Centre of God's attributes

Discussion in 'Theological Forum' started by steadfast7, Feb 13, 2012.

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  1. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    Is there a central, or primary, attribute in God that can be named as the root or source of the others, or that encapsulates his essence?

    I believe Sproul would say it is his holiness. What about his love?
  2. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    Interesting question!
    I think I personally would agree with Sproul, that God's Holiness is his "centering" attribute. It's in regard to God's holiness that we are most clearly confronted with our SINFULNESS. (ie. Isaiah 6:2-5)
    And though we read that when God made His promise and covenant with Abraham He swore "by Himself" (Genesis 22:16, Hebrews 6:13), the only ATTRIBUTE of Himself that God Himself has sworn by is His holiness. (Psalm 89:35, Amos 4:2)
  3. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. God does not have attributes; He cannot be divided. He is His attributes; He is One. God does not have wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth; He is wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. God is infinite; thus God is infinitely wise, powerful, holy, just, good, and true. Infinitude has no circumference; therefore it can have no centre. God is eternal; therefore He is eternally wise, powerful, holy, just, good, and true. Eternity has no beginning or end; therefore it can have no mid point. If God can have a centre then there is some part of God that is more divine than other parts. This is the Gnostic idea of hierarchy. But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him. If one follows the Gnostic path to enlightenment he must forsake the saving revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry.
  4. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    Brother Matthew,
    Excellent response. :amen::up:
    But, I don't think Dennis' question was asking what is God's "greatest" attribute. Wherefore the response you gave would be completely, and appropriately warranted.
    At least I hope that's not what our brother Dennis was implying.
  5. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    There is no difference between greatest and centre. If something has a centre it has a circumference; if there is a central attribute there are peripheral ones. If something is primary it has subordinates; if there is a primary attribute there are lesser ones. What is not infinite and eternal has gradations. If there are gradations of divinity that which is central or primary is ipso facto more divine and the greatest. To us there is but one God -- the infinite and eternal One. He has no central or primary attribute.
  6. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank-you for explaining further. It is very interesting.
    To help us understand better, forgive me for probing further brother..
    While I agree with what you say, God being "one". For example, God swore to Abraham, "by Himself" (Genesis, Hebrews)
    But, are not His attributes "distinct" from one another? Can we not also say that God's holiness is eternal, His justice is eternal, His love is eternal, etc. Instead of just lumping them all together? Otherwise we cannot talk about any of His attributes without mentioning all of them without being guilty of said idolatry.
    God seems to, in the bible, make distinctions about His attributes when He swears by His holiness in Psalms and Amos. (Without feeling the need to swear by every other attribute)
    He seems to make distinctions when He speaks specifically about His specific attributes.
    Please forgive me if I have missed your point entirely. I do agree with what you say, just need clarification.
    However, I will disagree that saying God's holiness is His central attribute is much different that saying it's His greatest attribute. Holy, to my understanding, simply means "unique, set apart, unlike any other, etc" so in essence His love is HOLY. His justice is HOLY. There is no one and nothing like God. He is HOLY.
    This is what I think I have been trying to communicate.

    ---------- Post added at 04:09 PM ---------- Previous post was at 04:06 PM ----------

    *forgive me for my bad grammar brother. I hope you can understand what I mean*
  7. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    But are not his infinitude and eternality attributes, at least listed as such, in traditional theologies? Could it be said that his one-ness is his primary attribute?
  8. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    I think what has been established is that saying God has a "primary" attribute must also conclude that He has "secondary" attributes- which would ultimately nullify His "one-ness".

    However, I still want to look at God's centering or overall attribute- as it relates to ALL of His attributes- ie, God's holiness.
    God is ONE. Yet He exists in three DISTINCT persons- Father, Son, Holy Spirit. All 3 are God, yet God is one.
    God has distinct attributes. Yet all are one. God is eternal, infinite, perfect, in every attribute. Which is why I say they all are aspects of God's holiness.

    I hope I explained that the way I wanted to. :)
  9. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I think there can be higher and lower attributes, if you consider that scripture itself says implies that God's grace is super abundant over his justice or wrath. Also, consider that when God was alone in the Trinity, his wrathful disposition would have been altogether absent. As for the holiness of God a la Sproul, I would ask whether this is an attribute that is more related to between God and his creatures, than to God in himself. This is where I see the primacy of love within the Trinity. If there is such a thing as "primary" attributes, it would be those things which God is in himself, shared in the Trinity from all eternity. I think Love is that thing.
  10. Douglas Padgett

    Douglas Padgett Puritan Board Freshman

    God is simple. He is not composed of parts (See WCF 2.1). To quote Bavinck;

    If in fact Dr. Sproul is attempting to make such a distinction, he is most regrettably allowing the same rationalism slip into his Doctrine of God as he does into his apologetic.

