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624 pages
Jul 2003
Bethany House

Systematic Theology, Volume 2

by Dr. Norman Geisler

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Synopsis for Volume Two

Part One: God (Theology Proper)

In Volume 1 we discussed Introduction to Theology (Prolegomena) and the Bible (Bibliology). These serve as the method and basis for doing systematic theology.

In this volume (2), we will focus on Theology Proper, that is, on the attributes and activities of God. In the first half, attention is centered on God Himself—His attributes and His characteristics. This covers both God’s nonmoral (metaphysical) attributes (chapters 1–12) as well as His moral ones (chapters 13–17). After treating who God is, in the second half we will discuss what God does (in relation to His creation).

Part Two: Creation

Again, in the second half, attention is turned from what God is (His attributes) to what God does (His activity). There are several areas of God’s activity:

First, the creation of all things material (chapters 18–19);

Second, the origin of spiritual creation (chapter 20);

Third, the sustenance of all creation (chapter 21);

Fourth, God’s relation to His creation, such as transcendence over and immanence in (chapter 22), His sovereign control over all creation (chapter 23), and His providence for the universe (chapter 24).

This will complete the survey of God’s activity in His creation, other than His acts of redemption, which will be treated in Volume 3: Sin and Salvation.

* * *

Part One: God (Theology Proper)

Chapter One

Introduction:What Is an Attribute of God?

By “attribute” is meant some characteristic that can be attributed to God’s nature—an essential trait of God. Other terms for attribute are “property,” “perfection,” or “name.” (“Names of God” is an older term; see Thomas Aquinas, ST, 1a.13.1.) “Attribute” will be used both because it is something attributable to God and because it is a customary term.

Few (if any) studies are more important than that of the attributes of God. There are many reasons for this, including the following.

All Basic Theological Truth Depends Upon God’s Attributes

Virtually every major doctrine of the faith is based on the doctrine of God. For instance, the claims that the Bible is the Word of God and that Jesus Christ is the Son of God are entirely dependent on what is meant by God, of whom the Bible is the Word and Christ the Son. Likewise, a miracle is defined as a special act of God (see Geisler, “M, D” in BECA), but there cannot be acts of God unless there is a God who can act, and only a theistic God can perform these special acts known as miracles (see Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume 1, chapter 3). Even doctrines like eschatology depend on a God who can infallibly predict the future and who has the omnipotent power to bring about what He desires to occur. The same is true of the doctrine of the Atonement: The meanings of reconciliation, propitiation, divine satisfaction (see Volume 3), and many other aspects of redemption depend on the kind of God whose acts they are.

If, for example, God is not absolutely just, then both the need for Christ’s atonement and the justification of hell (see Volume 4) are undermined. The fact is that every essential Christian teaching is dependent for its validity on the orthodox doctrine of God. Hence, a study of His attributes is key to the rest of evangelical theology.

We Cannot Recognize False “Gods” Without Knowing the

True God

The Bible constantly exhorts believers to beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15), to test the spirits (1 John 4:1), and to watch out for the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). But there is no way to recognize error unless we know the truth; counterfeits cannot be detected unless we know the genuine article. Likewise, there is no way to determine what is false about God unless we know what is true about Him. Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). A study of the attributes of the true God is essential to the fulfillment of the apologetic task of defending the faith (Phil. 1:7; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3).

Error Has Practical Consequences

In his excellent book Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver lays out the answer to the question of why one’s beliefs are important. (His reasoning applies with even greater force to ideas about God.) A brief look at history tells the often-tragic tale of the results of beliefs. Hitler’s fascist ideas cost more than twelve million lives during the holocaust. Stalin’s Marxist ideas eventually liquidated at least eighteen million. Chairman Mao’s Communist ideas eliminated some thirty million. And when one’s beliefs involve God, an even more important consequence lies in the balance—the timeless souls of billions. Theological ideas have longer-lasting consequences than mere political ideas—eternal consequences (Mark 8:36).

Our Spiritual Growth Is Dependent Upon Our Concept of God

A. W. Tozer (1897–1963) said, “What you think of God is the most important thing about you” (KH, 1). In our spiritual lives, we cannot transcend the God we worship; we can rise no higher than what we believe to be the highest. Our concept of God will have a marked effect on our practical lives.

It is a psychological fact that we tend to become like what (or whom) we admire the most. Hero worship produces followers who tend to emulate their idols, whether they are athletes, saints, or gods. Because worshipers become like the gods they worship, our godliness tends to become like our God. Our concept of God will, therefore, define the limits of our godliness.

