Puritan theologian William Ames (1576–1633) supplied my favourite definition of theology: the artwork of dwelling properly. Sturdy theology should result in sturdy dwelling. Matthew Barrett’s new guide, None Higher: The Undomesticated Attributes of God (Baker) [learn TGC’s evaluate] characterizes this reality properly.
Barrett had an awakening within the years earlier than he grew to become a scholar to the God of the Bible and now he’s searching for to make his character and attributes clear and accessible to laypeople in order that studying the attributes of God transforms folks’s lives.
I interviewed Barrett—affiliate professor of Christian theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary—about his new guide and theology for laypeople typically. We mentioned his need to write down theology for the native church, justification by religion, whether or not it’s doable to speak Christian dwelling with out speaking theology, and extra.
Within the introduction to None Higher, you recount an expertise previous to getting into ministry that opened your eyes to the greatness of God. Discuss a bit about that.
As a younger Christian attending evangelical church buildings, I seen there was a fundamental goal every time Christians talked about God: He should be relatable and relational, intimate and immanent. That usually meant you decided who God is by seeking to your human expertise. So, if we expertise love, God simply has extra love. If we’ve got information, God simply has extra information. This additionally labored within the different route: If we grieve or undergo, God grieves or suffers too. What sort of God does this go away us with? A God who’s only a greater, higher model of ourselves.
However then I (unintentionally!) learn Augustine’s Confessions. I had learn my Bible for years, however Augustine opened my eyes afresh to the God of Scripture. Augustine taught me that God isn’t just our ideally suited model of ourselves; he’s an altogether completely different type of being. He’s not the finite creature however the infinite Creator. He’s not merely higher in measurement however in essence; the truth is, his essence is immeasurable and unbounded, incapable of being restricted by human expertise.
God isn’t just our ideally suited model of ourselves.
Then I stumbled throughout Anselm, who mentioned God is somebody than whom none higher may be conceived; he’s the right, infinite being. Something that might restrict God can’t not be true of God. Which means sure perfect-making attributes should observe, attributes that protect God from limitations like change, emotional fluctuation, divisible elements, dependence on the creature, lack of understanding, a succession of moments, and so forth.
This turned my world the other way up. I believed I knew God, however I used to be shocked by God. This left me pissed off—how might I be in church for therefore lengthy and have learn my Bible so a few years and by no means heard of attributes like immutability, impassibility, simplicity, aseity, and timeless eternity? However this discovery additionally left me thrilled—this God is way higher than I ever imagined and should be worthy of worship. After this discovery, my Bible grew to become a wierd new world.
The most effective options of your guide is the audience: it’s a quantity on the attributes of God that’s impeccably researched however written for laypeople. How essential is it for educational theologians to serve the church on this means?
So essential. I usually hear students lament how shallow church is as of late and the way little theology churchgoers (and even pastors) know. But they do nothing about it. That should change, but it surely gained’t until students who spend their lives learning Scripture and theology begin lisping to novice college students, pastors, and churchgoers. Once we look again on the biggest revivals of theology in church historical past, they occurred partially as a result of students communicated reality to these in pews after which mounted pulpits. The church fathers who wrote the Nicene Creed, for instance, understood the survival of the church itself was at stake. Reformers like Martin Luther could have began off writing theses for educational debate, however they shortly realized the Reformation would solely take root if its concepts (and its Bible) have been put within the vernacular. I might go on. Level is, scholarship divorced from the church is a nasty hangover from the Enlightenment. In most of historical past, scholarship was for the church.
We don’t usually discuss in church about issues just like the aseity or the simplicity of God. How have you ever sought to make these issues accessible to put Christians?
There’s a standard caricature that claims the doctrine of God is a few summary concept that has nothing to do with the Christian life. Nothing might be farther from the reality. I discussed how I providentially learn Augustine, however needless to say his Confessions are biography within the type of prayers. That’s proper, prayers! As he prays, he places his theology on full show. Apparently, the best minds of the church thought who God is has the whole lot to do with the Christian life.
We see this with God’s attributes. Ask your self, what are the implications of rejecting attributes like aseity, simplicity, immutability, or impassibility? The results are devastating. If God will not be life in and of himself, self-sufficient, and self-existent—however a God who relies on us finite creatures—then he’s a God who wants saving simply as a lot as we do. If God will not be easy—however as a substitute consists or compounded by elements—then he’s divisible. Frankly, it is a God who will disintegrate on us, for he’s destructible. If God will not be immutable—however adjustments—then how do we all know whether or not we will belief him? Will he come by on his saving guarantees? If God will not be impassible—however suffers alongside us—how can we’ve got any assurance that he can or will overcome the struggling we expertise on this world? Is he not simply as a lot a sufferer as we’re, and may we not really feel pity for him moderately than pray to him?
