mind, in
practice becomes true when we use it as presupposition for our
understanding of the world and God.
210 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

2. Theological Reasons
Unlike scientific methodology, theological method assumes
God’s existence, nature, and acts. Thus, theological interpretations
follow a matrix of assumptions that include our preunderstanding
o f God’s natural actions in created time. By now we know that
Christian tradition derives its understanding of God’s reality from
Greek metaphysics according to which “ultimate” reality is
timeless. Since a timeless God does not act directly within the
historical sequence of events, we can understand why in this view
history does not belong to what is properly theological.
We can also understand why for most Christian theologians
the evolutionary rewriting of history does not affect theological
(religious) content. This presupposition leads Christian tradition to
harmonize creation with evolution by separating the theological
(religious) content of Genesis 1 (its truth) from what they consider
its historical wrapping (the story). Accordingly, they dismiss the
period of six 24-hour days and the historical process the text
describes as “non theological,” and displace God’s creative action
from the historical to the spiritual realm.
Unfortunately, Christian tradition forgets that in biblical
thinking, time is o f the essence. According to Scripture, God acts
historically in human time and space. The truth o f biblical religion
is historical. For this reason, our theological project in this book
departs from Christian theological tradition at its deepest
hermeneutical level. Decidedly rejecting the timeless definition of
ultimate reality in Greek metaphysics, we assume the biblical
understanding of ultimate reality is historical. On this basis, we
cannot read Scripture from the perspective of Greek metaphysical
timelessness but from the biblical understanding o f God’s being
and actions.
Because the God of Scripture is not timeless but infinitely
and analogously temporal, He creates and saves acting directly
from within the sequence of natural and human historical events.
Consequently, the sequence of integrated divine actions in the
Creation in Scripture 211

creation week forms part not only of the history of God, but also
of the history o f our planet. In creation, God is performing a divine
act in a historical sequence within the flow of created time.
As Christian theologians have come to believe that God’s act
of creation did not take place in history they felt free letting the
biblical history o f creation go as myth,12 saga13 or literary
framework.14 We cannot accept such a view because, according to
Scripture, God articulates the inner logic of theological thinking
by acting directly, personally and within the sequence of created
historical time. Thus, if we let the biblical history of creation go
coherence of thought will require us to also relinquish the biblical
history of redemption and along with it the future eschatological
history of God with His redeemed Church in eternity.15
In theological thinking cosmology is not a side issue but one
of the few broad high-level theories that condition the
understanding o f all biblical teachings, including redemption and
eschatology. In Scripture the design and history of creation sets
the stage from which sin, covenant, sanctuary, redemption,
atonement, and eschatology draw their meaning and logic.
Changes in the understanding o f cosmology, then, will necessarily
unleash changes in the entire theological system. Besides, biblical
cosmology assumes and depends on the biblical view of divine
reality.
In short, if God’s temporal actions are of the essence of
biblical theology, deep time evolutionary history conflicts with the
closely knit historical system of biblical thinking. Christian
theology cannot, then, accept the evolutionary deep time history of
life on earth without losing the essence and truth of divine
revelation in Scripture.

§ 75. THE CREATION OF HUMAN BEINGS


Although God’s design of nature and the power involved in its
generation will never cease to amaze us, we need to turn our
212 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

attention briefly to the creation of human beings He made a little


lower than himself (Psalm 8:4-5) and the angels (Hebrews 2:7).
In a moment o f His eternal infinite history (Proverbs 8:22-
23), God, by the exercise of His wisdom, designed the nature of
human beings as the ultimate goal of His overall plan of creation.
As part o f the basic elements of Christian theology, we will outline
briefly two main dimensions of God’s perfect design for human
nature: the “entity” and the “spirit” o f human beings. By “entity,”
I mean the kind of reality human beings are.16 By “spirit,” I mean
the openness and relation human entities have with other concrete
human beings and God.

1. The human entity


Let us consider first how Scripture presents God’s design of
human entities. “Jehovah God formed man [from] the dust o f the
earth and blew in his nostrils breath of life and man became a
living person” (Genesis 2:7, translation mine). To make clear that
human entities do not posses life in themselves, God created them
by forming first an inanimate body with the material elements He
had already created. The existence of human entities, however,
requires the animation and functioning of human bodies. For that
purpose, God breathed life into Adam’s inanimate body. Only
then, Adam, the first human entity, came into existence as a living
creature (person, soul).
God’s creation o f the human entity involves, then, two main
aspects or elements: The design and creation of the body, and the
communication of living power for the body to operate as a living
creature.
In an attempt to motivate people to responsible living
Solomon described the process of human death as the reversal of
the process o f creation described in Genesis 2:7. At death,
explains Solomon, “the dust will return to the earth as it was, and
the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7,
NAS). God’s living power leaves the body. The composite of body
Creation in Scripture 213

and God’s life power ceases to be; the human entity ceases to
exist. Death is like the lack of consciousness we experience in a
deep sleep without dreams or nightmares. Jesus the creator knew
this well when, aware that Lazarus was dead, He said to his
disciples, "our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him
up" (John 11:11, NKJ).
Paul also knew about God’s design of human reality as
defined in Genesis 2:7. Speaking about the resurrection he referred
to Genesis 2:7 by saying that “the first man Adam became a living
soul” (1 Corinthians 15:45, ASV). Paul correctly reflects in Greek
terms the meaning of the original Hebrew words. When God
communicated the spirit of life to Adam’s inanimate body, he
became a living soul. In Scripture, then, “soul” means human
person, a living, operating human body possessing the full use of
all its capabilities.
Unfortunately, Christian tradition borrowed from Eastern
religions, via Greek philosophy, a different understanding of the
soul and, consequently, of the nature of the human entity. The
distortion o f this foundational basic element o f Christian theology
reigns unchallenged in Christian tradition still. Most Christians
believe it as actual truth. In which way did Christian tradition
distort the biblical view of the human entity?
Aquinas, assuming Aristotelian anthropological concepts
argued that the soul, “is a principle both incorporeal and
subsistent.”77 Human beings are a composite made up by the soul
as incorporeal, intellectual, and subsistent reality and the body.18
Aquinas exemplifies how his philosophical preunderstanding
of human nature, one of the basic elements o f Christian theology,
determined his interpretation of Scripture. Aquinas believes that in
Genesis 2:7 the soul is the breath of life.19 With Christian tradition,
Aquinas not only misses the point of Genesis 2:7 we outlined
above, but he also distorts it by suggesting that Scripture teaches
the immortality o f the incorporeal intelligent soul. The
repercussions o f this distortion for the interpretation of Scripture
214 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

and the construction of Christian teachings cannot be


overemphasized.

2. The human spirit


Christian tradition identifies human spirit and spirituality with the
immaterial, intellectual, subsistent reality o f the soul. According to
Scripture, however, spirituality cannot spring from the immaterial
incorporeal soul because the human “soul” is the living body.
Astoundingly, “God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image,
according to Our likeness', let them have dominion over the fish of
the sea, over the birds o f the air, and over the cattle, over all the
earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So
God created man in his own image; in the image of God He
created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27,
NKJ, emphasis provided).
Theologians have debated the meaning of the image of God
over the centuries and no clear consensus has emerged. I suggest
that the text does not have a hidden meaning we somehow have to
decode. Instead, when we read this text at face value we discover
it unveils the general pattern from which God designed the nature
of human entities (persons or souls). God patterned the
characteristics o f human nature after His own nature. In other
words, God created finite temporal entities analogously to His
infinite Trinitarian reality. This means that in some aspects we are
like God (although in others, we, quite obviously, are not). This
similitude makes humans different from other living things on
earth and similar to angels and to God.
The basic general similitude between God and human beings
is spirituality. God, who is spirit (John 4:24), created humans as
spiritual beings (Zechariah 12:1; cf. Corinthians 2:11; Proverbs
18:14; 20:27). For humans to be spiritual means that they know
themselves (Proverbs 20:27; 1 Corinthians 2:11), understand the
world their live in (Job 32:8), have freedom of thought and will
(Proverbs 23:7; Deuteronomy 30:19), act on nature and other
Creation in Scripture 215

