Why do Christians study theology? What is the point of digging into concepts that most of the time feel to be well beyond our reach? Every church in America, and the world over, will post to their websites or hand out brochures with statements about what they believe; but they never really tell you why they believe it.
Why do we believe what we believe?
The answer to that question is why we created “Conversational Doctrine.” We felt a deep desire to create a space for Christians to learn theology without feeling like they were being suffocated by a textbook or drowning in academic talk. However, before we jump in there are some parameters that we must first set in stone.
Parameters for studying theology:
First, how do we approach the study of theology? Most of the time we may hear that word and shun the intellectualism that can cloud our comfortable existence in the church. All that deep studying is for those guys in the colleges, not for me, a Christian might say. But this isn’t correct. We must approach theology as Christians because Paul wrote to Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, emphasis added). We rightly handle scripture when we study it and the depths within. However, we should approach this study with a basic understanding, a “two-handed approach” to doctrine.
On one hand, you have an open hand that holds beliefs you are willing to discuss and debate. In this category, you could put bible translation, worship styles, spiritual gifts, end times tribulation belief, and others. These doctrines are peripheral to the core of the biblical teaching and should never be divided over, but rather discussed and agreed to disagree upon.
The other hand, however, is a closed fist. These doctrines are the doctrines you’re willing to contend for (Jude 3), or if necessary lose your life for. They are truths that must be believed as a Christian. Here we’re talking about everything we’ll cover in Conversational Doctrine.
What is the Doctrine of God?
Definition of the Doctrine of God
Theologically, the Doctrine of God also goes by the name: “Theology Proper.” This is the study of God’s attributes, nature, and existence. It is concerned with understanding who God is and how we can know Him. The Bible is the primary source for understanding Theology Proper.
The Bible begins with the statement, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). This statement affirms that God exists, and He is the creator of all things.
The existence of God is not something that can be proven or disproven through empirical evidence. However, the Bible presents several arguments for God’s existence, including the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, and the moral argument.
The nature of God is another essential aspect of Theology Proper. The Bible teaches that God is holy, just, and loving. These attributes are revealed in His actions and interactions with humanity.
Importance of the Doctrine of God
Just talking to friends and saying you believe in God or you believe there is a God, does not set you apart. Atheists deny the existence of God. Atheism is a word that simply means without God; essentially not a denial of a God who exists, but rather simply a term that tells the world you are without that existing God. Agnostics are indifferent toward God, it doesn’t bother them whether he exists or doesn’t exist. And then, of course, the Christian has the unique privilege to know God.
In his book entitled, The Doctrine of God, Gerald Bray says, “To be Christian is to believe that it is possible to know God” (Bray, 14) and he continues to say, “At the bottom, modern controversies about the subject are not questions of definition but questions of faith, for the heart of all theology is nothing less than to know God, and to make him known,” (Bray, 24).
And, thus, from the opening pages of the Bible, “In the beginning, God…” we are introduced to a God that we are invited to get to know, draw close to in a relationship, and help foster the same relationship in others.
Key beliefs of the Doctrine of God
Key Belief #1: Monotheism – THERE IS ONE GOD
In a world of pluralism, there is little tolerance for exclusivity. All across the face of the Earth people will boast, “All paths lead to heaven,” or, “there are so many religions how do we know what is the right one?” First, can all paths lead to the same destination? Any four-year-old with a map will tell you, “No.”
One look at the High-5 over in Dallas, and you’ll soon realize all paths don’t lead to the same destination. You make one wrong turn, and you’re headed to places you weren’t intending to go. The same is true about religion. You may ask, “Well, how do we know that what we believe is the right path?” It’s a good question and the simple answer is that God has revealed it to us, through his Holy Spirit, in His word—the Bible. That is simply put called salvation. The beauty of Christianity and the thing that makes it so appealing is that we have a God who desperately wants to know us and be known by us, and has revealed Himself to us through the Bible.
Well, if God has revealed Himself to us through the Bible, then what does the Bible say about God? To begin, it first states that the God of the Bible is the only God. Usually when you have two sections of a book, written hundreds and thousands of years apart, there tends to be disunity—not so with the Scriptures. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are clear that the God of the Bible is the only God.
Old Testament Examples:
Deuteronomy 4:35, 39: To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him…know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.
Deuteronomy 6:4-5: Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
I Samuel 2:2: There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.
II Samuel 7:22: Therefore you are great, O Lord God. For there is none like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.
Psalm 86:8-10: There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours. All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
Though these verses do mention “other gods” it is clear they are making a distinction: there is one God and He is the God of the Bible, all others are mere imitators. But the teachings don’t end there. The Old Testament’s last words were penned about 400 years before the New Testament’s, yet we find the same teaching and continuity in the New Testament that we had in the old; there is one God.
New Testament Examples:
John 5:44: How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
John 17:3: And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
Romans 3:30: since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
I Corinthians 8:4-6: Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Galatians 3:20: Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.
Ephesians 4:6: one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
James 2:19: You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!
Jude 25: to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
It is clear through the writing of Scripture—both the Old and New Testaments—that there is only one God, and that God is the God of the Bible. But, then, who exactly is the God of the Bible? That brings us to the Trinity: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Key Belief #2: The Trinity
The Bible teaches that God is one, but He exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This doctrine is known as the Trinity.
