The Acts of God -- By: William R. Foster

Journal: Grace Journal
Volume: GJ 07:1 (Winter 1966)
Article: The Acts of God
Author: William R. Foster


The Acts of God

William R. Foster

Professor of Theology
London (Ontario) College of Bible and Missions

One of the problems in contemporary theology is the question of theological meaning. The understanding of the meaning of theological terminology does not follow directly from the use of the terminology. In much of the current theological literature the special terms of theology are used in other than their literal and historical sense. In the literal and historical sense the term as used provides a univocal meaning, i.e. a meaning which is certain and unmistakable. The contemporary “Biblical Theology” movement has maintained the theological terms, but uses them in an analogical sense, i.e. the term has a symbolical sense which conveys meaning by resemblance or comparison. Two basic criticisms may be directed against this new tendency. In the first place, the use of historical terms in an analogical sense is deceptive because the theological assertion may have an appearance of orthodoxy without being really orthodox. In the second place, the adoption of analogical usages of language is liable to produce ambiguous, unintelligible, and equivocal assertions. We will illustrate the seriousness of this theological problem in relation to one of the most important theological concepts in Biblical revelation.

The Scriptures portray the truth that God is One who acts in the affairs of men, and specially in the history of His chosen people Israel, and in the Church of Jesus Christ. The specific question to be answered is simply, “What do we mean by the acts of God?” By the use of the word “act” or “activity” we normally mean that some work, deed, or event takes place in some location and at some time. This definition would constitute what might be called a literal sense of the term, and the univocal meaning of the term may be demonstrated by a comparative investigation of its meaning in dictionaries. In applying this literal sense to the Biblical text the evangelical theologian would understand that God acted in time and space so that the results of His activity were observable, or at least, potentially observable. The acting and speaking of God are, therefore, to be conceived as falling into an historical context.

Liberalism regarded this orthodox representation of God’s activity as a primitive pre-scientific form of religion which should be modernized. The concept of the world and history adopted by Liberals was that of a locked causal continuum of space-time experience. In such a view there was no place for outside intervention, but only for the operation of natural law and inter-relating natural causes. However, Liberalism did not repudiate the concept of the activity of God, but redefined it to mean “the continual, creative, immanent a...

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