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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine God’s attribute of immutability, which means that he cannot change. Dr. Spencer, last time we laid out a biblical case for this incommunicable attribute, but you said that you wanted to discuss some implications of it and objections to it. So, how would you like to begin today?

Dr. Spencer: I first want to deal with a common misunderstanding of what it means for God to be unchangeable. I think Louis Berkhof says it very well, so let me quote from his Systematic Theology. But before I do that, let me define a word that he uses. He mentions an anthropopathic way of speaking and we need to know that an anthropopathism ascribes human emotions to a non-human subject, in this case to God. With that definition in hand let me read what Berkhof wrote about God; “There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises. … [when] Scripture speaks of His repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent, we should remember that this is only an anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”[1]

Marc Roby: I think it would be good to point out that when Berkhof says that Scripture speaks of God repenting, he is referring to the King James translation, where the word is used in the sense of changing your mind. There is never any suggestion that God has done something morally wrong.

Dr. Spencer: Of course not, that is unthinkable. Let me give a couple of examples of the passages he is referring to. In Exodus 32:9-10 God tells Moses, “I have seen these people, and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”[2] But in Verses 11-13 we read that Moses sought the Lord’s favor on behalf of the Israelites and then, in Verse 14, we read that “the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.”

Marc Roby: And where the translation you just read said “the LORD relented”, that’s one of the places where the King James Version says he “repented”.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. But we need to think about this exchange for a minute. Did God really change his mind? To say that would be an unwarranted conclusion and would violate the first rule of hermeneutics, which we covered in Session 39. Remember that that rule, which is also called the analogy of faith or the analogy of Scripture, says that we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. Meaning that we should never pit one part of the Word of God against another. Since the whole Word of God is the infallible truth, we must understand every passage in a way that is consistent with the rest of Scripture. The Word of God cannot contradict itself.

Marc Roby: And therefore, to understand this passage as teaching that God truly changed his mind would contradict what we are told, for example, in Numbers 23:19 as we saw last time.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it would contradict that passage and others as well. But it isn’t that hard to see how to interpret this exchange between God and Moses. God was angry with his people and had determined beforehand, in fact from all eternity, how he was going to deal with it. He told Moses that he was angry enough to destroy them, but that he would still make Moses into a great nation. He did this knowing that Moses would plead for the people in prayer and also knowing that he would respond to Moses’ prayer by showing mercy to his people. The whole passage redounds to the glory of God’s great mercy. It is not at all necessary to say that God actually changed in any way and so the first rule of hermeneutics prohibits us from doing so.

Marc Roby: And of course, as you pointed out when we were discussing the first rule, we should even read things by human authors with the assumption that they have not contradicted themselves.

Dr. Spencer: Absolutely. That is the only fair way to read anything. Of course, with human authors it is all too often the case that they have contradicted themselves, but that cannot happen with God, who is perfect in every way.

Marc Roby: And with regard to this specific example, the interpretation you gave is perfectly reasonable and even agrees with how human beings deal with each other on some occasions.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. Think about a father dealing with a child. When he does something wrong, the father gets angry and disciplines him. But, if he then sincerely acknowledges that he did wrong and seeks his father’s forgiveness, the father forgives and he is restored to a place of favor. The father doesn’t change in any meaningful way during this whole process, he is being perfectly consistent in how he deals with the child. What changes is the child’s status with the father. He goes from being in his father’s favor, to being out of favor, and then back into favor again. But these changes are predicated on the actions of the child, not on some change taking place in the father. In fact, quite the opposite is true, the father’s behavior is entirely consistent and unchanging, but his attitude toward the child changes with the child’s behavior. That is exactly what Berkhof was referring to when he said that “In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God.”

Marc Roby: Of course there is an even larger issue here as well; namely, how God’s unchangeable sovereignty and the efficacy of Moses’ prayer for his people can both be true at the same time.

Dr. Spencer: That is the same issue. And we must admit that there is mystery involved in trying to comprehend how God’s sovereignty and man’s free agency can both be true. I hope to get into that at a later date, but for now I think it is sufficient to point out that God ordains the means as well as the end.

Marc Roby: OK, can you explain what you mean by that?

Dr. Spencer: I mean that God not only ordains what happens, he ordains the means by which it happens. So, for example, let’s say that God has ordained to heal someone of a particular disease, let’s call this person Joe. It may well be that one of the means he has also ordained is that you and I should pray for Joe to be healed. God is not changing in any way when he then answers our prayers by healing Joe, but it is still reasonable to say that our prayers were efficacious in helping to bring about Joe’s healing.