beings (Psalm 56:11; Genesis 1:26), and relate to God and other
persons. The human spirit, then, is introspective, cognitive,
relational, free, active, and dependent on God’s revelation in space
and time.
In Genesis 2:18 God recognized the relational aspect of
human spirituality by saying that “it is not good for the man to be
alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” ’ (NAS). For this
reason, God created the human entity in male and female relation
(Genesis 1:27). The sexual-matrimonial relationship is the ground
of inter human relational spirituality. From matrimony, human
relationality extends to family, friends, church, and kingdom of
God.
The relation that defines the content of human spirituality,
however, is the relation to God. Spirituality is human openness
and dependence on God’s wisdom and understanding as mediated
through Jesus Christ who is the personification o f divine wisdom.
Perhaps we should say a word about the meaning of
relationality in biblical thinking. As in the Trinitarian being of
God, personal relations make up the essence and structure of
human spirituality. This means that the relation defines the
individual and not the other way around. Our personal relations
define who we are, what we do, and how we understand nature,
other human beings, the world, and ourselves. Openness to the
divine and human “other,” is the basic structure o f relationality
and spirituality. Because our bodies are capable o f spiritual
operations, we are spiritual beings. In His wisdom, God planned
our bodies with the spiritual capability to engage with God,
depend on His wisdom and power, and to relate with other human
beings and the world.
Among other things, human spirituality includes the
dominion of creation (Genesis 1:26). We should not understand
“dominion” as tyranny or despotism. Because God created us as
spiritual beings, He made us responsible to care and provide for
the animal and plant kingdoms. When God, through the mediation
of Jesus Christ, is the origin and content of our spirituality, our
216 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

actions toward others take on the pattern o f divine service and


action.
God’s creation reached its intended spiritual climax on the
seventh day when after finishing creation He spent time with
Adam and Eve in the Garden o f Eden (Genesis 2:2-3; c.f. Mark
2:27). God's rest from creating the physical reality of heavens and
earth allowed Him time to relate to Adam and Eve. God created
the world that He might engage personally with His creatures
within the design and limitations of the created spatial and
temporal world. After creation, the eternal Son o f God, Christ, the
personification and mediation o f wisdom and understanding,
rejoiced in His habitable earth; and His delight was [to be] with
the sons of men. (Proverbs 8:21, ASV).
The Sabbath is a necessary component o f creation and human
spiritual reality. God made the Sabbath holy to set a special time
apart to engage in personal and direct relation with His creatures
through the mediation of Jesus Christ. In the absence o f time
Christ’s personal direct mediation for human beings could not take
place. The existence and development of spirituality requires time.
As temporal room for personal direct spiritual relations, the
Sabbath becomes necessary for God’s spiritual creation. In a
special sense, God attains His delight interacting with the sons of
men, rejoicing in His habitable earth and watching humans attain
the joy of personally relating with their creator and mediator in the
holy hours of the Sabbath day. The Sabbath relation grounds our
spiritual existence as an ongoing temporal communion between
God and us. Arguably, the communion between God and human
beings articulated by the Sabbath rest is the center, pattern, and
origin of human spirituality and life.

§76. HISTORYASTHEGOALOFCREATION
Because God’s reality is spiritual, relational, and historical, He
created angels and human beings in His image as spiritual,
relational, and historical beings. The goal o f creation, then, is the
Creation in Scripture 217

shared history o f God with His creatures. According to God’s


design of creation the center of history was the Son of God as the
personification of wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 8:23).
We must recognize that God’s seven-day creation process
was a complete and perfect process. Complete, because God
finished all that He wanted to create on earth within six days.
Perfect, because God said so— seven times (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12,
18, 21, 25, 31). Consequently, Scripture does not support classical
and modem Christian theological traditions when they claim that
God planned our material historical universe a step toward a
perfect spiritual creation. The completeness and goodness of
God’s creation means that God did not intend our material
historical universe as an intermediary step to achieve the creation
of ultimate spiritual realities. After all, Christian tradition
recognizes that God can create spiritual angels without the need of
an intermediate material step. History is ultimate reality because,
according to Scripture, there is no other ultimate timeless spiritual
reality beyond it.
According to Scripture, the origin of created history starts
with the history o f six days of divine creation that are a
continuation of God’s eternal history. As we have already shown
God was a complete historical being before the creation of the
world. When He created the world, He shared His history with His
historical spiritual creatures. His creatures are many in number,
yet there are two kinds of spiritual creatures: angels and human
beings, who, in the course of cosmic and earthly histories decided
to rebel against God.
Because o f this development, in the present state of cosmic
human history we have four kinds of created agents determining
the actual shape of events: Satan, evil angels and evil human
beings stand on one side of history; while Christ, good angels and
faithful human beings stand on the other side of history. Thus,
Scripture does not support traditional Christian viewpoint that God
is the only agent deciding the shape and contents of historical
events. Instead, the actual contents of history flow from the free
218 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

interrelation and interaction of all spiritual and natural creatures


with God and among themselves.
Scripture’s historical view of reality has no room for a gap
separating a timeless God from temporal historical human beings
as Christian tradition’s Neoplatonic cosmological pattern assumes.
No original gap or rift exists between God’s reality and created
human reality. Both share in the flow of the same history.
Scripture’s historical view stands closer to the modem
historical continuum idea than the classical notion that God’s
timelessness creates a gap separating Him from human realities.
The modem historical continuum idea teaches that all historical
realities have historical causes. No supernatural (timeless) cause
can act in the flow o f human temporality. Assuming that the
classical view of divine timelessness is right, modem theologians
conclude that God cannot act in history and therefore reject
miraculous interventions in history.
Biblical thinking agrees with this modem view where all
historical events have historical causes. Yet biblical authors find
no difficulty accepting divine miracles or direct personal divine
interventions in the flow of human history because they assume
God is infinite and analogously temporal. Through the six-day
historical process of creation, divine history became the ground
and center integrating divine and human histories. Since
providence is God's government of history, the existence of
history and its integrated relational structure is the necessary
condition for understanding God's providential actions. We will
address this issue in a forthcoming publication.

§ 77. CREATION AND REDEMPTION


Because creation is a basic element of Christian theology, a brief
comparison between to the different modes of divine action in
both creation and redemption may help us preempt
misunderstandings. Soon after the first week o f creation, Adam
and Eve severed their spiritual relation with God. As we saw, God
Creation in Scripture 219

had anticipated the entrance o f sin into the world from before the
creation o f the world, in the beginning of His way in eternity
(Proverbs 8:22-24). God not only anticipated the rebellion of His
creatures against His perfect plan o f creation but He predestined a
blueprint to bring back His wayward children to the original plan.
The re-establishment of God’s original plan of spiritual relation
with human beings in the universe required, among other things,
the work of transforming sinners by restoring in them the image of
God according to which they were created (2 Corinthians 5:17;
Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10, 4:24; James 1:18).
To save humans from their rebellion against His cosmic order
God generated salvation not only ex nihilo [from nothingness,
non-salvation], but also from chaos, that which explicitly opposes
His will and power. Moreover, as we will explore later, the
consummation o f the work o f redemption involves creating our
planet anew. Is the work o f salvation the continuation of the work
of creation? Does God bring about salvation by using the same
omnipotent power He used when creating the universe?
Although the same God who creates is the one who redeems
and saves, we should not assume God saves us by exercising the
same omnipotent divine power He used in the creation of the
universe. Through the combined effect of Christian tradition’s
interpretation of divine foreknowledge, predestination20 and
providence,21 theologians have indeed understood the work of
salvation as a mere continuation of the work of creation. God
saves us by the exercise o f His divine power22 of creation.23
However, according to Scripture God saves not by His
creative power but by the power of the gospel, the good news of
what God operated in the weakness o f Christ’s incarnation and
death within the creaturely limitation of space and time.
Consequently, God generates redemption and salvation by a mode
of action different from that used in creation. To identify God’s
way o f operation in salvation with the omnipotent power of
creation rules out two related biblical ideas, (1) the historical
220 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

conception of God's governance o f human affairs (Providence),


and (2) the free will o f individuals in the process of salvation.
God redeems and saves by acting historically within the
future-present-past flow o f created history. More specifically, God
achieves redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ operating
within the limitations o f creation and sin. For instance, in Jesus
Christ, God reveals His wisdom and understanding in His work of
persuading sinners to accept the eternal order of creation. More
importantly, in Christ’s death, God reveals the depths of His love
for His sinful creatures. Christ’s victory over Satan and his
alternate order of creation becomes central to Christ’s high priestly
mediation in heaven in our behalf. On earth, Christ’s high priestly
ministry operates through His representative, the Holy Spirit,
calling sinners to repentance and holy living.
Ignoring the biblical understanding of God's historical mode
of operation in history and His respect for human free will distort
the interpretation o f the doctrines of justification and
sanctification. We will address the question of divine providence
in another publication.

