Christian Apologetics - Lesson 27

The Concept of God

Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
Lesson 27
Watching Now
The Concept of God

The Concept of God


I.  Introduction

A.  Assault on the Christian Concept of God

B.  Alleged Incoherence

1.  Individual Divine Attributes

2.  Two or More Divine Attributes

3.  Other Christian Beliefs

4.  Entire Concept of God


II.  Four Theologies

A.  Theology of Ron Nash

B.  Thomistic Theology

C.  Process Theology

D.  Open Theology


III.  Response of Theologies to Key Questions

A.  What is the relationship between God and the world?

B.  God is the independent creator? Interdependent cooperator?

C.  God is changeable or immutable?

D.  God is personal or impersonal?

E.  God's perfection is growing?

F.  God's knowledge is growing?

G.  God does not know the future?

H.  God is totally outside of time?

I.  God's ultimate triumph over evil is assured?

  • Introduction to Apologetics.

  • Apologetics involves finding evidence and presenting arguments to defend the Christian faith.

  • Two prominent worldviews are Christian theism and naturalism.

  • The law of non-contradiction states that A cannot be B and non-B at the same time and in the same sense.

  • Explanations and responses to different worldviews.

  • If God is good and all powerful, then why does evil exist?

  • Discussion about how the existence of evil is consistent with God's character.

  • Your noetic structure, presuppositions and view of epistemology are important elements in the formation of your worldview.

  • Discussion of deductive presuppositionalism vs. inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Objections to inductive presuppositionalism.

  • Arguments for and against evidentialism.

  • Arguments for and against foundationalism.

  • Discussion of natural theology.

  • There are valid, sound and cogent arguments for the existence of God, but no coercive proofs.

  • Discussion of different arguments for God's existence.

  • One version of the cosmological argument for God's existence emphasizes God as first in time, another emphasizes God as first in importance.

  • A possible world is a way the real world could have been. Modal logic, propositions, state of affairs and eternal entities are some of the considerations when discussing a possible world.

  • Something is logically possible if its description does not include a logical contradiction. The existence of the laws of knowledge refute the system of naturalism.

  • Middle knowledge is a form of knowledge attributed to God by Molina.

  • Miracles are a dividing line and central to Christianity.

  • David Hume's rational arguments against miracles and responses to those arguments.

  • Two miracles central to Christianity are the incarnation and resurrection.

  • The question of whether or not Jesus is the only savior touches on pluralism, inclusivism and exclusivism.

  • Pluralism is the view that all religions have salvific value.

  • Inclusivism is the view that even though the work of Christ is the only means of salvation, it does not follow that explicit knowledge of Christ is necessary in order for a person to be saved.

  • Salvation is totally the work of God and all children who die in infancy are elect of God.

  • Discussion from a biblical perspective of God's character and attributes.

  • Open theists believe that God does not have a perfect knowledge of the future.

  • Divine omnipotence and divine omniscience are two attributes of God.

  • When contemplating life after death, remember, Jesus has been there and come back. Will you commit your life to him or reject him?

These lectures were given at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida during the fall of 2001.


Dr. Ronald Nash
Christian Apologetics
The Concept of God
Lesson Transcript


[00:00:02] The following lecture is provided by biblical training. The speaker is Dr. Ronald Nash. More information is available at WW w dot Biblical training dot org. The book, The Concept of God. I hope you brought it with you. Here's what I'm going to do with this book today. I'm going to explain why I wrote the book in the first place. All right. So we'll call that, you know, the intro to the book. Then I'm going to contrast. I'm going to contrast processed theology and historic Christian theism. Now, I'm going to I'm going to instead of using the term historic Christian theism, I'm going to use the term tome Mystic Theism, and I'll explain that. And I do that in the book. But what I'm also going to do and I've never done this before, you are privileged to be in a room where nobody has done this before. Now you're going to say, How do you know that nobody has ever done this before? How do you know that no one has ever done this at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia? I'll prove it. How do you know they've never done this at Covenant Seminary in Saint Louis? I'll prove it to you. All right. I'm going to compare process theology, communistic theism with two other positions. Are you ready? I'm going to compare them also to open theism. The heresy that was just the source of a great debate at the Evangelical Theological Society in Colorado Springs. Okay, Now, what's the fourth position here? It's Nash's position. And that proves to you that no one has ever no one has ever talked about this before. All right. There. Now, let's get started here. Why did I write the book? Because the concept of the Christian concept of God, the biblical concept of God has come under assault and that assault has not abated.


[00:02:21] That assault is even worse today than it was back in 1982 when I wrote this book. Now, there were two forms that this assault took. And you'll recall last week I used the idea of a closed square to indicate that sometimes apologetics must be directed at enemies outside the faith, and sometimes apologetics must be directed at enemies that are inside of the camp. And these enemies who are inside the camp right now would certainly be represented by the open theists. Okay. Now, what's what's under assault here is specifically in the case of this book, the Christian Concept of God. And so I'm I'm I'm looking at the preface. What I want to look at here is the first page. This is page 11, the first page of chapter one. Let me just sort of read from the first paragraph. And you I realize you may not have brought this book. Some allege that theism is internally inconsistent, that there are logical contradictions at the very center of the Christian concept of God. If that is true or if that claim is unanswered, then it would follow that Christian theism is the God of Christian theism as a logically impossible being. If we worship and follow and believe in a God who has logically contradictory attributes. Then that God is a logically impossible being and He cannot exist in any possible world. Okay, that would be a new and powerful argument for atheist. But then another group of thinkers rejects the atheist conclusions and argues instead that the classical concept of God must be modified in several dramatic ways. And the second procedure is adopted by advocates of process theology. So in the case of the atheist challenge, which is the claim that Christians worship a logically impossible being.


[00:04:37] Christian theism must be abandoned. In the case of the second position. Process Theology. The classical Christian concept of God must be replaced, not abandoned, but replaced by the substitute offered by process theology. Okay. Then I, then I What follows next is are four points about the kinds of incoherence, alleged incoherence we find in discussions about God. And very quickly knowing again that you don't have the book in front of you. Here's point one. Some people have argued that individual divine attributes are logically. Inconsistent. The best example of that, according to our enemies, is the attribute of divine omnipotence. The attribute of divine omnipotence is itself logically incoherent. Therefore, there cannot be an omnipotent being. An omnipotent being would be a logically impossible being. Okay, we won't. We will look at that next week. Not today. I want to jump ahead to omniscience and the open theism controversy. Secondly, some people have argued that packages of two or more attributes are logically incompatible. And here the examples would be omissions and immutability. If God knows everything, then God can't be immutable. If God is immutable, then He cannot know everything. To be immutable means to be unable to change. And thirdly, and again, you're going to have to read this for yourself. Perhaps. Particular attributes of God are logically inconsistent with other important. Christian beliefs. And here the best example some people think is the alleged incompatibility between God's perfect knowledge of the future and human free will. You. If God knows if God has perfect knowledge of the future, then no human being can ever be free. Boy are there is that sloppy reasoning. For 20 years I've been trying to get it across to Clark Pinnick that most Armenians have traditionally believed. That God's perfect knowledge of the total future is not incompatible with human freedom.


[00:07:13] That's that's been the classic Armenian position. And frankly, you can't you can't reason your way from God's perfect knowledge of the future to a total repudiation of human freedom in whatever sense you want to understand that term. All right. The history of ideas is full of people who have been reform thinkers, who have been Calvinists, if you will, but who have still affirmed a kind of human freedom. And, you know, if we have time next week, we'll we'll we'll explain to you what's in the text. So that's the third move. And then the fourth move it. The whole concept of God's attributes have to it has to be consistent. Okay, now. I want to talk about process theology, first of all, and we're going to set up a little chart here. Process theology has been around for a long time. Put that down and give me credit for that. At the very least, here are some of the process theologians in the history world. Let me also put another word on the board. Pantheism. Now, I think I've made this distinction earlier. Maybe I did it in the other class. There's a difference between pantheism and pantheism. A pantheism is a person who believes that everything is divine. Nature is God. God is nature. A pantheism is a person who cannot believe that God is personal. The God has knowledge. The best examples of pantheism would be all the philosophers. Spinoza. Advocates of certain certain strains of Buddhism. And. Some other major world religions. Pantheism, on the other hand. And I don't want to get ahead of myself here. Pantheism differs from pantheism in the sense that it recognizes that God has a personal dimension. The God of pantheism is not a person, cannot be a person.


