A Systemic Approach To God’s Attributes -- By: Andrew Aucamp
Conspectus 15:1 (March 2013) p. 39
A Systemic Approach To God’s Attributes
There is nothing more important than a correct understanding of God. This essay reviews the very common, historic practice of describing God according to his individual attributes. While acknowledging the value of this practice, the limitations are also noted. A complementary approach of describing God according to the broader, relational attributes found in scripture provides a biblical context for the individual attributes, and adds a devotional quality to beholding our glorious God that the historic formulations often neglected.
Many systematic theologies approach the topic of the doctrine of God using a number of individual attributes, commonly classified as communicable and incommunicable (e.g. Berkhof 1958:57-76; Grudem 1994:156-225; Reymond 1998:161-200). Some of these authors caution that the distinction between communicable and incommunicable attributes is not very helpful, and also that the whole approach can be scholastic in nature (MacLeod 1990:20-21; see also
Conspectus 15:1 (March 2013) p. 40
Grudem 1994:156). Their point is that scripture nowhere attempts to classify God’s attributes.
In whatever way these attributes are classified, they are nevertheless usually treated in an isolated fashion in the systematic theologies. A few authors do caution that God’s attributes can never be considered as parts of him, but rather, ‘perspectives on his whole being’ (Frame 2002:388). Frame (2002:388-389) also points out that each attribute is inseparable from the other, as each attribute contains or encapsulates all the attributes of God. For example, God’s love is an eternal, holy, wise, and just love. God’s anger is righteous, infinite, holy, and just. According to Frame (2002:388), while this does not mean that all God’s attributes are identical (as they do give different perspectives of God’s essence); it does mean they ultimately coalesce. Frame (2002:21-35), therefore, prefers to treat the attributes of God within the overarching theme of God’s lordship.
The isolated fashion in which the attributes are often treated can also lead to an imbalanced view of God. Either the order of the attributes is seen as incorrectly significant or some attributes are over-emphasised at the expense of others (Grudem 1994:156). MacLeod (1990:8) also notes that treating attributes in an isolated fashion renders them more liable to philosophical bias, which can distort one’s view of God. This is primarily due to the fact that the attributes, when examined in an isolated way, are divorced from their biblical con...
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