§ 78. PRESERVATION OF CREATION


After creation week, God’s power continues to operate. God
completed the creation o f life on earth in six days. Yet, according
to Scripture, the physical reality o f the universe cannot exist
without God's ceaseless work of preservation.
In the Old Testament, Ezra enunciated this basic idea by
remarking, "You are Jehovah, you alone; you have made heaven,
the heaven o f heavens, with their entire host, the earth and all that
is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You preserve all o f them
alive and the host o f heaven worships you” (Nehemiah 9:6, my
translation and emphasis). In the New Testament, the author o f the
Epistle to the Hebrews teaches that Christ upholds “all things by
the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3, NKJ).
Creation in Scripture 221

Besides designing and bringing the universe into existence,


God keeps it alive by the same power of His word. The universe
does not have the power to exist in itself. We should not confuse
God’s preservation of His creation with His historical presence in
and providential rule o f the universe.
By preserving the existence o f the universe, God preserves
the existence of evil, injustice, and suffering not only of evil
persons but also of His children. This biblical conviction cancels
the argument of Openview theologians that God is not responsible
for human suffering because He did not know humans would rebel
against His order of creation. Because God knows and sustains the
existence of evil, we cannot rationally argue He is not somewhat
responsible for human suffering.
God’s foreknowledge and preservation of the created fallen
order, then, raise the question about God’s involvement in the
human suffering Job faced. Christian theology classifies this
question under the title of theodicy, literally, the “judgment of
God.” The biblical understanding of the basic principles o f
Christian Theology, then, makes a rational conclusive judgment of
God’s involvement with evil and suffering impossible. According
to God’s answer to Job, we learn that only God can answer
eschatologically the question regarding His involvement in human
suffering.

§ 79. New earth


The history of the world and salvation starts with creation,
continues with God’s sustentation of creation, and concludes with
the creation o f a "new heavens and new earth" (Isaiah 65:17;
Revelation 21:1-5). Against Christian tradition and Theistic
evolution this creation will not be a new timeless step in the
development of divine creation but the restoration of the perfect
original creation.
Isaiah describes the temporality and spatiality of the new
earth in clear terms. “For as the new heavens and the new earth,
222 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

which I will make, shall remain before me, says the LORD; so
shall your descendants and your name remain. From new moon to
new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to
worship before me, says the LORD. (Isaiah 66:22-23, NRS).
Why should God create a new earth? Scripture does not
support Christian tradition’s view that God creates a new earth to
dematerialize humans into the likeness of the soul so they can
attain the intended goal of creation, to contemplate God as He
knows himself. Here we still find some remains of Gnosticism in
the heart o f Christian tradition. In the Garden o f Eden Adam and
Eve saw God only in the person o f Jesus Christ because creatures
cannot see God as He sees himself. God’s design of creation
revolves around Christ’s mediation o f God’s transcendent reality
in space and time. Creatures cannot know God as He is in himself.
As we saw earlier, the Trinitarian structure o f God’s beings is
beyond the reach of creaturely knowledge and contemplation. We
know God as He accommodates His infinite transcendent being to
the limitations o f space and time as three different persons. The
oneness of the Trinitarian being will forever remain outside the
reach of human understanding and contemplation.
According to Scripture, God creates a new earth because sin
defiles not only the spiritual order o f creation but also the physical
order (Romans 8:19-21). Consequently, after Christ completes the
redemption of His spiritual creatures He will create the planet
anew to bring about the original order o f natural and spiritual
perfection He produced at the beginning of creation. When Christ
becomes the king of all the earth (the mediator of wisdom and
understanding), to the spiritual renewal of salvation and its
consummation God will add the renewal of the physical world.
This renewal includes the resurrection of the dead who
accepted Christ by faith and the renewal o f their bodies to the
original perfection Adam and Eve’s bodies had when God created
them. Through the history of the great controversy between Christ
and Satan, God brings about the restoration o f the spiritual order
of creation based on Christ’s mediation and human free
Creation in Scripture 223

acceptance and worship of God’s kingly rule. Thus, history, as


God originally intended at creation, will exist for the endless ages
of future temporal eternity.
Finally, the biblical view of human nature does not support
Christian tradition’s conviction about the existence of purgatory
after death and eternal hell as existing parallel to the new earth.
Instead, before the creation of the new earth, God will annihilate,
by cleansing fire, Satan and his rebellious angels, together with
those human beings who rejected the Trinity’s continuous call to
salvation and restoration to the original order of creation (Malachi
4:1; Revelation 20:9-10).

§ 80. CONCLUSION
In this chapter, we have surveyed God’s creation according to
Scripture. God, in His wisdom, designed our world in a moment o f
past eternity at the beginning of His way. At creation He brings
His design into existence by the decision o f His will and the might
of His power.
God’s design and creation of the world defines the nature of
all natural and spiritual entities in the universe (other than the
Trinitarian creative God). Besides making real an astonishing
diversity of natural and spiritual entities (ontology), God’s
creation brought into action the personal and historical activity of
wisdom (Proverbs 8:22-31). This eternal Logos or Son o f God
(John 1:1-3) began mediating wisdom and understanding to Adam
and Eve during their first full Sabbath day o f personal direct
communion in the Garden of Eden.
The christological design of creation assumes the Trinitarian
nature of God and His analogous-infinite-temporal reality, which
allows God’s reality to accommodate itself to created history so
that He might relate directly and personally with His spiritual
creatures: both angels and human beings. The centrality of Christ’s
mediatorial role in creation defines the concrete form o f divine
224 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

immanence. Divine immanence is the technical term by which


theologians speak about God’s relation to history.
Since God's creation rests entirely on His wisdom (design)
and power (existence) (Jeremiah 10:12), requiring no pre-existent
matter or extension of His own being, the scriptural conception is
properly captured in the traditional "ex-nihilo” (“out of
nothingness)" qualification.
By creating, God manifested His love outside of the eternal
personal relations of His Trinitarian life. In giving space and
reality to the “other than God,” creation assumes and expresses
God’s love. In a relational sense, God's creation limits God, who,
in establishing "space" for the creature, must then work in space
himself. It is vital to note that this space opens in God’s
Trinitarian life not in His eternal Trinitarian reality. In His eternal
reality, God is not limited by space and time as creatures are; nor
is He limited by the creatures themselves. Creation, thus, becomes
the necessary condition for the possibility of God's relationship
with creatures, and therefore, of their shared history.
According to Scripture, created natural reality includes,
besides planet earth, the infinite universe. Created spiritual
realities include angels and human beings. In this chapter, we did
not study the nature of angelic entities but the time o f their
creation. Biblical evidence led us to conclude God created angels
at an undetermined time before the creation of earth and after the
creation of the universe. Angels, then, dwell somewhere in the
universe where God’s throne is and where His historical presence
mediates wisdom and governs the universe. The creation o f the
universe as the beginning of God’s creation (Genesis 1:1-2) took
place after the beginning o f God’s way, when He created the
design of the universe and the blueprint of salvation (Proverbs
8:22-24). All these actions belong to the active historical life o f the
Trinity.
Regarding the time span God used to create life on earth we
concluded that any construction of Christian theology based on
Scripture as the sole source of theological knowledge cannot
Creation in Scripture 225

harmonize the six literal historical days of creation history with


deep time history without losing its internal theological and
historical coherence. The six-day sequence of creative events and
the seventh day of spiritual rest and spiritual relationship between
Christ and our first parents form part of God’s eternal life and the
history o f the universe. To say, as in classical Christian tradition,
that the six days of creation were in reality an “instant,” or, as in
modem Christian tradition that they were in reality billions of
years, ignores the infinite analogous temporality of God’s nature
and the sequential mode in which His power operates. Moreover,
the hypothetical nature of the scientific method and theoretical
conclusions do not force Christian theology to accept deep time
history as absolute unchallengeable truth.
The creation of human beings after God’s image was the
climax o f God’s creation on planet earth. As the angels, God
created humans as spiritual historical beings who know themselves
(Proverbs 20:27; 1 Corinthians 2:11), understand the world they
live in (Job 32:8), have freedom of thought and will (Proverbs
23:7; Deuteronomy 30:19), act on nature and other beings (Psalm
56:11; Genesis 1:26), and relate to God and other persons. The
human spirit, then, is historical, introspective, cognitive, relational,
free, active, and dependent on God’s revelation in space and time.
The goal God had in creating the universe, then, was to share His
historical life with His historical spiritual creatures.
A proper understanding o f redemption requires we
distinguish between the different ways God acts in creation and
redemption. In creation, God acts by unleashing His omnipotent
power. In redemption, God acts by interacting historically with
human beings by way o f revelation, persuasion, forgiveness, and
providential guidance. God directs and accommodates His
redemptive actions to human’s free historical decisions and their
actual consequences.
Once crated, the universe, earth, and its spiritual creatures do
not exist from any power within their own entities. Instead, God
sustains their existence and acts continuously through His
226 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

sustaining power. Because both angels and humans decided to


sever themselves from God’s wisdom and create their own self-
centered lives, God becomes somewhat responsible for evil in
maintaining the lives of these persons. Not only divine
foreknowledge but also His continuous sustenance of evil entities
taints Him with the responsibility of their evil actions. This is
confusing to many Christians and calls for the judgment of God by
His creatures (see, Job 23:1-7). Strange as it may seem, God’s
involvement with evil opens Him to judgment from His creatures.
Paul hopes that in the judgment His creatures will find God “true”
and in that way He might be justified in His works and prevail in
the judgment (Romans 3:4, ASV).
Precisely because evil has corrupted and deteriorated both the
nature and history God created for His faithful children, He has
promised to create a new earth for them to dwell in eternally. In
Scripture, the new earth is a restoration o f God’s original perfect
order o f creation. Human beings will live forever interacting with
God through the spatiotemporal mediation of Christ. Again,
Scripture does not support classical and modem Christian
traditions when they believe God created humans as lower level
spiritual beings as a necessary first step requiring Christ’s
incarnation as intermediate step to achieve the ultimate goal of a
new timeless and dematerialized “earth” where soul-like humans
will intellectually contemplate God. Taking aside the biblical
mediation o f Jesus Christ, this description brings humans so close
to God’s own divine reality that it can hardly avoid their ultimate
divinization.
Creation in Scripture 227