Marc Roby: That makes me think of 2 Chronicles 7:14, where God makes a great promise to his people. He says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Dr. Spencer: That is a great promise and it clearly states God’s unchanging intention to change his external behavior based on our behavior. The Bible has many wonderful promises in it, along with some terrifying threats. And all of them are true. God does not change. If we do what he has threatened to punish, we will be punished. But, if we sincerely repent and cry out for mercy, we will receive mercy. God does not change, but our status before God can change, just like the child’s status with his father changed.

But, by the way, saying that we will receive mercy when we repent doesn’t necessarily mean that we will not suffer the consequences for our sins in this life. God does not promise to remove all temporal consequences, in fact, he warns us that our sins will have consequences. In Leviticus 26:40-42 God says, “But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers—their treachery against me and their hostility toward me, which made me hostile toward them so that I sent them into the land of their enemies—then when their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they pay for their sin, I will remember my covenant with Jacob and my covenant with Isaac and my covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.”

Marc Roby: That passage is frightening and should cause us to be very careful to not sin, but it is also comforting because it contains the same basic promise as 2 Chronicles 7:14; namely, that God will remember his covenant and will remember the land, which means he will deal with them favorably.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And we must be careful to state clearly that when it says we will pay for our sin, it is not talking about atonement. Jesus Christ is the only one who can atone for our sin. This is speaking strictly about our circumstances in this life. In the ultimate sense, we can’t pay for our sin, but our sins will be covered by the blood of Christ on the Day of Judgment.

Marc Roby: We should certainly praise God for that unchangeable promise. Before we leave the topic of God’s immutability, let me ask you about the modern view that is usually called Process Theology. This view states that God is constantly changing. According to this view he is, for example, learning all the time because he doesn’t know what I’m going to do until I actually do it.

Dr. Spencer: That view is completely unbiblical. Wayne Grudem deals with it briefly in his Systematic Theology and points out that it is based on two false assumptions.[3] First, they assume that for our lives to be meaningful in any way it must be true that what we do can somehow change God. But that assumption has no biblical basis and any real Christian, for whom the Scriptures must be the ultimate authority, will reject it.

Marc Roby: I would also add that the assumption doesn’t really make sense anyway. If you take away the God of the Bible, who says that human life actually does have any significance?

Dr. Spencer: I agree with you completely. The second error that process theologians make is that they assume God must be changeable because change is somehow seen as an essential part of real existence. But, as Grudem points out, the Bible emphatically denies this view. We read Psalm 102 Verses 25-27 last time and they bear repeating. They say, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Marc Roby: That does put the kibosh on the idea that God changes.

Dr. Spencer: It does. We have to remember the point we made way back in Session 4 and have referred to a number of times since. Namely, that everyone has an ultimate standard for truth, either human reason, which is fallen, or God’s propositional revelation, which is infallible and found in the Bible. The assumptions of process theology come from human reason, not the Bible, and they must be rejected because they contradict God’s truth given to us in the Bible.

Marc Roby: I think that is enough said about process theology. There is another question raised about God’s immutability, at least implicitly, by the modern idea that the God of the New Testament is somehow kinder and gentler than the God of the Old Testament.

Dr. Spencer: That is a common view now. In fact, many self-professed Christians seem to think that the Old Testament has almost no applicability to us at all, other than being a source of ancient history. The reality is however, that a careful reading of the Bible shows that God has not changed at all.

There are, I think, three main things that have changed and which affect the life of a believer significantly. The first is that we have much greater revelation now, we’ve talked about the progressive nature of revelation before. The second is that Jesus Christ has come. Old Testament believers looked forward to the promised Messiah, and we look back on his historical appearance. The biggest significance of that change for believers, besides the increased revelation involved with it, is that the Old Testament ceremonial system was completely done away with. For example, we no longer perform animal sacrifices because Christ was the final, efficacious, once-for-all sacrifice that obtained eternal redemption as we are told in Hebrews Chapter 9. In addition, we no longer have just one temple, there is no longer a separate priesthood, we are all a royal priesthood as we are told in 1 Peter 2:9.

Marc Roby: Alright, you said that there were three main changes, what is the third?

Dr. Spencer: The third thing that has changed is that we no longer live under the same civil government. God had given the Israelites a number of civil laws when they lived in a theocracy and, while those laws certainly reflect God’s nature and how he wants us to live, we are no longer bound by them and the punishments prescribed by them. In fact, as Paul clearly tells us in Romans 13:1-2, we are bound to keep the laws of the civil government in the place where we live so long as those laws do not tell us to sin[4]. And we would have to violate our civil laws to do some of the things commanded under the civil laws of the Jews in the Old Testament.

Marc Roby: That is certainly true. Can you explain what these three significant changes in the lives of believers have to do with the question of whether or not the God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament?

Dr. Spencer: At one level they have nothing to do with it, since God is who he is. But, the point I was preparing to make is that because of these three changes, some people have jettisoned the Old Testament, thinking that it is no longer relevant. The truth is that God has not changed at all and so the Old Testament is absolutely relevant today.

We do consciously reject the ceremonial laws, which served the purpose of pointing forward to Christ and were abrogated when he came, but the principles they elucidated are still important. In a similar manner, we are not bound by the civil laws that were in place at that time, although they also inform us about what is important in God’s sight. But the moral law, which the Old Testament summarizes by the Ten Commandments, is still every bit as applicable to Christians today as it was to believers in the Old Testament. And God is every bit as angry with sin and wrathful toward it today as he was during Old Testament times, and he was every bit as gracious in the Old Testament times as he is today. Those things have not changed.

Marc Roby: In fact, you pointed out at the end of Session 54 that in Revelation 6:16 the wrath of God is actually called the “wrath of the Lamb”. It is Jesus Christ himself who has prepared hell for the devil, his demons, and all who follow him.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. If you think that Jesus was always smiling and nice to everyone, you should read the New Testament all the way through and it will disabuse you of that false idea. Just look at Matthew Chapter 23 where Jesus calls the teachers of the law and Pharisees hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, snakes and vipers. He pronounces woes on them and asks, in Verse 33, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” In Matthew 7:23 he says how he will deal with false Christians, he says “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” The Greek word translated here as “evildoers” is ἀνομία, which literally means lawlessness, in other words, a person who does not keep the law. And the Old Testament moral law is referred to over and over again in the New Testament as being the law, there isn’t some entirely new law presented in the New Testament. Although Jesus Christ did expansively interpret the moral law in his Sermon on the Mount. But, never once did Jesus even hint, nor did any other New Testament author, that the moral law has been abrogated.

So, the conclusion is that God has not changed at all. That should be a great comfort to us as believers, and a great warning to all who have not yet surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: I think this is a good place to stop for today. Let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org and we look forward to hearing from you.

[1] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 59 (I changed “if” to “when” to be consistent with a modern way of phrasing his statement). Note:This book can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pp 166-167

[4] See Acts 5:29 for the principle that we must respectfully disobey if commanded so sin.

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Marc Roby: We are resuming our study of systematic theology today by continuing to examine the Doctrine of the Trinity. We are following the outline in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology,[1] which states that to firmly establish this doctrine of the Trinity, we must establish three things: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. We have shown that God exists in three persons and that each person is fully God. So, Dr. Spencer, I assume you want to begin making the biblical case that there is only one God, is that right?

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. The fact that there is only one true and living God is an absolutely undeniable and consistent teaching of the Bible. It has not been a controversial point either, so I don’t think we need to spend much time on it. But, there are some things it will be useful to point out.

In Chapter 12 of Mark’s gospel we read about a teacher of the law asking Jesus, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” [2] We read Jesus’ famous answer in Verses 29-31, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” I want to focus on the first thing Jesus said, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Marc Roby: It would be hard to be clearer than that, “the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”

Dr. Spencer: I don’t think you can be any clearer than that. And Jesus was quoting the famous Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4. The word Shema is the first word of this verse in the Hebrew and means “hear”. It has been called the greatest confession of the Jewish faith and is recited daily by devout Jews even today. In fact, it is also recited at the climactic moment of the final prayer of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and traditionally as the last words before death.[3] But, there is also something very interesting to say about the Shema given that we are discussing the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Marc Roby: What is that?

Dr. Spencer: When it says “the Lord our God, the Lord is one”, the Hebrew word translated here as “one” is echad, and James Boice says it “means not one in isolation but one in unity. In fact, the word is never used in the Hebrew Bible of a stark singular entity. It is the word used in speaking of one bunch of grapes, for example, or in saying that the people of Israel responded as one people.”[4] The same word is used in Genesis 2:24 where we are told “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” When it says “one flesh”, the Hebrew word translated as “one” is again echad.