[00:09:26] The God of pantheism has a personal dimension. A pantheons believes that God and the world are the same. A pantheons believes the God in the world are simply two different ways of thinking about the same thing. If we look at the Greek words from which we get pantheism, the word pan means all and means in and theos everything that exists is in God. But that's different from saying that everything that exists is God. See what I'm going to do? And I'm borrowing an outline from Sergei's study questions. And while I'm not going to put everything on the board here, I am going to at least refer to the 11 points that appear in the concept of God book. Here's what I want. I want to make a chart across the whole board. So here we're going to put process theology or pantheism. Now, over here I'm going to put to Mystic Theism. This is the theism of Thomas Aquinas. And if you if you remember anything from that first chapter or second chapter, you know that I am consciously, intentionally refusing to equate total mystic theism with biblical theism. I refuse to surrender. To the idea that the theism of Thomas Aquinas is is identical with the theism of the Bible. The relationship between those two is problematic on a few issues. Now, you also need to understand that what the pan and theists do here is make is, is, is for people. Now, this may mess up your chart, so if it does get this on your notes, but then right start a new chart. Okay. What the process theologians do is they act as blow. There is a dichotomy, a choice between pantheism over here and what they call classical theism. But what they really mean is total mystic theism.


[00:11:52] And they point out that what traditional Christians do is they say, These are your choices over here, process theology or pantheism, and over here you go. So no one in his right mind could be a biblical pantheistic. So since that view is wrong, then you almost become mystic theists. But what the process thinkers do is they argue that they offer the only real middle ground, the only real third choice. That it is not a choice between the extremes of pantheism over there and the extremes of mystic theism over here, because they're right there in the middle. See, Art, isn't that nice? But I argue in my book. The just as the choice between pantheism and total mystic theism is not the full story. Neither is the choice between pantheism and total mystic theism that there in fact are a number of havens, a number of positions that are distinct from two mystic theism that still are options available to biblically faithful Christians that prevent us from any need to go into the house of Pantha Pantheism. Don't buy this simplistic claim that now we have just two choices. I want to insist that there are some other choices in the middle. All right. And here's what we're here's how we're going to do it. Here is processed theology. Here is open theism. Here is total mystic theism. And then here's and the only reason I'm putting my own $0.02 in here is because I'm the teacher. All right? And I wrote the textbook. And I'm sure there are other views that could that could be up here. Here's point one. What is the relationship between God and the world? According to Christians, Biblical theism. God is not dependent on the world here. God is dependent on the world for open theism.


[00:14:18] Listen to me. God is dependent upon the creation. God is dependent. Nash agrees with the total Mystic theist here. This is serious stuff. Secondly, for total mystic theism, God is the independent creator. Nash agrees. God is the independent Creator. Process Theology denies creation. We're going to make points and be here. God is not creator, but for open theism. As of 12:00 today. You know, these guys are changing their minds faster than the Taliban are, okay? They do believe in creation. I'll tell you this. The day. That open theists admit that they no longer believe in creation, actually, although their heresy is assured. All right. They have crossed the line. But as of this moment, they do believe in creation process. Theologians don't. But here and this is point B. God is an interdependent cooperator. Okay, So here we have God is the independent creator. He's not dependent on the creation here. He is an interdependent cooperator. And here's what's going on here. The world is God's body. God is the world's sole. God and the world are interdependent. The world needs God. God needs the world. That's process theology. Now, what is the position of the open theist here? It's that God is an in interdependence creator. He is a creator, but He has created the world in such a way that he really needs the world. Now I hope you see how we're sliding along a continuum here. Okay. But boy, these guys are really moving in that direction. Now. Point three The God of process theology is changeable. The God of open theism is changeable, while the God of total mystic theism is unchangeable. That's immutable. Sense one The God. Nash's position here is that God is immutable, but in sense too. All right.