The Trinity is a difficult concept to understand fully, but it is essential for our understanding of God’s nature. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands His disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.“
The three persons of the Trinity are distinct, but they are also one. They work together in perfect unity and harmony. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. However, they are all God, and they share the same divine nature.
Understanding the Trinity
How can there be only one God, but three separate distinctions for said God? This is where the church fathers developed the idea of the Doctrine of the Trinity.
The word Trinity is never used in the wording of Scripture, but the concept is present throughout. In Genesis 1:1 where we read, “In the beginning, God…” the Hebrew word used for the God in that sentence is the plural form known as Elohim. Why use a plural form for singular Being? Evidence, for our sake, that the Trinity exists. Church Father, Tertullian (155-220) was the first to use the term. The idea of the Trinity always carries with it the concept of “One-who-is-three.”
While in our rational, mathematical, logical minds we may have trouble understanding or grasping the idea of the concept of “One-who-is-three” it is very important to understand and realize that God works beyond our finite minds of logic and mathematics. He exists in the One-who-is-three Being and, by faith, we can trust the revelation.
How then do we reconcile the belief of the “One who is three?” Does the idea of there only being one God go out the window when we talk in such terms? In his book Doctrine, Pastor Mark Driscoll writes, “To say that God exists as a Trinity does not mean that there are three Gods, or that one God merely manifests himself as either Father, Son, or Holy Spirit on various occasions,” (Driscoll, 12). Bray follows that up by saying, “…without the Trinity there would be no Christianity,” (Bray, 111), and David Horton in Portable Seminary, doubles down with, “Origen rightly drew the conclusion that the believer ‘will not attain salvation if the Trinity is not complete,’” (Horton, 95).
Belief in the Trinity is the fundamental belief of Christianity because it is the very nature of who our God is. Therefore, if we are to study theology (the study of God), in order to know our God better, grasping—even without full knowledge—the concept of the Trinity is paramount. Each of the three: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, with distinction among them.
The Economics of the Trinity
When using the term “economics” we are simply talking about how the Trinity works in relation to the world. Wayne Grudem says it like this, “The Persons of the Trinity have different primary functions in relating to the world,” (Grudem, 248). We see each of the distinct members of the Godhead playing particular roles in two main categories: Creation and Salvation.
God the Father spoke the world into existence
Genesis 1:1-3: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
All things were made through the Son
John 1:1-3, 14: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The Holy Spirit hovered over the face of the Earth
Genesis 1:2: And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
Ephesians 1:3-14: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
God the Father planned redemption
John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Ephesians 1:9-10: …making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Galatians 4:4-5: But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.
The Son obeyed the Father and accomplished redemption
John 6:38: For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Hebrews 10:5-7: Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
After the Son ascended into Heaven, the Spirit was sent to apply our redemption.
John 14:26: But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
John 15:26: But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.
John 16:7: Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Application of redemption #1: New Spiritual life
John 3:5-8: Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Application of redemption #2: Sanctification
Romans 8:13: For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 15:15-16: But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
I Peter 1:2: according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.
Application of Redemption #3: To empower believers
Acts 1:8: But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I Corinthians 12:7-11: To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
The Persons of the Trinity have eternally existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
If the above are all ways in which the Godhead has shown its distinct roles through creation and salvation, what also must be known about the Trinity is it fully represents the unchangeableness of God. These relationships did not develop; they have forever been and will forever be intact.
Most notably this is represented through creation when all of these relationships were established before the created world existed.
John 1:1-3: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
I Corinthians 8:6: yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
Hebrews 1:2: but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Proverbs 8:22-31: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth, before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established4 the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out gthe foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.
Each aspect of the relationship between the Trinity existed before creation and will continue to exist long after this world passes away. This also means that the shared relationship between the Godhead promotes an equality shared by each. Each of them is fully God. Each of them possesses the attributes we believe the Father to possess, namely: sovereignty, omnipotence, omniscience, being all wise, all just, and all loving. But, though they are the all-powerful, true God, they still long to be known on a personal level.
Key beliefs about the attributes of God
Omnipotence refers to God’s all-powerful nature, also called “sovereignty.” He is able to do anything that is consistent with His character and purpose. Scripture references include Psalm 115:3, which says “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases,” and Jeremiah 32:17, which declares, “Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.“
Omniscience means that God knows everything – the past, present, and future. He has complete knowledge of all things, including our thoughts, words, and actions. Psalm 139:4 says, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.” Another passage, Isaiah 46:10, states, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’“
Omniscience refers to the fact that God is present everywhere at all times. He is not limited by space or time, and He is always with us. Psalm 139:7-10 says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.” Another verse that speaks of God’s omnipresence is Jeremiah 23:23-24, which says, “Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away? Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? declares the LORD. Do I not fill heaven and earth? declares the LORD.“
The Doctrine of God is the foundation for all other studies within theology. Understanding the character and nature of God helps us to fully enjoy him more thoroughly. The pages of Scripture are chock-full of God’s character and it is imperative for us to draw deeply into that. We serve and worship a mighty big God, the only God, who exists in three distinct yet unified persons sovereignty ruling over all creation.
- Bray, Gerald. The Doctrine of God. Downers Grove: InterVaristy Press, 1993.
- Driscoll, Mark. Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe. Wheaton: Crossway Publisher, 2010.
- Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publisher, 1994.
- Horton, David, ed. The Portable Seminary: A Master’s Level Overview in One Volume. Grand Rapids: Bethany House Publishers, 2006.