Biblical-Theological Reflections on the Doctrine of God

In the first chapter of his book The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles H.H. Scobie concludes by highlighting 9 theological reflections that come from an investigation of the doctrine of God worked out in the Scriptures.  Let me share three.

First, he asserts that the canonical understanding of God is consistently monotheistic, and asks what is monotheism’s significance.  Responding to that question, he cites an illuminating quotation from M. Burrows Outline of Biblical Theology (1946), which reads,

It [monotheism] is at bottom the question whether there is any unified, any reliable control of the universe, or whether we are at the mercy of an unpredictable interplay of forces in a welter of worlds that is not a cosmos, a system, a universe at all.  The polytheistic Babylonians and other Gentile peoples were in constant fear and uncertainty; Israel worshipped the one God whose ways had been made known, and whose faithfulness reached the clouds (Burrows 60, quoted by Scobie, 144).

Next, Scobie reflects on the personal nature of God.  Throughout the chapter, he reiterates the significance of God’s name and revealed character, and in this final section, he quotes from P.D. Hanson, who like Burrows emphasizes the way in which a the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus (re)defines all reality.

Impersonal models, such as one finds in some versions of process philosophy, inadequately express the biblical vision of reality.  In the Bible, reality, understood with historical specificity, is guided towards its goal by a divine Purposer who is not limited to the sum total of the physical substance of the universe and who therefore is best described with personal metaphors like Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer (quoting P.D. Hanson, The Diversity of Scripture; Scobie 145).

Scobie also reflects on the ways in which modern theology has been distorted by feminist distortions of God.  Even though, it is correct to denote God with ‘personal metaphors like Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,’ these should be representative of the entire Godhead and not used to redefine the personal and specific revelation of the triune God.  Urging for Biblical Theology to overrule contemporary interpretations, he writes against extra-biblical labels replacing the Bible’s own revelation.  He asserts,

Proposals have been made to avoid gender-specific terminology, e.g. that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” be replaced by some such phrase as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” [or worse, Mother, Child, Life-giving womb].  Such formulae, however, do not adequately express the personal nature of God nor the interrelationship among the persons of the Trinity.  Moreover, this approach suggests the biblical terminology is ‘merely’ metaphor that can be changed at will, rather than the way in which God has chose to reveal himself (Scobie 146).

These are just a handful of Scobie’s summarizing reflections on the doctrine of God in biblical-theological perspective.  He shows clearly that Biblical Theology is not just a sub-discipline in theology that outlines what the Bible ‘meant’ in its archaic context; he shows how a thorough-going Biblical Theology informs what the Bible ‘means’ for today.  In this way, he demonstrates how Biblical Theology should guide and direct Systematic Theology so that the final analysis and modern application is true to the text.

As we think ‘theologically,’ may we do so with a similarly robust biblical theology that shapes our understanding, and not vice versa.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss