The Doctrine of God: EFCA Ordination (Part 1 of 11)
I’ve been preparing for my ordination exam in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). Speaking in broad strokes, the process of ordination in the EFCA involves 3 steps:
Step 1: Write a 20-page paper that engages with the EFCA Statement of Faith, and then defend your theology in a 2-hour oral examination conducted by the credentialing council, which is composed of a dozen or so ordained local pastors.
Step 2: Complete at least 3 years of healthy pastoral ministry in a local EFCA church.
Step 3: Do “Step 1” again—except this round, everything is doubled: it’s now a 40-page paper (not 20) and a 4-hour oral exam (not 2).
This fall, I’ve reached the final step. At 9:00 AM on October 8, 2019, I will undergo the oral examination.
For the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my ordination paper on the blog. Please know this writing is denser than anything I typically share on my blog, so don’t be discouraged if you find some of it jargon-filled. Each section has 1,000-1,800 words of condensed theology to meet the required space guidelines. And after each section, I’m including a list of discussion questions provided by the EFCA that ordination candidates are encouraged to address in their papers.
I welcome your prayers and feedback during this process; both will sharpen my thinking before the exam and make me a better pastor.
* * *
Article 1: The Doctrine of God
We believe in one God, Creator of all things, holy, infinitely perfect, and eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Having limitless knowledge and sovereign power, God has graciously purposed from eternity to redeem a people for Himself and to make all things new for His own glory.
I’m not sure I could restate a succinct trinitarian affirmation better than the way it’s done in our statement of faith: God is “eternally existing in a loving unity of three equally divine Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Every word in this statement is of great consequence, with each expounding what Christians mean by Trinity. God’s existence is never beginning nor ending (Ps 102:24–27; Dan 4:34–35; Acts 17:24–25). Love is shared among the members of the Godhead (Jn 17:24). This love flows to believers through our faith in Christ and then becomes the pattern for how we interact with others, especially other believers (Jn 13:34; Eph 5:1–2). Although there is an economic submission, as it has been called, among the Trinity where, for example, the Son submits to the Father’s will (see esp. the gospel of John), the three members of the Trinity are equal in essence (Gen 1:26; Mt 28:19–20; Jn 1:1–18). They are persons, not forces or things (2 Cor 13:14; cf. Acts 5:3–4). They are Father (Dt 32:6; Rm 8:15), Son (Jn 1:14; Heb 1:2, 5), and Holy Spirit (Jn 16:7–15; Rm 8:9). This is the Trinitarian God represented in Scripture, as well as the historic, orthodox view of the church in our creeds, particularly the Athanasian Creed. Ancient and modern heresies regarding the Trinity tend to arise from the denial of one or more of these truths. For example, modalism teaches that God expresses himself in three different modes that are not eternally distinct and coexistent. The Father couldn’t sing while the Son is being baptized and the Spirit is resting upon the Son if they are not distinct persons (Lk 3:21–22).
The biblical story begins describing God as Creator (Gen 1:1ff). In the Genesis creation account, as well as in other places (Jn 1:3; Rm 9:20ff; Col 1:16–17; Ps 19:1–6), we learn many important truths, such as that God creates creation for his glory, that creation is good—indeed, very good—and that God is distinct from his creation, having authority over all he has made. It is possible that the earth was created in a sequence of literal 24-hour days with the appearance of age, but I do not think this is a necessary view within a historical, grammatical, redemptive approach to reading Scripture, which is my hermeneutic. I favor an old earth interpretation, understood in the analogical day view, which teaches that God used the analogy of days to communicate to us and that duration is not specified. In this view, the days are something of an anthropomorphism, that is, our human week is a pattern of the divine week of creation. I do not, however, believe in theistic evolution. A million monkeys clacking away on a million typewriters for a million years will never compose MacBeth, and if they did, by definition, it wouldn’t have been done ex nihilo. While the earth may be old, humanity is young and began with a historical Adam and Eve. When biblical authors speak of Adam and Eve, they speak of them as people who actually lived (1 Chr 1:1; Matt 19:4–6; Lk 3:38; Rm 5:12–17; 2 Cor 11:3; 1 Tim 2:13–14; Jude 1:14). A historical Adam is central to the gospel because, without a historical Adam who represents all of humanity as our federal head, we could not also have a second Adam, the Christ, who represents us as humans (Rm 5:12–21).