1 Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Science o f Logic, trans. A. V. Miller, Edited


by H. D. Lewis ed. (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1969),
144; 149-150.
2 “It would seem that the angels were created before the corporeal world.
For says (In Ep. ad Tit. i, 2): “Six thousand years of our time have not yet
elapsed; yet how shall we measure the time, how shall we count the ages,
in which the Angels, Thrones, Dominations, and the other orders served
God?” also says (De Fide Orth, ii): “Some say that the angels were
begotten before all creation; as the Theologian declares, He first of all
devised the angelic and heavenly powers, and the devising was the
making thereof.” Summa Theologica, Ia.61.3.ol.
3 Ibid., Ia.61.3.a.
4 Richard M. Davidson, "The Biblical Account of Origins," Journal o f
the Adventist Theological Society 14, no. 1 (2003): 4-43.
5Ibid., 22.
6Ibid., 31.
I Ibid., 29.
8 For an introduction to the study of scientific methodology in general see
Fernando Canale, "Evolution, Theology and Method Part I: Outline and
Limits of Scientific Methodology," Andrews University Seminary Studies
41, no. 1 (2003). For an introduction to the application of scientific
methodology to evolution see Fernando Canale, "Evolution, Theology,
and Method, Part 2: Scientific Method and Evolution," Andrews
University Seminary Studies 41, no. 2 (2003).
9 Karl Popper, The Logic o f Scientific Discovery (London: Hutchinson,
1968), 111.
10 See for instance, Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure o f Scientific
Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1970).
II Philip Kitcher, The Advancement o f Science: Science without Legend,
Onjectivity Whithout Illusions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993),
3.
228 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

12 Bultmann’s demythologization program described biblical sacred


history as “myth.” See for instance, Rudolf Bultmann, Existence and
Faith (New York: Meridian, 1960).
13 Barth favored the term “saga” to categorize theologically the type of
history Scripture presents in Genesis 1-11. Barth argues that “in addition
to the ‘historical’ there has always been a legitimate ‘non-historical’ and
pre-historical view of history, and its ‘non-historical’ and pre-historical
depiction in the form of saga” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics. 13
Volumes, ed. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance, 13 vols. (Edinburgh:
T. & T. Clark, 1936): III/1, 81). Saga is clearly defined as “an intuitive
and poetic picture of a prehistorical reality of history which is enacted
once and for all within the confines of time and space” (ibid.).
14 See Gibson, 24.
15Jurgen Moltmann applies the Greek understanding of ultimate reality to
eschatology. The world to come will not have a continuation of human
history forever but will consists in timeless reality of the soul coming to
share in the divine life of the trinity. The Coming o f God: Christian
Eschatology, trans. Margaret Kohl (Minneapolis, MA: Fortress, 1996).
16 Classical theology used the word “substance” to speak about reality. I
use the word thing or thingness to avoid confusing the reader into
thinking that I assume the interpretation of reality classical philosophy
connected to the word “substance.”
17Summa Theologica, Ia.75.2a.
xi Ibid., Ia.75.4a.
19Ibid., Ia.91.4.ro4; cf. Ia.91.4.ro3.
20 “We must be persuaded not only that as he once formed the world, so
he sustains it by His boundless power, governs it by His wisdom,
preserves it by His goodness, in particular, rules the human race with
justice and judgment, bears with them in mercy, shields them by His
protection; but also that not a particle of light, or wisdom, or justice, or
power, or rectitude, or genuine truth, will anywhere be found, which does
not flow from him, and of which he is not the cause; in this way we must
Creation in Scripture 229

learn to expect and ask all things from him, and thankfully ascribe to him
whatever we receive” (Calvin, Institutes, 1.2.1).
21 See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia.22.1-4.
22 “In these words we are not only urged by the example of a risen Savior
to follow newness of life, but are taught that by his power we are
renewed unto righteousness” (Calvin, Institutes, 11.16.13). “Not that faith
founded merely on his death is vacillating, but that the divine power by
which he maintains our faith is most conspicuous in his resurrection”
{Ibidem).
23 “Creation shows the power of God. So the power of God is creative
power. And since the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation, it
follows that the Gospel is the manifestation of creative power to save
men from sin” (Ellet J. Waggoner, The Everlasting Covenant (Abrams,
WI: Lighthouse Publishing, 1998), 16-17.
11. BASIC ELEMENTS AND THE MATRIX
OF CHRISTIAN THEOLOGY

One day when I was eight years old, I decided to make cookies.
My mother, being uncertain about my culinary abilities, hesitated
to give me free reign of the kitchen I, however, argued that I knew
how bake cookies as I had observed her prepare them dozens of
times and could easily follow the instructions in the recipe book.
Probably to keep me out o f mischief she reluctantly agreed with
the condition I had to clean up after I was done. Much to her
surprise, I was successful from my first try and continued to enjoy
baking cookies as a child. Somehow, in my early teens my
culinary explorations ceased as I pursued other interests. Yet
baking cookies taught me one very simple but important fact.
From the same dough, I could make cookies o f different shapes
and sizes simply by using different cookie cutters. The dough was
the same but the cutters were different. The cutters determined the
shape of the cookies.
As there are different kinds of cookies, there are different
kinds of Christians who believe and relate to God in various
fashions. Ever since the time of the Protestant Reformation,
Christians have continued to fragment forming new
denominations. In this book, we have grouped all theological and
denominational divisions under the general “Christian tradition”
label. At times, we have mentioned the Roman Catholic and
Protestant traditions when emphasizing denominational tradition.
At times, we have referred to classical and modem Christian
traditions when emphasizing theological traditions. Why are there
so many Christian denominations and theological traditions? The
simple answer to this very complex and serious question is that
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 231

Christians through the years have used different dough (sources of


theological knowledge) and cutters (theological matrix) to make
cookies (theology).
I will conclude our study on the basic elements o f Christian
theology by connecting them to the notion of theological matrix.
When taken all together in meaning and interrelationship, the basic
elements of Christian theology we have identified and studied
form a pattern that make up and work as a “matrix.” Going back to
our cookie analogy, we can say that the patterns created by the
interrelation of the basic elements shape the contour of the cookie
cutter. Think of Christian doctrines and teachings as a batch of
cookies. Making cookies (Christian doctrines) requires both dough
(sources of theological knowledge) and a cookie cutter
(theological matrix). It is this theological matrix which we will
introduce in this chapter as conclusion o f our study on the basic
elements o f Christian theology.
Changes in the dough recipe will produce a different batch of
cookies. Changes in the cookie cutter will also turn out a different
batch of cookies. In doing theology as in making cookies changes
in the materials (dough/sources of theological knowledge) and the
pattern applied on the material (cutters/theological matrix)
produce different culinary and theological results.
In this chapter, we will deal with the importance and
hermeneutical role of the basic elements o f Christian theology we
have studied in previous chapters. We will start by asking, what do
we mean by “theological matrix”? After that, we will deal with the
basic components any theological matrix includes. Then, we will
consider the interpretive origin of the contents of any concrete
theological matrix. Once this point is clear, we will explore the
hermeneutical role of the theological matrix. We will end the
chapter by delineating the content of the theological matrices
operative in both Christian tradition and biblical thinking.