Marc Roby: That is very interesting, God is one, but not, as Boice puts it, “a stark singular entity”. What other biblical evidence do we have for the fact that there is only one God.

Dr. Spencer: In Isaiah 45:5-6 God tells us, speaking through the prophet, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Marc Roby: That is again perfectly clear.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, it is. There really is no doubt that the Bible reveals that there is one and only one God, the Creator of this universe. And as we labored to explain earlier, the fact that there is only one God does not in any way, shape or form contradict the fact that he exists in three persons. It also makes perfectly good sense that God exists in three persons when you consider his personal nature, God is love, but it doesn’t make sense to speak of love if there is only one person. Obviously, we can talk about loving ourselves, but that is not the deepest or truest sense of the word. God exists in three persons and those three persons have had perfect mutual love and fellowship for all eternity. God didn’t somehow become loving when he created this universe and the animate creatures that inhabit it.

Marc Roby: Well, it appears that we have now demonstrated all three of Grudem’s points: First, that God exists in three persons; second, that each person is fully God; and third, that there is one God. So, have we finished with the Doctrine of the Trinity?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite. We’ve finished with making the biblical case in support of it, but I would like to add a couple of comments for those who really struggle with this.

There is a principle in science known as Occam’s razor, which says that all else being equal, we should always prefer the simpler of two competing theories. Now I happen to think this principle is a good one, but we need to be careful to remember the “all else being equal” part. Whatever theory we choose must explain the observable facts. This is the Platonic idea that our theory must preserve the phenomena. The great English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once famously said that “The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, ‘Seek simplicity and distrust it.’”[5]

Marc Roby: That sounds like a good approach, things are not always simple, so we must be sure that a simple answer does, in fact, explain all the observable facts, as you noted.

Dr. Spencer: Yes, that is extremely important. The truth of the matter is that the world we live in abounds with evidence of complicated phenomena. There is no doubt, for example, that Newton’s law of gravitation is simpler than the theory of general relativity; but, there is equally little doubt that Newton was wrong and the theory of relativity is either correct, or at least much closer to being correct. You can ignore some of the data and think that Newton had it completely right, but when you seek to explain all of the observable data, you find that Newton’s simple theory won’t work.

So it is with the Trinity. The Bible provides us with ample evidence that the doctrine is true, even though it is extremely difficult to understand. You can ignore some of the data, or twist and distort the data as the Jehovah’s Witnesses do, but you aren’t being honest in seeking to understand the data when you do that. The Word of God is too important to treat that way, we must seek to know the truth to the best of our abilities, even if it is beyond us to fully comprehend that truth.

Let me close with a statement that sums it up well. I want to be clear that this isn’t entirely original, I’m modifying a statement attributed to a Dr. South, which was quoted by the 19th-century theologian William Shedd. [6] Anyone who denies the doctrine of the Trinity will lose his soul, but anyone who tries to probe beyond what Scripture teaches may lose his mind.

Marc Roby: Now that is a good statement! And it reminds me of Psalm 131:1, where David declares that “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

Dr. Spencer: That is good counsel. There are some things that we either don’t have sufficient information to fully understand or are simply not capable of fully understanding. We are not called to believe anything that is truly contradictory, but it doesn’t follow that we should reject the truth of things we can’t fully understand. And in Deuteronomy 29:29 we are told that “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”

Marc Roby: And I would say that a full understanding of the Trinity would certainly qualify as one of those secret things.

Dr. Spencer: And I would agree. So, I think we are now done with the Trinity.

Marc Roby: Great. What do we want to look at next?

Dr. Spencer: Before we move on, let me very briefly review what we have already covered. We are covering the topic of theology proper; in other words, the nature of God as he has revealed himself to us in the Bible. We noted that God’s attributes can be loosely divided into his incommunicable attributes, that is those which we do not share, and his communicable attributes, which are those we share to some degree.

We also noted what is called the simplicity of God; that is, that he cannot be thought of as an assemblage of parts. We should never think of any attribute of God in isolation, he is all of them, all of the time, in every relationship. God’s simplicity is also sometimes called his unity.[7] We also noted that we can only know what God chooses to reveal about himself and that we cannot relate to God as anything other than our Lord.