[00:17:11] And we're going to explain that if you can't wait. Read the chapter on immutability. Number four, The God of Tom Mystic Theism is personal. Nash agrees. The God of open theism is personal. So now we've got a couple of clear differences between open theism and process theology. But the God of pantheism, well, he's partly personal and that requires quite a bit of explanation later on. I don't know that we're going to have time to do that now. I'm going to erase this and go back to the top of the board. God's perfection is growing, God's knowledge is growing, and most specifically, God does not know the future. Boy, now we're getting into real dangerous territory. Process. Theologians say God knows the past, God knows the present, but he cannot know the future. Open theists agree. Open theists say God knows the past, God knows the present, but he cannot know the future. In so far as the future results from free human choices, let me just elaborate on this. The key word here is future contingency. What is the future contingent? It is an event in the future that results from human free choice. Those are the things that God cannot know now. God's perfection is growing. The open theists agree. They have to agree with this because you see, God's knowledge is growing every second. God knows more than he knew the second before. Because future free actions are unknown to God. So he's learning. That means his perfection is improving. Okay. Now, I've got to add our positions over here. God's perfection is perfection. You can't improve on perfection. Write that down and give me credit. And if you want to add a min next to that. Well, let me put it this way.


[00:19:41] If you don't write a memo next to that, I'm going to look cross-eyed at you from now on. God's perfection is complete. I do not. I cannot understand a person being that is complete today and turns out to be better tomorrow. That's not what I mean by the word perfect. So I'm over there with these guys. God's perfection is complete and God's knowledge is complete. God knows everything. Past, present and future. There are no surprises for God. His knowledge is complete. But lest you think, here is one of my differences from everybody else. The process theologians. Deny. Timelessness. They deny that God is totally outside of time. The open theists agree. Tall Mystic Theism talks about God as a timeless being. Okay, here's one of my differences. I think the doctrine of timelessness is problematic. And if you read my chapter on Divine Eternity and there's nothing heretical in that chapter. All right. May I? May I? Name some of the great thinkers in the history of the church who have taught my position. Let me think here. Jonathan Edwards. Is he a Christian? Is he a Calvinist? You bet it is. J. Oliver Boswell, Jr. Now, you never heard that name, but he was an early president of Wheaton College and then he became president of Covenant. He was the first president, I think, of Covenant Theological Seminary. So he's a Calvinist. There are lots of questions and problems about divine timelessness, and you can read all of them in chapter in the chapter on Divine Eternity. And all I'll say is, when I wrote this book in 1982, I didn't know. Where to stand on this issue. And I still don't know. People stop me on the street and they say to me, Have you made up your mind on divine timelessness? I've been waiting 20 years and I say, No, I still don't know.


[00:22:14] I still don't know. And if you want to know why, I don't know. Read that. Well, you already read it. You don't remember it, but you read it. Okay. Let me ask you. Where did time come from? Where do you think time came from? God created time. Do you think that was St Augustine's position? Now what I'm getting at here is that the funny thing about time for Augustine, and if you want to read about this, go to Thaler is to do it by Gordon Clark in his chapter on Augustine. It is brilliant, laid out brilliantly by Gordon Clarke. Here's here's. Here's how Clarke sets it up. What is the past? And does the past exist? Augustine says, no, The time doesn't. The past doesn't exist anymore. If it does exist, it exists only as memory. Right. The past. Which means in the mind. Where does the future exist? It only exists as anticipation. As we look ahead to what we think the future will be. But where is anticipation in the mind? All right. Where does the present exist? Augustine's answer? And present in our present experience. But the present doesn't really. I mean. I mean, just wait for the present. Wait for some present to become great. For some future to become present. Just watch it coming at you. And then when? When the future becomes present, grab it and hang on to it. Okay. Do that. Let's all do it. It's coming at us. All right. This is a great ride at the new Walt Disney World. All right. Now, here it is. So where does time exist? Augustine Since it exists only in the minds of created beings. That's a brilliant position. Really brilliant is I tried to explain in the history of philosophy course that's very similar to what Conte held in his in his theory of knowledge.