§ 81 REVIEWING OUR GOAL


The goal that motivated my writing o f this book was to help
pastors and church members understand God’s revelation in
232 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Scripture. But, before we could dive into Scripture’s highly


complex revelation of God and develop a theology for the church
it was necessary to follow Paul’s advice to the Hebrews. When he
tried to explain the deep things of God which Christ had recently
revealed, Paul found his audience illiterate about the necessary
basic elements of Christian understanding. “We have much to say
about this [Christ’s ministry in heaven], but it is hard to explain
because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you
ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the
elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk,
not solid food!” (Hebrews 5:11-12, NIV). Someone has to teach
church members “the basic (rudimentary) elements o f the
principles of the oracles” [divine revelation].” The word
“estoicheia” (rudimentary elements) refers to basic things that
hold and form part of an integrated greater whole.
This illiteracy which Paul encountered, is the same we are
facing at the beginning of the twenty first century. When we speak
to a contemporary audience about Christ, the gospel, or
prophecies, we discover they do not understand because they are
unfamiliar with even the basic elements o f Christian theology. We
give them solid meat which they cannot digest since they, as
babies, need to start with spiritual milk. Consequently, throughout
this book we have concentrated our efforts in understanding the
basic elements o f Christian theology as a preamble for a deeper
and more detailed understanding of biblical revelation.
The understanding of the basic elements of Christian
theology we have gained so far should help us discover the
hermeneutical role the basic elements/matrix play when we
interpret Scripture and develop the doctrines and teachings of
Christian theology.

§ 82 WHAT IS A THEOLOGICAL MATRIX?


The study of the basic elements o f Christian theology required
assuming cognitive and methodological principles. The cognitive
principle about the source or sources from which we derive our
theological knowledge (chapter 1, §5-10); and a methodological
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 233

principle about basic procedures (chapter 2 §11-19) helped us to


achieve our immediate goal—to understand the basic elements of
Christian theology. Our ultimate goal, the ongoing development of
a Theology fo r the Church, requires the discovery, interpretation,
and application o f the theological matrix from which our
exegetical interpretations and systematic investigations spring.
In this concluding chapter, I will briefly sketch the notion of
theological matrix. A more complete exposition of the theological
matrices operating in Christian tradition and biblical thinking
requires detailed historical, theological, and scriptural
investigation. I will attempt to explore the historical matrix o f
Christian theology in a forthcoming volume. Let us turn our
attention now to the basic meaning of the word “matrix.”
Postmodern Western culture uses the word “matrix” in a
variety o f ways, in different contexts, and with different meanings.
We need to specify, then, the way in which we use the word
“matrix” in this chapter.
The etymology o f the English word “matrix” can be traced
back to the Latin “matrix” meaning, “dam, female animal kept for
breeding; parent tree; register, list.” Not surprisingly, in English
some meanings o f matrix are associated with the womb. For
instance, matrix could mean “an enclosure within which
something originates or develops,” and, “something within or from
which something else originates, develops, or takes form.” Having
this basic meaning as background, in our theological context I will
use the word matrix to mean “the set of conditions which provides
a background in which something grows or develops.” “What
grows or develops,” as said above, is our theological
understanding and the formulation o f a Theology fo r the Church.
The matrix o f theology, then, includes all the background
conditions (principles and basic elements) necessary for
developing Christian Theology in the light of Scripture. Because
in this book I limited my presentation to the most basic theological
principles and elements, the explanation of the theological matrix
will be limited and introductory in the same way.
234 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

§ 83 CONTENTS OF H IE THEOLOGICAL MATRIX


Let us say that the ensemble and inner articulation of all principles
and elements o f Christian theology forms the “theological matrix”
or “intellectual womb” from which Christian theology springs in
the mind of theologians, pastors, administrators, and lay persons.

1. Distinguishing between principles and elements


Throughout the book I have assumed a difference between
theological principles and elements without explaining the reason
or their actual contents explicitly. I thought it would be easier to
have a brief sample o f them first before attempting to explain their
differences.
The reason for distinguishing between principles and
elements is theoretical. When we do theology—read a text or
understand a doctrine— our minds work with revealed data
attempting to interpret it. To interpret data our mind uses ideas it
already possesses from earlier experiences to make sense of new
ones. We call the ideas we use to understand theology
“principles.”
To discover and understand the basic elements of Christian
theology we had to use the principle o f knowledge (revelation-
inspiration) (§ 12), and the methodological (procedure) principles
(see § 82). Assuming these theoretical principles helped us to
discover the basic elements o f Christian theology. They are not
theoretical assumptions but revealed realities. Thus, the difference
between principles and elements is that the former are theoretical
and abstract while the latter are real entities, activities, and
wisdom revealed by God which theology attempts to understand.

2. Elements as components of the matrix


At this point, we need to bring together the several basic elements
of Christian theology we have introduced and described in
previous chapters. They are (1) the basic characteristic o f God’s
reality and acts, (2) God’s Trinitarian nature (divine entity and
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 235

life), (3) His foreknowledge (cognition), (4) predestination (will),


and (4) creation (power); the origin and nature o f (5) the angels,
(6) human beings and (7) the world. In short, the basic elements o f
Christian theology deal with specific knowledge about God’s
reality and action, along with the reality and action o f His creation,
angels, human beings and the world (universe).
The basic elements of Christian theology, then, make up the
principle of reality of Christian theology (§12) and join the
principle of knowledge and methodological principles required to
think in the light of Scripture. Thus, the basic elements o f
Christian Theology play a leading hermeneutical role. In Paul’s
language, our understanding of the “spiritual milk” (basic
elements o f theology) becomes a principle guiding us to
understand and receive the “spiritual meat” (the whole detailed
system of Christian theological truth) o f a complete theology for
the church.
Considered separately, these are basic elements or realities
involved in theological interpretation and teachings. Considered
together in their relationship, they compose the matrix from which
Christian theology springs. God’s relation to His creatures makes
up the matrix from which springs the inner logic o f theological
thinking, interpretation, and doctrines. When we understand and
store the contents of the matrix in our minds and use them as
guides in our interpretation of Scripture and construction of
Christian doctrines, the matrix becomes the principle of
articulation (metaphysics) (§ 12). We will study the historical
matrix o f Christian theology in another volume.

§ 84 THEOLOGICAL MATRIX AND INTERPRETATION


Earlier in our study, we discovered that to know is to understand,
and to understand is to interpret (§ 12). All human knowledge,
including theology falls within the general patterns of
interpretation. Not surprisingly, we found out Christian tradition
has interpreted the basic elements o f Christian Theology in various
even contradictory ways, in turn producing different theological
projects, schools of theology and denominations.
236 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

At this level, diversity springs from the choice believers make


about the source of theological knowledge (principle of
knowledge). Soon after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christian
tradition replaced Scripture as the sole source of theological
knowledge with the multiple sources of theological knowledge.
Thus, as its sources of theological knowledge change, so does the
theology and teachings of Christian tradition.
The teachings of philosophy and science led Christian
tradition to interpret the basic elements o f Christian theology
(principle of reality) in various ways, which in turn led to different
theological projects. However, the multiplicity of interpretations
allows theologians to replace tradition with Scripture as the source
of knowledge from which to understand the basic elements, the
matrix, and the theological project it supports. In other words, the
multiplicity of conflicting interpretations produced by Christian
tradition opens the door for Scripture to replace tradition
Although in theory, some conservative Protestant theologians
claim to build their beliefs only from the contents and authority of
Scripture, in practice, neither Protestantism nor Catholicism has
ever produced a systematic understanding of Christian doctrines
from Scripture alone, much less an interpretation of the basic
elements of Christian theology.
As shown in previous chapters, by following classical and
modem philosophical teachings, Christian tradition departed from
the Scriptural interpretation of the basic elements and matrix o f
Christian theology and never attempted to bring its teachings back
under the hermeneutical authority of Scripture.
In other words, we discover the meaning of the basic
elements and matrix o f Christian theology in (1) the sources o f
theology we choose as reliable. In the sources, we find (2) the
interpretation of the basic elements and matrix created by their
authors; in the case of philosophy and science, human authors; in
the case of Scripture, a divine author. Our choice of theological
sources, then, determines the interpretation of the basic elements
and theological matrix (3) we adopt and use as hermeneutical
guide in (4) our own biblical readings and search for
understanding of God’s teachings and will.
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 237