Marc Roby: Which is, I hasten to add, an extremely important point. We are not equals!

Dr. Spencer: No, we’re not even close. The creator/creature distinction is, as we’ve noted multiple times, critically important. I keep harping on this because the modern church has lost sight of this fact; if not in theory, then at least in practice. You see that by the casual and careless way most professing Christians approach worship and the Word of God.

In any event, continuing with our brief review, we started with God’s incommunicable attributes and discussed his aseity, which means his self-existence. Then, most recently, we discussed his triune nature, which we noted is sometimes not considered an attribute, but is part of the nature of God’s being.

Marc Roby: Alright, I assume we are going to go on to look at other incommunicable attributes. Which one do you want to discuss now?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s look at the unchangeableness of God, which is also called his immutability. This is an extremely important attribute and it should provide great comfort to the Christian. We can be absolutely certain that God’s promises are true and unchangeable and that he himself is unchangeably capable of fulfilling them.

Marc Roby: That is a great comfort. And it is certainly taught in the Bible, which passage would you like to look at first?

Dr. Spencer: Let’s start with Numbers 23:19, where we read, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” These are obviously rhetorical questions, so the point is that when God speaks, he will also act. And when he makes a promise, he will fulfill it, because he is unchangeable.

Marc Roby: It is fascinating to note that it was the false prophet Balaam whom God used to speak those words.

Dr. Spencer: That is an interesting point, and it is a demonstration of the fact that God is sovereign over all, even his enemies.

But, getting back to God’s immutability, we learn about it in many other places as well. In Psalm 33 for example we are given a clear contrast between the plans of men and the plans of God. In Verses 10-11 we read, “The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” In other words, God is unchangeable. His plans and his purposes stand firm.

We see a similar contrast in Psalm 102, this time the contrast is between the changeable nature of the inanimate creation and the immutability of God. In Verses 25-27 we read, “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end.”

Marc Roby: That is hugely comforting. Our sun and earth will one day perish, but our God and his promises to us will not, which means that we will not!

Dr. Spencer: That is great comfort. We will spend eternity with God in a new heaven and a new earth. The Lord’s brother, James, speaks about the unchangeable nature of God too. In James 1:17 he wrote that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” And God spoke through the Old Testament prophet Malachi saying, in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

Marc Roby: Hallelujah! We are not destroyed because God’s eternal purpose of saving a people for himself will not change.

Dr. Spencer: You’re right, it will not change. In Isaiah 14:14 the prophet tells us that “The LORD Almighty has sworn, ‘Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.’” Which should be a great comfort to all who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But, God’s unchangeable nature is a double-edged sword; it is also true that God will not fail to punish the wicked who refuse to repent and trust in Christ. In fact, the verse I just read is really directed to that end. The next verses, Isaiah 14:15-17, say, “‘I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders.’ This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” When it says that his hand is stretched out, you should picture a hand raised up getting ready to strike.

Marc Roby: And no one can stand when God strikes, so that should be every bit as frightening to the unbeliever as it is comforting to the Christian.

Dr. Spencer: It should be. In Isaiah 40:6-8, the prophet wrote that “A voice says, ‘Cry out.’ And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.’”

Marc Roby: And that, of course, is why we are doing this podcast. Because what the Word of God says does not change and is of eternal importance. Are we finished with looking at God’s immutability?

Dr. Spencer: Not quite, I have one more point to make. God’s immutability is a necessary consequence of his perfection. All change is either change for the better, or for the worse. For example, if your knowledge changes you either learned something new or you forget something. And if your moral purity changes you either become more pure or less pure. Therefore, if God is perfect, and the Bible clearly says that he is, for example in Psalm 18:30 and Matthew 5:48, then we you conclude that he cannot change. Because if he changes, it either means that he wasn’t perfect before and then somehow attained perfection, or he was perfect and now, having changed, he is no longer perfect. James Boice makes a similar argument in his Foundations of the Christian Faith[8] and so does Berkhof in his Systematic Theology.[9]

Marc Roby: That is an example of how all of God’s attributes work together in a consistent and complementary way to describe his being. Are we finished with God’s immutability now?

Dr. Spencer: We are finished with making the biblical case for it, but I want to consider some of the practical ways in which this attribute affects us and also answer some of the objections people raise to it.