    You may also be interested in listening to this discussion from the Reformed Forums: Christ the Center - God without Parts: The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity
  11. InSlaveryToChrist

    InSlaveryToChrist Puritan Board Junior

    Rev. Matthew Winzer,
    may I ask what the practical differences are between God having and God being something? Do we, as mere creatures, only have some of God's attributes, or can it also be said of us that we are love, righteousness, wisdom, etc. (although in a limited measure)? Again, what's the difference between having and being something?
  12. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    Good info. Thank-you. We are all learning and growing to know God more. I think these discussions are both healthy and edifying. If by my statements I seemed to "divide" God up, it was entirely inadvertently. I also want to clarify that I do not know if this is in fact exactly what Dr. Sproul espouses. Simply going by the original post that stated Dr. Sproul says God's holiness
    I gave my thoughts which can be seen above.

    Great thought from Bavinck!
  13. J. Dean

    J. Dean Puritan Board Junior

    You'll have to pardon my ignorance on this, but never once have I heard Dr. Sproul espouse any favorable leanings toward humanistic rationalism.
  14. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Heppe quotes Hottinger and Braun on this matter:

    Dennis, your form of words attributes change to the immutable God: please reconsider, or be more precise.
  15. louis_jp

    louis_jp Puritan Board Freshman

    Gerald Bray, in his book "The Doctrine of God," pp. 103-4

    "Classical theism has always tried to maintaint a balance between the individual attributes of God and the totality of His essence by saying that each single attribute is equal to the whole of His being. Omnipotence for example, is not a part of God which might theoretically be removed; it is a concept which describes God as He is in His fullness. The other attributes all co-inhere in his omnipotence, and the same can be said equally well of His... immutability, His impassibility and so on.

    "Yet it is also true that some of God's attributes are more fundamental than others. Omnipotence entails impassibility and possibly invisibility, but the same could not be said in reverse. God could easily be impassible and invisible without being all-powerful as well. Is there any way in which a hierarchy, or scale of attributes can be established?

    "There is good reason for regarding omnipotence as God's most fundamental attribute.... In the bible, this attribute is not described as an adjective, or alluded to in some kind of metaphor, but is given to us as a name, which is a title of God. He is "El Shaddai," the Almighty.

    "A hierarchy of attributes... would not mean that some of them would be less essential than others, or even optional to God's being. The divine simplicity assures us that there is no such thing as a non-essential attribute in God's being."
  16. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman

    I listened to all of this discussion. I would concur that it is well worth listening to as it pertains to this thread.

    I would have to agree. Dennis, the link that Douglas provided is an excellent resource pertaining to your question. I know I have just learned a lot in a short period of time. It is quite similar to the ideas Lous has brought to the discussion, but (obviously because of length) a lot more in depth.

    ---------- Post added at 11:37 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:35 PM ----------

    *(Louis, forgive me for misspelling your name brother)
  17. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    If you look at py3ak's quote you'll notice a distinction made between God as He is in Himself and our "conception" of His nature via revelation. There can be no primary or secondary attributes in God, He is what He is, and so in our conception of His revelation we can speak of one attribute but never in complete isolation from the others. Hence the second quote py3ak gave. No attribute is given ontological primacy over the others. To even speak of attributes is only God's merciful condescension to our finite creaturly level.
  18. KMK

    KMK Moderator Staff Member

    Thomas Boston:

    Hence Rev Winzer's warning. It is only through our own weakness that we have to conceive of God's attributes in distinction from one another. Let us not compound the problem by proceeding to ask even deeper questions as if the ground we stand on is firm.
  19. Reformedfellow

    Reformedfellow Puritan Board Freshman


    Thanks for sharing.
  20. John Bunyan

    John Bunyan Puritan Board Freshman

    I would say aseity.

    Also, there's a difference between immutability and changelessness (so say the philosophers).
  21. jayce475

    jayce475 Puritan Board Freshman

    I'm sorry but this sounds entirely foreign. What scriptures are you speaking of?
  22. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    If by aseity we mean simply the name God gives Himself to Moses that "I AM WHO I AM", that is that God is God. But even God's self-exsistance cannot be made primary or foundational to all the other attributes. We cannot "absolutize" one attribute over another. Paul Tillich is the classic example of this when he describes God as the "ground of all being" including His own. This being the "ground of all being" is the foundation of all being and His attributes flow from this foundation.

    An interesting critique of Tillich comes from Karl Barth when in an intro to Tillich's theology by one of his students when he (Barth) suggests that Tillich is doing philosophy and not theology. This should help us to see the folly in attempting to use philosophy alone to understand God and not His self-disclosed revelation. We can and must at times bring philosophy into the service of theology but we should never make it the primary source of understanding God, as Tillich did.
  23. CharlieJ