§ 85 CHRISTIAN TRADITION AND THEOLOGICAL MATRIX


In this section, we will consider the basic pattern or inner logic
that flow from the Roman Catholic and Protestant interpretations
of the theological matrix.
The matrix assumes the existence and interrelation o f all
reality with God the Creator. In the matrix meaning flows from the
order of causes. The Trinitarian God determines the order of
causes through His actions. God’s actions settle the order of
causes and therefore the inner logic or articulation of all reality
(angels, humans, the physical universe, the world) with God.
They are (1) the basic characteristic of God’s reality and acts, (2)
God’s Trinitarian nature (divine entity and life), (3) His
foreknowledge (cognition), (4) predestination (will), and (4)
creation (power); the origin and nature o f (5) the angels, (6)
human beings and (7) the world. In short, the basic elements o f
Christian theology deal with specific knowledge about God’s
reality and action; and the reality and action o f His creation,
angels, human beings and the world (universe).
Roman Catholicism works from the pyramid version o f the
theological matrix. Only God is at the top of the pyramid because
in His being He has absolute perfection that includes all the finite
limited perfections of created entities present throughout the
pyramid in His eternal ideas. God is perfect because He is
immutably timeless. God created the rest of the pyramid in time as
a duplication of what from eternity already exists in His
immutable ideas. Therefore, created entities can only participate
partially in divine perfections according to God’s will and design.
In Roman Catholic thinking, the pyramidal design o f reality
determines that God relates with His creatures via a timeless net
that connects Him with what is timelessly real in each entity. In
theological parlance, God’s relates with His creatures spiritually,
that is, within the immaterial and timeless dimension o f reality.
Besides, because of its timelessness the divine order o f theological
causes is simultaneous. History, then, falls outside the causal order
of divine activity, and therefore o f the Roman Catholic matrix, to
do Christian theology. We have already learned in previous
238 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

chapters how the timeless understanding of divine reality which


Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians borrowed from Greek
philosophy led them to reject the historical interpretation o f the
theological matrix of Christian theology we find in Scripture.
In Roman Catholic thinking, then, the theological matrix
places divine being and actions on the spiritual side of reality.
Human being and actions are a composite o f (1) timeless spiritual
finite perfection, and (2) temporal imperfection. God will
overcome the material composition of His human creatures at the
end with His new creation. Consequently, before the final
consummation takes place, Roman Catholicism has no room for
the historical matrix of Christian theology operative in Scripture.
In its view, history is not the real side o f reality. The real side o f
reality is the spiritual timeless side humans can experience through
their immaterial souls (§67. 4).
History is the place from which we access the spiritual non-
historical world. According to the pyramid matrix of theology, we
relate to God and God relates to us vertically, through the
pyramid’s levels of perfection. Being so high up in the pyramid,
God is too perfect to relate directly with temporal reality. Thus,
the notion of intermediaries plays a prominent role in Roman
Catholic hierarchical theology, including the Virgin Mary, the
angels, and the saints, the pope and the priests.
Protestantism works from the predestination version o f the
theological matrix. Only God eternally decides what takes place
outside timelessness in the realm of history (the Roman Catholic
pyramid). Divine Sovereignty is the ultimate reality overruling
human history. By losing its freedom, human history becomes
dependent on God’s eternal decision and power. God does not
operate His works in the sequential order o f space and time but
becomes the manifestation of what always exists eternally in His
decision. Aquinas has a similar viewpoint of God’s will overruling
in human history that he places under divine providence.
The timeless ahistorical matrix affects the whole range o f
biblical interpretation and theological construction in both the
classical and modem schools o f Christian tradition. Unfortunately,
Scripture neither supports classical tradition’s interpretation o f the
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 239

basic elements of Christian theology nor its matrix. Instead,


Scripture works from a spatiotemporal and historical theological
matrix.

§ 86 SCRIPTURE AND THEOLOGICAL MATRIX


This difference helps us, for instance, to understand why
Roman Catholic and Protestant theologians correctly argue that
evolution is compatible with their version of Christianity. Since
evolution does not conflict with the classical matrix from which
Christian tradition springs, they can harmonize deep time to
Christianity without changing its theological structure, doctrines,
or the inner logic of their respective traditions. The difference also
determines that in Christian tradition salvation is a spiritual non-
historical event, while according to Scripture salvation is a
spiritual-historical series of events.
Many recognize that Christianity is a historical religion
because it claims God became a historical human being in Christ.
However, Christian tradition has subsumed the history o f the
human Christ within the timeless and ahistorical matrix derived
from Greek philosophy.
We agree that Christianity is a historical religion because it
finds its ultimate ground in the historical incarnation and sacrifice
o f God in Jesus of Nazareth. However, Scripture carefully frames
its understanding of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ from a
historical understanding of the theological matrix. Old Testament
authors carefully uncovered and articulated the historical matrix
New Testament authors assumed when they testified about God’s
revelation and acts in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, Christian tradition replaced the Old Testament
understanding o f the basic elements of Christian theology and the
matrix they generate with a philosophical/scientific understanding
of them. This early paradigm shift in the interpretation o f biblical
theology is at the basis of Christian tradition as we know it today.
By rejecting Old Testament thinking about the basic elements of
theology and its matrix, Christian tradition has not yet been able to
240 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

properly understand God’s plan and its ongoing historical


fulfillment through Jesus Christ.
For this reason, we need to reverse the early paradigm shift of
Christian tradition by replacing Christian tradition’s understanding
o f the basic elements of Christian Theology and its matrix with a
scriptural interpretation of them. Consequently, we need to
carefully study the biblical understanding of the theological
matrix. In other words, based on our present study and its
discovery o f the biblical understanding of the basic elements of
theology, we need to probe further into the way in which biblical
authors understood the theological matrix.
Because Scripture understands the nature of the Trinitarian
God as infinite analogous temporality, the inner logic o f the
theological matrix must spring from His historical acts. Instead of
the classical metaphysical pyramid of timeless perfection and its
vertical spiritual inner logic, we need to discover, through biblical
revelation, the history of God in the sequence of its revealed and
anticipated actions (prophecies) in His creation.
Consequently, we can represent the inner logic springing
from the biblical interpretation o f the theological matrix as an
ongoing horizontal line. In other words, according to the biblical
theological matrix we should not interpret Scripture and build our
doctrines assuming the actual content of God’s revealed micro
history in the incarnation of Christ. Instead, we should understand
God’s incarnation, interpret Scripture, and build our understanding
o f Christian doctrines from the broader matrix provided by God’s
macro history.
As we searched in this volume for the biblical understanding
o f the basic elements of Christian theology, we already pierced
back into the infinite past of God’s history before creation.
Although the knowledge we gained from this exercise is
foundational, by no means is it complete. It only gives us the
broad historical context in God’s historical eternal life, nature,
knowledge, foreknowledge, predestination, and creation.
From this starting point, we need to inquire in Scripture about
God’s actions since creation and the way human beings responded
to His historical doings and initiatives. By understanding God’s
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 241

revelation about His history in relation to our universe, we will


gain access to the details o f the historical matrix from which we
should understand Scripture, build our present understanding of
Christian doctrines, and through prophecy project our gaze into
future eternity.

§ 87IHEOLOGICAL MATRIX, SALVATIONAND MISSION


Early in this book, we argued that theology is a search for
understanding God’s revelation in Scripture. As such, theology is
not merely speculative knowledge unnecessary for salvation or the
ministry and the life of the church. Unfortunately, most Christians
and ministers assume that a deep understanding of divine things is
not necessary for salvation. Their ministers have led them to
believe that baptism is all it takes to obtain the assurance of
salvation. They are unaware that such a claim is theological and
stands on theological assumptions about the basic elements and
matrix of Christian theology. Without a knowledge of the true
basic elements and matrix involved in the interpretation of
Scripture and the constructions o f Christian doctrines, it is
amazing how easily believers are deceived by pastors, pastors
deceived by professors, professors deceived by scholars, and
scholars deceived by tradition.
For this reason, Christian believers, pastors, professors and
scholars belonging to denominations following Christian tradition
should ask themselves whether God actually supports the way of
salvation the leaders promote in their denomination. Oddly
enough, we do more research to buy a house or car than to choose
a religion or Christian denomination.
In our postmodern times, most persons assume that in
religious matters all roads lead to Rome. In other words, all
religions represent the same God and will deliver the same eternal
life to their members. Yet simple reasoning reveals that a God
producing so many contradictory revelations may not be as
intelligent and powerful as needed to fulfill the promises o f all
religions. Even within Christianity, the many denominations
representing Christ hold quite different views about salvation and
242 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

the way to obtain it. The differences are not peripheral but central
to one’s eternal salvation. Thus, from a simple practical viewpoint
we should make certain that what we believe stems from God and
not from human imagination. We should replace tradition with
Scripture. If our beliefs do not come from God but from human
imagination, Christianity becomes mass psychology or group
therapy. Perhaps that is precisely what Christian tradition has led
most postmodern individuals to expect from Christianity, mere
therapy for getting through life. Yet there are also numerous
individuals who seriously think their religion is the road to life
after death. In other words, for them religion is a matter of life and
death. They are right, but only the God o f Scripture, the Creator of
Heaven and Earth has the power to fulfill such eternal
expectations.
Whoever reads Scripture will soon discover that God is clear
about His promise and work of salvation. As we discussed earlier,
God saves through His revelation which He addressed to our
understanding (§17, 2-3). For this reason, theology—our
understanding of God, His work, and His will for us— is the
central tool through which the Trinitarian God o f Scripture
operates salvation. Christians ignorant o f God’s revelation, by
either tradition or choice, are in serious danger of believing in a lie
and losing their eternal salvation.
Theology is also indispensable for the unity of the church as
worldwide community of faith. Unity results from a common
understanding of the same God, His acts and will for us. God
generates unity in His church by revealing Himself, His will, His
acts and promises in Scripture. As each church member seeks to
understand His revelation, Christ as Mediator o f wisdom,
understanding and forgiveness builds unity o f mind, purpose, and
action in the community.
Finally, our theological understanding determines our
missionary involvement. The church exists for missionary
purposes. Christ’s church is not a waiting room but a mission post.
To be Christians we need to know God in Christ. To know God in
Christ we need to understand His revelation in Scripture through
the illumination of His Holy Spirit, and surrender our entire being
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 243

to Christ as eternal Mediator of divine wisdom and understanding.