Marc Roby: I think that will have to wait for our next session. In closing, let me remind our listeners that they can email their questions or comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We would appreciate hearing from you.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994, pg. 231

[2] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[3] E.g., see https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-shema/

[4] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986, pg. 111

[5] From the Tarner Lectures, e.g., see https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/213548-the-aim-of-science-is-to-seek-the-simplest-explanations

[6] William G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1888, pg. 250

[7] Grudem, op. cit., pp 177-180

[8] Boice, op. cit., pg. 242

[9] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1938, pg. 58 (This can be purchased as a combination of his Systematic Theology and Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology in one text from Eerdmans, 1996)

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Marc Roby: Well, Dr. Spencer, I’m excited about today’s session because we are ready to begin studying systematic theology proper.

Dr. Spencer: I’m excited as well. We’ve gone nearly a year now and have covered a lot of material as background and motivation. We first talked about why people should be interested in what the Word of God says and gave a summary of the Bible’s teaching. We then noted that the Bible claims to be the infallible Word of God and spent quite a bit of time on extra-biblical evidence that corroborates the Bible’s claim. We also discussed the nature of true saving faith to make it clear that our faith does not depend on the extra-biblical evidence. We then moved on to discuss the doctrine of the Word of God. We did that because even though it is true that God reveals himself in nature, that revelation is not sufficient for a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Marc Roby: And so God graciously gave us special revelation in his Word.

Dr. Spencer: And we showed that the Word of God is sufficient, necessary, authoritative and clear in its teaching. It is sufficient and necessary for salvation. It is our ultimate and absolute authority in life, and the basic message is clear to anyone who takes the time to explore what it says. We also went on to discuss delegated authority in the home, state and church. And, most recently, we covered the infallibility of the Bible and the science of hermeneutics, which allows us to interpret it correctly.

Marc Roby: We also gave a couple of examples of really bad theology, which is common in the world today, as evidence for why it is so important for us to read the Word with great care.

Dr. Spencer: The time we’re living in makes me think of what the prophet Amos said. In Amos 8:11 God told his people that “The days are coming, … when I will send a famine through the land— not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD.” [1]

In our day we are swimming in a sea of heretical views of Christianity – so it isn’t like dying of thirst because of having no water at all, but of having no fresh water! It’s more like dying of thirst while surrounded by salt water! We need to know what the Word of God really says so that we can have the pure, fresh water of the Word of God to assuage our thirst for truth.

Marc Roby: That’s a good metaphor. So, now that we are ready to dive into systematic theology, where do you want to begin?

Dr. Spencer: We are going to follow, somewhat loosely at times, a well-established outline in reformed theology. It covers what are called the six loci of theology. A locus is a central point or focus of something, so the six loci are the six main headings under which we can organize all of systematic theology. Those six loci are: 1) Theology proper, which means the study of God; 2) Anthropology, which means the study of man; 3) Christology, which means the study of Jesus Christ the Redeemer; 4) Soteriology, which means the study of salvation; in other words, how sinful men can be saved; 5) Ecclesiology, which means the study of the church; and 6) Eschatology, which means the study of last things; in other words, of the final eternal state of everything.

Marc Roby: I might add that some theologians would add the doctrine of Scripture, which we have already covered, as another locus, rather than as background.

Dr. Spencer: I’m not surprised that you would mention that since one of your favorites, John Frame, is an example of a theologian who would do so.[2] If we include the doctrine of the Word of God as a locus, then it would be first and we would have seven loci. In that case, we could say that we are done with the first of the seven loci and are moving on to the second.

Marc Roby: This outline also roughly conforms to that followed by John Calvin in his monumental work The Institutes of the Christian Religion. His work is divided into four books, with Book 1 being on the knowledge of God the Creator, Book 2 being on the knowledge of God the Redeemer, Book 3 being on the mode of obtaining the grace of Christ, and Book 4 being on the Holy Catholic Church. Now, the word “Catholic” here simply means universal and does not imply any connection to the Roman Catholic Church.

Dr. Spencer: And in his Institutes, Calvin includes a discussion of the Scriptures in Book 1. We can also look at the Westminster Confession of Faith and note that it begins with the Word of God. We’ve said before, but it bears repeating in this day of self-professed Christians ignoring the Bible, that the Bible is the only place we have an objective revelation of Jesus Christ. It makes no sense therefore, to call myself a Christian and not take the Bible very seriously.