[00:24:23] So if time only exists for a in the minds of created beings and that would be human beings, human minds. What's the implication of that for God's relationship to time? The answer is. God is timeless. He's he. He exists outside of time. God has no temporal location, no temporal. Augustan was an advocate of timelessness. Aquinas was an advocate of timelessness. Bowie theists lots of great Christian thinkers, but some of us think there are problems there that others have ignored, and I'm one of them. But my position is that timelessness is not really an essential attribute of God. What's important What's important is that God be Lord over time. That time not have some kind of existence independent of God. But I am convinced that God has his own time. Strand. But God's time strand is different than our human time strand. And I go on and give you a lot of the other things that are related to that. But none of this is stuff about which I am willing to go to the rack for. All right. Not Iraq, then. None of this is something for which I'm willing to be tried by the Inquisition. If I'm wrong about my eschatology, then the Antichrist captures May during the tribulation period. I will, you know, I will be raptured. I'll make no comment. I'm I'm painting a suggested scenario, a post trip scenario in which only those who are so sanctified that they can stand for their faith throughout the worst years of the tribulation period will do that. Lord willing. God. God helping me. I would not waver, you know, on the Trinity and the deity of Christ and all of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. But, you know, if they tickle my feet over the doctrine of timelessness, who knows how strong I am on that thing? I'm just not convinced that is necessarily an attribute of God.


[00:26:56] And if you think I'm a heretic, read the chapter. So. God does not know the future. The open theists agree with that God and I think the rest of the points. Yeah. Ultimate. Let's let's reach. This is the last point. Till Mystic Theism agrees that God's ultimate triumph over evil is assured. All right. Evil will be defeated. I agree with that. God will totally conquer evil. But over here, the pan and theists, they say, well, they've got the big question mark, their big question mark. Let me illustrate this in terms of a debate that an argument I, I never argue a disagreement, a fight that I had with a guy who at that time was a process theologian. I was department head at Western Kentucky. My colleagues invited this guy to give a lecture, so we were going through a line at the Western Kentucky cafeteria. We were going to have lunch together. And I you know, I'm in the line and I'm whistling Raindrops are Falling on my head because Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, that movie had just come out. And then we start an argument with between him and me, because he's into process theology. And finally, after we sat down and we had our food in front of us, he pointed a finger at me and he said this. He said, The trouble with you Christians is. And that was pretty much the language you used. I mean, he had he had left the faith. Trouble with you Christians, is you can't explain the origin of evil. That's the answer. A process theology eval is a served s u r d. It is a given. Evil has always been a part of the world now, never lacking for a proper response.


[00:29:07] I said to him, The trouble with you process heretics is you can't explain the defeat of evil. Now, listen, I do think we can go a long way towards explaining the origin of evil. But there is a problem there, folks. But if you're a process theologian, you can not explain how and how a finite. Impotent deity can ever defeat evil, because for one thing, God doesn't know the future. And if God doesn't know the future, then God cannot control the future. Okay. Well, we parted. And the next thing I knew, he had written a book. In which he announced his repudiation of process theology and his acceptance of. Classical theism. So I've sometimes wondered if my one punch line. Stayed with him that night. Now, what about open theists? I'll tell you, frankly, people, I don't think the God of open theism has enough. What we already know, he can't know the future. I think God's ultimate conquest over evil is also problematic within open theism. Thank you for listening to this lecture. Brought to you by biblical training, dawg. Your prayers and financial support enable us to provide a biblical and theological education that all people around the world can access. Blessings. As you continue to study and live out your faith and as you grow in your relationship with the Lord.