Through the historical process o f understanding His revelation,
God transforms us by the work of the Holy Spirit and saves us
through the work of Christ’s death in our behalf. By accepting
Christ’s mediation of wisdom and understanding in Scripture, God
restores in us the image of His Son, Jesus Christ, and prepares us
to become His disciples. To be a Christian, then, is nothing less
and nothing more than to be a disciple, which is to share in the
teaching mission of Christ. As Christ, we die to self and live to
Christ and His ongoing mission on earth. And as missionaries we
become tools of the Holy Spirit helping others to understand
God’s revelation in Scripture, one basic element at a time.

§ 88 CONCLUSION
Our goal in this book has been to replace Christian tradition with
Scripture. To achieve this goal we cannot start, as Christians
usually do, by reflecting on Christ, the cross, His heavenly,
ministry, His love or many other important doctrinal teachings in
Scripture. As theologians, pastors, and believers think about these
doctrinal themes today, they are unaware of the deep level of
theological assumptions implicitly and unconsciously determining
their thinking. For Scripture to replace Christian tradition we need
to explore what Scripture says on the basic elements o f Christian
theology.
We learned earlier that Christian theology attempts to
understand reality as a whole from the perspective of God and His
actions (§15. 2). The few realities involved in the study of
Christian theology are God, the world, and creatures. Christian
doctrines and actions always involve them. For this reason, they
become the basic elements of Christian theology believers always
assume when thinking about Christian doctrines and beliefs.
From these three theological realities, a more detailed study
revealed the following basic elements of Christian theology. They
are: (1) the basic characteristic o f God’s reality and acts, (2) God’s
Trinitarian nature (divine entity and life), (3) His foreknowledge
(cognition), (4) predestination (will), and (4) creation (design and
244 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

power); the origin and nature of (5) the angels, (6) human beings
and (7) the world. In short, the basic elements of Christian
theology deal with specific knowledge about God’s reality and
action; and the reality and action of His creation: angels, human
beings and the world (universe).
Yet, these basic elements o f Christian theology, which all
believers assume, are not disconnected but closely interrelated
forming a net of meaning I call “the theological matrix.” Not
surprisingly, in English some meanings of matrix are associated
with the womb. For instance, matrix could mean “an enclosure
within which something originates or develops,” and, “something
within or from which something else originates, develops, or takes
form.”
Considered separately, these seven points we studied are
basic elements or realities involved in theological interpretation
and teachings. Considered together in their relationship, they
compose the matrix from which Christian theology springs. God’s
relation to His creatures makes up the matrix from which springs
the inner logic of theological thinking, interpretation, and
doctrines.
Christian tradition follows a timeless interpretation of the
matrix or inner logic of Christian beliefs. Roman Catholicism
works from the pyramid version of the theological matrix. Only
God is at the top of the pyramid because in His being He has
absolute perfection that includes all the finite limited perfections
of created entities throughout the pyramid in His eternal ideas.
God is perfect because He is immutably timeless. God created the
rest o f the pyramid in time as a duplication of what from eternity
already exists in His immutable ideas. Therefore, created entities
can only participate partially in divine perfections according to
God’s will and design.
In Roman Catholic tradition, the pyramidal design o f reality
determines that God relates with His creatures via a timeless net
that connects Him with what is timelessly real in each entity. In
theological parlance, God relates with His creatures spiritually,
that is, within the immaterial and timeless dimension o f reality.
Besides, because of its timelessness, the divine order o f
Basic Elements and Theological Matrix 245

theological causes is simultaneous. History, then, falls outside the


causal order of divine activity and therefore of the Roman Catholic
matrix for doing theology.
Catholicism sees history as the place from which we access
the spiritual non-historical world. According to the pyramid matrix
o f theology, we relate to God and God relates to us vertically,
through the pyramid’s levels of perfection. Being so high up in the
realm of perfection God is too perfect to relate directly with
temporal reality. Thus, the notion of intermediaries plays a
prominent role in Roman Catholic hierarchical theology, which
includes the Virgin Mary, angels, saints, the pope and the priests.
In Protestant tradition, God’s timeless predestination of
human history becomes the center of its theological matrix. Only
God eternally decides what takes place outside timelessness in the
realm of history (the Roman-Catholic pyramid). Divine
sovereignty is the ultimate reality overruling human history. By
loosing its freedom, human history becomes dependent on God’s
eternal decision and power. Yet God does not operate His works in
the sequential order o f space and time, His world is the
manifestation of what always and eternally exists in His decision.
Scripture replaces Christian tradition’s interpretation of the
matrix. Because Scripture understands the nature of the Trinitarian
God as infinite analogous temporality, the inner logic of the
theological matrix springs from His historical acts. Instead o f the
classical metaphysical pyramid of timeless perfections and its
vertical spiritual inner logic, we need to discover, through biblical
revelation the history o f God in the sequence o f its revealed and
anticipated actions (prophecies) in His creation.
In consequence, we can represent the inner logic springing
from the biblical interpretation of the theological matrix as an
ongoing horizontal line. In other words, according to the biblical
theological matrix we should not interpret Scripture and build our
doctrines assuming the actual content of God’s revealed micro
history in the incarnation of Christ. Instead, we should understand
God’s incarnation, interpret Scripture, and build our understanding
of Christian doctrines from the broader matrix provided by God’s
macro history.
246 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

From the theological matrix flows the entire system of


Christian beliefs and teachings. The matrix becomes one the
leading hermeneutical principles theologians assume and apply in
their interpretation of Scripture and the construction of Christian
doctrines. When Scripture replaces tradition, the interpretation of
the basic elements and matrix o f Christian theology changes
radically from a non-historical to a historical pattern. These
changes unleash a radical shift in theological hermeneutics that
requires the complete deconstruction of Christian tradition and the
construction of a new understanding of Christian teachings and
practices faithful to divine revelation in Scripture.
12. EPILO G UE

Our brief introductory outline of the basic elements involved in


understanding and formulating the beliefs and teachings of
Christian theology has revealed some important facts all believers
and Christian leaders should carefully consider before committing
their lives and ministries to any Christian tradition or
denomination.
We discovered that early Christian theologians interpreted the
basic elements o f Christian theology by replacing Scripture with
philosophical teachings about the reality of God, the world, and
human beings. Ever since this early grounding paradigm shift in
Christian thinking took place, Christian tradition used it as the
basis for interpreting its theological matrix, interpreting Scripture,
and constructing Christian beliefs. Roman Catholic theology
became the leading theological project better expressing the
teachings o f Christian tradition.
We should not imagine that the Roman Catholic system of
Christian tradition logically integrates all elements. In the
thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas smoothed many contradictory
teachings he received from the authoritative teachings of the
Fathers o f the Church.
In the sixteenth century, Protestant reformers found a
foundational inconsistency between the teachings on salvation of
Christian tradition and Scripture. For the first time in the history of
Christian theology, theologians used Scripture to seriously
challenge the teachings of Christian tradition. The sola Scriptura
(Scripture only) slogan became popular. Yet no major
denomination applied the slogan to their understanding of the
248 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