But, getting back to our outline of systematic theology, it also conforms, again loosely, to that followed in a number of systematic theology books. For those listeners who are interested in references to use as we go through this material, I recommend James Boice’s book Foundations of the Christian Faith as a good readable introduction.[3] For a more in-depth treatment I recommend Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology[4] and also Charles Hodge’s 3-volume Systematic Theology, which is even available online as a pdf for free.[5] A good but extremely concise treatment can also be found in J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology.[6]

Marc Roby: Those are all good references. And perhaps we should also mention that for those of our listeners who are well read and want to dive into something more challenging, there are good translations of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion available as well.[7]

Dr. Spencer: In fact, you can also find a pdf copy of the Institutes online for free.[8] The detailed references for all these things are given in the transcript of this session as always. All of our podcasts and their associated transcripts can be found on our website at whatdoesthewordsay.org. And I would also like to mention, since many people don’t listen to the end of our podcasts, that we have a free gift available to any of our listeners. If you go to our webpage, whatdoesthewordsay.org, you can request a free copy of Good News for All People, a short presentation of the gospel written by our founding pastor, Rev. P.G. Matthew. It is, in my opinion, the finest short presentation of the gospel available.

Marc Roby: I agree with that view. And I would point out that if someone is a mature Christian and doesn’t think he or she needs the book, they could get a free copy and give it to a friend. So, at long last, are we ready to start with Theology proper?

Dr. Spencer: Yes, we finally are. This topic often starts by discussing the knowability of God through general and special revelation. But we’ve already covered those topics, so we are going to jump right in and start to examine the attributes of God.

Marc Roby: And by attributes you mean different aspects of God’s being.

Dr. Spencer: Exactly. Theologians have come up with different ways of categorizing God’s attributes, but I like the common approach of breaking them into two categories; his incommunicable attributes, meaning those that he does not share with his creatures, and his communicable attributes, which are those that we, in some measure, share.

Marc Roby: Of course, as Grudem points out in his book,[9] these categories are not absolute.

Dr. Spencer: No they’re not absolute, but they are useful because we have to always be aware of the infinite gulf between God as the Creator and ourselves as creatures.

Marc Roby: We also have to guard against God being thought of as just a collection of different attributes.

Dr. Spencer: We absolutely have to guard against that. In dealing with that subject, theologians talk about the simplicity of God.

Marc Roby: I don’t think most people think of God as simple, but that isn’t what is meant here, is it?

Dr. Spencer: No, it is not what’s meant here. When theologians talk about the simplicity of God they are using the word to mean that God is not composed of parts. Some theologians would prefer to use the term unity, rather than simplicity, to avoid the confusion;[10] but the word unity doesn’t have quite the same idea.

Marc Roby: What is the essential idea?

Dr. Spencer: The central idea of saying that God is simple is that he isn’t made up of parts and he can’t in any way be separated. Of course God is not a physical being as we are, so we aren’t talking about God being made up of arms and legs and so on. But even though we have a hard time imagining what a pure spirit is, we must guard against thinking of God as disconnected parts.

For example, consider one of modern pseudo-Christianity’s favorite verses, which gives us one attribute of God; 1 John 4:16 says, in part, “God is love.” And that is without any doubt true. But God is also just and holy and therefore his simplicity tells us that his love is a just love, and a holy love. And his justice is a loving and holy justice, and so on. It helps us to think of God’s attributes separately, but we must always remember that God is all of them, all the time and that they all interact all the time. There is no conflict or separation in God. That is what is meant by the simplicity of God.

Marc Roby: John Frame puts it this way, “Each [of God’s attributes] is essential to him, and therefore his essence includes all of them. God cannot be God without his goodness, his wisdom, and his eternity. In other words, he is necessarily good, wise, and eternal. None of his attributes can be removed from him, and no new attribute can be added to him. Therefore, none of his attributes exists without the others.”[11]

Dr. Spencer: I like that explanation a lot.

Marc Roby: Alright, which of God’s attributes would you like to examine first?

Dr. Spencer: I want to begin with his aseity.

Marc Roby: Let me define that word for those listeners who are not familiar with it. Aseity means to exist in and of yourself; in other words, to exist independently, without a cause.

Dr. Spencer: That’s right. And it is the attribute that is highlighted by the name of God. In Exodus 3 we read the story of Moses being confronted by God. Remember that Moses was born in Egypt at a time when the Jewish people had been commanded to throw all male babies into the Nile because the Egyptians were concerned that the Israelites were becoming too numerous as we read in Exodus Chapter 1. Moses’ mother however, put him in a basket and left him floating in the Nile, where he was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised in Pharaoh’s household but knew about his Jewish identity. At one point he murdered an Egyptian for beating a Jewish slave and he had to flee to a foreign country. And it is in that foreign country where God appeared to him in a burning bush.