A Commitment to What Is Less Than Ultimate Will Not Be Ultimately Satisfying

No one knew this better than the wisest man who ever lived. Solomon tried everything “under the sun” for satisfaction. Whether it was wine, women, wealth, worldliness, wisdom, works, or wickedness, he concluded that all is “vanity” and “vexation of spirit” apart from God (Eccl. 1–2 kjv). True satisfaction is not found under the sun, but beyond the sun—in the Son (Eccl. 12:1). God alone can fill the God-sized vacuum in every human heart. No one will find ultimate satisfaction in anything less than the Ultimate (Tillich, UC). The quest for eternal pleasure will never be found in anything but the Eternal. And the desire for infinite happiness cannot be found in anything short of the Infinite God. Hence, any false view of God as less than the Ultimate, Infinite, and Eternal will not bring beatitude (blessedness) to the soul. As Augustine put it, the soul is restless until it finds its rest in God—the true and living God (C).

Are God’s Attributes One or Many?

How many attributes does God have? Most theologians, especially in the evangelical tradition, believe that God has many attributes. However, this creates a quandary for classical theism, which holds that God is a simple (indivisible) Being (see chapter 2).

The Problem Stated

Briefly, the issue is this: If God is simple (absolutely one) in His essence, how can He have many attributes? If He is more than one thing, how can He be only one Being? If His essence has more than one characteristic, how can it avoid having some kind of multiplicity in it?

A Response to the Problem

The answer to this lies in the fact that while many things are being said about God, they are being affirmed of only one Being. God is not many beings; He is only one Being, but God has many different characteristics that are true about His one Being. This is the case because no one thing said about Him is exhaustive; so many things must be said about Him in order for us to have a more complete knowledge of Him. Thus, God is one Being (essence), but He has many attributes (properties).

Are All the Attributes of God Synonymous?

Another question that arises about the attributes of God is whether they are all synonymous; that is, do they all really mean the same thing?

The Problem Stated

Since there is only one God, all characteristics attributed to Him refer to one and the same Being. But it would appear that everything said about the same thing is saying the same thing, and what is saying the same thing is synonymous. Therefore, it seems necessary to conclude that all attributes of God are synonymous.

A Response to the Problem

The above conclusion does not follow, for many different things can be said about the same thing. For example, a stone is solid, and round, and heavy, and yet there is only one stone about which these things are being said. These different characteristics are not the same. For instance, solidity is not roundness, and heaviness is not solidity. Consequently, many different characteristics can be attributed to one and the same Being, God. Just as the one center of a circle has many different radii flowing into it, even so the one nature of God has many attributes predictable of it (see Thomas Aquinas, ST, 1a.13.4).

How Many Attributes Does God Have?

Different theologians list different numbers. This is (1) partly due to the fact that some theologians are not attempting to give a comprehensive list; (2) partly because some theologians combine certain attributes into one; (3) partly owing to the disagreement as to whether some attributes are really attributes or whether they are activities of God (e.g., mercy); and (4) partly because some theologians do not distinguish between an attribute (which is of God’s essence, such as holiness) and a characteristic (which is not an attribute but is simply something that belongs to God in general, such as ineffability [see chapter 10]).

The following list attempts to be comprehensive and non-overlapping. In it there are twenty nonmoral attributes of God, five nonmoral characteristics of God, six moral attributes of God, and three moral characteristics of God.

Nonmoral Attributes of God

The nonmoral attributes (also called metaphysical attributes) of God are at least the following: pure actuality and simplicity (see chapter 2), aseity (“not caused by another”) and necessity (see chapter 3), immutability and eternality (see chapter 4), impassibility and infinity (see chapter 5), immateriality and immensity (see chapter 6), omnipotence and omnipresence (see chapter 7), omniscience (see chapter 8), wisdom and light (see chapter 9), majesty, beauty, and ineffability (see chapter 10), life and immortality (see chapter 11), and unity and triunity (see chapter 12).

Other Nonmoral Characteristics of God

There are also some nonmoral traits that characterize God; these involve how God, in His essential attributes, relates to His creatures. They include sovereignty, transcendence, immanence, omnipresence, and ineffability (treated earlier). Without a creation, God would have nothing to be sovereign over, transcendent above, immanent in, or omnipresent to. (As stated below, ineffability is an overall characteristic.) God’s essential attributes, however, are proper to His nature as such, even if there were no creatures with whom/which to relate.

Moral Attributes of God

There are at least six basic moral attributes of God: holiness, justice, jealousy, perfection, truthfulness, and goodness (love).These are essential to God’s nature.

Other Moral Characteristics of God

In addition to God’s moral attributes, He has other moral characteristics in relation to His creatures. Two of these are mercy and wrath, which are activities that follow from or are rooted in His nature (as loving and just, respectively) but are not intrinsic to His nature as such. Ineffability (see chapter 10) is an overall characteristic of God’s essence, particularly His metaphysical (“above” or “beyond” the physical) attributes, in relation to creatures.

Excerpted from:
Systematic Theology Volume Two: God/Creation by Dr. Norman Geisler
Copyright © 2003, Norman Geisler
ISBN 0764225529
Published by Bethany House Publishers
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.