Briefly, the whole lot from Christian assurance to the gospel itself hinges on who God is eternally. To undercut these attributes is to rob the believer of gospel guarantees that not solely give him confidence within the second, however hope for the longer term. Why on this planet would we not cherish such attributes in church and proclaim them from the pulpit?
Do you suppose the way in which we regularly discuss in church about God is defective? We regularly hear him spoken of as “the man upstairs” or one thing related. I heard a lady a few years in the past who inspired a Sunday college class to name God “buddy.” How can we assist folks in our church buildings suppose (and discuss) extra reverently about God?
Our God discuss betrays us. It is a God made within the picture of our tradition, but it surely’s not the God of the Bible. This kind of God is extra just like the pagan deities of the nations round Israel, gods these nations created and will management or manipulate. However once we open the Scriptures, we see a special image of God. He’s the God of Moses: nobody can see his glory and dwell. He’s the God of Isaiah: excessive and lifted up. He’s the God of Jeremiah: there isn’t a one like him.
Solely once we stand in utter awe of his transcendence—saying, with Isaiah, “Woe is me!”—will we be baffled by his gracious immanence. Solely once we grasp that he’s the infinite Lord will we be amazed that he would stoop so low as to talk to and save sinners.
The God discuss we’ve imbibed from the tradition is ironic. In our desperation to make God immanent, we’ve misplaced immanence altogether. We’ve domesticated him, making him protected and tame. Why are we shocked that we’ve got little need to worship this God, not to mention concern him?
I heard a press release from an individual defending a wildly standard guide written by a Christian giving recommendation on on a regular basis dwelling. It went one thing like this: “This book is not about theology, so it shouldn’t be critiqued as a work of theology.” Is it doable to write down about on a regular basis dwelling as a Christian whereas remaining atheological?
Don’t take the bait! Any guide that claims to speak about God, his folks, or the Christian life is a guide that can’t escape issues theological. It’s fundamental function might not be to expound theology itself, however to faux that who we’re or how we dwell has nothing to do with who God is (that’s what theology is, in any case) is to write down like an atheist.
To faux that who we’re or how we dwell has nothing to do with who God is is to write down like an atheist.
It’s additionally harmful. It provides folks the impression that the books that actually matter are these you see within the “spiritual life” or “Christian living” part of bookstores. In the meantime, books on “theology” are reserved for individuals who join cemetery—I imply seminary. Once more, don’t take the bait. One of many wisest issues C. S. Lewis ever mentioned (you’ll be able to learn it in his preface to Athanasius’s On the Incarnation) needed to do along with his discovery of previous books of theology. He was much more prone to hit his knees in prayer when he had a pencil in hand with a troublesome little bit of theology than he ever did with the newest, hippest guide on spirituality.
Theology exists as a result of worship doesn’t. Theology ought to all the time result in doxology. If not, then you might be both not learning the God you suppose you might be learning, or you are attempting to check God with out figuring out God. Each are tragic in God’s eyes.
One very last thing: If spending your time studying concerning the very character of God will not be related to what it means to be a Christian, then actually, I don’t know what it means to be a Christian anymore, nor am I positive I need to be one.
You might have one other guide that just lately launched on Justification by Religion. Discuss that one a bit. Why is it so essential that we assert and reassert that vital doctrine each few years?
That’s proper! In the event you loved None Higher, then think about working by The Doctrine on Which the Church Stands or Falls (Crossway, 2019). I’ve requested among the greatest minds in Previous Testomony, New Testomony, systematic theology, historic theology, and pastoral theology to come back collectively and write a constructive presentation of the doctrine of justification.
Protestants because the Reformation have rightly believed that the church stands or falls on this doctrine. If we get justification mistaken, it’s only a matter of time earlier than we misunderstand the gospel and its energy to make us proper with God. Few doctrines have come beneath such extreme assault at this time as our doctrine of justification. I concern that the Reformational view of justification—which I imagine is the biblical view—is so muddied by competing interpretations that not solely the churchgoer and pastor however the scholar and scholar are left in ambiguity, unsure what to imagine anymore. So, it appeared smart to assemble a group that would clear away the fog and provides a constructive case for justification—one which returns to Scripture afresh and does so with theological rigor.