Marc Roby: And God famously told Moses that he was sending him to Pharaoh to deliver the Israelites from their bondage to the Egyptians.

Dr. Spencer: To which Moses replied, as we read in Exodus 3:13, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

Marc Roby: I’m always amazed at the audacity of Moses to ask God for his name.

Dr. Spencer: It is even more amazing that God actually revealed his name! In Verse 14 we read that “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” We need to understand that names had much greater significance to the ancient Jewish people than they do to us today. And the name God gives to Moses is very significant. As Boice points out in his book, “It is a descriptive name, pointing to all that God is in himself. In particular, it shows him to be the One who is entirely self-existent, self-sufficient and eternal. … these attributes more than any others set God apart from his creation and reveal him as being what he is in himself.”[12]

Marc Roby: I remember you noting that the Creator/creature distinction is central to the message of the Bible way back in Session 2, when we first outlined what the Bible teaches. You were commenting on Genesis 1:1, which says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Dr. Spencer: The Creator/creature distinction is absolutely critical. We cannot understand the Bible in any meaningful way without knowing that we are merely dependent creatures. I very much like the way Matthew Henry put it, and Boice quotes him on the same page as the comments I quoted above. Henry wrote that “the greatest and best man in the world must say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says absolutely – and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can say – I am that I am.”[13]

It is impossible for us to grasp the full import of this name. God exists necessarily, independently, eternally. His existence is necessary because, as I noted in Session 1, something, or someone, must be eternal. If there ever was a time when absolutely nothing existed, then nothing would exist now. Nothing comes out of nothing. He also exists independently. God doesn’t need us, or anyone or anything else. He is entirely self-sufficient. The fact that God exists necessarily also implies that he has existed eternally; his existence had no beginning and it will have no end.

Marc Roby: I agree with you that we cannot fully grasp this point. But it does put the lie to a common view in modern churches that God created men in order to have fellowship.

Dr. Spencer: That view is profoundly unbiblical, at least in the way it is understood by many. We do have fellowship with God, that is true. In fact, the greatest thing about heaven is that we will see him as he is and have perfect fellowship with him. But we must never let ourselves think that God was moping around in his loneliness prior to creating us. There was perfect fellowship within the three persons of the godhead. God does not need his creation in any way. He created simply because he chose to out of his own good pleasure, not because he had some need. We read in Ephesians 1:11 that God “works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.

He doesn’t need our worship, he doesn’t need our help in saving others, he doesn’t need us to govern the rest of creation. He doesn’t need us in any way. We are to live for his glory, but we cannot add to his glory. The best we can possibly do is to reflect his glory to the rest of creation.

Marc Roby: Boice gives a quote from A.W. Tozer, which makes the same point, and which I really like. Tozer said that “Were all human beings suddenly to become blind, still the sun would shine by day and the stars by night, for these owe nothing to the millions who benefit from their light. So, were every man on earth to become atheist, it could not affect God in any way. He is what he is in himself without regard to any other. To believe in him adds nothing to his perfections; to doubt him takes nothing away.”[14]

Dr. Spencer: That is a fabulous quote to end on, so I think we are done for today. I’d like to remind our listeners to email their questions and comments to info@whatdoesthewordsay.org. We appreciate hearing from you.

[1] All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® (1984 version). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™.

[2] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, P&R Publishing Company, 2002, pg. 3

[3] James Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith, Revised in One Volume, InterVarsity Press, 1986

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity Press, 1994

[5] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Eerdmans, 1997, available online as a pdf from http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/Systematic%20Theology%20-%20C%20Hodge%20Vol%201.pdf

[6] J.I. Packer, Concise Theology, Tyndale House Pub., 1993

[7] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Translated by Henry Beveridge, Hendrickson Publishers, 2008

[8] See the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.pdf?url=

[9] Grudem, op. cit., pp 156-157

[10] E.g., Ibid, pg. 177

[11] Frame, op. cit., pg. 226

[12] Boice, op. cit., pg. 102

[13] Ibid, quoting from Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, 1991, Vol. 1, pg. 225

[14] Ibid, pg. 104

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