basic principles or theological matrix. Protestant beliefs continued


to flow from Christian tradition.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Christian
tradition suffered a radical modification as result of philosophical
criticism o f its cognitive principle, that is, of the interpretation of
the way in which Scripture originated. This change in Christian
tradition is known as “modernism,” because it follows the
modernist understanding of knowledge as articulated by Kant and
the new empirical scientific methodology. Since science has no
place for supernatural historical causes theologians under the
influence of these philosophical modifications became convinced
that human historical tradition originated Scripture. In Scripture,
then, they do not see God revealing truths about Himself, the
world, and the future; but simply mythological narratives about
God acting in time.
Modem tradition, then, rejected Scripture as the source of
true revealed knowledge, and yet it continued to use the classical
timeless interpretation of the basic elements of Christian theology
and its matrix. Thus, theology became the study of sources
produced by tradition, including Scripture. German theologians
started talking about “the history of traditions”
(traditionsgeschicte). In other words, the study o f theology is the
study of the different traditions we find in history, not of revealed
Truth coming from God. With the advent of modem Christian
tradition, there is no longer the conviction that we have true
information originating in God.
Instead, we have a variety of human traditions that testify
about the God who transcends time, space, and history; the God
we can hope to meet upon death. If there is no direct cognitive
divine communication with human beings, no religious tradition is
better than another. All religious traditions, Christian and non-
Christian, hold the key to eternal life after death. As a result, in our
postmodern days religious allegiance has become a matter of birth
or personal convenience. Educated persons simply do not think of
religion as an objective issue regarding eternal truth, but a
personal, subjective issue where feelings play the major role. In
times where Western individualism isolates and uproots human
Epilogue 249

beings, postmodern women and men consider traditions (religious


and non-religious) as helpful avenues to find their roots or create
new ones for their posterity.
While Christian tradition rules in mainstream denominations,
both Roman Catholic and Protestant, we find at the fringes of
organized religion a growing Christian core that still believes
Scripture is God’s word and the only source o f truth.
Unfortunately, these believers have not been able to free
themselves from the shackles o f Christian tradition. This book has
attempted to show why and how Christians should and can finally
stand firmly on the sola scriptura principle:by letting Scripture
replace tradition. Scripture, and not tradition, becomes our only
source in the understanding of the basic principles of Christian
theology, the theological matrix they form, and the understanding
of Christian beliefs and teachings that flow from the historical
matrix of biblical thinking.
Of course, despite anyone’s greatest efforts to return to
Scripture alone, organized religions based on Christian traditions
will continue to exist, traditions that have not held up to logical
scrutiny, traditions based on basic elements that continue to clash
with the Bible as well as each other. But they will continue to
exist, continue to grow, and, inevitably, continue to fragment. At
the same time, however, there is an unwavering core o f Christian
believers who, going against the popular current, will stand firm
and continue to develop their understanding of Christianity from
the historical matrix of biblical thinking.
Dear reader, the time will soon come when every human
being will have to take religion seriously. After all, religion is
ultimately a question of death or life, my death or my life, your
death or your life—for all eternity! Human imagination has
offered up entertaining stories o f an alternate reality, a “reality”
that has been piecemealed, taking scraps from the Bible, other
scraps from philosophical treatises, and still others from folklore.
This it has served up to the masses under the title of
“Christianity,” and the masses have unwittingly eaten it up. It is
time for each conscientious woman and man to come out o f their
religious daze and make a solid evaluation o f the facts. Can
250 Basic Elements of Christian Theology

Christianity continue to have credibility without the corroboration


of either reason or Scripture? Can we continue to stand idly by
while others remain blinded by tradition, slaves to a lie?
Whether a religious leader, student or lay person, I hope these
pages have inspired you to think about your own standing before
God and moved you to an even greater determination to uphold
His Word as sole authority in your mission to teach and reach
others for His glory and honor.
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G L O SSA R Y

Anabaptists: Radical Protestant movement arising in the 16th


century and advocating the baptism and church membership of
adult believers only, nonresistance, and the separation of church
and state. They develop their beliefs from the New Testament.
Analogical: Analogy is a similitude. A word or concept is
“analogical” when we apply it to things that are similar; that is to
say, that share some characteristics that are identical to both, and
other characteristics that are completely unique of each reality.
Canon: List of the book of Scripture composed under Divine
inspiration.
Deism: The belief in the existence o f a God or Supreme Being,
based on the light of nature. God exists outside the world and does
not intervene in human affairs.
Epistemology: The philosophical discipline that studies the way in
which human knowledge functions in forming ideas and words.
Equivocal: Equivocity is difference. A word or concept is
“equivocal” when we apply it to things that are different; that is to
say, that do not share any characteristic.
Hermeneutics of suspicion: This principle o f interpretation
applies doubt to tradition. This principle is contrary to the
hermeneutics of authority, according to which one receives
tradition as dogma.
Hermeneutics: The philosophical discipline that studies the
nature and operations o f human interpretation.
Glossary 257

Immanence: Immanence means to be or exist inside either a


reality or a realm of action. When applied to God, immanence
names his relation and activities within the realm o f creation.
Metaphysics: The metaphysical discipline that studies reality as a
whole. Philosophers deal with the issue o f the “one and the many.”
Naturalism: The conviction that nature is the one original and
fundamental source of all that exists; and the attempt to explain
everything in terms of nature.
Neoplatonism:
Nihilism: The viewpoint that traditional values and beliefs are
unfounded and that existence is senseless and useless. The
doctrine that denies any objective ground o f truth and especially of
moral truths. The intellectual who bows to no authority and
accepts no doctrine, however widespread, unless supported by
proof.
Ontology, Ontological: The philosophical discipline that studies
the general characteristics of reality, and applies them to the
understanding of God, human beings and the world.
Panentheism: The view that all is in God but God is more than
the all of the universe. The universe is God's body, but God's
awareness or personality is greater than the sum of all the parts of
the universe
Pantheism: The view according to which God and the world are
one.
Process Philosophy: Process philosophy is the view that reality is
not static and timeless as in classical metaphysics, but at all levels
a process. This view fits well with both the Neo-platonic
dichotomy between timeless spiritual and temporal realms. This
view fits well with scientific evolutionism.
Process Theology: Process theology results from the application
of process philosophical principles to the understanding of God.
The result is a dichotomic (bipolar) conception of God. As
258 Basic Elements of Christian Theology
classical theologians conceived human entities as composite of
timeless soul and material body, process theology believes God
has a timeless soul and a material body, the world.
Transcendence: Is the characteristic of God’s reality by which it
surpasses the finitude and limitations of his creation.
Univocal: Univocity is identity. A word or concept is “univocal”
when we apply it to things in with the same identical meaning.
Perichoresis: literally, “dancing around.” It is a term used to
designate the inner timeless relations of the trinity in classical
theinking
Circuminsessio is the vital circulation or mutual interflow of
divine life. A synonym of Perichoresis.
Immanent Trinity: By the term “immanent” Trinity, theologians
refer to the timeless reality of God in itself, unrelated to creation.
Economic Trinity: By the term “economic” Trinity, theologians
refer to the biblical account of historical activities of Father, Son,
and Holy Spirit in the plan of salvation.
Entity: A thing or reality.
Theological project: Theological projects are ways or models for
doing Christian theology. Theological projects stem from the
methodological and hermeneutical choices communities o f faith
make. For instance, to choose the multiplex matrix of theological
sources as cognitive basis for Christian believe unleashes the
classical and modem projects of Christian Theology which include
Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.
Theological Tradition: Is a community of faith living within the
limits and characteristics of the theological project they have
chosen to follow.
Classical Theology: Classical theology is the theological project
that progressively gained broad acceptance beginning in the fifth
and sixth centuries when Roman Catholicism became the
predominant spiritual and political power in Europe.
’ Glossary 259

Modern Theology: Modem Theology is a way of doing Christian


theology on the conviction that Scripture’s theology is the product
of human imagination, not of divine revelation.
Philosophy: Philosophy is the human search for wisdom. It
includes, a variety of disciplines such as Metaphysics,
Epistemology, Ethics, Aesthetics, Philosophy or Right,
Hermeneutics, and Philosophy o f History.
Modernism: Modernism is the scientific approach to reality.
Originates with Descartes in the XVIth century and includes
thinkers like, John Locke, David Hume, Immanuel Kant, and
George F. Hegel
Postmodernism: Postmodernism is the conviction that human
reason cannot produce absolute truth. All truth is regional, that is
to say, shaped by the historical limitations of communities.
Postmodernism, then is the socialization of subjectivism of
existentialism, and earlier twentieth century philosophy according
to which truth springs from the creativity of the individual
Anti-metaphysics: Anti metaphysics is the scientific tendency to
reject classical philosophical explanations about God, human
beings and the world.
Compatible freedom: Compatible freedom is the understanding
that human freedom adjusts or is compatible to absolute divine
sovereignty. We experience God’s immutable decisions guiding
and determining our lives as if we took the free decisions
ourselves. Thus, our freedom is compatible with absolute divine
determination of all historical events. In this view, history is
closed. That is to say, there are no real new events created by
human freedom independently from God’s universal absolute
decision.
Libertarian freedom: Libertarian freedom is the belief that God
does not determine human freedom. In this view, history is open.
That is to say, human freedom originates new events not
predetermined or closed by God’s universal absolute decision.
260 Basic Elements of Christina i ueology
Metanarrative: Metanarrative is a broad all-inclusive narrative of
events that determines what is truth and acceptable to any given
society.