    CharlieJ Puritan Board Junior

    James, how is Tillich's "ground of all being" materially different from Thomas' esse ipse subsistans, which is taken to be orthodox theology?
  24. jwright82

    jwright82 Puritan Board Senior

    "The God who is being itself or the ground and power of being is superior to the supposedly finite God of traditional Christian theism who is thought of as a person and a being", 20TH Century Theology page 125, written by Stanley Grenz and Roger Olsen. He ultimatly was a panantheist, I know that Thomas was not. Just as a conrete foundation is part of the building God is as ground part of the very fabric of creation itself. His personality is almost completly dissolved to the point that many have pointed out that he was espousing something similar to atheism. So withen God are two poles His "being-itself" (or ground of being that is beyond personality) and His personality which is ultimatly grounded in His being.
  25. peter_piper

    peter_piper Puritan Board Freshman

    A very interesting discussion.
    I am not the most versed with all these theological fellows mentioned here, and I am not going to delve into their arguments and counter arguments.
    But it is noteworthy, as Sproul mentions in his book, "Holiness of God" that the angels cry out "Holy Holy Holy is the Lord God Almighty". It never says they cry out the Lord is love love love or mercy mercy mercy. That may be the creature p As mentioned briefly above...God is one and thus we cannot compartmentalize God. I would argue though that his Holiness permeates all his other 'attributes'. He is holy in wrath, justice, righteousness, love, etc. It may also be argued that holiness need not neccessarily be an 'attribute' as are love wrath, justice, mercy, truth, etc., as it means seperateness-his uniqueness. Open to comment or critique.
  26. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    I can appreciate what you are contending for. God's holiness runs through every other attribute. An important point. God's holiness is made most prominent in Scripture by virtue of the fact that it is a revelation to fallen and sinful man. Another important point. But note, God's wisdom, power, etc., also run through all the other attributes. It is wise and powerful as well as holy providence. It is wise and powerful as well as holy redemption. Whatever one contends for with respect to holiness will be shown to be equally true of all the perfections of God. And they are "perfections." I.e., things above which there can be no higher. On the second point -- that the holiness of God is prominent before sinful men -- it is not so prominent that it is lifted up above the other attributes. If it were, all the claims of mercy, wisdom, and truth would be subservient to His holiness. The eternal decree would have looked very different from what it has manifested itself to be. As it stands, God's decree has so ordered things that all His attributes are displayed in "harmony" in the plan of salvation. Hence not only is holiness honoured in God's separation from sin, but justice is satisfied in His vindication, power is exerted in the work as His, love is demonstrated in a way that excels all others, wisdom is magnified in contriving the way, and truth shines forth in the faithfulness and integrity which God has maintained. Glory be to God in the highest!
  27. baron

    baron Puritan Board Graduate

    Iknow what you mean, I thought I understood the attributes of God, but the more I read the more confused I become.

    Jerry Bridges in his book The Transforming Power of the Gospel: basicaly says the same thing as RC Sproul. He says, But it is only His holiness that is given the threefold ascription "holy, holy, holy." We never read of God's being "wise, wise, wise" or "powerful, powerful, powerful," though He is infinite in all His attributes.

    But as I said, I'm not educated enough to speak on this subject. Hope to understand the OP better.
  28. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

    Samuel, if I may venture an answer, it is not proper to speak of God as having, e.g., wisdom, instead of being wisdom, because wisdom is not separable from God. With God to be, and to be wise, or powerful, or holy, are not different things. In other words, there are no accidents in God. Now for creatures it is possible to have many accidental qualities that are separable from us without affecting our essence. To take a ludicrous example, a tattooed person and a non-tattooed person are equally human: the quality of having tattoos is accidental - it is separable from the essence. But God has no such separable qualities. As Polanus said, Though essence and existence differ in creatures, they do not do so in God.

    As for this quote from Bray:
    Other names are claimed by God, including I AM THAT I AM, with its implications of aseity, eternity, and immutability.
  29. louis_jp

    louis_jp Puritan Board Freshman

    To be fair, Bray wasn't really arguing the point. His comment was part of a larger context. I only included the lines that seemed most responsive to the OP.
  30. steadfast7

    steadfast7 Puritan Board Junior

    I retract the idea that there is an attribute or attributes from which other attributes "flow." This would put his immutability into question. Granted.

    Psalm 103:10, "He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities." This suggests to me that God's grace is more fundamental than his justice, for if humanity were to receive the just punishment for our sin, we would all have perished long ago.

    Thanks Louis for this helpful quote. It seems that Dr. Bray here is espousing the idea that some attributes of God can be more "fundamental" than others, which is the point that I'm getting at (without using the spatial terminology of "center" or the dynamic terminology of "flowing").

    It's new to me that each attribute be equal to whole essence of God. Are we confessionally bound to this assertion? Initially, it seems odd to me that this be the case in order to safeguard the simplicity of God. Some questions I have are:

    Why are distinctions in God permissible in reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, but not in discussions of God's attributes?
    Is it really wrong to say that God HAS attributes? The LBC uses the language that God "hath immortality," "hath most sovereign dominion," and "having all, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself" etc.
    Doesn't the doctrine of divine simplicity speak more to the category of space and substance, than of our attributions of his character using language? I think there may be a category confusion here, but I'm not sure.
    Even if we were to say that God IS something (love, for example), and that each attribute IS his entire essence, this creates more problems, in my mind, because it leaves out the plethora of other attributes which he is.

    at any rate, I see some divergent opinions on this thread so far. Looking forward to seeing where this goes. Thanks for the interaction!
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