A seminal passage on God’s nature and attributes is Exodus 34:6–7, as seen in the way its wording reverberates through so many other, later passages (to name just a few passages, Num 14:18; 2 Chr 30:9; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15; 103:8; Jer 32:18; Joel 2:13; Micah 7:18; and Nahum 1:3). In the Exodus passage, we see that having a working understanding of God’s attributes is important for two reasons. First, it is only through our understanding of God’s attributes that we can specify which God, among all the supposed gods, we have in view. In other words, we believe in “the Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger . . .”—not the golden calf, not Pharaoh, not nature, not other national deities. Second, the proper understanding of God leads to the proper worship of him. When Moses was hidden between two rocks and glimpsed only God’s backside—not even his face—Moses quickly put his forehead in the dirt and worshiped (Ex 33:23; 34:8).
To mention only a few of God’s attributes, there is his oneness (Dt 6:4; Mk 12:29), holiness (Is 6:3; 1 Pet 1:15), limitless knowledge (Ps 139:1–16; Is 46:10; Jn 21:17), and sovereign power (Jer 32:17; Eph 1:11). It seems to me the traditional discussion of communicable and incommunicable attributes can sometimes overstate the degree to which an attribute is either shared or not shared, but I affirm that aseity (Acts 17:24–25), immutability and eternality (Ps 102:25–27), omniscience (Ps 139:1–6) and omnipresence (Ps 139:7–12) are far less shared with humans, while attributes such as God’s love (1 Jn 4:7), justice (1 Pet 1:17), and wisdom (Prov 6:6) are more recognizably shared.
With respect to God’s limitless knowledge, it is worth noting that some argue against this from the handful of passages that seem to suggest God does not know the future (Jer 19:5) and that he occasionally must repent, famously in passages such as Gen 6:6–7 and 1 Sam 15:11. It’s also worth noting that in the very same 1 Samuel 15 passage, God also says he will not repent (v. 29; cf. Num 23:19). A far better approach than the route of open theism is to understand God’s change as the revealing of his new posture toward a person or situation but one not brought about because God is morally deficient and needs to repent or that he did not foresee something. This is especially true in light of the abundance of verses that teach that God knows not only the actual future exhaustively (Is 42:9; Jn 13:19) but that he even knows hypothetical futures (Mt 11:20–25).
A chief element of what makes God’s glory so glorious is his purpose, as this article states, to “redeem a people for Himself,” meaning he graciously purchases sinners from the due punishment of sin through the costly death of the Son (Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18–19). Not only has God purposed to redeem sinners but he will renew creation as well. The Bible speaks of creation as groaning until its day of redemption (Rm 8:18–25). There is some disagreement among Christians as to the sense in which the new heavens and earth will be “new.” I do not take new to mean that God will scrap all of his creation and start over, even though a verse like 2 Peter 3:10 could be so understood. Instead, I take new in the sense of renewed and fitted appropriately for the place where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Rev 21:4). Because creation will be renewed thus, we should treat the earth and its resources with care, as Adam and Eve were first called to do (Gen 1:28; 2:15). If God values something, so should we.
Creator and Creation
1. What does it mean that God is the Creator? Why is this important?
2. How do you interpret Genesis 1?
3. How does your interpretation of Genesis 1 relate to your view of Scripture?
4. Describe the essential attributes of God. Why is it necessary, or important, to have a working understanding of the nature and attributes of God?
5. What does it mean that God is holy? What are the implications of his holiness?
6. Describe the doctrine of the Trinity. How do you teach this doctrine from Scripture?
7. What is the importance of the truth that God, as “three equally divine Persons,” eternally exists “in a loving unity?”
8. Describe one contemporary denial of the doctrine of the Trinity. Why is it heretical?
Limitless Knowledge and Sovereign Power (Open Theism)
9. What does it mean that God has “limitless knowledge and sovereign power”? Why is this significant in contemporary debates about God?
Gracious Purpose to Redeem
10. What is the significance of God graciously purposing from eternity to redeem a people for Himself?
Make All Things New for His Glory
11. How does redemption relate to the creation? What impact does your view have for our present stewardship of the earth’s resources?